Archive for the ‘wastes’ Category


April 2, 2018

Friends of the Earth, Australia,, January 2018
“The disposal of radioactive waste in Australia is ill-considered and irresponsible. Whether it is short-lived waste from Commonwealth facilities, long-lived plutonium waste from an atomic bomb test site on Aboriginal land, or reactor waste from Lucas Heights. The government applies double standards to suit its own agenda; there is no consistency, and little evidence of logic.” ‒ Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson11 Alan Parkinson, 2002, ‘Double standards with radioactive waste’, Australasian Science,

RADIUM HILL: A radioactive waste repository at Radium Hill “is not engineered to a standard consistent with current internationally accepted practice” according to a 2003 SA government audit.

PORT PIRIE: The Port Pirie uranium treatment plant is still contaminated over 50 years after its closure. It took a six-year community campaign just to get the site fenced off and to carry out a partial rehabilitation. As of July 2015, the SA government’s website states that “a long-term management strategy for the former site” is being developed.

ARKAROOLA WILDERNESS SANCTUARY: SA regulators failed to detect Marathon Resource’s illegal dumping of low level radioactive waste in the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. If not for the detective work of the managers of the Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary, the illegal activities would likely be continuing to this day. The incident represents a serious failure of SA government regulation. The Royal Commission report dealt with this scandal in two sentences and failed to note that the SA government regulator did not detect the illegal dumping of radioactive waste.

MARALINGA: The ‘clean-up’ of nuclear waste at the Maralinga nuclear test site in the late 1990s was a fiasco:2
•                    • Nuclear engineer Alan Parkinson said of the ‘clean-up’: “What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn’t be adopted on white-fellas land.”

•                    • Scientist Dale Timmons said the government’s technical report was littered with “gross misinformation”.

• Dr Geoff Williams, an officer with the Commonwealth nuclear regulator ARPANSA, said that the ‘clean-up’ was beset by a “host of indiscretions, short-cuts and cover-ups”.

•                    • Nuclear physicist Prof. Peter Johnston (now with ARPANSA) noted that there were “very large expenditures and significant hazards resulting from the deficient management of the project”.

If there was some honesty about the mismanagement of radioactive waste in Australia, coupled with remediation of contaminated sites, we might have some

confidence that lessons have been learned and that radioactive waste will be managed more responsibly in future.

But there is no such honesty from the government, and there are no plans to clean up contaminated sites.

More information: Pages 11-15 in Submission to SA Joint Select Committee,



April 2, 2018

 by ENuFF(Everyone for a Nuclear Free Future SA) November 2017.In 2015 the SA Weatherill government established the SA NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION (RC). The following year, the government adopted 9 out of 12 of the RC’s recommendations including to expand uranium mining and to collaborate with the federal government on nuclear power developments. A proposal to remove the state’s Nuclear Waste Storage Prohibition Act and, thereby, allow the state to pursue an international highlevel radioactive waste (HLW) dump was not adopted.

Less publicised, the RC’s Report also recommended that the government pursue the disposal of Australia’s own radioactive waste in SA; hardly a novel idea! (Previous attempts have been made, and failed.) And, this recommendation was adopted.

Running in parallel with the RC; confusing many people, the federal government was, again, doing just that: seeking a ‘suitable site’ for shallow burial of decades of Australia’s accumulated low-level waste(LLW) and indefinite storage (co-location) of long-lived and highly hazardous intermediate-level waste (ILW).

A short list of three sites was selected; all in SA: one at Barndioota in the Flinders Ranges – traditional land of the Adnyamathanha people – and two sites at Kimba.

A decision about a final site in SA for the nation’s waste is imminent. State politicians are surprisingly mute about such an important decision. Clearly they do not want this issue raised in the forthcoming (March 2018) state election.

So where has Australia’s radioactive waste come from? Australia has been accumulating nuclear waste since the Cold War era of the late 1940’s. Initially, it is mostly this legacy waste that would be destined for a national waste dump.

During the post-World War 11 and Cold War decades,  Australia mined and milled uranium for US and UK bomb projects; provided sites at Monte Bello, Emu Fields and Maralinga for British atomic bomb tests; established a research reactor at Lucas Heights and developed the Woomera Rocket Range. The forerunner to the CSIRO and a number of nuclear physics research laboratories at universities, especially at the ANU, were also conducting nuclear-related research. The facilities mentioned above were developed in close collaboration with the UK’s quest to develop and test atomic weapons, and the means to deploy them. They all produced and/or stored radioactive waste. There was no thought about what to do with the waste.

Following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many in military and government circles considered that the next war would be fought with nuclear weapons.

Some influential Australian politicians and scientists considered that Australia, too, should eventually produce its own bombs and nuclear power reactors. For example secret work on centrifuge uranium enrichment technology, ostensibly, to reduce the ‘lead-time’ required to develop weapons, was being conducted by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) in the 1960s. However, until now, apart from research reactors, such nuclear dreams have not yet come to fruition.

