Response to ‘Confessions’ article

What is depleted uranium?

There was a recent guest column titled “Confession of a nuclear worker” that expressed the writer’s personal experience as a radiation safety technician. I have no intention to address her personal experiences because they are what they are. However, I will address the topic of deplete uranium which was the topic of article, from a pragmatic scientific perspective.

To understand what depleted uranium is you have to understand what natural uranium is. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) defines uranium in its natural state with three isotopes (U-234 @ 0.0057%, U-235 @ 0.72% and U-238 @ 99.28%). Uranium is a silvery metal found in trace amounts in all rocks and soil, in water and air, and in materials made from natural substances. Small amounts of natural uranium are ingested and inhaled by everyone every day.

There is a process called enrichment that removes the isotope U235 from one batch of the natural uranium mixture and adds it to another batch. This will increase the percentage of U235 in the second batch to be used as nuclear fuel. What is left over from all the extracted batches is called depleted uranium (DU), which is natural uranium with less U235 content. This enrichment process is done at URENCO in Eunice, NM

DU can be combine with other elements in the environment to form several uranium compounds. I will focus on just two: as a commercial nuclear fuel for molten salt fast reactors and as a military material used to harden the tips of armor piercing bullets and cannon shells. DU is considerably less radioactive than natural uranium because not only does it have less U234 and U235 per unit mass than natural uranium, but in addition, essentially all traces of decay products have been removed during extraction and chemical processing of the uranium prior to enrichment. What you have left in DU is mainly the isotope U238.

Regarding exposures of DU to our military, there have been studies of the health of military personnel who saw action in the Gulf War (1990-1991) and during the Balkan conflicts (1994-99). The results of these studies have been published and the main conclusion is that the war veterans do show a small (i.e., not statistically significant) increase in mortality rates, but this excess is due to accidents/suicides rather than any exposures to DU. Remember, our guys were shooting those tainted bullets at the enemy.

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Open Letter to Southeast New Mexico

To all residents of Lea, Eddy and Chaves Counties,

My name is Martin Kral and I have been an advocate for Nuclear Science and Technology for the last 10 years. I live in Roswell, NM and consider myself a concerned citizen of nuclear waste/fuel in Southeast NM. Recently, there was a strategy meeting in Roswell by concerned citizens who are against anything nuclear in the state of NM. Their objective for the next couple of years is to actively oppose any additional nuclear material stored in NM. However, I have the opposite point of view. I will actively support any additional nuclear industry that will bring high paying jobs and steady revenue streams to the State of New Mexico.

I have been writing articles and letters to the Roswell Daily Record for over 5 years to educate the people of Roswell about the realities of nuclear energy and radiation. I took on this quest knowing that someday soon the people will have to make a decision about whether they will support or not support more nuclear industry in our neighborhood. I have always gotten positive feedback about my articles as being very informative. Most people in NM know very little about nuclear science even though the power of the atom was advanced in Los Alamos.

The US has been building nuclear power plants for the last ~70 years based on a water cooled design using solid uranium oxide fuel. The fuel rods containing this solid fuel can only last about 4.5-6 years because the fission gas buildup and fission damage in the uranium fuel pellets in the rod will eventually breakdown and have to be replaced. The unused fuel in the rods have to be stored in water pools for up 5 years to cool down and then put into dry storage canisters for another ~300 years or until the uranium is considered safe for the environment again. With an exception of a very minute amount of fission products (300 years) and even a lesser amount of higher actinides (10,000 years), everything else can be put back in the ground as dirt where it originally came from.

However, that whole process is completely unnecessary. Back in the 1960, Enrico Fermi, top nuclear scientist on the Manhattan Project, described an alternative solution to storing nuclear waste: Consume all actinides in fast neutron reactors, leaving only fission products, which require special storage for less than 300 years. That fast reactor was built and operated for 30 years in Idaho, recycling its own fuel base and not producing any ‘waste’ to be concerned with. Unfortunately, the Government defunded that prototype and the technology did not make it to the US commercial marketplace. But it did make it to Russia, which now has commercialized fast reactors. The Chinese are also building fast fission reactors. Even that technology has become dated but has a smaller waste stream.

