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United States Earth Government Power Transportation

Feds Want Nuclear Waste Train, But Don't Know Where It Would Go 258

mdsolar writes with news of a plan to move radioactive waste from nuclear plants. The U.S. government is looking for trains to haul radioactive waste from nuclear power plants to disposal sites. Too bad those trains have nowhere to go. Putting the cart before the horse, the U.S. Department of Energy recently asked companies for ideas on how the government should get the rail cars needed to haul 150-ton casks filled with used, radioactive nuclear fuel. They won't be moving anytime soon. The latest government plans call for having an interim test storage site in 2021 and a long-term geologic depository in 2048. No one knows where those sites will be, but the Obama administration is already thinking about contracts to develop, test and certify the necessary rail equipment.
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Feds Want Nuclear Waste Train, But Don't Know Where It Would Go

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...there's plenty of money left over to solve these trivial issues. Right?

    • And one of the ways to start on solving these trivial issues is by stopping this myth of the "too cheap to meter" quote meaning nuclear fission [google.com] (footnote):

      An account of the history of the remark is given in a brief report prepared by the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF), a nuclear advocacy organization. There is a good chance that Strauss was thinking of fusion power, not fission power, although he could not be explicit because the practicalities of fusion were secret in 1954, with the development of the hydrogen bomb only recently started. The AIF report quotes Lewis H. Strauss, the son of Lewis L. Strauss and himself a physicist: "I would say my father was referring to fusion energy. I know this because I became my father's eyes and ears as I travelled around the country for him."

      • "I would say my father was referring to fusion energy. I know this because I became my father's eyes and ears as I travelled around the country for him."

        So, a nuclear advocate covers for his nuclear advocate father's boneheaded remark pretending that nuclear energy would be cost effective. Or at least that's the assertion of someone named "Blubbaloo" who is the person who created the "too cheap to meter" wikipedia page. It is the only wikipedia entry that "Blubbaloo" has ever seemed to have made. And on

        • I don't honestly give two shits about what somebody on Wikipedia thinks or doesn't think. They could discuss whether the Earth is flat for all I care. I'm merely going with a source that was closest to the original speaker and is thus most qualified (although potentially biased, as you note) to clarify and without evidence to the contrary, I have no reason to disbelieve him. In any case, whatever the specific technology Strauss was envisioning in that short snippet, the fact remains that it was a quote torn
          • Accusations of shilling are among the lowest form of argumentation.

            Unless you happen to be identifying an actual shill.

            The person who is attributed with explaining away his father's quote is not some pseudonymous person on the internet. He actually happens to be an nuclear industry shill. Calling him such is not a "form of argumentation". It is simply informative.

            Now calling you a shill would be a low form of argumentation. I would never do that without evidence. So keep going. Before you're done, who

            • Unless you happen to be identifying an actual shill.

              No, it is still the lowest forms of argumentation, not because of the factuality of the ties of a speaker with the technology or industry they are defending, but because they attack the speaker instead of the arguments they present - it's a form of ad-hominem attack. Kinda like saying that Christian apologetics is invalid because those presenting the arguments are typically Christian themselves (they might even be pastors - oh noes!). To accuse them of "shilling for their religion" would be dumb and immedia

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

            I'm merely going with a source that was closest to the original speaker and is thus most qualified (although potentially biased, as you note)

            Actually members of the subject's family are not usually considered qualified to judge their actions due to their obvious and extreme bias. To dismiss it as "potentially" is extremely generous. In academic circles or any court of law a close family member's testimony would count for little, especially when other less biased people have made compelling and convincing arguments contrary to their's.

    • Nuclear seems unable to compete with natural gas and wind power. http://will.illinois.edu/nfs/R... [illinois.edu] So, the question is, will it be around to cover these costs at all? Waste is being generated without any fee being collected to clean it up now. Looks like it will be taxpayers footing the bill.
      • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @06:15PM (#47796955)

        US law requires the US government to collect and deal with spent nuclear fuel as it is regarded as a stategic material. The same law requires the power generating companies to pay a levy to the government per MWh of nuclear electricity generated for this to be done. As I recall they've paid (or rather the consumers have paid) over $30 billion since the levy was introduced.

        The power companies are now paying for on-site dry-cask storage of spent fuel since the US government isn't actually doing what they've been paid to do, that is take away the spent fuel and deal with it. They have stopped paying the levy after a court agreed with them and they are using some of those savings to fund the local dry-cask storage they need.

        The taxpayers have benefited from over $30 billion of free money gifted to the government by the electricity generating companies, it's not the other way around.

