Radioactive Waste

Jeremy Rifkin: Five (actually 6) reasons why nuclear is not a good business model or the answer to climate change

At the Wermuth Asset Management 5th Annual Investor Event, Jeremy Rifkin responded to the question: What would be your view on nuclear energy with five, actually six, reasons for why nuclear is not an answer to climate change. The number of active plants in the world may go up or down by a couple, the percentage points of nuclear in the energy mix may vary by a few from time to time, but what he says has been true for a long while and it will be true going forward despite any small changes in the numbers. In terms of the money, the cost will only rise.

And one thing he doesn't say- if nuclear is not a part of the solution to climate change than the enormous amount of money thrown at this dead end technology, and the huge waste of precious time that could be spent on viable solutions make nuclear an active agent in accelerating climate change.

In brief:

1. Nuclear would have to be 20% to have the minimum minimum impact on climate change. That means we’d have to replace the existing 400 nuclear plants and build 1600 additional plants. Three nuclear plants would have to be built every 30 days for 40 years to get to 20% and by that time climate change would have pretty much run its course with us...

2. We still don’t know how to recycle the nuclear waste and we’re seventy years in. Now, we have good engineers in the US. We spent 18 years & $8 billion building an underground vault in Yucca Mountain to store the wastes for 10,000 years. We can’t use it. We can’t even store them...

3. We run into uranium deficits, according to the Department of Atomic Energy Commission, you may know this, between 2025 and 2035 for just the existing 400 plants. So, that means the price goes up. 

4. We could do what the French generation of new plants are doing and recycle the uranium to plutonium. But then we have plutonium all over the world in an age of uncertainty and terrorism.

5. We don’t have the water.

6. Nuclear power is centralized power, like fossil fuels. It doesn’t fit a new generation that’s moving with the kind of technologies that are distributed, collaborative, and laterally scaled. It’s an old technology.

Click to read full transcript




May 15, 2013

WHEREAS the U.S. Department of Energy plans to truck 23,000 litres of high- level radioactive liquid waste from Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), Ontario, to the Savannah River Site (SRS), South Carolina, in a series of weekly shipments over a period of a year or more;

WHEREAS these shipments could begin as early as August 2013; WHEREAS high-level radioactive liquid waste has never previously been

transported over public roads and bridges in North America;

WHEREAS the high-level radioactive liquid waste contained in just one of the planned shipments is more than enough to ruin an entire city’s water supply;

WHEREAS there have been no public environmental assessment hearings in Canada or the U.S., nor any other kind of public forum on either side of the border, to address the hazards of such shipments of liquid radioactive wastes over public roads and bridges;

WHEREAS there has been no public process to discuss alternatives to the proposed shipments of liquid radioactive waste over public roads and bridges, such as on-site solidification of the wastes prior to shipment – given that such solidification has been carried out routinely for all the high-level liquid waste that has been produced at Chalk River since 2003;

WHEREAS high-level radioactive waste is the most radioactive material on the planet, created by the irradiation of uranium and/or plutonium in a nuclear reactor;

WHEREAS high-level radioactive waste gives off such intense penetrating radiation that it remains unapproachable for centuries;

WHEREAS high-level radioactive waste remains extraordinarily radiotoxic for millennia;

WHEREAS high-level radioactive liquid waste is created when the solid high- level waste from a nuclear reactor is dissolved in nitric acid, resulting in a highly corrosive solution containing dozens of radiotoxic materials such as cesium-137, iodine-129, strontium-90;

WHEREAS the high-level radioactive liquid waste from Chalk River contains a significant amount of weapons-grade uranium (HEU = highly enriched uranium) – the same material that was used as a nuclear explosive in the first atomic bomb dropped in 1945;


See more at: Backgrounder on Liquid Radioactive Waste:


Leak in massive Hanford nuclear waste tank getting worse

Some background on Hanford waste from Gordon Edwards at, March 7, 2014:

When nuclear proponents speak of "recycling" nuclear waste, they are talking about "reprocessing".  

