CNTA
Letters

1204 Whiskey Rd, Suite B
Aiken, SC 29803-4318
(803) 649-3456
cnta@bellsouth.net

Letters and Guest Editorials


Visit Letters Archive through 2010


2 March 2017

Proceed with receipt, treatment of highly enriched uranium
Donald Bridges
Letter to the Editor of The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

A federal judge recently ruled that the U.S. Department of Energy followed proper environmental regulatory procedures for allowing liquid highly enriched uranium to be shipped from the Chalk River Laboratories in Canada to the Savannah River Site.

The uranium is of U.S. origin and is a byproduct from the production of nuclear isotopes used in medical procedures internationally and in the U.S. The ruling should now allow for transfer of the material to SRS processing facilities where it will be combined with other processing streams, primarily from spent nuclear fuel processing.

This material will be blended down from highly enriched to low enriched (making the material no longer a proliferation risk) and then all the uranium will be sent to a commercial fuel fabrication facility to produce fuel to generate nuclear energy in a Tennessee Valley Authority reactor.

A federal judge recently ruled that the U.S. Department of Energy followed proper environmental regulatory procedures for allowing liquid highly enriched uranium to be shipped from the Chalk River Laboratories in Canada to the Savannah River Site.

The uranium is of U.S. origin and is a byproduct from the production of nuclear isotopes used in medical procedures internationally and in the U.S. The ruling should now allow for transfer of the material to SRS processing facilities where it will be combined with other processing streams, primarily from spent nuclear fuel processing.

This material will be blended down from highly enriched to low enriched (making the material no longer a proliferation risk) and then all the uranium will be sent to a commercial fuel fabrication facility to produce fuel to generate nuclear energy in a Tennessee Valley Authority reactor.

The entire project is financed by the Canadian government providing further benefit by offsetting U.S. tax dollars for maintaining SRS facilities. It is time to move forward with this project and do what is in the best interest of Canada and the U.S.

Donald Bridges
Chair, Board of Directors
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


23 February 2017

Treat lab's uranium
Donald Bridges
Letter to the Editor of The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

A federal judge recently ruled that the U.S. Department of Energy followed proper environmental regulatory procedures for allowing liquid highly enriched uranium to be shipped from the Chalk River Laboratories in Canada to the Savannah River Site. The uranium is of U.S. origin and is a byproduct from the production of nuclear isotopes used in medical procedures internationally and in the U.S.

The ruling should now allow for transfer of the material to SRS processing facilities where it will be combined with other processing streams (primarily from spent nuclear fuel processing). This material will be blended down from highly enriched to low-enriched (making the material no longer a proliferation risk) and then all the uranium will be sent to a commercial fuel fabrication facility to produce fuel to generate nuclear energy in a Tennessee Valley Authority reactor. A minimal amount of waste will be generated from this process and will be safely managed through existing processes at SRS.

The bottom line is that the DOE and SRS know how to perform this work better than anyone in the world! Safely transporting nuclear materials has been a hallmark of the DOE for years, both for defense purposes and for environmental cleanup. Both the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Canadian regulator have reviewed and approved the shipping package design for this material transport.

SRS is an advanced nuclear materials manufacturing site, not a dumping ground, and possesses the only facilities in the Western Hemisphere that can recover the uranium from this material, render it nonproliferable and safely treat the small quantity of resulting waste. The entire project is financed by the Canadian government, providing further benefit by offsetting U.S. tax dollars for maintaining SRS facilities.

It is time to move forward with this project and do what is in the best interest of Canada and the U.S.

Donald Bridges
Aiken, S.C.

(The writer chairs the board of directors for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.)

Back to Letters Index


6 February 2017

More nuclear can drive more economic growth
Mel Buckner
Letter to the Editor of The State
Columbia SC

An abundance of nuclear-generated electricity has made a huge difference in the economic and environmental well-being of South Carolina.

From 2013 to 2015, the seven S.C. reactors operated on average about 92 percent of the time; that's up from about 60 percent when they first units began operating in the early 1970s. These huge gains in electricity production have helped drive economic growth in South Carolina and will in years to come.

The Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979 gave the industry a much-needed wake-up call. It made the industry recognize how serious the consequences were of not having the proper respect for nuclear safety. After the accident, Duke Power President Bill Lee spearheaded an industry-wide effort to address deficiencies in utility management, emergency planning and nuclear regulation. Among other improvements, this led to creation of the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which has made the industry look at itself critically.

The upshot is that there hasn't been a serious nuclear accident in the United States since Three Mile Island. This stellar safety record has silenced many of the politicians who had opposed nuclear power. And some leading environmental groups now realize that the battle against climate change requires the use of nuclear power, which provides more than 60 percent of the nation's carbon-free electricity. But much more needs to be done to advance nuclear power.

A good start would be to renew for a second time the operating licenses of existing plants so they can operate for up to 80 years instead of 60 years. Some utilities have announced plans to seek such approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

And efforts need to be stepped up to develop the next generation of small modular and advanced reactors, in order to improve and expand the use of nuclear power in South Carolina and nationally.

Mel Buckner
North Augusta

Back to Letters Index


4 February 2016

SRS jobs are enduring, important
C. L. Munns
Letter to the Editor of The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

An Aiken Standard editorial last week seemed to dismiss the value of new SRS job opportunities. This view is surprising, disappointing, misleading and wrong. Furthermore, to the extent that it may have cautioned against nuclear sector jobs, it did a disservice to our students, our region and our state.

The paper should have known, or by asking a few questions should have learned:

I was a CEO at SRS for the last contract transition. Of the nearly 10,000 employees, 99 percent were asked to stay on and join the new companies. This will continue to be true in the next contract transition.

While it's true that SRS employment is dependent on congressional appropriations, everything says that funding will continue. Budget debates, while important, have been about no more than a few percent of the total, and that revenue is more stable than typical corporations or private companies.

I would say to anyone in our community seeking a good enduring job; "polish up your STEM credentials and run toward the SRS employment offices." You will be well paid and contribute to making the world a safer place.

C. L. Munns
Aiken

Back to Letters Index


7 April 2015

Don't prejudge site's future
Clint Wolfe
Letter to the Editor of The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

An old tempest in a teapot is about to start simmering again at the Barnwell low-level radioactive waste site. The contractor at the site wants to change the mix and some of the criteria for accepting waste for disposal there.

The rationale for the changes is that the site can better serve the nation, create many jobs in the local community, and return tens of millions of dollars to the state of South Carolina in the form of taxes and fees.

Additionally, the proposed changes would not increase the amount of radioactive material allowed in the disposal site, so at first blush, this seems like a no-brainer. But the immediate reaction from several quarters is to reject the idea even before we know what is being proposed.

The process normally followed in nuclear matters is to evaluate the potential health and environmental impacts of a proposed course of action and then make an informed decision.

It seems that even though a specific proposal has not been spelled out in proposed legislation, enough is known in the minds of many to relegate the idea to the dead-on-arrival file.

Being an advocate for nuclear energy, I am used to people adopting a mindset that is consistent with their beliefs, if not the facts.

One of my favorite lines is by Charles McKay, author of "Extraordinary Popular Delusion and the Madness of Crowds." It says, "Men go mad in herds. They recover their senses only slowly, and one by one."

A less eloquent way to say the same thing is that it is easier to "pile on" than to do your own thinking.

It would seem that we currently are experiencing an extreme case of piling on in spite of the fact that no public health concern has ever been demonstrated at the Barnwell site. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, or DHEC, has been a very attentive regulator of the site and the long, relatively spotless operating history of the site is well documented on the DHEC website. Perhaps because DHEC could never find serious fault with the site, they, themselves, became the target of those critical of the site.

The rhetoric aimed at Barnwell and DHEC is replete with predictable adjectives designed to create fear in the minds of the public.

Words such as lethal, deadly, and dangerous abound amid discussions of the Barnwell facility by opponents. But, their warnings are based on a flawed understanding of the science involved.

As yet, we don't have a complete picture of what is being proposed, but when we do, let's hope we can make whatever decision is appropriate based on sound science and not on fear mongering.

Clint Wolfe
Executive Director, Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


31 January 2015

Stem carbon dioxide output through nuclear
Clint Wolfe, Ph.D.
Guest Column for The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

I read a startling article the other day. It was startling because it was about a decision made by Google to exit renewable energy research and development.

The company that invested billions of dollars in renewable energy projects such as wind and solar power announced that its scientists had concluded that it was not possible to power a data center that was to be a public demonstration of the success of its solar energy program. Google discovered what those who had gone before it had previously discovered - that intermittent wind and solar power cannot support high-density energy applications.

GOOGLE STILL supports niche applications of wind and solar, but its R&D program, by its own analysis, was not bold enough and not transformational enough to defend against increasing levels of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.

After factoring in the most optimistic projections of the growth of renewable energy in Earth's energy supply, Google's models still projected exponential increases in carbon dioxide levels because of the increased use of coal. If that surprises you, consider that there are about 3 billion people of the 7 billion people in the world today without electricity.

By 2050 the world population is projected to be 9 billion. That means the world must produce more than twice the amount of electricity in 2050 as it produces today if everyone is to have access to electricity.

I found this article particularly alarming because it was the first time I had really tumbled to the notion that levels of carbon dioxide were increasing in Earth's atmosphere in an "exponential" fashion. If you are not familiar with the term, it simply means that for a given increase in time the carbon dioxide level increases at more than a proportional, ever-increasing rate. So no matter how much "renewable" energy Google could credibly hypothesize in our energy mix, its models showed continued rapid growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Mother Nature has supplied us with natural shock absorbers to help control carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere. First there is photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is plant food. Healthy, abundant forests and other plant life help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, during the past century, deforestation all around the world has weakened this control.

Another major control is embodied in the oceans of the world. Natural seawater is slightly alkaline and capable of dissolving huge quantities of carbon dioxide. The more carbon dioxide dissolved in seawater, the more acidic it becomes and the less able to dissolve more carbon dioxide. This not only affects the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but also the dissolution rates of coral reefs, the birthplaces of man's food chain.

So it seems there are dire consequences in store for Earth unless we very quickly adopt energy policies that use high-density, zero-emissions technology. A lot is written about whether that should be new-generation nuclear concepts or fusion or something else. We keep trying to find the perfect answer to difficult technical problems, and we justify inaction based on lack of consensus.

THE TRUTH IS THAT we have new designs for nuclear power plants and small modular reactors that could be built on an expedited basis to meet this climate challenge while we continue to look for even better answers.

Incredibly, opponents of invoking a nuclear solution for these issues cite safety concerns. Nonsense! The choice before us is between emission-free technology that has been used for 60 years in this country without a fatality or continue down our current path that causes 7 million premature deaths a year worldwide and threatens our planet's very existence.

Now which one is a safety concern?

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C.)

Back to Letters Index


9 December 2014

Don't minimize the U.S. nuclear future
Clint Wolfe
Column for The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

It is entirely appropriate of the Environmental Protection Agency. or EPA, to propose carbon mitigation goals with respect to generation of electricity in the U.S. However, it is both perverse and irrational of the agency to impose a carbon mitigation rule that downplays the value of nuclear power in the battle against climate change.

The U.S. fleet of 100 nuclear plants accounts for nearly two-thirds of the nation's carbon-free energy production. So you might think that an agency so concerned about climate change would applaud the use of zero-carbon nuclear power. Or at the very least would give nuclear power equal consideration with renewable energy sources in its carbon emissions rule. But the proposed rule - which requires South Carolina to curb carbon emissions by 51.4 percent by 2030 - is rigged against nuclear power, only counting 6 percent of existing nuclear-generated power toward the state's carbon-reduction target.

What's more, EPA's formula is even worse for nuclear reactors under construction. It assumes they are complete, which means that South Carolina won't be able to count the additional twin units at the Virgil C. Summer nuclear plant near Jenkinsville, which are slated to go online by 2018. For South Carolina, losing those 2,200 megawatts, on top of more than 90 percent of its existing nuclear-generating capacity, will make it extremely difficult if not impossible to meet the EPA target - unless the rule is changed.

Georgia and Tennessee - two other states with nuclear plants under construction - also face tough carbon-reduction goals. But South Carolina has the third most stringent target, after Arizona and Washington. South Carolina obtains 53 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, with another 29.5 percent from coal, 14.6 percent from natural gas, and 0.5 percent from hydro.

The EPA has ascended to new heights of hypocrisy on this matter. On the one hand, the agency has called for greater use of nuclear power, along with other low-carbon energy sources, but then penalizes states with a lot of nuclear power. In fact, a state with no nuclear power will benefit, because its formula will not include nuclear generation, resulting in an emission goal that is easier to achieve. But states like South Carolina and Georgia have carbon-reduction targets that will be significantly harder to meet.

This is not the first time that the EPA has wandered into inappropriate territory on the exclusion of nuclear in the "green" mix. During the first term of President Barack Obama's administration, energy mandates were on the front burner, but the sponsors preferred not to include "nuclear" among those energy sources categorized as "renewable." Setting reasonable goals based on some measurable criteria such as carbon emissions per megawatt seems to be a very appropriate role for the EPA - defining what technology may be used to get there is not. EPA risks being perceived as an economic stimulus organization for chosen industries.

The rule is scheduled to be promulgated in final form next June. Let's hope the new Congress tells the EPA either to change the rule or start over with a new rule that is strong on goals, but light on prescription.

Clint Wolfe is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.

Back to Letters Index


9 December 2014

Ruling on nuclear waste throws storage scenarios into dangerous doubt
Clint Wolfe
Guest Column for The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

The headlines that trumpet a cacophony of changing events both at home and abroad have left little room for in-depth analysis of a less spectacular, but perhaps just as important, issue.

IN A SEPT. 19 meeting that took only a few minutes, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission passed a ruling regarding continued used nuclear fuel storage. Without getting into all of the history, court challenges and past waste confidence policy issues, suffice it to say this ruling is a potential game-changer for how this country regards the role of nuclear energy in its future energy plans.

The essence of the issue is that the lack of a geological repository specifically identified for used nuclear fuel has caused the government to consider other alternatives. These include, but are not limited to, onsite storage of the fuel and consolidated interim storage.

A series of court challenges over time has seen the NRC stick to its so-called waste confidence rule. This rule has aspects that are pertinent to this discussion.

One is that if you don't have a place to put the used fuel, then you can't make any more. Anti-nuclear activists have pushed the viewpoint that no more nuclear power plants should be licensed until there is a permanent repository. The NRC has responded in the past that they are confident that a repository would be available before it is needed, and merely kept changing the date when that would occur.

THIS APPROACH led to a challenge that the NRC was violating the National Environmental Protection Act by proposing a significant new federal project without having determined the environmental impact. This environmental impact could be looked at in every case to significantly slow each new license application.

The NRC's recent action closes out the waste confidence rule and introduces the continued storage rule. This rule was adopted at the end of August based on a two-year study to determine, generically, the environmental impact of different scenarios of storage. The first of these scenarios was on-site storage for the 60-year operating period of the nuclear power plant. The second of these also considered impacts from an additional 100-year period of storage, and then a third scenario where the fuel remained on-site indefinitely.

The study found no significant environmental impacts from any of the scenarios. This is a huge determination, because now when anti-nuclear forces attempt to slow a license application by demanding an environmental impact statement be performed on the matter of used fuel storage, the applicant simply can incorporate the ruling by reference, thus negating that approach as an effective delaying tactic.

A VERY IMPORTANT caveat should be noted. Existing institutional controls were assumed to be maintained throughout the duration of the particular scenario. This begs for an analysis of the economics of maintaining institutional controls at multiple site locations, vs. consolidated storage and its attendant controls, vs. geologic storage. Such analyses are not likely to be defined in any way that will provide an irrefutable answer to the used fuel storage problem, since these kinds of analyses have been going on for 30 years with no definitive conclusions.

