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posted by martyb on Thursday January 11 2018, @05:08AM   Printer-friendly
from the fast-enough-for-government-work dept.

The Buffalo News reports progress on the West Valley Demonstration Project. After years of converting liquid nuclear waste to glass, the buildings are now being taken down, very carefully.
http://buffalonews.com/2018/01/09/slow-and-steady-west-valleys-decommissioning-is-on-track/

West Valley was the nation’s only commercial nuclear reprocessing plant. The waste was created when the site was operated by Nuclear Fuel Services between 1966 and 1972.

[...] The building where the most highly radioactive materials at the West Valley Demonstration Project were once handled is being torn down.

The vitrification plant is where 600,000 gallons of liquid nuclear waste were turned into glass cylinders in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The cylinders were then packaged in fives and welded into steel canisters before being stored under 21-inch thick concrete casks and relocated to another spot on site.

In mid-September, contractors started peeling away the outside of the steel and sheet metal exterior of the building and the roof. That work wrapped up in early November, said West Valley officials.

“The (contractor) is making great progress with the safe completion of the first phase of this facility’s demolition,” said Bryan Bower, project director for the U.S. Department of Energy. “This accomplishment allows our team to continue its work in the completion of site demolition activities.”

The linked article includes several photos, inside and outside the plant.


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  • (Score: -1, Redundant) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:17AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:17AM (#620821)

    Thorium! Thorium! Thorium!

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:47AM (2 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:47AM (#620825)

    While I am gratified to know that we can take buildings down, it tells me nothing about what was encased in glass and what the storage plan is for that, this is a "solution" that is being propagated and perhaps it is. but it needs to be verified as so many other plans that came before it have not been leeding to where we are now

    • (Score: 2) by driverless on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:47AM (1 child)

      by driverless (4770) on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:47AM (#620867)

      I'd also like to know why it's being done. Seems to me like we should be building more vitrification plants to deal with nuclear waste, not tearing the one we've got down.

      • (Score: 2) by leftover on Thursday January 11 2018, @05:11PM

        by leftover (2448) on Thursday January 11 2018, @05:11PM (#620983)

        Basically, the plants need to be built in place to avoid transporting the waste before vitrification.

        --
        Bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated.
  • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:54AM (11 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:54AM (#620826)

    Liquid nuclear waste is from plutonium pits.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-level_waste [wikipedia.org]

    Liquid high-level waste is typically held temporarily in underground tanks pending vitrification. Most of the high-level waste created by the Manhattan project and the weapons programs of the cold war exists in this form because funding for further processing was typically not part of the original weapons programs.

    I don't know why source of this waste is never disclosed, then people keep thinking this is somehow from nuclear power plants not weapons of our extermination.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @07:09AM (9 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @07:09AM (#620831)

      As it says, "commercial nuclear reprocessing plant".

      For every 20 units of uranium you put into a reactor, only 1 gets fissioned. The other 19 remain, now uselessly mixed with gunk that prevents an efficient reaction.

      This stuff is liquid for the exact same reason that the stuff related to plutonium is, and yes there is a bit of plutonium produced in a commercial reactor. You take the old fuel rods, do lots of chemical processing on them (parts of the process being in liquid form) and then out of that you get purified metal (uranium and plutonium) that can be turned back into fuel rods.

      You can't make a plutonium bomb from this, at least not without isotopic separation. The mix of isotopes coming out of a commercial reactor is only good for going back into a commercial reactor. It is too hot for a bomb, but not hot enough for a NASA RTG power device. A bomb made from it would melt. If you want a bomb, you need to take the fuel out early, but commercial operators wouldn't do that.

      We're wasting 95% of our fuel by not reprocessing. We can blame President Carter for being a dummy, thinking that maybe if he ordered us to waste fuel then every other nation would too (they don't) and that this would somehow make it hard for other nations to make nukes (hmmm... didn't work).

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by aristarchus on Thursday January 11 2018, @07:48AM (8 children)

        by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 11 2018, @07:48AM (#620838) Journal

        Silly AC!