Reprocessing involves chopping nuclear fuel waste into chunks and dissolving the chunks in boiling nitric acid to create a highly radioactive "soup"from which plutonium and/or other fissile material can be extracted by chemical means.  All of this has to be done in a robotic factory because the radiation is so intense it would kill any humans who tried it by hand. 


The result is high-level radioactive liquid waste called "post-reprocessing" waste.  It has to be constantly cooled and stirred to prevent heat build-up and minimize sludge formation that can jeopardize the integrity of the steel tanks used to store the corrosive liquid nuclear waste. 


At Hanford, Washington, not far from the Columbia River, plutonium for nuclear weapons was produced for several decades. The post-reprocessing liquid nuclear waste was originally stored in single-walled tanks which eventually leaked millions of gallons into the soil.  Twenty-eight new double-walled tanks were built to contain the liquid waste more securely, and now some of those are leaking too.

Susannah Frame l KING 5 News, Northwest Cable News, March 6, 2014 


RICHLAND, Wash. -- Workers have found more waste leaking between the walls of a nuclear storage tank on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

The waste was found in a new place between the walls of one of the 28 double shell tanks at the site. The US Dept. of Energy, which owns Hanford, says the waste is covering an area of 7 feet by 21 inches. The double shell tanks were built to be the most robust tanks at Hanford. They were constructed with the intent to be able to safely store the dangerous wastes until the technology to permanently dispose of the liquids is developed. A leak in a double shell tank is seen as one of the biggest setbacks to the cleanup program at Hanford in the last decade.

Workers tell KING they first saw signs of the new leak location on February 24 and confirmed it with a video inspection on March 3. This is the third identified leak location in the massive 1 million gallon underground storage tank known as AY-102.

This tank has been at the center of a KING 5 investigation launched last year. The investigators exposed the government contractor in charge of the tank, Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS) -- ignored evidence of the leak for nearly a year before doing any serious investigating into it.

It’s been nearly two-and-a-half years since recently retired WRPS worker, Mike Geffre, found the first signs of the leak in October, 2011.  To date, there is no solid plan on how to mitigate the leak or pump the contents of the tank to a safer holding vessel. Geffre says the company is stalling.

Read full article at:

Waste transport dangers: What is going from Chalk River to Savannah River Site?

Gordon Edwards l CCNR  7 March, 2014 The liquid high-level radioactive waste that US DOE wants to ship from Chalk River Labs in Canada to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina is also post-reprocessing liquid nuclear waste, except in that case...

Don’t endanger people ‘Into Eternity’


Frances Lamberts writes about the Finnish Repository for radioactive waste and my interview with Michael Madsen about whether the Onkalo repository is more than a gesture, hiding something that will remain forever deadly deep beneath the earth and "forgetting it." 
As the Waste Confidence Rule is discarded in the US as wishful thinking, and nuclear countries around the world struggle with what to do with the mountains of radioactive waste they are producing, as the Fukushima nuclear disaster is finally bringing home to the average person that "spent fuel" is not "spent" at all- Michael Madsen's beautiful philosophical film about how humankind is failing to come to terms with how to safely contain something that exists in geologic time is even more timely.

Frances Lamberts writes about the Finnish Repository for radioactive waste and Dr Caldicott's interview with Michael Madsen about whether the Onkalo repository is more than a gesture, hiding something that will remain forever deadly deep beneath the earth and "forgetting it." As the Waste Confidence Rule is discarded in the US as wishful thinking, and nuclear countries around the world struggle with what to do with the mountains of radioactive waste they are producing, as the Fukushima nuclear disaster is finally bringing home to the average person that "spent fuel" is not "spent" at all- Michael Madsen's beautiful philosophical film about how humankind is failing to come to terms with how to safely contain something that exists in geologic time is even more timely.


Frances Lamberts l Herald & Tribune   29 October, 2013

"...Dr. Helen Caldicott interviewed the Danish director of a documentary about the Onkalo repository in Finland, which is to “hide” the spent-fuel waste from that country’s nuclear power plants.

...“Into Eternity,” ... details the bunker-like underground structure, begun in 2004, whose completion and sealing is expected to take 120 years.

Under Finnish law for the project, Onkalo is to quarantine the highly dangerous, radioactive materials “in a foolproof manner for 100,000 years.”

That means some 3,000 generations... or as long into the future as the human prehistory of the past...

He wonders what would happen in future ice ages, whose sheets would “depress the crust of the earth” far deeper than the lay of the bunker tunnels.

Or if earthquakes or water seepage create cracks in the bedrock, future wars wreak destruction on the facility, or the man-made materials crumble through corrosion.

The film questions our morality in leaving a legacy of waste to future children which, in the human timescale, is lethally dangerous forever. It asks, too, how we can effectively even warn or inform these of the danger...."

Read more at:

Listen to Dr Caldicott's interview with Michael Madsen here:

Into Eternity:

Stop the Great Lakes Nuclear Waste Dump

Michael Leonardi l EcoWatch 3 July, 2013

July 1 marks Canada Day when many Canadians celebrate the unification of three colonies into their country on the same date in 1867. In Ontario, droves of people head off to their summer cottages and vacation get-a-ways on the shores of the Great Lakes for the holiday weekend. Lake Huron’s sandy beaches and beautiful aquamarine waters attract many visitors from all over the world. But this year, many First Nations were not celebrating the stripping of their sovereignty rights and desecration of their lands...

Rock Solid? Parts 1-5 Lecture by Dr Helen Wallace

Published on May 14, 2012 by 


• THE ROCK SOLID Lecture 10th May, The Box, Kendal Museum 
Helen Wallace is the author of "Rock Solid?" a review of the scientific
evidence regarding the deep disposal of high-level radioactive wastes.

Dr. Wallace discusses the main safety concerns associated with the
deep disposal of nuclear waste and how these safety issues are directly
relevant to the decision Cumbrian councils are about to make.

Wallace, who gave expert evidence at the Nirex Inquiry more than 15 years
ago, also explained the political process that has led to the
Sellafield area being re-considered for deep disposal after it was ruled
out as geologically unsuitable for further investigation and planning
permission was rejected in 1997.

Dr Wallace said: "The geology of the area has not changed but the addition
of heat-generating high-level wastes will make the plans a lot more
dangerous than back in 1997. No other country in the world is trying to
return to a site ruled out as geologically unsuitable in a
previous inquiry. Adding high-level wastes to the gas-generating
long-lived wastes that were originally intended to be buried on the site
at Longlands Farm will make the flow of radioactive water and gas out of
the repository much harder to predict. Nirex struggled to find a
sufficient volume of rock between the major faults and fractures in the
area, but now the planned repository may be ten times bigger or more".

"A decision to participate would overturn Cumbria and Copeland's
previous decisions that deep disposal in West Cumbria would be unsafe
and that Longlands Farm was unsuitable for further investigations.
Members of the public will rightly ask their councillors: what has
changed since the decision Cumbria County Council made in June 1999 to
fill the boreholes in? The geology is still the same, the wastes are
much more dangerous and the much larger volume of unfractured and
unfaulted rock now needed will be impossible to find. At the same time,
scientists have uncovered a lot more potential problems that increase
the risk of radioactive contamination of food and water in the future,
including corrosion of materials and the roles of gas and heat".

"Turkeys don't vote for Christmas but this is what West Cumbria may be
about to do. A trap has been set deliberately in London to make Cumbria,
Copeland and Allerdale councils overturn the Nirex Inquiry findings by
arguing exactly the opposite of what they said at the inquiry more than
fifteen years ago. There will be no turning back: if they want to pull
out in the future, they will have to find new evidence to justify
another U-turn."

The Lecture is part of the series of events alongside the 'Rock Solid?' Expo at Kendal Museum


San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace l Press Release   August 7, 2012

For immediate release



Jane Swanson  (805) 595-2605


Linda Seeley  (805) 234-1769



Decision Follows 24 Groups’ June Petition in Wake of Major Waste Confidence Rule Decision;   Most Reactor Projects Already Stymied by Bad Economics and Cheaper Fuel Alternatives

WASHINGTON, D.C. – August 7, 2012 – The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acted today to put a hold on at least 19 final reactor licensing decisions – nine construction & operating licenses (COLS), eight license renewals, one operating license, and one early site permit – in response to the landmark Waste Confidence Rule decision of June 8th by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The NRC action was sought in a June 18, 2012 petition filed by 24 groups urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions until it has completed a rulemaking action on the environmental impacts of highly radioactive nuclear waste in the form of spent, or ‘used’, reactor fuel storage and disposal.

In hailing the NRC action, the groups also noted that most of the U.S. reactor projects were already essentially sidetracked by the huge problems facing the nuclear industry, including an inability to control runaway costs, and the availability of far less expensive energy alternatives.  

Diane Curran, an attorney representing some of the groups in the Court of Appeals case, said: This Commission decision halts all final licensing decisions -- but not the licensing proceedings themselves -- until NRC completes a thorough study of the environmental impacts of storing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel.  That study should have been done years ago, but NRC just kept kicking the can down the road.  When the Federal Appeals Court ordered NRC to stop and consider the impacts of generating spent nuclear fuel for which it has found no safe means of disposal, the agency could choose to appeal the decision by August 22nd or choose to do the serious work of analyzing the environmental impacts over the next few years.  With today’s Commission decision, we are hopeful that the agency will undertake the serious work.” 

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace spokesperson Jane Swanson noted that, “Mothers for Peace in 1973, as part of its challenge of the original operating license for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, argued that the Atomic Energy Commission, predecessor of the NRC, should not allow the generation of radioactive wastes without knowing how to isolate those wastes from the environment. Now, 39 years later, the NRC has been forced by the federal court to acknowledge this necessity. Future actions by the agency will determine whether public confidence is enhanced or further weakened. ”

Lou Zeller, executive director of Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, another petitioner to the Court, said: said:  “It appears that the Commissioners have, at least initially, grasped the magnitude of the Court’s ruling and we are optimistic that it will set up a fundamentally transparent, fair process under the National Environmental Policy Act to examine the serious environmental impacts of spent nuclear fuel storage and disposal prior to licensing or relicensing nuclear reactors.”

Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford said:   “It is important to recognize that the reactors awaiting construction licenses weren't going to be built anytime soon even without the Court decision or today's NRC action. Falling demand, cheaper alternatives and runaway nuclear costs had doomed their near term prospects well before the recent Court decision. Important though the Court decision is in modifying the NRC's historic push-the-power-plants-but-postpone-the-problems approach to generic safety and environmental issues, it cannot be blamed for ongoing descent into fiasco of the bubble once known as ‘the nuclear renaissance’.”

In June, the following groups filed the petition with the NRC:

  • Beyond Nuclear, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding, Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding, and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding; potential intervenor in Grand Gulf COL and Grand Gulf license renewal proceedings);
  • Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Inc. and chapters (“BREDL”) (intervenor in Bellefonte COL proceeding and North Anna COL proceeding; previously sought intervention in W.S. Lee COL proceeding);
  • Citizens Allied for Safe Energy, Inc. (former intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
  • Citizens Environmental Alliance of Southwestern Ontario, Inc.  (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
  • Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding);
  • Don’t Waste Michigan, Inc. (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding and Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
  • Ecology Party of Florida (intervenor in Levy COL proceeding);
  • Eric Epstein (potential intervenor in Bell Bend COL proceeding);
  • Friends of the Earth, Inc. (potential intervenor in reactor licensing proceedings throughout U.S.);
  • Friends of the Coast, Inc. (intervenor in Seabrook license renewal proceeding);
  • Green Party of Ohio  (intervenor in Davis-Besse license renewal proceeding);
  • Dan Kipnis  (intervenor in Turkey Point proceeding);
  • National Parks Conservation Association, Inc.  (intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding); 
  • Mark Oncavage  (intervenor in Turkey Point COL proceeding);
  • Missouri Coalition for the Environment, Inc.  (Petitioner in Callaway license renewal proceeding; intervenor in suspended Callaway COL proceeding)
  • New England Coalition, Inc. (intervenor in Seabrook license renewal proceeding);
  • North Carolina Waste Reduction and Awareness Network, Inc.  (admitted as an Intervenor in now-closed Shearon Harris COL proceeding);
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Inc.  (intervenor in Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding and Levy COL proceeding);
  • Public Citizen, Inc.  (intervenor in South Texas COL proceeding; admitted as intervenor in now-closed Comanche Peak COL proceeding; potential intervenor in South Texas license renewal proceeding);
  • San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Inc.  (intervenor in Diablo Canyon license renewal proceeding); 
  • Sierra Club, Inc. (Michigan Chapter)  (intervenor in Fermi COL proceeding);
  • Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Inc.  (intervenor in Watts Bar Unit 2 OL proceeding, Turkey Point COL proceeding, Bellefonte COL proceeding; former intervenor in Bellefonte CP proceeding);
  • Southern Maryland CARES, Inc.  (Citizens Alliance for Renewable Energy Solutions) (intervenor in Calvert Cliffs COL proceeding);
  • Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (“SEED”) Coalition, Inc.  (intervenor in South Texas COL proceeding; admitted as intervenor in now-closed Comanche Peak COL proceeding; potential intervenor in South Texas license renewal proceeding).


The 24 groups that sponsored the June 18th petition will strategize in September regarding next steps.


On June 8th, the Court threw out the NRC rule that permitted licensing and re-licensing of nuclear reactors based on the supposition that (a) the NRC will find a way to dispose of spent reactor fuel to be generated by reactors at some time in the future when it becomes “necessary” and (b) in the mean time, spent fuel can be stored safely at reactor sites. 

The Court noted that, after decades of failure to site a repository, including twenty years of working on the now-abandoned Yucca Mountain repository, the NRC “has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository.”  Therefore it is possible that spent fuel will be stored at reactor sites “on a permanent basis.”  Under the circumstances, the NRC must examine the environmental consequences of failing to establish a repository when one is needed.    

The Court also rejected NRC’s decision minimizing the risks of leaks or fires from spent fuel stored in reactor pools during future storage, because the NRC had not demonstrated that these future impacts would be insignificant.  The Court found that past experience with pool leaks was not an adequate predictor of future experience.  It also concluded that the NRC had not shown that catastrophic fires in spent fuel pools were so unlikely that their risks could be ignored. 

MEDIA CONTACT:  Alex Frank, (703) 276-3264 or

The NRC Memorandum and Order can be downloaded at

Remember Yucca?

Since the beginning of the atomic age the nuclear industrial complex, first military then civilian, has said the same thing. They had no idea what to do with all the radioactive waste they had and would generate, but that someday they would know. Last month this uncomforting half truth (it is clear they do not know) was struck down in court and the US is now without what was called "the waste confidence decision."

In a sane world the implication would be obvious. Without a real and implementable plan for what to do with radioactive waste from nuclear energy and weapons production they need to stop making it, and begin decommissioning the reactors and the weaponsIn case things go on as business as usual, prepare yourself to peaceably but forcefully remind them. Do not use your inside voices. Stand on the street if you have to and shout it to the rooftops. We cannot contaminate our planet with forever deadly waste that will poison our water, give people cancer, and rob our children and their children of a world they can live in. Nuclear waste is a ticking time bomb. Fukushima has, once again, shown that spent fuel is not spent at all. It is poorly contained in a nightmare trust fund of denial aimed at the future. An account that, like many others right now, is hemorrhaging badly. The law of averages would indicate we are reaching "last call" for the planet. Are you listening?

As for the editorial's embrace of Centeralized Interim Storage, it is not the safest option. The waste should be put in Hardened Onsite Storage (HOSS) at the reactors where it was made until there is a viable plan for permanent storage. Centeralized Interim Storage is just HOSS somewhere else, which puts every community on every transport route, and each "centeralized" location in danger. If States don't like keeping their radioactive waste around then, again, they should stop making it.

Editorial l NYTimes  July 4, 2012

Lawmakers and policy planners must revive the search for safe ways to store used fuel rods from nuclear power reactors. The long-term solution favored by most experts, which we endorse, is to bury the material in geologically stable formations capable of preventing leakage far into the future.

But no politically acceptable site has yet been found, and leaving the used fuel rods at each reactor — more than 62,000 metric tons had accumulated across the country by the end of 2009 — seems increasingly problematic. At least nine states have banned the construction of new reactors until a permanent storage site is found or progress toward finding one is made. The only potential permanent storage site examined so far — at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — has been blocked for more than two decades by technical problems, legal challenges and political opposition from the state.

President Obama pledged in the 2008 campaign to shut down the project, and his Energy Department withdrew its application for a license before the safety of the project could be evaluated. Mitt Romney said in a primary debate in Nevada that the state’s people should have the final say. Even without a permanent disposal facility, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a “waste confidence decision” in 2010 that asserted that used fuel rods could be stored at power plants for 60 years after they close down. It also asserted that a permanent repository would be ready to handle such wastes “when necessary.”

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Hanford: America's Nuclear Nightmare

Hanford has been called the most contaminated spot in the western hemisphere. A cautionary monument to the cost of war and nuclear ambitions. It is one of the places the world should be looking as long as there continue to be arguments made in favor of nuclear energy use.

Decades after their construction; long after the energy has been "used" (much of it wasted in inefficient processes); long after billions of gallons of irreplaceable water have been used up and contaminated- the reactors and their forever deadly waste remain. The reactors are showing their age- leaking and cracking, but the waste will be with us, in human terms, forever. 

What this means is that we face a deadly problem without a real solution. At Hanford alone there are:

56 million gallons of waste left from a half-century of nuclear weapons production. The radioactive sludge is so dangerous that a few hours of exposure could be fatal. A major leak could contaminate water supplies serving millions across the Northwest. The cleanup is the most complex and costly environmental restoration ever attempted.

And, at Hanford, they are struggling to contain it. But, history is proving that the waste may not be containable, not in time, or for enough time, to be ever be considered safe. Not at Hanford, the other Cold War sites, or at "ordinary" reactor sites located all around the world. They say "to the victor go the spoils," but in this case, the victor will spoil everything. Because, to the growing horror of a slowly awakening post-Fukushima world- it is clear that with nuclear, the waste is winning.

Peter Eisler, USA Today l 25 January, 2012

even decades after scientists came here during World War II to create plutonium for the first atomic bomb, a new generation is struggling with an even more daunting task: cleaning up the radioactive mess.

The U.S. government is building a treatment plant to stabilize and contain 56 million gallons of waste left from a half-century of nuclear weapons production. The radioactive sludge is so dangerous that a few hours of exposure could be fatal. A major leak could contaminate water supplies serving millions across the Northwest. The cleanup is the most complex and costly environmental restoration ever attempted.

A USA TODAY investigation has found that the troubled, 10-year effort to build the treatment plant faces enormous problems just as it reaches what was supposed to be its final stage.

In exclusive interviews, several senior engineers cited design problems that could bring the plant's operations to a halt before much of the waste is treated. Their reports have spurred new technical reviews and raised official concerns about the risk of a hydrogen explosion or uncontrolled nuclear reaction inside the plant. Either could damage critical equipment, shut the facility down or, worst case, allow radiation to escape.

The plant's $12.3 billion price tag, already triple original estimates, is well short of what it will cost to address the problems and finish the project. And the plant's start-up date, originally slated for last year and pushed back to its current target of 2019, is likely to slip further.

"We're continuing with a failed design," said Donald Alexander, a senior U.S. government scientist on the project.

"There's a lot of pressure … from Congress, from the state, from the community to make progress," he added. As a result, "the design processes are cut short, the safety analyses are cut short, and the oversight is cut short. … We have to stop now and figure out how to do this right, before we move any further."

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Nuclear Power is not the Answer