Archive for the ‘incidents’ Category

How the USA weapons lab at Los Alamos just missed a nuclear disaster

July 24, 2017

A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenal , Science Repeated safety lapses hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s work on the cores of U.S. nuclear warheads By The Center for Public IntegrityPatrick Malone Jun. 29, 2017 Technicians at the government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory settled on what seemed like a surefire way to win praise from their bosses in August 2011: In a hi-tech testing and manufacturing building pivotal to sustaining America’s nuclear arsenal, they gathered eight rods painstakingly crafted out of plutonium, and positioned them side-by-side on a table to photograph how nice they looked.

At many jobs, this would be innocent bragging. But plutonium is the unstable, radioactive, man-made fuel of a nuclear explosion, and it isn’t amenable to showboating. When too much is put in one place, it becomes “critical” and begins to fission uncontrollably, spontaneously sparking a nuclear chain reaction, which releases energy and generates a deadly burst of radiation.The resulting blue glow — known as Cherenkov radiation — has accidentally and abruptly flashed at least 60 times since the dawn of the nuclear age, signaling an instantaneous nuclear charge and causing a total of 21 agonizing deaths. So keeping bits of plutonium far apart is one of the bedrock rules that those working on the nuclear arsenal are supposed to follow to prevent workplace accidents. It’s Physics 101 for nuclear scientists, but has sometimes been ignored at Los Alamos.

As luck had it that August day, a supervisor returned from her lunch break, noticed the dangerous configuration, and ordered a technician to move the rods apart. But in so doing, she violated safety rules calling for a swift evacuation of all personnel in “criticality” events, because bodies — and even hands — can reflect and slow the neutrons emitted by plutonium, increasing the likelihood of a nuclear chain reaction. A more senior lab official instead improperly decided that others in the room should keep working, according to a witness and an Energy Department report describing the incident.

Catastrophe was avoided and no announcement was made at the time about the near-miss — but officials internally described what happened as the most dangerous nuclear-related incident at that facility in years. It then set in motion a calamity of a different sort: Virtually all of the Los Alamos engineers tasked with keeping workers safe from criticality incidents decided to quit, having become frustrated by the sloppy work demonstrated by the 2011 event and what they considered the lab management’s callousness about nuclear risks and its desire to put its own profits above safety.

When this exodus was in turn noticed in Washington, officials there concluded the privately-run lab was not adequately protecting its workers from a radiation disaster. In 2013, they worked with the lab director to shut down its plutonium handling operations so the workforce could be retrained to meet modern safety standards.

Those efforts never fully succeeded, however, and so what was anticipated as a brief work stoppage has turned into a nearly four-year shutdown of portions of the huge laboratory building where the plutonium work is located, known as PF-4.

Officials privately say that the closure in turn undermined the nation’s ability to fabricate the cores of new nuclear weapons and obstructed key scientific examinations of existing weapons to ensure they still work. The exact cost to taxpayers of idling the facility is unclear, but an internal Los Alamos report estimated in 2013 that shutting down the lab where such work is conducted costs the government as much as $1.36 million a day in lost productivity.

And most remarkably, Los Alamos’s managers still have not figured out a way to fully meet the most elemental nuclear safety standards. ……

these safety challenges aren’t confined to Los Alamos. The Center’s probe revealed a frightening series of glaring worker safety risks, previously unpublicized accidents, and dangerously lax management practices. The investigation further revealed that the penalties imposed by the government on the private firms that make America’s nuclear weapons were typically just pinpricks, and that instead the firms annually were awarded large profits in the same years that major safety lapses occurred. Some were awarded new contracts despite repeated, avoidable accidents, including some that exposed workers to radiation…….

George Anastas, a past president of the Health Physics Society who analyzed dozens of internal government reports about criticality problems at Los Alamos for the Center, said he wonders if “the work at Los Alamos [can] be done somewhere else? Because it appears the safety culture, the safety leadership, has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

Anastas said the reports, spanning more than a decade, describe “a series of accidents waiting to happen.” The lab, he said, is “dodging so many bullets that it’s scary as hell.”http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/near-disaster-federal-nuclear-weapons-laboratory-takes-hidden-toll-america-s-arsenal

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Cameco uranium company: a litany of its accidents and controversies

May 18, 2017

Unviable economics of nuclear power catches up with Cameco, Independent Australia, Jim Green 9 May 2017  CAMECO’S INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS: 1981‒2016

This table lists many of Cameco’s accidents and controversies since 1981 — leaks and spills, the promotion of dangerous radiation junk science (in WA and elsewhere) appalling treatment of Indigenous people, systemic and sometimes deliberate safety failures and so on.

Date and Location Description of Incident
1981−89:

Saskatchewan, Canada

153 spills occurred at three uranium mines in Saskatchewan from 1981 to 1989. Cameco was fined C$10,000 for negligence in relation to a 1989 spill of two million litres of radium- and arsenic-contaminated water from the Rabbit Lake mine.
1990, May 13:

Blind River Uranium Refinery

Leak shuts down the Canadian refinery. Approximately 178 kg of radioactive uranium dust leaked into the air over a 30-hour period.
1993:

Canada/US

Inter-Church Uranium Committee from Saskatchewan reveals export of at least 500 tons of depleted uranium to the US military by Cameco, despite several Canadian treaties to export uranium only for “peaceful purposes”.
1998:

Kyrgyzstan

A truck en route to a Cameco gold main spills 2 tons of cyanide into the Barskoon River, a local drinking water and agricultural water source. 2,600 people treated and more than 1,000 hospitalized.
2001−

onwards:

Ontario

A 2003 report by the Sierra Club of Canada provides details of 20 major safety-related incidents and unresolved safety concerns at the Bruce nuclear power plant.
2002:

Kyrgyzstan

Fatality at Cameco’s Kumtor Gold Mine. Death of a Kyrgyz national, buried in the collapse of a 200 meter-high pit wall.
2003, April:

McArthur River, Saskatchewan

Cave-in and flood of radioactive water at the McArthur River mine. A consultant’s report found that Cameco had been repeatedly warned about the water hazards right up until the accident happened.
2004:

Key Lake uranium mill, Canada

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approves Key Lake license renewal, despite continuing pit sidewall sloughing into the tailings disposed in the Deilmann pit. One million cubic meters of sand had already slumped into the tailings.
2004, April:

Port Hope, Ontario

Gamma radiation discovered in a school playground during testing in advance of playground upgrades. Although the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and AECL tried to dismiss the findings, the material under the school had to be removed when it was converted to low-cost housing in 2011. The contaminated material came from the uranium processing facility in Port Hope, now owned by Cameco.
2006, April:

Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan

A water inflow began at the bottom of the 6-meter wide shaft, 392 meters below the surface. All the workers left the area and removed equipment. According to a miner, “the mine’s radiation alarm kept going off, but the radiation technician merely re-set the alarm, assuring us that everything was fine.”
2006, Oct.: Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan Cameco said its “deficient” development of the Cigar Lake mine contributed to a flood that delayed the mine project by three years and would double construction costs.
2007:

Port Hope, Ontario

Substantial leakage of radioactive and chemical pollutants into the soil under the uranium conversion facility ‒ leakage not detected by monitoring wells.
2008:

US/Canada

Uranium mines owned by Cameco in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Canada have all had spills and leaks. Cameco made a settlement payment of $1.4 million to Wyoming for license violations, and $50,000 to Nebraska for license violations.
2008, January:

Rabbit Lake mill

Seepage underneath the mill discovered after a contract worker noticed a pool of uranium-tainted ice at an outdoor worksite.
2008, May:

Port Hope, Ontario

It was discovered during soil decontamination at the suspended Port Hope uranium processing facility that egress from degraded holding floors had contaminated the harbour surrounding the facility, which flows into Lake Ontario.
2008, June:

Key Lake

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission intends to approve the license renewal for Cameco’s Key Lake mill although CNSC staff assigned ‘C’ ratings (“below requirements”) in four out of 10 program areas assessed, including waste management, fire protection, environmental protection, and training.
2010:

Rabbit Lake

Uranium discharges from Rabbit Lake (highest by far in Canada) showed increase rather than the predicted decrease in 2010.
2011: Ship from Vancouver to China A number of sea containers holding drums of uranium concentrate are damaged and loose uranium is found in the hold.
2012, August:

Port Hope, Ontario

Spill of uranium dioxide powder resulted in one worker being exposed to uranium and three other workers potentially exposed during clean-up.
2012:

Northern Saskatchewan

Draft agreement between Cameco, Areva and the Aboriginal community of Pinehouse includes extraordinary clauses such as this: “Pinehouse promises to: … Not make statements or say things in public or to any government, business or agency that opposes Cameco/Areva’s mining operations; Make reasonable efforts to ensure Pinehouse members do not say or do anything that interferes with or delays Cameco/Areva’s mining, or do or say anything that is not consistent with Pinehouse’s promises under the Collaboration Agreement.”
2012, June 23: Blind River refinery, Ontario Three workers exposed to airborne uranium dust after a worker loosened a ring clamp on a drum of uranium oxide, the lid blew off and about 26 kg of the material were ejected into the air.
2013‒ongoing: Canada Cameco is battling it out in tax court with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Up to US$1.6 billion in corporate taxes allegedly went unpaid. Cameco also involved in tax dispute with the US IRS. According to Cameco, the IRS is seeking an additional $32 million in taxes, plus interest, and may also seek penalties.
2013: English River First Nation, Canada English River First Nation sign deal with Cameco and Areva, agreeing to support Millennium uranium mine and drop a lawsuit over land near the proposed mine. Some English River First Nation band members reacted strongly to the agreement. Cheryl Maurice said. “I am speaking for a group of people who weren’t aware that this agreement was being negotiated because there was no consultation process.”
2013, June: Saskatchewan Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde says the provincial government should not issue any new permits for potash, uranium or other resource development until First Nations concerns are addressed. Bellegarde said the province’s lack of a revenue-sharing deal with First Nations stemmed from “economic racism.” “Do not issue a licence to Cameco or Areva or BHP until indigenous issues are addressed,” he said.
2013, August:

Troy, Ohio, USA

A fire occurred on a truck carrying uranium hexafluoride which originated from Cameco’s refinery in Port Hope, Ontario. Nuclear regulators in Canada – where the cargo originated – and in the US were not informed of the incident.
2013, Sept.:

Northern Saskatchewan

Sierra Club Canada produces a detailed report on Cameco’s uranium operations in Northern Saskatchewan. It details systemic corporate failure by Cameco as well as systemic regulatory failure.
2014, Jan.:

Port Hope

About 450 Port Hope homeowners have had their soil sampled and properties tested in the first phase of the biggest radioactive clean-up in Canadian history. Some 1.2 million cubic metres of contaminated soil will be entombed in a storage facility. More than 5,000 private and public properties will undergo testing to identify places which need remediation. Port Hope is riddled with low-level radioactive waste, a product of radium and uranium refining at the Eldorado / Cameco refinery. The clean-up will cost an estimated US$1.3 billion.
2014, March A statement endorsed by 39 medical doctors calls on Cameco to stop promoting dangerous radiation junk science. The statement reads in part: “Cameco has consistently promoted the fringe scientific view that exposure to low-level radiation is harmless. Those views are at odds with mainstream scientific evidence.”
2015 A uranium supply contract was signed by Cameco and India’s Department of Atomic Energy on April 15, 2015. Nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere said: “As with the proposed Australia–India nuclear agreement, the text of the Canadian deal likewise abrogates the widely accepted principle that the nuclear recipient is accountable to the supplier. This is ironic given it was nuclear material diverted from a Canadian-supplied reactor that led to the India’s break-out in the first place. It would be like the citizens of Hiroshima deciding it would be a good idea to host American nuclear weapons within the city – the absurdity is quite astonishing.”
2015: Saskatchewan Cameco’s uranium operations in Saskatchewan are facing opposition from the Clearwater Dene First Nation. A group called Holding the Line Northern Trappers Alliance has been camping in the area to block companies from further exploratory drilling in their territory. The group set up camp in November 2014 and plans to remain until mining companies leave. Concerns include Cameco’s uranium deal with India and the health effects of Cameco’s operations on the Indigenous people of northern Saskatchewan.
2015:

Key Lake mill, Canada

Cameco personnel identify the presence of calcined uranium oxide within a building. Five workers receive doses exceeding the weekly action level of 1 mSv.
2016: Smith Ranch ISL uranium mine, Wyoming, USA The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission finds that a supervisor from Cameco subsidiary Power Resources deliberately failed to maintain complete and accurate records of workers’ exposure to radiation. The NRC issues a Notice of Violation to Cameco.
2016: Smith Ranch ISL uranium mine, Wyoming, USA

 

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Confirmatory Action Letter to Cameco subsidiary Power Resources documenting actions that the company has agreed to take before resuming shipments of radioactive sludge to a Utah facility. The letter followed two incidents in which containers of radioactive barium sulfate sludge, a byproduct of uranium ore processing, arrived at their destination with external contamination from leakage during transport.

A more detailed, referenced version of this information, written by Mara Bonacci and Jim Green for Friends of the Earth Australia, is posted at wiseinternational.orghttps://independentaustralia.net/business/business-display/unviable-economics-of-nuclear-power-catches-up-with-cameco,10275

Nuclear disasters involving B-52 Bombers

February 1, 2017

In 1968, a B-52 Bomber Crashed (With 4 Super Lethal Nuclear Weapons Onboard That ‘Exploded’) The National Interest,  Matthew Gault December 15, 2016 Throughout the 1950s and ’60s American bombers carrying nuclear weapons crisscrossed the globe, ready at a moment’s notice to fly into the heart of Russia and bomb it back to the stone age. Strategic Air Command — a now defunct branch of the U.S. Air Force — commanded this airborne alert force.

It was once the pride of the American military. For more than a decade, SAC bombers were no more than 15 minutes from nuking Russia. But the shifts on the bombers were long — sometimes more than 24 hours — and keeping such an alert force ready was taxing on pilots and crew.

There were many accidents.

In 1958, a B-47 carrying a nuke collided with an F-86 Sabre in the skies above Savannah, Georgia. The B-47 jettisoned its nuclear payload into the Atlantic Ocean. Authorities never recovered the bomb.

Months later, another B-47 dropped its nuke over South Carolina when a bomb technician aboard accidentally activated the emergency release. The bomb’s conventional explosives detonated and destroyed a nearby house.

 In 1966, a B-52 crashed in Spain, spilling the nuclear guts of two bombs onto nearby farms. After the accident, Spain halted nuclear-armed American planes from passing through its air space.

Those were bad, but SAC and its airborne alert survived them. Then, in 1968, a B-52 crashed near Thule Monitoring Station in Greenland and spilled its payload all over the ice. It was one disaster too many, and it signaled the end of America’s airborne alert program … and Strategic Air Command’s prestige……..

The Arctic’s climate is harsh and the radar station was fragile. Outages were frequent, and SAC needed redundancy to ensure that it didn’t attack Moscow just because it lost contact with Thule.

So SAC did what it always did. It strapped some nukes on a bomber. The air command sent one of its airborne alert bombers — complete with live nukes — to fly above the Thule monitoring station 24 hours a day … forever.

It seemed silly to keep live nukes in the air above the world’s head all day, every day. It was a sword of Damocles and it dropped in 1968.

On Jan. 21, 1968, fire swept through the cabin of the airborne B-52 watching Thule station. Smoke and flames consumed the plane and the seven crew members ejected. Six survived. The bomber crashed into an ice cap in the bay near the base.

The conventional explosives in the plane’s four hydrogen bombs exploded and cracked their nuclear payloads. Radioactive elements slid out of the bombs and onto the ice.

SAC’s Operation Chrome Dome was already on its last legs. The Thule accident just confirmed what many politicians and military leader already thought — keeping a fleet of nuclear-armed bombers in the air at all times was dangerous and insane……….

Only one of the B-52’s crew died during the Thule disaster, but his death wasn’t the end of the tragedy. The hydrogen bombs spread jet fuel and radioactive materials across the ice cap. It busted up the flow of the sea, blackened the ice and spread plutonium, uranium, americium and tritium into the ice and water……..

the Danish workers who helped clean up the site are dying of cancer. Crested Ice was a rush job done under pressure from the international community, and its leadership cut corners. American and Danish workers didn’t have the protective gear they needed to work with the radioactive materials.

The Danes tried to sue the United States for compensation and 1987, but failed. In 1995, Copenhagen paid a settlement to 1,700 members of the crew. Crested Ice, the plight of its workers and the possibility that America left contaminated material behind is a recurring story in the Danish press to this day……..This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.    http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/1968-b-52-bomber-crashed-4-super-lethal-nuclear-weapons-18746

The the 15 most costly nuclear disasters

November 21, 2016

The 15 costliest nuclear disasters and the nuclear risks of the future,Treehugger, Christine Lepisto (@greenanswer)  September 20, 2016 The names Chernobyl and Fukushima connote nuclear disaster. But do you remember Three Mile Island? Have you ever heard of Beloyarsk, Jaslovske, or Pickering? These names appear among the 15 most expensive nuclear disasters.

  1. Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986): $259 billion
  2. Fukushima, Japan (2011): $166 billion
  3. Tsuruga, Japan (1995): $15.5 billion
  4. Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, USA (1979): $11 billion
  5. Beloyarsk, USSR (1977): $3.5 billion
  6. Sellafield, UK (1969): $2.5 billion
  7. Athens, Alabama, USA (1985): $2.1 billion
  8. Jaslovske Bohunice, Czechoslovakia (1977): $2 billion
  9. Sellafield, UK (1968): $1.9 billion
  10. Sellafield, UK (1971): $1.3 billion
  11. Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA (1986): $1.2 billion
  12. Chapelcross, UK (1967): $1.1 billion
  13. Chernobyl, Ukraine (1982): $1.1 billion
  14. Pickering, Canada (1983): $1 billion
  15. Sellafield, UK (1973): $1 billion

A new study of 216 nuclear energy accidents and incidents crunches twice as much data as the previously best review, predicting that

“The next nuclear accident may be much sooner or more severe than the public realizes.”

The study points to two significant issues in the current assessment of nuclear safety. First, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) serves the dual masters of overseeing the industry and promoting nuclear energy. Second, the primary tool used to assess the risk of nuclear incidents suffers from blind spots.

The conflict of interest in the first issue is clear. The second issue may not be transparent to the layperson until they understand more fully how industry conducts the probabilistic safety assessments (PSAs) which are the source of the standard predictions of the risk of nuclear accidents. …….http://www.treehugger.com/energy-disasters/15-costliest-nuclear-disasters-and-nuclear-risks-future.html

The high cost of nuclear accidents – 15 big examples

September 12, 2016

A Rethink of Nuclear Risk Assessment,  ETH Zurich,  Department of Management, Technology and Economics 11.07.2016 


“……..The 15 most costly nuclear events analysed by the team are:

1.       Chernobyl, Ukraine (1986) – $259 billion

2.       Fukushima, Japan (2011) – $166 billion

3.       Tsuruga, Japan (1995) – $15.5 billion

4.       TMI, Pennsylvania, USA (1979) – $11 billion

5.       Beloyarsk, USSR (1977) – $3.5 billion

6.       Sellafield, UK (1969) – $2.5 billion

7.       Athens, Alabama, USA (1985) – $2.1 billion

8.       Jaslovske Bohunice, Czechoslovakia (1977) – $2 billion

9.       Sellafield, UK (1968) – $1.9 billion

10.   Sellafield, UK (1971) – $1.3 billion

11.   Plymouth, Massachusetts, USA (1986) – $1.2 billion

12.   Chapelcross, UK (1967) – $1.1 billion

13.   Chernobyl, Ukraine (1982) – $1.1 billion

14.   Pickering, Canada (1983) – $1 billion

15.   Sellafield, UK (1973) – $1 billion

An open-source database of all 216 analysed events is available athttps://innovwiki.ethz.ch/index.php/Nuclear_events_database, containing dates, locations, cost in US dollars, and official magnitude ratings. This is the largest public database of nuclear accidents ever compiled. https://www.mtec.ethz.ch/news/d-mtec-news/2016/07/a-rethink-of-nuclear-risk-assessment.html

USA’s nuclear power stations – 10 serious near misses

June 11, 2016

10 Near Misses at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants Considered Precursors to a Meltdown https://ecowatch.com/2016/05/24/near-misses-nuclear-plants/  | May 24, 2016 Following the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Greenpeace USA released a new report Tuesday on the 166 near misses at U.S. nuclear power plants over the past decade. Of the incidents identified in Nuclear Near Misses: A Decade of Accident Precursors at U.S. Nuclear Plants, 10 are considered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to be important precursors to a meltdown.

“Contrary to NRC commissioners’ claims, there is nothing safe about the nuclear reactors in the United States,” Greenpeace Nuclear Policy Analyst Jim Riccio said. “Thirty years after Chernobyl and five years after Fukushima, it is clear that these kinds of disasters could absolutely happen here. It is time for the NRC to listen to the whistleblowers within its own ranks and address these longstanding issues and vulnerabilities.”

In addition to the 163 accident precursors or near misses documented by the NRC, Greenpeace identified three significant near misses that NRC risk analysts failed to review under the agency’s Accident Sequence Precursor Program (ASP): the triple meltdown threat to Duke Energy’s Oconee Nuclear Station west of Greenville, South Carolina. According to NRC’s risk analysts, if nearby Jocassee Dam had failed, all three of the nuclear reactors at Oconee were certain to meltdown.

The report identified the following incidents as the top 10 near misses at nuclear plants between 2004-2014:

1. Browns Ferry 1 in Athens, Alabama: Residual heat removal loop unavailable; valve failure.

2. Wolf Creek in Burlington, Kansas: Multiple switchyard faults, reactor trip and loss of offsite power.

3. Robinson in Hartsville, South Carolina: Fire causes partial loss of offsite power & reactor coolant pump seal cooling challenges.

4. Fort Calhoun in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska: Fire in safety-related 480 volt electrical breaker due to deficient design control. 8 other breakers susceptible.

5. River Bend in St. Francisville, Louisiana. Loss of normal service water, circulating water and feedwater caused by electrical fault.

6. Oconee 1 in Seneca, South Carolina: Failure of Jocassee Dam would result in a meltdown.

7. Oconee 2 in Seneca, South Carolina: Failure of Jocassee Dam would result in a meltdown.

8. Oconee 3 in Seneca, South Carolina: Failure of Jocassee Dam would result in a meltdown.

9. North Anna 1 in Mineral, Virginia: Dual loss of offsite power caused by earthquake AFW pump out of service & failure of Unit 2 EDG.

10. Byron 2 in Byron, Illinois: Transformer & breaker failures cause Loss of Off Site Power, reactor trip and de-energizing of safety buses.

“If the NRC can’t even accurately track near meltdowns why should the public have any confidence that they can prevent them? It’s time to retire these dangerous nuclear plants and end the nuclear era once and for all,” Riccio concluded.