Madi Hilly Profile picture
Jul 21, 2022 19 tweets 5 min read Read on X
MYTH: We don't have a solution to nuclear's "waste problem"

REALITY: Nuclear waste isn't a problem. In fact, it’s the best solution we have to meeting our energy needs while protecting the natural environment!

Here's what you need to know:
Nuclear waste concerns are overwhelmingly focused on “high-level waste”, which is almost entirely spent nuclear fuel.

Nuclear fuel is made up of metal tubes containing small pellets of uranium. These tubes are gathered into bundles for loading and unloading into the reactor. Image
After nuclear fuel has spent about five years in a reactor making energy, it's placed into a pool of water to cool off for another five years.

(Storage pool at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station) Image
After that, several bundles are placed inside concrete and steel "casks" and placed in rows next to the reactor.

(Dry cask storage at Palo Verde)

Because uranium is very energy dense, the amount of waste is relatively small.

All of the fuel rods ever used by the commercial nuclear industry since the late 1950s could fit on a single football field stacked about 50 feet high. Image
The best part: when the fuel rods are done in the reactor, over 90% of the potential energy from the uranium is still left in them!

That means we can recycle the spent fuel and turn it into new fuel, which is already routinely done in Europe, Russia, and Japan.
In summary, nuclear waste:
- is solid (not glowing green goo)
- is tiny compared to the waste from all other energy technologies
- is easily contained
- has a perfect safety record

Nuclear waste does have a problem, however...
...which is that policymakers and the public think that nuclear waste has a problem!

The prevailing belief is that nuclear waste is uniquely dangerous and that the industry doesn't know what to do with it.
Let's start with uniquely dangerous.

The main concern associated with spent nuclear fuel – radioactivity – diminishes with time.

About 40 years after it's done making power, the heat and radioactivity of the fuel bundle will have fallen by over 99%. Image
Most of the industrial waste we manage never gets less toxic over time.

Not in a million years. Not even in a billion.

Mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, etc. are all dangerous and remain so forever.

In rich countries, this waste is gathered up and stored without fanfare.
There’s nothing special about radiation that would prevent us from doing this with high-level waste.

The only difference is that high-level waste is much easier to detect and thus easier to monitor.
Rather than being honest and explaining that 1) radiation does not make nuclear waste uniquely dangerous and 2) dry cask storage at the plant is safe, cheap, and has a flawless record, the industry has attempted to offer technical solutions to what is a political problem.
Yucca Mountain is an anti-scientific dumpster fire, eating up public wealth.

It would save 0 lives, protect against 0 injuries, avoid 0 cancer, and give the false impression that nuclear waste is the most dangerous waste.

$15 billion flushed for no benefit. Image
Scientists and engineers abuse public trust when they pretend we must bury nuclear waste deep underground or put it in the middle of a desert.

Any "expert" who believes this is, at best, confused about the role of science and engineering in advising public policy.
So what to do about the true nuclear waste problem?

The Netherlands offers a compelling solution: encourage people to visit!

Their facility is open to the public, contains an educational museum, and is decorated with large-scale art installations.

The U.S industry gives off creepy vibes when it comes to waste.

People should be allowed to check it out for themselves! At worst, they'll be bored. At best, we can find a way to make it more interesting like the Dutch do.
I love getting asked about the waste. I never get tired of seeing people relax when they hear me explain it.

I think the impatience with the question is what has led the industry and advocates to support ill-advised, "technical" fixes for problems of trust and openness.
Glad to be hearing from so many of you in response to this thread!

If you like what you read here, there’s a lot more coming and I would definitely appreciate your support.…
Decided to do a follow-up on the physics and culture of nuclear waste 👇🏼

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More from @MadiHilly

Aug 4, 2023

Oppenheimer is a profound exploration of nuclear fear, offering clarifying insights into the nature of our anxieties and revealing why this fear seems to be unique to nuclear

Some highlights from my latest:


The movie implies the existence of a very small chance that the world might've ended as a result of the Trinity Test.

