An Interesting Article on Nuclear Waste
Martin Cohen, co-author of The Doomsday Machine: The High Price of Nuclear Energy the World’s Most Dangerous Fuel suggested that we include this article that he wrote for infowars.com on our webpage. Please have a read and tell us what you think.
Breaking: Massive Nuclear Secret Uncovered In Austin, Texas
Infowars.com June 15, 2012
The history of ‘fly-tipping’ nuclear waste is one of the great non-secrets of the nuclear industry.
As Andrew McKillop and I recalled in our book on nuclear myths earlier this year, for all the talk about responsible and diligent efforts to find a ‘permanent repository’ for all the nuclear waste, the reality is of cynical and careless ad hoc measures. The Russians dump their waste in Siberia. the French dump it in the sea – or grind it up to make hard-core for roads. Many countries just pile it up outside their power stations. When Fukushima made that tactic impractical, the Japanese simply started pumping waste into the sea where their Nuclear Regulatory Agency says it will ‘soon disperse’.
Instead, much better to reassure the public that instead of “a 1000km line of grimy railway wagons filled with coal” just “two smart truckloads of cheap and plentiful uranium” (from “stable countries like Canada of Australia”) will run a power station large enough to keep a major city going for a year! That’s the crucial comparison to be made, at least At least, according to Or so say nuclear energy’s supporters. And as to the relatively trivial volumes of leftover waste, there is a very promising plan.
Actually, in fact, there are lots of plans. Almost as many plans as there are drums of nuclear waste themselves… Almost as many plans as there is waste itself. But still nowhere any solutions. The unconscionable truth is that if nuclear plants are potential dirty bombs waiting to go off, nuclear waste is an actual time-bomb, and one ticking away now. Talk of ticking time-bombs sounds melodramatic, but consider what it nuclear waste is – a metal container containing material which generates heat, up to a hundred degrees centigrade typically, that can then cause hydrogen gas to burst the container, scattering its radioactive particles far and wide, in the best spirit of Pandora’s mythical box of evils. No wonder the costs of keeping this nuclear waste bottled up are so high — not that it is not the quasi-private nuclear companies who will pay. It is the general public, both today, and in on through many uncounted and uncountable future generations. It’s just as well for the industry that those uncountable people, well, don’t count.
Now, it is true that nuclear waste is quite small in volume compared to any other industry, particularly compared to coal. In fact, nuclear power experts love defending the Friendly Atom against Black King Coal, and finding that nuclear power is a much better choice because it produces so little waste compared pointing to the massive slag heaps and poisoned tips around coal-fired power plants. But iIf World Nuclear Association websites allow that an industry standard 1000 Megawatt reactor uses about 25 tonnes per year of enriched uranium, they neglect to mention are less clear that this has already created 25 000 tons of waste, upstream and downstream, that is to say, in the process of being mined, and refined.
What is more, coal waste can be transformed into parkland, even if it costs a lot of money, replete with birds and butterflies, even if it may cost a lot of money. Nuclear waste effectively cannot be rendered harmless, and so presents unique and complex problems for dispersal or storage. Reprocessing, despite its promising sounding name, actually increases the amount of radioactive waste, and as for the elusive goal of nuclear fusion, which could simply burn all the waste up, like a solar furnace, this remains merely a scientific dream. (Good money to be made researching it though!)
In reality, there are just three options:
• Concentrate and contain;
• Dilute and disperse;
• Delay and decay.
For the USA, being the country with the largest supply of nuclear electricity brings with it comes with the honour of having the largest amounts of nuclear waste needing treatment. And therefore, very logically, the USA also has the most pressing problems disposing of its troublesome, costly and dangerous nuclear wastes – problems of nuclear waste processing, treatment, transport, disposal and-or storage, problems concerning a cocktail of isotopes such as iodine-129 (deadly for 16 million years) and plutonium (eminently manageable, with a 24 thousand year half-life…)..
To get these radioactive, and also extremely chemically toxic wastes out of sight and out of mind, it is easiest to either secretively drop waste in the sea or bury it deep, deep into the earth. With the former option increasingly frowned upon, this fact has resulted in all of the nuclear-committed countries are looking for what are called “geological and deep mine final repositories”. Unfortunately, in all cases, the costs are bankruptingly high and the technological challenges are “daunting”, as the experience of the USA perfectly reveals.
The story of the Yucca Mountain project, near Las Vegas, encapsulates underlines the myriad problems for very long-term disposal and storage of nuclear wastes. Noticing that the project was likely never to be completed, simply because it had been stalled so long, sixteen US power companies filed a lawsuit in the Court of Appeals in April 2010, arguing that the government should stop charging them special fees on their nuclear electricity production to pay for it. At the time they were jointly paying (or to be more precise, via a levy on electricity of about one tenth of a US cent per kilowatt hour, American consumers were paying) about US$ 750 million a year into the Yucca fund. Nonetheless, oOver the 27 years since this levy started, the fund accrued this had built up to the apparently impressive amount of about US$ 24 billion, earning the Federal government about US $1 billion a year in interest. In this small way, nuclear energy has been a good investment for the government. The catch was that, meanwhile, the projected costs had soared to above $85 billion. This is the sad reality of nuclear waste dumping in all countries. Rather than getting closer to solutions, Far from the waste issue nearing solution, the story rather is governments turn around one day and say “the problem suddenly got so bad we couldn’t do anything about it. So sorry”.
A special committee of inquiry, known as the Blue Ribbon Commission, reported on the situation in 2011 and found that in fact, not only just the interest on the money but the principal as well ALL the money had been taken by the Federal authorities, and used for other budget priorities ‘exactly like ordinary taxes’, revealing that the waste problem had been even more lucrative for the government than previously apparent.
A similarly expensive high-cost story, this time in France, is concerns the tomorrow-never-comes Bure project. In Sweden, however, the a cost-trimming solution is has been to designate the underground final storage repository at Forsmark (the reactor site where routine radiation checks revealed the Chernobyl cloud to the world), a mere 50 metres under ground level, and say it is only intended for short-lived radioactive waste. In Finland, too, buries considerable ingenuity has resulted in high-level wastes too being buried under reactors, which also avoids having to pay to transport them.
Alas, despite decades of research and truly vast quantities of money spending – often dissimulated as “military secret’ spending – there is no economical way of separating high-level and low-level wastes, transporting themse to secure and safe storage, and preventing leakage, loss or theft of these wastes. In the past five years, the estimated costs of radioactive waste disposal have massively grown massively, in all the most nuclear-committed countries, to the point where they this must inevitably drive up the costs of electricity from all and any and all generating sources or systems.
Another all too typical story, this time from Germany. Back in September 2008, UPI reported that Germany was engulfed in a discussion over how to best handle nuclear waste, after it had surfaced in public that leaks threatened security at a radioactive waste dumping site in Lower Saxony. Over the past decades, some three thousand gallons of salty base had been flushing into the site each day, mixing with the waste from barrels that had leaked, adding to the problem.
After a report by the state’s own Environment Ministry highlighted the deteriorating state of some 125,000 now- rusty barrels of nuclear waste, the then- German Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, did not beat around the bush. The dumping site in the Asse mountain range in northern Germany, containing as it did some some 100 tons of uranium and 12 tons of plutonium, had “as many holes as Swiss cheese”, he said. With engineers predicting that Asse, a former salt mine, could endure no more than seven more years before it would collapse, it was “the most problematic nuclear facility in all of Europe,” he confessed to the German mass-selling daily newspaper, Bild.
The procedural violations surrounding Asse were so outrageous that state prosecutors decided to launch a criminal investigation into the matter, and at an emergency meeting, German ministers agreed that the storage facility would henceforth be run — and the bills paid — by Germany’s Federal Office for Radioactive Protection, thus ‘nationalising the problem – and the costs. They also decided that the site will now be treated according to nuclear laws and not mining laws, meaning that the nuclear waste dumped there in the 1960s and 1970s must be made safe underground for the next 100,000 years. This appeared to require the removal of all the waste, something which would be very costly and quite challenging, the experts advised (doubtless rubbing their hands…). (rubbing their hands…)
For decades, German energy companies and government agencies had also researched a potential permanent site for highly radioactive waste at Gorleben, also in Lower Saxony, but progress has been stalled because of political differences and public protests surrounding nuclear waste dumping. In the face of continuing and furious public protests, the German government opted in 2000 to stop the research altogether.
In 2011, in the wake of Japan’s nuclear disaster, but also in large part due to the earlier trauma of its ‘waste’ mountain, Germany became the first major world economy to appease the public by agreeing to phase out all nuclear power – a step it had already promised once and then reversed. Yet even once the reactors are switched off, the waste problem remains. Switzerland, once among one of the ‘stars’ of the nuclear firmament, also decided to officially and formally abandon the friendly atom.
The secret store of radioactive waste near Austin is no more than a glimpse of the reality of nuclear hazards.
MARTIN COHEN for InfoWars.com