Nuclear Reactors 202 - Seepage Under Boone Dam in Tennessee Could Pose a Threat to Seven Nuclear Reactors Downstream

         I have blogged about the dangers of flooding at nuclear power plants before. Nuclear power plants require huge quantities of water to cool the reactors. Therefore, nuclear power plants must be located near rivers, lakes or oceans. With the increased dangers of major storms caused by global climate change, this means that nuclear power plants will become more vulnerable to flooding. It was the flooding at Fukushima that cause the melt-down of three nuclear reactors. Of the one hundred operating nuclear power reactors in the U.S., there are at least twenty five power plants that are in danger of serious flooding.

       Boone Dam is on the South Fork Holston River in Tennessee. The hydroelectric and flood control dam is owned and operate by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The dam is a concrete gravity-type dam. It is one hundred sixty feet high and one thousand five hundred and thirty two feet long. It has a maximum discharge rate of one hundred thirty seven thousand cubic feet per second. The V-shaped reservoir behind the dam is called Boone Lake and it covers about forty five hundred acres.

       In October of 2014, a sink hole was found at the bottom of the dam and six days later, water was found seeping under the dam near the site of the sink hole. Upon finding this seepage, the operators of the dam began lowering the water level earlier in the year than usual. The operators of the dam are working to discover exactly why and how the water is seeping under the dam.

       What makes the leak under Boone Dam especially troubling is that it is upstream from three TVA nuclear power plants. If that dam were to break, the ensuing flood could threaten seven nuclear reactors. Aside from any existing structural weaknesses, a major upstream flood caused by storms could possibly weaken the dam.

        A magnitude five point nine earthquake occurred in Virginia, right across the border from the dam, in 2011. Recent research into earthquake impact has revealed that the shaking of the earth caused by a quake can travel much further than was originally thought. This means that if there is another quake in Virginia, it could possibly weaken or rupture the Boone Dam.

       The situation with the Boone Dam highlights a major issue with nuclear power plants compared to other low-carbon energy sources such as wind and solar. If a wind farm or a solar power station were flooded, it would cut off the power generated by these sources but that would be the extent of the damage. On the other hand, if a nuclear power plant is flooded, the result may be a catastrophe such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Japan is still dealing with the aftermath of the accident four years later. People had to be permanently evacuated from nearby towns. Huge amounts of radiation were released into the atmosphere and are still being released into the Pacific Ocean.

      With extreme weather and flooding increasing worldwide and one fifth of the U.S. nuclear power reactors in danger of flooding, the NRC must increase pressure on nuclear power plant owners to harden their power plants against possible floods.

Boone Dam:

Geiger Readings for January 27, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 115 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 137  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 100 nanosieverts per hour
Carrot from Central Market = 73  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 63  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 56 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 201 - Vietnam Delays Nulcear Reactor Construction

         I have blogged in the past about the push by the nations that produce nuclear components, reactors and fuel to sell nuclear reactors to the developing world. While the nuclear industry brags about international sales prospects, the truth is not as attractive. Aside from all the usual dangers associated with nuclear power that I have detailed in many posts, there are some special issues with building nuclear reactors in developing nations. Fortunately some of the developing nations are being cautious about adopting nuclear power.

         Vietnam must find new sources of electricity. It used to export coal but now it has to import coal. It is running out of oil and natural gas and it has exploited most opportunities for hydro power. Vietnam had plans to build thirteen nuclear reactors at eight power plants by 2030. These reactors would supply fifteen gigawatts to the Vietnamese national grid.

          Russia aggressively courted Vietnam and was rewarded with a 2010 contract to build the first plant called Ninh Thuan 1. Russia has promised to lend Vietnam eight billion dollars for the project. The Russian deal will have Russia's Rosatom build the reactor, staff the reactor, provide fuel and remove spent fuel. A nice comprehensive arrangement. Construction was to have begun in 2014 and was going to take about six years.

          In 2011, Vietnam contracted with Japan Atomic Power to have a feasibility study conducted on the construction of a second nuclear power plant called Ninh Thuan 2, near Ninh Thuan 1. This plant will be constructed using U.S. or Japanese technology. Westinghouse, a U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba corporation, is very interested in building Ninh Thuan 2. They just signed an agreement with Vietnam to train staff to manage and operate nuclear power plants.  

          Vietnam pushed back the start of construction for Ninh Thuan 1 from 2014 to 2017. Just recently a government official said that the start of construction was now scheduled for 2019. Apparently creating the "legal framework" necessary for the construction project has proven to be more difficult that was expected. In addition, demand for electricity in Vietnam has not risen as much as was forecast. The demand this year was about a hundred and fifty billion kilowatt hours as opposed to the predicted demand of around two hundred billion kilowatt hours. This is partly due to reduced economic growth.

         Safety concerns have also slowed work on the nuclear projects. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan caused the Vietnamese government to reassess its safety protocols. Fortunately for the Vietnamese people, the government is making nuclear safety a priority.

         Vietnam was ranked one hundred nineteenth in an international corruption index in 2014 out of one hundred and seventy five nations. Corruption in the construction, operation and/or regulation of nuclear power reactors can have devastating consequences. Corruption was part of the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

        There is also the matter of nuclear blackmail. If Russia goes ahead with its plan, it could easily turn off the Ninh Thuan 1 power plant any time it wanted to pressure Vietnam to support its foreign policy. Considering that it will be five years before construction of the first power reactor even begins in Vietnam, they would be better served to explore alternative sustainable sources of power such as solar, wind and tidal systems.

Artist's concept of Ninh Thuan 1 Nuclear Power Plant:

Geiger Readings for January 26, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 60 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 128  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 130 nanosieverts per hour
Banana from Central Market = 135  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 97  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 79 nanosieverts per hour

Geiger Readings for January 26, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 60 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 128  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 130 nanosieverts per hour
Bartlett pear from Central Market = 135  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 97  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 79 nanosieverts per hour

Geiger Readings for January 25, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 122 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 159  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 164 nanosieverts per hour
Bartlett pear from Central Market = 187  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 82  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 63 nanosieverts per hour

Geiger Readings for January 24, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 76 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 89  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 99 nanosieverts per hour
Red seedless grapes from Central Market = 79  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 129  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 115 nanosieverts per hour
Pacific Cod - Caught in USA = 68 nanosieverts per hour

Radioactive Waste 114 - Ceiling Collapses at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico

         Last February there was an "incident" at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico. Radioactive particles escaped from the geological repository for wastes associated with nuclear weapons production. A drum of waste exploded and released the radioactive particles which were detected up to twenty miles away. Filters and fans did not work correctly which allowed the radioactive material to escape.

          The WIPP has existed for about fifteen years and it appears that corners were cut and procedures ignored. Originally the separate "rooms" in the old salt mine were to be sealed with two foot thick doors when they were full of drums of waste. Then they changed to steel doors. Eventually they dispensed with doors altogether. There would have been no radioactive release last February if the "room" where the drum exploded was sealed properly.

        Apparently a mix of chemicals generated explosive gas. The exact contents of the drum are not know because records were not kept correctly. The drum is one of a batch of a hundred of drum from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that were treated with the wrong chemicals before being shipped to WIPP. Other drums may explode. Investigation is ongoing on the incident and the danger posed by other drums in the same group from LANL. The repository is shut down while the level of radiation goes down and examinations are conducted.

        The huge "rooms" at WIPP left from mining the salt are being filled with drums of waste. Eventually it is expected that the ceilings of the "rooms" will collapse onto the drums of waste in the sealed "rooms" entombing them. Unfortunately, the pressure from the surrounding geological formations is causing the walls of the mine to shift. This month, it was reported that one wall of one of the rooms was collapsing inward so they had to use bolts to reattach the wall. Other areas have required bolts to reinforce and apparently the number of bolts per linear foot is exceeding safety standards.

        A few weeks ago, it was revealed that portions of the ceiling in one of the "rooms" had collapsed. An inspection team found that there were seven areas in the "rooms" that were in danger because bolts were failing. To date, over three hundred damaged bolts have had to be removed. The bolting of ceilings is critical to safety and is proceeding as part of the general recovery from the accident last year.

       The situation at WIPP just keeps getting worse. WIPP is the only national geological repository for nuclear weapons waste. Negligence has resulted in the release of radioactive materials. If other drums explode, there may be more releases. It may be that they have not yet fully detailed all the problems in at WIPP. It will take years and hundreds of millions of dollars to repair the damages in and disintegration of the repository. This could have been prevented if the NRC had done its job and the WIPP operators had been held to the written regulations for the repository.

WIPP ceiling bolts: 

Geiger Readings for January 23, 2014

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 74 nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 71  nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 73 nanosieverts per hour
Kale from Central Market = 104  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 100  nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 86 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 200 - The Cost of Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors

         The International Energy Agency (IEA) said last year that about half of the four hundred and thirty four existing power reactors around the world will be shut down by the year 2040. The cost of decommissioning these two hundred reactors was estimated to be about one hundred billion dollars. The head of the IEA said that this cost was a rough estimate and that the cost could well be twice as much. He admitted that the cost of decommissioning of reactors could vary by a factor of four. Other experts say that these estimate are far too low because they do not include permanent disposal of the spent nuclear fuel assemblies from the reactors.

         Decommissioning costs decades in the future will vary greatly by specific reactor and specific country. The exact cost of decommissioning will depend on the reactor type, size and location. The availability of proper disposal facilities and the condition of the reactor at the time of decommissioning will be important. And after all the costs of decommissioning have been assessed, there will still be additional costs depending on the future intended use of the site of the reactor. Technology for decommissioning may become cheaper in the  future. However, disposal of spent nuclear fuel will most likely become more expensive as time goes by.

        In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has estimated that the cost of decommissioning the one hundred nuclear power reactors in the U.S. at around three hundred million to four hundred million dollars each but some reactors may cost a great deal more. The NRC mandates that reactor owners maintain a fund that will be sufficient to decommission all the reactors that they own. The NRC is currently saying that twenty operating U.S. reactors do not have a fund big enough to decommission them. I think that this U.S. estimate is far too low.

        France has fifty eight operating reactors and the French government says that their cost of decommissioning will be somewhere around thirty five billion dollars. This amounts to about six hundred billion dollars per reactor. It seems that the French estimate is much too low.

         Germany is shutting down and decommissioning all of their seventeen nuclear reactors because of the Fukushima disaster. Germany estimates the cost of decommissioning them at over two billion dollars each. This appears to be far more realistic that other estimates in this post.

        Japan is engaged in restarting its forty eight nuclear power reactors after all were shut down following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. They estimate that the cost of decommissioning will be thirty billion dollars which would amount to about six hundred million dollars per reactor, around the same estimate as France. Both these estimates are much too low.

        Russia has thirty three nuclear power reactors and estimates that it will cost between five hundred million and a billion dollars per reactor. This estimate is probably too low.

        My great fear is that there will not be enough money available when the time come to decommission some of the world's nuclear power reactors. Initially, the companies that own power reactors may not have the money and will throw the burden back on the taxpayers in particular countries. Given the current unstable condition of the global economic system, the governments may not have the money. The reactors may simply be shut off and boarded up eventually leaking radioactive material out into the environment and threatening public health.