Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Posts Tagged ‘nuclear energy’

‘Nuclear Waste? What Nuclear Waste?’ Obama Shuts Down Yucca Moutain

Posted by K.E. White on March 13, 2009

The Obama administration has singled it will cut funding for Yucca Mountain, reopening the question of how America should handle the byproducts of its nuclear energy production.

So what will we do with all the waste? (And, for devoted readers, ‘Yucca Moutain Johnny’ can now never be revived.)

Well that depends if you believe there is such a thing as ‘nuclear waste’. The vast majority of ‘waste’ Yucca Mountain stored (more on that below) is recyclable if you reprocess it.

(This LA Times article does explain what Yucca Mountain stored)

William Tucker argues in favor of nuclear reprocessing in today’s WSJ.

Sp what’s the catch to the Tucker approach—and France currently uses? As pointed out in this 2008 report by The Union of Concerned Scientists, reprocessing is an expensive, a proliferation risk and actually more complicated to enact than a nuclear storage site.

From Tucker’s WSJ article:

So is this material “waste”? Absolutely not. Ninety-five percent of a spent fuel rod is plain old U-238, the nonfissionable variety that exists in granite tabletops, stone buildings and the coal burned in coal plants to generate electricity. Uranium-238 is 1% of the earth’s crust. It could be put right back in the ground where it came from.

Of the remaining 5% of a rod, one-fifth is fissionable U-235 — which can be recycled as fuel. Another one-fifth is plutonium, also recyclable as fuel. Much of the remaining three-fifths has important uses as medical and industrial isotopes. Forty percent of all medical procedures in this country now involve some form of radioactive isotope, and nuclear medicine is a $4 billion business. Unfortunately, we must import all our tracer material from Canada, because all of our isotopes have been headed for Yucca Mountain.

What remains after all this material has been extracted from spent fuel rods are some isotopes for which no important uses have yet been found, but which can be stored for future retrieval. France, which completely reprocesses its recyclable material, stores all the unused remains — from 30 years of generating 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy — beneath the floor of a single room at La Hague.

The supposed problem of “nuclear waste” is entirely the result of a the decision in 1976 by President Gerald Ford to suspend reprocessing, which President Jimmy Carter made permanent in 1977. The fear was that agents of foreign powers or terrorists groups would steal plutonium from American plants to manufacture bombs.

That fear has proved to be misguided. If foreign powers want a bomb, they will build their own reactors or enrichment facilities, as North Korea and Iran have done. The task of extracting plutonium from highly radioactive material and fashioning it into a bomb is far beyond the capacities of any terrorist organization.

So shed no tears for Yucca Mountain. Instead of ending the nuclear revival, it gives us the chance to correct a historical mistake and follow France’s lead in developing complete reprocessing for nuclear material.

The LA Times reviews just how much waste nuclear energy production now produces, emphasizing the need for sound federal policy when it comes to nuclear waste. (Note: The article does not mention nuclear reprocessing)

More than 57,000 tons of spent fuel rods already are stored next to reactors, just a few yards from containment buildings where they once generated nuclear-heated steam to drive massive electrical turbines.

The lack of a permanent solution poses a serious challenge to the industry’s plans to build more than 30 new reactors. Existing nuclear plants produce 2,000 tons of the long-lived waste each year, most of which is moved into pools of chilled water that allow the spent — but still highly lethal — uranium-235 to slowly and safely decay. Uranium-235 has a half-life of nearly 704 million years — meaning that half its atoms will decay in that time. 

But containment pools never were intended to store all of the spent fuel that a reactor creates. The idea was that the cool water would stabilize the enriched uranium until it could be sent to a reprocessing plant or stored in a centralized location.

Instead, it keeps piling up. Although industry officials insist the waste is safely stored in fenced-off buildings lined with concrete and lead, there are concerns that a leak or a terrorist attack could create an environmental catastrophe. Many of the nation’s nuclear plants are close to highly populated areas or next to bodies of water. 

As power companies run out of space in their containment pools, they increasingly are storing the waste above ground in concrete and metal casks. 

“We continue to ask the federal government to provide a clear solution for what the long-term storage of spent fuel will be,” said Marshall Murphy, spokesman for Exelon Nuclear, the owner of all seven nuclear plants in Illinois.


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Irish Nuclear-Free Zone? Ministers Make Joint Appeal Against British Nuclear Energy Plans

Posted by K.E. White on February 3, 2008

From BBC News:

Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie and Irish Environment Minister John Gormley made a joint call.

They are concerned about proposals to include nuclear power as a means of reducing the UK‘s carbon footprint.

“It is bad enough having a nuclear threat off our shores. We should not contemplate having one within our shores,” Ms Ritchie, SDLP, said.

“The shift back towards a nuclear power energy policy in Great Britain greatly concerns me, especially given its close proximity.

Quick Historical Note: The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) came out of a 1958 Irish proposal that aimed to freeze nuclear weapons proliferation.

