Monthly Archives: October 2013

Nuclear waste is piling up in our backyard

Union of Concerned Scientists

Infographic: Safer Storage for Nuclear Waste

Nuclear waste is piling up in our backyard—and it’s not stored as safely as it could be.


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Radioactive nuclear waste is piling up

Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of waste, in the form of spent fuel assemblies, which are collections of fuel rods. These 12-foot-long metal tubes contain uranium, plutonium, and other metals and byproducts, and are extremely hot and radioactive.

The United States has not fulfilled its commitment to move spent fuel from reactor sites to long-term storage. As a result, well over 65,000 metric tons of spent fuel assemblies have piled up at our nation’s nuclear power plants—and the pile is growing.

Learn more about storing radioactive waste (PDF)>

Cooling pools are overcrowded, posing unnecessary risks

Currently, over 70 percent of U.S. spent fuel assemblies are kept in cooling pools at U.S. reactor sites. These pools are designed to store hot, radioactive spent nuclear fuel for several years, and rely on electrical systems to cool and circulate water.

As spent fuel piles up at reactors, most operators continue to store it in pools. As a result, cooling pools now hold significantly more nuclear material than originally intended. In fact, while concern tends to focus on the nuclear fuel in the cores at operating reactors, U.S. cooling pools contain some five and a half times more nuclear material than the reactor cores themselves—with far fewer safety systems.

While storing nuclear waste in cooling pools is safe under normal conditions, a severe accident or terrorist attack that interrupts cooling for hours or days—depending on the scenario—could have catastrophic consequences, made worse by overcrowding.

A 2013 study by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)—the U.S. government agency charged with nuclear power plant safety—estimated the results of such an event. Using the Peach Bottom #3 reactor in Pennsylvania as an example, the study found that a cooling pool accident could contaminate thousands of square miles with radioactive material, force the long-term displacement of millions of people, and cause tens of thousands of cancer deaths.

The study didn’t consider the results for pools located closer to major urban areas.

Learn more about cooling pools >

Dry casks are a safer short-term storage option

After about five years in a cooling pool, spent fuel cools enough to be transferred to concrete and steel containers called dry casks.

Dry casks are designed to store small amounts of nuclear waste on-site before long-term disposal. Current designs can also be used to transport the waste off-site.

Unlike cooling pools that rely on electrical systems, dry casks employ “passive” cooling: air enters an opening at the bottom of the cask, absorbs heat from the spent fuel, then rises and exits through openings at the top, creating a “chimney effect.”

Passive cooling makes dry casks less vulnerable to mechanical failure, technical or human error, terrorist attack, and natural disaster.

Learn more about dry casks >

Transferring nuclear waste from cooling pools to dry casks could save lives

Today, around 80 percent of U.S. nuclear waste currently in pools could be moved to on-site dry casks.

Doing so would reduce the amount of nuclear material in each cooling pool to about one core’s worth, significantly lessening the consequences of a pool accident. In fact, the same NRC study cited above shows that removing spent fuel older than five years from a cooling pool could reduce the projected number of accident-related cancers by a factor of 10, and the total amount of uninhabitable land by a factor of 50, compared to the results given above.

What’s more, moving spent fuel into long-term storage underground will require they be placed into transportable dry casks anyhow. Doing so today will significantly lessen the potential consequences of a cooling pool accident.

While improbable, accidents at nuclear power plants do occur. It’s up to Congress and the NRC to minimize the potential consequences.


The 2013 NRC report referenced above estimates the consequences of a severe accident affecting the cooling pool at Peach Bottom #3. It compares the consequences of a “high density” pool—one that contains about four cores (3,000 assemblies) of spent fuel—with those of a “low density” pool—one that contains about one core (764 assemblies) of spent fuel (Table 15, p. 76). The low density case assumes that all spent fuel that has been in the pool longer than about five years has been removed.

The NRC estimates are given in Section 7 of the report, which begins on p. 150. The results are summarized and compared in Table 37 (p. 170), which shows how the consequences of an accident, should it occur, are reduced by transferring fuel out of the pool. Row four of Table 37 gives the collective radiation dose that the population around the reactor would receive. To convert this dose into numbers of cancer deaths, multiply this number by the risk coefficient, which at low doses is 0.05 per person-Sv.

That calculation gives an estimate of 17,500 deaths for the high density case and 1,350 deaths for the low density case.

