Nuclear Waste

One Day Son All This Will Be YoursNuclear waste generated by nuclear power reactors is extremely dangerous to health and the environment for thousands of years.

Ratepayers and taxpayers fund billions of dollars to store this highly radioactive nuclear waste.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) states the waste may need to be stored at current sites for 60 to 300+ years, since there is no permanent storage solution. None of the current U.S. storage canisters are designed for this length of storage and may crack within 30 years.

WIPP leaking canister DOE photo

WIPP leaking canister DOE photo

The only current geological repository for some types of nuclear waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is shut down due an exploding waste storage canister.  The residents were promised it would be safe for at least 1000 years, but it leaked radiation into the environment in less than 15 years due to a failed steel storage container. The cause of the New Mexico nuclear waste accident remains a mystery.

The Hanford nuclear waste storage site in Washington has continuous problems with leaking steel containers and the waste has infiltrated groundwater near the Columbia River. Numerous attempts to improve the situation have failed.

What can we do to ensure the nuclear waste at all the nuclear plants around the country doesn’t leak radiation into the environment?

The NRC and Department of Energy (DOE) are overly influenced by the nuclear industry, so we cannot count on them to protect us. The nuclear industry has influence over our Congress (both Democrats and Republicans) and the Senate has control over the NRC’s budget.

It is up to citizens to become educated on the facts and educate other and our elected officials.  The public and our local, state and federal elected officials have been given misinformation about the safety of nuclear waste and about the ability to safely store it.  All waste storage methods have serious risks, but some are safer than others.  

We must insist the waste containers are as safe as possible, that they are designed so they can be easily and reliably monitored and fully inspected as they age, and that there is a realistic mitigation plan, in case of potential failure. That is not happening today.  Learn the facts here and then take action now.  We don’t have much time…

Dry storage containers may crack within 30+ years

This is SanOnofreSafety.org founder Donna Gilmore’s presentation to the NRC on dry cask nuclear waste storage issues, delivered by invitation as part of an NRC Regulatory Conference held Nov. 19-20, 2014 in Rockville, Maryland.  Why are the NRC and Southern California Edison favoring inferior, short-lived, thin-walled, unsafe stainless steel canisters to store San Onofre’s tons of nuclear waste in a corrosive seaside environment instead of the long-lasting, thick-walled, top-of-the-line technology available?

Gilmore presents a strong case for regulators and utilities to take the lead in setting the highest possible standards for America’s growing inventory of radioactive waste that will remain deadly for hundreds of thousands of years longer than human civilization has yet existed. With no safe long-term storage sites having been found despite over half a century of attempts to find them, Gilmore urges officials not to ‘play bureaucratic roulette’ with the future of California and the rest of the nation.

Link to full slide presentation here.

The NRC technical staff stated the stainless steel nuclear waste dry storage canisters used throughout the U.S. may crack within 30 years from stress corrosion cracking in marine environments.  And there is no current technology to inspect or repair these canisters for cracks and no current method to replace these canisters.  Other stainless steel products can be inspected and repaired, but that technology cannot currently be used for canisters filled with nuclear fuel waste.

The nuclear waste containers used in the U.S. were not designed to last for more than 20 to 40 years. The NRC is evaluating unresolved critical aging management issues. For example:

Stress Corrosion Cracking NRC Slide2 07-14-2014

Stress Corrosion Cracking NRC Slide 2 07-14-2014

NRC metallurgist Darrell Dunn said cracks of the thin (1/2 to 5/8 inch) stainless steel spent fuel containers may occur within 30 years. This is of particular concern near coastal environments. These dry storage containers are the primary radiation barrier to the highly radioactive spent fuel.

NRC 08-05-2014 Slide 9 Power Plant with SCC

Through-wall stress corrosion cracking

Power plant operating experience with stress corrosion cracking of stainless steel shows estimated crack growth rate of up to 0.91 mm (0.036 inch)/year for cold metal. Hotter metal, such as spent fuel dry storage canisters, will have increased crack growth rate, although initiation of the crack may take longer. The Koeberg South Africa plant 304L stainless steel refueling water storage tank (RWST) had a crack 15.5 mm (0.61 inch) deep within 17 years, which is deeper than the thickness of most U.S. canisters (0.61 inch vs 0.5 to 0.625 inch thick). See 8/5/2014 NRC presentation: Chloride-Induced Stress Corrosion Cracking Tests and Example Aging Management Program.

Unknown conditions on actual spent fuel storage canisters

No inspections of dry storage canister

Crack initiation is an unknown variable, since the nuclear industry has not been inspecting installed dry storage canisters and has yet to develop a method to inspect them for cracks.

However, a  2014 inspection for sea salts, found sea salt crystals on a Diablo Canyon canister that had only been loaded for two years.  Only two Diablo canisters were inspected, ranging from only 2 to 3.5 years in service with heat load of 15 to 20 kW at time of loading.    The canister loaded for only two years had sea salts and a low enough temperature range to trigger the corrosive environment needed for stress corrosion cracking initiation — much sooner than the NRC expected.  See Understanding the Environment on the Surface of Spent Nuclear Fuel Interim Storage Containers, Charles R. Bryan and David G. Enos, Sandia National Laboratories, PSAM 12, June 2014

Diablo Canyon Jan 2014 Inspection DOE slide

The Diablo Canyon canisters measured temperatures ranged from 49°C (120°F) to 118°C (245°F). Calculated temperatures ranged from 60°C (140°F) to 105°C (221°F). Lid – measured temperatures ranged from 87°C (188°F) to 97°C (207°F).  

Salt deliquescence can occur on interim storage containers only over a small part of the temperature and relative humidity (RH) range that the storage containers will experience. A reasonable maximum possible absolute humidity is 40-45 g/m3; for sea salts, this corresponds to a maximum temperature of deliquescence of ~85ºC. Reference: Data Report on Corrosion Testing of Stainless Steel SNF Storage Canisters, FCRD-UFD-2013-000324, Sandia Lab, September 30, 2013.

EPRI In Service Inspection DSC-01-28-2014

Limited inspection of sample canisters EPRI 1/28/2014

The NRC has no current mitigation plan for stress corrosion cracks, no adequate inspection plan, and no ability to monitor for helium leaks (which would be an early indicator of canister failure).  The NRC frequently follows ASME manufacturing standards. However, ASME does not have spent fuel canister standards for “subcritical crack growth from stress corrosion cracking (SCC), and its impact on inspection intervals and acceptance criteria.”  Instead, the NRC said canisters with corrosion and/or SCC must be evaluated for continued service in accordance with ASME B&PV Code Section XI IWB-3514.1 and IWB-3640 (which limits cracks to no more than 75% through-wall).

DOE Data Report SCC Sandia Chart 09-30-2013

Over 30% humidity and under ~ 85 degrees Centigrade for SCC, DOE Sandia Chart 09-30-2013

The ability to inspect these canisters for cracks is limited due to inadequate technology.  The NRC is allowing 5 years for the nuclear industry to develop an inspection solution. However, the design of U.S. stainless steel sealed canisters (with unsealed concrete overpacks/casks) makes it difficult to inspect even the exterior of the canisters.  See details:

…Leak detection is not a reliable indicator of CLSCC [chloride stress corrosion cracking] because cracks are highly branched and may be filled with corrosion products. Nevertheless, it is recommended that where pipework or vessels develop leaks in service, they should always be investigated for possible CLSCC by NDE non-destructive examinations] or by in-situ metallography.

CLSCC can generate very large cracks in structures where, as in the case of reactors, the residual stress from welding dominates and operational stresses are low by comparison. If undetected by NDE, the large cracks might introduce failure modes with consequences that were not anticipated by the original design, e.g. complete separation of attachments, toppling of tall columns under wind loading or collapse of long pipe runs due to self-weight.

The simplest and most effective NDE technique for detecting CLSCC is dye penetrant testing. Eddy Current Testing (ECT) is effective with purpose-designed probes that have been calibrated on known defects. ECT was found to be ineffective on the samples from the reactor due to limited penetration of the current and sensitivity to surface imperfections that could not be distinguished from cracking.

