From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: food for thought... from the mail box
Date: Sun, 08 Jan 2006 15:09:48 -0500
On Sun, 08 Jan 2006 17:32:57 GMT, Larry Caldwell <email@example.com>
>In article <firstname.lastname@example.org>, email@example.com
>(Neon John) says...
>> Really? Don't tell the guys who've dismantled TMI-2, Shoreham,
>> several of the Yankee reactors, much of Hanford and so on. Shoreham
>> will be turned into a park shortly, as soon as the demolition is
>> finished. TMI-2's radiation level inside the containment building
>> again approaches background. The building will remain because it's
>> cheaper than tearing it down and there is no other use for the land
>> until Unit 1 reaches the end of its life. Much of Hanford will be
>> returned to public use shortly.
>The part about Hanford is total horseshit. They are still shipping all
>the nuclear waste in the PNW to Hanford. Just a few years ago, they
>barged the core of the Trojan Nuclear Reactor to Hanford for storage.
>All of the Trojan plant fuel rods still remain on site. The Hanford low
>level waste vitrification plant is years behind schedule, and now
>congress is cutting the funding for the project. They have sunk over
>$100 billion into the Hanford site, and haven't remediated squat.
Hey Larry, have any idea how large Hanford is? How many different
things are/were done there? Ever been there? (I know the answer to
that since someone of your caliber could never get a Q clearance) Ever
worked there? (Ditto)
>I don't agree with Peter. I think the problems with nuclear waste are
>solvable. Vitrification is an excellent idea. The French have been
>doing it for almost 50 years. The USA should just contract with the
>French to build enough vitrification plants to handle the low level
>waste. That way we might actually have one or more in operation
>sometime in the 21st century. Once waste has been converted to a non-
>soluble form, they can stick it in a salt mine, or do what the French do
>and just sink it in the Marianas Trench.
This is the problem with "education via headline". One believes he
knows something about the subject when he actually doesn't.
Vitrification was a fairly good and expedient treatment 30 years ago
but it is a very poor choice now. Many advances in the intervening
years have resulted in much better approaches. Now, vitrification
would only complicate things.
A major advance was partly technological and partly philosophical. The
volume of low level waste (LLW) produced has been reduced by an order
of magnitude or more. When I started my career, it was normal
procedure to toss anything that came from a "C area" (contaminated) in
the rad waste container. The overwhelming majority of the waste was
not contaminated. No problem when the industry was small and the
burial sites plentiful.
As the cost of disposing of LLW went through the roof, we (the
industry) took a second look. The first philosophical step was to
retrain workers to scan waste and not put cold stuff in radwaste. The
second, technological development was the advances in microelectronics
and radiation detectors, particularly room temperature solid state
ones. It became feasible to process LLW and separate it by species.
In the mid-80s my company (basically me) designed a classification
machine for Oak Ridge that sorted scrap metal being ejected from a
crusher into multiple streams - clean, U contaminated, transuranics
contaminated, fission product contaminated, etc. The U contaminated
material went through a chemical process that rendered it clean and
recovered the U. Ditto with the fission product contaminated stuff.
The transuranics weren't worth processing at the time so they went to
the burial site.
Things have advanced greatly since then, both in chemical processes
and in detection and electronic processing. Very compact waste
segregators are now on the market and in common use that processes LLW
at the source - in the nuclear plant or the lab or whatnot.
Probably the most significant advancement is the practical ability to
transmute the transuranics (those low level isotopes that "live for
10,000 years") into shorter lived isotopes that quickly decay away.
Transmutation has been known in principle since the dawn of the
nuclear age but its practicality has been limited.
Elements are transmuted by bombarding the atoms with neutrons. The
atomic nucleus absorbs the neutron and either fissions or ejects one
or more fundamental particles to become another isotope, usually one
with a shorter half-life. Most all the transuranics will fission so
neutron transmutation is a very viable treatment.
Originally, the idea was to concentrate the wastes and then process
them in specially designed reactors. As reactors became politically
unpopular, the idea went on the back burner waiting for new
New developments include the microwave LINAC and the high power laser.
Microwave LINACs were developed initially as an alternative to cobalt
and cesium for cancer radiation therapy. Much higher level and much
better focused radiation was possible plus the thing could be turned
off! The radiation sterilization industry motivated the "supersizing"
of LINACs to replace large and expensive isotope radiation sources.
Nowadays, a LINAC the size of a van can produce neutron beam
intensities unheard of outside the center of a nuclear weapon.
Transmutations that might have taken a year in a reactor can now be
done in days. Most medical isotopes are now produced using
accelerators. The exact same processes and equipment can process
radwaste. A LINAC is cheap (compared to other radiation sources),
cheap to operate and generates no radiation when turned off.
