Assessing Environmental Harms from the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, Coal, and Natural Gas Presentation to the Special Committee On Nuclear Power Legislative Council State of Wisconsin by Christopher Paine Senior Nuclear Program Analyst Natural Resources Defense Council November 15, 2006
Can Nuclear Deliver Serious Amounts of Carbon Reduction? • Overall Goal: Keep global temp increase to within 2 deg. C above pre-industrialized levels to avert dangerous climate impacts. • Apply at least 7 (of 15 possible) complementary carbon-reducing “wedges” such that each displaces 1 GtC/yr in 2050, stabilizing atmospheric carbon concentration at current level. • We posed question: “If nuclear is assigned one such wedge, (adding 700 GWe to present global nuclear capacity of ~400 GWe) what would be the effect on global average temperature. • To achieve this level of carbon displacement, from 2010 to 2050 the world would have to add ~15 nuclear plants/year, and maintain ~1100 GWe from 2050 through 2100. • While there are numerous uncertainties, this massive nuclear build-out might possibly avert fossil power plant emissions that would otherwise result in a 0.2 deg. C rise in global avg. surface temperature
Nuclear vs Carbon Reality Check • ~ 0.2 degrees Celsius avoided requires almost a tripling of current global nuclear capacity within 40 years: • 1100 nuclear power plants (plant life = 40 years) • 15 enrichment plants (plant capacity = 8 million “separative work units”/year (SWU/y); plant life = 40 y); 9 plants in a given year • 33 fuel fabrication plants (3 plants/100 GWe) • 14 Yucca Mountains for 973,000 t spent fuel (SF) containing approximately • 10,000,000 kilograms of plutonium; or • 50 reprocessing plants if all SF were to be reprocessed (plant capacity = 800 t SF/y and plant life = 40 y) • Construction of these facilities requires $2.7 - $3.2 trillion (in today’s dollars)
Average World Growth Rate in Net Nuclear Generating Capacity, Historical and Projected
Without Carbon Cap, DOE/EIA Expects Only 6 GW of New US Nuclear Capacity in Next 25 Years Nuclear Revival
EIA Forecasts Nuclear Share of US Total Electric Generation Will Decline • “In 2030, even with a national average capacity factor of more than 90%, nuclear power accounts for about 15% of total U.S. generation.” but • “From 2004 to 2030, 26.4 GW of new renewable generating capacity is added…” (more than 4X nuclear)
New EIA Projection May be Modestly More Optimistic • EPACT subsidies and possibility of legislated CO2 Limits appear to have stimulated greater interest • Current industry planning suggest 9-12 GW of new capacity might be on line by 2021 • This still represents very modest growth, and probably no change in nuclear’s share of electric generation
The Balance Sheet for New Nuclear Power The Plus Side • Low emissions of carbon and other air pollutants (but still some, from uranium mining, milling, enrichment, reactor construction, decom-missioning, waste management activities) • Copious but highly concentrated source of round-the-clock base-load power • Low fuel costs compared to fossil alternatives • If carbon emissions are effectively “taxed” at $100-$200 per ton under a carbon cap-and-trade system, nuclear might compete effectively with coal/gas fired central station power plants.
“…1100 Nuclear Reactors” to Avert 1 Gigaton of Carbon Twin Units With Cooling Towers cost~$6-$8 billion
New Areva-Siemens EPR (1600 MWe) under construction in Finland for >$3.8 billion
The Balance Sheet for New Nuclear Power The Downside (Costs) • New Nuclear is costly low-carbon power ($0.9 - $0.10/kWh delivered) • 3-4 times more costly than end-use efficiency improvements ($0.025 - $0.035/kWh, no delivery cost) ; • Nuclear more costly than wind and recovered heat co-generation now, and probably more than solar within 10 years • Long gestation/construction period and huge capital costs increase risk of market obsolescence and “stranded costs” (i.e. costs that cannot reasonably be recovered by continuing to operate the plant for its planned life)
More Nuclear Downside (Energy Security) • Historical record shows U.S. nuclear generation subject to infrequent but prolonged unplanned shutdowns • Recent UCS study documents 51 “year-plus” reactor outages since 1966, 12 since 1995, of which 11 were “safety-related.” • To ensure reliability, huge “lumpy” increments of nuclear capacity require costly power grid excess capacity. • Carries little prospect of increasing U.S.“energy independence” -- bulk of quality global uranium resources located outside the U.S.
