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The Reporter’s Handbook on Nuclear Materials, Energy, and Waste Management

Michael R. Greenberg, Bernadette M. West, Karen W. Lowrie, and Henry J. Mayer

Publication Year: 2009

An essential reference for journalists, activists, and students, this book presents scientifically accurate and accessible overviews of 24 of the most important issues in the nuclear realm, including: • health effects • nuclear safety and engineering • TMI and Chernobyl • nuclear medicine • food irradiation • transport of nuclear materials • spent fuel • nuclear weapons • global warming. Each “brief” is based on interviews with named scientists, engineers, or administrators in a nuclear specialty, and each has been reviewed by a team of independent experts. The objective is not to make a case for or against nuclear-related technologies, but rather to provide definitive background information. (The approach is based on that of The Reporter’s Environmental Handbook, published in 1988, which won a special award for journalism from the Sigma Delta Chi Society of professional journalists.) Other features of the book include: • a glossary of hundreds of terms • an introduction to risk assessment, environmental and economic impacts, and public perceptions • an article by an experienced reporter with recommendations about how to cover nuclear issues • quick guides to the history of nuclear power in the United States, important federal legislation and regulations, nuclear position statements, and key organizations • print and electronic resources.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

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pp. vii-xii

Journalists, who face the challenge of writing stories that are accurate, balanced, objective, and responsible, have reported about the benefits and risks associated with radionuclides from the days of the Manhattan Project when information was a guarded secret and few knew what was happening to today when a plethora of information and opinions exists...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The Consortium for Risk Evaluation and Stakeholder Participation (CRESP), since 1995, has been researching ways to advance cost-effective cleanup of the nation’s nuclear weapons production waste sites and test facilities. The consortium responded to a request by the U.S. Department...

Part I: Getting Started

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How to Use the Handbook

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pp. 3-4

If you need just a definition or quick explanation, go directly to the glossary in Part III. For example, if you want to know what a “curie” is, go to the glossary and look up the definition. You will find that it is “the basic unit used to describe the intensity of radioactivity in a sample of material. The curie is equal to 37 billion (3.7 x 1010) disintegrations per second...

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Why Now? Why This Discussion?

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pp. 5-7

The simple answer to “Why now?” is that the governments and people of the world are being driven to consider nuclear power and other energy sources, along with conservation, as options for meeting increasing energy demand. This is not the first time this pressure has gripped the United States, but the increasing fear about climate change has added another dimension. Also, the United States, Russia, France, and Great Britain face major nuclear weapons waste issues as a cold war legacy...

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Crosscutting Themes

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pp. 8-22

Five themes are central to the issues discussed in this handbook and are explicit or implicit in every brief. These themes are as follows: (1) environmental impact, (2) risk, (3) economics, (4) evidence and public perception, and (5) ripple effects of decisions. Each of these themes is a massive subject by itself. We make no pretense of providing a comprehensive review. The goal is rather to draw the reader’s attention to how these themes are core to nuclear power, waste management, and other nuclear-related issues...

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Covering Nukes: Play Hard, but Play Fair

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pp. 23-47

The nuclear age is more than 50 years old. Yes. Fifty. While the idea of splitting atoms and generating electricity by a chain reaction called nuclear fission is more than a half-century old now, the debate remains hotter than ever. Are nuclear plants safe, especially as they get older? Can their biggest byproduct— spent reactor fuel, the only material in civilian hands classified as high-level radioactive waste—be managed properly? Will the anticipated new breed of reactors be that much better? And, even if they are, will they be too costly to build?...

Part II:Briefs

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Section 1: Radionuclides and Human Health Effects

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pp. 35-52

From a young age many people have been taught that atoms form the basic building blocks of matter. In our everyday world atoms are the indivisible piece that defines elements—such as sodium, chlorine, oxygen, and hydrogen. Combinations of these elements go on to build chemical compounds—such as water (H20) or table salt (NaCl)...

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Section 2: Sustainability: Will There Be Enough Uranium and Nuclear Fuel and at What Cost?

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pp. 53-63

The nuclear fuel cycle for energy production begins with exploration for uranium. It ends with transport of fuel, installation, use of the fuel at a nuclear power plant, and removal of the spent fuel to an on-site storage facility. In between are stages that are the focus of this brief and are often overlooked: (1) mining, (2) milling, conversion, and enrichment, and (3) fuel fabrication. (See “Closing the Civilian Nuclear Fuel Cycle,” “Nuclear Power Plant Safety Systems,” “Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities,” “Transportation of Nuclear Waste,” and “Nuclear Waste Policy.”)...

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Closing the Civilian Nuclear Fuel Cycleand Spent Nuclear Fuel:The Opportunity and the Challenge

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pp. 64-77

Federal elected officials, Department of Energy staff, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, utilities that rely on nuclear power, environmental advocate groups, and other parties with an interest in the energy future of the United States face the difficult challenge of making informed judgments and decisions about the management of spent (used) civilian nuclear fuel. (See “Managing the Nuclear Weapons Legacy.”)...

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Nuclear Power Plant Safety Systems

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pp. 78-84

Over 400 licensed nuclear power plants operate in the world, including more than 100 in the United States. This brief is about nuclear power plant safety— in reference to both the technology and the people who operate it. We focus on efforts made by the nuclear industry and government to maintain and increase the improved safety and performance of nuclear power plants...

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Three Mile Island and Chernobyl:What Happened and Lessons Learned

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pp. 85-92

In 1979 and in 1986, many people watched and read about the accidents at the Three Mile Island and the Chernobyl nuclear power plants, respectively. Almost three decades later, after the publication of numerous technical reports and opinion pieces about these momentous accidents, reporters asked us to revisit the accidents, summarizing what happened and what lessons have been learned. I interviewed Robert J. Budnitz, a central figure...

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Decommissioning Nuclear Facilities

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pp. 93-113

Before we review the decommissioning of nuclear facilities administered by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), we note that there are differences between decommission of NRC-licensed nuclear power reactors (NRC licensed sites where radioactive materials were handled, including research reactors) and decommission of Department of Defense sites that were used during World War II for processing and production of nuclear materials. The decommissioning and remediation of these sites involves different waste forms, decommissioning approaches, and waste disposal solutions...

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Transportation of Nuclear Waste

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pp. 99-109

Transport is a critical part of the discussion involving nuclear materials and the waste generated in the course of their use. Most nuclear materials are transported several times during their lifetime. For example, nuclear materials used in the fuel cycle are transported from mining to milling, from milling to conversion to enrichment, from enrichment to fuel fabrication to power generation, with the spent fuel then moved to temporary storage on-site and eventually to permanent storage off-site...

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The Economics of Nuclear Power

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pp. 110-119

There are currently 104 commercial nuclear power plants in operation in the United States and, as of August 2007, there were 439 worldwide. In the United States, 7 reactors are in the planning stage and 25 new plants have been proposed. No new plants have received construction permits in the United States since 1979.

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Civilian Uses of Radiation andRadioactive Material (Other thanCommercial Nuclear Power)

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pp. 120-128

We often fail to recognize the many beneficial civilian uses of nuclear materials other than commercial nuclear power. These include use of nuclear materials used in the field of medicine and in food preparation and a variety of industrial applications. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is the agency that has authority over civilian uses of nuclear materials in the United States...

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Section 3: Nuclear Waste Policy in the United States: Classification, Management, and Disposition

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pp. 129-144

Nuclear waste is defined as liquid, solid, or semi-solid waste products possessing at least some amount of radioactive elements. It consists of radioactive materials left over from some industrial, scientific, military, or medical process that uses radiation. The more radioactive the waste is, the more stringent the regulations for how it is stored, transported, and collected at disposal sites. This chapter describes the different legal classifications...

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Monitoring and Surveillanceof Nuclear Waste Sites

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pp. 145-151

The purpose of an environmental monitoring program at a radioactive waste management or disposal facility is to protect workers, the environment in and around the facility, and the people in it. Monitoring programs are designed to ensure that a disposal facility is in compliance with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) (Licensing Requirements for Land Disposal of Radioactive Waste, 10 CFR pt. 61) and the generally...

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Impact of Radionuclides and Nuclear Wasteon Nonhumans and Ecosystems

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pp. 152-157

The prairies, wetlands, deserts, and forests within and surrounding some U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons facilities are contaminated with radioactive materials released from the facility. Often these lands are so far from population centers that they pose little risk to humans. Radiation exposure to the animals and plants that inhabit the land, however, can be of concern under some conditions...

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Long-Term Surveillance and Maintenanceat Closed Nuclear Waste Sites

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pp. 158-163

The cold war ended nearly 2 decades ago, but the environmental consequences of extensive nuclear weapons research, production, and testing activities carried out in the United States during the cold war will remain with us for many centuries. Although the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has spent billions of dollars since 1989 to clean up sites...

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Section 4: Managing the Nuclear Weapons Legacy

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pp. 164-171

Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons have been built, primarily by the United States and the former Soviet Union. The U.S. government began nuclear weapons production under the Manhattan Project and has now moved to the stage of decommissioning many of the weapons and managing the by-products. This brief is about U.S. government efforts...

