Tag Archives: Waste Control Specialists

Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas. WCS wants to triple the site's capacity and slash its liability at the same time.

The Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas. WCS wants to triple the site’s capacity and slash its liability at the same time.

It’s been a while since we caught up on the news, so let’s jump right in….

Nuclear Power

EPA chief Gina McCarthy has in essence admitted that our analysis of the EPA’s proposed carbon rules is correct: they are intended to boost the nuclear power industry, and are especially an effort to protect those uneconomic reactors–mostly owned by Exelon–that would close without more subsidies. However, McCarthy also demonstrated that she doesn’t know much about nuclear power or the reactors she’s trying to keep open: “There are a handful of nuclear facilities that because they are having trouble remaining competitive, they haven’t yet looked at re-licensing (to extend their operating lives). We were simply highlighting that fact,” McCarthy said at a round-table discussion with business leaders in Chicago. In fact, of the dozen or so reactors that have been publicly cited as in danger of closing because they’re losing money, only Exelon’s Clinton reactor has yet to receive a license extension. Perhaps that lack of knowledge at the top levels of the EPA is the reason the proposed rule is so inartfully worded.

In any case, McCarthy’s admission is just one more reason to make sure the largest possible response is provided to the EPA. The first step is signing and spreading the word about the NIRS/CREDOMobilize petition here. The next step is to begin organizing to attend, speak out and protest at the four public meetings EPA is setting up for public comment.  Continue reading

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Nuclear Newsreel, Monday, May 12, 2014

Nuclear Power

America's most dangerous reactors? Three Fukushima-clone GE Mark I reactors inside a single building at Browns Ferry, Alabama.

America’s most dangerous nuclear site? Three Fukushima-clone GE Mark I reactors inside a single building at Browns Ferry, Alabama. Photo from Wikipedia.

If all newspapers took their job as seriously as the Chattanooga Free Press, we at NIRS might be able to work ourselves out of a job. Of course, not all newspapers have such first-hand experience dealing with the bumbling incompetence at the Tennessee Valley Authority. In this scathing editorial, And they want us to believe nuclear power is safe, the paper takes TVA to task for a May 6 shutdown at the Browns Ferry Unit 3 reactor that, in the words of UCS’ David Lochbaum, “the plant’s safety studies explicitly state that this will not happen.”

Continue reading

The WIPP story: it is now and will be a saga…..

Radioactive waste casks outside the WIPP facility. Photo from DOE

Radioactive waste casks outside the WIPP facility. Photo from DOE

When a radioactive waste truck caught on fire inside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant on February 5, it seemed like it was probably an isolated incident, not the beginning of a saga that could affect U.S. radioactive waste policy permanently and even radwaste policy internationally.

But the truck fire was followed by a still-unexplained Valentine’s Day offsite radiation release–including plutonium. That was then followed by a second, for a time unrevealed, and also still-unexplained, radiation release on March 11, the third anniversary of the onset of the Fukushima disaster. And it became clear that the WIPP saga will have long-term ramifications, not only for the nuclear weapons radwaste WIPP was built to handle, but also for the far larger and much more radioactive inventory of commercial high-level nuclear waste.

The immediate impacts are clear: WIPP is closed and will remain closed for quite some time. The Department of Energy Monday issued a document outlining its preparation plans for re-entering the WIPP facility, but did not even speculate on when workers may actually be able to go back into the site to see what happened.

Meanwhile, the state of New Mexico has withdrawn plans to allow an expansion of the WIPP site and it’s not likely that expansion will be allowed anytime soon. And radioactive waste that was supposed to be delivered to WIPP has been diverted to the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) “low-level” radioactive waste site in Andrews County, Texas–which is just a stone’s throw from the New Mexico border and the region’s “nuclear corridor.” But it’s not at all clear that WCS is licensed to accept such transuranic waste, which by definition is far longer-lived than much “low-level” waste. Continued shipments like that is likely to set up a battle between environmentalists and WCS backers in Texas that may not be resolved quickly.

Former DOE official Bob Alvarez has written a thorough and thoughtful piece about the long-term implications of the WIPP saga on the nation’s program for handling nuclear weapons waste in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. But he finds far more questions than answers in this saga:

“At least 66,200 cubic meters of transuranic waste sit at Energy Department sites, awaiting shipment to WIPP. The Energy Department is also considering disposal of 5 tons of excess plutonium now at the Savannah River Site in WIPP. Over the past decade, the department has also been seeking to use WIPP to dispose of the contents of several high-level radioactive waste tanks at Hanford by reclassifying those contents as transuranic waste. WIPP is being eyed as a final resting place for tens of tons of plutonium from dismantled weapons as well, because the Energy Department is backing away from the $30 billion price tag now attached to a plan for mixing the plutonium with uranium and using that mixed-oxide to fuel nuclear power plants.

An extended closure of WIPP would no doubt increase political pressure emanating from Washington state, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Idaho, and New Mexico, none of which wants to be left with large amounts of nuclear waste and nowhere to put it. The stakes are large. The questions are many. Competing forces await answers. Surprises should be expected.”

For the much larger problem of commercial high-level radioactive waste, some nuclear advocates had been promoting WIPP as a potential alternative to the cancelled Yucca Mountain, Nevada waste dump project. That concept is not only on hold, it is certainly more permanently buried than the WIPP waste itself has turned out to be.

And that has left legislators in a quandary. Some, of course, still have dreams of reviving the Yucca Mountain project (one group’s dream is most peoples’ nightmare…), but that idea cannot get through the Senate as long as Harry Reid of Nevada is Majority Leader, and wouldn’t be signed by President Obama, who ended the project, anyway. And the longer Yucca stays dead, the harder it would be to resurrect no matter who runs the Congress and White House in the future.

On the Senate side, Energy Committee members already have admitted defeat this year in their effort to move any kind of radioactive waste legislation–for most their preference had been to establish a mechanism to create “interim” storage sites for high-level waste, but the Committee got bogged down in details and the concept remains controversial and publicly unpopular. Last week, four Republican Senators toured nuclear facilities at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and expressed their concern about the problems at WIPP, but couldn’t offer any solutions to either WIPP or the commercial waste problem. INL officials said that their Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project–WIPP’s biggest current user–has suspended all shipments to WIPP, meaning the waste will stay onsite at INL for the indefinite future.

And Canada, which is considering a low and intermediate level waste geologic disposal facility on the Great Lakes, has ordered additional public hearings on the proposal in light of the WIPP problems. Given that WIPP is the only deep geologic disposal facility currently operating in the world (in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, it is frequently–and incorrectly–described as a “high-level” radioactive waste site by nuclear advocates), the lessons, whatever they turn out to be, from the series of WIPP failures surely will affect other proposed and potential sites for years to come.

For an excellent overview of what has happened at WIPP so far–and the overlooked but potentially critical impact of natural gas fracking and oil wells in the nearby area (there are more than 100 operating natural gas and oil wells within a mile of the WIPP boundary)–check this article by Dahr Jamail for TruthOut.org.

Michael Mariotte

March 26, 2014

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/26/the-wipp-story-will-be-a-saga/

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Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

When nuclear reactors operate, they usually run flat out, at full power. The problem for the nuclear industry is that as reactors age, they increasingly don’t run at all. In North Carolina over the weekend, smoke from a transformer shut down the Shearon Harris reactor for the third time in less than a year. And, as the article indicates, area residents are beginning to question the standard utility line after a reactor shutdown of: ‘no radiation released, no one injured’. Seems they’ve heard that line so often, it’s just not that believable anymore. Meanwhile, things weren’t any better in Minnesota, where a failed heat exchanger shut down the Monticello reactor, just six months after Xcel Energy completed a major upgrade that ended up costing double the utility’s projections.

After 20 years of wrangling, the federal government still can’t decide about cleanup of Park Township (PA) radwaste dump. Years after beginning clean-up of the old Apollo site–a relic of the Cold War–the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found Uranium-235 and -233 at this mess of a site. And the Corps still refuses to say how much of these fissionable materials they have found. But it’s clear clean-up would cost about half a billion dollars, and equally clear that the Corps, which Congress told to take over the project in 2002, doesn’t know what to do about the site.

SimplyInfo.org: Tepco’s explanation of new radioactive water leak at Fukushima doesn’t add up. The new leak was discovered at Unit-3, the most damaged reactor at the site, over the weekend. Extremely high radiation levels have prevented pinpointing the source of the leak, but SimplyInfo.org, which follows Fukushima issues closely, finds that Tepco’s initial explanations don’t hold water (literally and metaphorically).

Like nuclear industry advocates just about everywhere, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe wants to speed up the nation’s high-level radioactive waste program. But, as is the case just about everywhere, that’s a lot easier said than done. Add in the trauma and problems caused by the Fukushima disaster, and the public isn’t buying the government’s plans. The Japan Times says limiting radioactive waste production should be the highest priority, and bringing the public into the process is a necessity. Wise words that should be a mantra in the U.S. as well, and words that the nuclear industry and its backers ignore at their own peril.

The problem of “low-level” radioactive waste has been out of the headlines for many years following the complete collapse of the government’s “compact” program in the late 1990s. Matt Wald of the New York Times looks at one of the few operating dumps taking “low-level” waste, in this case the Waste Control Specialists dump in west Texas, which currently can take waste only from Texas and Vermont, but has ambitions to be the waste dump for the entire nation. WCS was founded by the extreme right-wing “Swift Boat” funder Harold Simmons, who died late last year. But his company and its policies live on. As old nuclear reactors retire, a radioactive waste company looks to cash in.

The New York Public Service Commission in late December began a regulatory overhaul to support clean energy goals, especially energy efficiency. This is bad news for New York’s nuclear reactors (and fossil fuel plants). Various studies already have demonstrated that New York has ample renewable energy and energy efficiency capability to meet its power needs; this overhaul is intended to set up the regulatory framework to implement that capability. Article includes a link to the PSC’s order.

Entergy Corp. did manage to avoid one problem at its Indian Point reactors, as it reached an agreement with labor unions to avoid a threatened strike there.

In renewable energy news, a new study from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds that rather than being a problem for the grid–as anti-renewable forces constantly contend–wind power actually will help manage grid stability. And now, even you can invest in solar power–it doesn’t take millions of dollars. SolarCity has opened the door to investors large and small who want to invest directly in its fast-growing rooftop solar business.

And two useful articles on the extremely positive trends for solar power. SFGate reports on the explosive growth for California’s surviving solar companies (e.g., just about every company not named Solyndra). And Grist has a fun article summarizing some of the achievements and new developments in the solar industry over the past year.

For those, especially outside the U.S., who were expecting the Nuclear Newsreel yesterday, we note that it was Martin Luther King Day in the U.S.–and that’s one holiday we at NIRS celebrate.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/21/nuclear-newsreel-January-21-2014/