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Secretary Chu Forms Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future; Focus on Nuclear Waste

As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to restarting the US nuclear industry, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the formation of a Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future to provide recommendations for developing a safe, long-term solution to managing used nuclear fuel and nuclear waste. The Commission is being co-chaired by former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.

In light of the Administration’s decision not to proceed with the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, President Obama has directed Secretary Chu to establish the Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of policies for managing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle. The Commission will provide advice and make recommendations on issues including alternatives for the storage, processing, and disposal of civilian and defense spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste.

The Commission is made up of 15 members who have a range of expertise and experience in nuclear issues, including scientists, industry representatives, and respected former elected officials. The Commission will produce an interim report within 18 months and a final report within 24 months.

The members of the Blue Ribbon Commission are:

  • Lee Hamilton, Co-Chair. Hamilton represented Indiana’s 9th congressional district from January 1965-January 1999. During his time in Congress, Hamilton served as the ranking member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and chaired the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. He is currently president and director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and director of The Center on Congress at Indiana University.

    He is a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and the President’s Homeland Security Advisory Council. Previously, Hamilton served as Vice Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission).

  • Brent Scowcroft, Co-Chair. Scowcroft is President of The Scowcroft Group, an international business advisory firm. He has served as the National Security Advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. From 1982 to 1989, he was Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates, Inc., an international consulting firm.

    Scowcroft served in the military for 29 years, and concluded at the rank of Lieutenant General following service as the Deputy National Security Advisor. Out of uniform, he continued in a public policy capacity by serving on the President’s Advisory Committee on Arms Control, the Commission on Strategic Forces, and the President’s Special Review Board, also known as the Tower Commission.

  • Mark Ayers, President, Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO
  • Vicky Bailey, Former Commissioner, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; Former IN PUC Commissioner; Former Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs
  • Albert Carnesale, Chancellor Emeritus and Professor, UCLA
  • Pete V. Domenici, Senior Fellow, Bipartisan Policy Center; former U.S. Senator (R-NM)
  • Susan Eisenhower, President, Eisenhower Group, Inc.
  • Chuck Hagel, Former US Senator (R-NE)
  • Jonathan Lash, President, World Resources Institute
  • Allison Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
  • Richard A. Meserve, President, Carnegie Institution for Science, and former Chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Ernie Moniz, Professor of Physics and Cecil & Ida Green Distinguished Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Per Peterson, Professor and Chair, Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California - Berkeley
  • John Rowe, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Exelon Corporation
  • Phil Sharp, President, Resources for the Future

Comments

Account Deleted

Todays nuclear energy compares to finance all expenses with new loans and keep doing it until you bankrupt someday. The problem is that nuclear waste is destructible only by the passing of time and it can take anything from 10000 years to millions of years to decrease the deadly radiation by just 50% from nuclear waste (1). In other words, we create an enormous and accumulating economic burden for future generations to take proper care of the nuclear waste that our nuclear power plants currently are generating.

Think about it. If the world continues with current nuclear power technology it will someday be economically impossible to take of the enormous amounts of accumulated nuclear waste that will be generated over time. Ultimately it could bankrupt mankind.

I am not against nuclear energy. However, it would only be prudent to gradually close down existing nuclear plants and then only restart this industry if we someday manage to invent new nuclear technology that is 100% clean without any deadly radioactive waste to burden and possibly exterminate future generations. A 99% reduction is not good enough in this industry. That will still be extremely dangerous for future generations.

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-level_radioactive_waste_management

kelly

"With 59 nuclear reactors contributing about 75% of its electricity,[36] the highest percentage of any country, France has been reprocessing its spent reactor fuel since the introduction of nuclear power there." Wiki

Yet is seems US nuclear is a guaranteed massive cost overrun and the inability to store waste even in a remote desert mountain.

ejj

Henrik you are right...but when the US is facing 10%+ unemployment, a collapse of its real estate market, collapse of manufacturing --- construction of nuclear energy plants (and all the jobs that would be created) becomes a little more difficult to argue against when you're a politician looking to get re-elected.

The blue ribbon task force is a waste of time and money. As if these guys are going to be able to come up with any new ideas, for a problem that has been studied by the best and brightest for decades and decades (UNLESS political winds blow these guys into the conclusion that underground storage isn't so bad after all). Yucca Mountain is a major government boondoggle and complete betrayal of the trust of the nuclear energy industry, which is still paying for the development of a waste repository (as they have for decades) that has never materialized...and passing on costs to consumers. This commission might come to the conclusion that Yucca isn't so bad after all, and push congress to open it up for the nuclear industry.

SJC

I favor replacing decommissioned plants with more modern designs, but no extra plants. We can provide all we need with the 100 plants we have, convert all the 600 coal fired plants to natural gas combined cycle, geothermal, solar and wind will do the rest when combined with more efficient use.

Aureon Kwolek

Politically, Obama is shooting himself in the foot, by trying to revitalize nuclear power. A large constituency of voters who put him in office – are against it. Furthermore he ran on a strong alternative energy platform, which appealed to most voters. Many of them may now see this as a “bate and switch” and a betrayal.

We are making rapid strides in safe technology - wind, wave, solar, geothermal, biofuels and bio-synthetic fuels, conversion of waste to fuel and power, algae and aquatic micro-crops, bio-hydrogen, heating and cooling technology, automotive breakthroughs, energy efficiency, etc. At the rate we’re going, we don’t even need nuclear power. Developing nuclear power would be a diversion of taxpayer’s money.

This is an attempted “power grab” motivated by greed – by a small group of wealthy insiders and their overpaid scientists sucking-up government grants, on their coattails. An attempt to drive-up the value of uranium and processed nuclear fuel, controlled by them. Both Obama and Chu are mixed-up in it - A bad investment for you, but highly profitable for the positioned few.

Taxpayers and power company customers have already been burned by every single nuclear power project, because they all go way over budget and cost several times more than the original low-ball estimate we bought into. Then, whoever controls uranium and the means to process it has a monopoly on the price of nuclear fuel. It’s obfuscated to look like a government system, when in reality, it’s privatized.

Nuclear power plants would be problematic, subject to terrorism, and obsolete in short order. Driving next to you on the interstate will be more trucks carrying nuclear waste or nuclear fuel. Why increase your chances of exposure? You’ve been told it’s safe – Guess again. In France, ground water is being polluted by nuclear radiation. In Britain, nuclear power will cost $100 billion to clean-up. In Russia, Chernobyl destroyed millions of acres of valuable cropland and infected thousands of children with radiation sickness and Leukemia.

In response - those who oppose a resurgence of nuclear power will simply localize their own power in backyards, rooftops, and communities, and feed the grid with competing power. Localized power and fuel is already a viable option. Another reality check ignored by misguided government officials: There are better and cheaper alternatives.

sulleny

I tend to agree with SJC, convert old nuke plant designs to new ones and combine with alternatives, and coal > NG. And I wonder if thorium fluoride? isn't where a blue ribbon group should focus - along with LENR (which no player wants due to politics.)

Also, Aureon's final paragraph raises a very important concept. Introduction of distributed energy from alternatives and residential cogen systems. We have long supported the need to convert residences to (initially) NG fueled Combined Heat & Power. Thus reducing demand on the grid by up to 30%. In any case a full cross-section portfolio of energy resources seems most prudent at this time.

danm

Never thought i'd be an apologist for nuclear power but if you believe CO2 in the atmosphere is a bad thing you should keep an open mind.
Henrik pointed out the waste problem but at least you can store nuke waste at one location and put barbed wire around it. You cannot put barbed wire around CO2 from a coal or natural gas plant.
THere are some interesting solutions to waste such as storing in glass, which isolates it from water (ground). And hyperion has some interesting small designs that address the rediculous constrution costs.
I'd rather see alternatives but not sure the tech is there.

SJC

If we go to distributed with PV, CHP and solar thermal we can save enough natural gas to run the cars on M85. Make methane from biomass, use geothermal, solar and wind. With the combined cycle natural gas plants we gain efficiency. OLED TV, computer displays, CFL and LED lighting times 50 million homes can use the energy more wisely.

HarveyD

Since the (not in my backyard) people will never accept more nuclear power plants, an extended (24 + months) commission to look at it may be a good political decision. Nothing will be done in the next 10+ years.

Another commission will be required before 40,000+ large new wind turbines can be installed. That commission could last 20+ years and could postphone the project by more than 20 years.

Roof top PV may be one of the only way to get clean power without a long term commission. However, neighbours will find a way to fight it for many reasons. Another commission may be required to find acceptable solutions, if any? Many million large storage batteries will be required.

Regardless of which new power source is recommended, ojectors (free and paid) will be there to postphone or stop the projects.

That looks a lot like the beginning of the end for what was the highest performance democracy in the world. Changing the current devastating trend will not be an easy task.

JMartin

Obama is doing what is politically expedient. Study nuclear to satisfy the right. He should also sell offshore oil leases. Neither one will be economically viable unless the Government funds them -- just don't subsidize them. No investors will invest the huge amounts of their own money in these ventures, and 5 years from now, wind and solar will be cheaper than NG power plants.

Stan Peterson

There are means to solving the high level radioactive waste issue, forever. And not just by burying it, for thousands of years, although that would work.

If we look at what elements constitute the problem, we discover that fission fragment elements constitute most of the radioactive waste, but these decay into safe isotopes in a reasonable period of time, like a few to under a few hundred years; until it all decays below the natural radioactivity of uranium ore.

Less than 1% of the waste lasts for a lot longer than a few hundred years though. That less than 1% is composed of so-called Transuranic, heavier than Uranium elements, created in the nuclear reactions in trace amounts.

We are talking about Plutonium, Neptunium, Americium, and Curium. By far most of it is fissile and non-fissile isotopes of Plutonium, with declining traces of Americium and Curium.

Nuclear Reprocessing separates the uranium and (Transuranics)from the fission fragments in spent fuel rods, and then fabricates new fuel rods to be used once more in a reactor, making more electricity. This is so-called MOX fuel. In the 'Megatons to Megawatts' Nuclear Disarmament treaty, we used this Reprocessing technology to burn up 10,000 surplus nuclear bombs, forever. It is the only real nuclear disarmament ever done. (Nobel Peace Prizes anyone?)

Further separation allows the French to separate and create new fuel rods from the Transuranics mixed appropriately with Uranium. Placed in a LWR these elements are transmuted and split in the fission reactions. Eliminating them forever.

However, Thermal neutrons produced in a LWR nuclear reactor are not energetic enough to crack or split, all Transuranics isotopes. They cannot crack the more stable isotopes. But the French process burns what can be burnt, and consumes over half of that original, less than 1%.

Using Nuclear Reprocessing and then LWR 'Actinide Burning' is sufficient to reduce the waste by 95%, and eliminate more than half of the under 1% of Transuranics to be disposed of, permanently. This would be a great accomplishment, by itself.

The Death Valley, Yucca Mountain Repository was sized to permanently store 70,000 tons of radioactive waste. Using Reprocessing, the waste is reduced to 5-6000 tons instead of 50,000 tons. This assures that an eventual, additional, permanent waste repository will never be needed.

However, If we can find a process to crack or transmute the remains, that 'uncrackable' less than half of 1% of Transuranics in the waste, the repository problem is COMPLETELY soluble. Fortunately there are three possible methods to do so.

The first is to build a 'Fast Flux' fission reactor.
The second is to construct a 'bright beam' subcritical accelerator and a derived beam of fast flux neutrons.
The third is to use the the fast flux neutrons naturally produced by a Fusion plant. Any or all three, could work.

My preference, and the best is to plan to use a Fusion reactor with its more energetic neutrons, and transmute the remaining transuranic waste in the shielding of the reactor. It is intrinsically safe, and would require no enormous or costly undertaking. But that assumes you can build a Fusion reactor. Unfortunately, we can't yet do so, today. But we will, ong before 2050.

We can safely store the small collection of waste containing the remaining Transuranics preferring to allow it to cool until then, when Fusion reactors are available in 25-40 years, anyway.

Then the result of this activity is there is NO more Nuclear Waste in three hundred years, or less. End of Story.

Mankind has plenty of experience keeping stores of materials for periods much longer than that.


PS: The reason I prefer the Fusion reactor route, is that fission power will be a 20th and 21st century technology, only. It is wasteful and expensive to design and develop a next generation fast flux reactor to compete with coming clean Fusion.

The reason that I do not prefer the Actinide Burner accelerator is because it would cost several billions of dollars for a single purpose facility; and has a lesser probability of actual success.

kelly


ejj, JMartin, kelly, and Stan Peterson make sense..

Stan Peterson

SJC,

Your solution is not quite workable,but contains good ideas. All the 100 running reactors today have extended licenses to operate for 60 years. They won't start to decommision until post 2040 at the earliest.

The fleet of coal powered plants is bi-furcated in age. Most of the coal plants are very, very, very, old, and these are also pretty dirty. Most of the canceled nuclear plants were meant to retire these old coal plants in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet they are running today, 30 or 40 years later, getting more decrepid everyday.

Why? Because there simply was no other choice. Once again Green loons shoot themselves in the foot, of Unintended Consequences. We get 40 years of more pollution from these old coal plants,and nothing to replace them with.

Mean while they babble about wind and solar that just doesn't scale, is very expensive, consumes large quantities of natural resources, is intermittent, doesn't work very well, and POLLUTES badly.

You could use the old coal sites, after clearing away the debris from the antiques, but for EIS, brown field regulations. Plus many Utilties can't spare the loss of generation. Our wonderful 'consumer advocate' legal demagogues have convinced the local power commissions to disallow "uneccessary" costly, power plants.

Reserve power margins have shrunk to the bare limits. In some states well below. California is facing massive rolling blackouts soon, but is seemingly totally oblivious to the fact.

