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An essential reference for journalists, activists, and students, this book presents scientifically accurate and accessible overviews of 24 of the most important issues in the nuclear realm, including: health effects, nuclear safety and engineering, TMI and Chernobyl, nuclear medicine, food irradiation, transport of nuclear materials, spent fuel, nuclear weapons, global warming.
Each "brief" is based on interviews with named scientists, engineers, or administrators in a nuclear specialty, and each has been reviewed by a team of independent experts. The objective is not to make a case for or against nuclear-related technologies, but rather to provide definitive background information. (The approach is based on that of The Reporter's Environmental Handbook, published in 1988, which won a special award for journalism from the Sigma Delta Chi Society of professional journalists.)
Other features of the book include: a glossary of hundreds of terms, an introduction to risk assessment, environmental and economic impacts, and public perceptions, an article by an experienced reporter with recommendations about how to cover nuclear issues, quick guides to the history of nuclear power in the United States, important federal legislation and regulations, nuclear position statements, and key organizations, print and electronic resources.
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The Reporter's Handbook on Nuclear Materials, Energy, and Waste Management
By Michael R. Greenberg, Bernadette M. West, Karen W. Lowrie, Henry J. Mayer
Vanderbilt University PressCopyright © 2009 Vanderbilt University Press
All rights reserved.
Part I: Getting Started
How to Use the Handbook
If you need just a definition or quick explanation, go directly to the glossary in Part III. For example, if you want to know what a "curie" is, go to the glossary and look up the definition. You will find that it is "the basic unit used to describe the intensity of radioactivity in a sample of material. The curie is equal to 37 billion (3.7 x 1010) disintegrations per second, which is approximately the activity of 1 gram of radium." If you want a more detailed discussion of a particular topic, go to the table of contents and look over the topics in Part II. For example, for information on how a curie relates to a becquerel and how both are related to health impacts, turn to Section 1 of Part II. It provides background information about radionuclides, key issues related to public health, possible stories, and pitfalls noted in previous coverage of health impacts.
Each brief is self-contained. Reporters should be able to get what they need from a given brief; in other words, we hoped to reduce the need to search through the book. This means that there is some unavoidable redundancy among the briefs. To assist those who need more information, within the briefs, we cross-reference other briefs. The index provides further guidance.
We clustered the briefs into five sections within Part II. Section 1 examines nuclear materials and radioactivity—that is, what they are, how they are formed, where they are found, and most important, effects of radiation on humans. Section 2 examines nuclear power and other nonmilitary uses of radionuclides, including nuclear medicine and food irradiation. It explores issues that have arisen during the past half-century, such as nuclear-energy safety systems, the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island events, and the economics of nuclear power. Section 3 focuses on nuclear waste management. Briefs describe nuclear waste, how and where it is managed, monitoring of waste management sites, the ecological impacts of cleanup, and long-term surveillance and maintenance of waste management sites. Section 4 focuses on military-related nuclear issues, such as managing nuclear weapons, radiological dispersal devices (dirty bombs), nonproliferation initiatives, nuclear terrorism, and international and national policy related to these. Section 5 reviews climate change, public perception, and risk communication focused on nuclear energy and waste issues.
Reporters who are not familiar with environmental risk, economic, and technology assessment, risk perception, and theories about how technology fits into the larger context of resource management will find helpful background in the short overviews in Part I, "Crosscutting Themes."
Why Now? Why This Discussion?
Written by Michael R. Greenberg, with comments by John F. Ahearne and Richard L. Garwin
The simple answer to "Why now?" is that the governments and people of the world are being driven to consider nuclear power and other energy sources, along with conservation, as options for meeting increasing energy demand. This is not the first time this pressure has gripped the United States, but the increasing fear about climate change has added another dimension. Also, the United States, Russia, France, and Great Britain face major nuclear weapons waste issues as a cold war legacy.
Beginning with the nuclear energy issue, on October 17, 1973, the members of the OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) embargoed petroleum shipments to the United States, some of Israel's allies in Western Europe (initially the Netherlands) and Japan because of their support for Israel against Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur War. Just before the oil embargo in 1973, the average gas price at the pump was $1.80 per gallon (adjusted for inflation to 2007 dollars). In 1981, the average price was $3.00 (a 70% increase). These price increases sent a recessionary ripple through the economies of the dependent nations that spread across the world. High oil prices persisted until 1986. The embargo and price increases sparked an interest in exploration for conservation and new sources of fossil fuels. Governments' monetary policies became more restrictive, and interest in nuclear power increased.
France, Belgium, Sweden, and Japan now heavily depend on nuclear power. In the United States, even before the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown in 1979, U.S. commercial business interest in nuclear power was waning. A worldwide recession during the oil embargo caused economists to reduce their estimates of the growth of electricity demand, and the price of new reactors seemed high to U.S. utilities. Furthermore, the U.S. economy grew despite the lack of growth of energy use. Serious efforts were made by all sectors of the U.S. economy to economize energy use. After 1986, the year of the Chernobyl nuclear incident, the economy continued to grow; while oil prices declined and remained relatively low until the new millennium. Reprocessing nuclear fuel that has been used once in a nuclear reactor to generate electricity was considered too risky by the United States because it has the potential to be used for nuclear weapons proliferation. The incident at Chernobyl along with the extensive time required to construct and license nuclear power plants increased costs and further undermined the credibility of nuclear power. National leaders and utilities concluded that nuclear power in the United States was a bad idea. Other countries, such as Japan and France did not agree and moved forward with nuclear power plant operations.
The events of the current decade are forcing reconsideration of policies examined during the embargo and price increases of the 1970s. The political instability of the world's oil producing nations has created a fear of political blackmail by petroleum supplying nations in the United States and other countries. The rapid rise and fall of petroleum prices seems inexplicable even to some experts. Also, a new consideration is that during the past decade scientists have become convinced that the burning of fossil fuels is leading to global warming, whereas nuclear power does not contribute notably to greenhouse gases that lead to global warming. Therefore, nuclear power, despite its history of environmental and economic risks and despite waste management problems, seems to some like an environmental bargain. Proponents of nuclear power argue that France and Japan have successfully invested in nuclear power generation and have not suffered obvious environmental problems. The United States and other Western nations have observed the rapid growth of the Chinese and Indian economies and are concerned that competition for oil and gas will drive up prices still further and thereby undermine the economies of the developed nations. Nuclear power seems like a logical approach. Yet, there is obvious dissent from this position. Some propose a reduction in the use of carbon and nuclear fuel, arguing for eliminating subsidies for carbon-based and nuclear-based fuels, for heavy investment in solar and other renewable technologies, and for other policy changes that would largely achieve fossil and nuclear fuel reduction objectives in 30 to 50 years (see Makhijani, 2007). Often lost in these discussions are the distinctions between transportation fuels and energy sources for electricity production and industrial use, as well as intermittent (such as from wind) and peak load power production (often from natural gas) and base load power production (such as from coal and nuclear energy). "Used" nuclear fuel, that is, nuclear fuel that has been used once in a nuclear power plant, can be reused as nuclear fuel after conversion; "spent" nuclear fuel no longer has the capacity to be recycled as nuclear fuel. The used/spent nuclear fuel issue is sometimes lost in the very public discussion of nuclear power because the plutonium can be extracted and manufactured into the right shape and joined with high explosives and a trigger device to produce nuclear weapons. Turning spent nuclear fuel into a nuclear weapon, however, is extremely difficult. Reprocessing, manufacturing, and building trigger devices to produce nuclear weapons is an extraordinarily complicated task, and fuel from commercial nuclear plants has not been used by a proliferate state. Although technically once-through nuclear fuel is "used" not "spent," the literature refers to it as spent. For consistency with the literature, we call it spent in this volume.
