Archive for April, 2015

South Australia Nuclear Royal Commission- analysis of its first Issues Paper

April 28, 2015

The paper appears to be totally confused by what is a cyclic process. For example, the phrase “once-through” cycle is an oxymoron and reprocessing spent fuel is just that, not recycling. These terms come from the nuclear industry’s spin doctors.

Nowhere in this Issues Paper is information given on Government funding of the nuclear industry either directly in the form of grants and through government supplied services such as exploration, testing, environmental, and occupational health and safety services or indirect in the form of administrative services associated with the nuclear industry. We have no way of telling, for example, whether government expenditure has been recouped through royalties.


EXPLORATION, EXTRACTION AND MILLING (of Uranium and Thorium),  critique by Dennis Matthews, 20 Apr 15 

This, the first issues paper of the SA Government’s commission into expanding SA’s role in the nuclear industry, will confirm the worst fears of those who suspect that this commission is an expensive farce funded by the taxpayers of SA , and that the decision to expand the nuclear industry in SA is an ALP-LP-nuclear industry done deal.

The issues paper is the product of the SA Government’s mining bureaucracy, a bureaucracy that has a long history of a gung-ho environmental vandalism in the name of development. In the days when uranium mining was being considered at Roxby, Beverley and Honeymoon it was called the Dept of Mines & Energy but was known in the environment circles as the Dept of Mines & Mines, there never was any interest in anything form of energy other than coal, gas, oil and uranium.

Thanks to the Australian Democrats we got the Renewable Energy Target (RET) which overnight led to significant investment in wind energy in SA. We then got an even better result in the form of rooftop solar, the ultimate challenge to the fossil-nuclear fuel lobby and to multinational energy corporations in general. Not surprisingly the Liberal-Labor duopoly is now trying to reverse this challenge to big business’ control over electricity generation. To a ruling duopoly, which has given us widespread privatisation of essential services, consumer control over electricity generation is anathema.

The issues paper has four sections. Under BACKGROUND the paper describes in broad terms the geology of SA in respect to deposits of uranium and thorium. The latter are described as “common, naturally occurring radioactive metallic elements in the Earth’s crust.” There is no mention of the associated radioactive elements such as radium and gaseous radon.

The fact that uranium and thorium are commonly occurring and natural appears to be intended to make the reader feel at ease. It is worth pointing out that many dangerous, toxic substances such as asbestos, lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic are also common and naturally occurring.

Because of its carcinogenic nature and because the industry successfully denied that it was a problem for many decades, asbestos is particularly relevant to the exploration, extraction and milling of uranium and thorium.

The use of radioactive thorium mantles for gas lamps used in enclosed spaces such as houses and tents was still common practice in the 1980’s. Such mantles were readily available in hardware and camping stores. When in use these radioactive mantles deteriorated forming a fine radioactive dust.

In this section, mention is made of existing uranium mines in SA but there is no mention of the associated social or environmental problems.

Section A. EXPLORATION also makes no mention of social and environmental costs.

Despite the fact that significant exploration occurred around about 1980 in relation to the Roxby Downs, Beverley and Honeymoon deposits no data is given on the expenditure. Instead the graph “South Australian uranium exploration expenditure” (Figure 3) starts in 1999-2000 with the first noticeable expenditure (about $2mill) occurring in 2003-04, rising to a peak of about $190mill in 2007-08 and falling to about $4mill in 2013-14. There is no information given as to whether the data in Figure 3 is in real $ (say 1992 $) nor whether it is private or government-funded expenditure.

Nowhere in this Issues Paper is information given on Government funding of the nuclear industry either directly in the form of grants and through government supplied services such as exploration, testing, environmental, and occupational health and safety services or indirect in the form of administrative services associated with the nuclear industry. We have no way of telling, for example, whether government expenditure has been recouped through royalties.

Section B. EXTRACTION AND MILLING talks about Radium Hill, Roxby Downs, Honeymoon, Beverley and Four Mile but no mention is made of radioactive waste dumping at these sites.

Honeymoon is said to have operated until 2013 and Beverley until 2014 but no mention is made of when they started operating or of the social, environmental and economic costs to the people of SA. Nor is any mention made of the fact that in 1983 the SA Government withheld permission for the Honeymoon and Beverley mines. It took 20 years for these projects to be resurrected only to be turned off within a decade.
The paper gives the irrelevant figure of an “estimated” 13,800 people “involved” directly in SA mining activities in 2012. No reason is given for using 2012 data instead of the latest figures which are probably lower.

The paper then goes on to state

“It is difficult to estimate the employment figure attributable to uranium extraction and milling alone as multiple commodities are extracted at Olympic Dam and figures are not separated in reported information.”

Presumably the Commission has the power to require that BHP Billiton provides this information.

On the basis that Olympic Dam is the largest employer in the SA mining industry and that uranium is a by-product of extracting copper then employment attributable to uranium extraction and milling in 2012 is probably of the order of less than 200.

Quoting a figure of 13,800 in the context of an issues paper on the nuclear industry is therefore highly misleading.

It is stated that international demand for uranium is primarily driven by its use in electricity generation. This conveniently overlooks the fact that the demand and price for uranium are influenced by the supply and demand for uranium to be used in weapons, including nuclear bombs and weapons containing high concentrations of uranium and its radioactive fission products (so-called “depleted” uranium or DU weapons). This becomes apparent when concentrated fissile uranium (so-called “highly enriched” uranium or HEU) from dismantled nuclear weapons is released onto the uranium market.

According to issues paper 395 nuclear power stations (reactors?) are currently in operation, that 66 reactors are under construction, and another 165 planned. No timelines are given for either the construction or the planning. Given the past history of the nuclear industry, these figures should be viewed with considerable scepticism.

The paper then goes on to state that almost 200 reactors are due to be decommissioned “in the next 25 years”.

The net result of these figures is that there is highly unlikely to be any net expansion of the nuclear industry and no increase in demand for new uranium in the foreseeable future.

The paper quotes the International Energy Agency (IEA) as saying that the expansion of the nuclear industry “depends on listening to, and addressing public concerns, about the technology.”

The South Australian Government has chosen to ignore the advice of the International Energy Agency, and exclude public concerns from its inquiry and the inquiry commissioner has made a pre-emptive strike against such concerns by implying that they are emotional.

The paper appears to be totally confused by what is a cyclic process. For example, the phrase “once-through” cycle is an oxymoron and reprocessing spent fuel is just that, not recycling. These terms come from the nuclear industry’s spin doctors.

Figure 4 purports to show global uranium production (supply?) and demand. The production curve starts in about 1956 whilst the demand curve starts in 1947 with the demand curve much higher than the production curve until about 1986 when the production curve rapidly falls below the demand curve. This suggests that the excess demand from 1947 to 1986 was for nuclear weapons and the excess production from about 1990 to 2013 was due either to nuclear weapons material being put on the open market, or to stockpiling.

It is claimed “the interaction of these (production and demand) factors has been reflected in the traded price of uranium oxide [Figure 5].”
Figure 5 is unusual in several ways. Firstly, it doesn’t cover the same time period as Figure 4, it only gives prices from 1982 whereas the production-demand curves start in 1947.

Secondly, for spot prices, rather than the normal weekly values it uses yearly averages. This has the effect of smoothing out the erratic behaviour of the spot price and reducing the peaks in spot price. For example, the large peak which occurred in April 2007 at a spot price of USD136 /lb is shown in figure 5 as occurring in 2007 at $USD90/lb.

Thirdly, Figure 5 shows average US, Canadian and Australian export prices but not the more relevant average South Australian export price.

Fourthly, the price is expressed in current $ rather than real $, which makes it difficult to compare prices and to detect trends in the real value of the export.

The paper refers to the fact that the price on US long term contracts have increased in the last decade. Not only are the USD not real $ but the apparent increase is from a very low base and, according to figure 5, did not exceed (even in current $) 1982 values until about 2006. In real $, prices did not recover to 1982 values until much later. As a consequence, the vast majority of South Australian uranium was sold at rock bottom prices.

SECTION C. RISKS AND OPPORTUNITIES contains only a small amount of material that addresses issues that the International Energy Agency thinks are vital to the future of the nuclear industry. The fact that the commission is trying to ignore these issues means that millions of dollars of South Australian taxpayers is probably being wasted on a futile exercise. This is occurring at a time when the SA Government is crying poor and is looking at new ways of raising more money from taxpayers.

The crucial deficiency of this section is that the commission only wants to consider new or different risks for the health and safety of workers and the community, and new environmental risks or increased existing risks. This presupposes that existing risks are acceptable, an assumption that has no rational or scientific basis and which is the crux of what the International Energy Agency says must be addressed.

When it comes to South Australian finances the paper estimates only one figure on only side of the ledger, the royalties paid to the South Australian Government in 2013-14. It makes no attempt to estimate total royalties starting with commercial extraction of uranium at Roxby Downs in 1988, or the direct financial cost to the South Australian Government, or the net direct financial benefit to the South Australian Government.

Bearing in mind that all mineral resources belong to the people of South Australia, it is crucial that we be told what is the direct net financial return (if any) that we have received per kilogram of exported uranium.

Australia’s government aims to shut down critics of its environmental policies

April 28, 2015

given the urgency of the environmental crisis, an increasing number of Australians recognise that we need environmental groups who do more than plant trees.

In the run to this year’s Paris climate talks and next year’s federal election, we need laws that encourage full-blooded political participation.