I agree, IGCC coal powered plants are the plants to build, given that you will continue to burn some coal. They are even cleaner than Natural Gas power plants. Because they make gas from coal initially, and then clean it, before using. Most NG plants could, but don't, clean their gas before burning it.

A new, final, generation of fission power plants needs to be built in the first quarter of the 21st century that will power the transition to Fusion power until they retire toward the last quarter of the century.

Thanks to the Energy Bills pushed through Congress by Mr. Bush, that a) completely changed the legal rules of the game, b) specified revised regulation and c) recommended the development of 'standard designs'. Consequently, these new plants will be built, on short, predictable, schedules, on time, and under budget. Most will join the Grid before 2020, but starting in about 2016, while doubling the share of nuclear electric generation.

All the tools of purposeful, planned, delay and obstructionism and legal fighting have been confined by law, to effectively be the past four, plus this year. Past that window, it is now illegal to obstruct. Critics will have no legal standing to bring a delaying suit, on these 'standard design' plants.

Old nuclear Plants were not delayed by mobs of chanters. They were obstructed until cancellation, by we valid critics, in courts of law. That window of valid criticism before the law, is rapidly expiring.

Plus there is no need. The new plants are everything we valid critics wanted, all along. The new ones in the pipeline are what the old plants should have been, and never were.

Baby Fishmouth

Is there any way that the nuke option could be part of a market based solution i.e. no credits or subsidies?

Amory says that since the nuke option will require so much money from big daddy Federal government, we could more easily reach carbon reduction targets through conservation, wind and other methods.

SJC

Nuclear plants are suppose to be self insured, but the fund is SO underfunded that the government will have to pick up a $500 billion tab if there is a major meltdown, not to mention the spent rod transport and storage.

SJC

P.S. With biomass plants every 10 miles, they can gasify and make syngas to run SOFCs or MCFCs that run gas turbines that run steam turbines and transmit the power via buried cables to the cities. Another revenue stream for the farmers from ag waste and switchgrass.

SJC

Stan,

You make SO many false statements, it is hard to know where to start. I will leave it to others to figure that out and filter the trash for themselves.

sd

I have no problem with using renewable energy but the only renewable energy that we can use for base electric load is hydro electric and we may have already overbuilt this resource. If you think that we can use wind, solar, or wave energy for this, you do not understand the physics or math involved. These sources use energy that is not well concentrated and require hugh infrastructure. Also all of these sources, are unreliable in a temporal sense.

One of the main problems with wind, which is probably the most resonable of the "renewables", is that the power available goes with the cube of the wind speed which few people seem to understand. Even in what is considered a good site, the available average power is about 1/6 of the rated power. To put this in perspective, it requires about 6000 1.5 MW wind turbines plus a energy storage system to replace a 1500 MW nuclear unit. The 1.5 MW wind turbine is about the largest turbine where the major components can be transported by rail or highway.

I do not believe that we have a nuclear waste problem. What we have is a failure to built a nuclear fuel recycling system. The used fuel should be considered a valuable resource not a waste to be buried.

richard schumacher

Consider the situation 100 years hence. There will be 9 billion people. All of them will want full economic development and a modern standard of living. Even under the best-case conservation scenario this will require a total global power supply of roughly 100 teraWatts, six times larger than today's. Providing that much power would require the equivalent of any one, or a combination of, of the following:
- 500,000 square miles of Solar collectors
- 50 million wind turbines
- biofuel farms equal in size to all of the land now used for growing food, roughly equal to all available undeveloped arable land including parks and forests
- 100,000 nuclear power plants using thorium fuel
- 1,000 Solar power satellites in orbit plus 1,000 collecting antennas on the ground, each about one square mile in area.
Plus, depending on which source is used, up to ten million miles of new power lines to collect and distribute the power.

We could achieve that power production using fossil fuels but in 100 years they will be gone or nearly so, and global warming would have increased disastrously. As for more advanced possibilities, after 50 years and $100 billion or so no one has yet built a practical fusion reactor; others remain technical daydreams. Of course there is always the old standby alternative of freezing in the dark.

Take your pick.

SJC

Combined cycle using renewable methane from biomass IS renewable energy 24/7. CAES and pumped hydro can store wind and solar.

wintermane2000

The good news is if we fail to get enough power it should result in alot of dead idiots and that should free up alot of needed power.

We just have to make sure we arnt the dead idiots...

sulleny

What winterman said. And with any luck the cooling trend will continue and severe winters will wipe out 2-3 billion.

Whatever, do not mention birth control. It's far more comfortable with our heads in the sand.

Roger Pham

There will be no problem getting enough energy from solar, wind and waste biomass for now and for the forseable future, no matter what the world population will be. JUst do a simple math to confirm this. Furthermore, we have not conserve enough in developed countries. Energy usage currently is quite wasteful in the developed world.

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