Which metals should be checked for in a nuclear plant?
The Associated Press – NEW YORK (AP) If you’re going to put a nuclear reactor on a reactor site, you might want to check all the non-metals you’ll use on it.
It’s a question that’s gotten even more complex with the proliferation of non-fertile materials like uranium and thorium that are increasingly being used in nuclear power plants.
So the question is, how do you do that?
“The metal detector is a very good idea,” said Mark Hildreth, a former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy who now works for the Center for Nuclear Safety.
“If you’re not sure what’s on there, you can’t say it’s uranium.
You can’t test it.
So we need to be very vigilant about this.”
The EPA has a new mandate to monitor all metals used in power plants, but that’s only a start.
The agency is also looking at what happens to the metal when it’s separated from its source.
The EPA says it needs to get an independent assessment from outside experts to ensure the safety of its work.
So far, the agency has no plans to test non-metal wastes, like spent fuel rods and rods for nuclear reactors, and no plans for metal contamination.
The question is whether the EPA has the authority to conduct that type of independent testing on radioactive waste that’s left in a closed-loop reactor after it’s decommissioned.
That could be costly, said Bruce W. Wiles, the acting administrator of the EPA.
“We need to look at the regulatory framework to make sure that we’re taking a responsible approach, but also taking into account the fact that we can’t afford to do nothing,” he said.
EPA officials said they’re working to develop a comprehensive plan to protect the health of the public and clean up the nuclear waste problem.
“It’s a long process,” Wiles said.
The AP spoke with five nuclear industry experts, who said they would like to see the agency develop a better way to assess and monitor metal contamination in reactors and nuclear power plant systems.
The experts said it’s difficult to predict how quickly non-renewable materials will be recycled, as they are more susceptible to being contaminated.
They also said it is a challenge to identify whether a reactor or power plant is leaking radioactive waste.
Wile said the EPA needs to study non-recyclable metals like uranium that are used in reactors to understand whether they’re potentially leaking.
And he said the agency needs to develop guidelines for inspecting non-mineral wastes.
“You need a set of standards and guidelines to be able to do that,” Wile told the AP.
The nuclear industry is lobbying to have the EPA move ahead with the rules.
“A lot of it is political pressure,” said David Shook, a spokesman for the Nuclear Materials Council of the United States, which represents some of the country’s largest reactor producers.
“The industry wants the rules to be based on reality, and we don’t want to be in the business of making a political statement.”
Wiles and Shook also said they believe the agency should be able more quickly assess the risk of radioactive waste contamination.
“This is an important issue and it needs a robust regulatory framework,” Shook said.
“They need to act on it now.”