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Reprocessing

Reprocessing - the chemical separation of uranium and plutonium from irradiated reactor fuel - is arguably the most dangerous and dirty phase of the nuclear fuel chain. Reprocessing generates huge waste streams with no management solution and isolates plutonium, the fissile component of a nuclear weapon. Countries such as England and France, where reprocessing has been carried out for decades, face a legacy of contamination and an enormous plutonium surplus vulnerable to theft or attack.

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Thursday
Dec122013

Senate Mobile Chernobyl/Parking Lot Dump bill delayed, but vigilance still needed!

The Mobile Chernobyl mock nuke waste cask, a full size replica of a truck shipping container, shown in front of the State Capitol in Jefferson City, MO during a cross-country educational tourAs reported by Hannah Northey of E&E on Nov. 22nd ("Senate panel to take up repository bill next month"), U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, had threatened to bring S. 1240, the so-called "Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013," up for a committee vote in December 2013. Dec. 19th was floated as a date for a committee mark up. But in recent days, it has become known that any action has been postponed into next year.

However, vigilance is still required. Thanks to all of you who have contacted your U.S. Senators to express opposition to S. 1240, the "Nuclear Waste Administration Act." If you haven't contacted your two U.S. Senators yet, please do so now. You can call them via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

If you have contacted your U.S. Senators already, thank you! But there is more you can do. Please continue to let them know you oppose this bill, and urge everyone you know to do the same.

Check to see if your U.S. Senator is on the ENR Committee. If so, consider organizing your friends and colleagues, and request to meet with your Senator during their holiday break back home. Your meeting with them could make a huge difference on their vote re: S. 1240! If a meeting with your Senator is refused, follow up with a request to meet with your Senator's staff on this issue.

If neither of your Senators serve on the ENR Committee, you can still urge them to contact their colleagues who do. Your Senators should urge their Senate colleagues on the ENR Committee to vote against S. 1240, in order to protect the interests of constituents in your state, including yourself!

A concern is centralized interim storage at a place like Savannah River Site, SC could easily be exploited into a revival of reprocessing. AREVA of France, as well as the pro-nuclear boosters at SRS itself, are licking their chops at the prospect of making tens to hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money via commercial reprocessing in the U.S., despite the risks.

See below for more background information.

BACKGROUND

Along with Wyden and Murkowski, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Chair and Ranking Member on the Senate Subcommittee on Energy and Water Appropriations, are co-sponsors of S. 1240. Critics have dubbed the "Gang of 4" U.S. Senators' proposed legislation the "Mobile Chernobyl/Parking Lot Dump" bill. It would represent a huge giveaway to the already filthy rich nuclear power industry, and coup for its lobbyists, if they get away with the radiologically-risky, multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Beyond Nuclear provided extensive background on the dangerous bill last June, when it was first introduced. Despite calling for public comments on their draft legislation, the "Gang of 4" effectively ignored environmental and public interest concerns registered by the thousands. Shamefully, the bill, as introduced, was actually significantly worse than the initial "discussion draft," an indication of nuclear lobbyists' shady "ways and means" behind closed doors on Capitol Hill!

S. 1240 further revved its engines on July 30th, at an ENR Committee hearing.

It is urgent that you contact your two U.S. Senators, and urge that they put the brakes on this "Mobile Chernobyl/Parking Lot Dump" bill, and stop it dead in its tracks. They can be contacted via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

If enacted, it would launch large numbers of risky high-level radioactive waste trucks, trains, and/or barges. The unprecedented shipping campaign would accomplish exactly nothing in terms of protecting public health, safety, and the environment. Quite to the contrary, it would bring high-level radioactive waste, in shipping containers vulnerable to severe accidents or terrorist attacks, through the heart of major metropolitan areas, such as Chicago. For more information on high-level radioactive waste transport risks, see NIRS's "Mobile Chernobyl/Fukushima Freeways" website section (such as the HLRW barges on waterways -- the Great Lakes, rivers, sea coasts -- sub-section, dated Sept. 28, 2004, which could now be dubbed "Floating Fukushimas"!).

Scores of environmental groups across the country have consistently opposed centralized interim storage, "de-linked" from progress on a permanent deep geological repository, for just such reasons, for a long time. It clearly risks the "temporary" parking lot dumps becoming de facto permanent, if and when the next deep geological repository is cancelled, just as the Yucca Mountain dump was (wisely so, given the geological unsuitability of the Nevada site, the environmental injustice of dumping high-level radioactive waste on Western Shoshone Indian treaty lands, etc.).

S. 1240 would create a radioactive waste shell game on the roads, rails, and waterways of many/most states, all in an effort to remove a major liability, cost, and PR headache from nuclear utilities' ledgers, and transfer them squarely onto the backs of U.S. taxpayers.

The recent federal court decision, ending DOE's collection of the meager 1/10th of a cent per kilowatt-hour fee on nuclear electricity ratepayers' bills, means that once the money currently remaining in the Nuclear Waste Fund is spent, there will be no more. Thus, those costs will eventually fall entirely on federal taxpayers. These costs could easily mount into the tens, and even hundreds, of billions of dollars over time. No other industry, besides nuclear power, enjoys such public subsidies.

