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Institute for Policy Studies
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  • March 27, 2011

    The (Danbury, CT) News-Times

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    "In a 2002 report, Robert Alvarez, a former top official at the federal Department of Energy and a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that if a fire broke out at the Millstone Reactor Unit 3 spent-fuel pool in Connecticut it would result in a three-fold increase in background exposures. That would trigger the NRC's evacuation requirement and could render about 29,000 square miles of land uninhabitable, severely affecting Connecticut, much of Long Island and even New York City.

    "'On average, spent fuel ponds hold five to 10 times more long-lived radioactivity than a reactor core,' Alvarez wrote in his report.

    "'Particularly worrisome is the large amount of cesium 137 in fuel ponds, which contain anywhere from 20 to 50 million curies of this dangerous isotope. With a half-life of 30 years, cesium 137 gives off highly penetrating radiation and is absorbed in the food chain as if it were potassium. According to the NRC, as much as 100 percent of a pool's cesium 137 would be released into the environment in a fire,' Alvarez wrote."

  • March 27, 2011

    The Tennessean

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    "Sunk into the floor nearby lay a spent fuel pool, the water rippling slightly above the old, highly radioactive rods. Between it and the sky was a corrugated tin roof, which some say offers little protection for a vulnerable part of a nuclear plant.

    "'It's like the kind of roof you find at a car dealership,' Robert Alvarez, senior scholar with the Institute for Public Policy Studies, said last week, describing the typical pool at this type of reactor."

  • March 25, 2011

    Scientific American

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    But Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank, says that MOX is not the best way to irreversibly render plutonium unsuitable for weapons use. "If you really want to pursue the path of irreversibility, there are probably cheaper, easier ways to do it," he says. One way would be to blend the plutonium down to a low concentration and put it in the DoE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the New Mexico desert. With the price tag attached to the MFFF, "it's certainly not something you'd think you could make money off," Alvarez says. "I kind of see it as a nuclear equivalent to a bridge to nowhere."


    Even as the South Carolina fabrication plant progresses toward start up, the future of MOX fuel remains somewhat uncertain in the U.S. "The DoE still can't find a utility that's willing to take this stuff," Alvarez says. Duke Energy had signed an agreement with the DoE to load four of its reactors with MOX fuel, but the utility let the contract lapse in 2008. The federally owned Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which operates the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant and two other nuclear facilities, has expressed some interest in trying MOX and may step up to take fuel from the MFFF. But Lyman questions whether even TVA will be a willing taker. "I don't see why any utility, even a government-owned one like TVA, would want to dabble with this stuff," he says.

  • March 25, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal

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    "Robert Alvarez, a former senior policy adviser for the Energy Department, says the nuclear industry has raised the risk of a fire by reconfiguring its pools over the years to squeeze in more fuel. In 2003, Mr. Alvarez and a group of experts on U.S. nuclear policy published a paper that suggested the risks could be reduced by moving some of the spent fuel from the pools to the dry casks."

  • March 24, 2011

    The New York Times

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    "Even if the repository were to open, said Robert Alvarez, a former Energy Department official, the challenge would be to move spent fuel faster than it is produced. 'Even if they had the ribbon-cutting ceremony today, it will take decades to move the current inventory into a repository,' he said. 'By that time, we’ll have a comparable amount sitting in pools.'

    "He and others support expanding the use of dry casks. Workers lower a steel box into the spent fuel pool, place the fuel inside it, drain the box of liquid and then pump it full of an inert gas to prevent rust. The box is then placed in a concrete-and-steel sleeve on a concrete pad surrounded by concertina wire and closed-circuit cameras, resembling a basketball court at a maximum-security prison.

    "The dry casks require no mechanical cooling because the fuel placed inside them has cooled enough so that the simple circulation of air outside of the steel box will keep the temperature well below the fuel’s melting point."

  • March 24, 2011


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    "'The spent-fuel pools are currently holding, on the average, four times more than their designs intended,' said Robert Alvarez of the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies. By contrast, Japan reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, turning much of it into new fuel."

  • March 23, 2011

    The Nation

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    “'They stripped away much of the institutional knowledge that had been integral to the safety culture,” said Robert Alvarez, a former senior adviser in the Energy Department. Indeed, a major study by three political scientists found that the Clinton-era NRC allowed their enforcement regime—as measured by the number of violations filed and fines levied—to disintegrate and softened considerably."

  • March 22, 2011

    The Financial Times

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    "One former senior official at the Department of Energy, Robert Alvarez, says he first became concerned about the vulnerability of spent fuel pools to acts of terrorism after the September 11 attacks. Such pools hold and cool hot plutonium rods that, if exposed to air, could catch fire and release radioactive pollution. US facilities hold an estimated 63,000 metric tonnes of spent fuel as of January 2010, according to the NRC.

    "While Fukushima holds around 100 metric tonnes of spent fuel, the Vermont Yankee nuclear facility, which has been operating since 1969, holds roughly 650 metric tonnes, says Mr Alvarez. The plant, which has the same design as Fukushima, was granted a 20-year licence extension by the NRC on Monday.

    "The problem would be fixable if the NRC required nuclear facilities to contain rods in dry storage instead of pools, Mr Alvarez says, but the industry has resisted the suggestion."

  • March 21, 2011


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    "A major test of the NRC will be how the agency addresses the issue of spent fuel storage, Alvarez said. Jaczko, who Alvarez characterized as 'a straight shooter,' may end up in the minority, he said. 'Even though he’s chairman, there are other commissioners and he’s just one vote,' Alvarez said in an interview. 'In order to fill seats on that commission, you have to get the OK from the nuclear industry.'”

  • March 20, 2011


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    "Both of California’s plants were designed in the 1970s, and show it. In 1973 Pacific Gas & Electric, which owns Diablo Canyon, had to alter the initial specs when scientists discovered an offshore fault 2.8 miles away. More worrisome, some scientists are not sure the 'worst-case earthquake' is as bad as it could get. The 1906 San Francisco quake measured 8.3, 'so we have a quake that was larger than their design basis,' says Robert Alvarez of the Institute for Policy Studies, a former Department of Energy official. And Japan’s 9.0 exceeded what scientists had calculated was possible. 'Nature doesn’t necessarily heed the speculation of science,' says Alvarez. Adds Bill Ellsworth of the U.S. Geological Survey, 'We know that earthquakes as large or larger than [Japan’s] have occurred in the past in the U.S. and almost certainly will occur in the future.'"

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