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Nuclear Plant Water Consumption, Transuranium Waste Storage & Ecosystem Safety

The consulting firm of Worley Parsons recently reviewed South Texas Nuclear Power Plant NRG Energy’s proposed expansion of the South Texas Project and advised the City of Austin against investing in two new nuclear reactors.
The consulting firm of Worley Parsons recently reviewed South Texas Nuclear Power Plant NRG Energy’s proposed expansion of the South Texas Project and advised the City of Austin against investing in two new nuclear reactors.
courtesy of NRG

What people are not realizing about the safety of Nuclear Power Plants is that the concern lies not so much with an accident like Chernobyl happening (although leaks have been outlined by many such accidents year after year, like the earthquake that rocked the one in Japan, just in 2007, with hundreds of thousands of people evacuated, and drums leaking into ocean water (Mariotte, 2007)), but in the fact that operating one nuclear power plant takes anywhere from 30,000 gallons to 2.4 million gallons of water per minute (like the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Maryland) to run. (Maryland PIRG, 2011).

Secondly, in the U.S., the radioactive end-water is stored in steel drums under mountains that have been leaking and contaminating groundwater and aquifers.

Globally, ground water and has soil has been contaminated from leaking steel drums that include tritium and caesium 137. Naturally occuring salt-water (brine) and brine dumped by oil companies into water injection wells (very common in the oil business), corrodes steel. (CCNS, SRIC, 1999)

Brine can soften the supposedly "safe" salt rock of the New Mexico repositories when combined w/ radioactive waste materials. (Moore, 2009).

Thirdly, marine life is being destroyed from being sucked into equipment intakes, as well as freshwater life, such as the Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, a vital component of the estuary (especially sensitive areas of uniquely evolved life that can withstand where salt water meets fresh water) bay ecosystem. (Tarlock, 2004).

On the first point: less than .0001% of water on the planet is available to us in the form of fresh drinking water. The majority of nuclear power plants are not built on oceanic coasts, but in the mainland, which means using the water available there: our fresh drinking water and aquifers. This is an unsustainable practice.

Despite years of ongoing city water wars in Texas already, many Texans are still oddly quiet on social networking sites, like Facebook, of the fact that Texas is importing water from other states like Oklahoma now, and rivers like the Rio Grande are drying up. However, water rights are the global topic of the century, and this topic is not going away any time soon: particularly for the more than 2 billion people who die annually from lack of food and access to fresh drinking water. (Please see "101 reasons to be a Vegetarian" 2009 pdf to see how, by far, the majority of our fresh drinking water is going to agricultural crops, the majority of which are going to livestock raised for slaughter, with the cycle repeating.).

More than 2 million cubic feet of transuranium waste were first buried in 50 gallon drums deep under mountains in the U.S. at "Waste Isolation Pilot Point", 20 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico. (Hancock, 1999).

Today, that number has risen to 12 million cubic feet. (Enviroleaks, 2011)

These drums that were supposed to keep radioactive waste from leaking for thousands of years, have been found to be leaking already (Originally, 63 pounds of the deadly material turned up missing in the WIPP depository tunnels, with 11 lb. found in the ventilation system.). Is anyone going in there to redig these up? Nah. (Sussex, 1993)

About the caverns, written in the late 80's:

"The WIPP salt caverns near Carlsbad, N.M., are located 2,150 feet below the surface and consist of a 112-acre underground area on which taxpayers have spent $2.1 billion so far. In 30 to 35 years, when the space is filled, the price tag is expected to be $9 billion. It will include an elaborate marker system to warn people not to drill into the salt for the next 500,000 years.

But some scientists expect problems long before that. DOE first discovered water seeping into the WIPP excavations in 1983. The leaks finally became public in 1987 when New Mexico scientists concluded the salt formation contains much more water than DOE anticipated. They warned that over time the brine could corrode the waste drums and create a "radioactive waste slurry" that could eventually reach the surface.

Inside WIPP, cracks have appeared in the ceilings and floors of several large waste storage rooms, and the ceiling has collapsed in three areas—the result of natural room closure (salt movement) that is two to three times faster than anticipated. In 1983, DOE estimated it would take 25 years for the salt walls to completely close in and lock the waste barrels into solid salt rock. At the rate the rooms are closing, it may take only 13 years." (Proctor, 1987)

Transuranic means created elements with an atomic number higher than that of uranium. These elements include plutonium, americium, and neptunium. Inhaling or absorbing even a tiny speck of plutonium leads to cancer or death. These high-radioactive waste elements remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years. Plutonium 239 is the most deadly substance on earth. It can also be passed up and down the food chain (growing plants in soil with it, etc.). (Kaufman, Franz, 2000).

Nuclear power plants have created more than 12 million cubic feet of transuranic radioactive waste over the past 30 yrs, which has not been properly isolated from the environment. (Enviroleaks, 2011),(Breuer, 2006), (Owen, 2010)

The drums they are stored in were never meant to be a permanent solution, yet they are being treated as such, and aren't being dug up for recontainment.

The Hanford Site, located in Washington State, holds one of the largest concentrations of radioactive waste in the world. One of the most difficult cleanup challenges in history involves the 177 underground storage tanks holding highly radioactive liquid waste, sludge, and other materials, 70 of which have leaked. The Department of Energy disclosed that waste leaking from some of the tanks has reached the groundwater and has polluted the nearby Columbia River. (Hammad, Rashad, 2010).

What's more, nuclear waste costs for cleanup are up to $100 billion, and Hanford won't be clean for thousands of years. (Learn, 2010).

The life of a nuclear power plant reactor is said to be at 30-40 yrs. At that point, they are supposed to be decommissioned. We have around 60 Nuclear Power Plants in the U.S. that were supposed to be at that decommissioning point 20 yrs ago. In June 1991, however, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan that allowed plant owners to renew their license to continue operating the plant for up to 20 more years past that point. (Mckinney, Schoch, 2007)

Estimated costs to decomission and dismantle a nuclear power plant are at $3 billion or more. (Mckinney, Schoch, 2007)

These are many of the examples of leaks from Nuclear Power Plants year after year (PNAPF, 2010), in addition:

Source: http://marketingtheworld.com/nuclearpower/nuclearaccidents.php

Knowing these facts, it may appear that the future of nuclear power plants is waning; particularly, when nuclear waste dumping into the Yuccan mountains of Nevada is still highly unsafe and is the one and only option the U.S. government is still looking at, while we have no idea where to place the waste we already have now. However, Thorium is being considered by top scientists as an alternative Greener fuel. (Wetzel, 2010), (Dean, 2006)

Currently, the Sustainable and Green choice for our electricity today have proven to be wind and solar, which is 100% renewable, though opponents of wind energy in Germany claim the wind farms operate at 25-35% capacity on average, that the windmills are an eyesore that drops Tourist profit, while solar plants via photovoltaic cells, are "more expensive" to build (by what standard?) than Nuclear. (Dean, 2006)

Supporters of wind and solar have the backings of multiple engineering, science and economic experts who show that wind and solar energy (and geothermal, if needed), does meet baseline/baseload energy demands of consumers. (Hansen, Lovens, 2010)

Busting the baseload power myth:

http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2010/12/02/3081889.htm?WT.mc_id=science_twitterfeed_enviro&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+abcscience_enviro+%28Environment+news+and+features%2C+from+ABC+Science%29&utm_content=Twitter

http://www.skepticalscience.com/renewable-energy-baseload-power.htm

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/differenceofopinion/content/2007/s1869273.htm

http://climateprogress.org/2008/12/14/stanford-study-part-1-wind-solar-baseload-easily-beat-nuclear-and-they-all-best-clean-coal/

Bibliography:

1. Breuer, T. (2006). "365 Reasons to Oppose Nuclear Power". Greenpeace Publishers International. Website: http://www.scribd.com/doc/1035055/365-Reasons-to-Oppose-Nuclear-Power

2. Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS) and Southwest Research and Information Center (SRIC) presentation (1999). "Technical Testimony of Dr. John Bredehoeft". Website: http://www.nuclearactive.org/wipp/hearings/bredehoeft.html

3. Dean, T. (2006). "New Age Nuclear". Cosmos: The Science of Everything. Issue 8. Website: http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/features/print/348/new-age-nuclear?page=3%2C3

4. Enviroleaks (2011). "Analysis: WIPP Is No Safe Haven For Nuclear Materials". Website: http://enviroleaks.org/2011/01/21/analysis-wipp-is-no-safe-haven-for-nuc...

5. Hammad, F.H.; Rashad, S.M. (2000). "Nuclear power and the environment: Comparative assessment of environmental and health impacts of electricity-generating systems". Applied Energy, vol. 65, no. 1, pp. 211-229. Website: http://www.csa.com/discoveryguides/ern/02mar/abstracts-f.php

6. Hancock, D. (1999). "WIPP: The Next Chapter in the Nuclear Waste Storage Dilemma". Southwest Research and Information Center. Website: http://www.sric.org/workbook/features/V24_2.html

7. Hansen, L.; Lovens, A.B. (2010). "Keeping the Lights On While Transforming Electric Utilities". Rocky Mountain Institute. Vol. 3, No. 1. Website: http://www.rmi.org/rmi/Transforming+Electric+Utilities

8. Kaufman, D.G.; Franz, C.M. (2000). Biosphere 2000: Protecting Our Global Environment. Harper Collins Publishers. Website: http://books.google.com/books?id=xBG99KR52mgC&pg=PA411&lpg=PA411&dq=Wast...

9. Learn, S. (2010). "Despite billions spent on cleanup, Hanford won't be clean for thousands of years". Oregon Live. Website: http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/02/despite_billions_spent_...

10. Mariotte, M. (2007). "Report on Earthquake Damage to Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Facility". Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Website: http://www.wagingpeace.org/articles/2007/07/19_japanese_earthquake.htm

11. Maryland Public Interest Research Group (2011). "Nuclear Power Has New Shape". Baltimore Sun. Website: http://www.marylandpirg.org/in-the-news/smart-energy-solutions/smart-ene...

12. McKinney, M.L.; Schoch, R.M.; Yonavjak, L. (2007). Environmental Science: Systems and Solutions. Jones & Bartlett Learning. Website: http://books.google.com/books?id=xBGffKNfsq8C&pg=PA202&lpg=PA202&dq=nucl...

13. Moore, M.S. (2009). "Salting it Away (and Other Problems with Nuclear Waste)". Miller-McCune. Website: http://www.miller-mccune.com/science-environment/salting-it-away-3558/

14. Owen, J. (2010). "Leaking Nuclear Waste Fills Former Saltmine." National Geographic. Website: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/07/photogalleries/100708-ra...

15. Proctor, D. (1987). "America’s Atomic War Against Its Citizens and Why It’s Not Over Yet". Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force. Website: http://www.nvantinuclear.org/nuke_story.htm

16. Project of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (PNAPF) (2010). "Nuclear Power Plant Accidents". Websites: http://marketingtheworld.com/nuclearpower/nuclearaccidents.php and http://www.nuclearfiles.org/

17. Sussex, A. (1993). "Beneath Apache Country: Inside WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Project)". The Millenial Files. Reprinted from MEMO, Mendocino, CA, 1993. Website: http://www.mmmfiles.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=30&Ite...

18. Tarlock, A.D. (2004). "The Story of Calvert Cliffs Coordinating Council: a Court Construes The National Environmental Policy Act To Create a Powerful, Procedural Environmental Cause of Action." Florida State University College of Law. Website: http://www.law.fsu.edu/faculty/2003-2004workshops/tarlock.pdf

19. Wetzel, John M (2010). "Trouble With Thorium". Chemical & Engineering News (0009-2347), 88 (9), p. 6.

Read more: the prospect of Thorium as a safer alternative in Nuclear Power (500 yrs of waste being radioactive, and less radioactive than transuranium, compared to tens of thousands of years from transuranium, is a definite improvement. Have studies shown it to be worth pursuing, and what are the pros and cons of Thorium energy?), coming soon!

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