Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

***How Sweden deals with nuclear waste

by Starvid Wed Aug 16th, 2006 at 09:20:17 AM EST

Sweden is rather famous for being a country interested in environmental issues. It's rather less famous for being the world's biggest per capita consumer of nuclear power. These two things taken together results in the Swedish nuclear waste program, which has been called "the rolls-royce of nuclear waste programs".

(Much more information below)

From the front page ~ whataboutbob


Sweden has radioactive waste. Most of it comes from nuclear power, but some also comes from medical care, industry and research.

It is Sweden's common responsibility to deal with this waste. We must not pass it on to future generations, but manage and dispose of it today.


The responsibility of doing this falls upon those who produce the nuclear waste in question, according to a law promulgated by the right-wing government in 1977. To deal with this requirement, the Swedish nuclear industry formed the company SKB (Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co). An extensive research program was begun to find and implement an optimal solution for the Swedish nuclear waste problem.

SKB's mission is to manage and dispose of radioactive waste from the Swedish nuclear power plants. But we also manage other types of radioactive waste. Work is currently under way to find a site for disposal of the spent nuclear fuel - a final repository.


The final repository.

But before we look at the final repository, the facility most people associate with nuclear waste, let us look at the other facilities of the SKB.

While not really a facility, the first thing SKB procured was the custom built nuclear waste ship m/s Sigyn.

m/s Sigyn was launched in 1982 and transports all Swedish nuclear waste between the nuclear power plants and the relevant SKB facilities. As all the nuclear plants are on the coast and have their own dedicated harbours, waste transports are much less of a hassle and controversy than it is in for example the US and Germany where waste is shipped by truck and train.  

Low and intermediate level nuclear waste (such as contaminated tools, clothes, pipes, water purification filter resins and also waste from industry and health applications) are transported to SFR (Final repository for radioactive operational waste). SFR is located 55 metres below the bottom of the sea and is accessed from a tunnel opening on the edge of the vast man-made cooling lagoon outside Forsmark nuclear power plant (in which it's damn nice to bath in the summer as the water is 30 degrees hot).

SFR outside Forsmark.

The waste is sorted and compressed. The low level waste is put in containers while the intermediate level waste is mixed with concrete and encased in square boxes of steel or concrete which are put in the three repository tunnels (4, 5, and 6 below). After 500 years the radioactivity of the intermediate waste has fallen to the same level as the surrounding rock, for low level waste the time required is 50 years.

Rock tunnel in SFR.

Originally it was thought the current SFR would not be large enough to hold all low and intermediate level waste that will be generated in Sweden, so the facility was constructed to be easily enlarged if needed (observe the three unfinished tunnels opposite 4, 5, and 6). Better waste sorting means that this will not be necessary.


The below ground facilities of SFR.

Now onto the thing that tend to worry people the most, spent nuclear fuel. Nuclear fuel consist of small black pellets of uranium dioxide which are stacked into vertical fuel rods in fuel assemblies. Each assembly contain many fuel rods.


Pellets, fuel rod and a 4 metres long fuel assembly.

The fuel spends 5 years inside the reactor core until it is spent. It is now intensely radioactive and also gives off lots of heat. To make it easier to deal with it, the spent fuel is stored at the nuclear power plant for one year in cooling ponds filled with water. After one year 90 % of the radioactivity has diminished and the fuel is put in special transportation casks, loaded onto m/s Sigyn and shipped to Clab.

m/s Sigyn at work.

Clab (Central interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel) is where all Swedish spent fuel currently ends up, and this has been the situation since 1985 when Clab was completed.

Clab.

Clab is located next to Oskarshamn nuclear power plant and houses vast, deep cooling pools blasted from the rock at a depth of 30 metres below the ground.

The water effectively shields the rest of the rock vault from radiation.

In these pools the spent nuclear fuel is stored for 30-40 years to cool and let the radioactivity diminish further. After the stay in Clab the radioactivity of the fuel has subsided to about 0,5 % of the levels it had when it was brought fresh out of the reactor.

Spent fuel at the bottom of a pool.

Couldn't we just let the spent fuel stay in Clab while we await some future technology that can help us deal with it (like transmutation)? In theory, yes. This is known as the "zero alternative".

A study was conducted in 2000 concerning continued storage in Clab [...]. The results showed that Clab can, with reasonable maintenance, be operated in a safe manner for a hundred years or more and that the spent nuclear fuel can be stored for even longer.

But this is not a very good or responsible idea.

No one knows what society will look like in the future

Thus, as long as we have the society we have today, we can assume that it will be possible to continue to operate Clab safely for 100 years or more. But if Clab has to be abandoned, due for example to war or environmental disasters, the consequences may be serious.

Another serious consequence of the zero alternative is that the competence that exists today concerning the planned system for final disposal might be lost. In the meantime. The competence in the nuclear waste field currently possessed by regulatory authorities, nuclear power utilities, SKB, universities and consultants will dissipate.  The necessary enthusiasm, overview and expertise exist now. To risk wasting these resources is not a good alternative.

Moreover, indefinite interim storage is contrary to Swedish law. And according to international agreements, the nuclear waste must not burden future generations.

So, something must be done. This something is known as the deep, or final, repository. At the present, it doesn't exist. But that situation is about to change.

Since the seventies SKB has been investigating the Swedish bedrock. In 1986 the Äspö hard rock laboratory was constructed. It is in effect a miniature of the future repository. Many experiments on the repository technology have been made here and it has become an international center of nuclear waste repository research.

Äspö HRL above ground and below.

In the early nineties the knowledge had become so good SKB decided to start looking for a number of candidate sites. Four sites were chosen. Of these, two decided in municipal referendums that they would not host the repository. The two remaining sites were, not very surprising, Oskarshamn and Östhammar, municipalites that both host nuclear power plants (Östhammar host Forsmark npp). There have been extensive consultation with the local population and the local authorities, without whose support the project would be entirely impossible.

In 2002 SKB began doing site investigations in Forsmark and Oskarshamn. They will be completed in 2007. If the results are favourable (and I have a feeling they are very likely favourable...) an application to build the repository will be filed with the Environmental court and the Government in 2009. Construction will begin in 2011 and finish in 2018. Finland has already begun building its own repository, using the Swedish technology developed at Äspö HRL.

