Nuclear waste will last a lot longer than climate change

[ Anyone who survives peak fossil fuels and after that, rising sea levels and extreme weather from climate change, will still be faced with nuclear waste as both deadly pollutant and potential weapon.  The worst last an awfully long time. According to wiki: of particular concern in nuclear waste management are two long-lived fission products, Tc-99 (half-life 220,000 years) and I-129 (half-life 15.7 million years), which dominate spent fuel radioactivity after a few thousand years. The most troublesome transuranic elements in spent fuel are Np-237 (half-life two million years) and Pu-239 (half-life 24,000 years).

This is a summary (excerpts and paraphrased) of the 7 March 2012 Newscientist article Resilient reactors: Nuclear built to last centuries by Fred Pearce.  Nuclear waste can last thousands to hundreds of thousands of years, yet nothing has been done to protect future generations from these toxic pollutants. Yucca mountain remains shut down with no new repositories in sight (the most comprehensive account of the nuclear waste debacle is Alley’s “Too Hot to Touch“).   I don’t have much hope that the waste will ever be stored after reading Alley’s book.

Conventional oil peaked in 2005 and once the exponential decline begins, unconventional oil will be unable to fill in the gap.  Add on a corrupt financial system about to break and it is clear we will be both too energy and monetarily poor in the future to take on this task. Governments will be too busy trying to feed people to prevent social unrest and fighting wars to get more oil, so the bulk of the remaining oil will be diverted to agriculture and the military, fixing infrastructure, heating homes and buildings, and a million other things.  Cleaning up nuclear waste is not likely to be on the “to do” list.  Alice Friedemann]

All nuclear plants have to be shut down within a few decades because they become too radioactive, making them so brittle they’re likely to crumble.

Decommissioning can take longer than the time that the plant was operational.  This is why only 17 reactors have been decommissioned, and well over a hundred are waiting to be decommissioned (110 commercial plants, 46 prototypes, 250 research reactors), yet meanwhile we keep building more of them.

Building longer lasting new types of nuclear power plants

[ This section offers potential techno-fixes for stronger materials.  Whether such materials are ever discovered AND cheap enough to use at this very late date remains to be seen, see the article if that interests you. I seriously doubt new plants of any kind will be built because the billions in capital required and the many years of getting approval and building are far more than a new natural gas plant. The liability is so costly that companies would have to have any liability waived to get the funding. Nuclear power can not balance variable wind and solar power, only natural gas and hydropower are suited for that.  So many nuclear plants are falling apart, that on top of the cost to dismantle them there’s the chance of a failure and the public adamantly fighting against new plans as happened in the 1980s. There are other issues with alternative reactors as well ].

Fast-breeders were among the first research reactors. But they have never been used for commercial power generation. There’s just one problem. Burke says the new reactors aren’t being designed with greater longevity in mind, and the intense reactions in a fast-breeder could reduce its lifetime to just a couple of decades. A critical issue is finding materials that can better withstand the stresses created by the chain reactions inside a nuclear reactor.Uranium atoms are bombarded with neutrons that they absorb. The splitting uranium atoms create energy and more neutrons to split yet more atoms, a process that eventually erodes the steel reactor vessel and plumbing.

The breakdown that leads to a reactor’s decline happens on the microscopic level when the steel alloys of the reactor vessels undergo small changes in their crystalline structures. These metals are made up of grains, single crystals in which atoms are lined up, tightly packed, in a precise order. The boundaries between the grains, where the atoms are slightly less densely packed, are the weak links in this structure. Years of neutron bombardment jar the atoms in the crystals until some lose their place, creating gaps in the structure, mostly at the grain boundaries. The steel alloys – which contain nickel, chromium and other metals – then undergo something called segregation, in which these other metals and impurities migrate to fill the gaps. These migrations accumulate until, eventually, they cause the metal to lose shape, swell, harden and become brittle. Gases can accumulate in the cracks, causing corrosion.

A reactor that does not need to be shut down after a few decades will do a lot to limit the world’s stockpile of nuclear waste. But eventually, even these will need to be decommissioned, a process that generates vast volumes of what the industry calls “intermediate-level” waste.

Despite its innocuous name, intermediate-level waste is highly radioactive and will one day have to be packaged and buried in rocks hundreds of meters underground, while its radioactivity decays over thousands of years. It is irradiated by the same mechanism that erodes the machinery in a nuclear power plant, namely neutron bombardment.

Toxic legacy

Nuclear waste is highly radioactive and remains lethal for thousands of years and is without doubt nuclear energy’s biggest nightmare. Efforts to “green” nuclear energy have focused almost exclusively on finding ways to get rid of it. The most practical option is disposal in repositories deep underground. Yet, seven decades into the nuclear age, not one country has built a final resting place for its most toxic nuclear junk. So along with the legacy waste of cold-war-era bomb making, it will accumulate in storage above ground – unless the new reactors can turn some of that waste back into fuel.

Without a comprehensive clean-up plan, the wider world is unlikely to embrace any dreams of a nuclear renaissance.

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Decommissioning a nuclear reactor

[ Below are excerpts from the 7 March 2012 NewScientist article: How to dismantle a nuclear reactor ]

about the costs and challenges of dismantling nuclear power plants in Europe ]

decommisioning nuclear reactor

By the start of 2012, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, 138 commercial power reactors had been permanently shut down with at least 80 expected to join the queue for decommissioning in the coming decade – more if other governments join Germany in deciding to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster in Japan last year.

And yet, so far, only 17 of these have been dismantled and made permanently safe. That’s because decommissioning is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

A standard American or French-designed pressurised water reactor (PWR) – the most common reactor design now in operation – will produce more than 100,000 tonnes of waste, about a tenth of it significantly radioactive, including the steel reactor vessel, control rods, piping and pumps. Decommissioning just a single one generally costs up to half a billion dollars.

Decommissioning Germany’s Soviet-designed power plant at Greifswald produced more than half a million tonnes of radioactive waste. The UK’s 26 gas-cooled Magnox reactors produce similar amounts and will eventually cost up to a billion dollars each to decommission. That’s because they weren’t designed with decommissioning in mind.

The many variations also mean that there is no agreed-upon standard for how to go about the process. If you want to decommission a nuclear power plant, you have three options. The first is the fastest: remove the fuel, then take the reactor apart as swiftly as possible, storing the radioactive material somewhere safe to await a final burial place.  The second approach is to remove the fuel but lock up the reactor, letting its troublesome radioactive isotopes decay, which makes dismantling easier – much later.  The third option is to simply entomb the reactor where it is.

Even when the reactor can be dismantled, where do you put the radioactive waste? Even the least contaminated material – old overalls, steel heat exchangers and toilets – must be carefully separated and sent to specially licensed landfill sites. Not every country has such designated facilities. Intermediate-level waste, contrary to its name, is even more of a problem because it may require deep ground burial alongside the high-level spent fuel.

In 1976, a British Royal Commission said no more nuclear power plants should be built until the waste disposal problems were resolved. Thirty-five years on, nothing much has changed.


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Water-borne diseases will increase as energy declines

[ Drinking water and sewage treatment plants are the main reason lifespans nearly doubled. Not medicine. Read Laurie Garrett’s  “Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health” for details. 

As energy declines, the ability of towns and cities to treat water and sewage (haul garbage, clean up superfund toxic waste sites, etc)., will decline, as this is both expensive in terms of money and energy. Currently, the vast majority of water delivery systems are falling apart and not being maintained or replaced despite energy abundance.

For decades I’ve been frustrated that the media rarely reports on infrastructure. It takes a disaster to put a spotlight on the issue, but even then, the problem is seen as being local to where the disaster occurred, i.e. Flint Michigan, despite many, if not most, water systems in the nation at risk.  So consider putting clean water at the top of your surviving peak oil to-do list.  It seems likely that at some point, the larger the city, the more unhealthy it will become to live there…

Below is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention list of water-borne diseases. A single asterisk (*) denotes Sanitation & Hygiene-Related Diseases. A double asterisk (**) indicates Vector or Insect-borne Diseases Associated with Water.

Alice Friedemann ]





Posted in Sewage treatment, Water, Where to Be or Not to Be | Leave a comment

Bankers and Wall Street take cheating to new levels

[ What follows is an excerpt of an interview between behavioral economist Dan Ariely (DA) and Graham Lawton (GL) in New Scientist  16 June 2012 “The Cheating Game“. This is yet another reason another worse crash is inevitable (in addition to lack of reform since the last crash, with much bigger too-big-to-fail banks, and the ratings agencies back to giving top ratings to junk ]

DA: What about the real world and cheating?

GL: In banking, the rules are very unclear and because of that, there are lots of things you can do and still feel good. We did a study asking people to imagine being the head of a bank, and they could do things like increase fees and charges. The moment you tell people that they’re working for a company, that the motive is to maximize shareholder value, they’re much more willing to cheat.

DA: What if you take money out of the equation?

GL: One of the most frightening experiments we did was when we got people to cheat for tokens that they could then exchange for money. When they reported how many of those mathematics questions they got correct, they doubled the cheat. The act of lying for something that is one step removed from money relieved them of their moral obligations. Think about what happens with mortgage-backed securities and stock options.

DA: Do you distinguish between widespread, low-level cheating and people like financier Bernie Madoff, who is in jail for stealing billions?

GL: I don’t think there is a big distinction. They have an opportunity, regularly, on a bigger scale, and they have time to escalate things. We find that once you start cheating, it’s easier to justify more and more. There is a slippery slope. I’m not saying there are no psychopaths out there, but the vast majority of dishonesty is, I think, caused by rationalization rather than crime.  I recently interviewed a federal judge and he said he has never met a person who thought about the consequences of their crime. People have no idea how long they’d spend in prison if caught. There was a study recently that looked at the death penalty. If you think about deterrence, the death penalty is right up there. But it’s unclear that the penalty is actually decreasing crime. So deterrence is not getting us as much as we think, partly because when people commit the crime, they don’t really think about it.

DA: Is cheating and dishonesty evolutionary?

GL: There’s probably an equilibrium in which some dishonesty is allowed to be maintained and some is not. The tricky thing about evolutionary explanations is that we did not evolve in an environment where we could spend a couple of billion dollars on a particular hedge fund, so the size of the risks that we are able to take under this logic and the size of devastation we can create is much, much higher.

DA: Will building the big picture about why and how people cheat make people more honest?

GL: I think it’s incredibly important for us to realize how capable people are of cheating a little bit and still feeling good about themselves. If you look at the time between the start of the global financial crisis and now, and ask what we’ve learned, the answer is not much. This book is about all the things we haven’t learned. From this perspective, it’s going to be a very sad journey. The main audience is bankers and regulators, and my fear is that the people who need to listen the most are the ones that are least likely to listen.

Dan Ariely is professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and founder of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He is the author of bestseller, Predictably Irrational, and The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty.

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Is large-scale energy storage dead?

  by Roger Andrews at

Many countries have committed to filling large percentages of their future electricity demand with intermittent renewable energy, and to do so they will need long-term energy storage in the terawatt-hours range. But the modules they are now installing store only megawatt-hours of energy. Why are they doing this? This post concludes that they are either conveniently ignoring the long-term energy storage problem or are unaware of its magnitude and the near-impossibility of solving it.

The graphic below compares some recent Energy Matters estimates of the storage capacity needed to convert intermittent wind and solar generation into usable dispatchable generation over different lengths of time in different places. The details of the scenarios aren’t important; the key point is the enormous differences between the red bars, which show estimated future storage requirements, and the blue bars, which show existing global storage capacity (data from Wikipedia). It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that the amount of energy storage capacity needed to support a 100% renewable world exceeds installed energy storage capacity by a factor of many thousands. Another way of looking at it is that installed world battery + CAES + flywheel + thermal + other storage capacity amounts to only about 12 GWh, enough to fill global electricity demand for all of fifteen seconds. Total global storage capacity with pumped hydro added works out to about 500 only GWh, enough to fill global electricity demand for all of ten minutes.

Yet microscopic additions to installed capacity are apparently considered a cause for rejoicing. Greentechmedia recently waxed lyrical about the progress made by energy storage projects in 2015 . “Last year will likely be remembered as the year that energy storage got serious …. projects of all sizes were installed in record numbers ….” But when it goes on to list “the Biggest Energy Storage Projects Built Around the World in the Last Year” we find they’re all 98-pound weaklings:

Also notice that while megawatts are specified MWh usually aren’t. There are two possible explanations for this. First the facilities aren’t designed to store energy. They are primarily for frequency control, load following etc. The MW are important but the h aren’t, or at least not very. Second, the policymakers who mandate these facilities don’t see any difference between a MW and a MWh.