        As it says, "commercial nuclear reprocessing plant".

        Classic case of ambiguity, probably intentional. Two possibilities"

        "commercial" nuclear reprocessing plant. Meaning, the plant was commercial, not what it was reprocessing.
        "commercial nuclear (by-products)" reprocessing plant. Meaning, reprocessing waste from commercial nuclear power plants, not from, as it was put so well by another less silly AC, "weapons of our [own] extermination."

        So, "As it says"? Pick one, please.

        --
        #freearistarchus!!!
        • (Score: 0, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:47AM (7 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:47AM (#620847)

          Wikipedia has numbers for the reprocessing plant:

          The plant reprocessed spent reactor fuel at the site from 1966 to 1972. During this time period, the facility processed 1,983.7 kilograms (4,373 lb) of plutonium and 625.7 metric tons (1,379,000 lb) of spent uranium.[4]:10-12 Using the PUREX process, the plant was able to recover 1,926 kilograms (4,246 lb) of plutonium and 620 metric tons (1,370,000 lb) of uranium. Most of the recovered uranium was depleted or slightly enriched; only 0.9 metric tons (2,000 lb) was highly enriched.

          They recovered:

          1. 4246 out of 4373 pounds of plutonium
          2. 1370000 out of 1379000 pounds of uranium (only 2000 pounds being possibly suited for bombs)

          It's essentially 100% commercial-grade uranium. The other stuff is well under 1% of the total.

          • (Score: 2, Informative) by aristarchus on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:03AM (6 children)

            by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:03AM (#620852) Journal

            Silly AC, still? Spent "commercial" nuclear fuel, or weapons-producing, non-commercial nuclear fuel? The fact that the recovered stuff may have been "commercial-grade" says nothing one way or the other. The point is the source of the waste being reprocessed, not it's destination The kicker is that you resorting to Wikipedia marks you as a Subject Matter Expert on this subject matter. Best leave it at that.

            --
            #freearistarchus!!!
            • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:34AM (5 children)

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:34AM (#620860)

              The isotopic mix does not change during reprocessing.

              Less than 0.2% of the uranium was suited to weapons. This is true for both the input and the output, because the isotopic mix does not change. University reactors and Navy reactors commonly use the higher grade; they are the likely source of it.

              Barely more that 0.3% was plutonium. Note that plutonium is created in normal commercial reactors.

              At that time period, we wouldn't be using uranium for weapons.

              There can be only one reasonable explanation for all that low-grade uranium: commercial reactors, both as input and output.

              • (Score: 3, Insightful) by aristarchus on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:50PM (4 children)

                by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:50PM (#621029) Journal

                Truly, silly AC, your ignorance is unfathomable!

                There can be only one reasonable explanation for all that low-grade uranium:

                No, there isn't. What is your definition of "reasonable", and what is it based on? You have given us nothing but your own opinion, beginning when you mis-read a poorly written sentence that used "commercial" ambiguously.

                --
                #freearistarchus!!!
                • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:28PM (3 children)

                  by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:28PM (#621072)

                  I've shown that 99.5% of both the input and output materials are unsuited to nuclear bombs and Navy nuclear. (wrong isotopes)

                  Now you explain why the fuck anybody would be reprocessing that material. Where could it come from? Where might it be going?

                  Do you think there is a market for Fiestaware reprocessing?

                  Maybe you should go back to blabbering about ethics, and leave the technical stuff for soylentnews users with technical degrees.

                  • (Score: 3, Funny) by aristarchus on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:36PM (2 children)

                    by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:36PM (#621078) Journal

                    What are you, AC? A STEM major? This would explain your lack of facility with language. We are not talking about the technology of nuclear materials reprocessing, we are talking about grammar, and how "commercial nuclear reprocessing plant" could be taken in two entirely different senses, depending on what "commercial" is modifying. You can only see one way to interpret the sentence, probably because you are physicalist and not an economist or humanist. We get it. So carry on. You are only making yourself look foolish. I asked you to choose, and you have not yet done so.

                    --
                    #freearistarchus!!!
                    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @11:11PM (1 child)

                      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @11:11PM (#621167)

                      Oh, I get that there are theoretically two ways to interpret "commercial nuclear reprocessing plant", but one way is unreasonable.

                      We resolve any doubt by looking up the numbers and/or other data for the facility. We don't fuck around with philosophical bullshit.

                      I swear, we need a final solution for non-STEM people. We could turn them into diesel. That could be their rightful purpose. They might not completely fail at being diesel fuel, at least if we help them along.

                      • (Score: 2, Insightful) by aristarchus on Thursday January 11 2018, @11:23PM

                        by aristarchus (2645) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 11 2018, @11:23PM (#621171) Journal

                        Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana. Groucho Marx. Are you a Marxist, AC? This was a Demonstration facility, government funded. See the EPA website. And it was sequestering waste, not reprocessing any since 1972? So where are your facts? We are not able to tell what you are saying because your use of English is so poor! And what is your point, anyway? Nukes are not commercially viable. There, I said it. We already figured out what to do with these STEM types, we turn them into STEM majors, destroying their ability to communicate with other human beings, and sentencing them to a life of constant suffering and ridicule.

                        --
                        #freearistarchus!!!
    • (Score: 2) by turgid on Friday January 12 2018, @01:46PM

      by turgid (4318) on Friday January 12 2018, @01:46PM (#621359) Journal

      Maybe it's an American thing (nomenclature) but we certainly had "liquid" waste at my purely commercial nuclear power station here in the UK.

      --
      Don't let Righty keep you down. #freearistarchus!!!
  • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:57AM (11 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @06:57AM (#620827)

    Without a reprocessing plant, about 95% of our uranium is wasted. Costs to operate nuclear go way up. President Carter is at fault, with asinine logic: maybe if we don't reprocess, then other countries won't, and then they won't have as much available for making bombs... or some shit like that. Other countries do in fact reprocess.

    • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @07:56AM (10 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @07:56AM (#620839)

      By reprocessing you mean fast breeders, so reactors that can be used to make weapons grade material

      • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:01AM (9 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:01AM (#620842)

        Also reactors that could theoretically reach critical mass and blow up, Carter was not wrong, the idea that if you just keep doing things that are know insane and destructive it will somehow get better is wrong.

        sorry for responding to myself, just needed to add

        • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:35AM (4 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @08:35AM (#620844)

          By reprocessing you mean fast breeders, so reactors that can be used to make weapons grade materia

          No. I mean reprocessing: the act of extracting fissionable elements from spent fuel rods (or any other "used up" thing) to make new fuel rods.

          The typical input comes from an ordinary commercial power plant. You can certainly feed in stuff from weird sources: unwanted weapons, Navy nuclear ships, breeder reactors, university research reactors, medical isotope production reactors, etc.

          The typical primary output is fuel rods for an ordinary commercial power plant. Obviously, you also get waste, neatly separated by chemical.

          Normally you can't make weapons from reprocessing. The reason is that the isotope mix is all wrong. The uranium presumably came from a reactor that was fueled with stuff that wasn't weapons-grade, so you'd need to feed that into the separate enrichment process to upgrade it. The uranium presumably sat in the reactor until the fuel rods were inefficient for commercial use, meaning that any plutonium present has been hopelessly tainted with isotopes that are far too radioactive to make a warhead. Such plutonium gives off lots of heat, which would damage the bomb casing and electronics and everything else.

          Fast breeders are great. So what if they, like other reactors, could be operated with an unusually short-duration fuel usage cycle for creating weapons? This doesn't mean that we have to do that. We can just use them for commercial power. That said, Russia has more nuclear weapons than we do, so we ought to do something about that.

          Also reactors that could theoretically reach critical mass and blow up, Carter was not wrong, the idea that if you just keep doing things that are know insane and destructive it will somehow get better is wrong.

          You're misusing a term, just like in that stupid China Syndrome movie. All nuclear reactors are critical at all times when they operate.

          They are unable to undergo a nuclear explosion because the fuel is not enriched enough (is 5% instead of at least 25%) and because there is nothing to explosively slam it all together. The worst you could get is essentially a boiler explosion, with superheated water flashing to steam. We saw this in Fukushima. Incidentally, that one was made worse because the spent fuel rods hadn't been taken away to be reprocessed. They were sitting above the reactor, where they could be tossed around by a steam explosion. Oh yeah, here in the USA we have spent fuel rods sitting around at every nuclear plant because we too aren't reprocessing.

          Carter was wrong. Keeping spent fuel rods around is insane and destructive. Bad shit happens if they get tossed around due to a steam explosion. It's also insane and destructive to waste 95% of our fuel. We really ought to reprocess that.

          • (Score: -1, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @12:23PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @12:23PM (#620907)

            don't americans have a replacement for "percent"?
            i mean they have their own length, volume and weight.
            they have a replacement for everything else these days... maybe "perhex"?

          • (Score: 2, Interesting) by mrkaos on Friday January 12 2018, @12:03AM (2 children)

            by mrkaos (997) on Friday January 12 2018, @12:03AM (#621184)
            Reagan repealed the order against reprocessing fuel, the reason it isn't done is because it is not economically viable.

            It's also insane and destructive to waste 95% of our fuel. We really ought to reprocess that.

            Only if you have the right reactor technology, otherwise you end up with more plutonium that you started with because of the element you add to use the plutonium you've got. They are not called breeder reactors for nothing. No one wants a plutonium economy.

            --
            My ism, it's full of beliefs.
            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @12:28AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @12:28AM (#621199)

              Plutonium is a damn fine reactor fuel. It is usually part of a fuel called MOX, mixed oxides, which also contains uranium.

              We burned that for years, under a deal to use up old Russian warheads in our commercial reactors. The warheads got reprocessed in Russia, then shipped over to the USA for power generation. We ended that just a couple years ago, having used up the entire available supply.

              Lots of nuclear stuff is "not economically viable" on purpose. We regulate it to death. It takes balls to say "NO" to just one more regulation -- think of the children -- and that is how you kill an industry. Some people childishly think an economy can operate on rainbows and dreams, so just make that icky industrial stuff go away.

            • (Score: 2) by Aiwendil on Friday January 12 2018, @10:26AM

              by Aiwendil (531) on Friday January 12 2018, @10:26AM (#621326) Journal

              As already pointed out - we do actually want a plutonium economy.

              But beyond that, first up MOX (extract the U and Pu from the spent fuel and blend it in with fresh fuel - this is the common reprocessing) is a very good way to recycle, not to mention the new russian REMIX (remove the gasses from the fuel and blend in enriched fuel (some 15-19% enrichment in the top-ups) which allows you to only have three full cores worth of fuel for the entire reactor lifetime, increases the amount of depleted uranium produces but drastically reduces the amount of spent fuel). But you could just run the fuel in a better reactor as the DUPIC-process shows (basically you cut the fuel from PWR to size to fit in a CANDU reactor fuel bundle and run the spent fuel as-is, four PWRs can fuel a CANDU completly).

              A bit here.. DUPIC has been demonstrated in S.Korea and in China, REMIX is something the russians are starting to use right now, and MOX is something many countries has been doing for quite some time (mainly produced in France which is the main user of it, Japan also uses it but all their MOX is produced in France due to lack of domestic facitilites (one is almost done)).

