Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Remembering Fukushima

Remembering Fukushima with a heavy heart. It has been almost one year since the terrible events of March 11, 2011 occurred in Japan.

A natural disaster compounded by man's great ability to build a path for destruction. My heart remains heavy for the people of Japan, brave souls whose stoicism rises above all else.

Fukushima remains in a fragile state even today. We will continue to watch and wait and hope and pray for a safe outcome in the years that are yet to unfold.
~ ~ ~

Here is a link to Frontline Report Inside Japan's Nuclear Meltdown I could not believe the bravery displayed by the Daichi workers who stood face to face with death as they worked to try and contain the unfolding disaster. And shocked at TEPCO officials, like many here in the United States, who when they feel their backs are against the wall, turn to lies as a solution to the problem.

March 5, 2011 Addition:

Friend Keith alerted me about One Year Later - A Day of Reflection  which is being presented in New York by the New York Japan Society. If you are in the area you might consider dropping by or maybe just show your support by visiting their website. Thanks Keith for remembering.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Recommended Reading - The Writing Life II

Charles Deemer writes an interesting blog The Writing Life II  It's about writing, films and life really. I thought his post yesterday was meant to be shared, so here it is.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The last hurdle

OK, the country elected a black President. It's only a matter of time, I would hope, before we elect a woman President, a Latino President, and so on. But will we ever, ever elect ... an atheist President?

If I were the campaign manager for an atheist running for President, I think I'd want to emphasize:
  • humanist ethics and values
  • use selected Founding Fathers as models -- Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, discuss religion, free thinking, tolerance in our founding concepts
  • emphasize what the Constitution actually says, and doesn't say, about religion
  • emphasize Nature and Nature's laws (and Russell's argument about First Causes, if it comes to that)
  • put the Bible in historic perspective

Wait for the returns. Get 20% if you're lucky. In other words, never happen, the myth of our origins is too strong. American culture's distrust of "thinking" is too strong.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"NRC, Lies and Videotape" - Not in time for Oscar consideration

People & Power - Danger Zone : Ageing Nuclear Reactors

"In this investigation for People & Power, Joe Rubin and Serene Fang of the Center for Investigative Reporting examine whether important safety considerations are being taken into account as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) considers extending the licences [sic] of these plants.

The agency has recently come under fire for glossing over the potential dangers of ageing [sic] reactors, for becoming too cosy [sic] with the industry and for political infighting among the agency's senior executives, which critics in the US Senate and elsewhere say seriously hampers its ability to ensure safety.

The investigation focuses on the Pacific Gas & Electric nuclear facility at Diablo Canyon and two others, which are at Indian Point in New York and Fort Calhoun in Nebraska.

These three sites represent the dangers posed to nuclear power plant safety by earthquakes, terrorism and flooding.

Rubin and Fang discover that the NRC's oversight track record is far from perfect, and that unless urgent action is taken the US could be heading for a nuclear catastrophe of its own." ` Source from Last Modified: 23 Feb 2012 14:03
We have 104 nuclear reactors in the United States and really all of them can at this point in time be called aging.  Saw a pillow once, it was stitched with the saying "After Forty It's Patch, Patch, Patch". It was meant for women but I think it applies to nuclear reactors as well.

Just some food for thought for you this weekend, it can't be all glittery gold awards and ball gowns you know. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NRC Releases Audio Tapes of Fukushima

The destroyed No. 3 reactor building of Tokyo Electric Power Company's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is seen in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture.

Here is the link American Public Radio Marketplace: Fukushima Disaster

"The recordings show the inside workings of the U.S. government’s highest level efforts to understand and deal with the unfolding nuclear crisis as the reactors meltdown. In the course of a week, the NRC is repeatedly alarmed that the situation may turn even more catastrophic. The NRC emergency staff discusses what to do -- and what the consequences may be -- as it learns that reactor containment safeguards are failing, and that spent fuel pools are boiling away their cooling water, and in one case perhaps catching fire."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Religious Freedom?

Something wicked this way comes - Political discussions of late are giving me a feeling of uneasiness. The hard hitting conservative candidates are coming across, in my view, as being the very antithesis of a Christian belief. Religious freedom is a wonderful thing but some people need to be reminded that this freedom also includes the right not to believe.
"For more than 200 years, the First Amendment has protected religious freedom, including the right not to believe." ~ From Freedom Forum  'Education for Freedom'
We should nip this rhetoric in the bud, it serves no practical purpose in the presidential election process and its very essence has an undercurrent to it that is evil and wicked. Oh, you say, how can evoking the name of God be evil and wicked?

