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Archive for the ‘Opinions’ Category

NTH: Up and Atom — What’s It Going To Take To Make Nuclear Cool Again

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020

NTH Reporter | January 22, 2020

This week our intrepid NTH reporter attended a “Up and Atom” morning briefing on Capitol Hill that featured as special guest Dr. Steven Ashly, the Director of DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and moderated U.S. Nuclear Industry Council’s (NIC) Bud Albright, former DOE Under Secretary.

Up and Atom event is a quarterly bi-partisan educational series sponsored by DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy and is designed as to be a conversation on topical nuclear energy issues and U.S. Lab innovations. These events are part of DOE NE’s efforts to meet former Secretary Rick Perry’s challenge of “making nuclear energy cool again.”

As aptly described by Dr. Ashly, PNNL is one of 17 national laboratories that represent the U.S. crown jewels of science and innovation and are supported by our federal government and managed by the DOE.  With a staff of over 4,700 people and annual budget of about $1 billion per year, PPNL is a dynamic engine of innovation – turning out one of two patents a day and one major documented invention a year according to Dr. Ashly. 

Historically established to support the nation’s Manhattan Project, PPNL is the nation’s premier chemistry and materials lab operating at the frontiers of science and engineering and is involved in all things nuclear including advance reactor development to national security to nuclear medicine. 

As part of its wheel house, Dr. Ashly reported that PNNL supports the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) licensing process for advanced reactors by performing the environment impact assessments  required by NEPA. With some obvious pride of accomplishment, Dr. Ashby stated that as a result of PNNL’s efforts, the time required for preparing TVA’s environmental assessment to support the Clinch River Early Site Permit was cut in half to two years from the four years it normally takes.

Now that’s progress and that’s what it is going to take to make nuclear cool again!

David Blee: A Triple-Crown Winner

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

By Tim Echols

Vice-Chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission

It was the France-Atlanta 2011 event at Georgia Tech where I first met David Blee. I moderated a panel on nuclear reprocessing, and Blee gave a keynote right after my panel.  I knew nothing about him, but that chance meeting started a nuclear-policy mentoring relationship.   He passed away recently. Here are three things I learned from David Blee.

First, there wasn’t any question I could ask him about nuclear energy, spent fuel, federal policy or future technologies that he didn’t have an immediate answer to.  He had been on the inside in both the legislative and executive branch of the federal government.  He had traveled the world visiting plants, speaking at conferences, eventually organizing conferences, and fact-gathering.  And because I’m an advocate at heart like David, we hit it off well.

Second, David was so direct, and that took some getting used to.  I remember wearing my “Commissioner name-tag” up in Washington and he told me I looked like a realtor and needed to “take that thing off” at events there. He had a sharp wit and didn’t hesitate to call you out on anything he found odd or out of place. If I did anything remotely unprofessional, he let me know it. Yet, as a young commissioner learning about federal policy, he sensed my hunger to learn and made many opportunities around the world available to me. He was loyal to me and his bluntness only made me a better person and official.

Finally, David was optimistic. I guess his work in the Thoroughbred Horse industry helped make him that way.   He believed that the United States could win again in the nuclear energy race.  He was the grand champion of advanced reactors and assembled groups of people around the world to talk about them.  He showcased the latest technologies and reminded me why Georgia finishing Plant Vogtle was critical on so many levels.  And probably most important, he believed in me.  That meant the world.

His institutional knowledge and political prowess will be missed.  RIP David Blee.


Tim Echols is Vice-Chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission.

LLEWELLYN KING: Why Doesn’t Elon Musk Thrill Us Like Tech Frontiersmen of Old?

Friday, February 9th, 2018

By Llewellyn King

I present to you the strange case of Elon Musk. Whatever he does, his detractors, or at least his minimizers, seem to control the narrative.

When his Falcon Heavy rocket — the largest and most sophisticated flying today — blasted into space on Feb. 6, there should've been a national outpouring of unabated joy.

Yet it only briefly edged out the news coverage of the GOP memo, emanating from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and its Democratic counter-memo. The greatest show on earth had it all: a rocket you could watch ascending, shedding its reusable stages and flying away, whimsically, with a sports car for a payload. 

It was a showcase of American technology and know-how. It was a clear statement that the individual can still triumph in the United States.

President Trump acknowledged the achievement, which was probably hard for him because he and Musk don't see eye to eye on global warming or much else. Musk’s visions are wildly futuristic, like populating Mars, while Trump is a man firmly rooted in the glories of the United States as an industrial power tethered to past strengths. Also, awkwardly, Musk is an immigrant who might've been kept out under Trump's policies.

But the general indifference and in some circles antipathy to Musk, goes far beyond politics. We embraced Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as tech heroes, the faces of the future. Musk less so or not at all; maybe because we've narrowed our view of what is exciting tech to the internet and its collaterals.

Although he made his first $500 selling a game program when he was 12, and his first billion as a founder of PayPal, Musk’s real claim to fame is as an engineer and physicist. His Tesla electric car may not survive as the industry leader, but today it is out front.

His rocket may not be the future of heavy-lift space vehicles, but it is the leader today: cheaper and with reusable stages. His SolarCity is not alone in seeking convert idle roofs to electricity sources, but it is a big player. And Musk’s batteries, though disappointing at the outset, may yet make grid-free houses a reality.

Yet Musk’s detractors are legion and effective. I know quite a few and they range from an electric company chairman (who accused him of lying and denounced him to me in the most vociferous tones), to financial seers (who question the viability of any of his companies), to conservatives (who believe that he's misused government funds, and his “private” company owes everything to government support). The transportation industry, almost to a man, believes Musk’s plan for an underground, people-mover vacuum tube is nuts.

I, too, have been in the ranks of the detractors, at least in part. I sought to have him correct a whopper about nuclear versus solar power. He had his sums wrong by a factor of hundreds.

Yet you have to love Musk for thinking on a scale that hasn't been seen for over half a century. He is a throwback to the great builder-engineers of the past: men who built the bridges, canals, dams and railroads, and electrified the United States.

As a nation, we used to be devoted to the big, the bold and the futuristic. Now, we've developed sophisticated ways of defeating big projects. 

After the 1960s we lost our passion for the big idea and the big machine, from nuclear power plants to big civil engineering. The late, great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) lamented this lack of courage to go big on a project. Westway – the highway for New York City's West Side — was defeated partly to protect the striped bass in New York Harbor. Moynihan said, “There is a kind of stasis that is beginning to settle into our public life. We cannot reach decision.”

I don't wish to live on Mars, I don't want to be whisked in a tube from Washington to New York. I'm even undecided whether I want to ride in space — but try me.

I don't know whether Musk will go broke, whether he'll overreach or whether he'll give the whole world a new frontier. But until (and if) a better dreamer comes along, I'm glad we have him reaching for the planets.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.

Lake Barrett: 20 Years Late but DOE Needs to Jumpstart Yucca Mountain and Consolidated Storage

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

By Lake Barrett | January 31, 2018

Twenty years ago today, as the Acting Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM), I had to publicly admit that the Federal Government, specifically the DOE, could not meet its lawful contractual obligation to start to remove spent nuclear fuel from America’s nuclear reactors on January 31, 1998.   Although ten billion plus dollars has been spent on science to demonstrate the safety of a proposed national repository at Yucca Mountain, petty election politicking is continuing to stop all progress on this critical environmental program.

So, today marks the 20th anniversary of the Department's failure to meet its contractual obligation to start removing spent nuclear fuel from commercial nuclear reactors.  This has come at great cost as Federal taxpayer liabilities are approaching $30 billion. Moreover, approximately 86,000 metric tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and defense waste remains stranded at over 121 sites in 39 states albeit safely on our rivers, lakes and seashores that are within 50 miles of over 150 million people.

No current removal schedule exists because no funding has been provided by Congress since 2010, although the U.S. House of Representatives has consistently advanced appropriations to fund the program.  Meanwhile, the Nation’s taxpayers have had to wastefully pay billions of dollars in damage payments for temporary reactor site storage when the waste should have been removed and placed in a safe underground Yucca Mountain geologic repository for permanent disposal. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after reviewing the Yucca Mountain License Application has issued five Safety Evaluation Reports deeming Yucca Mountain safe for waste disposal for a million years.  The next step in the process is to allow for challenges to their report in a public hearing phase before the NRC.  This public review process must continue.

This situation becomes worse as more of the U.S.’s older reactors shutdown leaving our grandchildren with an even greater problem to deal with.  Many leaders, like House Energy & Commerce Environmental Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, who has championed a bipartisan Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) amendments, President Trump, who has requested $120 million to restart the program and Energy Secretary Rick Perry either do or say the right things, but there is not enough political will, notably in the U.S. Senate, to overcome the constant Congressional political “wait until after the next election” drama.

Short of Congressional appropriations, Secretary Perry has executive action options to jumpstart OCRWM, which is statutorily prescribed under the NWPA.  His options include naming an acting director; nominating a director for Senate confirmation; and using an estimated $10 million in carryover funding to make preparations to restart the Yucca Mountain licensing process (as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is doing).   This action would send a clear signal that DOE is serious about discharging its legal and statutory obligations after eight years of study, review, delay and distraction during the Obama Administration.

The Nation has been fortunate nothing significant, other than the waste of billions of dollars, has happened with the left behind spent nuclear fuel for the past twenty years.  Who knows what the price of inaction will be for the next 20 years if this vicious cycle is not broken?  If I had known that the Federal system would politically fail so badly over the last 20 years, I would have chosen a different path back in 1998.  It is way past time for our current leaders to move forward.  We can’t afford not to.


Lake Barrett was the Acting Director of the DOE Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste from 1993 to 2002.

Jeff Beattie, Energy Daily: Senate GOP leaders seen slowing Yucca project to save Heller–and majority

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

January 16, 2018 | BY JEFF BEATTIE | Energy Daily

Despite solid support from President Trump and Republican legislative leaders, the long-delayed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project appears to have hit a wall in the Senate due to increasing concerns among Republican leaders about helping embattled Nevada GOP Sen. Dean Heller win re-election so they can keep their narrowing majority, some industry sources say.

The sources say the recent loss of a GOP-held seat in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones significantly increased the anxiety of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) by reducing Republicans’ majority in the Senate to a scant 51-49 margin. They say McConnell now appears likely to give Heller free rein to bash the Yucca project in order to score political points in Nevada, where the proposed repository is unpopular.

The Senate’s failure to move on the Energy Department nuclear waste disposal project—which is already decades behind schedule—has exasperated Yucca supporters in the House, where legislation to rejuvenate the repository was approved in committee in the spring, only to then languish despite Trump administration calls to advance the effort.

Industry sources grumble that McConnell’s political worries about Heller’s seat appear likely to keep the Yucca project on ice for the remainder of 2018—notwithstanding Republican’s previous criticism that President Obama illegally obstructed development of the repository to meet the political desires of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), a fierce Yucca opponent.

Perhaps the clearest sign of McConnell’s concern about Heller came in July when Senate leaders who have long supported the Yucca project provided no funding for it in a fiscal year 2018 spending bill, a surprise move for which Heller promptly claimed credit.

“I am the only person standing between Yucca Mountain happening and not happening,” Heller told Nevada reporters in October.

Republicans’ efforts to boost Heller have become even more noticeable in recent months. The Nevada senator has been prominently positioned next to McConnell or President Trump at high-profile events, including last month’s signing of GOP tax reform legislation, in what looks like an effort to generate footage for campaign usage.

Despite that, Heller trails Danny Tarkanian, who is backed by Steve Bannon, in polls on the Republican primary contest in Nevada. A late October poll had Tarkanian, a five-time loser in previous statewide Nevada elections, leading Heller by six points.

“McConnell seems to be bending over backwards for Heller, but Heller keeps falling farther and farther behind in his bid for re-election,” said one industry source who wants to see progress on Yucca. “At some point you would think McConnell would want Heller to show some indication that there is actually some way for him to win.”

McConnell’s office did not respond to requests for comment on allegations that he was blocking Yucca to help Heller.

A spokeswoman for Heller also did not respond to those assertions and instead forwarded a Heller statement contending the Yucca project was unsafe for Nevada residents.

“Nevada continues to reject Yucca Mountain not only because of the threat it poses to the people of southern Nevada and those living along the proposed transportation routes, but it also threatens the tourism industry that is the backbone of our economy,” Heller said.

“A state without a single nuclear power plant should not have to shoulder the entire nation’s nuclear waste burden,” he continued. “Instead of pursuing a failed project that has already cost taxpayers billions of dollars, the administration should pursue the only sustainable path forward: a consent-based siting approach”—meaning the Obama administration’s plan to find a state to volunteer to host the repository for money and economic benefits.

Industry sources complain that the GOP campaign to save Heller is irresponsible because Yucca Mountain was formally designated by Congress as the nation’s only repository project for spent commercial reactor fuel and high-level radioactive waste from past nuclear weapons production.

One source also suggests Senate leaders are wrong to block $120 million in funds proposed by the Trump administration for Yucca because continued delays in the project will expose the federal government to more damage claims from nuclear utilities. Utilities already have extracted tens of millions of dollars in damage payments from DOE over its failure to fulfill contractual obligations to take their spent nuclear fuel for disposal.

“The GOP Senate seems intent on blocking $120 million to solve the nuclear waste problem, but are okay with spending $720 million per year in liability for not solving it,” said the source.

Pro-Yucca lawmakers and industry officials are even more frustrated because 2017 was supposed to mark the end of delay for Yucca due to the retirement of Reid and Obama.

Reid spent his 30-year Senate career blocking progress on the repository, which he contended was unsafe and unfairly foisted on Nevadans by the federal government. Over his last eight years in office, Reid convinced Obama to halt work on the project.

