L'état, c'est MOX
Nuclear waste disposal is the Achilles' heel of the nuclear industry. It can continue only if the public is convinced that a long-term burial solution is possible. However, the interview with Jean-Pierre Petit (translation below) illustrates that the public is being deceived on this point. Powerful nations that cling to their nuclear arsenals and fleets of nuclear power stations are now slaves to the dictatorship of the plutonium economy. Thus the title that refers to the Mixed OXide fuel of uranium and plutonium that the industry is hellbent on using in its reactors.
L'état, c'est MOX
In February, 2014, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, the American site for burial of military nuclear waste, suffered a radiological emergency that required the evacuation of the facility. The site is too radioactive to enter, and managers, if they know what happened down in the tunnels, are saying little to the public. Shortly before the incident, a truck caught fire in one of the tunnels at the site, but the two events appear to be not related.
These accidents have highlighted exactly what critics have always warned about. The viability of the nuclear industry depends on having such final disposal sites, but they are unproven and vulnerable to accidents such as the ones that happened within a single month at one facility, only fifteen years after it opened.
Critics have warned that disposal containers are likely to corrode, moisture can leak into the site, the ground can shift, or heat can build up and cause fires, explosions or create weaknesses in the containers and support structures. Underground disposal is supposed to be the “walk-away-safe” solution that will give nuclear energy the freedom to expand over the next century as the sensible response to global warming, but the accident at WIPP is more evidence that this solution isn’t a solution at all. The term “passive safety” refers more appropriately to a passive public that has been instilled with illusions of safety.
A critic of the WIPP facility, Don Hancock, was in Toronto in 2013 advising local activists who are opposed to Ontario Power Generation’s plan to build a nuclear waste disposal site on the shores of Lake Huron. He pointed out that OPG looked to WIPP as an example of “industry best practices.” He explained then the known shortcomings of the site, and low and behold, a few months later, the scenario that critics conceived of came to pass. There was an "excursion of material" in the hole, and now the site is too radioactive to work in. The problem might get resolved, but over a year later things are not going well and the future viability of the site is in doubt. The incident underscored the possibility of catastrophes occurring at nuclear waste sites. They won’t keep the wastes safely isolated from the ecosystem for thousands of years, and they may not stay safe long enough for them to even to be loaded to their designated capacity.
The nuclear waste problem is the biggest obstacle faced by the nuclear industry, perhaps bigger than costs and the public’s fear of accidents. Promoters of nuclear would rather the public not think about it. The Japanese government has lately spoken about finally taking action on the problem, but they prefer to be utterly deceptive about the problems involved. They believe it is urgent to have this “cheap” form of energy so that they can compete with countries like South Korea, which supposedly has “cheap” nuclear energy costs. But South Korea too is equally deluded about nuclear waste solutions available to such a small nation. It’s as if both nations want to compete in a race in which there will be no winners.
Coincidentally, just before the accident at WIPP, Sputnik's French language channel interviewed a prestigious French scientist on what he sees as the dangerous and absurd plans France is following in order to perpetuate its nuclear industry. The astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit is the former director of Le Centre national de la recherche scientifique, and he is obviously not an antinuclear activist the nucleocracy could scornfully dismiss (as they have been known to do) as "just a language teacher" or a "just a housewife" driven by irrational fear and ignorance. He knows of what he speaks.
The passage below contains a condensed translation of the two-part interview on Sputnik. The questions have been omitted and a few sections in square brackets [ ] have been added to supply the context that was given by the questions in the original.
The original French transcripts are here: Part1 and Part2. I recommend looking at the original source, even if you can’t read French, in order to see the illustrations and graphs that go with the interview.
There is one thing that has ruled in the world since the dawn of time, and that is the formidable mix of greed and stupidity. My personal view is that, for a long time, there has been only 5% of the population who are capable of thinking for themselves, capable of reflecting, and thinking critically, with autonomous moral evaluation based on reason. To them we can add 20% who lack conscience or awareness, who are devoured by their egoism, their ambition and their fear. Thus, someone who belongs to this group feels that pursuing power is a question of survival, for himself and his relations, for his ethnic group, his country, for his position that, in his eyes, confers all rights.
[The remaining 75% of people] can be manipulated toward any end. They can be put to sleep, made afraid, subjugated, turned against other groups or against each other, on a small or large scale. They can be impoverished to extreme levels before they will revolt. In France, a comical drawing has appeared of a new creature created from genetic recombination, what is called a pigeton [half pigeon, half mouton, or sheep]. This animal swallows anything and allows itself to be sheared without protest. They behave collectively, in the millions, and can follow any leader, no matter how irrational he may be.
At this moment, the nuclear technocrats are pushing strongly a project called CIGEO (Centre Industriel de Stockage Géologique) which involves burying high-level nuclear waste in Bure, in the east of France, in the place famous throughout the world for producing champagne. There is already a pilot project there five hundred meters deep in a layer of clay that is one hundred meters thick. There are tunnels there where the state plans to bury the million tons of high-level waste produced by the nuclear industry over the last half-century.
The time span over which the wastes need to be stored is immeasurably longer than the duration of the metal containers that will hold the wastes. They will corrode within a few decades. This goes for the concrete containers as well which won’t last longer than a century.
Assurance is given by experts, the same experts who planned the storage of nuclear wastes in a German salt mine in Asse. They said it was absolutely sure to be a permanent solution “on the scale of geological time.” In France, the nuclear waste project arises from a law passed by a representative from Nord Pas de Calais, Christian Bataille (in office from 1991-2006). He approved, without reservations, the positive conclusions of experts on the Bure disposal plan. This was exactly how he approved the German project in Asse, also in total agreement with experts then. Bataille has what you could call “the hamster complex.” He loves to dig.
In Asse, Germany, the experts assumed the salt deposit was homogenous and stable. They simply forgot that in a mine, half the volume that has to be considered is made up of what you have put in the tunnels and caverns. Salt is hygroscopic. It absorbs water. The experts thought that salt would be an ideal barrier, but it didn’t turn out that way.
It was only a matter of decades before the operation turned into a nightmare. In certain parts of the mine, the movement was ten centimeters per year, so imagine the result after thousands of years. What a great gift for the next 6,000 generations of humans. Water that comes into the site can just as easily flow out later with radioactive particles in it. It can go anywhere into the water table and enter the food chain. There would be no way to stop it.
In Asse, water has entered and covered thousands of waste containers, and they have become unrecoverable. They have to recover the 126,000 containers that are in there. The cost would be enormous, but something has to be done before the pollution spreads to underground water sources in the region.
Nuclear power buys local communities, and the money flows freely. Opponents with technical competence are pressured into silence. To be free, you have to be retired. If not, all forms of pressure are possible.
Billions of euros have been spent just getting to the stage where tests can be conducted. But the storage of wastes with long half-lives poses acute problems. In general, there are two sorts of wastes. There are those that can be called “passive,” like asbestos, and those that can be called “active” that evolve chemically, decompose, and eventually produce flammable gas, and heat. Nuclear wastes obviously belong in the second “active” category. They release heat by their exo-energetic transmutation. So storage sites require powerful ventilation systems that need to be maintained for centuries. Some wastes that are plastic decompose relatively quickly, releasing hydrogen. When the air reaches 4% hydrogen, it becomes explosive.
In the year 2000, they began to store various types of waste, one of which was mercury, underground at a mine in Alsace. In 2002, a fire broke out. They wanted to get everything out, but they realized it could never be recovered… A fire in a mine is more complicated to manage than a fire above ground. It’s like an oven. The heat has no way out. A small fire can quickly result in elevated temperatures at which the containers begin to melt.
In Bure, a fire would be catastrophic. The wastes are vitrified (in a glass-like state), but glass is not really a solid. It’s a very viscuous fluid. At ordinary temperatures, it can do the job for thousands of years. It is not soluble. But the weak point of glass is its low resistance to heat. At 600°C, the glass will flow and liberate its contents. Underground, this temperature could be reached very quickly. In the mine there are also support structures made of metal and reinforced concrete. Concrete melts above 1100°. The clay in Bure is also saturated with water. It couldn’t withstand being heated above 70°. The creators of the CIGEO project have great faith in a material called bentonite with which they hope to seal the caverns. It’s a particular type of clay that can absorb water and dilate, but it has the same problem as clay in terms of heat resistance.
Fire hazards come not only from the concern about hydrogen explosions. The plan at Bure is to deposit some elements treated with bitumen, but bitumen becomes fluid at 60° and flammable at 300°. Any way you look at it, this project is absurd.
The only thing to do now is to leave everything on the surface, even for centuries if necessary, as a way to make them less toxic by transmutation. There is no hurry. But the government and the barons of nuclear are exerting an enormous pressure to begin burial by 2015. They want to hide all signs of the nuisance that has accumulated for half a century and given nuclear energy such a bad image. If the CIGEO project is realized, this will be a precedent for nucelopaths the world over, and they will all follow suit, saying, “après moi, le déluge!”
The need to abandon this waste burial project goes hand in hand with the need to stop making more of this infernal nuclear waste. Therefore, we have to conceive of a way to rapidly stop the production of electricity by nuclear energy. It’s difficult to imagine how this could happen. It’s rare to find scientists who criticize these projects. The majority of them are totally indifferent to this problem, and to many other problems as well.
In order to make the plan easier for opponents to swallow, the government is looking for ways to make radioactive waste burial part of a package labelled “energy transition.” Some imbeciles will go along with this in exchange for a few promises of wind turbines and solar panels. We can count on the Socialist Party and the EELV [Europe Ecologie – Les Verts] to go along with such accords.
[To solve this problem] we need a planetary change of consciousness. But in reality, many countries in the world are planning to build nuclear power plants now, including those of the EPR design that run on plutonium. This will lead to a dangerous impasse. There is no solution for the waste, and there is no solution for dismantling power plants. Installations get old, and as they age, radioactivity provokes transmutations, in metal, for example, which then becomes fragile. Many reactions produce helium, which stays in the irradiated material. Helium is inert. It doesn’t chemically combine with anything, so it becomes a hole in a metal crystal. Just by irradiation, a pressurized reactor vessel loses its mechanical resistance. Sooner or later, it becomes unusable. This leads to the problem of the cost of dismantling.
[Instead of facing these problems], we see completely insane plans, and the public ignores their existence. According to the “reasonable trajectory” elaborated by the Parliamentary Office on Scientific and Technical Options, the following plan is foreseen:
· Generation II represents 58 reactors presently installed in France.
· Generation III is the EPR which will run 100% on MOX fuel, which is plutonium.
· Generation IV will be fast-breeder reactors, each containing 20 tons of plutonium, the equivalent of 1000 atomic bombs, and 5000 tons of flammable and explosive sodium.
· The construction of the ASTRID prototype has already been approved by François Hollande. Deployment is to commence in 2060 and finish in 2100.
Libbe Halevy. “Carlsbad WIPP Radiation Leak with Watchdog Don Hancock.” Nuclear Hotseat Podcast 139. http://www.nuclearhotseat.com/1737/.
Michael Fröhlingsdorf, Udo Ludwig and Alfred Weinzierl. “Abyss of Uncertainty: Germany’s Homemade Nuclear Waste Disaster.” Der Spiegel. February 21, 2013. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-weighs-options-for-handling-nuclear-waste-in-asse-mine-a-884523.html.
Ralph Vartabedian. “Radiation Leak Forces Closure at New Mexico Waste Burial Site.” The Los Angeles Times. February 17, 2014. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-radiation-leak-20140218,0,2098213.story#axzz2tqBFhqBW.