Crack sizing by eddy current testing may be limited and is not possible by penetrant testing.

Ultrasonic flaw detection can be applied as a manual or an automated NDE technique for detecting CLSCC. For structures with complex design features and welds as on the reactors, the trials indicated that ultrasonic testing would require a range of probes, several complimentary scans and be very time consuming. Ultrasonic flaw detection did not cover all design details and possible crack position orientations found on the reactor, and crack sizing was difficult.

NRC Proposed Aging Management

The NRC recommends that only one canister at each plant needs to be inspected within the first 20 years after fuel loading and then inspect that same canister every 5 years.  

Initially, they are recommending inspection within 25 years in order to give the industry 5 years to develop an inspection solution.

The NRC wants the inspection to occur prior to relicensing and wants it as a condition of licensing.

The nuclear industry doesn’t want to inspect even one canister at each plant and wants the NRC to relicense canisters prior to any inspection of any canisters.  See July 14-15, 2014 Meeting to Obtain Stakeholder Input on Potential Changes to Guidance for Renewal of Spent Fuel Dry Cask Storage System Licenses and Certificates of Compliance.

NRC staff plans to revise NUREG-1927, “Standard Review Plan for Renewal of Spent Fuel Dry Cask Storage System Licenses and Certificates of Compliance, March 2011, in Spring of 2015, now that it’s known the dry storage systems have aging issues and must last for 60 to 300+ years.

The NRC Division of Spent Fuel Management is limited their aging management research to the thin canister designs, due to budget concerns. They are ignoring the fact that the thick cask designs would eliminate many of the problems that the thin canisters have.  Instead, they are setting the safety standards lower.

U.S. utility companies choose the inferior steel/concrete canister designs due to cost.  According to the National Research Council of the National Academies (2006), Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage, National Academies Press, Washington D.C., page 63.

The vendors informed the committee that cost is the chief consideration for their customers when making purchasing decisions. Cost considerations are driving the cask industry away from all-metal [thick] cask designs and toward [steel/]concrete designs for storage.

Casks used in other countries have superior features to the U.S. canisters 

  • Thicker walls (e.g., 14 to 20 inches thick) vs. 1/2 to 5/8 inch thick.
  • Ability to remotely monitor for helium leaks.
  • Ability to easily inspect the exterior of the canisters.
  • Not subject to stress corrosion cracking.
  • Not subject to concrete degradation. Concrete overpacks/casks are not needed.
  • Robust radiation protection for both storage and transport.
  • There are short and long term storage issues with all cask designs. Adequate aging management and mitigation solutions are critical. The steel/concrete designs do not have these.
  • The German ductile cast iron casks (e.g., CASTOR) perform in an exemplary manner and do not have embrittlement issues according to this Sandia National Laboratories report, Fracture Mechanics Based Design for Radioactive Material Transport Packagings Historical Review, SAND98-0764 UC-804, April 1998

The numerous studies cited show that DI [ductile iron] is a well characterized material that does have sufficient fracture toughness to produce a containment boundary for RAM [radioactive material transport] packagings that will be safe from brittle fracture. All the drop tests discussed in this report were conducted using DI packagings and the studies indicate that even with drop tests exceeding the severity of those specified in 10CFR71 the DI packagings perform in an exemplary manner. [page 53]

The use of a fracture mechanics based design for the radioactive material transport (RAM) packagings has been the subject of extensive research for more than a decade. Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) has played an important role in the research and development of the application of this technology. Ductile iron has been internationally accepted as an exemplary material for the demonstration of a fracture mechanics based method of RAM packaging design and therefore is the subject of a large portion of the research discussed in this report. SNL’s extensive research and development program, funded primarily by the U. S. Department of Energy’s Office of Transportation, Energy Management & Analytical Services (EM-76) and in an auxiliary capacity, the office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, is summarized in this document along with a summary of the research conducted at other institutions throughout the world. In addition to the research and development work, code and standards development and regulatory positions are also discussed. [Abstract]

The proposed use of ferritic materials for packaging containment has not been without controversy and critics. Ferritic materials, unlike austenitics, such as stainless steel, may exhibit a failure mode transition with decreasing temperatures and/or increasing loading rates from a ductile, high-energy failure mode to a brittle, low-energy fracture mode at below-yield stress levels. Regulators have thus been justifiably cautious regarding the use of ferritics for RAM package applications and have indicated that certification of such packages would require extensive confirmatory research and supporting data (although ferritic RAM packages for storage applications have been certified by the NRC). However, the general conclusion of the research reported herein is that appropriate engineering design methodologies exist which, when rigorously applied to RAM transport packaging conditions and environments, warrant the use of suitable ferritic materials for packaging containment. This report summarizes the Sandia work in support of that conclusion. The report also cites and references parallel research and conclusions of other institutions. [page viii]

Dr. Wolfgang Steinwarz, Executive Vice President of the German dry cask manufacturer Siempelkamp – whose highly robust nuclear waste storage containers are in use around the world (with only limited use in the U.S.) – explains how his company’s technology is setting a high international bar for safe, long-term radioactive waste containment. Dr. Steinwarz is an internationally renown expert in ductile cast iron technology.  This is his presentation from the November 19-20, 2014 NRC Annual Regulatory Conference, held in Rockville, Maryland.

NRC Branch Chief Aladar Csontos said a cask design similar to the CASTOR V/21 would probably be a safer choice in a coastal environment such as San Onofre, although all canister designs have potential problems.

Intergrain Stress Corrosion Cracking

This micrograph (X500) illustrates intergranular stress corrosion cracking of an Inconel heat exchanger tube with the crack following the grain boundaries. Photo Metallurgical Technologies.

In contrast, NRC’s Darrell Dunn estimates U.S. thin stainless steel canisters may have through-wall cracks within 8 years after the crack appears, due to the higher heat loads allowed in U.S. canisters. He said once a crack appears in a canister, the heat level of the canister determines how fast the crack will spread through the canister.

The NRC is continually approving higher heat loads in dry canisters, increasing the number of spent fuel assemblies allowed in a canister, and increasing allowable fuel burnup and uranium enrichment.

The nuclear plants are shortening cooling times for higher burnup spent fuel, which increases safety risks. The spent fuel pools are overcrowded, so the nuclear plants need to move spent fuel out of the pools in order to make room for more nuclear waste.

Technical Data Gaps: Unsolved critical issues for nuclear waste storage and transportation

  • There are critical gaps in knowledge for safely storing nuclear waste, in spite of the nuclear industry and NRC saying it’s safe.  This January 14, 2013 INMM Spent Fuel Management Seminar presentation outlines 26 of these major gaps in knowledge. This includes both short term and long term storage problems and problems in addition to high burnup used fuel [see Data Gap Summarization slide]. Also, the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy (DOE-NE), Office of Fuel Cycle Technology states

    01-14-2013 INMMS Data Gap Slide

    INMM Spent Fuel Management Seminar XXVIII January 14, 2013

“…there are a collective total of 94 technical data gaps identified by the various reports to support extended storage and transportation of [Used Nuclear Fuel] UNF”. 

…”Because limited information is available on the properties of high burnup fuel (exceeding 45 gigawatt- days per metric ton of uranium [GWd/MTU]), and because much of the fuel currently discharged from today’s reactors exceeds this burnup threshold, a particular emphasis of this [Used Fuel Disposition Campaign (UFDC)] program is on high burnup fuels.”

High Burnup Fuel: Unsafe in storage & transport

Vertical Dry Cask Storage

Vertical Dry Cask Storage, DOE Hanson

Most nuclear plants now use high burnup fuel, which is over twice as hot and over twice as radioactive as fuel originally approve for use by the NRC.

The NRC has so little confidence in the safety of high burnup spent nuclear fuel, they have taken these actions:

The NRC approved high burnup fuel (greater than 45 GigaWatt days per metric ton of uranium (>45 GWd/MTU)) in the 1990’s based on how it performed in reactors. They did not consider the consequences of storage of the spent fuel.  High burnup fuel is low enriched uranium (up to 5% U-235) that is allowed to burn over twice as long in reactors.  Experimental data suggests fuel with burnup as low as 30 GWd/MTU shows signs of premature failure.  And this November 23, 1976  memo to Prairie Island indicates the NRC was concerned about high burnup (defined then as >20 GWd/tU).

U.S. Spent Fuel Pools at Capacity NRC 3-29-2012

U.S. Spent Fuel Pools at Capacity NRC 3-29-2012

The nuclear industry switched to high burnup fuel because it can burn longer in a reactor, increasing industry profits.  However, it reduces our safety. 

Nuclear plants’ spent fuel pools are filling to capacity. After densely double racking their spent fuel pools (another safety problem), using high burnup fuel allows them to delay or avoid procuring expensive dry cask storage systems.  

This is an example of the NRC and nuclear industry putting profits before safety. See high burnup fuel summary below, followed by government and technical documents that substantiate these facts. Some nuclear experts, even at the NRC, are not aware of all this information.  

High Burnup Fuel Summary

High-burnup of fuel (greater than 40,000 MWD/MTU) causes effects, such as wall thinning from increased oxidation and increased internal rod pressure from fission gas buildup, and changes in fuel dimensions that must be evaluated. The SAR should use conservative values for surface oxidation thickness. Oxidation may not be of a uniform thickness along the qxial length of the fuel rods and average values may under predict wall thinning. Temperature limits will be more restrictive with increased fuel cooling time (and/or increased burnup), largely as a result of creep cavitation.

Nuclear Waste Handouts

This video explains in seven minutes why what is happening with San Onofre’s nuclear fuel waste and other nuclear fuel waste around the country is incredibly dangerous and why it’s important for everyone to know about this. Residents must pressure the NRC, utility owners, local, state and federal regulators and elected officials to do everything they can to make sure nuclear waste storage decisions are based on safety, not profits. Cutting corners on design, materials and personnel puts all of Southern California, major seaports and the nation’s food supply at risk.

Dry Storage Canisters and Casks

Castor V/19 assembly cask 19.685" thick

Castor V/19 assembly cask 19.685″ thick

The U.S. dry storage canisters at San Onofre and most other U.S. nuclear plants are only 1/2″ to 5/8″ thick stainless steel.

In other countries, such as Germany, 14″ to 20″ thick ductile cast iron canisters/casks are used, such as the CASTOR V/19.

The U.S. nuclear industry could have chosen the thick CASTOR sealed ductile cast iron casks (e.g., the V/21 approved by the NRC).

NUHOMS 24 assembly canister 5/8" thick

NUHOMS 24 assembly canister 5/8″ thick

Instead, they use lower quality canisters, choosing profits over our safety.  It’s up to us to change this. Insist on higher quality canisters for waste that will be stored on-site at nuclear plants around the country for decades, if not longer.

The NRC only approves dry storage systems requested by manufacturers for approval. The manufacturers only request approval if they have a utility customer that wants to buy their systems.  The NRC prioritize their workload based on customer needs. Therefore, in order to have the NRC approve a better dry storage system, the utility companies must be encouraged to procure safer and more long lasting dry casks sytems.

Holtec HI-STORM 37 assembly canister 1/2" thick

Holtec HI-STORM 37 assembly canister 1/2″ thick

The dry storage systems used in the U.S. require thick concrete overpacks because the thin stainless steel canisters do not protect from gamma rays and neutrons. The concrete overpacks are not sealed and do not provide protection from Cesium and other types of radiation, so we’re dependent on the welded stainless steel canisters to contain the radiation. Fuel cladding is supposed to provide another layer of protection. However, damaged fuel cladding removes this protection.

 

 

Penetration Alpha Beta Gamma Nutrons

Water and polymers also shield neutrons.

Since the thin stainless steel canisters do not protect workers from gamma rays and neutrons, it is dangerous and difficult for them to inspect canisters for corrosion and cracks.  Inspection of even the exterior of the thin steel canisters is not done, once the canister is loaded with spent fuel and inserted into the overpack.

Magnastor 37 assembly 1/2" thick

Magnastor 37 assembly canister 1/2″ thick

Three canister manufacturers and designs used in the U.S are Areva (Transnuclear) NUHOMS, Holtec above and underground (UMAX) systems and NAC MAGNASTOR dry storage systems.

See Details on U.S. approved canisters:  Storage and Transport Cask Data  For Used Commercial Nuclear Fuel, 2013 U.S. Edition, 13 ATI-TR-13047.

Southern California Edison is considering only the Holtec UMAX and Areva NUHOMS 32PTH2 systems. Both these thin canister systems have licenses pending at the NRC. Comments were submitted to the NRC by various groups and individuals recommending licensing not be approved.

High Burnup Fuel Details

  • High burnup fuel definition:  “Burnup” refers to the amount of power extracted from the fuel, typically stated in gigawatt-days per metric ton of uranium (GWd/MTU).  U.S. nuclear plants have been shifting from lower burnup (less than approximately 45 GWd/MTU) to higher burnup fuels (above 45 GWd/MTU) in recent years, and continued research is needed to better understand the impacts, if any, of high burnup fuels on storage, transportation, and disposal.  The NRC and DOE define anything above 45 GWd/MTU as high burnup fuel, although fuel as low as 30 GWd/MTU can present performance problems. See more information below.
  • Experimental data over the last twenty years suggest that fuel utilizations as low as 30 GWd/MTU can present performance issues including cladding embrittlement under accident conditions as well as normal operations. These cladding performance issues need to be addressed before extended fuel utilization fuel can be loaded into dry casks and transportation systems.  See DOE A Project Concept for Nuclear Storage and Transportation, SRNL, June 15, 2013. 

    Cross Section Fuel Rod Significant Radial Hydride Orientation DE-NE-0000593

    Cross-section of fuel rod with significant radial hydride orientation. EPRI Final Test Plan Page 3-25.

…The uncertainties in material property and the elevated ductile to brittle transition temperature impose a challenge to the storage cask and transportation packaging designs because the cask designs may not be able to rely on the structural integrity of the fuel assembly for control of fissile material, radiation source, and decay heat source distributions. The fuel may reconfigure during further storage and/or the subsequent transportation conditions. In addition, the fraction of radioactive materials available for release from spent fuel under normal condition of storage and transport may also change. The …(NRC) is working with the scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to assess the impact of fuel reconfiguration on the safety of the dry storage systems and transportation packages. The NRC Division of Spent Fuel Storage and Transportation has formed a task force to work on the safety and regulatory concerns in relevance to high burnup fuel storage and transportation. Source: Regulatory Perspective on Potential Fuel Reconfiguration and Its Implication to High Burnup Spent Fuel Storage and Transportation – 13042, WM2013 Conference, February 24-28, 2013, Phoenix, Arizona, Zhian Li, Meraj Rahimi, David Tang, Mourad Aissa, Michelle Flaganan, NRC;  John C. Wagner, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

High Burnup Fuel: New Zirconium fuel claddings Zirlo and M5 have higher failure risk

Cladding failures with newer cladding types

Newer cladding failures M5 & Zirlo  DOE slide12

Newer Zirconium alloy claddings (Zirlo and M5) degrade faster with high burnup fuel than earlier claddings, such as Zircaloy-4. San Onofre and other plants are approved for use of M5 cladding. Diablo Canyon uses Zirlo cladding.

High Burnup Fuel Demonstration Project is not a solution

Dominion TN-32 Load Plan 10-07-2014slide7

TN-32 cask loading plan. Click to enlarge

The NRC and DOE propose a “Demonstration Program” (High Burnup Dry Storage Project) for the industry to prove they can safely store high burnup fuel for another 20 years. However, the proposal doesn’t include developing better designs or materials for the dry canisters, and it requires the invention of instrument sensor technology that does not currently exist. Also, Dr. Einziger said it is up to the nuclear industry to solve this problem.  However, the industry has known about this problem for decades, yet has no solution. They continue to use high burnup fuel, putting profits before safety.