The NRC's determination tips the playing field to a more favorable position for nuclear advocates in that the anti-nuclear forces have long had the benefit of arguing that we don't know what to do about nuclear waste, so therefore we should not use the technology. The action of the NRC, although not addressing all potential impacts, is effectively saying, "So what?" and "There are no significant environmental impacts from indefinite storage of used fuel." This means that, not only is used fuel storage safe, but any sense of urgency to resurrect Nevada's Yucca Mountain, or to find an alternative such as New Mexico's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, is diminished.

LOCALLY, IT MEANS that vitrified high-level waste at Savannah River Site may have to look for a permanent home somewhere other than in Yucca Mountain. So, a potential downside to this new rule is that it may help sustain the atmosphere for not dealing with the permanent storage issue. Imagine that!

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C.)

Back to Letters Index


13 October 2014

Finding a permanent nuclear storage center
Clint Wolfe
Column for The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

The headlines that trumpet a cacophony of changing events both at home and abroad have left little room for indepth analysis of a less spectacular, but perhaps just as important, an issue.

In a meeting that took only a few minutes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission passed a ruling regarding continued used nuclear fuel storage.

Without getting into all of the history, court challenges, and past waste confidence policy issues, suffice it to say this ruling is a potential game-changer for how this country regards the role of nuclear energy in its future energy plans.

The essence of the issue is that the lack of a geological repository specifically identified for used nuclear fuel has caused the government to consider other alternatives. These include, but are not limited to, on-site storage of the fuel and consolidated interim storage.

A series of court challenges over time has seen the commission stick to its so-called waste confidence rule.

This rule has at least two aspects that are pertinent to this discussion.

One is that "if you don't have a place to put the used fuel, then you can't make any more."

Anti-nuclear activists have pushed this viewpoint that no more nuclear power plants should be licensed until there is a permanent repository.

The commission has responded in the past that they are confident that a repository would be available before it is needed and merely kept changing the date on which that would occur.

This approach led to a challenge that the commission was violating the National Environmental Protection Act by proposing a significant new federal project without having determined the environmental impact. This environmental impact could be looked at in every case to significantly slow each new license application.

The commission's recent action closes out the waste confidence rule and introduces the continued storage rule.

This rule was adopted at the end of August based upon a two year study to determine, generically, the environmental impact of different scenarios of storage.

The first of these scenarios was on-site storage for the 60 year operating period of the nuclear power plant.

The second of these also considered impacts from an additional 100 year period of storage and then a third scenario where the fuel remained on-site indefinitely.

The study found no significant environmental impacts from any of the scenarios.

This is a huge determination because now when anti-nuclear forces attempt to slow a license application by demanding an environmental impact statement be performed on the matter of used fuel storage, the applicant can simply incorporate the ruling by reference thus negating that approach as an effective delaying tactic.

A very important caveat should be noted, i.e. existing institutional controls were assumed to be maintained throughout the duration of the particular scenario.

This begs for an analysis of the economics of maintaining institutional controls at multiple site locations, versus consolidated storage and its attendant controls, versus geologic storage.

Such analyses are not likely to be defined in any way that will provide an irrefutable answer to the used fuel storage problem since these kinds of analyses have been going on for thirty years with no definitive conclusions.

The commission's determination tips the playing field to a more favorable position for nuclear advocates in that the anti-nuclear forces have long had the benefit of arguing that we don't know what to do about nuclear waste, so therefore we should not use the technology.

The action of the commission, although not addressing all potential impacts, is effectively saying, "so what?" "There are no significant environmental impacts from indefinite storage of used fuel."

This means that, not only is used fuel storage safe, but any sense of urgency to resurrect Yucca Mountain or to find an alternative such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is diminished.

Locally, it means that vitrified high level waste at the Savannah River Site may have to look for a permanent home somewhere other than in Yucca Mountain.

So, a potential downside to this new rule is that it may help sustain the atmosphere for not dealing with the permanent storage issue. Imagine that.

Clint Wolfe is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.

Back to Letters Index


22 August 2014

Nuclear industry has reshaped community
Chuck Munns
Column for The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

There is much today that generates controversy. But nuclear technologies should not be one of them. Humans fear what we do not understand, but hard work by brilliant people has led us to know and harness the atom. It's been more than 100 years since Madam Curie discovered radium. Consider what has been accomplished since: x-rays, microwaves, nuclear propulsion, nuclear electricity, nuclear medicine and more.

The nuclear industry keeps our nation free, it makes our state productive and our regionstrong.Nationally, nuclear medicine provides cutting edge treatment for many maladies including cancer and other disorders. One hundred nuclear facilities in 31 states generate vital "base load" electricity. It is clean, accounts for 64 percent of all our emission-free electricity, and it is cheaper than other sources of power. Nuclear technologies ended World War II, enabled our ships and submarines to bring the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion and continues to provide our National Security today.

Our state is more productive. Nuclear provides tens of thousands of good paying jobs, a significant portion of our states GDP, and a reason major industries find South Carolina attractive. It helps our other industrial sectors - aerospace, automotive, general manufacturing - by providing cheap, reliableelectricity. I've heard Kevin Marsh, CEO of SCANA, say that nuclear is the most reliable and cheapest electricity on his system. South Carolina's nuclear power plants supplied 57 percent of the state's electricity last year, and that has helped drive South Carolina's industrial electric rates nearly 10 percent below the national average.

The S.C. Department of Commerce promotes our nuclear sector as part of its strategy for a strong, diversified and growing state economy.

Commerce partners with the Economic Development Partnership in our area, NuHub in the central part of our state and many others. They organized a nuclear sector taskforce conference last summer. South Carolina is the only state where the governor has established a formal Nuclear Advisory Panel.

Our region is stronger. We are home to the whole "nuclear ecosystem:" a nuclear experienced work force, technically focused education, nuclear power plants, the Savannah River Site, and many smaller business in support.

I argue that Aiken would not be the place that we enjoy without the SRS. Whether you consider the number of employees, the size of its payroll, the community facilities it has funded or the neighborhood organizations it supports; they all contribute to the Aiken we love. Imagine Aiken without our two colleges, our Center for the Performing Arts, much of the funding and manpower for our civic and charitable organizations. One of every five jobs and one of every four households is SRS related.

SRS provides more than our livelihood. SRS makes the world safer. Our neighbors that work at SRS contribute daily to our national security; whether it be their production of tritium, their leadership to rid the world of proliferable nuclear weapons materials, their expertise in sensitive monitoring or their high-end modeling and computing. They provide us energy security through efforts in hydrogen research, battery research and development and nuclear materials expertise. They have provided energy systems for our intergalactic space probes. Those neighbors are world leaders in environmental remediation.

Our Savannah River National Laboratory is the only national lab rooted in nuclear chemical engineering and with a principle focus on environmental management. In addition, the work at SRS has closed Cold War liquid tanks, processed nuclear materials in chemical separations, cleaned up old decommissioned facilities and provided environmental expertise around the world.

Please seek out and congratulate your neighbors who work or have worked in our nuclear sector.

They do a very important job for our nation, our state and our region. They do it professionally with care and great skill. They do it safely.

Every year, their Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety rate is 10 times better than the U.S. industry average.

Thank them for keeping us free, productive and strong. I am proud that we have them and the SRS in our neighborhood, and I hope you are too.

C. L. Munns is a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, former CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and chairman of Citizens for Nuclear Awareness.

Back to Letters Index


10 August 2014

Savannah River Site is a national treasure, and we must use it wisely
Donald N. Bridges, Ph.D.
Guest Columnist for The Augusta Chronocle
Augusta GA

It generally is recognized in the CSRA and the nuclear community at large that Savannah River Site represents a unique asset - a true national treasure. For about 65 years the site has supported national interests and has provided essential services to the United States, ranging from special nuclear materials production in the early years to spent fuel receipts from foreign nuclear reactors; and environmental cleanup in more recent years while providing an ongoing tritium production and recycling role.

THE SITE HAS BEEN a good employer, offering high-paying, high-technology jobs, with employment levels typically ranging from 10,000 to 14,000 people in a very safe environment. The site population is important because economic studies show that each site job provides an additional 1.5 jobs in the community. A site work force of 12,000 workers generates an additional 18,000 jobs in the CSRA. Further, the site mission has been carried out in a large, green, forested area of about 300 square miles, allowing unparalleled pristine, environmental settings with attendant environmental research.

Now things are beginning to change. After 20 years of cleanup, the site cleanup program, under the aegis of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management, is about 50 percent complete. Cleanup at the site is an approximately 40-year program, and work could be completed well into the late 2030s. This completion will result in the loss of several thousand site jobs. To maintain the character of the site, it is important to immediately seek appropriate additional missions for SRS consistent with the site's historical capabilities.

ONE VIABLE additional SRS mission would be to assist other locations with their cleanups. The site has unique processing capabilities at its H-Canyon, and excellent supporting technical expertise, particularly the Savannah River National Laboratory. In each such case, the site would support national security by making nuclear materials more secure and invulnerable to improper use.

As new mission opportunities are considered, it is important that this community embrace the direction in which the site is moving. It's a national treasure that should serve us all. Here are a few criteria that I feel are appropriate for any new SRS missions:


ANY MISSIONS that meet the above-stated guidelines would be in the best interests of this general area. The site could continue to do what it has done in the past 60 years: providing attractive jobs while making the country at large safer and more secure.

The Department of Energy now is considering an additional mission for SRS, and is preparing an environmental assessment related to the acceptance and disposition of used nuclear fuel containing U.S.-originated, highly enriched uranium from Germany. While some of the detailed impacts have yet to be established, it appears that receipt of this fuel will be an ideal match for SRS capabilities. SRS will be able to disposition this fuel by processing it much as they have processed other nuclear fuels for years.

IN ADDITION, highly enriched uranium will be taken out of harm's way and placed in a safe, secure setting, making the United States and the world a safer place. This particular nuclear fuel is somewhat different in how it will be processed, and will require further research and development. The German government will be paying for the research and development and for the processing, which is anticipated to cost about $1 billion over five or six years. This provides the SRNL the added benefit of expanding its technical capabilities.

Overall, this looks like a good starting point for SRS to develop new missions. I ask the public to support SRS in developing new missions that maintain the character of the site. SRS will, in turn, continue to be the asset that we've always known.

(The writer holds a doctorate from Georgia Tech. He was a manager for the Department of Energy at SRS for more than 30 years; formerly chaired the SRS Citizens' Advisory Board; and now serves as vice-chairman of the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, based in Aiken, S.C.)

Back to Letters Index


17 July 2014

Positive aspects exist for processing German Fuel
Clint Wolfe
Special to The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

There has been an awful lot of heat, but little light, accompanying the "tempest in a tea pot" atmosphere surrounding the proposal to accept German experimental reactor fuel at the Savannah River Site. Politicians are pounding chests, demanding answers to questions that cannot be answered until ongoing research and development at the Savannah River National Laboratory, or SRNL, is completed.

Familiar anti-nuclear, anti-SRS voices are quoted and given credence in our local press without questioning the basis for their protests. Characterizations of SRS being a "dump" for nuclear waste have been incorporated in news articles with the sole intent to sensationalize the issue.

I worked at SRS for 16 years. I didn't work in a "dump." I worked at a site that was a National Environmental Research Park with incredibly unique and healthy flora and fauna. I worked at a site that was the best characterized 310 square miles on earth. I worked at a site with a safety record that is the envy of every industry on earth.

I worked at a well-engineered and monitored site. These are not characteristics of a "dump." Rather, "dump" is what we do with fossil fuel waste in our air, our water and our soil. A student in a class I was addressing answered the question of how we deal with fossil fuel waste by replying, "We breathe it, we drink it and we eat it." This contrasts starkly with the extensive precautions to isolate nuclear waste from humans and the environment.

So, what about the German fuel? If all you know is what you read in the newspapers, then you would think Germany is trying to unload a nuclear waste problem on the SRS. A sober look at the facts might help us understand that this is, in its simplest form, a continuation of a crucial mission at SRS.

In fact, the SRS has been central to this country's nonproliferation efforts since the early days of the Atoms for Peace program. This program was instituted to promote peaceful uses of atomic energy and several international agreements followed the original one proposed by President Eisenhower. These agreements provided for highly enriched uranium to be supplied to tens of countries all around the world for use in their research and experimental reactors. Both Russia and the U.S. provided this material, and each ultimately agreed to take the material back when the host country was finished with it.

Following the Cold War, we not only reemphasized the repatriation of U.S. origin highly enriched uranium, but we even helped finance the repatriation of Russian highly enriched uranium to Russia. In all, more than 600 such reactors around the world were using these fuels, although many of them have now been decommissioned.

The International Atomic Energy Agency used to maintain a website depicting the location and status of all of these reactors, but the practice was discontinued after 9/11 as a security measure.

Therein lays the compelling reason for the proposed German fuel to be repatriated under these agreements. Some argue that there may be technicalities that should exclude the fuel from these agreements, but there is no doubt that the spirit of the agreements includes this fuel. So, why is there such a stir about this fuel? Well, it is a unique fuel requiring special processing to handle it. The process is still under development by SRNL. Because the process is different from what has typically been done with fuels containing highly enriched uranium, the Department of Energy called for an environmental assessment and a public meeting to understand what potential impacts the public wanted evaluated in the EA. That process will run its course over the next several months before the DOE even decides to accept the fuel.

This role of repatriating U.S. origin highly enriched uranium from other countries has been ongoing for decades at SRS as the principal tool that the U.S. has to combat proliferation of weapons-capable highly enriched uranium and make the world a safer place.

The German fuel is an even better story because SRNL has been paid by the German government to develop this process, and Germany will pay for the actual processing.

Instead of wringing our hands over this fuel, we should be thankful that our country has the assets at SRS and SRNL to allow safe and secure shipment to the SRS for safe processing rather than having it come here as part of a terrorist device.

Clint Wolfe is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.

Back to Letters Index


9 April 2014

MOX does have customers
Clint Wolfe
Letter to the Editor of The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

On Monday March 31, the Aiken Standard published a letter from Maxine Dexter stating among other things, "there is no market for MOX fuel made from weapons grade plutonium ... "

The claimed lack of customers is misleading on at least two counts.

First, MOX is a program to eliminate plutonium from ever being used in nuclear weapons again and won out as the method of choice over numerous multi-billion dollar alternatives, none of which eliminated the plutonium. The alternatives amounted to a choice between different ways to protect the environment and largely ignored the all-important criterion of never being able to be used in a nuclear weapon again.

The potential for recovering some of the cost by selling the fuel was a cost recovery element that no other alternative had, but it was never envisioned to "make money."

Secondly, the Department of Energy knows they have a buyer for all of the MOX fuel, but for whatever reason, they have been considering the offer for months while fueling the anti-MOX forces' efforts to make the most of the "no customers" myth.

Clint Wolfe
Aiken

Back to Letters Index


16 March 2014

Decision to delay mixed oxide fuel facility at SRS is reckless, misguided
Clint Wolfe, Ph.D.
Guest Columnist for The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

On July 13, 2011, the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement entered into force after the exchange of diplomatic notes between Russia and the United States.

The world breathed a sigh of relief.

The PDMA would be the second of two of perhaps the most significant diplomatic agreements in our history. The first was the recently expired agreement to purchase highly enriched uranium taken from former Soviet nuclear weapons and convert it into fuel to power the American economy.