While not as prominent in the public eye as nuclear power, legacy wastes from the production of nuclear weapons place a major environmental management burden on the U.S. Department of Energy and are the focus of the most costly government environmental management program in the world. Between 1989 and 2007, the Department of Energy spent an estimated $80 billion on managing the waste at over 130 sites across the United States. Many of the sites have closed, but the challenge of controlling high-level waste at the Hanford (WA), Idaho National Laboratory (ID), Oak Ridge (TN), and Savannah River (SC) sites remains. These military waste sites are so technologically, environmentally, legally, and economically challenging that they will need management in perpetuity. While legally the civilian nuclear waste stream and the defense-related waste stream are managed separately, it can be argued that they intersect and that methods used to manage one stream can be applied to the other. There are political and economic reasons to separate and other arguments to combine the civilian and military nuclear waste streams. Russia, with many nuclear weapons and much waste, faces a similar challenge.
In short, the stakes for the world's nations in considering these issues now have never been higher. The media as always are expected to meet the challenge of writing stories that are accurate, balanced, objective, and responsible about the individual elements and the overall puzzle that ties together nuclear power, nuclear waste, nuclear weapons, global warming, economic development, and public health. It is our hope that this volume will contribute information to what most certainly will be a tough debate.
Written by Michael R. Greenberg, with comments by John F. Ahearne and Richard L. Garwin
Five themes are central to the issues discussed in this handbook and are explicit or implicit in every brief. These themes are as follows: (1) environmental impact, (2) risk, (3) economics, (4) evidence and public perception, and (5) ripple effects of decisions. Each of these themes is a massive subject by itself. We make no pretense of providing a comprehensive review. The goal is rather to draw the reader's attention to how these themes are core to nuclear power, waste management, and other nuclear-related issues.
This handbook presents the views of leading experts in nuclear-related issues that during the next decade will require enhanced media coverage. These experts hold strong opinions and reflect a diversity of viewpoints, and it would be wrong to imply that this book presents or indirectly implies a unified viewpoint about nuclear-related issues. It does not. We were not interested in capturing their opinions; rather we tried to understand and then summarize their very nuanced understanding of important parts of this complex subject. In the course of these conversations, however, and as the review process unfolded, we recognized that while these experts might strongly disagree with each other about the details of nuclear-related issues, they all have a deep respect for and concern about the challenges of resource management and technology in a rapidly growing world economy. Behind the details of each brief is the larger story of global resource management and technology, the subject of the last part of this section. Perhaps, it is the big story within the many smaller stories to be written.
On January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) became national policy. Its goal was to "create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans" (P.L. 91-190, Chapter 55, 4331(9)). Behind the impressive objective, the law led to the requirement that an environmental impact assessment would be prepared to ensure that major federal government projects or programs would undergo comprehensive review before construction or implementation. The review entails a multidisciplinary, multi-agency public assessment of the environmental, economic, health, and social impacts of individual projects or program proposals, as well as the consideration of alternatives.
Environmental analyses for nuclear-related programs and individual projects are multi-thousand-page documents costing millions of dollars. The U.S. Department of Energy's massive nuclear waste management program has had numerous programmatic and project-specific assessments. For example, the Yucca Mountain Organization in Eureka County, Nevada, maintains a Web site that lists and discusses the environmental impact statement (EIS) work on the proposed final repository (www.yuccamountain.org/eis.htm) Utilities that want to build a nuclear power plant are required to prepare an environmental assessment. For example, the first author and a colleague prepared the population, land use, and economic elements of the EIS for a proposed nuclear power plant in the Delaware River. That Newbold Island EIS was thousands of pages long. The license was not granted to the utility, in part because of the finding of excess population density in the immediate vicinity of the proposed nuclear power plant.
Whether 200 or 2,000 pages, each EIS is required to contain a detailed description of the following five factors:
1. The environmental impact of the proposed action
2. Any adverse environmental effects that cannot be avoided if the proposed action is implemented
3. Alternatives to the proposed action
4. The relationship between local short-term uses of the human environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity
5. Any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources that would be involved if the proposed action is implemented
In the original act, states and municipalities "owe no duties under NEPA, but may be subject to alternative environmental legislation fashioned after NEPA." In fact, many states and local governments have NEPA progeny that require private interests to prepare environmental assessments.
