We had a similar problem with Vermont Yankee leaking tritium water into the grounds around the Connecticut River.
At first the owners of the plant, Louisiana-based Entergy, lied about it through their teeth before admitting it was happening to a smaller degree, then covered up that the fix wasn’t working satisfactorily. The NRC (who, IMO are fully bought and purchased by the nuclear owners) saw no problem with this event.
Even with the perjury pissing off the entire legislature, the state couldn’t shut down the plant for repeated dangerous breakdowns, so we just made it (even more) unaffordable to continue to do business in our state and Entergy shut it down themselves. No more leak.
I hope this provides a littlebackground.
Tritium has a relatively short half-life (just over 12 years) and it breaks down by beta-emission to produce a 3He atom. The beta ray energy is very low - a few keV - and won’t penetrate skin. However, if you drink tritiated water, the stuff gets right into your cells and so can bombard your DNA from close up. The treatment for ingesting tritium is to drink lots of water (and optionally alcohol) for several days in the hope the stuff will be flushed out before it gets into cells.
In its extremely cavalier nuclear program the UK government released billions of curies of tritium into the North Sea while making stuff for bombs, and at one time this was a considerable source of friction between the British and Irish governments. However, there is not a lot of evidence of serious harm being caused.
The worry with tritium is that as tritium oxide diffuses almost as fast as ordinary hydrogen oxide (molecular weight 22 versus 18), it will usually be the first radionucleide to be detected if a more serious leak has occurred. The other stuff follows on more slowly from behind. [edit - as with the bomb plants along the Colorado River.]
It’s worth remembering that coal powered plants, unless the flue scrubbers are very efficient, discharge uranium, cadmium and arsenic (among others) into the air. If coal plants were subject to the same regulations as nuclear plants, they would be closed down.
But presumably you now have a nuclear plant which is not in use and are hoping it gets safely decommissioned? The only thing more expensive than keeping a nuclear plant going is shutting it down safely. Ask the Ukrainians.
Tritium, where water memory is not total woo.
The decommissioning fund was underfunded to begin with. They estimated a lowball $1.25 billion was needed for the decomissioning, and had only funded around 50% of that amount over the life of the plant. The NRC refused to compel Entergy to put more into it, even as operations were winding up.
Last I heard, a year into the process they already spent 10% of the fund, and SAFSTOR can take dozens of years to be finished.
Thanks but there’s no need. All we need to know about ionising radiation is that the risk is either zero (when it’s naturally occurring), or beyond infinity (in the context of any discussion of nuclear power). Talking as though it could be a manageable risk is strictly for baby-murdering nuclear industry shills.
Dudes. Doc Ock. DUH.
I didn’t realize Tritium was used/a biproduct of nuclear plants. I know it is hella regulated. I reconnected with an old buddy who used to make paintball stuff, and he had bought out a sight manufacturer and offer a tritium version. Huge cost and time sink for the license.
Anyway - sigh - Look I honestly think we need to invest more in nuclear power. I think it is - right now - the best source for large scale energy that will reduce carbon emissions. Yes there are by products, but those can be dealt with properly. But it is like the webbed foot baby we keep locked up in a closet and feed through a slot in the door. We are ignoring our current plants, to the point they are starting to degrade, and we are not thinking about how much BETTER a NEW plant designed in 2016 (vs something from the 60s/70s) could be. This includes the theorized but probably practical Thorium plants. An idea that didn’t catch on because it’s byproduct can’t be used for bombs.
The first time I heard someone from the Green Party trying to distinguish “natural radioactivity” from that unnatural stuff we make, I despaired of the future of the human race. If the people who want to protect our environment spent half as much time learning some science as they do planning demonstrations, we might get some pressure for some sensible science policy. But I’m not holding my breath (except downwind of a coal fire).
It’s like people now shunning “chemicals”, but will put what ever concocted herbal supplement in their body because it is “natural”.
Hey - arsenic and cyanide are natural too, buddy.
In fact recent reasearch has shown that thorium plant waste can produce bombs, though for obvious UK-government-internet-terrorism-paranoia reasons I’m not going to cite references here.
We’ve discovered it takes around 65 years to learn how to make a fully safe uranium based power reactor. It’s reasonable to assume the timescale for thorium won’t be much shorter. Shortly after WW2 the value of human life and safety was much lower in the West than it is now and people could go off and do stupid things as part of a learning curve, whether it was build nuclear reactors or put men on the Moon. Now before anything starts it has to be fully safety approved and the economic case has to be watertight. That is why no thorium reactors; they are speculative as to safety and cost, whereas we do actually know how to make uranium reactors (if only manufacturers didn’t cut corners…).
I don’t know if life was less valued, at least in the US, it was people were more open to the fact that shit is dangerous and people die and they were willing to take that risk to move forward.
Yes for the immediate now, I would say we should build more Uranium reactors, but at the same time, I think we should have R&D set aside for something new, whether that is Thorium or something else I don’t know about.
Tritium has to be well regulated because it is so easy to use, its radiation is so hard to detect, and it is so invisible, odorless and yet, because of its low weight and short half life, so little of it produces so much radiation, that it is terribly easy to get careless around it. Unlike, say, uranium which is hard not to notice.
Years ago I was asked by someone how much tritium we had actually used in the entire period our plant had been operating, “in simple terms”. I replied that it if was turned to tritium oxide the entire lot would fit conveniently in the round base of a centrifuge tube - except that any attempt to get it all there would be frustrated by the heat and pressure that would develop. To get the same number of disintegrations per second from U-238, approximately 3 billion times as much by weight would be needed.
The money is being spent on fusion research. The US approach at LL was a figleaf for bomb design, but both the Germans and the Chinese reported significant progress this week. Even though a fusion reactor is probably 40 years away this is still a shorter timescale than thorium. Current approaches for fusion need a uranium blanket around the plasma core - but we know pretty well how to deal with spent uranium so there is less of a technical risk than with thorium.
How many people develop lung cancer because of exposure to radon?
Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Radon represents a far smaller risk for this disease, but it is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year are related to radon.
Exposure to the combination of radon gas and cigarette smoke creates a greater risk of lung cancer than exposure to either factor alone. The majority of radon-related cancer deaths occur among smokers. However, it is estimated that more than 10 percent of radon-related cancer deaths occur among nonsmokers.
And yet, radon occurs naturally. We can therefore discount it, and instead work to eliminate the dozens of deaths that can be attributed to nuclear power.
I wonder if they could build a pipeline and pump it to Flint?
In Table 1 you can see that the estimates for the UK in 1974-5 were very much lower than the 1980s values, though these dropped quite a bit in the 1990s (possibly due to Thatcherism?)
You can also see how the value of human life in the South Pacific region is much lower than in Scandinavia, except for Japan and Switzerland where it is extremely high.
The UK is much lower than the US.
I realise that the paper doesn’t try to produce figures for earlier periods but it does show that the value of human life is quite closely related to GDP per head. As this was much lower in 1945 than in 2015, it’s a reasonable stretch to suggest that the value put on human life was much lower in the years after WW2, when nuclear power was being developed.
The paper is technical but a read of the first page might be an eye opener for anybody who doesn’t realise how much political decisions are based on economic estimates of the value of human life.
I miss the good old days where radiation leaks were good for building strong bones and making your milk glow.
“65,000 percent” looks much scarier than “650 times”. Journalists, meh. Also, with insanely low limits and very low background, 650 times next-to-nothing is still pretty much next-to-nothing.
If you aren’t a manufacturer but just an end-user, buy a “traser” glowing keychain or lure off eBay, then hack it into the sight. No paperwork involved.
Not so theorized, there was a running prototype reactor. India is now doing a lot of research for the thorium cycle, as they are sitting on huge supplies of thorium.
I for one am putting quite some hopes in molten-salt thorium reactors. These can be built as pretty safe - no pressure in the primary loop, the fluorides are insoluble in water, and in case of big trouble the loop can be spilled into a flat vessel to passively dissipate the heat of the fission products.
Greenies meanies. What to expect.
Mom, when somebody peddled to her something “certainly harmless because natural” responded with listing some poisonous herbs. The look on the peddler’s face was quite priceless.
My govt is somewhat more laid back, and I also despise them, so I can mention the uranium-233. (I am not sure if the neutron spectrum is good enough for high-enough-efficiency transmutation of U-238 to U-239.) It is a rather unpleasant material to make a bomb from, due to its high gamma radiation.
The bulk of the underlying technology is pretty much the same, and there are many issues that don’t have to be discovered again. In case of the molten salt reactors, we don’t have the issues with exothermic reactions of the metals with the coolant in the reactor core (see burning of zirconium in steam), nor much of the problems with hydrogen that are intrinsic to using water as coolant. Fuel reprocessing can also be done on-line, within the molten salt loop.
The biggest problems I heard about so far are within the material compatibility with the molten salt and their long-term behavior in high intensity neutron flux. I for one would put my bets on composite materials, with inner layers of the pipes made of something chemically resistant (how does reinforced carbon-carbon behave in molten fluorides? does it undergo neutron swelling like graphite does? maybe some fiber-reinforced ceramics would work better? or some fluoride-based glass?).
My bet here is that the innovation will come from India and/or China, where they don’t need to wear diapers when “nuclear” is said.
A good comparison of amount vs activity for different isotopes is in curie - as a measure of quantity. I compiled part of the table.
I’d guess there are fewer unknowns with thorium than with fusion. Thorium reactors are already running.
Edit: could the online reprocessing be done with some sort of ion-exchange material, where thorium (or beryllium or something else) ions would be released from some binding matrix in exchange for the fission products? Then the cartridges could be periodically replaced and refreshed offline (remember the primary loop operates at low pressure, so no cooling/depressurization would be needed). A parallel to ionex cartridges for softening water, where sodium ions bound to a sulfonated polystyrene matrix are exchanged for calcium and magnesium in water, and the resin is later refreshed with sodium chloride solution.
Volatile fluorides could be also distilled away. Noble gases (xenon-135, I am looking at YOU!) can be outgassed from the melt with relative ease.