              Also - not all breeders produce plutonium, for instance a Th-232 bundle will breed more fissile fuel in the form of U-233 (after a few steps of decay). And if you're not impatient you also get U-235 out of "conventional" breeders (Pu-239 has a halflife of 24k years, and decays to U-235), but that is just wasting energy since Pu-239 is a nicer driver than U-235).
              Being a "breeder" just means you have a breed/conversion ratio above 1 (ie, you produce more fissile material than you use), but pretty much all reactors breed to some extent a normal LWR is at about 0.6 and a PHWR (CANDU et al) is at 0.8 and a few upcomming designs aims for between 0.9 and slightly below 1.0 (notably the VVER-1700 (VVER-SCWR)).
              Oh yeah, also, all common power reactors can be modified to run as breeders so it isn't as exotic as people think (in a CANDU it mainly is a matter of picking the right fuel mix and fuel-shuffling pattern).

              And the reason why reprocessing isn't economically viable is that uranium is dirt cheap, it is at something like 50usd/kg, reprocessing doesn't make economic sense until you start to hit about 150-200usd/kg (the uranium prices has been up to that level a few times - it increases the cost of nuclear by about 0.02c/kWh), for reference most uranium mines need at least about 70usd/kg to make economic sense.

              But yeah, in the mid-term (2 to 60k years (ten half-lifes of Pu-240)) you'd end up with more Pu but less Pu-239 and Pu-238. That is unless you start to use the Pu in a Th-232 or ADS (accelerator driven system) reactor in which case the Pu will drop drastically.
              (And before you scream that it needs special reactors - CANDU has been a commercial mainstay since the 60s and can do the Th-232 cycle and there are 42 CANDU and CANDU-derivate reactors running (for reference, there are 80 BWR running))

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by Aiwendil on Thursday January 11 2018, @05:50PM (3 children)

          by Aiwendil (531) on Thursday January 11 2018, @05:50PM (#620998) Journal

          Critical explained:
          Subcritial - number of neutrons available decreases (ie - it slows down)
          Critical - number of neutrons available stays the same (ie - keeps at level)
          Supercritical - number of neutrons available increases (ie - it speeds up)

          Critical mass - smallest mass needed to be critical for a given geometry.

          And regarding blowing up a nuclear reactor - just what yield are you worried about? Let's assume we somehow manage to strip away all the cladding and shape it into a nice round sphere (optimal for critical mass until you involve reflectors) that you somehow manged to get to explode - it would _top_out_ at about 6.5t (not megaton, not kiloton, but plain simple ton). And this would be inside a steel container inside couple of quite heavily reinforced concrete structures. Heck, you'd be better off airdropping the fuel (or even the empty fuel transport canister) on your target. (Heck, the fuel in a B52 is quite a bit more energy than that - so you'd be best of to kamikaze the target with the B52)
          (Funnily enough, the easiest and fastest way to compress a nuclear reactor core to get to a fission explosion is to detonate a nuclear bomb above it (near as in inside the reactor building), but that would require a higher yield nuke than you'd get from the core)

          But yeah, in theory it can blow up, just like in theory the hydrogen in your cup of coffee could spontaneously fusion and explode.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:03PM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 11 2018, @09:03PM (#621083)

            But yeah, in theory it can blow up, just like in theory the hydrogen in your cup of coffee could spontaneously fusion and explode.

            Actually, in my secret lab, I have developed exactly this, only without the "explode" part. Since "cold fusion" has gotten such a bad rap after some amateurs claimed to have achieved it, I dubbed my perfection of the technique "Hot Coffee Fusion". I have achieved sustained reaction that have keep a cup o' joe hot and tasty from more than a week without the need for any "warm me up" refills. I am working on a consumer appliance to implement my new discovery. I will call it "Mr. Fusion".

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @04:00AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 12 2018, @04:00AM (#621250)

              Well I, at least, fellow AC, see what you did there. Well played, AC. Bon hoffer.

          • (Score: 2) by turgid on Friday January 12 2018, @01:50PM

            by turgid (4318) on Friday January 12 2018, @01:50PM (#621362) Journal

            You forgot "prompt critical." That's when the proportion of neutrons produced by reactions involving prompt neutrons from the previous generation dominates over the delayed neutrons and the doubling time is measured in milliseconds rather than hours. That's when you have a problem.

            --
            Don't let Righty keep you down. #freearistarchus!!!
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