Archive for the ‘safety’ Category

Conclusions and recommendations of safety assessment of advanced nuclear reactors – non-light-water ones

May 3, 2021

Assessing the Safety, Security, and Environmental Impacts of Non-Light-Water Nuclear Reactors,Union of Concerned Scientists, Edwin Lyman Mar 18, 2021  “Advanced” Isn’t Always Better  

”……….Conclusions of the Assessment

The non-light-water nuclear reactor landscape is vast and complex, and it is beyond the scope of this report to survey the entire field in depth. Nevertheless, enough is clear even at this stage to draw some general conclusions regarding the safety and security of NLWRs and their prospects for rapid deployment.

Based on the available evidence, the NLWR designs currently under consideration (except possibly once-through, breed-and-burn reactors) do not offer obvious improvements over LWRs significant enough to justify their many risks. Regulators and other policymakers would be wise to look more closely at the nuclear power programs under way to make sure they prioritize safety and security. Future appropriations for NLWR technology research, development, and deployment should be guided by realistic assessments of the likely societal benefits that would result from the investment of billions of taxpayer dollars.

Little evidence supports claims that NLWRs will be significantly safer than today’s LWRs. While some NLWR designs offer some safety advantages, all have novel characteristics that could render them less safe.

All NLWR designs introduce new safety issues that will require substantial analysis and testing to fully understand and address—and it may not be possible to resolve them fully. To determine whether any NLWR concept will be significantly safer than LWRs, the reactor must achieve an advanced stage of technical maturity, undergo complete comprehensive safety testing and analysis, and acquire significant operating experience under realistic conditions.

The claim that any nuclear reactor system can “burn” or “consume” nuclear waste is a misleading oversimplification. Reactors can actually use only a fraction of spent nuclear fuel as new fuel, and separating that fraction increases the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

No nuclear reactor can use spent nuclear fuel directly as fresh fuel. Instead, spent fuel has to be “reprocessed”—chemically treated to extract plutonium and other TRU elements, which must then be refabricated into new fuel. This introduces a grave danger: plutonium and other TRU elements can be used in nuclear weapons. Reprocessing and recycling render these materials vulnerable to diversion or theft and increases the risks of nuclear proliferation and terrorism—risks that are costly to address and that technical and institutional measures cannot fully mitigate. Any fuel cycle that requires reprocessing poses inherently greater proliferation and terrorism risks than the “once-through” cycle with direct disposal of spent fuel in a geologic repository.

Some NLWRs have the potential for greater sustainability than LWRs, but the improvements appear to be too small to justify their proliferation and safety risks.

Although some NLWR systems could use uranium more efficiently and generate smaller quantities of long-lived TRU isotopes in nuclear waste, for most designs these benefits could be achieved only by repeatedly reprocessing spent fuel to separate out these isotopes and recycle them in new fuel—and that presents unacceptable proliferation and security risks. In addition, reprocessing plants and other associated fuel cycle facilities are costly to build and operate, and they increase the environmental and safety impacts compared with the LWR once-through cycle. Moreover, the sustainability increases in practice would not be significant in a reasonably foreseeable time frame.

Once-through, breed-and-burn reactors have the potential to use uranium more efficiently without reprocessing, but many technical challenges remain.

One type of NLWR system that could in principle be more sustainable than the LWR without increasing proliferation and terrorism risks is the once-through, breed-and-burn reactor. Concepts such as TerraPower’s traveling-wave reactor could enable the use of depleted uranium waste stockpiles as fuel, which would increase the efficiency of uranium use. Although there is no economic motivation to develop more uranium-efficient reactors at a time when uranium is cheap and abundant, reducing uranium mining may be beneficial for other reasons, and such reactors may be useful for the future. However, many technical challenges would have to be overcome to achieve breed-and-burn operation, including the development of very-high-burnup fuels. The fact that TerraPower suspended its project after more than a decade of development to pursue a more conventional and far less uranium-efficient SFR, the Natrium, suggests that these challenges have proven too great.

High-assay low enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel, which is needed for many NLWR designs, poses higher nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism risks than the lower-assay LEU used by the operating LWR fleet.

Many NLWR designs require uranium enriched to higher levels than the 5 percent U-235 typical of LWR fuel. Although uranium enriched to between 10 and 20 percent U-235 (defined here as HALEU) is considered impractical for direct use in nuclear weapons, it is more attractive for weapons use—and requires more stringent security—than the lower-assay enriched uranium in current LWRs.

The significant time and resources needed to safely commercialize any NLWR design should not be underestimated.

It will likely take decades and many billions of dollars to develop and commercially deploy any NLWR design, together with its associated fuel cycle facilities and other support activities. Such development programs would come with a significant risk of delay or failure and require long-term stewardship and funding commitments. And even if a commercially workable design were demonstrated, it would take many more years after that to deploy a large number of units and operate them safely and reliably.

Vendors that claim their NLWRs could be commercialized much more quickly typically assume that their designs will not require full-scale performance demonstrations and extensive safety testing, which could add well over a decade to the development timeline. However, current designs for sodium-cooled fast reactors and high-temperature gas-cooled reactors differ enough from past reactor demonstrations that they cannot afford to bypass additional full-scale prototype testing before licensing and commercial deployment. Molten salt–fueled reactors have only had small-scale demonstrations and thus are even less mature. NLWRs deployed commercially at premature stages of development run a high risk of poor performance and unexpected safety problems.

Recommendations

The DOE should suspend the advanced reactor demonstration program pending a finding by the NRC whether it will require full-scale prototype testing before licensing the two chosen designs as commercial power reactors.

The DOE has selected two NLWR designs, the Natrium SFR and the Xe-100 pebble-bed HTGR, for demonstration of full-scale commercial operation by 2027. However, the NRC has yet to evaluate whether these designs are mature enough that it can license them without first obtaining data from full-scale prototype plants to demonstrate novel safety features, validate computer codes, and qualify new types of fuel in representative environments. Without such an evaluation, the NRC will likely lack the information necessary to ensure safe, secure operation of these reactors. The DOE should suspend the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program until the NRC—in consultation with the agency’s Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards and external experts—has determined whether prototypes will be needed first.

Congress should require that an independent, transparent, peer-review panel direct all DOE R&D on new nuclear concepts, including the construction of additional test or demonstration reactors.

Given the long time and high cost required to commercialize NLWR designs, the DOE should provide funding for NLWR R&D judiciously and only for reactor concepts that offer a strong possibility of significantly increasing safety and security—and do not increase proliferation risks. Moreover, unlike the process for selecting the two reactor designs for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, decision-making should be transparent.6 Congress should require that the DOE convene an independent, public commission to thoroughly review the technical merits of all NLWR designs proposed for development and demonstration, including those already selected for the ARDP. The commission, whose members should represent a broad range of expertise and perspectives, would recommend funding only for designs that are highly likely to be commercialized successfully while achieving clearly greater safety and security than current-generation LWRs.

The DOE and other agencies should thoroughly assess the implications for proliferation and nuclear terrorism of the greatly expanded production, processing, and transport of the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) required to support the widespread deployment of NLWRs.

Large-scale deployment of NLWRs that use HALEU fuel will require establishing a new industrial infrastructure for producing and transporting the material. The DOE is actively promoting the development of HALEU-fueled reactor designs for export. Given that HALEU is a material of higher security concern than lower-assay LEU, Congress should require that the DOE immediately assess the proliferation and nuclear terrorism implications of transitioning to the widespread use of HALEU worldwide. This assessment should also address the resource requirements for the security and safeguards measures needed to ensure that such a transition can occur without an unacceptable increase in risk.

The United States should make all new reactors and associated fuel facilities eligible for IAEA safeguards and provide that agency with the necessary resources for carrying out verification activities.

The IAEA, which is responsible for verifying that civilian nuclear facilities around the world are not being misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons, has limited or no experience in safeguarding many types of NLWRs and their associated fuel cycle facilities. NLWR projects being considered for deployment in the United States, such as the Natrium SFR and the Xe-100 pebble-bed HTGR, would provide ideal test beds for the IAEA to develop safeguards approaches. However, as a nuclear-weapon state, the United States is not obligated to give the IAEA access to its nuclear facilities. To set a good example and advance the cause of nonproliferation, the United States should immediately provide the IAEA with permission and funding to apply safeguards on all new US nuclear facilities, beginning at the design phase. This would help to identify safeguard challenges early and give the IAEA experience in verifying similar facilities if they are deployed in other countries.

The DOE and Congress should consider focusing nuclear energy R&D on improving the safety and security of LWRs, rather than on commercializing immature NLWR designs.

LWR technology benefits from a vast trove of information resulting from many decades of acquiring experimental data, analysis, and operating experience—far more than that available for any NLWR. This gives the LWR a significant advantage over other nuclear technologies. The DOE and Congress should do a more thorough evaluation of the benefits of focusing R&D funding on addressing the outstanding safety, security, and cost issues of LWRs rather than attempting to commercialize less mature reactor concepts. If the objective is to expand nuclear power to help deal with the climate crisis over the next few decades, improving LWRs could be a less risky bet.

Endnotes………

This is a condensed, online version of the executive summary. For all figures, references, and the full text, please download the PDF.  https://ucsusa.org/resources/advanced-isnt-always-better#read-online-content

Tokyo’s ”Recovery Olympics”? But Japan has not recovered from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown

April 5, 2021

Japan Hasn’t Recovered 10 Years After Fukushima Meltdown, https://truthout.org/articles/japan-hasnt-recovered-10-years-after-fukushima-meltdown/,  Arnie Gundersen, -March 11, 2021  

On March 11, 2011, a devastating offshore earthquake and ensuing tsunami rocked Japan and resulted in nuclear meltdowns in three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site. Until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were placed on a one-year hiatus because of concerns over COVID-19, the Japanese government had portrayed these events as the “Recovery Olympics.” It had hoped to use the Olympics to showcase a claimed restoration of Japan since it was devastated in 2011. But has Japan really “recovered?”Recently, corresponding author Marco Kaltofen (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), co-author Maggie Gundersen (Fairewinds Energy Education) and I published our second peer-reviewed journal article analyzing hundreds of radioactive samples from northern Japan that we collected with assistance from Japanese citizens and scientists. Our sampling on five occasions over almost a decade totaled 70 days on the ground. Here are four things we discovered.

1. Existing radiation maps ignore significant sources of radiological exposure.

Most of the radiation maps of northern Japan are based on external radiation detected in handheld instrument measurements by citizens and scientists, who then link the measurements to GPS coordinates while downloading that data into a massive database. This information about direct, external radiation is certainly important, but it has become the de facto criteria for decision makers in Japan to decide which cities and towns should be repopulated.

We found that this approach only provides limited policy alternatives and serves to minimize potential population exposure for two reasons. First, the Geiger counter data is for external radiation that was deposited on the ground external to human bodies and ignores radiation imbibed or inhaled as “hot particles” into the human body.

Secondly, the external radiation data frequently displayed for northern Japan is based on radiation emitted from only a single radioactive isotope, Cesium-137 (Cs-137), as measured externally. On the other hand, our papers show a wide variety of isotopes that are not detected by handheld Geiger counters or absorbed externally. We show that there is an extensive brew of various isotopes present in radioactive dust that is inhaled or imbibed. Our papers indicate that the radioactive concentration in these dust particles varies widely, by a factor of 1 million, with 5 percent (3 sigma) of these “hot particles” 10,000 times more radioactive than the mean. Our most radioactive dust particle was collected 300 miles from the site of the meltdown.

Furthermore, the data show that alpha, beta and gamma-emitting contaminants in radioactive fallout from the Daiichi meltdowns have not traveled together in lockstep. This means that measuring only beta-emitters like Cesium-137 or only total gamma (as you would with a Geiger counter) is not enough to map the full impact of the fallout. Alpha-emitters must also be measured to protect the public health. This is especially important because of the serious health impacts that can come from exposure to alpha radiation.

2. Northern Japan remains radiologically contaminated.

When a nuclear chain reaction stops, the hazardous remnants of the previously split uranium atoms, euphemistically called “fission products,” are left behind and remain radioactive for centuries. The triple meltdowns and explosions at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2 and 3 in March 2011 released an enormous amount of these fission products into the environment. Wind currents pushed as much as 80 percent of this radiation over the Pacific Ocean, while 20 percent fell on northern Japan, forcing the evacuation of approximately 160,000 Japanese citizens from ancestral lands.

Absent any human intervention, short-lived fission products that originally accounted for more than half of this contamination have already decayed away during the last nine years, while even more has washed into the Pacific from storms and typhoons. Limited cleanup efforts by the Japanese government have further reduced the contamination in a fraction of the populated portion of the devastated Fukushima prefecture. Greater than 10 million tons of radioactive material have been collected and stored in 10 million individual large black bags at hundreds of locations. However, due to mountainous terrain, more than 70 percent of Fukushima prefecture will never be decontaminated.

Absent any human intervention, short-lived fission products that originally accounted for more than half of this contamination have already decayed away during the last nine years, while even more has washed into the Pacific from storms and typhoons. Limited cleanup efforts by the Japanese government have further reduced the contamination in a fraction of the populated portion of the devastated Fukushima prefecture. Greater than 10 million tons of radioactive material have been collected and stored in 10 million individual large black bags at hundreds of locations. However, due to mountainous terrain, more than 70 percent of Fukushima prefecture will never be decontaminated.

As the cost and effort to completely decontaminate the entire land mass of Fukushima prefecture would be prohibitive, the Japanese government has focused on cleaning only populated areas. It also increased the “allowable” radiation limit 20-fold, after an initial partial decontamination, from 1 milli-Sievert to 20 milli-Sieverts per year (100 millirem to 2 rem) to facilitate repopulation of abandoned villages. A 20-fold increase in radiation will create a 20-fold increase in radiation-induced cancers. A significant fraction of residents chose not to return, recognizing the increased risk that these higher approved limits present.

3. Previously “cleaned” areas are becoming radiologically contaminated yet again.

The city of Minamisoma was contaminated and evacuated at the height of the Fukushima disaster. After a period of several years, radiation in the city was remediated and citizens were allowed to return. Minamisoma City Hall was decontaminated, with a new epoxy roof applied after the meltdowns in 2011. The authors collected samples from this previously “clean” fourth-story roof in 2016 and again in 2017, finding high levels of alpha radiation in the relative absence of the normally ubiquitous Cesium isotopes. This can only imply that wind-borne contamination from uncleaned areas is recontaminating those areas determined habitable.

4. Olympic venues in Fukushima prefecture are more contaminated than in Tokyo Olympic venues.

Suburbs of Tokyo are approximately 120 miles from the reactors at Fukushima Daiichi. We found particulate radiation at Olympic venues in Tokyo to be normal compared to other cities worldwide. We found that areas in Japan beyond the Olympic venues were seven times more contaminated than the venues themselves. Contamination at the Olympic venues in Fukushima prefecture, planned to showcase the region’s recovery, were also more contaminated than the Tokyo venues. We found that on average, these northern Olympic venues were two to three times more contaminated with “hot particles” than venues in Tokyo.

We also detected small but statistically significant levels of plutonium at the J-Village national soccer camp in Fukushima prefecture. Even though the Japanese government claims to have thoroughly decontaminated these Fukushima locations, it is not surprising that these Olympic venues remain contaminated. As discussed previously, since the entirety of the prefecture’s area will never be decontaminated, these areas will continue to have wind-borne contamination for centuries.

Science on a Shoestring

As Fukushima was melting down, nuclear advocates in the U.S. were testifying to the Washington State legislature, saying that Japan’s nuclear plants would not be a problem, and that working in a nuclear plant is “safer than working in Toys R Us.” Not surprisingly, those same zealots are now claiming that there will be no increase in cancer fatalities as a result of the three Fukushima meltdowns. However, not including the hot particle contamination my colleagues and I have identified, the UN estimates that thousands of fatalities will occur. Others, including myself, believe the actual cancer increase could result in upwards of 100,000 increased deaths as a result of the radioactive microparticles strewn into the environment.

There is no doubt that radiological conditions in Japan have improved in the decade since the triple meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi. However, our data show that Japan has not “recovered,” nor can it ever return to pre-meltdown norms. Public relations campaigns by interested parties cannot obscure the recontamination of populated areas in northern Japan that will continue to occur.

Hasegawa, the former head of Maeda Ward in Fukushima prefecture at the time of the Fukushima disaster, sums up the sentiment of most of Japanese citizens in northern Japan: “The nuclear plant took everything.… We are just in the way of the Olympics. In the end, the radiation-affected places like us are just in the way. They are going ahead just wanting to get rid of these places from Japan, to forget.”

There is an old laboratory adage that says, “The best way to clean up a spill is not to have a spill,” and this applies on a much larger scale to the entirety of northern Japan, where cleanup will remain economically unfeasible. Our future plans to further support our hypothesis that Japan remains contaminated will involve testing the shoestrings of Olympic athletes and visitors to northern Japan. Shoestrings are useful, as their woven fabric traps dust which may assist in determining the extent of contamination into populated areas in northern Japan compared to that in Tokyo.

Fukushima nuclear accident costs so far $188billion, projected final costs of $740 bn.

April 5, 2021

David Lowry’s Blog 10th March 2021, Pediatrician Dr Alex Rosen, a leading figure in the German branch of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) said it was “luck and divine intervention” that wind from the west blew most of the radiological releases out over the Pacific Ocean, meaning the Fukushima accident released more radioactivity to the oceans than the Chernobyl accident and all the nuclear weapons tests together.

Another webinar I attended, on 9 March, was co-hosted by Northwestern University’s Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs located in Evanston, Illinois, and the Bulletin for the Atomic Scientists, based in Chicago, to launch a new international interdisciplinary collaborative study on “Nuclear Disaster Compensation: Lessons from Fukushima: Interviews with Experts and Intellectuals, edited by anthropology professor Hirokazu Miyazaki. Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairperson, Allison McFarlane, now a professor and director of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, pointed out in the webinar that the Fukushima accident has so far cost US$188billion, with projected final costs of US$740 bn. http://drdavidlowry.blogspot.com/2021/03/nuclear-fuk-ed.html

Need to establish compensation schemes for future nuclear accidents

April 5, 2021

Fukushima lesson: Victim compensation schemes need updating, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists , By Hirokazu Miyazaki | March 10, 2021 At the 10th anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that set off a meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, it is time to revisit the laws that govern compensation for victims of such disasters.

Fortunately, major nuclear accidents are rare. To date, only Fukushima and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Russia are rated level 7 “major” accidents by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But given the potential for nuclear power generation to expand, accidents of various levels of severity could also increase in frequency.

………..  expanding protection for victims, including the amount and scope of compensation they can receive, should become an international priority for the industry, policymakers, and global nuclear organizations.

As my colleagues and I who are part of the Meridian 180 Global Working Group on Nuclear Energy have found, domestic laws and international conventions around nuclear power and compensation for victims of accidents are insufficient and need to be revisited. These laws and protocols were designed, at least originally, to promote nuclear energy and protect the interests of the nuclear power industry. Given the infrequency of major accidents, the laws and protocols have not been tested very often.

The laws limit the liability faced by nuclear power plant operators and manufacturers and the amount of compensation paid to victims. As a result, investors can pursue nuclear energy projects without fear of a potentially significant burden to compensate victims if a major accident were to occur. But the potential for accidents remains. Rather than assume they can be prevented, we must prepare for them—not only with emergency plans and safety protocols, but also with laws that protect and compensate the victims.

Compensation claims remain unresolved. The Chernobyl disaster did lead to some reform of international and domestic laws to strengthen victim protections. But since Fukushima, few regulatory policy changes have been enacted, inside or outside Japan, and Fukushima damage compensation claims remain unresolved. Among the victims in Fukushima Prefecture are thousands of local residents who faced losses — of their homes, communities, ancestral homelands, and day-to-day life activities. Although not directly attributable, the deaths of more than 1,500 people have been linked to physical and mental stresses related to the evacuation after the nuclear reactor meltdowns.

Tokyo Electric Power Company has paid more than 9.7 trillion yen (or approximately $92 billion) to nuclear accident victims, the largest damage payout ever made to such victims and among the highest (if not the highest) paid in any industrial disaster. But dissatisfaction and unsettled claims remain. Some have not been compensated for losses because their residences were outside mandatory evacuation zones. Nearly 30 collective lawsuits brought against Tokyo Electric Power Company and the Japanese government are pending.

Three goals for deliberative conversation. Fair treatment and compensation for victims and those impacted by nuclear accidents can best be achieved through a deliberative conversation that is anticipatory, participatory, and transnational:

  • Anticipatory. Discussion of laws that govern nuclear power and provide for compensation of victims must occur before the next disaster. Many dedicated professionals continue working to prevent future nuclear accidents………….. the scope of responsibility is a question that requires careful and inclusive deliberation, before the next nuclear accident occurs.

    • Participatory
      . Any forum on nuclear disaster compensation must include a wide variety of people and interests, including ordinary citizens who have been impacted, or are likely to be impacted, by a disaster as well as nuclear engineers, medical doctors, environmental scientists, and other experts with specialized knowledge………

      • Transnational. 
        Nuclear disasters do not respect national borders, so forums on accident compensation must be transnational—a departure from past practice……….highlight the implications of compensating citizens who live beyond the borders of the state or region where a catastrophe occurs.Preparing for the next one. The nuclear disaster at Fukushima was deeply transnational in scope and participation: The US-designed reactors at the Fukushima plant used nuclear fuel that was mined outside Japan, likely in Canada, Kazakhstan, Niger, Australia, Russia, or Namibia, six countries that supply more than 85 percent of the nuclear fuel used worldwide. As nuclear power plants continue to operate, and with the prospect that more plants will be built in the future, the potential for accidents remains. Rather than assume they can be prevented, we must prepare for them — not only with emergency plans and safety protocols, but also with laws that protect and compensate the victims, which can only stem from discussions at all levels of government and industry that meaningfully include those most likely to be injured, should another nuclear disaster occur.  https://thebulletin.org/2021/03/a-fukushima-lesson-victim-compensation-schemes-need-updating/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsletter03112021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_Miyazaki_03102021

Accidents in both USA’s and Russia’s use of nuclear power in space

February 18, 2021

Nuclear Rockets to Mars?, BY KARL GROSSMAN– CounterPunch, 16 Feb 21”…………There have been accidents in the history of the U.S.—and also the former Soviet Union and now Russia—using nuclear power in space.

And the NAS report, deep into it, does acknowledge how accidents can happen with its new scheme of using nuclear power on rockets for missions to Mars.

It says: “Safety assurance for nuclear systems is essential to protect operating personnel as well as the general public and Earth’s environment.” Thus under the report’s plan, the rockets with the nuclear reactors onboard would be launched “with fresh [uranium] fuel before they have operated at power to ensure that the amount of radioactivity on board remains as low as practicable.” The plans include “restricting reactor startup and operations in space until spacecraft are in nuclear safe orbits or trajectories that ensure safety of Earth’s population and environment” But, “Additional policies and practices need to be established to prevent unintended system reentry during return to Earth after reactors have been operated for extended periods of time.”

The worst U.S. accident involving the use of nuclear power in space came in 1964 when the U.S. satellite Transit 5BN-3, powered by a SNAP-9A plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generator, failed to achieve orbit and fell from the sky, disintegrating as it burned up in the atmosphere, globally spreading plutonium—considering the deadliest of all radioactive substances. That accident was long linked to a spike in global lung cancer rates where the plutonium was spread, by Dr. John Gofman, an M.D. and Ph. D., a professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley. He also had been involved in developing some of the first methods for isolating plutonium for the Manhattan Project.

NASA, after the SNAP-9A (SNAP for Systems Nuclear Auxiliary Power) accident became a pioneer in developing solar photovoltaic power. All U.S. satellites now are energized by solar power, as is the International Space Station.

The worst accident involving nuclear power in space in the Soviet/Russian space program occurred in 1978 when the Cosmos 954 satellite with a nuclear reactor aboard fell from orbit and spread radioactive debris over a 373-mile swath from Great Slave Lake to Baker Lake in Canada. There were 110 pounds of highly-enriched (nearly 90 percent) of uranium fuel on Cosmos 954.

Highly-enriched uranium—90 percent is atomic bomb-grade—would be used in one reactor design proposed in the NAS report. And thus there is a passage about it under “Proliferation and security.” It states that “HEU [highly enriched uranium] fuel, by virtue of the ease with which it could be diverted to the production of nuclear weapons, is a higher value target than HALEU [high assay low enriched uranium], especially during launch and reentry accidents away from the launch site. As a result, HEU is viewed by nonproliferation experts as requiring more security considerations. In addition, if the United States uses HEU for space reactors, it could become more difficult to convince other countries to reduce their use of HEU in civilian applications.”

As for rocket propulsion in the vacuum of space, it doesn’t take much conventional chemical propulsion to move a spacecraft—and fast……..more https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/16/nuclear-rockets-to-mars/

America’s ”fleet” of dangerously embrittled nuclear reactors

February 18, 2021
– 1 Feb 2021

Of all the daunting tasks Joe Biden faces, especially vital is the inspection of dangerously embrittled atomic reactors still operating in the United States.

A meltdown at any one of them would threaten the health and safety of millions of people while causing major impact to an already struggling economy. The COVID-19 pandemic would complicate and add to the disaster. A nuclear power plant catastrophe would severely threaten accomplishments Biden is hoping to achieve in his presidency.

The problem of embrittlement is on the top of the list of nuclear power concerns. The “average age”—length of operation—of nuclear power plants in the U.S., the federal government’s Energy information Agency, reported in 2019 was 38 years.
Now, in 2021, the “average age” of nuclear power plants in the U.S. is 40 years—the length of time originally seen when nuclear power began in the U.S. for how long plants could operate before embrittlement set in.

That’s why the operating licenses originally issued for the plants were limited to 40 years.

Here’s how Arnold “Arnie” Gundersen, a nuclear engineer with more than 44 years of experience in the nuclear industry, who became a whistleblower and is now chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates, explains embrittlement: “When exposed to radiation, metal becomes embrittled and eventually can crack like glass. The longer the radiation exposure, the worse the embrittlement becomes.”

A nuclear reactor is just like a pressure cooker and is a pot designed to hold the radioactive contents of the atomic chain reaction in the nuclear core,” continues Gundersen, whose experience includes being a licensed Critical Facility Reactor Operator. “And metals in reactors are exposed to radiation every day a plant operates”

“If the reactor is embrittled and cracks,” says Gundersen, “it’s ‘game over’ as all the radiation can spew out into the atmosphere.Diablo Canyon [a twin-reactor facility in California] is the worst, the most embrittled nuclear power facility in the U.S., but there are plenty of others that also could crack. Starting with Diablo, every reactor in the U.S. should be checked to determine they are too embrittled to continue to safely operate.”

Metals inside a nuclear power plant are bombarded with radiation, notes Gundersen. The steel used in reactor pressure vessels—which contain the super-hot nuclear cores—is not immune.

Every U.S. reactor has an Emergency Core Cooling System and a Core Spray System to flood the super-hot core in the event of a loss-of-coolant accident.

Embrittled metal would shatter when hit with that cold water.

The ensuing explosion could then blow apart the containment structure—as happened at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plants—morphing into a radioactive plume moving into the atmosphere and be carried by the winds, dropping deadly fall-out wherever it goes.

This apocalyptic outcome was barely missed in Pennsylvania where, starting at 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979, fuel inside the Three Mile Island Unit Two nuclear power plant began to melt.

Its Emergency Core Cooling System was activated. But only the year before—in 1978—did the plant receive a license to operate and begin operating.

Had TMI, like so many of U.S. nuclear power plants now, been decades old and its metal pressure vessel embrittled and had shattered—a far greater disaster would have occurred. The entire northeastern U.S. could have been blanketed with deadly radioactivity

The “fleet” of old, decrepit nuclear power plants in the U.S.—with embrittled metal components—must be inspected. And with embrittlement they must be shut down.

Biden must jump into the situation—for the sake of American lives, for the sake of the nation’s future.

Nuclear power in the U.S. is under the jurisdiction of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC. That acronym NRC should really stand for Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission. Whatever the nuclear industry wants, the NRC says yes to.

As the result of the series of globally infamous catastrophic nuclear power plant accidents—at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima—and the availability of safe, green, cost-effective, clean renewable energy, led by solar and wind, coupled with increasing energy efficiency, the nuclear industry is in its death throes.

Only two nuclear power plants are being built now in the U.S., Vogtle 3 and 4 in Georgia. At nearly $30 billion for the pair, they’re hugely over budget—and their construction costs are still rising. In fact, virtually all operating atomic reactors are producing electricity at much higher base costs than solar and wind.

The NRC is currently seeking to try to bail out the nuclear industry—to keep it going—by allowing nuclear power plants to operate for 100 years.

In recent years it agreed to let nuclear power plants to run for 60 years and then it upped that to 80 years.

On January 21 the Nuclear Rubberstamp Commission held a “public meeting” on its plan to now extend operating licenses for U.S. nuclear power plants and allow them to run for 100 years. Speaker after speaker protested this scheme.

“It’s time to stop this whole nuke con job,” testified Erica Gray nuclear issues chair of the Virginia Sierra Club, at the meeting. There is “no solution” to dealing with nuclear waste, she said. It is “unethical to continue to make the most toxic waste known to mankind.” And renewable energy” with solar and wind “can power the world.”

“Our position… is a resounding no,” declared Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project of the national organization Beyond Nuclear, for letting nuclear power plants run for 100 years.

Speakers cited the greatly increased likelihood of accidents if nuclear plants were allowed to run for a century.

Biden must step in and order the inspection for embrittlement of U.S. nuclear power plants.

The “fleet” of old, decrepit nuclear power plants in the U.S.—with embrittled metal components—must be inspected. And with embrittlement and other likely age-induced problems, they must be shut down.

Biden must act to prevent what would constitute nuclear suicide in the United States.

On January 27, Biden announced a climate change agenda transitioning the U.S. towards renewable energy. But taking action against fossil fuel is not enough. Nuclear power plants are also engines of global warming. The “nuclear fuel chain” which includes uranium mining, milling and fuel enrichment is carbon intensive. Nuclear plants themselves emit Carbon-14, a radioactive form of carbon.

Biden must take the lead. NOW!

Harvey Wasserman wrote the books Solartopia! Our Green-Powered Earth and The Peoples Spiral of US History. He helped coin the phrase “No Nukes.” He co-convenes the Grassroots Emergency Election Protection Coalition at www.electionprotection2024.org  Karl Grossman is the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power and Power Crazy. He the host of the nationally-aired TV program Enviro Close-Up with Karl Grossman (www.envirovideo.com)

Hanford’s dangerous collection of nuclear waste sites, including 177 underground leaky tanks

February 18, 2021

Washington’s new nuclear waste lead takes on Hanford’s aging tanks, OPB, By Anna King (Northwest News Network), Dec. 30, 2020.

David Bowen is charged with holding the U.S. Department of Energy accountable for its cleanup of a site that once produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

At the Hanford site in southeastern Washington, along the Columbia River, millions of gallons of radioactive sludge are cradled in aging underground tanks.

Nearly 2,000 capsules filled with cesium and strontium rest unquietly in an old, glowing-blue pool of water. Two reactors along the Columbia still need to be sealed up and cocooned.

And those are just some of the bigger waste sites out of hundreds at the 580-square-mile cleanup site.

177 underground tanks filled with radioactive waste   It’s a lot to ponder and a steep learning curve for freshly hired David Bowen. …..He started his new job Dec. 16 as the Nuclear Waste Program lead for Washington’s Department of Ecology in Richland.

he’ll hold the U.S. Department of Energy accountable for its cleanup at the site using the Tri-Party Agreement. That’s a 1989 document struck between Ecology, the federal Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Hanford houses leftovers from World War II and the Cold War, when it was the nation’s factory for plutonium. Trenches, pits and buildings are all contaminated with loads of chemicals and radioactive waste generated at breakneck speed.

The stickiest problem: 177 tanks — some of them leakers — filled with radioactive waste.

“Some of [the underground tanks] are 50-plus years old,” Bowen said. “And they weren’t designed to last this long. There are still fluids in them, millions of gallons, in sludge, et cetera. So, there’s the opportunity for that to escape and get into the Columbia River — or the groundwater is high.”

A massive waste treatment plant is being built in the desert at Hanford to treat that tank waste. But the cleanup timeline has been pushed back several times since the 1980s. It could be pushed back more because of the pandemic.

……. Aging infrastructure, aging expertsHanford is much like a complex small city: thousands of commuting workers, miles of highways and intertwining roads.

Then there are all the stakeholders: multiple tribes, Seattle-based Hanford watchdog groups, salmon and Columbia River advocates and multiple government agencies. Losing Hanford experts to retirement or attrition to other agencies is a big problem — and a growing one. Some key Ecology experts have recently been lured away to federal posts or to work as Hanford contractors. And many have already retired. Bowen said he’s well aware he needs to work fast……… https://www.opb.org/article/2020/12/29/washington-nuclear-waste-program-manager-hanford/

 

The insanity of nuclear power in space

December 22, 2020
The Big Push for Nukes in Space,   https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/15/the-big-push-for-nukes-in-space/?fbclid=IwAR1rGf0qomJlTKuhqCOsTTl3EkKOQzxf2QxOJ-3n0MnxGWNLvybgxXPovTU     BY KARL GROSSMAN.– 15 Dec 20, Last week a SpaceX rocket exploded in a fireball at the SpaceX site in Texas. “Fortunately,” reported Lester Holt on NBC TV’s Nightly News, “no one was aboard.”

But what if nuclear materials had been aboard?

The nuclear space issue is one I got into 35 years ago when I learned—from reading a U.S. Department of Energy newsletter—about two space shuttles, one the Challenger which was to be launched the following year with 24.2 pounds of plutonium aboard.

The plutonium the shuttles were to carry aloft in 1986 was to be used as fuel in radioisotope thermoelectric generators—RTGs—that were to provide a small amount of electric power for instruments on space probes to be released from the shuttles once the shuttles achieved orbit.

The plutonium-fueled RTGs had nothing to do with propulsion.

I used the U.S. Freedom of Information Act to ask what would be the consequences of an accident on launch, in the lower or upper atmosphere—and what about the dispersal of deadly plutonium. A few years earlier, I wrote Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power, so I was well familiar with plutonium, considered the most lethal radioactive substance.

For 10 months there was a stonewall of challenges to my FOIA request by DOE and NASA. Finally, I got the information, heavily redacted, with the claim that the likelihood of a shuttle accident releasing plutonium was “small.”

Said one document: “The risk would be small due to the high reliability inherent in the design of the Space Shuttle.” NASA put the odds of a catastrophic shuttle accident at one-in-100,000.

Then, on January 28, 1986 the Challenger blew up.

It was on its next mission—in May 1986—that it was slated to have a plutonium-fueled RTG aboard.

From a pay phone in an appliance store –amid scores of TV sets with that horrible video of the Challenger exploding—I called The Nation magazine and asked the folks there whether they knew that the next launch of the Challenger was to be a nuclear mission. They didn’t.

They had me write an editorial that appeared on The Nation’s front page titled “The Lethal Shuttle.” It began, “Far more than seven people could have died if the explosion that destroyed Challenger had occurred during the next launch…”

And I got deeper and deeper into the nukes-in-space issue—authoring two books, one The Wrong Stuff, presenting three TV documentaries, writing many hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and speaking widely on the issue.

NASA, incidentally, later in 1986, drastically increased the odds of a catastrophic shuttle accident to one-in-76. It turned out the one-in-100,000 estimate was based on dubious guessing.

I found that accidents involving the use of nuclear power in space is not a sky-is-falling threat. In the then 26 U.S. space nuclear shots, there had been three accident, the worst in 1964 involving a satellite powered by a SNAP 9-A radioisotope thermoelectric generator fueled with plutonium.

The satellite failed to achieve orbit, broke up in the atmosphere as it came crashing back down to Earth, its plutonium dispersing as dust extensively on Earth. Dr. John Gofman, an M.D. and Ph.D., professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, formerly associate director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, author of Poisoned Power and involved in early studies of plutonium, long pointed to the SNAP 9-A accident as causing an increase in lung cancer on Earth.

Today the use of nuclear in space is being pushed harder than ever.

“US Eyes Building Nuclear Power Plants for Moon and Mars,” declared the headline this July of an Associated Press dispatch. “US Eyes Building Nuclear Power Plants for Moon and Mars”.

As Linda Pentz Gunter, editor at Beyond Nuclear International, recently wrote here on CounterPunch, “Yet undeterred by immorality and expense, and apparently without the slightest concern for the radioactive dirt pile these reactors will produce, NASA and the Department of Energy are eagerly soliciting proposals.” https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/21/nukes-on-the-moon/

In July, too, the White House National Space Council issued a strategy for space exploration that includes “nuclear propulsion methods.” “US Ramps Up Planning for Space Nuclear Technology”

General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems has come out with a design for a nuclear propulsion reactor for trips to Mars.

Nuclear propulsion, its promoters are saying, would get astronauts to Mars quicker.

Shouted the headline in Popular Mechanics last month: “The Thermal Nuclear Engine That Could Get Us to Mars in Just 3 Months.”

And Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Space X, has been touting the detonation of nuclear bombs on Mars to, he says, “transform it into an Earth-like planet.” https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/elon-musk-mars-nuke-humans-live-mirrors-spacex-a9072631.html

As Business Insider explains, Musk “has championed the idea of launching nuclear weapons just over Mars’ poles since 2015. He believes it will help warm the planet and make it more hospitable for human life.”

As space.com says: “The explosions would vaporize a fair chunk of Mars’ ice caps, liberating enough water vapor and carbon dioxide—both potent greenhouse gases—to warm up the planet substantially, the idea goes.” https://www.space.com/elon-musk-nuke-mars-terraforming.html

It’s been projected that it would take more than 10,000 nuclear bombs to carry out the Musk plan.

The nuclear bomb explosions would also would render Mars radioactive.

The nuclear bombs would be carried to Mars on the fleet of 1,000 Starships that Musk wants to build—like the one that blew up this week.

SpaceX is selling T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Nuke Mars.”

Beyond the this completely insane plan to ruin Mars, as on Earth, solar energy can provide all the power needed for would-be settlements on Mars and the Moon. (more…)

Trying to test for cracks in nuclear waste containers that have to last for over a million years

December 22, 2020

Waste from nuclear fuel must be stored for more than a million years/

“Salt can be present in the ambient air and environment anywhere, not just near the ocean. We need to be able to plan for extended long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants for the foreseeable future — it’s a national reality,”

Sandia to put nuclear waste storage canisters to the test,   https://www.newswise.com/articles/sandia-to-put-nuclear-waste-storage-canisters-to-the-test, Scientists will explore science of cracks caused by corrosion, 10-Dec-2020 by Sandia National Laboratories    Newswise — ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia National Laboratories is outfitting three 22.5-ton, 16.5-feet-long stainless-steel storage canisters with heaters and instrumentation to simulate nuclear waste so researchers can study their durability.

The three canisters, which arrived in mid-November and have never contained any nuclear materials, will be used to study how much salt gathers on canisters over time. Sandia will also study the potential for cracks caused by salt- and stress-induced corrosion with additional canisters that will be delivered during the next stage of the project.

Currently there is not an operating geologic repository in the U.S. for the permanent disposal of spent nuclear fuel. As a result, spent fuel is being stored at commercial nuclear power plants in both storage pools and dry storage canisters. The storage canisters currently holding the spent nuclear fuel were designed to have a useful life of a few decades but will now likely need to be used longer than planned, said Tito Bonano, Sandia’s nuclear energy fuel cycle senior manager.

Data is urgently needed to validate and guide how industry should manage storage canisters for longer than originally anticipated, Bonano said.

“Salt can be present in the ambient air and environment anywhere, not just near the ocean. We need to be able to plan for extended long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel at nuclear power plants for the foreseeable future — it’s a national reality,” he said.

The researchers expect the project could have long-reaching implications for public health and safety, industry practices, regulatory framework and defining future research paths, said Bonano.

The three-year project is funded by the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy office. Overall, fifteen never-used, never-irradiated DOE-owned canisters are being distributed for large scale testing to Sandia and two other national laboratories, an industry research institute and an independent storage facility at an existing nuclear power plant.

Waste from nuclear fuel must be stored for more than a million years

Nuclear power plants use uranium pellets inside a metal-cladded tube, called a fuel rod, to power reactors to create the heat needed to make electricity. After the fuel rods can no longer be used in the reactor, they need to be stored onsite until they are taken offsite to another facility and eventually permanently disposed because they will be radioactive for a long time, said Samuel Durbin, a mechanical engineer and Sandia’s canister project lead.

“When fuel is removed from a reactor, it’s very hot, both in temperature and radioactivity” Durbin said. “The utility loads it into a pool for about five years to cool down. After that, the spent fuel can be offloaded into a dry storage canister.”

A storage canister starts as a flat piece of stainless steel that is rolled into a cylinder and then welded where the seams come together. The heat from the welding creates heat-affected zones in the seams of the canister that experience tensile, or pulling, stress. This stress makes these areas around the welds more susceptible to corrosion from salt over time, said Durbin.

Research will test how much salt deposits on canisters over time

Sandia received three canisters Nov. 13. The research team will outfit each of them with 32 electrical heaters to simulate the decay heat, which is heat released as a result of radioactive decay, from the 32 spent fuel assemblies that would typically be stored in this type of canister. No radioactive materials will be used in the testing, Durbin said.

Instruments called thermocouples, which measure temperature, and other sensors for diagnostic testing and surface sampling also will be added, he said.

Once the outfitted canisters have been tested and repacked for transport at Sandia, the team plans to move them to a storage pad at an independent spent fuel storage installation on the West Coast where they will experience the same real-life conditions of in-use canisters. The Sandia team, led by managers Sylvia Saltzstein and Geoff Freeze, Durbin, and chemists/corrosion scientists Charles Bryan and Rebecca Schaller, along with partners from other national laboratories will monitor the test canisters and record surface deposits, especially chloride-bearing salts, for three to more than 10 years, depending on how much the data varies over time.

“Sodium-chloride, or salt, that settles on the surface of spent nuclear-fuel canisters can lead to chloride-induced stress corrosion cracking, and right now there is inadequate data on these surface deposits,” said Durbin.

In real-life storage of nuclear waste, Durbin said the decay heat from the spent fuel creates natural convection around the storage canisters, causing outside air to be drawn over the canister surface. This process helps cool the spent fuel over time. As ambient air is drawn in, salt and other particulates in the air are drawn in as well and can settle on the canister surface. During the test, the electrical heaters installed inside the canisters at Sandia will replicate this decay heat-driven convection without using nuclear materials.

In hot, dry conditions, Durbin said salt deposits alone don’t cause any issues, but over time, as the decay heat decreases and the canister cools, water can condense on the canister surface and a brine can form.

“These conditions can occur nationwide and are seen as precursors to chloride-induced, stress-corrosion cracking. Back when these canisters were being designed, people weren’t thinking about this as an issue because we had a plan for permanent disposal. The current national nuclear waste situation forces canisters to be stored onsite for the foreseeable future, which could be 100 years or longer, so stress corrosion cracking becomes more of a concern,” Durbin said.

In addition to the long-term heating and surface deposition test, Sandia will use up to another three canisters for laboratory-based tests to conduct fundamental research on cracking caused by salt and stress, especially on the welded seams and intersections of the canisters. Researchers will measure the effectiveness of commercially available crack repair and mitigation coatings.

To test these seams, the team will cut the canisters into small segments and test pieces with and without welded seams to study the pre-cursor conditions for salt and stress to cause the corrosion that leads to cracks, he said.

A history of nuclear weapons accidents

November 28, 2020
THE NUCLEAR  TREATY dividing the World, Byline Times, Stephen Colegrave, 21 October 2020  “……… A History Of Near Accidents  It is easy to be sympathetic with their position when the number of near nuclear weapons accidents are considered.
In early 2009, two nuclear submarines, the French Le Triomphant and British Vanguard, both carrying nuclear weapons, crashed into each other deep in the Atlantic. Fortunately, they were not going fast enough to cause much damage.Two years earlier, the American Air Force lost six nuclear armed cruise missiles for 36 hours when, unknown to anyone, they were fitted to a B-52 bomber and flown completely unauthorised to a base in Louisiana, left unguarded on the runway until anyone worked out what had happened.

In 2000, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported that classified documents obtained by a group of former workers at the Thule airbase suggest that one of four hydrogen bombs on a B-52 bomber that crashed there in 1968 was never found.

There are many instances of false alarms and nuclear bombs nearly being launched. One of the most dangerous of these was stopped by little-known hero Lieutenant Colonel Petrov who, in 1983, probably really did save the world. When he was alerted by an early warning system that five nuclear missiles by America were coming towards the Soviet Union, instead of immediately raising the alarm to his superiors who would have ordered retaliation, he instinctively decided that, if there was an attack, more than five missiles would have been launched and rightly decided that the system was faulty.

These incidents seem to have done nothing to dent the UK and America’s insistence that nuclear weapons safeguard and guarantee peace. The old Cold War politics of nuclear deterrents can seemingly do nothing to deter democratic interference on social media or the global impact of COVID-19. Like scary but lumbering dinosaurs, our trident submarines roam the ocean’s depths with enormous fire power – just one missile can kill more than 10 million people – while Russian President Vladimir Putin interferes with democratic elections in the West for less than the price of a non-nuclear fighter jet.https://bylinetimes.com/2020/10/21/the-nuclear-treaty-dividing-the-world/