Still Kicking the Nuclear Waste Can Down the Road

Perplexed? I’m beyond perplexed!  Normally when you fork over funds for something, you get something in return. But not when it comes to the energy business and the current state of U.S. politics!  For years nuclear power plants have been paying into a U.S. Department of Energy program to take care of their nuclear waste – to safely store it.  So far the nuclear industry has put $28 billion into the coffers for this purpose. This program came into law with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 which called for the construction and maintenance of multiple waste deposit sites, and then in 1987 an amendment to the Act directed that a single depository be built – Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  

Because nuclear power does not pollute the air with harmful emissions, it is considered by many to be a “GREEN” technology. However, the U.S. must decide a course of action for the waste from its nuclear power plants if nuclear is going to be a viable energy technology for the future.

But guess what?  Because of partisan politics, the U.S. government, still — 26 years later — has not begun to take that waste and store it; not at Yucca, not anywhere.  The waste of our country’s nuclear power plants is sitting around all over the countryside next to each nuclear power plant. Now, if YOU had paid $28 billion for someone to take out your trash and properly store it so no one would accidentally get hurt by it, and 26 years later, the contractor still had not done it, wouldn’t you be mad?

True, some of the nuclear utilities have sued the U.S. government to get that money back and thus far they have retrieved about $2.6 billion. They could probably use those funds to ensure that their on-site storage facilities are safely maintained. But, they had to burn a lot of “people energy” and time and money on legal fees to do so.  More legal suits are still in the works and Washington continues to kick our country’s nuclear waste disposal issue down the road with occasional help kicking that can from entities, such as the Blue Ribbon Commission which has been studying alternatives to opening the doors at Yucca Mountain. 

Now, bless-their-hearts (I always say that about people who are forced to declare obviously wrong decisions) the folks at the U.S. Department of Energy, have come out and said that not only do the utilities still have to pay this fee, the DOE is not even going to adjust it down one little bit …! The utilities still have to continue to pay it – even though they continue to get nothing for it and no one else is getting anything either – certainly not the individuals like you and me paying monthly electric bills. 

WHAT?  How is this right? Plan and simple, it’s NOT.  It’s politics played to benefit the few, instead of benefitting everyone and the future of our energy security.  Would someone please pick up the can of the nuclear waste issue and quit kicking it down the road?
 Click here for a good background story   

What’s Next for Small Modular Reactors in the United States?

A number of countries have SMRs (Small Modular Reactors) under development.  Russia has been working on various models for some time and is famous for its RITM-200, the reactor powering its new nuclear icebreaker. Most recently South Korea announced that it has received its own state regulator approval for the SMART SMR and would soon be selling it around the world.  

Read the SEAB Subcommittee on SMRs report – link at the bottom of the page.

And, the U.S.?  The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy issued a Funding Announcement Opportunity (FOA) for a Small Modular Reactor Licensing Technical Support Program  back on March 22, 2012. This government-industry cost share program was  for the design certification and licensing of up to two light water SMRs. Several applied, recently only one – B&W’s mPower design – was awarded funding.

On April 3, 2012, just weeks after the original FOA from the DOE came out in March, but well before the award was made, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu charged the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) with creating a subcommittee to report on what the U.S. should do above and beyond the existing FOA for two light water reactors. Secretary Chu wrote, “The broad purpose of the SEAB subcommittee on SMRs is to advise the Secretary on ways to advance this technology to achieve a global leadership role in civil nuclear technology for the United States, and ways for DOE to accelerate that role.”

Specifically, Secretary Chu charged, “Looking beyond the current DOE program authorized by Congress and begun by the FOA, this SEAB Subcommittee will: (1) Identify areas in which standards for safety, security and nonproliferation should be developed for SMRs to enhance U.S. leadership in civil nuclear energy, and (2) Identify challenges, uncertainties and risks to commercialization and provide advice on policies and other approaches that may be appropriate to manage these risks and accelerate deployment in support of national goals.”

I attended the “open meeting” in the Spring and came back and put the question to several of the “Linked-In’ groups on nuclear power:  “What would you advise the SEAB subcommittee on SMRs?”

There was a huge response.  After the discussions had gone on for a couple of months, I gathered the input with everyone’s consent and contact information and sent it in one very long letter to Dr. Nicholas M. Donofrio, Chairman of the SMR subcommittee. Before Thanksgiving, I received a letter back thanking everyone who participated on “Linked-In” and with the link to the completed report that was approved by the SEAB main committee.  Here it is: Report from SEAB Subcommittee on SMRs.

In another blog entry – and maybe on Linked-In – we’ll discuss some of the contents of the report.  In the interim, thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion via the various nuclear groups back during the summer of 2012 …!  Keep speaking up!  Happy Holidays!

Again, here’s the pertinent links:

Report from SEAB Subcommittee on SMRs

The subcommittee’s original marching orders

The DOE’s web site on SMRs

Y-12 Protestors Should Refocus Efforts on more Insidious Threat – Global Warming & Climate Change

The protestors that cut through the fence and broke into a secure area to deface buildings at the Y-12 National Security Complex, the Oak Ridge, Tennessee facility* that stores and processes uranium, should consider refocusing their efforts on a more insidious threat to the future of the planet.  While all-out nuclear war would indeed be a global disaster, it is less likely to occur than in fact the global disaster which IS apparently full-speed ahead and is not being taken seriously enough.

For much of the planet, Climate Change is going to mean either too much water — or too little.

What the little old nun and her two middle-aged cohorts should focus on is Climate Change.  But, so should we all.

