Author Archives: Martin Kral

About Martin Kral

Retired, just having fun writing about energy.

Nuclear Waste Comparison:

Dear Editor,

For many people, fear or concern about nuclear waste tops their list of opposition to nuclear energy, although with a little examination this can be seen very unreasonable. Like other technologies, nuclear power plants produce waste, and so strategies are needed to provide safety from being compromised or the environment being spoiled.

Technologies and their wastes may be compared: whether the waste is toxic or contagious. For simplicity, let’s compare three types of waste produced by human activity: combustion waste, personal biological waste and nuclear waste.

Combustion waste consists of ash (particulates) and carbon dioxide. There is a mass release into the atmosphere every day for each person such as: the burning of gas, oil and coal, for transportation, heating and electricity generation causing a steady build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is well established.

Biological waste is closer to home and its management is an individual and personal responsibility taught to children at an early age. However, not everyone has toilets. A recent well-publicized example was the cholera epidemic in Haiti. Around the world nearly a million children die every year from diarrheal disease spread by polluted water (fecal matters).

Nuclear waste is another waste like biological and combustion waste. However, unlike the latter two types, nuclear waste has not caused any deaths from accidental exposure. The waste is mainly solid and can is compactly stored and it is not discharged into the environment by default like carbon dioxide and biological waste.
There are two types of nuclear radioactive waste: low level transuranic elements and high level spent nuclear fuel rods.

Transuranic elements are created from the uranium fission process. These radioactive elements represent about 1% of the unused spent fuel at commercial power plants. If those isotopes don’t have some medical value, it is considered waste and needs to be stored for at least 300 hundreds years to decay.

Spent nuclear fuel (SNF) is the unused portion of the uranium fuel rods and this ‘alleged waste’ is actually uranium fuel to be stored for the next generation of nuclear reactors that will be able to consume it. Until 4GEN reactors are commercialized, the SNF has to be stored in dry cast at interim consolidated storage facilities like the proposed Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance site in Southeast New Mexico. To be continued…

Missed previous letters:


Nuclear Safety Overkill:

Dear Editor,

Scientific evidence shows that radiation safety criteria are about 1000 times too cautious and endanger lives. Safety regulations based on ALARA are not fit for purpose, and are dangerous to the economy, the environment and to life and limb. The nuclear power generating industry has almost come to a complete standstill because of over regulation based on 60 year old irrational nuclear safety policies.

WIPP is a ~$19billion over regulated deep geological repository to store low-level transuranic elements along with all the special clothing and tools used to make plutonium bombs for the American war machine during the Cold War years. In 2014, there was a temporary leak at the facility that released very small amount of Pu and Am that did not harm anyone or the environment. After it was cleaned up, DOE decided to spent another half billion dollars to upgrade the safety of the facility that was already safe. This was to appease the anti-nuke folks and the general public that even cares.

Why do I think WIPP can now be considered a multi-billion dollar pork project? Back is the 1950’s when everyone in the world feared nuclear radiation it was easy to get Congress to approve this project based on radiation standards (LNT/ALARA) that were never scientifically proven. During the 2 ½ years that WIPP was shut down for upgrades, shipments from Los Alamos continued and the material was temporarily stored above ground at Waste Control Specialist in Andrews, TX about 40 miles due east of WIPP.

Why in the world would the DOE even THINK of storing this highly dangerous nuclear waste above ground for 2 ½ years in TX? Well, the answer to that is that the material was packaged in canisters that were perfectly safe above ground in Los Alamos for the last several decades. If the repackaged 5gal barrel that exploded deep down inside the WIPP facility had been stored at WCS, there probably would have been minimal danger to the surrounding area and the cleanup would have been pennies on the dollar because of easy access.

It appears that WCS storage design could have safely stored what is being put down in the depths of WIPP. The most positive thing about WIPP is that it provides the local economy with high paying jobs, taxes and fees on a quarter billion dollar DOE budget. To be continue…

Missed previous letters:

Radiation Misunderstood:

Dear Editor,

In my last several letters, I focused on examples where exposure to radiation could be harmful but in most cases, it is actually very beneficial to our daily lives. The understanding of radiation was misguided by two events that have been proven to be incorrect. It has taken over 60 years to slowly overcome the misconception of radiation exposure and nuclear energy in general.

I really don’t think I need to reiterate that thermonuclear bombs will produce an acute radiation blast that will kill you if you are within the kill zone depending on the size of the bomb. North Korea has reported to have thermonuclear bombs 5 times the blast radius of what landed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. North Korea’s recent detonation did release small amounts of harmless radiation detected by South Korea. This is the only part of nuclear that is not for life.

Peaceful use of nuclear energy is very beneficial for humanity. Nuclear energy saves lives in so many ways. Not only can it provide the entire world with clean electricity without effecting climate change, it also provides isotopes used in medical diagnostics and treatments, most noticeability for cancer over 100 years now.

In order for the general public to accept low to medium radiation dosages they have to regain trust in those scientist that have proven without a doubt that a new standard for radiation should be set. The old, and still current, standard is called Linear No-Threshold (LNT) which says that all radiation doses are harmful, however small, and that their effect is cumulative is unrealistic.

The result of this policy for radiation safety (sometimes called Radiological Safety) requires that all radiation exposures be kept As Low as Reasonably Achievable (ALARA), which in practice means within a small fraction of naturally occurring radiation levels. This is unrelated to any risk, but comes from a political wish to say that the effects of radiation have been minimized (CYA).

Scientific evidence shows that radiation safety criteria are about 1000 times too cautious and endanger lives. Safety regulations based on ALARA are not fit for purpose, and are dangerous to the economy, the environment and to life and limb. How many people have refused a CT-Scan that could have save their lives because of fear of radiation that will not harm them? To be continued…

Missed prior letters:

Fear of Radiation is taught:

Dear Editor,

Life is a struggle, sometimes against unseen forces, often against intense competition. To an individual in society, success in life may be expressed in terms of money. Money is but a means of exchange, giving choice and access to the real goals of: freedom from fear, access to food, water, warmth and shelter, and protection from physical attack and disease. Of these, fear has the greatest impact on our well-being.

When it comes to anything nuclear there is this innate fear that we are definitely not born with, but is taught by a fearful non-scientific society. How did society become so fearful of the words nuclear and radiation and should they be? There were basically two events that set the stage for our anxiety.

The first and most obvious was the two atom bombs that the US dropped on Japan at the end of WWII and the images of acute destruction to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That image stayed with us through the Cold War decades with the Soviet Union, competing for bigger and more hydrogen bombs. If you think ‘fake news’ is bad today, the Government back in the 50’s and 60’s made every effort to instill fear in the American public to support its actions (and budgets) toward the USSR.

The second event was not very well known to the general public. Hermann Muller (1890-1967) was an American geneticist with outspoken political beliefs and an early interest in eugenics. In 1926 he published his experimental results on the production of mutations in fruit flies by X-ray radiation. Later, in 1946 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this pioneering work. In his lectures he claimed that any radiation dose produces genetic damage in direct proportion to exposure, all the way down to near zero dose. This has been proven false over the last 70 years and the UN still preaches “all radiation is dangerous”

During the 1950’s ionizing radiation first entered the story of nuclear fear phobia. Fear of nuclear radiation is a superstition without scientific foundation that should be exposed. The actual science of nuclear has been distorted by fearful men and needs to be corrected through re-education. Let me leave you with this quote until my next letter to continue nuclear is for life.

“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is to be understood” – Madame Marie Curie.

Missed a letter:

Fear of Radiation:

Dear Editor,

The dawn of radio-phobia came from a historical instance in the story about the Radium Dial Painters. These were mostly young girls who were employed to paint the faces of watches and instruments with luminous paint early in the twentieth century (~1916-1926). The paint contained radium whose radioactive decay provided the energy for it to glow in the dark. Painting the fine lines, numerals and dots was exacting work, and the best workers licked their brushes to keep a fine point.

In total numbers there were 1,339 painters with radioactive count rates below 3.7 Mbq (and no cancers); out of 191 painters with more than 3.7 MBq, there were 46 deaths from bone cancer. A new safety regime was introduced following denial by management and litigation by workers. This stimulated a spirit of fear and distrust of nuclear radiation for the first time. Practical radiation safety, like safety in other activities, is largely a matter of education, training and overcoming ignorance.

There were no painter deaths after 1926 because a threshold in whole-body radioactivity of 3.7 MBq was established and in 1941, the US National Bureau of Standards set that guideline based of the observation from the Radium Dial Painters incident. After the unpleasant surprise of the carcinogenic effect of radium, as exposed by the Dial Painters, the safety environment was precautionary and suspicious for any new unknown alpha emitters, like plutonium.

The nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 used plutonium-239. Plutonium is an artificial element that only existed in microgram quantities until mass produced by the first nuclear reactors after December 1942. The earth use to contained large amounts of plutonium but it has completely decayed away over the last 4.5 billion years.

So in effect plutonium does not fission at all, except when artificially stimulated by free neutrons within a reactor or an implosion with dynamite within a bomb. This shows that plutonium-239 is a rather innocuous material, in spite of the character given to it in horror movies and misrepresented by social science (not scientific). The plutonium story, like the Fukushima story should be rewritten based on real world observations and not based on irrational fear.

The first use of plutonium as a fission material was in 1945 right here in New Mexico, symbolically called Trinity – the union of three; proton, electron and neutron. To be continue…

Missed a letter:

Radiation after Fukushima:

Dear Editor,

The first question you have to ask yourself: Why didn’t anyone die from radiation exposure after three nuclear reactors melted down at Fukushima back in 2011? Here it is six years later and still no one has died from radiation exposure. Curious minds would want to know why, especially real scientist of physics and chemistry. There was another curious group of people that were interested in knowing too.

In 2011, roughly 65,000 Japanese citizens living near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant started measuring their own radiation exposure in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. The traditional method of estimating dosage was taking readings from aircraft hundreds of feet above the ground.

Now, in a first-of-its-kind study, scientists analyzing the thousands of citizen readings have come to a surprising conclusion: The airborne observations in this region of Japan overestimated the true radiation level by a factor of four.

Pursuing the question and getting an answer is not difficult. In fact, technically, it is quite straightforward and simple to understand. However, the answer is unexpected to most people, for it calls into question assumptions that they have lived with all their lives. Learning new truths can be a positive experience, but it is hard to accept that what you previously thought to be true is in fact false.

So the predictions of a nuclear disaster at Fukushima were simply wrong. We will need to examine where these came from. The story will go back many decades to the birth of a pseudo-science called the Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis (LNT). It is described as a pseudo-science because it is not based on observation but on a history of ideas, fears and human emotions, quite real in their own terms but not scientific.

Does this mean that radiation is safe? And if so, how safe? How do we know that for sure? The short answer is yes: low to medium dose radiation is safe and it has been saving lives by diagnosing disease and curing cancer for over a century as pioneered by Marie Curie. A radiation dose used in a medical scan is far higher than encountered by the public at Fukushima. Remember, there was a triple meltdown and it proved once again that nuclear accidents like TMI and WIPP are generally innocuous.

Natural radioactive decay heats the Earth and drives tectonic plates, earthquakes and tsunami, creating the real disaster on March 2011 in Japan

Disclosure: This is the 2nd letter in a series based on and from the book, Nuclear is for Life by Wade Allison.

Nuclear is for Life:

This is the first letter in a series that I am writing for the local newspaper based on and from the content of the book ‘Nuclear is for Life, A Cultural Revolution’, by Wade Allison.

Dear Editor,

Before humans, before Earth, before the matter of which Earth is composed, radiation completely dominated everything in the universe. As the universe cooled from its creation in the Big Bang 15.8 billion years ago, the radiation subsided leaving clumps of matter to emerge as galaxies of stars. With the exception of hydrogen, this matter was made of nuclear waste left after an orgy of early-exploding stars that created all the chemical elements we see around us today.

Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago, and not long after that the slow development of life began. Much later, a mere million or so years ago, man appeared. Then, a few hundred years ago man began to understand how he himself could engage the power of science, culminating in his ability to work with radiation and generate energy from nuclear matter.

Many speak as if nuclear energy and radiation were man-made, and perhaps compare a decision to use it and its powerful influence to Adam and Eve deciding to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. But man did not make radiation or nuclear energy – it was nuclear radiation in the natural world that was needed to make man.

Indeed it is the failure of so many to eat the fruit of this misunderstood knowledge that has led to the sorry story of Fukushima Daiichi – a tragedy of ignorance, a tangled web of misunderstanding and undeserved distrust of which Shakespeare would have been proud. The story deserves to be retold in a positive and properly scientific light starting with – no one die of radiation exposure from the Fukushima meltdown.

This letter will be the beginning of a series of short letters about why nuclear is for life. They are based on physical science, not social or political science. Stay tune for my 2 letters per month. If you missed a letter you can still read it here: