Archive for the ‘wastes’ Category

The oceans: Russia’s nuclear waste garbage dump

October 30, 2017

Feisty mayor in Russia’s Far East wants his nuclear trash collected http://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2017-09-feisty-mayor-in-russia-far-east-wants-his-nuclear-trash-collected

While lighthouses run on atomic batteries in Russia have become rare, especially along the coasts of the Baltic and Barents Seas, they still have their adherents in the country’s Far East.  by Charles Digges   charles@bellona.no  While lighthouses run on atomic batteries in Russia have become rare, especially along the coasts of the Baltic and Barents Seas, they still have their adherents in the country’s Far East.

A group of radioactivity tracking sleuths on Sakhalin Island in the Pacific say they have hunted down an abandoned generator that ran on strontium-90 sunk off the shores of one of its premier beach resorts.

But that, they say, is just the tip of the iceberg: The discovery lies in the middle of a radioactive graveyard that includes no fewer than 38 sunken vessels containing nuclear waste, and two nuclear warheads that went down when a Soviet bomber crashed near the island’s southern tip in 1976.

Though the Russian Ministry of Defense recently began acknowledging the lost bomber, tracing the origins of the other nuclear cast offs is not so easy.

But at least, says Nikolai Sidirov, mayor of the coastal town of Makarov on Sakhalin’s Bay of Patience, his town knows what this new discovery is – and they want it raised from the depths with the rest of the glowing junk.

Speaking to Novaya Izvestiya, a popular tabloid that morphed out of the official Soviet-era mouthpiece Izvestiya, Sidirov said satellite photos tracking the location of the crashed bomber have turned up something else lurking under the waves: An RTG.

That’s short for Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, a small radioactive energy source that for decades powered thousands of Soviet lighthouses and other navigational beacons along Russia’s Baltic, Arctic and Pacific coasts.

After the fall of the Soviet Union and the crash of the Russian economy, officials lost track of many of the RTGs as bureaucracies collapsed and records went missing. Thieves pillaged them for their valuable metal, exposing their strontium innards. Hikers and shepherds, drawn to their atomic heat, would stagger out of the woods sick with radiation poisoning.

Around Murmansk and on the Pacific coast, frightful reports about strontium elements turning up on beaches proliferated in local media. Some newly independent Soviet republics telegraphed anxieties about their inherited RTGs back to Moscow – along with requests to come take them away.

And then there was the biggest fear of all: What if strontium 90 from these virtually unguarded, remotely radiological sources ended up in the hands of terrorists who wanted to make a dirty bomb?

So far, that hasn’t happened – anybody trying to make off with a strontium battery would likely end up very ill or dead. But when three woodsmen in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia turned up in a hospital with radiation burns and caught the attention of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the dangers of orphaned Soviet RTGs were finally on everyone’s mind.

A colossal effort spearheaded by the Norwegian government entirely rid the coasts of the Barents, Kara and White Seas of more than 180 RTGs. By infusing €20 million into the push, Norway helped Russia replace the strontium 90 batteries on these lighthouses and beacons with solar power over a six year period ending in 2015.

In all, Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear corporation, says it has decommission more than 1000 RTGs throughout the country, adding that it has mostly eliminated the hazard of these stray radioactive sources from its coastlines.

But some areas have not been so lucky, at least according to the mayor of Makarov out on Sakhalin Island, six times zones east of Moscow. Sidirov, a feisty campaigner who had been publicly heckling the capital about the nuclear trash in the seas near his town for years, says divers have located the RTG, and that he now has the coordinates of where it lies. He told Novaya Izvestiya he will pass on the RTGs location to what he calls “competent authorities” lest it end up in scheming hands.

How the RTG, which lies in 14 meters of water, came to be there is still anyone’s guess. The Russian Navy sent a statement to the newspaper insisting that all RTGs under the purview of the Pacific Fleet have been hunted down and destroyed.

But Russia’s environmental oversight agency confirmed that there were numerous radioactive foundlings in the oceans off Sakhalin Island, though they didn’t identify Sidirov’s RTG specifically.

It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone screwed up with an RTG in the area, however. Twenty years ago, in 1997, a helicopter from Russia’s Emergency Services Ministry accidentally dropped a strontium-powered RTG into Sakhalin’s waters. It was later retrieved by the navy.

So far, Rosatom has remained mum on the veracity of Sidirov’s claim about the RTG. But since the history of the downed bomber and the other hazards in his area has been confirmed, there’s every reason to believe him about the RTG. And he wants it gone.

“The ecological authorities and the military, they’re being very stubborn about coming to collect it,” Sidorov told Novaya Izvestiya. “It’s there job to collect it – if they’re ever interested, I’ll be here to show them exactly where it is.”

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No justification for reprocessing plutonium

October 30, 2017

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  

Forty years of impasse: The United States, Japan, and the plutonium problem http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2017.1364007   Masafumi Takubo &Frank von Hippel23 Aug 2017, Recently, records have been published from the internal discussions in the Carter administration (1977–80) on the feasibility of convincing Japan to halt its plutonium-separation program as the United States was in the process of doing domestically. Japan was deeply committed to its program, however, and President Carter was not willing to escalate to a point where the alliance relationship could be threatened. Forty years later, the economic, environmental, and nonproliferation arguments against Japan’s program have only been strengthened while Japan’s concern about being dependent on imports of uranium appears vastly overblown. Nevertheless, Japan’s example, as the only non-weapon state that still separates plutonium, continues to legitimize the launch of similar programs in other countries, some of which may be interested in obtaining a nuclear weapon option.

In June 2017, the National Security Archive, a nonprofit center in Washington, DC, posted four-decade-old documents from the Carter administration’s internal debate over how to best persuade Japan to defer its ambitious program to obtain separated plutonium by chemical reprocessing of spent power reactor fuel.11. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/nukevault/ebb597-Japanese-Plutonium-Overhang/.View all notes

Foreign civilian plutonium programs had become a high-level political issue in the United States after India used plutonium, nominally separated to provide startup fuel for a breeder reactor program in its first nuclear weapon test in 1974 (Perkovich 1999Perkovich, G. 1999India’s Nuclear BombOakland, CAUniversity of California Press. [Google Scholar]). The United States reversed its policy of encouraging the development of plutonium breeder reactors worldwide to avoid an anticipated shortage of uranium. The breeder reactors would convert abundant non-chain-reacting uranium 238 into chain-reacting plutonium and then use the plutonium as fuel, while conventional reactors are fueled primarily by chain-reacting uranium 235, which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium.

The Ford administration (1974–77) blocked France’s plan to sell spent fuel reprocessing plants to South Korea and Pakistan but did not succeed in persuading Japan to abandon its nearly complete Tokai pilot reprocessing plant. Therefore, when the Carter administration took office in January 1977, it inherited the difficult plutonium discussion with Japan.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859705-Document-01-Louis-Nozenzo-Bureau-of-Political.View all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859705-Document-01-Louis-Nozenzo-Bureau-of-Political.View all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

Presumably with tongue in cheek, he opined that “[s]pace limitations are a real problem only for countries like Luxemburg.” (Luxemburg, about equal in area to St. Louis, Missouri, did not and still does not have a nuclear program.) Subsequently, it was pointed out that the volume of an underground repository for highly radioactive waste is determined not by the volume of the waste but by its heat output; the waste has to be spread out to limit the temperature increase of the surrounding buffer clay and rock (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]). Reprocessing waste would contain all the heat-generating fission products in the original spent fuel, and the heat generated by the plutonium in one ton of spent MOX fuel would be about the same as the heat generated by the plutonium in the approximately seven tons of spent low-enriched uranium fuel from which the plutonium used to manufacture the fresh MOX fuel had been recovered.

With regard to the issue of the need for plutonium to provide startup fuel for breeder reactors, Nosenzo noted that “experimental breeders currently utilize uranium [highly enriched in the chain-reacting isotope uranium 235] rather than plutonium for start-up and this will probably also be true of commercial breeder start-up operations.”44. This was not entirely correct. Although the United States, Russian, and Chinese experimental and prototype breeder reactors started up with enriched uranium fuel and all breeder reactors could have been, plutonium fuel was used to start up the prototypes in France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. See International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders(IAEA 1980IAEA. 1980International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders. Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency. [Google Scholar]) Table III. M. Ragheb, “Fermi I Fuel Meltdown Incident” (2014). Available at http://mragheb.com/NPRE%20457%20CSE%20462%20Safety%20Analysis%20of%20Nuclear%20Reactor%20Systems/Fermi%20I%20Fuel%20Meltdown%20Incident.pdf.View all notes

“[T]here is a strong need for a US position paper presenting the above rationale with supporting analysis,” Nosenzo wrote. “This would be of value, for example, with other governments in the nuclear suppliers context and more generally … for use by sympathetic foreign ministries attempting to cope effectively with their ministries of energy, of technology and of economics.”

The last point reflected the reality that the promotion of breeder reactors was central to the plans of powerful trade ministries around the world, including Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and that foreign ministries sometimes use independent analyses to push back against positions of other ministries that seem extreme to them. A few years ago, an official of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, for example, privately described the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the driving force behind South Korea’s demand for the same “right” to reprocess as Japan, as “our Taliban.”

Japan planned to start operation of its Tokai reprocessing plant later that spring, and it appeared clear to Nosenzo that it would be impossible to prevent the operation of the almost completed plant. Another memo cited Prime Minister Fukuda as publicly calling reprocessing a matter of “life and death” for Japan.55. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859730-Document-05-Memorandum-from-Ambassador-at-Large.View all notes Japan’s government had committed itself to achieving what Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission from 1961–71, had relentlessly promoted as a “plutonium economy,” in which the world would be powered by the element he had codiscovered.

Why would the Fukuda administration have seen the separation and use of plutonium as so critical? We believe that the Prime Minister had been convinced by Japan’s plutonium advocates that the country’s dependence on imported uranium would create an economic vulnerability such as the country had experienced during the 1973 Arab oil embargo, still a recent and painful memory. Indeed, according to a popular view in Japan, further back, in 1941, it was a US embargo on oil exports to Japan that had triggered Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The plutonium advocates argued that breeder reactors would eliminate resource-poor Japan’s vulnerability to a uranium cutoff by turning already imported uranium into a virtually inexhaustible supply of plutonium fuel for its reactors.

During the past 40 years, however, uranium has been abundant, cheap, and available from a variety of countries. Furthermore, as some foreign observers have suggested, if Japan was really concerned about possible disruptions of supply, it could have acquired a 50-year strategic reserve of uranium at a much lower cost than its plutonium program (Leventhal and Dolley 1994Leventhal, P., and S. Dolley1994. “A Japanese Strategic Uranium Reserve: A Safe and Economic Alternative to Plutonium.” Science & Global Security 5: 131. doi:10.1080/08929889408426412.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]). Indeed, because of the low cost of uranium, globally, utilities have accumulated an inventory sufficient for about seven years. Although it took several years for Congress to accept the Carter administration’s proposal to end the US reprocessing and breeder reactor development programs, Congress did support the administration’s effort to discourage plutonium programs abroad. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 required that nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries be renegotiated so that any spent fuel that had either originally been produced in the United States or had been irradiated in a reactor containing components or design information subject to US export controls could not be reprocessed without prior consent from the US government. Internally, however, the administration was divided over whether the United States could force its allies to accept such US control over their nuclear programs.

One of the final memos in the National Security Archives file, written in May 1980, toward the end of the Carter administration by Jerry Oplinger, a staffer on the National Security Council, criticized a proposal by Gerard Smith, President Carter’s ambassador at large for nuclear nonproliferation. Smith proposed that the administration provide blanket advance consent for spent fuel reprocessing in Western Europe and Japan.77. See: http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/dc.html?doc=3859749-Document-22-Jerry-Oplinger-to-Leon-Billings-and.View all notes Oplinger characterized Smith’s proposal as “surrender” and argued that, even though the danger of further proliferation in Europe or by Japan was low, their examples could be used by other countries as a justification for launching their own plutonium programs.

The Carter administration did not surrender to the Japanese and the West European reprocessing lobbies but, in 1988, in exchange for added requirements for safeguards and physical protection of plutonium, the Reagan administration signed a renegotiated US–Japan agreement on nuclear cooperation with full, advance, programmatic consent to reprocessing by Japan for 30 years. In the original 1968 agreement, the United States had been given the right to review each Japanese shipment of spent fuel to the British and French reprocessing plants on a case-by-case basis and to make a joint determination on reprocessing in Japan. This right had allowed the United States to question whether Japan needed more separated plutonium. As a result of the 1988 agreement, by the time of the 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan had built up a stock of some 44 tons of separated plutonium, an amount sufficient for more than 5000 Nagasaki-type bombs (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2012Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2012. “The Current Situation of Plutonium Management in Japan,” September 11. [Google Scholar]), and the largest amount of MOX fuel it had loaded in a single year (2010) contained about one ton of plutonium (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

The initial period of the 1988 agreement will expire in 2018, after which either party may terminate it by giving six months written notice. This provides an opportunity for the US government to reraise the issue of reprocessing with Japan.

Unlike the 1968 agreement with Japan, the 1958 US–EURATOM agreement did not have a requirement of prior US consent for reprocessing of European spent fuel in West Europe. The Europeans refused to renegotiate this agreement, and, starting with President Carter, successive US presidents extended the US–EURATOM agreement by executive order year by year (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1994Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, “Atlantic Impasse,” September-October 1994. [Google Scholar]). Finally, in 1995, the Clinton administration negotiated language in a new agreement that the European reprocessors accepted as a commitment to noninterference (Behrens and Donnelly 1996Behrens, C. E., and W. H.Donnelly1996. “EURATOM and the United States: Renewing the Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation,” Congressional Research Service, April 26. Available at:https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metacrs312/m1/1/high_res_d/IB96001_1996Apr26.html; andhttp://ec.europa.eu/world/agreements/prepareCreateTreatiesWorkspace/treatiesGeneralData.do?step=0&redirect=true&treatyId=304 [Google Scholar]). By that time, the nonnuclear weapon states in Europe – notably Germany and Italy – had lost interest in breeder reactors and the only reprocessing plants listed in the agreement were those of United Kingdom and France. Reprocessing proponents in Japan often say that Japan is the only non-weapon state trusted by the international community to reprocess. In reality, Japan is the only non-weapon state that has not abandoned reprocessing because of its poor economics.

As Oplinger pointed out, Japan played a central role in sustaining large-scale reprocessing in Europe as well as at home. In addition to planning to build their own large reprocessing plant, Japan’s nuclear utilities provided capital, in the form of prepaid reprocessing contracts, for building large new merchant reprocessing plants in France and the United Kingdom. France also played a leading role in promoting reprocessing and in designing Japan’s reprocessing plant.

Oplinger insisted that the planned reprocessing programs in Europe and Japan would produce huge excesses of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of planned breeder programs: “Any one of these three projected plants would more than swamp the projected plutonium needs of all the breeder R&D programs in the world. Three of them would produce a vast surplus … amounting to several hundred tons by the year 2000.”

He attached a graph projecting that by the year 2000, the three plants would produce a surplus of 370 tons of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of breeder research and development. The actual stock of separated civilian plutonium in Europe and Japan in 2000 was huge – using the IAEA’s metric of 8 kilograms per bomb, enough for 20,000 Nagasaki bombs – but about half the amount projected in Oplinger’s memo (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]). This was due in part to operating problems with the UK reprocessing plant and delays in the operation of Japan’s large reprocessing plant. On the demand side, breeder use was much less than had been projected, but, in an attempt to deal with the surplus stocks, quite a bit of plutonium was fabricated into MOX and irradiated in Europe’s conventional reactors.

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  Japan officially abandoned its Monju prototype breeder reactor in 2016 after two decades of failed efforts to restore it to operation after a 1995 leak of its sodium secondary coolant and a resulting fire. Japan’s government now talks of joining France in building a new Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) in France, and France’s nuclear establishment has welcomed the idea of Japan sharing the cost.8

8. See: https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20161022/p2a/00m/0na/005000c.View all notes The mission for ASTRID-type fast-neutron reactors would be to fission the plutonium and other long-lived transuranic elements in spent low-enriched uranium fuel and MOX fuel, for which Japan will have to build a new reprocessing plant. According to France’s 2006 radioactive waste law, ASTRID was supposed to be commissioned by the end of 2020.99. See: http://www.andra.fr/download/andra-international-en/document/editions/305va.pdf, Article 3.1.View all notes Its budget has been secured only for the design period extending to 2019, however. In an October 2016 briefing in Tokyo, the manager of the ASTRID program showed the project’s schedule with a “consolidation phase” beginning in 2020 (Devictor 2016Devictor, N.2016. “ASTRID: Expectations to Japanese Entities’ Participation.” Nuclear Energy Division, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, TokyoOctober 27. Available at:http://www.meti.go.jp/committee/kenkyukai/energy/fr/pdf/002_02_02.pdf [Google Scholar]). The next day, the official in charge of nuclear issues at France’s embassy in Tokyo stated that ASTRID would not start up before 2033 (Félix 2016Félix, S. 2016. Interview with Mainichi Shimbun, October27in Japanese. Available at:http://mainichi.jp/articles/20161027/ddm/008/040/036000c [Google Scholar]). Thus, in 10 years, the schedule had slipped by 13 years. It has been obvious for four decades that breeder reactors and plutonium use as a reactor fuel will be uneconomic. The latest estimate of the total project cost for Japan’s Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, including construction, operation for 40 years, and decommissioning, is now 13.9 trillion yen ($125 billion), with the construction cost alone reaching 2.95 trillion yen ($27 billion), including 0.75 trillion yen for upgrades due to new safety regulations introduced after the Fukushima accident. The total project cost of the MOX fuel fabrication facility, including some 42 years of operation and decommissioning, is now estimated at 2.3 trillion yen ($21 billion) (Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan 2017

Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan, “Concerning the Project Cost of Reprocessing, Etc.” July 2017 (in Japanese). [Google Scholar]). In the United States, after it became clear in 1977 that reprocessing and breeder reactors made no economic sense and could create a proliferation nightmare, it took only about five years for the government and utilities to agree to abandon both programs, despite the fact that industry had spent about $1.3 billion in 2017 dollars on construction of a reprocessing plant in South Carolina (GAO 1984GAO. 1984Status and Commercial Potential of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant, US General Accounting Office. Available at:http://www.gao.gov/assets/150/141343.pdf, p. 11. [Google Scholar]), and the government had spent $4.2 billion on the Clinch River Demonstration Breeder Reactor project (Peach How could Japan’s government have allowed reprocessing advocates to drive its electric-power utilities to pursue its hugely costly plutonium program over 40 years?

For context, it must be remembered that the United States, a nuclear superpower, has been much more concerned about nuclear proliferation and terrorism than Japan. Tetsuya Endo, a former diplomat involved in the negotiations of the 1988 agreement, depicted the difference in the attitude of the two governments as follows:

Whereas the criterion of the United States, in particular that of the US government … is security (nuclear proliferation is one aspect of it), that of the Japan side is nuclear energy. … [I]t can be summarized as security vs. energy supply and the direction of interests are rather out of alignment. (Endo 2014Endo, T. 2014Formation Process and Issues from Now on of the 1988 Japan-US Nuclear Agreement (Revised Edition). Tokyo: Japan Institute of International Affairs. In Japanese:http://www2.jiia.or.jp/pdf/resarch/H25_US-JPN_nuclear_agreement/140212_US-JPN_nuclear_energy_agreement.pdf [Google Scholar])As we have seen, in the United States, after India’s 1974 nuclear test, both the Ford and Carter administrations considered the spread of reprocessing a very serious security issue. Indeed, a ship that entered a Japanese port on 16 October 1976 to transport spent fuel to the United Kingdom could not leave for nine days due to the Ford administration’s objections (Ibara 1984

Ibara, T. 1984Twilight of the Nuclear Power KingdomTokyoNihon Hyoron Sha. in Japanese. [Google Scholar]). In Japan, the US concerns about nuclear proliferation and terrorism have been generally considered interference in Japan’s energy policy by a country that possesses one of the worlds’ largest nuclear arsenals. Even the eyes of parliament members opposed to reprocessing, antinuclear weapon activists and the media sometimes got blurred by this nationalistic sentiment.

Nevertheless, reprocessing is enormously costly and the willingness of Japan’s government to force its nuclear utilities to accept the cost requires explanation.

One explanation, offered by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2005Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2005Framework for Nuclear Energy PolicyOctober 11. Available at:http://www.aec.go.jp/jicst/NC/tyoki/tyoki_e.htm. [Google Scholar]), involves the political challenge of negotiating arrangements for storing spent fuel indefinitely at reactor sites. The government and utilities had promised the host communities and prefectures that spent fuel would be removed from the sites. The reprocessing policy provided destinations – first Europe and the Tokai pilot plant, and then the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. The JAEC argued that, since it would take years to negotiate indefinite onsite storage of spent fuel, nuclear power plants with no place to put spent fuel in the meantime would be shut down one after another, which would result in an economic loss even greater than the cost of reprocessing.

Japan’s nuclear utilities have had to increase on-site storage of spent fuel in any case due to delays in the startup of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which was originally to start commercial operations in 1997. Indeed, the utilities have adopted the dangerous US practice of dense-packing their spent-fuel cooling pools with used fuel assemblies. Storing spent fuel in dry casks, onsite or offsite, cooled by natural convection of air would be much safer (von Hippel and Schoeppner 2016von Hippel, F., and M.Schoeppner2016. “Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools.” Science & Global Security 24: 141173. Available at:http://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs24vonhippel.pdf. doi:10.1080/08929882.2016.1235382.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). In the United States, spent fuel is transferred to onsite dry cask storage after the dense-packed pools become completely full. It’s better to make this transfer as soon as the spent fuel gets cool enough. Such a shift to a policy of accelerated dry cask storage would require stronger nuclear safety regulation in both countries (Lyman, Schoeppner, and von Hippel 2017Lyman, E.M. Schoeppner, and F. von Hippel2017. “Nuclear Safety Regulation in the post-Fukushima Era.” Science 356: 808809. doi:10.1126/science.aal4890.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Second, there is the bureaucratic explanation. The bureaucracy has more power over policy in Japan than in the United States. In Japan, when a new prime minister is elected in the Diet, only the ministers change whereas, in the United States with a two-party system, policy making is shared by Congress and the executive branch to a greater extent, and a new president routinely replaces more than 4000 officials at the top of the bureaucracy.1010. See: “Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointees” (Center for Presidential Transition, 16 March 2016) at: http://presidentialtransition.org/blog/posts/160316_help-wanted-4000-appointees.php.View all notes (This works both for the better and worse as can be observed in the current US administration.) Also, in Japan, unlike the United States, the bureaucracy is closed. There are virtually no mixed careers, with people working both inside and outside the bureaucracy (Tanaka 2009Tanaka, H. 2009. “The Civil Service System and Governance in Japan.” Available at:http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/apcity/unpan039129.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

Third, the provision of electric power has been a heavily regulated regional monopoly in Japan. Utilities therefore have been able to pass the extra costs of reprocessing on to consumers without eroding their own profits. This monopoly structure also has given utilities enormous power both locally and nationally, making it possible for them to influence both election results and the policy-making process. Thus, even if the original reprocessing policy was made by bureaucrats, it is now very difficult to change because of this complicated web of influence.

Japan has been gradually shifting toward deregulation, especially since the Fukushima accident, but a law has been passed to protect reprocessing by requiring the utilities to pay in advance, at the time of irradiation, for reprocessing the spent fuel and fabricating the recovered plutonium into MOX fuel (Suzuki and Takubo 2016Suzuki, T., and M. Takubo2016. “Japan’s New Law on Funding Plutonium Reprocessing,” May 26. Available at:http://fissilematerials.org/blog/2016/05/japans_new_law_on_funding.html. [Google Scholar]). The fact that nuclear utilities didn’t fight openly against this law, which will make them pay extra costs in the deregulated market, suggests that they expect the government to come up with a system of spreading the cost to consumers purchasing electricity generated by nonnuclear power producers, for example with a charge for electricity transmission and distribution, which will continue to be regulated.

Plutonium separation programs also persist in France, India, and Russia. China, too, has had a reprocessing policy for decades, although a small industrial reprocessing plant is only at the site-preparation stage and a site has not yet been found for a proposed large reprocessing plant that is to be bought from France. Central bureaucracies have great power in these countries, as they do in Japan. France’s government-owned utility has made clear that, where it has the choice – as it has had in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear power plants it also operates – it will opt out of reprocessing. This is one of the reasons why reprocessing will end in the United Kingdom over the next few years as the preexisting contracts are fulfilled (IPFM 2015

IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See:http://fissilematerials.org/library/rr14.pdf. [Google Scholar]).

A final explanation put forward from time to time for the persistence of reprocessing in Japan is that Japan’s security establishment wants to keep open a nuclear weapon option. There already are about 10 tons of separated plutonium in Japan, however (with an additional 37 tons of Japanese plutonium in France and the United Kingdom), and the design capacity of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to separate eight tons of plutonium, enough to make 1000 nuclear warheads per year, is far greater than Japan could possibly need for a nuclear weapon option. Also, Japan already has a centrifuge enrichment plant much larger than that planned by Iran. Iran’s program precipitated an international crisis because of proliferation concerns. Japan’s plant, like Iran’s, is designed to produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, but the cascades could be quickly reorganized to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for 10 bombs per year from natural uranium. Japan plans to expand this enrichment capacity more than 10-fold.1111. For Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited’s current and planned enrichment capacities, see: http://www.jnfl.co.jp/en/business/uran/. It takes about 5000 separative work units (SWUs) to produce enough HEU for a first-generation nuclear weapon – defined by the IAEA to be highly enriched uranium (usually assumed to be 90 percent enriched in U-235) containing 25 kilograms of U-235.View all notes It is therefore hard to imagine that the hugely costly Rokkasho reprocessing project is continuing because security officials are secretly pushing for it.

The idea that Japan is maintaining a nuclear weapon option has negative effects for Japan’s security, however, raising suspicions among its neighbors and legitimizing arguments in South Korea that it should acquire its own nuclear weapon option. It also undermines nuclear disarmament. According to the New York Times, when President Obama considered adopting a no-first-use policy before leaving office, Secretary of State John Kerry “argued that Japan would be unnerved by any diminution of the American nuclear umbrella, and perhaps be tempted to obtain their own weapon” (Sanger and Broad 2016Sanger, D., and W. Broad2016. “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.” New York TimesSeptember 5. Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/06/science/obama-unlikely-to-vow-no-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons.html [Google Scholar]). It’s about time for both the security officials and antinuclear weapon movements to examine this concern more seriously.

Given the terrible economics of reprocessing, its end in Japan and France should only be a matter of time. As the 40-year-long impasse over Japan’s program demonstrates, however, the inevitable can take a very long time, while the costs and dangers continue to accumulate. The world has been fortunate that the stubborn refusals of Japan and France to abandon their failing reprocessing programs have not resulted in a proliferation of plutonium programs, or the theft and use of their plutonium by terrorists. The South Korean election of President Moon Jae-in – who holds antinuclear-power views – may result in a decrease in pressure from Seoul for the “right” to reprocess.

The combined effects of the “invisible hand” of economics and US policy therefore have thus far been remarkably successful in blocking the spread of reprocessing to non-weapon states other than Japan. China’s growing influence in the international nuclear-energy industry and its planned reprocessing program, including the construction of a large French-designed reprocessing plant, could soon, however, pose a new challenge to this nonproliferation success story. Decisions by France and Japan to take their completely failed reprocessing programs off costly government-provided life support might convince China to rethink its policy.

Secret plutonium abuse of an Australian child, by Argonne National Laboratory

August 21, 2017

Paul Langley,  https://www.facebook.com/paul.langley.9822/posts/10213752429593121CAL-2, 14 Aug 17, 5 yr-old Simon Shaw and his mum. Simon was flown from Australia to the US on the pretext of medical treatment for his bone cancer. Instead, he was secretly injected with plutonium to see what would happen. His urine was measured, and he was flown back to Australia.

Though his bodily fluids remained radioactive, Australian medical staff were not informed. No benefit was imparted to Simon by this alleged “medical treatment” and he died of his disease after suffering a trip across the world and back at the behest of the USA despite his painful condition. The USA merely wanted a plutonium test subject. They called him CAL-2. And did their deed under the cover of phony medicine.

“Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515-2107, Edward J. Markey, 7th District, Massachusetts Committees, [word deleted] and Commerce, Chairman Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, Natural Resources, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe] MEMORANDUM To: Congressman Edward J. Markey From: Staff Subject: The Plutonium Papers Date: 4/20/94

Staff Memo on Plutonium Papers

The medical file for Cal-2 also contains correspondence seeking follow-up from Argonne National Laboratory in the 1980s. Cal-2 was an Australian boy, not quite five years old, who was flown to the U.S. in 1946 for treatment of bone cancer. During his hospitalization in San Francisco, he was chosen as a subject for plutonium injection. He returned to Australia, where he died less than one year later.

Document 700474 is a letter from Dr. Stebbings to an official at the Institute of Public Health in Sydney, Australia, in an attempt to reach the family of Cal-2. This letter reports that the child was “injected with a long-lived alpha-emitting radionuclide.” Document 700471 is a letter from Dr. Stebbings to New South Wales, Australia (names and town deleted), inquiring about recollections of the boy’s hospitalization in 1946. The letter notes that, “those events have become rather important in some official circles here,” but provides few details to the family.

A hand-written note on the letter reports no response through October 8, 1987. Considering the history on the lack of informed consent with these experiments, it is surprising that the letters to Australia failed to mention the word “plutonium.”

The Australian news media has since identified Cal-2 as Simeon Shaw, the son of a wool buyer in New South Wales, and information on the injection created an international incident. The information in the medical file does indicate that at a time when Secretary Herrington told you that no follow-up would be conducted on living subjects, the Department of Energy was desperately interested in conducting follow-up on a deceased Australian patient.

In an effort to determine the full extent of follow-up by the Department after 1986, your staff has requested, through the Department’s office of congressional affairs, the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stebbings, Dr. Robertson, and any other officials who may have been involved in the follow-up. So far, that request has been unsuccessful. It remains an open question as to what was the full extent of follow-up performed in the 1980s, and whether the efforts then would facilitate any further follow-up on subjects now. It seems appropriate for the Interagency Working Group to address these questions as its efforts continue.”

Source: National Security Archives, George Washington Universityhttp://www.gwu.edu/…/…/mstreet/commeet/meet1/brief1/br1n.txt

See also ACHRE Final Report.

NO MORE DUAL USE ABUSE OF AUSTRALIANS MR PRESIDENT. STOP FUNDING SYKES AND FLINDERS UNIVERSITY IN THE DOE QUEST FOR CHEAP CLEANUP OF URANIUM CONTAMINATED SITES.

Mr. President, you are wrong if you think you can do the same again re hormesis funding in Australia as the USA did with CAL-2. We have not forgotten and do not trust you or your paid agents in Australian universities such as Flinders.

America’s quiet national disaster – Hanford nuclear site

August 21, 2017

“Nobody in the world has waste like ours,” says one of my guides as we enter the site. No one has so much strontium 90, for instance, which behaves a lot like calcium and lodges inside the bones of any living creatures it penetrates, basically forever. Along with chromium and tritium and carbon tetrachloride and iodine 129 and the other waste products of a plutonium factory it is already present in Hanford’s groundwater. There are other nuclear-waste sites in the United States, but two-thirds of all the waste is here. Beneath Hanford a massive underground glacier of radioactive sludge is moving slowly, but relentlessly, toward the Columbia River.

The place is now an eerie deconstruction site, with ghost towns on top of ghost towns. Much of the old plutonium plant still stands: the husks of the original nine reactors, built in the 1940s, still line the Columbia River, like grain elevators. Their doors have been welded shut, and they have been left to decay—for another century.

 Only one stakeholder in the place wanted to know what was going on beneath its soil: the tribes. 

WHY THE SCARIEST NUCLEAR THREAT MAY BE COMING FROM INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE, Vanity Fair, BY  MICHAEL LEWISSeptember 2017  “………By the early 1940s the United States government understood that for democracy to survive it needed to beat Hitler to the atom bomb, and that the race had two paths—one required enriched uranium, the other plutonium. In early 1943, the United States Army was evicting everyone from an area in Eastern Washington nearly half the size of Rhode Island and setting out to create plutonium in order to build a nuclear bomb. The site of Hanford was chosen for its proximity to the Columbia River, which could supply the cooling water while its dams provided the electricity needed to make plutonium. Hanford was also chosen for its remoteness: the army was worried about both enemy attacks and an accidental nuclear explosion. Hanford was, finally, chosen for its poverty. It was convenient that what would become the world’s largest public-works project arose in a place from which people had to be paid so little to leave.

From 1943 until 1987, as the Cold War was ending and Hanford closed its reactors, the place created two-thirds of the plutonium in the United States’ arsenal—a total of 70,000 nuclear weapons since 1945. You’d like to think that if anyone had known the environmental consequences of plutonium, or if anyone could have been certain that the uranium bomb would work, they’d never have done here what they did. “Plutonium is hard to produce,” said MacWilliams. “And hard to get rid of.” By the late 1980s the state of Washington had gained some clarity on just how hard and began to negotiate with the U.S. government. In the ensuing agreement the United States promised to return Hanford to a condition where, as MacWilliams put it, “kids can eat the dirt.” When I asked him to guess what it would cost to return Hanford to the standards now legally required, he said, “A century and a hundred billion dollars.” And that was a conservative estimate.

More or less overnight Hanford went from the business of making plutonium to the even more lucrative business of cleaning it up. In its last years of production the plutonium plant employed around 9,000 people. It still employs 9,000 people and pays them even more than it used to. “It’s a good thing that we live in a country that cares enough to take the time it will take, and spend the money it will spend, to clean up the legacy of the Cold War,” said MacWilliams. “In Russia they just drop concrete on the stuff and move on.”

The Department of Energy wires 10 percent of its annual budget, or $3 billion a year, into this tiny place and intends to do so until the radioactive mess is cleaned up. And even though what is now called the Tri-Cities area is well populated and amazingly prosperous—yachts on the river, $300 bottles of wine in the bistros—the absolute worst thing that could happen to it is probably not a nuclear accident. The worst thing that could happen is that the federal government loses interest in it and slashes the D.O.E.’s budget—as President Trump has proposed to do. And yet Trump won the county in which Hanford resides by 25 points.

The next morning, with a pair of local guides, I drive into the D.O.E. project most direly in need of management. In my lap is a book of instructions for visitors: “Report any spill or release,” it says, among other things. “Nobody in the world has waste like ours,” says one of my guides as we enter the site. No one has so much strontium 90, for instance, which behaves a lot like calcium and lodges inside the bones of any living creatures it penetrates, basically forever. Along with chromium and tritium and carbon tetrachloride and iodine 129 and the other waste products of a plutonium factory it is already present in Hanford’s groundwater. There are other nuclear-waste sites in the United States, but two-thirds of all the waste is here. Beneath Hanford a massive underground glacier of radioactive sludge is moving slowly, but relentlessly, toward the Columbia River.

The place is now an eerie deconstruction site, with ghost towns on top of ghost towns. Much of the old plutonium plant still stands: the husks of the original nine reactors, built in the 1940s, still line the Columbia River, like grain elevators. Their doors have been welded shut, and they have been left to decay—for another century. “Cold and dark is a term we like to use,” says one of my guides, though he adds that rattlesnakes and other living creatures often find their way into the reactors. Of the settlement that existed before the government seized the land, there remain the stumps of trees from what were once orchards and the small stone shell of the town bank.  There are older ghosts here, too. What looks like arid scrubland contains countless Indian burial grounds and other sites sacred to the tribes who lived here: the Nez Perce, the Umatilla, and the Yakama. For the 13,000 years or so prior to the white man’s arrival the place had been theirs. To them the American experiment is no more than the blink of an eye. “You have only been here 200 years, so you can only imagine 200 years into the future,” as a Nez Perce spokesman put it to me. “We have been here tens of thousands of years, and we will be here forever. One day we will again eat the roots.”

Three years ago the D.O.E. sent the local tribes a letter to say they shouldn’t eat the fish they caught in the river more than once a week. But for the longest time, the effects of radiation on the human body were either ignored or insincerely explored: no one associated with the business of creating it wanted the knowledge that might disrupt it. Downwind of Hanford, people experienced unusually high rates of certain kinds of cancer, miscarriages, and genetic disorders that went largely ignored. “It’s easy to have no observable health effects when you never look,” the medical director of the Lawrence Livermore lab said, back in the 1980s, after seeing how the private contractors who ran Hanford studied the matter. In her jaw-dropping 2015 book, Plutopia, University of Maryland historian Kate Brown compares and contrasts American plutonium production at Hanford and its Soviet twin, Ozersk. The American understanding of the risks people ran when they came into contact with radiation may have been weaker than the Soviets’. The Soviet government was at least secure in the knowledge that it could keep any unpleasant information to itself. Americans weren’t and so avoided the information—or worse. In 1962 a Hanford worker named Harold Aardal, exposed to a blast of neutron radiation, was whisked to a hospital, where he was told he was perfectly O.K. except that he was now sterile—and back then it didn’t even make the news. Instead, Hanford researchers in the late 1960s went to a local prison and paid the inmates to allow the irradiation of their testicles, to see just how much radiation a man can receive before the tails fall from his sperm.A young elk gallops across the road in front of our car. He owes his existence, perhaps, to the atom bomb: hunting hasn’t been allowed on the 586-square-mile tract since 1943, and so there’s game everywhere—geese, ducks, cougars, rabbits, elk, and deer. We drive past T plant, the long gray concrete building where they brought the irradiated material from the reactors, to cull the plutonium that went into the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. Because it, too, is cold and dark, it is of less concern than the land surrounding it, for that is where the waste from the plant got dumped. The Nagasaki bomb contained about 14 pounds of plutonium, but the waste generated fills acres of manicured dirt, the texture of a baseball infield, just downhill from the plant. “The tank farm,” they call it.

On these farms lay buried 177 tanks, each roughly the size of a four-story apartment building and capable of holding a million gallons of “high-level waste.” Fifty-six million gallons now in the tanks are classified as “high-level waste.” What, you might ask, is high-level waste? “Incredibly dangerous stuff,” says Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Hanford Challenge, the organization which has monitored the site since the late 1980s. “If you’re exposed to it for even a few seconds you probably got a fatal dose.” And yet as you drive by, you would never know anything unusual was happening on the infield were it not for the men crawling over it, with scuba tanks on their backs and oxygen masks on their faces.

Hanford turns out to be a good example of an American impulse: to avoid knowledge that conflicts with whatever your narrow, short-term interests might be. What we know about Hanford we know mainly from whistle-blowers who worked inside the nuclear facility—and who have been ostracized by their community for threatening the industry in a one-industry town. (“Resistance to understanding a threat grows with proximity,” writes Brown.) One hundred and forty-nine of the tanks in the Hanford farms are made of a single shell of a steel ill-designed to contain highly acidic nuclear waste. Sixty-seven of them have failed in some way and allowed waste or vapors to seep out. Each tank contains its own particular stew of chemicals, so no two tanks can be managed in the same way. At the top of many tanks accumulates a hydrogen gas, which, if not vented, might cause the tank to explode. “There are Fukushima-level events that could happen at any moment,” says Carpenter. “You’d be releasing millions of curies of strontium 90 and cesium. And once it’s out there it doesn’t go away—not for hundreds and hundreds of years.”The people who created the plutonium for the first bombs, in the 1940s and early 1950s, were understandably in too much of a rush to worry about what might happen afterward. They simply dumped 120 million gallons of high-level waste, and another 444 billiongallons of contaminated liquid, into the ground. They piled uranium (half-life: 4.5 billion years) into unlined pits near the Columbia River. They dug 42 miles of trenches to dispose of solid radioactive waste—and left no good records of what’s in the trenches. In early May of this year a tunnel at Hanford, built in the 1950s to bury low-level waste, collapsed. In response, the workers dumped truckloads of dirt into the hole. That dirt is now classified as low-level radioactive waste and needs to be disposed of. “The reason the Hanford cleanup sucks—in a word—is shortcuts,” said Carpenter. “Too many goddamn shortcuts.”

There is another way to think of John MacWilliams’s fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions. Program management is not just program management. Program management is all the “less detectable, systemic risks.” Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: natural disasters, terrorist attacks. But most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode. It is delaying repairs to a tunnel filled with lethal waste until, one day, it collapses. It is the aging workforce of the D.O.E.—which is no longer attracting young people as it once did—that one day loses track of a nuclear bomb. It is the ceding of technical and scientific leadership to China. It is the innovation that never occurs, and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.Toward the end of his time as secretary of energy, Ernie Moniz suggested that the department, for the first time ever, conduct a serious study of the risks at Hanford. Once the risks were spelled out, perhaps everyone would agree that it was folly to try to turn it into, say, a playground. Maybe the U.S. government should just keep a giant fence around the place and call it a monument to mismanagement. Maybe the people at the labs could figure out how to keep the radioactivity from seeping into the Columbia River and leave it at that. Maybe it shouldn’t be the D.O.E.’s job to deal with the problem, as the problem had no good solution and the political costs of constant failure interfered with the D.O.E.’s ability to address problems it might actually solve.

It turned out no one wanted to make a serious study of the risks at Hanford. Not the contractors who stood to make lots of money from things chugging along as they have. Not the career people inside the D.O.E. who oversaw the project and who feared that an open acknowledgment of all the risks was an invitation to even more lawsuits. Not the citizens of Eastern Washington, who count on the $3 billion a year flowing into their region from the federal government. Only one stakeholder in the place wanted to know what was going on beneath its soil: the tribes. A radioactive ruin does not crumble without consequences, and yet, even now, no one can say what these are.

Here is where the Trump administration’s willful ignorance plays a role. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is a downside to knowledge. It makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.

There is a telling example of this Trumpian impulse—the desire not to know—in a small D.O.E. program that goes by its acronym, ARPA-E. ARPA-E was conceived during the George W. Bush administration as an energy equivalent of DARPA—the Defense Department’s research-grant program that had funded the creation of G.P.S. and the Internet, among other things. Even in the D.O.E. budget the program was trivial—$300 million a year. It made small grants to researchers who had scientifically plausible, wildly creative ideas that might change the world. If you thought you could make water from sunlight, or genetically engineer some bug so that it eats electrons and craps oil, or create a building material that becomes cooler on the inside as it grows hotter on the outside, ARPA-E was your place. More to the point: your only place. At any given time in America there are lots of seriously smart people with bold ideas that might change life as we know it—it may be the most delightful distinguishing feature of our society. The idea behind ARPA-E was to find the best of these ideas that the free market had declined to finance and make sure they were given a chance. Competition for the grants has been fierce: only two out of every hundred are approved. The people who do the approving come from the energy industry and academia. They do brief tours of duty in government, then return to Intel and Harvard.The man who ran the place when it opened was Arun Majumdar. He grew up in India, finished at the top of his engineering class, moved to the United States, and became a world-class materials scientist. He now teaches at Stanford University but could walk into any university in America and get a job. Invited to run ARPA-E, he took a leave from teaching, moved to Washington, D.C., and went to work for the D.O.E. “This country embraced me as one of her sons,” he said. “So when someone is calling me to serve, it is hard to say no.” His only demand was that he be allowed to set up the program in a small office down the street from the Department of Energy building. “The feng shui of D.O.E. is really bad,” he explained.

Right away he faced the hostility of right-wing think tanks. The Heritage Foundation even created its own budget plan back in 2011 that eliminated ARPA-E. American politics was alien to the Indian immigrant; he couldn’t fathom the tribal warfare. “Democrat, Republican—what is this?,” as he put it. “Also, why don’t people vote? In India people stand in line in 40 degrees Celsius to vote.” He phoned up the guys who had written the Heritage budget and invited them over to see what they’d be destroying. They invited him to lunch. “They were very gracious,” said Majumdar, “but they didn’t know anything. They were not scientists in any sense. They were ideologues. Their point was: the market should take care of everything. I said, ‘I can tell you that the market does not go into the lab and work on something that might or might not work.’ ”

Present at lunch was a woman who, Majumdar learned, helped to pay the bills at the Heritage Foundation. After he’d explained ARPA-E—and some of the life-changing ideas that the free market had failed to fund in their infancy—she perked up and said, “Are you guys like DARPA?” Yes, he said. “Well, I’m a big fan of DARPA,” she said. It turned out her son had fought in Iraq. His life was saved by a Kevlar vest. The early research to create the Kevlar vest was done by DARPA.

The guys at Heritage declined the invitation to actually visit the D.O.E. and see what ARPA-E was up to. But in their next faux budget they restored the funding for ARPA-E. (The Heritage Foundation did not respond to questions about its relationship with the D.O.E.)

As I drove out of Hanford the Trump administration unveiled its budget for the Department of Energy. ARPA-E had since won the praise of business leaders from Bill Gates to Lee Scott, the former C.E.O. of Walmart, to Fred Smith, the Republican founder of FedEx, who has said that “pound for pound, dollar for dollar, activity for activity, it’s hard to find a more effective thing government has done than ARPA-E.” Trump’s budget eliminates ARPA-E altogether. It also eliminates the spectacularly successful $70 billion loan program. It cuts funding to the national labs in a way that implies the laying off of 6,000 of their people. It eliminates all research on climate change. It halves the funding for work to secure the electrical grid from attack or natural disaster. “All the risks are science-based,” said John MacWilliams when he saw the budget. “You can’t gut the science. If you do, you are hurting the country. If you gut the core competency of the D.O.E., you gut the country.”But you can. Indeed, if you are seeking to preserve a certain worldview, it actually helps to gut science. Trump’s budget, like the social forces behind it, is powered by a perverse desire—to remain ignorant. Trump didn’t invent this desire. He is just its ultimate expression. http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/07/department-of-energy-risks-michael-lewis

South Australia firmly rejected the idea of becoming the world’s radioactive trash dump

July 24, 2017

Australia’s handful of self-styled ‘ecomodernists’ or ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ united behind a push to import spent fuel and to use some of it to fuel Generation IV fast neutron reactors. They would have expected to persuade the stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission to endorse their ideas. But the Royal Commission completely rejected the proposal

Another dump proposal is very much alive: the federal government’s plan to establish a national nuclear waste dump in SA, either in the Flinders Ranges or on farming land near Kimba, west of Port Augusta.

How the South Australians who dumped a nuclear dump may soon have another fight on their hands http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2989048/how_the_south_australians_who_dumped_a_nuclear_dump_may_soon_have_another_fight_on_their_hands.html   15th June, 2017  The rejection of a plan to import vast amounts of high-level nuclear waste from around the world for profit was a significant result for campaigners but that threat is still far from over, writes JIM GREEN

Last November, two-thirds of the 350 members of a South Australian-government initiated Citizens’ Jury rejected “under any circumstances” the plan to import vast amounts of high-level nuclear waste from around the world as a money-making venture.

The following week, SA Liberal Party Opposition leader Steven Marshall said that “[Premier] Jay Weatherill’s dream of turning South Australia into a nuclear waste dump is now dead.” Business SA chief Nigel McBride said: “Between the Liberals and the citizens’ jury, the thing is dead.”

And after months of uncertainty, Premier Weatherill has said in the past fortnight that the plan is “dead”, there is “no foreseeable opportunity for this”, and it is “not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government”.

So is the plan dead? The Premier left himself some wriggle room, but the plan is as dead as it ever can be. If there was some life in the plan, it would be loudly proclaimed by SA’s Murdoch tabloid, The Advertiser. But The Advertiser responded to the Premier’s recent comments, to the death of the dump, with a deafening, deathly silence.

Royal Commission

It has been quite a ride to get to this point.The debate began in February 2015, when the Premier announced that a Royal Commission would be established to investigate commercial options across the nuclear fuel cycle. He appointed a nuclear advocate, former Navy man Kevin Scarce, as Royal Commissioner. Scarce said he would run a “balanced” Royal Commission and appointed four nuclear advocates to his advisory panel, balanced by one critic.

The final report of the Royal Commission, released in May 2016, was surprisingly downbeat given the multiple levels of pro-nuclear bias. It rejected ‒ on economic grounds ‒ almost all of the proposals it considered: uranium conversion and enrichment, nuclear fuel fabrication, conventional and Generation IV nuclear power reactors, and spent fuel reprocessing.

Australia’s handful of self-styled ‘ecomodernists’ or ‘pro-nuclear environmentalists’ united behind a push to import spent fuel and to use some of it to fuel Generation IV fast neutron reactors. They would have expected to persuade the stridently pro-nuclear Royal Commission to endorse their ideas. But the Royal Commission completely rejected the proposal, stating in its final report:

“[A]dvanced fast reactors and other innovative reactor designs are unlikely to be feasible or viable in the foreseeable future. The development of such a first-of-a-kind project in South Australia would have high commercial and technical risk. Although prototype anddemonstration reactors are operating, there is no licensed, commercially proven design. Development to that point would require substantial capital investment.”

SA as the world’s nuclear waste dump

The only thing left standing (apart from the shrinking uranium mining industry) was the plan to import nuclear waste as a commercial venture. Based on commissioned research, the Royal Commission proposed importing 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste (spent nuclear fuel from power reactors) and 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level waste.

The SA Labor government then established a ‘Know Nuclear’ statewide promotional campaign under the guide of ‘consultation’. The Government also initiated the Citizens’ Jury.

The first sign that things weren’t going to plan for the Government was on 15 October 2016, when 3,000 people participated in a protest against the nuclear dump at Parliament House in Adelaide.

A few weeks later, on November 6, the Citizens’ Jury rejected the nuclear dump plan. Journalist Daniel Wills wrote: “This “bold” idea looks to have just gone up in a giant mushroom cloud. When Premier Jay Weatherill formed the citizens’ jury to review the findings of a Royal Commission that recommended that SA set up a lucrative nuclear storage industry, he professed confidence that a well-informed cross-section of the state would make a wise judgment. Late Sunday, it handed down a stunning and overwhelming rejection of the proposal.

“Brutally, jurors cited a lack of trust even in what they had been asked to do and their concerns that consent was being manufactured. Others skewered the Government’s basic competency to get things done, doubting that it could pursue the industry safely and deliver the dump on-budget.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Citizens’ Jury, the SA Liberal Party and the Nick Xenophon Team announced that they would actively campaign against the dump in the lead-up to the March 2018 state election. The SA Greens were opposed from the start.

Premier Weatherill previously said that he established the Citizens’ Jury because he could sense that there is a “massive issue of trust in government”. It was expected that when he called a press conference on November 14, the Premier would accept the Jury’s verdict and dump the dump. But he announced that he wanted to hold a referendum on the issue, as well as giving affected Aboriginal communities a right of veto. Nuclear dumpsters went on an aggressive campaign to demonise the Citizens’ Jury though they surely knew that the bias in the Jury process was all in the pro-nuclear direction.

For the state government to initiate a referendum, enabling legislation would be required and non-government parties said they would block such legislation. The government didn’t push the matter ‒ perhaps because of the near-certainty that a referendum would be defeated. The statewide consultation process led by the government randomly surveyed over 6,000 South Australians and found 53% opposition to the proposal compared to 31% support.

Likewise, a November 2016 poll commissioned by the Sunday Mail found 35% support for the nuclear dump plan among 1,298 respondents. The newspaper’s report on its own poll was dishonest. Instead of noting that non-supporters outnumbered supporters by almost two to one, the Sunday Mail conflated responses to two different questions and claimed: “Majority support for creating a nuclear industry in South Australia is revealed in an extensive Sunday Mail survey of public opinion, in a rebuff to moves to shut down further study of a high-level waste dump.”

Then the Labor government announced on 15 November 2016 that it would not seek to repeal or amend the SA Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000, legislation which imposes major constraints on the ability of the government to move forward with the nuclear waste import proposal. (The government also said that it would not encourage the federal government to repeal laws banning nuclear power, “recognising that in the short-to-medium term, nuclear power is not a cost-effective source of low-carbon electricity for South Australia”).

Economic claims exposed

Implausible claims about the potential economic benefits of importing nuclear waste had been discredited by this stage. The claims presented in the Royal Commission’s report were scrutinised by experts from the US-based Nuclear Economics Consulting Group (NECG), commissioned by a Joint Select Committee of the SA Parliament.

One of the many lies peddled by the Murdoch press was that the NECG report “backed Royal Commission findings that a nuclear dump could create $257 billion in revenue for South Australia.” In fact, the NECG report did no such thing. The kindest thing the report had to say was that the waste import project could be profitable under certain assumptions, but the report then raised serious questions about most of those assumptions.

The NECG report noted that the Royal Commission’s economic analysis failed to consider important issues which “have significant serious potential to adversely impact the project and its commercial outcomes”; that assumptions about price were “overly optimistic” in which case “project profitability is seriously at risk”; that the 25% cost contingency for delays and blowouts was likely to be a significant underestimate; and that the assumption the project would capture 50% of the available market had “little support or justification”.

The farcical and dishonest engineering of a positive economic case to proceed with the nuclear waste plan was exposed by ABC journalist Stephen Long on 8 November 2016: “Would you believe me if I told you the report that the commission has solely relied on was co-authored by the president and vice president of an advocacy group for the development of international nuclear waste facilities?”

No second opinion, no peer review … no wonder the Citizens’ Jury was unconvinced and unimpressed. The Jury’s report said: “It is impossible to provide an informed response to the issue of economics because the findings in the RCR [Royal Commission report] are based on unsubstantiated assumptions. This has caused the forecast estimates to provide inaccurate, optimistic, unrealistic economic projections.”

Professor Barbara Pocock, an economist at the University of South Australia, said: “All the economists who have replied to the analysis in that report have been critical of the fact that it is a ‘one quote’ situation. We haven’t got a critical analysis, we haven’t got a peer review of the analysis”.

Another South Australian economist, Prof. Richard Blandy from Adelaide University, said: “The forecast profitability of the proposed nuclear dump rests on highly optimistic assumptions. Such a dump could easily lose money instead of being a bonanza.”

The dump is finally dumped

To make its economic case, the Royal Commission assumed that tens of thousands of tonnes of high-level nuclear waste would be imported before work had even begun building a deep underground repository. The state government hosed down concerns about potential economic losses by raising the prospect of customer countries paying for the construction of waste storage and disposal infrastructure in SA.

But late last year, nuclear and energy utilities in Taiwan ‒ seen as one of the most promising potential customer countries ‒ made it clear that they would not pay one cent towards the establishment of storage and disposal infrastructure in SA and they would not consider sending nuclear waste overseas unless and until a repository was built and operational.

By the end of 2016, the nuclear dump plan was very nearly dead, and the Premier’s recent statement that it is “not something that will be progressed by the Labor Party in Government” was the final nail in the coffin. The dump has been dumped.

“Today’s news has come as a relief and is very much welcomed,” said Yankunytjatjara Native Title Aboriginal Corporation Chair and No Dump Alliance spokesperson Karina Lester. “We are glad that Jay has opened his ears and listened to the community of South Australia who have worked hard to be heard on this matter. We know nuclear is not the answer for our lands and people – we have always said NO.”

Narungga man and human rights activist Tauto Sansbury said: “We absolutely welcome Jay Weatherill’s courageous decision for looking after South Australia. It’s a great outcome for all involved.”

Lessons learned?

There is much to reflect on. The idea of Citizens’ Juries would seem, superficially, attractive. But bias is inevitable if the government establishing and funding the Jury process is strongly promoting (or opposing) the issue under question. In the case of the Jury investigating the nuclear waste plan, it backfired quite spectacularly on the government (Daniel Wills’ analysis in The Advertiser was arguably the most perceptive). Citizen Juries will be few and far between for the foreseeable future in Australia. A key lesson for political and corporate elites is that they shouldn’t let any semblance of democracy intrude on their plans.

The role of Murdoch tabloids needs comment, particularly in regions where the only mass circulation newspaper is a Murdoch tabloid. No-one would dispute that the NT News has a dumbing-down effect on political and intellectual life in the Northern Territory. Few would doubt that the Courier Mail does the same in Queensland.

South Australians need to grapple with the sad truth that its Murdoch tabloids ‒ the Advertiser and the Sunday Mail ‒ are a blight on the state. Their grossly imbalanced and wildly inaccurate coverage of the nuclear dump debate was ‒ with some honourable exceptions ‒ disgraceful. And that disgraceful history goes back decades; for example, a significant plume of radiation dusted Adelaide after one of the British bombs tests in the 1950s but the Advertiser chose not to report it.

The main lesson from the dump debate is a positive one: people power can upset the dopey, dangerous ideas driven by political and corporate elites and the Murdoch press. Sometimes. It was particularly heartening that the voices of Traditional Owners were loud and clear and were given great respect by the Citizens’ Jury.

The Jury’s report said: “There is a lack of Aboriginal consent. We believe that the government should accept that the Elders have said NO and stop ignoring their opinions. … Jay Weatherill said that without the consent of traditional owners of the land “it wouldn’t happen”. It is unethical to backtrack on this statement without losing authenticity in the engagement process.”

Premier Weatherill said that one of valuable things that emerged from the Citizens’ Jury “is that there was an expression of solidarity by the wider community with the Aboriginal community”.

Conversely, the most disheartening aspect of the debate was the willingness of the Murdoch press and pro-nuclear lobbyists to ignore or trash Aboriginal people opposed to the dump.

Another dump debate

Traditional Owners, environmentalists, church groups, trade unionists and everyone else who contributed to dumping the dump can rest up and celebrate for a moment. But only for a moment. Another dump proposal is very much alive: the federal government’s plan to establish a national nuclear waste dump in SA, either in the Flinders Ranges or on farming land near Kimba, west of Port Augusta.

In May 2016, Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Regina McKenzie, who lives near the Flinders Ranges site, wrote:

“Last year I was awarded the SA Premier’s Natural Resource Management Award in the category of ‘Aboriginal Leadership – Female’ for working to protect land that is now being threatened with a nuclear waste dump. But Premier Jay Weatherill has been silent since the announcement of six short-listed dump sites last year, three of them in SA.

“Now the Flinders Ranges has been chosen as the preferred site and Mr Weatherill must speak up. The Premier can either support us ‒ just as the SA government supported the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta when their land was targeted for a national nuclear waste dump from 1998-2004 ‒ or he can support the federal government’s attack on us by maintaining his silence.”

Perhaps the Premier will find his voice on the federal government’s contentious proposal for a national nuclear waste dump in SA, now that his position on that debate is no longer complicated by the parallel debate about establishing a dump for foreign high-level nuclear waste.

This Author

Dr Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

 

The Australian government’s plan to dump Lucas Heights’ nuclear waste on rural South Australia

July 24, 2017

Assuming that the long-lived intermediate-level stuff does go to the sites that you are busy characterising at the moment, how long is it envisaged that it actually stays there before it gets taken somewhere else?

Mr B Wilson: We cannot give a definitive answer on that because we have not commenced a process to identify a permanent disposal solution for the long-lived intermediate-level waste—

Senator LUDLAM: Ouch!

if the really dangerous intermediate-level stuff is to be stored there you cannot tell them how long it is meant to be there for

so we kind of do not really know what is going on there or how long it is meant to be there for.

ECONOMICS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE, Department of Industry – RADIOACTIVE WASTE  1st June 2017

 Full Transcript here: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/download/committees/estimate/e3ddf88b-3e9c-4546-9d90-8f646689a98c/toc_pdf/Economics%20Legislation%20Committee_2017_06_01_5134.pdf;fileType=application%2Fpdf

Senator Canavan: I have been to Hawker and I am going there again tomorrow, and I would like to put on record my thanks to many in the Hawker community who engage in this process. Some have certainly changed their mind as they have come to have more understanding of it. I think you have probably been to Lucas Heights, and it I think it makes a big difference to people when they see it. There is a lot of misinformation spread about this, and we are trying to engage with people in a genuine way in good faith to give them the information to make informed decisions.

Senator LUDLAM: Who is spreading this information, Senator Canavan?

Senator Canavan: I hear it from time to time. I do not have any particular allegations to make about individual groups here, but you do hear lots of information from time to time about the potential danger of this material. But, of course, as you would probably know, much of the low-level waste is stored safely at Lucas Heights, a place where people go to and from work every day.

Senator LUDLAM: That begs the question of why it needs to move. ……

Senator LUDLAM: Staying in South Australia: has there been any consideration at all—this is for the department or the minister, whoever wants to take this one on—of the tension between the proposed national radioactive waste facility and the existing South Australian legislation, which would be the Nuclear Waste Storage Facility (Prohibition) Act 2000? The tension between the fact that your entire project is presently illegal under South Australian law: what is being done about that?

Mr B Wilson: We are certainly aware of the South Australian prohibition under their law. However, the National Radioactive Waste Management Act that we operate under overrides South Australian law.

Senator LUDLAM: And that is it? You are just going to squash them? Or are there discussions progressing with the South Australian government?….

Senator LUDLAM: Is the department, or you, Senator Canavan, or any of the federal agencies or other actors in communication with the South Australian government environment or heritage departments, or representatives of any body, actually, in relation to the tension between the two acts?

Senator Canavan: I have raised it with the South Australian government. They have indicated that they may seek to make changes. I am not aware of the status of that at the moment. Obviously, they have their own process, which is a separate to ours, on radioactive waste. Certainly, the issue has been raised. Mr Wilson is also right that we are confident that is not a barrier to this project. But Mr Wilson will be giving you that.

Mr B Wilson: We engage—I would have to characterise it as infrequently—with the South Australian government. It is more in the line of updating where we are. We have not had any recent engagements. They are certainly very well aware of the prohibitions under their law about what the South Australian government and its officials can do in this space….

When I said that the National Radioactive Waste Management Act overrides South Australian law, that is the fact. But what we are trying to do in the development of this project is to develop it and act in a way that is consistent with requirements under other South Australian legislation. For instance, in terms of Indigenous heritage protection and other aspects. While we are not necessarily bound by those laws we want to act in a way that is consistent with them.

Senator LUDLAM: With waste that is as dangerous as this, I am very glad to hear it! Is the department still accepting site nominations?

Senator Canavan: The government remains open to further nominations, as we announced on selecting the Hawker site last year. But the ones we have announced are those that we are proceeding with at this stage.

Senator LUDLAM: Wallerberdina and two at Kimba.

Senator Canavan: Kimba, that is right.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes. I will come to the Kimba ones in just a sec. My understanding is—and this goes way back before this project; the same for Muckaty and the same for the ones that came before that—that it was envisaged that it be a permanent repository for low-level waste of various categories, and a temporary or interim storage site for the long-lived intermediate-level waste that may or may not end up going there. That is still ambiguous, unless you can clarify that for us.

Assuming that the long-lived intermediate-level stuff does go to the sites that you are busy characterising at the moment, how long is it envisaged that it actually stays there before it gets taken somewhere else?

Mr B Wilson: We cannot give a definitive answer on that because we have not commenced a process to identify a permanent disposal solution for the long-lived intermediate-level waste—

Senator LUDLAM: Ouch!

Mr B Wilson: What we have told communities—we are trying to be as up-front as we can be—is that it could take several decades, based on the experience in establishing a low-level disposal facility. It could well take a couple of decades to find a permanent disposal solution for the intermediate. There is also some sense in Australia of not rushing to a permanent disposal solution for intermediate. The potential technological solutions—

Pg 108

Senator LUDLAM: Sixty or 70 years certainly could not be called a rush, could it?

Senator Canavan: No, definitely not

Mr B Wilson: The potential technological solutions for that are evolving, and there are potential other new technologies which might reduce the cost to Australia of a disposal solution—if they are proven to be effective and safe. They will be proved up over the next decade or so.

Senator LUDLAM: You a very good at this, Mr Wilson. Are you having any difficulty in the consultation work that you are doing—at any level, really—when communities take you up on the fact that you cannot tell them what kind of waste is proposed to be stored at the site? And if the really dangerous intermediate-level stuff is to be stored there you cannot tell them how long it is meant to be there for—has that come up at all in any of your conversations?

Mr B Wilson: Yes, it does.

Senator Canavan: It does, yes.

Senator LUDLAM: I would think so. Does it bug you a bit that you are not able to provide them with that basic information about what the dump will even be used for?

Mr B Wilson: What we do say is that by the time we come to them with a firm proposal for what this facility will look like—which will be sometime next year—we will be able to tell them, with clarity, what the options are on the intermediate level waste that might be stored there, and how we propose to deal with the low-level waste that will be stored there. So they will have, at that point, pretty good clarity around what the facility will be, what it will handle, and how it will handle it.

Senator LUDLAM: Right, so we kind of do not really know what is going on there or how long it is meant to be there for.

CHAIR: You have a minute and a half for further questions, Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM: A minute and a half! This stuff is dangerous for tens of thousands of years! Senator CANAVAN: Time flies when you are having fun!

Senator LUDLAM: So it does. I have one or two questions on Kimba and the Eyre Peninsula site. I note that there is a ballot process being advanced by the District Council of Kimba—AEC is overseeing that, which I think is good—to measure community preparedness to progress to stage 2 of consultation. I gather the question is going to be: are you interested in more info, or have you made your minds up? Is that a reasonable characterisation of what you are doing?

Mr B Wilson: It is not our question. It is the council’s question—it is their vote. But it will, effectively, be: ‘Do you support the sites progressing to the next stage of the process,’ or some version of that.

Senator LUDLAM: How do you intend to capture and consider the views of the wider community outside the defined voting area? It is a national radioactive waste dump; you will not be calling it the Kimba radioactive waste dump. I do not have any good answers to this, but how are you proposing to engage broader opinion?

Mr B Wilson: As it was for the previous round of consultations, people who have views from outside the region are perfectly free to submit those views to us. We will compile them and provide them to the minister to take into account. I think there is a sort of reality check here; the facility is proposed to go into an area, and it is that immediate community that obviously will carry more weight than—

Senator LUDLAM: I would hope so; I am not trying to take that away from them.

Senator CANAVAN: We also have people on the ground in both Hawker and Kimba. We have a staffed office there that people can approach, including people from the broader region who might come to Kimba for business or what have you. So we are doing our best to receive those views from a wide area.

Senator LUDLAM: How many people do you have staffing them?
Senator CANAVAN: We have two or three at Hawker, I believe. How many at Kimba? Mr B Wilson: About two at each.

Senator LUDLAM: Senator Canavan, you raised a figure before—you thought there was approximately 65 per cent support last time there was any sort of poll done in the Flinders area. Is that what you would consider sufficient to indicate broad community support?

Senator CANAVAN: I have said before that we are not defining the broad community support level at a precise amount, partly because of the issue that you just raised—there will be a broad set of community interests beyond, potentially, the voting area that deserve to have their voice heard on this issue. Also, within that voting area there might be different categories that deserve special attention, including Indigenous and traditional owners and direct neighbours to any potential site. So it is not, I think, appropriate to characterise a particular level of support. But I have also said we have accepted a site, if it is 65 per cent, as a sufficient level of support. And I would expect any further decisions would need a level of support consistent within a broad range of that amount.

The mothers who fight for a cleanup of St Louis radioactive waste

July 24, 2017

The Fallout, In St. Louis, America’s nuclear history creeps into the present, leaching into streams and bodies. Guernica, 

Joe Trunko from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources … told Dawn that there is a landfill near her home, that it is an EPA Superfund site contaminated with toxic chemicals, that there has been an underground fire burning there since 2010. “These things happen sometimes in landfills,” he said. “But this one is really not good.”

Joe told Dawn that this landfill fire measures six football fields across and more than a hundred and fifty feet deep; it is in the floodplain of the Missouri River, less than two miles from the water itself, roughly twenty-seven miles upstream from where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi River before flowing out to the sea. “But to be honest, it’s not even the fire you should be worrying about,” Joe continued. “It’s the nuclear waste buried less than one thousand feet away.”

Joe explained how almost fifty thousand tons of nuclear waste left over from the Manhattan Project was dumped in the landfill illegally in 1973…….

Weeks later, she found herself standing outside the chain-link fence that surrounds the landfill with half a dozen environmental activists who had gotten hold of some air-sampling equipment……..

Karen Nickel didn’t know much about the landfill—she’d only just learned about it a few weeks before—but she knew about the waste……

Karen did look into it and learned that many of her classmates and neighbors and childhood friends had died of leukemias and brain cancers and appendix cancers—rare in the general population, but, again, apparently common among those who live or had lived near the creek. It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence…..

When Dawn and Karen learned what the EPA had proposed years earlier, in their Record of Decision, they immediately pushed back. They called the media, gave interviews, started a Facebook page. “I remember getting so excited when we hit two hundred members,” Karen told me. “Now we have over seventeen thousand.” They all lobbied their representatives, their senators, City Council members, mayors…….

“We’re just moms!” Karen and Dawn would answer. “We’re just citizens concerned about the health and safety of our kids and our community!”

Soon after, Karen and Dawn, along with another resident, Beth Strohmeyer, officially formed Just Moms STL………

After a few weeks of making these graphs, they realized the fire wasn’t under control, it wasn’t going out. It was, in fact, moving toward the waste, inching toward the known edge, spreading through the old limestone quarry. Now one thousand feet away. Now seven hundred………

Robbin and Mike Dailey moved to this house in 1999, after their kids had moved out and started families of their own. It’s a relief their children never lived here, she tells me. In this neighborhood children fall ill. There are brain cancers and appendix cancers, leukemias and salivary-gland cancers. Up the street from Robin and Mike there’s a couple with lung and stomach cancer. They bought their home just after it was built in the late 1960s.

I ask what they think might happen if the fire ever reaches the waste. The question hangs in the air for a moment as the TV flickers from the far wall. “Look, we know it won’t explode,” Robbin explains. “We’re not stupid. We know that’s not how it works. But just because there’s no explosion doesn’t mean there won’t be fallout.”…….

I’ve looked at thousands of pictures of this landfill, aerial photos and historical photos, elevation photos and topographical maps, but nothing has prepared me to see it in person, this giant belching mound of tubes and pumps and pipes. There’s some kind of engineered cover over the dirt itself, which is supposed to suffocate the fire and capture the fumes. It looks like little more than a green plastic tarp patched together over a hundred acres of sagging hills.

“This is the burning side,” Robbin tells me. “The radwaste is on the other side.” The patchwork is topographical and bureaucratic: the burning side is the southern section of the landfill and falls under the jurisdiction of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources; the radioactive waste is mostly on the northern side, and under EPA jurisdiction. On the burning side, workers drive over the tarp on utility carts, wearing hard hats and work clothes. No gloves, no masks, no protection from the destruction buried underneath their feet……….https://www.guernicamag.com/the-fallout/

 

America’s weapons have poisoned huge areas with their toxic wastes

July 24, 2017

More than three decades ago, Congress banned American industries and localities from disposing of hazardous waste in these sorts of “open burns,’’ concluding that such uncontrolled processes created potentially unacceptable health and environmental hazards.

That exemption has remained in place ever since, even as other Western countries have figured out how to destroy aging armaments without toxic emissions.

Federal environmental regulators have warned for decades that the burns pose a threat to soldiers, contractors and the public stationed at, or living near, American bases.

“They are not subject to the kind of scrutiny and transparency and disclosure to the public as private sites are,”

How The Pentagon’s Handling Of Munitions And Their Waste Has Poisoned America
Many nations have destroyed aging armaments without toxic emissions. The U.S., however, has poisoned millions of acres.
Huffington Post,  20/07/2017 Co-published with ProPublica  20 July 17 RADFORD, Va. — Shortly after dawn most weekdays, a warning siren rips across the flat, swift water of the New River running alongside the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. Red lights warning away boaters and fishermen flash from the plant, the nation’s largest supplier of propellant for artillery and the source of explosives for almost every American bullet fired overseas.

 Along the southern Virginia riverbank, piles of discarded contents from bullets, chemical makings from bombs, and raw explosives — all used or left over from the manufacture and testing of weapons ingredients at Radford — are doused with fuel and lit on fire, igniting infernos that can be seen more than a half a mile away. The burning waste is rich in lead, mercury, chromium and compounds like nitroglycerin and perchlorate, all known health hazards. The residue from the burning piles rises in a spindle of hazardous smoke, twists into the wind and, depending on the weather, sweeps toward the tens of thousands of residents in the surrounding towns.

Nearby, Belview Elementary School has been ranked by researchers as facing some the most dangerous air-quality hazards in the country. The rate of thyroid diseases in three of the surrounding counties is among the highest in the state, provoking town residents to worry that emissions from the Radford plant could be to blame. Government authorities have never studied whether Radford’s air pollution could be making people sick, but some of their hypothetical models estimate that the local population faces health risks exponentially greater than people in the rest of the region.

 More than three decades ago, Congress banned American industries and localities from disposing of hazardous waste in these sorts of “open burns,’’ concluding that such uncontrolled processes created potentially unacceptable health and environmental hazards. Companies that had openly burned waste for generations were required to install incinerators with smokestacks and filters and to adhere to strict limits on what was released into the air. Lawmakers granted the Pentagon and its contractors a temporary reprieve from those rules to give engineers time to address the unique aspects of destroying explosive military waste.
That exemption has remained in place ever since, even as other Western countries have figured out how to destroy aging armaments without toxic emissions. While American officials are mired in a bitter debate about how much pollution from open burns is safe, those countries have pioneered new approaches. Germany, for example, destroyed hundreds of millions of pounds of aging weapons from the Cold War without relying on open burns to do it.

In the United States, outdoor burning and detonation is still the military’s leading method for dealing with munitions and the associated hazardous waste. It has remained so despite a U.S. Senate resolution a quarter of a century ago that ordered the Department of Defense to halt the practice “as soon as possible.” It has continued in the face of a growing consensus among Pentagon officials and scientists that similar burn pits at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan sickened soldiers.

Federal records identify nearly 200 sites that have been or are still being used to open-burn hazardous explosives across the country. Some blow up aging stockpile bombs in open fields. Others burn bullets, weapons parts and — in the case of Radford — raw explosives in bonfire-like piles. The facilities operate under special government permits that are supposed to keep the process safe, limiting the release of toxins to levels well below what the government thinks can make people sick. Yet officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, which governs the process under federal law, acknowledge that the permits provide scant protection.

Consider Radford’s permit, which expired nearly two years ago. Even before then, government records show, the plant repeatedly violated the terms of its open burn allowance and its other environmental permits. In a typical year, the plant can spew many thousands of pounds of heavy metals and carcinogens — legally — into the atmosphere. But Radford has, at times, sent even more pollution into the air than it is allowed. It has failed to report some of its pollution to federal agencies, as required. And it has misled the public about the chemicals it burns. Yet every day the plant is allowed to ignite as much as 8,000 pounds of hazardous debris.

“It smells like plastic burning, but it’s so much more intense,” said Darlene Nester, describing the acrid odor from the burns when it reaches her at home, about a mile and a half away. Her granddaughter is in second grade at Belview. “You think about all the kids.”

Internal EPA records obtained by ProPublica show that the Radford plant is one of at least 51 active sites across the country where the Department of Defense or its contractors are today burning or detonating munitions or raw explosives in the open air, often in close proximity to schools, homes and water supplies. The documents — EPA PowerPoint presentations made to senior agency staff — describe something of a runaway national program, based on “a dirty technology” with “virtually no emissions controls.” According to officials at the agency, the military’s open burn program not only results in extensive contamination, but “staggering” cleanup costs that can reach more than half a billion dollars at a single site.

The sites of open burns — including those operated by private contractors and the Department of Energy — have led to 54 separate federal Superfund declarations and have exposed the people who live near them to dangers that will persist for generations.

In Grand Island, Nebraska, groundwater plumes of explosive residues spread more than 20 miles away from the Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant into underground drinking water supplies, forcing the city to extend replacement water to rural residents. And at the Redstone Arsenal, an Army experimental weapons test and burn site in Huntsville, Alabama, perchlorate in the soil is 7,000 times safe limits, and local officials have had to begin monitoring drinking water for fear of contamination.

Federal environmental regulators have warned for decades that the burns pose a threat to soldiers, contractors and the public stationed at, or living near, American bases. Local communities – from Merrimac, Wisconsin, to Romulus, New York – have protested them. Researchers are studying possible cancer clusters on Cape Cod that could be linked to munitions testing and open burns there, and where the groundwater aquifer that serves as the only natural source of drinking water for the half-million people who summer there has been contaminated with the military’s bomb-making ingredients……..

ProPublica reviewed the open burns and detonations program as part of an unprecedented examination of America’s handling of munitions at sites in the United States, from their manufacture and testing to their disposal. We collected tens of thousands of pages of documents, and interviewed more than 100 state and local officials, lawmakers, military historians, scientists, toxicologists and Pentagon staff. Much of the information gathered has never before been released to the public, leaving the full extent of military-related pollution a secret.

“They are not subject to the kind of scrutiny and transparency and disclosure to the public as private sites are,” said Mathy Stanislaus, who until January worked on Department of Defense site cleanup issues as the assistant administrator for land and emergency management at the EPA.

Our examination found that open burn sites are just one facet of a vast problem. From World War I until today, military technologies and armaments have been developed, tested, stored, decommissioned and disposed of on vast tracts of American soil. The array of scars and menaces produced across those decades is breathtaking: By the military’s own count, there are 39,400 known or suspected toxic sites on 5,500 current or former Pentagon properties. EPA staff estimate the sites cover 40 million acres — an area larger than the state of Florida — and the costs for cleaning them up will run to hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Department of Defense’s cleanups of the properties have sometimes been delegated to inept or corrupt private contractors, or delayed as the agency sought to blame the pollution at its bases on someone else. Even where the contamination and the responsibility for it are undisputed, the Pentagon has stubbornly fought the EPA over how much danger it presents to the public and what to do about it, letters and agency records show.

Chapter 1. Rules With Exceptions……..

Chapter 2. Debating the Dangers…….

Chapter 3. Awakening to Threats…….

Chapter 4. Risks and Choices…….   alternatives only seem to be deployed after communities have mobilized to fight the burning with a vigor that has proven elusive in many military towns. “Sometimes it’s easier for everybody to just lie low and keep doing what they are doing,” Hayes added. “Short term thinking is the problem. In the immediate, it costs them nothing to keep burning.”

The success in Louisiana could be the start of a shift in momentum. In the 2017 Defense Department funding bill, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, supported an amendment ordering the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate alternatives to open burning. ………

For Devawn Bledsoe, the foot dragging and decades of delay have led to profound disillusionment. For a long time, she thought her responsibility was to bring light to the issue. Now she thinks it takes more than that. “There’s something so immoral about this,” she said. “I really thought that when enough people in power — the Army, my Army — understood what was going on, they would step in and stop it.”

“It’s hard to see people who ought to know better look away.”

Nina Hedevang, Razi Syed and Alex Gonzalez, students in the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute graduate studies program, contributed reporting for this story. Other students in the program who also contributed were Clare Victoria Church, Lauren Gurley, Clare Victoria Church, Alessandra Freitas and Eli Kurland. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/open-burns-ill-winds_us_5970112de4b0aa14ea770b08

San Onofre’s stranded nuclear wastes – the costs and the dangers

July 24, 2017

1,800 tons of radioactive waste has an ocean view and nowhere to go, LA Times, By RALPH VARTABEDIAN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALLEN J. SCHABEN 2 July 17  [good photographs and graphs]  “…..A decade ago, the Energy Department estimated Yucca Mountain would cost nearly $100 billion, a figure that has undoubtedly increased. The cost could be a problem for deficit-minded Republicans.

The Energy Department collected a tiny monthly fee from utility customers to build the dump, and currently a so-called trust fund has $39 billion reserved for the purpose.

But a little known clause in federal budget law 20 years ago decreed that contributions to the trust fund would count against the federal deficit. There are no securities or bonds that back up the fund, unlike the Social Security Trust Fund. As a result, every dollar spent on Yucca Mountain will have to be appropriated, and the money will add to the national debt.

“The money was collected for one purpose and used for another,” said Dale Klein, a former NRC chairman who is now associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Texas. “There is a moral obligation to address the issue. It will be a challenge to get Congress to pay for it.”

The Trump plan has also rekindled the strident bipartisan political opposition of Nevada officials, including the governor, senators, representatives and attorney general, among others. They vow to erect every legal and political obstacle to delay or kill the Yucca Mountain dump.

The state filed nearly 300 formal objections to the plan before the Obama administration suspended licensing. They must be individually examined by the NRC, a process that could take five years.

Then, the design and construction of the underground dump will require construction of about two dozen big industrial buildings and 300 miles of new railroad track. It could cost $1 billion or more every year, ranking among the largest federal operations.

A permanent repository could take 10 years to 20 years by most estimates.

On the beach

Nowhere is the nuclear waste problem more urgent than at shuttered power plants like San Onofre.

After utilities dismantle the reactors, haul away the concrete debris and restore the sites to nearly pristine condition, the nuclear waste remains. Security officers with high-powered automatic weapons guard the sites round the clock.

About five years after the spent fuel rods cool off in a 40- to 50-foot-deep pool, they are transferred to massive steel and concrete dry casks about 20 feet tall. Almost every government and outside nuclear expert considers the dry casks much safer than the pools.

The 3 Yankee Cos., which are safeguarding dry casks at three former New England reactors, spend about $10 million annually per site for maintenance and security, company officials say. The costs could be higher at San Onofre if the waste is left in place, Palmisano said.

Edison is building a massive concrete monolith for more storage, using a Holtec design called Hi-Storm UMAX. It will hold about two-thirds of the plant’s spent fuel in 73 stainless-steel canisters about 125 feet from the ocean. The 25-foot structure is about half-buried with the underground foundation just above the mean high-tide line. Tall cranes and swarms of hard hats are moving construction ahead.

The crucial question is whether it will be safe, especially if congressional inaction or litigation by opposition groups keeps it on-site for years.

“The top has four feet of steel-reinforced concrete,” said Ed Mayer, program director at Holtec. “It is remarkably strong. The … steel lids are designed to take an aircraft impact.”

NRC officials say the design is safe and meets all federal requirements. Although nuclear issues are within the NRC’s jurisdiction, the Coastal Commission also examined the potential for a tsunami, sea level rise or an earthquake to undermine the facility.

“Under our authority, which is limited, the commission approved the permit, and behind that is the evaluation that it is safe for a period of 20 years,” said Alison Dettmer, deputy director of the commission.

But suspicion lingers. San Clemente city officials have demanded that the fuel be removed as soon as possible. An activist group, Citizens’ Oversight, has sued Edison for starting construction and the California Coastal Commission for approving it.

The waste “is right down by the water, just inches from the high-tide line,” said Ray Lutz, the group’s founder. “It is the most ridiculous place they could find.”

In an effort to assuage local concerns, Edison participates in a “community engagement panel” that meets at least quarterly, led by UC San Diego professor David Victor.

“Early on, I was surprised by how many people did not understand there was no place for the fuel to go,” he said. Over the last year, the possibility of a temporary storage site has raised people’s hopes for a quicker solution, he said.

