What’s Next

In Let’s Start Energizing we ordered two nuclear power plants and in Nuclear Waste we established Hanford as an interim spent fuel storage site. You may think we are proceeding too fast, but in our experience going slow often leads to stop.

The two reactors licensed for immediate construction in the United States are safer and simpler designs based on reactors that GE and Westinghouse have constructed worldwide for over 40 years. A nuclear renaissance is happening in America and both companies are eager to obtain firm orders. Construction of two reactors may seem speculative without energy purchase contracts in place, but as of 2013, Northwest Coal and Gas fired plants are generating about five times the amount of electricity (which Washington consumes about half) than two nuclear plants would produce. These fossil plants are killing us with particulate emission. The Clean Air Task Force’s interactive table “Find Your Risk from Power Plant Pollution,” indicates that Centralia Coal Plant causes about five deaths per year. In addition, they are our regions major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The longer we wait, the more people will die from the emissions of coal-fueled power plants.

Referring to Governor Inslee’s Apollo Project metaphor, would we have beat the Russians to the Moon if we had slowed down to first build a space station?

Now that we have started to Energize the Northwest by moving the older cooler spent fuel to Hanford, we need to consider what to do with the hotter fuel assemblies still stored in reactor cooling tanks. It was hydrogen gas generated by overheated spent fuel that caused the Fukushima explosions. The spent fuel assemblies stored in reactor cooling tanks should be moved to a storage tank at Hanford as soon as they are safe to transport. Hanford is in a much lower earthquake danger zone than most of the country and it has very, very, low chance of being hit by a tsunami. Any decision on what to do with the fuel in the dry casks can wait for decades but fuel rods still contain valuable energy which can be utilized if they are recycled.

There is one generation IV reactor, the GEH PRISM, that can provide us with clean nuclear power as it deactivates spent fuel rods. The PRISM is unique in that it can use spent fuel from our present light water reactors as fuel and burn up the extremely radioactive transuranics it contains. This has resulted in the media describing the PRISM as the reactor that “eats” nuclear waste. We consider the PRISM as such an important part of our nuclear future that we have given it a page of its own, GEH PRISM.

Congress is working on a bill to centralize the storage of spent fuel casks, On April 25, 2013, the Union of Concern Scientists (UCS) released a thoughtful response addressing the fact that the proposed legislation fails to address that some 75% of the spent fuel still resides in on-site water tanks. The UCS notes that many of them are cool enough to also be placed in dry storage and should be as dry storage is a safer place for older fuel rods. We believe that for the other fuel assemblies which are not cool enough for dry storage, it would be easier and cheaper to move all of them to a newly constructed wet storage facility at Hanford. The UCS proposal is based on their belief that it will take many years to develop an interim site, and meanwhile any fuel that cool enough should be transferred to dry casks. However, we believe that all the dry casks could be moved to Hanford within a year and that a wet storage facility could be built and ready to accept hotter fuel assemblies for interim storage within two years.

Draft Senate Nuclear Waste Bill Fails to Address Current Storage Safety Issues at Nuclear Power Plants

Congress Must Require Plant Owners to Transfer Waste from Cooling Pools to Dry Casks to Protect Public

WASHINGTON (April 25, 2013)—A draft nuclear waste management bill released today by four U.S. senators focuses on establishing interim and permanent waste repositories but fails to address current unsafe waste management practices at nuclear power plants across the country, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. The senators—Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—based their draft on President Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future.

“Despite their good intentions, the senators ignored the fact that we have a problem right now with how nuclear plant owners store this highly radioactive waste,” said Dave Lochbaum, the director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Even under the rosiest scenario, it will take years to site and build an interim storage facility. That means large quantities of nuclear waste will remain at nuclear plants for a long, long time—and three quarters of it is currently crammed in cooling pools rather than stored in dry casks, which are safer.”

More than 30 years ago, nuclear plant owners and the Department of Energy (DOE) struck a deal. The owners agreed to pay into what’s called the Nuclear Waste Fund to help finance DOE construction of a permanent geological repository for nuclear waste by 1998. Fifteen years later there is still no repository, and the DOE has had to pay plant owners millions in damages for breach of contract. Meanwhile, nearly 70,000 metric tons of radioactive nuclear waste—the used, or “spent,” nuclear fuel—is building up at plant sites around the country, and nearly 75 percent of it is sitting in overcrowded cooling pools.

What’s so bad about the cooling pools? They lack diverse emergency cooling and water makeup systems and most are not protected by robust containment structures. They also rely on electricity, and are thus vulnerable to events leading to power loss, such as flooding and seismic activity, or to terrorist strikes that cause a loss of water from the pool. Loss of cooling could result in fuel damage and a potentially massive radiological release. Such a scenario was a main concern with the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011 where the cooling systems for the facility’s pools failed due to lack of power. The high density of fuel in the pools is also a concern. More spent fuel in pools increases the heat load and reduces the response time necessary to address problems. Storing less radioactive material in the pools would mean a smaller radiological release in the event of an accident.

Fortunately, there is a more sensible, safer solution: transfer the spent fuel rods to cement and steel casks. Spent fuel rods are cool enough to move out of pools after five years, and more than 80 percent of those sitting in pools today could be put in dry casks. Unlike the pools, dry casks are cooled by a “passive” air system that doesn’t require electricity to operate.

“Plant owners are going to have to move the spent fuel from the pools to dry casks to ship it to a storage site, anyway,” said Lochbaum. “So why not move the fuel into casks now to better protect nearby communities?” During the Fukushima accident, he added, the dry casks storing spent fuel were never a source of concern.

The press release issued today by the four senators alluded to the threat posed by storing spent fuel on-site at nuclear power plants. “Currently there is no central repository for spent nuclear fuel,” the release said, “leaving fuel rods to be stored on-site at dozens of commercial nuclear facilities around the country, including areas that are at risk of earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters.”

“They got that right,” said Rob Cowin, a legislative analyst at UCS. “Natural disasters are a threat, human error is a threat, and even terrorism is a threat. That’s why plant owners need to thin out those overstuffed pools now or they will continue to jeopardize the health and safety of 120 million Americans who live within 50 miles of a nuclear plant.”

Expand Regional Organizations

Presently there are several regional organization that deal with problems and concerns common to the energy industry. We expect that the will be able adapt to the needs of our efforts. For example, Energy Northwest is a joint operating agency (JOA) made up of Washington State Public Utility Districts and municipal utilities. It functions as a municipal corporation to provide at-cost electricity to Northwest utilities. Could it expand to allow all types of electric service providers to join? Some could join as equity partners and others could join as energy stakeholders with less voting power. Whatever organization is developed, it must incorporate both public and private energy providers from nearby States and Canada.

Evaluate Future Plant Designs 

Now we have the time to evaluation the next generation of nuclear power plants for construction at Hanford. Our pages on Nuclear Power Reactors and Small Modular Reactors list all the reactors presently under some type of formal evaluation with the U.S. NRC.  However, world-wide, the variety of reactor designs being built, or under development is much more extensive and are best reviewed on the Word Nuclear Association’s website under Power Reactors. There is an interesting sub topic on this page which discusses each country’s ability to manufacture the large steel forgings needed to build a nuclear plant. As you can expect, the United States has let its manufacturing capabilities decay. Maybe the Nuclear Renascence will provide us with the motivation to build a new state of the art large-scale forging facility. (maybe in the Northwest)

Energize Education

In our Energy Conservation section, we suggest empowering students and faculty at colleges, universities, and trade schools to develop packages of energy improvements best suited for different types of homes, businesses, and industry. Once the programs are developed, we can test them for practicability. Now that we have started to Energize, we have time to implement these and other programs.

Also, in our Energy Conservation section we questioned the environmental friendliness of several government projects and suggest that our educational institutions could develop impartial reviews of each project’s impact on global warming emissions.

There is a need for legislation as well. Major construction projects, both private and governmental, require an Environmental Impact Statement, but there is no requirement that the design option with the lowest global warming impact be chosen or even considered. This was the case for the construction of the New West Seattle Bridge.

Tucked in the back of the New West Seattle Bridge’s Environmental Impact Statement was an analysis of how bridge configuration affected energy consumption. The study concluded that a lift bridge, located 85 feet over the river, would be the most energy-efficient design. However, no such configuration was ever considered. The design chosen and built was the most expensive in both dollars and energy use.

Energizing Higher Education to do research and development on new ideas for nuclear power and ways to reduce global warming emissions is fairly easy. Just announce that they are free to “Just Do It.”  In the heyday of nuclear power, researchers were studying all sorts of ideas. During the time Burke operated his computer business, he worked with professor Ken Turnbull, a UW Forestry Professor who made Burke aware of the existence of research like this; Use of Reactor Cooling Water From Nuclear Power Plants for Irrigation of Agricultural Crops by Boersma, L.; Barlow; Ross, Edward W; Rykbost, Kenneth A.; Published by Oregon State University, Corvallis in April 1972. (a 107 page pdf)

This is just one example of how thoughtful nuclear research was in the 70’s but it also illustrates how nuclear opponents were able to create such fear that scholarly research all but stopped for 40 years. Researchers are always willing to research, but they must see that their work will be well received and utilized. A green house gas reducing nuclear industry will spark an untold number of research projects.

Energy Idea Center

We have listed some new Energizing Ideas in Energy Conservation and others in Converting Uses To Electric. These were just suggestions (good ones in our mind) to get our readers thinking. However, the region needs to develop an Energy Idea Center for new “Energizing” ideas. We don’t need to build some new bureaucracy headed by some retired government official. It could be as simple as a new idea blog added to this website. Experts in various energy fields can monitor the blog and select promising ideas and route them to the proper organization for further study and possible implementation.

California Intertie

To achieve our goal of Carbon Neutrality we must offset our remaining uses of fossil fuels by selling an equal amount of Carbon Free Nuclear Energy to other regions, mainly California. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) controls the Northwest section of the present intertie to California, but it is at its limit. Transmitting the electrical output of several nuclear power plants, plus wind generated power, and hydro generated peaking power to the Southwest will requiring about twice the intertie’s present capacity and maybe even more.

Construction of a new transmission line to California gives us the opportunity to evaluate building it with superconductors. High-temperature super conductors are just becoming practical for major power transmission systems. (High temperature for superconductors means they only have to be cooled to around minus 70°K which can be achieved, relatively easy, with liquid Nitrogen. Normal superconductors require below 20° K and the use of difficult to deal with liquid Helium.) also, they differ from present above ground transmission lines in that they run in thermally and electrically insulated pipes buried in the ground. The BPA will need a right-of-way for the power conduits and the railroads will need an expensive distribution system to power their locomotives. We suggest they make a trade, the railroads give the BPA permission to bury their transmission conduits alongside the tracks and the BPA provides power taps from their intertie system to power the locomotives.  

In searching the internet for links to the latest information on high voltage, high power superconducting transmission systems we found several companies who claim to be ready to manufacture them but no one seems ready to buy them. The BPA has experience with superconductors. In 1982, they built at its Tacoma Substation, a superconducting magnetic energy storage system to test if it could reduce the frequency oscillations in the California AC intertie. It worked but the project was discontinued when better ways were developed to solve the problem. We will leave it to the transmission experts at the BPA to determine if this technology is really ready for the use in building a new 1000 mile long intertie.

Public vs. Private Power

As we proceed, we need to do some serious thinking on the issue of Public versus Private utility ownership. In researching for this site, we have observed that private electric utilities generally charge higher rates for their power than public utilities in similar situations and their profit motive often clashes with what is best for the environment. To be fair, private utilities are often put at a disadvantage by the public ones. In this region, private utilities, like Puget Sound Energy, are second in line behind public utilities when it comes to obtaining cheap hydroelectric power from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). This forces them to generate their electricity from fuels like coal and natural gas. The government and public utilities seem to overlook that private utility customers are members of the public and deserve a share of publicly generated power.

The hallmark of private enterprise, innovation, rarely lowers the cost of energy from private utilities. Innovation occurs in things like energy-efficient lights, or more efficient generators, items that any utility can purchase. The main difference is that private utilities divert about 10% of the ratepayers’ dollar to investors. Instantly doing away with private utilities seems unlikely, so to help achieve our goal of Carbon Neutrality we must include private utilities in our efforts to produce emission free electricity.

You have reached the end of our main presentation but there is a lot of information we bypassed guiding you here. If you bypassed our pages on Global Warming and Is Nuclear Power Dangerous? on your way, go back and read them. They contain a wealth of information to prepare you to promote our goal. There is much to learn here. Feel free to peruse our other pages on Clean Energy, Energy Conservation, Converting Uses To Electric, Education, Politics of Energy, and even some Potpourri. If you want to help us reach our goal of Energizing the Northwest, or just have a comment, go to our Contact Us page.

Thanks for reading to this point, Herb