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As U.S. Moves Ahead with Nuclear Power, No Solution for Radioactive Waste

A pair of legal actions against the Nuclear Regulatory Commission raises fresh questions over how and where to store the nation's growing nuclear waste

By Abby Luby

Mar 3, 2011
Three Mile Island nuclear station

According to the (USEC), which runs the only U.S.-owned uranium enrichment facility in Paducah, Kentucky, the enrichment cycle releases 300,000 pounds, or 150 tons, of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere yearly.

The radiative properties of CFCs make them a dangerous global warming agent — 1,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide, according to . Ozone-depleting CFCs have been banned in the U.S. except in the processing of uranium ore.

Further, the Paducah plant enriches the yellowcake, a lightly processed form of uranium ore, to produce uranium oxide and make nuclear fission from two 1,500-megawatt, 30-year-old coal plants, which release CO2 and other environmental pollutants. 

Group Says Subsidies Better Spent on Renewables

Criticism about nuclear's carbon footprint hasn't stopped the Obama administration from hawking it as clean power, however.

In his proposed budget for 2012, the president is seeking an additional $36 billion in federal loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction. That's on top of the $18.5 billion the DOE is already permitted to deploy.  

A new nuclear plant costs approximately $6 billion to $8 billion. The industry has been lobbying for an additional $60 billion in loan guarantees for plants and enrichment facilities.

Opponents say it's time for the industry to stand on its own.

According to a by the Union of Concerned Scientists, nuclear power is still not economically viable without subsidies. Since the cost of building subsidized power plants is so high, the authors say that government handouts increase the price of kilowatts, with the financial burden falling on taxpayers and ratepayers.

The (NEI), a trade group in Washington, that the nation would need to build 45 new reactors by 2030 to meet projected increases in electricity demand and reduce greenhouse gases.

Hirsch of the Committee to Bridge the Gap said the subsidies would be better spent on other alternative-energy technologies like solar power or cellulosic biofuels.

"It's like dumping huge amounts of money down a rat's hole," he said, adding that by the time nuclear power plants actually get built, it could be too late to avoid the consequences of dangerous climate change. "What would have an immediate effect on climate change is the stuff you can do fast and cheap like weather proofing, changing light bulbs, building wind farms and solar panels," said Hirsch.

When you toss the waste dilemma into the mix, he continued, nuclear power becomes counterintuitive. "Without a place to dump the waste, the industry cannot be allowed to move forward."

That is a point not lost on the Obama administration.

The president has set up a to find a long-term storage solution for America's growing nuclear waste.  The commission is scheduled to submit a draft report to Energy Secretary Steven Chu in July 2011 and a final report in January 2012. 

Ok so USEC's enrichment

Ok so USEC's enrichment releases less than 1/10 of the greenhouse gases as a coal plant, nice. The radioactive waste is smaller in quantity than from a coal plant, and it's contained rather than blown out a smokestack. Nice again. And huge loan guarantees are necessary because the costs are inflated by decades-old, fear-based regulation that is not even relevant to new reactor designs. Sounds like politicians and activists breaking your legs so they can feel good about handing out crutches.

High Level Radioactive Waste

The world is awash in plutonium, one of the deadliest, longest lived radionuclides.  In this country, unlike France which has few natural resources, it is cheaper to process new fuel from ore than to reprocess spent fuel rods Reprocessing is not cost effective and was banned in the US because of the dangers of proliferation. Dangers which still exist on a world wide basis. And it is reprocessing - not recycling because you can only use a third of the spent fuel rods and that only once. The process leaves more concentrated, toxic waste that still needs a geologic depository. As for China, and their purported miracle cure, believe it when they publish the details.  Something they have so far declined to do.  The physics of nuclear waste are the same, no matter the country, and it is deadly

Gaseous diffusion plant due to shut down in 2012

The statistics published regarding USEC's enrichment facility are just about obsolete. The plant uses 1950s vintage technology that has been vastly altered and improved in the past few decades.

