Above or below ground:

The total overall cost of WIPP is estimate to be about $19 billion through its current license to 2035. That estimate was prepared before the 2014 incident which shuttered the facility for 2 ½ years while $500 million in safety upgrades could be implemented. WIPP resumed operation in 2016, by first taking all the radioactive waste that was temporarily stored at Waste Control Specialist in Andrews, TX in above ground safe storage canisters hidden out of public site within a standard medal building with off the shelf air conditioning. We are talking about a few million dollars for this safe DOE/NRC approved above ground storage.

I copied the following from the WIPP web site. It appears that WIPP is planning to expand and decided to completely rebuild/replace their entire ventilation and filtering system above ground.

“A proposed new underground ventilation system (NUVS) for WIPP would be constructed above-ground and would include a new filter building (52,677 ft2) and a building containing a salt reduction system (23,914 ft2). Building construction would consist of precast panels and cast-in-place concrete. The facility would include six 1,000 hp (nominal) exhaust fans, 22 nuclear air filtration HEPA units and two diesel generators, which would be provided as government-furnished property.”

The first thing I read into that paragraph was the billions of dollars not accounted for in the original overall estimate of WIPP cost stated above. However, that money will be spent in New Mexico. The second question that came to mind was how safe is safe and at what cost for a necessary underground ventilation system? And third thought is with Russia quitting the MOX recycling program with the US (sanctions have consequences) and is that allocated money being transferred with the plutonium to WIPP?

The radioactive material that should never be stored permanently in WIPP is the unused uranium fuel rods from commercial nuclear power plants, known as spent nuclear fuel. That radioactive material can be temporarily stored in concrete canister above ground so that the fuel will be accessible to use in the next generation nuclear reactor designs.

Waste Control Specialist in Andrews TX and Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance in Hobbs-Carlsbad NM have both applied to license above ground and partially below ground interim consolidated storage facility. This is guaranteed to bring some large sums of stable revenue to New Mexico.

To be continued…


Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance:

I can remember back in 2007, there was a city wide town hall meeting at the Roswell Convention Center to discuss the possibility of having a nuclear waste recycling facility located about 40 miles east of Roswell. The Department of Energy (DOE) was looking for regional sites for radioactive storage with a friendly community toward nuclear energy. A local business man applied and Roswell was selected along with Carlsbad as possible sites in New Mexico. The Roswell community (that showed up) was dead set against having anything nuclear in their back yard. Carlsbad did not have that attitude.

The community leaders of Carlsbad and Hobbs formed an alliance (NGO) in order to jointly submit an application for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) program. The GNEP nuclear fuel recycling proposal proved very controversial in the United States and internationally so President Bush slowly defunded it. However, the Hobbs and Carlsbad alliance had already chartered as the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance and even bought a 1000 acre parcel on the county line as a potential storage site 30 miles east of WIPP.

By 2009 GNEP was ‘dead in the water’ between the US and Europe (proposal was way too global). The US Congress had to come up with another solution to store unused spent nuclear fuel rods from commercial nuclear power plants. Under law (Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987), the Federal Government was responsible for all nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain (already has a 5 mile test tunnel with side tunnels and boreholes) will eventually cost ~$100 billion and was supposed to be that answer.

There is no need to have deep geological repositories to store nuclear radioactive material. Three technological advancements have happened over the last 60 years.

  1. Radiation standards set back in the 1950 are no longer applicable and new higher standards have been identified based on knowledge learned after three nuclear accidents.
  2. Waste storage canister technology has improved to withstand destruction and last as much as 300 years (maybe more) of sealed containment.
  3. The spent nuclear fuel (waste) can now be used as fuel for the next generation nuclear reactors that have been design to consume this fuel with little or no waste.

Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance has applied for a license to store spent nuclear fuel using these high tech canisters. To be continued…

Nuclear Waste Comparison:

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…

Nuclear Safety Overkill:

Scientific evidence shows that radiation safety criteria was about 1000 times too cautious and endangered lives. Safety regulations based on ALARA “as low as reasonably achievable” were 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 in the US because of 60 year old irrational nuclear safety policies.

WIPP is a ~$19 billion 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 spend another half billion dollars to upgrade the safety of the facility that was already safe. This was to appease the anti-nuke folks.

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 at Los Alamos for several decades. If the repackaged 5gal barrel that leaked 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 with Holtec canisters could have safely stored what is being put down in the depths of WIPP. The only positive thing about WIPP today is that it provides the local economy with high paying jobs and tax/fee revenues from its current three billion dollar 3-year DOE contract.

To be continue…

Radiation finally understood:

This month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set new radiation guidelines that raise the acceptable limits on the radiation dose that can be tolerated by first responders and emergency personnel in the case of a nuclear incident, radiation spill, terrorist attack like a dirty bomb, or any other radiological emergency. This change is long overdue, and has nothing to do with the present EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, or the Trump Administration.

‘According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of 5-10 rem (also known as 50-100 mSv) usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk,’ EPA said in the document. There has been a major push over the last twenty years by scientists in the field to change these limits – ever since Fukushima and Chernobyl showed the real danger of having too low limits. The Obama Administration was also trying to raise these limits.

We have long known that our established radiation limits were absurdly low and have led to widespread fear and panic over radiation levels that are the same as normal background levels across many parts of the Earth. Such unreasonable, and unscientific, limits cause unfounded fear, and have hurt and killed more people than the radiation released from events such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. Also the absurd amount of money spent to reach these low limits has been extremely wasteful.

I would personally extent these newer acceptable limits to nuclear waste manage facilities also. The WIPP 2014 minor radiation leak of Pu and Am did not physically harm anyone. However, it did scare a lot of people because of historically misunderstood radiation levels. The folks over in Andrews, TX have taken the time to understand and supported the construction of the Waste Control Specialist (WCS) facility just across the state line from Eunice NM. The residence of Eunice also supported nuclear material handling when they approved the URENCO uranium enrichment plant to process uranium fuel for commercial power plants here in the US.

This nuclear corridor between Hobbs and Carlsbad is also the site for a potentially very lucrative revenue generator for the State of New Mexico with the proposed Interim Consolidated Storage facility by the EDDY-LEA Energy Alliance. By law the government must relocated all spent nuclear fuel to ICSF sites.

Nuclear is for life and the future. To be continued…


Nuclear Phobia is taught:

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, access to food, water, warmth and shelter, and protection from physical attack and disease. However, the culture of 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 accelerated the stage for our nuclear 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, each country competing for more thermonuclear 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”

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.

Fear of Radiation:

The dawn of radiophobia 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 radiation 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,  the safety environment was precautionary and suspicious for any new unknown alpha emitters, like plutonium in 1940.

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…