Yucca Mountain Has Multiple Barriers to Isolate Nuclear Materials

(p. A20) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday [Oct. 16, 2014] released a long-delayed report on the suitability of Yucca Mountain as a disposal spot for nuclear waste, finding that the design met the commission’s requirements, laying the groundwork to restart the project . . .
. . .
. . . the report released Thursday, mostly done in 2010 but frozen until a recent court decision, concluded that the design had the required multiple barriers, to assure long-term isolation of radioactive materials.

For the full story, see:
MATTHEW L. WALD “Calls to Use a Proposed Nuclear Site, Now Deemed Safe.” The New York Times (Fri., OCT. 17, 2014): A20.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 16, 2014., and has the title “Calls to Use Yucca Mountain as a Nuclear Waste Site, Now Deemed Safe.”)

Salt Encapsulates Nuclear Waste for “Millions of Years”

DesertSaltMinesNuclearWaste2014-02-21.jpg“Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste. Metal walls are installed once a “panel” is filled with waste containers and backfilled with salt, shown during a tour of the mines at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. A9) CARLSBAD, N.M. — Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste.

The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons.
The process is deceptively simple: Plutonium waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory and a variety of defense projects is packed into holes bored into the walls of rooms carved from salt. At a rate of six inches a year, the salt closes in on the waste and encapsulates it for what engineers say will be millions of years.
. . .
Some people despair of finding a place for what officials call a high-level nuclear “repository” — they shy away from “dump” — but Allison M. Macfarlane, a geologist who is chairwoman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and who served on a presidential study commission established after the Yucca plan was canceled, said WIPP proves it can be done.
“The main lesson from WIPP is that we have already developed a geologic repository for nuclear waste in this country, so we can in the future,” she said.

For the full story, see:
MATTHEW L. WALD. “Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds.” The New York Times (Mon., FEB. 10, 2014): A9-A10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date FEB. 9, 2014.)

Small Nuclear Reactor Is Easier to Cool and Protect

NuclearReactorSmaller2013-05-12.jpg

“A rendering of a smaller nuclear reactor being developed by Babcock & Wilcox for the Tennessee Valley Authority.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. B6) “WASHINGTON — The Tennessee Valley Authority will pay Babcock & Wilcox, a nuclear equipment company, to complete extensive design work and apply for permission to build a new kind of nuclear plant, a “small modular reactor,” at a site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the T.V.A. and the company announced . . . .

The two entities did not disclose the value of the contract, which will be paid in part by the Energy Department under a program to encourage nuclear innovation. The announcement is a step forward in a program that advocates hope will develop a new class of nuclear plants that can be mostly built in a factory, shipped by rail or barge, deployed quickly, and sold around the world, especially in places where the power grid could not handle a big plant.
“This technology is very different,” said Joe Hoagland, a senior vice president of the T.V.A. “It has built-in safety features and security features, so you can site it at places you wouldn’t site a large reactor.”
Because the reactors are relatively small, the idea is that in an emergency they can be cooled with the natural circulation of water and heat, rather than by systems that require pumps and valves and that could be disabled by power failures or human errors. The goal for Babcock & Wilcox is a reactor that can be operated by a relatively small control room crew, perhaps two operators, and meet security requirements with fewer guards.”

For the full story, see:
MATTHEW L. WALD. “Deal Advances Development of a Smaller Nuclear Reactor.” The New York Times (Thurs., February 21, 2013): B6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2013.)

Bill Gates Backs 4th Generation “Miracle” Nuclear Reactor

GatesBill2012-06-12.jpg

Bill Gates. Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. R2) MR. GATES: . . .
The next miracle is nuclear energy. The plants that are out in the world today are basically generation-one and -two plants. There’s a few generation-three plants. The thing I’m investing in is a fourth-generation design.
MR. MURRAY: Can you explain a little bit about how this technology works?
MR. GATES: The part of uranium that’s fissile–when you hit it with a neutron, it splits in two–is about 0.7%. The reactors we have today are burning that 0.7%. There was a concept that you would do a different type of reactor that would make a bunch of another element called plutonium, and then you would pull that out and then you would burn that. That’s called breeding in a fast reactor. But plutonium is nuclear-weapons material, it’s messy, and the processing you have to get through is not only environmentally difficult, it’s extremely expensive.
The concept of the TerraPower reactor is that in the same reactor, you both burn and breed. Instead of making plutonium and then extracting it, we take uranium–the 99.3% that you normally don’t do anything with–we convert that and we burn it. The 99.3% is cheap as heck, and there’s a pile of it sitting in Paducah, Kentucky, that’s enough to power the United States for hundreds and hundreds of years.

