PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday March 29th, 2016, 6:07pm

Illinoisans Speak Out On Nuclear Waste During Energy Department Meeting

The U.S. Department of Energy is moving forward with developing a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities. The topic was the focus of a public meeting the DOE held in Chicago Tuesday. Progress Illinois provides highlights from the event.

The U.S. Department of Energy's plans to develop a consent-based siting process for nuclear waste facilities was the topic of a public meeting hosted in Chicago Tuesday. A consent-based siting process is designed to ensure that the public and all stakeholders are involved in determining the location of nuclear waste facilities.

The DOE is gathering written public comments on the topic now through June 30. In addition, DOE is hosting eight public meetings around the country to gather input on the issue, with the first having been held today in Chicago.

Tuesday's meeting featured a panel discussion with a diverse group of speakers, including Zion Mayor Al Hill.

Zion is home to a retired nuclear power plant, which ComEd shut down in 1998. On top of the retired Zion plant, Illinois has six active commercial nuclear plants, the most of any U.S. state.

Hill said the Zion community is housing 2.2 million pounds of spent fuel rods from the retired nuclear plant.

"There was never an understanding that once the plant closed, the Zion community would play host to a radioactive, and I'll be blunt here, a radioactive dump," he stressed. "That wasn't part of the deal that we were gonna be hosting these here. I speak for all of Zion when I say we do not want to be a storage facility for radioactive waste."

Hill said he wants the spent fuel rods removed, or his community compensated for becoming a "defacto interim fuel storage facility."

"With Yucca Mountain being scuttled in 2010, we're not naive enough to believe that these rods are going to be moved anytime soon," he said, referring to the once-proposed, long-term nuclear waste repository site in Nevada. "We therefore believe that in the meantime, until they are moved, our community should be compensated, and we also believe that the federal government should do the compensating."

Almost all existing spent nuclear fuel from commercial electricity generation is currently stored at facilities where it was generated, according to the DOE. Additionally, DOE has five storage sites for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from defense activities.

Last year, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced that the DOE would move forward with what the department describes as a "consent-based siting process to establish an integrated waste management system to transport, store, and dispose of commercial spent nuclear fuel and high-level defense radioactive waste."

Later this year, DOE plans to publish a summary report based on the public input it receives, which will be used to design a consent-based process for siting.

"In a consent-based siting approach, DOE will work with communities, tribal governments and states across the country that express interest in hosting any of the facilities identified as part of an integrated waste management system," according to the energy department. 

An integrated waste management system could include a pilot interim storage facility, a consolidated interim storage facility, and a permanent geologic repository for nuclear waste, among other potential sites.

"The federal government pays hundreds of millions of dollars a year right now out of something called the 'Judgement Fund' because of the government's inability, or failure, to start receiving nuclear waste as required under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1998," explained DOE's Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy John Kotek. The funds go to pay court judgements to utilities as compensation for storing the waste on their property.

"We think it makes sense to consolidate that material to one location with the capabilities there to manage that material safely for the long term," he added.

David Kraft, director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service, a Chicago-based non-profit focused on ending nuclear power, spoke to the need for "informed consent" in siting nuclear waste facilities. But before any new radioactive waste facilities are sited, Kraft said the DOE and other agency's dealing with nuclear waste in the United States need to fix their "enormous credibility gap." 

"The public lacks confidence in everything that's gone on before. Your history is very clear on how selective you are and what treaties, what agreements you will keep and which ones you will break, with or without consequence," Kraft said. "That's very hard to get a community to trust you, and move into an informed consent dialogue, under those circumstances."

Also on the panel was Kim Wasserman-Nieto with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, which helped shut down the Crawford and Fisk coal-fired power plant sites on Chicago's South Side.

She said any consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities should be open and transparent and specifically detail the potential health and environmental costs associated with such projects.

"A lot of times, our communities are sold on a notion of jobs and economic benefit," she said. "It's a very good conversation to say, 'This is how many jobs will be created. This is what the tax base is gonna be.' But a lot of times, our community, because we're so caught up in this conversation, because we may be economically distraught or for any number of reasons, nobody ever wants to talk about the health impacts, and the monetary cost of that associated with the other side."