FOR THE PAST 20 years, half of all nuclear power generated in this country, or 10 percent of all electricity generated in the United States, came from weapons formerly aimed at us and our allies. Paying the Russians for their uranium made it profitable for them to cooperate, which was essential to securing the safety of these weapons in the several former Soviet states. Now we are building a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site to eliminate plutonium recovered from our own nuclear weapons. This is aimed at accomplishing the intent of the PMDA, which requires both the United States and Russia each to eliminate 34 metric tons of plutonium (enough for 17,000 nuclear weapons). The facility is 60 percent complete, but the president's 2015 budget calls for the facility to be placed in "cold standby." There is something cavalier and reckless about a Department of Energy that would spend billions on a facility of such import only to abandon it when it is 60 percent complete.

The decision-making process has been very opaque as opposed to transparent. A case in point is the recent claim in area newspapers that "studies" show a $30 billion life cycle cost for the MOX project.

Special-interest groups have been using that number for some time now, but there is no publicly available DOE report that makes that assertion. In the interests of transparency, the DOE should make the report available, if it exists, or disown the figure because it is not credible.

The public believed that the DOE was negotiating in good faith with both contractors and elected officials to define a path forward when, in fact, the antinuclear crowd apparently knew that the decision already had been made. The good faith of the officials was met with duplicity on behalf of the DOE. Life cycle costs can be very misleading, and usually are trotted out as a prelude to killing a project. You may notice there are no life cycle costs being discussed for other DOE projects in California, Tennessee, New Mexico, Washington and Idaho. There also are no life cycle costs provided for the alternative approaches to MOX.

THE ONLY COSTS pertinent to decision-making are "to-go" costs from this point forward. Those costs should be incurred costs and avoided costs. They should not include sunk costs or costs that will be incurred regardless of the decision to proceed or not with MOX.

The DOE spent years ruminating on the best approaches to eliminate excess plutonium, a goal everyone agrees is laudable. Now with the process that the DOE finally settled on 60 percent complete, they are returning to their ruminations to second-guess themselves? MOX is a proven technology, having been used in Europe for more than 40 years. More than 30 reactors worldwide are using MOX fuel.

But the DOE now wants us to believe it will be cheaper to try some new technology approach (which they will not share with us) that apparently will not satisfy the terms of the PMDA, which specifies "eliminating" plutonium. The agreed-upon and essentially only ways to do that are to use fast reactors (Russians) and MOX (U.S.).

THAT BRINGS US to reckless.

The decision is reckless because we will lose a skilled work force that has performed in an outstanding manner with respect to environmental and Nuclear Regulatory Commission compliance, safety and quality. It's reckless because we have an agreement with the Russians that provides for an inspection and verification protocol to assure us that the Russians are doing what they are supposed to do. This recent budget submittal endangers that protocol.

It's reckless because Russia's fast reactors can be operated either in a safe mode (consume plutonium) or in a Cold War mode _(create plutonium), and if we give the Russians an excuse to withdraw from the agreement, we will not know which position that switch is in - safe or Cold War. We also have no ability to respond with plutonium production of our own.

Why, at a time of great uncertainty and danger in Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula would we want to tempt Russian President Vladimir Putin to return to Cold War politics or inadvertently force a miscalculation? Reckless!

(The writer is executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, based in Aiken, S.C., and formerly chairman of the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.)

Back to Letters Index


21 February 2014

What took loans so long?
Clint Wolfe
Letter to the Editor of The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorized $18 billion in loan guarantees for new nuclear power plant construction. The Obama administration has since upped that number to $54 billion and on Feb. 20 the Department of Energy approved approximately $6.5 billion in loan guarantees for Southern Co.'s Vogtle Units Three and Four. Additional approvals may push that figure close to $8.5 billion.

We can celebrate that Southern Co. kept the faith that this was the right thing to do in the long run for their customers and their stockholders. Loan guarantees can help reduce financing costs that will save hundreds of millions of dollars over the lifetime of a project such as Vogtle Units Three and Four. We do have to ask, however: Why did it take nine years to get the first one of these in place? As with any new government initiative, the devil is in the details - even though two administrations from opposite sides of the aisle backed these loan guarantees. Doing a deal this large with the government involves an incredible amount of red tape. The task is so daunting that others walked away. A program designed to encourage emission-free generation of electricity should not be so onerous as to cause utilities to retreat to a business-as-usual stance.

So while we applaud the persistence of Southern Co. with respect to pursuing this agreement, we implore the DOE to make the process more user-friendly. They both could do the public a great service by conducting a joint evaluation with the intent of recommending a more effective process.

Back to Letters Index


11 February 2014

Harms of nuclear power overblown
Clint Wolfe
Letter to the Editor of The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

Rose Hayes authored a column in the Feb.2 Aiken Standard entitled "No definitive answers for waste repositories." I was pleased by the factual portrayal of some of the history of nuclear waste management, but mystified by her conclusions at the end of the article, which were telegraphed by her use of anti-nuclear rhetoric.

Specifically, she refers to that anti-nuclear favorite - "deadly" nuclear waste. Water is "deadly" (with drowning being the second leading cause of death among children in the U.S.), driving a car is "deadly" (40,000 fatalities annually in the U.S.), but exposure to nuclear waste has never killed anyone in this country.

The public needs to realize that her conclusions are reflective of ideology, not logic. Hayes closes her column by saying we should not consider any mission for SRS that involves the production of nuclear waste. SRS has the only U.S. assets to effectively deal with processing used fuel that has been in the past and might again in the future be necessary to support diplomatic and nonproliferation agreements, research programs or to implement other fuel cycle initiatives. These could all become government priorities and we should not try to tie the government's hands by advocating stances based on misinformation or preconceived notions. Any process that requires energy generates waste. That waste may be in the form of heat, light or materials. With respect to used fuel, the integrated system at SRS can recover valuable isotopes from it, solidify the liquid waste in a glass matrix and store or dispose of it safely as required by law. The incorporation of nuclear waste in a glass matrix effectively reduces the environmental and human health risk to zero for a couple of million years. After that, I'm not going to worry about it.

Back to Letters Index


28 December, 2013

Positive polls signal bright future for nuclear energy
By Clint Wolfe, Ph.D.
Guest Column for The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

Since nuclear power has an impressive record for safety and good economic performance in the United States, and doesn't face the price volatility that natural gas does, it will be with us for a long time.

Consider safety. These days, people who live near nuclear plants tend to show even greater support for nuclear power than the general public does. According to a national poll, 81 percent of the people who live within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear plant favor the use of nuclear power - 47 percent strongly. Among the public at large, 68 percent favor nuclear power, 29 percent strongly.

EVEN MORE REVEALING, 86 percent of plant neighbors say they have a favorable impression of the nuclear plant closest to where they live and the way it has operated in recent years. Safety is the main reason for this view, inasmuch as 84 percent gave their local plants a high rating for safety.

What seems so revealing about the poll is that it indicates supporters of nuclear power are being upstaged by opponents whose false claims seem to garner much of the attention from Washington policymakers. This is especially clear if we try to understand why the current administration, which professes to be concerned about climate change, did not include carbon-free nuclear power in a directive requiring the federal government to purchase 20 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. Anyone who talks about a lack of support for nuclear power simply hasn't done the math.

The poll, conducted by Bisconti Research, found that of those who live near nuclear plants, 68 percent said that if more electricity-generating capacity is needed, it would be acceptable to add a new reactor at a nearby site.

THE EVIDENCE IS overwhelming that by failing to respond effectively to public support for nuclear - by not even making the need for a balanced mix of sources a top energy priority - the administration is impeding the long-term growth of nuclear power and stunting potential reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions. A forecast by the Energy Information Administration gives it only 3 percent of new capacity for electricity generation through 2040 - the same as for much-criticized coal.

TRUE, CHEAP AND abundant natural gas is partly to blame. EIA forecasts that gas-fired electric power will grow 20 times as fast as nuclear power through 2040. The sluggish economy also is a factor, reducing the need for new power plants in many states. This is bad news for those who want to reduce carbon emissions from our energy sources and have more stable prices for energy-producing fuel. While natural gas is a cleaner-burning source of energy than coal, leakages of natural gas (methane) into the atmosphere contribute to the problem, as methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Leakages occur during extraction, handling and transportation of natural gas. When natural gas is burned, carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas produced.

Consumers will be at the mercy of relatively unstable prices for natural gas, as gas prices can be extremely volatile and represent a large portion of the cost of generating electricity. Nuclear fuel, on the other hand, represents a relatively small percentage of the cost of generating electricity.

WE SHOULD KEEP in mind that nuclear power plants in the United States provide extraordinary economic benefits. Here at home, Georgia's four reactors provide 28 percent of Georgia's electricity and South Carolina's seven reactors generate 51.2 percent of the state's power. Based on national averages, each reactor employs between 400 and 700 highly-skilled workers, has a payroll of about $40 million and contributes $470 million to the local economy. Additionally, four reactors using advanced technology are under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, moving appreciably nearer reality.

With public support and an attentive government, nuclear power should have a very bright future.

Back to Letters Index


21 December, 2013

Adequate MOX funding still needed
By Clint Wolfe, CNTA Executive Director
Letter to The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

A recent headline in the Aiken Standard shouted out good news for Aiken and for hundreds of employees at the Savannah River Site who are working on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility - or MOX.

The 2014 Defense Authorization Act proposes to provide $360 million for MOX for 2014, which is $40 million more than was in the president's budget request.

Lest we get giddy over this very real success, we should realize that this level of funding is still far short of what is required to recoup time on scheduled implementation of this program. It does, however, buy time to fight another day.

To be sure, another fight will be in the offing as opponents of MOX continue to rail against the project - citing overruns, life-cycle costs including operations and lack of customers for the fuel.

They will convince the government to evaluate other options again - this has been done over and over again at great expense - but the agreements with the Russians specify eliminating plutonium 239 by turning it into MOX fuel. Other approaches to dispose of plutonium were rejected during negotiations with the Russians in favor of a method to eliminate plutonium 239, i.e., MOX.

Proponents of other approaches have not shared with us how they will get the Russians to agree on what their life-cycle costs would be. Indeed, doing nothing has unlimited costs to the American taxpayer as annual costs for safeguarding, surveillance and accountability of plutonium 239 amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year ad infinitum.

The "lack of customers" argument is a specious one because this project was never intended to make money from sale of fuel. It was only to provide some measure of cost recovery that will still happen when we get close enough to delivery dates for fuel assemblies.

It is unfortunate that the Aiken Standard chooses only to include opinions such as those attributed to Friends of the Earth in what are supposed to be news articles without balancing them with opinions from citizens who have a different opinion of the value of the project.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but shouldn't they all be on this page with my letter?

Back to Letters Index


17 November, 2013

Faux environmentalists allowing more pollution by fighting nuclear
By Clint Wolfe, CNTA Executive Director
Guest Editorial for The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

A colleague sent me an e-mail the other day prefaced with his remark, "Enviros will never get it." He was sending me an article from Bloomberg News on Nov. 5 reporting that California's Air Resources Board's website posted data showing that emissions from natural gas fired power plants rose 35 per cent to 41.6 million tons last year in California. Chief among the reasons for the rise in emissions was the shutting down of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in January 2012.

This plant had long been a target of anti-nuclear activists (masquerading as environmentalists). There was nothing wrong with the reactor, but the new steam generators were undergoing some vibration problems at full power and the utility, the state regulators, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission could not agree on how to economically return the unit to full power. Tiring of the uproar, the bad press, and the frustration of dealing with indecisive regulation, the utility did what any good business entity would do - they took advantage of record low natural gas prices and replaced the emission free nuclear power with power producing tens of metric tons of air pollution. Californians, and to a lesser extent, all of us, are left to deal with the consequences of this "victory" for the bogus environmentalists. We cannot blame utilities for behaving as rational economic beings when it comes to their choices for providing the electricity we all demand. If regulation and lack of energy policy make it financially risky to invest in nuclear power, they are left with only one real alternative - fossil fuels. If hydropower is available it can help. Wind and solar cannot be relied upon without equivalent capacity available from fossil or nuclear.

Consider these consequences - no less than the World Health Organization estimates that as many as 7 million people die each year due to the burning of fossil fuels. This is the immediate impact on human health and ignores the probable longer term impacts on acidification of our oceans and climate change. If we use data from peer reviewed scientific studies by James Hansen who first sounded the alarm as a NASA climatologist concerning the potential for climate change, we can quantify the effect on human health of the San Onofre shutdown. Hansen's data showed about 30 deaths per million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Since California had about 41.6 million tons of emissions in 2012, more than 1200 people probably died due to air pollution there. About 300 deaths would therefore be attributed to shutting down San Onofre. These rates apply to 2012 and to every year in the future where the current status quo is maintained.

It is frustrating to know that most anti-nuclear sentiment stems from fear of radiation exposure. It is frustrating because this country's nuclear power safety record is spotless with respect to harming the public, despite persistent erroneous claims to the contrary. Frustrating because fear of radiation is unwarranted except for very high doses, yet we let unwarranted fear deny us the benefits of clean affordable energy. Frustrating because no matter how many unbiased, well designed studies debunk the myth of the dangers of low-level radiation many people prefer to cling to the fallacy that low levels of radiation are dangerous. This leads to our country relying on energy sources known to pollute, kill, and sicken rather than a source which has never had a fatality after 55 years of providing what is now about 20 per cent of the nation's electricity. All credible scientific studies of low levels of radiation are at worst inconclusive regarding negative effects on human health, and at best, show a beneficial effect.

It is time we came out of the nuclear dark ages into the bright light of clean safe energy for our people and our planet.

Back to Letters Index


4 November, 2013

Nuclear community vital to state, region
By Charles Munns
Special to The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

Can you describe what makes our community so special? What do you feel about our nuclear industries? Have you tested your beliefs lately? Did you attend any of the many public educational events last week: Teller Lecture, Pandora's Promise Movie, or the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness Educational Forum?

I did and have to say that it was worthwhile, informational and enlightening. I learned that more than $1 out of every $4 spent in our region is a result of our nuclear industries, the same for occupied homes - 1 of every 4. A majority of the support going to our local charities is from our Nuclear Community. Throughout the week, I learned how important the nuclear industries are to our nation's security, to our state's competitiveness, and to our local quality of life.

At the national level, our nuclear community provides national security through a Strategic Deterrent Capability, through enhancing our non-proliferation efforts, and by contributing to homeland security sensors, detection and forensics. All together we contribute more than any other region. The Savannah River Site, a part of our nuclear industry, provides national leadership for the care of our environment.

We have the Department of Energy's only Environmental Management National Laboratory, and while it also does many other things, it leads in providing science, techniques, procedures, and standards for the world in the care of nuclear materials. We also lead the nation in energy security through the percentage of clean, reliable and economical "base load" nuclear provided electrical power.

At the state level, the nuclear industries provide low and stable electrical rates that are driving our economic engines. They are among the largest employers in the state, providing jobs, local procurement, and tax revenue. The nuclear culture of professionalism, exactness, safety, and "measure twice cut once" spills over into other industries and makes them better. Locally, besides their very significant economic impact - $1 out of every $4 spent in our town - these industries have contributed to what Aiken "is" and provide a promise for what it can be. Its contributions to our region are immense: a shared history, a "glue" to hold together our community, the strengthening of our social capital, political capital and financial capital, the volunteer leadership in our community agencies, our social groups, our church activities, and our recreational programs. Our region would not be as we know it without our nuclear community.

Whether you understand the nuclear industry or not, can articulate its value or not; it's good to reflect on how you view it and why you feel that way. I would suggest you watch or set your DVR/VCR's to record the Robert Stone movie "Pandora's Promise." It is scheduled to air on CNN on Nov. 7 at 9 p.m.

Healthy communities understand and support the industries and cultures that make them special.

