- Hardcover: 383 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 7, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1107030110
- ISBN-13: 978-1107030114
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #489,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste 1st Edition
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"Coming from a concerned environmentalist perspective, this is an outstanding, well-researched book, containing a wealth of information about the global issue of radioactive waste, and presented in a highly readable style."
Professor Bill Lee FREng, co-director, Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London
"This is a fascinating and highly readable book from authors with deep knowledge and a wealth of sharp (and often amusing) insights into the ups and downs of the US radioactive waste management programme. It will appeal especially to geologists, nuclear scientists and technologists with a taste for the lessons of history, particularly those experiencing today the difficulties of implementing solutions to a complex technical problem that is also highly charged, politically and societally."
Professor Neil Chapman, MCM Switzerland and University of Sheffield
"With Congress considering plans to restart the search for a burial site ... Too Hot to Touch lays out some critical questions for the jostling parties to think about."
Matthew Wald, The New York Times
"Well-written, well-organized, even-handed, and extremely well-documented."
"I encourage anyone remotely interested in the topic to buy a copy ... this is a very affordable book. The authors have done a remarkable job of making the scientific information accessible to lay persons. I certainly learned much about national laboratories, the role of the DOE, the National Academy of Sciences, and the amazing and complex ramifications of politics. Woven in are biographies of scientists and lots of side science stories, from ocean currents to the origin of Monte Carlo simulations. Treatment is fair: you get the sense that the authors tried hard to present the facts and all sides of the story. This book would be ideal for using in a seminar class ... a fascinating read."
Pierrette Tremblay, Elements
"... well-written, informative and substantive [with] many fun facts woven into the history ... an excellent book and a nice technical review for anyone wanting to comprehend why the task of dealing with this trash has been so mired in obstacles."
Robert Hayes, Physics World
"... offers a well-written, sober account of this sorry, continuing chapter in the development of the US nuclear industry."
Natural Hazards Observer
"William and Rosemarie Alley weave a powerful and compelling narrative ... The book is both enlightening and enjoyable to read ... The relevance of hydrogeology to such a globally critical issue makes Too Hot to Touch a worthwhile and highly recommended read for all hydrogeologists, as well as for a much broader audience with an interest in radioactive waste disposal."
Leonard F. Konikow, Hydrogeology Journal
"This excellent book reviews the never-ending search for a safe, durable solution for storing or disposing of high-level nuclear waste ... well documented ... Highly recommended."
R. M. Ferguson, Choice
"... [a] masterly account by the former Chief of the Office of Groundwater of the US Geological Survey and his spouse. Bill and Rosemarie Alley's tale ... documents how politics, litigation, and self-interest can interfere with a technical task of the highest importance."
Richard Jackson, The Geological Society of America
Provides an engaging and authoritative account of the controversies and possibilities surrounding nuclear waste disposal in the US, with reference to other countries' approaches. Written in down-to-earth language, by an expert with key involvement in the Yucca Mountain project, this timely book will inform and stimulate discussion of nuclear issues.
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Nuclear weapons were invented during World War II. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were turned into ashtrays, but the enormous unintended consequences of half-baked genius have dwarfed the destruction of two cities. We continue to create stuff that will remain extremely toxic for millions of years, and none of it is stored in secure permanent facilities, where it will cause no harm.
The war was followed by an arms race. A hundred new bombs were detonated at the Nevada Test Range between 1951 and 1962. Nuke tests became a tourist attraction. Families sat in folding chairs at open-air spectator sites to see the amazing mushroom clouds. A few minutes after the blast, they were sprinkled with fine dust. Several decades later, the region became “the thyroid cancer capital of the world.”
Lunatics became giddy with nuclear mania. Some wanted to blast a new canal across Panama. Others dreamed of a coast-to-coast waterway across the U.S. Others wanted to nuke Gibraltar, and turn the Mediterranean into a freshwater sea. In the Soviet Union, 120 bombs were used for earthmoving projects.
In 1954, construction began on the first U.S. nuclear power reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania. At that time, nuclear waste was not seen to be especially dangerous. Robert Oppenheimer, at the Atomic Energy Commission, referred to the issue of radioactive waste as “unimportant.” Experts were possessed by a stupefying blind faith in scientific magic — there is a brilliant solution for everything!
They contemplated a variety of schemes for making high-level waste disappear. Some recommended shooting it into space, or burying it in sea floor clay beds. The Soviets disposed it via deep well injection, in a liquid form that may not sit still for millions of years. The U.S., U.K., France, and the U.S.S.R. have dumped a lot of waste in the oceans. The Irish have caught contaminated lobsters and fish.
There are a number of radioactive elements and isotopes. All of them are unstable and become less dangerous over time, degrading at varying rates of speed. Most forms of uranium are mildly radioactive. The atoms that are heavier than natural uranium are manmade, and some remain dangerous for millions of years. Some are water soluble and highly mobile. Some are picked up by plants and animals, and are biomagnified as they move up the food chain.
Experts eventually realized that high-level radioactive wastes were nastier than expected. They had to be stored underground, in geologic repositories that would remain stable for a million years. Serious research began at an old salt mine in Kansas. Then, a plutonium plant in Colorado burned, and high-level waste was shipped to Idaho, where cardboard boxes of it were dumped into open trenches. The media reported the story, and the nation soon realized that nutjobs were in charge of handling terrifically toxic dreck. This detonated high-level fear. Kansas promptly nuked the proposed repository.
The next hot prospect was Yucca Mountain, on the edge of the Nevada Test Site. The government invested $10 billion on 25 years of research. The objective was to prove that the site would be safe for a million years. No place on Earth would be a perfect site. Dr. Alley believed that Yucca Mountain was close enough to ideal. (He spent years on the project, working for the U.S. Geological Survey.)
The core problem was that there were no politically suitable sites in the entire U.S., because every state would fiercely oppose a repository within their borders. The public had a reasonable fear of high-level waste. They also had a reasonable lack of trust in anything the government told them, after years of lies and deceptions. Nevada was no exception. The government’s nuclear testing had already turned much of the state into a radioactive wasteland.
Obama was elected in 2008. Steven Chu was his Secretary of Energy. In March 2009, Chu announced, “Yucca Mountain was not an option.” He presented no explanations or alternatives. Why did Chu kill the project? “Virtually all observers attributed the decision to pull the plug on Yucca Mountain as political payoff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada. Nevada was a swing state in the election, and Obama had pledged to kill Yucca Mountain, if elected.”
So today, “there are some 440 nuclear power plants in 31 countries. More are on the way. Yet, no country on Earth has an operating high-level waste disposal facility.” As of 2012, American taxpayers were responsible for storing a growing collection of high-level waste — 70,000 tons of spent fuel, and 20,000 canisters of military waste. It’s being stored at 121 sites in 39 states. In 15 other nations, 60 nuclear reactors are being built.
Industrial civilization is doing a fabulous job of trashing the planet’s atmosphere, forests, soils, oceans, aquifers, and biodiversity. This is simply business as usual, and most of humankind is staring at their cell phones. The future doesn’t matter — with the exception of nuclear waste repositories. Almost no study has been devoted to the risks of doing nothing, and letting the crap remain where it is forever. The Alleys steer around this red-hot issue, leaving readers to conjure worst-case nightmares.
In the U.S., the planned geologic repository did not materialize by the promised date, and no site has been approved, so spent fuel is piling up at reactor sites. The Alleys note that some U.S. pools have been loaded with four times more rods than they were designed for, which increases potential risks. Moving the rods to safer dry casks would cost billions of dollars.
Are we feeling lucky? What will the world look like in 50 years? Will effective geologic repositories be built in time? Fifty years from now, will we have the oil, heavy equipment, transportation systems, functional governments, work crews, and wisdom to safely decommission the existing 440 reactors, plus the new ones being planned? Will all of the reactors safely avoid disasters resulting from earthquakes, volcanoes, plane crashes, warfare, equipment failures, human errors, and sabotage?
Although this book focuses on high-level nuclear waste disposal, the message from Yucca Mountain is both broad and worrisome: If our political process cannot deal with the technical issues in this case, where (reasonable) people agree about the science and corresponding uncertainties, how will it ever deal with more difficult issues like climate change?
John W. Hawley, Ph.D., Co-author (w/ P.A. Longmire, Ph.D.) of "Site Characterization and Selection" in "Deserts as Dumps?: C.C. Reith and B.M. Thomson, eds., Univ. of New Mexico Press (1992).
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After Yucca Mountain was thrown out as a nuclear waste site in 2009 after 25 years and $10 billion in studies — to help Senator...Read more