Just last year, a company called LES started operating a new centrifuge enrichment facility in Eunice, NM. The partners in that venture include Urenco, a European company that has been operating centrifuges for several decades. Their technology is one of the greatest examples of energy efficiency improvements - it reduces the amount of electricity required to perform the same level of enrichment by a factor of 20.

I visited Georges Besse II, a new centrifuge facility in France last summer. It is replacing a gaseous diffusion facility on the same site that is similar to the one that USEC will be shutting down in 2012 or 2013. When it is fully operational, it will consume about 55 MWe instead of the 2700 MWe of the facility it is replacing.

Centrifuges also do not release any CFCs. 

One more thing for any mathematically challenged readers. If 150 tons of CFCs are released and if CFCs are 1,500 times more potent than CO2, that means that the CFCs released are equivalent to 225,000 tons of CO2, which is less than one weeks worth of emissions from a single 1000 MWe coal fired power plant. 

Rod Adams

Publisher, Atomic Insights

2,000 tons per year TOTAL, not per plant

At least one number in your article is off by a factor of 100. The total mass of used nuclear fuel generated by all 104 reactors in the United States is about 2,000 tons per year. The accumulated mass is about 55,000 metric tons after generating massive quantities of electricity for the past several decades.

It boggles my mind why some people insist that an industry that knows the current location of every kilogram of used material it has ever produced is said to have a "waste issue", while its competitive energy sources get away with avoiding all responsibility for dumping million of tons of waste per day into our shared atmosphere and water sources.

The half life of many of the contaminants dumped by coal, oil and natural gas combustion plants is infinite - it NEVER decays. It also does not have a remote chance of someday entering the environment if its engineered containers deteriorate and if future generations dig deep holes into the ground - it is dumped constantly into the environment through designed "leaks" called smokestacks.

Storage

We are going to end up recycling the waste.

We are currently recycling nuclear bombs.

About 50% of the fuel in US nuclear reactors are recycled nuclear bombs.

Once the bombs are recycled the various recycling facilities will need a new product to sell.

 

I see we're doing scare

I see we're doing scare stories, unbalanced, without a review of the very active movement to convert so-called "nuclear waste"  to carbon-free electricity and heat.

Kinda stupid, but so much like the climate change deniers. Do you ever consider how silly it looks to rail against AGW deniers while you're pretending solutions to the waste problem are quite feasible, except for innumerate ideologues?

Go, and sin no more! 

Nuclear wastes safe storage solution

The US DoE, has knowledge of a simple way to safely store all types of nuclear wastes!!

Nuclear Era Being Wasted?

The United States ushered in the nuclear era.

Due to widespread misinformation, we have squandered the beautiful potential of this cleaner, safer, and virtually carbon-free technology that can be harnessed on a grand scale.

Please read the link
 or the summary:
1) Reprocessing nuclear fuel will eliminate 90% of the storage needed for high-level nuclear waste.
2) Nations can purchase fuel from the international nuclear fuel bank, limiting the potential for weapons production.

3) Very harmful and more radiation is "legally" released by fossil fuel combustion, which is currently our only large-scale source of energy.

Nuclear power will:
A) provide safer and cleaner energy,
B) create jobs,
C) keep our trade deficit more balanced, and,
D) put more foreign policy decisions back in our hands with every kW we make in the USA.

Storage?? How about like the

Storage?? How about like the Chinese we start developing LFTR. The storage isnt an issue as we can burn just about ALL of it! There are other forms of producing power using nuclear.

High Level Radioactive Waste

The world is awash in plutonium, one of the deadliest, longest lived radionuclides.  In this country, unlike France which has few natural resources, it is cheaper to process new fuel from ore than to reprocess spent fuel rods Reprocessing is not cost effective and was banned in the US because of the dangers of proliferation. Dangers which still exist on a world wide basis. And it is reprocessing - not recycling because you can only use a third of the spent fuel rods and that only once. The process leaves more concentrated, toxic waste that still needs a geologic depository. As for China, and their purported miracle cure, believe it when they publish the details.  Something they have so far declined to do.  The physics of nuclear waste are the same, no matter the country, and it is deadly.

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