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Salt Domes: A Good Location for Nuclear Wastes?

November 7, 2013 Louisiana Collapsing Salt Dome-Sinkhole

The currently imploding Louisiana Salt Dome Sinkhole has been of keen interest to us in part due to years of claims – still ongoing- that salt domes were a good place to store radioactive waste — one of the many primitive plans which never seemed to stand up to good sense (apparently no longer common). The salt dome sinkhole is currently around 26 acres (10.5 ha) and the owner, Texas Brine, believes that it will double to 54 acres (21.8 ha). Meanwhile there is risk of a natural gas explosion as well. And, yes, it has radioactive NORM waste too.

Currently neighboring Mississippi appears on a hit-list for salt dome nuclear waste repositories. Is it because Mississippi is the poorest state? The next to lowest educational levels? Or is it because it has the largest black population? Or, all of the above? Mississippi is a rare remaining important forested area and comparatively pristine environment. Low population with no real urban areas means that it has never been a major energy consumer. The wet subtropical climate is the worst possible climate for nuclear waste disposal.

Amazingly, stupidly and dangerously, salt domes are still today on the list for nuclear waste disposal in both the US and Germany, despite the fact that the Louisiana Bayou Corne-Salt Dome-Sinkhole has been imploding for over one year, there have been other collapsing salt domes, and the one used for nuclear waste in Germany has also leaked water, radioactive nuclides, and could collapse. These are rainy climates. Water dissolves salt, water and salt corrode metal, and water acts as a major transport medium for radionuclides. What kind of drugs are these people on who come up with these proposals?

And, in fact, in a day and age when there are new materials being developed, most of the proposed international “technologies” for nuclear waste proposal range from cave-men (clay and salt domes) to 7,000 year old (copper) to 3,000 yr old (iron) technologies. One country has proposed 192 year old technology (stainless). Only the USA, and in part South Korea, seems to have proposed 20th century WWII technology of Alloy 22 for canisters. And, this year, the US has proposed $15.8 million over a 5 year period for dry cask storage and $60 million for nuclear waste management and development (it is unclear if the $15.8 is a subset of the $60 million). http://energy.gov/articles/energy-department-announces-new-investment-nuclear-fuel-storage-research But, this pales in comparison to the $2.5 billion for the Curiosity-Mars Rover project. http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/profile.cfm?InFlight=1&MCode=MarsSciLab&Display=ReadMore Note the first is millions and the second is billions. The nuclear waste problem threatens the lives of us all. [Update note: https://sanonofresafety.org/nureg-2224-high-burnup-storage-and-transport ]

The whole attitude of nuclear waste disposal is primitive in most places: let’s just dump it and hope it doesn’t come back up! It is absolutely amazing. The general international approach for permanent nuclear waste storage is like a cat going to the toilet: dig a hole, drop the waste, and back-fill. This is criminal. The new nuclear builds are supposed to create hotter and even more dangerous waste than the waste that no one has figured out what to do with. The government officials allowing continued nuclear are terrorists and traitors of the worst sort and should be treated as such.

Most of the waste disposal proposals are so utterly inane (and insane) that it is hard to have words or at least printable words for them. One of the most bizarre is the self-healing clay-stone proposed for nuclear waste disposal in Switzerland. This is presumably the same self-“healing”, self-sealing rock which has made some Swiss tunnels so difficult to construct. How can you build a proper repository in a self-sealing rock, which would make the gallery-tunnels collapse? This and most disposal ideas are akin to a child dumping everything in their closet to clean up and hoping it doesn’t fall out! They childishly hope that the earth will swallow up the nuclear waste and that the problem go away. But, this is radioactive! This Swiss proposal is for a highly seismic area considered “low risk” simply because there are few people living there right now.

Anyway, another such inane idea is salt domes, as proven by the Asse Salt Mine (boy is that an appropriate name!) in Germany and the collapsing Bayou Corne Salt Dome Sinkhole. Oh, wow, there is Asse I, II, and III…are those the salt mines, the government officials involved or the so-called scientists who proposed this? It seems that Asse II is the radioactive one. Apparently the German government decided that the “solution” is to retrieve the radioactive waste back from the salt dome…meaning that you better be able to get it back out. This was supposed to be secure for a million years and didn’t last but 20 suggesting that this Asse-mine nuclear waste storage was not Asse mine but asinine. For the Asse Mine the German government has concluded: “According to the present state of knowledge, the best variant of how to further deal with the radioactive waste emplaced in the Asse II mine is retrieving the waste. Apart from retrieving the waste, the complete backfilling of the mine and the relocation of the waste to deeper parts of Asse were examined, too. According to the present state of knowledge, proof of long-term safety can be furnished if the waste will be retrieved.” http://www.asse.bund.de/EN/2_WhatIs/History/_node.html So, they can only prove long-term safety if the waste is retrieved! This is a no-brainer and yet the experts do not seem to understand this.

The Asse Salt Mine near Wolfenbüttel, Lower Saxony was used to dispose low-level radioactive waste (LAW) and medium-level radioactive waste (MAW), including about 28 kg of plutonium from 1967 to 1978. Officials say that there is no high-level radioactive waste (HAW) but we are sure that there will be some high-level radioactive parts (HAW) too. The waste originated from the nuclear reprocessing plant Karlsruhe (WAK) and from nuclear power plants who operated during that time. Up to 90 percent of the whole waste in the Asse Salt Mine came from the nuclear-industry. Also, the Asse Salt Mine was a prototype for the thirty year old plan to establish a high-level radioactive waste storage in Gorleben, Lower Saxony.

In 1967, scientists said that there will be no danger of water or brine leaks. In 1969, many German newspapers wrote about the Asse: ‘Scientists: security for all times’ was the headline. But in 1988 a continuous inflow of brine solution started, and since then they have not been able to stop the leakage. Currently there are about 12 m3 daily flowing into the mine, which should be dry for all times. In the beginning, the persons responsible said that a leakage would be the worst thinkable accident for dry storage of radioactive waste.

Eight years later in 1996, it was published for the first time that they had a ‘little’ problem with water. Later they decided to flood the whole mine. This plan was stopped in September 2008, when we found out that the brines in the Asse were contaminated with tritium and radioactive caesium since 1988. Therefore, they definitely violated the Nuclear Law (Atomgesetz) and the German Radiation Protection Ordinance (Strahlenschutzverordnung) in the last year. Because there is a special mineral salt in the mine which is easily soluble (carnallite) the inflow is really serious.

There is great danger of contamination of the ground and drinking water in the whole region.

Further, there is great danger that the whole mine (several million cubic meters) would collapse, creating a huge sink hole. See the entire article here: http://www.fraktion.gruene-niedersachsen.de/themen/themenspecial-endlager/artikel/radioactive-waste-in-the-asse-salt-mine-in-germany.html (bold added for emphasis)

So, you can see what a brilliant idea putting nuclear waste in a salt dome is, whether Louisiana, Germany or Mississippi.

Even vitrification of nuclear waste, which appear logical on the surface is not so, at least in a wet environment: According to US gov nuclear waste research lab: “Vitrified Waste Glass is highly durable if kept dry. However, if water contacts the vitrified wastes in a repository, the glass can slowly transform into a composition similar to minerals found in soils.https://www.llnl.gov/str/pdfs/03_96.1.pdf Furthermore, “There is still much about the molecular physics and thermodynamics of glass that is not well understood….” http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html

Note that very thick salt beds as in New Mexico and salt domes are not the same. Also, New Mexico is a dry climate, as opposed to the wet climates of Louisiana and Mississippi. However, it is not clear that the New Mexico salt beds can withstand the hottest waste.

Bayou Corne Salt Dome Sinkhole: “NORM” radioactive brine waste dump

On the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle web site there are some letters from Texas Brine indicating that the salt dome failed a mechanical integrity test on January 21, 2011, about a year and a half before the sinkhole opened up. AND, that the now collapsing salt dome has radioactive NORM in it, presumably by-product of the oil and gas industry deposited there. http://lasinkhole.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/rad_waste_texbrine.pdf
Elsewhere it is explained as follows:
In 2011, the cavern lost mechanical integrity — when tested it didn’t hold pressure. The cavern was plugged and abandoned. The Louisiana Office of Conservation did not require sonar tests to determine the location of the leak and no remediation was done to prevent further deterioration. ‘The side of the cavern collapsed into the dome, and the sinkhole formed from therehttp://www.cleanhouston.org/misc/salt_dome.htm

This was apparently illegal:
With respect to the injection of NORM into salt caverns in Louisiana, the regulatory scenario is complicated by the existence of a statute specifically restricting the disposal of radioactive material into salt domes (Louisiana Revised Statute 30:2117). Part B of this statute states that ‘…no salt dome within the jurisdiction of the state of Louisiana shall be utilized as a temporary or permanent disposal site for radioactive waste or other radioactive material of any nature by any person.’ This statute, originally enacted in 1979, probably was not written with consideration to NORM disposal issues; however, NORM disposal in salt caverns probably would not be allowed in Louisiana without amendment to this statute.http://web.ead.anl.gov/saltcaverns/doc/saltnorm.pdf

Those who feel that it is illogical to make a salt dome into a nuclear waste dump, and that it is crazy to transport, store or process nuclear wastes in a wet and comparatively pristine environment, in rare remaining world forest, please consider signing this petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/the-mississippi-sierra-club-says-not-now-not-ever-dump-the-nuclear-dump/sponsors/new?aftersign=true Some updates here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Say-NO-to-Nuclear-Waste-in-Mississippi/311549632322496

Everyone needs to wake up and realize that disposal of nuclear waste is the most serious challenge which humankind has faced. It needs to be approached with the science, discipline and creativity which the US used to place man on the moon and then some. And, we must stop making more, that is obvious. However, stopping making more doesn’t make it go away. The best containers should be invested in and the best geology in combo with the best climate. And, it must be monitored. It also makes little sense to deposit the waste in rare, remaining, environmentally clean areas, whereas there are so many already highly contaminated sites. These people don’t want more contamination but does that mean we should destroy the rest of nature and the remaining trees and wildlife in the world and just spread the radioactive waste around?

It has been suggested that Gorleben Germany was chosen as a nuclear waste site because it was poor and along the border with then East Germany. If you look at most proposals it seems clear that they are picking on rural areas where people lack resources — low population means they lack voting power; often poor and sometimes they may not have the education to understand the risks and not be told the risks. The truth seems to be that most decision makers don’t give a damn about geology or investing in proper containment. It’s just another assault on the poor, on minorities (including indigenous peoples), and on the rural, green, environment.

To give people a sense of what is being dealt with structurally on the Louisiana sinkhole on a daily basis here are some detailed posts from Assumption Parish (Louisiana equiv. of County):
Bayou Corne/Grand Bayou Response Activity
October 30, 2013
4:55 p.m. Second Crack in Berm Discovered
A second crack has been discovered on the South Berm toward the western corner. Although this crack doesn’t go all the way across the berm, we will continue to monitor all these areas for continued changes
.” http://assumptionla.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/455-p-m-second-crack-in-berm-discovered/
Bayou Corne/Grand Bayou Response Activity
Wednesday, Oct. 30 work-
Sinkhole Activity Code 3 – indicating no work is allowed directly on sinkhole or on containment berms, due to seismic monitoring indicating ongoing elevated MEQ (micro-earthquake) activity near sinkhole/Oxy 3

Sub-slab Sampling and Ventilation
– Conducting ventilation system inspections
– Monitoring pump drawdown tests of OGRW 1 (Oxy 2 well pad)
– Continuing pump test on ORWs 39 and 40 (north of containment berm)
– Preparing to flare ORW 10 (west of containment berm)
– Installing concrete pads around ORWs, flares and pressure monitoring wells
– Re-installing pressure transducers in ORW 17 and ORW 19 (west of containment berm)

Containment Berm/Roads/Sinkhole
– Surveying DPVE 47 settlement plates
– Sampling bubble sites
– Reducing pressure in Oxy 3A (working from Oxy 9 pad)
– Performing weekly subsidence survey
– Surveying settlement plates on south containment berm

– Continuing debris removal at TBC-acquired properties

9:05 a.m. Update
Statement from Texas Brine:
As reported on the Parish Blog, some cracking was observed over the weekend on portions of the South Berm. Currently there is one main crack that is approximately 3.5″ wide that crosses the South Berm with some additional smaller cracks also appearing in proximity to this location. The Geotextile liner and clay cap remain unbroken ensuring the barrier between the sinkhole and outside environment remains intact.

It’s unclear at this time if the increased seismic activity detected over the past week is related to this cracking. Additional interpretation of the data from the newly installed seismic arrays is being performed in order to better understand the location and magnitude of this seismic activity along with any connection it may have to the cracking.

Response personnel will continue to monitor for any further expansion or movement of the soil and southern berm and plans are already in place to repair the berm once the seismic activity level around the sinkhole subsides and it is deemed safe to work. Additional updates and information will be provided as necessary. http://assumptionla.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/905-a-m-update-2/

Here are maps from a Texas Brine Meeting: http://assumptionla.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/1105-a-m-maps-presented-at-texas-brine-meeting/

Bayou Corne/Grand Bayou Response Activity
Tuesday, Oct. 29 work-
Sinkhole Activity Code 3 – indicating no work is allowed directly on sinkhole or on containment berms, due to seismic monitoring indicating ongoing elevated MEQ (micro-earthquake) activity near sinkhole/Oxy 3

Sub-slab Sampling and Ventilation
– Conducting ventilation system inspections
– Monitoring pump drawdown tests of OGRW 1 (Oxy 2 well pad)
– Continuing pump test on ORWs 39 and 40 (north of containment berm)
– Removing water from ORW 10 (west of containment berm)
– Installing concrete pads around ORWs, PMWs and flares
– Monitoring industrial water wells
– Measuring water level of industrial water wells and MRAA water wells
– Sampling industrial water wells

Containment Berm/Roads/Sinkhole
– Surveying DPVE 47 settlement plates
– Reducing pressure in Oxy 3A (working from Oxy 9 pad)
– Continuing placement of limestone on work area west of Bayou Corne, south of La 70
– Sampling outfall locations

Monday, Oct. 28 work-
Sinkhole Activity Code 3 – indicating no work is allowed directly on sinkhole or on containment berms, due to seismic monitoring indicating ongoing elevated MEQ (micro-earthquake) activity near sinkhole/Oxy 3

October 26, 2013
2:30 p.m. Update
A crack has developed on the South Berm, south/southwest of pad 3. There is also increased seismic activity occurring. We will continue to monitor the south berm and sinkhole for any changes and will update accordingly.

Some Additional Reading:

http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/Strategy%20for%20the%20Management%20and%20Disposal%20of%20Used%20Nuclear%20Fuel%20and%20High%20Level%20Radioactive%20Waste.pdf http://www.nwtrb.gov/reports/nwtrb%20sept%2009.pdf

In addition to high-level waste problems, there are numerous examples of existing disposal sites containing low level waste which are alreadyleaking radiation into the environment. Drigg in the UK and CSM in LeHague, France being just two.” http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/nuclear/waste/

http://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/Global/eu-unit/reports-briefings/2010/9/rock-solid-a-scientific-review.pdf https://www.llnl.gov/str/pdfs/03_96.1.pdf http://www.nuklear.kit.edu/img/13_494.WE-Heraeus-Seminar_Dec_2011_Geckeis.pdf http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19640021087_1964021087.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superalloy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creep_(deformation) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-level_radioactive_waste_management

Thermodynamics of glass
There is still much about the molecular physics and thermodynamics of glass that is not well understood, but we can give a general account of what is thought to be the case.” http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/Glass/glass.html


Vitrified Waste Glass is highly durable if kept dry. However, if water contacts the vitrified wastes in a repository, the glass can slowly transform into a composition similar to minerals found in soils. We have been testing glass durability for almost 10 years under a wide variety of conditions that mimic the anticipated repository environment. At the temperatures we expect, our experiments lasting a few months show that 0.001 to 0.1 grams of glass dissolve per square meter of glass surface area per day. At that rate, the glass would last for several thousand years.https://www.llnl.gov/str/pdfs/03_96.1.pdf

As expected, the size of the sinkhole has grown from its original five acres to its present size of approximately 26 acres. The total area combined with the surrounding subsidence band is around 54 acres.http://www.texasbrine.com/response/TBC_Sinkhole_Characterization_Subsidence_Factsheet_FINAL-092613.pdf