Good evening to all the TWiV crew from the Land of Enchantment (New Mexico). It’s a fairly warm 60F / 16 C out here this afternoon. The weather has generally been freezing at night and warming to the mid-40’s to low 50’s in the afternoon. We had a lot of rain last weekend and it was actually foggy this morning! I had to be a bit careful on my morning 3 mile jog because there was still moisture in places on the street and some places on the sidewalks felt a teeny bit slippery.
I just finished listening to TWIV 958 and thought I would offer my input on the spent nuclear fuel (and other waste) problem. For background, I served 20 years in the Air Force working on a bit of everything from a missile launch officer to managing recording equipment for some of the last underground nuclear effects tests to being responsible for safety and security on our current nuclear weapons. I have a BS in Physics from Michigan State, an MS in Nuclear Effects from the Air Force’s own graduate school (AFIT) and I did three years of graduate work for a PhD in nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan where I passed my candidacy exam but didn’t have time to do the actual research. Hail to the Victors and good luck in the playoffs, Kathy!
I haven’t done actual nuclear work for a long time, but thought I could offer some additional sources and input for you.
For starters, U.S. policy is governed by 42 USC 10222: Nuclear Waste Fund, which established a fund based on fees charged to nuclear power generators starting back in the 80’s. The fund is currently valued at about $44 billion.
The original plan was to select two sites for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel, one east of the Mississippi and one to the west. No suitable location could be found east of the Mississippi and that was scuttled. Yucca Mountain, which is located on the Nevada Test Site, was chosen for the western location. A lot of research was done on how to store waste there. However that was blocked, mainly by Nevada’s senators, and further work has been halted. There is also objection from Native American tribes in the area.
There is also the Waste Isolation Power Plan (WIPP) located near Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico. This is dedicated to storing defense-related waste from various locations including the Los Alamos and Livermore laboratories. https://www.wipp.energy.gov/
A good starting place for learning about the topic is the Wikipedia article on radioactive waste. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_waste
It has a lot of technical details about the physics of the most important isotopes. It also discusses various operation around the world that are reprocessing and disposing of this waste. One thing I learned in this quick research was that there is a distinction between Mixed-Oxide fuel which combines the plutonium extracted from spent fuel with freshly enriched uranium to make new fuel and REMIX fuel which combines the extracted uranium and plutonium from spent fuel with enriched uranium to make new fuel. It’s important for the fuel to have more uranium than plutonium because plutonium becomes more reactive (likely to absorb a neutron and fission) as it heats up whereas uranium becomes less reactive. So too much plutonium makes it harder to control the reactor.
Several countries are currently reprocessing spent fuel and using it in reactors.
“In the United States, this used fuel is usually “stored”, while in other countries such as Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, and India, the fuel is reprocessed to remove the fission products, and the fuel can then be re-used. The fission products removed from the fuel are a concentrated form of high-level waste as are the chemicals used in the process. While most countries reprocess the fuel carrying out single plutonium cycles, India is planning multiple plutonium recycling schemes  and Russia pursues closed cycle.”
I think you mentioned a link to Orano, which is the French-based international company that manages waste-recycling and disposal. FWIW, La Hague is located at the far northwest corner of France.
They have some operations in the U.S., which seem to involve extracting or otherwise producing radio-isotopes for medical and other uses.
Other countries are also disposing of nuclear waste.
As I noted, the U.S. has no active plan for disposal of high level waste. But several other countries are developing storage sites for that.
“The ongoing controversy over high-level radioactive waste disposal is a major constraint on the nuclear power’s global expansion. Most scientists agree that the main proposed long-term solution is deep geological burial, either in a mine or a deep borehole. As of 2019 no dedicated civilian high-level nuclear waste is operational as small amounts of HLW did not justify the investment before. Finland is in the advanced stage of the construction of the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository, which is planned to open in 2025 at 400–450 m depth. France is in the planning phase for a 500 m deep Cigeo facility in Bure. Sweden is planning a site in Forsmark. Canada plans a 680 m deep facility near Lake Huron in Ontario. The Republic of Korea plans to open a site around 2028. The site in Sweden enjoys 80% support from local residents as of 2020”
Bure is in eastern France, a bit southwest of Luxembourg.