Posted in Britain, Ireland, Northern Ireland, NPT, Nuclear, nuclear energy | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Proliferation Press Roundup: The Nuclear Energy Boom

Posted by K.E. White on February 2, 2008

The world’s energy are ensuring the proliferation of nuclear energy technology—suggesting an easier path for many nations to develop nuclear weapons. The deals will test the IAEA’s ability to foster nuclear cooperation, while ensuring dangerous materials remain safe and nations remain honest about their nuclear intentions. 

IAEA ElBaradei  talks nuclear energy cooperation with Egypt:

During his week-long visit to Egypt, ElBaradei is scheduled to meet with a number of senior officials on cooperation programs between the UN nuclear watchdog and Egypt in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy, according to Egypt‘s official MENA news agency.

The IAEA chief will also meet with the Cairo-based Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, said MENA.

And America is cranking up its energy partnership with Russia:

U.S. nuclear power reactors will be able to obtain more supplies of Russian enriched uranium for fuel, under a trade deal signed by the two countries late on Friday.

The agreement will provide U.S. utilities with a reliable supply of nuclear fuel by allowing Russia to boost exports export to the United States while minimizing any disruption to the United States‘ domestic enrichment industry.

And Lithuania is one step closer to a joint nuclear energy venture with Sweden and Poland:

Lithuania‘s government won a parliamentary vote on Friday to merge a private and two state-owned energy companies into one group to invest in a new nuclear power plant and build connections to Sweden and Poland.

The vote will give a boost to delayed plans to build the new power station in cooperation with Poland, Latvia and Estonia, all countries that want to reduce their reliance on Russia for energy.

No wonder the International Herald Tribune calls nuclear the “power investment of 2008”:

Britain is part of a broader trend of growing support for nuclear energy in other countries. The French company Areva, the world’s largest builder of nuclear reactors, forecasts that 150 to 300 nuclear reactors will be built in the world from now to 2030. At least 50 of them will be built in China and India, according to news reports.

This is encouraging for global power plant builders like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries,Toshiba through its unit Westinghouse and Areva, which have all benefited from China’s investment in new nuclear in recent years. Analysts figure that decommissioning projects in more mature markets like Britain, Russia, Japan and France could prove to be an even bigger money maker for the nuclear industry. A review of the global decommissioning market, carried out by the Nuclear Industry Association in Britain, estimates such projects to be worth £300 billion over the next 30 years.

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Greenpeace Gone Nuclear? An interview with Patrick Moore

Posted by K.E. White on January 31, 2008 offers this interview with Patrick Moore, co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. But did you know Moore also co-founded Greenpeace?

Moore talks about the need to go nuclear, and why environmental concerns over this technology—whether based on weapons proliferation, waste worries, or environmental impact—are missing the point.

But Moore does glance over some issues. First, in speaking of the renewed global interest in nuclear technology, there really is no way (yet) to police the nuclear actions of foreign countries (eg Iran or North Korea). And while he speaks glowingly of the GNEP, he glosses over real worries with the program. From Arms Control Today:

GNEP seeks to develop new nuclear technologies, particularly for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, and new international nuclear fuel arrangements. Administration officials claim that these efforts will reduce nuclear waste and decrease the risk that an anticipated growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide could spur nuclear proliferation. Critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere assert that the administration’s course would exacerbate the proliferation risks posed by the spread of spent fuel reprocessing technologies, be prohibitively expensive, fail to ease waste disposal challenges significantly, and lack any certainty that the claimed technologies will ever be developed.

GNEP’s critics were bolstered by an October report from a National Research Council (NRC) panel, commissioned by the Department of Energy, that concluded that the department should “not move forward” with the program, particularly efforts to develop new commercial-scale facilities for reprocessing and for burning a new type of nuclear fuel. (See ACT, December 2007.)

But such international concerns don’t speak to Moore’s main argument: America should go nuclear. But, even here, he omits difficulties with nuclear waste. Look at Britain’s experience with decommissioning their nuclear power plants (from the Guardian):


The costs of cleaning up waste from Britain’s first civil nuclear power programme are still rising and uncertainties abound, the National Audit Office, the country’s public spending watchdog, said on Wednesday.

Its report comes three weeks after the British government finally gave the green light to a new fleet of nuclear power stations to replace the retiring plants and help the country meet its carbon emission commitments.

But the current 73 billion pound cost of decommissioning the 19 existing nuclear sites over the next century is 18 percent above initial estimates, and the costs of even near-term actions are still rising when they should have stabilised.


Moore points to new technologies that undoubtedly one day alleviates such concerns. But by never tackling nuclear waste disposal directly, I have concerns over just have operational these new tools are today.

None of this reputes Moore’s chief contention: the benefits of going nuclear outweigh the costs. Getting off coal energy would be beneficial. And other perhaps other alternative sources of energy are more ‘Candyland’ than real.

But wouldn’t—just speaking hypothetically—increasing every car’s per gallon mileage by 50-100 percent over the next 10-20 years do just as much for the environment? And this proposal would have two added bonuses: American energy independence without cementing Utah’s role as the world’s nuclear dumping ground.

But on one point Moore and I would agree: America cannot continue to ignore all nuclear energy technology. Research must continue. Like it or not nuclear is in the picture—and its not going anywhere.

Posted in energy, Nuclear, waste | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »