Meneley DA

The following commentary, originally received as a letter, is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

Re: Comment on "Choosing a Way Forward" - Draft Study Report

Thank you for the copy of the NWMO Draft report, received yesterday. It is a thorough and thoughtful product - obviously, many hours of work went into its preparation.

My initial comment may seem unfair - but it is only a small matter of exception to the bulk of a report that I consider to be sound and very well presented. As I read further in detail, I may submit other comments.

The exception I take is that the report is built around today's perspective of the nuclear industry, and yet it presents plans that extend hundreds of years into the future. Throughout the projected planning lifetime, the tone of the document remains very much the same - that is, today's perception of this young industry is maintained even over this long term. I believe that this approach is unrealistic. Surely, either the nuclear industry will die out in the fairly near future, or it will succeed and grow in the long term. For the sake of the health and prosperity of future generations I hope that the latter choice is made.

As a more likely future scenario I offer one in which the importance of fossil fuels to the economic life of Canadians is much reduced within the next 100 years. In this scenario, our descendants turn instead to nuclear fission energy, the remaining sustainable large-scale energy supply option. As a small example of the necessary scale of such a change, to replace one-half of today's gasoline consumption in North America with hydorgen-based fuels requires installation of about 250,000 megawatts of new nuclear generating capacity.

The attached paper copy gives some indication of how such a massive underaking might be accomplished. This paper was published in the proceedings of the 2003 International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants. The central theme of the paper is a recommendation to introduce fast breeder power plants in the US. This technology that is already almost fully developed and ready for large-scaled implementation. Using this technology, we can extract more than one hundred times more energy from each ton of mined uranium that we do today. Even very dilute sources of uranium such as ocean water become economic ores. This technology can supply 100 percent of the world energy demand for thousands of years. Note Figure 4 of the attached report, which shows that US uranium energy potential is much larger than fossil, even when only current reserves are accounted for.

With regard to the NWMO report, fast breeder reactors completely change the picture of used fuel storage and disposal. There is no longer a need to store or dispose of the various elements of the actinide group - they are completely consumed during operation of the power plants. The only isotopes sent to the waste repositoryconsist of the products of fission. Those isotopes decay to background levels in about 500 years, as shown in Figure A2-2 of the NWMO report. The radioactivity of residual actinide elements in the waste is reduced by a factor of more than 1000, as shown in Figure 3 of the attached report.

This is, in my opinion, the course most likely to be followed by future generations of Canadians. Nuclear energy will be enlisted to replace at least part of the primary energy now supplied by fossil fuels. Nuclear energy will become the "workhorse" of the future economy. Used fuel will be reprocessed to recover useful isotopes, and the only significant isotopes in the waste stream will be the products of fission. Waste repositories will be designed to retain these wastes for about one thousand years, by which time they will have decayed to innocuous levels.

I recommend that the Appendix 12 of the NWMO Draft report be modified to include this scenario as a possible future. In addition, it would be prudent to modify Appendix 2 to recognize this important opportunity for improving the nature of the hazard from used nuclear fuel.

[NWMO note: Referenced article, not republished here, is: Dubberley, Allen E. S-PRISM Fuel Cycle Study. Proceedings of ICAPP'03 Cordoba, Spain, May 4-7, 2003]

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