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Tunnel Collapse at Hanford Nuclear Dump—Harbinger of the Collapse of the Entire Industry?


Tunnel Collapse at Hanford Nuclear Dump—Harbinger of the Collapse of the Entire Industry?

Harvey Wasserman

The collapse of a tunnel at the massive nuclear waste dump at Hanford,

Washington, 200 miles east of Seattle, has sent shock waves through a nuclear power industry already in the process of a global collapse.


Yes, there are many detailed problems and issues with nuclear energy/weapons, but the main issue is very very simple: once radioactive materials are concentrated sufficiently (or created) to produce some “useful” effect, they can never be undone. Nuclear materials are the longest lasting poisonous materials in existence; and they have to be contained and monitored continuously at sophisticated and expensive levels. We now have thousands of tons of nuclear materials/waste that can never, in the time frames of typical human political stability, be prevented from escaping into the environment. This an almost unreported threat to the living space.


“Nuclear energy faces a seriously clouded future.”

…and coal faces a very bright future, it seems. Coal operators in Illinois are celebrating a big boost in Japan coal imports, and a number if idled coal power plants in the US will be restarting soon as well.


“Nuclear energy faces a seriously clouded future” AND a seriously expensive future for taxpayers and utility ratepayers whom K Street lobbyists will make certain continue to pay for nearly all of the costs of storage and disposal.

For years Utah and other states have been seeking gubmit approval to allow businesses to import radioactive waste from abroad to be disposed of in the US. Have they convinced Trump that such a scheme fits right into his promises to improve the balance of trade ?


I have said this for years, the problem with nuclear power is the disposal of the waste, which after 70 some yrs has not been solved. The Yucca mountain site was eventually killed because native americans and others didn’t want nuclear waste in their backyard. Thus the problem, no one wants this stuff in their backyards.


by current estimates yucca mountain would cost $96 billion to finish, which would take about 10 years. double both estimates. then guess how long it will take to blow up.


Look I’m a nuclear supporter of sorts. But I do not support the high pressure water design. It’s an old designed filled with well deserved safety concerns and an unaddressed waste issue. Thermal/nuclear runaway is a real possibility, hence the elaborate and costly safety measures. And reprocessing of fuel rods is a constant and costly process. And it’s byproduct is Plutonium. NOT good. We don’t need the Plutonium, period.
I say use nuclear IF you use a inherently safe design. The liquid salt thorium breeder reactor is much safer. It produces much less waste and the “China Syndrome” is a theoretical impossibility. Plutonium is NOT a byproduct.
Thorium is converted to fissionable Uranium in this reactor. There are no rods to be reprocessed. There is only Thorium to be added occasionally. BTW, thorium is available in our beach sand or from the oceans.
A quick note… Countries who want only energy (not Plutonium for bombs) are researching commercial designs for TLSBR’s now. China is leading the way. Why aren’t we?


The $96 billion cost projection was an inflation-adjusted estimate for a larger fuel load taking the project through sealing in 2133. But the presumed larger fuel load also presumed a larger amount of electricity generated. Amortized over that whole period, the projection was also that the current 0.1 cents per kilowatt hour fuel disposition surcharge on nuclear generated electricity would not need to be adjusted. This projection also assumed there would be no development of fast breeder reactor technology over the next century. The development of such reactors would convert a high proportion of the spent fuel into usable fuel, making it a resource more valuable than gold in terms of revenue per unit mass for the electricity it could generate.


Thorium breeders would produce the same plutonium isotopes produced in today’s reactors, but the proportions would be smaller, and the isotopic mix would be skewed heavily towards Pu-238. If you did continuous chemical processing to extract plutonium, you could skew the proportions even further in favor of Pu-238. Pu-238 is a contaminant for bomb fuel, but so too are the isotopes heavier than Pu-239 which are produced in today’s reactors. Reactor-grade plutonium makes for an extremely poor bomb fuel, so much so that everyone who makes plutonium bombs uses special production reactors, which are not only produce high purity weapons-grade fuel, but are also much cheaper and easier to use for this purpose than power reactors.

And you don’t have to use thorium as the fuel in order to have the melt-down proof advantages of molten salt reactors. My hunch is that molten salt U-235 reactors will come first and thorium breeding will come later, possibly at centralized locations in conjunction with fast breeder reactors, proton accelerators, and/or fusion neutron sources.


[quote=“JamesKeye, post:2, topic:41577”]
“the main issue is very very simple: once radioactive materials are concentrated sufficiently (or created) to produce some “useful” effect, they can never be undone.”[/quote]

When you fission atoms, the fragments become an assortment of lighter isotopes. About 4/5ths of the fission product mass is composed of isotopes which are highly radioactive, but with short half lives and very short decay chains, so these isotopes decay to stable in various timescales up to around 10 years, after which they become perfectly usable elements. So that much can certainly be “undone”.

“Nuclear materials are the longest lasting poisonous materials in existence;”

The longer the half-life, the less radioactive the isotope. There are some radioisotopes which have half-lives so long it was difficult to confirm they were radioactive at all. The ones with the longest half-lives also tend to have easily-shielded low-energy decay modes. The longest lasting poisons are the stable, chemically-poisonous elements which never decay away. The most radio-toxic isotopes are the ones that decay away quickly.

“and they have to be contained and monitored continuously at sophisticated and expensive levels.”

The main problem is that today’s solid fuel reactors have very poor fuel utilization, and the spent fuel is a complex jumble of isotopes. With good fuel utilization, the only inevitable output from fission is fission products, and if the fission products were chemically separated into discrete streams, most of it would go into short-term sequester. The remainder would be so small (on the order of 20 ounces per gigawatt-day) that it could go into deep borehole sequester where it wouldn’t pose any threat to life for the few hundred years it would take to drop to the radioactivity level of the surrounding rock.


Trog… Thanks for the correction. I obviously am not a Nuclear Engineer. We need the facts to be FACTS, not here-say. Thanks again, glad you joined the conversation.


These things are all true, but you didn’t consider this essential consideration " …in the time frames of typical human political stability, be prevented from escaping into the environment." I am not saying that life on earth is endangered. I am saying that the most common and dangerous “short” half-life radioactive elements (several tens to hundreds and thousands of years) exist in a world of political instability (with no political life times longer than a few hundred years), instabilities that would challenge the kinds of infrastructure support required for maintaining ‘safe’ storage. The release of radioactive materials on a scale several times greater and more distributed than historical releases would be devastating to the present ecological arrangements upon which what we think of as human organization depends.


Go Harvey! We love that you dog the nuke boys day and night! The bankster boys are SOLELY responsible for planet-wide radiological, genetic mutations that continue to spread among our species (and all species) for thousands of generations, hence! Thank you Mr. Wasserman. We need more people like you and Helen and Durnford’s work in B.C., and more and more leakers of vital contamination information. No more radionuclide emissions or accidents. Where is the Press on this? They are complicit in their silence.


The most common and most radioactive fission products do have short half-lives, but the short half lives are mostly under 65 days (one at 285 days and one at a year).

The intermediate fission products go from around 2 years half-life (Cs-134) to 55 years (Sn-121m), with one low-yield (fraction of a percent) outlier at 89 years half life (Sm-151). These would take a few hundred years to decay below background levels.

There are seven long-lived fission products which don’t exist in nature in significant amounts, and their half-lives range from 20,000 years to 15.7 million years. Four of them have a low yield, and two of the remainder could actually be used in metallurgy in radioactive applications. The long half-lives mean these all have low levels of radioactivity. They also emit low energy or no gamma radiation, and their dominant decay mode is beta, which is very easy to shield, so these are at the least dangerous of the radioactive fission products. The ones we can’t find a use for we could drop down a borehole and forget about them.

“The release of radioactive materials on a scale several times greater and more distributed than historical releases would be devastating to the present ecological arrangements upon which what we think of as human organization depends.”

What would cause such a release?


I guess if the Right can have their quacks and frauds who disregard or disparage science and evidence, it’s only fair that people on the Left should be allowed to have some of their own too. It kind of undercuts any criticism of the Right on this count, though.


There have been melting starfish on the west coast long before Fukushima. They are also found in the Atlantic. I haven’t yet seen any reports of sea star wasting syndrome in Japan, even though presumably it should have hit there first and hardest. And apparently healthy starfish can contract the syndrome from diseased sea stars, which is not how radiation behaves.

What marine researchers say about the putative connection to Fukushima:

“There was a collapse of the brown Pelican hatch.”

And a collapse of the sardine population which is one of their main staples. And again, that collapse began long before Fukushima, and appears to have been greatly exacerbated in recent years by fishing mismanagement:

Fukushima contaminant levels on the West Coast appear to have plateaued, with peak values at around 10 bq per cubic meter. While this is negligible compared to the natural radioactivity levels of 12,000 to 14,000 bq per cubic meter, it is currently holding at around the high point of contamination for the West Coast. And yet, it looks like the food situation is improving for California brown pelicans:

“Porpoises and whale groundings.”

Whale and porpoise groundings are happening in every ocean, and they have been observed since long before Fukushima. What’s missing here is any evidence for a plausible link to Fukushima.

“Salmon not returning but found at sea with disease.”

Pacific tuna populations have been falling since the early 90’s. Here’s reporting of one of the more serious disease outbreaks, starting years before Fukushima:

Meanwhile, testing indicates Fukushima is likely not a factor:

Another stressor along the Pacific coast is localized zones of domoic acid toxin, but this is known to be from algae, and the localized distribution would make no sense if the cause were a broadly distributed contaminant.

Sea Lions have also been hit hard with a cancer which appears to be linked to a virus:

And another disruption was the “blob” of unusually warm water which formed in the mid Pacific in 2013.

“Tuna the same.”


“Those in the nuclear industry knowing full well what they were doing have now Polluted the world’s largest ocean.”

At trace levels which are not expected to have any effects.

“We will find the scum here hawking the nuclear lines.”

Every cult that is in a pitched battle with science and reality energizes its ranks with such zealotry.

“It has been 6 years plus since Fukushima popped its cork. They have no idea where the cores of three reactors are.”

They don’t know their exact distribution within the containment vessels, but there is no indication any have escaped containment.

“They are producing huge amounts of radioactive particles which are being daily dumped into the oceans.”

It’s probably less than a thousandth of a gram of contaminants leaching out daily now.

“Nuclear destroys. It has as yet not produced more good than harm.”

Hansen’s assessment is that it, overall, nuclear power saved 1.8 million lives. I would rate that as a net good.

“Clear your mind”

In other words, don’t use science-based information.

“and think of these things and it will become real that nuclear things are toys we need to put away forever. Then we will have centuries to deal with the mess this industry has made.”

I expect it will take centuries for fast reactors to burn through the existing stockpile of “spent” fuel.

“Any who would stand in the way of removing this pestilence from the planet should be held for a court to determine their involvement in this industry and connection and guilt in the murder of earth’s life.”

And let me guess, these marsupial courts should be so constructed as to reliably deliver “guilty” verdicts.

“Half life means half is gone.”

More precisely, it means half of the original isotope is no longer that isotope.

“What are you using Cs-134 with half life of 2 years for in your example.”

Because Cs-134 has the shortest half life of the intermediate-term fission products (2.06 years to be more precise)

“Its meaningless and a dodge.”

It means what I said.

“The one of two principal fission products is Cs-137 not Cs-134. So you wanted to swap out 30 year half life for 2?”

Cs-137 is also an intermediate-term fission product. This is a group bounded by Cs-134 at the low end, and Tin 121m (55 years) toward the top. (Or Sm-151 at 89 years if you want to include a low yield isotope.) I did not use Cs-137 as a boundary isotope, because it isn’t one. It falls closer to the middle of this range.

“This is what you assholes do. You distort and lie.”

And you go off half-cocked without understanding what you are criticizing.

“When half life is reached 1/2 of this particle has turned into a daughter product. Were you suggesting that in some way half life meant that the half that was no longer there was actually gone?”

I was talking about decaying to stable.

“Because you know that all atomic particles will decay to something else. Its called a daughter. Some daughters are a bitch.”

Fission products tend to have very short decay chains before reaching a stable isotope–usually only one or two decays.

“Thorium breeder reactors will never happen.”

That appears to be an article of faith. I’ve seen many such confident predictions fail.

[Pu-238 is a contaminant for bomb fuel,]
“Absolute bullshit. Do you think we are stupid. P-238 half life 87.5 would make a rather nice dirty bomb”

Bomb fuel is the fuel that drives the explosion. Pu-238 is useless as bomb fuel. If Pu-238 were used in a dirty bomb, it would not be the fuel. It would be the payload. Something else would be the fuel that drives the explosion.

“Do yourself a favor and go away.”

I’m pretty sure we’ve been through this before. Nobody is forcing you to read my comments, much less to respond to them.


Radioactive elements with short half-lives are continuously created by longer half life elements as they decay; your argument, while accurate in detail, misrepresents. Nuclear systems do not exist in isolation from political and economic structures. When societies are economically stressed or go through political deformations, infrastructure suffers; the more stress and deformation, the more essential infrastructure is neglected. Nuclear containment doesn’t tolerate neglect.


“Radioactive elements with short half-lives are continuously created by longer half life elements as they decay;”

This is mostly a consideration for heavy actinides, which can have decay chains so long and complex that the radioactivity of the daughters can eventually exceed that of the progenitor isotope. That’s what happens with natural U-238. And that’s what will eventually happen to most of the transuranics in today’s spent fuel if we don’t burn them in fast reactors. Fission products have short decay chains, They are usually just one or two decays away from reaching a stable isotope, so the overall radioactivity does subside, even if there is an echo following the decay curve of the progenitor.

“your argument, while accurate in detail, misrepresents.”

What do you feel was misrepresented?

“When societies are economically stressed or go through political deformations, infrastructure suffers; the more stress and deformation, the more essential infrastructure is neglected. Nuclear containment doesn’t tolerate neglect.”

I would say it depends a great deal on the kind of containment. If you are talking about spent fuel in pools, that would require ongoing supervision to make sure the pools were full. If you mean dry cask storage out in the open, that would require occasional inspection to make sure the casks are holding up to weather. If you mean cask storage in hard-rock underground repositories, that wouldn’t require much supervision at all. The plan at Yucca Mountain was to seal it up after it reached capacity. If you mean sequester in salt formations, it could be supervised for the decades it would take for the salt to descend and entomb the spent fuel, but supervision after that wouldn’t even be an option. And in the case of borehole sequester, when it reaches capacity, the hole would be filled and sealed and the only supervision after that would be for keeping other deep drilling away from that spot. But there’s not much reason to do deep drilling in stable granite or hard rock formations other than running a sequestering program.


Or rather, as you anticipated, I won’t uncritically accept a bunch of hokum. I see lots of opinion and vague claims there, but precious little backing it up–which is about par for the standards of that site. Here are some of their other offerings I enjoyed:


The reality is that nuclear power competes with bombs for uranium resources, it creates a form of plutonium which is useless for nuclear bombs, and if you blend reactor grade plutonium with weapons grade plutonium, that can irrevocably ruin it for bombs. But power reactors can consume downblended bomb fuel, and have already consumed quantities of bomb fuel that could have made nearly 20,000 nuclear bombs–a larger number than all the nuclear bombs in all the world’s arsenals combined. Does anyone wish we hadn’t burned up all that bomb fuel?


The needed conditions would involve a neutron flux intense enough to split a large proportion of the fissionable atoms simultaneously. But that would also work for detonating natural uranium. The only thing lacking (at least on this planet) is a source of neutrons anywhere near intense enough to do the job.

“That is what was in reactor number three at Fukushimsa.”

And the MOX fuel there did not detonate. It melted down along with the rest of the fuel.