Nuclear Waste – A Modest Proposal for a Small Problem

Waste disposal is not a disadvantage of nuclear power; it is one of its advantages.

But for opponents of nuclear power, they can’t help themselves from turning a silk purse into a sow’s ear, the sow and her wallowing in the mire.

Nuclear power production is the only power production process that actually can sequester its byproducts from the environment. Solar and wind can’t do this. (Please ask me about the hydrofluoric acid used to make solar cells or the bisphenol A and epichlorohydrin used to make wind turbine blades.)

Dr. Bernard Cohen calculated that the lifetime nuclear waste, assuming that all electricity produced was from nuclear, for one person would amount to about an aspirin bottle.IMG_8416

I don’t remember the aspirin bottle analogy, but the actual radioactive waste produced is about 0.5 cubic centimeter per year per person serviced — assuming that each person uses an average of 1 KW. That would be about 35 cm3 per lifetime, which approximates an aspirin bottle. If the material is converted to waste-glass, the volume would be about 10 times larger. I have published lots of papers on risk analysis of rad waste and can send you copies if that would be useful. If you want this, please specify whether you want technical or popular versions. The material is also covered in my book, “The nuclear Energy Option” Bernard L. Cohen

Dr. Cohen’s calculation of the amount of nuclear waste per person was based on first generation nuclear power plants using light water technology. Others have calculated that the amount would fit in a soda can.IMG_8454

Still others have calculated that the amount of nuclear waste, using a liquid fluoride thorium reactor, would be about the same as a package of Skittles I got from my local credit union. Also, many of the fission products have economic value. They are not waste and do not need to be disposed of.

IMG_8409Of the remaining amount that is actually waste, my very modest proposal for this small amount of nuclear waste is to take it with me when I go.

Concrete vault and coffinI could hold it in my hand inside my coffin and concrete vault while I await resurrection.


Vermont Yankee RIP

I didn’t pay much attention when the storm clouds were building around Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (NPP), gathering to force closure of another productive noo-clay-err asset because, frankly it was far away and out of my sight. I’m not sure if my voice would have carried any weight with anyone, anyway.

Be that as it may, we now have two years of data that clearly shows that the output of VY was replaced with, wait for it—————————————————- natural gas fired electrical generation.

Governor Pete Shumlin claimed that the state didn’t need the power produced by VY. Meanwhile, VY was trying to sell the entire output of the 600 WM plant to the utilities for 4 cents per kilowatt hour. Can you imagine that? (BTW the output of VY was enough to power the entire state! Imagine powering the state with a single windmill or solar installation, haha!)

I currently pay over 10 cents per kilowatt hour retail in Brigham City. At 4 cents per kwh, the utilities could cover their distribution costs and still make a decent profit and I could save a bunch, if I only had to pay 8 or 9 cents per kwh. Win, win, win for everybody. Just day dreaming again.

Could I please have VY?

I consider this a crime against electrical rate payers in Vermont. As Murray Rothbard says, follow the money. Who had motive and opportunity? Look no further than the gas suppliers in Vermont. They should be the prime suspects, along with Shumlin.

If the Attorney General of Vermont had any integrity and assuming that he wasn’t in on the fix, why isn’t he investigating this crime – a $10 billion property crime?


PS Two good sources of information about the whole VY deal are:

Atomic Insights and Yes Vermont Yankee


A Hypothetical Conversation

I was day dreaming (or maybe I nodded off) I had the following conversation with a USU environmental science major, just after he got off his slack line. Don’t let the dreds, chacos, and granola distract you. This guy is serious.

me: Why do you prefer wind and solar to just about any other source of energy?

hipster: Because they are free, don’t you know?

me: You mean free, like the binding energy of certain metallic elements?

hipster: What is binding energy?

me: It is the energy that can be extracted from thorium and uranium through fission?

hipster: You mean nuclear? That stuff is bad!

me: It’s just as free as wind and solar energy.

hipster: No it isn’t. You have to have a totally expensive reactor that produces all kinds of waste and radioactivity that is the most toxic thing in the universe.