Wasserman-Nieto went on to say that she expects it will be difficult finding communities that would be willing to house a nuclear storage site.

"Until we stop creating this waste, we're gonna continue to be in the same space and having the same conversation," she added.

Another panelist was Ann McCabe, a commissioner on the Illinois Commerce Commission and chair of the Nuclear Issues Subcommittee at the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC).

NARUC wants to see the administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission complete the process of determining whether Yucca Mountain can be licensed as a permanent geologic repository for nuclear waste. 

"NARUC believes the goal should be progress on the permanent repository," she said. "The interim site is by definition a temporary, and not inexpensive, measure to bridge the gap to a permanent repository, assuming it can be cost justified."

The DOE will hold its next consent-based siting meeting with the public in Atlanta on April 11, with events to follow in Sacramento, Denver, Boston, Tempe, Boston and Minneapolis.

Obama Hosting Nuclear Security Summit This Week

Today's discussion comes ahead of this week's Nuclear Security Summit, being held Thursday and Friday in Washington, D.C.

President Barack Obama is convening the fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit with leaders from 56 nations and organizations, with the goal of "advancing tangible improvements in nuclear security behavior and strengthening the global nuclear security architecture." The Obama administration held the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL,11), the only physicist currently in Congress, spoke on the House floor about the importance of strengthening global nuclear security.

In discussing the past Nuclear Security Summit gatherings, Foster said they have thus far "been instrumental in achieving critical nuclear security objectives, such as minimizing the use of highly enriched uranium in reactors around the world and enhancing membership in international organizations like the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]."

However, Foster stressed that "more remains to be done" on the issue.

"It is no secret that rogue regimes and clandestine organizations continue to exhibit the ambition to acquire nuclear materials that can be used to create crude radiological dirty bombs or nuclear weapons," the congressman said. "I am, however, optimistic that with our allies and partners around the world, we will continue to develop new and innovative ideas to secure vulnerable nuclear material and make the world a safer place."

Activists with Global Zero, an international movement for the elimination of nuclear weapons, are heading to Washington this week for demonstrations coinciding with the summit.

The group "will urge participating world leaders to expand their approach to reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism by advancing actionable plans for the phased, verified elimination of all nuclear weapons globally," reads a statement from Global Zero.

Chicago-based Global Zero activist Kylie Allen is among those traveling to Washington this week.

"Securing nuclear material is important, but there's no such thing as 'nuclear security' while there are more than 15,000 nukes in the world," Allen said. "Eliminating these weapons must be at the top of the agenda."

Image: AP/Robert Ray


Spent fuel is valuable because it is recyclable into new fuel.  It is not "waste" unless you waste it.

We don't recycle nuclear fuel because it is valuable and people steal it.   The place it went that it wasn't supposed to go to was Israel.   This happened in a small town near Pittsburgh, PA circa 1970.   A company called Numec was in the business of reprocessing nuclear fuel.   I almost took a job there, designing a nuclear battery for a heart pacemaker.   [A nuclear battery would have the advantage of lasting many times as long as any other battery, eliminating many surgeries to replace batteries.]     Other uses for radioactive elements from spent fuel:  cancer treatment, such as radioactive "grains" to put in your cancerous prostate.


Numec did NOT have a reactor.   Numec "lost" a quantity of spent fuel.   It wound up in Israel.   The Israelis have fueled  their nuclear reactors by stealing nuclear "waste."   It could work for any other country, such as Iran or the United States.   

It is only when you don't have access to nuclear "waste" that you have to do the difficult process of enriching uranium.   Numec is no longer in business.   They paid a $930,000 fine.   Private corporations must not be allowed to reprocess [recycle] spent fuel because the temptation/profit in diverting spent fuel to other places is too great.   My solution would be to reprocess the fuel at a Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] facility.   At a GOGO plant, bureaucracy and the multiplicity of ethnicity and religion would disable the transportation of uranium to Israel or to any unauthorized place.   Nothing heavier than a secret would get out.

 The problem is political:   The Republicans think GOGO plants are socialist/communist, which is nonsense.   A COCO [Contractor Owned Contractor Operated] plant can be the low bidder by being a front for Israel or some other country.   


