On-Site Storage

Currently, all radioactive waste generated by U.S. reactors is stored at the reactor site - either in fuel pools or waste casks. However, the casks are currently security-vulnerable and should be "hardened" while a better solution continues to be sought.



Spent fuel fire on U.S. soil could dwarf impact of Fukushima

Nightmare scenarios. A simulated spent fuel fire at the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania had a devastating impact on the mid-Atlantic region. Click on the dates to see the extent of contamination, which depended on weather patterns. Courtesy of F. Von Hippel and M. Schoeppner.

As reported by Richard Stone in Science Magazine, Princeton University researchers, running a sophisticated weather modeling computer program, have concluded that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's estimates of consequences from a high-level radioactive waste storage pool fire are significantly downplayed.

Frank von Hippel, a nuclear security expert at Princeton University, teamed up with Princeton’s Michael Schoeppner on the modeling exercise.

The study examines the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, a Fukushima Daiichi twin design, two reactor plant.

As the article reports:

In their simulations, the Princeton duo focused on Cs-137, a radioisotope with a 30-year half-life that has made large tracts around Chernobyl and Fukushima uninhabitable. They assumed a release of 1600 petabecquerels, which is the average amount of Cs-137 that NRC estimates would be released from a fire at a densely packed pool. It’s also approximately 100 times the amount of Cs-137 spewed at Fukushima. They simulated such a release on the first day of each month in 2015.

The contamination from such a fire on U.S. soil “would be an unprecedented peacetime catastrophe,” the Princeton researchers conclude in a paper to be submitted to the journal Science & Global Security. In a fire on 1 January 2015, with the winds blowing due east, the radioactive plume would sweep over Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and nearby cities. Shifting winds on 1 July 2015 would disperse Cs-137 in all directions, blanketing much of the heavily populated mid-Atlantic region [see image, above left]. Averaged over 12 monthly calculations, the area exposed to more than 1 megabecquerel per square meter -- a level that would trigger a relocation order -- is 101,000 square kilometers [nearly 39,000 square miles]. That’s more than three times NRC’s estimate, and the relocation of 18.1 million people is about five times NRC’s estimates. (emphasis added)

Von Hippel also serves on a National Academies of Science (NAS) panel examining lessons to be learned from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe. As also reported by Richard Stone in Science Magazine, that NAS panel has just released a major report. It reveals that a high-level radioactive waste storage pool fire was narrowly averted at Fukushima Daiichi by sheer luck. It also reveals that major security upgrades are needed at U.S. nuclear power plant high-level radioactive waste "wet" pool and dry cask storage facilities. (See the full NAS report here.)

NAS called on NRC to address safety and security risks to high-level radioactive waste storage as early as 2004. NRC never has, 15 years after the 9/11 attacks, and five years after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began.

Instead, NRC is considering rubber-stamping an application from Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) in Andrews County, west Texas, to ship high-level radioactive waste by road, rail, and/or waterway, through most states. These shipments would be potential Mobile Chernobyls, Floating Fukushimas, and Dirty Bombs on Wheels, at risk of disastrous releases of radioactivity if breached by a high-speed crash, long-duration/high-temperature fire, underwater submersion, intentional attack, etc. WCS hopes to make a killing, by opening the first "centralized interim storage" facility (more accurately, a de facto permanent parking lot dump) for commercial irradiated nuclear fuel storage.

At the same time, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking to win "consent" for such a parking lot dump, conducting glorified PR "listening sessions" around the country. The next one is to be held in Boston, MA on June 2, 2016. (Given DOE's bad faith, it is all the more important that we register our non-consent, by the July 31, 2016 deadline!)

And a U.S. Senate appropriations bill would fund these dangerous schemes, to the tune of $30 million of taxpayer money, in just the first year!

Many hundreds of environmental and public interest groups, representing all 50 states, have long called for Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) of irradiated nuclear fuel at reactor sites, as an interim measure to upgrade safety and security. The first step in HOSS is to empty the densely packed pools, so at risk of catastrophic fires. The name HOSS was coined by Dr. Arjun Makhijani of IEER in April 2002, at a conference in CT organized by Citizens Awareness Network of the Northeast, just before the major Yucca Mountain dump votes in the U.S. Congress that May and July. In Jan. 2003, Citizens Awareness Network commissed a report by Dr. Gordon Thompson of IRSS, putting flesh on the bones of the HOSS concept. In Sept. 2006, a coalition statement of principles was unveiled at a U.S. House hearing; the current version of the HOSS principles is dated March 2010. HOSS has been an organizing principle for the U.S. environmental movement ever since, including in interactions with the Congress, NRC, DOE, Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future (2010-2012), etc.

The 2004 NAS study calling on NRC to act was prompted by a Jan. 2003 report, authored by Alvarez et al. (including Von Hippel), documenting how catastrophic an irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fire would be. That report came in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

In May 2011, Robert Alvarez of Institute for Policy Studies followed up, in the aftermath of the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, with another study, showing the mega-catastrophes that could unfold at U.S. nuclear power plant high-level radioactive waste storage pools.

{What can you do to prevent such nuclear nightmares?! Contact your U.S. Senators, and your U.S. Represenative. (You can also get patched through to your Members of Congress's office via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Urge that Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) be required at all nuclear power plants, starting with the emptying of high-level radioactive wastes out of vulnerable storage pools, into hardened on-site dry casks (current status quo dry casks are not good enough -- another NRC failure). Urge that parking lot dumps, and the Mobile Chernobyl shipping risks they would launch, be stopped dead in their tracks. And urge that atomic reactors be permanently retired, so that no more high-level radioactive waste -- for which we have no good solution -- is generated.}


Where is America’s cyberdefense plan?

The Empire State Building towers over the skyline of a blackout-darkened New York City just before dawn. (George Widman/Associated Press)That is the online title of an op-ed by Ted Koppel appearing in the Washington Post (the hardcopy headline reads "Before the cyber-blackout"). Koppel, best known for hosting the ABC news program “Nightline” from 1980 to 2005, is the author of the new book, Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath.

The op-ed raises the specter of a power outage lasting not hours, or days, but weeks, or months, due to a coordinated cyber-attack on the vulnerable U.S. electricity grid.

But the op-ed does not address what this would mean at the 100 still operating atomic reactors across the country, and even at the numerous atomic reactors permanently shutdown.

Even if operating atomic reactors were able to power down and shutdown safely during a power outage, their thermally hot cores would still have to be cooled for several days, or longer, before cold shutdown was reached, or else risk melting down.

Although high-level radioactive waste storage pools would have a longer fuse -- days or even weeks before boiling would expose irradiated nuclear fuel to air, and risk a catastrophic fire -- the pools are not even required to be connected to emergency diesel generators, as reactors are. More.


DTE doesn't oppose holding Fermi 3 Nuclear Waste Confidence matters in abeyance, pending resolution of NY v. NRC II appeal

On July 31st, Detroit Edison filed a response to Beyond Nuclear et al.'s motion to hold the proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor proceeding in abeyance. The nuclear utility agreed with Beyond Nuclear that the Nuclear Waste Confidence aspects of the proceeding should be held in abeyance, pending resolution of New York v. NRC II. However, DTE emphasized its desire that the other matters on appeal -- namely, quality assurance (or lack thereof), and transmission corridor "pre-construction" National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)-compliance (or lack thereof) -- be resolved ASAP.

Detroit Edison proposes building a General Electric-Hitachi ESBWR (so-called "Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor") at its Fermi nuclear power plant site in Monroe County, MI, on the Lake Erie shoreline.

On-site storage of high-level radioactive waste at reactors is an aspect of NRC's Nuclear Waste Confidence policy, renamed Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel in 2014. NRC has expressed continued confidence that irradiated nuclear fuel can, and will, be stored safely, securely, and soundly, indefinitely into the future. This "assumed safety" applies not only at on-site storage at reactor sites, but also away from reactors, at centrailzed interim storage sites, in NRC's current policy.

Beyond Nuclear's appeal against Nuclear Waste Confidence at Fermi 3 challenges this "assumption of safety." NEPA requires a "hard look," actual concerted analysis, at environmental impacts of a proposed action, such as NRC approving new reactor licenses, as at Fermi 3, which will inevitably lead to the generation, and storage, of high-level radioactive waste. And the Atomic Energy Act requires NRC establish "reasonable assurance of adequate protection" of public health and safety, which NRC has not done in its Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel GEIS (Generic Environmental Impact Statement) and Rule.


Sierra Club says "stop making radioactive waste"!


Coalition of states, groups, and Native American tribe press appeal against NRC's false "Nuclear Waste Confidence"

The lethal legacy of the Atomic Age, and we don't even know what to do with the first cupful. It's time to stop making it!A coalition of states (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont), along with the Prairie Island Indian Community, and an alliance of nine environmental groups (Beyond Nuclear, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Missouri Coalition for the Environment, New England Coalition, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, Riverkeeper, San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition), plus Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) -- collectively, the Petitioners -- are pressing their appeals in federal court against the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) 2014 "Continued Spent Fuel Storage Rule" and its associated GEIS (Generic Environmental Impact Statement).

Geoffrey H. Fettus, Counsel for NRDC, and Diane Curran of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg, and Eisenberg, as well as Mindy Goldstein of Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Co-Counsel for Beyond Nuclear et al., filed their INITIAL OPENING BRIEF FOR PETITIONERS on June 29th with the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second highest court in the land.

The State of Massachusetts has intervened on behalf of the Petitioners; the Nuclear Energy Institute, Entergy Nuclear, and Northern States Power have intervened on behalf of NRC; and the Sierra Club is participating as a Friend of the Court on behalf of the Petitioners.

The coalition of states and the Native American tribe has focused its appeal on NRC's violation of court orders in New York v. NRC (New York I, of 2012), by not carrying out an adequate analysis of the safety, health, and environmental risks of irradiated nuclear fuel storage pool fires and leaks.

The alliance of environmental groups has focused its appeal on NRC's violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), as by not carrying out an adequate court-ordered analysis of the potential impacts if a permanent repository is never opened. The environmental coalition has also appealed NRC's violation of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA), by not making assurances that post-operations high-level radioactive waste storage in the short-term, long-term, and indefinitely forevermore, will be done safely.

The current appeals, dubbed New York v. NRC II, challenge numerous attempts by NRC to approve new reactor licenses, as well as old reactor license extensions, despite the still-unresolved legal issues. Examples include Beyond Nuclear's challenge against the Fermi 3 proposed new reactor in MI, and its challenge to the Davis-Besse license extension in OH. Toledo-based attorney Terry Lodge has represented Beyond Nuclear, and other environmental groups, in those interventions since 2009 and 2010, respectively.

On May 1, 2015, the NRC approved Fermi 3's COLA (combined Construction and Operation License Application), despite the unresolved Nuclear Waste Confidence issue. In addition, Beyond Nuclear and a coalition consisting of Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Citizen Environment Alliance of Southwestern Ontario (CEA), Don't Waste MI (DWM), and the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, plan to appeal quality assurance (QA) and transmission corridor issues. Arnie Gundersen, Chief Engineer at Fairewinds Associates, Inc. in Burlington, VT, serves as expert witness for the environmental coalition on QA issues. The NRC's Atomic Safety and Licensing Board unsuccessfully requested permission to review NRC staff violations of NEPA vis a vis the transmission line corridor.

In recent months, the NRC ASLB panel overseeing the Davis-Besse license extension proceeding, at FirstEnergy Nuclear's request, has also moved to end the intervention, and toward ultimate NRC approval of the 2017-2037 extension. This, despite the environmental coalition's (including CEA, DWM, and Ohio Green Party) still unsolved contentions re: renewable energy alteratives to 20 more years at Davis-Besse, and the atomic reactor's severely cracked, and ever worsening, concrete containment shell.

Cynically and absurdly, NRC has flagrantly flouted the court orders stemming from New York v. NRC I. Rather than analyze the environmental impacts of further generation of forever deadly high-level radioactive waste at atomic reactors, NRC instead merely compared the efficiency of various administrative approaches towards completing the GEIS. NRC also changed the name of its now highly controversial "Nuclear Waste Confidence" policy, to "Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel." In doing so, NRC also ignored many thousands of oral and written public comments submitted by concerned citizens and environmental groups nationwide in 2013.