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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Simple Solution to a Thorny Problem?

First Rule of Dismantling a Nuclear Power Plant brought to mind the problem of nuclear waste:

Waste that is too radioactive for treatment gets sealed for safekeeping, and the containers redefine strength. They must last at least 50 years and be able to survive a drop-test from three stories up. The canisters, made from cast metal or heavy concrete, can cost more than $1 million apiece.

No problem, right? All that stuff will go to Yucca Mountain, which we US taxpayers have spent billions developing.

Right?

Darn.

Perhaps the problem isn't as hard as it is made to be.

Per the quote above, the dismantled radioactive debris is already confined. We could do the same for exhausted fuel rods and the like: vitrification to contain the waste.

Then load the various containers and vitrified waste onto ships, and haul it all to the subduction zone off the Aleutian islands. Once there, lower the waste blocks by cable until they are some distance above the bottom so that when released, they embed themselves in the sea floor sediment.

Already contained, the sediment will provide even more containment. And since the stuff was dropped into a subduction zone, it will ultimately return to the Earth's mantle, it will get recycled.

Over to you, Clovis. Why is that a dumb idea?

32 comments:

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
Why is that a dumb idea?
---
Shared liabilities. It is the main reason sea disposal was outlawed by international agreements.

If something goes wrong at Yucca Mountain, you pay for it.

If something goes wrong at sea, a whole lot of other people may end up paying for it.

There are a lot of ideas out there, including that one, many never tried.

The ones I like most involve recycling the materials with a mix of fission and fusion nuclear reactors. They may never be feasible (that is an ever disapointing area of physics), but they sure would be a game changer in our evolution history.

Hey Skipper said...

Clovis, that was an excellent link; thanks.

If something goes wrong at sea, a whole lot of other people may end up paying for it.

As they say on Top Gear: What could possibly go wrong?

I get that international agreements prohibit disposal at sea. But should they?

It seems -- and I am sure you will correct me if I'm wrong -- the linear dosage model has created a great deal of bother on the basis of essentially no evidence.

Let's say that containers designed such as your link shows are on a ship that sinks en route to a subduction zone. What is the worst thing that could possibly happen? If in shallow water, then it is recoverable; if in deep water, then dilution would eliminate any threat.

Fukushima has been an excellent example of "What can possibly go wrong?"

Outside a, oh, 10NM radius, the consequences have been essentially nil.

Harry Eagar said...

I had a long discussion about this with a friend who knows the physics. My idea also was putting the stuff in an area of the ocean bed that is silting rapidly.

His objection was that this stuff is valuable and you don't want to put it out of reach.

Not all of it is valuable, of course, but the nastiest stuff is the most valuable.

erp said...

O/T and breaking my own rule about NYT articles, but I had to ask.

Harry is this guy a fascist?

Hey Skipper said...

Not all of it is valuable, of course, but the nastiest stuff is the most valuable.

Probably, but there are two problems. First, given the revolution in fossil fuel recovery, it might be a very long time until its value is more real then eventual. And the cost of storing it until whenever that is might very well exceed what it would cost to just recreate the stuff.

Oddly, given how the left's bosom collectively heaves at the mere thought of science, they couldn't possibly care less about science when it comes to dealing with radioactive waste; preferring hysteria instead.

erp said...

Looks like solar isn't what it's been touted to be either. Wind turbines are already a known no-no, so what's a planet to do?

We could ask la Belle what they do with their radioactive waste. BTW - they also use DDT for mosquito control -- at least they do in the south where my son lives.

Being holier than thou does have it perks.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
What could possibly go wrong?
---

What indeed?

I can think of many protocols that would make your subduction zones idea look safer than Yucca.

The thing about protocols though, is that they exist to be not followed. Just look at past events.

Maybe you are so sure the US would follow any such protocols strictly, but would everybody else? Are you sure you can trust China, Russia, India, Italy (with their mafias, and a few other European countries too), Pakistan, etc, to follow them?

---
Oddly, given how the left's bosom collectively heaves at the mere thought of science, they couldn't possibly care less about science when it comes to dealing with radioactive waste; preferring hysteria instead.
---

Hysteria for some, abundance of precaution for others.

Clovis e Adri said...

Oh, and it looks like solar is doing very well, thanks.

erp said...

The price of installing solar panels may be dropping, but that doesn't make them a more effective source of energy nor easier on the environment.

erp said...

Clovis, check your << at past events >> link. BTW - why no comment on France?

Clovis e Adri said...

Erp,

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The price of installing solar panels may be dropping, but that doesn't make them a more effective source of energy nor easier on the environment.
---

Hey, who could guess you can speak like a leftie too?

erp said...

Of course I can talk like a lefty. It's easy. Just make no sense, e.g., responding to an article about the negative effects of solar energy by saying it's gotten a lot cheaper to install.

Clovis e Adri said...

A tip for your new life as a leftie: a link to a google search does not amount to "an article".

erp said...

I like to let the reader choose which source they find most creditable.

erp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
erp said...

Dreaded double comment returns.

Hey Skipper said...

[Hey Skipper:] What could possibly go wrong?

---

[Clovis:] What indeed? 


I should have included a link first time to indicate the ironic sense of the sentence.

However, just because something gets done very badly indeed — perhaps because unreasonable regulations make it so bloody expensive to do it properly — doesn't mean it can't be done well.

(BTW, your second link returned to this page.)

Similarly, just because all manner of entities can't be trusted to follow protocols isn't an argument against protocols themselves, particularly if the protocols are both economical and effective.

Hysteria for some, abundance of precaution for others.

The precautionary principle is a sword with two edges; worse, it is a proposition without limit.

There are warmenists who insist that even if there is only a 1% chance that AGW is a mortal threat to humanity, that means we must do whatever it takes to reduce that 1% to zero.

Really?

Just so with the hysteria surrounding nuclear waste disposal, but worse. Because of the precautionary principle, we are living with a great deal of waste stored at far higher risk than if we just found very deep parts of the ocean to drop it in.

Oh, and it looks like solar is doing very well, thanks.

Except that it isn't really. People installing solar are lavishly subsidized; this is creating serious problems.

Which sounds like the point erp is getting to: get rid of subsidies; all they do is force poor people to help buy things for rich people.

erp said...

Skipper, you are so right. I don't have time to find the link now, but I read that Tesla is the most profitable company since time began!!! No mention in the article about U.S. taxpayers' unknowingly generous, nay absurdly lavish, contributions to Monk.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

----
Similarly, just because all manner of entities can't be trusted to follow protocols isn't an argument against protocols themselves, particularly if the protocols are both economical and effective.
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Hmm, no. Lack of trust over protocols being followed coupled with lack of oversight is indeed a very good reason to resort to more simple steps, like a blank proihibition.


----
Because of the precautionary principle, we are living with a great deal of waste stored at far higher risk than if we just found very deep parts of the ocean to drop it in.
----

Not necessarily. If you like protocols so much, why don't you trust the ones at Yucca?

I don't trust them very much either, but I think it is fair that, in case they go wrong, the loss is all yours.


----
Except that it isn't really. People installing solar are lavishly subsidized; this is creating serious problems.
-----
No, the price of solar is going down worldwide, in places subsidized or not.

Incremental steps in technology are the reason, and they will keep improving.

Hey Skipper said...

Not necessarily. If you like protocols so much, why don't you trust the ones at Yucca?

I do. That isn't the problem.

I don't trust them very much either, but I think it is fair that, in case they go wrong, the loss is all yours.

Let's say a ship carrying properly containerized waste sinks en route to a subduction zone. What is the worst thing that could happen? That's a serious question, btw. From Fukushima and Chernobyl, outside a very small area, the effects are practically nil, and that is for unconfined waste spread on the surface, not diluted into an immense amount of seawater.

Hmm, no. Lack of trust over protocols being followed coupled with lack of oversight is indeed a very good reason to resort to more simple steps, like a blank prohibition.

I'll bet the dumping that happened in Somalia was prohibited, yet it happened anyway.

And I'm not sure what you mean by a blank prohibition. Storing nuclear waste anywhere?

Incremental steps in technology are the reason, and they will keep improving.

That still isn't addressing the very serious problems with solar energy my link highlighted. To be fair, the problems are as much to do with the subsidies as with any inherent shortcomings, but those shortcoming exist whenever renewables more than a tiny fraction of the total.

Germany has gone whole hog for renewables. As a consequence, households are paying almost twice as much for electricity than they would otherwise.

erp said...

Just asking? Aren't fossil fuels renewable too? It just takes a bit longer.

Nuclear power in France - Wikipedia

FTA Funniest line I've heard in a long time: "In France, we do not have oil, but we have ideas."

erp said...

Even though he's writing on RedState, this guy knows what he's talking about.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
Let's say a ship carrying properly containerized waste sinks en route to a subduction zone. What is the worst thing that could happen?
---
The point you keep missing is, it is not what's the worst thing to happen, but to whom it will happen.

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I'll bet the dumping that happened in Somalia was prohibited, yet it happened anyway.
---
It was most probably placed by Italian mafias. The same ones you will trust in the case sea disposal gets to be OK again, since the Mafias control most of the garbage disposition in a good part of Italy.

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And I'm not sure what you mean by a blank prohibition. Storing nuclear waste anywhere?
---
At sea.

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That still isn't addressing the very serious problems with solar energy my link highlighted.
---
Your link did not show any "serious problem", IMHO, nor I see as enlightening to conflate subsidies policy with technological status.

At some point, solar will be cheap enough to make subsidies irrelevant in most places. The intermittency of renewables will be part of the game, just as it always happened with hydroelectric power, but in a faster scale - nothing our information age can't handle.


---
Germany has gone whole hog for renewables. As a consequence, households are paying almost twice as much for electricity than they would otherwise.
---
Who am I to question how they prefer to spend their money? The important quote of your link being this one:

"As things stand, there is currently no political party in Germany that opposes the Energiewende in parliament."

Hey Skipper said...

Clovis:

I'm not missing any point. The answer to the question is completely independent of whom. Let's say a ship carrying properly containerized waste sinks en route to a subduction zone. What is the worst thing that could happen to anybody?

The same ones you will trust in the case sea disposal gets to be OK again, since the Mafias control most of the garbage disposition in a good part of Italy.

You do not seem to understand cause and effect. Let's assume there is some form of nuclear waste disposal that is best combination of economical and safe. I don't care which one it is. If politics then causes a choice that is a far worse combination of those two things, then there is a great deal of room for crime to operate.

On the other hand, assume that politics allows that best combination -- from what I have read, deep sea disposal is both completely safe, and, compared to Yucca Mountain (how many of those is Italy going to do?) nearly free. Then what does that do to the likelihood of groups with reputations to protect -- say, power plant operators -- that they will engage with organized crime to get rid of something badly that isn't difficult to do correctly?

Your link did not show any "serious problem", IMHO ...

Your humble opinion notwithstanding, there are serious problems: poor people paying for rich people's electricity; grid stability; massively increased costs; intermittency; and, perverse incentives. The intermittency of renewables isn't merely a trivial thing for our information age. There are times when a high pressure area will stall over Western Europe in the winter.

During which it will be very cold, still, and the days short. Windmills won't turn. Solar cells dead.

Now what?

As things stand, there is currently no political party in Germany that opposes the Energiewende in parliament.

True enough. And just as true, the political elites have almost completely isolated themselves from their citizens.

erp said...

Clovis, I'd be willing to bet that the aristos in charge of the EU have generators of some kind to supply them with power on those cold dark nights and they don't use ethanol or potato skins for fuel either.

Bret said...

Here's my logic:

1. CO2 has a global impact on the world, potentially adverse to some degree.
2. The folks in the US (and most everywhere else) will continue to use energy.
3. To the extent the energy is based on fossil fuels, CO2 will increase (see (1)).
4. To the extent nuclear energy can be made less expensive, it might substitute for fossil fuel based energy.
5. Part of the cost of nuclear energy is the disposal of spent fuel.
6. To the extent the spent fuel processing can be made less expensive, nuclear energy will be less expensive.
7. Therefore, the global adverse effects of CO2 could be partly offset by deep sea disposal of spent nuclear fuel.

So, in the end, NOT allowing said "simple solution to a thorny problem" may have WORSE global impact (from the adverse effects of increased CO2) than allowing that solution.

I personally don't think the extra CO2 is a big negative, but for those that do, I like the simple solution.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

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What is the worst thing that could happen to anybody?
---
Posed like that, it's a trivial question, with a trivial answer: death.

What you want is not the worst case scenarios, like tons of radioactive waste leaking in a very populous beach, but the most probable ones.

As it happens, we have enough past data to judge what are the more probable future events.

Such as the ones mentioned here (not a technical site, but I cite it for the historical points):

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"The Wall St. Journal has recently claimed that plutonium levels are 1,000 times above normal on the seafloor 50 miles from San Francisco where 50,000 containers of radioactive waste lay at the bottom of the seafloor".
---


We can also infer probabilities about proper disposal protocols being not followed, like that:

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"While in Europe waste was all supposed to be disposed of in waters at least 4,000 meters deep, many of the ship log documents are inaccurate or are left, “incomplete or unknown” in the location of the dump, sometimes dumped even in water only 100 meters deep and only miles away from the coast. Also, the captain’s main concerns were the safety of the crew not about the exact location of the dump. The barrels of waste were radioactive and the crew was getting radioactive doses. Therefore, once the radioactive safe zone timer was up, the crew just dumped the barrels regardless of location. The issue here is how one checks the current radioactive leakages and levels of the waste if the locations are unknown."
---

Which should easily answer your point: "You do not seem to understand cause and effect. Let's assume there is some form of nuclear waste disposal that is best combination of economical and safe." There are no end of actors, in areas lacking due oversight, that will change that calculus of "economical and safe" in favor of the "economical" part.

