The NFRC was established in 2002 to promote the construction and operation of nuclear reprocessing facilities. NFRC promotes reprocessing commercial spent nuclear fuel that is generated by commercial nuclear power plants.

Reprocessing dramatically reduces the amount of high-level radioactive waste that would have to be stored in a geologic repository. We also support reprocessing plutonium and highly enriched uranium from nuclear warheads into fuel for use in commercial nuclear power plants.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Virginia Uraniuim Wants To Mine Uranium In Virginia

Virginia Uranium wants to mine uranium in Southside, Virginia.  A state-ordered study, conducted by RTI International for the Danville Regional Foundation, released last week predicted the creation of jobs (up to 1,000) and an economic boost to the beleaguered Southside economy ($70 million to $220 million). But, it also says, that “even if the mine and mill meet or exceed regulatory standards, detectable concentrations of uranium and other constituents would be released from the facility into the surrounding environment.” Another study by the National Academy of Sciences is expected to be released next week. Environmentalist oppose the project.

Virginia Uranium hopes to persuade the General Assembly to repeal the nearly three-decade moratorium on uranium mining at its session in January

Two uranium deposits were found three decades ago in Coles Hill, near Chatham, a small town in Pittsylvania. They begin at the ground’s surface, under land used to raise cattle, hay and timber, and run about 1,500 feet deep. Virginia Uranium tests indicate 119 million pounds of uranium - worth as much as $10 billion - are below the surface. That would be enough to supply all the country’s nuclear power plants for about two years or all of Virginia’s demands for 75 years. (Wash Post, 12/16/2011)

Monday, December 12, 2011

2 of 5 NRC Commissioners Endorse AP-1000

AP 1000

Toshiba Corporation's Westinghouse Electric Company received endorsement from 2 of 5 members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for its AP-1000 nuclear reactor design.  The positions of the three other commissioners have not yet been made public. Chairman Gregory Jaczko's vote was  good news for backers of the new nuclear reactors. Power companies need approval for a reactor's design before they can secure a license to operate a plant using that reactor.

Among the planned new U.S. reactors using the AP-1000, proposals by Southern Company and Scana Corporation are the closest to being licensed by the NRC. Both companies have permission to start some construction at their sites but haven't secured full operating licenses. Southern anticipates the NRC will certify the AP-1000 design and will license a new reactor at its Vogtle plant in Georgia around the end of this year. The company is also still negotiating with the Department of Energy in an effort to secure an $8.3 billion loan guarantee. (WSJ, 10/12/2011)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chinese Pebble-Bed High Temperature Reactor

The Rongcheng Shidaowan Nuclear Power Plant is China's first high temperature gas-cooled pebble bed reactor power plant.  The expected project construction period from pouring the first tank of concrete to generating electricity for the grid is scheduled to be 50 months. The current plan aims for feeding electricity to the national power grid in 2013.

The HTR-PM plant will consist of two nuclear steam supply system (NSSS), so called modules, each one comprising of a single zone 250MWth pebble-bed modular reactor and a steam generator. The two NSSS modules feed one steam turbine and generate an electric power of 210MW. A pilot fuel production line will be built to fabricate 300,000 pebble fuel elements per year. This line is closely based on the technology of the HTR-10 fuel production line.  The reactor site has been evaluated and approved; the procurement of long-lead components has already been started.

The spherical fuel element with a diameter of 60mm contains a multitude of ceramic coated particles. The coated fuel particles are uniformly embedded in a graphite matrix of 50mm in diameter; while an outer fuel-free zone of pure graphite surrounds the spherical fuel zone for reasons of mechanical and chemical protection. Each spherical fuel element contains about 12,000 coated fuel particles.
Main technical goals of the HTR-PM project

The HTR-PM should achieve the following technical goals:

(1) Demonstration of inherent safety features: the inherent safety features of modular HTGR power plants guarantees and requires that under all conceivable accident scenarios the maximum fuel element temperatures will never surpass its design limit temperature without employing any dedicated and special emergency systems (e.g. core cooling systems or special shutdown systems, etc.).

(2) Demonstration of economic competitiveness: the first HTR-PM demonstration power plant will be supported by the Chinese government, so that the owner can always maintain the plant operation and obtain investment recovery. However, this government supported demonstration plant has to prove that a cost overrun during the construction period will be avoided and that the predicted smooth operation and performance will be kept. Hence, the demonstration plant must clearly demonstrate that follow-on HTR-PM plants will be competitive to LWR plants without any government support.

(3) Confirmation of proven technologies: in order to minimize the technical risks the successful experiences gained fromthe HTR-10 and from other international HTGR plants will be fully utilized in the HTR-PM project. The HTR-PM reactor design is very similar to the HTR-10. The turbine plant design will use the mature technology of super-heated steam turbines which is widely used in other thermal power plants. Besides, the manufacture of fuel elements will be based on the technology verified and proven during the HTR-10 project.

(4) Standardization and modularization: the HTR-PM demonstration plant, consisting of two pebble-bed module reactors of combined 2×250MWth power, adopts the operation mode of two modules connected to only one steam turbine/generator set. This design allows to demonstrate the advantages and key benefits of employing and implementing a design of standardization and modularization. If the construction and operation of the HTR-PM demonstration plant proves to be successful, larger scale HTR-PM plants – using multiple-modules feeding one steam turbine only – will become a reality.

Fourth Generation Reactor Next

The HTR-PM project will establish the technical foundations to be able to realize Generation-IV nuclear energy system goals in the next stage, such as:

(1) Largely enhanced safety features: a successful HTR-PM will have already proven this technical target of Generation-IV nuclear energy systems.

(2) Achieving outlet temperatures beyond 1000 ◦C [very high temperature gas-cooled reactor (VHTR)]: the reactor of current design and using current fuel element technologies has already the potential of realizing a gas outlet temperature of 950 ◦C. A further improvement of the fuel element performance is already foreseeable which will allow reaching this goal of attaining an outlet-temperature of 1000 ◦C.

(3) Hydrogen production, use of helium turbine or supercritical steam turbine: the current reactor design, verified by the HTR-PM, can readily be applied for the helium turbine or super-critical steam turbine or for the generation of large-scale production of hydrogen by nuclear energy.

HTGR plants can achieve a thermal efficiency of 42% by even employing subcritical superheated steam turbines or reaching ∼45% when supercritical steam turbines are installed. The efficiency could be improved even further when adopting direct helium gas turbines with recuperators or when choosing a combined cycle.


On the basis of the HTR-10, the ongoing Chinese HTR-PM project is considered to be a decisive new step for the development of Chinese HTGR technology. Its main target is to finish building a pebble-bed HTR-PM demonstration plant of 210MWe around 2014-205. Through the mutual efforts of all relevant scientific research organizations nd industrial enterprises, and having the strong support of the Chinese government, the HTR-PM project will certainly play an important role in the world-wide development of Generation-IV nuclear energy technologies.

(Next Big Future, March 23, 2011)

Chernobyl Workers Protest in Ukraine

Survivors of Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear accident are staging their protest in the mining city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine since November 14 after reductions in the state pensions they receive for their part in fighting the 1986 disaster. At least one death has been reported in the fallout with police.


Below, protesters clash with riot police during a rally by veterans involved in the clean-up operation following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, in front of the government building, Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011. The veterans were demanding the right to keep the social benefits given to them after the clean-up.

(AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Liquidators, emergency workers who fought the blaze at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, carried a symbolic coffin during a protest in Donetsk November 29, 2011. The action marked the death of a protester who had been on hunger strike over pension cuts and who died after police broke up their tent encampment on Sunday night.

Liquidators or emergency workers, who fought the blaze at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, took part in a hunger strike inside a tent near the regional pension fund office in Donetsk November 23, 2011. Protesters have taken part in the hunger strike for 10 days to demand the authorities to pay out their subsidies and benefits guaranteed by the law, according to local media.

Below, police block liquidators, or emergency workers who fought the blaze at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, as they protest against the authorities' initiative to cut social benefits near the government headquarters in Kiev November 29, 2011.

(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

A Letter & Video From Senator Mark Kirk On Nuclear Waste

Protecting the Great Lakes from Nuclear Waste

Dear Friend,

Illinois has 11 nuclear power plants, more than any other state in the nation. Currently, spent fuel is stored in dry casks and pools near urban areas and sources of drinking water. At the Zion Nuclear Station, 1,100 tons of waste is stored just yards away from Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water to millions of people. A nuclear waste contamination of Lake Michigan would be devastating to the Great Lakes region.

A continuation of the Yucca Mountain project would be an important step in finding a safe, permanent storage facility for our country's nuclear waste and critically important for the State of Illinois. Click the image below to see a video on what I am doing to move nuclear waste out of Illinois.

Please feel free to contact me at (312) 886-3506 or reach me online at whenever an issue of concern to you comes before the Congress. For updates on my work on your behalf in Illinois and in Washington, "Like" my Facebook page and "Follow" me on Twitter.
It is an honor to represent you and your family in the Senate.
Mark Kirk
U.S. Senate

Monday, October 31, 2011

National Association of Neighborhoods on Spent Nuclear Fuel

Ricardo Byrd
Testimony by Ricardo C. Byrd
Executive Director, National Association of Neighborhoods
Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future
October 20, 2011
Recycling Spent Nuclear Fuel:  National Association of Neighborhoods – “A Dog in This Fight”
Good Afternoon.  My name is Ricardo C. Byrd. I am the Executive Director of the National Association of Neighborhoods (NAN), an organization that started in 1975.  I also serve as the Co-Chairperson of the AREVA North America Community Advisory Council.  I am not a nuclear policy or scientific expert; but I am an expert in the application of grass roots common sense to environmental public policy questions.  America’s nuclear future is crying out for the application of more common sense. 
We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you and to comment on the commission’s draft report. This draft report is a good start; however, it is not yet good enough.  The report can and must be made better to respond to the need for a clear, time sensitive yet cost effective path for the disposal of the nation’s nuclear waste.
The National Association of Neighborhoods is not new to today’s topic. You might wonder why my organization is interested in spent nuclear fuel; after all, we traditionally focus on grass roots empowerment issues, housing, crime, transportation, environmental justice and jobs.  Allow me a moment to explain; almost every major electric utility is accessing our members; ratepayers, customers like you and me; a fee, a tax, for the disposal of nuclear waste.  Most Americans have no idea that their monthly electric bill includes a fee dedicated to the disposal of spent nuclear fuel. This stealth electric utility tax comes out of our pockets; and with today’s challenging economy, most of us are struggling to count every penny.
As early as 1996, the National Association of Neighborhoods inquired how the Nuclear Waste Fund was being spent.  In 1997 and 1998, we organized, with the support of the Nuclear Energy Institute, delegations of grass roots, minority business and civil rights organizations, to visit Yucca Mountain, the nation’s planned nuclear waste repository. The National Association of Neighborhoods arranged for minority organizations to see the Indian Point Nuclear Plant  in 2007; and in 2008 and 2010, my organization participated in two non-traditional stakeholders visits to France, sponsored by AREVA. In France, we were able to see how the French, with almost 80% of their electric power being generated using nuclear power, addressed their spent nuclear fuel issues.
We are here today because the National Association of Neighborhoods is concerned with how the BRC Draft Report can be made better.  We offer three recommendations:
1.    Reduce the Size of the Problem

According to the BRC Draft Report, “…At present, nearly all of the nation’s existing inventory of SNF [Spent Nuclear Fuel] is being stored at the reactor sites where it was generated—about three-quarters of it in shielded concrete pools and the remainder in dry casks above ground. The quantity of commercially-generated spent reactor fuel currently being stored in this manner totals close to 65,000 metric tons.” France is reducing the volume of its spent nuclear fuel by approximately 75% by reprocessing it. If the United States used reprocessing, we would have less than 17,000 tons to dispose of.

2.    Turn Spent Nuclear Fuel into a Strategic Asset

Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel into new fuel will create a strategic nuclear fuel reserve. This strategy of reprocessing has worked in Europe for over 20 years. Having a nuclear fuel reserve will guarantee supplies that can keep our reactors operating.

3.    Push the Restart Button Now - Through the Use of “Off the Shelf” Technology

The National Association of Neighborhoods agrees with the BRC recommendation that we need to move forward with consolidated interim storage capacity. However, we strongly disagree with BRC that there is a need to wait for “new technologies to materialize” before making a decision about reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.  The French, the Chinese, the Japanese and the Russians are not waiting “for new technologies to materialize” nor should we.

All of humanity has a dog in this fight for safe, reliable, and affordable sources of clean energy.    

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NRC Japan Task Force Makes Recommendations

Staffers on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission  Japan Task Force made a number of safety recommendations they want owners of nuclear plants to make as soon as possible to boost safety after learning from the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The NRC will review the recommendations on Oct. 11.

The Japan Task Force divided the recommended tasks into three categories:

1) Highest priority should be given to adding instrumentation to spent-fuel pools, so operators will know what is happening even when they can't send workers to look at them, as happened in Japan.

2) Improvements to the containment structures that surround nuclear reactors, especially for the 23 U.S. reactors with designs similar to those in Japan that were badly damaged at Fukushima.

3) Improvements to venting systems that are used to relieve steam pressure inside the containment structures following an accident. Some vents malfunctioned and others were damaged at Fukushima by explosions.

Also among the task force's top priorities:

Improving the ability of plants to safely shut down after losing regular grid electricity, such as after a natural disaster. (WSJ, 10/5/2011)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant Tour


By Norris McDonald

I went on my fourth tour of the Indian Point Energy Center yesterday, which is the location of the Indian Point nuclear power plants.  I toured both reactor plants (Units 2 and 3).

I fell in love with Indian Point the first time I saw her (2001).  She is a wonderful facility sitting on the bank of the Hudson River with beautiful mountains in the background.  On the train going up to the plant, it was early morning and the clouds were hanging low, clinging to trees on the  mountaintops.  I love that train ride.  It is very peaceful and beautiful. 

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

Upon arriving at Peekskill, I decided to look around a bit because I was about an hour and a half early.   Peekskill is a bucolic town.

For some reason I decided to walk to the plant site.  I usually just take a taxi.  It appeared to be 3 or 4 miles away and I walk at least 12 miles a week.  I walked past a yacht club and down a back street about a mile, then had to cut through the woods to get to the train tracks (MTA/Amtrak), where I walked another mile and cut through an area to get back to a street that led to the plant.  It is beautiful around the plant.  Fall is beginning and the leaves were beginning to change.  There are wetlands nearby.  Just before I got to the perimeter fence for the site, I saw two deer.  And they saw me and started to run.  One stopped to eyeball me and I waved.  The deer just looked at me for a moment before it disappeared into the woods. 

Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant

I walked past the natural gas pipeline right of way that runs through the Indian Point site.  After about 3 miles of walking, the last mile to the plant was uphill.  I could see the highpower lines that come out of the site and knew that I was near.  When I walked inside I was sweating profusely.  I had a pack on my back that carries my nebulizer.  After letting officials know that I was there, I went into the bathroom, washed up and changed clothes.

Frank Fraley, Norris McDonald at Spent Fuel Pool
Patrick Falciano, President, Nuclear Renaissance Services, conducted the orientation and the tour.  He always does an incredibly  thorough job.  The tour group today consisted of Frank Fraley, President, Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and myself.  Entergy spokesman Jerri Nappi also joined us on the tour.  I am always amazed by the scanning and security involved in entering a nuclear power plant site.  But I don't discuss those details.  We observed the dry casks housing spent nuclear fuel.  We also examined the Ristroph fish (fish screen) protection system down by the river.

Frank Fraley, Norris McDonald in Control Room Simulator
I have toured 9 nuclear power plants all over the United States, one nuclear power plant and a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in France and two nuclear plants in China.  This was Mr. Fraley's first tour of a nuclear power plant.  It was an excellent tour and included some additional stops that were not included on my other 3 tours: backup generator building and control room.  The site has multiple backup power generation sites that are more than adequate to provide power for cooling water in case of emergencies.  We went to the spent fuel pool room.  We went into both generation buildings. I love these tours because I always learn something new.

Frank Fraley, Norris McDonald in Generation Building

Friday, September 30, 2011

Northeast Church Rock Mine Superfund Reclamation

Northeast Church Rock Mine site (Photo courtesy United Nuclear Corporation)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a plan for the clean up of the largest and highest priority abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Nation. Cleanup of the Northeast Church Rock Mine will include removal of 1.4 million tons of soil contaminated with radium and uranium from a site that was operated as a uranium ore mine by United Nuclear Corporation from 1967 to 1982. Located near Gallup, New Mexico, the mine adjoins the United Nuclear Corporation uranium mill site, a Superfund site managed jointly by EPA Region 6 and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At the request of the Navajo Nation, the EPA is using Superfund authority to investigate and clean up the contaminated mine site, in coordination with the existing adjacent Superfund site clean up.

Most of the 125-acre mine permit area is immediately adjacent to the Navajo Nation. The mine is mostly on Navajo tribal trust land, while the mill is on private fee land. There is a small community of residents who live next to the mine site on the reservation, downstream and downwind of the radioactive waste piles. The residents graze sheep, cattle and horses, and collect herbs around the area.

The disposal cell will be designed with participation from the Navajo Nation, the State of New Mexico, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Northeast Church Rock mine operated as a uranium ore mine from approximately 1967 to 1982, and included an 1,800-foot deep shaft, waste piles, and several surface ponds. Under U.S. EPA oversight and in conjunction with the Navajo Nation EPA, General Electric, United Nuclear Corporation's indirect parent corporation, conducted two previous cleanups at the site to deal with residual contamination, including the removal and rebuilding of one building in 2007, and removal of over 40,000 tons of contaminated soil in 2010. (Environment News Service, 9/29/2011)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

EDF Could Vote Against Constellation/Exelon Merger

Electricite de France Group (EDF Group) is threatening to vote against Constellation Energy's plans to sell itself to Exelon Corporation in a $7.9 billion merger after talks between them broke down last week. Officials with EDF, a French company that owns nearly half of Constellation's nuclear power plants, are concerned the company will lose autonomy as a smaller part of Chicago-based Exelon, according to the sources.  Under the nuclear joint venture, EDF and Constellation own the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant in Southern Maryland and two others in upstate New York.

EDF is Constellation Energy's second-largest shareholder and a partner in its nuclear business, holding a 7.2 percent stake in Constellation. Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price is the largest shareholder in Constellation, with a 7.3 percent stake. Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price is the largest shareholder in Constellation, with a 7.3 percent stake.  Constellation sold 49.99 percent of its nuclear power business to EDF in 2008 amid serious financial troubles.

It makes sense for EDF to use its vote as a bargaining chip to get its concerns addressed. It would make sense that as a large generator in Maryland and as co-owners of Calvert Cliffs that EDF would try to make sure that the merger would not adversely affect them.

Constellation is concerned that EDF has made several demands that Constellation claims to be unable to accommodate. Uppermost among the demands, according to Constellation is that they believe that EDF's objective is to recoup financial losses they incurred in earlier transactions. Constellation believes that EDF's  approval is not required for the merger to be successful.

Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, which is also based in Baltimore, now operates independently through a 10-member board to which EDF and Constellation each appoint five members. A chairman named by Constellation holds a tiebreaking vote on matters related to safety, security and reliability. (Baltimore Sun, 9/26/2011)

Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill: 1st To Be Constructed in 20 Years

The proposed location of Piñon Ridge
 in the Paradox Valley of Montrose County 
 is twelve miles from Naturita, Colo.,
 and approximately fifty miles
 from Telluride and Ophir
Piñon Ridge would be the first new uranium mill in the U.S. in more than a quarter century. Energy Fuels is developing this new uranium mill and is a uranium mining company with offices in Naturita, Colorado , Lakewood, Colorado, and Kanab, Utah, and uranium properties throughout the Four Corners area of Colorado, Arizona and Utah.

On November 18, 2009, Energy Fuels Resources Corp. submitted an application for a radioactive materials license that is required before the company can begin construction on a proposed uranium mill in Montrose County. The proposed site for the mill is approximately 12 miles west of Naturita in the Paradox Valley. The proposed mill would process up to 500 tons of ore per day.

State of Colorado Radioactive Materials License approved January 5, 2011.

Montrose County Special Use Permit approved September 30, 2009.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

26 Organizations Call for Resumption of Yucca Mountain Review

LETTER and Press Release

More than two dozen prominent national, state, local and Native American organizations have written to the U.S. Senate expressing their support for funding for the resumption of the Yucca Mountain Project review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and related licensing-support activities at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The 26 organizations -- which comprise a cross-section of energy consumers, regulators, elected officials, Native Americans and community entities and businesses -- include the Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Prairie Island Indian Community, U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, Institute for 21st Century Energy, Nuclear Waste Strategy Coalition, U.S. Nuclear Energy Foundation and the Sustainable Fuel Cycle Task Force, among others.

Citing recent findings by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future and the Senate Appropriations Committee as well as a July vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to restore funding for the review, the letter states that "we agree that the need for the Federal government to meet its responsibility for commercial spent fuel and defense waste management under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act is a matter of urgency -- and that further delay is only exacerbating taxpayer liability and diminishing confidence in resolution of this national concern.

It is increasingly clear that termination of the Yucca Mountain license application without clear legal authority and without an alternative plan has proven to be premature and unwise as well as deleterious generally to the nation's energy independence, economic competitiveness and environmental progress.

To this end, funding to facilitate resumption of the Yucca Mountain review in FY2012 - a site which heretofore has been found to be safe and viable and which is the highest confidence option currently available-- is strongly warranted.
Further Information: Edward Davis Sustainable Fuel Cycle Task Force 202-403-7711

Monday, September 12, 2011

Explosion At Nuclear Waste Treatment Site In France Kills One

Marcoule nuclear waste treatment site

A furnace exploded at the Marcoule nuclear waste treatment site in southern France today killed one person. According to France's ASN nuclear safety watchdog, there was no leak of radioactive material outside the furnace. Four other people were injured, one seriously, in the blast at the Centraco site, owned by French power utility EDF and adjacent to the Marcoule nuclear research center. The site does not house any nuclear reactors. The furnace that exploded is used to melt waste with levels of radioactivity ranging from low to very high, ASN said.

No immediately reason has been given for the blast and staff at the plant reacted to the accident according to planned procedures. Police also said there was no contamination outside the site, which is about 18 miles from the city of Avignon and about 50 miles from the Mediterranean coast. (MSNBC, 9/12/2011)

Rescue services evacuate a person injured after an explosion  at the French nuclear
waste treatment site of Marcoule, southern France September 12, 2011.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Support Letter for Yucca Mountain Appropriations Bill

September 1, 2011

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein, Chairman
Senate Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

The Honorable Lamar Alexander, Ranking Member
Senate Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development

Dear Senators:

The undersigned organizations, which collectively represent a national cross-section of energy consumers, regulators, elected officials and businesses, are writing to advise you of our strong support for funding in the FY2012 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill for resumption of the Yucca Mountain Project review by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and related licensing-support activities at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

As you know, the House voted on July 15 in favor of the FY2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which provides a total of $20 million to the NRC for the continuation of the license review for the Yucca Mountain Project (reached through the bipartisan approval of a floor amendment doubling the original funding mark of $10 million by a resounding vote of 297-130) and $25 million to DOE for continuing its activities towards completing the Yucca Mountain licensing application.

In addition, a recent House Science, Space, and Technology Committee review of the Yucca Mountain Safety Evaluation Report (Volume III) found the licensing application “complies with applicable NRC safety requirements, including those related to human health and groundwater protection, and the specific performance objectives called for in NRC regulations for disposal of high-level radioactive wastes at Yucca Mountain.”

Moreover, on July 29, in a draft report to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC) stressed their “shared sense of urgency” with respect to addressing the back-end of the fuel cycle noting that “this nation’s failure to come to grips with the nuclear waste issue has already proved damaging and costly and it will be more damaging and more costly the longer it continues.”  The BRC draft report concludes that “deep geologic disposal capacity is an essential component of a comprehensive nuclear waste management system” while calling for “prompt efforts to develop one or more geological disposal facilities.”

They further add: ‘The recent decision by the Administration to attempt to withdraw the Yucca Mountain license application has further diminished confidence in the government’s ability to provide a safe and timely solution for the disposal of spent fuel and HLWs”… and …”it is clear to the Commission that waste cleanup commitments were made to states and communities across the United States, and to the nuclear utility industry and its ratepayers and shareholders, that have not been upheld. The decision to suspend work on the repository has left all of these parties wondering, not for the first time, if the federal government will ever deliver on its promises.”

As further stipulated by the Commission, the continued spent fuel management stalemate is “damaging to prospects for maintaining a potentially important energy supply option for the future, damaging to state–federal relations and public confidence in the federal government’s competence, and damaging to America’s standing in the world— not only as a source of nuclear technology and policy expertise but as a leader on global issues of nuclear safety, non-proliferation, and security. Continued stalemate is also costly—to utility ratepayers, to communities that have become unwilling hosts of long-term nuclear waste storage facilities, and to U.S. taxpayers who face mounting liabilities, already running into billions of dollars, as a result of the failure by both the executive and legislative branches to meet federal waste management.”

While we do not necessarily concur with all the conclusion of the Commission, we do believe that termination of the Yucca Mountain license application has been proven to be premature and unwise as well as deleterious in general to the nation’s energy independence, economic competitiveness and environmental progress – and that House action to facilitate resumption of the Yucca Mountain review in FY2012 – which heretofore has found the site to be safe and viable -- is strongly warranted.

We hope that these views will be helpful in your consideration of the FY2012 Energy and Water Development Appropriations.

Please note that – while these views represent the consensus viewpoints of the undersigned organization – they do not necessarily represent the specific views of every individual member of these organizations.


Clinton E. Crackel, Co-Chairman
Nuclear Fuels Reprocessing Coalition

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Federal Gov't Has Turned Nuclear Waste Into Another Debt

Norris McDonald at Yucca Mountain
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 has created another unfunded liability, starting with a $25 billion ratepayer fund gone astray and $16 billion or more in estimated legal judgments to compensate utilities for their storage expenses. The costs of the ultimate disposal project also are sure to rise, with no plan in sight to replace the now-canceled plan to entomb the waste at Nevada's Yucca Mountain.

When the federal government took responsibility for nuclear-waste disposal three decades ago, the 1982 law required nuclear utilities to shoulder the cost through an annual fee paid to the federal government. The fee was to be deposited in a newly created Nuclear Waste Fund that the U.S. Department of Energy could tap to fund the storage project. The fee, which ultimately comes from nuclear-electricity customers as a surcharge of 1/10th of a cent per kilowatt hour, now amounts to about $750 million a year. Counting past expenditures and interest earned, the fund's balance is about $25 billion.

But that cash doesn't really exist. Since the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, Congress and successive administrations have changed the plan so that the fees paid by utilities essentially are treated like taxes and go into the government's general coffers.
The project's funding arrangement is fundamentally broken and reforming it is absolutely essential.

It sounds like there's a piggy bank and there's all this money that is available for a future nuclear] repository, but there isn't. Congress has spent it on other things. The $25 billion amounts to little more than a federal IOU that will need to be repaid. At the same time, the nuclear-waste program was required to compete with other programs for annual appropriations from Congress. The bottom line: Spending on the program is counted against the deficit, instead of the self-funding intended in the original law.

Because the government failed to start taking spent fuel as promised beginning in 1998, utilities are suing it to cover their additional storage costs. Federal officials have estimated it will cost $16.2 billion to pay legal judgments owed to utilities by 2020—assuming the U.S. is able to start taking waste from utilities starting then—and $500 million a year after that.

One of the panel's proposals was to cut the annual fees collected from utilities to match the level of federal spending on the program. Uncollected funds would go into utility-run trust funds, to be tapped when needed for the waste project. That would put the project onto sounder fiscal footing, the panel said, but would add to the near-term federal deficit because some of the utility fees wouldn't be counted as current revenue. Still, the panel draft report said, "the bill will come due at some point," because the government is contractually bound to remove the spent fuel.

The Department of Energy is being sued with plaintiffs seeking to suspend collection of the annual fees utilities pay into the waste fund, believing that there is no need to pay a fee if you're not getting a program for it.

Other legal challenges to President Obama's decision to kill Yucca Mountain are pending. The Energy Department in 2008 estimated that building the Yucca Mountain facility and then transferring waste to it would cost $83 billion in 2007 dollars, on top of the $13.5 billion already spent.  If the plan is dead and the government has to find a new site, the ultimate cost almost certainly will rise. (WSJ, 8/9/2011)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nuclear Waste Panel Adopts NFRC Recommendation

Norris McDonald at BRC Hearing
The Blue Ribbon Commission On America's Nuclear Future (BRC) issued its final draft report today and recommended that at least one new site should be found to store waste left over from the nation’s nuclear power plants. The blue-ribbon commission assigned by President Obama in January 2010 to come up with an alternative to the plan for a nuclear waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, also adopted a Center recommendation: the creation of a new federal corporation to manage the site rather than turning it over to the U.S. Department of Energy.

NFRC Cochairman Norris McDonald testified before the commission and recommended the creation of a Nuclear Waste Management Agency (NWMA).  The BRC adopted this recommendation.

Obama asked Energy Secretary Steven Chu to create the 15-member commission after his administration decided against going ahead with long-delayed plans to create a national nuclear waste storage site at Yucca
Mountain. The commission — chaired by former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush — does not suggest where that storage site would be located.  This is a cop out.  NFRC disagrees with President Obama's decision to abandon Yucca Mountain as America's national repository for nuclear waste.

The report recommends guidelines for a selection process — such as giving local communities, but not states, the power to veto a facility. Many members of the commission believe that New Mexico, which already has a nuclear waste storage facility, might prove more receptive than Nevada to a federal waste site. The group also recommends finding an interim storage site for waste that is now being stored at 10 closed reactors at nine different sites. All but one of the sites have the used nuclear fuel in dry casks, and the commission said there would be fewer security risks if the waste were stored in one place.  NFRC does not support this recommendation because we believe Yucca Mountain is the best location for the national nuclear waste repository.

For years, electric utilities with nuclear power plants paid about $23 billion in fees to the federal government to finance the repository, and substantial preparation was done at the Yucca Mountain,Nevada site. Some of those utilities have filed lawsuits to recover the money.

The report contains no dissenting opinions, but members of the commission could not reach agreement on whether to move ahead with reprocessing of used nuclear fuel, a process used today in France. (Wash Post, 7/29/2011)

Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future Draft Report to the Secretary of Energy

Saturday, July 9, 2011

DOE to Pay $100 Million for Used Nuclear Fuel Storage Costs to Xcel Energy

Exel Energy has reached a settlement with the federal government regarding costs incurred by Northern States Power Company (NSP) and its customers because of the Department of Energy's failure to begin removing used fuel from the company's nuclear plant sites by a 1998 deadline. The federal government will pay approximately $100 million for used fuel storage costs at Prairie Island and Monticello nuclear generating plants incurred through 2008. The federal government also will pay costs incurred from 2009 through 2013 related to the DOE’s failure to remove used fuel. The money will be returned to NSP customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and Michigan.

Xcel Energy’s lawsuits were among 74 filed by utilities against the federal government alleging partial breach of contract when the DOE failed to meet a Jan. 31, 1998, deadline to begin accepting used fuel. The dispute stemmed from contracts the DOE entered into with the utilities concerning the DOE’s obligations under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Seventeen lawsuits involving 44 reactors were settled previously. (Excel Energy, 7/8/2011)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Energy Northwest Nuclear Waste Claim Rejected by Court

Energy Northwest, a Washington state utility, did not prove that the federal government's failure to dispose of nuclear waste from its embattled reactor forced the company to upgrade a $60 million nuclear waste storage facility, a federal appeals court ruled yesterday. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the utility did not make the case that the federal government's failure to take waste from its 1,150 megawatt Columbia Generating Station required the company to modify its spent fuel storage facility.

The NFRC disagrees with this court decision.  The federal government has the fiduciary responsibility to take possession of commercial nuclear power plant spent fuel.  Billions of dollars have been collected from ratepayers to support the federal government's responsibility for managing the waste.

The 26-year-old nuclear reactor and dry storage facility are located 10 miles north of Richland, Washington.  Energy Northwest sued the Department of Energy in 2004 for money it spent on moving spent nuclear fuel from its overcapacity spent fuel pools to a newly built dry storage facility.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims then granted Energy Northwest more than $55 million in damages last year. But the appeals court yesterday vacated the claims court's ruling, saying Energy Northwest failed to prove the government's breach of contract required the company to make the upgrades. Therefore, the court said, the federal government is not required to pay the utility $7 million for modifying the spent fuel storage facility or interest payments the utility made in connection with the project.  However, the appeals court ruled Energy Northwest was rightfully granted $2.9 million in "overhead costs" associated with the storage facility.

Energy Northwest could not be reached for comment.

Energy Northwest signed a contract with DOE in 1983 to take spent nuclear fuel from the facility and store it in a permanent repository, which has not yet been built. The agreements followed in the wake of Congress directing the agency to prepare a permanent dump for spent nuclear fuel in 1982.
The contracts stipulated that the federal government was required to dispose of spent nuclear fuel generated by the reactor by 1998 and Energy Northwest was bound to prepare the waste for storage and contribute money to the Nuclear Waste Fund.

The Obama administration ended support for the Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, prompting DOE to withdraw its application for the project and forcing utilities to store waste on-site.

Nuclear plants must store spent fuel in pools for at least five years and thereafter can leave the rods in water indefinitely, but the pools can fill up depending on their arrangement and must be moved to dry storage, according to NRC. Energy Northwest determined by the early 1990s that the pool would reach capacity after 2003 if the government did not take the waste and decided in 1999 to build an "independent spent fuel storage installation" to store the fuel indefinitely in dry casks. The facility was approved to store spent nuclear fuel in 2002. (NYT, 4/8/2011)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

NRC To Review U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

NRC Appoints Task Force To Review U.S. Nuclear Power Plants

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has named six senior managers and staff to its task force for examining the agency’s regulatory requirements, programs, processes, and implementation in light of information from the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan, following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The task force will be led by Dr. Charles Miller, director of the NRC’s Office of Federal and State Materials and Environmental Management Programs.

Other task force members are:

Daniel Dorman, deputy director of the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards (NMSS);

Jack Grobe, deputy director of the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR);

Gary Holahan, deputy director of the Office of New Reactors (NRO);

Nathan Sanfilippo, executive technical assistant, Office of the Executive Director for Operations; and

Amy Cubbage, Team Leader, NRO.

The task force will talk to agency technical experts and gather information to conduct a comprehensive review of the information from the events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex and make recommendations for any improvements needed to NRC's regulatory system.
According to the charter, the task force will conduct a near-term review and identify topics for assessment for a longer term review. A written report is expected to made public 90 days after the start of the review.

Initially, the task force will identify potential near-term actions that affect U.S. power reactors, including their spent fuel pools. Areas to be reviewed include station blackout (loss of all A/C power for a reactor), external events that could lead to a prolonged loss of cooling, plant capabilities for preventing or dealing with such circumstances, and emergency preparedness.

The task force plans to brief the Commission in public meetings on the status of the review on May 12 and June 16.  (Power Gen Worldwide, 4/1/2011)

Friday, April 1, 2011

House Investigates Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain
House of Representatives leadership is launching an investigation into the Obama administration's decision to abandon plans to store the country's nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), the chairman of the panel’s environment subcommittee, will lead the investigations, which will focus on the administration’s motivations for ending funding for the project and withdrawing its license.

According to Upton and Shimkus:
"There was “no scientific or technical basis for withdrawing the application. The administration’s move to shutter Yucca raises serious red flags. Despite the scientific community’s seal of approval, extensive bipartisan collaboration, as well as nearly three decades and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, this administration has recklessly sought to pull the plug on the Yucca repository without even the sensibility of offering a viable alternative.”
The NFRC agrees.  Moreover, the ongoing nuclear crisis in Japan is a reminder that the country must designate a permanent repository for nuclear waste.

Yucca Mountain Repository Tunnel Exit
Upton and Shimkus sent letters Thursday alerting Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko about the investigation. The letters also requested detailed information about the officials’ role in the decision to abandon Yucca Mountain.

Congress approved Yucca Mountain as the country’s nuclear waste repository in 1982. But the project has been mired by years of delay and opposition from Nevada lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). (The Hill, 3/31/2011)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

EPA & FDA Monitoring Food & Water for Radiation

Update on Ongoing Monitoring 

In response to the ongoing situation in Japan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken steps to increase the level of nationwide monitoring of milk, precipitation, drinking water, and other potential exposure routes.

EPA conducts radiological monitoring of milk under its RADNET program, while the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has jurisdiction over the safety, labeling and identity of milk and milk products in interstate commerce. States have jurisdiction over those facilities located within their territory.

Results from a screening sample taken March 25 from Spokane, Wash. detected 0.8 pCi/L of iodine-131, which is more than 5,000 times lower than the Derived Intervention Level set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These types of findings are to be expected in the coming days and are far below levels of public health concern, including for infants and children. Iodine-131 has a very short half-life of approximately eight days, and the level detected in milk and milk products is therefore expected to drop relatively quickly.

“Radiation is all around us in our daily lives, and these findings are a minuscule amount compared to what people experience every day. For example, a person would be exposed to low levels of radiation on a round trip cross country flight, watching television, and even from construction materials,” said Patricia Hansen, an FDA senior scientist.

EPA’s recommendation to state and local governments is to continue to coordinate closely with EPA, FDA and CDC. EPA will continue to communicate our nationwide sampling results as they come in.



Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spent Fuel Pools Pose Serious Problem at Fukushima Plant

Norris McDonald with Spent Fuel Pool in background

By Norris McDonald

I have toured half a dozen spent fuel pools at various nuclear power plants.  They always fascinate me.  To look down on the boron-laced bluish looking water to observe the spent fuel assemblies below is just one of the most interesting things I have ever done.  It never ceases to amaze.  Being shown and instructed on how the fuel assemblies are brought into the plant, inserted into the reactor vessel, and ultimated romoved for storage in the spent fuel pools and dry cast outdoor storage is very enlightening.

The fuel rods at all six reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex contain plutonium. But only six percent of the fuel rods at the plant's Unit 3 were a mixture of plutonium-239 and uranium-235 when it was first put into operation. The fuel in other reactors is only uranium, but even there, plutonium is created during the fission process.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 25,000 years, meaning it takes that long to lose half of its radioactive potency. Uranium-235 has a half-life of 700 million years. And cesium, which tends to go airborne much more easily, has a half-life of 30 years.

When the pellets of uranium dioxide inside the thin fuel rods are split to create energy in the reactor, they release neutrons that, in turn, create highly radioactive plutonium-239. Some of the U-238 is transformed into PU-239.  This plutonium also splits, creating even more energy. By the end of a uranium fuel cycle, 40 percent of the energy produced comes from the splitting of plutonium.  The spent fuel rod that remains at the end of the process contains uranium, plutonium, and a mix of other radioactive byproducts.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi site has 3,400 tons of fuel in seven spent fuel pools within the six-reactor plant, including one joint pool storing very old fuel from units 3 and 4. There are 877 tons in five of the reactor cores. Officials have said that the fuel in Unit 4's reactor vessel was transferred to its spent fuel pool when the unit was temporarily shut in November.

Japan has recently built a facility to remove the byproducts and reprocess the plutonium and uranium into a substance called MOX for reuse in its reactors.  MOX mixes plutonium or highly enriched uranium from warheads with regular uranium for a blend that can be used in commercial reactors.  I toured the LaHague reprocessing facility in France (see photo below) in 2007. Japan's reprocessing plant, in Rokkasho, a village 300 miles (500 kilometers) north of Fukushima, is only starting up, and hasn't yet begun full operation.  I also toured the two nuclear reactors in the United States that use MOX fuel.

Norris Mcdonald (center) with tour group at LaHague nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in France

The explosions at the 3 containment buildings compromised the spent fuel pools.  Now those highly radioactive fuels assemblies are left unshielded by water.  The assemblies are not only radioactive, they are extremely hot.  This is a real problem for Tokyo Electric Power. I think they will have to bury the site much as the Russians did at Chernobly.  Sand, boron, dirt, cement, concrete, steel and everything else they can put on top of the site to block radiation releases into the environment. (FOX News, 3/18/2011)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Uranium Spot Market Price Dropping: Probably Temporary

Trading in uranium on the spot market totalled about $2.5 billion in 2010. The Fukushima nuclear plant disaster is probably temporarily changing that picture as hedge funds and banks unload their uranium portfolios.  Explosions and radiation leaks in Japan have worried some traders too, who are dumping their uranium holdings amid fears that the Japanese crisis could stall expansion of the world's nuclear programs.

Almost three million pounds of uranium have changed hands in the spot market this week, five times more than the average volume. The result is that after an 80% run-up over the past eight months, uranium prices have tumbled. They reached a three-year high of $73 a pound in February, but dropped $13 earlier this week and fell to $49.25 on Wednesday, according to Ux Consulting Company. 

At the same time, some utilities and even producers have stepped in to buy the metal in the belief that the demand for more nuclear plants will remain. A total of 65 nuclear units are under construction, mostly in China and Russia. Despite the bearish news in recent days, traders note that more than 400 reactors are still operating, consuming about 180 million pounds of uranium a year.  Nuclear power accounts for 14% of global electricity output

Most of the uranium traded in the physical market is in the form of uranium oxide concentrate, which is several steps away from being used as nuclear fuel. After utilities buy uranium on the spot market, these facilities convert the oxide into a gas form of pure uranium, called uranium hexafluoride. The gas, which is radioactive, is then enriched to become nuclear fuel. It is then transported to fabrication centers to convert into a pellet, which is put into a fuel rod that goes into a nuclear reactor.

NFRC believes the current drop represents a short-term impact and the fundamentals for the market are still very strong. (WSJ, 3/17/2011)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fire at Fukushima Unit #4

A fire is out of control at the #4 Unit at the Fukushim Daiishi nuclear power complex.  This comes after hydrogen explosions at Units 1, 2 & 3.  Plant workers are spraying ocean water laced with boron on those reactors to keep them from melting down.

Radiation hazards are causing massive evacuations near the facility.  Residents are being monitored for radiation exposure.

A 6.4 scale earthquake also rocked Tokyo today.

(Various news & agency sources)

Obama Still Supports Nukes & San Onofre Under Scrutiny

The Obama administration is maintaining its support for nuclear power even after three explosions at crippled nuclear power plants in Japan.  Senator Charles Schumer is also standing by nuclear power.  However, Senator Joe Lieberman has called for a 'time out' and Congressman Ed Markey is calling for a moratorium on building new plants. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is planning legislation aimed at streamlining the approval process for new plants.  The Japanese incidents come as a number of power companies have begun applying for Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licenses to build what would be the first new U.S. reactors in decades. The White House has supported the efforts.

Last year the administration approved $8.3 billion worth of Energy Department loan guarantees for utility giant Southern Co. to add two new reactors to its Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia — a decision Obama announced personally. But the project would still need an NRC construction and operating license to move ahead.  The White House fiscal 2012 budget plan would give the Energy Department another $36 billion in loan guarantee authority for supporting new reactors, in addition to the roughly $10 billion worth the department has remaining.

And Obama used January’s State of the Union speech to float a “clean energy standard” that would require power companies to collectively supply 80 percent of U.S. electricity from various low-carbon sources — including nuclear power — by 2035.
The Center agrees with the position of the Obama administration.

Norris McDonald at control room
Norris McDonald touring plant
The San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, California is receiving scrutiny because it sits right on the coast like the Fukushima plant. There are worries that it is vulnerable to a tsunami.  NFRC Co-chair Norris McDoanald toured San Onofre on June 6, 2005. San Onofre is about an hour's drive south of Los Angeles and can be seen from Highway 5.  It is about a 30 minute drive from San Diego.  (The Hill, 3/14/2011)

San Onofre nuclear power plant