Although the wording varies by agency, the following six topics encompass the essence of environmental impact requirements:
1. Description of the existing environment
2. Description of alternatives
3. Probable impacts of each alternative
4. Identification of the alternative chosen and the evaluation that led to this choice
5. Detailed analysis of the probable impacts of the proposal
6. Description of the techniques intended to minimize any adverse impacts
In addition to generating a good deal of information that has stopped or modified project decisions, the EIS process creates checks and balances among federal, state, and local governments. A federal department may ignore opposition by other government agencies to a proposed program, but this usually does not happen. Public participation can be enhanced because the EIS requires the agency to read and respond to all comments. In short, the EIS process should lead to more effective thinking and planning, raise agency and general public awareness, and create a series of checks and balances.
NEPA has led to the cancellation or postponement of proposals to build dams, airports, highways, nuclear waste disposal programs, outer continental shelf leases, and other projects. More frequently, the process has resulted in design changes, location changes, and other modifications. Yet, critics have not been satisfied with the process. The key issue is that agencies are not obligated to change their decisions. Also, some agencies have decided that their projects are not "major" or "significant" and do not constitute an agency "proposal" or "action." Finally, length and detail do not necessarily mean that all the scientifically ascertainable impacts are included. Some scientific facts will be missing because information is lacking.
Summarizing, every major nuclear power and defense program initiated since 1970 has required the preparation of environmental analyses that have led to changes, some major and others minor.
Risk analysis is a multistage process for determining the likelihood of adverse human and ecological effects of exposure to biological, chemical, and physical hazards and then reducing the risk. Potential hazards include toxins (e.g., asbestos), structures (e.g., dams), and activities (e.g., driving while intoxicated). We briefly describe the process, highlighting some of the key strengths and weaknesses and focusing on hazardous materials. The seven steps in the process would be slightly altered for structures and activities. Risk depends on (1) the hazardousness of the material, (2) its quantity, (3) the probability of release, (4) the dispersion of the hazard, (5) the population exposed, (6) organism uptake, and (7) response of officials to the hazard before, during, and after release.
Excerpted from The Reporter's Handbook on Nuclear Materials, Energy, and Waste Management by Michael R. Greenberg, Bernadette M. West, Karen W. Lowrie, Henry J. Mayer. Copyright © 2009 Vanderbilt University Press. Excerpted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsContents Preface and Acknowledgments
Part I. Getting Started
How to Use the Handbook
Why Now? Why This Discussion?
Covering Nukes: Play Hard, but Play Fair
Part II. Briefs
Section 1: Radionuclides and Human Health Effects
Section 2: Nuclear Energy and Other Civilian Uses
Sustainability: Will There Be Enough Uranium and Nuclear Fuel and At What Cost?
Closing the Civilian Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Spent (Used) Nuclear Fuel : The Opportunity and the Challenge
Nuclear Power Plant Safety Systems
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl: What Happened and Lessons Learned
Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities
Transportation of Nuclear Waste
The Economics of Nuclear Power
Civilian Uses of Radiation and Radioactive Material (Other than Commercial Nuclear Power)
Other Sources Relevant to Section 2
Section 3: Nuclear Waste Management
Nuclear Waste Policy in the U.S: Classification, Management and Disposition
Monitoring and Surveillance of Nuclear Waste Sites
Impact of Radionuclides and Nuclear Waste Management on Non-Humans and Ecosystems
Long-Term Surveillance and Maintenance at Closed Nuclear Waste Sites
Other Sources Relevant to Section 3
Section 4: Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, and Non-Proliferation
Managing the Nuclear Weapons Legacy
Dirty Bombs (Radiological Dispersa Devices)
Protecting Nuclear Power Plants Against Terrorism
International Agencies and Policy
Other Sources Relevant to Section 4
Section 5: Risk Perception and Risk Communication
Global Warming and Fuel Sources
Public Perceptions of Risk and Nuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Waste
Risk Communications about Nuclear Materials
Other Sources Relevant to Section 5
Part III. Additional Resources
History of Nuclear Power in the United States and Worldwide
Important Federal Legislation and Regulations
List of American Nuclear Society Positions
Background About Key Organizations Related to US Nuclear Programs