The Helen Caldicott Foundation | Robert Alvarez: The Hazards of High-Level Radioactive Waste in the Pacific Northwest
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Robert Alvarez: The Hazards of High-Level Radioactive Waste in the Pacific Northwest

Robert Alvarez: The Hazards of High-Level Radioactive Waste in the Pacific Northwest

The Hazards of High-Level Radioactive Waste in the Pacific Northwest: A Review of Spent Nuclear Fuel Management At the Columbia Generating Station 

Robert Alvarez,  Senior Scholar Institute for Policy Studies / November, 2014

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Glossary of Acronyms…………………………………………………………………………………………….1

Summary and Recommendations………………………………………………………………………………………2

Columbia Generating Station Index…………………………………………………………………………………..12

The CGS Spent Fuel Pool…………………………………………………………………………………………………..14

Reactor Spent Fuel……………………………………………………………………………………………………………19

Radioactivity of Spent Nuclear Fuel………………………………………………………………………………….21

Decay Heat………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………22

High Burnup Nuclear Fuel…………………………………………………………………………………………………23

Fuel Rod Corrosion and Damage………………………………………………………………………………………24

Occupational Radiation Exposure…………………………………………………………………………………….28

Lapses in Worker Radiation Protection…………………………………………………………………………….30

The 300-618-11 Burial Ground…………………………………………………………………………………………31

Dry Cask Storage at CGS…………………………………………………………………………………………………..33

Consequences of a Spent Fuel Pool Fire at a Nuclear Reactor…………………………………………..34

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NRC’s Response Regarding Spent Fuel Pools to the Fukushima Accident…………………………36

The Collapse of the Disposal Framework…………………………………………………………………………40

Spent Fuel Pool Aging Concerns………………………………………………………………………………………41

Endnotes…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………43

Attachment 1 Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Macfarlane’s Comments on COMSECY-13-0030, Staff Evaluation and Recommendation for Japan Lessons-Learned
TEIR 3 Issue on Expedited Transfer of Spent Fuel…………………………………………………………… 48

Tables
Table 1 CGS Indicator ……………………………………………………………………………………………………12

Table 2 Radionuclides in Spent Nuclear Fuel……………………………………………………………………20

Table 3 NRC Estimation of Radiation Release from at Spent Fuel Pool Fire………………………36

Table 4 Spent Fuel Pool System Leaks (1997-2005)…………………………………………………………..42

Figures
Figure 1 Artificial Radioactivity on the Hanford Site………………………………………………………….3

Figure 2 Comparison of Cs-137 Estimates………………………………………………………………………….4

Figure 3 Figure 3 Holtec Hi-Storm 100 Dry Cask…………………………………………………………………6

Figure 4 Estimated Radioactivity in a Spent Nuclear Fuel Assembly…………………………………..7

Figure 5 Collective Worker Radiation Exposures at CGS and Hanford………………………………..9

Figure 6 Location of the 300-168-11 Burial Ground…………………………………………………………..10

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Figure 7 CGS Spent Fuel Pool System……………………………………………………………………………..15

Figure 8 CGS Spent Fuel Pool Storage Racks…………………………………………………………………..16

Figure 9 CGS Storage Rack……………………………………………………………………………………………..17

Figure 10 CGS Spent Fuel Handling System…………………………………………………………………….18

Figure 11 Atrium 10 Fuel Assembly………………………………………………………………………………..21

Figure 12 Formation and Migration of Radioactivity in a Boiling Water Reactor……………26

Figure 13 Crud buildup on CGS spent fuel………………………………………………………………………27

Figure 14 Failed Fuel at CGS due to Corrosion…………………………………………………………………28

Figure 15 Collective Worker Radiation Doses at Single Unit Reactors (1997-2011)…………31

Figure 16 Aerial view of the 300-618-11 Burial Ground during its operation…………………..32

Figure 17 Spent Nuclear Fuel Pool Partial Drainage…………………………………………………………38

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Glossary of Acronyms

ACRS –Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards
ALARA – As low as reasonably achievable
Bq – becquerel
BRC – Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future BWR – boiling water reactor

CGS – Columbia Generating Station
Ci – curie
CLIC – crud-induced-localized corrosion Co-60 – cobalt 60

Cs-137 – cesium 137
CRUD – Chalk River unidentified debris –radioactive corrosion products DOE – Department of Energy
EPRI – Electric Power Research Institute
EPZ – emergency planning zone
Fe-55 – iron 55
Fe-59 – Iron 59
FP – fission product
FSAR – Final Safety Analysis Report
Cr-51- chromium 51
GE – General Electric
GW – gigawatt
H-3- tritium
HLW – high-level waste
IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency
ISFSI – Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation
MCi – million curies
MW – megawatts
MTU – metric ton of uranium
NCRP – National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements NEA – Nuclear Energy Agency
NEI – Nuclear Energy Institute
Ni-16- nitrogen 16
NPP –nuclear power plant
NRC- Nuclear Regulatory Commission
PWR – pressurized water reactor
RCC – reactor cooling water
rem – radiation equivalent man
SCRAM – forced reactor shutdown
SFP –spent fuel pool
TRU – transuranic

Summary and Recommendations

The Columbia Generating Station (CGS) is a 1,170 Megawatt boiling water power reactor (BWR) located on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford Site in Washington State. Beginning operation in 1984, in addition to generating electricity, CGS has become a major radioactive waste production and storage facility.

It will take several decades, at the minimum, before a permanent disposal site for high level radioactive waste will be available, says the Energy Department, which estimates a permanent repository might open by the middle of this century. Given that more than 50 years have already passed in the quest for a permanent geological disposal site in the U.S., citizens of the Pacific Northwest should be prepared for the growing possibility that spent nuclear fuel generated by the Columbia Generating Station, and the Energy Department’s large amount of high-level radioactive defense wastes will remain on the Hanford site for an indefinite period.

Safely securing spent nuclear fuel that is currently being held in a vulnerable, high density pool, storage at CGS is a major public safety priority. Energy Northwest has made some progress in addressing this concern by placing approximately 60 percent of its spent fuel in durable, dry casks.

However, because of allowable increases in irradiation times for reactor fuel (high burnup), current and future spent fuel inventories in the storage pool are likely to contain larger concentrations of fission products than in dry casks and pose a significant additional hazard.

Over the past 30 years, CGS has generated approximately 320,000 spent fuel rods (3,992 assemblies) containing roughly 273 to 363 million curies of long-lived radioactivity (See table 1). About 40 to 54 percent is stored in the reactor spent fuel pool. CGS has generated about 150 to 200 percent more radioactivity than contained nearby in Hanford’s 177 defence high-level radioactive tanks from 40 years of plutonium production for nuclear weapons. Currently CGS has generated approximately half of the total concentration of radioactive wastes on the Hanford site (See Figure 1).

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See charts at link here

As the last remaining operating reactor at the site, over the next 30 years, the CGS is projected to generate 300 to 400 percent more long-lived radioactivity than currently in Hanford’s HLW tanks.

Transferring spent nuclear fuel to dry casks reduces some of the risks and consequences of storage. In 2004, a panel of the National Academy of Science informed the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), that a “partially or completely drained spent fuel pool could lead to a propagating zirconium cladding fire and release large quantities of radioactive materials to the environment…Such fires would create thermal plumes that could potentially transport radioactive aerosols hundreds of miles downwind under appropriate atmospheric conditions.”

Fallout from a spent fuel pond fire containing cesium-137 is of key concern because of its large quantity and toxicity when released into the environment. With a half-life of 30 years, Cs-137 gives off external penetrating radiation and accumulates in the environment as if it were potassium. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) concludes that, “Cs -137 has often proven to be the most important long-term contributor to the environmental radiation dose received by humans as a result of certain human activities.” The amount of Cs-137 in the CGS pool is about 2 to 3 times more than released by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests (See Figure 2) and about 24 to 45 times more than released by the Chernobyl accident.

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Figure 2

Dr. Allison Macfarlane, Chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) noted in April, 2014 that “land interdiction [from a spent nuclear fuel pool fire at the Peach Bottom Reactor in Pennsylvania] is estimated to be 9,400 square miles with a long term displacement of 4,000,000 persons [See Attachment 1].” By comparison, the Fukushima nuclear disaster resulted in eviction of approximately 160,000 people from their homes, food restrictions, and the costly and uncertain remediation of large areas.

Like the reactors at the Fukushima accident site, the CGS pool is elevated several stories above ground and currently holds the equivalent of roughly two spent reactor cores – more than the Fukushima Unit No. 4, which held the largest inventory among the damaged reactors and still poses an accident risk. The CGS pool was originally designed to hold about three times less than its current capacity and was intended for a 5-year storage period. As a result, the pool lacks the same “defense in depth” protection as the reactor core. For instance, the CGS spent fuel pool is not under thick and heavy secondary containment that covers the reactor vessel, and does not have its own independent backup power or water supply. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Columbia Generating Station is one of ten BWR,’s in the U.S. which “are more reliant on infrequently operated backup cooling systems than other similar plants because of the absence of an onsite power supply for the primary SFP[spent fuel pool] cooling system or low relative capacity of the primary cooling system.”

Overheating of the spent fuel pool could generate radioactive vapors that threaten the habitability of working areas. As of February 2014, Energy Northwest had not performed the necessary calculations of the time when boiling in the pool would occur from emergency emplacement of a full irradiated core in the pool – three times the amount normally discharged every two years. According to Energy Northwest, this would add roughly three times more decay heat than a normal refuelling. Despite this, the NRC exempts Energy Northwest from having back-up for a single failure of one of its two spent fuel pool heat exchangers, “based on the expected infrequent performance of a full core offload.” Full core offloads are not rare at U.S. nuclear reactors and the NRC has yet to establish a requirement for operating reactors to safely reserve pool space for full irradiated cores.

Instead of formal requirements for emergency response for accidents involving spent fuel pools, the NRC relies on voluntary guidelines suggested by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), an organization run by the commercial nuclear industry. The NEI guides are very general and do not address the site-specific designs, seismic circumstances, and other potential vulnerabilities, especially a major accident involving the reactor itself. In terms of water makeup capabilities to mitigate leaks and drainage from the CGS pool, Energy Northwest’s plan consists of using water from a fire hydrant, a fire “pumper” truck, or hoses from the reactor’s spray water ponds…

Read full text with charts and tables here

Direct link: http://nuclearfreenw.org/NuclearWasteReport-Alvarez.pdf

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