Today that waste burner reactor design concept is being re-addressed in the private sector with the Fast-Spectrum (neutron) Molten-Salt Reactor by Elysium Industries. The Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor (MCSFR) is state-of-the-art in its design. The technology is unique as it can provide base-load and clean power while addressing the current issues in the nuclear power industry and climate change. The new cost effective Elysium MCSFR has the ability to consume spent nuclear fuel, depleted uranium, thorium and even weapons grade plutonium, transforming it all from a perceived waste problem into profitable energy.

Which brings me to the primary reason for this letter. I have been following the progress of the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance / Holtec International’s proposal for a Consolidate Interim Storage Facility (CISF) to store spent nuclear fuel (SNF) in New Mexico. While the technology is sound and I support it, I do have a concern about the word ‘Interim’ in the proposal. I do agree with Jon Hancock, a waste expert with SIRC in ABQ, that the fuel can safely stay where it is at each nuclear power plant (NPP) site. Technically it is just as safe there as it would be in New Mexico.

However, there is this thing called ‘social science’ that has nothing to do with the physical science of nuclear technology. There has always been this psychological fear of all things nuclear and the communities around the individual NPP want the perceived waste (unused fuel) moved away. That is understandable because of what we have been taught about radiation over the last 70 years. Linear No Threshold (LNT) and As Low as Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) has been the policy for decades but that has been proven false because of all the informational data gathered since TMI, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Low dose radiation is a benefit to life, not a curse. Of course, Madame Curie told us that over 100 years ago, but who listens.

I would like you to lend me your eyes and hears for my one and only concern about the ELEA proposal. Here is the shocker that is not being addressed from my perspective so far.

• If you replace every existing GEN3 nuclear reactor in the US with an equivalent Elysium GEN4 MCSFR, there is enough stored SNF to produce heat/electricity for approximately 2,000 years. If you add all the stored Deleted Uranium (DU) fuel to that, they would produce heat/electricity for another estimated 20,000 years.

• If we replaced every GEN3 nuclear reactor, hydroelectric dam, coal furnace, gas turbine, wind turbine, solar panel, biofuel solution, etc. with an equivalent GEN4 MCSFR, there is enough stored SNF to produce heat/electricity for ~400 years. If you add all the stored DU fuel to that, it would produce heat/electricity for another ~4,000 years. If you use the heat to replace other fossil fuel process heat uses, the SNF/DU would be consumed much faster.

So my first and only question is: How long do you plan to store SNF in New Mexico? I think it is extremely important for this question to be answered at any public forum that is being planned over the next year to educate the public. I think NM should change the purpose of having the CISF to that of a long term nuclear fuel depot. That would be more honest and let the people know that the CISF would also produce a revenue stream until the fuel is all used up – possibly thousands of years.

What about Yucca Mountain or any other deep repository? With today’s storage technology for SNF, Yucca Mountain is no longer needed to store SNF. It can still be used for other purposes, like subterranean condos. Seriously, SNF should not be discarded in deep repositories where the valuable fuel will not be recoverable for long enough to use it. I am most familiar with the Holtec canister and believe that is all we need. The rating on the canister is 100 years but I believe that is very conservative and it will last for 300 years, long enough for the decay to render the contents harmless.

Okay, so how are you going to answer my question about ‘interim’ because you will need a solid answer for the Anti’s. They will address this as a negative sound bite when it is actually a positive benefit to The State of New Mexico.

Sincerely,
Martin Kral
Concerned resident of Roswell, NM

Alternative nuclear fuel storage:

In the early years of the nuclear industry, Enrico Fermi, top nuclear scientist on the Manhattan Project, described an alternative solution to storing nuclear waste: Consume all actinides in fast neutron reactors, leaving only fission products, which require special storage for less than 300 years. Pyroelectric refining, as perfected at EBR-II (Idaho National Labs) separates essentially all actinides from the small amount of fission products (the waste). U.S. DOE Research on pyroelectric refining and fast neutron reactors was stopped in 1994. The nuclear storage solution was resolved and completed back in the 1960-90’s, but the Government just walked away from it. INSANE!

Today that waste burner reactor design concept is being re-addressed in the private sector with the Fast-Spectrum (neutron) Molten-Salt Reactor by Elysium Industries. The Elysium Molten Chloride Salt Fast Reactor (MCSFR) is state-of-the-art in its design. Elysium’s technology is unique as it can provide base-load and clean power while addressing the current issues in the nuclear power industry and climate change. The Elysium MCSFR has the ability to consume spent nuclear fuel, depleted uranium, thorium and even weapons grade plutonium, transforming it all from a perceived waste problem into profitable energy. 