The other major development has been the high power laser. Lasers of
moderate cost that produce power in the terawatt range and above. I
received an article from my clipping service last week that reported
on a laser-produced neutron beam being used to transmute I-129
(half-life of 15.7 million years) to I-130 (half-life 12.36 hours).
This is an example of transmuting an isotope that would last "millions
of years" into one that is completely gone in a day.
Having the waste embedded in glass (what vitrification does) would
only interfere with this process.
It is propitious at this point to make the distinction between long
lived low level wastes such as the transuranics and short lived, high
level stuff. Take that reactor vessel (not the core, Larry) from
Trojan that you raved on about. The activity on that vessel is
essentially all Cs-137 with a trace of activation products tossed in
for good measure, things like Co-60 and Ni-63. The metallurgy of the
steel was controlled closely to preclude elements such as cobalt that
are neutron-activated but a tiny bit always slips in. Fortunately,
all of these are short lived. Cs-137's half-life is 30.2 years. Co-60
is 5.3 years. Ni-63 is about 100 years - fortunately it's there in
only trace amounts.
The best thing to do with isotopes like these is to simply wait them
out. After 5 half-lives, the isotope is essentially gone. It was
determined that it would be more economical to haul that reactor
vessel to Hanford and bury it for a hundred years or so than it would
be to decontaminate it. So it'll it there for a century or two and
then perhaps some enterprising scrap metal guy will dig it up and
>Spent fuel should be reprocessed. Any remaining high level waste should
>be stored in short term storage for a few decades, until it decays to
>low level waste, then vitrified and moved to long term storage.
I'd much rather recycle the fuel, separate out the long lived
isotopes, let the short lived ones decay off, transmute the useless
long lived ones into something harmless and put the useful ones to
work. Screw the long term storage and all its costs.
Can you imagine a backyard or neighborhood heat source that produced
comfort heat at essentially no cost and was good for a lifetime? I
can. A radioisotpe fueled heat source, powered by selected reactor
A couple of decades ago my company was funded to do a feasibility
study of this technology. We concluded that there were no
technological or safety issues and that the major problem would be
political. It would be fascinating to watch the political
machinations if the public had a choice of almost free heat on one
hand and anti-nuke-ism on the other. Hmmmm.
>The key to a successful nuclear program is to solve the problems before
>you cause them.
And now we end with a catchy but meaningless slogan. Ohhhhh.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: OT ~ Nuclear Power Now! (was OT - Oil Bashing)
Date: Wed, 08 Feb 2006 16:37:22 -0500
On Tue, 07 Feb 2006 12:28:17 -0500, Harry <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>I like nuclear power too.
>But until they have a "safe" way to dispose of this waste that will be
>dangerous to humans for 10,000 years - I can't justify building more
Fortunately you won't be consulted. Since nothing in your above
statement is true, it's a good thing.
>Do you realize that we have had 100s of nuke plants running for over 30
>years - and they have all their waste stored on-site in a pool of water?
>It is not responsible to our posterity to make another problem that they
>have to handle - so we can have cheap energy now. Just like burdening
>our posterity with all this debt - adding a layer of nuke waste to care
>for is truly selfish.
Gawd I love those socialistic "we"'s.
>Americans use way more power than we need. As Bush said - "we are
>addicted to oil." Add electricity to that.
Well, since the energy available to each citizen is a direct measure
of country's wealth, I sure am glad that "we" are "addicted". I'd
like to see "us" far more addicted.
Harry, you've established your reputation as someone who espouses
positions based on stark ignorance. I certainly feel sorry for the
students who were your victims. You're true to form here. I would
say that you know just enough about nuclear power to be dangerous but
you don't even know that much.
I suppose there was some excuse for your behavior back when learning
the facts actually required you to get up off your *ss and go to the
library, write to information sources and the like. That excuse is
gone now, what with google and the vast amount of information
available out there.
Just a few things that you're wrong about.
* spent fuel has been safely stored on site for over 50 years. The
storage is in dry storage casks and not in water. The fuel remains in
water only long enough for it to cool off - about 2 years. The high
density water storage pits that you may have stumbled upon were a
temporary measure, replaced in all but a few units with dry storage.
An entire plant's life's discharge of spent fuel can be stored in
under an acre in dry casks. Since the smallest site I've ever seen is
about 500 acres, that's no problem at all.
* widely distributed storage is MUCH safer than agglomerating it all
in one spot like the government proposes to do at Yucca Flats. That
YF has taken on a political life of its own is unfortunate. Storing
the fuel in above-ground dry casks makes the fuel much easier to
retrieve when recycling begins.
* The dangerous stuff is short lived and the stuff that "lasts for
10,000 years" isn't. This is directly related to the isotope's
specific activity which is the reciprocal of half-life.
* Spent fuel as it comes from the reactor is cool enough to work
around in 5-10 years. I have personally handled ~2 year old spent
fuel rods with my bare (gloved) hands. At that age it is still
radiologically hot enough that the radiation can be felt on the
fingertips but the whole body exposure isn't all that bad. Certainly
not something that will strike you down from 100 paces as the
anti-nook kooks seem to believe.
* The stuff that "lasts 10,000 years" is easily transmuted into
short-lived isotopes that decay rapidly, in a matter of minutes in
some cases. This isn't theory - Los Alamos has been running a pilot
plant for years and has published publicly available papers on the
process. Twenty years ago the transmutation would have been done in a
specially designed reactor. Today compact, high power accelerators
will do the job. All that is standing in the way is the reversal of
the Georgia White Trash's (Carter) mandate against reprocessing. I
prefer to use the modern term, recycling.
* The amount of high level waste produced by a year of operation of a
1200 MWe plant will just about fill two 5 gallon buckets after it is
separated from the "spent fuel", a misnomer since only about 2.5-3% of
the fuel is burned during one cycle. This assumes a 2.5% burnup.
If we (and I'm using the "we" properly here since I was and maybe will
be a part of this industry again if it starts back up in time.) do
nothing other than pack that away for decay, the "safe disposal" issue
will be handily taken care of. Just put it in a drum inside another
drum inside another drum and set it in the corner of a shielded room.
Of course, that same 10 gallons of HLW can be transmuted into stuff
that decays away in minutes, days and at most a few years, producing
economically useful heat in the process.
I could perhaps expect this kind of ignorance out of the non-technical
population but for someone who purports to be a science teacher, your
performance is disgusting. You ought to be ashamed.
As far as nukes go, within the next 5 years I expect to see a site
selected and prep to begin for the first of the new generation of
intrinsically safe reactors. Even many of the more rational and
informed "environmentalists" acknowledge that nuclear is the only
non-fossil source of energy that will scale enough to meet the
national need. After all, what we have now would only have to be
scaled by a factor of 4 to meet all the country's electrical needs.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: OT ~ Nuclear Power Now! (was OT - Oil Bashing)
Date: Wed, 08 Feb 2006 23:32:04 -0500
On Wed, 8 Feb 2006 16:11:29 -0700, "Bruce" <email@example.com>
>I think it might be more accurate to say that none of the people
>actively involved in the discussion/argument ever publicly changes
>their minds. However, a discussion like this could cause other people
>to read it and become informed, thus changing their minds, or at least
>make up their minds from a neutral position to one side or the other.
>At least I hope that could be the case.
That happens to a significant degree. Every time I take the time to
refute in detail some sort of anti-nuclear BS, I get one or more
emails from readers thanking me for the post and stating that they had
either changed their mind or had been spurred to conduct their own
research or both.
That is the ONLY reason that I'd take the time to refute someone of
Harry's repute. I certainly would not waste the time just to argue
Unfortunately this highlights a major societal problem today. That
is, everyone seems to feel the need to have strongly held opinions on
everything, even in areas for which they have zero actual knowledge or
experience. It doesn't seem acceptable anymore to say "I simply don't
know enough to have an opinion and so I defer to the experts".
The nuclear arena is a perfect example. Both the theory and the
practice of nuclear physics are arcane, complicated, highly
math-intensive, non-intuitive and have few analogies in the outside
world. As far as the layman goes, the non-intuitive part is the
worst. In the nuclear world, many times things just don't work like
you'd think they would. Coupled to that is the massively huge
quantity of just flat wrong information out there, some manufactured
by the anti-nook kooks and the rest being what I could best describe
as intentional mis-information put out by governments.
Someone like Harry or Lindakay trying to offer up opinions on nuclear
energy would be like me trying to pretend to be learned about, say,
neurosurgery. I don't know jack-sh*t about neurosurgery, therefore
anything I might say would make me look like an idiot to actual
What's wrong with saying "I don't know enough to have an opinion about
that and so I rely on the experts?"
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: OT ~ Nuclear Power Now! (was OT - Oil Bashing)
Date: Wed, 08 Feb 2006 16:59:57 -0500
On Tue, 07 Feb 2006 19:15:02 GMT, "Max"
>I think Y'all are trying to get me to forget the question. I'll re-state
>it; "Do you think nuclear plants will *deliberately* release radioactivity?"
Of course they do. The allowable concentrations are all right there
in the plant's Tech Specs. The actual AMOUNTS are vanishingly small,
undetectable a few feet from the discharge points.
Your question is identical to "Do you intentionally release
radioactivity?" Yes, of course you do, every time you take a dump.
There is a significant and easily measured amount of radioactive
potassium-40 (K40) in the environment and the body concentrates it.
There is enough K40 in a typical body that it confounds the detection
of trace amounts of artificially created radioactive elements in the
body. Everyone who works in a nuclear plant must have a semi-annual
"whole body count". The K40 in the body sets the lower limit of
delectability of other stuff.
