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  • 04-Feb-12 Seeking Sane Ways to Store Nuclear Waste
  • 08-Jan-11 Clean Energy and Sustainable Energy
  • 07-Aug-10 The RES is a hoax, a fraud, and a rip-off
  • 19-Jun-10 EPA and American Power Act
  • (in TWTW Feb 4, 2012)
    S. Fred Singer, Chairman and President , Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

    Seeking Sane Ways to Store Nuclear Waste


    Originally appeared in Wall St. Journal, Mar 29, 1985

    The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 mandating the permanent underground disposal of spent fuel from civilian reactors, is known irreverently as the Nuclear-WPA - and for good reasons. NWPA may be the largest public-works program ever foisted onto the American public by Congress. Unlike cross-country canals, flood control and other water-management projects, there is not even a useful output here. Just $100 billion (or so, depending on inflation) spent over 25 years, with a bunch of people digging deep holes in the ground and another bunch filling them in.

    If you think this is an unkind caricature of NWPA, consider these other features:

    The disposal program is financed by a straight excise tax on nuclear power, now running more than $300 million a year and growing rapidly! Like all regressive taxes, it hits the poor the hardest.

    The tax is being collected from rate-payers in advance, years before any construction is to take place. (By contrast, many state public utility commissions do not permit an electric utility to charge even their ongoing construction costs to rate-payers.) The Department of Energy is already pondering the need for an increase in the fee, currently 0.1 cent per kilowatt hour.

    The program has no built-in incentives for efficiency, and, in fact calls for multiple efforts: Nine sites to be investigated, five to be nominated and three to be characterized (an extensive and expensive undertaking), before one geologic repository site is recommended to the president. Then the whole partridge-in-a-pear tree process has to be repeated, since NWPA calls for the construction of two repositories; doubling the total cost is supposed to provide for a sharing of the political burden.

    No Concern for the Rate-payer

    But the program is unlikely to have the first repository in place by the target date of 1998. With the three site decision due by mid '85, objections are being voiced - even for Hanford, Wash., where high-level nuclear wastes have been stored in liquid form for decades. The process set up by NWPA is convoluted, requires various concurrences and environmental assessments, plus two separate licensing proceedings before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And it specifically allows for vetoes by affected states and Indian tribes - which Congress can, in principle, override. But any shortcuts, even if legislated, to eliminate this preprogrammed administrative political gridlock, could undermine public confidence in the whole selection procedure; while delays in meeting the unrealistic NWPA timetable might be misconstrued and magnified in the media by anti-nuclear activists and again lead to a loss of confidence.

    What produced this Geologists' Full Employment Act ", and why is no one looking out for the rate-payer who is stuck with the bill? Why is there no outcry from consumer advocates, the electric utilities, the nuclear industry or the White House?

    All of them want the nuclear waste problem out of the way - no matter what the cost. After battling for 30 years, these people are tired. Nearly everyone agrees privately that the safe disposal of spent fuel or other high level radioactive material is not a technical problem, but a political one. The utilities would prefer a lowercost solution but don't want to delay the process for fear that unallayed public concern may force the closing of reactors. The nuclear industry knows that it can't sell more reactors until the public agrees that the nuclear waste problem is solved. And "public interest groups - which should know better - are paralyzed by their own propaganda about radioactive-waste hazards - a Frankenstein monster they created to oppose nuclearpower development.

    One of the major bugaboos is the long-standing confusion between nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons; another is semantic: One always reads about nuclear-waste dumps. Well, there is no dumping. The disposal sites or storage facilities, whether below or above ground, are carefully engineered and monitored. (One great advantage of radioactivity compared with toxic chemicals - it is easy to monitor). And spent reactor fuel should be considered as a valuable resource, not waste, and guarded like the gold at Fort Knox. This is not a bad analogy: After three years in a reactor, 30 tons of spent fuel contain 28.47 tons of innocuous and potentially valuable uranium 238, as well as 0.35 ton of costly fissionable uranium 235 and 0.23 ton of fissionable plutonium that can be reused for new fuel elements after reprocessing. Only about 0.80 ton is waste" radioactive fission products (containing, however, appreciable amounts of valuable metals); even the radioactivity may turn out to be useful for irradiation of food, sterilization of sewage, and specialized chemical or medical applications.

    In any case, the handing of fission products does not present a difficult technical problem. In countries such as France, where spent fuel is reprocessed as a matter of state policy rather than economics, the fission products are immobilized - put into a glass ceramic form - before a final disposal is decided on. Germany is planning a reprocessing plant -- if only to reduce the amount of material to be disposed of by more than a factor of 30. Reprocessing of spent fuel may not be economic now, simply because uranium is so cheap. But there can be no doubt that low-cost uranium will become scarce some day, making reprocessing economic; recycling' is after all an attractive form of conservation, which also gets rid of the long-lived plutonium. And whenever breeder reactors become economic, the large amounts of uranium 238 already mined and refined but not usable in present reactors, will become valuable. Resource conservation argues that spent fuel should not be disposed of in places where it cannot be effectively retrieved some decades from now.