But, what is this technology? How will the repository work, in detail?

The technology is called KBS-3. Basically, the spent fuel bundles are put into iron capsules which are then put into big copper canisters. These copper canisters are then put into holes drilled in the floor of tunnels that are located 500 metres down in the bedrock. After that, the canisters are surrounded by bentonite clay. Bentonite clay swells when it comes into contact with water, stopping the penetration of the water. This is very important as water is what will move the radionuclides if a canister starts leaking. The clay also protects the canisters from corrosion. After the entire complex is loaded with the last of the 4500 nuclear waste canisters, it will be completely filled by bentonite clay. Then the door will be locked and the key thrown away. No surveillance or maintenance will be needed. Ever.


The KBS-3 method.

But is it safe, really? Will it really protect the biosphere from the spent fuel for the next 100.000 years (after which the radiation levels have fallen to the level of natural uranium ore)?

Yes, it is really, really safe. Te repository relies on the defence in depth philosophy. This means that if anything goes wrong, there is another layer of defence. And if that layer also fails there is another and another et cetera.

The first layer is the fuel pellets themselves. They are ceramic and not very prone at all to be dissolved by water.

Nuclear fuel pellets. Each pellet contains about as much energy as three barrels of oil. With breeding that become 200 barrels.

They are encapsulated within the canister. The canister is 5 metres long and has a diameter of 1 metre. Loaded with spent fuel it weighs 25-27 tons. Experiments and research (on for example ancient copper ore in the bedrock and copper cannons that have been in the sea for 300 years) show that the copper canisters should suffer a corrosion of 0,02 mm at best and 4.4 mm at worst after 100.000 years of corrosion. As people like to be on the safe side, it was decided the shell should be 50 mm thick. As long as the canisters are tight no radionuclides will escape. But what if the canisters are penetrated due to some unforeseen event?

Then we get to the next layer of defence, the bentonite clay. The bentonite has three effects. First it protects the canister from geologic movements, due to for example earthquakes. Sweden is in one of the most geologically stable places on the planet, but a future ice age could create earthquakes anyway. The second effect is to protect the canister from water. Without water there is no corrosion. And well, bentonite swells and pushes water away when it gets wet. The third effect is also that it stops water. Without water there is no transport of radionuclides if a canister should be penetrated.

Okay, but what if the fuel is dissolved by water, the canisters are corroded through and radionuclides move through the bentonite in spite of all the safety measures?

Then there are still 500 metres of stone between the biosphere and the spent fuel.

Some people say that plutonuium is an artificial element and hence in some way more "evil" than more natural dangers (bear with me on this one, it's relevant for the subject). As a matter of fact, plutonium is, contrary to conventional wisdom, a natural element. As far as we know, it existed before man. But only once and in a single place.

That place is Oklo in Gabon, where several natural nuclear fission reactors were found. Nature's own plutonium smithy.

Anyway, that was 1.5 billion years ago and what is really fascinating is that the "spent fuel" (the radionuclides) only moved a few metres in all that time. This in spite of the fact that there was lots of ground water sloshing around, in spite of the surroundings being sandstone and not crystalline bedrock, and in spite of the "fuel" not being ceramic and contained within copper canisters. Not to speak of it underwent nuclear fission down there, something our spent nuclear fuel certainly won't do! And in spite of staying there 1.5 billion years instead of 100.000. That's a time factor of 15000. To Oklo's defence, there were lots of clay around, though it's not as good as our bentonite.


1.5 billion year old nuclear reactor core. The yellow spots are yellowcake.

So yes. It's really, really safe.

The cynical among you (and there are a great many) might say, ok this might work, but it won't matter if it's not built due to some corporation's short term greed and reluctance to pay for it all.

That's the beauty of SKB and this Swedish system. It's already payed for. Every kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity is taxed 0,1 eurocents and put in the (for other purposes) untouchable nuclear waste fund. It currently stands at 4 billion euros (the total cost for the waste program will be about twice that). This fund covers all the cost of all nuclear waste, from the waste research to shipping waste to dismantling the power plants to building the repository. All waste costs are internalised in the price of nuclear power. If coal, oil and gas were forced to do this all fossil power companies and their sucontractors of all kinds in the entire world would swiftly go bankrupt.

Now, some of you are saying, what about breeder reactors? What about the future of nuclear power? What do we do after uranium-235 runs out? The official Swedish answer is that there will be no future of nuclear power as nuclear power is being phased out.

Now, we all know that is bondoggle, but for the sake of the argument let's say no new Swedish reactors are built ever again. In that scenario, the last Swedish reactor will close in 2045 after 60 years of service. Its last fuel will stay in the pools at Clab for a further 40 years and in 2085, at my one hundredth birthday, the repository will be closed and the key thrown away. Until that day we have full retrievability. After that day we have to dig through 500 metres of bentonite clay to retrieve the precious fuel. A lot easier than digging through the 500 metres of bedrock in the first place.

But who seriously believes there will be enough U-235 around in 2085, considering the vast expansion of nuclear power that will likely happen during the 21th century? Long before the repository is full, we will start removing fuel from the repository for reprocessing and breeding.

The Swedish nuclear waste program, the "rolls-royce of nuclear waste programs", is just a big sham. But it's a sham most other countries can only envy.

Display:
This took quite a while to write and research. Hope you like it. :)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 06:41:16 PM EST
Yes, definitely. A "4" for your time and energy alone! Thanks...and keep the thought provoking articles coming!!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 03:32:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That was an excellent article starvid. Thanks!

Orthodoxy is not a religion.
by BalkanIdentity (balkanid _ at _ google.com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:36:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary.  Thank you.  

Those copper canisters--is there enough copper in the world to duplicate the Swedish method in other countries?

It is my understanding that the corrosion-resistant alloy the Yucca Mountain Project in the US has adopted works pretty well, and would be even more corrosion-resistant if given an amorphous film coating.  

In terms of subseabed disposal, the Nuclear Energy Agency of OECD participated an an international program of oceanographic institutes, American national laboratories, and other groups to investigate disposing of high-level nuclear waste 30 m underneath ocean-desert clay sediments (which immobilize radioactive particles and which are highly impermeable)in the stable area in the middle of tectonic plates.  
Subduction zones are not a good idea for such disposal because of abundant marine life in those warm waters.  But in mid-plate under 6 km of ocean, the conditions are pretty barren and the temperature is (if I recall) about 2 C.  The idea was to put the waste in pointed steel canisters that would continue sinking through the muck.  Meanwhile sediments would bury the waste deeper.  Harder to retrieve the spent fuel.

In the current Scientific American, there is an excellent article by Deutch and Moniz on the future of nuclear energy, given the global carbon problem, and discusses the question of controlling the nuclear fuel cycle.  Does not seem to be posted online yet.

In the December 2005 Scientific American, a good article on "Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste".  Fast neutron reactors could in effect recycle nuclear waste, produce more energy more efficiently, mitigate global warming significantly (replacing coal, which is the worse contributor to greenhouse gases), and guard against weapons proliferation.  http://www.nationalcenter.org/NuclearFastReactorsSA1205.pdf

by Plan9 on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 10:55:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am sure copper availability is not an issue, because there is so little nuclear waste around, relatively.

There are ethical problems with ocean storage. What if the stuff leaks? Then it will hurt all nations on earth, not just the one responsible for the waste. And its harder to retrieve the stuff if needed, and harder to fix if something goes wrong during the process of stashing the stuff down there.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 12:21:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The stuff is glass.  Unlike a liquid, glass doesn't leak.  If it gets in contact with water, it dissolves.  Very, very slowly.  So slowly in fact, that the waste from operating a 1GW nuclear plant for a year will probably kill around 0.6 people over the course of a few million years.

If this is supposed to be an ethical problem, then why can a coal plant kill 75 people per year through air pollution and nobody gives a f*ck?!  Get a grip on reality, folks.  For details, see http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter11.html

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 09:21:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Our waste is not glass as it has not been reprocessed and vitrified. It's ceramic.

Why don't people care about coal? Because they're ignorant and scientifically illiterate, that's why.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 12:06:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oops, you're right.  But the difference isn't all that great, glass and ceramics are chemically almost the same.  There's also the option of just conditioning waste into the glass form without reprocessing.  If I understood correctly, that's the (hypothetical) scenario Bernard Cohen is talking about.

I don't think ignorance can explain the people's disregard for the deaths caused by coal.  I rather think, these 75 people per GWa are a price most would be willing to pay.  The problem is the wrong perception that a few grams of plutonium would kill millions if they came in contact with water, so people think a radwaste repository much more dangerous than it really is.  Three decades of propaganda by liars like John Gofman have pretty much ensured that.

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 04:27:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not as much of a sham as what we have over on this side of the pond, where as a result of decades of partisan bickering we still store our high level waste in "temporary" ponds at each reactor site.
by asdf on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 06:52:43 PM EST
Good write-up.

I might have more too say later, but for now I will just add one thing. According to some people with connections in the nuclear industry, Oskarshamn will in all likelyhood be chosen for the repository, as it already has got Clab.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Aug 13th, 2006 at 08:54:00 PM EST
great diary Starvid.  I'm very interested in nuclear fuel, but incredibly naive.  I'm wondering if you, or others, could comment on the following from the a Wall Street Journal op-ed, July 20, of this year;
the whole idea that there is such a thing as "nuclear waste" is a bit of a misconception. More than 98% of the material in a spent nuclear fuel rod is being recycled in other parts of the world. About 97% of spent fuel is uranium: 2% is fissionable U-235 isotope, the fuel that powers the reactor and the other 95% is good old U-238, the same non-fissionable isotope that comes out of the ground. It can't be used for bombs. Sure, it has a half-life of four billion years (that's why environmentalists think they have to sit and watch it for a million years) but this is the same stuff that's in granite.

No, the isotope everybody really worries about is plutonium-239, which is formed when small amounts of U-238 absorb neutrons during the three-year cycle. It makes up 1% of spent fuel. Separating it and putting it back in a reactor as "mixed oxide fuel" (uranium plus plutonium) is no problem.

Unfortunately, back in 1976, Jimmy Carter decided that if we extracted the plutonium, somebody might run off with it and make a bomb. Therefore he cancelled fuel recycling. That created the problem of "nuclear waste."* France recycles all its fuel rods and has never had any plutonium stolen. As for the remaining 2% of the fuel rod -- the highly radioactive transuranic elements and fission byproducts -- it is all stored in a single room in Le Havre*.

this article makes it sound like it's no big deal.  Is the big deal the "room in Le Havre" and the potential of it being somehow released to evil people?  Or is there some other issue with the article.  Thanks for your comments.
by wchurchill on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 03:24:18 AM EST
A distinction must be made between the fuel that can be extracted from the waste, and the waste itself. It is possible to extract Plutonium from the spent fuel and use it as fuel in a different reaction, but there is still some waste that is not usable as fuel. This reprocessing is not currently allowed in the U.S., but it is done in most other countries with nuclear energy programs.

Carter's concern was about the need to carefully guard Plutonium because it is used in bombs. He was looking at the problem from the non-proliferation viewpoint. The WSJ looks at it from the pro-nuclear viewpoint.

France has a similar difficulty to that of the United States with high-level waste. The technocrats have proposed a solution, but are having difficulty selling it to the people who have to live near by. A "final decision" about where to store it is due in 2006.

The original story here, "How Sweden deals with nuclear waste" is the pro-nuclear story. It needs to be read carefully to sort out what "could" be done with the high-level waste from what "is" being done, i.e., it's being stored in "temporary" above-ground sites just like it is everywhere else.

by asdf on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 05:44:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The Brits were doing it at Seascale, and dumping unuseable liquid waste in the Irish Sea.  Cancer rates in nearby towns went up ten fold.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 07:18:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The brits were producing and refining plutonium for military use at Sellafield.  One of their air-cooled Pu-producing reactors burned down and belched radioactive byproducts into the air.  That's were most of the pollution comes from, the well-known Windscale Fire.

Then they used PUREX to extract pure Pu from irradiated uranium.  PUREX is a messy process, but it is needed to get pure weapons grade Pu.  If you only want to recycle it in breeder reactors, there's no need for PUREX, the far cleaner PYRO-A would do.  Sometimes, reprocessing is not the same as reprocessing.

Finally, even PUREX can be run without dumping liqid radwaste into the sea.  Dumping is just the easiest thing to do, and do I really need to explain that the military doesn't care much for a few people additionally killed?  Sellafield has been operating much cleaner since about 1995, when the process was changed somewhat.

Btw, did you know that about every fifth person in the civilized world dies of cancer?  If the cancer rates grew tenfold, then everybody died of cancer... twice.  You may want to reconcile this with the common sense notion that everybody dies exactly once.

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 09:28:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Btw, did you know that about every fifth person in the civilized world dies of cancer?  If the cancer rates grew tenfold, then everybody died of cancer... twice.  You may want to reconcile this with the common sense notion that everybody dies exactly once.
Oh, bollocks. The annual mortality rate in the UK is about 1%. Assuming 1/5 of that is due to cancer, you have .8% from other causes and .2% from cancer. Multiply that by 10 and you get .8% from other causes and 2% from cancer, so the annual mortality rate would be increased from 1% to 2.8% [only exceeded by Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland according to the link above] and 70% of all deaths would be from cancer.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 09:45:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Still nonsense.  If every fifth dies of cancer, then at least every fifth suffers from cancer.  This rate can only increase five-fold, because there are no more people.

Now if most cancers were curable and people could get more than one cancer in their lifetime (more than two on average, see above), then the ten-fold increase could be true.  But if cancer is usually not deadly, it somehow doesn't all that bad anymore, does it?

"Shut off all nuclear plants!  A ten-fold increase in the common cold has been found near an obscure research reactor!  We're all gonna die unless we switch them off immediately!"

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 04:40:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have calculated is that a 10-fold increase in the rate of cancer deaths would, all other things being equal, bring the total mortality rate in the UK to 2.8% per year. Do you care to point out where the flaw in the reasoning is? I have taken the death rate from cancer to be .2% per year based on 1/5 of the UK death rate of 1% per year, so there is room for a 500-fold increase before we all die of cancer within a year.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 18th, 2006 at 05:54:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure.  1% mortality per year corresponds to a live expectancy of 100 years.  2.8% yearly mortality give a life expectancy of 35 years.

You want me to believe that life expectancy near Sellafield is down to 35 years?!  Repeating the calculations with realistic numbers, it shrinks to just 27 years.

Unbelievable.

Regarding the simultaneously comment: that would mean, most people recover from their cancer, wouldn't it?  So cancer isn't all that deadly after all, is it?  So what's your point, really?  Are you maybe just spreading FUD, with invented figures nonetheless?

by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 06:14:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I am just saying you can multiply cancer rates by 10, and there is no contradiction there.

A lot of your other calculations are sound, but your [lack of] grasp of what it meast to multiply the death rate due to cancer by 10 is worrying.

Now we can discuss whether or not it is a fact that the cancer rates grew 10-fold, but not whether that is physically possible because everyone would have to die twice [as you have claimed].

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 06:37:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, we should actually debate what Giannes definition of "cancer rate" is and where her numbers come from.  We've already established, that

  • it's not the percentage of people dying of cancer,
  • it's not the percentage of people ever getting cancer either,
  • it's very probably also not the number of people dying of cancer in a given time, and
  • no source for the dubious number was quoted.

Instead of desperately trying to find models where an unsupported number is not outright impossible, Gianne (or you or whoever) should provide some reference for that number.
by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 04:04:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, let's see...

  1. Gaianne claims that "cancer rates increased 10-fold at Seascale"
  2. You claim that that is absurd because since 1/5 of all people die of cancer, that would require everyone to two die of cancer twice.
  3. I point out your argument about death rates doesn't hold, because you are confusing "cancer rate" with "fraction of deaths due to cancer in a cohort". I show that multiplying UK cancer death rates by 10-fold would put the death rate at the level of the highest death rates in any country in the world.
  4. You conclude that reduces Gaianne's claim to absurdity. You also make a comment to the effect that "suffering from cancer is not that bad if you don't die from it".

I don't know why you think this exchange makes me look "desperate to find models where an unsupported number is not outright impossible". You seemed "desperate" to make an absurd claim about a different quantity in order to make said unsubstantiated claim seem outright impossible.

Anyway, since Gaianne is not gracing us with a reference, I decided to go fishing for one.

New Scientist: Science: Leukaemia and nuclear power stations ( 17 June 1989)

Subsequent investigations confirmed an excess of leukaemia and other cancer among children living near Sellafield, the complex British Nuclear Fuel runs in northwest England. ...

Depending on which statistics are quoted, the excess represents up to a tenfold increase in the number of cases expected on the basis of conventional dose/risk models.

The whole (short) article is full of qualifications, and what I walk out of it with is that "standard dose/risk models underestimate the expected number of additional child leukemia cases by a factor of up to 10". A far cry from "cancer rates increased by a factor of 10".

Anyway, for anyone interested there is the COMARE 10th Report: The incidence of childhood cancer around nuclear installations in Great Britain (10 June 2005).

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 11:52:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll note that a "ten-fold increase in the incidence of leukaemia in children" is quite something different than "ten-fold increase of cancer rates".  As I said before: we find an increase in a single rare form of cancer while Gaianne is hinting at an increase in all forms of cancers, though never spelling it out.  Which is intellectually dishonest.

(On a side note: I cannot confuse "cancer rate" with anything, because that term is basically undefined and left to interpretation by individuals.  It is only used by anti-nuke-kooks when applying statistical trickery.)

by ustenzel on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 02:52:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll note that a "ten-fold increase in the incidence of leukaemia in children" is quite something different than "ten-fold increase of cancer rates"
How about ackowledging I have noted that?
"standard dose/risk models underestimate the expected number of additional child leukemia cases by a factor of up to 10". A far cry from "cancer rates increased by a factor of 10".


Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 02:57:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, you have.  I must have had some sort of tunnel vision and only saw the quotation from the article.
by ustenzel on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 07:54:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If every fifth dies of cancer, then at least every fifth suffers from cancer.

But not simultaneously. We do have a lifespan of about 80 years, don't we?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Aug 18th, 2006 at 05:56:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary, Starvid.  Thanks for writing it.  Great picture of the tiny pellets in the hand--they look like tiny black barrels, each one equivalent to two hundred barrels of oil.  Energy miniaturisation.