Last month a group of concerned citizens formed a group to strategize about how they were going to protest Lea and Eddy counties from storing spent (unused) nuclear fuel. I personally believe that licensing the storage facility, Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance, creates three major opportunities:  

1) New Mexico will gain billions in steady revenue to help the State manage its troubled budgets year after year because of the ebb and flow of the gas and oil industry revenue stream.

 2) It creates high paying jobs for Lea, Eddy and even Chaves Counties while fulfilling the federal government’s mandate to relocate all spent nuclear fuel from individual nuclear power plants around the US to Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) facilities.

3) It provides a nuclear fuel supply chain for the next generation of nuclear reactors, possibly one or two right here in New Mexico to replace coal, natural gas and renewable wind/solar electricity generation.

I am providing a link to a set of very short videos that explain why nuclear fuel storage is a very safe investment in New Mexico.  Remember, nuclear is for life and clean living. To be continued …

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUvvIzH2W6g – Part 2, 3 and 4 follows on YouTube.

 

Nuclear vs. Renewable

Larry, did you know, nuclear power has the lowest death rates per terawatt-hour of any form of mass energy production in history, including hydroelectric, solar and wind.

Harry, did you know, nuclear energy doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and the volume of waste is small and easily managed and can be recycled for more rounds of fuel until it’s all gone.

Jerry, did you know, no one died from the meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Fukushima, and only 23 deaths at Chernobyl (Ref: WHO would have thought).

And Mary, did you know, that your baby boy’s father created the perfect world in a cosmos that provides us with all the stored energy humanity will ever need on this earth. But Mary, did you also know there are people who don’t believe this and try to threaten the rest of us with fear mongering.

Folks, did you know Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford University and his team have proposed a 100% Clean and Renewable Wind, Water, and Sunlight (WWS) All-sector Energy Roadmaps for the 50 United States. Dr. Jacobson had managed to convince President Obama’s Administration that the United States could survive without fossil and nuclear stored fuels.

The 35-year roadmap of his proposal would entail manufacturing (or importing) and installing an interdependent energy network consisting of:

• 496,000 5-MW wind machines
• 18 billion square meters of PV panels
• 50,000-plus wind and solar farms
• 75 million residential rooftop systems
• 2.7 million Commercial rooftop systems

I hate to throw numbers at you but I got all these figures from the recent publication ‘The Myth of Powering the Nation with Renewable Energy’ by Mike Conley and Tim Maloney, a couple of mathematicians.

Here’s a thought: Since wind and solar are weather-dependent, how can we depend on them if we can’t depend on the weather?

What would the nuclear alternative look like? The first thing I can say is that it will not be dependent on weather or location. Each Generation IV reactor would use stored fuel (and waste) and will be an independent power plant unto itself, each plant site will have two or more reactors for backup. They will be Molten Salt Reactors – always on, reliable, safe and provide clean energy for food, water, air and the comforts of life.

Nuclear is for life. There is no life without radiation.

To be continued …

Nuclear energy reactivity:

After the Fukushima accident the worldwide nuclear industry took a pause to determine if nuclear energy should still be ‘the’ future energy of the world. Several countries had an immediate overreaction with fear to the incident such as Japan itself, Germany, and a few other EU nuclear nations. Japan, as you would expect, shuttered all 25 of their reactors for inspections to determine if the earthquake cause any damage. For purely political reasons, not a single reactor was allowed to restart when all reactors were technically sound. This was a huge economic mistake.

South Korea, Japan’s closest neighbor also has a large number of nuclear power plants and none of them were shuttered by the Fukushima 9.0 mega earthquake. However, there was also political pressure in South Korea with a recent election and campaign promise to shut down all nuclear power plants. Within one year of the election, South Korea had a referendum to keep the nuclear plants operating. The young millennials campaigned hard for this and won the election – 60-40. The new President Moon has pledge to honor this result and continue building and operating nuclear power plants in South Korea.

South Korea is one of 3 countries that also export nuclear power system to other countries (customers) that do not have a GDP strong enough to support their own nuclear industry. South Korea, Russia and China are now the primary exporters of 3Gen nuclear technology. There was a time when the US, UK and FR were the major players, but if you snooze, you lose.