Clovis e Adri said...


A fairly good example of assessment, a bit more technical and full of interesting info, can be found here, wherefrom I quote the relevant answer to your question:

----
Motivation to stop the dumping of radioactive waste in the ocean Over time there have been many arguments for and against the practice of dumping waste, particularly radioactive waste, in the ocean. Perhaps the most straightforward key statements on why ocean dumping might be regarded as the least attractive option of radioactive waste management can be found in an 'Evaluation of Oceanic Radioactive Dumping Programs' (Davis and Van Dyke, 1982):

"First, the oceans are a living, interconnected environment that can return radioactive (and other) wastes to humans via the ocean food chain.

Second, the ocean is a formidable environment, destructive of human structures such as
radioactive waste containers.

Third, despite recent rapid strides in the oceanographic sciences, the ocean is still largely an unknown environment [authors’ annotation: This is still valid 30 years later].

Fourth, the oceans represent a global resource, the birthright of all people and all generations.

Fifth, damage of this global commons by a minority of people is contrary to principles of
international law.

These are the grounds why it is suggested that the oceans are an unacceptable repository
for radioactive wastes.

We can see that our current [authors’ annotation: 1982] approach to the subject is a
combination of scientific findings, moral standards and legislative measures undertaken
therefore."
----

You can argue the combination of scientific findings can well be adapted to other moral standards - which is what Bret has just exemplified in his comment above.

So we can skip all the arguing and go directly to the bottom line: it ends up being about different moral choices. I think yours is misguided, and I hope people can keep agreeing against it. The treaties ruling sea disposition out are due to pass next year, and it will be again an open matter.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

----
During which it will be very cold, still, and the days short. Windmills won't turn. Solar cells dead.

Now what?
----

You turn on the coal power plant, or any other of the numerous alternatives, just like they do right now.

Do you have a problem with that?

Bret said...

My understanding is that nat gas power generation fires up much quicker and is cleaner as well.

The problem is that even nat gas power plants represent a substantial capital investment, which if only used part of the time (on short and still days), is extremely expensive. Electrical storage capacity may be cost competitive eventually, but still has a similar problem - that which isn't used consistently has a high capital/financing cost.

Hey Skipper said...

[Hey Skipper:] What is the worst thing that could happen to anybody?

---

[Clovis:] Posed like that, it's a trivial question, with a trivial answer: death.


Your response seems trivial. If waste was containerized in the way one of your links (perfectly fascinating reading, btw), and the ship sank, what is the worst that would happen?

If it sank in shallow water, then the cargo could be recovered. If in deep water, could the release ever be sufficient to cause radiation to be significantly greater than background levels?

Your assertion that there is no end of actors seems to ignore that there is an easily countable number of nuclear reactors, which would seem to put something of a limit on the actors.

First, the oceans are a living, interconnected environment that can return radioactive (and other) wastes to humans via the ocean food chain …

All those objections are well taken, in the sense that they cannot be ignored. However, they can be taken into account, and balanced against the other options on offer. It just seems to me that the option has been stricken without any thought that all the other alternatives might well be worse.

You turn on the coal power plant, or any other of the numerous alternatives, just like they do right now. 

Do you have a problem with that?


Yes. First, IIRC, when renewables get above about 15% of the available power supply, then the grid starts getting unstable. Second, those who install solar get to sell back excess power to the utility at retail rates, not wholesale. Further, they do not pay a dime to maintaining transmission lines and associated infrastructure. That means the more people installing solar forces the rest to pay even more for their power.

But probably even more fundamentally, all of the generating capacity required to supply the grid under high demand conditions that happen to be very renewable unfriendly must be maintained. In other words, the only benefit of wind and solar is in the reduced fuel bill when they are operating.

When I was living in Anchorage, the city gov't — very progressive at the time — decided to carpet Fire Island with wind turbines. Because they knew, they just knew, that oil prices would remain high forever. IIRC, anything less than $80/bbl, and they were just ugly wastes of money.

erp said...

How dangerous is this?