Sunday, April 28, 2013

Used Fuel: Shaffer Statement at the Vermont Legislature

As I noted in my post Cheerful Wednesday, Howard Shaffer was invited to speak to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Thursday, April 25.  Robert Alvarez and Arnie Gundersen also spoke to the same committee.  (My "Cheerful Wednesday" post has many links about the Alvarez talk.) This post mostly consists of Howard's prepared remarks. But I will start with the quote from Vermont Public Radio that ended their description of Gundersen's talk.

Vermont Public Radio

Howard Shaffer
On Friday, John Dillon of Vermont Public Radio  broadcasted a report: Engineer Says State Could Face Expensive Clean-up If Vermont Yankee Closes.  The report quotes both Gundersen and Shaffer. I link to the transcript, above.

From the VPR report:

A pro-Yankee nuclear engineer said lawmakers should not be overly worried that the state will be left footing the bill if Entergy closes the plant.

Howard Shaffer is from Enfield, N.H. and worked for years in the nuclear industry. He said the federal government would not allow Entergy to walk away.

“The issue of will there be enough money is a serious one, but I also think it will be found that the federal government laws override state laws that allow somebody to go bankrupt and run away from their responsibility,” he said. “That’s Congress’ intent. And they’re going to find the original owners and make them pay.”

Shaffer's Statement


House Natural Resources and Energy Committee
Storage of Used (Spent) Reactor Fuel at the 
Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station

Howard Shaffer   PE (nuclear)   VT, NH, MA 

Thank you Chairman Klein and Committee Members for allowing me to come before you today.  My purpose is to provide what I can from my experience on this important matter.  My view is positive.

Virtually my entire career has been in nuclear power. My resume is attached.


Missing from the nuclear debate has been clarity about the overall design philosophy of US nuclear generating facilities.  From the beginning, every aspect of the program -- hardware, training, management and regulation-has been designed, not on the belief that accidents MIGHT happen, but on the certainty that accidents WILL happen. Experience with human performance proves that there will be mistakes.  If the benefits were to be enjoyed, then all possible means to first, prevent accidents, and second to deal with the consequences of accidents had to be developed and put in place.

A key part of the design process is asking “What if..?”  scenarios for all imaginable events that could happen.  The design and licensing process continues and asks “How could this happen” and “How long does this take to happen?” and “What are the odds that it will happen?”  Fast-breaking events require controls that respond instantly and automatically, while longer-term events include actions by trained nuclear operators.  For example, the Design Basis pipe break initiates a series of automatic programmed shutdown responses for the first ten minutes.  At that point, the nuclear operations team takes over the process.  The operators are the first responders.  At Fukushima, the operators worked diligently until the accident was under control.  It took more than a day before there was any release, and the order to evacuate residents in the vicinity came hours before that.

Used (spent) fuel storage

One-third of the nuclear fuel in the Vermont Yankee reactor is replaced every 18 months. The fuel that is removed from the reactor and stored on-site continues to be a valuable resource because only about 10% of the energy contained in the fuel has been used and 90% of that energy can be reclaimed through recycling and used to create more electricity.

The solid ceramic fuel pellets in the fuel bundles that have been removed from the reactor as spent fuel
and stored in dry casks, are air cooled by natural circulation through the cask. The pellets have been stored in water for more than five years and are generating very little heat.   With the shielding in the 100-ton storage casks, the used fuel is very secure.  Even if a cask was broken open and the pellets scattered on the ground, they would just lie there, continuing to be air cooled.  Radiation dose to the offsite public would be insignificant.

Used fuel in the pool is also very secure.  The reactor building and radioactive waste storage facilities are designed for the maximum Design Basis earthquake and 360 mph winds from a tornado with 300 mph winds advancing at 60 mph. The fuel pool and the entire cooling system are in those buildings.  The system is powered by two redundant emergency backup diesel generators when normal power is lost.  There also are backup water supplies to the spent fuel storage pool.  Post 9-11 and based on hypothetical spent pool fire studies, the fuel is stored in the pool in a checker-board pattern, with the fuel most recently removed from the reactor, which generates the most heat,  surrounded by older fuel(which has been cooling in the pool for up to 35 years) that will absorb heat.

There was an event this February at Pilgrim plant in Massachusetts, a plant like Vermont Yankee. This event illustrates the design margin.  During storm Nemo all offsite power was lost for two days.  The reactor scrammed and emergency backup diesels started automatically, as designed.  The reactor was brought to cold shutdown by the Pilgrim reactor operations team in 10 hours, and fuel pool cooling, which can be suspended for a long time due to the large volume of water in the pool, was  restored after 21 hours!

Understanding the Nuclear Debate

I’ve struggled to understand how the debate over nuclear power got to be so politically polarized.  Starting with the famous book “Soft Energy Paths”--the author wants to do away with nuclear weapons (don’t we all?) and he concludes we must do away with all nuclear power generation--a source of 20 per cent of the US electricity supply--in order to do this.  This means finding and developing economically-viable technologies to replace the 24/7 base-load power generated by nuclear plants without massive increases in the use of fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, it also has led in some quarters to doing as much as possible to discredit nuclear power.  Some supporters of nuclear power call this spreading FUD – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt.

Using examples that increase fear of radiation is a common tactic.  For example the warning that an element has a “half-life of millions of years” implies that it will be harmful or dangerous that long.  The opposite is true.  The longer the half-life, the more slowly the radiation is given off and the lower the dose each year.

Implying that radiation comes only from the generation of electricity with nuclear power,  and nuclear weapons is also false.  Radiation is natural.  The Uranium in the granite in this statehouse building was radioactive millions of years ago, and will be radioactive in millions more.  This is a natural part of our environment, and we all get low doses of radiation continually.

The sun’s light, heat and other radiation comes from nuclear reactions.  We could even say  “Solar Power is Nuclear Power.”

Here is an example of a peaceful use of radioactive material.  (Hold up EXIT sign)

Thank you.
Tritium-containing Exit Sign

1 comment:

jimwg said...

Superb testimony, Howard! The cherry on top would've been your bringing in a Geiger counter and turning it on and watching all the witnesses eyes widen with every tick!

James Greenidge
Queens NY