Well let's look at a couple of things that were said by a powerful man in our not too distant past:
  • This human world of ours would be inconceivable without the practical existence of a religious belief. (p. 152)  
  • For this, to be sure, from the child's primer down to the last newspaper, every theater and every movie house, every advertising pillar and every billboard, must be pressed into the service of this one great mission, until the timorous prayer of our present parlor patriots: ‘Lord, make us free!’ is transformed in the brain of the smallest boy into the burning plea: ‘Almighty God, bless our arms when the time comes; be just as thou hast always been; judge now whether we be deserving of freedom; Lord, bless our battle!’ (pp. 632-633)
The words of Adolf Hitler, Ralph Manheim, ed. (1998). Mein Kampf. New York: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0395951054.

We went through this innuendo-ing  back in the McCarthyism days. Remember the "Are you now or have you ever been a Communist?" badgering that took place?  I don't think that was one of our most proud moments in American history, let's not go back there again.

Monday, February 20, 2012

President's Day 2012

February 20, 2012

A couple of quotes from the Father of Our Country:

"My first wish is to see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth." 
~ Geo. Washington

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. 
Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." 
~Geo. Washington
It's kind of fun to be able to pick and choose the words you like to associate with people. For everything that one says, it seems you can find a like contradictory quote, so I will just stick with these two.

Friday, February 17, 2012

CNN to Report on Nuclear Plants in the U.S.

Programming note: Join CNN's Amber Lyon for a Special Investigations Unit report on America's aging GE Mark I nuclear reactors, including the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee plant this Saturday and Sunday night at 8 ET/PT on "CNN Presents." 

Click here to read  report by Matt Smith and make sure to tune in or record CNN's report on America's Aging Reactors. 

Tip O'the Cap to reader, Keith, for the heads-up on this article. It does take a village...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

San Onofre and Beyond....A New Faze

Worthy of a few minutes of your time. Thank you for your time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

BRC on America's Nuclear Future - Part Three

Blue Ribbon Commission report can be downloaded by going to Final Report January 2012 .


Chapter 4 of the BRC Report leads off with this quote - "The central flaw of the U.S. nuclear waste management program to date has been its failure to develop permanent disposal capability."

My commentary on the subject:
Everyone seems to want nuclear energy, that cheap and abundant source of power, yet at the very same time nobody wants to be a host site for the spent fuel that the nuclear energy program generates. We cannot continue to move ahead with the re-licensing of old reactors or license the building of new reactors without first addressing what is going to happen to the spent fuel.

Here in my state of Missouri, Ameren the operator of Callaway Nuclear Plant #1, say they have ten more years of space left in the spent fuel pool which is currently used as storage for this plant. Over the last years the spent fuel storage rods have been re-racked to allow for more storage space. The closer these rods get packed together the more the safety issue increases.

So let's say the NRC and the DOE continues to not convince the President and Congress of the need for one or two disposal facilities, what happens when this spent fuel pool becomes over-filled? Do we just sit back and watch the nuclear explosion as it takes place?


Disposal of nuclear waste is needed and the scientifically preferred approach is deep geologic disposal. All spent fuel reprocess or recycle options generate waste streams that require a permanent disposal solution. One of the Blue Ribbon Commission's central recommendations is the "United States should undertake an integrated nuclear waste management program that leads to the timely development of one or more permanent deep geological facilities for the safe disposal of spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste."

Spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive wastes contain elements that present a potentially significant radiation hazard to exposed populations and ecosystems. True these hazards diminish over time but bear in mind the time of rapid decline is the first few hundred years, then gradually - this process taking hundreds of thousands of years or more.

So the challenge is to manage storage and disposal of these materials over a long period of time that will provide adequate protection to the public and the environment.


In the United States there are two major contributors of nuclear waste: (1) The U.S. Government, from it's past nuclear weapons programs and current Navy nuclear fleet and (2) the civilian nuclear power industry.

For more than thirty years the U.S. government has had a general obligation to provide a timely disposal solution. The current law states the federal government was obliged to begin accepting commercial spent fuel by January 31, 1998.