For the full interview, see:
Alan Murray, interviewer. “In Search of One Energy Miracle; Bill Gates on the need to think big.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., March 26, 2012): R2.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Plant Protein Levels Adapt to Allow “Flourishing” Near Chernobyl

(p. D3) In April 1986, a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine exploded and sent radioactive particles flying through the air, infiltrating the surrounding soil. Despite the colossal disaster, some plants in the area seem to have adapted well, flourishing in the contaminated soil.
This ability to adapt has to do with slight alterations in the plants’ protein levels, researchers report in a study that appears in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
“If you visit the area, you’d never think anything bad had happened there,” said Martin Hajduch, one of the study’s authors and a plant geneticist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Slovakia.

For the full story, see:
SINDYA N. BHANOO. “OBSERVATORY; Plants Near Chernobyl Appear to Grow a Shield.” The New York Times (Tues., September 21, 2010): D3.
(Note: the online version of the article is dated September 20, 2010.)

Animals Thrive at Chernobyl

WolvesRadioactive2011-11-09.jpg“PBS’s “Radioactive Wolves” returns to a contaminated site.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. C6) In the months since the Japanese tsunami, we’ve heard a lot about Chernobyl as a worst-case example: here’s how bad Fukushima could have been. Now PBS’s “Nature” offers another vision: Chernobyl as a best-case demonstration that life abides . . .
. . .
. . . the prognosis, coyly withheld until the end of the hour, is positive. . . . While the rate of slight birth abnormalities is twice as high as normal among the zone’s growing animal population (but still in the single digits), overall health appears to be fine. It wouldn’t be an acceptable situation for humans, but the dormice and eagles and gray wolves don’t appear to be bothered.
. . .
The concrete high-rises of the city of Pripyat sit like islands in a green sea of towering trees; plants force their way up through the floors of empty schoolrooms.
Within this strangely pastoral setting the animals go about their business, sometimes finding uses for what we’ve left behind. The wolves rise up on their hind legs to peer through the windows of houses, looking for routes to the rooftops, which they use as observation posts for hunting. Eagles build nests in fire towers.
And beavers, forced out decades ago when the landscape was engineered for collective agriculture, have already undone much of man’s work and restored one of central Europe’s great marshlands. Just think what they could do if they had the whole planet.

For the full commentary, see:
MIKE HALE. “In Dead Zone of Chernobyl, Animal Kingdom Thrives.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., October 19, 2011): C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 18, 2011.)

Nuclear Energy Much Safer than Previously Thought

(p. A14) ROCKVILLE, Md. — The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is approaching completion of an ambitious study that concludes that a meltdown at a typical American reactor would lead to far fewer deaths than previously assumed.

The conclusion, to be published in April after six years of work, is based largely on a radical revision of projections of how much and how quickly cesium 137, a radioactive material that is created when uranium is split, could escape from a nuclear plant after a core meltdown. In past studies, researchers estimated that 60 percent of a reactor core’s cesium inventory could escape; the new estimate is only 1 to 2 percent.
. . .
Big releases of radioactive material would not be immediate, and people within a 10-mile radius would have enough time to evacuate, the study found. The chance of a death from acute radiation exposure within 10 miles is therefore near zero, the study projects, although some people would receive doses high enough to cause fatal cancers in decades to come.
One person in every 4,348 living within 10 miles would be expected to develop a ”latent cancer” as a result of radiation exposure, compared with one in 167 in previous estimates.
”Accidents progress more slowly, in some cases much more slowly, than previously assumed,” Charles G. Tinkler, a senior adviser for research on severe accidents and one of the study’s authors, said in an interview at a commission office building here. ”Releases are smaller, and in some cases much smaller, of certain key radioactive materials.”

For the full story, see:
MATTHEW L. WALD. “N.R.C. Lowers Estimate of How Many Would Die in Meltdown.” The New York Times (Sat., July 30, 2011): A14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the article is dated July 29, 2011.)
(Note: I am not sure the whole article appeared on p. A14—only saw the online version.)