In our case that is our nuclear community, our manufacturing industries, our equestrian sector, the retirement communities, and Aiken's rich historical roots. This month is a good time to learn more about the value provided to us by our nuclear community.

Charles Munns is an Aiken resident, a retired vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, and former CEO of Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, LLC.

Back to Letters Index


18 October, 2013

Saluting the contributions of nuclear science
By Karen Patterson
Special to The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

Monday, Oct. 21, begins the 4th Annual National Nuclear Science Week sponsored by the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, a member of the Smithsonian Affiliations program. Aiken and the Central Savannah River Area, or CSRA, are proud to host this year's National Nuclear Science Week, a celebration of the nuclear sciences.

I salute the efforts of the many local organizations supporting the CSRA's well-deserved recognition as the focus of the week. And I urge you to take this opportunity to get a better understanding of nuclear energy. Albeit with carefully crafted language, the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Report makes clear that humans' reliance on carbon-based fuels is changing the earth's climate and will change the way we live for centuries to come.

Right now, in today's world, nuclear power is the best solution we have to ease our climate crisis. However, so many people misunderstand the potential of nuclear power that what should be an easy policy decision is almost impossible. The programs planned for National Nuclear Science Week will provide us the opportunity to better understand nuclear energy, and to consider why it is the right solution for lessening our dependence on carbon-based electricity.

The National Nuclear Science Week partners are sponsoring activities that provide a better understanding of the amazing energy in an atom, and its value to us, through demonstrations and discussions of nuclear science, nuclear issues, and career opportunities. Though the target audience is students, I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity. There is something for everyone.

Nuclear science improves the lives of all Americans. Most residents of the CSRA probably don't realize how many and how varied are our nuclear facilities. Within a one-hour drive are the Savannah River Site, the Medical College of Georgia's nuclear medicine program, three nuclear power plants, four more under construction, a nuclear fuel fabrication facility and another under construction, a low-level radioactive waste disposal facility and technical colleges and universities with nuclear science majors.

Thousands of people in the CSRA have careers in the nuclear industry – doctors and technicians who teach, research and practice nuclear medicine; welders, electricians and pipefitters who construct nuclear facilities; engineers who design those nuclear facilities and the fuels that power them.

Then, there are reactor operators who run nuclear power plants; scientists who study the effects of nuclear activities on the environment and others who develop ways to use the power of the atom to improve our lives; health protection specialists who monitor radioactivity in the environment and doses to workers and the public; maintenance technicians who maintain nuclear facilities; the list goes on.

So what is happening this week in the CSRA?

The Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken will host a series of classes designed to intrigue young minds. Who wouldn't want to "journey to the center of the atom," or learn why "chemicals matter," or "probe the periodic table?"

At Workforce Development Day, high school and college students will meet people who work in the nuclear industry and learn about career options and education requirements. Many nuclear careers require an associate's degree, others a four-year degree and still others a doctoral degree, so regardless of education goals, there are careers for everyone.

Wednesday, Plant Vogtle, VC Summer Station, and the Savannah River National Laboratory will host tours to show students what nuclear looks like, up close and personal. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit a nuclear plant under construction, but no one who does will ever forget it. The tremendous scale and the intricacy of the complex scheduling of the construction cannot be described - those projects have to be seen to be believed.

Behind the SRS security fences, Savannah River National Laboratory focuses on homeland security, clean energy, and environmental stewardship. Laboratory scientists do amazing things - developing forensic techniques that can identify the source of nuclear materials, and robots to access environments humans could not survive; studying the characteristics of bacteria that thrive in highly radioactive environments; and developing hydrogen-powered vehicles are only a few.

Wednesday night, "Pandora's Promise," a documentary about nuclear power, will be shown at the Etherredge Center followed by a panel discussion. The movie describes the conversion of five people from antinuclear activists to proponents of nuclear power, mostly because of the relief it could bring to climate change.

Thursday, a half-day seminar on the economic impacts of the CSRA's nuclear industry will complete the celebration. Panelists will discuss impacts of the nuclear industry on the economy of the CSRA, scientific contributions to the CSRA's economic engine, and the value of the nuclear education opportunities provided by local colleges and universities.

I believe the CSRA is the best place in the nation to recognize the key role nuclear science plays in the lives of all Americans and to learn about the many career opportunities in the field. Please join me in participating in this once-in-a-lifetime event and celebrating our area's significant role in the nuclear industry.

Karen Patterson is an Aiken resident and chair of the South Carolina Governor's Nuclear Advisory Committee.

Back to Letters Index


25 August, 2013

Alarmists don't reveal the whole story on radiation exposure
Column
By Clint Wolfe, Ph.D.
The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

Back in the 1940s an experiment to determine the effect of radiation on fruit flies earned a scientist a Nobel Prize and established the basis for what is now called the "linear no-threshold" hypothesis, or simply LNT. He observed that at high doses of radiation, the mutagenic effect on the creatures increased in proportion to increases in dosage. He reasoned that the mutagenic effect also would decrease in proportion to decreases in dosage, and concluded that there was no lower limit to harm caused by radiation - just a lower proportionate effect all the way to zero dose.

HE DID NOT report data to support his contention, but recently, a different researcher claims that the Nobel laureate did run experiments at low doses, but since the results did not support his earlier contention relating to proportionate harm, he chose not to reveal the data. As a matter of fact, there are no studies that show harmful health effects attributable to low doses of radiation.

It is very difficult to perform such experiments because of the ubiquitous nature of natural radiation. Every living thing and every thing that ever lived is radioactive, so it is very difficult to find sites for experiments with very low background levels of radiation. One location that is ideally suited to such studies is just outside Carlsbad, N.M., at the Department of Energy's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

I VISITED WIPP recently and experienced being lowered nearly a half-mile below the desert floor into a 250-million-year-old salt formation. I was there to look at the emplacement of transuranic waste, but during a briefing, one of the WIPP personnel was introduced as being in charge of experimental projects. I asked him about low-level radiation studies conducted at WIPP. He acknowledged the studies, and almost casually remarked that the biological specimens that were deprived of radiation all died while those that received normal levels of radiation thrived.

Just think - if we had these results before we zapped those fruit flies, we would all be concerned about whether or not we were getting our minimum daily requirement of radiation instead of whether our granite countertops and the banana we had for lunch were exposing us to dangerous levels of radioactivity.

A MULTITUDE OF studies have debunked the LNT hypothesis, but it is still used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to predict health consequences because of nuclear reactor accidents, and the National Academy of Sciences has never backed off from its endorsement of the concept dating back to the 1940s. Health physicists have used the concept to good advantage to minimize radiation exposure to radiation workers, and the Environmental Protection Agency uses the concept to regulate exposure to environmental toxins.

But using this discredited hypothesis to predict health effects has caused enormous societal harm. It has contributed to the very high capital cost of nuclear power plants, thus depriving many of the opportunity to have safe, clean electricity. It has made dealing with nuclear materials and nuclear waste more expensive than real safety concerns would dictate. Whole populations were forced to evacuate areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power stations that had radiation levels lower than background levels in other parts of the world.

MIND YOU, THE nuclear industry still would practice its rigorous radiation control regimen known as "As Low As Reasonably Achievable," even if the LNT hypothesis were discarded. The difference would be that more emphasis would be placed on the word "reasonably." Demonstrable health effects would be the basis for tightening regulations instead of the incredibly naïve notion that one beta particle can cause cancer.

The LNT hypothesis also assumes that radiation dose exposure is additive over time and over populations. This is how large numbers of cancer deaths are predicted by alarmists from events such as Fukushima. They argue that the low doses integrated over very large populations and times lead to large numbers of cancer deaths. It is like saying that if an ingestion of 100 aspirin tablets at once is fatal, then one tablet a day for 100 days also would be fatal, or that if 100 people each take one tablet, one of them will die. This, of course, is nonsense.

THERE ARE PLACES on Earth such as Ramsar, Iran, that have background radiation levels much higher than that reported in the evacuation zones at Fukushima with no detectable health effects. If LNT were correct, all the people in Ramsar would be dead by the time they were 20 years of age. Instead, despite poor diets and little medical care, they are known for producing a high percentage of centenarians.

So, have you had your minimum daily requirement of radiation today?

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C.)

Back to Letters Index


15 August, 2013

Arts should not be lost among math, science
Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness is committed to educating the public about things nuclear and improving science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as STEM education. Worldwide rankings of nations' proficiency in these subjects among their school children show as many as 15 countries that perform better than the U.S. This realization has sparked an increased emphasis on these subjects among educators, the public and legislatures. A dedicated effort to regain a leadership position has been launched and should be supported by all of us. There are potential pitfalls however, that must be avoided.

Some cash-strapped school districts and universities have proposed reducing emphasis on subjects such as physical education, social sciences, humanities, music, and art in order to devote more resources to science, technology, engineering and math. A recent segment on the PBS News Hour featured an interview with Dr. Richard Brodhead, the President of Duke University, and actor John Lithgow. These gentlemen were cautioning against de-emphasizing the teaching of liberal arts, noting that contributions to skills such as critical thinking, necessary for all educational endeavors, are foundational to a liberal arts curriculum.

Whether truth and beauty are revealed by a particularly insightful line from a Shakespeare play, or by hypothesis, experimentation and calculation, we must respect both approaches and take from them the essential ingredients for a truly educated person.

So when we emphasize STEM, without qualification, we run the risk of marginalizing liberal arts subjects in our schools' curricula. Recognizing this, some advocates of science, technology, engineering and math, have begun using the acronym STEAM, inserting an A, for Art. This does not represent a gratuitous nod to the arts, but rather reflects on the realization that the use of imagery, music and other art forms can be powerful teaching and learning tools, even for STEM subjects.

Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness conducts workshops for high school and middle school teachers to enable them to introduce basic concepts into their classrooms relating to the structure of the atom and the nucleus. While the written material is effective, the learning experience is invariably strengthened by the use of "hands-on" exercises. These exercises include representing something as difficult to comprehend as the level of background radiation to which we all are exposed as inches along a yardstick. Natural background radiation from the air, water, soil, our own bodies and the sun are represented as say, about 3 inches a year.

If we have an average number of diagnostic X-rays, we can add about 3 more inches for a total radiation dose of about 6 inches a year. Ramsar, Iran, has a background dose rate of nearly 250 inches (about 21 feet) a year with no detectable health effects. So it is sometimes easier to visualize the magnitude of a measurement in a familiar unit, like feet or inches, than in millisieverts or millirem. The same effect is seen in non-technical matters such as politics, where one cartoon can convey a more memorable message than a 1,200-word opinion editorial.

It is tempting to describe science as a way to determine the truth and to describe art as an expression of beauty. I believe they are much more closely aligned than that implies. I have often invoked an inscription on the side of the science building at the university I attended many years ago, which read, "Science is Truth, Truth is Beauty."

Full STEAM ahead.

Clint Wolfe is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.

Back to Letters Index


16 June, 2013

Report reveals truth about Japan disaster
Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

Do you remember the morning to night media coverage of the disaster at Fukushima beginning in March of 2011 and lasting for what seemed like forever? More than 20,000 people died as a result of a massive earthquake and subsequent enormous tsunami, but those two natural disasters were not what captured the most attention by the media. The media fixated on "experts" volunteering doomsday scenarios for Japan as rerun after rerun of hydrogen explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants filled the airwaves. Visitors to Japan were advised to leave. Entertainment groups touring Japan cancelled performances even though they were scheduled several hundred miles away from the nuclear reactor sites.

Many Americans in Tokyo fled the country as fast as they could book seats on transcontinental flights back to the United States, flights that exposed these Americans to larger doses of radiation than they would have received had they stayed in Japan.

Hysterical anti-nuclear alarmists were having a field day as they were in great demand on news programs and talk shows. Their dire predictions of latent cancer deaths due to the radiation releases numbered in the hundreds-of-thousands. Some even questioned the inhabitability of Japan. Over time, the media circus gradually lost steam with only occasional reference to the "nuclear disaster."

There can be no mistaking the seriousness with which nuclear advocates viewed the events at Fukushima, but the human tragedy stemmed from the enormous "one-two" punch of mother-nature and the fear propagated by sensational media coverage, not from radiation releases from the nuclear reactors. These facts became clear at the end of May 2013 with the issuance of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) report on the health effects of the events at Fukushima. In a nutshell, the conclusions of the report are that lingering health effects are negligible and no deaths are attributed to radiation - including workers at the plants and the general public. You aren't likely to read about this in the newspapers, on your home page, or hear about it on your favorite news program. After all, a lot of righteous indignation was expended vilifying Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Japanese government, and the nuclear industry in general for months after the events of March 2011, and to admit that there was in fact no harm due to radiation releases inspires comparisons to "Chicken Little."

Even though this report finds no significant health effects due to radiation releases, it is undeniable that the "fear of radiation" is far more potent with respect to health effects than the radiation itself. Health effects related to fear of radiation and to stress of evacuation and relocation affected thousands of people. The UNSCEAR report acknowledges this effect just as it did in its 25-year study of the Chernobyl disaster where it attributes 62 deaths to radiation related causes including about half that number who were first responders. That report concluded that residents of the areas affected by Chernobyl fallout need not live in fear of lasting health effects due to radiation exposure. By far the most tragic human health toll due to Chernobyl was the 100,000 to 200,000 elective abortions chosen by prospective parents who feared radiation damage to their unborn. UNSCEAR's follow-up study on the effects of the Chernobyl accident on the unborn showed those fears were un-founded.

I submit that the accused (TEPCO, Japanese government, and the nuclear industry) are guilty of not having figured out how to communicate nuclear issues to the public effectively, but communication is not a unilateral exercise. There have to be open receptors on the part of both of the parties if real communication is to happen.

Therefore, I also submit that anti-nuclear ideologues, aided and abetted by the media, have struck such fear into those who do not understand nuclear-related issues that they have stymied effective communication on these issues and are, therefore, responsible for enormous human suffering and loss of life.

Public news media could do a great public service by reporting on the findings of the UNSCEAR report. Don't hold your breath.

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C.)

Back to Letters Index


6 June, 2013

Environmental Management budget not a smart reduction target
Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

One of the great things about the Savannah River Site is that the people there always get the job done, professionally and safely - that is, as long as they are given the funding to make it happen.

That is the crux of the matter with respect to recent cuts proposed for the 2014 Environmental Management budget at SRS. The Department of Energy last month detailed the proposed budgets for the several environmental management sites across the country.

Ironically, the site that arguably has performed the best with respect to risk reduction and significant progress against goals is also the site that received the biggest proposed budget reductions - SRS. Although the proposed reduction of about 8 percent - $107 million dollars - may not seem at first glance to be a show stopper, the manner in which the cuts are distributed has the potential to seriously impact several programs.

The removal of liquid waste from high-level waste tanks, production of high level waste glass canisters and millions of gallons of salt waste could be drastically reduced. This comes after a record year of accomplishments that included two high level waste tank closures and record glass canister and salt waste production.

From a totally economic point of view, the country would be much better served to accelerate these programs if we want to save money and reduce risk.

Much of the cost of these programs is fixed, based on keeping facilities in a minimally safe condition, whether or not progress is made in processing liquid waste. Actual risk reduction gets accomplished with those budget dollars in excess of the fixed costs. When budgets get cut, it is the risk reduction dollars that get cut, so the impacts can be many times more than the apparent 8 percent reduction.

The budget cut at SRS comes almost exclusively from the liquid waste budget, or about 25 percent of that budget. If these cuts stand, most of the money will be spent, but relatively little of the scope will be accomplished. In fact, it is possible that other funded activities on site will produce waste streams in excess of the available budget capacity of the high-level liquid waste system.

This means that instead of reducing the inventory of high-level waste, we might actually see an increase in what our state regulators, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, believe is the most significant environmental risk in South Carolina.

Another, perhaps unintended consequence of these cuts is that the relationship between the DOE, the local community and the state of South Carolina is damaged. There are agreements between the DOE and the state that contain various milestones - milestones that have been met in a timely manner, but future ones that now are in jeopardy.

It is conceivable that in two or three years' time, the fines that the DOE must pay for missing these milestones will exceed the amount of the budget cuts. Where is the economy in that scenario? DHEC has been an important regulator of activity at SRS, and they have worked with the site to establish reasonable criteria for the clean-up mission. They will not be pleased by this betrayal of trust.

Then, add in the factor that our community will see the waste stay in the tanks much longer, increasing the chance of tanks eventually leaking into the environment.

For those who would say that this is merely the result of trying to get federal spending under control, I would say "go cut pork." This budget is not "pork."

SRS has done the nation's bidding for more than 60 years, and has performed its role in an outstanding manner. Because of those missions that were and are critical to our nation's security, legacy wastes have resulted. This is not Aiken's waste or South Carolina's waste - this is the federal government's waste, and we need the budget restored to safely and effectively process this material.

Clint Wolfe is the Executive Director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Back to Letters Index


21 March, 2013

Nuclear and equine waste
Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

Let me assure the reader that I am not advocating banning horses from South Carolina. Even though there is ample evidence that these beasts and the copious waste they produce are dangerous to human health and safety, many people, like my wife and I, have accepted the significant risks of horse ownership. She, by riding almost daily and I, who actually rode once, by helping to make a good living for veterinarians, farriers, trainers and even a few jockeys.

My usual passion is advocating for nuclear education, making maximum use of the nation's investment in the physical and human assets at the Savannah River Site and for nuclear technology in general, including nuclear generated electricity. A key to realizing the promise of clean nuclear energy is to deal with used nuclear fuel. The government predicts that a permanent repository for the fuel will not be available in the U.S. until 2048. Acting on recommendations from its Blue Ribbon Commission, the government will be seeking a site for a pilot project for "interim storage" of some very old used fuel.

Consolidation of the fuel at one or more interim sites is considered wise until a permanent repository is available. The fuel is currently stored at more than a hundred sites that have or had nuclear reactors. The SRS locale is an obvious choice for such a pilot facility since the site has been accepting foreign and domestic research reactor fuel for a couple of decades and has an outstanding record of safely managing nuclear materials for 60 years with very effective security.

The government will need to invest significantly in some community to host this pilot facility. Although the Aiken area is the obvious choice, other communities will vigorously pursue the opportunity as the "Not In My Backyard" sentiment gives way to the lure of good jobs, enhanced tax revenue, and improved educational and cultural opportunities.

That has been the experience of Carlsbad, N.M, with respect to the siting of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near their community. Indeed, the Aiken area experienced the same by having SRS near our community.

Whether the "pilot project" represents a great opportunity or something we would rather not pursue will depend on the details of the initiative. A recently released study, commissioned by the SRS Community Reuse Organization, is available on their web site and is a must read to be fully informed on this subject.

So what does this have to do with horses? Some in the Aiken area are promoting a concept referred to as "Don't Waste Aiken." Some supporters of this movement to prevent the siting of an interim storage facility at or near the SRS are reputed to be "horse people." Egad! If this is true, then in the words of that famous swamp opossum philosopher, Pogo, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

Since the nuclear age began, thousands of Americans have died prematurely from accidents involving horses and from diseases nurtured by equine waste. These include Tetanus, West Nile Virus, Typhoid, Salmonella and infectious diseases spread by mosquitoes that breed prolifically near equine waste.

In the same time frame, not one American has died due to nuclear reactors or waste from them. So, ignoring disease related deaths - just based on accidents alone, the score is about 15,000 to nothing, in favor of the horses.

Yet, horses are consistently characterized as "beautiful" and nuclear waste as "deadly" or "lethal." Go figure. So, should we ban horses in South Carolina? Don't even think about it.

Clint Wolfe is the Executive Director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Back to Letters Index


17 February, 2013

Too much is at stake to throw MOX nuclear project into jeopardy
Guest Column
By Clint Wolfe, Ph.D.
The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

In recent weeks, critics of the National Nuclear Security Administration's nuclear nonproliferation project have been repeating criticisms that are not worthy of an enlightened discussion of the merits of the program.

A $6.8 billion mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel plant is under construction at Savannah River Site. The fuel is a key part of a plutonium disposition agreement between the U.S. and Russia to eliminate 34 metric tons of plutonium each from their respective nuclear weapons stockpiles.

MIXING PLUTONIUM oxide with uranium oxide produces MOX fuel that can generate clean electricity in a nuclear power plant. The United States and Russia agreed to this technology after thorough evaluation of other methods of plutonium disposition. Every option would have cost billions of dollars to implement and cost hundreds of millions of dollars annually to provide surveillance, inspection, and security forever - all except one - MOX.

Use of plutonium in MOX fuel changes it in a way that makes it unattractive for nuclear weapons, so the plutonium is not just buried, immobilized or stored - it is eliminated from use in weapons.

Critics, such as Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., say the fuel is dangerous, that the government has no customers for it, and that the project will cost more than estimated.

Let's address these one at a time.

The fuel is not dangerous. MOX has been used in more than 30 reactors worldwide for decades and more reactors are being planned to use it. The claim that the fuel is dangerous apparently is linked to paranoia concerning plutonium in general, and completely ignores the safe operating history of MOX fuel.

As for lack of customers, this assertion is way too early to claim, and ignores the purpose of this project, which is to eliminate plutonium, not make money. Obviously, if the nation can realize some cost recovery that would be a bonus, but the real prize is the elimination of the plutonium both in the United States and Russia. There will be customers for the fuel in the long run even if the government uses it for its own purposes.

RECENTLY, AN NNSA official told a Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness breakfast gathering of more than 100 people that negotiations are intensifying with at least two different utilities. There is also the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has expressed interest in burning MOX fuel in its reactors.

As for the concern that the project will cost more than estimated, that is a virtual certainty. There are a number of reasons for this, many of which are related to the 30-year hiatus in nuclear construction in this country. Rather than speculate, we can assume that the costs of the MOX project would increase at least as much as similar non-nuclear projects over the same time period.

THERE WERE three construction projects associated with this program - the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MFFF); a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility (PDCF); and a Waste Solidification Building. Since 2005, the Handy-Whitman index of utility construction projects in the southeastern United States shows costs increasing by about one-third. Some components, such as electrical equipment and transformers, have greatly increased by approximately 72 percent and 45 percent, respectively, over the same period.

The budget challenges are described in President Obama's 2013 budget request to Congress, which identified several "significant challenges" to constructing the MOX plant because of unexpected market and economic conditions. Over the years through several reviews, NNSA has reported to Congress that project reserves have been used to make up for funding shortfalls.

As a result of these issues, and because of a dated budget baseline first written in 2005, the contractor has been asked to recalculate a new budget baseline based on risk management and current market prices and conditions. While this will project an increase in the overall cost of the MOX project, it will reflect a more accurate cost accounting and estimation of the project. For example, in 2005, diesel fuel was $1.35 a gallon. In 2012, diesel fuel was more than $4 a gallon, an astounding increase in cost. This raises the cost of everything, including materials, transportation and fabrication.

HOWEVER, THE government has an alternate concept it is pursuing called a "preferred alternative," which eliminates the need for the PDCF and instead modifies existing facilities to provide plutonium in the appropriate form to the MFFF. This has the potential to lower the final cost of the program by a significant amount.

In any event, it is reckless and foolish to talk about terminating the program because of costs since the facility is more that 60 percent complete. It will cost a lot less to finish than to start over on another multibillion-dollar program that can't really eliminate the plutonium threat the way that MOX can. Russia currently is ahead of us in progress toward eliminating their plutonium, but it has made it clear that it will not eliminate its stockpile until America is ready to do likewise. The programs are, therefore, inextricably linked.

ON DEC, 3, 2012, barely two months ago, President Obama gave a talk at the National War College in Washington, D.C. His remarks were delivered on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Nunn-Lugar initiative, which the president called one of the smartest and most successful national security programs.

He lauded the visionary leadership of the two former senators, Nunn, D-Ga., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. (Yes, in those days it was OK for members of opposite parties to work together for the good of the country.) He urged the nation to be vigilant with regard to the nonproliferation theme of Nunn-Lugar and to continue to invest in people and technology: "We have to sustain the partnerships we have, and that includes Russia." The president also said, "It took decades - and extraordinary sums of money - to build those arsenals. It's going to take decades - and continued investments - to dismantle them."

The president is right. Rep. Markey is wrong.

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness. He lives in Aiken, S.C.)

Back to Letters Index


6 February, 2013

Whither nuclear at SRS?
Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

It is great sport to denigrate government programs. It is easy to do, and not many people will argue with you. In contrast, I want to remind you of some very significant accomplishments at the Savannah River Site and encourage you to join me in supporting further SRS involvement in solving many of the nations' remaining nuclear issues.

SRS has the physical and human assets to deal with a wide range of issues of national priority that could keep more than 10,000 people working there for a long time. Issues such as closing the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle, demonstrating clean energy concepts, completing the environmental cleanup, eliminating weapons grade plutonium as designated in our agreements with the Russian Federation, closing nuclear high level liquid waste tanks, and continuing the impressive progress toward reducing the Cold War footprint at the site. Last year SRS closed high level waste tanks No. 18 and No. 19 (the first ones at SRS in 15 years) and are on track to close two more in 2013. They also are about to pour their 3,600th canister of vitrified high level waste. More than 48 million curies of nuclear material have been secured in borosilicate glass, and the saltstone disposal facility, designed to take lower curie content material, also had a record year in 2012.

Without fanfare, the site essentially completed shipment of transuranic wastes to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, more than 20 years ahead of schedule. By the end of 2013, SRS plans to have shipped all transuranic waste to WIPP. These transuranic wastes included material generated at SRS and shipped here from Rocky Flats and Mound Laboratories as those sites were de-inventoried and closed. This astonishing accomplishment contradicts the often heard complaint that nuclear waste stays wherever it is.

The risk reduction corresponding to these accomplishments is enormous. SRS has assets to deal with other high-priority national issues. President Obama has cited the need for continuing the cleanup of the cold war legacy, proceeding with nonproliferation programs, energy independence, clean energy production, development of biofuels, interim storage of used nuclear fuel, and leadership in nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technology. Despite SRS's attributes, the role that it will play in resolving the nation's energy issues is uncertain due to a number of factors.

First, DOE's visionary road map adopted for the future of SRS presents a scope challenge for the current landlord at the site. The landlord is DOE's Environmental Management organization, whose charter centers on cleanup of Cold War legacy materials. Environmental Management's priorities do not include many of the national priorities mentioned above. Although many good people in Environmental Management see no conflict in its mission and using the assets at the SRS to tackle the nation's nuclear issues, all of which include waste and environmental management (which are precisely Environmental Management's scope), apparently they have been told to use those assets on legacy cleanup - period.

So we have a situation where bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., stymied an initiative by the local DOE-SR and its contractor to enter into agreements with potential suppliers of small modular reactors to demonstrate these new reactors at SRS, apparently because this activity was not dictated by the right bureaucrat. This decision strikes a chilling blow to the SRS, its national laboratory (namely, the Savannah River National Laboratory - SRNL) and its visionary leadership. It is incomprehensible that some in Washington, D.C., place themselves in the position of defining (indeed, prescribing) legitimate activities for a national laboratory at such a micro-level. SRNL was in the process of responding to a DOE Federal Opportunity Announcement in conjunction with industry partners to site one or more SMRs at SRS when they were told to "cease and desist." Some of the qualities of these reactors, depending upon the particular design, are that they require less space, produce less waste, consume used nuclear fuel (high level waste), require less security, and don't require refueling. They are ideal for supplying power to military installations and remote locations, powering desalinization plants, or as replacements for coal-fired power plants rated at less than 300 megawatts.

SRS is the perfect location to demonstrate these concepts which fit very well with the assets and skill sets at SRS and SRNL. In addition, SRS has well characterized sites from previous initiatives that would shorten the time frame and lower the cost of demonstrating such reactors. Appropriate security is already in place at SRS with an excellent track record. The National Defense Authorization Act directs the National Nuclear Security Administration to consider the use of such reactors to provide the nation's tritium supply and to site the production mission at SRS. So don't assume there are no SMRs in the future of SRS. If there has been inappropriate scope creep, I would submit that it occurred within the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., and not at SRS.

Clint Wolfe is the executive director for the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Back to Letters Index


18 November, 2012

Guest Column
By Clinton R. Wolfe, Ph.D.
The Augusta Chronicle
Augusta GA

Trashing the Element from Hell," an article in the July edition of Scientific American, alludes to "experts" who are recommending alternate approaches to mixed oxide for the disposition of weapons-grade plutonium.

The article does not explain why the United States is engaging in the MOX fuel program and why we are making this trip, and where we have been on this journey. These are important aspects of the issue.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Clinton administration made treaty obligations with the Russians in 1993 to convert weapons of mass destruction into energy for peaceful purposes - an initiative dubbed "Megatons to Megawatts." As a result of that initiative, high-enriched uranium, which had been in Soviet weapons targeting the United States and our allies, was sold to the United States and blended down to make low-enriched uranium for fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors.

FULLY 50 PERCENT of our nuclear-generated electricity in recent years, or 10 percent of our total electricity generation in the United States, derives from former Soviet weapons. Negotiations between the United States and Russia as to the fate of plutonium-based weapons material resulted in 2000 in a plutonium management and disposition agreement, in which each country committed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium.

The Russians were aware that many approaches that might environmentally immobilize the plutonium in some relatively intractable matrix, such as a ceramic puck, still left the plutonium in a form that could be processed and recovered for use in weapons if we ever changed our minds. All options for disposition of plutonium were multibillion-dollar projects, and in the end all options but one led to very expensive nonproliferation safeguards and security measures ad infinitum.

That one option was MOX. Exposure of the plutonium in a nuclear reactor fuel cycle changes the nature of the plutonium in such a way as to render it unattractive for use in a nuclear weapon.

In addition to the obvious benefit of reducing the attractiveness of the plutonium for weapons, thereby reducing concerns over proliferation and many of the costs associated with safeguards and accountability, MOX provides additional benefits. Thirty-four metric tons of plutonium can provide electricity for a million homes for 50 years, a product worth tens of billions of dollars.

NO OTHER OPTION has any cost recovery component, so MOX embodies the benefits of disposing of the weapons threat, creating clean electricity for 50 million homes, recovering at least partial cost of the program, eliminating the permanent costs of safeguarding the material, and representing an accomplishment achieved by two nations who were near nuclear war - allowing them to step back from the brink of unthinkable destruction and to instead use those instruments of war for peaceful purposes.

We made the right choice. We are more than halfway to completion of the MOX facility, and changing course would be much more expensive than staying the course. We need to demonstrate our commitment to our treaty obligations and bask in the comfort of knowing that mankind can make decisions of this importance and actually pull them off.

You see, the only things from hell are the uses that man chooses for the elements.

(The writer is executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C. He formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the U.S. Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.)

Back to Letters Index


18 November, 2012

Guest Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

Holy Cow! Here we go again. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has commissioned a study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) of cancer rates as a function of proximity to nuclear power plants. The study will address the assertion by anti-nuclear groups that nuclear power plants cause leukemia. I insist on calling them anti-nuclear groups instead of "environmental" groups because I am executive director of an environmental group (Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness) and we are pro-nuclear.

I have a great deal of respect for the NRC and for the NAS and I am confident that no correlation exists between proximity to nuclear power plants and incidence of disease due to low-level ionizing radiation. The problem is that epidemiological studies cannot rule out factors that may be much more important than the subject of the study and the results often have a margin of error that renders most of the data statistically insignificant. When this happens, people interpret the data to suit their own purposes.

The premise is that low-level ionizing radiation emitted from nuclear power plants causes cancer. Now, consider that coal-fired power plants emit many times more radiation than do nuclear power plants, so why don't we do that study? Just so you know where I'm coming from, that study wouldn't be statistically significant either.

The average person receives background radiation doses of about 300 millirem (mr) per year, exclusive of medical procedures that on average add another 300 mr or about 600 mr per year per person. An mr is a measure of radiation. Background radiation dose varies by location in the U.S. and even more so in the rest of the world with some places in India and Iran that have background radiation levels of several thousand mr annually with no known health effects.

The American Nuclear Society estimates that living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant adds about 0.01 mr to a person's total annual background radiation dose - about the same as eating one banana. About 40 mr of our annual dose comes from our own bodies. Yes, we are radioactive - every living thing is radioactive and always has been. This means that if a normal person gains 10 percent of his or her body weight, he or she will increase their background radiation exposure by 4 mr, or 400 times the amount of exposure realized by living in proximity to a nuclear power plant. Now you may see what I mean when I say these studies cannot account for factors that are much more important than the subject of the study.

We can expect anti-nuclear groups to hang on to their dogma in the face of overwhelming evidence that their premise is nonsense, but it is disappointing to find the NRC and the NAS lending credence to their position by sponsoring this study with our money. Oh yes, the study will cost approximately $2 million.

Epidemiologists are still trying to sort out the effects of the huge amounts of radiation released in the Chernobyl accident, but have found little impact on human health. A similar conclusion may be drawn from a study of the atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. More than 85,000 persons exposed to radiation doses from 30,000 mr to 600,000 mr were studied. A control group of unexposed Japanese would have been expected to experience an 8.4 percent chance of dying from a solid tumor cancer. The exposed group experienced an 8.8 percent rate. This was judged to be barely statistically significant since most epidemiology studies have a 3-5 percent margin of error. Most of the apparent increase in cancer incidence occurred in those who received very high doses of radiation while those receiving lower doses actually had lower rates than the control group.

A more statistically significant result was that the exposed group showed one leukemia case more per thousand people than the expected rate. These exposures were approximately 10 million times higher than what the NAS will be studying, so one can be forgiven if one is skeptical that any credible scientific conclusion will come from this study.

Clint Wolfe is the Executive Director for the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

Back to Letters Index


29 August, 2012

Guest Column
By Clint Wolfe
The Aiken Standard
Aiken SC

A public hearing is scheduled for September 4 on the Department of Energy's Draft Surplus Plutonium Disposition Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. That's a mouthful that ordinarily would cause my eyes to glaze over and lead to a rapid turning to the next page.

But this one has a roadmap in it called the "preferred alternative" that is extremely important to the citizens of the Central Savannah River Area in particular and to all Americans in general.

The entire plutonium disposition program has been formulated over the past 20 years as a result of the breakup of the Soviet Union and a monumental agreement between former nuclear foes, Russia and the U.S., to demilitarize 34 metric tons of plutonium each.

That is roughly equivalent to removing 17,000 nuclear weapons from the arsenals of the two countries.

The original estimates of cost, made years ago, for various portions of the work are likely to be exceeded.

When that happens in the nation's current budget situation there will be the inevitable hue and cry that it is too expensive and that we should shelve it. But the program is too important for that kind of knee-jerk response and besides, DOE's "preferred alternative" contains a change in the original plan that saves enough money to fund potential overruns in other portions of the program so that the overall cost of getting the job done is lowered - not raised.

The original plan consisted of constructing a Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility which would turn the plutonium from nuclear weapons into plutonium oxide to feed the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility which is currently under construction at the Savannah River Site.

The MOX facility will turn the plutonium from weapons of mass destruction into fuel to provide electricity.

The PDCF by itself is a $4 billion to $5 billion project and would not be built under DOE's "preferred alternative." Instead, a combination of existing facilities with some modifications would be used to provide the feed for the MOX project. Key among these facilities would be H-Canyon/HB line at SRS.

These facilities are the nation's only ones capable of performing chemical separations of this type on a large scale and should be preserved.

The DOE plan would not only preserve the capability in H-Area, but would give it a very important mission for several years while the nation decides whether to engage in recycling of commercial used nuclear fuel.

Plutonium-bearing materials that are not suitable for MOX feed would be disposed of as transuranic waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

The downside of this alternative is that one of three major facilities to be built at the SRS in return for minding the nation's plutonium will not be realized.

The MOX facility and the waste solidification building would remain in the DOE plan but the PDCF will not. DOE will need to make some additional investments in facilities both at SRS and elsewhere in the complex to replace the function intended for the PDCF.

This approach should lower both the cost and the technical risk of the entire disposition program.

It has become a national pastime to complain about the federal government, but it deserves our support on this issue as it strives to meet treaty obligations that are arguably the most important commitments in the history of mankind while preserving national assets that may be crucial to our future energy security. The best interests of the CSRA and the nation are served by supporting DOE's "preferred alternative."

Clint Wolfe is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA) and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.

Back to Letters Index


10 August, 2012

Guest Article
The Greenville News
Greenville SC

As the need for nuclear power grows, we must pursue serious efforts toward converting nuclear-weapons materials into fuel for power reactors. In particular, reactors can use a mixed-oxide fuel made from plutonium to generate enormous amounts of electricity for homes and businesses. A substantial amount of excess plutonium in the U.S. stockpile is now available for this purpose.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is considering the use of the mixed-oxide fuel, known as MOX, at its Sequoyah plant near Chattanooga, Tenn., and at its Browns Ferry plant in northern Alabama. TVA's switch from conventional low-enriched uranium to MOX could occur as early as 2018-2020, timed to coincide with the start of MOX production at a facility under construction at the Savannah River Site here in South Carolina.

Now half completed, the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility is one of the largest construction projects in the United States, with 2,200 workers at the site. This project, which is the size of eight football fields, is blazing the trail for the resumption of nuclear quality construction in the United States after a hiatus of 35 years.

The idea of using weapons plutonium to make fuel for power reactors was a key factor in an historic arms-control agreement between the United States and Russia. That pact requires the elimination of 34 metric tons of plutonium by each country, under strict non-proliferation conditions. Combined, that's enough plutonium to arm 17,000 nuclear weapons. Converting that amount of plutonium into MOX fuel, thereby rendering it unsuitable for future military use, will take about 15 years. Though the agreement with Russia calls for eliminating 34 metric tons from each country's weapon stockpile it envisions the elimination of more of the weapons material in the future.

Once TVA begins using MOX fuel, other nuclear utilities are likely to do the same. MOX is safe and nonthreatening; and the technology for its production and use is well-proven.

Developed in this country in the 1960s, MOX was produced from plutonium in spent fuel that is left over from electricity production. MOX was pursued in this country until the mid-1970s, when it was abandoned in the U.S. on grounds that its production could lead to nuclear proliferation. Other countries such as France and Great Britain did not follow the U.S. example, and have continued to recycle plutonium. MOX has been manufactured and used safely and efficiently, with no diversion of plutonium for illicit purposes. Today MOX is used in about 30 power reactors around the world, with more planned units in the licensing stage.

And that's the point. TVA's use of MOX could pave the way for a resumption of spent-fuel reprocessing in the United States. Indefinite storage of spent fuel in water pools and dry casks at nuclear plant sites around the country is senseless, considering that the material could be converted into MOX for the production of clean energy. When that happens, the amount of nuclear waste for each unit of energy will be reduced by 50 percent.

The eventual introduction of new reactor technologies such as small modular reactors and "fast reactors" offers the possibility of recovering even greater amounts of energy from the fuel, thus further reducing the waste burden in an eventual geologic repository. So the use of this fuel makes possible a number of desirable outcomes: namely, producing billions of dollars worth of clean, emission free energy; satisfying our treaty obligations with the Russians to dispose of the weapons-grade plutonium thus making the world a safer place; contributing to our quest for energy independence; and reducing the amount of nuclear waste that eventually would be placed in a repository. These are opportunities too good to pass up.

Clint Wolfe is the executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA) and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area. For more information go to www.c-n-t-a.com.

Back to Letters Index


5 July, 2012

Letter to the Editor
Scientific American

The article by David Biello, "Trashing the Element from Hell," in the July edition of Scientific American does not explain why the U.S. is engaging in the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel program in the first place and alludes to "experts" who are recommending alternate approaches to MOX for the disposition of weapons grade plutonium. Why we are making this trip and where we have been on this journey are important aspects of the issue.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Clinton administration made treaty obligations with the Russians in 1993 to convert weapons of mass destruction into energy for peaceful purposes, an initiative dubbed "Megatons to Megawatts." As a result of that initiative, highly enriched uranium, which had been in Soviet weapons targeting the U.S. and our allies, was sold to the U.S. and blended down to make low enriched uranium for fuel for U.S. nuclear reactors. Fully 50 percent of our nuclear generated electricity in recent years or 10 percent of our total electricity generation in the U.S. derives from former Soviet weapons. Negotiations between the U.S. and Russia as to the fate of plutonium-based weapons material resulted in 2000 in a Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, in which each country committed to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium. The Russians were aware that many approaches that might environmentally immobilize the plutonium in some relatively intractable matrix, such as a ceramic puck, still left the plutonium in a form that could be processed and recovered for use in weapons if we ever changed our minds. All options for disposition of plutonium were multi-billion dollar projects and in the end all options but one led to very expensive nonproliferation safeguards and security measures "ad infinitum." That one option was MOX. Exposure of the plutonium in a nuclear reactor fuel cycle changes the nature of the plutonium in such a way as to render it unattractive for use in a nuclear weapon.

In addition to the obvious benefit of reducing the attractiveness of the plutonium for weapons, thereby reducing concerns over proliferation and many of the costs associated with safeguards and accountability, MOX provides additional benefits. Thirty-four metric tons of plutonium can provide electricity for a million homes for 50 years, a product worth tens of billions of dollars. No other option has any cost recovery component, so MOX embodies the benefits of disposing of the weapons threat, creating clean electricity for 50 million homes, recovering at least partial cost of the program, eliminating the permanent costs of safeguarding the material, and representing an accomplishment achieved by two nations who were near nuclear war, allowing them to step back from the brink of unthinkable destruction and to instead use those instruments of war for peaceful purposes.

We made the right choice, we are over halfway to completion of the MOX facility, changing course would be much more expensive than staying the course, we need to demonstrate our commitment to our treaty obligations, and bask in the comfort of knowing that mankind can make decisions of this importance and actually pull them off. You see, the only things from Hell are the uses that man chooses for the elements.

Clinton R. Wolfe, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA)

Back to Letters Index


25 March, 2012

Guest Column
The Augusta Chronicle - Augusta GA

Don't believe 'environmental groups' about SRS MOX project

By Clint Wolfe, Ph.D.

I read an article in this newspaper March 14 that reported contentions by "environmental groups" (read that as anti-nuclear, anti-Savannah River Site) that the SRS mixed-oxide project costs were too high.

They based their concern on increased operating costs and costs to modify facilities rather than building a new facility to disassemble plutonium pits. The latter approach, if taken, is a cost-saving strategy, not an increase in cost.

ANOTHER PERPLEXING statement in the article is: "The groups contend the MOX program's operating costs will exceed $10 million." Indeed, the project's own estimates are that annual operating costs of the facility will be on the order of $400 million, creating several hundred jobs for the next 20 years.

I spent a portion of my career participating in deliberations concerning the disposition of plutonium pits and other plutonium-bearing materials. I can assure you that there is no responsible, low-cost approach to managing plutonium. Every proposed solution costs a lot of money and/or leaves the plutonium vulnerable to recovery for use in nuclear weapons, and that includes what we are doing now - storage and surveillance.

The MOX project not only converts this material into a form that can never again be used for nuclear weapons but into a fuel that will produce $50 billion worth of electricity and will enable us to eliminate the expense of storage and surveillance of the plutonium in the future. From a societal point of view, we accomplish all of our stewardship and nonproliferation goals; eliminate the need for future costs of management of this material; and generate pollution-free energy.

We should not forget the reason we are doing this. We made a deal with the Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union to reduce the number of strategic weapons in our arsenals. The Russians knew that the MOX approach would assure them that the plutonium would not be used in weapons again.

AS PART OF the same deal we agreed to buy enriched uranium from dismantled Soviet weapons. Those weapons once aimed at the United States and our allies now supply 10 percent of our electricity. These programs brought relief to a generation of Americans, Russians and people of all nations who had been living under the cloud of the Cold War, fearing the worst.

The MOX project is an incarnation of the notion of turning swords into plowshares. We should rejoice that we have agreements that reduce the nuclear weapons threat while turning the weapons into energy for schools, hospitals, manufacturing and homes. One has to wonder how a legitimate "environmental" group can oppose a project that is such a perfect solution to the problems at hand. This project has not had a single environmental violation; has recorded more than 8 million work hours without a lost day because of injury; compiled a superb safety record; and the latest Nuclear Regulatory Commission inspection reported that the project is up to all safety and quality standards.

These groups complain that there are no takers yet for the MOX fuel. But when it is economical for utilities to use the fuel, agencies will buy it. It is a business decision. Getting paid for any of the cost of production of the MOX fuel is a bargain, as no other plutonium disposition option has any recovery-of-cost option.

THEY COMPLAIN that cost estimates for the completed project have changed. Of course, the final costs of the project will be different than projected in 2007 - prices change. The actions of these groups to obstruct progress on nuclear projects - whether it is MOX, new nuclear power plants or nuclear materials management programs - also contribute to the costs of these projects. Time is money and unnecessary delay increases costs, which you, the taxpayers, pay.

SRS is the place to deal with the nation's energy issues, and the MOX project fits right in with all the other critical programs at SRS. The project has been conducted safely and at a high level of excellence that we have grown to expect from the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration, and their contractors.

While we all want SRS programs to be conducted with the same respect for the environment to which we have grown accustomed, it is time to say "no" to these so-called "environmental" groups.

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.)

Back to Letters Index


16 March, 2012

Letter to the Editor
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

Environmental report misleading and one-sided

The Aiken Standard recently published an article about a 75 page report that purportedly described the Radiation and Public Health Project's study related to contamination at or near the Savannah River Site and consequential effects on local health status. The Aiken Standard article was fine, but the subject report is not only misleading; it is just plain wrong.

The report is unfortunate in that Department of Energy may at some point feel compelled to respond to it, at significant cost to taxpayers. The report has 2.5 pages devoted to evaluations and conclusions that are unscientific at best. The report suggests correlations exist between radio-sensitive illnesses and small changes over time in monitoring results at SRS. The radiation levels in question in the report are thousands of times less than those that are believed to have any impacts on human health. So what possible health significance can there be in small differences in those levels?

The sponsors of this report were described in the article as environmental groups. More appropriately, they can be described as anti-SRS, anti-nuclear zealots whose frivolous disregard for the truth will cost the American taxpayer dearly at a time when the country needs to spend its money wisely. These groups have called for further investigation.

We call on DOE to continue its long-standing practice of cooperation with appropriate agencies in South Carolina and Georgia to monitor the environmental impacts of the SRS, but not to spend one cent responding to this ill-conceived nonsense.

Clint Wolfe
Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


17 February, 2012

Letter to the Editor
The Augusta Chronicle - Augusta GA

Vogtle project is a boon

Feb. 9, 2012, is a date that will always be special to me because that is the day the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the Construction and Operating License application filed by Southern Co. for construction of two new nuclear power plants at the Vogtle site in Waynesboro.

Any day now we expect to hear a similar announcement relative to SCANA's application to build two new units at the Virgil C. Summer station in Jenkinsville, SC. These new plants will provide electricity safely and economically, and will replace or eliminate the need for fossil fuels to generate that power.

These developments will be very positive for the regional economy as thousands of construction workers will be employed as the plants are built. As the plants come online, hundreds of permanent jobs will be created to operate the new facilities. The big winner will be the environment, as these plants have virtually zero carbon emissions compared to the thousands of tons of emissions that are released into the environment if fossil fuels are used to produce an equivalent amount of energy.

We wish Southern Co. and SCANA every success as they blaze a trail not followed in more than 30 years. Let the renaissance begin!

Clint Wolfe
Aiken, S.C.

Back to Letters Index


13 December, 2011

Letter to the Editor
The Augusta Chronicle - Augusta GA

MOX facility scores highly

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced in a letter Dec. 5 that it will hold a public hearing on Dec. 15 at Newberry Hall to present its findings on the performance of the work for fiscal year 2011 on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site.

This annual performance evaluation's bottom line is that the NRC found no issues meeting the criteria for "requiring management attention." For those of us who have been involved in large government projects before, this kind of report card is almost unheard of. The National Nuclear Security Administration and its prime contractor, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, are to be congratulated for outstanding performance.

The Savannah River Site's future will be enhanced as an enduring site if the U.S. Department of Energy, NNSA and their contractors continue to set the standard for performance that we have grown to expect of them.

Clint Wolfe
Aiken, S.C.

Back to Letters Index


21 August, 2011

Letter to the Editor
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

Anti-nuke columnist wrong on facts

A guest column by an anti-nuclear alarmist in The State newspaper on July 29 addressed potential missions at the Savannah River Site. He chose to play on readers' emotions in lieu of using facts.

He said the nuclear industry engages in "indiscriminate nuclear dumping." Nuclear waste sites are robust engineered facilities, well characterized, permitted and monitored. "Dump" is an inaccurate and inflammatory descriptor for nuclear waste disposal facilities.

He referred to "deadly" high level waste at SRS. I suppose it is deadly in the sense that a 10-story building is deadly. That is, if you choose to jump off the building or hug the high level waste they could both kill you. But why would you do that? Nuclear waste has never killed anybody.

He said there is "no market" for "dangerous" MOX fuel. That will come as a surprise to the more than 30 nuclear power plants currently using MOX fuel and the 20 more planning to use it. He doesn't say why it is "dangerous." When electric power producers can purchase the fuel and recover their costs for necessary analyses and regulatory hurdles there will be a market for this fuel. It is a business decision.

If our country is going to progress and eventually close the nuclear fuel cycle, the professionals at the SRS are the best qualified people in the country to do the job successfully and safely. Let's let them do it.

Clint Wolfe

Back to Letters Index


July 21, 2011

Guest Column in
The State - Columbia SC

Wolfe: A safe dose of radiation?
by Clint Wolfe

"Hormesis," a Greek word meaning "impel, urge on," refers to the phenomenon by which gradually adding a toxic substance to an organism produces an initial beneficial effect. For example, if you had no salt in your body you could not live, and as you added salt, your health would improve. At some point, adding more salt would be harmful. The same effect is seen with vitamins and minerals, as there are many that you can't live without but that are toxic in high doses. This also is true of certain vaccines, which are small quantities of viruses that, when introduced to the body, stimulate a protective immune response.

The concept of small doses of radiation having beneficial effects on living organisms fits this model but is contradictory to the often-quoted idea that "there is no safe level of radiation." This pronouncement derives from a data treatment called "linear no threshold" or LNT. It assumes that, if there is an observed detrimental effect of very high levels of radiation on human health, then there will be a proportionate detrimental effect at lower levels of radiation.

Those who use this methodology also often assume that doses are cumulative across individuals in a large group. To illustrate, assume that 100 aspirin tablets represent a fatal dose to an individual. LNT suggests that if you give one aspirin to 100 people, then one of them will die because, in total, a fatal dose has been delivered. It is in this way that large numbers of cancer deaths are projected from very low radiation exposures to very large populations. Now you know where all those alarming projections of cancer deaths originate. We've been duped.

It's hard to argue that ionizing radiation has no effect on human cells, as it is generally agreed that DNA alterations in a cell could result from absorbing ionizing radiation and possibly lead to formation of a cancer. But to put that argument in perspective, background radiation contributes about 0.00004 percent of the body's total DNA alterations, with 99.99996 percent coming from other causes. This comparison and others are discussed in Alan E. Waltar's book, Radiation and Modern Life.

Although the LNT methodology is useful for providing a basis for protection for radiation workers, there are no credible empirical data implicating low levels of ionizing radiation in human-health problems. This is not surprising in light of the incredibly low impact of radiation on total DNA alterations.

On the other hand, there are considerable data on laboratory animals and selected populations of humans from epidemiological studies that show beneficial effects of low levels of radiation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the states with the lowest cancer death rates are largely those with the highest background radiation levels. A 10-year study of 70,000 shipyard workers building nuclear-powered ships showed that those who received radiation doses higher than the levels of the non-nuclear workers at the same location had lower death rates from leukemia and lymphatic cancers. The correlations are astounding, although one must be cautious in assigning cause-and-effect relationships based on these kinds of data, because not all of the potentially important variables are well-controlled. Attempts to glean health effects from low-level exposures to radiation often are doomed because other variables such as lifestyle and diet may dwarf the effects of radiation.

My point is that even if you don't believe that some low levels of radiation are good for you, perhaps we can stop the hysteria about low levels causing harm. Based on what we know to date, there's no reason to think that even the most highly irradiated workers at Fukushima will suffer harmful health effects.

Espousing a hypothesis that is so contrary to conventional wisdom always carries the risk of being labeled a kook. Not wanting to be so labeled, I will not recommend a daily dose of low-level radiation. (Of course, I don't have to do that; you are already getting it.) What I do recommend is that, the next time you hear a prophecy of doom due to exposure to low levels of radiation, you take it with a healthy grain of salt.

Dr. Wolfe is executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken. Reach him at cnta@bellsouth.net.

Back to Letters Index


July 6, 2011

Letter/column in
The Augusta Chronicle - Augusta GA

Examine big picture of MOX mission

A reader's letter to the editor June 27 ("Rethink the MOX mission at SRS") expressed his opinion that the mixed-oxide fuel project should be reconsidered -- an opinion to which he is certainly entitled.

I would like to first consider his reference to cost vs. the alternative. The decision to make MOX fuel out of weapons-grade plutonium was reached after considering numerous disposition paths. Each of the alternatives had financial, technical or political shortcomings. Discussions with the Russians over how to dispose of plutonium became necessary after agreements between our countries in 1993 that provided for the dismantling of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons.

Reciprocity was a given as a matter of trust, and the Russians would not consider treating highly enriched uranium and plutonium as wastes. They maintained, and correctly so, that these materials were valuable sources of energy. As a consequence, blend-down of highly enriched uranium from former Soviet nuclear weapons that were aimed at us and our allies now provides 50 percent of our nuclear generated electricity in the United States today.

This agreement already has netted a huge economic benefit to the United States and to any country with nuclear-generating capacity, as the cost of uranium for fuel has been moderated by this huge supply from the Russian and U.S. arsenals.

The plutonium portion of the weapons agreements was slower in coming to fruition, but each country committed to an initial disposition of 34 metric tons with more possibly to follow. This represents about 50 percent of all the weapons-grade plutonium ever produced in the United States. Conversion of this material into mixed-oxide fuel will power a million homes for more than 50 years, and that energy is worth tens of billions of dollars.

Choosing to delay or cancel the MOX project would require revisiting all the old alternatives, including surveillance, and all of them cost a lot of money. Add to that the potential for our treaty partners to take exception to our reneging, and we introduce the possibility of the loss of credibility in a crucial area of our foreign policy. The Russians were suspicious of proposed disposition paths that left the plutonium in a recoverable state.

So a big-picture look at the MOX project reveals advantages that can't be measured in mere dollars and cents. The project has helped kick-start a dormant nuclear manufacturing supply chain whose rebirth is a must if we are to build the next generation of nuclear power plants.

MOX represents the culmination of two superpowers stepping back from the unthinkable and converting an awesome amount of potential destruction into energy, while rendering the plutonium unusable for weapons for all time.

This modern example of "swords to plowshares" is an amazing achievement in our foreign policy and how we interact with our former adversary. Trashing that accomplishment in the name of tight budgets would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Clint Wolfe
Aiken, S.C.

(The writer is executive director of Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, and formerly chaired the Technical Advisory Panel to the Department of Energy's Plutonium Focus Area.)

Back to Letters Index


April 18, 2011

Editorial in
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

Future for nuclear workers remains bright
by Dr. Susan A. Winsor

Interestingly, our region today finds itself at the heart of the atom's rebirth. After three dormant decades, reliance on nuclear power is increasing as electric utilities in South Carolina and Georgia move forward with new construction of additional units at their existing nuclear plant sites at V.C. Summer and Vogtle, and government initiatives progress such as the Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) facility at the Savannah River Site.

Nuclear energy is a growth industry. Local nuclear employers estimate they will need 10,000 new workers to support their ventures over the next decade including professional, engineering, craft, and technical. This was confirmed in a 2009 study conducted by the consulting firm of Booz, Allen & Hamilton for the SRS Community Reuse Organization (SRSCRO).

Retirements and attrition in the experienced workforce and a lack of understanding about nuclear career opportunities among young people have left employers perilously short of the qualified talent they will need in the years ahead. Students in middle and high school today will be needed to advance our nation's energy independence.

Even as more than 1,000 employees will be impacted as part of the recently announced workforce restructuring from one of eight current contractors at SRS, it has been reported that more than 2,000 job listings exist in a data base at the workforce transition office for consideration.

The long-term demand for nuclear power is strong. In recent days, comments of support for this vital energy source have poured from our region's utilities, renowned scientists, regulators, members of Congress, the White House, and those potentially most affected - neighbors to our existing nuclear power plants.

President Obama's support for nuclear energy is clear in his March 30 remarks on America's Energy Security where he touted the significant benefit of nuclear energy as a non-carbon emitting power source that provides one-fifth of our nation's electricity. He emphasized the importance of continuing to invest in a workforce that leads to energy independence for our nation.

All have cautioned against a rush to judgment based on still unfolding events at the Fukushima reactors following Japan's record earthquake and devastating tsunami, rightly reminding us that no energy source, including oil and coal, is without risks.

The fact is - locally we depend on nuclear energy for our energy needs. South Carolina's five nuclear units supply about one half of the state's electricity demand. In Georgia, four nuclear units account for more than 25 percent of the state's electricity.

We also depend on highly skilled nuclear workers. These workers are essential to achieving our nation's safe and reliable energy independence and they are well-respected for maintaining the distinct skills and firm standards required by the industry. Workers with these capabilities are also sought by other advanced technology industries nationwide.

Through its new Nuclear Workforce Initiative (NWI), the SRSCRO is strongly committed to a collaborative local program that enhances worker skills and opportunities for economic growth in the nuclear and technology sectors throughout our region. As our region strengthens its nuclear workforce to support the nation's energy challenge, we are simultaneously building a workforce that is attractive to other advanced technology investment in our community.

The NWI effort - with its slogan "Growing Our Own Through Collaboration" - received a major boost in March when the Department of Energy awarded a grant, as announced by the SRSCRO, for use by five area colleges and universities to train workers for existing and future nuclear-related and other high technology jobs.

The grant funds will be shared by Aiken Technical College, Augusta State University, Augusta Technical College, University of South Carolina Aiken, and University of South Carolina Salkehatchie. The DOE grant is timely in helping these educational institutions gear up to provide the training needed to ensure the workforce is ready for future jobs in government and commercial nuclear facilities and other high-tech opportunities.

The five colleges also are partnering with DOE in science, technology, mathematics, and research through a formal Memorandum of Understanding which acknowledges a long-term goal of expanding opportunities for joint work and support.

Importantly, this is the first time area colleges from both sides of the Savannah River have collaborated on a grant, underscoring a strong, unified commitment to regional workforce development.

As a region, we must be sure that the nuclear workers needed in the years ahead will be available. And, just as important, we need to ensure that our local citizens have ample opportunity to successfully compete for these jobs to advance a proven energy technology and to prepare for other high technology industries.

Susan Winsor is President of Aiken Technical College and chair of the SRSCRO Nuclear Workforce Initiative Task Force.

Back to Letters Index


April 17, 2011

Guest Column in
The Augusta Chronicle - Augusta GA

Accident in Japan begs for context to stress safety of atomic power

Josef Stalin is reported to have said, "When one person dies, it is a 'tragedy.' When a million people die, it is a 'statistic.'" Perhaps the sentiment that he expressed explains the seemingly irrational opposition in this country by the anti-nuclear lobby toward nuclear power.

The next person killed in this country in the commercial production of electricity from nuclear power will be the first and the industry is more than half a century old and produces 20% of our nation's electricity. If we ever do have a fatality in the nuclear industry there will be an outcry from some to shut down the plants, congressmen will hold hearings, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will likely introduce new regulations, all in response to the "tragedy."

The production of the other 80% of our energy over the last half century has resulted in more than one million deaths from carbon based air pollution, oil and gas explosions, coal mining accidents, and petroleum fires. Add to these "statistics" the incredible environmental insult from oil spills, acid mine drainage, mountaintop removal, and solid waste pollution from the combustion of coal and you wonder how otherwise rational people can even consider alternatives to nuclear power. There is an apparent emotional link between nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear power.

The anti-nuclear lobby does not discriminate between the perceived evil of the weapons and what should be the goodness of the energy from nuclear power. Uranium is simply the natural resource that makes both possible. We don't seem to have a similar problem with other natural resources such as iron ore. Iron ore is the starting point for the most murderous weapon in the history of mankind, the machete. It is also the starting point for steel for schools, hospitals, bridges, homes, etc. No one suggests not using steel for the latter purposes because of its role in so much human tragedy.

Something in our collective psyche tells us we should fear radiation, even though we are bathed in it naturally every day by our environment, our granite countertops and our loved ones. Yes, we get measurable doses of radiation exposure from people, especially those with big muscles because the radioactive isotope potassium 40 tends to concentrate in muscle tissue. Even coal fired power plants release more than 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant.

Almost all we know about the effects of radiation on human health are derived from epidemiological studies of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You would think with all the emphasis on avoiding exposure to radiation that there would be damning evidence from that study related to such exposures. Actually, the data suggest only a very weak correlation between solid cancer incidence and very high doses of radiation and no correlation between solid cancers and lower levels of exposure. The most convincing correlations indicated higher rates of leukemia (3 per 1000 instead of the expected 2 per 1000) due to the exposure.

Ultimately, decisions about energy choices should be based on risk-reward kinds of analyses. There are risks associated with every decision that we make. Even a decision to do nothing has risk involved. You can decide to go shopping, but there is a finite risk that you will be killed in an auto accident. You can decide to stay home but there is a finite risk that you will be killed while falling down the stairs.

How well we manage real, rather than perceived risks, will determine the safety of our energy future. There is ample evidence to show that the nuclear industry manages those risks extremely well as they continue their outstanding safety record and avoid the aforementioned "tragedy."

Clint Wolfe
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


April 13, 2011

Letter to the Editor of
The State - Columbia SC

Nuclear threat has been overblown

The Japanese twin disasters of earthquake and tsunami represented perhaps the most potent "one-two punch" in recorded history. The human tragedy associated with these events was felt by all of us as we witnessed through news accounts the desperate situation of the Japanese people.