me: Don’t you have to have solar panels and wind turbines to collect solar and wind power? Do you know how solar cells are made? Don’t you think hydrofluoric acid is toxic?

hipster: Yeah, but solar panels don’t cost that much, especially if we build enough to power the whole US and Elon Musk said we will have batteries to store power so we can use our laptops at night. And what does hydrofluoric acid have to do with solar panels?

me: Hydrofluoric acid is used in the production of solar cells and can eat through your skin and won’t stop until it gets to the bone and combines with the calcium in your bones.

hipster: Really, through your skin?

me: Yes. And how much would it cost to power the entire US with wind and solar?

hipster: Bernie Sanders said we could pay for it with just the windfall profit taxes on big oil companies.

me: How much would that be in dollars?

hipster: Really when you consider the good of the planet, it’s not that much.

me: In dollars, please.

hipster: Only about 1 or 2 times our GDP, according to Mark Jacobson. We studied his plan for wind and solar power for Utah in my Enviro Sci 201 class.

me: Dollars?

hipster: 10 trillion dollars, give or take

me: Choke!

hipster: yeah, it’s really not that much when you think about it. We totally have to do it to prevent climate change.

me: Why do we have to prevent climate change? Is the climate now at some optimum?

hipster: Because people are damaging the planet. We are a virus on this planet.

me: I am not a virus.

hipster: Humanity is not natural. We are using too many resources, especially in the West. Our lifestyles are not sustainable.

me: Finally there is something we agree about. Your lifestyle is not sustainable. Your mom and dad still paying for you tuition and room and board?

hipster: Yeah, but I totally just got a job at the ARC in the climbing gym.

me: How long have you been at USU?

hipster: This is my 4th year.

me: So are you graduating soon?

hipster: Yeah, I just have 2 years left.

me: Back to the planet. How is humanity not part of nature? There is only one world and we are part of it.

hipster: Population growth is putting pressures on the habitats of many endangered species. People are taking too much from the other species which are stressed and endangered.

me: Please stay on topic. How are people not natural?

hipster: They are not natural because they build freeways and shopping malls.

me: Don’t birds build nests and foxes build dens? How is a house less natural than those?

hipster: You’re old, man. You don’t get it. Humanity is not natural. They are a virus.

me: You mean you are a virus?

hipster: No, people in the West who use air conditioning and drive SUVs.

me: Didn’t I see you pull up in a Subaru?

hipster: That belongs to my parents.

me: Do you use the AC in the car?

hipster: Only when I come back from the whole foods market with my organic soy latte and tofu, dude!

me: What’s wrong with driving SUVs?

hipster: It’s just like putting a knife into the belly of Mother Earth.

me: How so?

hipster: It took 30 million years to form the oil you burn in one tank of gas for your SUV.

me: That’s part of the reason why I’m promoting nuclear power. I would like for all humanity to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, which is only possible by access to affordable energy.

hipster: But the nuclear waste problem has never been solved and nuclear power is something we don’t need because we can power the whole earth with wind and solar power.

me: How much will that cost? And how is that possible?

hipster: Bernie Sanders said we could pay for it with just the windfall profit taxes on big oil companies.

me: You said that before. Wasn’t that for just the US? Give or take $10 trillion dollars?

hipster: Mark Jacobson has built a model showing how the whole world can be powered by just wind and solar with some pumped hydro for baseload power and at night. I heard that in one of my classes.

me: Focus, how much in dollars?

hipster: My class hasn’t got that far yet. I think we will be discussing that right after we study how CO2 is causing ocean acidification.

me: Did you know that nuclear reactors do not emit CO2?

hipster: I told you we don’t need them, man! And what about the unsolved problem of nuclear waste?

me: Nuclear reactors produce power day and night and when the wind doesn’t blow. Of course we need them. The supposedly unsolved problem of nuclear waste is a red herring.

hipster: What do you mean red herring?

me: I mean that there are many ways to deal with the very relatively small amount of waste produced by nuclear reactors, especially thorium reactors.