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U.S. future strategy toward E. Asia should be stable triangle relations with China, Japan: U.S. professor

Xinhua English   2013-10-25 23:33:23

TOKYO, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) — Renowned U.S. professor Joseph Nye, Jr. said Friday that a future U.S. strategy toward East Asia should be stable triangle relations with China and Japan that all of them could benefit from seeking more common interests.

The professor made the remarks during a national security symposium held in the Tokyo International University in Saitama prefecture, adding the strategy should be anchoring in the U.S.- Japan security treaty.

Nye further explained that the triangle is not an equilateral one as the United States and Japan are bilateral alliance, but the triangle should be liable and beneficial to all sides.

On the rebalancing strategy carried out by the U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in the East Asian region, the professor said that rebalance is not containment, saying the United States is not containing China through rebalancing.

“If you look at the history of containment in the Cold War, what you will find is that the United States was containing the Soviet Union. There was almost no trade between the two countries. There was almost no social contact between the societies,” Nye said.

Nye also said relations between the United States and China will not slip into a “security dilemma” which means a country’s rise will definitely trigger fears among others.

He said that China’s economy has not yet surpassed that of the United States and even if China’s GDP grows higher than the United States, the latter remains the world’s sole power that can project its military forces all around the world.

The tycoon on international relations forecasted that his triangle blueprint will face three major challenges, namely rising nationalism in involving countries, territorial disputes in the region and the situation in the Korean Peninsula.

Countries in the region should avoid inflaming nationalism and be prepared for contingencies in the disputed area, suggested Nye, adding that countries should not overstate “China’s threats” as it would trigger more conflicts.

Kudankulam nuclear plant stops power generation

DNA India

Wednesday, Oct 30, 2013, 12:32 IST | Place: Chennai | Agency: IANS

According to the report, the plant fed at an average 161 MW to the southern grid Tuesday down from 200 MW that was fed on Oct 28.

The first unit of Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) Tuesday night stopped operations due to a feed water problem, states a report on Wednesday.

The 1,000 MW unit, which was resynchronised with the grid on Oct 25 night was stopped at 8.03 pm on Oct 29 due to feed water problem and is expected to re-start operations Nov 1, according to a Power System Operation Corporation Ltd. report.

Power System Operation Corporation operates the power grids – regional and national – and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd.

According to the report, the plant fed at an average 161 MW to the southern grid Tuesday down from 200 MW that was fed on Oct 28.

This is the second time the plant stopped operations after it was synchronised to the grid this month.

On Oct 22, the 1,000 MW capacity KNPP unit was synchronised for the first time with the power grid at 2.45 am, and generated 75 MW of power.

The power generation was subsequently increased to 160 MW and nearly two hours later, the unit tripped due to reverse power.

On Oct 25 at 9.43 pm, the unit was reconnected to the grid and generated around 160 MW.

Senior officials at KNPP were not available for comments on the latest stoppage.

The power (infirm power) generated by KNPP’s first unit will be supplied to Tamil Nadu as the unit has not started commercial generation.

Only when the unit is declared as commercially operational, will the power generated be shared with other southern states, officials added.

India’s atomic power plant operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) has been setting up two 1,000 MW Russian reactors at Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district, around 650 km from here. The total outlay for the project is over Rs17,000 crore.

KNPP is India’s first pressurised water reactor belonging to the light water reactor category.

The first unit attained criticality July 2013, which is the beginning of the fission process.

In August, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board gave its nod to KNPP to raise the reactor power levels to 50% and for synchronisation of the unit with the power grid.

The NPCIL earlier said it would connect the first unit to the grid end-August, generating 400 MW power.

But that did not happen due to issues with the equipments, whose sorting and the testing took time.

According to NPCIL officials, the power at the first unit of KNPP will be increased gradually and by December this year, the unit is expected to touch its rated capacity of 1,000 MW.

India to eliminate unnecessary liability for suppliers

Nuclear Energy Insider

By K. Steiner-Dicks on Oct 30, 2013

India’s Department of Atomic Energy has decided to look into supplier concerns over excess liability so that it can eliminate “unnecessary liability”, in regards to aspects of the Nuclear Liability Act.

According to a news report by India news site, DNA, the DAE has formed two committees to find out a middle path on the controversial issue keeping in view the concerns of foreign companies and Indian Atomic Industrial Forum (IAIF), of which NPCIL and companies that manufacture components for nuclear power plants are a part.

Sources said the recommendations made by the committee could also help weed out “unnecessary liability” which may not be applicable to many suppliers. “There is ample degree of redundancy in the liability law, which cannot be applicable to all the suppliers. So this should be approached in a scientific and rational manner,” a top DAE official told PTI.

The committees will study the liability factor and take a more “scientific and rational” approach towards the issue, the official said.

U.S., Russia quietly cooperate on Iran

Despite the nations’ rocky relations in other areas, Moscow has given crucial support to the effort to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S.-Russia collaboration

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September. Russia and the U.S., though often at odds, still cooperate on issues that are of vital importance to them. (Sergey Guneev / Pool Photo / September 5, 2013)

Los Angeles Times

Japan’s Hiroshima, Nagasaki protest U.S. plutonium test   2013-10-30 21:03:25

OSAKA, Japan, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) — Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two Japanese cities that suffered atomic bombing in World War II, on Wednesday sent protest letters to U.S. President Barack Obama after the United States revealed it had conducted a plutonium test between July and September, Kyodo News reported.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said in his letter that the test showed the “United States intends to cling to its nuclear stockpile indefinitely, and such actions are completely unacceptable.”

The test has betrayed the hopes of the survivors of the bombing and millions of others who seek the elimination of nuclear weapons, Matsui said, adding that it also arouse suspicion regarding Obama’ s commitment to a world without nuclear weapons.

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue also sent a letter to Obama with a similar message, the report said.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration has said on its website that a plutonium test involving a device called a “Z machine” was conducted in the July-September period, following the one in the April-June quarter.

Unnecessary Plans for US Nuclear Weapons Complex Leave Scientists Concerned

Nukes of Hazard Blog

Alexander Pearson | Oct 29, 2013

The Obama administration and Congress are faced with some important decisions regarding the US nuclear weapons complex in the next few years. Attempting to influence the powers that be, the Union of Concerned Scientists released an extensive 92-page report last week titled Making Smart Security Choices: The Future of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex. Co-authored by our Senior Science Fellow Phily Coyle, the report presents both a critical assessment of the current plans for the complex and a set of cost-effective and realistic recommendations to sustain its essential missions. Below are some of the major recommendations:

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) should refurbish existing nuclear weapon types rather than manufacture new weapon systems or new designs using existing parts. The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) declared that United States “will not develop nuclear warheads”.  The NNSA’s long-term strategy to modernize US nuclear warheads, also known as the “3+2” strategy, would result in the development of weapons that are “new” in every meaningful sense of the term. These new types would be seen as breaking the “no new” pledge and would have damaging international repercussions. In contrast, refurbishment of existing weapon types would comply with the NPR while providing a far more cost-effective alternative to the 3+2 plan.

Congress and the NNSA should make better use of non-nuclear testing of existing weapons to ensure their safety, reliability and security. The NNSA does not currently place a high enough value on the testing of different weapons systems, which is evident by the testing back log over the past decade. A lack of testing can increase the risk that defects in a weapon go undetected.

The ‘Stockpile Stewardship Program’ that helps the US gain a better understanding of how nuclear weapons work should be aligned with the needs of ongoing life extension programs. Some of the research conducted under this program is not directly related to ongoing life extension programs. Specifically, this entails reassessing the utility of a number of existing facilities including the Big Explosives Experimental Facility (BEEF) in Nevada and the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Steps must be taken to minimize the risks associated with the disposal and storage of weapons-grade materials. The US currently possesses large stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium that it does not require for military purposes. These stocks represent a security risk insofar as they are liable to theft and can be used to build nuclear weapons. Highly enriched uranium stocks should be downblended to ensure they are no longer military grade, while plutonium stocks should be safely sealed within secure geological repositories.

The US should continue dismantling its nuclear warhead stockpile and provide adequate verification mechanisms. Reductions in the respective nuclear weapons stockpiles of the US and Russia strengthens US national security. The administration and Congress should ensure that the US has the capacity to safely disarm, while at the same time establishing adequate disarmament verification mechanisms. The infrastructure at the Pantex Plant in Texas where nuclear weapons are dismantled is aging and the NNSA, in light of this, should attempt to dismantle existing weapons quicker. Funding should also be increased for research on nuclear arms reduction verification and, more specifically, warhead-level verification.

Although the report doesn’t provide an exhaustive cost savings analysis of its recommendations, significant savings could clearly be found if these recommendation were implemented. Many programs and facilities mentioned for closure encompass costs in the billions of dollars. Such savings are surely welcome considering that the Obama administration plans on spending over $60 billion just for five warhead life extension programs over the next 25 years.

Both the administration and Congress would be wise to give these recommendations some serious consideration. Their implementation would lead to a more rational nuclear weapons complex by cutting extraneous facilities and programs that necessitate unnecessary costs while securing its long-term viability.