Class blog for "The Unstable Nucleus" at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Friday, October 24, 2014

Yucca Mountain - coming back to life again?

The latest twist in a 25-year story:  maybe Yucca Mountain might go forward after all?  It was canceled in 2009 by President Obama, after a 2004 court case ruled that it needed to be proven safe for a million years (a virtually impossible task scientifically).  But, the situation also depends a lot on politics - and in particular, who controls the senate, and how powerful Nevada is at blocking the project. 

Apparently the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has just completed a study stating that Yucca Mountain is in fact safe as planned, and could be a viable storage option. 

And some commentary is suggesting that if Republicans regain the Senate in November, things could really shift and maybe Yucca would be opened after all?

Read more about this here

Image of Yucca Mountain entrance in 2006:  Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Hazardous Waste-Eating Bacteria

The "extremophile" bacterium was found in soil samples in the Peak District.
Image Credit: Image courtesy of University of Manchester

Last September, a research article posted on ISME (Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology) Journal. Scientists discovered “extremophile” bacteria that survive in extreme conditions such as alkaline conditions expected in cement-based radioactive waste. 
Manchester group was studying for microorganism, it may solve the nuclear waste issue and its possibility of chemical reactions in the nuclear waste chamber. They were researching on soil samples from the Peak District where has highly alkaline industrial site. They discovered bacteria that thrive under the alkaline conditions. The bacteria not only live in the extreme condition also they use the chemical reaction (Isosaccharinic acid) as a source of food and energy. Scientists are expecting that microorganisms could help with the problem of nuclear waste disposal.

- Eun Sun Cho


One other great topic suggestion for the first paper:  weigh in on nuclear fuel reprocessing.  Should we do it?  Or not? 

Lots of people are debating this right now.  As an example, here, here, and here are three short "letter to the editor" opinion pieces from smaller newspapers supporting the idea of nuclear reprocessing. 

Here is a Union of Concerned Scientists page that is solidly against reprocessing. 

Here's a commentary on the topic that takes a pro-reprocessing view.

You can find tons more material on this with a little research - I look forward to finding out your views on the subject!

Shut down Illinois Nuclear Reactors?

I'm posting a couple of starting points for research on current debate over Illinois nuclear reactors.  This would be a great topic to work with for your first paper - it is current, and relates to local news.  Diving into local energy policy is also fascinating, although it can be complicated too.

Here's a Forbes article about how Exelon (the company that operates the reactors) has sort of stalled energy policy in Illinois right now

Here's an article that talks about how Exelon has been pitching their nuclear plants as a way to help achieve carbon emission targets in Illinois

Here's a link to a pro-nuclear group study about the economic benefits of nuclear energy to Illinois 

Here are some critiques of that study by an anti-nuclear citizen's watchdog group

I would love to see what you think about this!

Resources for Nuclear Energy and Nuclear Waste Issues

Here's a set of resources that might be useful for your first paper, which should be an opinion piece on some specific current topic related to nuclear energy or nuclear waste. These resources are good for background information, highlighting current debates, and getting source material for your arguments.

1) Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI): U.S. nuclear industry group. Website has lots of "fact sheets" and analysis of current issues from the pro-nuclear-energy standpoint.

 2) World Nuclear Association: global nuclear industry group. Website has tons of statistics on nuclear energy around the world, safety information, etc., all from the pro-nuclear-energy standpoint.

3) Greenpeace: Runs one of the largest worldwide campaigns against nuclear energy.  Has lots of fact sheets and news stories from an anti-nuclear standpoint.

4) Nuclear Energy Information Service:  an Illinois public watchdog group with an anti-nuclear stance.  Good place to find out what local nuclear issues are being discussed.

5) Union of Concerned Scientists:  a non-profit and non-partisan group that does not formally take a "pro" or "anti" stance towards nuclear energy, but highlights safety failures and problems with the current nuclear energy and nuclear waste practices in the U.S.

6) Nuclear Regulatory Commission:  main site of the government agency responsible for licensing and regulating nuclear energy facilities (basically, their job is to ensure safety). 

7) Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste:  go here to find out what Obama's commission to review the nuclear waste problem recommended, and what the current status is of nuclear waste policy.

Watch for more upcoming posts highlighting a few current debates that might be good topics for your paper, but you should definitely do your own research to find something that you feel strongly about!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rice from Fukushima Goes on Sale in Singapore

"Each bag has this label saying it's a product of Fukushima, but the important thing here is this sticker here which says it's been cleared for radiation testing and is safe to eat."

This is a very short video on rice grown in Fukushima, being sold in a supermarket in Singapore. It features a woman passing out samples of the rice for customers to try-- some accept and some decline. The previous post to the blog, about the performance of offering soup made from ingredients grown in Fukushima, reminded me of this video. Listening to the reporter, I believe the initial mistake she made, by saying the rice was tested for radiation, perpetuates the media's inaccurate choice of words for defining radiation v.s. radioactivity, which makes it harder to understand why the rice is safe to eat. I assume she meant to say the rice as been cleared for radioactive material.

Watch the video here-