Subject :The quandary of nuclear waste management

At 01:13 AM 1/10/2004 , "mitzi" <>wrote:

Russell, I tried to open the site  below that lists US nukes, but it didn't
work. Could you send it in print to me?
Another question; because nuclear power plants are running out of fuel pool
space, they are storing spent fuel in dry casks like sitting ducks. Some
groups are pressing them to use hardened storage methods.  Some are saying
that is a mistaken strategy because it encourages the continuation of
nuclear power and continued production of waste. Some proponents of the
first strategy at Indian Point and some around Millstone in Ct. are more
concerned about terrorist attacks on fuel pools and want them emptied. The
second position is that continued operation will continue to fill the pools
with fresh and more radioactive used fuel rods and that hardened storage
will take years to build. At a recent hearing, questions were asked about
Yucca Mt. in relation to this debate.   What is your opinion?  Mitzi


Hi Mitzi,

Thanks for your email (shown above).  Unfortunately, the list of nuclear power plants does not print very well.  It's a large file -- about 3/4ths of a megabyte, so it can take a long time to download.  Please try again, but be patient, and it might work!  I can send you the file by CD or email, if you like.

As to your questions about the politics of waste management these days, I think you could say that this is why things like this are called a "quandary".

In my opinion, Dry Casks are far more dangerous than even storing used radioactive fuel in Spent Fuel Pools.  For one reason, because the water in the pools provides some level of protection against fire or a radioactive release due to a terrorist attack.  In addition, the argument against casks suggested in your email is valid.  Dry Casks DO become an excuse to continue operating plants and creating more spent fuel, which has to go in the Spent Fuel Pools first, for about five years at a minimum.

Dry Cask storage is way too dangerous to use, not only because of the terrorist threat, but also, ANY airliner falling out of the sky could cause a Dry Cask to breach with extremely deadly consequences.  The fact is, while the fuel is in the Spent Fuel Pools, it is probably the safest overall.  NOT "safe", by any means, but "safer".  Safer than in an operating reactor, and safer than in Dry Casks.  That's all.

Let's say something DOES manage to catch a spent fuel storage cask on fire.  A 747 crashing into it would be enough, (a Cessna might be enough -- and I mean a 172, not a Citation!).  For that matter, a spear dropped from a hot air balloon onto the Dry Cask storage system could be enough to cause a breach and a deadly fire.

If there is ever a Dry Cask fuel fire, they'll want to put it deep underwater, but it won't be possible because no one will be able to get near it, and the Dry Casks aren't even below ground level!  It will be horrible.  In a Spent Fuel Pool, however, the fuel is already about 40 feet beneath the surface of the water.  It can be monitored constantly, and if the cladding starts to fail for any reason, something can be done.  And the cladding DOES fail!  There are bits of fuel assemblies in dozens of Spent Fuel Pools around the country, which sit on the bottom of the pool.  In a Dry Cask storage system, those same bits can gather over time, and eventually they can self-ignite at the bottom of the cask, and no one will have even noticed there was a problem.

There are no "hardened storage systems" for nuclear waste.  Only deep inside a mountain could possibly qualify, and Yucca Mountain doesn't exist and won't for a long time, and Yucca Mountain is a sorry excuse for a High Level Radioactive Waste storage system, anyway.

Yucca Mountain is a bad idea, and the vehemence against it in Nevada is substantial.  Las Vegas's mayor, Oscar Goodman, a former prosecuting attorney, has sworn to jail anyone trying to ship nuclear waste through his city (indeed, they are talking about building a multi-billion dollar new rail line basically just to go around Las Vegas, but it's probably just talk while he is mayor and there is a brouhaha).  Anyway, it's perhaps 20 years away at least, before the first hot fuel rod is placed at Yucca Mountain.  It certainly doesn't solve our terrorist problems at nuclear power plants today.  It doesn't solve them in the future either, because no matter how much waste is carted away, more is immediately produced.  One day's waste from one nuclear power plant is about 250 pounds of High Level Radioactive Waste -- enough to render an entire state unlivable!

What DOES go a long way to solving these problems is closing the nuclear power plants down completely.  A closed nuclear power plant is a much more difficult target to damage than an operating one, from a terrorist's point of view.  The longer it has been closed, the more difficult a target it is.  If hang-gliding, suicidal terrorists manage to breach the perimeter and take over the control room of a nuclear reactor, they can then demand things of us, and it will be impossible to stop a meltdown if they choose to cause one.  The terrorists would need ONLY A SPLIT SECOND to initiate an accident far worse than Chernobyl, and they would have many ways they could do that.

Any madman in the control room -- and I've met quite a few operators and former operators of those control rooms, who are quite insane -- can destroy the nuke plant in a matter of moments if they want to.  So the terrorists would really have us in a very difficult negotiating position if they succeed in taking over the control room of a nuclear reactor.

They would also have access to lots of monitors throughout the plant, to see if a counter-strike force is approaching.  With a group of, say, 19 terrorists, they could attack, say, 3 or 4 of our reactors at the exact same minute, and hold 50% or more of the country in direct threat of immediate catastrophe.

But that's only one reason that closing the nuke plants is the best solution.  That nuclear power doesn't actually produce anything, anyway is another reason -- there is no net profit for anyone but a few (very rich) owners.  The rest of us all pay.  In reality, nuclear energy is bankrupting the country.  Renewable energy would be cheaper -- vastly cheaper -- if we all banded together and insisted that everyone switch together.  Even without that, a concerted government effort to encourage renewable energy would probably work.  When is THAT going to happen?

Not during the BUSH administration, that's for sure!  And it didn't happen on Clinton's watch, either, and even Kucinich has a few nukes in his state (one of which is the notorious Davis-Besse), so I wouldn't expect a Democratic president to change things, either.  They might at least hold OPEN energy conferences instead of the secret ones Cheney held, which were clearly dominated -- NOT by the fossil fuel companies the press always hints at, but by the nuclear power companies -- which the press never talks about.

In the government's Yucca Mountain studies, if you look really hard at the documentation, you can find estimates of "health effects" for things like transportation accidents.  But it turns out that these estimates, though alarming in and of themselves, are actually based on tiny fractions of the full payload of a spent fuel transportation cask being damaged, let alone completely incinerated to particulate matter.  Something on the order of .07% of the full load, and other ridiculous numbers.  Unrealistic.

They perform their statistical slight-of-hand in steps.  First, of course, they use already-biased estimates of the dangers of the low-level radiation for all calculations of the damage from whatever actually is released in their "theoretical accident scenarios".  Second, they somehow conclude that all equipment will work as designed -- that nothing, for example, is poorly assembled or is made of cheaper metals which, when exposed to overpressures from accidents, fires, etc., will fail to hold their contents as designed.  This has been proven unrealistic time and again, but they still do it.  Third, after making all these false calculations, they aggregate thousands of theoretical accident scenarios mathematically, and so, instead of presenting a fair estimate of the real dangers when a plane hits a dry cask, they present the average of perhaps ONE accident scenario where there is a large release and 1000 or even 10,000 accident scenarios where there is NO release!

And that aggregated value is the ONLY figure they will ever present to the public.  The numbers that are fed into the computer, the so-called "raw data" are never released.  The number of different possibilities that are summed together is undoubtedly determined "after-the-fact" -- after running the calculation many times.  That is, they will keep adding more and more minor accidents until the average figure they obtain goes down as low as they dare make it without the public looking at it and saying "This is not math!  This is lying with statistics!".

Apparently we Americans have a very high tolerance for mathematical shenanigans.  And they know this.  They know their complex mathematical analysis are difficult to follow under the best of circumstances, and since they won't present the actual input data they use for others to analyze, there's little we can do about it.

Aside from transport accidents, it's incorrect to think of Yucca Mountain as a "solution" to the waste problem, anyway.  We just plan to bury the waste there, all together, in a non-retrievable format.  So if ANYTHING does go wrong -- water leaks in, for instance, where we didn't expect it -- there could be a tragic problem which we could do absolutely nothing about.  Furthermore, the figure "10,000 years" is bandied about by numerous reporters, misled by careful government wording in the Yucca Mountain document and in their press conferences and in interviews with journalists.  It's utterly bogus -- 250,000 years is more realistic, an absolutely incomprehensible length of time. 10,000 years is only as far out as their bogus studies project out to.


Russell Hoffman
Concerned Citizen
Carlsbad, CA

or try:

STOP CASSINI web site:

Internet Glossary of Nuclear Terminology / "The Demon Hot Atom":

List of every nuclear power plant in America, with history, activist orgs,
specs, etc.:

List of ~300 books and videos about nuclear issues in my collection
(donations welcome!):

Learn about The Effects of Nuclear War here: