Sunday, February 3, 2013

New Generation Nuclear Reactors

I guess sometimes even smart men don't have all the facts - or maybe they do and they just choose to ignore those that get in the way? I recently listened to Mr. Bill Gates talk on a variety of subjects he is passionate about, and don't get me wrong, I am very happy he is willing to take a portion of his great wealth to look for cures for diseases that affect much of the world's population.

My ears perked up when I heard him say he was unhappy about German Chancellor Merkel's stance that proposes a ban on the building of new nuclear reactors. Mr. Gates believes that this new generation of reactor to be safer then those that were built in past years. Ok, I will give him that, but again, what happens over and over when talking about the construction of new nuclear facilities, there was no mention of spent nuclear fuel, the radioactive waste that is left over.

Why is this not part of the discussion?

I am beginning to think there is no answer on what to do with this nuclear waste that is produced, it is truly the can that is being kicked down the road. Case closed, don't talk about it.

If we have people like Mr. Gates who don't want to address the issue of spent nuclear waste and how we provide for the permanent storage of this waste, then it becomes easier for me to see why this is not a current topic of discussion.

Just continue to tell people how much safer this new generation of nuclear reactors are. That's all we need to know, right?

Not good enough for me. I know it doesn't matter if nuclear energy is produced in the oldest reactors or the newest reactors, it creates a by-product call spent nuclear fuel or waste. This waste is highly radioactive and needs to be carefully handled. And it need to be stored permanently.

Initially the spent fuel is placed in spent fuel pools to be cooled - for a period of three to five years. It then should be moved to a dry cask storage system and then buried deep down underground where it can remain for ten of thousands of years. This permanent storage needs to be a safe environment, where the contents cannot leak out into the environment to cause deadly pollution of the earth and its inhabitants.

Going back as far as 1978 Yucca Mountain was being looked at as repository for the permanent storage of spent nuclear fuel. In 1982 Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, since that time it has become a political football and various issues have prohibited the storage of waste at this facility. The latest is is issue of transporting spent fuel from the reactors to a place of permanent storage.

Currently the issue being discussed is providing permanent storage of waste at each of the 104 nuclear reactor sites. In addition to the issue of keeping the environment and humans safe from exposure of radiation, there is the every present issue of security and safety of these sites from a possible terrorist attack.

I mean the list of why we shouldn't continue down this road for me grows longer and longer and simply telling me that the new generation of nuclear reactors are so much safer just doesn't cut the mustard. I really believe in the power of the people. I believe if I continue to persist, slowly others will jump on board and in time we will be able to have great impact.

Don't let the words that the new generation of nuclear reactors are safer dissuade us from the real issue - new or old - the issue of spent nuclear fuel, the waste left behind MUST be addressed. Address this issue first. It is imperative that before we run, we must learn to walk.

1 comment:

  1. You're absolutely right. There's obviously a ban on talking about this. I'm not sure what they say to frighten people into submission, especially a Bill Gates. But there is a wall around the information that says spent fuel is a problem that will poison the Earth for a period longer than civilization has existed. Still, that's an explosive truth. It has to emerge at some point, and your blog is one small step on this road. Good for you, for doing it.