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First new “low-level” nuke dump in US in over 40 years controversial right-wing billionaire-owned company buries waste despite technical and legal challenges

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A new sacrifice area in West Texas on the New Mexico border opened up to commercial nuclear waste on 27 April 2012. It is the first “full service” dump in US since the 1980 Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act passed seeking new sites, and the first since the Barnwell, South Carolina dump opened in 1971. After decades of searching, cajoling, maneuvering, and a billion dollars or more spent in 18 or more states, the nuclear industry has managed to find a new hole in the ground to bury its waste.  Waste Control Specialists (WCS) joins the original 6 “low-level” waste dumps in the US that opened in the 1960s and 70s and the Utah EnergySolutions site.

Four of these sites are closed. The EnergySolutions (formerly Envirocare) dump in Utah, started taking abandoned radioactive waste in 1988 and kept expanding to take more kinds of nuclear and hazardous waste. But the Utah legislature has never let it accept the more concentrated Classes B and C “low-level” radioactive waste (some of which can give a lethal dose if exposed without shielding). WCS can take Classes A, B and C, commercial and weapons waste, mixed radioactive and hazardous, and hopes to expand to take even more.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is a subsidiary of Valhi, owned by multibil-lionaire Harold Simmons, one of the 50 wealthiest people in the U.S. and a major political donor in Texas and nationally. Simmons, who was a key funder of the “swiftboat” ads against former Presidential candidate John Kerry, and gave millions to Mitt Romney Super PACs, has used his influence from the start--first getting the state to change the law to allow a private company to own and run a nuclear waste site, then in getting a state license even though the full technical review team unanimously rejected it for not protecting the water. Three members of that team quit in disgust when the license was granted by the political appointees that head the agency. It was granted with over 90 “conditions” that it had not met.

Interestingly, while the application was under review by one state agency, the Texas Water Development Board chan-ged the location of the Ogallala Aquifer, moving the mapped boundary from the WCS site to miles away, at least partly based on information provided by WCS geologists. WCS sued a critic who charged the site threatens the aquifer and he has since become silent on the issue. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest fresh water aquifers, extends from Texas and New Mexico through the farm belt of the U.S. up to the Dakotas. Local residents who ques-tioned or challenged WCS have been harassed.

The Lone Star Sierra Club is still fighting for a hearing on the licensing. The court ruled that a contested case hearing should be held but the state and WCS have appealed. Waste is being buried even though the appeal is pending. Ironically the first waste to be buried was from a company outside the Texas-Vermont Compact. The dump had been touted to be exclusively for waste from the two Compact states only and its licensed capacity is less than the amount needed by generators in those two states. Regardless, the Texas and Vermont governors’-appointed Compact Commission approved taking 
“out-of-compact” waste, at the behest of WCS. 

Prior to this, intensely radioactive nuclear weapons waste from the Depart-ment of Energy (DOE)’s Fernald site (K-65 ore from the Belgian Congo) was buried there under a different license. Under the Texas law passed specifically to enable this private dump, commercial compact waste had to begin being disposed before more DOE weapons waste can be buried. 

This translates into billions of dollars in contracts from weapons sites across the country in addition to the commercial waste from TX, VT and generators from all the other states which the compact commission is approving with a rubber stamp. Simmons and WCS will make big bucks. Andrews Country gets 5%. The nuclear industry has the illusion of a solution to its waste problem. The water, air, environment and the species that depend on them pay the price.

Perils and promises of studying health impacts of low-level radiation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

Members of the public and scientists have been concerned about environmental contamination from nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation for a long time.  The National Academy of Sciences is currently working on a request from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to design an epidemiologic study of cancer around nuclear facilities in the USA.

People living near nuclear facilities may see an epidemiologic study as a way to shed light on their health concerns. An epidemiologic study could do that. However, if epidemiologic studies are not well-designed, they can be used to dismiss the public’s concerns and avoid implementation of public health protections.

There are many perils of epidemiologic studies, especially ones focused on low-level exposures. It’s easier to detect the effect of larger exposures, for example of nuclear workers, than the effects of smaller exposures, for example of people living near nuclear facilities. Furthermore, radiation exposures of most nuclear workers are monitored, whereas exposures of residents are not. This presents a big challenge, because an epidemiologic study that cannot sort people correctly into exposed and unexposed groups cannot detect an effect of exposure.

Several epidemiologic studies in Europe have found excess childhood leukemia among children living near nuclear power plants. These studies compared children living close to nuclear plants – within 5 km (3 miles) – to children living further away. No similar studies have been conducted in the USA, in part because we don’t have a national medical program that counts cancer cases, and in part because most of our health data are only reported for large geographic areas like counties.

The National Academy of Sciences study could be designed to improve on the European studies. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked for a study that includes adults, who are less sensitive to radiation exposure than children. Furthermore, adult cancers may appear decades after exposure, increasing the opportunity for people to move between exposed and unexposed areas. Studies of adults, of large areas like counties, and of cancer death instead of cancer diagnosis, would not advance scientific knowledge about health effects of living near nuclear facilities, but such a study could become grounds for dismissing concerns about radiation releases. Another problem is that epidemiologic studies may be conducted under the assumption that radiation exposure is too low to affect cancer. Then, if an excess is found among people living near nuclear facilities, scientists must attribute it to some other unknown cause. This circular logic – evidence of the effect is dismissed because it is already believed there can be no effect – is unscientific but is dressed in the trappings of science to make it appear reasonable.

Members of the public concerned about radiation exposures from nuclear facilities should critically consider any proposed study to decide whether to give it their trust and support.
– Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

For further reading: Wing S, Richardson DB, Hoffmann W. Cancer risks near nuclear facilities: The importance of research design and explicit study hypotheses.Environmental Health Perspectives, 119:417-21, 2011.

Marking nuclear waste disposal facilities

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Herman Damveld

An issue that has long been on the radioactive waste management agenda is the means of marking a waste repository site, such that future generations will be able to comprehend its purpose and risks. Research into long lasting information carriers is being done, but how do 'future people' know there is a message inside, or even, where do we put it so 'future people' will find it before people start digging? And then the more principal questions, will such a warning not attract people to start digging? Or do we have to forget repositories ever existed? But how?

Of course we have to stop producing nuclear waste immediately. But even then, the historical waste has to be stored. Responsibility to future generations implies that we necessarily have to do all to prevent future harm. This makes warnings to the future all the more necessary. But how?

There are basically three approaches discussed over the past few decades:

1-Passive institutional control
The most comprehensive research about markers has been done in the US, for the WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.(*01) The WIPP is a deep geologic repository, designed and constructed to provide underground disposal for the department’s defensegenerated transuranic waste. This waste consists primarily of clothing, tools, rags, debris, residues and other non-liquid disposable items contaminated with trace amounts of radioisotopes.

The Department of Energy (DOE) began by forming two teams of experts in the early 1990s. They were given the task of coming up with a conceptual design for the warning system. The US decided to focus on creating lasting markers at the site of the nuclear waste, a plan considered to be the 'long-term concept' or passive institutional control. This strategy places very little trust in the flexibility of knowledge, and society's ability to pass down information in a relevant and accurate way to future generations. Information is too rapidly changing and hardly eternal, but physical landmarks that convey danger on an instinctual level are more likely to effectively keep humans away from radiation for thousands of years. 

The design eventually adopted for WIPP, and shared with the then planned (but now abandoned) Yucca Mountain depository in Nevada, consisted of a giant earthwork surrounding the site, with monuments, markers and information centers scattered around, which will be erected after closure of the repository. Some 32 identical granite monuments are planned to be buried below ground level. On all aboveground and underground surfaces, messages (written in each of the official UN languages - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish - as well as Navajo) and pictograms are to be put on. Final plans for marking the WIPP repository will not be submitted to the U.S. Government before 2028.

The DOE sees Stonehenge in England as an example -a historical analogue- for a marking system. Stonehenge consists of stones in a circle measuring 120 meters in diameter. Blocks of granite were used that in some cases weighed 54 metric tons. Stonehenge was built around the year 3000 before Christ. 

There are, however, some problems. Stonehenge is a memorable marking that invites people to visit. This is contrary to the marking the Americans want to realize. The message of the marking after all has to be: keep out of here, do not dig in the ground. The marking has to scare. And, more generally, more often people do not mind about warnings, like warnings on cigarette packages that smoking can harm one’s health. Of course the markings may not consist of valuable material because of the chance of theft. 

But archeologists point out that a much earlier attempt to warn off future excavations, the Egyptian pyramids, were looted within a generation. Six of the “Seven Wonders of the World” identified by the ancient Greeks, which were, in a sense, messages intended to provoke in us remembrance mingled with a sense of awe, and as such, six have failed. They have been plundered by vandals, destroyed by earthquakes or used to build other structures. Most have been reduced to rubble.

Stone markers warning of tsunami danger in Japan
After the tsunami killed 17,000 people in Japan, March 2011, some pictures were showed in western press of ancient stone markers warned of tsunamis. One picture showed a large marker below the village of Aneyoshi. It says "High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," and "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point." Hundreds of such markers dot the coastline, some more than 600 years old. Collectively they form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts along major fault lines have made it a repeated target of earthquakes and tsunamis over the 
centuries. Modern generations decided these markers, coming from a more primitive time were no longer needed: technology would protect them. Sea walls were constructed, and power plants and villages were built behind them. On March 11, 2011, tsunami waters reached to near where the Aneyoshi marker stands.

This is the problem with ancient markers. Tsunami signs were ignored because new generations felt themselves more capable of protecting themselves. 
See for instance: www.cbsnews. com/stories/2011/04/06/501364/main20051370.shtml

Information carriers
If we want to remember we have to find ways to preserve information. It seems that no data storage medium lasts long before becoming obsolete. Recently, French nuclear waste management agency ANDRA began a project to address the issue of preserving data. To preserve records of what they've buried and where for a period of tens of thousands of years. The ANDRA project brings together specialists from as wide a selection of fields as possible, including materials scientists, archivists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and even artists -"to see if they have some answers to our questions." The initial goal is to identify all the approaches possible; in 2014 or 2015, the group hopes to narrow down the possibilities. 

On July 12, 2012, Patrick Charton of ANDRA presented what he called a possible solution to the problem of the short life of information carriers: a sapphire disk inside which information is engraved using platinum. The prototype shown costs €25,000 to make, but according to Charton  will survive for a million years. The disk is made from two thin disks, about 20 centimeters across, of industrial sapphire. On one side, text or images are etched in platinum- a single disk can store 40,000 miniaturized pages - and then the two disks are molecularly fused together. All a future archaeologist would need to read them is a microscope. The disks have been immersed in acid to test their durability and to simulate ageing. (*02)

There's only the problem that they have no idea in what language to write the message; what language its discoverers will understand in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years- or even if they will be human beings? Archeologists point out that a much earlier attempt to warn off future excavations, the Egyptian pyramids, were looted within a generation. Another problem is the material the carrier is made of and could be considered to be valuable and thus likely to be stolen when found.

Another assumption that we should not take for granted, is the survival of modern scientific understanding. We should not presuppose the future possession of scientific language, but should also include the most simple messages.

But in short: current thought is that rather than attempt to manipulate the emotions of future generations through ominous symbolic warnings, the structures and messages ought to inform those generations that the content of the repository is dangerous and useless. 

2- Active institutional control 
Under the US Environmental protection Act (EPA) definitions, ‘Active Institutional Controls’ cover the use of fences, gates, and guards; essentially, those structures and systems which imply continued human presence. Markers are ‘Passive Institutional Controls’ because they are intended to fulfill their purpose without the need for anyone to remain on site.

The Scandinavians brainstorming for the Onkalo nuclear repository site in Finland, unlike the Americans, have focused their efforts on keeping good archives and information on nuclear waste repository sites, called a "short-term concept" or active institutional control. The motivation behind a short-term concept is that any physical markers, languages, or symbols based warnings would lose their meanings too soon. Considering the fact that even today abandoned mines less than a century old are often drilled into, it is hard to trust future generations to consult archives over the locations of nuclear waste before any kind of excavation or drilling. (*03)

The half life of institutions
The crux of the stewardship problem is that it is hard to believe that any human institution can last the 10,000 years or more. Indeed, history is replete with failed governments. From ancient times to today’s world, the typical story is one of rise and fall, of kingdoms, sheikdoms, monarchies,  dictatorships, and even democracies. Leaders come and go, bringing with them new ideas, religions, policies, and programs and leaving legacies easily changed by succeeding leaders and generations. In addition to governments, history has seen similar cycles for human settlements and cities, rise and fall, establishment and abandonment, and rediscovery. Modern-day institutions, such as the private corporation, are no more stable. Only a handful of American companies, out of millions, have managed to stay in business over 100 years and few of the survivors remain in the same business. The life expectancy of the average European or Japanese company is less than 13 years. Thus, at first glance, it appears that, institutionally speaking, active human stewardship of nuclear and hazardous waste sites even for hundreds of years into the future is an insurmountable challenge (although not always information –especially when in writing- is lost).
However, a closer look at history reveals numerous human institutions that have indeed survived for hundreds of years and even thousands of years. Many of these institutions are religious, but also universities. Human institutions associated with indigenous cultures can sometimes be traced by very long periods of time. For example, the N/um chai is a curing ceremony trace dance practiced by the Bushman of the Kalahari that can be traced back approximately 40,000 years.

An article called 'Institutional designs for long-term stewardship of nuclear and hazardous waste sites' by Bruce E. Tonn evaluates several designs for an institution to act as the steward for these sites. (*04)

Six alternative institutional designs are evaluated over a set of four evaluation criteria. Tonn recommends (in the US.) to establish a new type of secular non-profit institution, entitled The Stewardship Institution, to act as steward for the sites. This option is judged most able to focus on the mission of stewardship, meet its technical challenges, survive inevitable periods of political and economic instabilities, and meet current generation cost and implementation concerns. 

Atomic Priesthood
The linguist Thomas Sebeok was mem-ber of the Bechtel working group. Building on earlier suggestions he proposed the creation of an atomic priesthood, a panel of experts where members would be replaced through nominations by a council. The atomic priesthood would have to preserve the knowledge about locations and dangers of radioactive waste by creating rituals and myths. 

The priesthood would indicate off-limits areas and the consequences of disobedience.(*05) 

"The ‘atomic priesthood’ would be charged with the added responsibility of seeing to it that our behest [concerning the folkloric relay system] is to be heeded – if not for legal reasons, then for moral reasons, with perhaps the veiled threat that to ignore the mandate would be tantamount to inviting some sort of supernatural retribution."
This approach has a number of critical problems: the reliance on secrecy, ma-nipulation and deceit -- and the accompanying perceived need to create an elite –the atomic priesthood- that holds the secrets and does the manipulating.(*06) And just because the information about waste sites would grant power to a privileged class, people from outside this group might attempt to seize this information by force.

So it seems that all possible solutions to the issue of marking a waste repository site, such that future generations will be able to comprehend its purpose and risks – have unsolvable problems.

3- No markers: just forget about it
Another approach is not marking a nuclear repository site at all; burying nuclear waste hundreds of meters underground in the middle of a barren desert is a better safeguard than any structure or warning signs that could eventually just bring attention to the location, according to this approach. In fact, two of the four teams organized to brainstorm protection ideas for WIPP agreed that no markers was the safest approach, as it defends the nuclear waste from "curiosity seekers." Would it, in fact, be less likely that people would hit the repository by accident than that they would intrude due to the existence of markers?

More importantly, not marking the site, but creating it in secrecy would by default add a layer of protection against anyone seeking to use the radioactive material for harmful purposes. Not marking the site at all completely avoids the problems of language, symbolic, or cultural robustness, but of course adds the moral question of our generation's responsibility to protect future generations, as well as future generations' right to our knowledge.

Michael Madsen says in his award winning documentary 'Into Eternity' about forgetting Onkalo: 'The chamber you must always remember to forget'.

But how do we forget something? Is that an active or a passive process; will rumors about buried 'treasures' end up in myths and survive by oral history. It is obvious that one cannot force oblivion. People are curious in nature. It seems clear that forgetting is not an active process and therefore can not be a policy. Secrecy can of course but, that has nothing to do with forgetting. Forgetting is only the result of bad policy and not of no policy.

4- New emerging vision
Traditional approaches to markers and institutional controls for geological disposal were based on the premise that safety was best assured by keeping the facility apart and isolated from people and the surrounding community. But a new –fourth- vision has emerged; that it may be worthwhile to consider the repository as part of a societal fabric. The task of maintaining memory would thus be facilitated by measures that would foster community involve-ment and would go as far as foreseeing that these communities will in time build their own new markers to replace old ones that have become obsolete or are fading away.

Or, as the NEA Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC) puts it in a 2007 report (*07): 
"Because a radioactive waste management facility and site will be present in a host community for a very long time, a fruitful, positive relationship must be established with those residing there, now and in the future. Simply put, designers have to make the radioactive waste management facility and site to suit people’s present needs, ambitions and likings, and to provide for evolutions to match at reasonable cost the needs and desires of future generations. A facility that upsets or repels residents or visitors will only be tolerated and will remain a stranger or an unwelcome presence in the community. The challenge is to design and implement a facility (with its surroundings) that is not only accepted, but in fact becomes a part of the fabric of local life and even something of which the community can be proud."
The repository as something to be proud of.

At the end of the workshop 'Archeology meets radioactive waste' held in Dublin during ESOF2012, Cornelius Holtorf, an archeologist leading a working group on that issue at the Linnaeus University, Sweden, put it this way: "Many questions remain that have to be solved sometime in the future".(*08) 

Permanent retrievability 
But the question about how to mark repositories for coming generations, is preceded by the question of retrievability.

In 1999, A.J. González, IAEA Director of the Division of Radiation and Waste Safety, in his opening remarks of an IAEA confrenece on retrievability of high level nuclear waste, observed that geological disposal was perhaps the only area of safety standards in which the level of international consensus actually "decreased in recent years": in many parts of the world, the development of geological repositories has reached an impasse. According to him that  led to a trend towards reconsidering some of the basic orthodoxies of geological disposal; a- the concept that "waste should be disposed of in its country of origin"; and b- the "irreversibility of geological disposal".  As a response to these concerns, some countries are beginning to study how repositories might be designed to facilitate retrieval of waste. González is clear about that: "the predominant technical view has always been that such retrievability is not only unnecessary, but probably also undesirable from a safety point of view." (*09)

Not long before this statement, two Dutch researchers, Damveld and Van den Berg, wrote a report on nuclear waste and ethics. According to the authors there should be no difference in detriment between the present generation and future generations. If for the present generation retrievable disposal is the preferred option, this should also be applicable to future generations. Consequently, this approach calls for permanent retrievability. Each new generation should take on the task to take care of the waste which is inherited from the previous one. An irreversible situation is thus avoided. Permanent retrievability is considered less unfavorable than final disposal. Because of the requirement of permanent retrievability rock formations such as salt and clay whose physical properties (plastic deformation) tend to fill the space between the disposed radioactive waste and the host rock, are considered to be less obvious. Therefore a permanent retrievable disposal facility at the surface is the recommended option. It is recognized that both the stability of the institutions charged with the management of the waste and the stability of the society as a whole are questionable for the long term and that deliberate or inadvertent human actions may lead to a release of radioactivity from the facility. However, this is a dilemma without a possible solution. (*10)

The international waste management agencies were not amused with this. As a rapporteur from a workshop on Ethical Aspect at the aforementioned IAEA conference, puts it: "It is obvious, that the set of values given in that study is certainly not at all represented in what we could call the nuclear waste management community. To most of us, who are present here, I think that the main conclusions of this study are totally unacceptable."(*11)

However, until now there is no (final or retrievable) underground repository for high level waste and spent fuel in operation.

Recently, on July 3, in an opinion article at Nuclear Engineering International (under the title: No to spent fuel 'disposal'), the lack of solution for the radioactive waste produced for more than half a century, was considered to be a positive fact. According to the –anonymous- author, countries should wait until their nuclear power programs ends before deciding on the ‘final disposal’ of used nuclear fuel. Because by that time, countries would know the exact inventory for disposal; they would not have the ‘reprocess-or-not’ question hanging over their heads; and, perhaps by the time ‘waste’ nuclear fuel is ready for disposal advances in reprocessing or recycling technologies will mean there are better options. (*12)

Although this wait-and-see-attitude is policy in more and more countries, it is the result of the impossibility (not only due to social factors –resistance- but also technical factors) to establish a final repository, it is seen as a nega-tive rather than a positive fact, were waste management authorities feel not particularly proud of. But now, this is brought forward as a positive and desi-rable 'solution'.  

Consider it a new trend: "No nuclear waste solution? Thank God, that leaves all options open!" 
The emperors new clothes.

Waste inventory amnesia
But do we know now, a few decades after the first (low and intermediate level) radioactive waste was stored underground, what is buried in the repositories? Well, no, not exactly. 

Just a few examples: 
In August 2009, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear safety (BMU) disclosed new figures for the amount of plutonium present in the Low-level waste dumped in the 60's and 70's in the underground mine at Asse. According to those new figures, not 9.6 kilogram but an amount of 28 kg of plutonium is present in the waste. Currently 12,000 liters of water per day flows into the salt dome and all the 125,000 barrels are planned to be excavated.

In the UK, in February 2009, the LLW Repository Ltd published in newspapers in the Lake-district area an ad asking for people who worked at Sellafield and "have been involved in the consignment of waste to the Low Level Waste Repository near Drigg". The company responsible for the waste repository was looking for those people "in order to build a comprehensive picture of the waste inventory in the trenches". According to LLWR's managing director, the ad is an act of thoroughness not desperation. But Martin Forwood of Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) said at the time that, despite the "low-level waste" tag, trenches at Drigg are believed to hold more dangerous material. "Information provided to Core in the 1990s revealed debris from the 1957 Windscale fire, materials from the US Three Mile Island reactor accident, and from the Chernobyl explosion."

During a 2004 cleanup operation at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, U.S., personnel digging through a trench uncovered a safe containing a glass bottle. And inside the bottle, white sludge. Tests identifying the substance as a type of plutonium gave way to more tests until, in the Spring of 2009, scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory revealed what, exactly, the crew had uncovered: A 1944 artifact from the fledgling nuclear weapons program—the oldest existing sample of bomb-grade plutonium from a nuclear reactor, with a half-life of 24,110 years.

Sources: Press release BMU, 29 August 2009 / The Guardian, 14 February 2009 / BBC, 2 March 2009

*01- Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation pilot Plant. Sandia National Laboratories, December 1991. 
*02- Science magazine: A million year hard-disk, 12 July 2012 
*03- Multigenerational Warning Signs, Charles Dunn, March 17, 2011.
*04- Published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, January 2001
*05- Dennis Duncan, "Backwards and Forwards with the Atomic Priesthood," Alluvium, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 1 July 2012
*06- Susan Garfield: "Atomic Priesthood" is Not Nuclear Guardianship, in: Nuclear Guardianship Forum, Issue # 3, Spring 1994
*07- C. Pescatore, C. Mays: Geological disposal of radioactive waste: records, markers and people. An integration challenge to be met over millennia. Published in: NEA updates, NEA News 2008 – No. 26
*08- quoted in Die Zeit (Germany), 22 August 2012
*09- Opening address A.J. González in: Retrievability of high level waste and spent nuclear fuel. IAEA Seminar in cooperation with the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste. Sweden, 24– 27 October 1999, IAEA-TECDOC-1187. p.16 PDF/te_1187_prn.pdf *10- Nuclear waste and core ethics, Damveld & Van den Berg, 1999, published as: Nuclear waste and nuclear ethics, Laka Foundation, January 2000. 
*11- IAEA, 1999; p.280 
*12- No to spent fuel 'disposal', Nuclear Engineering International, 3 July 2012 ncode=188&storyCode=2062682 

Contact: Herman Damveld, Centauerstraat 10, 9742 PP Groningen, The Netherlands.
Email: hdamveld[at]


U.S.: radioactive waste issue: suspension of new reactor licenses

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A Perfect Storm is brewing on radioactive waste issues in the U.S., one that will inevitably lead to major changes in radioactive waste policy. Already, elements of this storm have led to a full suspension of all new reactor licenses and license renewals in the U.S..

This confluence of events began with President Obama’s decision, early in his term to end the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada radioactive waste dump and, in tandem with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to end Department of Energy funding to pursue this project. Energy Secretary Chu then appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend a new approach to radioactive waste issues.

Given that decision, former NRC Chair Greg Jazcko refused to spend any more NRC money or resources on reviewing the Yucca Mountain license application despite harsh criticism from the industry and some in Congress. Jazcko has now been replaced by Yucca-skeptic Allison Macfarlane, who was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The Commission reported its recommendations earlier this year. They include establishment of a new, but largely undefined entity to handle radioactive waste policy -essentially removing the responsibility from the Department of Energy. The Commission also urged adoption of a new, but also undefined, community “consent” process for siting of a radioactive waste dump. Of most immediate concern to environmentalists, the Commission also recommended speedy establishment of a “centralized interim storage” site for radioactive waste. There is no real scientific, technical or safety basis for such a site -it would use the same dry cask technology as can be used, and is being used, at reactor sites. But it would encourage the generation of more radioactive waste and set off the widespread transport of radioactive waste across the U.S. In the 1990s, this concept was dubbed Mobile Chernobyl, and was defeated by a veto from President Clinton, which was upheld by the U.S. Senate.

The Commission’s recommendations are now reflected in new legislation (S. 3469)(*1) offered by retiring Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and will be included, although probably in somewhat different form, in a new proposal slated to come from the Obama administration in September 2012. Sen. Bingaman said his committee will hold a hearing on the bill in September, but a date has not yet been set. And Bingaman has publicly acknowledged that his bill so far has little support and will not pass this year. What he wants to do is to begin to lay the groundwork for Congressional consideration next year. A key stumbling block is that his bill does not establish centralized interim storage fast enough or large enough for some members of Congress -meaning that the environmental community has substantial work to do to explain to Congress- many of whose members were not there in the 1990s -the reasons for our unaltera-ble opposition to centralized interim storage.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had re-issued its “waste confidence rule, which states that the NRC need not consider radioactive waste generation in licensing new reac-tors or extending licenses of existing reactors, because the NRC was confident that a permanent radioactive waste site would be licensed eventually and that, if not, existing onsite storage is good enough in any case. The agency was sued by several states and environmental groups like NRDC, and this sum-mer a federal court ruled in their favor, saying that the NRC has no valid reason to believe a permanent site ever will be established and has no technical basis for stating that existing on-site storage methods are good enough.

Responding to the court decision, grassroots intervenors (including NIRS) filed new contentions in every current new reactor and license renewal case arguing that the NRC no longer has any basis to issue new reactor licenses or renewals. The NRC, in Chairwoman Macfarlane’s first major decision, ruled in favor of the intervenors and said the agency indeed cannot grant any new reactor licenses, or approve any new license renewals, until it has addressed the waste confidence problem and provided a technical basis for its rule. Early indications are that this could take a year or more. 

In the meantime, pro-nuclear forces are marshaling to try to force Yucca Mountain on Nevada and the American people, and to try other mechanisms to speed nuclear power development, create new radioactive waste sites regardless of environmental impact, and to ignore the hard lessons learned from the past 25 years of failed radioactive waste policy.

The Fukushima disaster and the frightening reality of severe damage to a reactor's irradiated fuel pool have crept into public awareness. At the same time, fuel stored in dry casks at Fukushima was apparently not adversely affected by either the earthquake or tsunami. Add to that a growing recognition that fuel pools at U.S. reactors are typically much fuller than those at Fukushima, and thus are both more vulnerable and carry a larger radioactive inventory, and concern over radioactive waste issues has grown in the U.S. The specter of widespread transport of radioactive waste likely will lead to greater public concern.

Over the past few years, the nation's anti-nuclear, environmental community has managed to coalesce behind a statement of principles for radioactive waste. These principles are known as HOSS -for Hardened On-Site Storage- and reflect a belief that high-level radioactive waste should remain where it has been generated, but that the fuel pools should be emptied to the extent possible as soon as possible into dry cask storage that is additionally protected by berming and other features from natural disasters, terrorism and the like.(*2) No one believes that dry casks are a permanent solution to the problem, but after years of discussion, the nation's anti-nuclear movement believes they are the best answer for the present for the waste that already has been generated. Of course, ending the generation of any more radioactive waste is also vital, and demonstrating the shortcomings of every possible waste storage method -including the preferred method of HOSS- is a key step toward ending waste generation generally.

It is clear that major changes are coming to radioactive waste policy, probably over the next 18 months. What isn’t clear yet is what those changes will be. There is both opportunity and threat. This could be the chance to finally obtain a policy that can withstand public and scientific scrutiny, or it could be a return to the failed approach of seeking short-term industry gain at the expense of long-term scientific and public credibility.

*1- available at: gov/public/index.cfm/featureditems?ID=b6de054d-b342-...
*2- available at:

Source and contact: NIRS Washington


Closed Siberian nuclear city prepares to build radwaste repository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Bellona Foundation

Residents of the closed Russian nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk, have approved at a July 30 public environmental hearing a project to construct an underground research laboratory, which will study the possibility of constructing a long term subterranean radioactive waste repository.

However, some environmentalists have raise concerns that access to information about the facility, which was only viewable in paper form at the Zheleznogorsk city administration, was intentionally restricted by Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, to avoid criticism of the project. Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit the city and thus to view the information. Others claimed that only organizations were invited that confirm the position of the Mining and Chemical Combine. Still others are unconvinced by the safety of the proposed repository, saying that safety assurances are hyped propaganda from Russia’s nuclear industry.

The laboratory, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk will be built in the area’s Yeniseisky District and will conduct a minimum of nine years of study of mountainous and geological layers in accord with international recommendations and on the basis of experience from other similar international laboratories attempting to perfect the fragile science of safely storing radioactive waste for dozens if not hundreds of thousands of years underground.

Lab before repository
The aim of the years of study, which will be conducted at the exact underground depth of the possible future repository, is to confirm the fitness of the local geology for safe storage of longlived high- and medium-level radioactive waste, and the development of technology to handle waste. This will encompass the development of building chambers and shafts for radioactive waste storage, as well as the creation of engineering barriers against radiation. Comprehensive studies of the isolating characteristics of engineering barriers will be carried out, as well as studies on the thermodynamics of the chambers and shafts and geological layers.

The studies will form the backbone of a technical report that will be submitted for expert analysis by the State Com-mission on Useful Mineral Supplies, which will form the basis for whether the project can enter its first phase of construction of permanently isolating facilities, or if further study is required. No decision on whether the repository can be put to use can be taken until the underground laboratory has reasonably proved that the repository will be safe. The mining and chemical combine itself already houses wet storage for spent nuclear fuel, and has also launched a dry storage facility, which this year received its first load of spent RBMK reactor fuel.

Limited access to EIS
Public hearings are a necessary com-ponent of a State Environmental Impact Study of planned economic or other activities. The aim of the Environmental Impact Study is to avert or minimize negative environmental, societal, and economic consequences. According to the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine, a mere 50 people from the 100,000 strong region participated in reviewing the environmental impact report before the hearing, including a number of official inquiries from authorities.

Information about the hearing was posted, as required by law, 30 days before it took place in official media. The State Environmental Impact Study was accessible for review, and preparations of remarks and suggestions of interested parties were addressed in the public reception of the Zheleznogorsk city administration, which was staffed by consultants who answered questions from citizens on the voluminous technical text and who noted their opinions on the planned facility.

Environmental groups from Krasnoyarsk and Zheleznogorsk, representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, scientists and specialists in various fields were invited to attend Monday’s hearing.

But there were complaints that access to the impact study was extremely limited. "It was only possible to view the environmental impact study material by traveling personally to Zheleznogorsk,” said Valery Komissarov, chief engineer of the isotope and chemical factory of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine. “Paper and electronic copies were forbidden, three copies of the document were available in the public reception of the city administration, where you could copy some information by hand,” he said.

Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit, and without being able to visit, many interested citizens were unable to view the Environmental Impact Study. According to Vladimir Mikheyev, director of the Citizens’ Center For Nuclear Nonproliferation, the closed nature of the impact study shows that Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom is hardly ready to cooperate with the public, specifically with critical observations by ecological groups. They only invited organizations that confirm the position of the corporation to their event,” Mikheyev told the Russian Press Line news agency.

Source: Bellona Foundation, 2 August, written by Anna Kireeva, translated by Charles Digges
Contact: WISE Russia, Moskovsky prospect 120-34, 236006 Kaliningrad, Russia
Tel: +7 903 299 75 84
Email: ecodefense[at]

SKB license application show serious shortcomings

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Joanna Widstrand

In March 2011, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, SKB, submitted an application to build a repository for spent nuclear fuel near the nuclear power plant at Forsmark, about 160 km up the coast from Stockholm. In accordance with Swedish law the application was circulated for comment among all the institutions and organizations that have participated in the Environmental Impact Assessment consultations. Comments were to focus on perceived gaps in SKB’s environmental impact statement. The deadline for comment was 1 June 2012. 

Several parties to the consultations note serious shortcomings in the application and the environmental impact statement (EIS). They include the two national level environmental groups who have taken part in the consultations, namely, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, SSNC, with its sister organization The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG, and Milkas, representing the Swedish Anti-Nuclear Movement and Friends of the Earth Sweden.

SKB's license application will now be processed through two parallel reviews in the Swedish legal system: one performed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), who will check the application’s compliance with current legislation in the radiation safety area, and the other performed by the Environmental Court, who will examine its compliance with the Environmental Code. SSM plays two parts in the pro-cess: it is a reviewing body in its own right, and it acts as a consultative body to the Environmental Court. 

The initial phase, in which the need for amendments to the application is to be analysed, is common to both SSM‘s and the Court’s review. This first step of the licensing process is important, since it represents an opportunity for input of a broad range of opinions on the application through a national consultation process. When the present consultation process is ended, the Environmental Court and the SSM will proceed to review the application for as long as they find necessary and then determine what amendments are necessary. Only when the application is complete will the authority and the court start the main review process. If the court decides that the amendments are not satisfactory, the application may be rejected.

In the main review there will be a new consultation on the issues and there will be a hearing; thereafter the court and the regulator will submit their assessments of the application to the Swedish Government. The Government will then decide the final repository’s fate, either granting a license to SKB or rejecting the company’s application, taking due account of the recommendations of SSM and the Environmental Court.

Issues concerning longterm safety
SKB’s proposed method for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a KBS-3 repository, the longterm safety of which relies on artificial barriers of copper and clay. The 5 meter long fuel rods are to be put in a total of 6,000 canisters made out of copper, which are to be depo-sited in shallow boreholes about 500 m down in the Forsmark bedrock. The boreholes and access tunnels are to be filled out with bentonite clay with the intention to keep the spent nuclear fuel encapsulated and separated from the biosphere for as long as the contents pose a hazard – in essence, for all time to come. The bentonite clay is supposed to protect the copper canisters from contact with groundwaterleading fissures in the surrounding bedrock. The main function of the clay is for it to swell when in contact with water, pretty much like cat litter does. Once saturated, it is expected to keep the canisters and the spent fuel shielded from their surroundings. SKB assures us that everything will be fine.

However, the organizations who participated in the EIA consultation process are of a different opinion. Particularly critical are, besides environmental organizations, the Swedish Environmental Agency, the municipalities of Östhammar and Oskarshamn, the Royal Institute of Technology, and Lund University. 

The main critique presented in the SSNC’s and MKG’s consultation document is that the company’s application does not contain scientific evidence to support the claims for longterm safety of the repository. Copper corrosion, for example, is a problem that has not been sufficiently investigated by the company. In order for the bentonite clay to function as the intended isolator in the repository, a specific amount of water – not too much, not too little – needs to be present in the bedrock so that the bentonite will start swelling. If the clay does not get activated, which is a possible scenario in the relatively dry Forsmark bedrock, there is an imminent risk that the clay will be affected by the heat and radioactivity coming from the canisters and possibly erode. Given an eroded buffer, the canisters would be exposed to water seeping into the repository, which may corrode the copper canisters. The interplay between the copper and clay in a repository environment is another area that requires further investigation. In sum: It is not  acceptable to build a repository that is supposed to be safe and protect humans and the environment from radioactive waste/pollution/toxicity for over 100,000 years, when so much research on such key issues is still lacking.

Milkas seconds the criticisms put forward by the SSNC and MKG. In addition, Milkas raises issues relating to the geological characteristics of the chosen site. A coastal site like that at Forsmark implies the risk that ground-water will readily spread any leakage from the repository into the Baltic Sea. In the longer term there is the problem of coming ice ages. The repository is to be installed in a tectonic lens – a body of crystalline granite in the midst of a shearing zone. Whereas the zone is stable at present, it may very likely be reactivated under the strains associated with glaciation. On the whole, SKB tends consistently to underestimate the seismic effects of glaciation. The installation of the repository in the lens, in itself, may impair the integrity of the lens, in which case the whole repository is at risk – perhaps even a good deal earlier than the next ice age.

Other concerns include an apparent inability on the part of the applicant to elaborate scenarios that challenge the success of the repository project. Both the Government and the regulatory body have pointed to this bias and called for such scenarios. None has been forthcoming. As a result, we are left to rely on assurances.

A good share of Milkas comments, addressed specifically to the Environmental Court, concerns procedural as well as substantive shortcomings in the EIA process and the EIS in relation to the requirements of the Environmental Code. In Milkas’ view, the applicant has effectively subverted the dialogic method that the Code envisages to ensure allround evaluation of major projects’ environmental consequences.

What next?
SSM's comments on the need for amendments are to be handed in to the Environmental Court by November 1. At the same time the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste, a consultatory scientific board to the Swedish Government, will give their view. After that, correspondence between SKB and the various organizations who participated in the consultation process will take place in order to discuss the additional work to be required of the company. The Court’s determination on the issue of amendments is expected at the end of 2013, at the earliest. The story continues…

Source and contact: Joanna Widstrand, former project assistant at MKG, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review.
Tel: +4631-711 00 92
Email: jo.widstrand[at]

WISE Sweden

Nuclear waste nightmares: USA, Germany, France

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On Valentine's Day 2014, a drum of packaged waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) ruptured 2,150 feet (655 metres) underground in New Mexico's nuclear waste repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) which is carved from ancient salt beds. The incident was described as a heat-generating chemical reaction – the US Department of Energy (DOE) called it a deflagration rather than an explosion.

Explosion or not, the chemical reaction compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to air monitoring equipment approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft. The accident resulted in 21 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.

It later transpired that LANL had improperly packaged hundreds of waste drums with a combustible mix of nitrate salts – a byproduct of nuclear weapons production – and organic cat litter, causing a hot reaction in one drum that cracked the lid. The rupture released americium and plutonium into the deep salt mine and, in small amounts, into the environment.1 The repository is still closed two years later, and a March 2016 date for re-opening has been pushed back to later this year.

"These accidents during the first 15 years of operation really illustrate the challenge of predicting the behavior of the repository over 10,000 years," said Rod Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The Stanford experts also suggest more attention should be paid to how the buried materials may interact with each other, particularly with salty brine, over centuries. A single storage drum may contain a variety of materials, such as lab coats, gloves and laboratory instruments; thus, the chemistry is complex. Ewing said that the complacency that led to the accidents at WIPP can also occur in the safety analysis. Therefore, he advises, it is important to carefully review the safety analysis as new proposals for more plutonium disposal are considered.2

Asse, Germany

Now, 500 metres beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, another nightmare is playing out, according to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist. Enough plutonium bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm's way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface. It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.3

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste, including the waste dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. But Germany still has no plan for dealing with high-level waste and spent fuel. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. "We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I'm not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done," he says. Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the Commission. The problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The problems at Asse became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. In 2011, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) ruled that the waste had to be removed. But this is likely to take decades.

Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don't know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity. And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in, and flooding of the mine can't be ruled out.

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033. Meanwhile the bill keeps rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions. Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

Tunnel collapse and fatality at French repository site

Meanwhile one worker has been killed and another injured in a tunnel collapse at France's planned nuclear waste repository at Bure, in north-eastern France. According to French waste management agency Andra, geophysical surveys were being carried out at the time of the collapse and the rockfall is believed to have happened as drilling was taking place. Scheduled for an authorization decree in 2018 and industrial commissioning in 2025, the facility – if approved – is expected to bury France's highly-radioactive nuclear waste.4

Repository cost escalation in France

Reuters reported on January 12 that shares in French utility EDF sank to an all-time low after Andra said that the cost of a national nuclear waste repository for intermediate- and high-level waste could be higher than EDF's estimates. Andra says that costs for the deep geological storage project could range from €20 billion to €30 billion.5

French energy minister Ségolène Royal signed a decree setting the 'reference cost' for the repository at €25 billion. In 2005, Andra estimated the cost of the facility at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion. In 2009 Andra re-estimated the cost at around €36 billion. In a confidential 2014 file, which was recently leaked, Andra gave a cost estimate of €34.4 billion, based on 2012 prices, with construction accounting for 58% of the costs and operational costs over 100 years accounting for 26% of the total.6

EDF said that the new €25 billion reference cost will "substitute the estimated benchmark cost of €20.8 billion on which EDF Group relied in its consolidated financial statements at the end of December 2014 and at the end of June 2015". EDF said the increase in provisions will have a negative impact of around €500 million post-tax on net income group share in 2015.6

Reprinted from nuClear news with additions from Nuclear Monitor.

nuClear news, No.82, February 2016,

1. Albuquerque Journal, 19 October 2015,
2. Stanford News, 15 Jan 2016,
011516.html and Nature 13 Jan 2016,
3. New Scientist, 29 Jan 2016,
4. Cumbria Trust, 27 Jan 2016,
WNN, 26 Jan 2016, 'Fatal rockfall at planned French repository site',

5. Geert De Clercq, 12 Jan 2016, 'EDF sinks to all-time low as nuclear waste cost estimate soars',

6. World Nuclear News, 18 Jan 2016, 'Minister sets benchmark cost for French repository',

Commission recommends international high-level nuclear waste dump for South Australia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor editor

A Royal Commission established by the government of South Australia to investigate options for nuclear expansion has released its interim report.1 Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle is currently limited to uranium mining and export. The Royal Commission is negative about almost all of the proposals it is asked to consider. It concluded that uranium conversion, enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing will not be economically viable for the foreseeable future. It found that conventional nuclear power and small reactors will not be economically viable for the foreseeable future.

Significantly, the Royal Commission has dealt a blow to advocates of 'integral fast reactors' (IFR). The Commission faced a major co-ordinated lobbying exercise promoting a plan to import spent fuel and to convert it (well, a small fraction of it) to fuel for IFRs. The illogical nature of the waste-to-fuel plan is neatly debunked in an important recent report by The Australia Institute.2

The Royal Commission could not be clearer on the topic of fast reactors. Its interim report states: "Fast reactors or reactors with other innovative designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in South Australia in the foreseeable future. No licensed and commercially proven design is currently operating. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment. Moreover, the electricity generated has not been demonstrated to be cost-competitive with current light water reactor designs."

So the waste-to-fuel IFR fantasies are dead and buried ... for the time being.

The Royal Commission promotes a plan for South Australia to accept nuclear waste from power plants around the world for storage and disposal – 138,000 tonnes heavy metal of spent nuclear fuel and 390,000 cubic meters of intermediate-level waste – over about 100 years. It makes absurd claims about the potential profits to be made, claims echoed by the state's one mass circulation newspaper – a Murdoch tabloid.

However the revenue estimates have no basis in reality. There is no comparable overseas model of commercial trade of nuclear waste for disposal. No real idea how many countries might avail themselves of the opportunity to send nuclear waste to Australia for disposal, or how much they might send, or how much they might pay. So there's no way of knowing whether revenue would exceed costs.

The estimated construction costs for a deep underground repository for high level waste are in the tens of billions of dollars. For example the construction cost estimate in France is US$27.8 billion (€25 billion)3 while in Japan the estimate is US$31 billion (€28 billion).4

Of course, there are significant additional costs associated with operating and monitoring repositories. The US governments estimates that to build a repository and operate it for 150 years would cost US$96 billion.5 The Royal Commission provides a similar figure: costs of $145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning.

But the above timeframes – 150 years in the U.S. report and 120 years in the Royal Commission study – are nothing compared to the lifespan of nuclear waste. It takes 300,000 years for high level waste to decay to the level of the original uranium ore.6 The Royal Commission report notes that spent nuclear fuel (high level nuclear waste) "requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years."

Economist Prof. Richard Blandy commented: "We are bequeathing a stream of costs to our successor generations. They will be poorer as a result, and will have reason to curse their forebears for selfishly making themselves better off at their expense."7

Despite the best efforts of the mainstream political parties and the Murdoch press, public opinion is strongly against the plan for a nuclear waste dump in South Australia, and the proposal is likely to meet with fierce opposition from Aboriginal Traditional Owners.








7. Richard Blandy, 23 Feb 2016, 'Nuclear waste dump confounds cost-benefit analysis',

More information:

– 'Australian push to become the world's nuclear waste dump', Nuclear Monitor #808, 18 Aug 2015,

– Friends of the Earth, Australia:

Spent fuel storage proposal in Sweden released for public comment

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Miles Goldstick – Swedish Environmental Movement's Nuclear Waste Secretariat

On 29 January 2016 the nuclear industry's application to construct a spent fuel repository beside the Forsmark nuclear power station and an encapsulation facility near the Oskarshamn nuclear power station was released for public comment by both the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmydigheten, SSM) and the Land and Environmental Court (Mark- och miljödomstolen, MMD). SSM examines the application according to the Nuclear Activities Act and MMD according to the Environmental Code.

On 5 February 2016, for all countries around the Baltic Sea, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency announced consultation on the application according to articles 4 and 5 of Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) and EU Directive 2011/92/EU for interim storage, encapsulation and final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Comments are requested no later than 15 April 2016.

The application is to construct a spent fuel repository using a method the Swedish nuclear industry calls KBS-3 (an abbreviation of kärnbränslesäkerhet, nuclear fuel safety; the "3" refers to the third variation). It is a KBS type facility that the Finnish government approved 12 November 2015. The method consists of storing spent fuel in cast iron canisters encapsulated in copper and placed, surrounded by bentonite clay, in holes in the floor of tunnels about 500 meters under the surface in crystalline rock.

An important milestone for Sweden and internationally

Releasing the application for comment is an important milestone in the Swedish regulatory process. It is also an important milestone internationally. The nuclear industry worldwide is keeping a close eye on the process, eagerly hoping for approval of the project and thus being able to claim the spent fuel management problem is solved.

In Finland, the application process is less rigorous than in Sweden. In Finland, a facility about 500 meters below the surface was constructed before the government approved moving forward with a testing phase. In Sweden, if the government approves the application, excavation cannot begin until conditions are set by SSM and the MMD.

The Swedish nuclear industry, via its company SKB, submitted its KBS application to SSM and MMD on 16 March 2011. The period from then until 29 January 2016, almost five years, was needed for SSM and MMD to determine if the application was of adequate quality to be released for public comment. The application was examined to determine if anything was missing. MMD had three rounds of public comment in this phase. As well, SSM made several requests to SKB to supplement the application with further information, e.g. regarding the risk of copper corroding in oxygen free water. MMD however made no such requests but only asked SKB to respond to comments from others. SKB responded by providing very limited supplementary information to both SSM and MMD. Comments by environmental organizations were in generally ignored by SKB and did not result in submission of more information by the company.

Even though the phase of determining if the application was adequate for release for public comment took almost five years, both SSM and MMD have now given the public only a few months to comment on the proposal. The deadline for comments set by MMD is 30 March 2016 and the deadline set by SSM is 30 April 2016.

The next step in the MMD review process is a "main hearing" where oral presentations can be made. Information presented in written form cannot also be given orally. The hearing is scheduled for some time between October and December 2016.

The following step is for MMD to make its statement to the government, which is scheduled for some time between February and June 2017. SSM intends to make its statement to the government about the same time. There may still be delays in the process.

After considering the statements by SSM and MMD, the government can reject the application. If the government is considering approving the application, it must first ask the approval of the Municipality of Östhammar (where Forsmark is located) and the Municipality of Oskarshamn before making its decision. If one or both of the municipalities do not approve, the government can in any case still approve the project. As the next Swedish general election (federal, regional and municipal) is 9 September 2018, the government could postpone its decision until after the election.

If the government approves the application, it is then up to MMD and SSM to set conditions for implementation of the project. SKB can then begin construction. The MMD's decision on conditions can be appealed.

Main technical issues

The main technical issues are not unique to Sweden. These include the method in general (e.g. retrievability and monitorability, including limitation of nuclear proliferation risks), location (e.g. proximity to water bodies, other nuclear facilities and population centers), and geologic conditions regardless of placement on the surface or at some depth. Each method in turn has its own specific technical issues depending on where it is located.

Two main issues of the proposed KBS-3 facility are the corrosion rate of copper and the behaviour of bentonite clay under different hydrological conditions. Both topics are highly technical and comprehensible only to advanced specialists. The same goes for determination of adequate geological stability. Estimation of earthquake risk is very complicated. SKB specialists have not found any technical problem that blocks their project. Independent specialists are however not in agreement.

There are aspects of the KBS-3 proposal that do not require technical expertise, e.g. if monitorability should be required (none is currently included), and placement inland instead of on the Baltic coast to lower the risk of contaminating the Baltic Sea. Both these aspects do not fall into the category of being determinative regarding rejection of a KBS facility. A monitoring system could be added and a site found inland.

The law according to the Environmental Code requires examination of alternative methods. To date, SKB has not according to several stakeholders adequately examined very deep bore holes, dry storage at shallow depths or inside mountains, nor hardened on-site storage (HOSS) of the type discussed in the US. It is up to the MMD to interpret if the legal requirement for examination of alternatives has been met.

Political timing and sustainable development

The issue of political timing is perhaps the most important issue from the perspective of sustainable development. Establishment of a KBS-3 facility will give the nuclear industry the opportunity of claiming that the spent fuel management problem is "solved" and that thus use of nuclear power can be continued and expanded. At the same time, presently existing waste must be handled in the best manner possible. However, adding to the volume of the waste exasperates the problem and increases costs. Delaying a "solution" until nuclear power is no longer considered viable could result in fewer resources being squandered on nuclear power.

Funding for environmental organizations

The current law regulating funding for environmental organizations to participate in the application process states that funding can only be used up to one year after the application is released for public comment. The government, via the Ministry of Environment and Energy is however reviewing the law. SSM has recommended that funding be extended until the government decision according to the Environmental Code (i.e. regarding the statement from MMD), but be kept limited to the KBS-3 application. Environmental organizations have requested the funding be made permanent and be broadened to include all forms of nuclear waste and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. As can be expected, the nuclear industry does not want the funding period to be extended nor broadened.

What you can do

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can make a submission to SSM and MMD. All submissions become part of the public record. Submissions sent to MMD are forwarded to SKB for comment and sent out to a distribution list.

Requests can be made for more time to examine the application. Considering the large volume of material making up the proposal, at least a year is reasonable.

Organizations in countries that are parties to the Espoo Convention should send comments to the Swedish EPA with copies to SSM and MMD (see

Contact information for submissions

Land and Environmental Court


Note case number: M 1333-11

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority


Note case number: SSM2011-1135

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

Attention: Åsa Wisén

Note case number: NV-07138-15.

More information

KBS-3 and the Final Repository Application – A Little Help With the Flow of Information,

Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG),

Espoo Convention information at

One deep underground dump, one dud

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

There is only one deep underground dump (DUD) for nuclear waste anywhere in the world, and it's a dud. The broad outline of this dud DUD story is simple and predictable: over a period of 10−15 years, high standards gave way to complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA, is a burial site for long-lived intermediate-level waste from the US nuclear weapons program. More than 171,000 waste drums have been stored in salt caverns 2,100 feet (640 metres) underground since WIPP opened in 1999.

Earl Potter, a lawyer who represented Westinghouse, WIPP's first operating contractor, said: "At the beginning, there was an almost fanatical attention to safety. I'm afraid the emphasis shifted to looking at how quickly and how inexpensively they could dispose of this waste."1

Likewise, Rick Fuentes, president of the Carlsbad chapter of the United Steelworkers union, said: "In the early days, we had to prove to the stakeholders that we could operate this place safely for both people and the environment. After time, complacency set in. Money didn't get invested into the equipment and the things it should have."1

Before WIPP opened, sceptical locals were invited to watch experiments to assure them how safe the facility would be. Waste containers were dropped from great heights onto metal spikes, submerged in water and rammed by trains.1 Little did they know that a typo and kitty litter would be the undoing of WIPP.

On 14 February 2014, a drum rupture spread contaminants through about one-third of the underground caverns and tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, and into the outside environment. Twenty-two people were contaminated with low-level radioactivity.

A Technical Assessment Team convened by the US Department of Energy (DoE) has recently released a report into the February 2014 accident.2 The report concludes that just one drum was the source of radioactive contamination, and that the drum rupture resulted from internal chemical reactions.

Chemically incompatible contents in the drum − nitrate salt residues, organic sorbent and an acid neutralization agent − supported heat-generating chemical reactions which led to the creation of gases within the drum. The build-up of gases displaced the drum lid, venting radioactive material and hot matter that further reacted with the air or other materials outside the drum to cause the observed damage.

Kitty litter

The problems began at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where the drum was packed. One of the problems at LANL was the replacement of inorganic absorbent with an organic absorbent − kitty litter. Carbohydrates in the kitty litter provided fuel for a chemical reaction with metal nitrate salts being disposed of.

The switch to kitty litter took effect on 1 August 2012. LANL staff were explicitly directed to "ENSURE an organic absorbent (kitty litter) is added to the waste" when packaging drums of nitrate salts. LANL's use of organic kitty litter defied clear instructions from WIPP to use an inorganic absorbent.3

Why switch from inorganic absorbent to organic kitty litter? The most likely explanation is that the problem originated with a typo in notes from a meeting at LANL about how to package "difficult" waste for shipment to WIPP − and the subsequent failure of anyone at LANL to correct the error. In email correspondence, Mark Pearcy, a member of the team that reviews waste to ensure it is acceptable to be stored at WIPP, said: "General consensus is that the 'organic' designation was a typo that wasn't caught."3

LANL officials have since acknowledged several violations of its Hazardous Waste Facility Permit including the failure to follow proper procedures in making the switch to organic litter, and the lack of follow-up on waste that tests showed to be highly acidic.4

Ongoing risks

The heat generated by the rupture of drum #68660 may have destabilized up to 55 other drums that were in close proximity. A June 2014 report by LANL staff based at WIPP said the heat "may have dried out some of the unreacted oxidizer-organic mixtures increasing their potential for spontaneous reaction. The dehydration of the fuel-oxidizer mixtures caused by the heating of the drums is recognized as a condition known to increase the potential for reaction."5

The Albuquerque Journal reported on March 15 that 368 drums with waste comparable to drum #68660 are stored underground at WIPP − 313 in Panel 6, and 55 in Room 7 of Panel 7, the same room as drum #68660. WIPP operators are trying to isolate areas considered to be at risk with chain links, brattice cloth to restrict air flow, mined salt buffers and steel bulkheads. Efforts to shut off particular rooms and panels have been delayed and complicated by radiological contamination, limitations on the number of workers and equipment that can be used due to poor ventilation, and months of missed maintenance that followed the February 2014 accident.6

An Associated Press report states that since September 2012, LANL packed up to 5,565 drums with organic kitty litter. Of particular concern are 16 drums with highly acidic contents as well as nitrate salts. Of those 16 drums, 11 are underground at WIPP (one of them is drum #68660), and the other five are in temporary storage at a private waste facility in Andrews, Texas.4

Freedom of Information revelations

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper has revealed further details about problems before and after the February 2014 accident, based on material from a Freedom of Information Act request.3

The New Mexican reports that LANL workers came across a batch of waste that was highly acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. A careful review of treatment options should have followed, but instead LANL and its contractors took shortcuts, adding acid neutralizer as well as kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The wrong neutralizer was used, exacerbating the problem.3

One of these waste drums was #68660. Documents accompanying the drum from LANL to WIPP made no mention of the high acidity or the neutralizer, and they said that it contained an inorganic absorbent.3

The decision to take shortcuts was likely motivated by pressure to meet a deadline to remove waste from an area at LANL considered vulnerable to fire. Meeting the deadline would have helped LANL contractors' extend their lucrative contracts to package waste at LANL and transport it to WIPP.3

For two years preceding the February 2014 incident, LANL refused to allow inspectors conducting annual audits for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) inside the facility where waste was treated, saying the auditors did not have appropriate training to be around radioactive waste. The NMED did not insist on gaining access because, in the words of a departmental spokesperson, it was "working on higher priority duties at the time that mandated our attention."3

There were further lapses after the drum rupture. The New Mexican reported:

"Documents and internal emails show that even after the radiation leak, lab officials downplayed the dangers of the waste − even to the Carlsbad managers whose staff members were endangered by its presence − and withheld critical information from regulators and WIPP officials investigating the leak. Internal emails, harshly worded at times, convey a tone of exasperation with LANL from WIPP personnel, primarily employees of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates the repository."3

Several months after the rupture of drum #68660, an LANL chemist discovered that the contents of the drum matched those of a patented explosive. Personnel at WIPP were not informed of the potential for an explosive reaction for nearly another week − and they only learned about the problem after a DoE employee leaked a copy of the chemist's memo to a colleague in Carlsbad the night before a planned entry into the room that held the ruptured drum. That planned entry was cancelled. Workers in protective suits entered the underground area several days later to collect samples.3

"I am appalled that LANL didn't provide us this information," Dana Bryson from DoE's Carlsbad Field Office wrote in an email when she learned of the memo.3

The DoE employee who first alerted WIPP personnel to the threat was reprimanded by the DoE's Los Alamos Site Office for sharing the information.3


Inevitably the clean-up has faced problems due to radioactive contamination in the underground panels and tunnels, and delays in routine underground maintenance because of the contamination. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on some of these problems:

"In October, when a fan was tested for the first time since the accident, it kicked up low levels of radioactive materials that escaped from the mine. Waste drums that normally would have been permanently disposed of within days of their arrival at WIPP instead were housed in an above-ground holding area for months and leaked harmful but nonradioactive vapors that sickened four workers. A chunk of the cavern's ceiling crashed to the ground after the contamination delayed for months the routine bolting that would have stabilized the roof."1

Another problem is that workers are entering underground areas that are not being monitored for carcinogenic volatile organic compounds. Monitoring of these compounds, a condition of WIPP's permit from the state of New Mexico, has not been taking place since February 2014 because of limited access to contaminated underground areas.5

Don Hancock from the Southwest Research and Information Center said:

"They have no intention of starting to do the volatile organic compound monitoring in the underground at least until January of 2016. They fully intend to keep sending workers into the underground with no intention of following this requirement. It's in violation of the permit, and the Environment Department should say so."5


The NMED has fined the DoE US$54 million (€49.2m). The Department identified 13 violations at WIPP, and imposed penalties of US$17.7 million (€16.1m). The Department identified 24 violations at LANL, and imposed penalties of US$36.6 million (€33.3m).7 The DoE is appealing the fines.8

The DoE says that any state fines it pays for the WIPP accident will come from money appropriated to clean up nuclear weapons sites in New Mexico. A 2016 budget year summary presented in February by DoE's Office of Environmental Management says: "Any fines and penalties assessed on the EM [environmental management] program would be provided by cleanup dollars, resulting in reduced funding for cleanup activities."8

NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn responded:

"Essentially, DoE is threatening to punish states by doing less cleanup work if states attempt to hold it accountable for violating federal and state environmental laws. States like New Mexico welcome federal facilities into our communities with the understanding that these facilities will respect the health and safety of our citizens by complying with federal and state laws."8

The NMED is working on a new compliance order that could include fines of more than US$100 million (€91.1m). Flynn said:

"We've indicated all along that if DoE is willing to take accountability for the events that caused the release and work with the state then we'd be willing to release them from any further liability at Los Alamos and WIPP. If DoE is not willing to take accountability for what's occurred, then they are going to face significant additional penalties."9

A February 22 editorial in the Albuquerque Journal states:

"It would behoove the DoE to quit poisoning the well when it doesn't have another option for disposing of this kind of waste underground. ... So the DOE should start paying up and playing fair with the only game in town."10

Greg Mello from the Los Alamos Study Group said that an increase in weapons spending proposed by the Obama administration would pay "all the NMED-proposed fines a few times over."8

Clean-up costs

Costs associated with the February 2014 accident include clean-up costs, fines, and costs associated with managing the backlog of waste at other sites until it can be sent to WIPP. Total costs will be at least US$500 million (€455m).1

WIPP is unlikely to be fully operational until at least 2018 according to federal Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "We are targeting 2018 but I have to admit that that remains a little uncertain; the key project is the new ventilation system and that is still undergoing engineering analysis," Moniz said in February.

Don Hancock doubts that the 2018 timeline can be met. Salt mines exist across the world, he said, but reopening a contaminated salt mine following a radiological release is unprecedented and the government has no model to follow.11

Earl Potter, the former Westinghouse lawyer with a long association with WIPP, told the New Mexican that he doubted whether WIPP could continue if another radiation leak happened during the recovery process. "We can survive one," he said, "but two, I don't think so."1

1. Patrick Malone, 14 Feb 2015, 'Repository's future uncertain, but New Mexico town still believes',
2. Technical Assessment Team, March 2015, 'Investigation of Incident at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant'
Full report:
3. Patrick Malone, 15 Nov 2014, 'LANL officials downplayed waste's dangers even after leak',
4. Jeri Clausing / Associated Press, 4 July 2014, 'U.S. lab admits violating nuke-waste permit',
5. Patrick Malone, 29 Nov 2014, 'Emails raise questions about risks to WIPP workers sent underground',
6. Lauren Villagran, 15 March 2015, 'Roof collapses pose safety risk for workers at WIPP',
7. WNN, 8 Dec 2014, 'Fines follow WIPP incidents',
8. Mark Oswald, 20 Feb 2015, 'DOE says any fines for WIPP leak will come from clean-up money',
9. 10 Feb 2015, 'New Mexico Considers More Fines Over Nuke Leak',
10. Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board, 22 Feb 2015, 'Editorial: Balking at fines won't help DOE reach a nuke solution',
11. Meg Mirshak, 24 March 2015, 'New Mexico group doubts WIPP repository will reopen by deadline, leaving waste stranded at Savannah River Site',

Australian Radioactive Exposure Tour

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the first Radioactive Exposure Tour (or 'radtour') run by Friends of the Earth in Australia. These tours have exposed thousands of people first-hand to the realities of 'radioactive racism' and to the environmental impacts of the nuclear industry.

This year's radtour will take place from June 27 to July 8. From blue coast to red desert, the radtour will visit two operating uranium mines, Australia's only reactor at Lucas Heights, the former proposed nuclear power site at Jervis Bay, hotspots of uranium exploration, the missile testing site associated with the British atomic bomb testing program in Australia, historical sites of resistance, Lake Eyre (a giant inland lake), Mound Springs fed by the underlying Great Artesian Basin, the gorges of the Flinders Ranges ... and much more!

International participation is welcome. Last year's radtour included participants from India, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the UK, New Zealand and France.

Walkatjurra Walkabout

Meanwhile, 'Walkatjurra Walkabout – Walking for Country' will take place in Western Australia from August 17 to September 18. The Walkabout, from Wiluna to Leonora, takes in proposed uranium mining sites and former uranium exploration sites. It will be led by the Walkatjurra Rangers, in partnership with Footprints for Peace, the WA Nuclear Free Alliance, and the Conservation Council of WA.

Aboriginal Traditional Owner Kado Muir says:

"The Walkatjurra Walkabout is a pilgrimage across Wangkatja country in the spirit of our ancestors so together, we as present custodians, can protect our land and our culture for future generations.

"My people have resisted destructive mining on our land and our sacred sites for generations. For over forty years we have fought to stop uranium mining at Yeelirrie, we stopped the removal of sacred stones from Weebo and for the last twenty years we have stopped destruction of 200 sites at Yakabindie. We are not opposed to responsible development, but cannot stand wanton destruction of our land, our culture, and our environment.

"We invite all people, from all places, to come together to walk with us, to send a clear message that we want the environment here, and our sacred places left alone."

Yucca Mountain opposition: it's not just Harry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS)

The conventional wisdom scribes have been falling all over themselves since US Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced last month that he won't run for re-election to spout what is obvious to all of them: Reid's exit means Yucca Mountain will finally open.

After all, Super Harry has been single-handedly preventing Yucca from becoming the nation's single most lethal plot of land.

If you've never seen conventional wisdom in action, then you're in for a treat. Here it is, in all its shining glory, in The Hill: 'Reid's exit removes obstacle to Yucca nuclear waste site'.1

Ignore the 880, mostly inane, comments to the piece and focus on the intro: Reid's retirement "is removing one of the biggest obstacles" to Yucca. Find an anonymous Hill staffer to quote, preferably a Republican:

"There's no question that people are looking around and saying, 'Yeah, this news is good for solving the nuclear stalemate and having Yucca be part of that solution,' a Senate GOP aide said of Reid's planned departure in 2017. There's no reason to oppose Yucca beyond a political calculation, and the math on that just changed."

And make sure to get a quote from Yucca's biggest booster, Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus and add the tantalizing possibility that some Democrats support Yucca Mountain (as a few always have).

Bury the actual facts late in the story, after the ads. Like, the fact that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also opposes Yucca Mountain. As does the state's other Senator Dean Heller, a Republican. And the Republican Governor, Brian Sandoval, as well. Oh, wait, the article does forget to mention that one.

Oh, and some environmental groups also oppose Yucca Mountain.

