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Government Power Hardware Science

As Nuclear Reactors Age, the Money To Close Them Lags 292

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-could-go-wrong dept.
Harperdog writes "A worrying bit of news about nuclear reactors in the U.S. from the NYT: 'The operators of 20 of the nation's aging nuclear reactors, including some whose licenses expire soon, have not saved nearly enough money for prompt and proper dismantling. If it turns out that they must close, the owners intend to let them sit like industrial relics for 20 to 60 years or even longer while interest accrues in the reactors' retirement accounts.'"
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As Nuclear Reactors Age, the Money To Close Them Lags

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  • by nojayuk (567177) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @09:48PM (#39447427)

    The UK's older reactors like the Magnox units are being decommissioned on a long-term basis, about 80 years from shutdown to final clearing of the reactor site. The delay is to allow the radioactivity in the core components such as the reactor vessel and primary steam piping to decay to virtually nothing which makes future dismantling easier.

    After shutdown the spent fuel is removed and a start is made demolishing non-radioactive parts of the reactor complex such as the turbine halls, control rooms etc. What is left is no real danger to anyone; the reactor containment is sealed off and left to sit with a simple wire fence around it for the next fifty or sixty years before final demolishing of the rest of the reactor is carried out.

    I imagine the US reactors are up for similar custodial treatment and the newspaper reports are sensationalistic garbage as they usually are. Some decommissioning is carried out more rapidly here and there in the world but usually because the site is going to be quickly reused to build a new reactor complex on it -- for example the Japanese are in the final stages of decommissioning and dismantling a small Magnox reactor at Tokai about ten years after it shut down but it is on the site of one of their nuclear research and development centres.

  • by FishTankX (1539069) on Thursday March 22, 2012 @10:06PM (#39447513)

    One thing that was noted in the article is that a lot of the power companies HAD sufficient retirement funds, but a large portion of the value of their funds were wiped out in the economic crash of 2008. They mentioned one reactor's retirement fund crashing from $592m to somewhere north of 200m and even now not breaking 300m.

    Thus, it's the economic turbulence weathering the vulnerable investments made on the retirement funds. This is not too far from a bunch of seniors who just had their retirement income wiped out, continuing to work after retirement to make up for the shortfall in their supposedly secure retirement funds.

  • Re:Two sides (Score:4, Informative)

    by Stellian (673475) on Friday March 23, 2012 @02:10AM (#39448363)

    Just take the spent fuel and burn it in a newer-gen reactor.

    Can you name a single such site ? Could you possibly refer to the generation IV breeder reactors of which no commercial plant was yet built, or is even in the approval phase ?
    Most importantly, the authors of generation IV projects planned a 20 years period of basic science research before their projects could become reality, starting with the year 2002. Since little of that research was actually accomplished [arxiv.org], it's prudent to say commercial gen IV breeder reactors are decades away.

    The Generation IV Roadmap document can be summarized with the statement that the known technological gaps to construct even prototype breeder reactors were enormous at the time when the document was written. These unknowns are addressed with a detailed planning for the required research projects and the associated cost. Only after these problems have been solved a design and construction of expensive prototype breeder reactors can start.
    We are now at the end of the year 2009 and almost half the originally planned R&D period is over. Essentially no progress results have been presented and the absence of large funding during the past 8 years gives little condence that even the most basic questions for the entire Generation IV reactors program can be answered during the next few years. Thus, it seems that the Generation IV roadmap is already totally outdated and unrealistic.

  • Re:Two sides (Score:5, Informative)

    by Genda (560240) <mariet.got@net> on Friday March 23, 2012 @05:55AM (#39449103) Journal

    Excuse me, gas isn't toxic? Benzene is a serious carcinogen in fact the entire group of BTEX chemicals are known carcinogens and have known health impacts. Add to that the impact of MTBE (one of the most serious contaminants in ground water today), and gasoline leaks are a serious problem. By the way, though there is some metabolism of gasoline byproduct by some bacteria, it appears that fungus' do the heavy lifting when it comes to soil recovering from petrochemical spills.

  • Re:Two sides (Score:5, Informative)

    by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Friday March 23, 2012 @07:00AM (#39449411)
    There are a couple of inaccuracies to your post. The first is the inevitable seeping of gas into the ground. There was some of that in the stations with the old style underground tanks. However, those tanks have all been replaced for over a decade now. In addition, the primary thing which seeped into the ground at gas stations was MBTE, a government mandated additive to gasoline (the government no longer mandates adding MBTE to gasoline). The thing about MBTE is that it is highly volatile. As a result, the most efficient way to clean up a site where the ground is contaminated with MBTE is to make sure the dirt is exposed to the air for several years. If, as would be the case with a gas station site, there are areas several feet down with concentrations of MBTE contamination the remedy is to dig down and place venting pipes from those areas to the surface. I believe the time frame for the MBTE to clear out of the soil if it properly vented is about 5 years.

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