Given that the global nuclear power industry is set to expend over $1.5 trillion by 2030. Here are some of the reasons why:

• China has 22 nuclear reactors under construction.
• China is also breaking ground on one nuclear reactor every month.
• China is completing with Russia for the first floating NPP (Russia will win).
• China projects to have 400 nuclear reactors online by 2050.
• Russia is hell bent on becoming the geopolitical nuclear power of the world.
• Russia is buying up all the uranium interest to control markets
• Russia has 60% share of future nuclear markets,
• Russia has contracts to build 34 reactors in 13 countries (2 are US allies)

So where is the US in this picture? Well, the Trump Administration has acknowledge the US must regain its nuclear leadership for national security reasons. Talk is cheap!

To be continued…

Capacity Factors of Energy Sources:

Every time there is a discussion about wind and solar as a renewable energy for the future there is this misunderstanding about what is the capacity of the individual turbine or panel and what electricity production can actually come from it (capacity factor). There is no energy source that has a capacity factor of 100%, except theoretically nuclear, which could run for years without any interruption for maintenance. There are a variety of reasons for the production interruptions such as; no sun, no wind, too much wind, drought, water needed for other proposes, polar vortex freeze, fuel interruptions and scheduled maintenance.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that utility-scale solar photovoltaic installations in America had an average capacity factor of 27% in 2016, with utility-scale wind farms at 35%, hydroelectric at 38%, coal plants at 55%, combined-cycle natural gas plants at 56% and nuclear plants at 92%. However, Germany has developed one clean coal plant at 91% efficiency. It can be technically done.

The capacity factor is where nuclear power excels. And it’s why seven of the top ten power plants in America are nuclear. Grand Coulee, the largest dam is in 5th place. The top natural gas plant is the West County Energy Center in Florida (ranked 7th) and the top coal plant is the Scherer Coal-fired Power Plant in Georgia (ranked 10th). It will be a long time, if ever, to see wind and solar in the top ten based on capacity factor.

Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona is the largest energy source in the US and 9th overall in the world. In 2014, Palo Verde produced 60% more kWhs of electricity than Grand Coulee, and more than any other power plant in America, all because Palo Verde had a capacity factor of 98% reliable energy without interruptions that year. This one nuclear power plant with 3 reactors sells electricity throughout Southwest US and shares ownership with California (21.7%), Texas (15.8%), New Mexico (10.2%) and of course Arizona (46.6 %).

I have always been an advocate of nuclear power because of its efficiency and fuel density. Recently, I added climate change to my rational for nuclear power. If the world is serious about doing anything significant to effect climate change, nuclear power is a must have in the energy mix. Are we investing in the better energy resource?

To be continued…

Nuclear Fuel for the future:

Now that I have done my best to help the residents of Southeast New Mexico better understand the misconceptions of nuclear fear and how radiation is an intimate part of our existence in low-level doses for medical usage and high-level radiation being instrumental in generating electricity and heat for domestic and industrial energy usage, let’s continue.

It is so unfortunate how this fear of all things nuclear has stagnated an entire industry in the United States for 30 years to the point that it will be extremely difficult to continue the existing technology with a sufficient supply chain of parts and fuel, and the trained personnel to operate and maintain the nuclear power plants. In the last two years, five (5) nuclear reactors have been shuttered for financial reasons (low NG pricing) with 40 to 60 years of usage left in them. More shutters and decommissions are planned over the next 10 years.

The proposed Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance (ELEA) and the existing Waste Control Specialist (WCS) will play an important role in the storage, of all the low-level and high-level radioactive material, that will be needed when these nuclear power plants are decommissioned. Most of the material will actually be unused uranium fuel referred to as spent nuclear fuel (SNF). This fuel needs to be saved and stored until the commercialization of next generation of small modular reactors, built in factories the way Henry Ford would be proud of – cost efficiency with standardization.     

The existing third generation of mega-nuclear plants have served us well and will continue to do so for another 60 years, but competition from cheaper energy sources like current NG pricing won’t allow them to continue generating electricity with a profit or even a break-even point. Nuclear reactor technology must adapt or become extinct.

Nuclear fuel (uranium or thorium) has an extremely high energy density, millions of times more than any other energy source and it is always on. That is what makes storage of the SNF so important and ELEA or WCS will safely store that fuel in Holtec canisters as an Interim Consolidated Storage Facilities. Eventually, providing that fuel for the next generation of safe efficient small modular molten salt (liquid) nuclear reactors. Every town or island could have these local power sources without dependency on a national grid.

To be continued…