Government inquiry takes aim at green charities that ‘get political
’ The Conversation, Peter BurdonSenior lecturer at University of Adelaide 16 Apr 15  The almost 600 environmental groups that hold tax-deductibility status in Australia are being scrutinised by a federal government inquiry, with reports that more than 100 of them face being struck off the list.

Some, like the state and territory Conservation Councils and Environmental Defenders Offices, are still reeling from cuts to their programs and core funding. Others, such as Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society, and Friends of the Earth, could lose access to the tax-deductible donations that help sustain their work.

Encouraging donations Deductible gift-recipient status allows eligible organisations, such as those on the environmental register, to receive tax-deductible gifts and contributions. Consistent with similar schemes in the United States and Europe, the environmental register was established as an incentive for citizens and corporations to fund organisations that are active in the public sphere, while also feeding into the logic of small government and shifting the burden of catering for social needs back onto the community.

In Australia, an environmental organisation is defined as a body or society whose primary purpose is to protect the environment or conduct education and research.

Importantly, however, in 2010 the High Court ruled that groups with tax-deductible status also have the right to engage in political debate and advocacy. The judgement described the freedom to speak out on political issues as “indispensable” for “representative and responsible government”.

Moreover, the court pointed out that there is no general rule that excludes “political objects” from charitable purposes. Instead, the key consideration is whether the organisation “contributes to the public welfare”. The ruling has been used as a precedent both in Australia and overseas, such as when Greenpeace won a favourable decision from the New Zealand Supreme Court last year.

Why is Australia holding the inquiry?

The review’s chair, Liberal MP Alex Hawke, said the inquiry aims to:

…ensure that tax deductible donations, which are a generous concession from the taxpayer, are used for the purpose intended and expected by the community.

His colleagues’ comments have given some more insight into what Hawke means by the adjectives “intended” and “expected”.

Nationals Senator Matthew Canavan said he is concerned by the development of environmental groups from “a niche village industry” into “serious professional organisation[s]”, while highlighting what he described as a “large minority” of “100 or 150” groups that are “clearly engaged primarily” in stopping fossil fuel and industrial development in Australia.

Liberal MP Andrew Nikulic sought to distinguish groups like the Bob Brown Foundation who “campaign against the government” from “real charities” like “St Vinnies and Salvos”. Ignoring the fact that the latter groups have been vocal critics of government cuts to welfare spending, Nikulic has also made unsubstantiated claims that green groups have been involved in “illegal activities”.

His Liberal National Party colleague George Christensen went even further, labelling certain groups as “terrorists” and accusing them of treason……….

Finally, given the urgency of the environmental crisis, an increasing number of Australians recognise that we need environmental groups who do more than plant trees.

In the run to this year’s Paris climate talks and next year’s federal election, we need laws that encourage full-blooded political participation.


Australia’s Aboriginal homelands explained by respected tribal women

April 28, 2015

People wanted to go back to homeland’

Mr McLarty said many of the small communities were created in response to government policy last century which saw Aboriginal people forcibly amalgamated into camps with other tribes.

“People wanted to move back to their own homeland,” he said.

“People wanted to go out to their own community, to feel some ownership, because they didn’t feel like they belong here in another tribal area.”

He said the Prime Minister’s comments may come from a lack of understanding of Aboriginal people’s history.

The women said remote communities were being unfairly painted as dysfunctional.

They argued that in most communities, children were safer and happier being raised ‘on-country’, where there was not the steady flow of drugs and alcohol and they could learn the traditional culture.

Remote Aboriginal community closures: Return to country or risk losing traditional homes forever, elders warn 
By Erin Parke and Rebecca Trigger Senior Aboriginal women from WA’s Kimberley say the Prime Minister’s “lifestyle choice” comments are a wake-up call and people who have drifted from their bush communities should return or risk losing them forever.

The call comes in the wake of Tony Abbott’s suggestion that living in remote Aboriginal communities was a “lifestyle choice” that could not be endlessly subsidised by the Government.

Senior Miriuwung Gajerrong woman and chairperson of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre Merle Carter said the comments should spur people into action.

“For all of our people who are living in town, who are fringe-dwellers, just because of alcohol, go back to your communities,” she said.

“With the statement that Premier Colin Barnett made about closing the Aboriginal communities, and Tony Abbott backing him up, this might be a wake-up call.”

The West Australian Government flagged last year that it may cut services to up to 150 remote Indigenous communities, after the Commonwealth announced it was withdrawing funding to the roughly two-thirds it supports.

Ms Carter said Aboriginal groups must unite to fight the State Government’s plans, and condemned the Prime Minister’s choice of words.

“You got the wording wrong – lifestyle. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s our traditional way of life,” she said.

“It’s the only way we know how to live – the best way.”

Bardi elder Irene Davey, who lives in the community of One Arm Point, on the Dampier Peninsula north of Broome, also believed people needed to be stirred to action.