    The decision not to reprocess was made during the Carter administration, influenced mainly by the fear of nuclear proliferation, namely the possible diversion of plutonium into clandestine nuclear programs. This same fear also led to the policy to stop nuclear-fuel exports. The truth is no one would choose to make efficient weapons from the spent fuel of present civilian power reactors, because they furnish an undesirable mixture of plutonium isotopes. Instead, special production reactors are used to furnish weapons-grade plutonium.

    The underground geologic repository program that we are now embarked on must meet exceedingly tight Environmental Protection Agency standards. They translate to an upper limit of 0.1 (statistical) additional cancer deaths a year, compared with 460,000 a year from other causes of cancer - essentially a zero risk' criterion. Natural radioactivity is tens of thousands times more important. Even the burning of coal causes far more radiation exposure than an equivalent nuclear power station.

    But adequate health protection does not require deep burial. Spent fuel is in the form of porcelain-like pellets, enclosed in a gas-tight zirconium-alloy tube, and then placed into specially designed casks that act as a further barrier to the escape of radioactivity. Such fuel in casks can be stored in dry form, i.e., not in pools of water but cooled by air. They can be protected, enclosed, buried in shallow depths, and - most important - monitored and retrieved if necessary or desirable. The radioactive exposure they would cause is negligible compared with natural radioactivity from cosmic rays, the soil, and even the potassium within the human body - not to mention the extra exposure we get from medical X-rays or from flying at high altitudes where cosmic rays are stronger.

    What is to be done? Even if one agrees with all of the arguments presented, it may still be best to let the current NWPA process continue, at least until an ideal geologic disposal site has been selected, accepted by the state in which it is to be located, and passed the scrutiny of the NRC and EPA. No effort should be made to circumvent in any way the selection process just to meet a legislated deadline. Public confidence is of the greatest importance, because the public seems to want at least the option of a safe underground disposal site.

    Follow Britain's Example?

    But once the construction license is issued and the disposal option ensured, some soul-searching is in order before construction is started. What is really the best option for spent fuel: geologic disposal, above-ground storage in a monitored retrievable facility, or continued storage in pools and then in dry casks at the reactor sites? The last option simply continues what we are doing now, has by far the lowest cost, postpones the problem and cost of transporting spent fuel across many state lines, and leaves all other options open. Many are reaching the conclusion that there is no need to rush into a decision, particularly an expensive and irreversible one.

    The British have decided to store spent fuel in dry casks at the reactor sites for 50 years, monitor carefully -- and then decide whether to reprocess more of their spent fuel or dispose of it in some other way. We might do well to follow their example. China has offered to accept and store other countries' spent fuel - at a price. It may have discovered a benign money maker and at the same time an even now foreseeable resource. If we were to follow China's example and accept nuclear waste from small countries, we could, in addition, alleviate some of the widespread concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

    **************** Mr. Singer, currently eminent scholar at George Mason University, is a geophysicist. His latest book is "Free Market Energy' (Universe, 1984.)

    View The Week That Was in which this editorial appeared.

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    SEPP Science Editorial #2011-2
    (in TWTW Jan 8, 2011)

    S. Fred Singer, Chairman and President , Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

    Clean Energy and Sustainable Energy

    Jan 8, 2011

    The concern about global warming, --oops, "climate change," oops, "climate disruption" -- has brought with it the use of phrases that need to be better defined.

    The term "clean energy" is one that bothers me most. No energy source is truly clean. Even hydroelectric energy requires the construction of dams, which affect sedimentation and cause other hydrological and ecological problems. Nuclear energy may be considered as clean until you become concerned about the mining of uranium and the disposal of spent fuel.

    But these days, the term "clean energy" is most often applied to coal-burning electricity generation. Conventionally, this had meant the removal of pollutants at the smoke stack after burning the coal in a boiler. These pollutants include the "criterion pollutants" defined in the Clean Air Act (CAA), principally sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates. By law, all coal-burning plants must satisfy the emission criteria set up by the CAA.

    But because of the concern about global warming, however misplaced, "clean energy" is now assumed to exclude sources the emit CO2. But CO2 is clean by any existing standard: it is non-toxic, non-irritating, a colorless, transparent gas that exists naturally in the atmosphere -- and indeed in the human body. The term "clean energy" should have nothing to do with CO2. One should fight, therefore, against the misuse of this term until the legal issues are fully settled - which may not be for many years to come.

    "Sustainable" is another term that has become popular -- and in a sense, meaningless. We are asked to use energy in a sustainable way, when in fact the fossil fuels used to create energy are depleted and cannot be recovered (like for example, metal resources, especially silver and gold). Fossil fuels are not renewable, at least on a human time scale.

    While solar energy and wind energy are "sustainable" and while ethanol and biofuels are counted as "renewable", none of these are economic-unfortunately-or likely to become a major source of energy in the near future. Biofuels, like ethanol, have many problems attached to them, as even environmentalists now admit. Hydrogen is not an energy source by itself; it has to be manufactured.

    Nuclear energy occupies a curious position. It is quasi-sustainable, in the sense that we know how to derive electric power from nuclear reactors for many thousands of years. It is also renewable, in the sense that we know how to create fissionable material, i.e., nuclear fuel, from non-fissionable elements. Since nuclear energy is also reliable, economic, and fully available, it is likely to become the sustainable energy source of choice as fossil fuels become depleted.



    View The Week That Was in which this editorial appeared.

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    SEPP SCIENCE EDITORIAL #24-2010
    (in TWTW Aug 7, 2010)

    S. Fred Singer, Chairman and President , Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

    The RES is a hoax, a fraud, and a rip-off


    Originally appeared in American Thinker, Aug 5, 2010
    http://www.americanthinker.com/2010...
    [Slightly edited for clarity]

    The US Senate's proposed Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) would force electric utilities to generate a large and increasing percentage of their power from wind and solar - rising to 15% by 2021. These goals resemble those of the Waxman-Markey bill that barely passed the House in June 2009. It's disturbing that some Republicans on the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted for ACELA (American Clean Energy Leadership Act). If the Senate were to take up an energy bill, it is likely that Sen. Brownback (R-KS) will introduce an amendment for RES.

    Now, it is quite clear that wind and solar are not economic -- and probably never will be competitive, even when fuel prices rise significantly. So the RES mandate would mean that all of us taxpayers would support even more the RE rent-seekers and lobbyists, who are already milking the government for subsidies and tax-breaks for the construction of wind farms and solar energy projects.

    In addition, electricity users (rate payers) would pay more for electric power to cover the higher cost. The so-called feed in tariff would force utilities to buy expensive wind and solar electricity and average the cost into the rest of the power produced. The consumer, meaning all of us, would pay for this boondoggle. It's just a huge transfer of money, yet another regressive tax on consumers, with the electric utilities forced to become tax collectors. The hoax part of the RES is that clean electricity is being advertised as a way to save the earth from the "dreadful fate" of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). To accept this outlandish proposition, one would have to believe that the carbon dioxide generated in the burning of fossil fuels has a noticeable influence on climate. The data argue against it. The constantly advertised scientific consensus is phony; it does not exist. The evidence that the UN climate panel, the IPCC, puts forward in support of AGW is pitifully inadequate-and wrong. It is easy to show that no credible evidence exists; just look at the summary of the NIPCC report Nature, not human activity, rules the climate. It is available for free on the Internet.

    The fraud relates to the idea that energy produced without CO2 emission is clean. This word "clean" is being misused, and that's a huge part of the problem. Of course, removing genuine pollutants like sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides and mercury from smokestacks is a real clean up. It is already mandated by the Clean Air Act and being pursued adequately. But CO2 is not a pollutant - in spite of the claims of the EPA in its "Endangerment Finding" -which has yet to be tested in court. CO2 is neither toxic nor irritating nor visible-nor a climate forcer of any significance, so the idea that we have to stop emitting CO2, or capture and sequester it, is a pure fraud.

    And finally, the whole scheme is a financial rip-off. We all know that wind and solar energy are intermittent. If their use should rise beyond the present few percent, we would require either on-site storage of electricity or large standby capacity, probably fueled by expensive natural gas, to kick in when the wind kicks out. Either scheme would impose huge additional costs.

    The biggest part of the swindle is that the RES is being sold on the basis of creating green jobs. But since when does wasting money create productive jobs? Why not leave it with consumers who can save and invest it to create real jobs. A study conducted in Spain, which has gone overboard on renewable energy, shows that each so-called green job displaces between two and three real jobs. In any case, the manufacture of wind turbines and photovoltaic cells is now in the hands of lower-cost Chinese industry. So the green jobs in the US would consist of sweeping the mirrors clean from dust and dirt and fixing the blades and gearboxes of the turbines when they fail.

    In all of this, the proposed legislation ignores nuclear power, which is not only clean in the sense of not emitting carbon dioxide, but is also competitive in price with most fossil fuels. Nuclear is most likely to become the major source of electric power once low-cost fossil fuels are depleted. Yet ACELA explicitly says that new nuclear power and updates to existing nuclear facilities and generation from municipal solid waste incineration are not included in the base quantity.

    The hypocrisy of the RES advocates is appalling. It's OK for the taxpayer to subsidize low-carbon energy that doesn't work (wind, solar) but not low-carbon energy that does work (nuclear).

    View The Week That Was in which this editorial appeared.

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    SEPP SCIENCE EDITORIAL #19-2010
    (in TWTW Jun 19, 2010)

    S. Fred Singer, Chairman and President , Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP)

    EPA and American Power Act

    Jun 19, 2010

    EPA's 'analysis' of the American Power Act (Kerry-Lieberman bill S-1733) is so bad, I wonder if a response to Scientific American is worthwhile.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com...

    1. It assumes a climate sensitivity that is not justified by any evidence

    2. It ignores all forcings except CO2

    3. It assumes that China and India will go along in rationing energy use

    4. It uses the 'magic' 2 deg C threshold -- for which there is no scientific evidence

    5. It assumes that Floods, Droughts etc will all increase with temperature

    6. It ignores the benefits of global warming and increased CO2

    7. It uses made-up risk probabilities, disguised as science

    View The Week That Was in which this editorial appeared.

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