High Burnup Fuel: U.S. Inventory

Data on this mandatory form are collected under authority of the Federal Energy Administration Act of 1974 (15 USC Schedule 761 et seq.), and the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, as amended (42 USC 10101 et seq.). Failure to file after receiving Energy Information Administration (EIA) notification may result in criminal fines, civil penalties and other sanctions as provided by the law. Data being collected on this form are not considered to be confidential. Title 18 U.S.C. 1001 makes it a criminal offense for any person knowingly and willingly to make to any Agency or Department of the United States any false, fictitious, or fraudulent statements as to any matter within its jurisdiction.

    • Some of the Table 7 DOE inventory data appears to be based on projections rather than actual inventory.  It also appears there may be a problem obtaining current inventory data from the nuclear industry. See this quote from the DOE report’s Conclusion (page 14):

This report provides the inventory of used nuclear fuel being stored in the United States based upon publicly available resources. It includes the most current projections of used fuel discharges from operating reactors. It includes a status of negotiations between DOE and industry. These negotiations are ongoing and are expected to result in a framework for cooperation between the Department and industry in which industry will provide and specific information on used fuel inventory and the Department will compensate industry for the material required for R&D and TEF activities.

  • Over 200 dry casks contain high burnup fuel.  The first high burnup fuel was loaded in 2003 at Maine Yankee. Maine Yankee loaded their high burnup fuel assemblies in “damaged fuel cans” as a safety precaution.  However, they may be the only nuclear plant that has done this. See July 25, 2012 Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) slide below. The NRC will not renew current high burnup 20-year dry cask licenses, due to the instability and unpredictability of high burnup fuel. High burnup storage problems need to be solved as soon as possible. However, they do not appear to be receiving the priority needed from the NRC, DOE or nuclear industry. And industry profits are currently a factor when developing solutions. This puts the public at risk for dangerous radiation releases.  With no technology to monitor inside dry casks, we won’t know there is a problem until it’s too late.  The response “it hasn’t happened yet”,  is not a solution.
2012-07-25 NEI High Burnup Slide3

Status of U.S. high burnup fuel dry cask storage, NEI 7/25/2012

San Onofre Nuclear Waste

  • The NRC is considering requiring high burnup fuel assemblies be treated like damaged fuel and encased in stainless steel Failed Fuel Cans, providing an extra layer of protection. However, the nuclear industry is resisting this due to cost. For San Onofre, this would mean a maximum 12 of the 24 fuel assemblies in a canister could be high burnup fuel (page 2-10 of technical specifications).
  • Nuclear fuel assemblies must cool in the spent fuel pool before they can be moved to dry casks.  The maximum heat load for the 24PT4-DSC dry shielded canister(page 2-3 of technical specifications) is 1.26 kW per assembly and 24 kW per canister.  Below are two of the Tables that may be used to calculate the amount of cooling time required.  Table 2-9 only cools the fuel to 1.26 kW per assembly.  Table 2-12 cools the fuel to 0.9 kW per assembly.
  • It may be safer to cool the fuel assemblies to a lower temperature before putting them in dry casks, especially for high burnup fuel. However, nuclear plants may want to speed the process, if it is more profitable for them.
  • Spent fuel pools are dangerously over crowded, so it may be desirable to move the lower burnup fuel to dry casks, leaving the high burnup in the pools. They are far safer less densely packed. However, nuclear plants may not want to do this for cost reasons.

Table 2-9 Fuel Cooling Time Table 24PT4-DSC

. Table 2-12 Fuel Cooling Time Table 24PT4-DSC

    • Note: San Onofre’s older NUHOMS® 24PT1-DSC is not approved for and was not used for high burnup fuel. Maximums allowed for the 24PT1-DSC are: 45 GWd/MTU for fuel with an initial enriched uranium weight up to 3.96% of U-235 (Table 2.4) and 25 GWd/MTU for MOX Fuel (Table 2.1).  
    • Note: MOX fuel was used experimentally in San Onofre Unit 1. “A plutonium recycle demonstration program was conducted by Edison Electric Institute and Westinghouse Electric Corporation during 1968 to 1974. Radiochemical analyses were made on six pellet samples from four MOX fuel pins irradiated for either one or two cycles in the San Onofre PWR Unit 1.
  • QUESTION FOR THE NRC: Why is the NRC continuing to allow high burnup fuel use when they don’t have a safe solution to store or transport this waste — even short-term?

Q: Does San Onofre have high burn-up nuclear fuel and, if so, how does that affect the way you store this used fuel? A: Like many other nuclear plants, San Onofre has taken advantage of improvements in fuel technologies that allow nuclear plants to extract more energy from the fuel by achieving higher burn-up levels. SCE is licensed to use this fuel and store it in the spent fuel pool, and our dry storage canisters are licensed separately to store high burn-up fuel. Once this fuel is removed from the reactor, it is stored in accordance with NRC regulations and in the same manner as San Onofre’s other used fuel — initially in a steel-lined, concrete spent fuel pool and later in dry cask storage. What Mr. Palmisano doesn’t say: 

        • NRC’s regulations won’t renew dry cask storage for high burnup after the initial 20 years, because of insufficient data that it is safe.
        • NRC’s regulations won’t approve transportation casks for high burnup fuel.
        • San Onofre’s decision to switch to high burnup fuel was made to increase profits at the expense of our safety.

At the time the analyses for this report were completed, the maximum burnup for the spent fuel transported in any of the casks was 45 GWD/MTU. Current reactor operations result in spent fuel with burnup levels higher than this. A detailed examination of the effect of the higher burnup levels is outside the scope of this document, but this section provides some general insights on expected changes resulting from transporting these higher burnup spent fuels. …Insufficient data exists to accurately estimate the rod-to-cask release fractions for higher burnup fuel…  

Typically, according to NRC officials, spent fuel must remain in a pool for at least 5 years to decay enough to remain within the heat limits of currently licensed dry cask storage systems. Spent fuel cools very rapidly for the first 5 years, after which the rate of cooling slows significantly. Spent fuel can be sufficiently cool to load into dry casks earlier than 5 years, but doing so is generally not practical. Some casks may not accommodate a full load of spent fuel because of the greater heat load. That is, the total decay heat in these casks needs to be limited to prevent the fuel cladding from becoming brittle and failing, which could affect the alternatives available to manage spent fuel in the future, such as retrieval. In recent years, reactor operators have moved to a slightly more enriched fuel, which can burn longer in the reactor. Referred to as high-burn-up fuel, this spent fuel may be hotter and more radioactive coming out of a reactor than conventional fuel and may have to remain in a pool for as long as 7 years to cool sufficiently. [Note: the 7 year information is out of date. Cooling time can range from a 7 to 20 year minimum, depending on the dry cask specifications and the level of fuel burnup and uranium enrichment].

Only limited references were found on the inspection and characterization of fuel in dry storage, and they all were performed on low-burnup fuel after only 15 years or less of dry storage [using the CASTOR V/21 cask, which has very difference specifications than the stainless steel canisters commonly used in the U.S. today (maximum 21 PWR fuel assemblies, maximum initial U-235 enrichment 2.2% – 2.3%, maximum burnup 35 GWd/MTU, maximum fuel assembly heat generation 1kW, side-wall thickness 14.9″, two stainless steel bolted lids (11.4″ and 3.5″ thick)  and no damaged fuel assemblies allowed.] Insufficient information is available on high-burnup fuels to allow reliable predictions of degradation processes during extended dry storage, and no information was found on inspections conducted on high-burnup fuels to confirm the predictions that have been made. The introduction of new cladding materials for use with high-burnup fuels has been studied primarily with respect to their reactor performance, and little information is available on the degradation of these materials that will occur during extended dry storage. The NWTRB also states [page 11]: These [degradation] mechanisms and their interactions are not well understood. New research suggests that the effects of hydrogen absorption and migration, hydride precipitation and reorientation, and delayed hydride cracking may degrade the fuel cladding over long periods at low temperatures, affecting its ductility, strength, and fracture toughness. High-burnup fuels tend to swell and close the pellet-cladding gap, which increases the cladding stresses and can lead to creep and stress corrosion cracking of cladding in extended storage. Fuel temperatures will decrease in extended storage, and cladding can become brittle at low temperatures.

Concrete aging problems: Nuclear reactors and waste storage

The types of dry storage systems used in the United States are subject to concrete failure within the needed storage period of the dry storage system.  The U.S. dry storage systems use concrete overpacks or casks for protection from certain types of radiation (gamma and neutron).

The NRC gave a presentation on these unresolved concrete aging issues in their July 14, 2014 presentation on Generic Concrete Aging Management. No solutions have been identified at this point. The option of using thick forge steel or thick ductile cast iron cask designs was not considered in this presentation. Those casks don’t require concrete.

    • Concrete degradation reports:
      • NRC A Summary of Aging Effects and Their Management in Reactor Spent Fuel Pools, Refueling Cavities, Tori, and Safety-Related Concrete Structures, NUREG/CR-7111, January 2012
      • FHWA ASR Identification HandbookDOE Activities at ORNL in support of continuing the service of nuclear power plant concrete structures, D. J. Naus, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, May 2012:  Examples of age-related degradation include: corrosion of steel reinforcement in water intake structures, corrosion of post-tensioning tendon wires, rock anchor/tendon coupling failure, leaching of tendon gallery concrete, larger-than-anticipated loss of prestressing force, concrete spalling at containment buttress, water infiltration, and leakage of corrosion inhibitors from tendon sheaths. Other examples include cracking and spalling of containment dome concrete due to freeze-thaw damage, low strengths of tendon wires, and corrosion of concrete containment liners (interior areas as well as backside areas adjacent to concrete). Recently, concrete cracking due to alkali-silica reactions has been identified at one plant [17], and internal concrete cracks associated with architectural features of a shield building were observed at another plant during construction of an opening to replace the reactor pressure vessel head [18]. Also, leakage of water from spent fuel pools and refueling cavities has occurred at several plants that may potentially result in erosion of the concrete or corrosion of carbon steel components it contacts, particularly for pressurized-water reactors that utilize borated water [16]. A review of plant operating experience indicates that aging degradation of concrete has primarily been in the form of cracking/spalling/loss of material due to aggressive chemical attack [16]. [See document for references].
      • FHWA Alkali-Silica Reactivity Field Identification Handbook [concrete damage], December 2011: Two types of alkali-aggregate reaction (AAR) are currently recognized depending on the nature of the reactive mineral; these are alkali-silica reaction (ASR) and alkali-carbonate reaction (ACR). Both types of reaction can result in expansion and cracking of concrete elements, leading to a reduction in the service life of concrete structures. This handbook serves as an illustrated guide to assist users in detecting and distinguishing ASR in the field from other types of damages.
      • Special NRC Oversight at Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant: Concrete Degradation. Seabrook developed concrete degradation due to alkali-silica reaction (ASR). Concrete issues, other than ASR, have also been experienced at other nuclear power plants. Crystal River 3 was shut down due to cracking (e.g., delamination) of the concrete walls in the plant’s containment building. The issue occurred during work on an opening in the containment in preparation for a steam generator replacement project. Duke Energy, the plant’s owner, announced on Feb. 5, 2013 that it planned to permanently cease operations at the Florida facility. In 2011, the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant discovered cracking in the Ohio plant’s Shield Building wall, a concrete enclosure around containment, while contractors were creating an opening for replacement of the reactor vessel head. Information related to this issue can be found in NRC Inspection Report IR 05000346/2012007. …the concrete degradation mechanisms in these plants is different than that identified at Seabrook.

San Onofre’s Elias Henna says high burnup may not be worth the risk and costs

Elias Henna, from Southern California Edison (SCE), said high burnup fuel has to cool for about 15 years in the spent fuel pool. See March/April 2003 Radwaste Solutions Saving a Few Hundred Million Dollars, p.69 (A Session Report from the 2002 American Nuclear Society (ANS.org) Winter Meeting):

Elias Henna, from Southern California Edison (SCE), which is decommissioning San Onofre-1, stated that the unit was shut down prematurely in 1992. The plant needed some $125 million in upgrades, and the expenditure was not deemed prudent at the time. This decision is now regretted in many quarters, Henna said. Henna noted that his company is learning a lot from the San Onofre-1 cleanup, because it has two operating units sharing the plant site. His major suggestion was one that might seem counterintuitive, he said: If you have already decided on a decommissioning date sometime in the future, toward the end of life, switch to shorter refueling cycles and use lower burnup fuel. That way you will have to cool the fuel in the pool only five years, whereas high-burnup fuel has to cool for about 15 years. In this way, he said, you will add a couple more refueling cycles but can shorten your decommissioning project by some four years (assuming no technological breakthroughs in canister design and no change in U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations). You will add about $191 million in fuel costs, he noted, but will save up to $261 million in decommissioning costs. This idea is more appropriate for a plant operating in a regulated market not a free market, he conceded. SCE is current replanning the fuel cycles of Units 2 and 3 toward the end of plant life to incorporate this idea. Henna also touched on the issue of safety. One incident can shut down the whole project, and you may not be able to go back to work for a couple of years.

 

NUHOMS Dry Storage System San Onofre

NUHOMS-24PT DSC loaded at San Onofre 2003

source: Managing Aging Effects on Dry Cask Storage Systems for Extended Long-Term Storage and Transportation of Used Fuel, Argonne National Laboratory, June 30, 2012

Dry Canisters: No ability to monitor U.S. dry casks

San Onofre cask loading into storage bunker

San Onofre cask loading into storage bunker

There is no ability to monitor inside dry canister systems. In the October 7, 2014 NRC meeting regarding the Dominion, DOE and EPRI High Burnup dry cask demonstration project, it was confirmed the lid monitoring for the project only applies to a TN-24 bolted lid cask and there are no plans for this project to develop internal monitoring for welded canisters (the main type used in the U.S.). The above information is an update to the below Forbes article.

There is no ability to monitor inside dry casks. Uncertain as to what is happening inside dry casks, the Department of Energy and the industry’s Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) are embarking on a four-year, $16 million project to develop instrumented lids that can report on the status of the spent rods inside.  At a 2011 conference, Argonne and DOE scientists proposed modifying sensors that are already used to monitor other nuclear materials during packaging and shipping. “The current built-in sensor suite consists of seal, temperature, humidity, shock, and radiation sensors” they said. “Other sensors can be easily added as needed. The system can promptly generate alarms when any of the sensor thresholds are violated.”  To monitor the interior of dry casks, the current sensors need several improvements, according to the Argonne scientists:

    • The ability to endure temperatures above 200 degrees C
    • The ability to endure radiation levels higher than 1000 rads per hour
    • A means of “harvesting” the energy inside the container
    • Batteries that will power the sensors for more than 10 years, and
    • A way to wirelessly transmit the sensor data out of the cask.

See details below regarding cask monitoring and related information.

San Onofre: Plans to procure inferior dry cask system

Southern California Edison plans to upgrade to NUHOMS® 32PTH2 dry cask system in September 2014. This means storing 32 fuel assemblies rather than the current 24 fuel assemblies in each dry canister.  The higher number of fuel assemblies brings higher risk of radiation releases, especially for high burnup fuel. The canisters are only 5/8″ thick stainless steel and eliminated the ability to even containerize (“can”) damaged fuel assemblies.  NRC Interim Staff Guidance ISG-22, Revision 12, Potential Rod Splitting Due to Exposure to an Oxidizing Atmosphere During Short-term Cask Loading Operations in LWR or Other Uranium Oxide Based Fuel,  and NRC SECY-01-0076 states spent fuel must be retrievable. It is unclear how this new container can meet this requirement.

…Damaged spent fuel assemblies are to be canned, and thus are individually retrievable from the storage canister in which they are placed. An individual can contains any gross fuel particles such that the canned assembly remains retrievable. Several cans may then be placed inside a storage canister, along with intact (uncanned) assemblies.

Staff practice has been to consider damaged fuel assemblies retrievable if they are placed into individual cans. The staff believes this practice is consistent with the retrievability requirements of 10 CFR 72.122(l) and 72.236(m).

San Onofre: Eliminates 39 emergency responder positions

The NRC’s March 26, 2014 San Onofre inspection report cited Edison for eliminating 39 emergency response positions without obtaining NRC approval.  Edison’s justification was that 18 months of cooling reduced radiation and heat levels enough to reduce dose consequences from an accident. How can such a claim be made when the tons of nuclear waste at San Onofre remains highly radioactive and hot?