To make it easier to deal with it, the spent fuel is stored at the nuclear power plant for one year in cooling ponds filled with water. After one year 90 % of the radioactivity has diminished

Where does the 90% of radioactivity go?

(Forgive me my ignorance)

Also, can you clear something up for me.  Is there a reason why they can't drop nuclear waste into live volcanoes (or equivalent)?  My reasoning is that the lava is connected directly to the huge lake beneath the crust and thence would go the waste and the problem.)

(Again, forgive my ignorance.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 05:06:13 AM EST
Radioactivity gets radiated away. The more is radiated away, the less radioactive is what remains.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 05:11:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it gets radiated away which means it just heats the water in the cooling pools.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 07:38:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If the volcano erupts, you end up with radioactive ashes and lava all over.

It has been suggested that nuclear waste could be disposed of at subduction zones (where a tectonic plate slips under another) as then the waste would get puched into the Earth's mantle, melted into the magma down there, and would take millions of years to resurface through volcanic activity, at which point it wouldn't be more radioactive than the surrounding magma.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 05:15:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(First comment) I assumed the radioactivity went into the water, so my question was really "What happens to the radioactive water once it has absorbed the radiation"?

If radiation can be disspiated to safe levels, and in human timescales, by deflecting particles or somesuch, then....

(Second comment) Ach.  If a volcano belched radioactive magma the radioactive particles would...er...fly through the magma and out into the atmosphere where they could affect us?  How far do they travel?  What stops them?  How does water trap radioactivity but magma not?  My ignorance....oh ouch!  Help!

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 07:50:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On your second comment...

On your first comment, "radioactive water" may mean water with radioactive atoms in it (tritium, half-life 12yr, instead of hydrogen) or water with radioactive substances dissolved in it.

If radiation from the environment or from solutes makes water radioactive, then its trituim will, in its turn, radiate away and produce Helium and heat. Otherwise, the main effect of irradiating water is simply to heat it up, as Starvid says.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 07:58:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great pic.  But anyone under that cloud would be dead anyway, wouldn't they?, so adding some nuclear waste...what difference would it make?  Does the radioactivity fly further than the cloud?

I'm missing some basic knowledge about radioactive particles.  In fact, I'm the kind of ignoramus who can't understand how people live in Hiroshima coz I thought the land was irradiated and radioactive particles have half-lives in the hundreds of thousands of years.

Any links or sage advice you could pass my way to help me become a bit less ignorant?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:38:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wikipedia: Global effects of the 1991 Pinatubo eruption
The powerful eruption of such an enormous volume of lava and ash injected significant quantities of aerosols and dust into the stratosphere. Sulfur dioxide oxidised in the atmosphere to produce a haze of sulfuric acid droplets, which gradually spread throughout the stratosphere over the year following the eruption. The injection of aerosols into the stratosphere is thought to have been the largest since the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, with a total mass of SO2 of about 17 million tons being injected--the largest volume ever recorded by modern instruments (see chart and figure).
So some of your nuclear waste gets pulverized and ejected into the stratosphere, and then it gets spread over the entire globe over the next couple of years.

Didn't I just say that Tritium (radioactive hydrogen) has a half-life of 12 years?

I think I may need to write a diary on radioactivity just so everyone knows what we're talking about. Your questions are really useful so keep asking, that way i'll know what needs to be explained.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:48:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I very much look forward to that diary.  (Not to mention part two of the--ongoing, I hope--spanish lesson.  [P.S. I thought flipping the paragraphs from left to right then back again was top class.  And you did an excellent translation, sir, from what I understood--which was a lot, so thanks again!)

So, another question.  First, the context.  I am anti-nuclear for the simple reason that I think once we worked out how to get down out of trees, the next thing we should have done was learn how to build treehouses, fireproof them, then hook up some solar and wind.  Add a suitable toilet-to-cesspit system, then lay back and eat more bananas.  And make love on the funky leafbed we made one afternoon.  Monkey junior can play on the ground with the other monkeys.

So I am in a minority (I would love to see car exhaust pumped directly back into and through the car before venting through super-filters into the atmosphere.  See how many people still think their car journey is worth it when they have to breathe the smog they're creating instead of farting it out all over pedestrians and cyclists.)

So, I have not followed the details of the nuclear debate.  However, I have a friend who is much more practical than me.  He is a fervent believer in nuclear power.

"You don't understand," he said to me one night in the pub.  "The next wave of nuclear power, they're already working on it.  They take the waste and fire it back into the process, down long tubes, there is no waste."

And, in the long term (e.g. when the next volcano blows up and extinguishes sunlight for a few years), I agree that nuclear power will help humans--and plants, and animals--survive underground.  

So, anyway.  My question is: what is this new system he is talking about?  Does it exist?  When will it bee ready?  What are its drawbacks?

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:09:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he's talking about breeder reactors.

A lot of the problems with nuclear technology have to do with nuclear weapons proliferation. Some of the better energy-production technology has high risk of proliferation (e.g., produces plutonium as a byproduct).

[P.S. the thing wit the paragraphs was involuntary and is now corrected]

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:14:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(Off topic I know.  Shhh.)

The paragraph swapping was excellent.  I'm serious.  The danger (for me, who would like to learn the language) of keeping the paragraphs on their respective sides, is that I will tend to read one and then go to the other for reference.  I imagine a lot of readers would go for their prefered language and perhaps glance across occasionally.  But flipping randomly (and I especially liked that it didn't happen at the beginning.  Get the flow going first, and then whang!, hey!  I'm reading spanish, no english, no ingles, no espanol, hey, I'm reading two languages!  That was the effect on me, anyway.)

Plus there was a relevant news story attached.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:27:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The plutonium from a reactor is useless for a bomb, unless you seperate it in a large and complicated PUREX reprocessing plant (and run the reactor on an uneconomic cycle).  It's the PUREX plant that produces the raw material for weapons.  Read about the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR, Google will find enough references) to understand, how a breeder itself is no proliferation risk.  If anything, PUREX is.
by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 06:18:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That [proliferation] is a political problem. Apparently we should be getting ready to go to war with Iran because they're enriching uranium.

So I don't disagree on that, I am saying that the reason breeder reactors are not more widely used is that <gasp> they can be used to proliferate.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 06:39:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Only in the US where big oil and coal companies rule (and in Germany, where weed smoker rule, too) and use any excuse to keep nuclear power small.

The real reason breeders aren't widespread is cheap uranium.

by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 04:11:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As Migeru said, breeder reactors. They not only exist but existed for decades, so pro-nuke folks aren't entirely honest selling it as new technology (though there are new variants of the concept). The next non-research breeders read to work will probably be built in India, where they serve the half-admitted goal to produce material for nuclear bombs. Beyond the weapons proliferation problem, there is unreliability. The French SuperPhénix was built as a full-scale commercial electricity-generating power plant in the eighties, but then had multiple severe breakdowns. Pro-nuclear governments "saved it" by redesignating it as research reactor, but further breakdowns followed, and then a court annulled the research reactor operating permit as illegitimate.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 10:26:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But anyone under that cloud would be dead anyway, wouldn't they?

Nope. Much of that cloud will circle the Earth in the stratosphere and then slowly rain down.

how people live in Hiroshima coz I thought the land was irradiated and radioactive particles have half-lives in the hundreds of thousands of years.

Radioactive isotopes have all kinds of half-lifes. Those produced in the explosion of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb typically had shorter half-lifes.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:53:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is also a difference between irradiation and radioactive contamination (though irradiation can cause a small amount of radioactivity).

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:55:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, and though irradiation was more substantial at Hiroshima than Nagasaki, the fallout still mattered much more.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 10:18:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with irradiated food is not that it becomes radioactive, it's that the irradiation may cause chemical changes in the food [like, I suppose, denaturing of proteins].

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 10:21:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
would be handling large quantities of intense radioactives under doubtful supervision.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 07:22:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, that is an entirely different issue.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 07:34:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The US has lots of irradiated food (mostly ground beef). They either use gamma radiation (probably from Cobalt) or high energy electrons.

This has been going on for decades with very little incident. Most people don't know about it.

The process kills bacteria which would otherwise grow rapidly in the ground meat because of the large surface area and contact with the air.

This didn't arise in the past because people either had freshly ground beef done by the butcher, or did it themselves at home. It is probably a good thing that most people don't know much about how food is processed in the current industrialized prepared food sector, they stop eating.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 01:52:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Being used to going to the butcher regularly, the way meat is sold in US supermarkets [pre-cut and pre-packaged in styrofoam and cling-wrap] basically turned me off beef completely.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 01:56:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have long since lost track of them all.  

Fortunately, I went veggie years ago.  

I do try to persuade people not to poison themselves, but, as they say, good luck with that.

with very little incident  

I'm sure Bushco's FDA will let us know the moment they discover any problems! :/  

Americans are blatantly, astonishingly unhealthy.  I mean you can SEE it.  Too many causes to sort out.  

Some things you don't have to try out to know you don't want to do them.  Irradiation is one of them.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Aug 18th, 2006 at 10:32:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Food irradiation is perfectly safe. Americans are unhealthy because they are fat, not because gamma rays kill off bacteria in their food.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 09:26:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Food irradiation is perfectly safe.  

The truth is I don't believe this.  Not because killing bacteria is bad, but because I do not trust the people managing the operations and because I know with certainty I cannot trust the government to monitor it.  I write from the US so you know what I am saying is true.  

When someone seeks to introduce novel and dangerous proceedures, I believe the burden of proof of safety is on them, not the victims.  

I know this differs from the conventional view that it is the victims' job to prove how they have been killed.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 08:05:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is virtually no trace of radioactivity due to the WWII bombings in those Japanese cities, where people are thriving.  Most of the radioactive material was blown out to sea, because the bombs were detonated over the cities, not on the ground.  

What do radiation detectors pick up in these cities today?  Traces of fallout from atmospheric testing.

Take a look at the studies done on these populations by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation.  The findings are quite surprising.  The cancer rate among the survivors is 6% higher than among the control population, and there have been no findings of birth defects or mutations in the first generation of children born to the survivors.

by Plan9 on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 11:01:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Radioactive water is interesting, because much of the intermediate waste (water purification filter resins) try to stop that very thing. While water can't become radioactive, particles in water can and hence they must be captured in the filter. And as those particles are often radioactive in a nuclear power plant, the filter resins become radioactive too.

But the water stays clean.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:02:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All substances "trap radioactivity" by simply absorbing the radiation. The question is always how much stuff you need to put between yourself and the radiation source to be shielded from it. I find this
SFR is located 55 metres below the bottom of the sea and is accessed from a tunnel opening on the edge of the vast man-made cooling lagoon outside Forsmark nuclear power plant (in which it's damn nice to bath in the summer as the water is 30 degrees hot).
positively irresponsible so I took it as a joke for techies. You definitely do not want to swim in a nuclear power plant's cooling lagoon [geiger counter readings and chemical composition of the water might convince me otherwise], or in the Clab pool.


Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:08:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh no, you misinterpreted that part! The cooling water is absolutely safe to bath in. It does not come from SFR but from the outer cooling circuits of the reactors. The cooling water is transported from the plant in 2 km of underground tunnels to the cooling lagoon from which it is emitted to the sea.

 

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:17:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You should explain the difference between wated from a cooling circuit and water from a high-level-waste cooling pond. "Cooling" is used in two different senses: the ordinary sense of taking heat away, and a metaphorical sense of waiting for radioactivity to die off.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:23:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Mea culpa.

Thanks for the constructive criticism. :)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 08:26:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But who seriously believes there will be enough U-235 around in 2085, considering the vast expansion of nuclear power that will likely happen during the 21th century?

This is a weak argument against nuclear energy that should be used with caution. The supply of Uranium fuel is huge, and the "we'll going to run out in 50 years" story is based on current pricing. It's not quite the same situation as the oil supply problem.
by asdf on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 05:48:51 AM EST
If nuclear power continues along at it's current level, or even doubles, there will be no worries about uranium. However, if it becomes say 5 times as prolific as today (not very unlikely) while we do not find much new uranium and sea water extraction don't work, then we need breeding.

Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 07:39:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think this is a misreading of how mineral economics works. In the case of oil, there is a very limited supply that is tightly localized. In the case of Uranium, the supply is much bigger to start with, not nearly as localized as oil (you can find Uranium anywhere, given a high enough price), and sensitive to additional prospecting and discovery.