        • It seems pretty clear that the waste issue will be more, not less expensive. This is always the way with nuclear power. Fees should be quadrupled. It is not a gift at all. Operators have the public trust working with these materials, but their attitude hardly makes them seem to deserve that trust.
        • by penix1 ( 722987 )

          Whoa there cowboy! You threw out monetary figures, laws and even court orders without a single reference. And I take particular offense at this line:

          The taxpayers have benefited from over $30 billion of free money gifted to the government by the electricity generating companies, it's not the other way around.

          It wasn't the taxpayers that were screaming to build the nuclear power plants. It was the "power generation companies" who were seeking ever increasing profits with lower up front costs. They made a dea

          • by nojayuk ( 567177 )

            The taxpayers want cheap electricity which is why coal and gas are the big players in the US electricity generating market at the moment despite the deaths and sickness extracting and burning those fuels involves. The nuclear industry paid the waste disposal levy (about 50 cents per nuclear MWh IIRC) by adding it to the bill the consumers paid for their electricity, sent the money to the US Government which said "Thanks very much for the free money" and didn't hold up their end of the bargain by taking away

  • These same people would be complaining that it was a waste since there was no way to transport anything to the repository. unlike the complaining idiots here, most people are capable of doing multiple things at once. And since there are a lot of people in the government, they can actually work on even more things.
    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      You are probably right but there are some things to consider here.

      1) Transporting nuclear waste by rail is not exactly blue sky research. I don't think anyone seriously doubts we can find a way to get that done. Which is not say it will not take a great deal of thinking, research, testing, around the safety engineering of it or that it would be expensive to do.

      2) It may prove politically impossible to ever transport these materials on a large scale. After the recent accidents with oil on rail, have the p

      • by AchilleTalon ( 540925 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @04:39PM (#47796575) Homepage
        There is many places which are really good to use as radioactive waste dumps. The most stable rock plate in Canada, known as the canadian shield is 4,5 bn years old to 540 millions years old and is stable since then. Of course, you have to make an agreement with government of Canada to use it and pay some kind of fee to monitor and secure it, however it is a perfectly acceptable solution.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

          The most stable rock plate in Canada, known as the canadian shield is 4,5 bn years old to 540 millions years old and is stable since then.

          This kind of hubris is what caused many of the problems Japan is facing at the moment. Geologists "knew" that certain areas were geologically stable, right up until they were checked again with more modern equipment and faults were found right underneath nuclear power plants. It's not that no-one looked before, it's just that the tools didn't exist and the understanding of geology at the time didn't see any problems.

          Japan is extreme in terms of geological activity, but when you are looking to store dangerou

      • Well the UK has systems for moving waste by train why not simply use our existing technology - might cut out some redundant pork that could be better spent on education or improving local light rail in say SF
      • You are right that it is entirely a politically manufacture problem. Transporting spent fuel is really very simple to do safely. But first, get over the politically frozen waste repository plans. The nuclear haters want the waste to be a problem more than they want to solve it.
      • What people seem to forget is that point-source pollution is much easier to deal with than distributed pollution. It's not that we don't currently have a nuclear waste disposal site, it's that we have many disposal sites located around the country, usually in more populated and more geographically unstable places. Even if Yucca Mountain isn't guaranteed to be ideal for eternity, it would be easier to deal with there for the simple reason that it's all been gathered in one place. If it was possible to overco
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        Decades of propaganda have lots of people afraid and opposed to atomic* or nuclear* in general. In the wake of Fukushima we have already seen major western nations shutter their nuclear generating.

        Presumably you are talking about European countries, and specifically Germany. That isn't a fair characterization of the situation there.

        Before Fukushima many of Germany's coal plants were due to be closed and replaced with more modern, cleaner ones anyway. Nuclear plants were thought to have another few decades of life extensions in them. However, there was already a strong movement towards clean energy, and towards reducing Germany's dependence on imported coal and gas, and against the high cost of nuclea

  • Nuclear waste is regularly and safely carried by train in other countries.

    Here's a video from 1984 of a crash test done in the UK on a train waste container:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • There are two types of "nuclear waste", actual spent fuel rods which are a real problem, and a lot of "definitional" nuclear waste, like contaminated hard hats, which may or may not be dangerous but may just be landfilled in other nations. TFA implies

      Saw on CNN Fareed Zakaria 2 weeks ago that for the former nuclear waste there's a USA technology to use it as fuel. Similar to "breeder reactor" use, but evidently cheaper and safer. http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.... [cnn.com]

      Train transport would have to be modular

  • Sell it to china. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @03:49PM (#47796315)

    It would be cheaper and likely completely safe to warehouse it in the US. The facility they set up to handle this prior to the political problems should have worked just fine.

    But no one is going to be reasonable on the issue... so who can you pay to take it off our hands?

    Find a nuclear power with capacity and will to deal with the problem. The US used to have this sort of capability... but we're a nation divided. And because of that... we are incapable of dealing with even simple problems.

    It all could be resolved with a little mutual respect and consideration. But again... that's not going to happen. We don't respect each other. A large number of Americans hold large numbers of Americans in contempt. And until we let each other live and let live... we will remain at war with ourselves.

    • It all could be resolved with a little mutual respect and consideration. But again... that's not going to happen. We don't respect each other. A large number of Americans hold large numbers of Americans in contempt. And until we let each other live and let live... we will remain at war with ourselves.

      This, times 100... You sir, are correct, you win! :)

    • Out of the question (Score:3, Informative)

      by Solandri ( 704621 )
      You want to keep spent fuel. It's not really "waste" - the anti-nuclear lobby just likes to call it that to hype up opposition. Current light water reactor designs use only about 5% of the U-235 in the fuel rods, and only about 1% of the total energy extractable from the uranium. That's why spent fuel remains "hot" for so long - the vast majority of the energy it contains is still there, and is emitted over time as radioactive energy as it decays.

      So in essence, the "waste" is really fuel containing 10
      • You're not telling me anything I don't already know and nothing you've said changes any of the arguments I made above.

        You say the problem is politics and not technical. I said as much in my first sentence. However, just because the problem is political doesn't mean you can ignore it.

        The political problems are already terminal. This country either clears some of this issue or it dies. Everything built by generations before us is falling apart because we are a society at war with ourselves.

        The reason for this

      • You want to keep spent fuel. It's not really "waste" - the anti-nuclear lobby just likes to call it that to hype up opposition. Current light water reactor designs use only about 5% of the U-235 in the fuel rods, and only about 1% of the total energy extractable from the uranium.

        Come again? Current typical PWR fuel usage [internet-institute.eu] is to take fuel that contains 4.5% U-235, and discharge after a fuel burn-up of 50,000 megawatt-days/tonne, spent fuel containing 1.02% U-235, which would be using 77% of the U-235 in the fuel rods, not 5%.

        Also it is not clear whether your "1%" number refers to the theoretical fissile energy from the originally mined fuel (including the safely stored, easily accessible depleted uranium, which is not in the fuel rod) or just the actinides in the fuel rod itself. In

      • First of all, if you don't reprocess the 'spend fuel' it is waste.
        Second: if you reprocess it, the old rods and all the materials you need for reprocessing all together are more material, per volume as as well as weight, than the spend fuel+rods in the first place.

        The rest of your post is utter nonsense ... there is no 'energy stored' or left (besides the non used U235) ... sure, you can reuse the Uranium, or you can use it in breeders, however that works completely different than your +4 informative post c

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @04:01PM (#47796377) Journal

    There is no reason the design of a waste hauling train should wait until a site is identified, thus delaying the removal of the waste from many scattered temporary storage sites. The hauling design and the site identification can proced in parallel.

    Indeed: The characteristics of the hauling solution may limit the selection of sites to which the waste could be hauled with acceptable levels of safety. That would argue for the design to PRECEED site selection.

    • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @04:10PM (#47796427) Homepage

      If you could refrain from being sensible you might be in a position to help us with our fevered ranting and raving.

    • Exactly correct. If the target date for an "interim test storage site" is 2021, that's only 7 years out.

      Let's allow a year to figure out what the specs ought to be, a year to request and evaluate proposals from possible contractors, a year to build prototypes, a year of testing, a year to fix problems identified in testing, a year to manufacture the first few final-version railcars, and a year for overruns. That's a seven-year timetable right there.

      Unless we want to be running late, paying tons of money

    • Exactly what I came here to say. Well put.
  • government hate.
    Seriously. They know they will need something, so they are looking for ideas. They aren't purchasing them, they are looking ahead.
    Something the government does rather well, but you knuckle heads can't possible understand that.

    Well, the government used to do it very well, now there are fanatics in office that just stop any forward looking planning that doesn't jive with there religious views.

  • Is there any reason why the containers couldn't simply be designed to conform to the specifications a standard ISO shipping container? Instead of designing a whole new train and set of carriages they could just put the special container onto a specially chartered train that is other wise standard. Why couldn't that be done?

    Oh wait, it's MDsolar again.

  • If we can drill big holes really deep in the desert and explode weapons tests there, I feel it is likely we can also bury waste in deep holes there, just as well.
    Seriously folks, what is the big deal?
    Oh, right. Politics. Especially right wing nutjobs.
    Obstructionism incarnate

    • by Thagg ( 9904 )

      It's harder than you think, unfortunately. Nuclear weapons have a few kilograms of radioactive material, reactors have more than a few tons. The Yucca Mountain repository, the best that nuclear engineers could come up with, had to be certified to be safe for 10,000 years...but literally after 10,000 years things could have gotten out of control. It's a tough problem.

      That said, it means that we have to try harder. The problem is not going to go away; we have to pursue better approaches.

      • Yea, like get over our stupidity and stop trying to store things for 10,000 years, which is absurd.

        How about we instead be ok to reprocess the waste and turn it into new fuel?

        Such technology exists, but our government has made it illegal out of fear of the spread of nuclear weapons.

        • If you reprocess it, you have still waste. The fuel consist of lets say 10% fissionable uranium. After about 5% is 'burned' e whole amount if fuel is 95%. 5% of that is not burned. to reprocess it you have to remove 50% of the 90% U238. So now you have half as much fuel, but it is enriched again to 10% U235 and 90% U238.
          So from perhaps originally 10 metric tons of fuel (with 10% U235) you are mow down to 5 metric tons of fuel (90% U238 + 10%U235) and another roughly 5 metric tons of U238 and the remainings

      • Yucca became impossible when USGS scientists fabricated data. Now, we can never really know about any of the other science done there. The whole thing has to start over and it can't be Yucca because the temptation would be too strong to try to use some study or other that has already been done. Back to the drawing board. Mississippi says it does not want it. http://www.sunherald.com/2014/... [sunherald.com]
    • Oh, right. Politics. Especially right wing nutjobs.

      Actually, the anti-nuke types tend to be left wing nutjobs.

      • When you go back and read the history of how many potential sites were originally proposed by the DoE, and how those sites were eliminated from consideration until only Yucca Mountain was left, it turns out that both sides are anti-nuclear-waste. When the list had been reduced to three by years of deal-making in Congress, it was cut to one in a naked political maneuver involving a Texas conservative and Washington liberal in leadership positions. Following the closed-door committee meeting where the deed
    • I've visited the Nevada Test Site. Our fossil drilling history has given us an unparalleled ability to bore straight holes eight and twelve feet in diameter (standard sizes on the Site) for thousands of feet down. Start anywhere in the country and rill an eight-foot hole down through any sedimentary strata to basement rock, and then keep going for another few thousand feet. drop anything you want in there and allow room for a few hundred feet of sealing concrete before you reach the top of the basement rock

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Yes that right wing nutjob Harry Reid.

  • We need a recycling plant with buffer storage. the whole "disposal" paradigm, including guarding the waste for hundreds of thousands of years, is predicated on the idea that the 95% of unburned fuel that keeps the stuff hot for so long is something that should be thrown away while it slowly decays. It should be recovered and re-used, so that the actual waste remaining after that is trivial. If we used Yucca Mountain as the buffer storage, an accompanying recycling plant would mean lots of good jobs for Neva

  • It may sound far-fetched, but an electromagnetic rail gun would be feasible. Especially if the waste could be made into smaller units. Just aim it into the sun! No more problem. As a side benefit, the technology learned from this could be used to perhaps shoot material into orbit to build spacecraft out THERE, where the high cost of escaping the gravity well of earth would not be present.
    • It's pretty much impossible to fire something from the ground, or even the highest mountain and have it escape the Earth's gravity. The velocity required and the air you much push through is too high.

      I don't want to think what would happen if you shot radio active nuclear waste out of a cannon (or rail gun as you suggest) at over 25,000mph (+ a few 100,000mph to compensate from atmospheric drag) in the atmosphere.

      The only way to get something out of Earth's gravity is to strap a rocket to it, so you can con

      • A little internet research proves you are in error viperiodaenz. I had read about it in SF novels (means nothing, but sometimes the ideas are partially true). I also had read about it in scientific research, as rocket travel is expensive, dangerous and non-reusable. Same tech for 50 years. Cannot change chemical reactions. So I found a couple of links that may help. The first explores the real possibility of a electromagnetic railgun shooting small loads several times a day. If the loads were of a st
        • Both links you posted prove my point.
          You need rocket engines to get out of orbit.
          The second link, a railgun accelerates the vehicle to Mach 1.5, a turbojet then accelerates it to Mach 4, a scramjet fires to take it to Mach 10 up to 200,000 feet, but then a rocket is required once out of the atmosphere (although at 200,000ft, you're still in the atmosphere, it's just too thin for the scramjet to operate).
          The idea is to reduce the weight of the vehicle by removing fuel. The railgun requires the vehicle have n

