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Sweden: Nuclear Waste Fund deficits prompt government action

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Charly Hultén ‒ WISE Sweden

Nuclear Monitor last reported on the chronic deficit in the Swedish Nuclear Waste Fund in 2014 (NM #796; see also #751 and #736).

In the interval since 2014 interwoven streams of events – among regulatory agencies, in government policy, in the energy market – and the declining vigor of nuclear power companies have combined to arouse a great deal of uncertainty about the ability of the Waste Fund to cover costs. Notable among these events are:

  • the newly-appointed chair of the Fund sounded an 'SOS' in June 2015.
  • in 2015, two power companies announced plans to shut down a total of four reactors.
  • in June 2016, the Minister of Energy managed to secure a multiparty Energy Agreement, which included lifting a tax on nuclear power capacity.
  • in 2017, frustration with a lack of transparency regarding the cost estimates and prognoses offered by the industry-owned nuclear waste management company, SKB AB, reached new heights – not only among environmentalists (as usual), but in central institutions like the National Debt Office and the National Audit Office.

In June 2017 the government proposed changes in the law and statute governing financing of the management of Swedish nuclear waste; in December the proposals were approved in the Riksdag. Although the dust is still settling, we now have something to report.

The fund

The Nuclear Waste Fund was founded in 1982. The accumulated funds are intended to cover all aspects of Swedish nuclear waste management, from storage of fuel waste to dismantling of reactors and storage of their components. All R&D for proposed waste management processes, and public vetting of the proposals (still under way) are financed out of the Fund, as well.

The fundament in the scheme for financing waste disposal in Sweden is the so-called 'polluter pays' principle. That is, the cost of waste disposal as outlined above is to be covered by the industry that generates the waste. (That the fees are immediately passed on to end consumers is not considered a problem; instead, it is seen as an incitement to economize on the use of electricity, while stimulating the market for more efficient electrical devices.)

Today, some call the presumption that power companies should act in the public interest "naïve", but one should recall that the situation was quite different back in the 1980s, when the scheme was set up. Then, all nuclear power companies were Swedish-owned and had a substantial element of public sector ownership, i.e., national or local government held controlling interest. Today, two of the three companies, Fortum and Uniper (formerly E.On), are foreign-owned; all, even state-owned Vattenfall, operate for profit. 'Corporate interest' is a relatively new factor in the equation.

The fee

The chief sources of financing are two: a per-kWh fee on nuclear energy generation, and securities (collateral) that are required of reactor operators to cover shortfalls in fee revenue should "unplanned events" impact on the amount of power generated. Most criticism concerns the fees. Estimates of the status of the Fund (the influx of assets in relation to estimated costs) are revised at three-year intervals. They are based on recommendations presented to the Government by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), after consultation with the National Audit Office and the National Institute of Economic Research, a body within the Ministry of Finance.

For many years the fee remained stationary at SEK 0.01/kWh. Estimates presented in 2011 showed a sizeable deficit, however, and in 2012 the fee was raised to SEK 0.02, then raised again to SEK 0.04 in late 2014. The current proposal for 2018-2020 is an average fee of SEK 0.05/kWh. (Average, because some operators will also be paying for the reactors they have shut down ahead of schedule. The actual lifetimes for OKGs two ex-reactors are short of their expected lifetimes by 2.1 and 21.5 years, respectively, so the remaining OKG reactor will now be charged a fee of SEK 0.064/kWh in 2018-2020.)

Payments into the fund will continue as long as nuclear power is generated. Costs will continue to be generated long after nuclear power has ceased to be, which means that total cost estimates, too, need to extend maybe another 40-50 years beyond the theoretical 40- to 50-year lifetime that applies to the reactors. Calculating the status of the Fund that far into the future is difficult.

Chronic and growing deficits

The reasons for the deficit are a mixture of politics, macroeconomics, finance and 'corporate interest'. Some examples:

  • Politics: Politics plays in when the Government sets the sums to be paid. These have most often has been lower than SSM had proposed. As the National Audit Office recently pointed out, government decisions have meant "tens of billions less than what the regulator, SSM, considered necessary". (A kind of fiscal corporate interest may also play a part in this; Vattenfall's profits go straight into the Treasury.)
  • Macroeconomics: Electricity prices have been low in recent years, which affects the companies' ability to pay.
  • Finance: Low interest rates have impacted the market value of bonds in the Fund.
  • Corporate interest: To date, SKB AB's production predictions and prospective cost estimates supplied by the industry – the basis for the regulator's proposals – have missed the mark. Historical analysis reveals that power generation has consistently been overestimated, future costs underestimated.

But another key factor now on the table is a less than penetrating analysis that patently inaccurate estimates and predictions from the industry have been subjected to over the years. More on this below.

There are two prime consequences of underfinancing. One is obvious ‒ there will not be enough money in the fund on the Day of Reckoning, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. But, secondly, setting the fee too low means a de facto state subsidy to nuclear power as long as the reactors are online. University economists second Greenpeace and other non-governmental groups in pointing this out.

Awareness, diagnosis ...

Fears of shortfalls and accusations of "hidden subsidies" in the system have been voiced for well over a decade now, but the latest round started in mid-2013, when SSM and the National Debt Office were unable to agree on a joint recommendation about a revision of the law and statute governing the Nuclear Waste Fund. These included a recommendation to raise the fee. The separate recommendations that they submitted to the Government lay, seemingly unattended to, until December 2014, when the Government announced an 85% hike in the fee, from SEK 0.022/kWh to SEK 0.04. Even this rise was not enough, according to SSM's analyst: "If an estimate for the coming period were to be made today, the figure would land at just under SEK 0.06," he commented to the press.

Crisis awareness regarding the deficit spread to broader circles in mid-2015 when Dan Barr, newly appointed chairman of the Waste Fund, sounded the alarm in Sweden's leading business daily: The Fund is an estimated 11 billion Swedish crowns short (US$1.34 billion; €1.12 billion); something has to be done about it! Mr Barr's call came amidst the decisions of two reactor owners to shut down two reactors each.

Estimates of the shortfall vary widely, from the SEK 11 billion Dan Barr points to and upwards. One main 'X factor' is the cost of dismantling reactors. SKB estimates the cost of dismantling and removal of Sweden's 12 reactors at SEK 23.7 billion. The estimate is signficantly lower than estimates in other countries, and lowest in all of Europe. Furthermore, the costs will be incurred late in the overall process, decades into the future, which amplifies the uncertainty.

The only party that seems not to have recognized the seriousness of the situation is industry-owned SKB AB, who as late as 2016 declared the system to be "robust". Although a full-fledged 'blame game' was under way at the time, everyone else agreed that the nub of the problem lay in the quality of the data the company has provided over the years. Even SSM, known to be sympathetic to the waste management project in most respects, complained of a lack of clarity surrounding SKB's estimates.

SKB has refused to reveal the models they use to arrive at their calculations, despite the regulator's requests. Access to the models is important. An example: SKB's cost estimates in 2013 were 57% higher than the figure they presented in 2007. Without knowing how the figures are arrived at, it is impossible to evaluate them or to make any well-founded assumptions about future cost trends.

SSM itself has come under fire for not vetting the industry's estimates more rigorously. Some point to the fact that by statute SSM has the power to force SKB to reveal their methods, but has chosen not to use it. Government agencies like the National Debt Office and the National Audit Office and academics point out that SSM lacks the auditing competence required to deal with the long-term and complex projections involved.

Another area where the regulator is seen to have favored the industry concerns the presumed reactor lifetimes, which form the basis for calculating payback rates. The law has stipulated a maximum reactor lifetime of 40 years; SKB AB uses 60 years as their base. SSM itself now uses 50 years. SSM has never accepted SKB's use of 60 years, but even though the authority has had the law and statutory muscle on its side, it has not persuaded the company to change its ways.

This practice is questioned by environmentalists and economists alike. Partly as a hidden subsidy, partly because of doubts that Swedish reactors will remain online that long. As Sweden's largest environmental organization summed up its concerns in 2014: "Stricter safety requirements may render new investments unprofitable, measures to remedy operational problems may prove unaffordable, or a new reactor accident somewhere may cause continued operation of Swedish reactors to be called into question."

Then, we have the documented record of Swedish governments, regardless of political hue, further whittling down the fee proposed by the Authority. Most recently, for the period 2018-2020, by 19% in relation to the Authority's draft proposal. This prompted Auditor General Ingvar Mattson to comment in a December 2017 media release: "The Government has on repeated occasions set nuclear waste fees and economic guarantees at levels that are tens of millions [SEK] less than the amounts the Radiation Safety Authority deemed necessary, and [our] analysis shows that the financing system in all probability is underfinanced."

Government 'beneficence' toward power companies arises out of a combination of the returns state-owned Vattenfall produces and external factors. Lessons from the Fukushima disaster have entailed costly improvements in reactor cooling facilities. Meanwhile, electricity prices fell sharply early in the period and are still low. Some alternative, renewable sources of electrical power are now producing at prices nuclear power companies cannot beat. Because of these (and other) factors, Sweden's nuclear park has shrunk by 40%. At the same time, maintaining a sufficient volume of nuclear production is key to maintaining the balance in the Nuclear Waste Fund. In short, politicians' fear of squeezing the industry too hard is perhaps understandable. Yet, the fact remains that unless the Fund is in balance, taxpayers will end up having to fill the gap.

One external factor not related to either energy production or energy policy, but which has eaten into Fund's solidity, is a decline in the market value of the Fund's assets. To date, the Fund has been authorized to invest in bonds and certain other guaranteed interest-bearing securities. Several institutions have pointed to the Fund's vulnerability to trends in the finance market as a weakness in the system that needs to be corrected.

... and therapy?

The Government has responded to the crisis by taking several drastic (by Swedish standards) measures.

In August 2017 the Government transferred primary responsibility for the financing of the Nuclear Waste Fund from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority to the National Debt Office.

In October 2017, the Riksdag approved a government bill that amends the pertinent law and ordinances in the following respects:

  • The reactor lifetime to be used as the basis for waste fee calculations is extended to 50 years, in line with SSM's recommendation.
  • Rules for estimating costs and prospective fee payments to the Fund have been specified more closely with a view to increasing transparency, in line with advice from the National Debt Office, the National Audit Office and the National Institute of Economic Research.
  • The Nuclear Waste Fund may invest up to 40% of its holdings in common stocks, a request of the Fund. The increased risk that this change implies will be compensated by raising the amount of securities required of reactor owners. (Professor Göran Finnveden, a former board member of the Fund, offers two suggestions in this regard: that the Fund's investments should be long-term, which, he says, would both yield higher returns and reduce the risk to the Treasury; and long-term investments made in "green bonds and similar securities" would have the added advantage of enhancing the sustainability of the Swedish economy, one of the stated aims of government policy.)

No one can say with any certainty that these changes will be enough.

Two issues remain outstanding. First, a proposal to transfer the responsibility to pledge securities from the reactor owners to their parent companies is under consideration. (Nuclear operators in Sweden may be likened to 'shell companies' in the sense that they are provided with only enough capital to keep their reactors in working order; profits are passed on to the parent company.) The Government has said it will present its conclusions in Spring 2018.

A second outstanding issue is the need for a comparative study of the costs of decommissioning reactors performed by a third party, i.e., a body that stands free of the waste management company and reactor owners; this issue is at least on the table.

For decades, the nuclear establishment was a Swedish 'holy cow' and, as such, was not subjected to incisive scrutiny. Not so today. The debate on the deficit in the Nuclear Waste Fund these past two years cuts sharper and deeper than ever before.

Principal sources (all in Swedish):

‒ MKG Web news 25 Oct 2017 and 17 Dec 2017.

‒ National Audit Office, Press material, 7 Dec 2017

‒ National Debt Office, Remissvar _ Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten förslag på kärnavfallsavgifter, finansierings- och kompletteringsbelopp för 2018-1010 (SSM2016-5513-13) 28 augusti 2017 (Solicited comment on preliminary report)

‒ Radiation Safety Authority Press material, 30 Jun 2017

‒ Förslag på kärnavfallsavgifter, finansierings- och kompletteringsbelopp för 2018-2020. Report SSM2016-5513-66, 19 oktober 2017, pp 80ff.

‒ Regeringen Prop. 2016/17:199 om finansiering av kärnavfallsntering (Government Bill)

Swedish nuclear industry loses battle over repository but battle rages on

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Miles Goldstick

On 23 January 2018, both the Swedish Land and Environmental Court (MMD) and the regulatory agency dealing with the nuclear industry, the Nuclear Safety Authority (SSM), submitted their reports to the government regarding the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company's (SKB's) application to build a "final" storage facility for spent fuel.

As SSM had made public months ago, they said yes to the industry proposal. MMD said no. The industry application is however multifaceted and both the "yes" from SSM contains some elements of "no" and the "no" from MMD includes some elements of "yes".

Both MMD and SSM are in agreement on the need for an improved safety analysis. SSM wrote: "SKB may begin construction of the facilities only after SSM has examined and approved a preliminary safety report." MMD wrote in their press release: "The court cannot, based on the current safety assessment, find that the final repository is safe in the long-term".

MMD wrote that SKB's application can only be approved if two conditions are met:

1) "SKB can provide documentation that shows the final storage facility complies in the long-term with requirements of the Environmental Code despite the uncertainties remaining on how the canisters protective capability is effected by a) corrosion due to reaction in oxygen-free water" and four other issues regarding copper corrosion, including the influence of radiation on three additional variables. Amongst other things, SKB has not carried out corrosion tests with a canister containing spent fuel.

Research on copper corrosion was spearheaded by Associate Professor Gunnar Hultquist at KTH, The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He initiated an experiment in 1986 showing copper corrodes in oxygen-free water. His results were eventually confirmed internationally by independent methods. SKB has tried hard to prove the results are incorrect. Tragically, Gunnar Hultquist died in February 2016. To honor him and his hard work, colleagues visited his grave on 23 January 2018 and left flowers with a note saying, "Congratulations Gunnar, you won in the end!"

2) "It is clarified who is responsible according to the Environmental Code for the final repository in the long-term." This brings the long-term costs to the foreground, and can be considered a victory for critics of nuclear power. SKB has stated in their application that their responsibility ends after a few decades ‒ once the facility is sealed. Östhammar municipality, where the Forsmark site chosen by SKB is located, is especially concerned about the long-term financial liability.

MMD also wrote that the government should consider changing the law to allow SSM authority to require re-approval of SKB's application regarding some aspects of the Environmental Code. This is because SSM has pursued an approach of step-wise approval. Otherwise, the full 566-page report of MMD remains to be assessed.

MMD however also gave their approval to several other main parts of SKB's application, including the environmental impact statement, the public participation process, the location, the facility to build and load the copper canisters, as well as expansion of the current storage system called CLAB. At the same time, though approval was given for these parts, there was also criticism, and MMD pointed out questions that remain to be answered. One main example is in the area of geology, where MMD noted that geologic factors can influence safety.

The government now has to make a decision

According to the legal decision-making process in Sweden regarding projects considered to have an extensive environmental impact, the decision-making authority rests with the government alone. According to the process, the proponent submits an application to both SSM (when radioactive materials are involved) and MMD, who then each make a report to the government according to the respective laws they each are bound by (though there is some overlap).

In Swedish, the SSM and MMD make an "yttrande" to the government. In the official translation used by the court system the word is translated as both "report" and "opinion". Thus, though both SSM and MMD make decisions in their reports, the decisions are not binding on the nuclear industry in the sense of a final yes or no. Only the government can give approval.

If the government does say yes, the industry application goes back to both SSM and MMD who must set conditions for implementation according to their respective laws. The nuclear industry is obligated to comply with these conditions. In theory, a condition can be so stringent that the industry is unable to comply.

Further, before making their decision, the government is obligated to ask the local municipalities concerned if they will permit the respective local activity. The law however allows the government to force a municipality to accept a facility if the answer is no. There are two municipalities concerned: Östhammar, where SKB wants to place the spent fuel, and Oskarshamn, where SKB wants to place the encapsulation facility (and where CLAB is located). Östhammar municipality had planned a non-binding referendum 4 March 2018. Only hours after the announcement of the MMD report on January 23, Östhammar municipality cancelled their referendum.

In other words, regardless of the outcome of the examinations by SSM and MMD, it was always known that in the end that the government would have to say yes or no. Opponents and proponents of the nuclear industry's plans now have to deal with politicians who in general have no technical expertise in the subject matter. The lobbying began almost immediately after the reports of SSM and MMD were made public on January 23, and the government was ready. Reuters reported that Environment Minister Karolina Skog stated no decision would be made during 2018. That was expected as 2018 is an election year in Sweden, which occurs every four years in the beginning of September, this year on September 9. The government would have made the same public statement even if the Land and Environment Court had been fully positive.

In practice, what the "no" by the Land and Environment Court did was cause a delay of at least a year before the nuclear industry internationally has another chance to be able to claim there is a government-sanctioned solution to the spent fuel problem. In that sense, it is a victory for opponents of the nuclear industry's waste management plans and opponents of nuclear power in general. The main battle however rages on. "No rest for the wicked," as the saying goes.

More information:

In the hope of a better legacy: An interview with Prof. Andrew Blowers

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jan Haverkamp

Jan Haverkamp interviews Andrew Blowers, Emeritus Professor at The Open University. Jan reviewed Andrew's book 'The Legacy of Nuclear Power' in Nuclear Monitor #843 and this interview explores the issues in more detail.

Andrew Blowers is sitting for this interview in the very same study at home where he was confronted in 1983 as a county councillor with the proposal by the then UK authority responsible for nuclear waste, NIREX, to set up a near-surface disposal facility for low and intermediate level nuclear waste in Bedfordshire. We end our almost two hour session reflecting on what drove him to dedicate over 30 years of his life to the issue of radioactive waste and the nuclear legacy. It is that legacy that he addresses in his latest book 'The Legacy of Nuclear Power'.

Blowers: "I find this as academic and politician intellectually fascinating. The book has an intellectual core. And when confronted with these kind of happenings, I tend to react. But basically my initial reaction was 'this is wrong, this needs to be opposed and I will commit myself to this opposition'. And I have found out, that it is fundamentally wrong, ethically and scientifically. I have now started an NGO opposing plans for a new nuclear power station at Bradwell on the Essex coast in England. Those plans are diabolical. That is the correct word. It is going to bring environmental degradation and more than that an impact for generations to come. I look at the potential danger, which I believe to be massive, and see it is all unnecessary because I believe we can do with an energy future which is not nuclear. It is a matter of faith to me. A set of values."

Because Blowers dedicates his book to 'Varrie and our children and grandchildren in the hope of a better legacy', we discuss Václav Havel's reflections on hope in his 1986 interview Dálkový Výslech with Karel Hvíždala.

Blowers: "Havel says that hope is not necessarily optimistic. I vary in my optimism, whether or not there will be a nuclear future for the UK. But that does not detract from that I think this is wrong and that one should oppose it and therefore I put that dedication not just for my family but for future generations in general. My hope is that we are not going to consign and hand such a future to them. Apart from that, nuclear is a nice target to have. The nuclear industry is vulnerable. Its arguments are weak and they can be countered. I am not in a cause without momentum behind it. The intellectual and moral arguments are on the side of those who are opposed."

Five communities facing a nuclear legacy

Blowers analyses in his book the way that five communities are dealing with large nuclear legacies: Hanford in the US, Sellafield in the UK, La Hague and Bure in France and Gorleben in Germany. Hanford is a long-established legacy site. Its roots are in the second World War, the nuclear installations on the site do not function any longer, and it is all about clean-up. Sellafield is also an older site, with two-thirds of the country's legacy wastes awaiting clean-up and a few remaining production activities. The reprocessing is slowly winding down, but there are plans for a new nuclear power station at Moorside and the area is on and off in discussion for deep geological disposal of high level waste. La Hague is a still operating reprocessing site, and Bure is foreseen as the final depository for the high-level waste created in La Hague, but the process of establishing a depository is only in its early stages.

Where Blowers noticed that the first three sites were established in a period of hegemony of technology, where few questions were asked, followed by a period of confrontation moving into a more participative search for solutions, the dynamic in Bure is still in its infancy. Gorleben has a completely different history. Planned as a reprocessing site and final disposal for high level waste, local resistance slowly ground everything to a halt. Although there is still a temporary on-surface storage of high-level waste and the possibility of deep geological disposal has not been completely taken off the table, there is the impression that the region has been able to prevent becoming a major nuclear legacy spot.

The common denominator that Blowers works out is that all sites belong to the periphery of their countries: lightly populated, economically weak and politically powerless. And that they all are dealing with the longest legacy of the nuclear industry: high-level waste.

Blowers mentions in his book several times that there is said to be a consensus that deep geological disposal is the best solution for this high-level waste.

Blowers: "A consensus? I drafted as a member of the CoRWM [the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, set up by the UK government in the early 2000s to advise about the policies on radioactive waste management] the fundamental policy statement on this. We said that in the present state of knowledge, geological disposal is the best method. However, if you read the rest of those recommendations, they are qualified in the sense that this has to be preceded by a period of intermediate storage and a search for alternatives and so on. That is not the way that the British government has interpreted it. We have got to look at the time scales here. Any deep disposal in any country is a long way off, and I mean a generation off. The material we are dealing with is generation after generation after generation. And the material that would be produced by new build in the UK would have to be stored at least until the middle of the next century.

"Whatever you think about deep disposal being potentially the ultimate solution, it isn't here and now. The only actual solution for the most serious radioactive waste is to store it properly and effectively and that is in effect what countries are doing. But the message of that is because we do not have a long-term solution in most countries (apart from the Finns and Swedes and possibly the French), we do not have a concept that is agreed scientifically and we do not have a site that is publicly acceptable. It's a long way off and politicians tend to be stalling all the time. In the end the answer is simple. The storage is for the longer term. That is the point I would like to make. The other message is that it would be absolutely irresponsible to continue with the nuclear industry producing yet more waste which we cannot deal with, which would give us an interminable time scale without knowing what the inventory would be."

Not just technical, fundamentally social and political

Blowers mentions politics slowing down decisions, but I note that also the environmental movement is often accused of stalling progress.

Blowers: "Radioactive waste is a social, not only a scientific problem. You cannot just dump it on people. In the case of repositories you need consent from the community. That consent is difficult to achieve. If you look at Sellafield more recently where there was an attempt to apply some of the principles of our [CoRWM's] radioactive waste management policy in West Cumbria, probably the most nuclear friendly part of the country, it did not get overall community consent. That was partly touched off by the opposition movement, who certainly mobilised well, but I would say that that would become difficult in any case, because it was the county of Cumbria that decided it was not going to proceed. It might be revisited, but certainly not soon.

"If we go to Germany, one could argue that the German reluctance to go anywhere [with nuclear] is because of the success of the Gorleben movement, which started in the late 1970s. That long, hard, broad-ranging resistance over the years did not actually stop things, but prevented things moving forward. There is a half-open mine now there, there is an interim store in Gorleben and they are still there while you have a policy of a white map. It still could go anywhere. This is deeply political, with involvement of federal structures and all the rest of it and with an industry that is in retreat, it will mean they have to focus on temporary storage at the moment. I do not get the impression there is a huge hurry about things. They have a Commission, they are nominating places to store waste in the long term, and essentially Germany is facing now a long-term storage issue while there is the ongoing discussion about where are we going to put the material in the very long term."

Reality: temporary storage is the solution now

I bring up that the Netherlands decided to store waste for a hundred years, but in their focus on that refuse to look beyond that period.

Blowers: "There is a failure to look at the time scales. What the Dutch have recognised is to be pragmatic and realise maybe someone will come with a solution in the long term and piggy-back on that – with small countries that is always in the back of their minds – why should we bother to be first when others tread water. Storage is the solution for the foreseeable future. It is the problem of the unforeseeable future with which we cannot deal but we have to think about it. How far can we look forward in reality. I would say not more than two generations. We may have to rely on the future looking after itself, but we cannot allow more development [of nuclear power].

"If you look at Britain for some context. If the Chinese build Bradwell, it is, like the other proposed sites, a coastal site. All these coastal sites are very vulnerable. If we keep the spent fuel on site, we create a long term supposed solution, but it would be utterly foolish if we look at the conditions of the site. The waste it would create will be a colossal problem into the far future. My answer is: Don't build it."

Discourse the way to go

We move to the dynamic that Blowers has found at all of the five sites in the book, from faith in technology over confrontation towards some kind of more discourse oriented approach. But he also sees a backlash. Blowers concluded that that backlash is particularly strong in the UK on the basis of the argument of security – environmental and energy security. That argument was embraced by the nuclear industry. However, in spite of the open public discourse retreating, the idea of public consent is still standing. And in spite of political prevarications pushing decisions forwards in time, society still recognises the problem and is obliged to solve it.

The problem we are facing is a shift in the discourse. In 1976, the British policy was that one should not embark on further development of nuclear energy unless a solution for the long-term management of its wastes had been found. Now there is a claim, but nothing more than a claim, that nuclear can deal with this problem of managing wastes. The UK government is satisfied that a method will exist.

Blowers: "I don't share this optimistic vision. You should not make such pronouncements until it is actual reality. Two almost empirical rules in the nuclear industry are that it will cost much more than you ever thought it would, and the other is that it will take much longer than you thought it would. There is no way you can believe the claims that have been made. I am sceptical not because I am a rabid anti-nuclear activist, but because it is a no-brainer if you look at the politics, the geological problems, the sense of priorities of people and so on."

Nevertheless, the developments as we saw them in the mid-2000s in CoRWM and before that in the Arbeitskreis Endlagerung (AkEnd) in Germany, were interesting. Blowers explains that CoRWM was very advanced in creating discourse. There was enormous public engagement, a lot of science involved, different debating techniques. It also brought the political and ethical angle in. Blowers commented on the membership of CoRWM at that time: "We were a motley crew of people. Not particularly with any sense of balance, but unusually having at least four of the members who were if not sceptical, actually hostile to nuclear interests, which is very rare for a government committee. Still, we came as close to a consensus as was possible."

The recommendations were highly interrelated and interdependent and the result of a genuine discourse. The government did not entirely overturn them, but at the time the recommendations were finished, it embarked on a new build programme. Blowers: "Instead of the measured approach we set out, they seized on the idea we had put forward for deep disposal and then wanted deep disposal as soon as possible, which is different from the recommendations we had. Without Prime Minister Blair's nuclear revival, we'd probably still be working with the full suite of recommendations. But CoRWM's main recommendations still stand." And they are based on voluntarism, partnership, and a scientifically suitable site concept.

Periphery in France

The French setting is completely different. Blowers describes Bure, being under active development but not yet approved, as a slow Chinese torture. It is in his eyes a classic case of periphery. Tiny villages, small population, on the border of two departments. "The secret France. However much transparency you build in, it is not going to manifest itself very powerfully in Bure, because there is not much there. So the debate is one level up on a departmental and regional level."

Many activists in France find the use of local information committees (CLIs) a form of co-optation. It does not deliver the kind of divisive and polarised debate as you see in Gorleben. With that, the CLIs are not so distant from the industry. Blowers: "I look at communities. The idea of periphery is more complex than it sounds, but it helps explain how you get in these communities the dependency on the industry." He points out that because other communities do not want these nuclear activities, they are pushed to powerless places. And in these places, co-optation tools like compensation payments as in France and attraction of funds for other developments like in Hanford become very effective.

Blowers concludes his book with the moral obligation in the search for how our generation is dealing with the legacies of nuclear power in terms of procedural equity, intra-generational equity through voluntarism and an emphasis on community well-being, and intergenerational equity. We agree on the parallel with the conclusions of the German Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Future that was established after the Fukushima disaster and gave Angela Merkel the moral basis for the German nuclear phase-out. One of the vital problems we identified is that a lot of the debate is framed in a technical scientific framework, delivering so-called hard facts. In reality, that technical-scientific debate is spattered with terms like "reasonable" and "proportional" – terms that include a deeply ethical and political dimension. I question whether the scientists involved in these debates have the ethical and political mandates to determine what is reasonable or proportional.

Blowers: "All issues to do with the nuclear legacy are social as well as scientific. [When I started as advisor to the government] this hadn't been registered, really. Until the end of the last century, we would get scientific solutions that were just like that plumped onto the landscape. It was decide and then defend. Science driven, engineer based solutions. No idea of the social consequences."

It was a long battle to get people realise the social side of it. The ethical dimension is a step further. Blowers: "I am not an ethicist, by the way. I picked up that particular badge and ran with it. But there was a recognition. Scientists and engineers still go for the idea of scientific method, the rationality and the rest of it, but there is a recognition there that we also are dealing with something that is socially sensitive and has implications for future generations, as it has implications within generations – some places have to host these sites and some don't – there is an inequality there. And the ethical implications are such things as community involvement, community well-being. They were seen as typical social sciences, things you cannot really get anywhere with, with all sorts of nuances, but behind that there is something really important. The social scientists now involved in decision making have made quite some impact, which you can now recognise in how issues are brought forward. For instance in the form of the German Ethical Commission."

At the start of the interview, we noticed we are two succeeding generations in the nuclear debate and we would discuss issues from that perspective. Binding us is the conclusion that nuclear power is a concept that has lost its sense, and what drives us to work on its role-back is the "hope" from Blower's dedication of his book as Havel defined it: Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It's not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.

Jan Haverkamp is expert consultant on nuclear energy and energy policy for WISE, Greenpeace Central and Eastern Europe, Greenpeace Switzerland and vice-chair of Nuclear Transparency Watch.

First new “low-level” nuke dump in US in over 40 years controversial right-wing billionaire-owned company buries waste despite technical and legal challenges

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A new sacrifice area in West Texas on the New Mexico border opened up to commercial nuclear waste on 27 April 2012. It is the first “full service” dump in US since the 1980 Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act passed seeking new sites, and the first since the Barnwell, South Carolina dump opened in 1971. After decades of searching, cajoling, maneuvering, and a billion dollars or more spent in 18 or more states, the nuclear industry has managed to find a new hole in the ground to bury its waste.  Waste Control Specialists (WCS) joins the original 6 “low-level” waste dumps in the US that opened in the 1960s and 70s and the Utah EnergySolutions site.

Four of these sites are closed. The EnergySolutions (formerly Envirocare) dump in Utah, started taking abandoned radioactive waste in 1988 and kept expanding to take more kinds of nuclear and hazardous waste. But the Utah legislature has never let it accept the more concentrated Classes B and C “low-level” radioactive waste (some of which can give a lethal dose if exposed without shielding). WCS can take Classes A, B and C, commercial and weapons waste, mixed radioactive and hazardous, and hopes to expand to take even more.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is a subsidiary of Valhi, owned by multibil-lionaire Harold Simmons, one of the 50 wealthiest people in the U.S. and a major political donor in Texas and nationally. Simmons, who was a key funder of the “swiftboat” ads against former Presidential candidate John Kerry, and gave millions to Mitt Romney Super PACs, has used his influence from the start--first getting the state to change the law to allow a private company to own and run a nuclear waste site, then in getting a state license even though the full technical review team unanimously rejected it for not protecting the water. Three members of that team quit in disgust when the license was granted by the political appointees that head the agency. It was granted with over 90 “conditions” that it had not met.

Interestingly, while the application was under review by one state agency, the Texas Water Development Board chan-ged the location of the Ogallala Aquifer, moving the mapped boundary from the WCS site to miles away, at least partly based on information provided by WCS geologists. WCS sued a critic who charged the site threatens the aquifer and he has since become silent on the issue. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest fresh water aquifers, extends from Texas and New Mexico through the farm belt of the U.S. up to the Dakotas. Local residents who ques-tioned or challenged WCS have been harassed.

The Lone Star Sierra Club is still fighting for a hearing on the licensing. The court ruled that a contested case hearing should be held but the state and WCS have appealed. Waste is being buried even though the appeal is pending. Ironically the first waste to be buried was from a company outside the Texas-Vermont Compact. The dump had been touted to be exclusively for waste from the two Compact states only and its licensed capacity is less than the amount needed by generators in those two states. Regardless, the Texas and Vermont governors’-appointed Compact Commission approved taking 
“out-of-compact” waste, at the behest of WCS. 

Prior to this, intensely radioactive nuclear weapons waste from the Depart-ment of Energy (DOE)’s Fernald site (K-65 ore from the Belgian Congo) was buried there under a different license. Under the Texas law passed specifically to enable this private dump, commercial compact waste had to begin being disposed before more DOE weapons waste can be buried. 

This translates into billions of dollars in contracts from weapons sites across the country in addition to the commercial waste from TX, VT and generators from all the other states which the compact commission is approving with a rubber stamp. Simmons and WCS will make big bucks. Andrews Country gets 5%. The nuclear industry has the illusion of a solution to its waste problem. The water, air, environment and the species that depend on them pay the price.

Perils and promises of studying health impacts of low-level radiation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

Members of the public and scientists have been concerned about environmental contamination from nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation for a long time.  The National Academy of Sciences is currently working on a request from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to design an epidemiologic study of cancer around nuclear facilities in the USA.

People living near nuclear facilities may see an epidemiologic study as a way to shed light on their health concerns. An epidemiologic study could do that. However, if epidemiologic studies are not well-designed, they can be used to dismiss the public’s concerns and avoid implementation of public health protections.

There are many perils of epidemiologic studies, especially ones focused on low-level exposures. It’s easier to detect the effect of larger exposures, for example of nuclear workers, than the effects of smaller exposures, for example of people living near nuclear facilities. Furthermore, radiation exposures of most nuclear workers are monitored, whereas exposures of residents are not. This presents a big challenge, because an epidemiologic study that cannot sort people correctly into exposed and unexposed groups cannot detect an effect of exposure.

Several epidemiologic studies in Europe have found excess childhood leukemia among children living near nuclear power plants. These studies compared children living close to nuclear plants – within 5 km (3 miles) – to children living further away. No similar studies have been conducted in the USA, in part because we don’t have a national medical program that counts cancer cases, and in part because most of our health data are only reported for large geographic areas like counties.

The National Academy of Sciences study could be designed to improve on the European studies. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked for a study that includes adults, who are less sensitive to radiation exposure than children. Furthermore, adult cancers may appear decades after exposure, increasing the opportunity for people to move between exposed and unexposed areas. Studies of adults, of large areas like counties, and of cancer death instead of cancer diagnosis, would not advance scientific knowledge about health effects of living near nuclear facilities, but such a study could become grounds for dismissing concerns about radiation releases. Another problem is that epidemiologic studies may be conducted under the assumption that radiation exposure is too low to affect cancer. Then, if an excess is found among people living near nuclear facilities, scientists must attribute it to some other unknown cause. This circular logic – evidence of the effect is dismissed because it is already believed there can be no effect – is unscientific but is dressed in the trappings of science to make it appear reasonable.

Members of the public concerned about radiation exposures from nuclear facilities should critically consider any proposed study to decide whether to give it their trust and support.
– Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

For further reading: Wing S, Richardson DB, Hoffmann W. Cancer risks near nuclear facilities: The importance of research design and explicit study hypotheses.Environmental Health Perspectives, 119:417-21, 2011.

Marking nuclear waste disposal facilities

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Herman Damveld

An issue that has long been on the radioactive waste management agenda is the means of marking a waste repository site, such that future generations will be able to comprehend its purpose and risks. Research into long lasting information carriers is being done, but how do 'future people' know there is a message inside, or even, where do we put it so 'future people' will find it before people start digging? And then the more principal questions, will such a warning not attract people to start digging? Or do we have to forget repositories ever existed? But how?

Of course we have to stop producing nuclear waste immediately. But even then, the historical waste has to be stored. Responsibility to future generations implies that we necessarily have to do all to prevent future harm. This makes warnings to the future all the more necessary. But how?

There are basically three approaches discussed over the past few decades:

1-Passive institutional control
The most comprehensive research about markers has been done in the US, for the WIPP, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.(*01) The WIPP is a deep geologic repository, designed and constructed to provide underground disposal for the department’s defensegenerated transuranic waste. This waste consists primarily of clothing, tools, rags, debris, residues and other non-liquid disposable items contaminated with trace amounts of radioisotopes.

The Department of Energy (DOE) began by forming two teams of experts in the early 1990s. They were given the task of coming up with a conceptual design for the warning system. The US decided to focus on creating lasting markers at the site of the nuclear waste, a plan considered to be the 'long-term concept' or passive institutional control. This strategy places very little trust in the flexibility of knowledge, and society's ability to pass down information in a relevant and accurate way to future generations. Information is too rapidly changing and hardly eternal, but physical landmarks that convey danger on an instinctual level are more likely to effectively keep humans away from radiation for thousands of years. 

The design eventually adopted for WIPP, and shared with the then planned (but now abandoned) Yucca Mountain depository in Nevada, consisted of a giant earthwork surrounding the site, with monuments, markers and information centers scattered around, which will be erected after closure of the repository. Some 32 identical granite monuments are planned to be buried below ground level. On all aboveground and underground surfaces, messages (written in each of the official UN languages - Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish - as well as Navajo) and pictograms are to be put on. Final plans for marking the WIPP repository will not be submitted to the U.S. Government before 2028.

The DOE sees Stonehenge in England as an example -a historical analogue- for a marking system. Stonehenge consists of stones in a circle measuring 120 meters in diameter. Blocks of granite were used that in some cases weighed 54 metric tons. Stonehenge was built around the year 3000 before Christ. 

There are, however, some problems. Stonehenge is a memorable marking that invites people to visit. This is contrary to the marking the Americans want to realize. The message of the marking after all has to be: keep out of here, do not dig in the ground. The marking has to scare. And, more generally, more often people do not mind about warnings, like warnings on cigarette packages that smoking can harm one’s health. Of course the markings may not consist of valuable material because of the chance of theft. 

But archeologists point out that a much earlier attempt to warn off future excavations, the Egyptian pyramids, were looted within a generation. Six of the “Seven Wonders of the World” identified by the ancient Greeks, which were, in a sense, messages intended to provoke in us remembrance mingled with a sense of awe, and as such, six have failed. They have been plundered by vandals, destroyed by earthquakes or used to build other structures. Most have been reduced to rubble.

Stone markers warning of tsunami danger in Japan
After the tsunami killed 17,000 people in Japan, March 2011, some pictures were showed in western press of ancient stone markers warned of tsunamis. One picture showed a large marker below the village of Aneyoshi. It says "High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants," and "Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point." Hundreds of such markers dot the coastline, some more than 600 years old. Collectively they form a crude warning system for Japan, whose long coasts along major fault lines have made it a repeated target of earthquakes and tsunamis over the 
centuries. Modern generations decided these markers, coming from a more primitive time were no longer needed: technology would protect them. Sea walls were constructed, and power plants and villages were built behind them. On March 11, 2011, tsunami waters reached to near where the Aneyoshi marker stands.

This is the problem with ancient markers. Tsunami signs were ignored because new generations felt themselves more capable of protecting themselves. 
See for instance: www.cbsnews. com/stories/2011/04/06/501364/main20051370.shtml

Information carriers
If we want to remember we have to find ways to preserve information. It seems that no data storage medium lasts long before becoming obsolete. Recently, French nuclear waste management agency ANDRA began a project to address the issue of preserving data. To preserve records of what they've buried and where for a period of tens of thousands of years. The ANDRA project brings together specialists from as wide a selection of fields as possible, including materials scientists, archivists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and even artists -"to see if they have some answers to our questions." The initial goal is to identify all the approaches possible; in 2014 or 2015, the group hopes to narrow down the possibilities. 

On July 12, 2012, Patrick Charton of ANDRA presented what he called a possible solution to the problem of the short life of information carriers: a sapphire disk inside which information is engraved using platinum. The prototype shown costs €25,000 to make, but according to Charton  will survive for a million years. The disk is made from two thin disks, about 20 centimeters across, of industrial sapphire. On one side, text or images are etched in platinum- a single disk can store 40,000 miniaturized pages - and then the two disks are molecularly fused together. All a future archaeologist would need to read them is a microscope. The disks have been immersed in acid to test their durability and to simulate ageing. (*02)

There's only the problem that they have no idea in what language to write the message; what language its discoverers will understand in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years- or even if they will be human beings? Archeologists point out that a much earlier attempt to warn off future excavations, the Egyptian pyramids, were looted within a generation. Another problem is the material the carrier is made of and could be considered to be valuable and thus likely to be stolen when found.

Another assumption that we should not take for granted, is the survival of modern scientific understanding. We should not presuppose the future possession of scientific language, but should also include the most simple messages.

But in short: current thought is that rather than attempt to manipulate the emotions of future generations through ominous symbolic warnings, the structures and messages ought to inform those generations that the content of the repository is dangerous and useless. 

2- Active institutional control 
Under the US Environmental protection Act (EPA) definitions, ‘Active Institutional Controls’ cover the use of fences, gates, and guards; essentially, those structures and systems which imply continued human presence. Markers are ‘Passive Institutional Controls’ because they are intended to fulfill their purpose without the need for anyone to remain on site.

The Scandinavians brainstorming for the Onkalo nuclear repository site in Finland, unlike the Americans, have focused their efforts on keeping good archives and information on nuclear waste repository sites, called a "short-term concept" or active institutional control. The motivation behind a short-term concept is that any physical markers, languages, or symbols based warnings would lose their meanings too soon. Considering the fact that even today abandoned mines less than a century old are often drilled into, it is hard to trust future generations to consult archives over the locations of nuclear waste before any kind of excavation or drilling. (*03)

The half life of institutions
The crux of the stewardship problem is that it is hard to believe that any human institution can last the 10,000 years or more. Indeed, history is replete with failed governments. From ancient times to today’s world, the typical story is one of rise and fall, of kingdoms, sheikdoms, monarchies,  dictatorships, and even democracies. Leaders come and go, bringing with them new ideas, religions, policies, and programs and leaving legacies easily changed by succeeding leaders and generations. In addition to governments, history has seen similar cycles for human settlements and cities, rise and fall, establishment and abandonment, and rediscovery. Modern-day institutions, such as the private corporation, are no more stable. Only a handful of American companies, out of millions, have managed to stay in business over 100 years and few of the survivors remain in the same business. The life expectancy of the average European or Japanese company is less than 13 years. Thus, at first glance, it appears that, institutionally speaking, active human stewardship of nuclear and hazardous waste sites even for hundreds of years into the future is an insurmountable challenge (although not always information –especially when in writing- is lost).
However, a closer look at history reveals numerous human institutions that have indeed survived for hundreds of years and even thousands of years. Many of these institutions are religious, but also universities. Human institutions associated with indigenous cultures can sometimes be traced by very long periods of time. For example, the N/um chai is a curing ceremony trace dance practiced by the Bushman of the Kalahari that can be traced back approximately 40,000 years.

An article called 'Institutional designs for long-term stewardship of nuclear and hazardous waste sites' by Bruce E. Tonn evaluates several designs for an institution to act as the steward for these sites. (*04)

Six alternative institutional designs are evaluated over a set of four evaluation criteria. Tonn recommends (in the US.) to establish a new type of secular non-profit institution, entitled The Stewardship Institution, to act as steward for the sites. This option is judged most able to focus on the mission of stewardship, meet its technical challenges, survive inevitable periods of political and economic instabilities, and meet current generation cost and implementation concerns. 

Atomic Priesthood
The linguist Thomas Sebeok was mem-ber of the Bechtel working group. Building on earlier suggestions he proposed the creation of an atomic priesthood, a panel of experts where members would be replaced through nominations by a council. The atomic priesthood would have to preserve the knowledge about locations and dangers of radioactive waste by creating rituals and myths. 

The priesthood would indicate off-limits areas and the consequences of disobedience.(*05) 

"The ‘atomic priesthood’ would be charged with the added responsibility of seeing to it that our behest [concerning the folkloric relay system] is to be heeded – if not for legal reasons, then for moral reasons, with perhaps the veiled threat that to ignore the mandate would be tantamount to inviting some sort of supernatural retribution."
This approach has a number of critical problems: the reliance on secrecy, ma-nipulation and deceit -- and the accompanying perceived need to create an elite –the atomic priesthood- that holds the secrets and does the manipulating.(*06) And just because the information about waste sites would grant power to a privileged class, people from outside this group might attempt to seize this information by force.

So it seems that all possible solutions to the issue of marking a waste repository site, such that future generations will be able to comprehend its purpose and risks – have unsolvable problems.

3- No markers: just forget about it
Another approach is not marking a nuclear repository site at all; burying nuclear waste hundreds of meters underground in the middle of a barren desert is a better safeguard than any structure or warning signs that could eventually just bring attention to the location, according to this approach. In fact, two of the four teams organized to brainstorm protection ideas for WIPP agreed that no markers was the safest approach, as it defends the nuclear waste from "curiosity seekers." Would it, in fact, be less likely that people would hit the repository by accident than that they would intrude due to the existence of markers?

More importantly, not marking the site, but creating it in secrecy would by default add a layer of protection against anyone seeking to use the radioactive material for harmful purposes. Not marking the site at all completely avoids the problems of language, symbolic, or cultural robustness, but of course adds the moral question of our generation's responsibility to protect future generations, as well as future generations' right to our knowledge.

Michael Madsen says in his award winning documentary 'Into Eternity' about forgetting Onkalo: 'The chamber you must always remember to forget'.

But how do we forget something? Is that an active or a passive process; will rumors about buried 'treasures' end up in myths and survive by oral history. It is obvious that one cannot force oblivion. People are curious in nature. It seems clear that forgetting is not an active process and therefore can not be a policy. Secrecy can of course but, that has nothing to do with forgetting. Forgetting is only the result of bad policy and not of no policy.

4- New emerging vision
Traditional approaches to markers and institutional controls for geological disposal were based on the premise that safety was best assured by keeping the facility apart and isolated from people and the surrounding community. But a new –fourth- vision has emerged; that it may be worthwhile to consider the repository as part of a societal fabric. The task of maintaining memory would thus be facilitated by measures that would foster community involve-ment and would go as far as foreseeing that these communities will in time build their own new markers to replace old ones that have become obsolete or are fading away.

Or, as the NEA Forum on Stakeholder Confidence (FSC) puts it in a 2007 report (*07): 
"Because a radioactive waste management facility and site will be present in a host community for a very long time, a fruitful, positive relationship must be established with those residing there, now and in the future. Simply put, designers have to make the radioactive waste management facility and site to suit people’s present needs, ambitions and likings, and to provide for evolutions to match at reasonable cost the needs and desires of future generations. A facility that upsets or repels residents or visitors will only be tolerated and will remain a stranger or an unwelcome presence in the community. The challenge is to design and implement a facility (with its surroundings) that is not only accepted, but in fact becomes a part of the fabric of local life and even something of which the community can be proud."
The repository as something to be proud of.

At the end of the workshop 'Archeology meets radioactive waste' held in Dublin during ESOF2012, Cornelius Holtorf, an archeologist leading a working group on that issue at the Linnaeus University, Sweden, put it this way: "Many questions remain that have to be solved sometime in the future".(*08) 

Permanent retrievability 
But the question about how to mark repositories for coming generations, is preceded by the question of retrievability.

In 1999, A.J. González, IAEA Director of the Division of Radiation and Waste Safety, in his opening remarks of an IAEA confrenece on retrievability of high level nuclear waste, observed that geological disposal was perhaps the only area of safety standards in which the level of international consensus actually "decreased in recent years": in many parts of the world, the development of geological repositories has reached an impasse. According to him that  led to a trend towards reconsidering some of the basic orthodoxies of geological disposal; a- the concept that "waste should be disposed of in its country of origin"; and b- the "irreversibility of geological disposal".  As a response to these concerns, some countries are beginning to study how repositories might be designed to facilitate retrieval of waste. González is clear about that: "the predominant technical view has always been that such retrievability is not only unnecessary, but probably also undesirable from a safety point of view." (*09)

Not long before this statement, two Dutch researchers, Damveld and Van den Berg, wrote a report on nuclear waste and ethics. According to the authors there should be no difference in detriment between the present generation and future generations. If for the present generation retrievable disposal is the preferred option, this should also be applicable to future generations. Consequently, this approach calls for permanent retrievability. Each new generation should take on the task to take care of the waste which is inherited from the previous one. An irreversible situation is thus avoided. Permanent retrievability is considered less unfavorable than final disposal. Because of the requirement of permanent retrievability rock formations such as salt and clay whose physical properties (plastic deformation) tend to fill the space between the disposed radioactive waste and the host rock, are considered to be less obvious. Therefore a permanent retrievable disposal facility at the surface is the recommended option. It is recognized that both the stability of the institutions charged with the management of the waste and the stability of the society as a whole are questionable for the long term and that deliberate or inadvertent human actions may lead to a release of radioactivity from the facility. However, this is a dilemma without a possible solution. (*10)

The international waste management agencies were not amused with this. As a rapporteur from a workshop on Ethical Aspect at the aforementioned IAEA conference, puts it: "It is obvious, that the set of values given in that study is certainly not at all represented in what we could call the nuclear waste management community. To most of us, who are present here, I think that the main conclusions of this study are totally unacceptable."(*11)

However, until now there is no (final or retrievable) underground repository for high level waste and spent fuel in operation.

Recently, on July 3, in an opinion article at Nuclear Engineering International (under the title: No to spent fuel 'disposal'), the lack of solution for the radioactive waste produced for more than half a century, was considered to be a positive fact. According to the –anonymous- author, countries should wait until their nuclear power programs ends before deciding on the ‘final disposal’ of used nuclear fuel. Because by that time, countries would know the exact inventory for disposal; they would not have the ‘reprocess-or-not’ question hanging over their heads; and, perhaps by the time ‘waste’ nuclear fuel is ready for disposal advances in reprocessing or recycling technologies will mean there are better options. (*12)

Although this wait-and-see-attitude is policy in more and more countries, it is the result of the impossibility (not only due to social factors –resistance- but also technical factors) to establish a final repository, it is seen as a nega-tive rather than a positive fact, were waste management authorities feel not particularly proud of. But now, this is brought forward as a positive and desi-rable 'solution'.  

Consider it a new trend: "No nuclear waste solution? Thank God, that leaves all options open!" 
The emperors new clothes.

Waste inventory amnesia
But do we know now, a few decades after the first (low and intermediate level) radioactive waste was stored underground, what is buried in the repositories? Well, no, not exactly. 

Just a few examples: 
In August 2009, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear safety (BMU) disclosed new figures for the amount of plutonium present in the Low-level waste dumped in the 60's and 70's in the underground mine at Asse. According to those new figures, not 9.6 kilogram but an amount of 28 kg of plutonium is present in the waste. Currently 12,000 liters of water per day flows into the salt dome and all the 125,000 barrels are planned to be excavated.

In the UK, in February 2009, the LLW Repository Ltd published in newspapers in the Lake-district area an ad asking for people who worked at Sellafield and "have been involved in the consignment of waste to the Low Level Waste Repository near Drigg". The company responsible for the waste repository was looking for those people "in order to build a comprehensive picture of the waste inventory in the trenches". According to LLWR's managing director, the ad is an act of thoroughness not desperation. But Martin Forwood of Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) said at the time that, despite the "low-level waste" tag, trenches at Drigg are believed to hold more dangerous material. "Information provided to Core in the 1990s revealed debris from the 1957 Windscale fire, materials from the US Three Mile Island reactor accident, and from the Chernobyl explosion."

During a 2004 cleanup operation at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state, U.S., personnel digging through a trench uncovered a safe containing a glass bottle. And inside the bottle, white sludge. Tests identifying the substance as a type of plutonium gave way to more tests until, in the Spring of 2009, scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory revealed what, exactly, the crew had uncovered: A 1944 artifact from the fledgling nuclear weapons program—the oldest existing sample of bomb-grade plutonium from a nuclear reactor, with a half-life of 24,110 years.

Sources: Press release BMU, 29 August 2009 / The Guardian, 14 February 2009 / BBC, 2 March 2009

*01- Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation pilot Plant. Sandia National Laboratories, December 1991. 
*02- Science magazine: A million year hard-disk, 12 July 2012 
*03- Multigenerational Warning Signs, Charles Dunn, March 17, 2011.
*04- Published in Technological Forecasting and Social Change, January 2001
*05- Dennis Duncan, "Backwards and Forwards with the Atomic Priesthood," Alluvium, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 1 July 2012
*06- Susan Garfield: "Atomic Priesthood" is Not Nuclear Guardianship, in: Nuclear Guardianship Forum, Issue # 3, Spring 1994
*07- C. Pescatore, C. Mays: Geological disposal of radioactive waste: records, markers and people. An integration challenge to be met over millennia. Published in: NEA updates, NEA News 2008 – No. 26
*08- quoted in Die Zeit (Germany), 22 August 2012
*09- Opening address A.J. González in: Retrievability of high level waste and spent nuclear fuel. IAEA Seminar in cooperation with the Swedish National Council for Nuclear Waste. Sweden, 24– 27 October 1999, IAEA-TECDOC-1187. p.16 PDF/te_1187_prn.pdf *10- Nuclear waste and core ethics, Damveld & Van den Berg, 1999, published as: Nuclear waste and nuclear ethics, Laka Foundation, January 2000. 
*11- IAEA, 1999; p.280 
*12- No to spent fuel 'disposal', Nuclear Engineering International, 3 July 2012 ncode=188&storyCode=2062682 

Contact: Herman Damveld, Centauerstraat 10, 9742 PP Groningen, The Netherlands.
Email: hdamveld[at]


U.S.: radioactive waste issue: suspension of new reactor licenses

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

A Perfect Storm is brewing on radioactive waste issues in the U.S., one that will inevitably lead to major changes in radioactive waste policy. Already, elements of this storm have led to a full suspension of all new reactor licenses and license renewals in the U.S..

This confluence of events began with President Obama’s decision, early in his term to end the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada radioactive waste dump and, in tandem with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to end Department of Energy funding to pursue this project. Energy Secretary Chu then appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to recommend a new approach to radioactive waste issues.

Given that decision, former NRC Chair Greg Jazcko refused to spend any more NRC money or resources on reviewing the Yucca Mountain license application despite harsh criticism from the industry and some in Congress. Jazcko has now been replaced by Yucca-skeptic Allison Macfarlane, who was a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

The Commission reported its recommendations earlier this year. They include establishment of a new, but largely undefined entity to handle radioactive waste policy -essentially removing the responsibility from the Department of Energy. The Commission also urged adoption of a new, but also undefined, community “consent” process for siting of a radioactive waste dump. Of most immediate concern to environmentalists, the Commission also recommended speedy establishment of a “centralized interim storage” site for radioactive waste. There is no real scientific, technical or safety basis for such a site -it would use the same dry cask technology as can be used, and is being used, at reactor sites. But it would encourage the generation of more radioactive waste and set off the widespread transport of radioactive waste across the U.S. In the 1990s, this concept was dubbed Mobile Chernobyl, and was defeated by a veto from President Clinton, which was upheld by the U.S. Senate.

The Commission’s recommendations are now reflected in new legislation (S. 3469)(*1) offered by retiring Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and will be included, although probably in somewhat different form, in a new proposal slated to come from the Obama administration in September 2012. Sen. Bingaman said his committee will hold a hearing on the bill in September, but a date has not yet been set. And Bingaman has publicly acknowledged that his bill so far has little support and will not pass this year. What he wants to do is to begin to lay the groundwork for Congressional consideration next year. A key stumbling block is that his bill does not establish centralized interim storage fast enough or large enough for some members of Congress -meaning that the environmental community has substantial work to do to explain to Congress- many of whose members were not there in the 1990s -the reasons for our unaltera-ble opposition to centralized interim storage.

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had re-issued its “waste confidence rule, which states that the NRC need not consider radioactive waste generation in licensing new reac-tors or extending licenses of existing reactors, because the NRC was confident that a permanent radioactive waste site would be licensed eventually and that, if not, existing onsite storage is good enough in any case. The agency was sued by several states and environmental groups like NRDC, and this sum-mer a federal court ruled in their favor, saying that the NRC has no valid reason to believe a permanent site ever will be established and has no technical basis for stating that existing on-site storage methods are good enough.

Responding to the court decision, grassroots intervenors (including NIRS) filed new contentions in every current new reactor and license renewal case arguing that the NRC no longer has any basis to issue new reactor licenses or renewals. The NRC, in Chairwoman Macfarlane’s first major decision, ruled in favor of the intervenors and said the agency indeed cannot grant any new reactor licenses, or approve any new license renewals, until it has addressed the waste confidence problem and provided a technical basis for its rule. Early indications are that this could take a year or more. 

In the meantime, pro-nuclear forces are marshaling to try to force Yucca Mountain on Nevada and the American people, and to try other mechanisms to speed nuclear power development, create new radioactive waste sites regardless of environmental impact, and to ignore the hard lessons learned from the past 25 years of failed radioactive waste policy.

The Fukushima disaster and the frightening reality of severe damage to a reactor's irradiated fuel pool have crept into public awareness. At the same time, fuel stored in dry casks at Fukushima was apparently not adversely affected by either the earthquake or tsunami. Add to that a growing recognition that fuel pools at U.S. reactors are typically much fuller than those at Fukushima, and thus are both more vulnerable and carry a larger radioactive inventory, and concern over radioactive waste issues has grown in the U.S. The specter of widespread transport of radioactive waste likely will lead to greater public concern.

Over the past few years, the nation's anti-nuclear, environmental community has managed to coalesce behind a statement of principles for radioactive waste. These principles are known as HOSS -for Hardened On-Site Storage- and reflect a belief that high-level radioactive waste should remain where it has been generated, but that the fuel pools should be emptied to the extent possible as soon as possible into dry cask storage that is additionally protected by berming and other features from natural disasters, terrorism and the like.(*2) No one believes that dry casks are a permanent solution to the problem, but after years of discussion, the nation's anti-nuclear movement believes they are the best answer for the present for the waste that already has been generated. Of course, ending the generation of any more radioactive waste is also vital, and demonstrating the shortcomings of every possible waste storage method -including the preferred method of HOSS- is a key step toward ending waste generation generally.

It is clear that major changes are coming to radioactive waste policy, probably over the next 18 months. What isn’t clear yet is what those changes will be. There is both opportunity and threat. This could be the chance to finally obtain a policy that can withstand public and scientific scrutiny, or it could be a return to the failed approach of seeking short-term industry gain at the expense of long-term scientific and public credibility.

*1- available at: gov/public/index.cfm/featureditems?ID=b6de054d-b342-...
*2- available at:

Source and contact: NIRS Washington


Closed Siberian nuclear city prepares to build radwaste repository

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Bellona Foundation

Residents of the closed Russian nuclear city of Zheleznogorsk, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk, have approved at a July 30 public environmental hearing a project to construct an underground research laboratory, which will study the possibility of constructing a long term subterranean radioactive waste repository.

However, some environmentalists have raise concerns that access to information about the facility, which was only viewable in paper form at the Zheleznogorsk city administration, was intentionally restricted by Russia's state nuclear corporation, Rosatom, to avoid criticism of the project. Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit the city and thus to view the information. Others claimed that only organizations were invited that confirm the position of the Mining and Chemical Combine. Still others are unconvinced by the safety of the proposed repository, saying that safety assurances are hyped propaganda from Russia’s nuclear industry.

The laboratory, near the Siberia city of Krasnoyarsk will be built in the area’s Yeniseisky District and will conduct a minimum of nine years of study of mountainous and geological layers in accord with international recommendations and on the basis of experience from other similar international laboratories attempting to perfect the fragile science of safely storing radioactive waste for dozens if not hundreds of thousands of years underground.

Lab before repository
The aim of the years of study, which will be conducted at the exact underground depth of the possible future repository, is to confirm the fitness of the local geology for safe storage of longlived high- and medium-level radioactive waste, and the development of technology to handle waste. This will encompass the development of building chambers and shafts for radioactive waste storage, as well as the creation of engineering barriers against radiation. Comprehensive studies of the isolating characteristics of engineering barriers will be carried out, as well as studies on the thermodynamics of the chambers and shafts and geological layers.

The studies will form the backbone of a technical report that will be submitted for expert analysis by the State Com-mission on Useful Mineral Supplies, which will form the basis for whether the project can enter its first phase of construction of permanently isolating facilities, or if further study is required. No decision on whether the repository can be put to use can be taken until the underground laboratory has reasonably proved that the repository will be safe. The mining and chemical combine itself already houses wet storage for spent nuclear fuel, and has also launched a dry storage facility, which this year received its first load of spent RBMK reactor fuel.

Limited access to EIS
Public hearings are a necessary com-ponent of a State Environmental Impact Study of planned economic or other activities. The aim of the Environmental Impact Study is to avert or minimize negative environmental, societal, and economic consequences. According to the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine, a mere 50 people from the 100,000 strong region participated in reviewing the environmental impact report before the hearing, including a number of official inquiries from authorities.

Information about the hearing was posted, as required by law, 30 days before it took place in official media. The State Environmental Impact Study was accessible for review, and preparations of remarks and suggestions of interested parties were addressed in the public reception of the Zheleznogorsk city administration, which was staffed by consultants who answered questions from citizens on the voluminous technical text and who noted their opinions on the planned facility.

Environmental groups from Krasnoyarsk and Zheleznogorsk, representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology, scientists and specialists in various fields were invited to attend Monday’s hearing.

But there were complaints that access to the impact study was extremely limited. "It was only possible to view the environmental impact study material by traveling personally to Zheleznogorsk,” said Valery Komissarov, chief engineer of the isotope and chemical factory of the Zheleznogorsk Mining and Chemical Combine. “Paper and electronic copies were forbidden, three copies of the document were available in the public reception of the city administration, where you could copy some information by hand,” he said.

Because of Zheleznogorsk’s militarily closed status, special passes are required to visit, and without being able to visit, many interested citizens were unable to view the Environmental Impact Study. According to Vladimir Mikheyev, director of the Citizens’ Center For Nuclear Nonproliferation, the closed nature of the impact study shows that Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom is hardly ready to cooperate with the public, specifically with critical observations by ecological groups. They only invited organizations that confirm the position of the corporation to their event,” Mikheyev told the Russian Press Line news agency.

Source: Bellona Foundation, 2 August, written by Anna Kireeva, translated by Charles Digges
Contact: WISE Russia, Moskovsky prospect 120-34, 236006 Kaliningrad, Russia
Tel: +7 903 299 75 84
Email: ecodefense[at]

SKB license application show serious shortcomings

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Joanna Widstrand

In March 2011, the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company, SKB, submitted an application to build a repository for spent nuclear fuel near the nuclear power plant at Forsmark, about 160 km up the coast from Stockholm. In accordance with Swedish law the application was circulated for comment among all the institutions and organizations that have participated in the Environmental Impact Assessment consultations. Comments were to focus on perceived gaps in SKB’s environmental impact statement. The deadline for comment was 1 June 2012. 

Several parties to the consultations note serious shortcomings in the application and the environmental impact statement (EIS). They include the two national level environmental groups who have taken part in the consultations, namely, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, SSNC, with its sister organization The Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG, and Milkas, representing the Swedish Anti-Nuclear Movement and Friends of the Earth Sweden.

SKB's license application will now be processed through two parallel reviews in the Swedish legal system: one performed by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM), who will check the application’s compliance with current legislation in the radiation safety area, and the other performed by the Environmental Court, who will examine its compliance with the Environmental Code. SSM plays two parts in the pro-cess: it is a reviewing body in its own right, and it acts as a consultative body to the Environmental Court. 

The initial phase, in which the need for amendments to the application is to be analysed, is common to both SSM‘s and the Court’s review. This first step of the licensing process is important, since it represents an opportunity for input of a broad range of opinions on the application through a national consultation process. When the present consultation process is ended, the Environmental Court and the SSM will proceed to review the application for as long as they find necessary and then determine what amendments are necessary. Only when the application is complete will the authority and the court start the main review process. If the court decides that the amendments are not satisfactory, the application may be rejected.

In the main review there will be a new consultation on the issues and there will be a hearing; thereafter the court and the regulator will submit their assessments of the application to the Swedish Government. The Government will then decide the final repository’s fate, either granting a license to SKB or rejecting the company’s application, taking due account of the recommendations of SSM and the Environmental Court.

Issues concerning longterm safety
SKB’s proposed method for final disposal of spent nuclear fuel is a KBS-3 repository, the longterm safety of which relies on artificial barriers of copper and clay. The 5 meter long fuel rods are to be put in a total of 6,000 canisters made out of copper, which are to be depo-sited in shallow boreholes about 500 m down in the Forsmark bedrock. The boreholes and access tunnels are to be filled out with bentonite clay with the intention to keep the spent nuclear fuel encapsulated and separated from the biosphere for as long as the contents pose a hazard – in essence, for all time to come. The bentonite clay is supposed to protect the copper canisters from contact with groundwaterleading fissures in the surrounding bedrock. The main function of the clay is for it to swell when in contact with water, pretty much like cat litter does. Once saturated, it is expected to keep the canisters and the spent fuel shielded from their surroundings. SKB assures us that everything will be fine.

However, the organizations who participated in the EIA consultation process are of a different opinion. Particularly critical are, besides environmental organizations, the Swedish Environmental Agency, the municipalities of Östhammar and Oskarshamn, the Royal Institute of Technology, and Lund University. 

The main critique presented in the SSNC’s and MKG’s consultation document is that the company’s application does not contain scientific evidence to support the claims for longterm safety of the repository. Copper corrosion, for example, is a problem that has not been sufficiently investigated by the company. In order for the bentonite clay to function as the intended isolator in the repository, a specific amount of water – not too much, not too little – needs to be present in the bedrock so that the bentonite will start swelling. If the clay does not get activated, which is a possible scenario in the relatively dry Forsmark bedrock, there is an imminent risk that the clay will be affected by the heat and radioactivity coming from the canisters and possibly erode. Given an eroded buffer, the canisters would be exposed to water seeping into the repository, which may corrode the copper canisters. The interplay between the copper and clay in a repository environment is another area that requires further investigation. In sum: It is not  acceptable to build a repository that is supposed to be safe and protect humans and the environment from radioactive waste/pollution/toxicity for over 100,000 years, when so much research on such key issues is still lacking.

Milkas seconds the criticisms put forward by the SSNC and MKG. In addition, Milkas raises issues relating to the geological characteristics of the chosen site. A coastal site like that at Forsmark implies the risk that ground-water will readily spread any leakage from the repository into the Baltic Sea. In the longer term there is the problem of coming ice ages. The repository is to be installed in a tectonic lens – a body of crystalline granite in the midst of a shearing zone. Whereas the zone is stable at present, it may very likely be reactivated under the strains associated with glaciation. On the whole, SKB tends consistently to underestimate the seismic effects of glaciation. The installation of the repository in the lens, in itself, may impair the integrity of the lens, in which case the whole repository is at risk – perhaps even a good deal earlier than the next ice age.

Other concerns include an apparent inability on the part of the applicant to elaborate scenarios that challenge the success of the repository project. Both the Government and the regulatory body have pointed to this bias and called for such scenarios. None has been forthcoming. As a result, we are left to rely on assurances.

A good share of Milkas comments, addressed specifically to the Environmental Court, concerns procedural as well as substantive shortcomings in the EIA process and the EIS in relation to the requirements of the Environmental Code. In Milkas’ view, the applicant has effectively subverted the dialogic method that the Code envisages to ensure allround evaluation of major projects’ environmental consequences.

What next?
SSM's comments on the need for amendments are to be handed in to the Environmental Court by November 1. At the same time the Swedish Council for Nuclear Waste, a consultatory scientific board to the Swedish Government, will give their view. After that, correspondence between SKB and the various organizations who participated in the consultation process will take place in order to discuss the additional work to be required of the company. The Court’s determination on the issue of amendments is expected at the end of 2013, at the earliest. The story continues…

Source and contact: Joanna Widstrand, former project assistant at MKG, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review.
Tel: +4631-711 00 92
Email: jo.widstrand[at]

WISE Sweden

Nuclear waste nightmares: USA, Germany, France

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On Valentine's Day 2014, a drum of packaged waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) ruptured 2,150 feet (655 metres) underground in New Mexico's nuclear waste repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) which is carved from ancient salt beds. The incident was described as a heat-generating chemical reaction – the US Department of Energy (DOE) called it a deflagration rather than an explosion.

Explosion or not, the chemical reaction compromised the integrity of a barrel and spread contaminants through more than 3,000 feet of tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, into the environment, and to air monitoring equipment approximately 3,000 feet north-west of the exhaust shaft. The accident resulted in 21 workers receiving low-level internal radiation exposure.

It later transpired that LANL had improperly packaged hundreds of waste drums with a combustible mix of nitrate salts – a byproduct of nuclear weapons production – and organic cat litter, causing a hot reaction in one drum that cracked the lid. The rupture released americium and plutonium into the deep salt mine and, in small amounts, into the environment.1 The repository is still closed two years later, and a March 2016 date for re-opening has been pushed back to later this year.

"These accidents during the first 15 years of operation really illustrate the challenge of predicting the behavior of the repository over 10,000 years," said Rod Ewing, the Frank Stanton Professor in Nuclear Security at Stanford and a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.

The Stanford experts also suggest more attention should be paid to how the buried materials may interact with each other, particularly with salty brine, over centuries. A single storage drum may contain a variety of materials, such as lab coats, gloves and laboratory instruments; thus, the chemistry is complex. Ewing said that the complacency that led to the accidents at WIPP can also occur in the safety analysis. Therefore, he advises, it is important to carefully review the safety analysis as new proposals for more plutonium disposal are considered.2

Asse, Germany

Now, 500 metres beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, another nightmare is playing out, according to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist. Enough plutonium bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm's way forever. But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface. It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.3

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste, including the waste dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony. But Germany still has no plan for dealing with high-level waste and spent fuel. Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. "We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I'm not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done," he says. Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the Commission. The problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The problems at Asse became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. In 2011, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) ruled that the waste had to be removed. But this is likely to take decades.

Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don't know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity. And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in, and flooding of the mine can't be ruled out.

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033. Meanwhile the bill keeps rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions. Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

Tunnel collapse and fatality at French repository site

Meanwhile one worker has been killed and another injured in a tunnel collapse at France's planned nuclear waste repository at Bure, in north-eastern France. According to French waste management agency Andra, geophysical surveys were being carried out at the time of the collapse and the rockfall is believed to have happened as drilling was taking place. Scheduled for an authorization decree in 2018 and industrial commissioning in 2025, the facility – if approved – is expected to bury France's highly-radioactive nuclear waste.4

Repository cost escalation in France

Reuters reported on January 12 that shares in French utility EDF sank to an all-time low after Andra said that the cost of a national nuclear waste repository for intermediate- and high-level waste could be higher than EDF's estimates. Andra says that costs for the deep geological storage project could range from €20 billion to €30 billion.5

French energy minister Ségolène Royal signed a decree setting the 'reference cost' for the repository at €25 billion. In 2005, Andra estimated the cost of the facility at between €13.5 and €16.5 billion. In 2009 Andra re-estimated the cost at around €36 billion. In a confidential 2014 file, which was recently leaked, Andra gave a cost estimate of €34.4 billion, based on 2012 prices, with construction accounting for 58% of the costs and operational costs over 100 years accounting for 26% of the total.6

EDF said that the new €25 billion reference cost will "substitute the estimated benchmark cost of €20.8 billion on which EDF Group relied in its consolidated financial statements at the end of December 2014 and at the end of June 2015". EDF said the increase in provisions will have a negative impact of around €500 million post-tax on net income group share in 2015.6

Reprinted from nuClear news with additions from Nuclear Monitor.

nuClear news, No.82, February 2016,

1. Albuquerque Journal, 19 October 2015,
2. Stanford News, 15 Jan 2016,
011516.html and Nature 13 Jan 2016,
3. New Scientist, 29 Jan 2016,
4. Cumbria Trust, 27 Jan 2016,
WNN, 26 Jan 2016, 'Fatal rockfall at planned French repository site',

5. Geert De Clercq, 12 Jan 2016, 'EDF sinks to all-time low as nuclear waste cost estimate soars',

6. World Nuclear News, 18 Jan 2016, 'Minister sets benchmark cost for French repository',

Commission recommends international high-level nuclear waste dump for South Australia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor editor

A Royal Commission established by the government of South Australia to investigate options for nuclear expansion has released its interim report.1 Australia's role in the nuclear fuel cycle is currently limited to uranium mining and export. The Royal Commission is negative about almost all of the proposals it is asked to consider. It concluded that uranium conversion, enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing will not be economically viable for the foreseeable future. It found that conventional nuclear power and small reactors will not be economically viable for the foreseeable future.

Significantly, the Royal Commission has dealt a blow to advocates of 'integral fast reactors' (IFR). The Commission faced a major co-ordinated lobbying exercise promoting a plan to import spent fuel and to convert it (well, a small fraction of it) to fuel for IFRs. The illogical nature of the waste-to-fuel plan is neatly debunked in an important recent report by The Australia Institute.2

The Royal Commission could not be clearer on the topic of fast reactors. Its interim report states: "Fast reactors or reactors with other innovative designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in South Australia in the foreseeable future. No licensed and commercially proven design is currently operating. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment. Moreover, the electricity generated has not been demonstrated to be cost-competitive with current light water reactor designs."

So the waste-to-fuel IFR fantasies are dead and buried ... for the time being.

The Royal Commission promotes a plan for South Australia to accept nuclear waste from power plants around the world for storage and disposal – 138,000 tonnes heavy metal of spent nuclear fuel and 390,000 cubic meters of intermediate-level waste – over about 100 years. It makes absurd claims about the potential profits to be made, claims echoed by the state's one mass circulation newspaper – a Murdoch tabloid.

However the revenue estimates have no basis in reality. There is no comparable overseas model of commercial trade of nuclear waste for disposal. No real idea how many countries might avail themselves of the opportunity to send nuclear waste to Australia for disposal, or how much they might send, or how much they might pay. So there's no way of knowing whether revenue would exceed costs.

The estimated construction costs for a deep underground repository for high level waste are in the tens of billions of dollars. For example the construction cost estimate in France is US$27.8 billion (€25 billion)3 while in Japan the estimate is US$31 billion (€28 billion).4

Of course, there are significant additional costs associated with operating and monitoring repositories. The US governments estimates that to build a repository and operate it for 150 years would cost US$96 billion.5 The Royal Commission provides a similar figure: costs of $145 billion over 120 years for construction, operation and decommissioning.

But the above timeframes – 150 years in the U.S. report and 120 years in the Royal Commission study – are nothing compared to the lifespan of nuclear waste. It takes 300,000 years for high level waste to decay to the level of the original uranium ore.6 The Royal Commission report notes that spent nuclear fuel (high level nuclear waste) "requires isolation from the environment for many hundreds of thousands of years."

Economist Prof. Richard Blandy commented: "We are bequeathing a stream of costs to our successor generations. They will be poorer as a result, and will have reason to curse their forebears for selfishly making themselves better off at their expense."7

Despite the best efforts of the mainstream political parties and the Murdoch press, public opinion is strongly against the plan for a nuclear waste dump in South Australia, and the proposal is likely to meet with fierce opposition from Aboriginal Traditional Owners.








7. Richard Blandy, 23 Feb 2016, 'Nuclear waste dump confounds cost-benefit analysis',

More information:

– 'Australian push to become the world's nuclear waste dump', Nuclear Monitor #808, 18 Aug 2015,

– Friends of the Earth, Australia:

Spent fuel storage proposal in Sweden released for public comment

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Miles Goldstick – Swedish Environmental Movement's Nuclear Waste Secretariat

On 29 January 2016 the nuclear industry's application to construct a spent fuel repository beside the Forsmark nuclear power station and an encapsulation facility near the Oskarshamn nuclear power station was released for public comment by both the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmydigheten, SSM) and the Land and Environmental Court (Mark- och miljödomstolen, MMD). SSM examines the application according to the Nuclear Activities Act and MMD according to the Environmental Code.

On 5 February 2016, for all countries around the Baltic Sea, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency announced consultation on the application according to articles 4 and 5 of Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) and EU Directive 2011/92/EU for interim storage, encapsulation and final disposal of spent nuclear fuel. Comments are requested no later than 15 April 2016.

The application is to construct a spent fuel repository using a method the Swedish nuclear industry calls KBS-3 (an abbreviation of kärnbränslesäkerhet, nuclear fuel safety; the "3" refers to the third variation). It is a KBS type facility that the Finnish government approved 12 November 2015. The method consists of storing spent fuel in cast iron canisters encapsulated in copper and placed, surrounded by bentonite clay, in holes in the floor of tunnels about 500 meters under the surface in crystalline rock.

An important milestone for Sweden and internationally

Releasing the application for comment is an important milestone in the Swedish regulatory process. It is also an important milestone internationally. The nuclear industry worldwide is keeping a close eye on the process, eagerly hoping for approval of the project and thus being able to claim the spent fuel management problem is solved.

In Finland, the application process is less rigorous than in Sweden. In Finland, a facility about 500 meters below the surface was constructed before the government approved moving forward with a testing phase. In Sweden, if the government approves the application, excavation cannot begin until conditions are set by SSM and the MMD.

The Swedish nuclear industry, via its company SKB, submitted its KBS application to SSM and MMD on 16 March 2011. The period from then until 29 January 2016, almost five years, was needed for SSM and MMD to determine if the application was of adequate quality to be released for public comment. The application was examined to determine if anything was missing. MMD had three rounds of public comment in this phase. As well, SSM made several requests to SKB to supplement the application with further information, e.g. regarding the risk of copper corroding in oxygen free water. MMD however made no such requests but only asked SKB to respond to comments from others. SKB responded by providing very limited supplementary information to both SSM and MMD. Comments by environmental organizations were in generally ignored by SKB and did not result in submission of more information by the company.

Even though the phase of determining if the application was adequate for release for public comment took almost five years, both SSM and MMD have now given the public only a few months to comment on the proposal. The deadline for comments set by MMD is 30 March 2016 and the deadline set by SSM is 30 April 2016.

The next step in the MMD review process is a "main hearing" where oral presentations can be made. Information presented in written form cannot also be given orally. The hearing is scheduled for some time between October and December 2016.

The following step is for MMD to make its statement to the government, which is scheduled for some time between February and June 2017. SSM intends to make its statement to the government about the same time. There may still be delays in the process.

After considering the statements by SSM and MMD, the government can reject the application. If the government is considering approving the application, it must first ask the approval of the Municipality of Östhammar (where Forsmark is located) and the Municipality of Oskarshamn before making its decision. If one or both of the municipalities do not approve, the government can in any case still approve the project. As the next Swedish general election (federal, regional and municipal) is 9 September 2018, the government could postpone its decision until after the election.

If the government approves the application, it is then up to MMD and SSM to set conditions for implementation of the project. SKB can then begin construction. The MMD's decision on conditions can be appealed.

Main technical issues

The main technical issues are not unique to Sweden. These include the method in general (e.g. retrievability and monitorability, including limitation of nuclear proliferation risks), location (e.g. proximity to water bodies, other nuclear facilities and population centers), and geologic conditions regardless of placement on the surface or at some depth. Each method in turn has its own specific technical issues depending on where it is located.

Two main issues of the proposed KBS-3 facility are the corrosion rate of copper and the behaviour of bentonite clay under different hydrological conditions. Both topics are highly technical and comprehensible only to advanced specialists. The same goes for determination of adequate geological stability. Estimation of earthquake risk is very complicated. SKB specialists have not found any technical problem that blocks their project. Independent specialists are however not in agreement.

There are aspects of the KBS-3 proposal that do not require technical expertise, e.g. if monitorability should be required (none is currently included), and placement inland instead of on the Baltic coast to lower the risk of contaminating the Baltic Sea. Both these aspects do not fall into the category of being determinative regarding rejection of a KBS facility. A monitoring system could be added and a site found inland.

The law according to the Environmental Code requires examination of alternative methods. To date, SKB has not according to several stakeholders adequately examined very deep bore holes, dry storage at shallow depths or inside mountains, nor hardened on-site storage (HOSS) of the type discussed in the US. It is up to the MMD to interpret if the legal requirement for examination of alternatives has been met.

Political timing and sustainable development

The issue of political timing is perhaps the most important issue from the perspective of sustainable development. Establishment of a KBS-3 facility will give the nuclear industry the opportunity of claiming that the spent fuel management problem is "solved" and that thus use of nuclear power can be continued and expanded. At the same time, presently existing waste must be handled in the best manner possible. However, adding to the volume of the waste exasperates the problem and increases costs. Delaying a "solution" until nuclear power is no longer considered viable could result in fewer resources being squandered on nuclear power.

Funding for environmental organizations

The current law regulating funding for environmental organizations to participate in the application process states that funding can only be used up to one year after the application is released for public comment. The government, via the Ministry of Environment and Energy is however reviewing the law. SSM has recommended that funding be extended until the government decision according to the Environmental Code (i.e. regarding the statement from MMD), but be kept limited to the KBS-3 application. Environmental organizations have requested the funding be made permanent and be broadened to include all forms of nuclear waste and decommissioning of nuclear facilities. As can be expected, the nuclear industry does not want the funding period to be extended nor broadened.

What you can do

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can make a submission to SSM and MMD. All submissions become part of the public record. Submissions sent to MMD are forwarded to SKB for comment and sent out to a distribution list.

Requests can be made for more time to examine the application. Considering the large volume of material making up the proposal, at least a year is reasonable.

Organizations in countries that are parties to the Espoo Convention should send comments to the Swedish EPA with copies to SSM and MMD (see

Contact information for submissions

Land and Environmental Court


Note case number: M 1333-11

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority


Note case number: SSM2011-1135

Swedish Environmental Protection Agency

Attention: Åsa Wisén

Note case number: NV-07138-15.

More information

KBS-3 and the Final Repository Application – A Little Help With the Flow of Information,

Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG),

Espoo Convention information at

One deep underground dump, one dud

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green − Nuclear Monitor editor

There is only one deep underground dump (DUD) for nuclear waste anywhere in the world, and it's a dud. The broad outline of this dud DUD story is simple and predictable: over a period of 10−15 years, high standards gave way to complacency, cost-cutting and corner-cutting.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico, USA, is a burial site for long-lived intermediate-level waste from the US nuclear weapons program. More than 171,000 waste drums have been stored in salt caverns 2,100 feet (640 metres) underground since WIPP opened in 1999.

Earl Potter, a lawyer who represented Westinghouse, WIPP's first operating contractor, said: "At the beginning, there was an almost fanatical attention to safety. I'm afraid the emphasis shifted to looking at how quickly and how inexpensively they could dispose of this waste."1

Likewise, Rick Fuentes, president of the Carlsbad chapter of the United Steelworkers union, said: "In the early days, we had to prove to the stakeholders that we could operate this place safely for both people and the environment. After time, complacency set in. Money didn't get invested into the equipment and the things it should have."1

Before WIPP opened, sceptical locals were invited to watch experiments to assure them how safe the facility would be. Waste containers were dropped from great heights onto metal spikes, submerged in water and rammed by trains.1 Little did they know that a typo and kitty litter would be the undoing of WIPP.

On 14 February 2014, a drum rupture spread contaminants through about one-third of the underground caverns and tunnels, up the exhaust shaft, and into the outside environment. Twenty-two people were contaminated with low-level radioactivity.

A Technical Assessment Team convened by the US Department of Energy (DoE) has recently released a report into the February 2014 accident.2 The report concludes that just one drum was the source of radioactive contamination, and that the drum rupture resulted from internal chemical reactions.

Chemically incompatible contents in the drum − nitrate salt residues, organic sorbent and an acid neutralization agent − supported heat-generating chemical reactions which led to the creation of gases within the drum. The build-up of gases displaced the drum lid, venting radioactive material and hot matter that further reacted with the air or other materials outside the drum to cause the observed damage.

Kitty litter

The problems began at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where the drum was packed. One of the problems at LANL was the replacement of inorganic absorbent with an organic absorbent − kitty litter. Carbohydrates in the kitty litter provided fuel for a chemical reaction with metal nitrate salts being disposed of.

The switch to kitty litter took effect on 1 August 2012. LANL staff were explicitly directed to "ENSURE an organic absorbent (kitty litter) is added to the waste" when packaging drums of nitrate salts. LANL's use of organic kitty litter defied clear instructions from WIPP to use an inorganic absorbent.3

Why switch from inorganic absorbent to organic kitty litter? The most likely explanation is that the problem originated with a typo in notes from a meeting at LANL about how to package "difficult" waste for shipment to WIPP − and the subsequent failure of anyone at LANL to correct the error. In email correspondence, Mark Pearcy, a member of the team that reviews waste to ensure it is acceptable to be stored at WIPP, said: "General consensus is that the 'organic' designation was a typo that wasn't caught."3

LANL officials have since acknowledged several violations of its Hazardous Waste Facility Permit including the failure to follow proper procedures in making the switch to organic litter, and the lack of follow-up on waste that tests showed to be highly acidic.4

Ongoing risks

The heat generated by the rupture of drum #68660 may have destabilized up to 55 other drums that were in close proximity. A June 2014 report by LANL staff based at WIPP said the heat "may have dried out some of the unreacted oxidizer-organic mixtures increasing their potential for spontaneous reaction. The dehydration of the fuel-oxidizer mixtures caused by the heating of the drums is recognized as a condition known to increase the potential for reaction."5

The Albuquerque Journal reported on March 15 that 368 drums with waste comparable to drum #68660 are stored underground at WIPP − 313 in Panel 6, and 55 in Room 7 of Panel 7, the same room as drum #68660. WIPP operators are trying to isolate areas considered to be at risk with chain links, brattice cloth to restrict air flow, mined salt buffers and steel bulkheads. Efforts to shut off particular rooms and panels have been delayed and complicated by radiological contamination, limitations on the number of workers and equipment that can be used due to poor ventilation, and months of missed maintenance that followed the February 2014 accident.6

An Associated Press report states that since September 2012, LANL packed up to 5,565 drums with organic kitty litter. Of particular concern are 16 drums with highly acidic contents as well as nitrate salts. Of those 16 drums, 11 are underground at WIPP (one of them is drum #68660), and the other five are in temporary storage at a private waste facility in Andrews, Texas.4

Freedom of Information revelations

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper has revealed further details about problems before and after the February 2014 accident, based on material from a Freedom of Information Act request.3

The New Mexican reports that LANL workers came across a batch of waste that was highly acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. A careful review of treatment options should have followed, but instead LANL and its contractors took shortcuts, adding acid neutralizer as well as kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The wrong neutralizer was used, exacerbating the problem.3

One of these waste drums was #68660. Documents accompanying the drum from LANL to WIPP made no mention of the high acidity or the neutralizer, and they said that it contained an inorganic absorbent.3

The decision to take shortcuts was likely motivated by pressure to meet a deadline to remove waste from an area at LANL considered vulnerable to fire. Meeting the deadline would have helped LANL contractors' extend their lucrative contracts to package waste at LANL and transport it to WIPP.3

For two years preceding the February 2014 incident, LANL refused to allow inspectors conducting annual audits for the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) inside the facility where waste was treated, saying the auditors did not have appropriate training to be around radioactive waste. The NMED did not insist on gaining access because, in the words of a departmental spokesperson, it was "working on higher priority duties at the time that mandated our attention."3

There were further lapses after the drum rupture. The New Mexican reported:

"Documents and internal emails show that even after the radiation leak, lab officials downplayed the dangers of the waste − even to the Carlsbad managers whose staff members were endangered by its presence − and withheld critical information from regulators and WIPP officials investigating the leak. Internal emails, harshly worded at times, convey a tone of exasperation with LANL from WIPP personnel, primarily employees of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates the repository."3

Several months after the rupture of drum #68660, an LANL chemist discovered that the contents of the drum matched those of a patented explosive. Personnel at WIPP were not informed of the potential for an explosive reaction for nearly another week − and they only learned about the problem after a DoE employee leaked a copy of the chemist's memo to a colleague in Carlsbad the night before a planned entry into the room that held the ruptured drum. That planned entry was cancelled. Workers in protective suits entered the underground area several days later to collect samples.3

"I am appalled that LANL didn't provide us this information," Dana Bryson from DoE's Carlsbad Field Office wrote in an email when she learned of the memo.3

The DoE employee who first alerted WIPP personnel to the threat was reprimanded by the DoE's Los Alamos Site Office for sharing the information.3


Inevitably the clean-up has faced problems due to radioactive contamination in the underground panels and tunnels, and delays in routine underground maintenance because of the contamination. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on some of these problems:

"In October, when a fan was tested for the first time since the accident, it kicked up low levels of radioactive materials that escaped from the mine. Waste drums that normally would have been permanently disposed of within days of their arrival at WIPP instead were housed in an above-ground holding area for months and leaked harmful but nonradioactive vapors that sickened four workers. A chunk of the cavern's ceiling crashed to the ground after the contamination delayed for months the routine bolting that would have stabilized the roof."1

Another problem is that workers are entering underground areas that are not being monitored for carcinogenic volatile organic compounds. Monitoring of these compounds, a condition of WIPP's permit from the state of New Mexico, has not been taking place since February 2014 because of limited access to contaminated underground areas.5

Don Hancock from the Southwest Research and Information Center said:

"They have no intention of starting to do the volatile organic compound monitoring in the underground at least until January of 2016. They fully intend to keep sending workers into the underground with no intention of following this requirement. It's in violation of the permit, and the Environment Department should say so."5


The NMED has fined the DoE US$54 million (€49.2m). The Department identified 13 violations at WIPP, and imposed penalties of US$17.7 million (€16.1m). The Department identified 24 violations at LANL, and imposed penalties of US$36.6 million (€33.3m).7 The DoE is appealing the fines.8

The DoE says that any state fines it pays for the WIPP accident will come from money appropriated to clean up nuclear weapons sites in New Mexico. A 2016 budget year summary presented in February by DoE's Office of Environmental Management says: "Any fines and penalties assessed on the EM [environmental management] program would be provided by cleanup dollars, resulting in reduced funding for cleanup activities."8

NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn responded:

"Essentially, DoE is threatening to punish states by doing less cleanup work if states attempt to hold it accountable for violating federal and state environmental laws. States like New Mexico welcome federal facilities into our communities with the understanding that these facilities will respect the health and safety of our citizens by complying with federal and state laws."8

The NMED is working on a new compliance order that could include fines of more than US$100 million (€91.1m). Flynn said:

"We've indicated all along that if DoE is willing to take accountability for the events that caused the release and work with the state then we'd be willing to release them from any further liability at Los Alamos and WIPP. If DoE is not willing to take accountability for what's occurred, then they are going to face significant additional penalties."9

A February 22 editorial in the Albuquerque Journal states:

"It would behoove the DoE to quit poisoning the well when it doesn't have another option for disposing of this kind of waste underground. ... So the DOE should start paying up and playing fair with the only game in town."10

Greg Mello from the Los Alamos Study Group said that an increase in weapons spending proposed by the Obama administration would pay "all the NMED-proposed fines a few times over."8

Clean-up costs

Costs associated with the February 2014 accident include clean-up costs, fines, and costs associated with managing the backlog of waste at other sites until it can be sent to WIPP. Total costs will be at least US$500 million (€455m).1

WIPP is unlikely to be fully operational until at least 2018 according to federal Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. "We are targeting 2018 but I have to admit that that remains a little uncertain; the key project is the new ventilation system and that is still undergoing engineering analysis," Moniz said in February.

Don Hancock doubts that the 2018 timeline can be met. Salt mines exist across the world, he said, but reopening a contaminated salt mine following a radiological release is unprecedented and the government has no model to follow.11

Earl Potter, the former Westinghouse lawyer with a long association with WIPP, told the New Mexican that he doubted whether WIPP could continue if another radiation leak happened during the recovery process. "We can survive one," he said, "but two, I don't think so."1

1. Patrick Malone, 14 Feb 2015, 'Repository's future uncertain, but New Mexico town still believes',
2. Technical Assessment Team, March 2015, 'Investigation of Incident at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant'
Full report:
3. Patrick Malone, 15 Nov 2014, 'LANL officials downplayed waste's dangers even after leak',
4. Jeri Clausing / Associated Press, 4 July 2014, 'U.S. lab admits violating nuke-waste permit',
5. Patrick Malone, 29 Nov 2014, 'Emails raise questions about risks to WIPP workers sent underground',
6. Lauren Villagran, 15 March 2015, 'Roof collapses pose safety risk for workers at WIPP',
7. WNN, 8 Dec 2014, 'Fines follow WIPP incidents',
8. Mark Oswald, 20 Feb 2015, 'DOE says any fines for WIPP leak will come from clean-up money',
9. 10 Feb 2015, 'New Mexico Considers More Fines Over Nuke Leak',
10. Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board, 22 Feb 2015, 'Editorial: Balking at fines won't help DOE reach a nuke solution',
11. Meg Mirshak, 24 March 2015, 'New Mexico group doubts WIPP repository will reopen by deadline, leaving waste stranded at Savannah River Site',

Yucca Mountain opposition: it's not just Harry

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Michael Mariotte − President of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS)

The conventional wisdom scribes have been falling all over themselves since US Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid announced last month that he won't run for re-election to spout what is obvious to all of them: Reid's exit means Yucca Mountain will finally open.

After all, Super Harry has been single-handedly preventing Yucca from becoming the nation's single most lethal plot of land.

If you've never seen conventional wisdom in action, then you're in for a treat. Here it is, in all its shining glory, in The Hill: 'Reid's exit removes obstacle to Yucca nuclear waste site'.1

Ignore the 880, mostly inane, comments to the piece and focus on the intro: Reid's retirement "is removing one of the biggest obstacles" to Yucca. Find an anonymous Hill staffer to quote, preferably a Republican:

"There's no question that people are looking around and saying, 'Yeah, this news is good for solving the nuclear stalemate and having Yucca be part of that solution,' a Senate GOP aide said of Reid's planned departure in 2017. There's no reason to oppose Yucca beyond a political calculation, and the math on that just changed."

And make sure to get a quote from Yucca's biggest booster, Illinois Republican Rep. John Shimkus and add the tantalizing possibility that some Democrats support Yucca Mountain (as a few always have).

Bury the actual facts late in the story, after the ads. Like, the fact that likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also opposes Yucca Mountain. As does the state's other Senator Dean Heller, a Republican. And the Republican Governor, Brian Sandoval, as well. Oh, wait, the article does forget to mention that one.

Oh, and some environmental groups also oppose Yucca Mountain.

Actually, it's not just some; it's essentially all environmental and clean energy organizations across the country. When we tallied it up in 2002, more than 50 national organizations and 700+ regional, state and local organizations from across the nation had publicly stated their opposition to Yucca.2

So it's not just Nevadans either. And it's not like the number has gone down since 2002; if anything, the number has gone up.

Why is there such widespread opposition to Yucca? It's not because Harry Reid doesn't want the project. It's not blind support for President Obama, who began ending the project as soon as he came into office in 2009. It's because as one of the most studied places on Earth, it's the one place on Earth we know will leak if it becomes a radioactive waste dump − a fact NIRS and other environmental groups have been pointing out, with greater and greater scientific backing, for decades.

I mean no disrespect for Senator Reid here. He's done a terrific job on Yucca Mountain, on renewable energy and on a lot of other things. In fact, I have tremendous respect for Senator Reid.

But I remember when he was the junior senator from Nevada, and Senator Richard Bryan was the senior senator, and very effectively led the Congressional opposition to Yucca which culminated in the 2000 veto by President Clinton of a Yucca/Mobile Chernobyl bill − a veto that was sustained by one vote.

It was Bryan who spoke from the stage at our 1997 anti-Yucca concerts in Washington with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Indigo Girls and more. Not Reid.

During the debate on that 2000 legislation, I watched C-Span on my computer and fed Reid's office with information every few minutes to counter the pro-Yucca statements. Reid wasn't as ready then to effectively take on Yucca; Bryan, nearing the end of his political career, didn't need any help.

Indeed, it wasn't until after Bryan retired, and Reid and I had a private meeting in his office, that we became fully comfortable with him in his new role as the lead anti-Yucca spokesperson on the Hill. And he went on to far surpass all of our expectations.

But the opposition to Yucca isn't − despite the conventional wisdom − about Harry Reid. It's about the fundamental fact that putting the nation's lethal high-level radioactive waste in a highly seismically-active zone, where radioactive materials from weapons tests that went into the mountain in the 1950s have since leaked back out of the mountain, makes no sense.

It's about the fundamental fact that even the Department of Energy admits that the mountain provides essentially none of the required prevention of leakage of the waste; the casks − which will rust and decay and the unbuilt and quite possibly unbuildable titanium shields the DOE now says are essential − provide 95% of that protection. If that's the case, and it is, then the waste could go anywhere. Like underneath any of the nuclear reactor sites in the country.

That would be a stupid idea, of course; but it's no less stupid at Yucca Mountain. If we're going to have a permanent waste repository, and we need one sooner or later − sooner if we can end radioactive waste generation sooner − it should at least offer some measure of protection. We know it won't at Yucca Mountain.

The opposition to Yucca Mountain is deep, broad and national. It also has proven its effectiveness over the years. And it's not going away. Senator Reid knows that. That's why he can confidently say, as he did the day after his announcement, that "Yucca Mountain is dead."

The Las Vegas Sun knows that too; that's why their front page article last month on the opposition didn't focus on Reid, it focused on the grassroots.3 By the way, the Sun also put a kind article about me and the NIRS' Legacy Fund as a sidebar on the front page too.4

Heck, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff know it. They won't even recommend that the project be pursued any longer.

The nuclear industry and its backers are persistent. That's why some battles have to be fought over and over again. But we're just as persistent. Yucca was named as the nation's only high-level radioactive waste site by an ignorant Congress in 1987, to be operational by 1998. It didn't happen, and it won't happen in 2018 or 2028 or any other date either.

We all owe Senator Harry Reid a lot for his efforts over the years. We owe each other a round of thanks too.

For some background on why Yucca Mountain is scientifically unsuitable as a high-level radioactive waste site, and a bit of history on the opposition, visit the NIRS Yucca Mountain page.5




Russian reactor power experiments, extended run times spooking environmentalists

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Anna Kireeva

Ecologists are getting more uncomfortable with the fact that Russia is tinkering around with the science of extending the usual 30-year operational life span of nuclear reactors. The concern was raised during a joint conference in Oslo on December 10 of the Bellona Foundation and Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom on 'Russia's Atomic Energy: Conditions, Tendencies and Safety'. The discussion focused on the safety of Russian reactors, especially those in Northwest Russia, closest to Norway; nuclear waste and spent nuclear fuel handling; and safety upgrades to nuclear installations.

Rosatom wishes by 2020 to build nine nuclear power stations, but the plans are dubious. The construction of the so-called Baltic Nuclear Power Plant in Kaliningrad by 2018 provoked a hail of questions. These are issues tied to Rosatom's official roadmap1 for nuclear power plant construction.

Currently, Russia operates 10 nuclear power stations with a total of 33 reactors, which supply 16% of the country's electricity. Yet, 19 of these reactors are operating on state granted engineering life span extensions, and another four are operating beyond their engineered power parameters, or at more than 100%.

"This isn't Russian 'know how' – many countries do this," said Alexander Nikitin, chairman of the Environmental Rights Center (ERC) Bellona in St. Petersburg. "But Bellona is concerned by the fact that Russian atomic stations operate on excessive power output and extended reactors."

One nuclear power plant experimenting with running reactors beyond capacity is the Kola station, which is such a source of worry to Scandinavia.2 In October, the Kola station was given the go-ahead to continue running its 30-year-old No 4 reactor for an astonishing 25 more years – an unprecedented license extension in the industry.3 The extensions means all of the plant's reactors are operating longer than their engineered design limit.

"Extending the resources of the Kola plant, as well as running its reactors beyond their power capacity, is associated with regional power demands, not just because the industry wants to do it," said Sergei Zhavoronkin, secretary of Rosatom's Public Chamber on Safe Nuclear Energy Usage in the Murmansk Region.

But, as Bellona Murmansk has noted many times, the region holds an energy surplus, to which the Kola nuclear plant contributed 60% of the energy, with the remaining 40% coming from hydroelectric stations.

Nuclear power stations are yours, the waste is ours

As of December 1, 2014, Rosatom's portfolio included 27 inter-government agreements for reactor construction abroad.

"It's clear that international agreements are still not contracts, but they already contain certain prescribed requirements for the countries in question," said Alexander Nikitin.

The countries holding agreements with Rosatom for reactor construction include Turkey, Finland, Jordan, India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Hungary, Armenia and Iran.

"All of these agreements stipulate that Russia takes back the spent nuclear fuel [generated by these prospective] plants, which are built abroad," said Nikitin. "No other country behaves this way aside from Russia."

And all this on top of the spent nuclear fuel being returned via the Port of Murmansk from international research reactors built by the Soviet Union.

According to Zhavoronkin, 70 containers of spent nuclear fuel from Russian-built foreign sources were safely offloaded and transported through Murmansk between 2008 and 2014.

Zhavoronkin called "rhetorical" the question of how safely these loads are actually delivered. In 2010, the vessel Puma, having offloaded spent nuclear fuel, nearly sank. And the vessels bringing these nuclear loads are not always rated to carry them.

Regarding the Puma, Zhavoronkin said it was "good that the accident happened after and not before" the offloading of spent fuel.

"And that the Puma is an old ship is a rhetorical issue," Zhavoronkin said.

What should become of spent nuclear fuel?

According to 2013 figures, Russia has amassed 24,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel. Eleven of its reactors are of the fatally-flawed RBMK-1000 Chernobyl design and produce 550 tons of spent nuclear fuel a year. Onsite storage of spent nuclear fuel at stations running RMBKs has reached 13,000 tons nationwide. Stations running VVER-1000 reactors produce 230 tons of spent fuel annually, and they've piled up a combined 6,800 tons of it.

Russia's six VVER-440 reactors have pumped out 87 tons of spent nuclear fuel, which will continue to be reprocessed at the Mayak Chemical Combine in the Southern Urals. Finally, Russia's fast neutron BN-600 reactor has produced 3.7 tons of spent nuclear fuel.

"Spent nuclear fuel is a big problem for all nuclear countries," said Nikitin. "No one knows in the world knows what to do with it, including Russia."