Archive for the ‘wastes’ Category

Eight vital questions about Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and its nuclear wastes.

September 14, 2021

With respect to the new building being applied for by ANSTO, the extended storage of ANSTO’s Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste on-site at Lucas Heights is warranted – until there is an availability of a proper final disposal option for ALL of the nuclear waste which ANSTO produces and generates. This is the only way that Australians will accept shifting this nuclear waste anywhere other than leaving it safely on site!

What the proposed Kimba site is, put simply, is the last site standing, from a greedy nominator and a dubious selection process and a very flawed and out dated proposal!

Lucas Heights is the very best place for this waste currently. Until a proper solution is found for ALL of the waste ANSTO produces – trotting out the exact same proposal from forty years ago is not a solution.

The new Intermediate Level Solid Waste Storage Facility at ANSTO Lucas Heights should be supported. And here are the reasons why. Kazzi Jai , Fight to Stop a Nuclesr Waste Dump in the Flinders Ranges, 15 Aug 21,

ANSTO’s Work Health Safety and Environment Policy includes the statement,

We are committed to effective stewardship, the sustainability of our operations and to responsibly interact with the local ecology and biosphere, and to protect it. We will minimize our environmental footprint through the sustainable use of resources and by the prevention, minimization and control of pollution.

Powerful words, but does ANSTO mean them?

Their current “stewardship” is to safely and securely deal with ALL the waste that they produce on site. The usage of the word “interim” (or “temporary” which was used in the past) simply refers to dry storage. In other words it does not make Lucas Heights a permanent disposal site for this waste. Other nuclear reactors around the world hold their nuclear site close to where it is generated – it makes good logical sense, because that means it can be monitored and is safe and secure.

The “sustainability” of their operations should include ANSTO’s (given their expertise in this field over the decades) continued stewardship of the waste they generate and produce on site.

It is a logical conclusion, since they were in fact, allowed the replacement reactor (now known as OPAL) to be constructed with the continued stewardship of the nuclear waste right there on site.

This means that the sustainability of ANSTO is, and remains, contingent on responsibility of generating this nuclear waste in the first place.

  1. Why is OPAL research nuclear reactor being touted as commercial one?

.ANSTO’s OPAL reactor is after all a research reactor – and that should be its main objective – research. But it is being used for more than that – it is being used for the industrial production of isotopes primarily diagnostic isotopes.

The OPAL reactor is currently used predominately for the production of what is termed in general terms nuclear medicine…. of which approximately 80% of its primary usage is for the production of Molybdenum-99 – which then decays to Technitium-99m (Tc-99m) – which is then used in diagnostic imaging in nuclear medicine. Not all diagnostic imaging in nuclear medicine uses Tc-99m.

This is as pointed out earlier, a commercial industrial production usage of the OPAL reactor.

We are told that our use of Technitium-99m in Australia is approximately 550 000 “available” doses a year according to ANSTO. We were told by Adi Paterson in 2017 Senate Estimates that Australia was using 28% of Technitium-99m generated by ANSTO, and the rest (72%) was exported overseas. At that stage, the export quantity involved equated to 1% of global demand of Technitium-99m. (5) But now ANSTO wants to increase their commercial production of export to 10 MILLION DOSES PER YEAR FOR EXPORT! That would make ANSTO one of the FOUR MAJOR PRODUCERS of Technitium-99m in the world!(6) But with increased EXPORT comes INCREASED WASTE PRODUCTION!

ANSTO cites COMMERCIAL SENSITIVITY regarding whether the production of Technitium-99m is viable or not – the public are not privy to the details of this information. But the Australian public are the ones SUBSIDIZING this COMMERCIAL VENTURE! Canada got out of isotope production simply because they could no longer justify the cost to their taxpayers!

But not all is doom and gloom! Canada have just released (December 2020) the approval of cyclotron-produced technetium-99m by Health Canada. (1)

ANSTO is also somewhat careful not to mention that they own PETTECH (which trades as PETTECH Solutions), which operates two medical cyclotrons for radiopharmaceutical production at the Lucas Heights campus. PETTECH has routinely supplied NSW hospitals as part of a state tender. In 2019 they sold it off to private company Cyclotek. (2)

Cyclotrons are also found in our major cities. In fact Australia has 18 cyclotrons according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) 2019 listing. (3)

Cyclotrons are usually found also in partnerships with imaging services. This is because cyclotrons are used generally with PET scans which allow very precise scans of many parts of the body to be achieved. The thing with cyclotrons is that they do not produce nuclear isotopes and therefore do not produce nuclear waste. Cyclotrons produce isotopes as required by demand.

The world is changing with regards to nuclear medicine. Cyclotrons are coming into their own right. The field of imaging and diagnosis doesn’t rely solely on one technology only. CT-scans, MRI -scans, Ultrasounds – all can be used in conjunction with PET or SPEC scans. And the cutting edge advancements in cancer treatment is now immunotherapy and nanotechnology. Even LINAC machines – the ones used in radiotherapy and do not use a nuclear source and therefore do not produce nuclear waste because they use a Linear Accelerator to produce a high density x-ray beam to treat cancers, may be superseded by proton therapy units which again use a specific accelerator to treat cancers on an atomic level with minimum disruption to normal cells. Minimizing the damage done to normal cells is becoming more and more important in treating cancers. This cannot be done with radioactive isotopes simply because there is no control with regards to their decay and release into normal tissue.

““We can get product from Sydney to Boston as efficiently as it can be shipped there from Europe,” Shaun Jenkinson, ANSTO Nuclear Business Group Executive boasted in 2014.

With radioactive elements, time is of the essence. Technetium-99m has a half-life of just six hours, which means half of it will have decayed into something else in that time. This is why it is shipped as its precursor, molybdenum-99, which has a half-life of 2.75 days.”, he went on to say

.ANSTO’s molybdenum-99 exports bring in over $10 million each year to Australia. This figure is set to triple after 2016, when its new $100 million nuclear medicine processing facility starts up, bringing with it 250 new jobs.” (4)

Mr Jenkinson, who now is CEO of ANSTO replacing Adi Paterson, was at great pains in 2014 to point out that ANSTO could get “product” from Sydney to Boston efficiently. How about the other way round? Our usage of “product” – namely Molybdenium-99 (decays to Tc-99m) is very small in Australia. It actually hasn’t changed all that much even before the advent of OPAL replacing HIFAR in 2007, and with cyclotrons, will probably decrease even more in usage, given advancement in technologies – which is naturally what happens in any field! Why shouldn’t we produce Technitium-99m on cyclotrons like Canada are now doing, or import what we need in Australia – something we do regularly anyway when OPAL is offline for maintenance or other reasons for shutdown. Is ANSTO possibly providing Molybdenium99 (Technitium-99m isotope) below cost price simply to remain a player in the global market, and being propped up by the Australian taxpayer?

Is there still a window of opportunity for such a massive commitment to produce up to quarter of the world’s global demand given that the demand just may not be there any longer?

2. And anyway, is Lucas Height’s medical isotope still a viable proposition?

But is Is it still a viable proposition given the expense already occurring with dealing with the Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste generated by the industrial production of Molybdenium-99. In fact again in Senate Estimates Adi Paterson stated (as part of answers to questions) that increasing output of Molybdenium-99 will in fact increase generation of liquid Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste! (7)This is the liquid part of the production of Molybdenium-99 ….which in itself is classified as Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste. This is separate to the reprocessed spent fuel rods in TN-81 casks plus the Intermediate Level technological waste sent back as equivalent nuclear waste from France.

3.Is the expense of ANSTO’s Synroc process justified ?

Then we have the expense of putting the liquid intermediate level nuclear waste generated from the industrial production of Molybdenium-99 into solid form via a process only Australia uses – Synroc. Why has no other place in the world grabbed the technology using Synroc? Is it because it is too expensive to warrant using? Or is it because Synroc is no different to vitrification into glass which is already being used? Regardless, both techniques still require intact shielding of the final waste product – whether it be Synroc or glass.

4. Is tax-payer funded ANSTO accountable for the decisions they make?

All of these points made should be investigated, rather than rubber stamped by committees who say that “ANSTO is doing a great job” – without actually asking the hard questions, and making ANSTO accountable for the decisions they make.

5.Is it sensible to transport nuclear waste 1700km to a small agricultural community, far from the essential nuclear expertise

With respect to the new building being applied for by ANSTO, the extended storage of ANSTO’s Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste on-site at Lucas Heights is warranted – until there is an availability of a proper final disposal option for ALL of the nuclear waste which ANSTO produces and generates. This is the only way that Australians will accept shifting this nuclear waste anywhere other than leaving it safely on site! The current proposal is flawed in so many ways – the largest gaping flaw is the deliberate intention of transporting Intermediate Level Waste and Nuclear Fuel Waste over state border, over 1700 kms across Australia, into a small agricultural community which exports grain and sheep ….and which has NEVER had any past or current dealings with the nuclear industry EVER…and leave it there SIMPLY AS DRY STORAGE IN THE SAME WAY THAT IT IS HELD AT LUCAS HEIGHTS…without the SAME security, safety and monitoring expertise as Lucas Heights has right there on site at a moment’s notice!

Should there develop a problem with say the TN-81 cask, do you think ANSTO will want it transported back to Lucas Heights – back across 1700kms? Remember too, that the TN-81 casks have only a 40 year guaranteed manufacturer’s warranty. What will happen after 40 years, when in all likelihood the cask will need replacing? Where is the Hot Cell for dealing with this waste in any possible timeframe when a problem with the seal, or a crack in the shielding – the only thing actually enabling safe handling and storage – may develop? Where in the middle of a wheat field in the middle of Australia will the expertise be? It won’t be in Kimba! In fact it won’t be in South Australia! And in fact it won’t actually be ANSTO’s problem!!

What the proposed Kimba site is, put simply, is the last site standing, from a greedy nominator and a dubious selection process and a very flawed and out dated proposal! Read the AECOM report – which they take great pains to point out was preliminary at best – to find out more! Lots of mitigation required with the Kimba site! So much for dealing with this waste in the MOST SAFE way possible WITH NO EXPENSE SPARED, given that this waste is classified as requiring intact shielding to be handled safely and to stop possible contamination to the environment.

Nuclear Waste must be dealt with in the utmost safe conditions with no expense spared. Nuclear waste – this is classified by ARPANSA, so there is no subjective input into this classification – must be highly regulated when it comes to handling and dealing with it. And this also take into account classification as well as quantity. Low level nuclear waste has a classified life of 300 years to decay back to background levels. Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste has a classified life of 1000 years….and High Level Nuclear Waste 1000’s of years – much longer than any of us here today! Even 300 years for the Low Level Nuclear Waste in comparison is BEFORE European colonization of Australia – for that comparison to be put it into perspective!

6. Why the pretend urgency, when Lucas Heights can safely store the nuclear waste until 2060 or beyond?

ANSTO owns and manages approximately 500 hectares at Lucas Heights. Of that, only 70 hectares has been developed by ANSTO.The OPAL reactor has a lifetime of 50 years. It was commissioned in 2007. That takes us into 2060…and then even if it was the end of the use of the reactor, the spent fuel rods from the reactor must be kept ON SITE in the holding cooling ponds for a further 8-10 years BEFORE there is any chance of dealing with them. So there is no urgency to shift ANY of this waste until a proper solution is found to deal with ALL of this waste – Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste FIRST and the Low Level Nuclear Waste can follow that! Handled once only – no double handling! Double handling is definitely against International Best Practise!

7. How much Federal money goes to ANSTO, compared with other scientific research?

What would be interesting is to know how much the Federal Government injects into ANSTO budget every year since its inception! There are over 1000 staff employed at ANSTO. How much of the Federal science budget is used up by ANSTO? Is it at the expense of other sciences like CSIRO and other research endeavours not involving nuclear science?To include into the argument by ANSTO that the proviso of construction of the new Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste storage building at Lucas Heights is contingent on the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility (NRWMF) is up and running, is disingenuous since the NRWMF hasn’t even been declared yet!…let alone licenced!

8. Is it alright for ANSTO to cease all responsibility for its nuclear wastes, once they are sent to Kimba?

And keep in mind, ANSTO will ONLY be a customer for this proposed dump. ANSTO will not play any part in its management or development, apart from perhaps on a consultative basis. There is no “stewardship” involvement of ANSTO with this NRWMF – they wash their hands and books of all responsibility of the waste THAT THEY PRODUCE once it lands at the gates of the NRWMF!

The proposal part for the Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste and Nuclear Fuel Waste is to leave it in the proposed TOTALLY ALL ABOVE GROUND NRWMF in INDEFINITE STORAGE which means it will be there essentially forever – in layman’s terms known as STRANDED or ZOMBIE WASTE – not to be dealt with any time soon in the future!

This is a forty year old proposal which has been dragged out yet again, WITHOUT ONE RED CENT SPENT on dealing with the Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste properly at all! “Tag-a-long” does not equate to dealing with this waste properly!

It is simply making this a case of putting this waste “out of sight and out of mind”!

Lucas Heights is the very best place for this waste currently. Until a proper solution is found for ALL of the waste ANSTO produces – trotting out the exact same proposal from forty years ago is not a solution.

The indefinite Store for ANSTO nuclear fuel waste & ILW in South Australia IS UNTENABLE, as the CURRENT PROPOSAL by the Federal Government have put forward.

And that is why the additional Intermediate Level Nuclear Storage building must be allowed to be built at Lucas heights.

1. https://www.triumf.ca/…/cyclotron-produced-technetium…2. https://www.cyclotek.com/cyclotek-acquires-the-business…/3. https://nucleus.iaea.org/…/public_cyclotron_db_view.aspx4. https://www.ansto.gov.au/news/going-global-nuclear-medicine5. https://www.aph.gov.au/…/Industry/answers/AI-5_Ludlam.pdf6. https://www.aph.gov.au/…/Industry/answers/AI-6_Ludlam.pdf7. https://www.aph.gov.au/…/Industry/answers/AI-7_Ludlam.pdfAPH.GOV.AUwww.aph.gov.au

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Small nuclear reactors, uranium mining, nuclear fuel chain, reprocessing, dismantling reactors – extract from Expert Response to pro nuclear JRC Report

September 14, 2021


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………… If SMRs are used, this not least raises questions about proliferation, i.e. the possible spread of nuclear weapons as well as the necessary nuclear technologies or fissionable materials for their production.    ………..

By way of summary, it is important to state that many questions are still unresolved with regard to any widespread use of SMRs – and this would be necessary to make a significant contribution to climate protection – and they are not addressed in the JRC Report. These issues are not just technical matters that have not yet been clarified, but primarily questions of safety, proliferation and liability, which require international coordination and regulations. 

  • neither coal mining nor uranium mining can be viewed as sustainable …….. Uranium mining principally creates radioactive waste and requires significantly more expensive waste management than coal mining.
  • The volume of waste arising from decommissioning a power plant would therefore be significantly higher than specified in the JRC Report in Part B 2.1, depending on the time required to dismantle it

    Measures to reduce the environmental impact The JRC Report is contradictory when it comes to the environmental impact of uranium mining: it certainly mentions the environmental risks of uranium mining (particularly in JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.2, p. 67ff), but finally states that they can be contained by suitable measures (particularly JRC Report, Part A 3.3.1.5, p. 77ff). However, suitable measures are not discussed in the depth required ……..

    Expert response to the report by the Joint Research Centre entitled “Technical assessment of nuclear energy with respect to the ‛Do No Significant Harm’ criteria in Regulation (EU) 2020/852, the ‛Taxonomy Regulation’”  2021

    ”…………………3.2 Analysing the contribution made by small modular reactors (SMRs) to climate change mitigation in the JRC Report   
      The statement about many countries’ growing interest in SMRs is mentioned in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) without any further classification. In particular, there is no information about the current state of development and the lack of marketability of SMRs.

    Reactors with an electric power output of up to 300 MWe are normally classified as SMRs. Most of the extremely varied SMR concepts found around the world have not yet got past the conceptual level. Many unresolved questions still need to be clarified before SMRs can be technically constructed in a country within the EU and put into operation. They range from issues about safety, transportation and dismantling to matters related to interim storage and final disposal and even new problems for the responsible licensing and supervisory authorities 


    The many theories frequently postulated for SMRs – their contribution to combating the risks of climate change and their lower costs and shorter construction periods must be attributed to particular economic interests, especially those of manufacturers, and therefore viewed in a very critical light

    Today`s new new nuclear power plants have electrical output in the range of 1000-1600 MWe. SMR concepts, in contrast, envisage planned electrical outputs of 1.5 – 300 MWe. In order to provide the same electrical power capacity, the number of units would need to be increased by a factor of 3-1000. Instead of having about 400 reactors with large capacity today, it would be necessary to construct many thousands or even tens of thousands of SMRs (BASE, 2021; BMK, 2020). A current production cost calculation, which consider scale, mass and learning effects from the nuclear industry, concludes that more than 1,000 SMRs would need to be produced before SMR production was cost-effective. It cannot therefore be expected that the structural cost disadvantages of reactors with low capacity can be compensated for by learning or mass effects in the foreseeable future (BASE, 2021). 


    There is no classification in the JRC Report (Part A 3.2.1, p. 38) regarding the frequently asserted statement that SMRs are safer than traditional nuclear power plants with a large capacity, as they have a lower radioactive inventory and make greater use of passive safety systems. In the light of this, various SMR concepts suggest the need for reduced safety requirements, e.g. regarding the degree of redundancy or diversity. Some SMR concepts even consider refraining from normal provisions for accident management both internal and external – for example, smaller planning zones for emergency protection and even the complete disappearance of any off-site emergency zones. 

     The theory that an SMR automatically has an increased safety level is not proven. The safety of a specific reactor unit depends on the safety related properties of the individual reactor and its functional effectiveness and must be carefully analysed – taking into account the possible range of events or incidents. This kind of analysis will raise additional questions, particularly about the external events if SMRs are located in remote regions if SMRs are used to supply industrial plants or if they are sea-based SMRs (BASE, 2021). 

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    San Onofre’s nuclear waste buried under the beach – the best example of the failure of the nuclear industry and its poor outlook for the future

    September 14, 2021

    A combination of failures:’ why 3.6m pounds of nuclear waste is buried on a popular California beach, Guardian, Kate Mishkin 24 Aug 21, 

    The San Onofre reactors are among dozens across the United States phasing out, but experts say they best represent the uncertain future of nuclear energy.

    It’s a combination of failures, really,”

    Spent fuel is stored at 76 reactor sites in 34 states

    It’s a self-reporting industry,” Hering, the retired rear admiral, said. “And they simply can’t be trusted.”


    More than 2 million visitors flock each year to California’s San Onofre state beach, a dreamy slice of coastline just north of San Diego. The beach is popular with surfers, lies across one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the Unites States and has a 10,000-year-old sacred Native American site nearby. It even landed a shout-out in the Beach Boys’ 1963 classic Surfin’ USA.

    But for all the good vibes and stellar sunsets, beneath the surface hides a potential threat: 3.6m lb of nuclear waste from a group of nuclear reactors shut down nearly a decade ago. Decades of political gridlock have left it indefinitely stranded, susceptible to threats including corrosion, earthquakes and sea level rise.

    The San Onofre reactors are among dozens across the United States phasing out, but experts say they best represent the uncertain future of nuclear energy.

    “It’s a combination of failures, really,” said Gregory Jaczko, who chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the top federal enforcer, between 2009 and 2012, of the situation at San Onofre.

    That waste is the byproduct of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs), three nuclear reactors primarily owned by the utility Southern California Edison (SCE).

    Buried waste

    Federal regulators had already cited SCE for several safety issues, including leaking radioactive waste and falsified firewatch records. But when a new steam generator began leaking a small amount of radioactivity in January 2012, just one year after it was replaced, it was SCE’s most serious problem yet. A subsequent report from the NRC’s inspector general found federal inspectors had overlooked red flags in 2009, and that SCE had replaced its own steam generators without proper approval. SCE tried to fix the problem but decided in 2013 to shut the plant down for good.Activists thought they had scored a victory when the reactor shut down – until they learned that the nuclear waste they had produced would remain on-site……

    Without a government-designated place to store the waste, the California Coastal Commission in 2015 approved the construction of an installation at San Onofre to store it until 2035In August 2020, workers concluded the multi-year burial process, loading the last of 73 canisters of waste into a concrete enclosure.

    San Onofre is not the only place where waste is left stranded. As more nuclear sites shut down, communities across the country are stuck with the waste left behind. Spent fuel is stored at 76 reactor sites in 34 states, according to the Department of Energy.

    Handling those stockpiles has been an afterthought to the NRC, the federal enforcer, said Allison Macfarlane, another former commission chair.

    “It was not a big topic at the NRC, unfortunately,” Macfarlane said. “In the nuclear industry in general the backend of the nuclear cycle gets very little attention. So it just never rises to ‘oh this is a very important issue, we should be doing something.’”

    Plenty of risks, and not enough oversight

    The waste is buried about 100ft from the shoreline, along the I-5 highway, one of the nation’s busiest thoroughfares, and not far from a pair of faults that experts say could generate a 7.4 magnitude earthquake.

    Another potential problem is corrosion. In its 2015 approval, the Coastal Commission noted the site could have a serious impact on the environment down the line, including on coastal access and marine life. “The [installation] would eventually be exposed to coastal flooding and erosion hazards beyond its design capacity, or else would require protection by replacing or expanding the existing Songs shoreline armoring,” the document says.

    Concerns have also been raised about government oversight of the site. Just after San Onofre closed, SCE began seeking exemptions from the NRC’s operating rules for nuclear plants. The utility asked and received permission to loosen rules on-site, including those dealing with record-keeping, radiological emergency plans for reactors, emergency planning zones and on-site staffing.

    San Onofre isn’t the only closed reactor to receive exemptions to its operating licence. The NRC’s regulations historically focused on operating reactors and assumed that, when a reactor shut down, the waste would be removed quickly.

    It’s true that the risk of accidents decreases when a plant isn’t operating, said Dave Lochbaum, former director of the nuclear safety project for the Union of Concerned Scientists. But adapting regulations through exemptions greatly reduces public transparency, he argued.

    “Exemptions are wink-wink, nudge-nudge deals with the NRC,” he said.

    In general, it’s not really a great practice,” former NRC chair Jaczko said about the exemptions. “If the NRC is regulating by exemption, it means that there’s something wrong with the rules … either the NRC believes the rules are not effective, and they’re not really useful, or the NRC is not holding the line where the NRC should be holding line,” he said.

    Close calls

    In 2015, the NRC tried unsuccessfully to revise its decommissioning rules and reduce the need for exemptions. But commissioners never acted, despite a 2019 Office of Inspector General audit that questioned whether the rule would ever see the light of day and that estimated that eliminating exemptions could save the NRC, utility and taxpayers about $19m for each reactor.

    In general, it’s not really a great practice,” former NRC chair Jaczko said about the exemptions. “If the NRC is regulating by exemption, it means that there’s something wrong with the rules … either the NRC believes the rules are not effective, and they’re not really useful, or the NRC is not holding the line where the NRC should be holding line,” he said.

    Meanwhile, at San Onofre, two close calls drew the ire of activists and townspeople. In 2018, workers found a loose piece of equipment in one of the canisters, causing a 10-day work stoppage to ensure the error didn’t pose a threat to the public. In a separate incident several months later, a canister filled with radioactive waste became wedged when employees were loading it into the ground and nearly dropped 18ft. The second incident was not made public until a whistleblower brought it up at a community event.

    After these incidents, the NRC cited SCE for failing to ensure equipment was available to protect the canister from a drop, and failing to notify the NRC in a timely manner. In a memo, NRC staff told SCE it was “concerned about apparent weaknesses” in managing storage oversight. SCE was fined $116,000 but permitted to continue loading casks within one year.

    Another concern is that the CEO of Holtec, the manufacturer of the canisters, told a 2014 community meeting that the canisters are difficult to repair. “It’s not practical to repair a canister if it were damaged,” Kris Singh said.

    According to a plan the California Coastal Commission approved in July 2020, SCE will also inspect two of the 73 buried canisters every five years, and a test canister every two and a half years, starting in 2024.

    But critics say they are not confident SCE would self-report given the utility’s record. “It’s a self-reporting industry,” Hering, the retired rear admiral, said. “And they simply can’t be trusted.”……….. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/24/san-onofre-nuclear-power-plant-radioactive-waste-unsafe

    Reclassifying nuclear wastes, and other ethical and technical problems at Hanford

    September 14, 2021

    “DOE sort of granted itself the authority to do that reclassifying,”

    “We’re not convinced of any need to reclassify any of the high-level wastes,” said Ecology Department spokesman Randy Bradbury.

    “We believe this rule lays the groundwork for the department to abandon significant amounts of radioactive waste in Washington State precipitously close to the Columbia River,”

    Reclassifying a significant amount of high-level waste into low-activity waste is key to reaching that 80%, the report said.

    Ultimately, this project, originally scheduled to be finished this decade, will likely be completed in the latter half of this century. In other words, it could take 70 to 75 years (mid-1990s to 2069) to deal with the 56 million gallons of radioactive tank waste created by 42 years of manufacturing plutonium.

    A plan to turn radioactive waste into glass logs has raised a lot of questions, many of which don’t appear to have public answers. CrossCut, by John Stang, August 16, 2021”……………………..Whistleblower alarm

    Red flags have also been raised over the quality of construction of the new treatment facilities.

    In 2010, Walt Tamosaitis, a senior manager at a subcontractor designing the pretreatment plant, URS Corp., alerted his superiors and managers at lead contractor Bechtel to a risk of hydrogen gas explosions that could bend and burst pipes in the plant, spraying radioactive fluids. He also pointed out that radioactive sludge could clog the pipes and tanks in the plant, increasing the chance of uncontrolled releases of radiation. And he raised the issue of corrosion causing leaks in the pretreatment plant.

    Tamosaitis’ superiors told the Energy Department that the design problems were fixed as of July 1, 2010 — over Tamosaitis’ protests, but in time for Bechtel to collect a $5 million bonus from the department.

    For raising the alarm, he was demoted and exiled to an insignificant offsite job, Tamosaitis alleged in a lawsuit against Bechtel. He alleged illegal retaliation, eventually reaching a $4.1 million settlement with the company. Meanwhile, in 2011 and 2012, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a technical advisory body monitoring DOE, plus the Government Accounting Office, confirmed Tamosaitis’ concerns.

    In 2015, the Energy Department announced that it would not have the entire complex operational by 2022, the deadline at the time. Department officials pointed to the same issues Tamosaitis had identified in 2010.

    Also on hold is construction of the pretreatment plant — a prerequisite to the high-level waste glassification project, which is scheduled to begin production in 2023, according to the current state and federal agreement.

    What the future holds

    The U.S. Department of Energy has been giving contradictory signals about new plans for dealing with some of the high-level waste. 

    (more…)

    Secrecy, delays, budget problems as USA tries to clean up Hanford, the most radioactively polluted site in the nation.

    September 14, 2021

    Hanford has 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in those 177 underground tanks at this remote decommissioned nuclear production site near the Columbia River in Benton County

    Those leak-prone tanks are arguably the most radiologically contaminated place in the Western Hemisphere.

    At least 1 million gallons of radioactive liquids have leaked into the ground, seeping into the aquifer 200 feet below and then into the Columbia River, roughly seven miles away. Since the mid-1990s, Hanford’s plans involve mixing the waste  in the tanks with benign melted glass and then storing it in glass logs.

    Today, the project’s budget is at least $17 billion, and the first glassification plant for low-activity waste is scheduled to start up in late 2023. So far, the federal government has spent $11 billion on the glassification project, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative agency of Congress.

    That one plant, however, will only handle 40% to 50% of the low-activity wastes, depending on who is doing the estimating. A second low-activity waste plant or a stil-to-be-determined new approach is needed to the remaining wastes.is What will happen to the rest of the waste is still up for debate.

    All of the single-shell tanks and the majority of the double-shell tanks are way past their design lives

    Cleaning up nuclear waste at Hanford: Secrecy, delays and budget debates

    A plan to turn radioactive waste into glass logs has raised a lot of questions, many of which don’t appear to have public answers.
    CrossCut, by John Stang, August 16, 2021 Stephen Wiesman has worked for about three decades on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s project to convert the radioactive waste in its huge underground tanks into safer glass logs.

    Although he’s retired now and involved in an advisory capacity, he understands the project — and its ongoing challenges — better than almost anyone.

    Wiesman sees this task with a mix of cautious optimism, frustration, sympathy for the people dealing with its complexities, and a deep belief that the tank wastes must be dealt with. “There isn’t an emotion that I haven’t felt,” he said.

    The project faces a cluster of challenges: financial, technical and political. And the secrecy around the plans to solve these issues makes it difficult for anyone to gauge whether the most polluted spot in the nation will ever become a benign stain on the landscape of eastern Washington.  

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    Buried in the sand of Southern Algeria – the radioactive pollution from French nuclear tests

    September 14, 2021
    
    
    
    
    
    Algérie: sous le sable, les déchets nucléaires français,  translation by


    Hervé CourtoisC.A.N. Coalition Against Nukes, 2 July 21

    This is one of the major issues in the reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria. A subject that has long remained buried in the sands of the Sahara: the pollution of southern Algeria by French nuclear tests.

    More than fifty years after the last test in 1966, Algiers has just created an agency for the rehabilitation of former nuc;ea test sites.

    The Propaganda

    From 1960 to 1966, the French army conducted 17 nuclear tests in southern Algeria, on the sites of Reggane and In Ekker. At the time, Albdekrim Touhami, a native of Tamanrasset, was a teenager. In Ekker is 150 kilometers north. He remembers the installation of the French military base, seen then as a welcome source of employment.”For us, it was a godsend. Everyone came running to get a job as a laborer or simple worker on the site. We didn’t think that this bomb was going to be a disaster for the region. We were told, “Here it is, the bomb will go off at such and such a time. You may feel some shaking, like an earthquake. But don’t worry, there will be no problem.” “

    Fifteen years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the danger of nuclear weapons is known. Southern Algeria is chosen to conduct these tests, because the area is considered quite deserted compared to the Southern Alps or Corsica, while being close to the French mainland.

    France wanted to quickly demonstrate its capacity to use the bomb in the context of the Cold War and the race for nuclear deterrence.”France wanted to catch up with the other nuclear powers, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom, to remain in what was called at the time “the big league”. This partly explains why the priority was the result, not the concern about the environmental impact or the collateral damage to the population. The priority was to explode the bomb,” recalls Patrice Bouveret, co-founder of the Observatoire de l’armement, an independent center of expertise.A highly polluted area .

    In1962, Algeria became independent. The tests continued. Most of them, eleven, were carried out between 1962 and 1966 and therefore with the agreement of the new Algerian authorities. Systematically, the waste generated by these tests was buried, explains Jean-Marie Collin, spokesperson for Ican-France (International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons) who published a study with Patrice Bouveret, “Under the sand, the radioactivity! “.

    Very clearly, France has a desire to bury,” emphasizes Jean-Marie Collin. It considers the desert as an ocean, an ocean of sand, and it buries everything that is likely to be contaminated. Algerian independence and the fact that France left Algeria under rather complicated conditions did not play in favor of depollution. On the contrary, even more waste was left behind. “Waste that goes from the simple screwdriver to the tank exposed to test the resistance of military equipment to the atomic bomb. Another pollution linked to nuclear tests, the accidental one during the Berryl underground test in 1962.

    The reason for the tests was that the nuclear technology was not fully mastered and therefore there were accidents that released radioactive lava,” continues the Ican-France spokesman. The test concerned was in 1962. We were there in 2007. The scientists measured the radioactivity, which was extremely high, and they told us: “You should not stay more than twenty minutes on the spot, if you do not want to absorb radioactivity that is dangerous for your body. “

    Only one victim compensated.

    Contaminated rocks left in the open air, in areas of passage. Contaminated sand disseminated by the winds beyond the Algerian borders, particularly in neighboring Niger. For about fifteen years, in the area of Tamanrasset and with very few means, Abdelkrim Touhami and his association Taourirt tries to draw up a sanitary assessment.We learned that many people died of suspicious deaths,” he confides. People were dying little by little. Babies were being born with deformities. Cancers were occurring through this disaster. “

    To date, no official census of the people exposed, whether French or Algerian. Only one Algerian victim has been compensated under the Morin Law (2010). The decree of May 31 creating an agency for the rehabilitation of test sites in Algeria is an important step for Jean-Marie Collin of Ican-France.

    Until now,” he explains, “the Algerian state created a certain surveillance zone on these sites, but there had never been any action to protect these zones in order to avoid any real access. This decree opens up the possibility that international organizations such as States could come and help rehabilitate these nuclear test sites. What we have at the same time are discussions between France and Algeria, officially revealed in April, whereas until then, these discussions did not officially exist.

    “These discussions took place within the framework of the Franco-Algerian working group on nuclear tests, created in 2008 under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. This issue of rehabilitation was also included in the report by Benjamin Stora on the reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria. Algiers must ratify the Tian, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, to which France is not a signatory, before mid-October.

    .Supporters of the rehabilitation of former nuclear test sites want a joint Franco-Algerian mission to be sent to map the polluted sites in order to circumscribe them, and eventually treat them so that the inhabitants are no longer exposed to radioactivity. . https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20210629-alg%C3%A9rie-sous-le-sable-les-d%C3%A9chets-nucl%C3%A9aires-fran%C3%A7ais?fbclid=IwAR2Gn0qmn8xngwhyIaCBN1ut9lU9w_YwziHLSr9S2SkwmBGc9oaWL0f18As

    Nuclear trash – a tale of two Sydney suburbs

    June 26, 2021
    Hunters Hill

    Radioactive trash – a tale of two Sydney suburbs, https://johnmenadue.com/radioactive-trash-a-tale-of-two-sydney-suburbs/ By Noel Wauchope, May 26, 2021

    Australia is relatively clear of nuclear reprocessing waste problems. But the Sydney suburbs of Hunters Hill and Barden Ridge have radioactive wastes from uranium processing which have been sitting there for decades. A bill is now before the Senate addressing the issue.

    Australia does have radioactive waste problems in the lingering concerns over historic atomic bomb test sites in South Australia., and in both the functioning and the closed uranium mines. But there is only one uranium-processing facility producing radioactive wastes, the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.

    Now, Federal and State governments are making decisions on the disposal of these wastes. But there is still uncertainty and lack of public information on just how [or whether] these decisions will be carried out. For example, there’s no detail on transport routes, dates etc.

    There are significant differences between the situations of the two suburbs. Perhaps the most significant one is that at Barden Ridge, the nearby Opal nuclear research reactor will be continuing to produce nuclear wastes for the foreseeable future, whereas the Hunters Hill wastes are set for final and permanent removal. Hunters Hill residents have been worried about this for over a century. For Barden Ridge, it has been been recognised as a problem for a much shorter time.

    2021 looks like being a watershed year for both.

    Hunters Hill.

    n 1911, radium was a valuable commodity, and was processed was processed at Hunters Hill, Some 2,000 tonnes of uranium ore were transported from Radium Hill in South Australia, to extract the radium. Several tonnes of uranium oxide were left, and also thorium 230, which itself decays to form more radium and is therefore dangerous for thousands of years. The project closed in 1915. From then on, it was a saga of mistakes and failed attempts to clean up this remaining debris. There was a tin smelter there until 1964.

    Then the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC, now ANSTO) decided it was safe for housing. In the following years, residents and others became concerned about the uranium tailings spread over 6 housing blocks, in Nelson’s Parade, with the risk to health. They were met with cover-ups and obfuscation from the government. Health tests were kept secret, radiation hotspots were found, and cancers and deaths were claimed to be linked to this, and legal cases ensued.

    Government plans to solve the problem included dumping the wastes at sea. This was resisted by environmentalists. The next plan was to dump it in Western NSW. This was strongly opposed by Aborigines from the area’s Bakandii tribe. When several Nelson Parade residents fell ill in the 1970s, the NSW government purchased several houses and demolished them, but failed to remediate the site.

    in 1981 The then NSW Premier, Mr Wran asked South Australia to take 5,000 tonnes of contaminated soil. A NSW Upper House Inquiry in 2008 led to the government attempting to plan for the clean-up of 2,000 tonnes of radioactive waste. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said radioactive waste from Hunters Hill wasn’t permitted to be stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights interim waste storage facility.

    In 2012, most of the contaminated earth was reclassified as ”restricted solid waste”. Two Sydney suburbs were mooted as destinations for the wastes – Kemps Creek and Lidcombe. This was resisted by the local residents. Then in 2019, the New South Wales government proposed to store the  contaminated soil on site in an ”encapsulated” form. This was vigorously rejected by the Hunters Hill residents.

    Now, in 2021, beginning in July, New South Wales Property and Housing Minister Melinda Pavey announced that the radioactive material will beexcavated and  and be shipped to Idaho  ,USA. The contaminated soil is to be sealed in bags, loaded into shipping containers and taken to a secure facility in the Eastern Sydney suburb of Matraville before shipping them overseas in scheduled consignments. ANSTO would oversee the process with up to 1800 tonnes to be transported to Idaho in an18-month-long mission.

    Barden Ridge.

    The radioactive waste problem of formerly Lucas Heights has a more recent history, with the original HIFAR nuclear research reactor starting operations in 1958. Lucas Heights was then a remote bushland site well outside the suburban area of Sydney. Nuclear development was meshed in secrecy, and controlled by influential experts Philip Baxter, and Ernest Titterton., without much understanding by the parliament or the public. It was the time of British atomic weapons tests in Australia, and heightened fears about the cold war. Little attention was paid to the subject of radioactive wastes.

    In later years, as Sydney grew, Lucas Heights did become more of a suburb. And the Three Mile Island 1979 and Chernobyl 1986 nuclear accidents aroused a general awareness of nuclear risks. Radioactive wastes from Fisherman’s Bend in Victoria was brought to Lucas Heights in 1990. By now, public concern was raised. When Lucas Heights agreed to take the waste from St Mary’s Defence Base NSW (1991) the Sutherland Shire Council won a court case against ANSTO to stop Lucas Heights taking waste from other entities.

    In 1992, local residents voted to rename the suburb of Lucas Heights, and in 1996 it officially became Barden Ridge.  It is widely accepted that this was done to increase the real estate value of the area, as it would no longer be instantly associated with the HIFAR nuclear reactor.

    Barden Ridge has a conservative community, historically voting Liberal, that accepts the reality of ANSTO and the now Opal nuclear reactor, with the jobs that come with it. Still, the presence of nuclear wastes is an issue. The Sutherland Shire Council in 2013 said that they liked having the nuclear reactor, but not the radioactive wastes. Local people and Council were relieved to learn, in 1997, of the federal government’s plan to set up a waste facility in another State. Sutherland Shire Council rejoiced in 2014, when the federal government announced plans for a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory.

    Which brings us to the Australian Government’s Bill about radioactive waste, now before the Australian Senate, the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020.  This Bill specifies Napandee, a farm near Kimba, South Australia, as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Resources Minister Keith Pitt has recently announced more grants to the local community .Yet there is significant local opposition to the plan, from Aborigines and farmers.  If this Bill is passed, there can be no judicial review of the decision. So, Barden Ridge residents will get their solution. Or maybe not.

    The Hunters Hill solution is an unusual one, and quite a precedent. There could still be some opposition to the planned process. The Barden Ridge one is also fraught with problems, as nuclear waste will continue to be produced by the nearby nuclear reactor. The Senate might not pass this Bill, leaving the Resources Minister with the option of declaring the Napandee site, which would then open the matter up for court action.

    It’s again ‘wait and see’ time for two worried communities.

    Plutonium ”hot particles” are not as stable as we assumed. Research on contaminated landscape around Maralinga in outback South Australia

    June 26, 2021

    We sliced open radioactive particles from soil in South Australia and found they may be leaking plutonium  https://theconversation.com/we-sliced-open-radioactive-particles-from-soil-in-south-australia-and-found-they-may-be-leaking-plutonium-161277

    Barbara Etschmann, Research officer, Monash University

    Joel Brugger, Professor of Synchrotron Geosciences, Monash University

    Vanessa Wong, Associate Professor, Monash University

    May 21, 2021 Almost 60 years after British nuclear tests ended, radioactive particles containing plutonium and uranium still contaminate the landscape around Maralinga in outback South Australia.

    These “hot particles” are not as stable as we once assumed. Our research shows they are likely releasing tiny chunks of plutonium and uranium which can be easily transported in dust and water, inhaled by humans and wildlife and taken up by plants.

    A British nuclear playground

    After the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, other nations raced to build their own nuclear weapons. Britain was looking for locations to conduct its tests. When it approached the Australian government in the early 1950s, Australia was only too eager to agree.

    Between 1952 and 1963, Britain detonated 12 nuclear bombs in Australia. There were three in the Montebello Islands off Western Australia, but most were in outback South Australia: two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga.

    Besides the full-scale nuclear detonations, there were hundreds of “subcritical” trials designed to test the performance and safety of nuclear weapons and their components. These trials usually involved blowing up nuclear devices with conventional explosives, or setting them on fire.

    The subcritical tests released radioactive materials. The Vixen B trials alone (at the Taranaki test site at Maralinga) spread 22.2 kilograms of plutonium and more than 40 kilograms of uranium across the arid landscape. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki contained 6.4 kilograms of plutonium, while the one dropped on Hiroshima held 64 kilograms of uranium.

    These tests resulted in long-lasting radioactive contamination of the environment. The full extent of the contamination was only realised in 1984, before the land was returned to its traditional owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja people.

    Hot potatoes

    Despite numerous cleanup efforts, residual plutonium and uranium remains at Maralinga. Most is present in the form of “hot particles”. These are tiny radioactive grains (much smaller than a millimetre) dispersed in the soil.

    Plutonium is a radioactive element mostly made by humans, and the weapons-grade plutonium used in the British nuclear tests has a half life of 24,100 years. This means even 24,100 years after the Vixen B trials that ended in 1963, there will still be almost two Nagasaki bombs worth of plutonium spread around the Taranaki test site.

    Plutonium emits alpha radiation that can damage DNA if it enters a body through eating, drinking or breathing.

    In their original state, the plutonium and uranium particles are rather inactive. However, over time, when exposed to atmosphere, water, or microbes, they may weather and release plutonium and uranium in dust or rainstorms.

    Until recently, we knew little about the internal makeup of these hot particles. This makes it very hard to accurately assess the environmental and health risks they pose.

    Monash PhD student Megan Cook (the lead author on our new paper) took on this challenge. Her research aimed to identify how plutonium was deposited as it was carried by atmospheric currents following the nuclear tests (some of it travelled as far as Queensland!), the characteristics of the plutonium hot particles when they landed, and potential movement within the soil.

    Nanotechnology to the rescue

    Previous studies used the super intense X-rays generated by synchrotron light sources to map the distribution and oxidation state of plutonium inside the hot particles at the micrometre scale.

    To get more detail, we used X-rays from the Diamond synchrotron near Oxford in the UK, a huge machine more than half a kilometre in circumference that produces light ten billion times brighter than the Sun in a particle accelerator.

    Studying how the particles absorbed X-rays revealed they contained plutonium and uranium in several different states of oxidation – which affects how reactive and toxic they are. However, when we looked at the shadows the particles cast in X-ray light (or “X-ray diffraction”), we couldn’t interpret the results without knowing more about the different chemicals inside the particles.

    To find out more, we used a machine at Monash University that can slice open tiny samples with a nanometre-wide beam of high-energy ions, then analyse the elements inside and make images of the interior. This is a bit like using a lightsaber to cut a rock, only at the tiniest of scales. This revealed in exquisite detail the complex array of materials and textures inside the particles.

    Much of the plutonium and uranium is distributed in tiny particles sized between a few micrometres and a few nanometres, or dissolved in iron-aluminium alloys. We also discovered a plutonium-uranium-carbon compound that would be destroyed quickly in the presence of air, but which was held stable by the metallic alloy.

    This complex physical and chemical structure of the particles suggests the particles formed by the cooling of droplets of molten metal from the explosion cloud.

    In the end, it took a multidisciplinary team across three continents — including soil scientists, mineralogists, physicists, mineral engineers, synchrotron scientists, microscopists, and radiochemists — to reveal the nature of the Maralinga hot particles.

    From fire to dust

    Our results suggest natural chemical and physical processes in the outback environment may cause the slow release of plutonium from the hot particles over the long term. This release of plutonium is likely to be contributing to ongoing uptake of plutonium by wildlife at Maralinga.

    Even under the semi-arid conditions of Maralinga, the hot particles slowly break down, liberating their deadly cargo. The lessons from the Maralinga particles are not limited to outback Australia. They are also useful in understanding particles generated from dirty bombs or released during subcritical nuclear incidents.

    There have been a few documented instances of such incidents. These include the B-52 accidents that resulted in the conventional detonation of thermonuclear weapons near Palomares in Spain in 1966, and Thule in Greenland in 1968, and the explosion of an armed nuclear missile and subsequent fire at the McGuire Air Force Base in the USA in 1960.

    Thousands of active nuclear weapons are still held by nations around the world today. The Maralinga legacy shows the world can ill afford incidents involving nuclear particles.

    Australia has another go at cleaning up decades old pollution from old uranium mine Rum Jungle.

    June 17, 2021

    This is why Rum Jungle is so important: it was one of the very few mines once thought to have been rehabilitated successfully.

    We got it wrong with Rum Jungle …….. Getting even a small part of modern mine rehabilitation wrong could, at worst, mean billions of tonnes of mine waste polluting for centuries.

    Let’s hope we get it right this time.

    The story of Rum Jungle: a Cold War-era uranium mine that’s spewed acid into the environment for decades  https://theconversation.com/the-story-of-rum-jungle-a-cold-war-era-uranium-mine-thats-spewed-acid-into-the-environment-for-decades-160871, Gavin Mudd Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering, RMIT University, May 18, 2021   

    Buried in last week’s budget was money for rehabilitating the Rum Jungle uranium mine near Darwin. The exact sum was not disclosed.

    Rum Jungle used to be a household name. It was Australia’s first large-scale uranium mine and supplied the US and British nuclear weapons programs during the Cold War.

    Today, the mine is better known for extensively polluting the Finniss River after it closed in 1971. Despite a major rehabilitation project by the Commonwealth in the 1980s, the damage to the local environment is ongoing.

     first visited Rum Jungle in 2004, and it was a colourful mess, to say the least. Over later years, I saw it worsen. Instead of a river bed, there were salt crusts containing heavy metals and radioactive material. Pools of water were rich reds and aqua greens — hallmarks of water pollution. Healthy aquatic species were nowhere to be found, like an ecological desert.

    The government’s second rehabilitation attempt is significant, as it recognises mine rehabilitation isn’t always successful, even if it appears so at first.

    Rum Jungle serves as a warning: rehabilitation shouldn’t be an afterthought, but carefully planned, invested in and monitored for many, many years. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, it’ll be left up to future taxpayers to fix.

    The quick and dirty history


    Rum Jungle produced uranium
     from 1954 to 1971, roughly one-third of which was exported for nuclear weapons. The rest was stockpiled, and then eventually sold in 1994 to the US.

    The mine was owned by the federal government, but was operated under contract by a former subsidiary of Rio Tinto. Back then, there were no meaningful environmental regulations in place for mining, especially for a military project.

    The waste rock and tailings (processed ore) at Rum Jungle contains significant amounts of iron sulfide, called “pyrite”. When mining exposes the pyrite to water and oxygen, a chemical reaction occurs generating so-called “acidic mine drainage”. This drainage is rich in acid, salts, heavy metals and radioactive material (radionuclides), such as copper, zinc and uranium.

    Acid drainage seeping from waste rock, plus acidic liquid waste from the process plant, caused fish and macroinvertebrates (bugs, worms, crustaceans) to die out, and riverbank vegetation to decline. By the time the mine closed in 1971, the region was a well-known ecological wasteland.

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    Australia’s part in continuing nuclear havoc in Pacific islands – legacy of atomic bomb tests

    June 17, 2021
    75 years after nuclear testing in the Pacific began, the fallout continues to wreak havoc    https://theconversation.com/75-years-after-nuclear-testing-in-the-pacific-began-the-fallout-continues-to-wreak-havoc-158208?fbclid=IwAR3q9QJvy507ds2kD0ibOvkD6ZzxFqgGjfHsGrwqJUVMNpujOu8sAeLVPtY
    April 6, 2021 
     Patricia A. O’Brien Patricia A. O’Brien is a Friend of The Conversation.Historian, Visiting Fellow in the School of History, Australian National University and Adjunct Professor in the Asian Studies Program, Georgetown University,    This year marks 75 years since the United States launched its immense atomic testing program in the Pacific. The historical fallout from tests carried out over 12 years in the Marshall Islands, then a UN Trust Territory governed by the US, have framed seven decades of US relations with the Pacific nation.Due to the dramatic effects of climate change, the legacies of this history are shaping the present in myriad ways.

    This history has Australian dimensions too, though decades of diplomatic distance between Australia and the Marshall Islands have hidden an entangled atomic past.

    In 1946, the Marshall Islands seemed very close for many Australians. They feared the imminent launch of the US’s atomic testing program on Bikini Atoll might split the earth in two, catastrophically change the earth’s climate, or produce earthquakes and deadly tidal waves.

    A map accompanying one report noted Sydney was only 3,100 miles from ground zero. Residents as far away as Perth were warned if their houses shook on July 1, “it may be the atom bomb test”.

    Australia was “included in the tests” as a site for recording blast effects and monitoring for atom bombs detonated anywhere in the world by hostile nations. This Australian site served to keep enemies in check and achieve one of the Pacific testing program’s objectives: to deter future war. The other justification was the advancement of science.

    The earth did not split in two after the initial test (unless you were Marshallese) so they continued; 66 others followed over the next 12 years. But the insidious and multiple harms to people and place, regularly covered up or denied publicly, became increasingly hard to hide.

    Radiation poisoning, birth defects, leukaemia, thyroid and other cancers became prevalent in exposed Marshallese, at least four islands were “partially or completely vapourised”, the exposed Marshallese “became subjects of a medical research program” and atomic refugees. (Bikinians were allowed to return to their atoll for a decade before the US government removed them again when it was realised a careless error falsely claimed radiation levels were safe in 1968.)

    In late 1947, the US moved its operations to Eniwetok Atoll, a decision, it was argued, to ensure additional safety. Eniwetok was more isolated and winds were less likely to carry radioactive particles to populated areas.

    Australian reports noted this site was only 3,200 miles from Sydney. Troubling reports of radioactive clouds as far away as the French Alps and the known shocking health effects appeared.

    Dissenting voices were initially muted due to the steep escalation of the Cold War and Soviet atomic weapon tests beginning in 1949.

    Opinion in Australia split along political lines. Conservative Cold War warriors, chief among them Robert Menzies who became prime minister again in 1949, kept Australia in lockstep with the US, and downplayed the ill-effects of testing. Left-wing elements in Australia continued to draw attention to the “horrors” it unleashed.

    The atomic question came home in 1952, when the first of 12 British atomic tests began on the Montebello Islands, off Western Australia.   Australia’s involvement in atomic testing expanded again in 1954, when it began supplying South Australian-mined uranium to the US and UK’s joint defence purchasing authority, the Combined Development Agency.

    Australia’s economic stake in the atomic age from 1954 collided with the galvanisation of global public opinion against US testing in Eniwetok. The massive “Castle Bravo” hydrogen bomb test in March exposed Marshall Islanders and a Japanese fishing crew on The Lucky Dragon to catastrophic radiation levels “equal to that received by Japanese people less than two miles from ground zero” in the 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts. Graphic details of the fishermen’s suffering and deaths and a Marshallese petition to the United Nations followed.

    When a UN resolution to halt US testing was voted on in July, Australia voted for its continuation. But the tide of public opinion was turning against testing. The events of 1954 dispelled the notion atomic waste was safe and could be contained. The problem of radioactive fish travelling into Australian waters highlighted these new dangers, which spurred increasing world wide protests until the US finally ceased testing in the Marshalls in 1958.

    In the 1970s, US atomic waste was concentrated under the Runit Island dome, part of Enewetak Atoll (about 3,200 miles from Sydney). Recent alarming descriptions of how precarious and dangerous this structure is due to age, sea water inundation and storm damage exacerbated by climate change were contested in a 2020 Trump-era report.

    The Biden administration’s current renegotiation of the Compact of Free Association with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and its prioritisation of action on climate change, will put Runit Island high on the agenda. There is an opportunity for historical redress for the US that is even more urgent given the upsurge in discrimination against US-based Pacific Islander communities devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some are peoples displaced by the tests.

    Australia is also embarking on a new level of engagement with the Marshall Islands: it is due to open its first embassy in the capital Majuro in 2021.It should be remembered this bilateral relationship has an atomic history too. Australia supported the US testing program, assisted with data collection and voted in the UN for its continuation when Marshallese pleaded for it to be stopped. It is also likely Australian-sourced atomic waste lies within Runit Island, cementing Australia in this history.