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Dirty Bombs (Radiological Dispersal Devices)

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pp. 172-178

A dirty bomb, more formally labeled radiological dispersal device (RDD), is a mixture of conventional explosives and radioactive materials derived from medical equipment, food and blood irradiators, other industrial uses, or nuclear civilian and military waste. When a dirty bomb is detonated, injuries and perhaps deaths will result from the blast and shrapnel...

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Nuclear Nonproliferation

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pp. 179-186

Arms-control agreements attempt to manage the numbers, types, development, deployment, and employment of weapons and armed forces. These agreements have failed to prevent the development and deployment of weapons of everincreasing destructive capacity, although they have slowed their development and proliferation...

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Protecting Nuclear Power Plantsagainst Terrorism

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pp. 187-194

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were traumatic for the American population, business, and government. Many Americans canceled trips, especially airplane trips, and would not go to locations they perceived as likely targets; some began storing staples and other items in patterns reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s cold war nuclear scares. After 9/11, some businesses moved parts of their headquarters and record-keeping activities away from cities and other places they perceived as likely targets...

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International Agencies and Policy

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pp. 195-200

On October 1, 1957, the United Nations created the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to be headquartered in Vienna, Austria. Its creation was a response to widespread fears about nuclear technology and its association with destructive uses. The IAEA’s mission is to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world. The agency was set up as the world’s center of cooperation...

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Section 5: Global Warming and Fuel Sources

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pp. 201-209

This discussion of global warming is in a section about perception and communication because global warming has become a prominent political issue that many politicians use in their public statements to tie together nuclear power and climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a heat-trapping gas that acts like a blanket, thereby keeping the earth warm enough...

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Public Perceptions of Risk andNuclear Power, Nuclear Weapons,and Nuclear Waste

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pp. 210-217

Research shows that the public fears the risks of nuclear war, nuclear power, and nuclear waste more than other risks. Images of the mushroom cloud and the deaths of thousands of people following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been indelibly printed in the minds of the public. These fears have been compounded by events at Three Mile Island (TMI) and Chernobyl, which raised the specter of disaster at a nuclear power facility close to home. (See “Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.”)...

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Risk Communicationabout Nuclear Materials

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pp. 218-224

The managers and owners of facilities that process, store, or transport nuclear materials need to provide information to the residents of surrounding communities and all those potentially impacted by risks associated with these activities, and they need to listen to community concerns. Risk communication refers to the content and format of the risk messages that flow between agencies and organizations responsible for nuclear sites and the public...

Part III:

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History of Nuclear Powerin the United States and Worldwide

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pp. 227-232

The concept of the atom has existed for many centuries, going back to Greek philosophers who surmised that all matter is made up of tiny particles (atomos is Greek for indivisible). By the turn of the 20 century, physicists such as Ernest Rutherford, called the “father of nuclear science,” suspected that the atom, if disintegrated into smaller particles, could release...

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Important Federal Legislationand Regulations

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pp. 233-244

The Atomic Energy Act (AEA) was originally passed by the U.S. Congress in 1946 following World War II and the demonstration of the power of the atom. The AEA is the fundamental U.S. law on both civilian and military uses of nuclear materials. On the civilian side, the AEA provides for the development and regulation of the uses of nuclear materials and facilities in the United States, declaring ...

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American Nuclear SocietyPosition Statements

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pp. 245-246

American Nuclear Society position statements represent the Nuclear Society’s official position on issues of policy or technical significance. The society’s Public Policy Committee is responsible for the adequacy of position statements and submits them to the society’s board for approval...

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Background on Key OrganizationsRelated to U.S. Nuclear Programs

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pp. 247-248

Seven key organizations are related to the U.S. nuclear industry: (1) the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and (2) the Nuclear Energy Institute; on a global scale, (3) the International Atomic Energy Agency and (4) the World Association of Nuclear Operators; and supporting the functions of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), (5) the Licensing Support Network, (6) the U.S. Nuclear Waste...

Key Sources

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pp. 249-250


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pp. 251-286


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pp. 287-292


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pp. 293-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780826516619
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826516596
Print-ISBN-10: 0826516599

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Journalism, Scientific.
  • Radioactive waste disposal -- Press coverage.
  • Nuclear industry -- Press coverage.
  • Nuclear energy -- Press coverage.
  • Spent reactor fuels -- Press coverage.
  • Nuclear facilities -- Environmental aspects -- Press coverage.
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