The impasse over a long-term storage plan in the U.S. makes it important to improve short to medium term storage of spent fuel. The onsite facilities for this were not designed to be in use for decades. So inspection, maintenance and replacement with better facilities would be really helpful.
The World Nuclear Association has a good article on mixed-oxide fuel.
The Biden administration is starting up funding for a project to recycle nuclear waste. We’ll see if that makes it through the current funding cycle and what happens next year.
For a pro-nuclear counterpoint to the current plan for geologic storage, you might read this article from Rod Adams who has been doing The Atomic Show podcast for many years.
It’s important to keep in mind, as he notes,
“Part of the problem is that is not discussed often enough is that there is a talented and energetic group of people who have worked just as hard to tie the process up in knots as others have worked to solve the various technical and political challenges. The people who want to complete the task so that nuclear energy can prosper have been well matched in a tug of war by those who long ago seized on “the waste issue” as their tool for constipating the industry to ensure that it gradually stops functioning.”
Enough on that subject!
Special thanks to Dickson for his Jazz Project. I certainly agree with his choices. Two of my personal favorites are Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan. I especially like Sarah’s live concert in Tokyo. I’ll have to start listening to some Betty Carter.
One of the highlights of my time at U of M was attending a live concert by Linda Ronstadt with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. I also got to enjoy a performance by jazz flutist Paul Horn at a small club here in Albuquerque a few years later.
Wishing you all a good week!
Something I wanted to add to the APOD Artemis photo is: note how dark the moon is! That’s the true color, contrast with the white of the spacecraft and the white of the earth clouds. It looks bright white in our night sky because we don’t have something whiter to compare it to.
I was interested to hear about John Campbell. I had subscribed and respected and learned from his videos early in the pandemic, but around when vaccines became available I started wondering about what he was saying, and I started skipping the videos. Sometime after that I thought the titles were odd and continued to not watch. Now I see it wasn’t just me and I’ll go ahead and unsubscribe from him and subscribe to Debunk the Funk.
The discussion of the word “Funk” and mention of Australia: I listen to linguistics podcasts even though they harm me, having killed many of my pet peeves. One is from Australia:
https://becauselanguage.com/ which was preceded by http://talkthetalkpodcast.com/
A related tangent, anyone who lives in Massachusetts can get a Boston Public Library ecard, which among other things gives you online access to the Oxford English Dictionary. That had been one of the things I most missed leaving academia, having OED access, so I was thrilled to find this.
While I’m here, back on TWiV 931 you mentioned Keith Jarret and The Köln Concert. You may be interested in this episode of another excellent podcast, “Cautionary Tales”, which gives the backstory of that concert, organized by a girl 17 years old at the time, in the context of how creativity can be fueled by constraints and challenges.
Finally, I love the intro “the kind that make you sick” and the outro “another TWIV is viral”, they’re so lame they’re exactly what I would come up with.
You mentioned your drop in Patreon; I’m not in great shape but good enough that that’s inspired me to look at starting to contribute.
Hi TWiV team,
I’m about to graduate med school and have been listening to TWiV since the beginning of the pandemic because of my interest in ID. About a year ago, I introduced my grandpa, a retired pediatrician, to the podcast, and he’s been listening religiously since.
He and my grandma have managed to avoid COVID until this week, when he got sick, and she followed a few days later. Both are as vaccinated as possible. He qualifies for paxlovid and is finishing up his course, but she does not due to some comorbid heart conditions.
Anyway, long story short is that her doctor was going to give her a monoclonal antibody infusion but because my grandpa is up to date on TWiV, he knew it was no longer recommended. The doctor asked around and concurred, so now my grandma is being given an antiviral pill she doesn’t remember the name of but I suspect is molnupiravir. Her geriatrician will be checking in on her daily.
