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need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

  • 1.  need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-12-2018 14:34

    The need (or non-need) for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste (by Walter E. Goldstein, Ph.D., PE)

    We need sites to store nuclear material.  According to our local paper, The LVRJ (May 11, 2018), elements of the Federal Government have been trying to get central storage in one or a few locales since the 1950’s.  This gets derailed. We need storage in the USA.  Storage at nuclear production sites is apparently not liked by nuclear plants. 

    More people in Nevada do not want Yucca Mountain storage as they are fearful it will hurt business and growth here, and basically will scare people like grandparents who worry their visiting grandchildren will be exposed to radiation. 

    Parties could do a better job to advise why Yucca Mountain storage is safe, assuming they can do that.  The scientific underpinning of nuclear storage must be extensive with all the money that has been spent on this subject. 

    I was wondering today if anyone has assessed the probability of unsafe events occurring in storage of nuclear waste, for example, at a Yucca Mountain site. If these probabilities are assessed to be low, then maybe the safety of nuclear storage can be explained, and presented properly to the public and other interested parties.  Is there a recommended review paper by an experienced nuclear engineer that addresses the subject of the probability of unsafe nuclear events associated with storage at Yucca Mountain?





  • 2.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    DIVISION OFFICER
    Posted 05-14-2018 13:31
    ​I have been able to locate a summary but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Safety Evaluation Report is located here: NRC: Safety Evaluation Report Related to Disposal of High-Level Radioactive Wastes in a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (NUREG-1949) Typically, however, the population is not going to be persuaded by purely a technical argument.  In my experience, they're more concerned with the professionalism and transparency of the industry.

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    Stuart Arm, PhD
    Nuclear Engineering Division, 2009 chair
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  • 3.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    DIVISION OFFICER
    Posted 05-14-2018 13:32
    ​Apologies, I was unable to locate a summary.

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    Stuart Arm, PhD
    Nuclear Engineering Division, 2009 chair
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  • 4.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-15-2018 00:27
    We can all learn from this story about an accident in a radioactive waste storage facility:

    https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/03/26/395615637/official-report-nuclear-waste-accident-caused-by-wrong-kitty-litter

    -Kirsten

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    -Kirsten

    Kirsten Rosselot
    Process Profiles
    Calabasas, CAUnited States
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  • 5.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-15-2018 08:26

    I worked for an operating contractor at a US Dept of Energy site from '79 to '89, during which several sites were reviewed as candidate locations for nuclear waste storage. I was not directly involved with much of the work, as my focus was process development for other parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, but working at a site, and in the community, we were all "exposed" to much of the higher level goings-on.

    Although this was supposed to be all technical and science-based work, it was rife with politics. In talking with geologists and mining engineers who were doing the investigative work, much to most of the population within the 3 or 4 states with candidate sites were opposed. Based on nothing other than "nuclear" was involved. Most people cannot and will not be dissuaded; nuclear is an emotional issue, not an economic, truly environmental, or technical issue.

    The general opinion of those I talked with (and I had the clearance and facility access to talk with and visit anyone involved), the opposition in NV was less than the other states. Las Vegas was a much smaller city at the time, and the state was looking for diversification (how more federal contract work is or was diversification is still beyond me) and more well-paying jobs in the remote parts of the state. Thise I talked with all seemed to feel that any of the sites could be used (technically), but Yucca Mtn was probably the least desireable (technically). I am sure that this was not documented in any way to be discoverable.

    The practices and laws granting essentially infinite power to "interveiners" to stall and prevent nuclear power and storage and reprocessing of nuclear waste have put the US at a severe disadvantage. If the US was allowed to reprocess nuclear waste, pursue and implement breeder technology, etc., much of these arguments would be moot. But it is now what it is. Storage of waste at the production sites, most of which were not originally intended for the practice, is wrong and will cause problems in the future. Now that large and mostly deserted western states are becoming a popular place to be (please, no replies about how great they are – I'm a western native who has lived in AZ, UT, WY and CO, and would more back in a heartbeat if there was an interesting job in the right location), since everything has been delayed for decades, and the US government has dragged its heels for political reasons, we're stuck with practices that are after thoughts. It doesn't help that half the population is of below average intelligence (just statistics!) and most of the population is math and physics averse, and it's really hard to communicate technical issues to those who can't understand them.



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    Bruce Bullough
    Portage, MI
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  • 6.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-15-2018 09:20
    I agree nuclear waste storage is a problem. I believe the safest way to dispose of nuclear waste is via deep well injection.  In Louisiana Naturally Occurring Radioactive Waste (NORM) is generated during the production of oil and gas in some production wells.  When these wells begin to produce water NORM is generated and is deposited in the flow lines and process equipment. When the wells are eventually plugged and abandoned the well site (production facility) and equipment must be cleaned up.  The NORM is disposed down-hole in the well being abandoned or shipped offsite for disposal in permitted commercial injection wells.  Radioactive waste can safely be disposed in this manner without causing potential problems.   The huge number of oil and gas wells which have been abandoned and are plugged and abandoned annually could be used for radioactive waste disposal far below the surface of the earth and our drinking water aquifers.

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    William Payne
    Lafayette LA
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  • 7.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-15-2018 11:36
    The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC.gov) has pretty much everything you need to know about Yucca Mountain.  The problem with disposing of radioactive waste from commercial nuclear power has always been political not technical.   It's the NIMBY (not in my backyard) problem!  The U.S. government signed contracts with all commercial nuclear power plants to take spent fuel, but has defaulted on these contracts and been successfully sued by the industry.  President Obama shut down Yucca Mountain not because of any technical concerns but to get the support of the senator from Nevada.   Currently spent nuclear fuel must be stored onsite at both operating and decommissioned nuclear plants.  Also, if you are not aware Yucca Mountain is only for commercial nuclear power spent fuel not any waste from military or government faculties.

    I also believe part of the problem siting a repository in Nevada are the above and below ground nuclear bomb test done in the 1950's at Yucca Flats.  No protection or individual monitors was provided for troops or the public.




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    Walter Strodl
    Retired radiation protection professional
    Roswell GA
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  • 8.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-16-2018 01:30
    Edited by Ahmed Ismail 05-16-2018 01:31
    The reason that Yucca Mountain was selected primarily amounted to it being, at the time, the smallest of the states that were under consideration, and the other states being considered essentially "ganged together" to force it on Nevada.

    The reason that Yucca Mountain is such a bad choice for a repository is that it's still geologically active, with substantial amounts of water flowing through the proposed location of the repository. That means the primary protection mechanism for preventing release is the waste canisters, which had to be vastly overengineered to satisfy the politically driven requirement that containment of waste had to be reasonably assured for one million years (!). By contrast, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is situated in a halite deposit that is essentially impermeable and also deforms over time. The problem becomes preventing the formation of gas, which can become an issue as the salt is crushed by the layers of rock above it. Putting the organic kitty litter into the deposit was disastrous because it placed bacteria into a sealed 55-gallon drum, which then ruptured from the excess pressure produced.

    Ultimately, a solution does need to be found for the nuclear waste scattered at power plants across the country. What form that will take is an open question, but I suspect there isn't a single "universal" solution. It will need to be dictated by the type of waste, the geological structures of the proposed repositories, and, unfortunately and most difficultly, political will.

    (P.S.: I worked on the WIPP project from 2006 to 2010.)

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    Ahmed E. Ismail
    Assistant Professor
    West Virginia University
    Morgantown WV
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  • 9.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-16-2018 10:09
    The best nuclear waste management strategy is not to produce the waste in the first place.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years.

    https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/radwaste.html

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    Ronald Shewchuk PE
    Director, Continuous Improvement
    Air Liquide Americas
    Chester Springs PA
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  • 10.  RE: need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste

    SENIOR MEMBER
    Posted 05-17-2018 20:37
    As a non-resident of the U.S.A., I am writing this in general and not specific to the topic need or non-need for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste. I am not sure whether the discussion is about storage of nuclear waste or permanent disposal of the same. Handling nuclear waste for either reason is a challenging problem in all countries using nuclear energy for electricity generation. If the nuclear waste is being stored (temporarily), the intent is perhaps to reprocess the waste to either produce reusable value-added product or for other not so good purposes.
    There is ongoing research in the Nuclear waste disposal – deep underground long-term storage of the waste in suitable containment vessels in stable geological formation with little or no underground water or aquifers. The research is on the stability of the containment vessels in an aqueous and possibly corrosive environment. The concern is possible erosion and corrosion with potential for the radioactive waste to migrate to surface waters causing harm to humans, aquatic and wild lives, and vegetation. There has also been consideration of possible transport of the nuclear waste in space crafts to faraway planets or stars for ever! In any case, waste disposal is a challenging problem.
    Now about Nuclear waste storage without any consideration of the intent. One major challenge is the security of the storage and possible unwelcome activities harmful to all. The other challenge is the storage site. All of us humans have the Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY) attitude. We like the idea of having a supply of clean (no greenhouse gas [GHG] or pollution etc.) electrical energy as long as the nuclear power generator and the waste storage are located NIMBY and far away. As scientists and engineers, we know that no action is without some consequence. We have to do our best to minimize the consequence and attempt to convince all those with the NIMBY attitude. One can decide not to have nuclear energy so that no waste is created, but the alternative of fossil fuel energy has its own consequence. There will be NIMBY for locating coal fired electricity generation other plants also.  NIMBY will be a challenge also for processing and reuse of the waste.
    The discussion topic is interesting and also very challenging perhaps with no clear-cut answer. The suggestion that the best nuclear waste management strategy is not to produce the waste in the first place is interesting but may not be realistic in the future with the increasing global concern over environment pollution and GHG.  We are very dependant on electrical energy and should make every effort to come with a clean, safe method of producing the same. But, will it be with little or preferably no consequence? Well, this is a question for the future generation of scientists and engineers to answer! 

     



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    [Varagur] [Rajan] [Ph.D., P,Eng.]
    Senior Member
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    [Canada]
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