Since the 1970s after much controversy, a new era of uranium mining creating millions of tonnes of radioactive tailings has commenced; the oldest reactor at Lucas Heights(HIFAR) has been de-commissioned, the Moata reactor is due for decommissioning and a third reactor – the OPAL – has been built; all with no long-term plans for the waste.

A group of nuclear enthusiasts, undeterred by the intractable nature of nuclear waste and catastrophic nuclear accidents, is determined to take Australia further down the nuclear road. They wish for Australia to build nuclear power stations and nuclear submarines.

According to ANSTO (formerly AAEC), the organisation responsible for operating the Lucas Height’s OPAL research reactor, the nuclear isotopes currently being produced are for nuclear medicine; engineering; making our food more nutritious and undefined research. No reference is made about defence-related research, from either the past or present (ENuFF considers that at least 50% of Australia’s radioactive waste could have been created by defence activities. However, it is difficult to verify this.)

In spite of a backlog of decades of waste, no federal government has succeeded in persuading any community to willingly host either the LLW or the much more hazardous and long-lived ILW. Yet ANSTO is in the process of significantly expanding OPAL’s production of medical isotopes for export, thereby, increasing future highly hazardous spent fuel and reprocessed spent fuel waste.

Where is Australia’s waste currently located? It is estimated that there are around 100 sites; many of them in hospitals, universities and engineering businesses, generally holding very small amounts. Such wastes are the responsibility of the state in which they were used. But, the majority of the waste, both in terms of its quantity and level of radioactivity, is held at a number of federally controlled sites including Lucas Heights, Woomera, Radium Hill, Maralinga, St Mary’s in suburban Sydney and Amberley Air Force Base. Waste from these sites is a federal responsibility.

Like a dirty old can being kicked down the road, Australia’s radioactive waste has been moved from one temporary site to the next: for example, waste stored at Derrimut near Melbourne was shifted to St Mary’s in suburban Sydney. From St Mary’s it was moved to Woomera. CSIRO waste from Fisherman’s Bend was moved to Lucas Heights and, after three years, moved again to Woomera, where it has been ‘temporarily’ stored for the past 23 years.

And how is the waste being managed? Records for some of it are lost. Aircraft washings, following the atomic bomb tests, ended up in the Pacific Ocean. Waste from the first decade of Lucas Height’s operation was buried on site. Radioactive valves were buried in old paint tins at Derrimut. At Hunters Hill it was simply forgotten, until rediscovered when building work on a new development commenced there. The Fisherman’s Bend waste is currently stored in 10.000 corroding metal drums housed in a tin shed at Woomera, where the Defence Department doesn’t want it, and where it is leaking Radium-226. Uranium tailings exist in massive and growing quantities; they are stored in ‘dams’ which leak into surrounding soils and ground water when wet, or are blown away when dry and powdery. Uranium tailings, like higher levels of waste, remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

Meanwhile, the English routinely release waste into the Irish Sea and wanted to wash their hands of the Maralinga site. The Americans have polluted many sites: the Colorado River, Hanford, swathes of Nevada and the Marshall Islands to name just a few. The Russians, too, have a long history of radioactive pollution, most infamously the poisoning of Belarus and Ukraine from the Chernobyl disaster, and the Mayak region from their bomb programme. The Japanese do not know what to do with waste from their nuclear reactors, let alone from the Fukushima multiple melt-downs, that is, apart from releasing it into the Pacific Ocean.

Would a permanent dump for Australia’s LLW waste at Barndioota or Kimba be any better managed? Who Knows? But the highly hazardous waste, including reprocessed spent fuel classified by ANSTO as ILW but by France as HLW, would be kicked further down the road and stored ‘temporarily’ at the proposed national dump. There it would remain, until a permanent repository for hundreds of thousands of years is planned and built hundreds of metres below the ground.

The federal government insists that many other countries have successfully resolved their radioactive waste issues. But, they have not. Why else is there ongoing interest in the establishment of an international waste dump in Australia as recommended by the RC? A national radioactive dump could well become an opportunity to leapfrog into just such an international waste project, as proposed by state Liberal Party adviser Richard Yeeles.



Radioactive wastes – thousands of years before it is safe

April 2, 2018

Another Voice: Nuclear power, part 2, waste, By Crispin B. Hollinshead 

Nuclear waste containers: the problem of corrosion in copper canisters

April 2, 2018

The court said no to the application because it considered that there were problems with the copper canister that had to be resolved now and not later. 

the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) is to carry out an expert peer review of a Canadian research programme on microbiologically influenced corrosion of canisters that will be used to dispose of used nuclear fuel.

The Copper Corrosion Conundrum  No2Nuclear Power

The Swedish Environmental Court has rejected the Nuclear Waste Company SKB’s license application for a final repository for spent nuclear fuel in Forsmark, Sweden. This is a huge triumph for safety and environment – and for the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG), the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), and critical scientists. Now it is up to the Swedish government to make a final decision.