And I say “mandate” because that is what the state of California recently did. California recognized that it would have to solve some grid stability problems before it could expect to meet its 50% renewable energy by 2030 target, so in 2013 it passed a “Huge Grid Energy Storage Mandate” that required the state’s big three investor-owned utilities to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage to their grids by 2020. Three points are worthy of note here:

  • Relative to California’s 50GW peak load 1.3GW can hardly be described as “huge”.
  • The mandate again doesn’t say how long the storage should last, i.e. how many gigawatt-hours are needed.
  • The proposal specifically excludes pumped hydro storage projects of 50 megawatts or more.

And the rationale for excluding pumped storage projects over 50 MW deserves a paragraph all to itself:

The California Public Utility Commission concluded that although large-scale pumped storage hydro meets the statute’s definition of an energy storage system, it must limit the size of eligible pumped storage systems in order to encourage the development and deployment of a broad range of energy storage technologies. In the CPUC’s view, the goal of creating a new market for a range of storage technologies would be undermined if the IOUs could meet their targets by acquiring a pumped storage facility: The majority of pumped storage projects are 500 MW and over, which means a single project could be used to reach each target within a utility territory.

What is this broad range of storage technologies that pumped hydro threatens to undermine? Based on proposals received to date they include bi-directional EV charging stations, molten sulfur batteries, zinc hybrid cathode batteries, lithium-ion batteries, thermal energy stored in ice, in used EV batteries and in rechargeable electrolytes. In short, California will consider any type of energy storage system provided it isn’t pumped hydro, the only large-scale energy storage technology that can be guaranteed to work.

Which brings up the question of which of the technologies don’t work. In the recent ARES post Greg Kaan made the following comment:

This thread is turning into complete nonsense, not due to the commentators here (thanks Greg) but simply through the “solutions” being presented to try and cope with intermittent power production.

And Greg is quite correct. The solutions being presented to cope with intermittent power production range from green dreaming to downright bonkers. Here’s a selection, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Compressed air
Liquid air
Electric vehicles
Underground hydrogen storage
Power to gas
Hydro and pumped hydro
Superconducting magnets
Thermal storage.

To which I will add:

ARES rail storage, which we recently looked at.

The 500m-diameter underground granite cylinder that moves up and down without ever cracking, leaking or getting stuck

Flat Land Energy Storage, which was reviewed here.

Anyone who can see a way of commercializing any of the unproven technologies on the list is encouraged to provide details. (Although two of them are in fact capable of providing meaningful amounts of storage. The first is power-to-gas, which was dismissed here as being far too complicated, inefficient and uneconomic. The second is very-large-scale pumped hydro, which was discussed here. The project delivered 6.8TW of storage but involved turning a large chunk of the Scottish Highlands into an inland sea.

So here we have an impossible situation, with green pipe-dreamers and utilities whom one suspects should know better trying to solve an unsolvable problem with technologies that have no chance of solving it. So what happens next? Well, at some point something obviously has to give, but what, where and when is the question.

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Solar PV cells using rare elements unlikely to scale up enough to replace fossil fuels

[ Sunshine may be free, but the materials to make solar contraptions aren’t.   Since sunshine arrives in a diluted form (2500 kWh/m2), vast expanses of solar photovoltaic panels will be needed to produce the world’s 15 Terawatts of power that are now mainly generated by highly energy dense fossils suc as oil and coal.

Leena and Höök looked at the materials required to scale solar generation up to Terawatts of power, and found that CdTe, CIGS, a-Si and ruthenium-based Grätzel solar cells will all be limited by material availability and only able to provide small shares of the present world energy consumption. This is because they depend on Indium, tellurium, germanium, ruthenium, and other materials having a potentially tight supply due to their scarcity, difficulty of being recycled, and competition with other products (i.e. pigments, coatings, plastics, alloys, electronic devices, lasers, diodes, LED lights, metallurgy). Yes, there are indeed Limits to Growth.

Silver was not investigated, but a recent analysis indicated that silver could form a serious bottleneck for the large scale construction of concentrated solar power (the mirrors) and silicon technologies that use silver as an electrode material [19].

An immense amount of energy is used to mine, blow up rocks, transport them to be crushed, milled, and infused with chemicals to get the metal out.  Lower grade ores are even more energy intense, so the production of rare minerals will also be constrained by energy shortages or high energy prices in the future.  And a financial downturn could limit the production of minerals as well.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, 2015, Springer]

Leena, G., Höök, M. (2015) Assessing Rare Metal Availability: Challenges for Solar Energy Technologies. Sustainability, 7(9): 11818-11837

Abstract: Solar energy is commonly seen as a future energy source with significant potential. Ruthenium, gallium, indium and several other rare elements are common and vital components of many solar energy technologies, including dye-sensitized solar cells, CIGS cells and various artificial photosynthesis approaches. This study surveys solar energy technologies and their reliance on rare metals such as indium, gallium, and ruthenium. Several of these rare materials do not occur as primary ores, and are found as byproducts associated with primary base metal ores. This will have an impact on future production trends and the availability for various applications. In addition, the geological reserves of many vital metals are scarce and severely limit the potential of certain solar energy technologies. It is the conclusion of this study that certain solar energy concepts are unrealistic in terms of achieving TeraWatt (TW) scales.

Continued oil dependence is environmentally, economically and socially unsustainable [1]. Peaking of conventional oil production has been a topic of interest for more than 50 years [2]. Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and potentially harmful climatic change are strongly connected to future hydrocarbon combustion [3], so reducing fossil fuel use has been an integral part of climate negotiations. All this has resulted in renewed interest in alternative energy systems. IPCC states that the present energy system is not sustainable and that the solar energy could become a significant contributor to the energy infrastructure [4].

Solar energy is commonly seen as a future energy source with significant potential. The amount of energy that the Earth receives from the sun in a single hour is many times greater than the combined output of fossil energy. Harvesting this abundant solar influx could, in theory, supply mankind with all the energy it demands for millions of years.

However, Ion concluded that the supply potential of an energy source is generally dependent on concentration [5]. Numerous inexhaustible energy sources exist, but their practical significance is often hampered by low energy density. This applies to solar energy as it arrives in dilute form (up to 2500 kWh/m2 annually depending on location) requiring significant area in comparison with more concentrated energy sources such as coal or nuclear.

To mitigate the low energy concentration in solar rays, numerous technical solutions have been put into practice while others are being developed. Photovoltaic solar cells of various types capable of converting the solar rays directly to electricity are already in the market, while concentrating solar power based on thermal cycles is another solution. Another possibility is artificial photosynthesis, aiming at mimicking natural photosynthesis, which can convert solar energy to carbohydrates or even hydrogen for easy storage and human consumption. New renewable energy forms (geothermal, solar energy, wind) only account for roughly 1.1% of the primary energy consumed in the world [6]. IPCC estimates that direct solar energy constitutes only 0.1% of the primary energy supply [7].

The path to a solar future is long, and significant amounts of work, research and development remain before solar energy will be a major energy supplier.

It is also necessary to investigate solar energy feasibility using a life-cycle perspective. Power plant installations consume concrete, steel, plastics and similar everyday materials that are available in relative abundance and can be easily produced.

Other materials are uncommon or even rare and can only be produced in small volumes or by complex measures. Some of these rare materials, mainly metals, are essential parts in certain solar energy technologies.

Historically, the most important obstacle for solar energy has been high costs in relation to competing energy sources. If economics are disregarded and future solar energy systems assumed to achieve a globally significant scale, the underlying reliance on rare metals might appear as one limiting factor. Ruthenium, gallium, indium and several other metals are essential components of certain solar energy technologies, such as dye-sensitized cells, thin-film cells and other innovative solar energy technologies. More general approaches have also raised the importance of rare metals for high technology such as the CRM Innonet (Critical Raw Materials Innovation Network) financed by the European Commission [8].

The infrequent occurrence of these rare materials makes it necessary to ask whether they could limit the growth of future solar energy expansion plans. Some researchers have already considered material constraints for future solar energy applications [9–12]. There are assessments of natural resource requirements for renewable energy systems, but they often dismiss potential resource constraints on inadequate grounds [13,14]. In this study, geological endowment of important minerals and the required production methods for obtaining usable products are discussed. Reserve and resource data were compiled from various geological assessments, mainly from the United States Geological Survey [15]. Based on the findings, rough estimates are calculated for possible electricity production based on respective PV technologies. The findings are finally discussed from a sustainability perspective.

Solar Energy and Rare Metals.  The resource base for solar energy can be regarded in practical terms as limitless. However, due to the dilute nature of solar energy, only a small fraction of this energy flow can be transformed into a form usable for society. A useful metaphor is the distinction between tank and tap. Although the tank may be enormous, it is the size of the tap that matters for users. It is only incoming solar radiation that can be transformed into useful energy that matters for society. Thus, electricity is the required output from most solar energy systems.

Some solar thermal technologies aim to use the heat of solar radiation for direct heating or for powering conventional steam cycles. These systems generally rely on mirrors that concentrate solar energy on a single point or a line. Fresnel lenses and parabolic troughs are simple and inexpensive approaches that can achieve temperatures of 400–600 °C. Point focusing systems are more complex, but can reach temperatures as high as around 1200 °C. Solar-powered Stirling engines [16], parabolic trough systems [17], and concentrating solar power systems [18] have all been discussed more comprehensively by others. The mirrors are plated with silver due to the high optical reflectivity of this metal. Silver is not investigated in further detail in this study, but a recent analysis indicated that silver could form a serious bottleneck for the construction of concentrated solar power on a large scale [19].

Photovoltaics (PV) or solar cells are alternative ways of harvesting solar energy by converting light directly into electricity. Today, roughly 90% of the PV market is dependent on silicon [20]. Current and foreseeable solar energy markets will probably be dominated by silicon technologies. Silicon-based PV systems, forming the first generation of solar cells, will not be discussed in any detail since silicon is a common material. However, silicon technologies commonly use silver as an electrode material and this dependence is discussed in detail by Grandell and Thorenz [19].

Thin-film photovoltaics are referred to as second generation PV technologies. These involve several approaches dependent on rare metals. Third generation photovoltaic technology has currently reached a pre-market stage. Such technologies include dye-sensitised solar cells (DSSC), organic solar cells, and other novel approaches.

Thin-Film Solar Cells consist of thin photoactive layers, typically in the range of 1–4 µm thick, leading to a light-weight structure. A semiconducting material is deposited on a common material such as glass or polymer. The need for semiconducting material is greatly reduced and could be up to 99% less compared to c-Si based technology [21]. However, cost advantages from low material use are somewhat offset by a lower electricity generation efficiency. Silicon thin-films can be produced by chemical vapor deposition. Depending on the process, one can obtain amorphous, microcrystalline or polycrystalline structures. The solar cells made from these materials tend to have lower energy conversion efficiency than bulk silicon, but the production technology is very cost effective. The semiconducting material can be deposited on cheap materials, and both flat and curved surfaces are possible. As a transparent conducting oxide, typically an indium-tin-oxide (ITO) film with a thickness of 60 nm will be sputtered on the p-side of the semiconductor [22]. Amorphous silicon suffers from optically induced conductivity changes that lead to efficiency losses, resulting from the Staebler-Wronski effect [23], but this can be alleviated by doping Ge into the structure. The efficiency of the cells is in the range of 11.6% [24].

Tellurium is classified as a critical metal [21], and is used in cadmium-telluride (CdTe) technology, which is currently the most commercially successful thin-film application in the market. The band gap of CdTe cells is 1.4 eV, which is very close to the ideal value of 1.5 eV [25]. Modules have achieved 17.5% efficiencies and the best reported cell efficiencies are as high as 20.4% [24].

CIGS cells are another successful thin-film technology based on a compound semiconductor made of copper, indium, gallium, and selenide. Copper/indium/selenide (CIS) and copper/gallium/selenide (CGS) form a solid solution with the chemical formula of Cu(InxGaz)Se2, where the value of x can vary from 1 (pure copper indium selenide) to 0 (pure copper gallium selenide). The material is a tetragonal chalcopyrite crystal structure, and a band gap can be varied between 1.04 eV (CIS) and 1.7 eV (CGS) through different material combinations [25]. Recently 15.7% module efficiency has been reported [24]. Selenide can also be substituted by sulfur.

Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells function on a different principle than first and second generation technologies. The incoming light is absorbed by a dye sensitizer that is anchored to the surface of a mesoporous oxide film, typically TiO2. The dye gets excited by a photon, and the resulted electron is injected into the conduction band of the film. The electrons diffuse to the anode and are conducted over an external load to the cathode. The construction of the solar cell and its operation principle are explained in detail by Gong [26].