In actuality “near zero” simply means non-disprovable – the inability to say something cannot happen through theory or observed evidence. Photo: Universal Pictures

Our deepest fears of nuclear exist in the realm of “near zero”. They manifest in fantastical scenarios with probabilities infinitesimally small and no definite way to disprove their existence.
Read 29 tweets
Jun 22, 2023
Yesterday, the same lawmakers in New York who frequently demand we Believe the Science instead went with Feels Over Reals, passing a bill to ban the release of wastewater from the shuttered Indian Point nuclear plant into the Hudson.

Here's what you need to know:
The wastewater in question is tritiated water — water containing trace amounts of a radioactive isotope of hydrogen called tritium.

Tritiated water is regularly released by nuclear plants as part of normal operations because the concentration of tritium is so incredibly low.
How low?

The EPA sets an annual dose limit from liquid releases at 25 millirem, & the Indian Point site has a more conservative limit of 3 millirem.

In 2021, the total possible dose to the public from Indian Point liquid releases was 0.011 millirem, 0.3% of the allowable dose.
Read 9 tweets
May 17, 2023
@RobertKennedyJr ran through the anti-nuclear playbook during his interview on Breaking Points.

While there were too many errors and confusions to cover in one thread, I’ll touch on the main points I took issue with. Let’s clear the record:

@RobertKennedyJr asserts that energy policy is written “to benefit the dirtiest, filthiest, most poisonous, most toxic, most war-mongering fuels from hell”

“[Polluters] raise standards of living for themselves by lowering quality of life for the rest of us”
Cringe aside, it's dishonest to look at pollution from energy in a vacuum.

Increasing energy consumption over time has coincided with greater levels of healthcare, education, democracy, security, & economic freedom.

Historically, these advances have been powered by fossil fuels
Read 20 tweets
Mar 20, 2023
@jackdarin – director of @SierraClubIL – claimed that the Sierra Club doesn’t support lifting the state’s ban on new carbon-free nuclear because “we believe that nuclear is not clean energy”

Frustrating to have to debunk this anti-nuclear talking point in 2023, but let’s do it: From "Future of nuclea...
@jackdarin says nuclear’s “full life cycle has very serious impacts”

@OurWorldInData studied the lifecycle emissions of our energy sources, including from mining, transportation & maintenance over a power plant’s life.

The data shows nuclear has the LOWEST lifecycle emissions. Source: https://ourworldind...
@OurWorldInData also studied lifecycle land use – not just the land for the power plant, but also to mine the materials for its construction and fuel, to connect to the electricity grid, and to manage any waste that is produced.

Nuclear comes in at #1, requiring the least land. Source: https://ourworldind...
Read 12 tweets
Mar 10, 2023
Illinois is *SO CLOSE* to lifting its ban on new nuclear

To get these bills over the finish line, representatives and senators need to hear from all Illinoisans that this is the right thing to do for our state

Alan explains exactly how to make your voice heard👇
RECAP: Illinois’s nuclear moratorium was passed in 1987 back when carbon was irrelevant to environmentalists.

Nearly 40 years later, we understand the need for reliable, carbon-free nuclear powering our state regardless of time of day or season.
The moratorium was passed under the premise that we had no solution to nuclear waste. But that's not true!

U.S. management of spent nuclear fuel has a perfect record on safety and environmental protection.

You can read more here:
Read 5 tweets
Mar 9, 2023
I've been disappointed in content coming from @sciam for a while now, so I guess I'm not surprised to see this.

Let’s examine these claims:

1. Is nuclear waste “piling up”
2. Is nuclear waste becoming unsafe?
3. Do we need a repository now? Image
The title of the article claims that “Nuclear Waste Is Piling Up”

It goes on to say that “Before we face that onrush” of waste coming from new reactors that may get built, “we first need to deal with the large volume of waste we’ve already produced”
The figures to support these claims are as follows:

“88,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors…and this number is increasing by some 2,000 metric tons each year”

Without any additional context, that sounds like a lot of waste! But how much waste is it?
Read 26 tweets

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