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Edward Davis, USNIC: Senate kicks the can down the road again on Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste stalemate

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Yesterday’s Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee action to report favorably a FY2018 DOE funding bill represents a disappointing setback in efforts to restart the long- stalled Yucca Mountain nuclear waste permanent repository project. 

Among the biggest disappointments was the apparent failure of the Senate Subcommittee led by Chairman Lamar Alexander to fund the Administration’s request for funding $120 million to restart the much delayed licensing process for the DOE Yucca Mountain project.

The Chairman’s opening statement lauded the efforts of the Subcommittee to end the nuclear waste stalemate by taking important steps toward solving the country’s stalemate over what to do with nuclear waste. Apparently, this was accomplished by including provisions for a consolidated interim (read temporary) storage facility and by providing funding for DOE to support storing nuclear waste at private facilities.

As the elephant in the room, the Yucca Mountain project was barley mentioned. Chairman Alexander’s statement did make note that the funding for private storage facilities was not intended to take the place of Yucca Mountain. But what of Yucca Mountain funding itself. Not a word mentioned. 

Never mind that the stalemate for the last eight years of Obama Administration has been over moving forward at Yucca Mountain to finish the legally required NRC safety review and to resolve the State of Nevada’s contentions. Evidently the stalemate over Yucca Mountain will have to resolved in some other venue and some other date in time.

The lack of inclusion of funding for Yucca is all the more surprising given Chairman Alexander’s past statements of strong support for the Yucca Mountain project, for example the Chairman’s opening statement on June 21st when Energy Secretary Perry testified in support of DOE’s budget where Chairman Alexander stated:

 “… solving the nuclear waste stalemate, to ensure that nuclear power has a strong future, we've got to break that 25-year-old stalemate and we welcome your leadership in helping us do that. We need to find places to build geologic repositories and temporary storage facilities so the federal government can finally meet its legal obligations to dispose of nuclear waste safely and permanently. This year's budget request for the department includes $110 million to restart work on Yucca Mountain repository and $10 million to study waste to open an interim storage site or use a private interim storage site. I strongly support Yucca Mountain. I believe it ought to be a part of the solution.”

Well, apparently Yucca is not part of the solution, at least not at the moment. This inconvenience or incongruity would seemingly benefit one particular senator from Nevada who is in the midst of a very tough re-election bid and whose vote on the GOP health care bill was absolutely vital to the Senate Republican efforts to clinch the necessary votes to put the Senate GOP ObamaCare Repeal and Replace legislation over the top – which now is off the rails.

For over eight years, Republicans in both the House and Senate have accused the Democrats of playing politics with Yucca. And what do Republican do the first chance they get  — Play politics with Yucca Mountain. Some things never change!!

Edward Davis, former President  of the American Nuclear Council, Senior Fellow, Nuclear Infrastructure Council.

 

JEFF BEATTIE, ENERGY DAILY: Yucca Backers Alarmed By Senate Approps Language

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

July 19, 2017 | BY JEFF BEATTIE 

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A recent version of the Senate’s Energy Department spending bill for fiscal 2018 obtained by IHS The Energy Dailycontains language opening a path for Nevada to potentially block the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, a curious provision given that the bill is quarterbacked by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a longtime Yucca supporter.

The language would require the Energy Department to develop a pilot program of one or two centralized storage facilities to collect and store spent nuclear fuel that is currently stockpiled at dozens of sites across the country.

The language then directs DOE to develop a plan to eventually ship the radioactive material for burial in a deep geologic repository; Yucca Mountain was designated 30 years ago as that repository.

But—in a new and crucial provision—it requires DOE to develop a plan to ship the spent fuel to a deep geologic repository, “following a consent-based approval process for that deep geologic disposal capacity.”

The language further defines the “consent-based process” to mean that the repository would have to be approved by the host state’s governor, any affected Indian tribes and “each unit of [affected] local government….”

Current Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) is bitterly opposed to Yucca—as were all previous governors since Yucca was chosen as the nation’s repository site in 1987. As a result, any such consent process would mean a quick death for the project. Yucca is opposed by most public officials and affected tribes in Nevada, although it is supported by Nye County, which includes the project site, as a potential revenue-generator.

Importantly, the bill does not direct DOE to use a consent-based approval process for Yucca. Instead, it requires DOE to submit a plan for the pilot program that includes “recommendations for a mechanism” for eventually shipping the material to a repository, while requiring that repository to receive the assent of governors, tribes and other jurisdictions.

It also is not clear if the language, which was in a version of the DOE spending bill obtained by IHS The Energy DailyTuesday morning, is in the version approved by the energy and water spending panel Tuesday afternoon. The subcommittee at press time had not released the bill, which is scheduled to be considered Thursday by the full appropriations committee.

But several pro-Yucca industry sources say the language raises a clear obstacle to Yucca. And several called it baffling, particularly given the years’ worth of support that Yucca has gotten from Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate energy and water appropriations subcommittee.

Alexander has long pushed a two-track approach to solving the nation’s nuclear waste problem, which includes centralized storage as a stepping-stone to moving the material to a deep geologic repository for final burial.

In a hearing held last month by the energy and water spending panel, Alexander cheered the fact that DOE’s fiscal 2018 budget includes $110 million to resume work on Yucca Mountain, on which the Obama administration halted work in 2009. Obama called the Yucca plan “unworkable,” but the decision was widely seen as a political favor to then-Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who—like Sandoval—bitterly opposes the repository project in his home state.

“I strongly support Yucca Mountain,” Alexander said in last month’s budget meeting. “I believe it ought to be a part of the solution.”

Some sources speculate that Alexander and Senate GOP leadership may be introducing a set of brakes on the Yucca program as a political favor to Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who has made killing Yucca a key plank in what is expected to be a tough re-election campaign next year.

Heller’s re-election is seen as key to retaining a GOP majority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who serves on the energy and water spending panel. But Heller is the only Republican up for re-election next year in a state that went Democratic in last year’s presidential election.

“At this point, there will be nothing pro-Yucca in any [Senate] bill that Heller has to vote for,” one source said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Alexander did not respond immediately to questions Tuesday about the “consent-based” repository language.

One industry source expressed frustration that the Senate, now under GOP control with Reid gone, might still produce a funding bill with obstacles to Yucca. With the backing of the pro-Yucca Trump administration, backers of the Nevada repository had expected 2017 to be a year of full-throttle Yucca revival.

“For eight years the Republicans accused the Democrats of playing politics with Yucca, but at the first opportunity what do Republicans do? Play politics with Yucca,” said one.

“It’s like the cold, dead hand of Harry Reid is still on the tiller,” he said, referring merely to the fact that Reid, who remains among the living, has departed the Senate.

Yucca backers can take solace, however, in the fact that appropriations bills for individual agencies like DOE have failed to become law for the past several years. Because of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have instead funded the government with “continuing resolutions,” that largely extend previous-year funding.

In This Issue

RON WARNECKE: DOE’s Integrated Waste Treatment Unit — A Robust Facility Using Proven Technology

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

By Ron Warnecke

 

The Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) is set to begin processing the remaining radioactive liquid waste from our nation’s defense programs stored at the Department of Energy’s Idaho site. The treatment of this waste is a critical step in completing the remediation of the site’s liquid waste systems.  As this important milestone approaches, it is important to understand the complexities of the IWTU project and the deliberate and measured approach the DOE is taking to assure the facility operates safely and efficiently when radioactive operations begin. 

 

The Waste

 

The IWTU will treat a chemically complex highly radioactive liquid waste.  The waste is a byproduct of the reprocessing of government spent nuclear fuel that supported our nation’s defense programs. All aspects of handling this waste– its transfer from underground tanks to IWTU for treatment, to the storage of the material after processing– must be accomplished  with the utmost care to ensure the safety of workers, the public and the environment.

 

The Waste Treatment Process 

 

The Fluid Bed Steam Reforming Process (known as THOR) installed in the IWTU was developed and patented by Studsvik, a Swedish-based nuclear services company.  The THOR process has treated hundreds of thousands of gallons of liquid radioactive waste from US commercial nuclear power plants over the last 15 years in a facility similar to IWTU located in Erwin, TN.  These operations confirm that the THOR process is robust, stable and safe.  The THOR process creates a dry stable waste form and through volume reduction has saved hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of land disposal space.  

 

Prior to IWTU construction the critical components and systems of the THOR process  to be used to treat the Idaho liquid waste were successfully demonstrated through  engineering scale testing at the Hazen Research Facilities in Golden, CO. The treatment process also underwent rigorous and extensive laboratory and scientific analysis led by Savannah River National Laboratory’s (SRNL) chemists and engineers.   A recent integrated test of the completed IWTU THOR processing system using nonradioactive simulated liquid waste again confirmed the process will meet required treatment objectives for the Idaho site. 

 

The Facility

 

The IWTU facility meets the stringent safety and environmental performance requirements for treatment of the Idaho liquid waste. The facility is robustly designed and constructed with safety performance as its highest priority.  For example, based on lessons learned by DOE at WTP and due to the possibility of seismic events at the Idaho site the rightly required the design and construction of the IWTU to include features and performance capabilities to withstand earthquakes beyond the originally planned design criteria.  Although this decision increased design and construction time, their thoughtful planning resulted in a radioactive waste treatment facility that is highly protective of the worker, the public and the environment. 

 

The IWTU is also designed and constructed to perform functions beyond the treatment of liquid waste. The facility has three hot cells. Two are outfitted for the liquid waste mission. The third is has a versatile, flexible design that can be used to support other site missions. In addition, the facility is designed and constructed to serve as the shipping facility for the removal of the treated waste to a permanent repository. It can also be modified to treat and package the existing stored calcine material that is required to be removed from the site and permanently dispositioned.   In short, the IWTU is a versatile facility designed and outfitted to support the final activities associated with the Idaho site’s cleanup mission. 

 

With any major project involving nuclear waste treatment some items come to light during commissioning that must be resolved prior to the start of treatment of actual radioactive waste.  Most of the remaining startup activities are focused on process equipment and instrumentation calibration, grooming and alignment. In addition, processing parameters are being adjusted and plant operators are continuing their training based on the lessons learned from the last plant integrated test.  The work being performed is being carried out in a careful, diligent and safe manner. DOE’s directives are clear… “Let’s get it correct now before the plant becomes radioactive”. When the facility is ready it will undergo another nonradioactive test to assure changes and revisions perform as expected.  

 

I applaud DOE in designing and building a radioactive waste treatment facility that meets evolving and stringent safety, performance and environmental best practices. The IWTU is a safe, robust and versatile facility that will complete its liquid waste mission and provide the DOE with flexible alternatives for the disposition of other difficult wastes at the Idaho site. I for one am pleased the DOE is taking its time and getting this right! 

 

Ron Warnecke is a long time resident and businessman of Idaho Falls, Idaho. He has worked in the government and commercial nuclear industry for 30 years. Ron has worked at several of DOE’s sites in management positions. Ron is intimately familiar with the THOR fluid bed steam reforming technology and its applications for treating complex radioactive waste materials in a more environmentally responsible manner. He was a significant contributor to engineering and design efforts for a similar THOR system for treating problematic waste at Savannah River site. He continues to work in the nuclear industry supporting processes, systems and initiatives for cleaning up difficult radioactive waste material left form cold war defense programs.

So . . . What Do We Do Now?

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

OPINION

 

So . . .  What Do We Do Now?

Charles W. Pennington, MS, MBA

Jeffry A. Siegel, PhD

Bill Sacks, PhD, MD

October 2014

An opinion of what really needs correcting in our industry, and a recommendation on getting "radioactively" involved in that correction today for a better tomorrow!

 

Overview

 

As members and supporters of  the U.S. nuclear industry, we have experienced a rough and rather traumatic time over the last 6 years, or so. But during the last few months, many of us may have begun to feel that things could be turning our way just a bit. We see that small modular reactors (SMRs) appear to be here to stay and that their licensing is now firmly planned (while also realizing that the first SMR is still at least a decade away). We see that a few large reactors of conventional design have made progress in licensing and even construction (while recalling that several times that number have been cancelled over the last 6 years). We also note that the Waste Confidence political and regulatory brouhaha seems to have been timely addressed and, perhaps, resolved, at least until the next political onslaught to stop nuclear energy. (Reid between the lines here, if you would, please.) But we also recall that some of the regulatory analyses produced to support the NRC's assertion of waste confidence showed that a number of  people could die as fictitious latent cancer fatalities (LCF) due to exposure to ionizing radiation (IR) within a 10 mile radius of a reactor that experiences a spent fuel storage pool fire. These regulatory analyses using highly conservative safety codes included several typical assumptions that are beyond credibility. 

 

So it still appears that all is not quite right in our industry, and the problem seems to be, at least to some of us, that our industry continues unaggressive action, doing too little about the issue that really controls the present and future (as it has controlled the past) of the safest and most ecologically friendly technology for generating central station electricity: nuclear energy. And that issue, my friends, is public fear – fear of nuclear energy technology, because the more basic fear of uncontrollable releases of threatening exposures to cancer-causing IR is associated, almost uniquely in the public's eye, with nuclear energy.  The history of nuclear power, nuclear energy, and our own industry, from the earliest years, demonstrates the growth of this public fear, fed by the cooperation of bad science, anti-nuclear politics and commercial interests, and the media. Some of this history, with key references, was summarized at the Packaging and Transportation of Radioactive Materials (PATRAM) Symposium in August 2013 in San Francisco (Ref 1). Despite an enviable safety record and no demonstrated LCF impact on the public from nuclear energy, even after an accident, our industry has not been able to overcome a deluge of public fear-mongering.

 

As an industry, we have nothing to fear . . . (well, you know the rest), but the fear we must fear is that of the public. However, we should also be at least concerned that this fear situation is not static.  It is most dynamic, and in a fashion that is not helpful to our cause. There are many "researchers" that are now publishing extensively on an assortment of new IR fear topics.  It is stunning to see some new "research" actually being peer-reviewed and published using data that are highly questionable in their content or in the assumptions used to mine the data, and then fitting these data to models that already assume a linearity of fit (because the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis {LNTH} is already accepted science, right?). The only best-fit of sometimes questionable data is said to be the best linear fit, two errors in one piece of research.

  

How the LNTH Is Being Used Against Our Industry

 

There are many examples of current efforts to demonize IR in peer-reviewed journals and many conclusions or recommendations of these articles find their way to the public, the major media outlets being such effective agents to stoke the fear-furnace within an already fearful public.  For instance, Ref. 2 reports on how CT scans in children may be leading to childhood leukemia and brain tumors. And Ref. 3 purports to show that even exposure of children to natural background radiation can cause leukemia. Both of these studies have produced scientifically invalid results, but have been reported in the media as causes for public concern, and these are not isolated cases by any means. The media are not capable of discerning the truth in such studies, but they certainly know what sells. Such publicized studies survive most scrutiny because they use the LNTH to prove the scary points they make [the LNTH states that a) the relationship of LCFs to dose is linear down to 0, and b) any collective dose to a population produces the same number of LCFs no matter how the dose is distributed]. What happens is people read so much about IR becoming a villain and causing cancer, whether the IR exposure results from good or ill intent, that their fear of IR increases.

 

Here's a very simple example of how the LNTH can be further used to advance a silly idea that common behavior can cause massive global cancer mortality, and how our industry is treated so differently from non-nuclear industries that produce large public IR exposures annually.  

 

We know that the foods we eat contain small amounts of radioactivity, such as 40K in bananas (the well-known banana equivalent dose {BED} effect). Likewise, we know that if you sleep with a partner, spend time physically close to your family and friends, or just mingle in crowds, you will be exposed to radiation from the 40K contained within these other persons. The IR dose to a person from exposure to 40K due to an average personal proximity of 10 cm for 8 hr./day from others throughout his/her lifetime is 2.3 mSv (see Note).

 

This dose is on the order of one additional year of exposure to an average background radiation level in the U.S., a level which has been "proven" to represent a significant cancer risk (see Ref. 3). Given that the entire world’s population of approximately 7 billion is potentially subjected to this additional radiation dose, the number of LNTH-derived worldwide cancer deaths is horrifying. According to the widely promoted ICRP LNTH-derived fatal cancer risk estimate of 0.0115% for this 2.3 mSv exposure, over 800,000 LCFs are expected. If the LNTH is viewed as accepted science, this result should bring about a recommendation to control personal proximity exposure, never sleep with anyone, and perish the thought of getting any closer than 10 cm, even for short periods of time.

 

But it is worse than that. We have not accounted for additional "deadly" sources of exposure that, per the LNTH, could kill many more of us and, therefore, need to be controlled or eliminated.  We know, for example, that there are many non-nuclear industries in the U.S. that deliver annual average collective doses to the public greater than anything that can result from nuclear energy in the U.S.(and some of these industries generate such doses from technologically enhanced, natural sources). These industries involve such activities as airline travel, consuming potable water, living near or working on farms, living or working in buildings constructed of  natural materials, working with natural construction materials, producing tobacco products, smoking, and providing medical imaging procedures.  None of these industries are regulated with respect to their peak or average doses to the served public, yet their actual annual doses far exceed any possible dose from the nuclear fuel cycle.  Just a select few of these non-nuclear industries deliver more than a billion person-mSv to the U.S. public annually, with a pronounced lognormal distribution that causes millions of Americans to be exposed to IR doses exceeding the worst (first) year of doses from Chernobyl (Ref. 4). Aren't there ethics issues here? If the LNTH is true (or at least appropriate) for nuclear energy, should we not apply the LNTH to these other industries, as well, to reduce  all these additional LCFs from IR exposures in order to be internally consistent with our professional ALARA lifestyle?  And who reports all these LCFs to the public or advocates against such LCFs with all the non-nuclear industries in the U.S. that expose the public to IR? Do we not consider as part of our commitment to nuclear energy that ALARA must be maintained, that low doses of IR have no redeeming qualities? Should we really be allowed to vacation at high altitudes, fly whenever we want, eat/drink whatever we want, have close personal contact, and have medical imaging even when it is needed? Do we accept that nuclear energy IR exposures should be regulated so stringently and be postulated as the greatest threat to the public from IR while all these other (and far greater) exposures get a pass?  

 

Indeed, does not the LNTH fully answer the vexing question posed by Sir Laurence Olivier as Dr. Szell in the movie Marathon Man:

 

 

If we believe in the LNTH and ALARA, and why wouldn’t we after decades of regulatory inculcation, the answer of course is a resounding "no" regarding IR. Or (and this is really the correct answer, based on the evidence that the LNTH is false and that there are threshold doses below which there is no discernable harm) shouldn't nuclear energy be treated more like all non-nuclear industries and activities? None of these industries produce any harm from IR that has been demonstrated with unambiguous scientific research, and they have been examined closely for many years. Such questions and issues must arise from the rigorous application of the LNTH to nuclear energy but not to other industries and activities that are much larger sources of public IR exposure. Sources of the same type and energy of IR exposure, whether from nuclear or non-nuclear industries, are indistinguishable by our bodies. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, "radiation is radiation is radiation," confirming the law of identity; natural and man-made radiations are the same thing, once the photons or particles are on the wing.

 

To conclude this section, an important observation over several decades is that many, if not most, of us in the nuclear industry do not understand the LNTH and have no concrete idea of the abuse it produces through forcing the conclusion of deleterious outcomes in situations using nuclear technology where no harm can occur. We have learned over the last 15 years or so that the LNTH has no true scientific basis, that it is often excused as assuring conservatism (which has been demonstrated to be false, as seen in the forced relocation-associated deaths in Fukushima and the widespread public fear causing many people to be at a much greater health risk by refusing to undergo needed radiological imaging examinations), and that the bases for adopting the LNTH in the 1940s – 1950s have been found to be flawed and are more likely to have revolved around political issues (Ref. 5 and Ref. 6). In short, there was no credible scientific evidence to support the LNTH then and there is still none up to the present day.  But many in the nuclear industry do not know this and still think that the LNTH application in all of our regulations and in our safety analyses just makes us conservative.

 

So with this observation, though couched within the previous sarcastic example as it is, what should we in the nuclear industry be doing that is different from what we are doing today?

 

What Should We Do Now?

 

As a first step, all of us in the nuclear industry very much need to become far more expert in matters involving sources and effects of IR. We need to learn how a departure from the LNTH can have very positive impacts on the public's understanding of IR and its perception of our industry. There is much evidence demonstrating the flaws, politics, and bad science that led to establishing the LNTH as accepted science, and there is a large body of scientific evidence that shows no discernible cancer threat below a threshold dose and hormetic effects at low doses of IR (on the order of 100-200 mSv, depending on the type of radiation, dose rate, and dosing intervals). The current state of knowledge on the LNTH can be assessed by reading recent peer-reviewed publications on the subject. In PubMed, for instance, the vast majority of recent publications have questioned the validity of the LNTH, giving many reasons, and showing evidence for the opposite of the LNTH, i.e., the IR hormesis model, according to which small amounts of radiation can boost the defenses in our body, including the immune system, reducing cancers and other diseases. The scientists who advocate the LNTH routinely avoid discussing any of the ideas expressed in such articles, and have not refuted the arguments presented. However, the ICRP's Task Group 84 is beginning to raise questions that challenge the foundations of the LNTH (Ref. 7).

 

Fortunately, there are a great many colleagues associated with the medical field who are involved with studies related to IR source characterization, IR transport, external and internal IR dosimetry, radiobiological effects (both harmful and beneficial), dose-response modeling, IR risk and benefit assessment, nuclear medicine, diagnostic radiology, and radiation oncology, and these colleagues are on the leading edge of the efforts to replace the LNTH with rational science. We also have colleagues within the ANS who are working diligently to have the LNTH reviewed in far more scientific detail by the NAS, without the pressure of political and anti-nuclear fear mongering acting as a suppressant.  For more detail on this ANS effort, see www.tedrockwellmemorial.org/. 

At the general level of industry  members and supporters, it behooves us as part of an industry that can advance such a safe and ecologically sound energy source to learn more of what others know and to explore the science that they have worked so hard to advance over many years. One organization that promotes efforts of people in the nuclear industry working with medical and other IR experts is called Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information (SARI). The SARI website (http://radiationeffects.org) is highly recommended as an excellent place to begin a learning or a relearning experience related to IR and the LNTH. The authors of this article are members of SARI.

 

Additionally, the Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences is beginning its efforts to scope the next Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) report—the BEIR VIII report—on health risks from exposure to low levels of IR. While such a new BEIR report is not yet funded, industry members and supporters should be following this closely and participating actively whenever we might be called upon.

 

In conclusion, then, this cartoon poses a good question for all of us to consider regarding the LNTH:

 

 

The opinion of the authors here is that the nuclear industry and the people that make it run must actively take a role in saying that the LNTH is not acceptable because it is a flawed, maladaptive defense against a nonexistent threat and without foundation in science, rather than continuing to smile agreeably while saying "yes" to this hypothesis and going along to get along.  One of the great Mahatma Gandhi’s quotes seems most appropriate here and reflects what the industry  should be doing now: "A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble."

 

Note

 

Assumptions: Personal proximity exposures occur at an average distance of 10 cm from at least one other person for 8 hours a day, every day of life; the average lifespan is 75 years; the content of 40K in the average individual is approximately 5 kBq; the exposure rate constant for 40K is 0.779 R cm2/mCi h. Calculation: Dose (mSv) = (0.779 R cm2/mCi h * 10 mSv/R * 5 kBq * μCi/37 kBq * mCi/1000 μCi *

8 h/d * 365 d/y * 75 y)/100 cm2  = 2.3 mSv

 

References

 

  1. C. W. Pennington:  'Advancing US public acceptance of spent fuel storage and transport: proposed  outreach services for ionising radiation education support', Packaging, Transport, Storage & Security of Radioactive Material, 2013, 24/3, 95 – 107
  2. M.S. Pearce, et al.: 'Radiation exposure from CT scans in childhood and subsequent risk of leukaemia and brain tumours: a retrospective cohort study,' Lancet, 2012, 380(9840), 499-505. 
  3. G. M. Kendall, et al., 'A record-based case-control study of natural background radiation and the incidence of childhood leukaemia and other cancers in Great Britain during 1980–2006', Leukemia, 2013, 27(1), 3–9.
  4. C. W. Pennington, 'Nuclear Energy Safety: Comparative Assessments of Radiological Impacts on the Public from the Commercial Nuclear Fuel Cycle in the U.S.', in: Acosta MJ (ed.) Advances in Energy Research. Volume 5, pp. 1-54; ISBN 978-1-61761-897-0. Nova Science Publishers, Inc.: Hauppauge, NY.
  5. E. J. Calabrese, 'The road to linearity: why linearity at low doses became the basis for carcinogen risk assessment', Arch Toxicol, 2009, 83: 203–22
  6. E. J. Calabrese, 'How the US National Academy of Sciences misled the world community on cancer risk assessment: new findings challenge historical foundations of the linear dose response', Arch Toxicol, 2013, 87(12), 2063-81.
  7. A. J. González, et al., 'Radiological protection issues arising during and after the Fukushima nuclear reactor accident', J. Radiol. Prot. 33 (2013) 497–571.

Authors

Jeffry A. Siegel is president and CEO of Nuclear Physics Enterprises, an international radiological physics consulting firm specializing in quantitative radiological/nuclear medicine imaging, internal and external dosimetry, clinical trial design, translational research, radionuclide therapy patient release, and relevant FDA and NRC/Agreement State regulations. He has Masters degrees in Chemistry and Physics and a PhD in medical physics. He has held both academic and hospital appointments and over the past 18 years has been involved in pre- and post-FDA approval of the radionuclide therapy agents Bexxar, Zevalin and Xofigo. Dr. Siegel holds 5 patents and has authored more than 330 publications.

Bill Sacks is a former professor of physics turned radiologist.  After teaching college physics for a dozen years, and after his medical training, he subsequently engaged in almost two decades of clinical radiology.  He interrupted this career to spend a number of years as a medical officer in the FDA’s medical device approval section, specializing in the evaluation of radiological and other diagnostic devices.  In more recent times, and for a number of years, he has made a special study of nuclear energy and radiobiology, particularly focusing on the biological effects of low-dose ionizing radiation.  He has taught a number of classes and given a number of talks on these topics over the last few years, as well as contributing to a number of essays and short articles, for the lay public.  He is now retired and spends full time on this research, writing, and volunteer teaching.

Charles W. Pennington is a Senior Fellow at the Nuclear Infrastructure Council (NIC) and a private nuclear industry consultant, with academic degrees in mathematics, nuclear engineering, and business administration. He has served the nuclear industry for 47 years, and over the last 3 decades has held senior management/corporate officer positions in spent fuel storage and transport businesses. He has been in leadership roles in the development, licensing, deployment and operation of more than a dozen spent fuel storage/transport technologies, many hundreds of which are now in operation at numerous global reactor sites.  He holds 5 patents in nuclear technology and has authored a number of papers and publications involving nuclear technology and comparisons of IR exposure among nuclear and non-nuclear industries.

Edward Davis, USNIC: In the Matter of Waste Confidence, We so Deem

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

By Edward M. Davis

In the last somnolent dog days of August, the members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) gathered themselves for a final vote on a regulatory policy issue that will no doubt have far reaching implications for the future of the U.S. nuclear industry and the continued use and future development of nuclear energy in the U.S.

In a session that took only thirteen minutes in which reportedly the chairman had to cut short her summer vacation and which was necessitated by the imminent departure from the agency of another commissioner, NRC approved a final rule on the aptly named “Continued Storage of Spent Fuel Rule” as a replacement for the decades old predecessor rule known as the “Waste Confidence Decision (WCD)”.

The genesis of the NRC WCD dates back to the late 1970s when NRC’s continued licensing of nuclear plants without a demonstrated final solution to the disposal of spent fuel was challenged in the courts. In response to significant court decisions at that time, the NRC devised the WCD which incorporated several important findings including a finding that permanent geologic disposal was technically feasible and that spent fuel could be safely stored at reactor sites or away from reactor sites in the meantime. The WCD also incorporated a predictive finding of a timeframe of the availability of repository. Over the course of several decades, the NRC has periodically reaffirmed the critical findings of the WCD but also at the same time extended the predictive timeframe in which the repository would become available.  In its final WCD update, the NRC eliminated the incorporation of the predictive timeframe altogether and asserted simply that a geologic repository would become available when necessary.  This 2010 revision of the WCD is what prompted another round of litigation over the contentious issue of spent fuel storage and its timely disposal.

This week’s action by the Commission and the adoption of a newly formulated rule is responsive to a 2012 U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the New York vs NRC in which the Petitioners alleged, among other arguments, that the NRC did not properly evaluate the environmental effects of continued storage at reactors beyond their operating licensed lifetimes in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Court vacated the Commission’s Waste Confidence Decision and associated storage rule on NEPA grounds and ordered the Commission to conduct a fully complaint evaluation of the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent fuel, including the case of indefinite storage of spent fuel  because of the Federal Government’s failure to construct a geologic repository for disposal.

The Court’s decision and remand is only one of several cases in which the Court has strongly expressed its continued and increasing frustration with the Federal Government failure’s to effectively implement a national nuclear waste management program under duly enacted laws requiring the Federal Government to provide for a permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.  An earlier decision by another D.C. Circuit panel found that the NRC had violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) by prematurely terminating its regulatory review of the Department of Energy’s Yucca Mountain license application and ordered the agency back to work on the application using existing congressional-approved carryover funding. And in a more recent case, another three-judge panel of the same Court ordered the Department of Energy to suspend the collection of NWPA required fee payments unless and until the DOE resumes implementation of the NWPA or Congress passes an alternative nuclear waste program. 

So mindful of this growing impatience, the NRC dutifully conducted a comprehensive evaluation over the past two years, and developed a generic environmental impact statement that analyzes the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent fuel at reactor sites beyond their licensed operational lifetimes, resulting from the continued lack of availability of a geologic repository for permanent disposal.

The NRC’s GEIS evaluates effects of continued storage over three timeframes, a short-term where the fuel is stored at reactor sites for 60 years beyond the operating licensed lifetime, a second long-term timeframe in which spent fuel is required to be stored for an additional 100-year period and then finally a third timeframe in which spent fuel is stored indefinitely.

In all three cases, the NRC found that the environmental impacts of continued storage of spent fuel at reactor sites were “small” and with no significant impacts, even for the case where the spent fuel was stored indefinitely because of unavailability of a repository. In no small measure, the result, especially for the case of indefinite storage, was driven by the NRC’s staff assumption in all three cases that there would continue to be institutional controls throughout each timeframe, i.e., regulatory oversight and monitoring, ensuring therefore that there would be no adverse effects to the environment.

As structured, the approved rule now allows the Commission to move forward and resume final agency licensing decisions which have been held in abeyance for over two years while the NRC staff developed the GEIS and associated rule. When the rule goes into effect 30 days after its publication in the Federal Register, the GEIS is incorporated by reference in individual licensing proceedings and therefore any related challenges regarding the long-term effects of continued at-reactor storage cannot be raised because they have been “deemed” to have been addressed and found to have no significant consequences.

The importance of the assumption of continued indefinite institutional controls to the outcome of NRC’s analyses of no significant impact cannot be overstated. In fact, Chairman Macfarlane’s partial dissenting comments highlights its importance and touched off a sotto voce debate within the industry and elsewhere. Chairman Macfarlane referred to  “the elephant in the room” was the concern that by adopting the rule and GEIS, essentially affirming conclusion of  no significant environmental impacts of indefinite at-reactor storage, that NRC might be inadvertently tipping the balance and creating the enabling regulatory conditions under which a repository might never come to pass. Macfarlane continued her partial dissenting comments by suggesting that she would have preferred that the GEIS have included additional scenarios of indefinite storage without institutional controls.

But, the NRC staff in the GEIS had already acknowledged that without institutional controls, the case where spent fuel is stored indefinitely could have severe consequences similar to what the DOE had determined in its Yucca Mountain Project EIS in the “No Action” Alternative found in Appendix K.

As discussed in the GEIS, NEPA does not require agencies to consider “worst case” scenarios and the NRC staff made a persuasive case that that the most reasonably likely assumption is that indefinite storage would be accompanied concurrently with continued institutional controls, thereby ensuring no significant effects to the environment.  

Over the past 50 years, the nuclear industry, under the oversight of NRC and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, has amply demonstrated its capacity to safely manage and store spent fuel. Moreover, the nuclear industry should not be penalized or held hostage to the vagaries of the Federal Government’s “off-again, on-again” approach to the implementation of the NWPA and the pursuit of the establishment of a geologic repository. Nor should application of nuclear technology be further restrained due to the dysfunction of the Federal Government efforts. Nuclear energy is too important to the nation, because it provides 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and over 65 percent of our clean, carbon free electricity while providing 24×7 around-the-clock reliable electricity to the national grid.

The Waste Confidence Decision, now the Continued Storage Rule, was always an act of “regulatory deeming” or the proverbial leap of regulatory faith dressed up exquisitely in regulatory parlance.  Now it will be up to the Courts to uphold the NRC’s action and, if not, the matter will have to be addressed by Congress.

