Australian news, and some related international items

Moltex vows to help Canada recycle its nuclear waste. Critics say the byproducts would be even worse.

At best, they’ll end up with a small amount of various types of waste before the project is terminated, that will just create a bigger disposal hazard. And if it’s stuck in the province of New Brunswick, it will be their problem. But there’s zero chance of this cockamamie contraption being useful for generating electricity, or treating radioactive waste in a sound way.”

The Globe and Mail, MATTHEW MCCLEARN, 2 Apr 23,

Less than a kilometre from the western shore of the Bay of Fundy, the Point Lepreau Solid Radioactive Waste Management Facility temporarily houses about 160,000 spent fuel assemblies from New Brunswick’s only nuclear power reactor. Moltex Energy, a Saint John-based startup, proposes to recycle that radioactive waste into fresh fuel for a new 300-megawatt reactor called the Stable Salt Reactor-Wasteburner, or SSR-W.

Moltex promises these facilities will greatly diminish the waste inventory of NB Power, the province’s primary electric utility, beginning in the early 2030s, while at the same time producing electricity. Critics, however, warn the resulting wastes would be harder to dispose of than the assemblies themselves.

Criticisms notwithstanding, Moltex’s proposal appears to be gaining momentum. It has partnered with SNC-Lavalin Group, which holds a minority ownership stake and provides many of Moltex’s 35 employees through secondments – a vote of confidence from a company with deep roots in Canada’s nuclear sector…………….

Premier Blaine Higgs hailed Moltex in a speech in February, stating his government’s support “is positioning New Brunswick as a leader in development of new nuclear.” Mike Holland, Minister of Natural Resources and Energy Development, has extended what he described as “unwavering commitment to seeing this project become a reality.” The province has already supplied $10-million toward that end, while the federal government, through its Strategic Innovation Fund and other channels, has provided $50.5-million.

What these supporters have signed up for, however, isn’t entirely clear. Moltex’s technologies are embryonic; emphasizing that fact, partners that would play crucial roles in implementing them refused to discuss the implications with The Globe and Mail. Citing the need for commercial confidentiality, Moltex chief executive officer Rory O’Sullivan acknowledges the company hasn’t revealed many details about its reprocessing technology (known as Waste To Stable Salts, or WATSS).

Critics, though, say they’ve seen enough to recognize WATSS as merely the latest variations on nuclear waste reprocessing experiments dating back decades. Those experiences revealed reprocessing to be not a solution, they claim, but a curse.

About the size of a fire log, fuel assemblies from Canada’s CANDU reactors consist of rods known as “pencils” that are welded together; each contains cylindrical uranium pellets. Highly radioactive upon removal from a reactor, assemblies are stored in pools of water for about a decade before being warehoused at nuclear power plants in shielded containers. There are now about 3.2 million spent assemblies, which if stacked like cordwood would fill nine hockey rinks up to the boards……………..

WATSS would produce new wastes. By mass, the largest would be leftover uranium plus the metal cladding from CANDU fuel bundles, Mr. O’Sullivan said. This would be placed in the DGR, but in volumes greatly reduced than CANDU fuel bundles.

Then there’s fission products, a term encompassing hundreds of substances produced by nuclear fission inside a reactor. Though some are stable, others (such as cesium, technetium and strontium) are radioactive. These would be contained in salts that could be placed in canisters the same size as CANDU fuel bundles, facilitating storage in the DGR; Mr. O’Sullivan said they’d remain radioactive for up to 300 years………….

critics accuse Moltex of misleading the public. Gordon Edwards, a nuclear consultant and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, said the company’s claim that the fission products would remain radioactive for only three centuries is “outrageous.”

“There are several radioactive materials which are very, very long-lived in the fission products, that have half-lives of not just thousands, but millions of years.”

The leftover uranium would contain leftover plutonium and fission products: “Experience has shown that this uranium is not clean, it’s contaminated,” he said. “You can’t just separate all of the fission products.”

WATSS wouldn’t significantly reduce storage volumes, Mr. Edwards added, as it’s the heat generated by radioactive waste – not the physical space occupied – that determines how large a DGR must be.

Ed Lyman, director of nuclear power safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists, has studied nuclear fuel reprocessing technologies since the 1980s. He said Moltex’s proposal is a variation on schemes that have been explored over many decades.

“All of the available evidence in the whole history of technology development in this area, as well as attempts to commercialize reprocessing in various ways, points to the fact that this is not going to work,” he said.

“At best, they’ll end up with a small amount of various types of waste before the project is terminated, that will just create a bigger disposal hazard. And if it’s stuck in the province of New Brunswick, it will be their problem. But there’s zero chance of this cockamamie contraption being useful for generating electricity, or treating radioactive waste in a sound way.”…………………

M.V. Ramana, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s public policy and global affairs school who researches nuclear issues, said Moltex’s $500-million estimate is highly optimistic. He pointed to Portland, Ore.-based NuScale Power, an early SMR developer, which spent US$1.1-billion over more than two decades developing what is essentially a scaled-down version of light water reactors common in the U.S.

As a molten salt reactor, the SSR-W should be far more difficult to license, Prof. Ramana said. Only two such reactors have ever been built, the last one closing in 1969, and neither generated electricity commercially.

Additionally, a sister company of Moltex, called MoltexFlex, is marketing another molten salt reactor in the Britain. (The companies share key personnel.) And Moltex must separately develop and license the WATSS process…………………..

“While we’re in early discussions with Moltex, they are still in the development phase, so we don’t have sufficient data at this time to respond to your technical questions about fuel waste,” NWMO spokesperson Russell Baker wrote in an e-mail.

All that adds up to a heap of unanswered questions. But having already spent $50-million on the project, Prof. Ramana said the federal government will be under considerable pressure to contribute more. He questioned the due diligence it has conducted to date.

“It’s not clear to me that the Trudeau government is interested in asking some of these hard questions,” he said.


April 4, 2023 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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