The NRC report states that Edison claimed that because they “…had been in cold shutdown/refueling for over 18 months, sufficient time has elapsed to allow reductions in decay heat and radioactive material inventory such that dose consequences from an accident would not exceed the threshold for an Alert emergency declaration.”

The NRC notice of violation states “The failure to obtain prior NRC approval before implementing Emergency Plan changes that required such approval was a performance deficiency. This violation was …determined to be more-than-minor… The violation was determined to be a Severity Level IV violation according to Section 6.6, “Emergency Preparedness.” This finding has been entered into the licensee’s corrective action program as Nuclear Notification 202734313. (Section 1EP4).”  (See list of eliminated positions in the report.)

San Onofre: Worst safety complaint record 

Safety Allegations-Non Operating Reactors 2009-Aug2013 Edison has the worst safety complaint record and highest rate of retaliation against employees of both active and inactive nuclear power plants, so we should demand more oversight and more public involvement in the decommissioning process.

Recommended Reading

All current waste storage options have serious drawbacks. It is important for the public to understand the risks and benefits of each storage option and get involved. This issue affects both current and future generations.

At Maine Yankee, the high burn-up spent fuel assemblies (greater than 45,000 MWd/MTU average assembly burn-up) were placed in damaged fuel cans. The spent fuel assemblies were transferred to dry cask storage over a decade ago. At that time, there was considerable uncertainty regarding the status of the integrity of high burn-up spent fuel. In Maine Yankee’s case, the 90 canned high burnup spent fuel assemblies were accommodated in the 60 SNF canisters, without requiring the acquisition of additional canisters. The extra cost for performing this activity was approximately $800,000 in 2002 dollars (i.e., essentially the cost of the 90 damaged fuel cans).

    • Given the uncertainty with the material properties of high burn-up spent fuel, it is unclear whether some spent fuel may degrade during storage periods longer than 20 years and subsequent transportation. The NRC would like external stakeholders to provide an assessment of: 1. Whether ready-retrieval of individual spent fuel assemblies during storage should be maintained, or 2. Whether retrievability should be canister-based.

This question reveals that the NRC is considering bowing to industry pressure to lower safety standards. The licensees that responded to this question all supported lowering the standard to canister-based, rather than the current requirement that spent fuel assemblies be removable. 

  • Dry Storage Demonstration for High-Burnup Spent Nuclear Fuel – Feasibility Study, EPRI, Palo Alto, CA, and U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, DC: 2003. 1007872. See Chapter 5 Conclusion (starts on page 5-1) for good summary of high burnup issues.
  • HANDBOOK to Support Assessment of Radiological Risk Arising From Management of Spent Nuclear Fuel, Gordon R. Thompson, January 31, 2013
    • Although the economic advantage of zircaloy cladding [over stainless steel cladding] during routine operation of an NPP is clear, there is a price to be paid in terms of radiological risk. Zircaloy, like zirconium, is a chemically reactive material that will react vigorously and exothermically with either air or steam if its temperature reaches the ignition point – about 1,000 deg. C.
    • The potential for ignition of zircaloy is well known in the field of reactor risk, and has been observed in practice on a number of occasions. For example, during the TMI reactor accident of 1979, steam-zirconium reaction occurred in the reactor vessel, generating a substantial amount of hydrogen. Some of that hydrogen escaped into the reactor containment, mixed with air, and exploded. Fortunately, the resulting pressure pulse did not rupture the containment. Similar explosions during the Fukushima #1 accident of 2011 caused severe damage to the reactor buildings of Units 1, 3, and 4.
    • …stainless steel could substitute for zircaloy as a cladding material. The nuclear industry would undoubtedly resist this substitution, which would adversely affect the economics of NPP operation and would disrupt long-established practices in the industry. Also, stainless steel can react exothermically with air or steam, although with a lower heat of reaction than is exhibited by zircaloy.
    • If water were lost from a [spent fuel] pool equipped with low-density racks, there would be vigorous, natural convection of air and steam throughout the racks, providing cooling to the SNF. Thus, in most situations, the temperature of the zircaloy cladding of SNF in the racks would not rise to the ignition point. Exceptional circumstances that could lead to ignition include the presence of SNF very recently discharged from a reactor, and deformation of the racks. Even then, propagation of combustion to other fuel assemblies would be comparatively ineffective, and the total release of radioactive material would be limited to the comparatively small inventory in the pool.

      Spent Fuel Pool NRC photo

      Spent Fuel Pool NRC photo

    • Faced with the problem of growing inventories of SNF, the nuclear industry could have continued using low-density racks in the pools while placing excess fuel in dry casks. That approach would have limited SNF radiological risk. Instead, the industry adopted a cheaper option. Beginning in the 1970s, the industry re-equipped its pools with higher density racks. In the high-density racks that are now routinely used around the world, the center-center spacing of fuel assemblies approaches the spacing in a reactor… To suppress criticality, the assemblies are separated by plates containing neutron-absorbing material such as boral (boron carbide particles in an aluminum matrix). 
    • Two studies completed in March 1979 independently identified the potential for a pool fire. One study was by members of a scientific panel assembled by the state government of Lower Saxony, Germany, to review a proposal for a nuclear fuel cycle center at Gorleben. After a public hearing where the study was presented, the Lower Saxony government ruled in May 1979, as part of a broader decision, that high-density pool storage of spent fuel would not be acceptable at Gorleben.
    • …NRC concedes that a fire could spontaneously break out in a spent-fuel pool following a loss of water, and that radioactive material released to the atmosphere during the fire would have significant, adverse impacts on the environment. 
  • Gordon Thompson’s January 6, 2014 presentation to the NRC made the case for expedited transfer of spent fuel from pools to dry casks. He qualified his recommendation by pointing out there are problems with high burnup fuel that need solutions.
    • Slide 8 compares potential radiation releases, based on the inventory of Cesium (

      Cs-137).  All of these scenarios are catastrophic, yet the NRC and nuclear industry are not effectively dealing with any of them.

      • Peach Bottom Pool: 2,200 PBq (One of two neighboring pools)
      • Fukushima #1 Unit 4 Pool: 1,100 PBq
      • Fukushima #1 Unit 3 Reactor: 350 PBq
      • Dry Cask (32 PWR assemblies): 67 PBq
      • Fukushima Fallout on Japan: 6 PBq
    • Slide 5 gives the Ignition Delay Time for fuel in a spent fuel pool based on fuel age.  This is for a severe reference case for PWR reactor fuel. 
      •  Fuel Age         Ignition Delay Time
        • 10 days           1.4 hours
        • 100 days        3.9 hours
        • 1,000 days  21.0 hours
      • Ignition delay time (IDT) is the time required for decay heat to raise fuel temperature from 100°C to 1,000°C under adiabatic conditions, for a fuel burnup of 50 GWt-days per Mg U.  IDT is 30% higher for BWR fuel (with channel boxes).
    • The presentation doesn’t address delay time for a high burnup fuel criticality in dry casks, since it was focused on spent fuel issues.
  • A partially or fully drained spent fuel pool fire can result in a self-sustaining zirconium fire.  See page 3-1 Technical Study of Spent Fuel Pool Accident Risk at Decommissioning Nuclear Power Plants, NUREG-1738, February 2001, NRC, Division of Systems Safety and Analysis Office, T.E. Collins, G. Hubbard, ML010430066
  • The NRC dry cask storage standards do NOT meet the professional American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Code and standards.  The NRC should require the ASME stamp. This is another example of the NRC allowing profits over safety. For a list of improvements that should be made to dry casks standards, see the C-10 Research and Education Foundation Inc. Petition for NRC Rulemaking to Upgrade Interim Dry Cask Storage Code Requirements.
  • Principles for Safeguarding Nuclear Waste at Reactors, Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) recommendations from various environmental organizations and coalitions.

Intergrain Stress Corrosion CrackingMETAL CORROSION FROM COASTAL ENVIRONMENT: Nuclear waste storage near the coast could fail and release radiation due to the corrosive nature of salt air with metal.  Pitting corrosion in a salt fog environment is troubling. If a canister became sufficiently corroded, it would have to be replaced and the fuel assemblies moved. Further, the canister and fuel rods are pressurized, so leakage would be out of the canister. The NRC considers this a major issue, but doesn’t have adequate solutions.

Several failures in austenitic stainless steels have been attributed to chloride-induced SCC. The components that have failed because of this failure mechanism at nuclear power plants…are made from the same types of austenitic stainless steels typically used to fabricate dry cask storage system canisters. …empirical data has demonstrated that this failure mechanism is reproducible in Type 304 and 304L stainless steel as well as in Type 316L stainless steel. Accordingly, the NRC expects that all types of austenitic stainless steels typically used to fabricate dry cask storage system canisters (304, 304L, 316, and 316L) are susceptible to this failure mechanism…Several instances of chloride-induced SCC have occurred in austenitic stainless steel components that were exposed to atmospheric conditions near salt-water bodies…. relevant examples:

In the fall of 2009, three examples of chloride-induced SCC which extended through-wall were discovered at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in the weld heat-affected zone (HAZ) of Type 304 stainless steel piping. The piping included 24-inch, Schedule 10 emergency core cooling system (ECCS) suction piping; 6-inch, Schedule 10 alternate boration gravity feed to charging line piping; and an ECCS mini flow return to refueling water storage tank. While the through-wall failures were attributed to chloride-induced SCC, surface pitting was also observed on the surface of the pipes, with a greater concentration in the weld HAZ. All three pipes were exposed to the outside ambient marine atmosphere. Through-wall cracks developed after an estimated 25 years of service….

Usually, most of the surface remains unattacked, but with fine cracks penetrating into the material. In the microstructure, these cracks can have an intergranular or a transgranular morphology. Macroscopically, SCC fractures have a brittle appearance. SCC is classified as a catastrophic form of corrosion, as the detection of such fine cracks can be very difficult and the damage not easily predicted. Experimental SCC data is notorious for a wide range of scatter. A disastrous failure may occur unexpectedly, with minimal overall material loss.

To evaluate the effects of non-chloride and chloride-rich salt mixtures, a final series of tests was performed in which U-bend specimens were deposited with a mixture of ammonium nitrate and sodium chloride with nitrate-to-chloride molar concentration ratios of 3.0 and 6.0. Extensive cracking was observed on these specimens.

NRC waste confidence decision: indefinite continued storage 

In spite of all of the above issues, on August 26, 2014 the NRC approved a final rule and its associated generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) amending 10 CFR Part 51 to that states nuclear waste can remain at existing nuclear power facilities short term (60 years), long term (over 100 years) and indefinitely.  They change the name from “waste confidence” to “continued storage.”  Below is historical background that lead up to the decision.

Concluding the Nuclear Regulatory Commission did not examine the environmental effects of failing to establish a permanent repository for nuclear waste, an appeals court in Washington, D.C., threw out an NRC ruling that governed the storage of spent nuclear fuel at the nation’s power plants.

 “The court found the commission failed to evaluate future dangers and consequences in making its waste confidence decision in December 2010,” said Susan Kinsman, spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

 In that decision, the NRC increased the number of years that spent nuclear fuel can be stored onsite from 30 to 60 years after a nuclear power plant ceases operations.

But late on Friday, the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the decision rises to the level of a major federal action, which requires either an environmental impact statement or a finding of no significant environmental impact, neither of which the NRC conducted.

… The court also determined that the NRC violated the law when it found “reasonable assurance” that sufficient, licensed, off-site storage capacity will be available to dispose of nuclear power plant waste “when necessary.”

The appeals court wrote that the NRC “apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.”

Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell characterized the NRC’s 2010 decision as “wishful thinking”...more

Table 2-12 Fuel Cooling Time Table 24PT4-DSC

Oscar Shirani alleges that all existing Holtec casks, some of which are already loaded with highly radioactive waste, as well as the casks under construction now [2002], still flagrantly violate engineering codes (such as those of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME] and American National Standards Institute [ANSI]), as well as NRC regulations. He concludes that the Holtec casks are “nothing but garbage cans” if they are not made in accordance with government specifications. Although NRC has dismissed Shirani’s concerns, NRC Region III (Chicago office) dry cask inspector Ross Landsman refused to sign and approve the NRC’s resolution of Shirani’s concerns, concluding that this same kind of thinking led to NASA’s Space Shuttle disasters. He stated in September 2003, “Holtec, as far as I’m concerned, has a non-effective QA program, and U.S. Tool & Die has no QA program whatsoever.” Landsman added that NRC’s Nuclear Reactor Regulation division did a poor follow-up on the significant issues identified, and prematurely closed them.

2012-07-25 NEI High Burnup Slide3

Humboldt Underground HI-STAR ISFSI

Humboldt underground HI-STAR ISFSI

    • The user fees being paid to the government to finance the activities needed to meet that obligation are used to offset the [federal] deficit, while expenditures for those activities are constrained under limits on discretionary appropriations; and all the while, taxpayer liabilities resulting from failure to meet the government’s contractual obligations continue to grow. 
    • The Financial Report of the U.S.Government for FY 2011 reports that these liabilities totaled $49.1 billion— including both the unpaid damages for non-performance and unspent Nuclear Waste Fund fees and interest.
  • Blue Ribbon Commission website with archived links.
  • Interim Storage Pilot Project Evaluation
    • Preliminary Evaluation of Removing Used Nuclear Fuel from Shutdown Sites, Final, September 30, 2013, PNNL-22676 Rev. 1   Prepared for DOE Nuclear Fuels Storage and Transportation Planning Project, Steven J. Maheras, et.al. (PNNL), Interim Storage and Transportation Logistics for nuclear waste at shutdown reactors.
    • Logistical and Operational Issues Associated with the Transport of Stranded Fuel from Shutdown Reactor Sites presentation, Jeffrey Williams, DOE, Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, October 17, 2012
    • DOE: Project Concept for Nuclear Fuels Storage and Transportation: Fuel Cycle Research & Development. FCRD-NFST-2013-000132, Rev. 1, June 15, 2013 (full report).  Abstract.  Interim storage pilot – includes costs, transport issues, and other factors]. Also, see this caution about cladding performance issues that need to be addressed before extended fuel utilization fuel can be loaded into dry casks and transportation systems.

      Section 6.1.3 Extended Fuel Utilization (High Burnup Fuel): The current burnup limit on fuel in dry cask storage and transportation systems is 45,000 MWd/t assembly average burnup. In contrast, the maximum one pin burnup limit on in-reactor fuel is 60,000 MWd/t to 62,000 MWd/t. There are test assemblies currently in reactors that are attempting to drive fuel to 70,000 MWd/t. Along with these extended fuel utilization limits are new fuel cladding and assembly skeleton materials. Experimental data over the last twenty years suggest that fuel utilizations as low as 30,000 MWd/t can present performance issues including cladding embrittlement under accident conditions as well as normal operations. The NRC is actively seeking rulemaking to address cladding performance for loss of coolant accidents and reactivity insertion accidents. These cladding performance issues need to be addressed before extended fuel utilization fuel can be loaded into dry casks and transportation systems.

 “…the trend of the data generated in the current work clearly indicates that failure criteria for high-burnup cladding need to include the embrittling effects of radial-hydrides for drying-storage conditions that are likely to result in significant radial-hydride precipitation...A strong correlation was found between the extent of radial hydride formation across the cladding wall and the extent of wall cracking during RCT [ring-compression test] loading.”

  • Rock Solid? A scientific review of geological disposal of high-level radioactive waste September 2010 by Helen Wallace. This

    overview of the status of research and scientific evidence regarding the long-term underground disposal of highly radioactive wastes, shows there is no known safe permanent solution

    This review identifies a number of phenomena that could compromise the containment barriers, potentially leading to significant releases of radioactivity:

    • Copper or steel canisters and overpacks containing spent nuclear fuel or high-level radioactive wastes could corrode more quickly than expected.
    • The effects of intense heat generated by radioactive decay, and of chemical and physical disturbance due to corrosion, gas generation and biomineralisation, could 

      impair the ability of backfill material to trap some radionuclides.

    • Build-up of gas pressure in the repository, as a result of the corrosion of metals and/or 

      the degradation of organic material, could damage the barriers and force fast routes for radionuclide escape through crystalline rock fractures or clay rock pores.

    • Poorly understood chemical effects, such as the formation of colloids, could speed up the transport of some of the more radiotoxic elements such as plutonium.

    • Unidentified fractures and faults, or poor understanding of how water and gas will flow through fractures and faults, could lead to the release of radionuclides in groundwater much faster than expected.

    • Excavation of the repository will damage adjacent zones of rock and could there by create fast routes for radionuclide escape.
    • Future generations, seeking underground resources or storage facilities, might accidentally dig a shaft into the rock around the repository or a well into contaminated groundwater above it.
    • Future glaciations could cause faulting of the rock, rupture of containers and penetration of surface waters or permafrost to the repository depth, leading to failure of the barriers and faster dissolution of the waste.

    • Earthquakes could damage containers, backfill and the rock.

…Of the remaining alloy systems discussed, the commercial alloys considered as most promising can be ranked according to their crevice corrosion behaviour in aqueous chloride solutions…

… Of the materials reviewed, the [titanium] Ti-0.2% Pd alloy is the most resistant to crevice corrosion in chloride solutions. However, it is at least a factor of two more expensive than C.P. titanium.

…Sandia workers have eliminated the 300-series type stainless steels [e.g. 304, 304L, 316, 316L] from their list of candidate alloys for waste and fuel immobilization containers for the waste Isolation Pilot Plant [WIPP] because of the likelihood of SCC in the salt environment…

  • NAS Report on Disposal of Radioactive Waste on Land (1957). Numerous reports and articles use this National Academy of Sciences report as the initial justification that there is a deep geological disposal solution.  However, they leave out these important qualifiers, as stated in the Abstract on Page 1:

The research to ascertain feasibility of [deep geological] disposal has for the most part not yet been done… This initial report is presented in advance of research and development having been done to determine many scientific, engineering and economic factors, and, in the absence of essential data, represents considered judgments subject to verification.

 HanfordSiteDOEThe timeline for officials to clean up the biggest, most toxic nuclear waste site in the Western hemisphere is shrinking. The race to clean up 56 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste sitting at the Hanford site, 230 miles east of Portland, becomes more urgent each year.  With an estimated price tag of $120 billion, and a theoretical deadline of 2047, cleanup efforts are continually stalled by obstacles including time, money, the danger of the task at hand, and the sheer vastness of the site. Attempts to store liquid and solid radioactive waste from the 586 square-mile site – which supplied the plutonium for the bomb that ended WWII — have been failing for decades.

1. Your Health and the Columbia River

“…[Radiation] gets into the organisms, like fish we that we eat, and so it would essentially degrade the health of the river, and be at some point, a threat to human health,” said Dr. John Howieson, Vice Chair of the Oregon Hanford Cleanup Board.  Howieson said the health risks to human health through ingestion are much more of a threat than simple exposure. For example, when isotopes were deposited on plants near the Chernobyl site near Pripyat, Ukraine, cows ate those plants and children drank milk from the cows, causing widespread deformities. Ingestion through vaporization, as happened at the Hanford site in March 2014, is equally dangerous…

2. The Waste Storage Tanks

…In October 2012, the U.S. DOE released images confirming a double-shell tank, known as AY-102, was leaking through its inner shell. “I think most of us felt that those double tanks were probably good for a long, long time. The fact that one of them failed really caught our attention,” said Howieson. “If a catastrophic failure of [AY-102] occurred it would relay so much radioactivity into the soil it would eventually have a deleterious effect on the Columbia river,” said Howieson. Documents show six other tanks may be leaking, and 13 more could be compromised… 

3. What’s really in the river water

…By the late 1940s and early 1950s, radioactivity was detected as far as the mouth of the Columbia River, near Astoria, Ore., said Howieson. Matt McCormick, Department of Energy Manager for Richland Operations Center at Hanford, said some uranium and a hydrogen isotope have made it to the river through contaminated groundwater…

…Columbia Riverkeeper spokesperson Dan Serres claims the public should be starting to worry about the level of infiltration in the groundwater and the river. “The department of ecology for the State of Washington acknowledges that there is nuclear waste that reaches the Columbia River from Hanford today,” he said…

4. Political action and inaction

…Oregon Senator Ron Wyden makes a cause out of keeping Hanford’s urgency among the top priorities of America’s chief lawmakers. In April 2013, he challenged U.S. Energy Secretary (then-nominee) Ernest Moniz on whether he was satisfied with federal cleanup efforts. Moniz admitted he was not. “This is the most contaminated piece of federal property,” said Wyden. “It adjoins the lifeblood of our region, the Columbia River, and we’ve got to turn this around.” Wyden called for more action from the DOE, and asked for an investigation by the Government Accountability Office into Hanford’s tank monitoring system after frustration over recurring problems…

5. ‘Solutions:’ the troubled vitrification plant

…The DOE’s plan to dispose of the 56 million gallons of sludge safely is through a process called vitrification. A $13 billion plant is under construction to turn the nuclear sludge into massive glass cylinders. However, the project has been plagued with delays, budget issues and major safety concerns…

6. Safety concerns and ‘whistleblower’ dismissals

…When two former employees of DOE vitrification plant project subcontractor URS raised concerns over the likelihood of a major explosion on site, they claim they were unduly fired. Nuclear engineer Walt Tamosaitis and former safety manager Donna Busche said they warned a catastrophic explosion – not unlike past disasters– was imminent if construction continued. Busche said URS fired her to set a precedent for other employees with safety concerns. Nuclear engineer Dr. Walt Tamosaitis says he was unfairly fired for speaking out about safety concerns at the Hanford nuclear site (CBS).  “To summarily remove me from the projects sends a clear and present message to employees — that if you speak up — you will be fired,” said Busche. Construction in one area of the vitrification plant, the pre-treatment facility, has since been halted altogether because of design flaws. “If the explosion were severe enough, it would be released to the public, it would very similar to the explosion you saw at Fukushima,” said Tamosaitis…

  • DOE’s Hanford cleanup web page states the waste plan is to send waste to WIPP and to vitrify the waste.  It doesn’t mention the problems with both of these “solutions”, thereby giving people unsubstantiated hope that this can be accomplished.  It does mention the unsolved problem of the waste plumes moving towards the Columbia River.

The liquid waste that had been poured onto the ground or held in ponds or trenches has long since evaporated or soaked into the soil on the Site.  In doing so, the waste did contaminate some of the soil and is thought to have also created underground “plumes” of contaminants. A “plume” is kind of like an underground river where the contaminants join with the water that exists beneath the surface of the Earth. Many of these plumes move in varying speeds and move toward the Columbia River. Hanford employees are actively involved in projects designed to prevent any more of the contamination from reaching the river. Several different strategies are being used in that effort. More…

  • NWTRB Deep Borehole Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Waste, August 20, 2013 — advantages and challenges [unresolved issues].
  • NWTRB Letter to DOE regarding R&D plan for deep borehole disposal 7/30/2013:  …Research related to deep borehole disposal should not delay higher priority research on a mined geologic repository… Because deep borehole disposal is in the earliest stages of development, significant technological challenges must be resolved… Because of these technological challenges and the significant scale of a deep borehole disposal program, the Board reiterates its long-standing support of mined geologic disposal and notes that virtually every national nuclear waste disposal program is pursuing development of a mined geologic repository for disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste .
  • U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) website. The NWTRB is an independent agency of the U.S. Government. Its sole purpose is to provide independent scientific and technical oversight of the Department of Energy’s program for managing and disposing of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.

Used Nuclear Fuel Storage U.S. Map 2011 NEI

 

Nuclear Waste Map NRC March 2013

Nuclear Waste Map NRC March 2013

Printable NRC waste storage map: http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1305/ML13057A527.pdf

15 Responses to Nuclear Waste

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