More Nuclear Downside (Accidents and Waste) • Any nuclear power investment may become hostage to the worst performer—or even the average performer on a bad day—in the event of a reactor accident or near-accident anywhere on the globe • No technically credible licensed path (yet) to opening first long-term geologic repository for safely isolating spent fuel • Real nuclear “renaissance” will soon require either additional costly, hard-to-establish geologic repositories, or even more costly and hazardous spent-fuel reprocessing
More Nuclear Downside: Security & Proliferation Concerns • Nuclear security concerns and risks are heightened in era of transnational terrorism • Reactors, spent fuel pools, and cooling water impoundments can be sabotaged or attacked • Acute proliferation concerns if closed fuel cycles are used that separate and recycle plutonium • Proliferation-enabling uranium enrichment capability is spreading to additional countries that are not Nuclear Weapon States under NPT (e.g. Iran, Brazil, North Korea)
More Nuclear Downside : Non-Carbon Environmental Impacts • All stages of nuclear fuel cycle involve harmful, (and risk of potentially disastrous) environmental impacts (e.g. Chernobyl) • Uranium mining and milling leaves piles of toxic residues and contaminates ground and surface waters. Navajo Nation has barred further uranium mining on its lands. • Enrichment leaves huge inventory of corrosive depleted uranium hexaflouride that must be disposed of safely • Spent fuel reprocessing creates large volumes of difficult-to-manage liquid “mixed” (i.e. chemical-radioactive) waste • Averting severe damage requires tight regulation (yet another cost), with significant financial penalties imposed for poor environmental/safety performance
About 2/3 of energy produced is waste heat that must be dissipated in the local environment
More Environmental Downside: Managing Reject Heat • Huge heat dissipation loads require large evaporative cooling withdrawals and/or thermal discharges into already overburdened lakes and rivers (e.g. reactor shut-downs of Summer 2006) • Alternative is massive and costly fan-driven air-cooling towers with ~ 10% parasitic load • Climate-change in the direction of hotter-drier summers spells trouble for reactors that rely on cheaper water cooling from small interior lakes and rivers
“Front-end” of Nuclear Fuel Cycle Has Multiple Harmful Environmental Impacts
Uranium Mining and Ore Concentration • “All nuclear fuel cycle waste (except HLW) has been safely and reliably disposed through DoE and NRC regulations; milling, enrichment, fabrication as LLW.” -- Prof. Mike Corradini, Prof. and Chair of Engineering Physics, University of Wisconsin, Sept. 29, 2006 • In reality, uranium mining and milling leaves huge piles of toxic residues and contaminates ground and surface waters. Navajo Nation has barred further uranium mining on its lands. Disposal anything but “safe and reliable.”
In undisturbed uranium deposit, the activity of all decay products remains constant for hundreds of millions of years. Radiation is virtually trapped underground; exposures are only possible if contaminated groundwater, circulating through the deposit, is used for drinking. Radon is of no concern for deep deposits (though it can travel through underground fissures) since it decays before it can reach the surface
Situation changes when the deposit is mined: Radon gas can escape into the air, ore dust can be blown by the wind, and contaminants can be leached and seep into surface water bodies and groundwater. • The alpha radiation of the 8 alpha-emitting nuclides contained in the U-238 series (and to a lesser degree, of the 7 alpha emitters in the U-235 series) presents a radiation hazard on ingestion or inhalation of uranium ore (dust) and radon.
Radiation Hazard from Tailings, cont… • The gamma radiation mainly of Pb-214 and Bi-214, together with the beta radiation of Th-234, Pa-234m, Pb-214, Bi-214, and Bi-210, presents an external radiation hazard. • For ingestion and inhalation, also the chemical toxicity of uranium has to be taken into account (uranium and other heavy metals can damage liver function)
“Because uranium decays by alpha particles, external exposure to uranium is not as dangerous as exposure to other radioactive elements because the skin will block the alpha particles. • Ingestion of high concentrations of uranium, however, can cause severe health effects, such as cancer of the bone or liver. • Inhaling large concentrations of uranium can cause lung cancer from the exposure to alpha particles. • Uranium is also a toxic chemical, meaning that ingestion of uranium can cause kidney damage from its chemical properties much sooner than its radioactive properties would cause cancers of the bone or liver.” --Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 2004
What are Uranium Mill Tailings? • Waste from uranium mining takes the form of both waste rock (“overburden”) and “tailings” • Percentage of uranium in naturally occurring ore bodies is very low (1-3%) creating need for plants that concentrate the ore into something called uranium “yellowcake” (uranium oxide, U3O8) • Tailings formed when uranium ore is crushed and chemically treated (usually with sulfuric acid and other chemicals) to “leach out” the uranium • Huge amounts of wastes (tailings) from this process normally transferred in a slurry pipeline and dumped in expediently engineered man-made impoundments
What’s in Uranium Mill Tailings? • Leach residues contain most of the radioactive decay products of uranium: e.g. Thorium-230, Radium-226, Radon-222 (radon gas) • Tailings also contains sulfuric acid, ammonia, other process chemicals, arsenic, and heavy metals • Because Thorium-230 is long-lived, radium and radon are continually produced in the tailings and released over a long period
Flooding spurs new concern over Atlas Moab tailings • From the Salt Lake Tribune July 27, 2006 • “Flash flooding in Moab two weeks ago has provided new incentive for state and local officials to keep the pressure on the U.S. Energy Department to stay on schedule with the cleanup of the Atlas mill uranium tailings. • “The deluge - 2 to 4 inches (5 - 10 cm) of rain in a matter of hours - cut through the layer of sand that covers the massive pile of uranium waste on the banks of the Colorado River. It also washed out a containment berm and left a puddle on top of the 130-acre pile.”
Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Program • 24 Surface and Ground-Water Sites in 10 States • Twenty-four designated Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) sites are located in 10 states, including: • Arizona (two sites), Colorado (nine sites), Idaho (one site), New Mexico (two sites), North Dakota (two sites), Oregon (one site), Pennsylvania (one site), Texas (one site), Utah (three sites), and Wyoming (two sites). • One part of the program focuses on surface contamination, the other part on groundwater. • Unfortunately, there are hundreds of smaller old contaminated mining sites scattered throughout the West
EPA settles with United Nuclear to investigate contamination at former Church Rock uranium mine and mill site • On Sep. 28, 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached an agreement with the United Nuclear Corporation requiring the company to further investigate contamination related to its historic uranium mining and processing operations at the Northeast Church Rock Mine site located on the Navajo Nation, approximately 16 miles northeast of Gallup, New Mex. • In January 2006, the EPA detected elevated levels of alpha radiation at the site and radium-226 in the surface soils. Residences to the northeast of the mine permit area may have been affected by releases of hazardous substances and contaminants transported by wind, historic dewatering of mining operations, and runoff during snow, rain and flood events. (EPA Region 9, Sep. 28, 2006)
Rio Algom applies for relaxed ground-water standards for Lisbon (MT) mill site • Notice in Federal Register Vol. 67, No. 142, p. 48495 (Jul. 24, 2002): • "SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has received, … an application from Rio Algom Mining LLC (Rio Algom) to establish Alternate Concentration Limits and amend the Source Material License No. SUA-1119 for the Lisbon uranium mill facility. " • From Rio Algom's May 22, 2002, application: • "Results of this assessment indicate that aquifer restoration cannot be achieved in less than 28 years or for less than $23,000,000 given any active remedial scenario. In contrast, the cost to implement natural attenuation in conjunction with institutional controls is only about $ 388,000."
Hazard cleanup at abandoned uranium mines in Harding County may cost $20 million • (Aberdeen News [South Dakota] July 21, 2005) • “The clean up at abandoned uranium mines in Harding County will cost an estimated $20 million, according to the U.S. Forest Service. The agency hopes to have the Riley Pass Uranium Mines site included in the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program. • “Hazardous materials contaminate 12 bluffs in the Sioux Ranger District of Custer National Forest, said Laurie Walters-Clark, on-scene coordinator of the project. In the 1950s, uranium mining claims were filed on the 65,000 acres of the North Cave Hills, South Cave Hills and Slim Buttes areas. By 1965, the mining companies had left. • “In 1989, the Forest Service built five catch basins to trap sediment washing down from the former mine sites. By the next year, the Forest Service removed more than 6,700 cubic yards of sediment from the basins. With an estimated $2 million price tag, Forest Service officials decided against further reclamation efforts. Later soil testing showed the bluffs as sources of hazardous substances.
40-50 years after the fact, impacts of first uranium mining boom are still being felt Informational Meeting October 11, 2006 6:00 p.m. Written by DR. James Stone Thursday, 01 September 2005 Informational Meeting STUDY OF ABANDONED URANIUM MINING IMPACTS ON PRIVATE LANDS SURROUNDING THE NORTH CAVE HILLS When: October 11, 2006 6:00 p.m. Where: Ludlow Hall Ludlow, South Dakota
High radiation levels from abandoned uranium mines also found in Pryor Mountains (Montana) near Bighorn Canyon • The Billings Gazette Aug. 17, 2003: • “High levels of radioactivity found at abandoned uranium mines in the Pryor Mountains has prompted the Custer National Forest to close one area and the Bureau of Land Management to consider closures at other nearby sites. • “The Forest Service took radiation readings at the … mines after an abandoned mines inventory suggested they may have high radiation levels. • “At the Sandra Mine, the Forest Service found readings that ranged from 1.8 times the natural background level to 369 times.”