    • With a railgun you could shoot stuff into space. But mot into the sun. Earth is orbiting sun with something like 30km per second. To be able to let a missile hit the sun you basically have to fire it retrogard of earth orbit with the same speed as the earth has. So the missile has zero speed versus the sun, otherwise it will always only orbit the sun on a trajectory that crosses the earth orbit.
      That is a orbital mechanics 101 ... a no brainer if you have had physics in school. (* facepalm *)

  • put as much as possible in Harry Reid's house, fill his bathtub, swimming pool refrigerator, freezer, and leave a note saying "Thanks for Yucca Mountain"
  • by mallyn ( 136041 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @07:50PM (#47797241) Homepage
    Folks: What would happen if instead of trying to figure out where to send the waste to via rail; we would have a portable vitrification system that can be sent to different power plants via rail. Vitrification (go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V... [wikipedia.org] for the wikipedia article) could possible be implemented via a portable facility that can be transported by rail. The portable vitrification facility would go from power plant to power plant and vitrify the waste to a glass like substance, which should be safer to handle and store. If all you are railroading around the country is a vitrification plant; there should be no problem with local communities. All you are moving around is an electric (or gas) furnace and associated support equipment. If that derails or is involved in an accident, then it would be no worse than just a piece of machinery such as a lathe or miling machine falling off of a train.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      All you are moving around is an electric (or gas) furnace and associated support equipment.

      Only the first time. After you have used it once it becomes contaminated with radioactive material. Such contamination is very difficult to deal with. You have to design the system to be as sealed as possible in order to delay having to deal with the contamination for as long as possible, and then during decommissioning somehow dismantle and store it.

      Contamination is one of the reasons why molten salt / pebble bed reactors are so problematic to decommission. In this case it would make transporting the vitri

  • This is a real positive step for no matter what you think of Nuclear power. It would seem this debate is so polarized that people forget that there are structural problems that need to be solved and this is certainly one of them. If transport infrastructure to move pu-239 and other highly energetic radionuclides can be devised, tested and solved then this is one less problem to resolve.

    It is in no-one's interests to have a spent fuel containment accident such as the one threatening Fukushima right now (for

    • Putting all these specs out is a good way to waste money. On site waste treatment, for example, may change the requirements quite a lot. The correct approach to the waste is to not transport it until it is composed of stable isotopes. But even if we do store rather than transmute waste, would it not be best to make it unfailingly safe to transport? Lonsdaleite, while combustible, can be be formed by chemical vapor deposition, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org] and might have the strength to solve some po
  • by ihtoit ( 3393327 ) on Sunday August 31, 2014 @11:39PM (#47797949)

    ...ask yourself this: would you really want 1600 tons of radioactive potential death rolling through your city just waiting for an errant snowflake to land on the line to derail the whole kaboodle?

    Say [startribune.com] it [railwayage.com] doesn't [wcjb.com] happen [reuters.com]. Go [pnj.com] on. I dare you. Those were just a few I dug out from a cursory google search.

  • But Don't Know Where It Would Go

    How about the Bridge to Nowhere? [heritage.org]

  • Let me tell you the story Of a man named Charlie On a tragic and fateful day He put ten cents in his pocket, Kissed his wife and family Went to ride on the MTA

    Charlie handed in his dime At the Kendall Square Station And he changed for Jamaica Plain When he got there the conductor told him, "One more nickel." Charlie could not get off that train.

    Did he ever return, No he never returned And his fate is still unlearn'd He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston He's the man who never returned. ht [mit.edu]
  • I love the Slashdot headline "Feds Want Nuclear Waste Train, But Don't Know Where It Would Go". A most provocative issue of nuclear energy, stir in a bit of Fed-Fumbling with the idea of a ghost train and you have the perfect movie plot and Internet meme.

    Drawing on most recent experience with politics in America, the way illegal immigration is being "handled" -- I conclude this announcement means that the Nuclear Ghost Train has Already Left The Station.

    It is currently circumnavigating the continent. Soon

  • So we are going to pay for a nuclear freight train to nowhere?
    Couldn't we instead use the money to improve the existing rail network to encourage humans to use it?
    The rail service in this country is such a joke that most people choose to pay between 3 and 4 dollars a gallon for gas, increasing pollution and funding the arms buildup in the middle east.
    • A high speed rail link between Seattle and Savannah would link the two coasts in a new way and might overcome all the strange posturing which hurt single state projects during the recovery.
  • Solve that which makes Nuclear Waste leathal? Then create a process that removes the "Radio Activity?" Just a thought.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky