Friday, August 17, 2012

New NRC Chairman Allison McFarlane: "Dry Casks Are Good Enough"

Sorry for old news, as I haven't been up-to-date on the US side. But the new NRC chairman has been installed, and she is a geologist who opposes the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository (which the Obama Administration defunded in 2010) but says it is OK to upgrade a nuclear power plant and continue operation when geological surveys point to some seismic danger, and dry cask storage is good enough.

She also says building the public confidence in her agency is a matter of improved communication, and no, the agency is not cozy with the nuclear industry.

Her first interview as the NRC chairman, from CNN (8/14/2012):

New NRC chair vouches for agency's independence, states goals

Is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission too cozy with the industry it regulates?

After five weeks on the job, the new chairwoman of the agency doesn't think so.

Allison Macfarlane said Tuesday she has confidence in the agency and its independence from the nation's 104 commercial nuclear power plants.

"I have some strong initial impressions of the agency, and one is that I've been very impressed with the staff and their dedication to safety, and their willingness to stand up to industry when they believe a situation is not safe," Macfarlane said in a wide-ranging discussion with reporters.

"So I'm actually quite assured that the agency is completing its mission of protecting public health and safety," she said. "They take safety issues very seriously. They take their role as regulators very seriously and the public should be assure that they have the public's best interests in mind."

Macfarlane said she hopes to build public confidence in the agency by improving communication, increasing transparency and making NRC documents understandable. "Some of them are rather opaque," she allowed.

Macfarlane, the first geologist to head the agency, repeatedly stressed the importance of geology in the placement of nuclear power plants, and said one of her top goals is to look "at the intersection of geology and nuclear technology."

"Geology clearly matters. If that wasn't one of the main lessons of Fukushima, I don't know what was," Macfarlane said of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in Japan. "There was a massive earthquake -- an earthquake that was not predicted."


Pressed on whether geologic surveys could lead to the closing of some older nuclear power plants, Macfarlane said she believes plants could be upgraded if necessary. "The important thing is you need to understand what those risks are."

Macfarlane also stressed the need for the Congress and the administration to find a geologic site for the long-term storage of nuclear waste. The Obama administration scrapped a plan to store waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and a blue ribbon commission, on which Macfarlane served, said the government must look for a community willing to accept the waste.

Finding a site for nuclear waste is possible, she said.

"I just want to provide people assurance that this can happen in the United States, because it has," she said, noting the Department of Energy's waste site east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, used to store waste from the production of nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, Macfarlane said, dry casks have proved effective for the temporary safe storage of nuclear waste.

"They seem to be operating very well," she said, noting that they are passively cooled, avoiding the need for water that has proved problematic with the damaged storage pools at Fukushima.

The NRC is looking at the issue of expediting the movement from storage waste pools to dry cask storage, she said.

(Full article at the link)

Expediting the movement? How? By telling the spent fuel assemblies to cool down faster? Fukushima I Nuke Plant's Spent Fuel Pools are actively cooling the spent fuel assemblies for good reasons, problematic or not.


Anonymous said...

I would contend to mrs. Macfarlane that the main lesson from Fukushima could be that npps tolerate floodings very badly.
Of course, the main lesson from the Tohoku disaster is that npps tolerate earthquakes very badly, since all Tohoku npps have been damaged by the quake to the extent that they had to be stopped in order to perform major repairs.

Anonymous said...

"In the meantime, Macfarlane said, dry casks have proved effective for the temporary safe storage of nuclear waste." And how long is "temporary"..if "safe"..will she put some in her backyard? Near her home? Will the government organziation who is legislating all this-PAY for property value decreases..and lost of personal property in an accident? Some one needs to start a PERSONAL PROPERTY blog/Database so people near nuke plants can put their apprasials, homeowners property (video of the home contents/value of contents) and such (cost of moving/packing)-or total replacement as certified by an auditor type professional--in a location suitable for proof to the agencies..for use in a "future" emergency..or ongoing emergency of course..

Atomfritz said...

The basic differences between dry (cask) and wet (pool) storage are two very important points:

1. Dry cask storage is safer because the waste doesn't need cooling to prevent a catastrophe. The casks themselves function as heat sinks, in principle like radiators.

They can stand basically unattended for decades.
No need to worry about spent fuel pools running dry by whatever reason.
2. Water storage cannot be extended infinitely because of the inevitable corrosion even with the most thorough water purification regimes.

Actually, water storage in excess of the cooldown phase is irresponsible because the tightness of the fuel cladding gets compromised rapidly compared to dry storage, and the safety margin of the used fuel assemblies constantly degrades, leading to leaks way more prematurely and frequently.

In short term dry storage may seem more expensive, in the long run it's way cheaper and safer.

Atomfritz said...

Maybe Tepco should export the stuff to the US?

Anonymous said...

@Anon 1:32 PM

Nobody is insured against nuclear accidents just ask the victims of Fukushima or Chernobyl. Listing assets is a waste of time because you won't get a minor fraction of replacement value if any when it is all said and done. No government on the planet is ready to compensate the public after a nuclear catastrophe. Instead they just do their best to cover up the issues and ignore the victims. This is why the nuclear industry's insurance fund is controlled by the government regular insurance companies can be sued, the government can't (unless they give you permission).

I doubt you're going to find anyone who feels they were justly compensated after Fukushima. There are still evacuee's from Futaba-machi living in a "temporary" shelter almost a year and a half after the accident. I seriously doubt these people are being screwed because they can't prove their losses. If something nuclear goes wrong this is how you can expect your insurance claim to be handled.

Anonymous said...

Unless I am mistaken the Japanese govt. is offering to buy the property of those who used to live in the most contaminated area, where they will not be able to go back for several years. They are offering the official price of the property used to compute property tax, or the purchase price and I do not know whether they will accept any other kind of assessment of the property value.
In US, npp operators liability is capped (a form of subsidy) and beyond the cap the taxpayer will foot the bill. In Japan, in practice, it is working in a similar fashion (the taxpayer foots the bill). It makes perfect sense once you consider npps are connected with buildup of nuclear weapons arsenals.

Anonymous said...

"Dry Casks Are Good Enough," at least until tomorrow

Anonymous said...


Do you have evidence that the victims are being fairly compensated because I can't find any stories of satisfied victims. Most of the stuff I've found is old and it says the victims will be paid but doesn't give any examples. Maybe Japanese media is covering the issue better but the only recent article I've seem on the matter had quotes like these.

“We are receiving so many pleadings from victims,” said Hiroshi Noyama, head of the center’s mediation office. “Of course, the ideal situation is that Tepco pays enough compensation directly and solves the problem. But the reality is, numerous victims are dissatisfied with Tepco’s handling. And the situation is very troubling.”

"“What a joke,” said Toshihiko Nakano, 54, a self-employed electrician who applied for $108,000 in business damages and was instead offered less than $2,000. Nakano said he is considering going either to the mediation center or to court."

Anonymous said...

@7:51 No, I was just reporting my recollections about news describing how the government was planning to estimate the value of lost property in the most contaminated area. Also, as far as I know, the government thinks that people can go back where radiation is below 20 mSv/year; I would not call this satisfactory either.
Furthermore, yes, Tepco has a terrible record about paying damages.
If I find more on the Japanese news outlets I will report it.
By the way, Nikkei Shinbun is reporting about a change in the regulations regarding the collateral that power utilities can put up when issuing bonds. From what I understood utilities will not be able any more to provide collateral which is protected from accident liabilities, giving bondholders priority. This is going to increase borrowing costs for utilities, which I view as positive because it removes a cost externalization.

Anonymous said...

@7:51 Mainichi newspaper is reporting on June 7th that, for a part of Minami-Soma village lying outside the 20km radius, Fukushima prefecture has decided to buy the property of 600 families at 80% of its value before the disaster. For 400 more families that lived inside the 20km radius access restrictions have been lifted so the prefecture is planning to send people to estimate the value of the properties and publish the assessment results in July.
The good news is that those folks will get more than the 2% the electrician claims to be offered, bad news is that, to be fair, they should pay 100% and damages on top of that.

Anonymous said...

The U.S. stored waste in Carlsbad, New Mexico and didn't the rates of cancer skyrocket around there....

Talk to people in New Mexico. LOTS of cancer cases.

Anonymous said...

If anyone is interested Allison Macfarlane co-authored a book called "Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation's High-Level Nuclear Waste"

Amazon Book Description
Publication Date: April 28, 2006

Despite approval by Congress and the Bush administration and over seven billion dollars already spent, the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, site for disposal of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is not yet in operation. The reasons for the delay lie not only in citizen and activist opposition to the project but also in the numerous scientific and technical issues that remain unresolved. Although many scientists favor geologic disposal of high-level nuclear waste, there are substantial unknowns in projecting the performance of a site over the tens to hundreds of thousands of years that may be required by Environmental Protection Agency standards. Uncertainty Underground is the first effort to review the uncertainties in the analysis of the long-term performance of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain. The book does not pass judgment on the suitability of the site but provides reliable science-based information to support open debate and inquiry into its safety.

Experts from the geosciences, industry, and government review different aspects of the repository system, focusing on the uncertainties inherent in each. After an overview of the historical and regulatory context, the contributors investigate external factors (including climate change and volcanic activity) that could affect repository performance and then turn to topics concerning the repository itself. These include hydrologic issues, the geological conditions with which the nuclear waste in the repository would interact, and the predicted behavior of the different kinds of waste and waste package materials. Uncertainty Underground succeeds in making these important technical issues understandable to a wide audience, including policymakers and the general public.

Anonymous said...

How about stocking the nuclear waste in some hangar and have someone paid to routinely inspect the integrity of the containers until radioactivity goes back to that of the originally mined uranium? It would create occupation for the next 100,000+ years and reduce the externalization costs of the nuclear industry.

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