Here’s what we have to look forward to with Climate Change:  longer droughts, bigger floods, the loss of coastline and cities that are on the coast, acidification of the oceans and the eventual death of many species of sea creatures including those we depend upon as a food source, hotter temperatures, more storms – stronger hurricanes and tornadoes, worse pest problems, more disease – including the regeneration of some diseases like the bubonic plague, more and bigger wildfires, more air pollution, less food for everyone, mass extinctions,  and in general, less water where it’s needed – more where it’s not.

The problem with the Climate Change problem, what makes it so dangerous, is that it’s sneaky.  Scientist tried to tell us it was coming, but we – the United States’ “we” here – didn’t take it seriously because we didn’t see it in our daily lives … I mean who cares about the Polar bears?!   As long as we can still get a good steak at Longhorn, let the bears swim, for crying out loud. (being facetious here)  Americans continue to be Americans – good people, but historically, until the crisis is staring us in the face, we’re pretty complacent on the whole. WE Americans can be summed up as Winston Churchill said: You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.

Aah, but this summer has seen the crisis brought to our own backyards.  This Summer has provided THE HOTTEST JULY EVER in the United States.   And, we ALL felt it.

Has this GLOBAL WARMING been caused by mankind or is it a naturally occurring cycle?  WHO CARES?!

Wildfires

Wildfires did a lot of damage to the U.S. in 2012. The coming years will see even more so get used to it.

it doesn’t really matter now because global warming has caused a climate change that many scientists such as those at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe cannot be stopped.  We can still “mitigate” global warming if we act fast, but the ball is rolling downhill.  Mitigation can put a few bumps on the hill to slow climate change and keep the situation from being QUITE SO BAD, but it’s still going to happen.

Let’s take a moment here to define some terms that we’re using in this, and future blog posts at IX Power.

Global Warming is:  Not the same thing as Climate Change! (They frequently are used interchangeably, but that is incorrect.) Global warming is the human-instigated rise in temperatures caused by too much carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Climate Change is: the EFFECTS that Global Warming has on the earth.  Climate Change is the effects on the earth’s natural processes and the impacts that are the result – stronger storms, worse droughts, melting polar ice, etc.

Mitigation is the set of actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions that generate global warming.

Adaptation is the actions that we can take to reduce the impacts of climate change – rising sea levels, strong storms, worse droughts, etc.

Mitigation is important – yes, we should continue to do things to reduce greenhouse gases – but the horse is out of the barn.  Scientists, including those at the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change believe that even if we took really drastic measures to reduce global warming today, we are still going to have climate change and its impacts.  But, of course, since no one is taking drastic measures, we are most likely on our way to a slow hell.  We need to now focus at least as much effort on ADAPTING to climate change, as we should to mitigating global warming. Actually, we must do more, since not enough is being done to mitigate global warming.  

ADAPTATION – getting ready for the next 40 years so that fewer people, animals and ecosystems have to die, should be the concern of not just the Y-12 protestors, but all of us.  And I mean ALL.  Just because you are wealthy, or your corporation is big and healthy, does not mean you shouldn’t care.  EVERYONE is going to be impacted.  

Stay tuned to this blog – we’ll be talking more – not just about MITIGATING GLOBAL WARMING, but ADAPTING TO CLIMATE CHANGE as well …

*  According to the Y-12 web site: The Y‑12 National Security Complex is one of four production facilities in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Nuclear Security Enterprise. Their unique emphasis is the processing and storage of uranium and development of technologies associated with those activities.

U.S. DOE & TVC’s INNOVATION magazine – a GOOD read …!

Check out the U.S. DOE’s “INNOVATION MAGAZINE” April-May issue before June-July gets posted … good insight, good info!

Innovation straddles and reports on two sometimes disparate worlds: business and technology. The magazine brings the parties together and engages in a national dialogue.   The audience is scientists and administrators at national laboratories and research institutions, investors in technology companies, entrepreneurs and public officials involved in technology commercialization.

Click here to read it

Somebody Ought To Do Something About That: Medical Radioisotopes

When we first organized IX Power last summer, we agreed that too often people would say “somebody ought to do something about that” and that WE would be the company that WOULD do something.

As part of that initiative I am starting a new series here on the IX Power blog called, appropriately enough, Somebody Ought To Do Something About That.

The IX Power Staff isn’t capable of doing everything we find interesting, even in the safe power and clean water spaces on which we’re focused. So, my hope is one of our readers will pick up on things identified in this series and provide some perspective. Perhaps YOU can even “do something about it.” Continue reading

Get The Facts Straight, Rachel

On her 17 August 2011 broadcast Rachel Maddow mis-informed her viewers about the National Nuclear Safety Administration, claiming the Republicans’ statement that they want to cut more than $600 million from the NNSA FY2012 budget is akin to “putting the little department that saves the world on the chopping block.”

Maddow, and her guest Congressman Ed Markey, repeatedly referred to the NNSA as a “little” agency responsible for running around the planet collecting Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) from which nefarious individuals could make a weaponized device. 

The NNSA is much more than that and is in fact RESPONSIBLE for all U.S.A. nuclear weapons development as well as non-proliferation activities (and a ton of other valuable research and services as well).

The NNSA is a major part of the US Department of Energy (DOE). The FY2012 budget request for the NNSA is for nearly $12 billion, nearly half of the overall $29 billion the White House has requested for the DOE. The FY2012 budget increase for the DOE is 12% more than what was enacted in FY2010. 

Ms. Maddow and her producers should know better than to confuse their viewers to make their point—which in the end turned out to be about jobs anyway.

See DOE/CF-0057, Volume 1, February 2011 for these data.

Grizz