Nuclear wasted generated from the Navy's nuclear fleet is stored in Idaho, awaiting future availability of a suitable repository for disposal of this spent fuel.

Again let me insert from Part One of this review, the definition of terms:

Definition of terms: The term "disposal" is understood to mean permanent disposal; the term "storage" is understood to mean storage for an interim period prior to disposal or other disposition.


Storage in some form, for some period of time, is an inevitable part of the nuclear fuel cycle. This is a fact that can neither be denied nor ignored. And beyond the short term storage of spent fuel another fact is the permanent disposal of nuclear fuel for generations and generations.

On-site spent fuel storage exists today by default due to the government's inability to address the issue of finding a suitable disposal facility or facilities. Most storage is in spent fuel pools which continue to get packed more tightly. A temporary solution is to move the spent fuel from pools to dry cask storage when exhausted space in the pools is reached.


Currently they are nine shutdown commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. At seven of these reactors the spent fuel is in dry storage awaiting removal to a disposal site. The fuel at these sites is often referred to as "stranded fuel".


So whether we shut down all 104 reactors in the U. S. tomorrow or continue to license new nuclear plants, as was recently done by the NRC, the unavoidable fact remains - spent nuclear fuel needs to find a permanent home where it can be safely disposed. Where the harm to humans and the environment is kept at a bare minimum.

I'm afraid the saga of "Not in My Backyard" will continue, in the meantime we have it in 104 of our backyards, residing in something of a less-than-permanent status.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

NRC Approves Two New Nuclear Reactors

As I sit here preparing to write Part III of my review on the Blue Ribbon Commission report this news comes across my desk:

I am absolutely flabbergasted that, in light of the fact that no progress has been made for the permanent storage of spent fuel (disposal), the NRC would see fit to approve ANY new nuclear facilities. Somebody please, explain the wisdom in this action.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BRC on America's Nuclear Future - Part Two

Blue Ribbon Commission report can be downloaded by going to Final Report January 2012 . . 


Spent fuel and HLW (high level waste) began back in the 1940's, first as a byproduct of our nation's nuclear weapon program and then as a byproduct of civilian (commercial) nuclear power industry.

From the 1940's to 1982 national security took precedent over all else and plutonium production for nuclear weaponry was emphasized. The management and disposal of these byproducts is long and complicated but what was know was that disposal of spent fuel and HLW could not be accomplished in the underground tanks that were being used for storage. In 1949 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)that "better means of isolating, concentrating, immobilizing, and controlling wastes will ultimately be required."

A 1957 report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) looked specifically at the issues of waste disposal and concluded that "radioactive waste can be disposed of safely in a variety of ways and at a large number of sites in the United States" and that geologic disposal in salt deposits represents "the most promising method of disposal." It was further concluded that the solidification of liquid waste for transport and disposal would be "advantages" and that transportation issues would need to be considered in the location of waste disposal facilities.

In the late 1950's the AEC began investigating mined geologic disposal options and potential salt bed repository sites. Early efforts included experiments with solids and liquids in salt mines and exploratory work on methods for solidifying liquid wastes.

The 1970's:

In June 1970 the AEC announced plans to investigate an abandoned salt mine in Lyons, Kansas as a potential demonstration site for HLW and LLW (low level waste) The AEC anticipated that acceptance of LLW could begin by 1974 and HLW could begin in 1975.

However by early 1971 state opposition to this plan was growing and in 1972 after several technical program the AEC announced it would seek an alternate site. During this same time period the AEC had been exploring an area of deep salt beds near Carlsbad, New Mexico as a potential site for HLW.

Disposal at the site, which became known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant or WIPP, subsequently was limited to defense-related TRU (transuranic) waste. In1979 Congress authorized WIPP to begin receiving waste but it took twenty years, until 1999, for the shipments to begin arriving.

The search for a suitable site for long-term geologic disposal of spent fuel and HLW continued throughout the 1970's. Sites being considered were bedded salt formations in Michigan, Texas and Utah; salt domes in Louisiana and Mississippi; basalt formations at Hanford; and welded volcanic tuff at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The Late 1970's produces a shift in policy changes: 

President Ford responding to weapons proliferation concerns issued a presidential directive in 1976 deferring commercial reprocessing and recycling of plutonium in the U.S. In 1977 President Carter extended this deferral indefinitely and directed the relevant federal agencies to focus on alternative fuel cycles and re-assess future spent fuel storage needs.

President Reagan reversed the Carter policy but for a variety of reasons, including cost, commercial reprocessing was never resumed.

A DOE-led Interagency Review Group in 1979 recommended that a number of potential repository sites for spent fuel and HLW be identified.

Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982-PRESENT)

In 1982 Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act after four years of Congressional debate on the issue. The act provided for the selection of two repository sites, though these sites were not stipulation in the legislation itself, it was assumed one would be in the west and one in the east. To further ensure that the end result would not be a single, national repository, Congress included the explicit provision that would limit the first repository to 70,000 metric tons until a second repository was opened.

In May of 1986 Energy Secretary John Herrington recommended the Hanford site in Washington State, Deaf Smith County in Texas and Nevada's Yucca Mountain as leading candidates for the nation's first permanent high-level geologic waste repository.

In the same month, citing rising costs and lower projections for nuclear waste production in the future, Secretary Herrington announced the DOE was suspending efforts to identify and develop a second permanent geologic repository.

One short year later, 1987, Congress faced with a deteriorating political situation, amended and revised the NWPA by: halted the ongoing research in crystalline rock of the type found in the Midwest and along the Atlantic coast, cancelled the second repository program, nullified the selection of Oak Ridge, Tennessee as a potential MRS site, and designated Yucca Mountain as the sole site to be considered for a permanent geologic repository.

The decision was widely viewed as political and it provoked strong opposition in Nevada, where the 1987 legislation came to be known as the "Screw Nevada" bill.

Congress decided to try a slightly different approach under the 1987 amendment by offering states up to $20 million a year to host a repository and up to $10 million a year for hosting an MRS site, in the end it was taken even further where a United States Nuclear Waste Negotiator with a presidentially appointed head could negotiate with states and Indian tribes to host nuclear facilities under any "reasonable and appropriate terms."

This hope was short-lived with the closing of The Office of the Nuclear Waste Negotiator in 1995. The first appointed head was made by President George H. W. Bush, followed by a successor appointed by President Clinton. Neither were successful in reaching an agreement. The closest they came to securing a site was in 1992 when five Indian tribes and two communities gave notice of interest in being considered. In no case was a host state supportive of having the process go forward.

1998 Deadline comes and goes

A 1998 deadline that had been set by which the government would find a suitable site to accept commercial nuclear waste under NWPA passed and in 2002, four years past the deadline, Yucca Mountain remained the sole repository and in 2008 the DOE completed the world's first license application for a HLW repository.  The license application was submitted to the NRC in June 2008 and three months later the application was deemed suitable for review.

Within a year the new Obama Administration declared its intent to suspend further work on Yucca Mountain and later moved to withdraw the application for a construction license to the NRC.

Currently key decisions by the courts and the NRC are still pending and the future of the Yucca Mountain project remains uncertain.

Political versus Scientific Decisions

As the political game of how and where to handle long-term disposal of nuclear waste plays out, we continue each day to produce spent fuel and add to the waste pile that at some point in time will have to be addressed.

Under the amended Standard Contract, DOE is not required to accept spent fuel until 20 years after the expiration of the reactor's operating license and any extensions thereto. This I offer up is unacceptable.

In the nearer term, laws in several states have put a moratorium on new nuclear planed construction until certain waste management conditions have been met. States with some form of moratoria are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Recent years have seen efforts to repeal those laws in some states, although none have succeeded so far.

Source for the above information comes solely from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future: Report to the Secretary of Energy - January 2012

Upcoming Part Three will cover the need for geologic disposal.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Who Are We Kidding Here?

February 4, 2012

Ameren seeking rate hike

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The state’s largest utility is asking for a rate increase to cover the costs of infrastructure upgrades, higher fuel prices and environmental improvements. Ameren Missouri Friday filed a request with the Missouri Public Service Commission for a 14.6 percent rate increase. That would raise about $376 million for the company and cost the average Missouri residential customer about $14 a month.
The utility says it wants to continue service upgrades that have reduced outages to customers by more than 27 percent since 2006. The company is also stepping up pollution control efforts at its coal fired power plants to mitigate the release of sulfur dioxide.
The PSC granted a seven percent rate increase to Ameren last summer. The commission says it could take up until December to come back with a decision on the latest increase. 