Actually, it's not just some; it's essentially all environmental and clean energy organizations across the country. When we tallied it up in 2002, more than 50 national organizations and 700+ regional, state and local organizations from across the nation had publicly stated their opposition to Yucca.2

So it's not just Nevadans either. And it's not like the number has gone down since 2002; if anything, the number has gone up.

Why is there such widespread opposition to Yucca? It's not because Harry Reid doesn't want the project. It's not blind support for President Obama, who began ending the project as soon as he came into office in 2009. It's because as one of the most studied places on Earth, it's the one place on Earth we know will leak if it becomes a radioactive waste dump − a fact NIRS and other environmental groups have been pointing out, with greater and greater scientific backing, for decades.

I mean no disrespect for Senator Reid here. He's done a terrific job on Yucca Mountain, on renewable energy and on a lot of other things. In fact, I have tremendous respect for Senator Reid.

But I remember when he was the junior senator from Nevada, and Senator Richard Bryan was the senior senator, and very effectively led the Congressional opposition to Yucca which culminated in the 2000 veto by President Clinton of a Yucca/Mobile Chernobyl bill − a veto that was sustained by one vote.

It was Bryan who spoke from the stage at our 1997 anti-Yucca concerts in Washington with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Indigo Girls and more. Not Reid.

During the debate on that 2000 legislation, I watched C-Span on my computer and fed Reid's office with information every few minutes to counter the pro-Yucca statements. Reid wasn't as ready then to effectively take on Yucca; Bryan, nearing the end of his political career, didn't need any help.

Indeed, it wasn't until after Bryan retired, and Reid and I had a private meeting in his office, that we became fully comfortable with him in his new role as the lead anti-Yucca spokesperson on the Hill. And he went on to far surpass all of our expectations.

But the opposition to Yucca isn't − despite the conventional wisdom − about Harry Reid. It's about the fundamental fact that putting the nation's lethal high-level radioactive waste in a highly seismically-active zone, where radioactive materials from weapons tests that went into the mountain in the 1950s have since leaked back out of the mountain, makes no sense.

It's about the fundamental fact that even the Department of Energy admits that the mountain provides essentially none of the required prevention of leakage of the waste; the casks − which will rust and decay and the unbuilt and quite possibly unbuildable titanium shields the DOE now says are essential − provide 95% of that protection. If that's the case, and it is, then the waste could go anywhere. Like underneath any of the nuclear reactor sites in the country.

That would be a stupid idea, of course; but it's no less stupid at Yucca Mountain. If we're going to have a permanent waste repository, and we need one sooner or later − sooner if we can end radioactive waste generation sooner − it should at least offer some measure of protection. We know it won't at Yucca Mountain.

The opposition to Yucca Mountain is deep, broad and national. It also has proven its effectiveness over the years. And it's not going away. Senator Reid knows that. That's why he can confidently say, as he did the day after his announcement, that "Yucca Mountain is dead."

The Las Vegas Sun knows that too; that's why their front page article last month on the opposition didn't focus on Reid, it focused on the grassroots.3 By the way, the Sun also put a kind article about me and the NIRS' Legacy Fund as a sidebar on the front page too.4

Heck, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff know it. They won't even recommend that the project be pursued any longer.

The nuclear industry and its backers are persistent. That's why some battles have to be fought over and over again. But we're just as persistent. Yucca was named as the nation's only high-level radioactive waste site by an ignorant Congress in 1987, to be operational by 1998. It didn't happen, and it won't happen in 2018 or 2028 or any other date either.

We all owe Senator Harry Reid a lot for his efforts over the years. We owe each other a round of thanks too.

For some background on why Yucca Mountain is scientifically unsuitable as a high-level radioactive waste site, and a bit of history on the opposition, visit the NIRS Yucca Mountain page.5




Russian reactor power experiments, extended run times spooking environmentalists

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Anna Kireeva

Ecologists are getting more uncomfortable with the fact that Russia is tinkering around with the science of extending the usual 30-year operational life span of nuclear reactors. The concern was raised during a joint conference in Oslo on December 10 of the Bellona Foundation and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom on 'Russia's Atomic Energy: Conditions, Tendencies and Safety'. The discussion focused on the safety of Russian reactors, especially those in Northwest Russia, closest to Norway; nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel handling; and safety upgrades to nuclear installations.

Rosatom wishes by 2020 to build nine nuclear power stations, but the plans are dubious. The construction of the so-called Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in Kaliningrad by 2018 provoked a hail of questions. These are issues tied to Rosatom's official roadmap1 for nuclear power plant construction.

Currently, Russia operates 10 nuclear power stations with a total of 33 reactors, which supply 16% of the country's electricity. Yet, 19 of these reactors are operating on state granted engineering life span extensions, and another four are operating beyond their engineered power parameters, or at more than 100%.

"This isn't Russian 'know how' – many countries do this," said Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environmental Rights Center (ERC) Bellona in St. Petersburg. "But Bellona is concerned by the fact that Russian atomic stations operate on excessive power output and extended reactors."

One nuclear power plant experimenting with running reactors beyond capacity is the Kola station, which is such a source of worry to Scandinavia.2 In October, the Kola station was given the go-ahead to continue running its 30-year-old No 4 reactor for an astonishing 25 more years – an unprecedented license extension in the industry.3 The extensions means all of the plant's reactors are operating longer than their engineered design limit.

"Extending the resources of the Kola plant, as well as running its reactors beyond their power capacity, is associated with regional power demands, not just because the industry wants to do it," said Sergei Zhavoronkin, secretary of Rosatom's Public Chamber on Safe Nuclear Energy Usage in the Murmansk Region.

But, as Bellona Murmansk has noted many times, the region holds an energy surplus, to which the Kola nuclear plant contributed 60% of the energy, with the remaining 40% coming from hydroelectric stations.

Nuclear power stations are yours, the waste is ours

As of December 1, 2014, Rosatom's portfolio included 27 inter-government agreements for reactor construction abroad.

"It's clear that international agreements are still not contracts, but they already contain certain prescribed requirements for the countries in question," said Alexander Nikitin.

The countries holding agreements with Rosatom for reactor construction include Turkey, Finland, Jordan, India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Hungary, Armenia and Iran.

"All of these agreements stipulate that Russia takes back the spent nuclear fuel [generated by these prospective] plants, which are built abroad," said Nikitin. "No other country behaves this way aside from Russia."

And all this on top of the spent nuclear fuel being returned via the Port of Murmansk from international research reactors built by the Soviet Union.

According to Zhavoronkin, 70 containers of spent nuclear fuel from Russian-built foreign sources were safely offloaded and transported through Murmansk between 2008 and 2014.

Zhavoronkin called "rhetorical" the question of how safely these loads are actually delivered. In 2010, the vessel Puma, having offloaded spent nuclear fuel, nearly sank. And the vessels bringing these nuclear loads are not always rated to carry them.

Regarding the Puma, Zhavoronkin said it was "good that the accident happened after and not before" the offloading of spent fuel.

"And that the Puma is an old ship is a rhetorical issue," Zhavoronkin said.

What should become of spent nuclear fuel?

According to 2013 figures, Russia has amassed 24,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Eleven of its reactors are of the fatally-flawed RBMK-1000 Chernobyl design and produce 550 tons of spent nuclear fuel a year. Onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel at stations running RMBKs has reached 13,000 tons nationwide. Stations running VVER-1000 reactors produce 230 tons of spent fuel annually, and they've piled up a combined 6,800 tons of it.

Russia's six VVER-440 reactors have pumped out 87 tons of spent nuclear fuel, which will continue to be reprocessed at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Southern Urals. Finally, Russia's fast neutron BN-600 reactor has produced 3.7 tons of spent nuclear fuel.

"Spent nuclear fuel is a big problem for all nuclear countries," said Nikitin. "No one knows in the world knows what to do with it, including Russia."



Nuclear News


Lifetime Achievement Award for Michael Mariotte

Michael Mariotte, President of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), was honoured on November 10 by 14 environmental organisations in recognition of his three decades of work to educate the public and lawmakers about the dangers of nuclear power. The award was presented by Ralph Nader.

Among his many achievements over 30 years, Michael led the successful fight to block the Calvert Cliffs-3 reactor project in Maryland. In the 1990s, he initiated a program to support fledgling anti-nuclear groups across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with tens of thousands of dollars in grants and visits by U.S. energy experts to Ukraine, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Hungary. Drawing upon public awareness of the 1986 Chernobyl reactor disaster, Michael played a major role in the fight to defeat federal 'Mobile Chernobyl' legislation that would have permitted the mass transportation nationwide of nuclear fuel waste, with the outcome hinging on a one-vote margin of victory in the US Senate in 2000.

Michael influenced an entire generation of anti-nuclear activists by bringing the idea of "anti-nuclear action camps" from Europe to the US and helped organise six of them − three in New England and three in Midwest. The Vermont Yankee reactor shutdown announcement came 15 years to the day after the arrests of members of the first New England action camp.

The 14 groups supporting the award are Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Beyond Nuclear, Center for Study of Responsive Law, Clean Water Action, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, The Guacamole Fund, Greenpeace, Independent Council for Safe Energy Fund, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and World Information Service on Energy.

Former NIRS board chair Paxus Calta said: "MM was a visionary with respect to Eastern Europe, which is how we met. He was one of the few people in the US who saw what was completely apparent in Czechoslovakia, that without orders for new reactors in the 1990s in the west, the newly liberated former communist countries were the place nuclear engineering infrastructure could be maintained. And just as Westinghouse and GE's focus moved to eastern Europe. MM designed (with me) and implemented the east European small grant program, he got money from Ted Turner and others, recognizing that relatively small contributions from the west could have tremendous impact in the east. We gave out 40 grants, funding everything from bike tours, to direct action camps, micro anti-nuclear university and east/west internships. Some of the most important reactors in the world in this fight were the pair of units affectionately called K2R4, which were in Khmelnitsky and Rivne in the Ukraine.

"One of the most important interns to come to the micro anti-nuclear university was Tanya Murza also from Rivne. We stopped the western funding for the reactors at K2R4 and basically knocked the east European development bank (the EBRD) out of the business of paying western companies to complete 25 unfinished Russian reactors. And Tanya stayed and she an MM had two charming kids. MM has been a hero and inspiration to a whole bunch of people including me."

UK: Waste transport ship fire

A ship carrying intermediate-level radioactive waste from Dounreay to Belgium which caught fire and began drifting in the Moray Firth, near Scotland, has raised new concerns about plans to move waste and fuel from Dounreay to Sellafield by sea. The MV Parida was transporting a cargo of cemented radioactive waste when a fire broke out in a funnel. The blaze was extinguished, but 52 workers were taken from the Beatrice oil platform by helicopter as a precaution. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said the platform was evacuated because the ship may have crashed into it, but not out of any concerns about radioactive contamination.(1)

Questions were asked about why this ship set out given the severe weather warnings. Highlands Against Nuclear Transport said the incident was a warning about transporting radioactive cargoes by sea, and called for proposals to move other nuclear waste from Dounreay to Sellafield by sea to be scrapped. Angus Campbell, the leader of the Western Isles Council, said the Parida incident highlighted the need for a second coastguard tug in the Minch. "A ship in similar circumstances on the west coast would be reliant on the Northern Isles-based ETV [emergency towing vessel] which would take a considerable amount of time to get to an incident in these waters."(2) Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) say the contentious plans to ship some 26 tonnes of 'exotic' nuclear materials (irradiated and unirradiated plutonium and highly enriched uranium fuels) from Dounreay to Sellafield have moved a major step closer following recent sea and port trials in Scottish waters undertaken by the NDA's ship Oceanic Pintail which is based at Barrow-in-Furness.(3)

− Reprinted from nuClear news No.68, Nov 2014,

1. West Highland Free Press, 26 July 2014,
Stornoway Gazette, 3 Aug 2014,
2. Herald, 30 July 2014,
3. CORE, 8 Oct 2014,

UK: Leaked Sellafield photos reveal radioactive threat

The Ecologist has published a set of leaked images from an anonymous source showing decrepit nuclear waste storage facilities at the Sellafield nuclear plant. The images show the state of spent nuclear fuel storage ponds that were commissioned in 1952 and used until the mid-1970s to store spent fuel until it could be reprocessed. They were abandoned in the mid-1970s and have been left derelict for almost 40 years. The ponds are now undergoing decommissioning but the process is fraught with danger. Nuclear expert John Large warned that if the ponds drain, the Magnox fuel will ignite and that would lead to a massive release of radioactive material.

Oliver Tickell, 27 Oct 2014, 'Leaked Sellafield photos reveal 'massive radioactive release' threat',

143 states support UN call for DU clean-up assistance

143 states voted in favour of a fifth UN General Assembly First Committee resolution on DU weapons, which calls for states to provide assistance to countries affected by the weapons. Four states opposed the resolution, and 26 abstained (including Germany, which has previously supported similar resolutions). The resolution, which built on previous texts with the addition of a call for 'Member States in a position to do so to provide assistance to States affected by the use of arms and ammunition containing depleted uranium, in particular in identifying and managing contaminated sites and material' was submitted by Indonesia on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. The resolution also recognised the need for more research on DU in conflict situations. Predictably, the UK, US, France and Israel voted against the resolution. It has recently emerged that the US may again use DU in Iraq. International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons coordinator Doug Weir said: "The reasons given for abstaining have become increasingly feeble, and now seem to revolve around paradoxical arguments calling for more research while opposing a text that calls for exactly that. The people of Iraq and other affected states deserve far better."

Activists hold up uranium train in Hamburg

Anti-nuclear activists stopped a trainload of "yellow cake" uranium in Hamburg harbour, Germany, for more than seven hours earlier this month.1 The train was taking 15 containers of the ore from Kazakhstan to Malvési in southern France for processing, a frequent run. While two activists suspended themselves over the railway track, eight were temporarily arrested on the ground. Activists have demanded that Mayor Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, close Hamburg harbour to nuclear shipments, as the city of Bremen has done. From November 28−30, an international meeting to oppose uranium transportation will be held in Münster, hosted by SOFA Münster (

Meanwhile, an alliance of German environment activists plans to try to prevent the export of CASTOR containers with highly radioactive fuel pebbles to the USA from Jülich and Ahaus. When the supervisory board of the Jülich research centre met on November 19 to discuss what to do with the CASTORS there, activists mounted a protest outside. The catchcry of the anti-nuclear movement, "Nothing in, nothing out!" is the basic tenet of the new alliance, currently comprising 13 groups, with more likely to come on board.


German authorities stuff up nuclear exercise

A secret large-scale simulation of an atomic disaster at a German nuclear power plant in Lingen ended poorly on 17 September because crisis managers at national and state levels fought over responsibilities. The outcome was revealed by the investigative newspaper Taz in October, citing 1,000 pages of internal ministerial protocols and files. In a real situation a radioactive cloud would have moved southeast from Lingen across Osnabrück, Steinfurt, Warendorf, Gütersloh and Bielefeld before authorities had alerted people to the danger. Only because of the assumed wind direction, cities like Münster and Hamm were spared the first atomic cloud; had a different wind been assumed they, too, would have been hit by the fallout unprepared. Taz reported that despite this disaster the federal environment ministry had drawn no conclusions from the failure of the emergency exercise by time it published its story.

Willi Hesters of the Aktionsbündnis Münsterland gegen Atomanlagen (Münsterland Alliance Against Atomic Installations) said: "This exceeds the worst fears. It appears that in a real situation the German authorities appear to be unable to adequately inform and protect the population in case of a maximum credible accident. Why was this exercise kept secret? Why have no consequences been drawn yet? If the authorities are unable to protect the population in case of grave atomic accidents, the federal environment ministry must immediately close down all atomic installations." The simulated worst case scenario in Lingen, where there is also a nuclear fuel factory, is particularly controversial because earlier this year the precautionary areas for atomic accidents were drastically enlarged. Under the new rules, all areas within a 20 km radius of nuclear power stations would have to be evacuated within 24 hours; within a radius of 100 kilometres people would have to stay indoors and take iodine tablets. Matthias Eickhoff from the activist group SOFA (Immediate Atomic Shutdown Münster) said: "If communication doesn't work at the highest level between federal and state governments, how is it supposed to work at lower level between the states, counties and municipalities? A disaster beyond all expectations is unmanageable at administrative level."!148295/

International Energy Agency's 'World Energy Outlook'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) − a self-described autonomous organisation with 29 member countries − has released its latest World Energy Outlook (WEO) report.1

In the central scenario of WEO, world primary energy demand is 37% higher in 2040 compared to 2013, and energy supply is divided into four almost equal parts: low-carbon sources (nuclear and renewables), oil, natural gas and coal. Electricity is projected to be the fastest-growing final form of energy − WEO states that 7,200 gigawatts (GW) of power capacity needs to be built by 2040. Global investment in the power sector amounts to US$21 trillion (€16.8t), with over 40% in transmission and distribution networks. CO2 emissions from the power sector rise from 13.2 gigatonnes (Gt) in 2012 to 15.4 Gt in 2040, maintaining a share of around 40% of global emissions over the period. Fossil fuels continue to dominate the power sector, but their share of generation declines from 68% in 2012 to 55% in 2040.

Nuclear growth?

WEO notes that nuclear power accounts for 11% of global electricity generation, down from a peak of almost 18% in 1996. There is "no nuclear renaissance in sight" according to the IEA. In the WEO 'Low Nuclear Case', global nuclear capacity drops by 7% between 2013 and 2040. In the 'New Policies Scenario', nuclear capacity rises by 60% to 624 GW. This is the net result of 380 GW of capacity additions and 148 GW of retirements. Just four countries account for most of the projected nuclear growth in the 'New Policies Scenario': China (132 GW increase), India (33 GW), South Korea (28 GW) and Russia (19 GW). Generation increases by 16% in the US, rebounds in Japan (although not to the levels prior to the accident at Fukushima Daiichi) and falls by 10% in the European Union. The number of countries operating power reactors increases from 31 in 2013 to 36 in 2040. Needless to say, the projected growth in the New Policies Scenario is speculative and unlikely. Historically, low projections from bodies such as the IEA and the IAEA tend to be more accurate than high projections.2

WEO states that nuclear growth will be "concentrated in markets where electricity is supplied at regulated prices, utilities have state backing or governments act to facilitate private investment." Conversely, "nuclear power faces major challenges in competitive markets where there are significant market and regulatory risks, and public acceptance remains a critical issue worldwide."3 More than 80% of current nuclear capacity is in OECD countries but this falls to 52% in 2040 in the New Policies Scenario. Of the 76 GW presently under construction, more than three-quarters is in non-OECD countries.

A wave of reactor retirements

WEO states: "A wave of retirements of ageing nuclear reactors is approaching: almost 200 of the 434 reactors operating at the end of 2013 are retired in the period to 2040, with the vast majority in the European Union, the United States, Russia and Japan." WEO estimates the cost of decommissioning reactors to be more than US$100 billion (€80b) up to 2040. The report notes that "considerable uncertainties remain about these costs, reflecting the relatively limited experience to date in dismantling and decontaminating reactors and restoring sites for other uses." IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said: "Decommissioning of those power plants is a major challenge for all of us – for the countries that are pursuing nuclear power policies and for those who want to phase out their nuclear power plants. Worldwide, we do not have much experience and I am afraid we are not well-prepared in terms of policies and funds which are devoted to decommissioning. A major concern for all of us is how we are going to deal with this massive surge in retirements in nuclear power plants."4

Paul Dorfman of the Energy Institute at University College London noted that the US$100bn figure is only for decommissioning and does not include the costs of permanent waste disposal. "The UK's own decommissioning and waste disposal costs are £85bn alone, so that gives you an idea of the astronomical costs associated with nuclear," he said.5

Nuclear safety, waste and weapons

WEO notes: "Public concerns about nuclear power must be heard and addressed. Recent experience has shown how public views on nuclear power can quickly shift and play a determining role in its future in some markets. Safety is the dominant concern, particularly in relation to operating reactors, managing radioactive waste and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Confidence in the competence and independence of regulatory oversight is essential ..." In the WEO high-growth New Policies Scenario, the cumulative amount of spent nuclear fuel that has been generated more than doubles, reaching 705,000 tonnes in 2040. The report notes that no country has yet established permanent facilities for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste from commercial reactors.

Nuclear power and climate change

WEO states that nuclear power "has avoided the release of an estimated 56 gigatonnes of CO2 since 1971, or close to two years of emissions at current rates." The claim is meaningless without a point of reference. Presumably the calculation is based on the arbitrary assumption that all nuclear power generation displaces generation from coal-fired power plants.

Renewable electricity generation

The share of renewables in total power generation rises from 21% in 2012 to 33% in 2040 in the New Policies Scenario, and renewables account for nearly half of new capacity. Renewable electricity generation nearly triples between 2012 and 2040, overtaking gas as the second-largest source of generation in the next couple of years and surpassing coal after 2035. China sees the largest increase in generation from renewables, more than the gains in the EU, US and Japan combined. Wind power accounts for the largest share of growth in renewables-based generation (34%), followed by hydropower (30%) and solar (18%). Biofuels use more than triples. Advanced biofuels, which help address sustainability concerns about conventional biofuels, gain market share after 2020, making up almost 20% of biofuels supply in 2040. Global subsidies for renewables amounted to US$121 billion (€97b) in 2013 and are anticipated to increase to nearly US$230 billion (€184b) in 2030 in the New Policies Scenario, before falling to $205 billion (€164b) in 2040. In 2013, almost 70% of subsidies to renewables for power were provided in just five countries: Germany, the US, Italy, Spain and China.

Fossil-fuel subsidies totalled $550 billion (€439b) in 2013 – 4.5 times greater than subsidies for renewables – and are holding back investment in efficiency and renewables. For example, in the Middle East, nearly 2 mb/d of crude oil and oil products are used to generate electricity when, in the absence of subsidies, renewables would be competitive with oil-fired power plants. Energy efficiency slows energy demand growth. Without the cumulative impact of energy efficiency measures, oil demand in 2040 would be 22% higher, gas demand 17% higher and coal demand 15% higher.


2. See for example tables 33 and 34, p.56,