Posting in Design
France's long-term storage plan for nuclear power waste moves along. American radioactive waste sits in wait for a permanent home. As a U.S. government panel continues digging for a solution, scientists advise an attitude adjustment.
Considered a world leader in the technology, the country has 58 nuclear power plants. In 2025, France may also have one of the first long-term geological repositories for radioactive waste. The country has about 44,300 cubic meters of the troublesome stuff now, 2,300 of which is high-level waste.
Declan Butler reports for Nature:
The high-level waste includes the radioactive fission products caesium-134, caesium-137 and strontium-90, and minor actinides such as curium-244 and americium-241. Most nuclear fuel in France is reprocessed to extract useful uranium and plutonium, and to concentrate the waste. Although this high-level material comprises just 0.2% of France's nuclear waste by volume, it accounts for 95% of its total radioactivity.
At about 1,000 sites around the country, France holds nuclear waste of various classifications, managing the materials according to their radiation levels and half-lives. For instance, there are disposal sites in Soulaines (for low- and medium-level radioactive substances with shorter half lives) and east of Paris, the Morviliers site holds very low-level wastes.
Butler takes a tour of the on-site laboratory for a future subterranean storage space for high- and medium-level wastes. The facility would exist about 1,600 feet underground near the town of Bure, encapsulated in 150-million-year-old rock (that according to French geologists hasn't moved around much in the last 20 million years nor is expected to anytime soon). Testing the rock, a type of clay, and their containment technology, ANDRA's, the French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency, lab research bill comes in at around $130 million each year.
Once in operation, the plant's itinerary for high-level waste would include vitrification (shown right), a process that would turn the liquid nuclear waste into glass. They would then pour the molten glass into *stainless steel casks placed within steel barrels and inject them (with the help of robots) into horizontal boreholes drilled about 130 feet into the rock. (*edit)
The site will compress mid-level waste, which often includes exposed equipment, into steel canisters and then entomb them within concrete inside the tunnels. The specially designed canisters would prevent being heated by the radioactive decay occurring within them so that their outside surface temperature wouldn't exceed 194 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the geologists, at this temperature, the canisters wouldn't pose a fracture risk to the rock.
While not completely absent, public and political battles opposing nuclear energy are less intensely heated in France than in the U.S. If the French National Assembly approves of the Bure site and its storage plan in 2016, construction is expected to begin the following year.
In comparison, the United States, generating 796,751 megawatt hours in 2009, gets about 20 percent of its power via 104 nuclear plants.
And what is the U.S. planning for its radioactive waste?
That continues to be more up in the air than under solid ground, should we find, approve, and publicly accept any.
Earlier this year Yucca Mountain was buried as a geological storage option. A judge subsequently ruled that the Department of Energy must allow Yucca's operating license to pass through Congress. Even so, the DOE already established a Blue Ribbon Commission to figure out what comes after Yucca.
But 16 scientists writing in the journal Science on Friday warn that as the Commission focuses on the technical details, they might overlook important social and political factors to the disposal problem. Tackling the country's mistrustful attitude toward nuclear waste, they suggest, is necessary for the U.S. to achieve a rebirth of nuclear power.
Co-author Tom Leschine of the University of Washington provides an example:
Public mistrust has been fueled by decades of failed attempts to effectively work with those affected, says Leschine. That mistrust, he adds, “is arguably among the chief reasons for the relative lack of progress. Washington State’s Hanford Site, the nation’s most contaminated, embodies well the twin challenges of technological limitations and both social and political discord."
The Blue Ribbon Commission is scheduled to have a final disposal report by the end of 2011. In the meantime, about 121 temporary facilities in 39 states will contain, often begrudgingly, more than 60,000 tons of our nuclear waste.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- Turning radioactive waste into glass
- Nuclear waste? Not in Yucca's backyard
- Ticking time bombs: what should we do with nuclear waste?
Aug 15, 2010
The are plenty of disused oil fields in the world,why not convert the empty drill shafts and place the nuclear waste into steel balls coated with an anti corrosive paint,and place the steel balls into the drill shafts,and use a type of steel plunger rod to force the steel balls down into the empty rock caverns,When filled seal the shaft up,and the waste is locked away forever.
would it not be possible to use the plutonium in some sort of wave generator to convert the radiation into focused radio waves,highly focused radio waves produce hydrogen gas when pointed at sea water,then use the hydrogen gas to power gas turbines to produce electricity,heat and hot water for hundreds of years.
would it not be possible to use the plutonium in some sort of wave generator,which converts the radiation into focused radio waves,highly focused radio waves produce hydrogen gas when pointed at sea water,so you could use the hydrogen gas to power gas turbines to produce electricity,heat and hot water for hundreds of years.
I think the cave systems in Afghanistan would be a good place to dump it. It would definately deter usage of the caves by terrorists as hideouts,thus making it easier to find and eliminate them.
To all those who talk about shooting the waste into the sun: Actually getting something to "fall" into the sun is hard to do. You basically have to cancel out all the orbital energy the waste has from being on the earth, and that's enormous. That's why when we send probes to other planets, we always shoot them in the direction of the earth's orbit, not against it. It's not practical, so forget it. We have a better chance of figuring out how to dig a really deep hole into the earth's mantle, where the waste could be dissolved and diluted into harmlessness.
Several have suggested that nuclear waste at 194 F could be used to generate useful power. This is unlikely. The waste would reach this temperature over a long time without significant removal of heat to the surroundings. Thereafter, it would stay at or near this temperature for an even longer time (until the radioactive materials have significantly decayed). This nearly constant temperature condition would occur when the rate of heat generation, and the rate of heat dispersal to the surroundings are the same. Both are relatively small. If one tried to remove enough heat from these to do something useful with it, the temperature would drop below 194 F, and the opportunity would be lost. To use something at 194 F to generate useful energy, it would have to maintain 194 F even as heat is removed from it. (And as several have commented, even this is inadequate to do much.) This would requre a heat generation rate that greatly exceeds that of the radioactive waste.
Poking around to find out more about their reprocessing decisions and proliferation risks, I ran across this pretty scary report about France's role in proliferation of nukes around the world--seems that it helped Israel develop its reprocessing plant which has created its nuke stockpile, and even gave Saddam Hussein a reprocessing plant at Osirak, which Israel had to blow up to stop. France has not solved its radioactive waste problems with reprocessing--in fact it has made it worse. It's more expensive than standard waste storage, plus now they have a huge security risk by having accumulated 60 TONS of plutonium that could be made into nuclear weapons, and are still getting 8 tons/year more every year since 2005. For more details, check out: http://www.citizen.org/documents/Burnie%20paper%20on%20French%20reprocessing.pdf Bottom line: France is no model for the rest of the world!
They say the waste is contained such that the external temp of the storage unit does not exceed 194 degrees F, for geological reasons. I assume it could be contained differently such that the temp reaches/exceeds to boiling point of water... A lot of folks in this thread are thinking along the same lines. Why not store this in a heat exchanger and continue to use the energy for productive purposes? At minimum it could heat and power the facility where it is processed. Must be a good reason they don't do this. But I'm stumped as to what that would be.
Now of course, the primary reason why USA selected the Yucca Mountain Site is the simple fact that the Nevada Desert is relatively unpopulated, and the State had no power in Washington. (That's also the reason why it was later killed- Harry Reid became Majority Leader.) But the fiasco occurred by ignoring geology. Nevada is the 3rd-most active State for seismic activity (after California and Alaska); it's being pulled apart, widening from east to west. The ability of the rock at Yucca Mountain to DISPERSE the heat of the containers is extremely limited, and hasn't been studied enough to determine the maximum temperatures which our high-level and medium-level storage casks could reach. But, when your panels consist of nuclear engineers, politicians, and business/labor interests, you can't assess the geology. That's where the Yucca Mountain analysis fell on it's face, and the new "Blue Ribbon Panel" has the same defect: Some great scientists, but they're all nuclear engineers. The best solution for high-level waste is probably to keep it above ground, and let it "cool off" before attempting permanent containment. More security, yes- and the heavily subsidized nuclear industry should be forced to recognize those costs. But as Americans we just CAN'T STAND doing nothing: we're more likely to bury them too soon, in a location which can't disperse heat properly, and then they'll crack open. The resulting need to go "Mining" for high-level nuclear waste, leaking out of cracked casks in gigantic concrete-filled tunnels, would be a nightmare. Yucca Mt. is very possibly a location in which the planned "permanent" containment method will FAIL, and we need to use a location which absolutely, positively WORKS. Geological study-- not a bunch of DOE employees who are pressured to "find" the results which DOE wants, and aren't even capable of understanding the geological issues of this site.
The answer? Swimming pools in Antarctica of course. Just put the barrels in pits and fill them with water. Its geologically staple, has no casual pedestrian traffic, and 194 degrees is no problem.
With the new technology to travel to space (no,it is not rockets) we can build a large craft, load it with the unwanted material and dump it into our big gas planet Jupiter.
They would then pour the molten glass into steel drums placed within steel barrels Steel looks good new, and painted. But it will eventually rust and cause water to seep inside. And leak out radiation. A better container, would be one made of stainless steel. Costly but will probably last until this earth comes to an end. As far as shooting nuclear waste into the sun. As others have stated, all launches are not successful. And the sun is so hot, i doubt if a space vehicle. can get anywhere near the sun. If there was a safe way, to get it into space. Then a better option. Would be to launch it, into a planet. Mars or Venus would be a nice target. Scientist should find some type of way, to neutralize radioactive material. They shouldn't have a problem, with enough waste, to experiment with. There is more than enough.
Hi bb_apptix, Yes, we (the U.S.) actually generate around twice as much nuclear energy than France does (about 390,000 megawatt hours). As the world's leading producer, this further underscores our need to figure out what to do with its waste products. Percentage-wise, I believe tiny Lithuania got the most of its electricity via nuclear in 2009. Melissa
194 degrees Fahrenheit is extremely low temperature for generating power. The resultant energy would be less valuable than the cost of security for a facility. Conventional steam power plants discharge heated water not that much cooler. The problem of a central storage facility usually lies in the transportation issue and as the radioactive materials lose temperature they become less of any form of thermal asset in generating power. In general there is no economic benefit once valuable radionuclides are removed.
"France produces about 80 percent of its electricity through nuclear energy. In comparison, the United States, generating 796,751 megawatt hours in 2009, gets about 20 percent of its power via 104 nuclear plants." France is also smaller than Texas. Could the 194 degrees Fahrenheit be used to heat water for other purposes.
Kudos to France for using plutonium to produce more energy, regardless of how much it may offend the sensibilities of people like former President Jimmy Carter. As for what do do with fission product waste, it is a problem. Is it a total showstopper? In my opinion, only if we choose to make it so. BTW if it were that easy to steal plutonium, we wouldn't have been able to have a nuclear weapons program to deter the Soviet Union - which we had, from 1949 until the decline and fall of our principal cold war adversary.
I hate double measument standards. How do I compare France's 44,300 cubic meters of waste to America's 60,000 tons????
194 degrees Fahrenheit? That ought ot be enough to generate power from. Sure, it's not super hot, but then it should be easier to use. By the way, "shooting it into the sun" probably has total costs more than the energy produced by the uranium in the first place. And what happens on a bad launch? As much radioactive contamination of the country side as Cherynoble.
@nhadley - Shoot it into the sun - yes, that would be nice, but I think it would take the reliability of a space elevator to do that. Wouldn't want the rocket to go bang on its ascent. But finding a reliable way to shoot it into the sun seems like a great idea that I've been thinking about for a good while (and I hope and assume the scientists have been, too).
Nuclear proliferation was a central issue in the US deciding not to reprocess the spent fuel rods to extract more uranium and plutonium. How did France legitimize their reprocessing decision and is it really legitimate? I'd love to see an article on this, which seems central to what kind of waste storage facility our country will need.
Unless we do what France does, and remove the plutonium first, all the people who think you can make a bomb from nuclear waste plutonium will reckon that the terrorists can do it. Then all bin Laden's successors need do is SAY that they've succeeded, and the idiot half of the TV news people (the other half are quite savvy, but quieter) will believe it.
that could be made into nuclear weapons? False. It contains enough Pu-240 to make it a very poor starting point. Besides, I presume France is doing what I'd do, put the stuff into nuclear fuel rods. That is like taking the natural gas that oil producers used to "flare" to get rid of it, and putting it into pipes that let you sell it to people.
I'd agree with you about the untrustworthiness of politicians and business/labor folk, but if you try to fix a nuclear waste problem without people who know the subject, your panel is useless. I want you, Rick, to consider what we are going to do about the thousands of tons of toxic acid gases, and the millions of tons of carbon dioxide, that coal burning releases for as much energy as costs us about one ton of nuclear fission waste, which we are stupid enough to propose burying with about 50 to 100 tons of un-consumed uranium and perhaps half a ton of quite usable plutonium.
Yucca Mountain was a stupid idea in the first place, it's the wrong approach entirely. As the article states, the fission products are small in quantity, high in radioactivity per gram, and THEREFORE short lived. By far the best way to dispose of plutonium, which has a level of radioactivity trifling compared with radon (the stuff that leaks into your basement from the nearest natural uranium deposit) is to bombard it with neutrons and fission it, in a reactor. Better yet, use it as a starter fuel for a LFTR, a breeder reactor that convert thorium into fissile uranium. BTW, reactor plutonium includes an isotope that is highly deleterious to bomb-making, Pu-240. Burying unprocessed spent fuel is the worst idea Jimmy Carter ever had. Other than that, he's quite smart. But he evidently needs to learn some nuclear physics, and probably chemistry too. C+O2 ->CO2, means 12 tons of carbon generate 44 tons of CO2.
has enough problems already with global warming. 194 degrees might be quite a bad problem, and would certainly destroy some of the scientific evidence that we might be getting from ice cores. But I presume this is a joke, no?
I believe that Lithuania got it from a single very old reactor, which will be decommissioned soon. I'd like them to talk to Norway or France about its successor.
A few bright people have already figured it out, and demonstrated it. Quit using Light Water Reactors, and end the Carter ban on reprocessing. Build either a fleet of LMFBR's like the Integral Fast Reactor -- or Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, and preferably do it as a government agency like the Bonneville Power Authority or the TVA, as France did until the EU bullied them into privatizing the EDF. Europe's other energy companies couldn't compete with France's price. A breeder reactor consumes all of the neutron capture products, and the waste is tiny in quantity and, thanks to not including plutonium, short lived.
The amount of waste per gigawatt-year is so small, you would hardly notice if it went up a coal plant's chimney. It's far less toxic per unit of energy than the mercury vapor, sulfur and nitrogen oxides coal burning produces.