Headlines blared on cable TV, "Nuclear crisis grows, 10,000 dead." The immediate conclusion by viewers and apparently the desired conclusion by the news report was that the two facts were somehow related. They, of course, were not. No one died as a result of the reactor accidents.

I believe there may be a silver lining to the nuclear bashing that is sure to come from the anti-nuclear crowd. That silver lining is embodied in access to information that was not available during and after Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. That access is provided by the internet and search engines that can put vast amounts of information at one's disposal.

This time we know because of exhaustive studies of the prior nuclear incidents that the sky is not falling. In fact, other than radiation poisoning involving first responders at Chernobyl, it is not obvious that there were unambiguous human health effects caused by either of the two events. You don't have to take my word for it! That's the silver lining! You can Google "Three Mile Island" or "Chernobyl" and get the facts for yourself!

We should learn what we can from the lessons of Fukushima, incorporate them in our nuclear culture and get on with building new units as quickly as possible.

Clint Wolfe
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


April 10, 2011

Editorial in
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

Media Nuclear Hype Misleading

With the occasional notable exception, the American media's coverage of the Japan nuclear reactor crisis has been irresponsible at best and terroristic at worst. On an evening CBS Newscast, even Katie Couric (one of my favorites) said that the nuclear crisis in Japan had now overshadowed the earthquake and tsunami. In whose twisted mind?

We all watched in horror as the twin disasters of a gigantic earthquake followed by an enormous tsunami swept Japanese people and towns to destruction. Our hearts were heavy with compassion for the plight of these victims whose numbers were likely to build to more than 25,000. To place the nuclear incident in the same category as this human tragedy is to minimize the importance of human life.

Anyone who wants to write the definitive account of the Japanese nuclear plants' story following the earthquake and tsunami will have to wait a while for clarity with regard to the sequence of events. However, it is not too early to make some observations about how we are all getting our information about these events. Much of the media coverage is provided in a sensational manner by people who are used to covering less technical issues. The nuclear community doesn't make it any easier for the uninitiated as there have been at least six different units used in the reporting thus far to describe radiation levels [Curies, Becquerels, RADs, Grays, Sieverts, Rems, and their associated fractions, m(milli) and u(micro)].

It is small wonder then that there is confusion about radiation levels and what is normal versus worrisome versus alarming. For the rest of this story I will speak in millirem (mrem), largely because I am old-fashioned and I can't think in Becquerels or Grays. We can place the exposures in perspective if we realize that one chest x-ray delivers about 10 mrem, a full dental exam about 160 mrem, and a mammogram about 250 mrem.

When I started in the nuclear business many years ago, nuclear workers who would help conduct inspections during outages were allowed 10,000 mrem of accumulated exposure annually. Because the pay was good and workers were out of work if they got more than 10,000 mrem, some were inclined to doctor their records so they could get more work. These were referred to in the trade as "crispy critters." The federal government later reduced the annual occupational dose for federal nuclear workers to 5,000 mrem which is where the limit is today, well below any credible estimate of a potentially harmful level. Not content to just comply, the Department of Energy sets a limit of 2,000 mrem for its workers. The average occupational radiation dose at the Savannah River Site for radiation workers is about 60-70 mrem per year in addition to their background dose which is about 300 mrem per year or about 600 mrem per year including medical procedures

Now, how do these stack up against dangerous levels? Half of the people exposed to radiation levels of 450,000 mrem in an acute exposure will die within 3-6 weeks in the absence of medical intervention. This is radiation poisoning. Generally speaking, levels of 10,000 mrem in an acute exposure and 20,000 mrem in a chronic exposure per year are safe and represent the thresholds for observable increases in human cancer. Naturally occurring background levels of radiation around the world typically range from 200 to 20,000 mrem per year with no apparent health effects.

When it comes to radiation effects on people, we can hypothesize, but we can't run radiation experiments on humans to determine causal relationships. We can however, look at preceding major radiation exposures and infer from the medical evaluations of these populations the nature and severity of the health effects.

The most definitive study was performed on 86,572 survivors (the cohort) of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation. In the medium to high exposure category (30,000 mrem to 600,000 mrem) after 45 years of follow-up, the study expected 7,244 deaths from solid cancers if there were no effects of the exposure. They found 7,578 deaths, so they attribute 334 deaths from solid cancers to the effects of the radiation. Epidemiological studies typically have a 3-5% margin of error, but let us assume the attribution is exactly correct. This means that a member of the cohort was 0.4% more likely to die of a solid cancer than an individual not exposed to such high levels of radiation.

The message is that the correlation between radiation doses and morbidity are very weak at very high doses and nonexistent at lower doses of radiation. The health impacts on humans from the radiation released from the Japanese reactors will be negligible with the possible exception of impacts to the plant workers. People in Illinois who are trying to buy potassium iodide as an antidote for radiation exposure caused by the Japanese reactors are victims of a colossal hoax.

Clint Wolfe
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


March 15, 2011

Letter to the Editor
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

Headline unnecessarily alarming

I read in the banner headline on the front page of the March 10 Aiken Standard : "Five MOX violations discovered." The headline above the article on page 2A read "Review finds five violations at MOX facility." The accompanying article by Anna Dolianitis, staff writer for the Standard was well written and basically portrayed that the review was yet another good report on the contractor's performance if one understands that the findings were of the lowest significance of four levels that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission tracks.

This number of relatively minor findings in a $4.8B project is an excellent report card. Headlines are supposed to grab attention, and I suppose "Project Continues Outstanding Performance" doesn't pass the test.

Clint Wolfe, Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA)
Aiken

Back to Letters Index


February 28, 2011

Editorial
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

President's 2012 Budget Request for SRS Lacking

The Savannah River Operations Office of Environmental Management (EM) of the Department of Energy (DOE) unveiled their guidance for funding at SRS for 2012 this past week. Dr. David Moody, the DOE site manager, will have to examine the cards he has been dealt and try to make the most out of a budget proposal that does not fully meet the needs that many believe are crucial to our nation's well being.

Let us look at the priorities of EM at the site. I'll list them in the order that I believe they exist on DOE's priority list, but that is sort of like asking parents to rank their children as to which they love the most.

First we have commitments to stabilize the high level liquid waste; next, the successful completion and operation of the Salt Waste Processing Facility which is integral to meeting the first priority; number three is to meet commitments to ship targeted amounts of transuranic waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, N.M.; next is to provide research, development and demonstration (RD&D) capability for the back end of the commercial nuclear fuel cycle; and the fifth one would be to achieve a targeted footprint reduction of 75% in 2012.

Let me draw your attention to the fourth one on the list, RD&D. Ordinarily, that priority might read "process and package uranium and plutonium bearing materials" or "process foreign and domestic research reactor fuel in H-Area." H-Area includes the chemical processing facilities H-Canyon and HB-Line. As a result of international nonproliferation treaties, SRS has been the recipient of these fuels from the U.S. and other countries as a means of assuring that highly enriched uranium does not fall into the wrong hands. There are currently about 15,000 used fuel rods in L-Area at SRS awaiting processing in H-Area.

At this point I beg your forbearance for taking a jaundiced view of bureaucracy. It seems that somewhere in Washington, DC, someone has decided that to process the used fuel in H-Area would constitute a "new" project. Because the government is likely to be funded by a "continuing resolution" instead of a new budget, "new" projects cannot be funded, ergo, no processing of fuel in H-Area. Now never mind that this noble mission of nonproliferation has been a constant activity in H-Area for two decades, that it satisfies international commitments, and that L-Area is not meant for indefinite storage of this material - regardless, bureaucracy will be served.

Without the fuel processing, H-Area has minimal immediate scope and the inevitable questions are begged about shutting down H-Canyon and HB-Line, a potentially colossal mistake as they are the only facilities this country has capable of recycling used fuel.

H-Area is crucial to the nation's energy security, because it is key to potential activities at SRS that are related to new energy missions such as the development of Small Modular Reactors, the demonstration of nuclear fuel recycling protocols which would increase the energy recovery from the fuel, and to the development of reactors to eventually extract nearly 100% of the energy content of the fuel. The current once through cycle used in U.S. reactors extracts only about 3% of the energy value in the uranium.

The radioactivity of the waste from a combination of recycling and new reactor designs is greatly reduced, which eliminates the need to consider disposal options that invoke periods of thousands or millions of years. SRS personnel already know how to put such waste in a safe configuration as witnessed by the more than 3,000 canisters of defense high level waste encased in borosilicate glass that are currently stored there, ostensibly awaiting removal to Yucca Mountain, but if that option is taken off the table, the good people in Carlsbad, N.M. would like very much for us to send the waste to them.

The people at SRS demonstrably know how to recycle nuclear fuel and render the waste safe for all time and the people at WIPP want that waste sent to them for emplacement in a salt formation that is nearly 250 million years old, a half mile under the surface of N.M. Case closed!

Although the President's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future is not charged with recommending sites, it is quite likely that one of their recommendations will be to examine the options for recycling protocols for used nuclear fuel. It would be ironic if a bureaucrat in D.C. who has defined continuing to meet 20-year old treaty commitments as a "new" start would preempt such an important potential recommendation from the President's Blue Ribbon Commission.

Faced with this dilemma, DOE has said that it will make no final decision on the future of H-Area until after the Blue Ribbon Commission issues its final report in January 2012 and to its credit is supporting a stance of minimal safe operating condition for H-Area. Even with this approach a few hundred personnel may be reassigned and it is unlikely they could ever be reassembled or their expertise preserved.

I believe Dr. Moody is going to do the very best that anyone could do, given the hand he has been dealt; however, we need to see to it that he gets dealt a new hand. We should ask our government officials at all levels, regardless of political affiliation to get behind an initiative to adequately fund H-Area. Our energy future may depend on it.

Dr. Clint Wolfe,
Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA)

Back to Letters Index


February 8, 2011

Letter to the Editor
The State - Columbia SC

The letter in your Jan. 13, 2011, edition, entitled "Nuclear cleanup very expensive" is somewhat misleading.

The author attempts to tie nuclear weapons legacy clean up to the mission of the Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) which is basically, "what to do about the commercial nuclear fuel cycle?" The cost of the cleanup of the nuclear weapons legacy waste at the Savannah River Site (SRS) and other DOE nuclear sites is a mortgage that the American people willingly took on decades ago as the Cold War called into question our survival as a nation and as a world. That war was thankfully won by patriots such as those at SRS.

The river pollution to which she refers in each case is a tiny fraction of safe levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency.

She refers to "weapons grade waste." There is no such thing. Used nuclear fuel is a rich source of energy. That is why it is on the BRC's agenda for closing the fuel cycle.

She says Lindsey Graham supports reprocessing even though George Bush did not. Not true. The Bush administration floated a proposal in 2006 to deal with international oversight of reprocessing. Senator Graham has been a knowledgeable supporter and has encouraged bipartisan cooperation on the issue in partnership with Senator John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts.

Misinformation tends to politicize this important public debate. We don't need that. We need more Graham/Kerry initiatives.

Dr. Clint Wolfe,
Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA)

Back to Letters Index


October 11, 2010

Guest Editorial
The State - Columbia SC

By Clinton R. Wolfe

Guaranteeing our energy future

In the coming months and years there will be considerable public discourse about the economic viability of various nuclear fuel recycling options. As the discussion develops, it would behoove us all to understand the basis of conclusions reached about economic viability.

Specifically, the typical argument made by those opposing recycling is that the cost of recycling per pound of recovered fuel exceeds that of fuel developed from fresh uranium, ergo, it is not economical. There are several typical flaws in this kind of argument.

First, the analysis needs to go deeper into opportunity costs, such as the cost of caring for the used fuel that is not recycled. Secondly, there is never a discussion of the value we would place on being energy independent and the value of the associated improvement in national security. A value must be determined and applied for the certainty of the fuel supply, which we can guarantee by recycling used nuclear fuel. These are additional factors that an economic analysis would consider.

In other words, an accountant's view of recycling might well conclude that it isn't worth the trip in dollars and cents, but an economist's view might be that it is well worth the trip in dollars and "sense" (of the common variety).

We should also recognize that many more countries are going to join the nuclear energy club, uranium demand will increase and the depressing effect on the price of uranium due to the U.S./Russia arms agreements will end in 2013. These agreements provided for conversion of Soviet weapons uranium into low enriched nuclear fuel. This agreement has supplied 50 per cent of the uranium in our current nuclear power plants.

Imagine that 100 years ago we could have bought futures contracts on the entire future oil production of the Middle East for $1 over the going market price of a barrel of oil in 1910. What a deal! But some would have argued that we were paying a premium for the oil and besides, we didn't need it then!

We need to get serious about guaranteeing our future energy supplies and I don't mean that we need to chop down more mountains or drill deeper wells. I also don't mean that we need to pay the crushing subsidies that would be required to provide unreliable energy from various alternative energy sources.

I do mean that we already have the answer to our energy needs for thousands of years. Nuclear energy produced from recycled fuel expands our uranium resources by at least a factor of twenty and provides clean, safe, abundant energy 24 hours a day for as far into the future as we can imagine.

Clint Wolfe
Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness

Back to Letters Index


January 20, 2011

Letter to the Editor
The Aiken Standard - Aiken SC

Nuclear energy is feasible and safe

In your Jan. 12, 2011, edition, you published a letter from a reader who commented on the recent meeting of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future in Augusta and offered opinions as to the appropriate choices for our future energy supplies. Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA) encourages public discourse on these matters, but cautions that, while everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, no one is entitled to his or her own facts.

The first misstatement in the letter is in the title, "Nuclear energy not feasible; ..." Not only is it feasible, electricity produced from safe, clean nuclear power has been with us for over half a century. Nuclear power currently produces 20% of the nation's electricity. I believe that more than passes the "feasibility" test.

A figure of $400B is mentioned in the letter for government's cost to process waste. The writer doesn't mention what waste costs $400B, but it certainly is not commercial nuclear waste as that cost is born by the various utilities and their ratepayers.

The author states, "this lethal legacy is harming our health and our environment, ..." The fact is that all commercial nuclear waste is secured, monitored, and guarded and it has never harmed anybody, so even the term "lethal" seems a bit excessive. Nor is it harming the environment or our health as it is shielded from the environment and from people. Contrast that with the death and environmental destruction that has resulted from using fossil fuels. The nonprofit Clean Air Task Force commissioned research indicating 24,000 premature deaths annually in the U.S. alone from burning coal and Princeton University estimated 380,000 premature deaths annually world-wide. More than 2.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere annually in the U.S. due to fossil fuel-generated electricity.

The author laments on behalf of alternatives, "... we need at least a fair share of all the subsidized money that is siphoned by the powers that be: nuclear, oil, and coal."

Recent energy subsidies provided by the federal tax code provided about $10B in energy subsidies. Of this amount about 2% went for nuclear, 3% for coal, 24% for refined coal, 21% for gas and petroleum, 40% for alternative energies, and 10% for miscellaneous projects. Again, I believe getting 40% of the energy incentives probably passes the "fair share" test. Nuclear got 2% of the pot, and we can probably agree with the author that the other shares seem distorted considering the need to encourage carbon free energy production. The U.S. Energy Information Administration is a good source of data on this subject.

Our purpose is not to stifle public debate, but rather to stimulate informed public discussion related to the energy choices of the future and ultimately how we can bring the assets in our region to bear on the best solutions. That was really the theme of much of the discussion at the Blue Ribbon Commission hearing.

CNTA is a non-profit education organization and will be happy to assist anyone interested in obtaining factual information about nuclear technologies.

Clint Wolfe,
Executive Director
Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness (CNTA)
1204 Whiskey Rd, Ste B
Aiken, SC 29803

Back to Letters Index


CNTA HOME

Questions, Comments, Concerns about our Website? Let us know!