The history of nuclear waste, however, is replete with solutions that seem plausible but succumb to obscure and unanticipated legal, technical or financial issues.

Decades of delay

Two decades ago, the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians sought to create an interim storage facility for nuclear waste on its reservation about an hour out of Salt Lake City.

The NRC spent nine years examining the license application and approved it. But Utah officials and a broad swath of major environmental groups opposed the plan. Eventually, the state blocked shipping routes to the reservation.

Michael C. Layton, director of the NRC’s division of spent fuel management, said a temporary facility would use the same technology as existing dry cask storage sites, like San Onofre.

But Layton said it is unclear how long it will take to license a consolidated storage site. The formal review is scheduled for three years, but the Skull Valley license that took nine years is the only actual licensing effort to compare it to, he added. Palmisano, the Edison executive, estimates that an off-site temporary storage facility could be operating in 10 to 15 years.

Problems have already delayed WSC, which wants to build a storage site in Andrews, Texas. It asked the NRC in April to suspend its license application.

The $7.5-million cost of just the license application review “is significantly higher than we originally anticipated,” the company said, noting that it is under additional financial stress because the Justice Department has sued it to block a merger.

Holtec officials say that WCS’ problems haven’t deterred their plans for an underground storage site, saying interim storage could save the federal government billions of dollars, particularly if the Yucca Mountain plan is again postponed.

The company has strong support in New Mexico, which already has a dump for nuclear weapons waste, a uranium enrichment plant, a nuclear weapons armory and two nuclear weapons laboratories.

“We are very well-informed,” said Sam Cobb, mayor of nearby Hobbs, rejecting arguments by antinuclear groups that the industry preys on communities that need money and don’t understand the risk.

“It is not a death grab to get money,” he said. “We believe if we have an interim storage site, we will be the center for future nuclear fuel reprocessing.”

Transportation to an interim site would cost the federal government billions of dollars under the pending legislation. Aides at the House Energy and Commerce Committee said those costs would be recovered when the federal government no longer has to pay for legal settlements for failing to take the waste in the first place.

Even if an interim site is built, it is uncertain who would get to ship waste there first. The timing of waste shipments to a permanent site is determined by the so-called standard contract queue, a legal document so complex that federal bureaucrats have dedicated their entire careers to managing it.

The queue was structured so that the oldest waste would go into a future dump first. In the unlikely event that Yucca Mountain were opened in 2024, Edison’s fuel would be in line to start shipping in 2028 with the last bit of waste arriving in 2049, Palmisano said.

Whether that queue would apply to an interim site is unclear, even under the pending legislation.

The dry casks are designed to keep spent fuel confined only for decades, while the health standard for a permanent repository covers hundreds of thousands of years — longer than humans have roamed Earth. If the radioactive waste sits around in temporary storage for hundreds of years, it could be neglected and eventually forgotten.

So one outcome that nobody seems to want is for a temporary site to eventually become permanent by default.

“It would derail momentum for a permanent repository,” said Edwin Lyman, a nuclear physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This issue has always pitted one community against another and those in between.”http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-stranded-nuclear-waste-20170702-htmlstory.html

Los Alamos National Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4) and its dangerous plutonium pits

July 24, 2017

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks, Science,  By The Center for Public IntegrityR. Jeffrey SmithPatrick Malon Jun. 30, 2017 “……..A unique task, unfulfilled for the past four years

Before the work was halted in 2013, those overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal typically pulled six or seven warheads from bombers or missiles every year for dismantlement and invasive diagnostic testing. One reason is that the unstable metals that act as spark plugs for the bombs — plutonium and highly-enriched uranium — bathe themselves and nearby electrical components in radiation, with sometimes unpredictable consequences; another is that all the bombs’ metallic components are subject to normal, sometimes fitful corrosion.

Plutonium also slowly decays, with some of its isotopes becoming uranium. And the special high explosives fabricated by nuclear scientists to compress the plutonium cores in a deliberate detonation also have an unstable molecular structure.

Invasive testing provides details vital to the computer modeling and scientifically simulated plutonium behavior that has replaced nuclear testing, said DOE consultant David Overskei. He compared the pit — so named because it is spherical and positioned near the center of a warhead — to the heart of a human being, explaining that destructive testing is like taking a blood sample capable of exposing harmful maladies.

The aim, as Vice President Joe Biden said in a 2010 National Defense University speech, has been to “anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal.” Weapons designers say it’s what anyone would do if they were storing a car for years while still expecting the engine to start and the vehicle to speed down the road at the sudden turn of a key.

Typically, warheads selected for testing are first sent to the Energy Department’s Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Technicians there gently separate their components — such as the detonators — at that site; they also send the pits — used in a primary nuclear explosion — to Los Alamos, and the highly-enriched uranium — used in a secondary explosion — to Oak Ridge, Tenn. The arming, fusing, and firing mechanisms are tested by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and other locations.

At Los Alamos, the pits are brought to Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4), a boxy, two-story, concrete building with a footprint the size of two city blocks.  Inside are hundreds of special “glove boxes” for working with plutonium, a series of individual laboratories, and a special vault, in which containers hold plutonium on racks meant to ensure that escaping neutrons don’t collide too often with other atoms, provoking them to fission uncontrollably. Only a small portion of the building is normally used for pit surveillance, while about a fifth is used for pit fabrication, and another seven percent for analytical chemistry and pit certification. Budget documents indicate that annual federal spending for the work centered there is nearly $200 million.

“The Los Alamos Plutonium Facility is a unique and essential national security capability,” McMillan, the lab’s director, said last September during a visit by then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who watched as technicians — attempting to restart their work after the lengthy hiatus — used pressing machines and other equipment to fabricate a mock pit, rather than a usable one.

The building lies in the middle of a 40-acre campus in the mountains above Santa Fe hastily built during World War II to coordinate the construction of the two nuclear bombs used in Japan. Los Alamos is still considered the foremost U.S. nuclear weapons facility — where six of the nine warheads currently in the U.S. arsenal were designed, and where plutonium-based power supplies for most of the nation’s deep-space probes are fabricated. Hundreds of nuclear physicists work there.

Unfortunately, it also has an active seismic zone beneath the PF-4 building, producing persistent worries among the staff and members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a congressionally-chartered oversight group, that if it experienced a rare, large earthquake, the roof could collapse and toss chunks of plutonium so closely together a chain reaction would ensue, spewing radioactive, cancer-causing plutonium particles throughout nearby residential communities.

Millions of dollars have already been spent to diminish this risk, which until recently exceeded federal guidelines, and the Trump administration last month proposed spending $14 million in 2018 alone to strengthen the building’s firewalls and sprinkler systems. The government has also sunk more than $450 million into preparations for construction of a modern and more seismically durable pit production facility at Los Alamos, projected to have a total price tag between $1.5 billion and $3 billion.

Making new pits involves melting, casting, and machining the plutonium, while assessing how well or poorly the pits are aging requires using various instruments to withdraw small pieces for detailed chemical and material analysis. These operations are typically done in the glove boxes, by specialists whose hands are inserted into gloves attached to the side of sealed containers meant to keep the plutonium particles from escaping. But the work is messy, requiring constant vigilance to be certain that too much of the metal doesn’t pile up in a compact space. The byproducts include “chunks, shards, and grains of plutonium metal,” all of it radioactive and unstable, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report.

Notably, a 2013 Los Alamos study depicted leaks of glove boxes at PF-4 as frequent — averaging nearly three a month — and said they were often caused by avoidable errors such as inattention, improper maintenance, collisions with rolling storage carts, complacency and degradation from the heat that plutonium constantly emits. It said that sometimes those operating or supervising the equipment “accepted risk” or took a chance, rushed to meet a deadline, or otherwise succumbed to workplace production pressures.

“Operations always wants it yesterday,” the lab’s current criticality safety chief and the lone NNSA expert assigned to that issue in the agency’s Los Alamos oversight office warned in a private briefing for their colleagues at Sandia labs last month. Managers “must shield analysts from demands” from production personnel, they said.

Besides posing a serious health risk to those in PF-4, glove box releases of radioactive material each cost the government $23,000 to clean up, on average, the Los Alamos study said.

An acute shortage of criticality experts

Calculating exactly “how much material can come together before there’s an explosion” — as the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once put it — is a complex task. While visiting the production site for highly-enriched uranium in

Oak Ridge, Tenn., during the 1940’s, for example, Feynman was surprised to see stocks of that fissionable material deliberately stored in separate rooms, but on an adjoining wall that posed no barrier to collisions involving atoms of uranium and escaping neutrons on both sides. “It was very dangerous and they had not paid any attention to the safety at all,” Feynman wrote years later.

Plutonium work is so fraught with risk that the total mass of that metal allowed to be present in PF-4 is strictly limited. A decade ago, the limit was increased without an appropriate understanding of the risks, according to an NNSA technical bulletin in February. But with pieces of it strewn and stored throughout the normally busy building, partly because the vault is typically full, its managers have labored for years to systematically track down and remove excess stocks. They had some success last year, when they got rid of nearly a quarter of the plutonium on the building’s “main floor,” according to recent budget documents.

Criticality specialists are employed not only to help set these overall mass limits but to guide technicians so they don’t inadvertently trigger chain reactions in their daily work; those specialists are also supposed to be the first-responders when too much dangerous material is found in one place.

“The weird thing about criticality safety is that it’s not intuitive,” Don Nichols, a former chief for defense nuclear safety at the NNSA, said in an interview. He cited an instance in which someone operating a stirring machine noticed that fissionable liquids were forming a “critical” mass, so the operator shut the stirrer off, not immediately realizing that doing so made the problem worse. In other instances, analysts had judged a plutonium operation was safe, but then more workers — whose bodies reflect and slow neutrons — wound up being present nearby, creating unanticipated risks.

Those doing the weapons disassemblies and invasive pit studies are typically under “a big level pressure” to complete a certain number every year, Nichols added. They are expected to do “so many of these in this amount of time,” to allow the labs to certify to the president that the stockpile is viable. Meanwhile, the calculations involved in avoiding criticality — which depend on the shape, size, form, quantity, and geometric configuration of material being used in more than a dozen different industrial operations — are so complex that it takes a year and a half of training for an engineer to become qualified and as many as five years to become proficient, experts say.

“It’s difficult to find people who want to do this job,” particularly at the remote Los Alamos site, said McConnell, the NNSA safety chief. With plutonium use mostly confined to creating the world’s most powerful explosives, “there are…very few public-sector opportunities for people to develop these skills,” he added. As a result, he said, many NNSA sites lack the desired number of experts, which slows down production.

At the time of the 2013 shutdown, after numerous internal warnings about the consequences of its mismanagement, Los Alamos had only “a single junior qualified criticality safety engineer” still in place, according to the February NNSA technical bulletin. Nichols, who was then the NNSA’s associate administrator for safety and health, said McMillan didn’t “realize how serious it was until we took notice and helped him take notice.”

Without having adequate staff on hand to guide their operations safely, technicians at PF-4 were unable to carry out a scheduled destructive surveillance in 2014 of a refurbished plutonium pit meant for a warhead to be fit atop American submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It’s been modernized at a cost of $946 million since 2014, with total expenses predicted to exceed $3.7 billion. Generally, up to 10 of the first pits produced for a new warhead type are set aside for surveillance to assure they’re safely constructed and potent before they’re deployed. But the planned disassembly was cancelled and the NNSA hasn’t scheduled another yet, because of the shutdown.

The lab also hasn’t been able to complete planned invasive studies of the aging of plutonium used in a warhead for an aircraft-delivered nuclear bomb, now being modernized at an estimated cost of $7.4 billion to $10 billion.

Former deputy NNSA director Madelyn Creedon told an industry conference in March that if new funds are given to the agency in President Trump’s new budget, she knows where she’d advise it be spent. “One of the things that doesn’t take a huge amount of money but it’s one that has been cut back over the last couple of years, is surveillance — enhanced surveillance” of existing warheads, Creedon said……..http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/safety-problems-los-alamos-laboratory-delay-us-nuclear-warhead-testing-and-production