hipster: But they told me in my Enviro Sci 303 class that the nuclear waste problem can never be solved.

me: Thorium molten salt reactors produce less waste than any other form of energy production including solar and wind and they produce prodigious amounts of energy, day and night. Waste from molten salt reactors can be separated and sold for industrial uses. The pounds of radioactive material remaining from one large reactor from each year’s production becomes less radioactive each day. What to do with that is a very solvable engineering problem.

hipster: Well, Elon Musk, you know the guy who makes the Tesla cars and SpaceX, is building a gigafactory to make batteries that you can install in your garage. The battery is charged during the day with solar panels so I can have lights and recharge my iphone at night, so we don’t need nuclear, which is too expensive anyway.

me: What about hot water and heating? It gets pretty cold in Logan in the Winter.

hipster: Yeah, you can run the heater with the batteries, too.

me: You mean the fan on the furnace? Do you know how many solar panels and batteries it would take to actually heat your house?

hipster: Just a solar panel or two. Tiny houses are totally sustainable. I’m going to buy when after I graduate.

me: Where do you live now?

hipster: In my parents’ basement. But I am totally getting an apartment cause I just got a job at the ARC.

me: How many solar panels and batteries would it take to heat your parents’ basement?

hipster: We learned in class that we just need to turn down the thermostat in the winter and we could easily heat our homes with solar panels.

me: Turn it down to what?

hipster: Like 68 degrees, dude. I can totally do that.

me: How many solar panels and batteries would it take to heat the basement with the temp set to 68, then? What about the famous Cache Valley inversions? How many panels then?

hipster: Just a couple.

me: Why don’t you try that and let me know how it works out for you.

hipster: Totally, dude! I gotta get back to my slack line. My buddies are calling me.

me: Poor fool!

awake me: Did anyone see me drool?




Lessons I’ve Learned from Fukushima

Lessons I have learned from Fukushima.

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific coast of Japan and also caused a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people.  The earthquake was the strongest every recorded to have hit Japan. The tsunami also set in motion a chain of events that destroyed 3 nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi.

You can read here, here, and here for reliable information about the situation.

I could spend a lot of time telling you about the fact that no one has died from the small amount of radiation released or how the evacuation of people living around Fukushima was unnecessary, and how even now the evacuees have not returned, even though the small amount of radiation is even smaller after five years and getting smaller every day and is not harmful, but what would be the point?

This is all 99.9999999% of the people would hear if I tried to tell them why nuclear is still the best and cleanest form of energy extraction, Fukushima blah, blah , blah, blah…………

That is the first lesson I have learned from Fukushima.

The second lesson I have learned from Fukushima is to design and build a reactor that will can cool itself passively without any human intervention until it reaches a cold state. Molten salt reactors can do this.

The third lesson I have learned from Fukushima goes along with the second item; if the reactors are designed to cool passively (without any operator intervention) in the event of a station blackout, they will not be the 1000 MW colossus we are used to seeing. They will be smaller and can be buried. Think out of sight, out of mind. Bury the reactors! If the neighbors don’t even know they are there, awesome!

The fourth lesson is about evacuations. Don’t ever do them. Design and build reactors that don’t use water for the primary or secondary heat transfer loops that can turn to steam on a bad day and necessitate massive containment structures and where the blistering hot zirconium can disassociate water into hydrogen and oxygen and cause explosions that are amazingly bad PR for all things nuclear.  These events are like honey to flies for the media. It doesn’t matter what the truth is about it being a chemical explosion. All Jane and Joe lunchbucket see is an explosion at a nuclear power plant.

If the fuel is thorium in a molten salt, it can’t melt down. It is already melted! The reactor runs at near ambient pressure not at 3,000 psi, like in a light water reactor. If there is a leak in the primary loop, the molten salt leaks out and solidifies! It does not flash into a gas that requires a massive containment building that has to withstand elevated pressure. A 20 x 20 foot concrete containment structure would be sufficient to permanently separate the radioactive fuel from the environment. Thus, an evacuation plan is never necessary and should not be required by regulations.

I learned some other things about Fukushima that I have not been able to turn into lessons. They are to irrational to cognitively process.

For example, there are about 200 million gallons of water that have been decontaminated and stored at Fukushima.  There is no regulatory method to deal with them.  The water has been filtered to remove all radioactive material except tritium, which being an isotope of hydrogen cannot be separated chemically from the rest of the water. The tritiated water is only weakly radioactive and should be dumped into the Pacific Ocean, but alas there is not a snowball’s chance of that happening.

Fear of all things radioactive and nuclear has destroyed the fishing industry in Fukushima, even though every fish caught is scanned for radioactivity and discarded if it is above a very small level. Maybe Fukushima should send all of its catch to Peru to make cebiche.


A Modest Proposal

I read today that Japan has imported a cool $200 billion worth of fossil fuels to replace the electricity that would have been generated by nuclear power plants had they not all been shut down after the earthquake and tidal wave that ended the reactors at Fukushima. Two hundred billion dollars! Now somebody (or lots of somebodys) made some profit on that. The $200 billion is above and beyond what Japan normally imports to meet their energy demands. That is truly astounding.

Talk about rubbing salt in an open wound. The loss of life and massive destruction was not the end of the disaster. The government of Japan consciously choose to enact policies that added an additional price tag of $200 billion to the catastrophe.

This got me to thinking about the phobias of all things nuclear. Do you think that the folks importing $200 billion of fossil fuels might have a slight interest in continuing to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about nuclear safety?

Therein lies my proposal. I think that a potential way to overcome the fear of nuclear is for a molten salt reactor company to chose a city of about 20,000 people and offer a reactor to them for some cut rate, something approaching free. Or maybe the entire electrical output of the reactor, for say 4.5 cent/kWh for a period of 10 years.

The city would help with the siting of the nuclear power plant (NPP) in exchange for cheap electricity. Then, over the course of years, other cities could see how reliable, affordable, green, clean, nuclear power could benefit them, too.

Not all cities are blessed with Pacific breezes and perpetually mild weather where a few solar panels will power some led lights and recharge an iPhone.

There are plenty of cities with harsh weather that are also economically depressed that might accept some good fortune. Perhaps the demonstration of a molten salt reactor using thorium might convince some that nuclear is the way to go.


NuScale Power

When good things happen, we need to take notice. The Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) has signed an agreement with the DOE to site small modular reactor(s) on the Idaho National Lab. The reactor(s) will be built by NuScale Power,and they will feed power into the grid that powers Brigham City, where I live. Yeah!

Clean, Reliable, Green, Abundant Nuclear Power is the path forward!

(Now, I just wish that it didn’t take so long, with so much red tape to actually get the reactors on line!)



Hillary’s Hallucinations

Yesterday, I dissected Bernie Sander’s national energy plan. Today I will demolish Hillary’s national energy plan.  It won’t be hard because it is nearly identical to Bernie’s. Maybe she had a weekend at Bernie’s?

Hillary will:

  • Create good-paying jobs by making the United States the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.
  • Set national goals to have 500 million solar panels installed; generate enough renewable energy to power every home in America; cut energy waste in homes, schools, and hospitals by a third; and reduce American oil consumption by a third.
  • Lead the world in the fight against climate change by bringing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below what they were in 2005 within the next decade—and keep going.

I told you it was A LOT like Bernie’s plan. When have the Feds ever created jobs without first destroying a lot more? The money has to come from somewhere, either through overt taxation or the creation of money through the Fed Reserve, both of which destroy jobs.

Who cares about what goals Hillary sets? Setting them is one thing and achieving them is another. Also, solar panels do not deliver power at night and there does not exist continental level energy storage to power America in the dark.

Waste not, want not. I already have financial incentives to not waste my own money by wasting energy. I don’t need Hillary’s help.

Why does America want to be the leader in destroying our economy to be the leader in the fight against climate change?

One third of all anthropogenic CO2 released in the atmosphere since 1750 was added in the last 19 years, when there has been no warming at all as measured by the most accurate instruments we have; satellites.

No warming for 18 years

2015 was the warmest year on record—and 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have come just since 2001. Already, American families are seeing the impacts of climate change with their own eyes, from the record drought in California to the frequently flooded streets of Miami and Annapolis. While climate deniers continue to ignore settled science because it does not suit their political agenda, and climate defeatists doubt America’s ability to meet this challenge, Hillary knows that America is fully up to the task.

2105 was not the warmest year on record. See the graph above and read here.

Hillary uses the code words “climate deniers” and “settled science”. Well, guess what, the science is not settled, but at least she hasn’t threatened to arrest me like Bernie did.  (BTW, I do not work for fossil fuel companies in any way and do not have any financial ties to fossil fuels. I do use fossil fuels, however.)

“Climate denier” is slander. If Hillary used words correctly, it would be, “human caused climate change denier”. Don’t expect precision from the woman who lusts to be president.

Reduce American oil consumption by a third through cleaner fuels and more efficient cars, boilers, ships and trucks.

I can reduce consumption by 100% by tomorrow. Shoot anyone who drives. How would this go over with Americans? But reducing oil consumption by 30% while not destroying freedom is a harder thing to do. How about nuclear powered ships? That would be a much cleaner and greener fuel than bunker oil, but there is no mention of clean, emission free, abundant nuclear power anywhere in Hillary’s plan.

So, if you want unreliable wind and solar, Hillary’s your man, I mean woman.


Bernie Sander’s Energy Plans Dissected

Bernie Sander’s plans for the energy future of the US deserve to be dissected.  I will use my standard format. Bernie’s plans will be in block quotes and my rebuttal will be in standard text.

As president, Bernie will:

Ban fossil fuels lobbyists from working in the White House. Massive lobbying and unlimited super PAC donations by the fossil fuel industry gives these profitable companies disproportionate influence on our elected leaders. This practice is business as usual in Washington and it is not acceptable. Heavy-handed lobbying causes climate change skepticism. It has no place in the executive office.

Why stop at fossil fuels lobbyists? Why not ban all lobbyists? What would Washington be without graft and corruption?

End the huge subsidies that benefit fossil fuel companies. When fossil-fuel companies are racking up record profits, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies to pad their already enormous earnings. After all, it is immoral that some in Congress advocate harsh cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for the most profitable corporations in America.

I don’t know what subsidies Bernie is talking about, but what about the subsidies to wind and solar?  Why is it good to cut the subsidies of the fossil fuel companies, but immoral to cut the subsidies know as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security?  Bernie’s plan is to tax the rich, which is a chimera. Such a call appeals to the masses, but it never happens because the rich and powerful have lobbyists. See number 1.

Create a national environmental and climate justice plan that recognizes the heightened public health risks faced by low-income and minority communities. Low-income and minority neighborhoods will continue to be the hardest hit if we don’t act to stop climate change now. Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina decimated the Gulf Coast, flooding 80 percent of the city of New Orleans. Some areas of the city were submerged in as much as 10 feet of water, and 28 percent of residents had no way to leave the city. Almost 100,000 African American residents who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina never returned. The reality of the impacts of the storm on the African American community in New Orleans exposed the broader trend that low-income and minority communities face the brunt of climate change impacts first and worst.

The assertion that Hurricane Katrina was caused by anthropogenic global warming is false. See here. But good pander to that demographic, Bernie!

Bring climate deniers to justice so we can aggressively tackle climate change. It is an embarrassment that Republican politicians, with few exceptions, refuse to even recognize the reality of climate change, let alone are prepared to do anything about it. The reality is that the fossil fuel industry is to blame for much of the climate change skepticism in America. Bernie recently called for the Department of Justice to investigate Exxon Mobil, which may have not only known about the dangers of climate change, but has spent millions of dollars to spread doubt about the causes and impacts of burning fossil fuels

I think Bernie meant “Bring climate change deniers to justice…” Well, Bernie your friends on the left have not been able to convince me that human activity is changing the climate. Are you going to arrest me for my beliefs, Bernie? Seriously?

Fight to overturn Citizens United. In a 5-4 decision in 2010 in the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for corporations and the super wealthy to spend unlimited and undisclosed money to buy our elected officials. The Supreme Court essentially declared that corporations, including fossil fuel corporations, have the same rights as natural-born human beings. This decision has enabled billionaires and special interests to increasingly control the political campaign finance system, and amounts to legalized bribery.

Billionaires and special interests have controlled the US government for decades. Bernie, if you are elected, I double dog dare you not to appoint all the hacks from the Council on Foreign Relations as your advisers! They are the very rich and powerful that you say you oppose.

Embrace a science-based standard for carbon pollution emissions reductions. We have a very limited window of time to transition away from fossil fuels toward clean energy for all Americans to prevent a global temperature increase that will cause cataclysmic impacts. Bernie knows that to maintain a safe and healthy planet for our kids and grandchildren we must listen to the scientists who say we must decrease carbon pollution emissions by at least 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050.

If Bernie thinks that the fossil fuel interests have undue influence now, just wait until there are cap and trade regulations on carbon that he proposes. The corruption will be vastly increased to the benefit of the rich and powerful.

I have 5 children and I hope to have grandchildren. I care as much about their future in this world as Bernie does. However, there is no science based standard for carbon pollution emissions reductions, because it it not science. Science shows 18 years of satellite data with no warming of the earth, but with 1/3 of the carbon released during the entire Industrial revolution.

No warming for 18 years

Put a price on carbon. Bernie agrees with leading economists on both ends of the political spectrum: a tax on carbon is one of the most straightforward and cost-effective strategies for quickly fighting climate change.

No doubt those economists are all Keynesian and statists. Putting a price on carbon is putting a price on life. Consider this, “A large segment of the public does not even know that most of the molecules in their bodies that make life possible contain carbon atoms that originated as atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Dr. Art Robinson

Work toward a 100 percent clean energy system and create millions of jobs. Scientists tell us we have a short time to make an aggressive cut in our carbon pollution emissions. Transitioning toward a completely clean energy system for electricity, heating, and transportation is not only possible and affordable it will create millions of good jobs, clean up our air and water and decrease our dependence on foreign oil.

I have written before on this site about the fantasy of 100 percent clean energy system. it doesn’t exist, just like the tooth fairy doesn’t exist.

Build electric vehicle charging stations. In a country where nearly 30 percent of carbon pollution emissions come from the transportation sector, it is imperative that we end our dependence on gasoline. Vehicles that run on electricity are more efficient than internal combustion engines and can be powered with renewable energy resources like wind and solar. We need to support the development of vehicle charging stations that will allow us to drive cleanly and sustainably.

This is just more fantasy and tooth fairy. Where will the money come from for the charging stations? Just add it to the $18 trillion acknowledged debt we already have? And what will power the charging stations? Solar power in Vermont? In the winter?

Convene a climate summit with the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities in his first 100 days. The United Nations Paris climate talks in December are an important milestone toward solving climate change, but even optimistic outcomes of these talks will not put the world on the path needed to avoid the most catastrophic results of climate change. We must think beyond Paris. In the first 100 days of Bernie’s Presidency, he will convene a summit of the world’s best climate experts to chart a course toward the healthy future we all want for our families and communities.

The Paris accords were a failure. Thank goodness! No country in the world is willing to reduce its economy to ruin by signing up to ridiculous carbon targets. Besides, there has been no measured warming for the last 18 years, during which 1/3 of the carbon released since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution was liberated.

Bernie has much more on his website, but it is just more of the same – salvation from evil by the messianic state to be headed by Bernie.

I don’t place my hope in the federal government for anything. They can’t tie their shoes in the dark. If you believe the Feds can accomplish something of value, why aren’t they doing so now?


PS. I will dissect the Republican energy plans in a future post.