I can look at the gamma spectrograph from a whole body count and
identify the users of salt substitute and the vegetarians. Both have
much higher levels of K40 than the average citizen.
To put that in perspective, here is a photo of the contents of a can
of salt substitute laying on a survey meter pancake probe.
You'll notice that the counter is reading 5,000 counts per minute
(CPM). Normal background is about 40 CPM in this area of the country.
By nuclear plant standards, something is considered contaminated and
goes into radwaste disposal when 200 CPM above background registers
with this type of probe. Here is the container that the salt
substitute came from:
The more correct question is, "does a plant intentionally (or
otherwise) release harmful amounts of radioactive materials?" The
answer is no.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: Solar Power can now be stored?
Date: Wed, 06 Aug 2008 02:49:16 -0400
On Tue, 5 Aug 2008 23:08:29 -0500, "PecosBill" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>"Neon John" <email@example.com> wrote
>> It's tragic to see a great businessman like Pickens make a fool out of
>> himself in his declining years.
>Hear, hear! We are not going to get to the stars as a wind-and-solar powered
>Fusion! I want my fusion! 35 years ago, when I first toured the Institute
>for Advanced Studies at Princeton, I was told that commercially viable
>fusion energy was 20 years away. Guess how many years away it is now...
For years I've referred to hot fusion research as America's scientific Great
Society. The welfare state for scientists. Unlike other big government
boondoggles like NASA where a few useful things occasionally shake out, 50
years of hot fusion research has produced nothing other than a LOT of dead
trees with black marks on 'em. The welfare state analogy is a perfect fit.
Nothing for something. Lots and lots of something.
I'm perfectly happy with plain old ordinary fission. There's enough uranium
easily at hand to run the industry for a couple hundred years. Heck, there's
enough Pu and HEU from decommissioning all those bombs - ours and theirs - to
run the present fleet of reactors for a hundred years.
When fuel recycling (what we used to call reprocessing) resumes again, along
with breeder reactors, the uranium supply stretches out to the many hundreds
of years - far farther than anyone need even think about today.
That doesn't even include the uranium on the ocean floor and dissolved in sea
water. It's only a trace but there's a TON of ocean to work with.
As I like to remind people, there are only three sources of energy (processes
that convert matter to energy) that matter - nuclear fission, nuclear fusion
and radioactive decay. All the other stuff we piddle around with are simply
forms of energy storage. Coal, oil, that kind of stuff.
As of right now, fission is under-utilized, fusion isn't practical and
radioactive decay energy is being totally wasted. All that stuff that the
hysterics call "nuclear waste" is, in actuality, a valuable resource.
Imagine a little metal capsule the size of a quart paint can filled with high
level "waste" from a nuclear reactor. It would be glowing red hot in open air
from decay heat and would do so for the next quarter century before its power
output roughly halved.
Now imagine that little cylinder buried in an underground concrete and
stainless steel hermetic structure in your back yard with conduits to bring
the heat out.
You have your comfort heating.
You have your hot water.
With a free piston stirling generator, you have your electricity.
Another free piston stirling engine, this time powering a refrigeration cycle
provides your AC and refrigeration.
The excess electricity charges the batteries in your electric car.
You'd buy this capsule once in your lifetime, maybe twice if you live long
About all the basic essentials that you need to buy from the outside is food
and clothing and if you live in the city, water and sewer.
There's your almost unlimited, almost free energy source AND the solution to
the "nuclear waste problem" (sic). That we're not doing the above right now
shows just how powerful a combination shoddy government education and mass
media propaganda really is.
None of this is future-speak. I could do it ALL today with off-the-shelf
stuff if the government got out of the way. If T. Boon had two clues to rub
together he'd be spending his money and influence making this happen instead
of wasting resources on wind and solar, two huge energy dead-ends.
I can visualize nuclear reactors operating NOT to produce electricity but to
produce radiothermal isotopes and process heat. The process heat being used to
synthesize liquid fuels for applications where electricity just won't cut it.
Aviation, for instance.
I haven't even mentioned the valuable STABLE isotopes contained in the spent
fuel. Iridium, for instance, more valuable than either gold or platinum and
vital for everything from catalytic converters to precision instruments. It's
a fission product, one of the elements produced when uranium atoms are split.
I read one peer-reviewed journal paper that estimated that about 10% of the
world's supply of iridium is contained in the nation's commercial power plant
spent fuel. Just laying there wasted and inaccessible in spent fuel dry
Think how little power Washington would have over our lives if it didn't have
energy to tamper with and mess up. Think how much more wealthy each of us
would be if we didn't have to buy energy on a continual basis. Like the
saying goes, "Follow the money". If that doesn't work then "follow the
To modify another saying, "Sell a man some energy and he'll be warm for a day.
Sell the man the means to MAKE energy and he'll be warm the rest of his life."