The appeal of dye sensitized solar cells is that they rely on fairly abundant and inexpensive materials.

Manufacturing does not require elaborate equipment, and the simplicity of this type of solar cell can potentially lead to good price/performance ratio. However, the most efficient cells generally rely on dyes that are derived from rare metals.

The dye is essential for photovoltaic performance and needs to be carefully selected to fulfill several technical requirements related to light absorption, ability to anchor the dye on the semiconducting oxide, electron transfer properties between the dye and the semiconductor oxide and stability. Thus far, the dyes are based on metal complexes of ruthenium. These dyes are superior to all other known dyes in terms of light absorption. The highest performance achieved is 11.1%, exhibited by the black dye, an atrithiocyanato-ruthenium complex [26]. Other approaches on an organic metal-free basis are being developed [27].

The idea of a Concentrating Photovoltaic System is to generate concentrated illumination with the help of systems of lenses or mirrors. The concentration factor can vary from 2 suns (low concentration) to 100 suns (medium concentration) or up to 1000 suns (high concentration). The concentrated solar radiation is then directed to a small area of high-efficiency multijunction (MJ) solar cells.

Multijunction systems are currently the most proficient PV systems and can reach over 44% efficiency [24]. The fundamental difference between multi-junction solar cells and c-Si solar cells is that there are several junctions connected in series instead of one. This is to better cover the solar spectrum. To achieve a working MJ cell, various suitable materials are placed in layers. Each layer is optically in series, with the highest band gap material at the top. The first junction receives the entire incoming spectrum. Photons above the band gap of the first junction are absorbed in the first layer. Photons below the band gap of the first layer pass through to the lower layers to be absorbed there.

The thermodynamic Carnot cycle efficiency can be approached if all solar photons can be converted to electricity. In theory, it can be shown that 59% efficiency can be achieved with four junction devices [28] and as the number of junctions approaches infinity, the efficiency can reach as high as 68% [29]. However, it is difficult to construct such opto-electronically matched junctions, and thus commercial devices are either tandem or triple-junction cells. Typical materials used in multi-junction cells are InGaP (band gap 1.67 eV) for top layers, GaInAs or GaAs (1.18 eV) for middle layers and Ge (0.66 eV) as a bottom layer [30].

There are various emerging solar cell technologies, still far from commercial markets. Organic photovoltaics (OPV) are based on cheap, abundant, non-toxic materials and a high-speed roll-to-roll manufacturing process. However, problems related to low conversion efficiency and instability over time make it difficult to foresee the future potential of the technology. Other novel technologies still in the fundamental development phase include quantum dots or wires, quantum wells, and super lattice technologies [21].

Technologies aimed at mimicking photosynthesis are also a way of converting solar energy to satisfy human needs. These approaches are commonly grouped in a field known as artificial photosynthesis. They are not directly similar to photovoltaics, but also tend to rely on rare metals. Natural photosynthesis uses light-harvesting complexes to collect incident photons, which participate in chemical reactions to produce carbohydrates and oxygen from carbon dioxide. However, natural photosynthesis observed in plants has very low efficiencies (typically ~1%) for biomass production and this has stimulated great interest in creating an artificial counterpart with higher efficiency [31].

Artificial photosynthesis could be used to convert and store solar energy as carbohydrates or alternatively as hydrogen. In theory, this could solve many of the intermittency problems that are related to more conventional forms of solar energy. The rare metal ruthenium is a key component in many approaches and may be a limiting factor for implementation.  other platinum-group metals and nickel might constitute alternatives [32].

Occurrence of Rare Elements

Many of the rare metals used in solar cells occur in low concentration within the Earth’s crust. Most do not occur as primary ores, and are only found as by-products associated with primary base metal and precious-metal ores. This section briefly reviews the geological abundance of some rare elements used in solar energy applications.

Cadmium is primarily extracted from zinc ores, mainly from sphalerite deposits. Cadmium has chemical properties similar to zinc’s and can replace it in crystal lattices of certain ores. Sphalerite ore contains 3%–11% zinc along with 0.0001%–0.2% cadmium and less than 0.0001%–0.01% indium, copper, silver, iron, gold, germanium and thallium [12]. Carbonate-hosted sphalerite in Mississippi Valley-type (MVT) deposits have high cadmium concentrations, while sedimentary exhalative (sedex) occurrences have low concentrations [33]. Certain coals can also have relatively high cadmium content, but they are all sub-economic for the moment [15].

The estimated abundance of indium is 0.1 ppm in the earth’s crust, making it the 69th most abundant element [34]. However, indium is highly dispersed in nature and enriched deposits of economic interest are rare. A comprehensive overview of indium and its mineralogy has been conducted by Schwarz-Schampera and Herzig [35]. Indium is only recovered as a by-product from zinc-sulfide ore mineral sphalerite [15]. Indium can also be found as trace element in deposits of other base metals, but it is generally difficult to process and extract it economically.

Gallium can be found in low concentration in many ores. Burton et al. [36] investigated the presence of gallium in 280 minerals and determined the crustal abundance to be 17 ppm, while Emsley [34] gives an average concentration of 18 ppm. Andersson [9] notes that gallium is approximately as abundant as copper but seldom forms any enriched mineralisation. In contrast, copper is enriched by a factor of 200–800 in mined ores, while gallium rarely occurs in minable concentrations. Such differences will have significant repercussions for production feasibility. Gallium only seems to be concentrated in certain oxide minerals, primarily bauxite but also corundum and magnetite [36]. Bauxite ores contain from 0.003% to 0.008% gallium [37]. World resources are estimated to be 2 million tonnes in bauxite deposits and 6500 tons in zinc deposits [38]. Recent works have also identified certain coals as potentially massive sources [39], although only a small part of the gallium can be recovered in practice [15].

Germanium occurs primarily through silicate minerals in the earth’s crust due to ionic substitution with the silicon ion. Typical concentrations are a few ppm. Moskalyk gives a mean concentration of 6.7 ppm [40], while Höll et al. states an average of 1.7 ppm [41]. The highest enrichments can be found in non-silicate formations as zinc/copper-sulphides, primarily low-iron sphalerite, or in certain coals [42]. In addition, fly ash from certain coals can contain as much as 1.6%–7.5% germanium [40], and may be an important source if proper recovery methods are developed. Furthermore, high concentrations have been commonly found in iron-nickel meteorites, and this suggests that major shares of the earth’s germanium may reside in the planetary core [42]. A review of germanium and its occurrence have been provided by Höll et al. [41].

Both selenium and tellurium are found in low concentrations in copper ores and commonly recovered as side-products from copper refining [43]. Additionally, selenium occurs at concentrations between 0.5 and 12 ppm in various coals, which equals a much larger resource base than the worlds copper ores (USGS, 2015) [15]. Yodovich and Ketris reviewed selenium in coal and pointed out that coal ash has enriched selenium concentrations [44]. However, recovering selenium from coal does not appear likely due to the high volatility of the material [12]. World selenium reserves are estimated to be 120,000 tons derived from copper ores [15].

Tellurium is the 72nd most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, with 5 ppb. Some tellurium minerals are found in nature such as calaverite, sylvanite or tellurite, but are not mined [34]). USGS estimates the world tellurium reserves to be 24,000 tons based on identified copper ores [15], but also mentions the possibility of recovering tellurium from certain gold-telluride or lead-zinc ores. Over 90% of tellurium is produced from anode slimes from copper refining, which can contain as much as 8% tellurium [34].

Ruthenium and platinum are rare elements that occur together with other platinum-group metals. The largest platinum-group metal deposit is the Bushveld Complex in South Africa [15]. Nearly 90% of the world’s known platinum reserves are located in South Africa [45], while other deposits can be found in Russia, North America, and Zimbabwe, and only to a smaller degree in other countries [15]. Andersson highlighted how this dominance of a single country would make platinum group metal supply sensitive to monopolistic behavior and geopolitical issues [9].

Production and Future Outlooks

Mining and processing of ore deposits requires mining, rock blasting, transportation, crushing, milling, and different chemical procedures. The conversion form ore to a marketable commodity is usually an energy intensive process.

Moving to low grade ores inescapably requires more energy input per unit mass unless technological improvements can offset the disadvantages caused by lower ore grades.

As a consequence, production of materials derived from low concentration ores will be sensitive to future energy prices, especially when moving towards lower and lower ore grades.

The rare materials used in several solar technologies chiefly occur as byproducts of base metal ores. Platinum is an exception; PGMs are mined as well as by-products and primary products. As a result, future production of those materials is intrinsically linked to the base metal production. This relationship makes it challenging to significantly increase production of by-products without increasing the production of the main product.

Base Metal Production

About 90% of all zinc production is accomplished by the electrolytic process, while 10% rely on older pyrometallurgical treatment. For lead production, after sintering, lead is usually smelted in a blast furnace. Smelting frees the metal from the oxidized form. About half of lead originates from recycled sources [47]. Copper production is mainly (80%) done by pyrometallurgical processing of sulphide ores, with the remainder being hydrometallurgical treatment of oxide ores. Fthenakis et al. provide a comprehensive overview of copper and zinc production and their flow schemes [12]. Treatment of various residues is the main feedstock for recovering numerous other metals, such as indium or cadmium, as by-products.

More than half of the present world mine production of lead comes from China [15]. In addition, 58% of the global zinc mine production originates from China, Australia and Peru. Nearly 55% of present world copper production originates from Chile (31% alone), USA, Peru, and China. Global production of base metals is not evenly distributed, intrinsically affecting the recovery and supply of by-products.

A similar situation can be seen for bauxite mining and aluminum production. Bauxite is converted via Bayer process to alumina, an aluminum oxide, which is further electrolysed to obtain pure metal. World production of bauxite and aluminum has increased significantly after 1950

Australia and China presently account for roughly 55% of the world bauxite production, and China alone also accounts for 47% of global aluminum production [15].

World production of base metals is unevenly distributed with significant concentration in a few countries, resembling the situation for world supply of fossil fuels [48,49].

Occurrences have been identified in all over the world, but many of them are sub-economic or otherwise unattractive deposits. However, it should be specifically noted that geological abundance has little to do with the likelihood of significant future production, as actual recovery must be both technically and socioeconomically feasible. As a consequence, seemingly abundant but dilute formations may never be attractive for mining, while scarce but highly concentrated deposits can be attractive to exploit.

Recovery of By-Products

Hartman finds that significant shares of the gallium reserves will not be produced in any foreseeable time, simply because they are a by-product of bauxite mining and have to be primarily governed by future aluminum demand [50]. Gallium is extracted from bauxite in conjunction with aluminum oxide based on the Bayer process [37]. The second recovery method involves electrolytic processes with mercury, allowing gallium extraction after addition of caustic soda. Despite environmental challenges surrounding mercury, this method is employed many countries. The last recovery method is based on chelating agents and addition of diluted acids, eventually making gallium recoverable by direct electrolysis. Moskalyk has provided a more comprehensive overview of the production methods and the worldwide suppliers of gallium, which is produced by a small number of producers and world primary production is currently in the order of 400 tons, with additional gallium derived from recycling of scrap electronics containing GaAs.

Germanium production usually consists of two stages, where the first step creates a concentrate and the second is the actual recovery. Hydrometallurgical processes using precipitation are generally preferred. In comparison, thermal and pyrometallurgical processes have inherent complications with the volatility of germanium oxides and sulphides and their environmental challenges. Moskalyk compiled a review of worldwide germanium production and suppliers [40].

More than 90% of the world’s tellurium is recovered from anode slimes collected from electrolytic copper refining, and the remainder is a by-product of lead refineries and from bismuth, copper, and lead ores [15]. Anode slimes are primarily treated to recover gold, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium, while selenium and tellurium are of secondary priority [12]. The actual percentage of tellurium recovery from anode slimes is variable and depends on concentration. Recovery is done by cementation with copper to form copper telluride. This is further processed to a sodium telluride solution with caustic soda and air. In the next step pure tellurium metal or tellurium oxide are produced for solar cell applications. Fthenakis et al. have compiled a more detailed overview of tellurium production [12]. Important tellurium producing countries are Japan, Russia, and Canada [15].

Cadmium production originates from smelting of zinc and lead-zinc ores. The cadmium sponge, a by-product from precipitating zinc sulphate solution at the zinc smelter is almost pure cadmium (more than 99% purity) and is used as the main feedstock in cadmium recovery facilities [43]. Fumes and dust from zinc sinter plants are also important feedstock for further purification. Comprehensive overview of cadmium recovery processes have been made by Safarzadeh et al. [51]. Commonly, cadmium is seen as a highly toxic metal and cadmium disposal is connected to environmental hazards. Thus, recovering cadmium from primary and secondary sources is of great importance [51]. China and South Korea are the largest producers and account for roughly half of world production, followed by Kazakhstan, Canada, Japan and Mexico [15]. Additionally, recycling of Ni-Cd batteries is also a source for cadmium.

Indium production is similar to cadmium and recovery is chiefly done as a by-product from collected dust, fumes, and other residues from zinc refining. Advantages in indium recovery processing have now increased, and extraction rates have reached 75% of the treatable residues [52]. Many details on the actual production technology are proprietary, but some general recovery methods based on standard methods and general information from producers have been compiled by Fthenakis et al. [12]. More discussions on indium production and worldwide suppliers have been conducted by Alfantazi and Moskalyk [52] and Fthenakis et al. [12]. More than 50% of the world’s primary indium production originates from China [15].

Mined platinum group metal (PGM) ores are initially crushed and grinded before being concentrated in a froth flotation process. Addition of water, air, and chemicals created a froth containing the PGM metals and is collected. Following the matte-smelting process, high purity platinum is refined through a series of hydrometallurgical processes [45]. Ruthenium is recovered as a byproduct during platinum-group metal refining. This is mainly done through insolubility in aqua regia, which leaves a solid residue that can be refined to obtain pure ruthenium, osmium, and other commonly associated metals. Solvent extraction has been described as a method [53], although very little details are available for ruthenium refining methods presently in use. Figure 4 shows the production of indium, selenium and PGMs.

Competition from Non-Solar Energy Sectors

Many of the critical metals discussed here also have important uses other than solar energy applications. Therefore, it can be argued that the assumption that all the available reserves or production of the rare materials would go to solar energy pursuits is unrealistic.

In reasonable cases, only a share of the metal flows would be available for solar energy solutions. How large this share will become is a complicated question and will be affected by several factors, such as how the metals’ intensity in solar applications and the competing markets will evolve. What are the perspectives for substitution, substituting materials or substituting technologies and approaches both in the solar sector and the competing markets?

More than 80% of the world’s cadmium is used to make rechargeable batteries, but other important uses are for pigments, coatings, and platings, stabilizers for plastics, alloys and photovoltaics. However, due to environmental and health concerns significant effort has been made to replace cadmium with other less toxic substances [15].

Gallium has been described as a backbone of the electronics industry and constitutes an important component in semiconductors, diodes and laser systems. Gallium arsenide for semiconductor applications makes up 95% of global gallium consumption [37]. Only some 2% of the produced GaAs is consumed by photovoltaic industry, whereas other uses include electric circuits, laser technology, diodes, and LED lights [22].

The photovoltaic industry is the most important end-use segment of tellurium with a 40% market share. It is followed by thermoelectric modules, which function as a small heat pump and are based on semiconducting materials. Other uses include metallurgy and the rubber industry [54]. Currently photovoltaics form a niche market for selenium, whereas 40% of selenium is consumed for the production of electrolytic manganese, which is a key material component for alkaline and litium-ion batteries. Other uses for selenium are found in the glass industry, agriculture, pigments and metallurgy [54]. About 90% of indium flows in the production of ITO (indium-tin-oxide), which is a transparent, conducting foil used in flat display panels and thin-film coatings. Other end-uses include solders, cryogenics, and special alloys. The electrical industry, including photovoltaics, is responsible for only 3% of the global indium consumption [55].

Ruthenium is used for creating wear-resistant electrical contacts, thick film chip resistors, and for various catalyst applications. The electrical industry is the most important ruthenium consuming sector, with a market share of over 60% [57]. Currently almost no ruthenium is used in the photovoltaics and solar energy industries.

In summary, many of the materials used here will be subjected to competition regarding usage. In some places it is possible to switch to substitutes, but likely several sectors will continue to rely on the same rare metals that several solar energy technologies are built around. The kind of financial repercussions this will bring should be investigated more closely and taken into account in any holistic study of economic long-term feasibility.

Recycling of Scarce and Rare Metals

Valero and Valero point out that there is no substitute for metals if they are irretrievably dispersed by human use [58].  Therefore, recycling is an important factor for making the best possible use of produced metals and should be encouraged. To some extent, recycled material can also help with balancing production from mining by alleviating mismatches in supply and demand.

However, recycling does not increase recoverable volumes. It is only a way to reuse some of the already mined materials again and prevent them from being locked up in scrap heaps or waste disposals. It is important to remember that recycling is only something that makes the use of materials more sustainable while it is incapable of removing intrinsic limits caused by recoverable volumes.

Some of the metals discussed here are already extensively recycled or reused—gallium in particular, as the world primary gallium production capacity in 2011 was estimated to be between 260 and 320 tons, while the recycling capacity was 198 tons [15].

This analysis uses the amount of known global metals reserves or resources as bases and calculates the maximum PV electricity production, which can be achieved with the given amount of metal. One can thus argue that this approach intrinsically includes recycling with the very optimistic assumption of a 100% recycling rate.

Material Consumption of Solar Technologies

Harvest solar energy is often seen as abundant, rich, and lasting supply of energy without any practical constraints. That is not entirely true, as the conversion technologies are dependent on raw material inputs necessary for construction. Solar energy technologies harvest renewable energy, but there are no such things as renewable power plants. Material availability or production bottlenecks may lead to significant constraints for the necessary building components for solar energy technologies.

This section explores whether scarcity of certain key materials may provide an upper limit for some selected solar energy technologies. Similar studies were performed by Andersson and others [9,59]. No good material consumption estimates could be found for artificial photosynthesis approaches, but it is expected to be at a similar magnitude as the other solar energy technologies.

Material requirement per square meter for solar energy is a key property, as the incoming energy must be harvested over large areas. Table 1 gives some estimated material consumptions for relevant technologies. These consumption figures are based on a 100% material utilization [9,22], which is optimistic because it entirely ignores process losses. However, this optimistic assumption may compensate for some of the potential reductions in material requirements since year 2000.

Leena 2015 available reserves and solar limits







Solar insolation can be as high as over 2000 kWh/m2 per annum at excellent sites like the desert areas of Sahara or in Australia, where clouds are virtually nonexistent. For comparison the global average insolation value is 1700 kWh/m2. The average value for Central Europe and Northern Europe is in the range of 1000 kWh/m2.

The last two columns in Table 2 give the annual electricity production of the respective solar technology, assuming that 50% or 100% of the respective world material reserves are devoted to solar cell fabrication. For comparison, the present global primary energy demand is over 13,371 million tons of oil equivalents (MTOE) [6].

A more comprehensive study would naturally use more realistic assumptions about solar hours related to geographical location into account than in this study. However, we do not believe that such details would change the overall picture that material constraints pose a challenge for moving solar technology from its present small scale (134 GWp installed capacity by the end of 2013, resulting in ~14 Mtoe globally) to production of globally significant amounts of energy [61].

Even though the consumption of rare materials is only a few grams per square meter, the diffuse influx of solar energy requires large areas to provide significant energy amounts. This results in considerable material use that could possibly surpass production capacity and resource availability for rapid growth rates.

Available reserves and resources were mostly taken from the USGS where available [15]. Reserve (or resource) data on some metals did not allow the USGS to make estimates compatible with their standards. In such cases, reserve estimates were taken from other sources: ruthenium, germanium [34], indium [62], gallium [38], and germanium [63].

Leena 2015 Table 2 supply constraints




Table 2. Potential contribution to future world energy supply constrained by available reserves and resources. Three cases with 10%, 50% and 100% diversions to solar energy applications were considered. For comparison, world primary energy consumption in 2014 was slightly more than 13,000 Mtoe, final energy consumption 4700 Mtoe and electricity consumption 1600 Mtoe [6].

Table 2 shows the results of the analysis in a matrix with respect to global reserves—and when possible to global resources—and with three different resource allocations to the solar sector, namely 10%, 50% and 100%. Depending on competing end-uses for the critical metals, different resource allocations seem reasonable. Global reserves reflect those deposits, which can be mined with current technology economically. Thus, figures related to reserves show a minimum level of how much solar energy can be produced with the technologies in question. Global resources can be understood as an upper limit. The estimations are very uncertain, and for some metals, even missing, and therefore estimations based on resources should be viewed critically.

  1. Discussion

For CdTe the constraining metal is tellurium. Currently 40% of the annual tellurium markets are consumed in the photovoltaic industry. The USGS does not give any resource estimation for reasons of data accuracy, and therefore the estimation used in the analysis refers to global tellurium reserves. In this case and assuming 50% market share, electricity production from CdTe panels would be limited to 40 Mtoe annually. However the reserve figure considers only tellurium from the anode slimes of copper refining with a currently relatively low recovery rate of approximately 40%. Fthenakis argues that the recovery rate could technically be as high as the recovery rate for copper in the electrolytic refining process, 80%. Even higher rates, such as 95% for gold, would technically be possible [64]. The question is more economical in nature, i.e., whether the price of tellurium is a sufficient incentive for higher recovery rates. In addition to copper mines, other geological reserves for tellurium exist, such as by-product in lead-zinc ores, primary tellurium mines, ocean crusts and sour oil and gas [65]. However, no resource estimation exists for these additional sources and therefore they are excluded from the analysis. Also the material intensity has a potential for remarkable improvements by a factor of four as shown by Woodhouse et al.: the efficiency can be almost doubled while, at the same time, the active layer thickness can be cut to 1 µm. It is however, not yet clear to what extent this potential will become reality for commercial applications [66]. In the optimistic case, this would allow more than 300 Mtoe or 3500 TWh of annual electricity production. This is comparable with the cumulative capacity of 0.9–1.8 TWp until 2050 modelled by Fthenakis [64].

Grätzel cells are constrained by the availability of ruthenium, which is currently used mostly in the electrical industry. Even if half of the known reserves were devoted to solar cell production, only some 300 Mtoe could be annually produced. CIGS technology is constrained by both indium and gallium. Indium is consumed currently to 90% for ITO production. Even if all available indium resources were to be used in the solar industry—an unrealistic assumption—a maximum of some 500 Mtoe as annual production seems plausible. Another technology dependent on indium is based on amorphous silicon. The dependency on germanium can be avoided by a tandem structure, which also has a stabilizing effect on the efficiency of the module. Thus, the constraining metal is indium. ITO films are also used beside solar energy in various other application areas such as flat panel displays, plasma displays or touch panels. Therefore, the upper limit for electricity produced by amorphous silicon seems to be in the range of some hundreds of Mtoe annually.

Silicon is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up approximately one fourth of it when measured by mass. However, Grandell and Thorenz foresaw a problem with scaling up silicon technologies due to material constraints from silver, commonly used as an electrode material, and estimated the upper limit to be some 13,000 TWh annual electricity production or 1000 Mtoe [19]. This estimate is based on a very low silver content (0.82 g/m2), which already reflects a technical approach to reduce silver consumption, such as the “wrap through technology” or substitution of silver with copper, both of which are currently in development stage. Indium currently used in ITO could possibly be replaced by FTO (fluorine doped tin oxide) and AZO (aluminium doped zinc oxid).

The above mentioned figures can be compared with world primary energy consumption (13,000 Mtoe), world final energy consumption (4700 Mtoe) or world electricity production (1600 Mtoe). All figures refer to the year 2014 [6]. The world energy sector is expected to experience a shift away from fuels towards electricity due to climate concerns and energy security questions. Currently one third of the global final energy consumption is due to the traffic sector, mainly consisting of oil consumption. In the future this will be to a large degree electricity consumption. Additionally, the rising economies in the developing world are another factor stressing the need for more electricity production. If we assume that 50% of the currently known global resources of Te and 10% of the resources of Ru and In are devoted to the solar industry, we could generate 500 Mtoe, or in the most optimistic case, 800 Mtoe of solar electricity annually. Additionally c-Si technology provides more potential for PV electricity generation, but the technology is constrained by silver dependence and it remains to be seen to which degree new approaches with decreased silver content will enter the market.

If a future global energy system based on solar energy is sought, it is vital to consider material challenges or alternatively focus on other technological pathways than those explored here. A practical path for future research is use of alternative and more abundant materials if solar energy is to become a sustainable backbone of the global energy system. Todorov et al. showed that thin-films based on the abundant copper-zinc-tinchalcogenide kesterites (Cu2ZnSnS4 and Cu2ZnSnSe4) could reach over 9.6% conversion efficiency [67]. The selenium usage in these cells could in theory be entirely replaced by sulphur, creating a thin-film cell only relying on abundant materials. For certain other technologies, such as dye-sensitized cells, it would be fairly easy to replace scarce or rare materials with more abundant ones. Organic dyes that do not required noble metal complexes have been discussed by Hara et al. [68].

  1. Conclusions

When summarizing several promising solar energy technologies, it was found that they rely on several critical metals as important components. Many technologies are likely going to face constraints in material supply if scaled to the TW level (Table 2). Material questions are an important factor for the development of several future solar energy technologies. Without a holistic treatment of required material questions, solar energy production outlooks should be regarded with sound skepticism. Increasing demand for scarce materials may become a factor of importance in the future. Many of the unusual materials are key ingredients to various technologies, including several of the more promising solar energy applications.

There are prospects for reducing material requirements by significant amounts for CIGS and CdTe by utilizing even thinner films and advanced light trapping technologies [9,66]. Large scale development of the studied solar technologies would likely require either substantial reductions in material intensity, technical advancements in electricity generation efficiency or increased world mineral reserves as well as significant increases in mine production.

These results points to obstacles for certain solar technologies when it comes to reaching a TW scale. Indium, tellurium, germanium and ruthenium are in potentially tight supply. Research and development paths that aim to circumvent the dependence on rare materials are generally encouraged from a longer perspective. Additionally, the constraints imposed by nature on critical metals may direct solar energy research to usage of other materials in the long run. Solar energy technologies that do not require rare elements are the only feasible technology for large-scale implementation. CdTe, CIGS, a-Si and ruthenium-based Grätzel cells will all be limited by material availability and only able to provide small shares of the present world energy consumption (Table 2). It is important to use CIGS, CdTe and the other technologies discussed in this study as bridges to alternative and less limited solar energy applications.


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Getting rid of nuclear waste. Senate hearing on bill1240

This post is about a Senate Hearing on nuclear waste bill S. 1240, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013. Excerpts follow this introduction.

What’s at stake if we don’t store nuclear waste in a safe, permanent place?

A Nuclear spent fuel fire at Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania could force 18 million people to evacuate.

How could that happen?

The EMP Commission estimates a nationwide blackout lasting one year could kill up to 9 of 10 Americans through starvation, disease, and societal collapse.

Notable quotes from this Senate Hearing:

David Lochbaum, Union of Concerned Scientists. “Spent fuel pools initially designed to hold slightly over one reactor core now hold up to 9 reactor cores.  Unlike the reactor cores, the spent fuel pools are not protected by redundant emergency makeup and cooling systems and or housed within robust containment structures having reinforced concrete walls several feet thick. Thus, large amounts of radioactive material – which under the NWPA should be stored within a federal repository designed to safely and securely isolate it from the environment for at least 10,000 years – instead remains at the reactor sites”.

Senator Feinstein, California: “production of nuclear power has a significant downside: it produces nuclear waste that will take hundreds of thousands of years to decay.  And unlike most nuclear nations, the United States has no program to consolidate waste in centralized facilities”.

David Boyd, vice chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission doesn’t believe that a new, permanent repository is likely before 2048, and such a distant date is not acceptable.  It’s clear to him that “no one involved today is likely to be around to accept responsibility for non-compliance [with the 2048 goal date]. Obviously, a target date so far in the future eliminates any sense of urgency…moreover, the deadline is so distant that potential hosts for [interim] storage facilities would be justifiably nervous about becoming de facto permanent sites”.

I think it is outrageous Yucca mountain was shut down to get Henry Reid elected to the Senate.  Yucca was thoroughly vetted, as Alley explains in “Too hot to touch: the problem of High-level nuclear waste”.    After Yucca mountain was rejected, a Blue Ribbon Commission was set up to find a new permanent energy storage site, and they recommended states should volunteer.  But as Senator Risch of Idaho notes: We’re waiting for a stampede of people to show up and volunteer to have this storage facility in their State. So far the crowd hasn’t shown up. Indeed I’m not aware of anybody who has volunteered. So where do we go if no one volunteers?  S.B. 1240 didn’t pass, nor did a preceding nuclear waste bill S. 3469, so it’s not clear if the latest bill, S. 854, will either. Why not?

  1. The National Academy of Engineers published a paper by Garric and Di Bella (2014) that speculated the bill didn’t pass because it doesn’t have high legislative priority and the Department of Energy hasn’t done anything to advance nuclear waste policy legislation (Garrick, B.J., Di Bella, C.A.W. 2014. Technical Advances for Geologic Disposal of high activity waste.  The Bridge, National Academy of Engineering).
  2. Many environmental groups, such as the Nuclear information & resource service, are worried about safely transporting high-level waste, and got 42,000 signatures against S.B. 1240.
  3. Geoffrey H. Fettus of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explains in testimony below why the NRDC is opposed to S. 1240.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer


Senate 113–123. July 30, 2013. Nuclear Waste hearing on bill S. 1240, the nuclear waste administration act. U.S. Senate Hearing.  115 pages.


The byproducts of nuclear energy represent some of the nation’s most hazardous materials, but for decades we have failed to find a solution for their safe storage and permanent disposal.

Most experts agree that this failure is not a scientific problem or an engineering impossibility; it is a failure of government. The Nuclear Waste Administration Act would finally establish a comprehensive nuclear waste policy, addressing the ever-growing amounts of highly radioactive waste that are being stored in communities across the country, costing taxpayers billions of dollars. This issue is too important for politics as usual, which is why I’m proud to join Senators Wyden, Alexander and Murkowski in introducing the Nuclear Waste Administration Act.

This bill would create an independent entity—the Nuclear Waste Administration—with the sole purpose of managing nuclear waste. It would authorize the siting and construction of three types of waste facilities: (1) a ‘‘pilot’’ waste storage facility for waste from shut down reactors, (2) additional storage facilities for waste from other facilities, and (3) permanent repositories to dispose of nuclear waste. The bill also creates a consent-based siting process for both storage facilities and repositories, based on the successful efforts to build waste facilities in other countries. Fees currently collected from nuclear power ratepayers would fund nuclear waste management. Finally, the new Nuclear Waste Administration will be held accountable for meeting Federal responsibilities.

The United States has 104 operating commercial nuclear power reactors that supply one-fifth of our electricity.

However, production of this nuclear power has a significant downside: it produces nuclear waste that will take hundreds of thousands of years to decay.

And unlike most nuclear nations, the United States has no program to consolidate waste in centralized facilities. Instead, we leave the waste next to operating and shut down reactors sitting in pools of water or in cement and steel dry casks. Today, approximately 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored at commercial reactor sites. This total grows by 2,000 metric tons each year.

In addition to commercial nuclear waste, we must also address waste generated from creating our nuclear weapons stockpile and powering our Navy. Although the Federal government signed contracts committing to pick up commercial waste beginning in 1998, the Federal government’s waste program has failed to take possession of a single fuel assembly. Our government has not honored its contractual obligations. We have been sued, and we have lost. So today, the Federal taxpayer is paying power plant owners to store the waste at reactor sites all over the nation. The cost of this liability is forecast to reach $20 billion by 2020. As we try to manage our growing national debt, we simply cannot tolerate continued inaction.

In January 2012, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future completed a two-year comprehensive study and published unanimous recommendations for fixing our nation’s broken nuclear waste management program. The Commission found that the only long-term, technically feasible solution for this waste is to dispose of it in a permanent underground repository. Until such a facility is opened—which will take many decades—spent nuclear fuel will continue to be an expensive, dangerous burden. That is why the Commission also recommended that we establish an interim storage facility program to begin consolidating this dangerous waste, in addition to working on a permanent repository. Finally, after studying the experience of all nuclear nations, the Commission found that siting these facilities is most likely to succeed if the host states and communities are welcome and willing partners, not adversaries. The Commission recommended that we adopt a consent based nuclear facility siting process.

One of the most important provisions in this legislation is the pilot program to begin consolidating nuclear waste at safer, more cost-efficient centralized facilities on an interim basis. The legislation will facilitate interim storage of nuclear waste in above-ground canisters called dry casks. These facilities would be located in willing communities, away from population centers, and on thoroughly assessed sites.

Some members of Congress argue that we should ignore the need to interim storage sites and instead push forward with a plan to open Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage site.

But the debate over Yucca Mountain—a controversial waste repository proposed in the Nevada desert, which lacks state approval—is unlikely to be settled any time soon.

I believe the debate over a permanent repository does not need to be settled in order to recognize the need for interim storage. Even if Congress and a future president reverse course and move forward with Yucca Mountain, interim storage facilities would still be an essential component of a badly needed national nuclear waste strategy.

By creating interim storage sites—a top recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission—we would begin reducing federal liability while our nation sites and builds a permanent repository. Interim storage facilities could also provide alternative storage locations in emergency situations requiring spent nuclear fuel to be moved quickly from a reactor site.

Permanently disposing of our current inventory of nuclear waste will take several decades. Because of that long timeline, interim storage facilities allow us to achieve significant cost savings for taxpayers and utility ratepayers by shuttering a number of nuclear plants.

One thing is certain: inaction is the most costly and least safe option. Our longstanding stalemate is costly to taxpayers, utility ratepayers and communities that are involuntarily saddled with waste after local nuclear power plants have shut down. And it leaves nuclear waste all over the country, stored in all different ways. It’s long overdue for the government to honor its obligation to safely dispose of the nation’s nuclear waste.


Senator JAMES E. RISCH, IDAHOWith all due respect to my good friend from Nevada, we’re waiting for a stampede of people to show up and volunteer to have this storage facility in their State. So far the crowd hasn’t shown up. Indeed I’m not aware of anybody who has shown up and raised their hand and said this is what we want. So where do we go if indeed no one does step up?

Secretary MONIZ.  As we have seen from experience in the last 20 years, it’s not workable without State consent. There are many things that need to be done by the Congress and by the State to make it work. Let’s face it, the default option is a highly distributed storage.

Senator RISCH. That is your default. Secretary Moniz. It’s not my default.



Spent fuel pools initially designed to hold slightly over one reactor core now hold up to 9 reactor cores.  Unlike the reactor cores, the spent fuel pools are not protected by redundant emergency makeup and cooling systems and or housed within robust containment structures having reinforced concrete walls several feet thick. Thus, large amounts of radioactive material – which under the NWPA should be stored within a federal repository designed to safely and securely isolate it from the environment for at least 10,000 years – instead remains at the reactor sites.

UCS wants to see the status quo ended. We strongly advocate accelerating the transfer from spent fuel pools into dry storage.

Accelerating the transfer from spent fuel pools into dry storage reduces risk. The risk reduction is undeniable. The contaminated land area drops from 9400 square miles to 170 square miles and the number of displaced persons drops from 4.1 million to 81,000 [Note: this refers to the Peach Bottom nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania].

For the record, all of the contaminated area and displaced persons in both cases is due to radioactivity released from spent fuel pools. Not a single person is forced to leave from their home, leave their home, due to radioactivity released from dry storage.

The NRC triaged the relative hazards tackling the highest first and the lowest last. After Fukushima the NRC directed its inspectors to examine reactor core and spent fuel pool cooling systems for vulnerabilities in the event of similar challenge. The NRC did not instruct its inspectors to waste a minute examining the low, dry storage hazard. We urge the Congress to accelerate the transfer from spent fuel pools into dry storage. This does not introduce an additional step in the road to repository since spent fuel must be removed from the pools to dry cask in order to be transported. It merely entails taking this step sooner rather than later.

Americans deserve this protection.

Had the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) been implemented as enacted, the federal government would have begun accepting spent fuel in 1998. The nominal 3,000 metric tons per year transfer rate from plant sites to the federal repository exceeded the rate at which spent fuel was being generated. Thus, the amount of spent fuel stored at plant sites around the country would have peaked in 1998 at around 38,000 metric tons and steadily declined thereafter.  The delay in opening the federal repository meant that spent fuel continued to accumulate at the plant sites. By year end 2011, over 67,000 metric tons remained at plant sites while 0 ounces resided in a federal repository under the NWPA.

The departure from the NWPA plan forced nuclear plant owners to pay for expanded onsite spent fuel storage capacity (e.g., replacing original low-density storage racks in spent fuel pools with high-density racks and building onsite dry storage facilities to supplement storage in wet pools). Plant owners have sued the federal government for recovery of costs they incurred for storing spent fuel at their sites that should have been in a federal repository under the NWPA. The U.S Government Accountability Office reported that these lawsuits cost American taxpayers $1.6 billion with an estimated $19.1 billion of additional liability through 2020.

UCS wants to see the status quo ended by reducing the inventories of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools. We strongly advocate accelerating the transfer of irradiated fuel from spent fuel pools to dry storage. In our view, currently available and used dry storage technologies can be used to substantially reduce the inventory of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools, with a goal of limiting it to the equivalent of one or two reactor cores per pool.

Had the federal government met its obligations under the NWPA, spent fuel pools would not contain up to 9 reactor core’s worth of irradiated fuel. More fuel in the pools means a greater risk to the surrounding public if there is a problem with the pools that releases radioactivity.

Because the federal government failed to meet its obligations under the NWPA, spent fuel pools contain much more irradiated fuel and are essentially loaded guns aimed at neighboring communities.  



On September 12, 2012, NRDC testified before this committee on S. 3469, the template for S. 1240. We commended the preceding bill’s adherence to three principles that, in our view, must be complied with if America is ever to develop an adequate, safe solution for nuclear waste—(1) radioactive waste from the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons program must be buried in technically sound deep geologic repositories, the waste permanently isolated from the human and natural environments; (2) governing legislation must contain a strong link between developing waste storage facilities and establishing final deep geologic repositories that ensures no ‘‘temporary’’ storage facility becomes a permanent one; and (3) nuclear waste legislation must embody the fundamental concept that the polluter pays the bill for the contamination that the polluter creates.

NRDC cannot support S. 1240 in its present form because the bill: 1) severs the crucial link between storage and disposal; 2) places highest priority on establishing a Federal interim storage facility at the expense of getting the geologic repository program back on track; 3) fails to ensure that adequate geologic repository standards will be in place before the search for candidate geologic repositories sites commences; 4) fails to provide states with adequate regulatory authority over radiation-related health and safety issues associated with nuclear waste facilities in their respective states; and 5) fails to prohibit the Administrator(or Board) from using funds at his disposal to engage in, or support spent fuel reprocessing (chemical or metallurgical), ostensibly to improve the waste form for permanent disposal of spent fuel.

Regrettably, it appears that the authors of S. 1240 have rejected several key recommendations of the President’s Blue Ribbon Commission for America’s Nuclear Future (BRC). Instead, the bill wrongly prioritizes the narrow aim of getting a government-run interim spent fuel storage facility up and running as soon as possible— a priority with potential financial benefits for business interests.

Of the five objections enumerated above, the first one—severing the link between interim and final nuclear waste storage—is possibly of greatest concern because it means the bill could result in the creation of de facto long-term above-ground repositories. As we’ve stressed since the initiation of the BRC process, law should establish a strong linkage that bars an interim or temporary storage site from becoming a de facto repository. NRDC concurs with the former Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee who cautioned that interim storage needs to be done ‘‘only as an integral part of the repository program and not as an alternative to, or de facto substitute for, permanent disposal.’’

Unfortunately S. 1240 goes further and effectively eviscerates the link between storage and disposal. This guarantees a repeat of the mistakes we have seen made over the past half century and virtually ensures a moribund repository program. Further, NRDC believes that if S. 1240 becomes law, a future Congress will be forced to deal with this issue once again, with no meaningful disposal solution on the horizon.

After more than 55 years of failure, the history of U.S. nuclear waste policy offers Congress all the lessons it needs and it can ignore them only at its peril. Efforts such as the failed bedded salt repository in Lyons, Kansas (1972) and the 1975 abandonment of the 100-year Retrievable Surface Storage Facility (RSSF) are decades distant, but directly relevant to this Committee’s consideration of S. 1240. Adopting a short-term, politically expedient course for interim storage at the expense of durable solutions is the recipe for failure for both storage and disposal facilities. The failed Yucca Mountain project is merely the latest and largest of these debacles. While the BRC rightly recognized the 1987 amendments to the NWPA were ‘‘highly prescriptive’’ and ‘‘widely viewed as being driven too heavily by political considerations,’’ the BRC failed to take into account (or recount) all that has transpired over the past three decades.

Put bluntly, first the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and then Congress corrupted the site selection process that resulted in selecting Yucca Mountain as the only option for a deep geologic repository. The original NWPA strategy contemplated DOE first choosing the best out of four or five geologic media, then selecting a best candidate site in each medium. Next, DOE was to narrow the choices to the best three alternatives, finally picking a preferred site for the first of two repositories. A similar process was to be used for a second repository. Such a process, if it had been allowed to play out as intended, would have been consistent with elements of the adaptive, phased, and science-based process the BRC Report later recommended.

But instead, DOE first selected sites it had pre-determined. Then in May, 1986 DOE announced it was abandoning a search for a second repository and narrowed the candidate sites from nine to three, leaving in the mix the Hanford Reservation in Washington (in basalt medium), Deaf Smith County, Texas (in bedded salt medium) and Yucca Mountain in Nevada (in unsaturated volcanic tuff medium). All equity in the site selection process was abandoned in 1987 when Congress, confronted with cost of characterizing three sites and strong opposition to the DOE program, amended the NWPA of 1982 to direct DOE to abandon the two-repository strategy and to develop only the Yucca Mountain site. Not by coincidence, at the time Yucca Mountain was DOE’s preferred site, as well as being the politically expedient choice for Congress. The abandonment of the NWPA site selection process jettisoned any pretense of a science-based approach, led directly to the loss of support from the State of Nevada, diminished Congressional support (except to ensure the proposed Yucca site remained the sole site), and eviscerated public support for the Yucca Mountain project.

By ending all impetus for the disposal program, S. 1240 risks sending the nation down another dead-end road.

DAVID C. BOYD Chairman, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Committee on Electricity, Vice Chair, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission answers questions:

Question . DOE stated in its response to the BRC report its goal to have a repository constructed and operating by 2048. 35 years is a long time to wait. Is this goal reasonable, and if not, what do you believe is a more logical timeframe?

Answer. Based on the history of the repository program, we are not confident a repository will be operating by 2048. In the April 18, 1983 Federal Register, DOE made this statement, ‘‘the 1998 date (to begin permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel) is called for in the Act, and we believe it to be a realistic date. Our performance will be judged by meeting that date.’’ Performance to-date is non-existent. The bill’s target date of December 2048 (Section 504(b)(C)) for such a repository to be operational is not acceptable. The date is taken from the DOE Strategy’s proposed repository date. That document provides zero support or rationale for this ‘‘new’’ target date. The only thing that is clear is that no one involved with this issue today is likely to be around to accept responsibility for non-compliance. Obviously, a target date so far in the future effectively eliminates any sense of urgency necessary to compel timely government action. Moreover, the deadline is so distant that potential hosts for consolidated storage facilities would be justifiably nervous about becoming de facto permanent sites. We believe there is no way to come up with a timeframe, logical or not, unless this Administration and future Administrations commit to upholding the law and this Congress as well as future Congresses appropriate the necessary funds that have been and continue to be collected for this purpose.

Question. How many storage facilities and repositories do you believe will be needed to handle this nation’s nuclear waste? Should they be co-located? Should they be geographically spread across the country?

Answer. NARUC, as an organization, has not taken a specific position on either issue. Many argue that even if the license for Yucca Mountain is approved and additional waste storage is authorized there, a new geological repository may be required. Logic suggests that, if collocation is a scientifically safe option, it can only reduce the complexity and cost of both transport and security.

MARVIN S. FERTEL, President and Chief Executive Officer, Nuclear Energy Institute answers questions

Question. Several states have laws prohibiting construction of new nuclear power plants until a solution has been found for nuclear waste. To what extent do you see the uncertainty of US policy on spent fuel storage and disposal to be a barrier to the future use of nuclear power?

Answer. A few states do have moratoria on construction until a disposal pathway is available.  While these bans do create a barrier to the construction of new nuclear plants in those specific states, the primary barriers are the economic fundamentals of electricity generation, low economic growth and no growth in electricity demand, which has led to excess generating capacity in most parts of the country, and the low cost of natural gas. Five new reactors are currently under construction in the United States and, in these instances, used fuel management was not a significant consideration in the final decision to authorize the projects. The current lack of a federal program, however, did contribute to the Court’s decision to vacate NRC’s temporary storage rule (waste confidence rule). This has resulted in a temporary halt to licensing of new reactors and completion of licensing renewals. So it is imperative that a sustainable program be established as soon as possible.

Question. S.1240 establishes a category for priority waste that literally gets priority when it comes to access to Federal storage. This includes spent fuel at decommissioned power plants, for example. Are there other categories of spent fuel shipments that should get priority that have not been included? For example, should nuclear power plants that have had particular types of safety problems and have more often received a worse-than-‘‘green’’ rating from the NRC get priority?

Answer. The industry is supportive of initially giving priority to used fuel from shutdown plants without an operating reactor. Moving this used fuel would permit the new management entity to ramp-up operations while achieving immediate results and a reduction in liabilities for the taxpayers and it would permit sites which have only used fuel storage remaining to be fully decommissioned and the land used for other purposes. The order in which used fuel will be picked up from commercial reactors is governed by the principle of ‘‘oldest fuel first’’ as outlined in the contracts between the companies and the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy collects used fuel discharge information and, based on this information, creates a queue for prioritizing shipments. This approach for shipping used fuel from commercial nuclear reactors provides a good legal framework but does not provide a practical and efficient framework for moving used fuel. At the appropriate time, the structure of the queue must be addressed by the commercial entities. The goal at that time should be to establish a priority list for used fuel that minimizes operational burdens on operating reactors while optimizing overall system efficiency and cost.

The industry currently safely and securely manages used fuel at reactor sites and decommissioned sites. Operational issues that are identified by either the industry or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are appropriately resolved through the existing regulatory framework.

While the industry is committed to continual safety improvement, priority should be given to those areas that will achieve the largest safety benefit. For example, the industry’s resources should be devoted to those safety improvements associated with reactor operations and spent fuel pool monitoring (a lesson learned from the Fukushima accident—see question 5 for additional information) and not arbitrarily reducing the inventory of the pools as a result of a worse- than-‘‘green’’ rating from NRC, which in and of itself may not be very safety significant. The legislation as currently drafted provides for ‘‘emergency’’ shipments. This category, in addition to the defined ‘‘priority’’ shipments, provides the new management entity and the industry with sufficient flexibility to manage used fuel without legislatively establishing additional criteria for prioritizing used fuel shipments.

Question. DOE stated in its response to the BRC report its goal to have a repository constructed and operating by 2048. 35 years is a long time to wait. Is this goal reasonable, and if not, what do you believe is a more logical timeframe?

Answer. The industry reacted with frustration to the target date of 2048 for the opening of a new repository. The industry still supports the completion of the Yucca Mountain licensing process and believes that if successfully licensed and appropriately managed and funded the Yucca Mountain repository could be opened well before 2048.

However, if a second repository program is initiated, the industry believes that the target date for beginning operations should be no more than 25 years after program commencement. Being able to meet or exceed this time period, though, will require a focused effort from beginning to end from a new management entity solely dedicated to the project with unfettered access to the Nuclear Waste Fee payments and the corpus of the Nuclear Waste Fund. Key aspects of this effort must include generic repository (NRC and/or EPA) regulations prior to completion of siting, and a requirement for the NRC to complete the licensing review in three years similar to the review period for the Yucca Mountain license application.

Question. This bill sets up a program for the Federal Government to build new storage facilities for spent fuel. I think it makes sense to move spent fuel if it’s going to be cheaper and safer, for example, at decommissioned nuclear power plants where there’s not going to be ongoing operations. However, at some nuclear power plants, there are going to be continued operations, and maintenance, and security, and environmental monitoring for decades to come. It might NOT be cheaper or safer to move this fuel to a central storage site, especially since it will need to be moved again to the repository. Should the bill include a program to help pay for continued on-site storage at nuclear power plant sites if that would be safer and less expensive? What else could Congress do to encourage movement of spent fuel out of reactor pools, such as allowing the Attorney General to enter into negotiations with the utilities to seek their voluntary agreement to transfer their waste to dry cask storage as part of a settlement agreement in return for providing interim storage off-site?

Answer. Ultimately, the quickest way to reduce the inventory in the pools is to establish a sustainable program that can move used fuel off the sites quicker than it is being generated. The industry is committed to the establishment of such a program and will work with the new management entity to maximize efficiency and minimize program cost.

Question. How many storage facilities and repositories do you believe will be needed to handle this nation’s nuclear waste? Should they be co-located? Should they be geographically spread across the country?

Answer. As an estimate, the U.S. commercial nuclear industry has about 70,000 metric tons of spent fuel stored at reactor sites around the country (not including defense waste). The commercial industry produces another 2,000 metric tons of used fuel each year. The number of storage facilities and repositories needed would depend ultimately on the outcomes of the recommended consent-based siting process and the resolution of the Yucca Mountain licensing process. An effective consent-based siting process will permit the state, affected local community and/or tribe to determine what size facility they are willing to host. So the number of facilities greatly depends on what sites come forward during the consent-based process and how much nuclear waste each site can technically and politically accommodate.

The number of nuclear waste management facilities also depends on the schedule for when such facilities become operational. If the Yucca Mountain repository was operational and the statutory limit of 70,000 metric tons was removed, the U.S. may only need that one disposal site as it is generally agreed, based on technical studies performed by the Department of Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute, that Yucca Mountain can accommodate significantly more used fuel than the statutory limit.

Co-locating a repository and storage facility would have advantages. However, NEI believes that the timelines for determining if a site is suitable to host a repository will be considerably longer than for a storage facility. As a result, NEI questions whether attempting to comply with this preference may create unforeseen challenges to siting a facility. If multiple sites for storage and repository are needed, the industry would support geographically diverse locations to minimize the transportation of nuclear waste over long distances. Multiple locations also provide redundancy that would greatly enhance the reliability of the whole nuclear waste management system.

Sally Jameson, Delegate to the Maryland House of Delegates, Chair, Nuclear Legislative Working Group, National Conference of State Legislatures answers questions

Question. Several states have laws prohibiting construction of new nuclear power plants until a solution has been found for nuclear waste. To what extent do you see the uncertainty of US policy on spent fuel storage and disposal to be a barrier to the future use of nuclear power?

Answer. Even though a few states have rescinded their prohibition in the last several years, not having a solution for the removal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) certainly gives those who oppose nuclear power plants an argument that creates a certain level of fear in the public.

Not having a solution for Spent Nuclear Fuel has clearly propagated questions about fuel pool safety, over packing of pools two to ten times their design capacity and storing spent fuel in highly populated areas or adjacent to populations.

Question. Historically, citizens, local governments, and tribes have expressed interest in hosting nuclear waste facilities, but state-level opposition prevented any deals from being signed. Our bill tries to address this problem by clearly spelling out a role for the state from the beginning. Are there other measures that we should include to address potential differences between local communities and broader, state-wide interests?

Answer. There are a number of legislative options for ensuring the consultation process can integrate all aspects of state government and assure state legislative input. As state legislators represent local communities, ensuring state legislator participation in the consent process would build a system for addressing any potential differences between local communities and state-wide interests.

DAVID LOCHBAUM, Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists  answers questions

Question. The departure from the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act plan forced nuclear plant operators to pay for expanded onsite spent fuel storage capacity. In order to meet this increased need, nuclear plants simply crowded their existing spent fuel pools, placing radioactive materials very close to one another, increasing the risk of a meltdown. Dry cask storage can reduce the crowding of irradiated fuel in spent fuel pools, bringing the pools back to housing a safe level of reactor cores. I am concerned about the safety of workers and the communities adjacent to nuclear plants with crowded fuel pools. Dry cask storage is currently housing only 30% of Wisconsin’s nuclear waste. In order to safeguard communities and plant workers, how can the Department of Energy, or the Nuclear Waste Administration if applicable, incentivize nuclear plant operators to switch to dry storage technology?

Answer. UCS strongly advocates accelerating the transfer of irradiated fuel assemblies from spent fuel pools into dry storage via either the carrot or stick approach. The stick approach could entail measures in the bill that require owners to transfer all irradiated fuel discharged from the reactor more than 10 years ago into dry storage within 20 years of enactment and then to sustain transfers to limit residence time in spent fuel pools to only irradiated fuel discharged from reactors within 10 years. Another stick might be to codify guidelines adopted by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission after 9/11 to reduce risk of spent fuel pool sabotage. For example, the bill could require that all spent fuel pools be reconfigured to a 1×4 arrangement (one irradiated fuel assembly with three empty storage cells) within 5 years of enactment.


On the carrot side, the bill could pay for dry storage canisters and associated transfers. Another carrot might be for the bill to clearly allow owners of operating reactors to use the decommissioning funds required under 10 CFR 50.75  to pay for onsite dry storage. Or, the bill could provide a carrot in the form of treating any nuclear plant site that has reduced the inventory or irradiated fuel assemblies within its spent fuel pools to less than the equivalent of two reactor cores as having Priority Waste eligible for shipment to a Nuclear Waste Facility. The bill might also feature a combination of carrot(s) and stick(s)—carrot(s) to reward owners who pro-actively undertake accelerated transfers into dry storage and stick(s) to protect the public from further undue lagging.


Question. Our bill establishes a category for priority waste that literally gets priority when it comes to access to Federal storage. This includes spent fuel at decommissioned power plants, for example. Are there other categories of spent fuel shipments that should get priority that have not been included? For example, should nuclear power plants that have had particular types of safety problems and have more often received a worse-than-‘‘green’’ rating from the NRC get priority?


Answer. During the July 30 hearing, Chairman Wyden spoke of spent fuel storage measures that can reduce costs while improving safety. Those reasonable principles may identify spent fuel shipments having secondary priority. For example, dry storage methods are long lasting but not immortal. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued Information Notice 2012-20 (http:// last fall about potential chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking of dry cask storage system canisters. Last year the NRC also issued Information Notice 2012-13 (http:// about aging degradation of safety materials in spent fuel pools. Owners of operating reactors could pay for the measures necessary to protect safety margins from such degradation mechanisms. There is also the potential for an existing onsite dry storage facility to become filled, requiring its owner to pay for supplemental onsite storage capacity (e.g, construct additional horizontal concrete vaults or pour larger concrete pads for vertical casks). In such cases, shipment from operating reactor sites to a Federal storage site might reduce overall system costs while also increasing safety levels or preserving safety margins. The bill should empower the entity tasked with managing the Federal storage program to authorize spent fuel shipments from operating reactor sites as a secondary priority based on safety management and cost savings grounds.



Question. How many storage facilities and repositories do you believe will be needed to handle this nation’s nuclear waste? Should they be co-located? Should they be geographically spread across the country?


Answer. Science and the consent-based selection process provided for in the legislation should answer these questions rather than the legislation itself. As Senator Alexander suggested during the July 30 committee hearing, a site might require conditions on its acceptance of a storage facility or repository. Those conditions might cap the amount of material received at the site or require that it not be used for both interim storage and ultimate disposal of nuclear waste. The Nuclear Waste Administration would also be a party in the site selection process and would presumably not authorize selection of a site that would result in the need to find too many other sites. If the legislation were to specify x locations with some here and others there, it could impede the ability of the Nuclear Waste Administration and the consent-based process from finding the best answers to these key questions.


Question. This bill sets up a program for the Federal Government to build new storage facilities for spent fuel. I think it makes sense to move spent fuel if it’s going to be cheaper and safer, for example, at decommissioned nuclear power plants where there’s not going to be ongoing operations. However, at some nuclear power plants, there are going to be continued operations, and maintenance, and security, and environmental monitoring for decades to come. It might NOT be cheaper or safer to move this fuel to a central storage site, especially since it will need to be moved again to the repository. Should the bill include a program to help pay for continued on-site storage at nuclear power plant sites if that would be safer and less expensive?

Answer. Yes, the bill should provide funding for continued onsite storage at operating reactor sites when it reduces risk and saves money. The bill should not fund higher risk and higher cost onsite storage methods. For example, operating reactors with spent fuel pools nearly filled to capacity may be required to shuffle the fuel assemblies within the pools to maintain the desired old fuel/new fuel configuration or be required to implement additional maintenance/monitoring measures to mitigate the neutron absorber degradation problem the NRC described last year in Information Notice 2012-13 (available online at ML121660156.pdf). Because the cheaper and lower risk alternative would be to offload fuel assemblies from overcrowded spent fuel pools into dry storage onsite, the bill should not finance this folly. But the bill would improve safety and lower costs by providing financial incentives for owners to accelerate the transfer from spent fuel pools to dry storage. The bill could do so by paying for the dry storage canisters and the costs of loading them.

RON WYDEN, OREGON, CHAIRMAN.   It’s my strong belief that the country needs a way to permanently dispose of nuclear waste from commercial nuclear power plants and Defense programs. Continuing to pass the burden of safely disposing of nuclear waste to future generations is not an option. That’s true whether the waste is at shuttered nuclear power plants or if it’s in tanks alongside the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The Federal Government is contractually obligated to take spent fuel for disposal and this liability, already in the billions of dollars, continues to grow with each passing day. The Federal Government is morally obligated to make sure that wastes from the Nation’s nuclear weapons programs are safely disposed of in a permanent repository.

Whether you happen to be for or against opening Yucca Mountain, Yucca Mountain was not designed to be big enough to handle all of the spent fuel in nuclear waste that will need disposal. Today there are roughly 70,000 metric tons of spent fuel already sitting at nuclear plants around our country. The GAO, the Government Accountability Office, estimates that that amount is going to double just from the current generation of nuclear power plants, to over 140,000 metric tons.

Seventy thousand metric tons is the statutory capacity limit for Yucca Mountain until there is a second repository. That leaves no room for the commercial spent fuel that will be generated this year or next year or the year after that. It also leaves no room for the spent fuel from the Navy or for the tens of thousands of canisters of high level waste expected from Hanford and the other Department of Energy nuclear weapons sites.

Continuing to keep spent fuel and high level waste where they are today—in reactor pools that were not originally designed to store large quantities of spent fuel for long periods of time at DOE nuclear sites and at decommissioned nuclear power plants— is an exercise in institutional inertia. I was reminded of a harsh truth when I visited Fukushima. Accidents don’t always follow safety precautions. If plant safety can be improved by reducing the amount of spent fuel stored in existing pools, then there’s an option that ought to be on the table.

It is also is time to come to terms with the fact that having permanent disposal capacity for all of the waste that the country is going to have is not going to be up and running any time soon.

No one who has commented on the subject believes that the U.S. Department of Energy should continue to be in charge of this program. S. 1240 would create a new agency with a 5 member independent oversight board to site and manage the government’s nuclear waste, storage and disposal facilities. There is also a general consensus that the Federal Government needs to work with State and tribal governments in siting these facilities, not in conflict with them.

Finally the bill would also authorize the Secretary of Energy to revisit the decision made after the 1982 act was passed to commingle commercial spent fuel and high level waste in the same disposal system. S. 1240 would require the new agency to begin right away to site new facilities for storage of priority waste. Priority waste includes spent fuel at decommissioned nuclear plants and emergency shipments of spent fuel that present a hazard where they’re stored.

However, storage is not permanent. It’s temporary. The new agency is required to also site a permanent repository. Financial commitment to move ahead with the repository and selection of potential sites for that repository are prerequisites for any additional spent fuel storage facilities to come online.

It has now been 3 decades since Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. In many ways the country is no closer to having a permanent solution to these problems than it was then. If anything, there is even less confidence in the government’s ability to solve these problems and meet its commitments to utilities and their ratepayers. Our goal with this legislation is to get the permanent repository program back on track and to make sure spent fuel and nuclear waste are handled safely until it is.

LISA MURKOWSKI, U.S. SENATOR FROM ALASKA.  I’d like to mention an area that I think we’re going to need to address more comprehensibly during this committee process and that’s the transportation of waste in dry cask storage to a storage facility or repository.

According to the NEI, more than 3,000 shipments of used nuclear fuel have been made over the past 40 years by rail, by truck and sometimes barge. While there are a handful of transport containers that are certified by the NRC, there are nearly 1700 dry cask units at operating reactors and stranded and shut down sites representing over 19,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel. However, no transport containers have been procured for those units in large part because they just don’t have any place to go.

But even if we were to pass this legislation tomorrow significant work needs to be done at the stranded sites. The priority sites that are identified in the bill just to get the storage casks to a rail head. DOE’s Office of Fuel Cycle Technology estimates that it will likely take 12 to 15 years to remove the waste from the stranded sites with the first 5 to 6 years needed to acquire the resources and to prepare the infrastructure.

ERNEST MONIZ, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY.  I appear before the committee today to reinforce that the Administration is ready and willing to engage with both chambers of Congress to move forward. I believe that S. 1240 provides a workable framework for that engagement. Any workable solution for the final disposition of used fuel and nuclear waste must be based not only on sound science, but also on achieving public acceptance at the local, State and tribal levels. When this Administration took office, the timeline for opening Yucca Mountain had already been pushed back by two decades, stalled by public protest and legal opposition and with no end in sight. It was clear the stalemate could continue indefinitely. Rather than continuing to spend billions of dollars more on a project that faces such strong opposition, the Administration believes a pathway similar to that the Blue Ribbon Commission laid out, a consent based solution for the long term management of our used fuel and nuclear waste, is one that meets the country’s national and energy security needs, has the potential to gain the necessary public acceptance and can scale to accommodate the increased needs of the future that includes expanded nuclear power deployment.