But by early 2017 both were gone, and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s environment subcommittee, began moving legislation (H.R. 3053) designed to fix the major problems facing the project, including dealing with land access and funding.

Energy Daily

Chuck Eaton and Tim Echols, Georgia Public Service Commissioners: Pressing Forward with Nuclear Energy & Plant Vogtle

Thursday, December 21st, 2017

By Georgia Public Service Commissioners Chuck Eaton and Tim Echols

As two of your elected PSC Commissioners that regulate utilities in Georgia, we often have to explain to people exactly what we do and the positions we take on difficult issues that come before us from time to time.   Every six years you see our name on your statewide ballot and count on us to make sure Georgia’s gas, electricity and phone systems are state-of-the-art, reliable and reasonably priced. Ultimately,  our job and role is about building infrastructure that ensures reliability and low cost of service over the long term.  Here is why our decision on the Plant Vogtle nuclear project expansion mattered.

Plant Vogtle is Georgia’s premiere nuclear site on the Savannah River just south of Augusta.  Together, the two existing Vogtle units produce annually nearly 17 million megawatt-hours of baseload, around the clock, electricity. The units came on-line in 1987 and 1989 amidst cost overruns and controversy, but now serve the state’s energy consumers with carbon-free electricity at ultra-low prices.  And here we are again—with the plant’s 3rd and 4th units running behind schedule and set to cost substantially more than we anticipated and Georgia Power forecasted.   But hindsight is not only 20-20—it is helpful to us as commissioners as we weighed the pros and cons of finishing what is possibly the largest construction project in the country.  

Let’s start with low rates. Affordable electricity and a reliable grid are what companies looking to locate new facilities or relocate to a new state often look for.  As commissioners, we froze Georgia Power’s base rates in 2013 and they will remain frozen until Georgia Power’s next rate case in 2019. Those Vogtle reactors built in the 80’s now provide some of the cheapest power in the state.  Based on a consulting study by the Brattle Group, a single nuclear plant produces about $450 million annually in sales of goods and services in the local community.  Moreover, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics show the median nuclear plant operator earns an average annual wage of $91,170, so the 800 permanent jobs created by these new reactors will go a long way to boost the Georgia economy too.  So too are the 6000 construction jobs now on site at the plant. Ceasing construction on the new units would have been like pulling $115 million in annual payroll from the regional economy.  In lieu of building this project, we could consider shorter-term options such as “leasing” a gas plant or out-of-state wind turbines.  But having Georgia-grown nuclear power that can last 80 years provides reliable baseload electricity over the longer term despite the higher upfront costs. Georgia Power also looked at renewable energy. In this case, the total cost to replace Vogtle capacity with solar PV coupled with battery storage is roughly $25 billion, accounting for a 60-year asset life.  That’s $7 billion for 4,000 megawatts of solar panels, and another $18 billion for 3000 megawatts of lithium ion batteries.  And these estimates don’t include the cost of the 30,000 acres of land needed.

Fast forward to our inbox this week. Subject lines of “Uneconomic,” “Cancel Vogtle,” and “Punish the power company” came in faster than we could respond.  And we most certainly understand the frustration from our ratepayers.  For this very reason, we voted this week to put in place risk-sharing mechanisms to save consumers money—especially if the project runs later than expected.  Even as we approved a new higher cost and schedule for the beleaguered project, we have imposed penalties on Georgia Power reducing their overall revenue collection from current ratepayers by over $1.7 billion.  And at the end of the project, we are prepared to disallow every single penny of imprudent expenditures—including schedule delays because of such. 

One thing was clear to most who know us.  We wanted to finish this new nuclear plant—the only one of its kind in North America.  We believe that nuclear energy makes sense in a day when baseload coal plants are disappearing due to early retirements and increased regulations.   We also know that the United States must maintain nuclear superiority in an age when Russia and China are building dozens of reactors and exporting their technology.  Georgia consumers benefit from the affordable and reliable energy made available from the diverse fuel mix we have throughout our state.

Let’s be honest. It was the bankruptcy of Westinghouse, the prime Vogtle project contractor and reactor designer, that has put us in the pickle we are in.  All the protections we had built into their contract were made null and void by their self-serving action to walk away from their contract with Georgia Power. However, it is important to note that Toshiba, Westinghouse’s parent company has paid a significant penalty for Westinghouse’s failure – $3.68 billion or 40 percent of the original contract price.  This payment will reduce the cost of the project and that benefits customers.  That payment made a difficult vote a little better.

We have appreciated the feedback from many in the communities we represent urging us to complete this important project.  Doing so will help Georgia continue to be the best place to do business in America.

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



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!




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 

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 ( 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."




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




  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.


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.