Just wanted to pop in and say keep up the good work!
I wasn’t expecting to write anything in re. epitope 973, until NYC Paul’s letter came up, about the mechanical aspects of biology with ref. to how Spike manages to dock with ACE2.
I think he’s probably starting from the lock and key conceptualization of how enzymes work. Not only do substrates manage to find the catalytic sites of their enzymes, but the speed with which some achieve this is staggering. Carbonic anhydrase was the old standard champion reference, with a maximal turnover of around 600,000 molecules of CO2 converted to bicarbonate PER SECOND, but catalase has beaten that. There are more interesting examples in the paper below, like the collective length of DNA being synthesized per 1.3 sec by the entire human population relative to the orbit of Pluto (have a look!)..
Enzymologists have struggled to explain how enzymes with even more sedate turnover rates manage to bind their substrates with such fidelity and speed. I suppose it all gets down to the electronic character of the substrate and binding site – ionic interactions, van der Waals forces and the hydrophobic effect surely play major roles besides just the shape of the pocket. Daniel Koshland* gave that the cover term “Orbital Steering” (wasn’t that a feature of the ’58 Oldsmobile?), and someone else came up with the term Propinquity. And then there’s “Induced Fit”. But these were all things that were mentioned in the first lecture on enzymology, after which we moved on, which makes me think that it was all largely formalized hand-waving. That was all before Molecular Modeling so maybe more insights have emerged (?)
In any event, knowing the binding rate and equilibrium constant between the SARS spike and ACE-2 could perhaps give some context to terms like infectivity and transmissibility, but I doubt anyone has spent any time on this (?).
*Koshland, BTW, was great – he was a protein chemist’s protein chemist. Back around 2000 he was scheduled to give the keynote address at the annual Protein Society meeting, but he didn’t show up. Nobody could reach him, and he was around 80 at that time, so everyone was worried. He showed up the next day, having gotten his days mixed up. In starting his talk he apologized profusely and said that to atone he thought it would only be fitting that he should be lowered into a vat of boiling oil, and his remains buried in the field with paupers and nucleic acid chemists. (Further, just now checking his Wikipedia page to refresh my memory of some details, I was astonished to learn a few more things like that in 1997 he was listed as the 64th wealthiest person in the US, derived from his father’s role in rescuing Levi Strauss in the Depression, and that he had been with the Manhattan Project),
Otherwise, all in all a better-than-expected nice and sunny afternoon that got up to 5C in Greater Braddock (PA!), where tomorrow’s sunrise, like yours, will be the latest of the year, with sunset now coming 15 min later than its earliest back on Dec 13. It was a good afternoon to be up in a tree with my new 40V battery-powered Kobalt chainsaw (from Loew’s)! No more fooling with the carburetor, getting it warmed up, and then getting it running again while up in a tree!
I enjoyed the ‘pick’ series you are doing about authors who write Detective novels. My husband and I are fans of Wallander, and I also remember reading Red Harvest (too many) years ago. I am very delighted that you picked Andrea Camillieri with his “Comisaro Montalbano”. This character is an absolute delight, and all that surrounds these novels too. An extremely enjoyable reading! I frankly started typing this email to send Camillieri as a pick since I thought you would enjoy it ,and I had not heard it come up yet (I am about one month backlogged on my TWiV listening, so this explains it all). Then, I had the brilliant idea to go check on your recent picks and was quite delighted to see it there!!
Since I am writing, I just read this story on NPR relating Hendra Virus, which is very tied up with bat ecology and habitat preservation, which has been a source of so many recent interesting discussions and guests in TWiV.
Now that I broke the ice and wrote for the first time (about two weeks ago), you may never get rid of me, haha!
Thanks for your amazing work,
Florencia Meyer, Ph.D.
Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Entomology & Plant Pathology
MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY