BY MARTIN KRAL
Yes, what about it? There are two ways to look at the word “nuclear”. One is with fear and the other is with knowledge. Those who fear nuclear do so from a complete misunderstanding of the effects of radiation cause by a lack of education. To understand radiation, you first have to accept the fact that there is no life on earth without some radiation. Madame Curie knew this over 100 years ago when she and her husband Pierre studied the effects of radioactivity. They determined that there was a threshold of radiation that was actually safe and good for humanity.
When someone asks about the nuclear waste from a nuclear power plant, they are referring to the unused (also referred to as spent) uranium and new fission products (isotopes) created from the nuclear fission reaction inside a reactor core. More specifically they are referring to the existing fleet of light water reactors (LWR). Most commercial reactors are based on LWR designs and they all produce spent nuclear fuel (SNF) that needs to be shielded and stored in a safe place. There is a 300 year radioactive decay process after SNF is removed from the core of the reactor.
The alleged nuclear “waste” is actually nuclear fuel for future fleets of advanced reactors. The nuclear power industry has been safely storing this unused fuel on power plant sites in deep water pools for decades. When the hot fuel cools off through decay, it is placed in safe canister-cask configurations for longer interim storage. Some of the earlier power plants are now being decommissioned prematurely for political reasons. Nuclear reactors are designed and built to last 100 years with an arbitrary 40 year license and 20 year extensions. Many nuclear power plants are within the 40-60 year life cycle duration.
With nuclear power plant decommissioning comes the need to relocate the on-site interim stored nuclear fuel to a consolidated location for longer interim storage. It is needed fuel for advanced molten chloride salt fast reactor technology (MCSFR). These reactors are designed to completely consume the stored nuclear fuel. As a result of this innovative ‘fast’ reactor technology, there is no need for long term deep repository disposition. The legacy of Yucca Mountain is forever in the past and should not be resurrected and funded by the Federal Government.
Holtec’s HI-STORE CISF and Orano’s WCS CISF are two proposed consolidated longer term interim storage locations, HI-STORE CISF in southeast New Mexico and WCS CISF in West Texas. Both sites will most likely meet all the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requirements for safe storage of SNF. Safe dry stored nuclear fuel has been around for decades and never had a serious mishap to cause health or environmental concerns. However, there is still the fear by many of the perceived consequences of a storage or transport accident. I have to say perceived because the World Health Organization already knows what the results of a nuclear accident would be. (Little to no acute radiation consequences based on the three major accidents in the last 40 years.)
I have been tracking the nuclear industry for the last 10 years, including the technical and political history of reactors, nuclear fuel storage management and innovative solutions for the next generation of reactor technology. I am convinced that the biggest hurtle ahead is the political will and the public acceptance that nuclear energy is the future and we should all learn and understand what that means for humanity.
It is my sincere recommendation that New Mexico should participate and be a leader in the future of nuclear energy. That would start with the storage of future nuclear fuel by supporting the $3 billion capital investment of the Holtec HI-STORE CISF project in southeast New Mexico and the $24 million steady annual revenue stream for the New Mexico state budget.
The alternative is that Texas takes it all.