Let's see... it wasn't that long ago Ameren asked for and got a rate increase and then was able to make this announcement:

On August 12, 2011 Ameren announced:
Ameren Corporation Declares Quarterly Dividend, Payable September 30, 2011
Ameren Corporation declared a quarterly dividend on its common stock of 38.5 cents per share. The common share dividend is payable September 30, 2011, to shareholders of record on September 8, 2011.

 Could someone pass me a tissue please?

BRC on America's Nuclear Future - Part I

I'm still reading the 180 page report issued recently by the Blue Ribbon Commission. I urge everyone to read this report as well. You can get your copy by going to Final Report January 2012 . .


Front End of Cycle: Mining, Milling, Conversion, Enrichment, Fuel Fabrication > Nuclear Reactor

The nuclear fuel cycle begins with extraction of uranium from ores or other natural sources. Uranium provides the basic "fuel" for nearly all nuclear reactors. In its natural state mined uranium is only weakly radioactive, which means it can be handled without need for radioactive shielding.

Before natural uranium can be used in a commercial reactor it must be purified and enriched to produce the amount of fissionable U-235 present in the fuel. Enriched uranium oxide is cast into hard pellets and stacked inside long metal tubes to form fuel rods. Fuel rods are then bundled into fuel assemblies that are 12 to 14 feet long.

Inside the reactor the enriched uranium sustains a series of controlled nuclear reactions that collectively liberate substantial quantities of energy. This energy is converted to steam and used to drive turbines that generate electricity.

Meanwhile the fission process inside the reactor creates new elements or "fission products", these heavier products are know collectively as "transuranics" - which may take part in further reactions, the most important is plutonium-239.

After the natural, low radioactive level of uranium goes through the fission process, the radioactivity level of nuclear fuel increases to a high and dangerous radioactive state.

Back End of Cycle: Nuclear Reactor > Interim Storage, Spent Fuel, Reprocessing, Final Disposition 

Nuclear fuel will remain in a commercial power reactor for about four to six years, it then can no longer efficiently produce energy and is considered used or spent. Spent fuel that has been removed from a reactor is thermally hot and emits a great deal of radiation. Upon removal from the reactor each spent fuel assembly emits enough radiation to deliver a fatal dose in minutes to someone in the vicinity that is not adequately shielded.

Spent fuel is transferred to a deep, water-filled pool where it is placed on a rack to cool and to protect workers from radiation. Typically the spent fuel is kept in the pool for about five years. There is approximately 50,000 metric tons of commercial spent fuel currently stored in pools in the United States.

After the spent fuel has cooled sufficiently in these pools it can be moved to a Dry Cask storage system. This storage takes many forms but generally consists of a fuel storage grid placed within a steel inner container and a concrete and steel outer container. The amount of commercial spent fuel stored in dry casks in the United States is about 15,000 metric tons.

Because of the residual hazard of spent fuel, transportation of spent fuel must be shipped in containers or casks that shield and contain the radioactivity and dissipate the heat. In the United States spent fuel has typically been transported via truck or rail.

Reprocessing or recycling - fuel considered 'spent' still contains unused uranium and other re-usable elements, mostly plutonium. Current reprocessing technologies separate the spent fuel into three components: uranium, plutonium and waste. The plutonium is mixed with uranium and fabricated into new fuel; because this new fuel is more difficult to use than freshly mined uranium, it has only been done to a limited extent. The fission products and other waste elements are packaged into a new form for disposal.

Disposal - Regardless of whether spent fuel is reprocessed or directly disposed of, every foreseeable approach to the nuclear fuel cycle still requires a means of disposal that assures the very long-term isolation of radioactive wastes from the environment. Many nations, including those engaged in reprocessing, are working to develop disposal facilities for spent fuel and/or HLW (high level waste), but no such facility has yet been put into operation.

Definition of terms: The term "disposal" is understood to mean permanent disposal; the term "storage" is understood to mean storage for an interim period prior to disposal or other disposition.

Obvious facts: High-level wastes and spent fuel exist and will continue to accumulate so long as nuclear reactors continue to operate. An essential component of a nuclear waste management system is that a very long-term isolation from the environment is the only responsible way nuclear waste can be managed.

Source for the above information comes solely from the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future: Report to the Secretary of Energy - January 2012

Upcoming Part Two will cover the historical background of Nuclear Waste Management in the United States