On one final note, Chairman Macfarlane is absolutely right to note that “deep geologic disposal is necessary” and “… that the only suitable end point for high-level nuclear waste is permanent isolation in a deep geologic repository.” 

This is an immutable fact and the enduring reality since real “waste confidence” can only be derived from the successful demonstration and implementation of a national nuclear waste management program culminating in the startup and operation of a geologic repository.

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The writer is a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (www.usnic.org) and the former President of the American Nuclear Energy Council.  His views represent a consensus of the Council but do not necessarily represent the views of individual members. 

 

 

 

Edward Davis, Senior NIC Fellow: EPA’s Proposed Clean Power Plan Needs to Strengthen The Role of Nuclear Energy Emission Free Generation

Monday, August 4th, 2014

By Edward M. Davis

Senior Fellow

U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council

Last week, EPA held public meetings around the country on its recently proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) that seeks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil plants by 30 percent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. While the EPA proposed Clean Power Plan recognizes nuclear energy’s potential contribution in providing zero-emission generation, the EPA Clean Power Plan does not do enough to incorporate a strong role for nuclear energy in achieving future CO2 emission reductions. 

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan sets individual state specific emission reduction rate targets that states must meet beginning in 2020 based a formulaic approach known as “Best System of Emission Reduction” that incorporates four building blocks. These building blocks include: 1.) Improving coal plant heat rates; 2.) Switching generation from coal plants to more efficient natural gas plants; 3.) Increasing generation from zero emission sources, such as renewables as well as a limited amount of nuclear generation; and 4.) Increasing energy efficiency measures.

The EPA Clean Power Plan Building Block #3 includes a provision for what EPA calls nuclear plant capacity “at-risk” which is defined as 6 percent of installed nuclear capacity as of 2012, or approximately 5,800 MWe. EPA states that this “at-risk” capacity represents the amount of installed nuclear capacity that may be prematurely shutdown based on EIA projections that is over and above the recently announced and planned nuclear plant shutdowns. By adding this element into the EPA BSER, EPA has established a modest incentive for states to take measures to retain installed and operating nuclear capacity, since if a state were to allow some portion of its “at-risk” nuclear capacity to be shut down during the compliance period, the state would be obliged under the EPA BSER to undertake compensating measures to achieve the EPA state specified risk reduction rate goal.  In addition, EPA also included in the BSER Building Block #3, new nuclear capacity presently under construction at Vogtle 3&4, at 2,204 MWe in Georgia, Summer 2&3, at 2,204 MWe in South Carolina and Watts Bar 2, at 1,180 MWe in Tennessee. 

Under the EPA Build Block #3, nuclear energy contributes about 90 million MWh, and this emission free generation contribution remains fixed throughout the compliance period unlike the contributions from renewables and energy efficiency will increase every year throughout the compliance period. Overall, by 2030, renewables are credited with 525 million MWh of zero carbon generation and energy efficiency about 425 million MWh equivalent carbon free generation, as based on EPA’s Technical Support Goal Computation Document.   Along with the nuclear energy contribution, these zero carbon sources taken together provide over 1 billion MWh, however, nuclear energy contribution amounts to no more than 8.6 percent.

Rather than an “All of the Above” energy strategy, the EPA Clean Power Plan would anoint some clear winners. Under the approach as proposed, natural gas would become the backbone of the Clean Power Plan contributing by EPA’s own estimates an overall BSER CO2 emission reduction of 31 % — by far the largest of the four building blocks.  A recent preliminary assessment of the EPA proposed plan by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) reported up to a 40 percent potential increase in the consumption of natural gas would occur during the compliance period under the EPA proposed rule than what otherwise would have been the case. 

Such a large increase and reliance on any one source of fuel raises questions about grid reliability as a recently released study by IHS Energy, titled “The Value of US Power Supply Diversity”.  This study which examined a reduced diversity case scenario where natural gas contributed up to 61.7% of the generation mix found that such a lack of diversity in the electric generation mix could increase wholesale power prices by about 75% and retail power prices by about 25%.

Moreover, the EPA’s proposal for reliance on renewables and energy efficiency functionally operates as a de facto national renewable and energy efficiency portfolio standard, albeit with a small carve-out for “at-risk” nuclear generation capacity.

Fortunately, under the EPA Clean Power Plan, states must submit a state implementation plan that specifies the policies, programs and actions that the state is committed to undertake during the compliance period in order for the state to achieve the EPA state-specific emission reduction rate by 2030.

Unlike the detailed and specific EPA BSER Building Block formula, EPA does not provide an exact formula that each state will be required to use when demonstrating that the state has met its required emission reduction rate goal. Further, EPA identifies numerous options that states may take advantage of in order to achieve its emission reduction rate goal. 

As part of these recognized options, EPA identifies the continued operation of existing “at-risk” installed nuclear capacity and under construction nuclear capacity. In addition, the construction of new nuclear generating units as well as the uprating of existing nuclear units is identified as approvable emission reduction measures. 

The EPA Clean Power Plan should include nuclear energy as an important part of the overall clean energy portfolio that is to be relied on to achieve emission reduction rate goals. The nation needs new nuclear capacity as part of any plan to provide reliable, efficient and affordable emission free electricity. 

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Mr. Davis is a former President of the American Nuclear Energy Council and senior fellow for the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (www.usnic.org).  The USNIC is the leading business consortium for new nuclear energy and engagement of the U.S. nuclear supply chain globally.

While Mr. Davis’ views represent the consensus views of the Council, they do not necessary represent the opinions of individual USNIC member companies and organizations.

Time for DOE to Complete Its Part 810 Nuclear Export Reform

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

By Margaret Harding

Ms. Harding is an independent nuclear energy consultant at 4 Factor Consulting, LLC.

In August 2, 2013, DOE published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNOPR) regarding revisions to 10 CFR Part 810, its regulation controlling nuclear exports. The SNOPR was the culmination of years of effort by DOE and industry to modernize a regulation that was based on Cold War era nuclear proliferation policies, politics, and trade patterns. The process is made more complex because the underlying law – The Atomic Energy Act was written during the Cold War and has not been updated either.

DOE’s first proposed revision of Part 810 met with strong adverse comments from across the industry because it failed to address the significant burden of its slow, opaque export approval process placed on US companies seeking to compete in the large and growing markets in China, India, Asia and the Middle East. In response, DOE promised to implement a process improvement program (PIP) and revised the proposed regulation to address a number of substantive issues raised by commentators.

Public comments on the SNOPR have been fairly supportive. Most have supported the SNOPR in whole or in part. Virtually all have supported the PIP.   The comments filed by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) were an exception to the constructive approach taken by the other commentators. In a comment, that was significantly longer than the SNOPR itself, NEI recommended that DOE withdraw and republish the SNOPR, continuing the current Cold War era approach to the classification of nuclear trading partners.

Although it supported many of the changes in the SNOPR and made some reasonable proposals for further changes, NEI called the SNOPR “arbitrary and capricious”, said it does not provide a “rational connection between the facts found and the choice made” and that it violates the law because” it does not adequately support either the numerous significant and high-impact changes to the existing Part 810 rule”. The NEI comment also alleged that that DOE selectively chose data to support its own conclusions while disregarding data that would undermine its own arguments.

NEI’s primary complaint is that the SNOPR replaced the Cold War system of classifying about 75 nuclear trade partners on a list of restricted or “bad” countries where proposed transactions had to be specifically approved by DOE with a list of about 45 “generally authorized” trade partner countries where no specific approval was required. NEI is upset that as a consequence of this approach, future transactions with 77 counties that were not on the restricted list will require specific authorization when the SNOPR takes effect. DOE explained this decision in the SNOPR and provided an economic impact analysis showing the reclassification would have a negligible impact because the affected countries had little or no nuclear business today and were unlikely to have business for a decade or more.

In support of its position that DOE should withdraw the SNOPR and continue to generally authorize nuclear trade in 77 countries, the NEI comment does not identify a single country, project, end user, transaction or US company that would be adversely burdened by the specific authorization requirement currently facing U.S. companies doing business internationally.

The NEI comment is sadly out of step with the real concerns of industry. The reclassification has no adverse impact on nuclear trade because there is no significant nuclear trade with the 77 reclassified countries. Only one of those countries, Jordan, has an active plan to construct a Nuclear Power Plant. The State Department is actively working toward a 123 agreement, which will help move Jordan onto the generally authorized list.

Instead of quibbling with NEI about the impact in the 77 countries, DOE needs to improve its authorization process to facilitate trade where there is nuclear business: China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

DOE needs to complete the Part 810 Rulemaking, so industry can begin operating under a 21st Century export control regime. Stopping the rulemaking process now would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Trade with 77 countries that are almost universally NOT interested in nuclear business is not worth the cost of delaying this rule any further.

EDWARD DAVIS: World Moves Forward with Nuclear Energy

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

August 3, 2012

World Moves Forward with Nuclear Energy

By Edward Davis

The writer is President of the Pegasus Group, a consulting firm

In retrospect, last year’s Fukushima accident looks like a speed bump in terms of the anticipated future worldwide growth in nuclear power.

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in conjunction with the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), issued its annual “Redbook’’ which is the agency’s official forecast for growth in the number of nuclear plants and their related nuclear fuel and enrichment services requirements. The IAEA forecast confirms that the world post-Fukushima continues planning on building a record number of additional nuclear power plants worldwide. Currently, there are some 433 nuclear power plants operating worldwide and 61 nuclear power plants under construction.

According to the recently released report, worldwide growth of installed nuclear power generation is expected to grow from the current level of 375 GWe to 540 GWe in IAEA’s  low case and 746 MWe in its high case. This represents a growth rate in nuclear generating capacity of 44% to 99% worldwide, little changed from the agency’s previous forecast prior to the accident.  Most industry experts have estimated that the Fukushima accident would result in a 10-15 percent reduction in the nuclear power generation worldwide.

The IAEA projections are consistent with other industry and government projections.  The World Nuclear Association (WNA) in its reference case projects 614 GWe of net nuclear capacity will be on line by 2030 for a forecasted growth of approximately 44%.

Most of the forecasted growth in nuclear power generation is slated to occur outside the U.S.  Currently, the U.S. has approximately 101 GWe of installed nuclear generating capacity and,  according the WNA forecast, U.S. capacity grows to 116 GWe by 2030 for only a modest grow of around 15%.  In contrast, growth outside the U.S. is projected to grow by 498 GWe, or just over 80 percent!

Worldwide, China has the largest forecasted growth of any country growing from 10.1 GWe in 2011 to 135.7 GWe . This is a grow rate of 1,343% over the period!  At this rate, China will have the largest number of nuclear plants and will have surpassed the U.S. in installed nuclear power capacity.

There is a message for U.S. policy makers in the projections of new nuclear power plant additions. The worldwide consensus is that nuclear energy is an important resource for future electricity supply and will be called on to provide an increasing share of generating electricity worldwide.  Without a national energy policy that fosters the construction of additional nuclear plants here at home, the U.S. is likely to fall further and further behind the world and therefore will have less and less influence on how nuclear energy is produced and  how sensitive nuclear fuel services, like enrichment and reprocessing, are deployed.