2.   Use Fourth Generation reactors.   Generation 4 reactors have several advantages, such as being impossible to melt down and being capable of consuming all of the fuel with on site recycling.   The Modular High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor (MHTGCR) using helium as both coolant and working fluid can theoretically exceed 50% thermal efficiency.   That compares to 38% for other nuclear or 25% for coal.

Virgin uranium is so cheap that it is cheaper than recycling.  This will change eventually, which is why we keep the spent fuel where we can reach it.  The US possesses a lot of MOX fuel made from the plutonium removed from bombs.  MOX is essentially free fuel since it was paid for by the process of un-making bombs.


Please read this Book: "Plentiful Energy, The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor" by Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, 2011. Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, are former directors of the nuclear power research lab at Argonne National Lab near Chicago.

Per Till & Chang:   The Integral Fast Reactor [IFR] uses "nuclear waste" as fuel.  The IFR is commercially available.

The IFR is meltdown-proof.  The IFR can be turned up and down quickly and repeatably.   The IFR uses metal fuel that is recycled in a system that makes it difficult to get plutonium239 out of the fuel.  To make a good plutonium bomb, you must have almost pure plutonium239.  7% plutonium240 and higher isotopes or other actinides will spoil the bomb.  IFR Pyro process recycled fuel is useless for bomb making.


Elements with more protons than uranium are called trans-uranics alias actinides.  Actinides are the part of so-called nuclear "waste" that makes it stay radioactive for a long time.  The IFR uses up the actinides as fuel.  Actinides include plutonium, neptunium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium and all of the other "synthetic" elements.


The IFR is the ideal source of electricity since it does not make CO2.  The resultant "waste" is very small, will decay in only 300 years and is useful in medicine.

The following countries either already recycle spent fuel or are experimenting with a recycling process or both:

France, Japan Russia, China, India, South Korea.  

The US recycled spent fuel in the 1960s.


Purex process:  The old one.  Separates out plutonium, but does not separate the isotopes of plutonium.  Any bomb made with this plutonium from a powerplant reactor would fizzle.  You can't make a plutonium bomb with more than 7% Pu240.


Pyro process:  Leaves plutonium mixed with uranium and trans-uranic elements.  [All fissionable elements are kept together with uranium]

Other processes [wet] are also under development.

I repeat:  MOX fuel cannot be made back into bombs.  It doesn't work that way.   Spent fuel from commercial power plants cannot be made into bombs either because bombs need pure or nearly pure plutonium239.  Spent reactor fuel contains other isotopes of plutonium that cannot be separated from the Pu239.  To make bombs, the government uses its own special reactor that does nothing else but make pure Pu239.  

Nuclear power is the only way to stop making CO2 that actually works. To stop Global Warming, we must replace all large fossil fueled power plants with nuclear.


Renewable Energy mandates cause more CO2 to be produced, not less, and renewable energy doubles or quadruples your electric bill. The reasons are as follows:


Since solar "works" 15% of the time and wind "works" 20% of the time, we need either energy storage technology we don't have or ambient temperature superconductors and we don't have them either. Wind and solar are so intermittent that electric companies are forced to build new generator capacity that can load-follow very fast, and that means natural gas fired gas turbines. The gas turbines have to be kept spinning at full speed all the time to ramp up quickly enough. The result is that wind and solar not only double your electric bill, wind and solar also cause MORE CO2 to be produced.


We do not have battery or energy storage technology that could smooth out wind and solar at a price that would be possible to do. The energy storage would "cost" in the neighborhood of a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That is an imaginary price because we could not get the materials to do it if we had that much money.


The only real way to reduce CO2 production from electricity generation is to replace all fossil fueled power plants with the newest available generation of nuclear. Nuclear can load-follow fast enough as long as wind and solar power are not connected to the grid.  Generation 4 nuclear can ramp fast enough to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar, but there is no reason to waste time and money on wind and solar.



I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in the nuclear power industry.  My only interest is in stopping Global Warming.  My only income is from the US civil service retirement system.


I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in the electric utility industry, except that I buy electricity from the local utility.  I have never worked for the nuclear power industry.


If you actually do the math, as the electric utility industry has, you will find out that nuclear is the only replacement for fossil fuels that actually works.  


My nuclear experience is at the army's lab for nuclear weapons effects, specifically EMP.  That was a long time ago.

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