The bill seeks to open a "pilot consolidated interim storage site" by 2021. HLRW from "orphaned" or "stranded" sites -- permanently closed atomic reactors -- would be given priority in the shipping queue. The supposed justification for this is to return decommissioned nuclear power plant sites to productive, economic use. This ignores the fact that those sites are still radioactively contaminated, despite so-called "clean up." It also ignores community groups who oppose the immoral idea of dumping their community's problems onto someone else.

The top targets for the "pilot" parking lot dump include: already contaminated and/or radiologically-burdened U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sites, such as Savannah River Site (SRS), SC; Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), NM; and Idaho National Lab (INL); Native American lands, such as the tiny Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation in UT, or a number of unnamed reservations which the Nuclear Energy Institute has claimed, for several years, to be in secretive negotiations with; and/or operating nuclear power plant sites, such as the co-located Exelon Dresden nuclear power plant/GE-Hitachi independent spent fuel storage pool, just southwest of Chicago, already "home" to 3,000 metric tons of high-level radioactive waste.

The bill largely guts any notion of "consent-based" siting, by allowing for potential interim storage sites to be characterized, and even declared suitable, before "consent" is even sought from the community. The momentum already built, coupled with lucrative, promised incentives, would make it very difficult for communities of color, or those in dire economic straits, to resist. The nuclear power establishment in industry and government has repeatedly violated environmental justice in this way for decades, and appears poised to do so yet again!

S. 1240 also expresses a preference that the "pilot" interim storage site become the full-scale interim storage site by 2025, and even then the permanent deep geologic repository (DGR, or dumpsite) by 2048. No limit to how much HLRW could be rushed to the interim storage site(s), nor how much HLRW could be dumped at the first DGR, could mean that a single site would become the "nuclear sacrifice area" for the entire country, as was previously attempted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. In fact, there are no safeguards in the legislation that would protect Yucca from again being targeted. And, a supposedly "interim storage" site appears all-too-likely to become a de facto permanent "disposal" site, whether that be by abandonment on the surface, or burial underground. This risk is made all the worse by the bill's lack of a requirement for any progress on permanent disposal during the first 10 years of interim storage facility operations.

What S. 1240 also does not call for is Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS), which is what hundreds of environmental and public interest groups representing all 50 states have called for, time and time again, for well over a decade now. In addition, more and more groups are saying "STOP MAKING IT!", as at the recent U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) nuke waste con game public comment meetings around the country.

To the contrary, Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) has attempted to justify her legislative proposals as essential for paving the way for SMRs (so-called Small Modular Reactors) to be built in the U.S. (to the tune of billions of dollars of federal taxpayer expense, in the form of RDD -- research, development, and demonstration -- subsidies, the subcommittee chair for such appropriations forgot to mention).

As reported by Beyond Nuclear on Jan. 16, 2013:

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, has praised the Obama administration's call for centralized interim storage. Revealingly, she expressed her support in the context of a pro-nuclear expansion agenda: "Delaying the creation of a long-term policy on nuclear waste would simply make the problems more complex and dangerous -- particularly with the development of a generation of new small modular reactors." (emphasis added)

In fact, so too did President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future. If the name of the commission wasn't bad enough, its behavior, beginning in 2010, and final report in 2012, made clear that the top priority for "solving the high-level radioactive waste problem" was to pave the way for a nuclear power expansion. Despite claiming to be open and welcoming of public input, the Blue Ribbon Commission summarily ignored the thousands of public comments submitted over its two year existence. While the Blue Ribbon Commission was forced to listen to oral comments made at its numerous meetings around the country, it was later learned that written comments had not even been read before the BRC submitted its final report to Congress. Even worse, the website archive of those written comments, and even the transcripts and recordings of the public meetings themselves, became inaccessible on the BRC's abandoned website, making all that hard-won information unobtainable by the public. The BRC website was restored when the problem was called to DOE's attention by environmental watchdogs, but under the telling name "Cyber Cemetery."

The Senate ENR Committee has behaved similarly. In early 2013, it called for public input on its "Discussion Draft" of S. 1240. 2,500 comments were submitted, including by Beyond Nuclear, but were summarily ignored. The final draft of S. 1240 was worse than the discussion draft! Further changes for the worse can be expected in S. 1240, due to the corrupting influence of nuclear industry lobbyists and their campaign contributions.

Saturday
Dec072013

One oral comment opportunity (call-in only) left on NRC's nuke waste con game DGEIS, Mon., 12/9; final written submissions due by 12/20

Environmental coalition members from the Crabshell Alliance, Sierra Club Nuclear-Free Campaign, NIRS, PSR, NEIS, and Public Citizen "just say NO!" at the NRC HQ nuke waste con game public comment meeting on 11/14 in Rockville, MD. Photo credit David Martin and Erica Grey.

From 1 to 4 PM Eastern on Monday, Dec. 9th is the last opportunity to submit oral comments to NRC -- via a call-in teleconference -- re: its "Nuclear Waste Confidence" draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement. Here is how to join the call: Prior to the start of the meeting, please dial
1-888-603-9749
and provide the operator with passcode 5132332.

Please continue to submit your public comments to NRC via email, webform, fax, and/or snail mail. You can submit as many public comments as you want, between now and the final public comment deadline (Friday, Dec. 20th).

Sample comments, which you can use to help you write your own, have been provided by Beyond Nuclear, NIRS, NEIS, and many others.

For additional background, including reports back from the public comment meetings across the country, click here.

Thursday
Oct182012

Beyond Nuclear debates "thorium power" proponent at Sierra Club meeting

On October 10th, Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps debated Timothy Maloney, a proponent of so-called "thorium (nuclear) power," at a meeting of the Nepessing Group of the Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter, at Mott Community College's Regional Technical Center in Flint. The Nepessing Group of Michigan represents Sierra Club members in Genesee, Lapeer, and northern Oakland counties.

Kevin's research in preparation for the debate depended on: a Beyond Nuclear backgrounder compiled by Linda Gunter; "Thorium Fuel -- No Panacea for Nuclear Power," by Dr. Arjun Makhijani of Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and Michele Boyd of Physicians for Social Responsibility (2009); a Science Friday program entitled "Is Thorium a Magic Bullet for our Energy Problems?" featuring Dr. Makhijani (May 4, 2012); "Thinking about Thorium" by Dr. Gordon Edwards of Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (Sept. 16, 2012); "Thorium Reactors: Back to the Dream Factory," by Dr. Edwards (July 13, 2011); and "What is the Thorium Cycle?" by Dr. Edwards (1978).

The Thorium-232/Uranium-233 nuclear fuel chain shares many similarities with the Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 nuclear fuel chains, including the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation, the risk that reactors could unleash catastrophic amounts of radioactivity (particularly from intentional terrorist attacks or acts of warfare), the unsolved (unsolvable?!) radioactive waste problem, the astronomical expense of RDD (research, development, and demonstration) for "thorium reactors," and the environmental ruination downwind and downstream (as well as up the food chain and down the generations) from reprocessing facilities.

Thursday
Aug302012

Government Memo Slams Bechtel for Malfeasance, Safety Violations at Hanford Nuclear Site

Hanford tanks under constructionHanford Challenge has made public a scathing U.S. Department of Energy internal memo detailing Bechtel's long history of incompetence, misleading the government, overcharging, and unsafe designs related to the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The facility is a decade behind schedule and 250% over budget, with a current, yet still climbing, price tag of $13 billion. The WTP is supposed to vitrify (glassify) liquid high-level radioactive wastes, byproducts from reprocessing military irradiated nuclear fuel for weapons-grade plutonium extraction for use in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The memo, written by a high-ranking DOE director, urges that Bechtel be removed as the Design Authority for the WTP, warning that Bechtel “is not competent to complete their role.”

Hanford Challenge Executive Director, Tom Carpenter, posits: “the leaked memo puts the Waste Treatment Plant’s woes into sharp relief. This memo details exhaustive and disturbing evidence of why Bechtel should be terminated from this project and subject to an independent investigation. We already knew of Bechtel’s record of suppressing its own engineers’ concerns and retaliating against whistleblowers, and now we see evidence that exhibits a shocking and inexcusable lack of attention to safety for both workers and the public.”

Hanford Challenge is a member group of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), as is Beyond Nuclear.

The news comes just two weeks after Hanford Challenge revealed that the first double-shelled liquid high-level radioactive waste tank has been documented as leaking at Hanford.

Tuesday
Jul032012

Dr. Judith H. Johnsrud receives national Sierra Club Award

This quilt Judy is admiring was created by textile artist Margaret Gregg of Virginia, and was given to her on May 4th by the Sierra Club "No Nukes Activist Team" in honor of her 50 years of anti-nuclear leadership. It reads "JUDITH: PROTECTING LIFE FOREVER."Leon Glicenstein, a life-long friend and supporter of Dr. Judith H. Johnsrud, has written an article for the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter's Summer 2012 newsletter The Sylvanian about the national Sierra Club and the Sierra Club "No Nukes Activist Team" recognition ceremony, held May 4th in Takoma Park, Maryland, honoring Judy's half-century of anti-nuclear leadership not only locally, regionally, and nationally, but even globally. Judy is a founding board member of Beyond Nuclear. Included in Leon's article is a partial list of anti-nuclear victories Judy helped win in her home state of Pennsylvania alone. This has included defeating the proposed Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor in Meshoppen, PA (fast reactors "breed" plutonium, which then must be separated from high-level radioactive waste by reprocessing, which can then either make mixed oxide uraniun-plutonium (MOX) reactor fuel, or even nuclear weapons), as well as stopping the Parks Township, PA plutonium fuel fabrication facility (the plutonium would have come from reprocessing).

Beyond Nuclear posted a tribute to Judy shortly after the ceremony, which includes more photos of the presentation of her quilt (see photo, left), as well as links to writings by Judy, such as her brief history of the Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Pollution, which she founded and led for many decades.