“We should be talking to each other, thinking about how we solve some of our problems here,” she said.

“Think about it countrymen, when you’re not in your country, go back home and start thinking about what your future is.”

The women said remote communities were being unfairly painted as dysfunctional.

They argued that in most communities, children were safer and happier being raised ‘on-country’, where there was not the steady flow of drugs and alcohol and they could learn the traditional culture.

Policy ‘heading back to the 50s’

Marra Worra Worra corporation community consultant officer Anthony McLarty, who supports development in remote communities around Fitzroy Crossing, which is also in the Kimberley, said the Government was heading in the wrong direction.

“Are we going backwards again?” he asked.

“Are we going back into the 50s, 60s, where we’re all fringe dwellers?

“No. We’re not fringe dwellers, we’re citizens of Australia, and we should live quite happily anywhere we want, especially in our own country.”

He said the communities were a “place to get away” for many who wanted to escape social problems plaguing bigger towns.

“We use them like a safe place, to live, to get away from the alcohol problems of the bigger towns,” he said.

‘People wanted to go back to homeland’

Mr McLarty said many of the small communities were created in response to government policy last century which saw Aboriginal people forcibly amalgamated into camps with other tribes.

“People wanted to move back to their own homeland,” he said.

“People wanted to go out to their own community, to feel some ownership, because they didn’t feel like they belong here in another tribal area.”

He said the Prime Minister’s comments may come from a lack of understanding of Aboriginal people’s history.

“I think the Prime Minister doesn’t know much about his own history, let alone us,” Mr McLarty said.

“This is where the ignorance come in from Governments of all kind who don’t really understand Aboriginal people in this country.

“That’s the major problem. They’re always making major decisions and talking about us, not to us.”

He called on the Government to continue funding to support remote communities.

“We live in a part where there’s hardly any opportunities,” he said.

“But what I can say to that, [is] there are opportunities out there if we can create opportunities.

“[To] create opportunities, you’ve got to have money to make money.

“We’re looking at Government to actually spend a little bit more just to create those opportunities out there for us people.”

The Premier has insisted no decisions have been made about the fate of the 274 communities in Western Australia, and that there will be thorough consultation before any communities are closed.

CANDU reactor system produces 2400 times as much tritium as the American light water reactor

April 28, 2015

Tritium Traffic: Deadly Dividends for Nuclear Industry, Peace Magazine By David H MartinIn February, 1934, the British journal, New Scientist, published an article by Tom Wilkie, “Old Age Can Kill the Bomb.” It was an ingenious solution to the arms control nightmare of verification; controlling not only the number of weapons, but the strategic materials that fuel them — mainly plutonium, enriched uranium and tritium. Wilkie focused on tritium, because it turns into non-radioactive helium at a rate of 5.5 per cent per year. A halt of tritium production would rapidly cripple all nuclear arsenals. Thus, attention was rivetted on Ontario Hydro’s plan to produce about 57 kilograms of tritium by 2006. A one megaton thermonuclear warhead (equivalent to one million tons of TN”) may contain as little as one gram of tritium.

Tritium (H3) (a form of hydrogen that emits beta radiation), is a major radioactive pollutant from Canada’s CANDU nuclear power reactors. Unlike American reactor systems, the CANDU uses heavy water as a moderator and coolant. The moderator and the heavy water coolant slows down the neutron release from the uranium fuel in the reactor so that a chain reaction can take place. The active ingredient in heavy water is deuterium, another form of hydrogen. When the deuterium picks up a neutron, some of it is transformed into tritium. The concentration of tritium in the heavy water increases with the age of the reactor.

The CANDU reactor system produces 2400 times as much tritium as the American light water reactor. This is a gigantic problem for Ontario Hydro, the operators of Ontario’s commercial nuclear power reactors, because tritium is extremely toxic. As little as one billionth of a gram can cause cancer if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. One five-hundredth of a gram is fatal to an average person. Thus, since the early days of nuclear power in Ontario, critics have argued that tritium should be removed from the heavy water in the reactors to reduce the exposure of workers and surrounding communities. Ontario Hydro recently began to build a tritium removal facility when it became apparent that there was a very lucrative market for it. It sells for $15 million per kilogram-more than one thousand times the price of gold!

Tritium is used in several types of thermonuclear (fusion, or “hydrogen”) bombs. First, there is the “boosted” fission weapon. In this type of weapon, tritium causes a secondary fusion reaction, which increases the efficiency of the fission explosion, resulting in a much greater blast, and reducing the “yield-to-weight” ratio of the bomb. This is an extremely serious development, since lighter warheads allow for much greater flexibility in delivery vehicles. Nuclear-capable cruise missiles would not be possible without tritium-boosted warheads. Second, there is the “hydrogen” bomb proper. Tritium is used to provide an initial fusion reaction to boost the yield of the secondary fission explosion, which ignites the second (and main) fusion explosion. The technique of using the first stage to set off the second, or third stage, is the real H-bomb secret. This is known as the “Teller-Ulam Trick,” after its inventors, Edward Teller and Stanislav Ulam. The bomb uses only small amounts of tritium and other fissile material. The secondary fusion explosion “breeds” its own tritium from Lithium-6.

In both boosted fission weapons and the hydrogen bomb, a tritium/deuterium generator provides the neutrons that start the fission reaction. It is almost certain that all weapons manufactured by the nuclear weapons states are either boosted fission weapons, or more complex hydrogen bombs. Only the most primitive “first generation” fission weapons such as the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not use tritium.

Tritium also allows the yield of a nuclear weapon to be changed on short notice just before firing. This can be done by adding or taking out tritium and deuterium, which are gaseous, and can be moved in and out of the bomb core with relative ease.

Perhaps the most repugnant use of tritium is in the neutron bomb. Worldwide opposition slowed its deployment, but the Reagan administration has proceeded with this bomb, which is designed to kill people, but not damage property. It is a modified thermonuclear bomb, with a reduced blast and heightened release of neutrons (the most biologically destructive of all fission products). The neutron bomb uses much more tritium than other nuclear weapons, since it does not breed its own.

Tritium supply in the U.S. is also tied to plutonium production. Both tritium and plutonium are produced in the same production reactors at the Savannah River Plant in Georgia, but tritium occupies proportionally much more space in the reactors……….

The whole question of tritium transport and export is a “green” issue; it has both environmental and disarmament aspects. There are many unanswered health and environmental questions about the domestic commercial uses of tritium, for fusion research and radio-luminescent lighting.

The federal government, and the international agencies that regulate the flow of strategic materials have so far refused to classify tritium as a “safeguardable” substance. The ostensible reason is that nuclear weapons can be manufactured without tritium, and therefore it is not an essential strategic material in the same way that plutonium or enriched uranium are. This is only technically true since, as we know, all nuclear weapons now being manufactured by nuclear weapons states almost certainly use tritium. Even Israel is apparently using tritium in its clandestine weapons program. In March 1986, the Canadian government approved the export of tritium, even to non signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Ontario Premier David Peterson has stated that “If the Ontario government is to approve the sale of tritium, we will have to be assured that it will be used only for peaceful purposes and that its availability will not make available an equivalent amount of tritium in military stocks for use in nuclear weapons.” However, there are a lot of dubious propositions in this assurance. First, there is the question of whether purchasers will mix Canadian tritium with existing U.S. supplies, or keep it separate so that we can be sure it is not used for military purposes. Canadian uranium is now mixed with other uranium in the U.S., and there is no doubt that it is used in U.S. nuclear weapons. When Premier Peterson assures us that tritium will only be used for “peaceful purposes”, does he include research that may have military applications or spinoffs? For instance, it is clear that laser fusion research, which uses tritium and deuterium, is primarily for military applications relating largely to the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars).

Peterson also says that substitution of U.S. tritium would be unacceptable. However, since the only other supplier for civilian users of tritium has been the U.S. military, there is little doubt that Hydro’s sales will free up U.S. tritium. Hydro contends, however, that these sales will compete with the U.S. military rather than help them.

A black mark against Ontario Hydro is that the Canadian Fusion Fuels Technology Project already deals with military nuclear facilities in the U.S. They have sold tritium technology and expertise to Oak Ridge National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Serious proliferation implications accompany CFFTP’s “breeder blanket” experiments for the deliberate creation of tritium. Similarly, they are experimenting in laser isotope separation, with possible weapons research implications.

Through the CFFTP, Ontario Hydro is drawing Canada into the nuclear arms race through the back door. Hydro’s supposedly peaceful nuclear power program is becoming increasingly integrated into the production of American nuclear weapons — we are helping them to rationalize their production system by providing services, expertise, and strategic materials.

It sells for $15 million per kilogram — over 1000 times the price of gold!

David Martin is on the Steering Committee of Nuclear Awareness Project. To join, or for more information, write to 730 Bathurst Street, Toronto, Ontario, MSS 2R4, (416) 536-0438

Alvin Weinberg spelt out the danger of nuclear reactors

April 28, 2015

Top US Nuclear Physicist: “Iodine-131 will be lethal after ingestion of 30 billionths of a gram” — Main worry is not a Chernobyl-type accident, rather it’s a melt-through of containment vessel — “Not possible to disprove China Syndrome” The hazards of nuclear power plants and the related nuclear industries are reviewed

Alvin M. Weinberg, nuclear physicist (Director of Oak Ridge National Lab and pioneered the pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors used in nuclear power plants, worked on the Manhattan Project, appointed to President’s Science Advisory Committee during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations), 1973:

    • [A]re there concerns regarding the possibility that these systems may malfunction and cause hazard to people and to the environment? This is a perfectly legitimate question that deserves serious and thoughtful consideration; and it is this aspect of the matter that I shall address… The potential hazard of a nuclear system arises from the toxicity both of the materials that keep the system burning and from the fission product ashes. Plutonium-239… is lethal to man in doses of about 16 thousandths of a gram if ingested in the lungs; Strontium-90, with a half-life of 30 years, will be lethal if about 70 millionths of a gram is ingested; Iodine-131, with a half-life of eight days, will be lethal after ingestion of only about 30 billionths of a gram.
  • As I have said, even during the Manhattan Project, we realized that a nuclear reactor could undergo what is known as an excursion [see Chernobyl] – that is, if too many control rods were removed, the reactor power could surge to dangerous levels. This, however, is not the main worry, for such excursions are inherently self-limiting both in time and magnitude.
  • Rather, the worry is that in a very high-powered reactor, immediately after the chain reaction has stopped, the fission products at least momentarily continue to generate 7% as much energy… Thus a high-powered chain reactor must continue to be cooled for a considerable time after shutdown if fuel meltdowns are to be avoided. It was Edward Teller who some 25 years ago insisted with great prescience that in these respects nuclear reactors were potentially dangerous, and therefore they should be subjected to the most searching kind of technical scrutiny… The response of the engineer… was to build a… containment vessel around every reactor; the second [was] various back-up safety systems… to prevent the reactor core from melting. Why bother with the back-up cooling systems if the containment vessel in final analysis will catch whatever radioactive debris might be created in an accident and thus prevent harm befalling the public? And indeed this was the attitude in the earliest days… As long as reactors were relatively small we could prove by calculation that even if the coolant system and its back-up failed, the molten fuel could not generate enough heat to melt itself through the containment However, when reactors exceeded a certain size, then it was no longer possible to prove by calculation that an uncooled reactor fuel charge would not melt through its containment vessel. This hypothetical meltthrough is referred to as the China Syndrome for obvious reasons. Since we could not prove that a molten fuel puddle wouldn’t reach the basement of a power reactor, we also couldn’t prove whether it would continue to bore itself deeper into the ground. Whether or not the China Syndrome is a real possibility is moot. The point is, however, that it is not possible to disprove its existence. Thus, for these very large reactors, it is no longer possible to claim that the containment shell, which for smaller reactors could be relied upon to prevent radioactivity from reaching the public, was sufficient by itself. In consequence, the secondary back-up cooling systems… must now be viewed as the ultimate emergency protection against the China Syndrome… if one is trying to be practically 100 percent sure of always being able to cope with a reactor meltdown, then one must… be absolutely certain that the engineered safety features, particularly the emergency core cooling system, will work as planned.

View the report here

Nuclear reprocessing a risky, expensive and long journey for China

April 28, 2015

Reprocessing in China: A long, risky journey, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 15  Hui Zhang“………Should China continue pursuing its plans for fast breeder reactors and commercialized reprocessing? Good reasons exist for avoiding this course of action. First, because most of China’s power reactors are newly built, Beijing will face little pressure over the next two decades to reduce its spent fuel burden. And spent fuel can be stored safely, at low cost, in dry casks—or disposed of safely in a deep geological repository.

Second, China faces no shortage of uranium resources for the foreseeable future. The nation’s identified resources more than tripled between 2003 and 2012, to 265,500 metric tons from 77,000 metric tons. China’s potential uranium reserves amount to more than 2 million tons. Beijing in recent times has also secured huge overseas uranium resources—about three times as large as its own identified uranium reserves. More such reserves could easily be added.

In any event, the cost of uranium accounts for only a small percentage of the cost of power that reactors generate. Simply put, the cost of uranium will not increase in the foreseeable future to levels that would justify the cost of reprocessing and breeder reactors. To the extent that China is concerned about potential disruptions in its uranium supply, it could easily and inexpensively establish a “strategic” uranium stockpile.

China should carefully examine the experiences of nations that have launched large reprocessing programs and built demonstration breeder reactors in the expectation that the commercialization of these reactors would follow. Commercialization did not follow in those countries—but huge expenses were incurred for cleaning up reprocessing sites and disposing of separated plutonium. For China, there is no urgent need to go down this risky road.

Plutonium recycling is much more expensive, and much less safe and secure, than operating light water reactors with a once-through fuel cycle. As for nuclear waste, dry cask storage is a safe, flexible, and low-cost option that can postpone for decades the need either to reprocess spent fuel or to dispose of it directly—allowing time for technology to develop. China has no convincing rationale for rushing to build commercial-scale reprocessing facilities or plutonium breeder reactors.

Cheyenne Mountain Air Defense facility reopened due to fears of nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack

April 28, 2015

EMP Nuclear Attack Fears Have US Reopen Cheyenne Mountain, ARUTZ SHEVA Israel International News, By Mark Langfan 4/11/2015, Days after Iran deal, Pentagon acts fearing nuclear missile attack that would burn out America’s electronic-based defenses. The Pentagon has decided to reopen the Cheyenne Mountain Air Defense facility, which housed the heart of America’s air and missile defense of North America. The facility had been mothballed in a “cost-saving” move in 2006.

Last week, Admiral William Gortney, head of US NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and US Northern Command, reversed that decision and announced the Pentagon was spending an opening ante of $700 million to oversee reactivation of the Cheyenne mountain-embedded facility.

The reason – the Pentagon’s fears of a nuclear Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) attack by a missile that would burn out America’s overly-dependent defense, which is based on modern electronics.

US NORAD and US Northern Command aren’t just acronyms. They represent the last-ditch American defense of the continental United States homeland. NORAD originally stood for North America Air Defense Command, but now stands for North American Aerospace Command. US Northern Command is the area-specific designation of the US military command that is responsible for the continental United States homeland.

Given the current US military fear of an inter-continental ballistic (ICBM) missile attack with an EMP nuclear-device, Admiral Gortney explained that “because of the very nature of the way that Cheyenne Mountain’s built, it’s EMP-hardened. And so, there’s a lot of movement [in the Pentagon] to put [military] capability into Cheyenne Mountain and to be able to communicate in there.”

In early 2013, this author warned against a similar Iranian “Fatwa-compliant” EMP attack against Saudi Arabia, and a North Korea EMP attack against South Korea.

In an even more startling admission, Admiral Gortney revealed that his “primary concern” was whether the Pentagon was “going to have the space inside the [Cheyenne] mountain for everybody who wants to move in there, and I’m not at liberty to discuss who’s moving in there.”

The Cheyenne mountain bunker is a half-acre cavern that was carved into a mountain in the 1960s that was originally designed to withstand a Soviet nuclear attack. During the Cold War, the United States feared a Soviet nuclear attack scenario that would feature an opening Soviet “EMP decapitation” nuclear attack.

Such a nuclear attack was not the launch of a massive Soviet nuclear first-strike against American cities, but instead, a first-strike Soviet “EMP decapitation” attack that would explode a nuclear device high-above the United States, burning out all of America’s command and control communication systems, and thus severing America’s President from being able to order the US military to retaliate.

By first electronically destroying America’s communications systems, the Soviets would thus have “decapitated” the US’s ability to respond to a secondary more massive follow-on Soviet nuclear attack on American cities.

Thus, a successful Soviet nuclear EMP attack on the US would have “trumped” the concept of MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, because America would have been unable to retaliate and destroy the Soviet Union in response to a Soviet nuclear attack.

During the Cold War, airmen stationed inside the massive complex were poised to send warnings and firing codes that could trigger the launch of America’s vast web of nuclear missiles. Now, in light of the latest nuclear EMP dangers hanging over the United States, the US military, and the United States of America- itself, once again hopes to be protected by the mountains of Colorado…….

Deep bore burial the best answer for high level nuclear wastes – scientists

April 28, 2015

Nuclear waste: Bury nuclear waste down a very deep hole, say scientists, Science Daily  April 14, 2015 Source: University of Sheffield

Technologies that will enable nuclear waste to be sealed 5 km below the Earth’s surface could provide a safer, cheaper and more viable alternative for disposing of high level nuclear waste. Scientists at the University of Sheffield calculate that all of the UK’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in just six boreholes 5km deep, fitting within a site no larger than a football pitch  LandfillThe concept — called deep borehole disposal — has been developed primarily in the UK but is likely to see its first field trials in the USA next year. If the trials are successful, the USA hopes to dispose of its ‘hottest’ and most radioactive waste — left over from plutonium production and currently stored at Hanford in Washington State — in a deep borehole………

Deep borehole disposal (DBD) has a number of advantages over the current solution envisaged for all UK nuclear waste, which is in a mined repository at 500m depth:

  • DBD is effectively ‘pay-as-you-go’ disposal. A mined repository can cost from hundreds of millions to tens of billions of dollars to construct before any waste can be disposed of; DBD costs a few tens of millions of dollars per borehole.
  • There are more geological sites suitable for DBD as the granite layer that is required can be found at appropriate depths under most of the continental crust.
  • A borehole could be drilled, filled and sealed in less than five years, compared to the current timescale for a UK mined repository, which is to open in 2040 and take its first waste by 2075 (although a site has not yet been agreed).
  • As DBD disposes of nuclear waste at greater depths and with greater safety and because there are more potential sites available, it should be easier to obtain public and political acceptance of the technology.
  • DBD has limited environmental impact and does not require a huge site: the holes are a maximum 0.6m in diameter and can be positioned just a few tens of metres apart. Once a borehole is complete, all physical infrastructure on the surface can be removed.
  • While seismic activity might damage the containers within the borehole, fracture the surrounding rock and disrupt some of the nearest barriers in the borehole, it would still not destroy the isolation of the waste or make it possible for radioactivity to reach the surface or any ground water.

The demonstration borehole in the USA will be drilled just under half a metre in diameter and trials will be conducted to ensure waste packages can be inserted into the borehole and recovered if required. Initial results are expected in 2016. If these results are positive, disposal of the Hanford waste capsules would then take place in another borehole, just 0.22m in diameter.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Sheffield.

China’s nuclear reprocessing project is beset with problems

April 28, 2015

Reprocessing in China: A long, risky journey, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,  Hui Zhang , April 15  Since 1983, a closed fuel cycle has been an official element of China’s nuclear energy policy. According to proponents, plutonium reprocessing and breeder reactors will allow full utilization of China’s uranium resources, drastically reduce the volume of radioactive waste that must be stored in an underground repository, and establish a way to dispense with the spent fuel accumulating in China’s reactor pools.

But Beijing’s attempts to develop commercially viable reprocessing facilities and breeder reactors have been afflicted with technological difficulties, serious delays, and cost overruns. At this point—especially taking into account China’s ample uranium resources and its easy access to additional resources abroad—it appears very doubtful that reprocessing and fast reactors are the proper way forward for China’s nuclear energy sector.

Not according to plan………..

Parallel with development of the pilot reprocessing plant, China has been working to establish commercially viable plutonium breeder reactors. According to a plan in place until 2013, development of breeder reactors was to be a three-stage process. The first stage was to complete a project known as the China Experimental Fast Reactor. The second stage would involve building, by about 2020, a few demonstration fast reactors. Finally, commercialized fast reactors would be deployed around 2030. Progress always ran far behind schedule.

The China Experimental Fast Reactor is a sodium-cooled experimental fast reactor using technology developed for Russia’s BN-600 reactor. The project, with a planned capacity of 20 megawatts, was approved in 1995. Construction began in 2000. As with the pilot reprocessing plant, the experimental fast reactor encountered many difficulties during construction. Capital cost estimates had to adjusted twice, with each estimate double the previous one. The reactor went critical in July 2010 and, by July 2011, 40 percent of its full power was incorporated into the grid. The reactor, however, was online for only 26 hours during the remainder of 2011, and it produced the equivalent of just one full power-hour. Not until December 2014 did the reactor manage to operate at full capacity for 72 hours. So 19 years passed between project approval and operation at full capacity.

As for the second stage of the pre-2013 plan, CNNC in 2009 signed an agreement with Russia’s Rosatom to jointly construct two copies of Russia’s BN-800 fast neutron reactor in China. But Beijing has not officially approved the project. As with the French reprocessing plant, Chinese experts complain that Russia is demanding too high a price. It is not clear when or if the project will go forward. Instead, CNNC in 2013 began focusing on the development of the indigenous 600-megawatt China Fast Reactor (CFR-600). The start of construction is envisioned for 2017, with operations to commence in 2023—but the government has not approved the project yet.

Experts from CNNC have also, since 2013, urged the development of China’s first commercial fast reactor—a 1,000-megawatt reactor based on experience gained from the CFR-600. But CNNC expert Gu Zhongmao—an advocate of the closed fuel cycle—said at a recent workshop on nuclear energy in East Asia that “China needs at least another 20 to 30 years of effort before commercialization of fast reactor energy systems, and there are so many uncertainties ahead. It is beyond our ability to draw a clear picture 20 years ahead.”………….


The impact of Chernobyl radiation on microorganisms

April 28, 2015

Chernobyl’s Radioactive Impact on Microbial Biota submitted by damchodronma 6 April 15 

Alexey V. Yablokov

Of the few microorganisms that have been studied, all underwent rapid changes in the areas heavily contaminated by Chernobyl. Organisms such as tuberculosis bacilli; hepatitis, herpes, and tobacco mosaic viruses; cytomegalovirus; and soil micromycetes and bacteria were activated in various ways.

The ultimate long-term consequences for the Chernobyl microbiologic biota may be worse than what we know today. Compared to humans and other mammals, the profound changes that take place among these small live organisms with rapid reproductive turnover do not bode well for the health and survival of other species.

One gram of soil contains some 2,500,000,000 microorganisms (bacteria,microfungi, and protozoa). Up to 3 kg of the mass of an adult human body is made up of bacteria, viruses, and microfungi. In spite of the fact that these represent such important and fundamentally live ecosystems there are only scarce data on the various microbiological consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Several incidences of increased morbidity owing to certain infectious diseases may be due to increased virulence of microbial populations as a result of Chernobyl irradiation.
read on

pgs 281-83

“Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”
by Alexey Yablokov, Vasily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko
NY Academy of Sciences, Volume 1181, 2009.
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