Furthermore, one of the advantages of nuclear power is that the cost of fuel is a relatively small part of the overall cost of the system, so a doubling of the price of fuel doesn't double the cost of the electricity.

Here are some comments from an admittedly biased source, but one that summarizes the situation well.

"...enough to last for some 70 years. This represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal for most minerals. ...a doubling of price from present levels could be expected to create about a tenfold increase in measured resources. ...the fast breeder reactor could increase the utilisation of uranium sixty-fold or more."
http://www.uic.com.au/nip75.htm

The only point I was trying to make is that in the case of nuclear power, the problem isn't the fuel supply, it's in other areas. So if you want to make the anti-nuke argument, then the discussion should concentrate on those other areas, not the fuel supply.

by asdf on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:28:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
As ore grade degrades, though, the economic and environmental impact of mining Uranium becomes a huge problem in and of itself, at some point maybe even bigger than the nuclear waste problem.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:30:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it doesn't, and simple math shows it.

Ore grades will never degrade below 4ppm uranium and 12ppm thorium.  That's the concentration in granite, and there's plenty of that.  A 1GW fast breeder[1] will need about 3 tonnes of fuel per year, which at the above concentration amounts to about 500 tonnes of granite per day.  Let's say 1000, allowing for inefficient extraction and some losses.

A coal plant of the same size requires 10 times that amount of coal, leaving a hole in the ground 10 times as large.  This environmental impact is not considered larger than that of radwaste, so the same should go for mining rocks.

"He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense." -- John McCarthy

[1] Yes, a breeder is needed.  An LMFBR would work, a molten fluoride or molten chloride reactor might, too.  It is completely clear that nobody would burn such low grade ore in a light water reactor.

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 04:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what about noble gas emissions? and radioactive element migration in rain streams?

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine
by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 02:41:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, what about them?  Do you want to know how much radon a coal power plant emits?  Or how much uranium is leached out by rain from the 200.000 tonnes of ashes the coal plant dumps every year into unsecured landfills?  

Also, we're talking about mining common rocks.  Rock isn't dangerous, unless thrown at high velocity!  Bad Stuff is constantly leached out by rain, because... well, because rocks lie everywhere!  Noble gases are emitted when tilling a field, because, you guessed it, because a field is just a lot of tiny rocks.

So what about them, huh?

by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 04:22:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm surprised to hear we mine normal rocks to get fuel. Funny we have to do it in Canada and Australia then.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine
by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 05:26:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could at least have tried to take context into account.  The question was "How bad can uranium mining become?" and the answer is "Not as bad as coal mining already is, even if we need to mine ordinary rock."

The three million tonnes coal burned each year in a coal plant contain about 5 tonnes uranium.  All the radon associated with that uranium is emitted (and some of the uranium, too).  5 tonnes uranium would fuel a nuclear power plant for two years, and when mining uranium, most radon is contained until it decays.  Therefore, nuclear plants emit much less than half as much radon as coal plants, no matter what ore is used.  The same applies to soluble radioactive substances, which are easily leached from coal ashes.

If coal plants don't kill all life on earth, uranium mining will do it even less.

by ustenzel on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 08:05:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But for each tU, there are 400 tons of tailing.

And when they do in situ leeching, here is what the IEA has to say about it:

« The technique of in situ leaching extracts uranium ore by percolating a solvent through the uranium bearing rock. Ammonium carbonate and sulphuric acid are common leaching agents. This technique reduces the radiation exposure of workers and avoids the creation of mine tailing heaps, but it increases the risk of groundwater contamination. Heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and nickel can be mobilised by the process and enter water supplies. Waste slurries and waste water from the leaching operation must be carefully handled and treated.

BTW, i know very little about all of this. I'm guessing in situ leeching produces less tailings.

Lastly, I don't get the comparison with coal-fuelled plants. I don't think it makes sense to compare the two alternatives on a step to step basis. The overall picture has to be taken into account. Arguing which alternative pollutes the less says little on which option is better for electricity generation.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine

by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 10:31:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And what's inert rock ("tailings") got to do with radon emissions?  Exactly nothing.

Listen, the whole point is, no matter how poor the uranium ore is going to get, it will never be as dirty as burning coal!  Those kooks with their constant "but all the damage done by uranium mining!" should get a grip on reality and rally against coal plants, because of "all the damage done by coal mining".

by ustenzel on Wed Aug 23rd, 2006 at 07:02:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are we at the point where we can do an authoritative diary on nuclear fuel supply and wiki it and just recycle the link next time this comes up? It seems pretty much done to death to me: there's lots of nuclear fuel. Whether using it is a good idea or not is another matter.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:33:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...enough for hundreds of years. Much of it is high grade. But these are not being mined at all at present.  There has been no incentive to prospect for uranium for 30 years, but that is now changing.  It is likely that plenty more ore bodies will be found.

Right now half of American nuclear fuel comes from enriched uranium purchased from Russia.  The equivalent of hundreds of nuclear warheads is being turned into electricity.  Eventually the US is supposed to start using up its stockpile too--turning weapons into light and power.  So for the next decade or so the US does not particularly need to worry about touching its domestic uranium reserves.

by Plan9 on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 11:06:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I just understood something. Okay, we can extract plutonium and U-235 from the waste. But we can avoid that altogether by using the depleted uranium left over from enrichment in breeders. There is 5 times as much depleted uranium as there is spent nuclear fuel. That probably means that my last conclusion, that the program is all sham, is wrong.

What goes down in the bedrock will likely stay there. I think it will be a lot easier politically to breed depleted uranium than reprocess waste. Or thorium for that matter, even though the waste recycling technology is already proved.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Mon Sep 4th, 2006 at 03:44:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... it's "normal" operation that is. Another Chernobyl can still happen (and it almost did last month). Until that possibility exists (and it still does, even though it's very low), I personally wouldn't spend money on nuclear power.
by toyg (g.lacava@gmail.com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 05:55:22 AM EST
Chernobyls sure can happen, but they can't happen in Swedish reactors. As a matter of fact, they can only happen in Chernobyl (RBMK) reactors. Don't believe everything the clueless journalists tell you.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 07:56:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is quite correct, but other type of accidents can happen.

We had a hightemperature gradient incident in Oskarshamn in the late 90ies not to mention that crow that knocked out two reactors in Forsmark some week ago.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 01:04:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, so what is the failure mode of Swedish reactors?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 01:43:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Where do you live that you don't spend money on nuclear power? France sells quite a lot of it in Europe...
by asdf on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:28:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
to its dismay... it is forced to import peak power.

The joke goes: the swiss buy the cheap french offpeak power, use it to pump water up their dams, and then sell that electricity back to the french at the highest price.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine

by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 11:39:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Last month, a pressurized water reactor at Forsmark shut down and went into emergency cooling mode.  Even without any sort of cooling it would have taken at least three days until a meltdown could occur, and that's a meltdown, not a blowup like in Chernobyl.

However, the cooling system worked (only half of it, but it was overengineered so that half of it is enough anyway), so that wasn't even close to a meltdown.  After 20 minutes, the emergency was over and the reactor went into regular hot standby.

Exactly one nutjob went around telling everyone that this was close to a meltdown and had they waited another 10 minutes (as is custom in such a situation) everybody would have died (and then some).  It is completely beyond my comprehension, why the press is only listening to the nutjob and not the scores of engineers who testify to the contrary.

You don't need to believe me.  Just research PWRs for yourself a bit.  You'll find that there is absolutely no way (physics ensures that, and physics isn't even turned off on weekends) that one could melt within 30 minutes or even 30 hours.

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 09:37:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Welcome to ET, ustenzel!

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 09:46:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It was a BWR, not a PWR. :p

And without cooling you get core damagae partial meltdown and stuff within about 2, not 30 hours. These aint passive reactors. But of course, neither are they evil RBMK's.

But of course, it was all blown out of proportion by the media and said nutjob.

By the way, I live 70 km from that plant. No worries for me.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 12:05:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Damn, I stand corrected.  That's what happens when you get incomplete information from Spiegel Online.

Indeed, a BWR is a easier to damage, but "core damage" aka "partial meltdown" is a far cry from Chernobyl... it's also a far cry from release of anything radioactive, and it's the latter that might happen after about three days, unless the containment is cooled.  (Assuming Forsmark has a typical containment, accurate technical information is hard to come by.)

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 05:00:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Forsmark is contained, concrete and and steel and that.
On top of this there is a weakened blast plate in the containment. If temperature and pressure become dangerously high in the containment and venting is needed, the (hopefully slightly) radioactive gas is channeled into a huge tower filled with crushed stone that absorb 99,9 % of the vented radioactivity. All Swedish nuke plants have these, I am not sure if that is usual abroad.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 05:16:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Anyway, that was 1.5 billion years ago and what is really fascinating is that the "spent fuel" (the radionuclides) only moved a few metres in all that time.

Could you cite sources on this? What I have found regarding mobilisation considered recent washing-out of uranium and reaction products, and while no such thing was found at Oklo, washing-out could be traced 50 meters at the Bangombé site (a sole 'natural reactor' 30 km away from the others).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 10:14:40 AM EST
Anyway, that was 1.5 billion years ago and what is really fascinating is that the "spent fuel" (the radionuclides) only moved a few metres in all that time.  

by noting that radioactivity migrated through the proposed Yucca Mountain permanent storage site in the US--allegedly dry and impermeable--in less than 40 years.  

The good fortune of the Gabon site cannot be taken for granted.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Aug 15th, 2006 at 07:31:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That would mean that 40 years ago, spent fuel was placed in Yucca Mountain.  Which turns out not to be the case.
by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 09:48:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Radioactive material was in Yucca Mountain.  No protective casks like with spent fuel.  

The point here is the migration rate.

Once the cask breaks down--which takes some years--THEN the 40-yr number comes into play.  

A reminder:  his stuff is dangerous for tens of thousands to millions of years--longer than the entire span of civilized human activity.  

I frankly do not believe these problems can be solved--they are beyond human scale.  

The outlook for single-celled organisms is GOOD!

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Fri Aug 18th, 2006 at 10:40:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, what radioactive material was there?!  I'm reasonably sure, nobody brought any radwaste to Yucca Mountain 40 years ago.

Secondly, stop just making up huge numbers.  Reactor waste is dangerous for about 300-1000 years, depending on the reactor type and how much reprocessing is done.  After that, the residue is less dangerous than the uranium ore it was made from.  The world is full of uranium ore in no special repository, and civilization did not fall because of that.

You don't believe my numbers?  Well, the half live of the dangerous components (Sr-90 and Cs-137) is about 30 years.  You're invited to name the oh-so-dangerous isotopes with half lives of about 100.000 years.  Note that even the transuranics, which any sane civilization would use as energy source instead of burying them, are already included in the above figure, see http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionE.htm

1000 years are not beyond human timescale.  The Egytian pyramids are six time older, and one could expect us to build better repositories today.

by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 06:31:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
better repositories... is duration the only quality of the egyptian pyramyds?


Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine
by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 02:43:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I made a point about time scales.  You made none at all.

Face it: had the pharaohs disposed of reprocessing waste in the pyramids, we'd only be able to nitice it if we knew what to look for.  The pyramids could have been a very good repository.

by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 04:25:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Plutonium has a half-life of 50 k years, and I notice you don't mention strontium.  

Oh--you expect that would be reprocesses out.  Well, in the US it is not, and if you did, then you would have a messy reprocessing plant to deal with.  You say it is clean but that is not reality:  The history of these plants--and its no surprise to anyone familiar with how industry really operates--is that there are always leaks, mishaps and accidents.  

The pyramids were breached in antiquity.  The US did not yet even exist.  So much for containment.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 08:17:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh boy, now I got into the enviable position of having to educate an American.  How nice...

  • Half life of Pu-239 is 24000 years, the other isotopes are shorter lived.
  • Did you know that the chemical symbol for strontium is Sr?  It has a half life of 28 years.
  • Even without reprocessing, 1000 year old waste is already less dangerous than naturally occuring uranium ore.  You didn't try to read the canadian nuclear FAQ, did you?
  • Pyroprocessing is not messy.  You didn't try to read up on the IFR, did you?
  • You  still didn't tell what radioactive substance was placed in Yucca Mountain 40 years ago.
  • We don't need to defend waste against thieves, because there is no value in it.  We defend against the elements, and the pyramids did that very well.
by ustenzel on Sun Aug 20th, 2006 at 05:20:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]