DOE is also working to analyze the characteristics of various geologic media that are potentially appropriate for disposal of radioactive waste. This research will help provide a sound technical basis for a repository in various geologic media, and will help provide confidence in whatever future decisions are made. To leverage expertise and minimize costs, DOE is taking advantage of existing analyses conducted by other countries that have studied similar issues. With regard to borehole disposal, DOE is developing a draft plan and roadmap for a deep borehole project. The project would evaluate the safety, capacity, and feasibility of the deep borehole disposal concept for the long-term isolation of nuclear waste. It would serve as a proof of principle, but would not involve the disposal of actual waste. The project would evaluate the feasibility of characterizing and engineering deep boreholes, evaluate processes and operations for safe waste emplacement and evaluate geologic controls over waste stability.

Secretary MONIZ.  The point of the review, ultimately, is to make sure we are doing the best for the taxpayer in disposing of plutonium.

Senator MARIA CANTWELL, WASHINGTON. To me, it’s unacceptable to our State, my constituents, to think that Hanford is just going to end up being that repository for that vast amount of high level Defense waste.

Sally Young Jameson, Maryland Delegate, National Conference of State Legislatures.  With regard to the potential siting of a repository or interim storage facility, NCSL recognizes the need to develop processes that are efficient and effective in order to enable a constructive environment for these efforts. However, efforts to streamline this process do not necessitate overlooking the role of State legislatures in the process. In order to ensure that such a decision accurately reflects appropriate levels of State consensus, State legislatures and not just the State’s Governor, must be consulted regularly.

I would just like to say that as a legislator with a nuclear power plant, Calvert Cliffs, is in my region. I just want you to know how important it is that we have a national repository. We have over 72 modules of nuclear waste already stored onsite. There’s 60 more to be added. We want to see that waste removed from our community. Our constituents really would like to see the U.S. Government fulfill its promise to its people.

The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, located on the Western Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, sits just a few miles outside of Maryland’s 28th District, my home district. Calvert Cliffs generally accounts for about one-third of the state’s energy generation, and produces enough power to light up every home and business in Baltimore according to the Maryland Power Plant Research Program. However, due to the lack of a national fuel repository or interim storage site, the plant’s used fuel is forced to remain on site. The plant’s independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) currently contains 72 modules with a total of 1,920 fuel assemblies in dry fuel storage and 1,432 fuel assemblies currently in storage in the Spent Fuel Pool. Additionally, 24 more modules will be added later this year and another 36 are anticipated to be added in the future. The issue of developing a solution to the safe and secure storage of high-level radioactive waste and used nuclear fuel is one of great importance to both myself and my constituents.

RON WYDEN, OREGON, CHAIRMAN.  I think you know that the sponsors of the legislation made the judgment right at the outset that we have to have a permanent disposal process for nuclear waste. At the same time, and this was reaffirmed both at Hanford and at Fukushima, our sense was that there’s going to be a lot of spent fuel and nuclear waste that is going to continue to sit in temporary storage for decades to come before it goes to a permanent repository and that is the case wherever the repository is located. The current storage pools and the tanks simply weren’t designed for long-term storage.

Senator MURKOWSKI. If we can get this resolved how do you see new development of new nuclear plants moving forward? Most particularly, the small modular reactors which many of us are very interested in trying to advance.

Secretary MONIZ. I think quite clearly, we need to solve the back end to have any form of nuclear power going forward. Small modular reactors will need storage and geologic repository just as our current reactors do. They may have different fuel forms depending upon their design. But we will certainly need this back end resolved, for sure.


Additional reading and notes

The American Geosciences Organization has a review of this session at:

The latest nuclear waste bill, S. 854, is sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander [R-TN]: S.854 – Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2015, 114th Congress (2015-2016).

The most likely so-called temporary interim sites are likely to be Native American lands (i.e. Skull Valley Goshutes Intian Reservation in Utah), The U.S. DOE sites in South Carolina (Savannah River Site or Waste isolation pilot plant in New Mexico, and Idaho National Lab).


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Shocking state of world’s riskiest nuclear waste sites

[ First peak oil will reduce global population to roughly 1 billion, then climate change will further decimate survivors, and those remaining will have to cope with up to a million years of radioactive wastes.

One of our top priorities ought to be burying nuclear waste while we still have the energy to do so.

If this seems like an extreme view, see A Nuclear spent fuel fire at Peach Bottom in Pennsylvania could force 18 million people to evacuate and my book review of “Too Hot to Touch: The Problem of High-Level Nuclear Waste”.  Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer]

Pearce, F. 21 January 2015. Shocking state of world’s riskiest nuclear waste site. NewScientist.

An urgent clean-up of two of the world’s most dangerous radioactive waste stores will be delayed by at least five years, despite growing safety fears.  The waste is stored at the UK’s Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site, which holds radioactive waste dating back to the dawn of the nuclear age. An accident at the derelict site could release radioactive materials into the air over the UK and beyond.

Last week, the UK government sacked the private consortium running the £80-billion-programme to clean up Sellafield, and gave the job back to its own agency, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The clean-up operation, scheduled to end by 2120, costs the government £1.9 billion a year.

The private consortium, Nuclear Management Partners, was meant to “bring in world-class expertise” and allow the government to “get to grips with the legacy after decades of inaction”, according to a 2008 statement by Mike O’Brien, energy minister at the time. But six years on, the privatization experiment has been abandoned.

The four ponds and silos contain hundreds of tons of highly radioactive material from more than 60 years of operations. The decaying structures are cracking, leaking waste into the soil, and are at risk of explosions from gases created by corrosion.

In an NDA business plan published last April, the emptying of the 100-metre Pile fuel storage pond, which holds used fuel and waste from the manufacture of the first UK nuclear bombs in the 1950s and 60s, was planned to be completed by 2025. But a timeline in a new draft plan circulated for consultation in December shows the job won’t be done until 2030. Likewise, the £750-million task of emptying the 21-metre-high Pile fuel cladding silo, which has been full since 1964, is now scheduled for completion in 2029, not 2024.

Confirming the change, an NDA spokesman told New Scientist: “Given the unique technical challenges and complexities of these plants, which were built with no thought to how they would be decommissioned… there will continue to be program uncertainties.

Sellafield was built on Cumbria’s coast in north-west England in the late 1940s to manufacture plutonium for the UK atomic bomb. The site also housed the world’s first commercial nuclear power station, and became a center for storing highly radioactive waste from reactors.

Most of the highly radioactive waste was dumped into ponds, each several times the size of an Olympic pool. Constantly circulating water kept the waste cool, but also created hundreds of cubic meters of sludge from the corrosion of the metal cladding surrounding the fuel rods.

As a result, the exact contents of the ponds are unclear, says Paul Howarth, managing director of the government-owned National Nuclear Laboratory at Sellafield. “We have to do a lot of R&D just to characterize the inventory, before we can work out how to retrieve the materials.

And the problem is just going to get worse. When plants are decommissioned in the future, waste will still be sent to Sellafield. The UK’s plants are mostly made of concrete, rather than steel, which makes them harder to dismantle. It also means they create about 30 times more radioactive material. And with a new nuclear plant about to be built at Hinkley Point in Somerset, the amount of radioactive waste headed for Sellafield may grow.

Another unique legacy is the 90,000 tons of radioactive graphite stored there, used as fuel cladding. Irradiated graphite accumulates energy known as Wigner energy, which caused the UK’s worst nuclear accident in 1957. Researchers are still unsure how to make it safe for disposal.

Danger Areas

Pile 1: one of the two original reactors built to support the UK atomic bomb project. It is where the country’s worst nuclear accident took place, when the reactor core caught fire in 1957. Once the fire was extinguished the core was sealed and it is considered best left alone for now.

Pile fuel storage pond: took in spent fuel from both the weapons reactors and energy reactors. The radioactive waste and sludge formed from the storage process sit in a deteriorating concrete structure filled with water. Removal of the sludge is under way. This pond has sat unused since the 1970s.

Pile fuel cladding silo: is jammed with 3200 cubic meters of aluminum cladding, which surrounds the fuel rods, much of it from 1950s weapons reactors. It has been sealed since the mid-1960s but corrosion means there is a risk that hydrogen will form, which could lead to explosions.

Magnox spent fuel storage pond: considered the most dangerous industrial building in Europe. The 150-metre-long open-air pond is visited by birds and cracks have caused radioactive material to leak into the soil. No one knows exactly what’s in there, but it may contain a tonne of plutonium.

Magnox swarf storage silo: considered the second most dangerous industrial building in Europe. It stores waste magnesium fuel cladding under water. Some sludge has leaked through cracks in the concrete, and there is a risk of explosion from hydrogen released by corrosion of storage vessels.

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Humans driving species to extinction 1,000 times the natural rate

[ According to a paper published in Science (Pimm, S.L., et al, 30 May 2014. The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection). The higher estimate in this study than previous estimates is due to a more sophisticated analysis. ]

Current rates of extinction are about 1000 times the background rate of extinction. These are higher than previously estimated and likely still underestimated. Future rates will depend on many factors and are poised to increase.

Recent studies clarify where the most vulnerable species live, where and how humanity changes the planet, and how this drives extinctions. We assess key statistics about species, their distribution, and their status.   Those we know best have large geographical ranges and are often common within them. Most known species have small ranges. The numbers of small-ranged species are increasing quickly, even in well-known taxa. They are geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct.   Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity.

Concerns about biodiversity arise because present extinction rates are exceptionally high. Consequently, we first compare current extinction rates to those before human actions elevated them.

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Looting On the Rise As Venezuela Runs Out of Food, Electricity

[ Venezuela is experiencing a double whammy of drought and low oil prices, which has lead to blackouts and inability to import food.  I’ve only put one article below, here are other reports in the news. 

2016-05-04 Hungry Venezuelans Hunt Dogs, Cats, Pigeons as Food Runs Out. Economic Crisis and Food Shortages Lead to Looting and Hunting Stray Animals  

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, 2015, Springer]

Sabrina Martín. April 27, 2016. Looting On the Rise As Venezuela Runs Out of Food, Electricity. PanAmPost.

Food Producers Alert They Have Only 15 Days Left of Inventory amid Rampant Inflation

“Despair and violence is taking over Venezuela. The economic crisis sweeping the nation means people have to withstand widespread shortages of staple products, medicine, and food.  So when the Maduro administration began rationing electricity this week, leaving entire cities in the dark for up to 4 hours every day, discontent gave way to social unrest.

On April 26, people took to the streets in three Venezuelan states, looting stores to find food.

Maracaibo, in the western state of Zulia, is the epicenter of thefts: on Tuesday alone, Venezuelans raided pharmacies, shopping malls, supermarkets, and even trucks with food in seven different areas of the city.

Although at least nine people were arrested, and 2,000 security officers were deployed in the state, Zulia’s Secretary of Government Giovanny Villalobos asked citizens not to leave their homes. “There are violent people out there that can harm you,” he warned.

In Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, citizens reported looting in at least three areas of the city. Twitter users reported that thefts occurred throughout the night in the industrial zone of La California, Campo Rico, and Buena Vista.  The same happened in Carabobo, a state in central Venezuela.

Supermarkets employees from Valencia told the PanAm Post that besides no longer receiving the same amount of food as before, they must deal with angry Venezuelans who come to the stores only to find out there’s little to buy.

Purchases in supermarkets are rationed through a fingerprint system that does not allow Venezuelans to acquire the same regulated food for two weeks.

Due to the country’s mangled economy, millions must stand in long lines for hours just to purchase basic products, which many resell  for extra income as the country’s minimum wage is far from enough to cover a family’s needs.

On Wednesday, the Venezuelan Chamber of Food (Cavidea) said in a statement that most companies only have 15 days worth of stocked food.

According to the union, the production of food will continue to dwindle because raw materials as well as local and foreign inputs are depleted.

In the statement, Cavidea reported that they are 300 days overdue on payments to suppliers and it’s been 200 days since the national  government last authorized the purchase of dollars under the foreign currency control system.

The latest Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi) showed that more than 3 million Venezuelans eat only twice a day or less. The rampart inflation and low wages make it increasingly more difficult for people to afford food.

“Fruits and vegetables have disappeared from shopping lists. What you buy is what fills your stomach more: 40 percent of the basic groceries is made up of corn flour, rice, pasta, and fat”.

But not even that incomplete diet Venezuelans can live on because those food products are hard to come by. Since their prices are controlled by the government, they are scarce and more people demand them.

The survey also notes the rise of diseases such as gastritis, with an increase of 25 percent in 2015, followed by poisoning (24.11 percent), parasites (17.86 percent), and bacteria (10.71 percent).

The results of this study are consistent with the testimony of Venezuelan women, who told the PanAm Post that because “everything is so expensive” that they prefer to eat twice a day and leave lunch for their children. That way they can make do with the little portions they can afford.”


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