The Environmental Court took into consideration viewpoints from all parties in the case, including scientists who have raised concerns about disposing spent nuclear fuel in copper canisters. During the legal proceedings, the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review (MKG) and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) presented the shortcomings of this method of disposal. For many years, the environmental organisations have been arguing that the Nuclear Waste Company SKB need to listen to critical scientists, and investigate alternative disposal methods, especially the possibility of developing a very deep boreholes disposal system. (1) Johan Swahn, Director at MKG said:

“Several independent researchers have criticized both the applied method and the selected site. There is a solid documentation base for the Environmental Court’s decision. It is hard to believe the Swedish Government’s conclusions will be any different from the Court’s.”

MKG has made an unofficial translation into English of the Environmental Court opinion. (2)

The court said no to the application because it considered that there were problems with the copper canister that had to be resolved now and not later. The translation shows the courts judicial argumentation and why it decided not to accept the regulator – the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority’s (SSM’s) opinion that the problems with the integrity of the copper canister were not serious and could likely be solved at a later stage in the decision-making process. The court is quite clear in its statement and argumentation:

“The Land and Environmental Court finds that the environmental impact assessment meets the requirements of the Environmental Code and can therefore be approved. All in all, the investigation meets the high standards set out in the Environmental Code, except in one respect, the safety of the canister.” (Emphasis added)

“The investigation shows that there are uncertainties, or risks, regarding how much certain forms of corrosion and other processes can impair the ability of the canister to contain the nuclear waste in the long term. Overall, these uncertainties about the canister are significant and have not been fully taken into account in the conclusions of SKB’s safety analysis. The Land and Environmental Court considers that there is some leeway for accepting further uncertainties. The uncertainties surrounding certain forms of corrosion and other processes are, however, of such gravity that the Court cannot, based on SKB’s safety analysis, conclude that the risk criterion in the Radiation Safety Authority’s regulations has been met. In the context of the comprehensive risk assessment required by the Environmental Code, the documentation presented to date does not provide sufficient support for concluding that the final repository will be safe in the long term.” (Emphasis added)

The court says that the application is only permissible if the nuclear waste company SKB:

“…produces evidence that the repository in the long term will meet the requirements of the Environmental Code, despite remaining uncertainties regarding how the protective capability of the canister may be affected by: a. corrosion due to reactions in oxygen-free water; b. pit corrosion due to reaction with sulphide, including the contribution of the sauna effect to pit corrosion; c. stress corrosion due to reaction with sulphide, including the contribution of the sauna effect to stress corrosion; d. hydrogen embrittlement; e. radioactive radiation impact on pit corrosion, stress corrosion and hydrogen embrittlement.”

The main difference between the court’s and the regulator’s decision-making was that the court decided to rely on a multitude of scientific sources and information and not only on the material provided by SKB. It had also been uncovered that the main corrosion expert at SSM did not want to say yes to the application at this time that may have influenced the court’s decision-making. In fact there appear to have been many dissenting voices in the regulator despite the regulator’s claim in the court that a united SSM stood behind its opinion.

The court underlines in its opinion that the Environmental Code requires that the repository should be shown to be safe at this stage in the decision-making process, i.e. before the government has its say. The court says that some uncertainties will always remain but it sees the possible copper canister problems as so serious that it is not clear that the regulator’s limits for release of radioactivity can be met. This is a reason to say no to the project unless it can be shown that the copper canister will work as intended. The copper canister has to provide isolation from the radioactivity in the spent nuclear fuel to humans and the environment for very long time-scales.

It is still unclear how the process will proceed. The community of Östhammar has cancelled the referendum on the repository, as there will be no question from the government in the near future. The government has set up a working group of civil servants to manage the government’s handling of the opinions delivered by the court and SSM. SKB has said that it is preparing documentation for the government to show that there are no problems with the canister. Whether the government thinks this will be enough remains to be seen. This is likely not what the court had in mind. The government would be wise to make a much broader review of the issue. There is a need for a thorough judicial review on the governmental level in order to override the court’s opinion. Otherwise the government’ decision may not survive an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court.

There are eminent corrosion experts who believe that copper is a bad choice as a canister material. There is also increasing experimental evidence that this is the case. The court’s decision shows the importance of democratic and open governance in environmental decisionmaking. It is important that the continued decision-making regarding the Swedish repository for spent nuclear is transparent and multi-faceted. (3)

Copper Canisters The canister has to enclose the nuclear waste for a very long; it is the final repository’s primary safety function. The canister has a 50 mm thick copper shell with an insert of cast iron. The canister must withstand corrosion and mechanical stress.

The investigation on the capability of the canister is extensive and involves complex technical and scientific issues. These include groundwater chemistry, corrosion processes, as well as creep and hydrogen embrittlement (this latter affects the mechanical strength of the canister). However, the parties taking part in the court proceedings disagreed on several issues crucial to the final repository’s long-term security.

The Land and Environmental Court considered the following uncertainties regarding the canister to be most important in the continued risk assessment:

  • 1. General corrosion due to reaction in oxygen-free water. The parties have different views on scientific issues surrounding this kind of corrosion. The Court found that there is considerable uncertainty on this topic that has not been taken account of in SKB’s safety analysis
  • .· 2. Local corrosion in the form of pit corrosion due to reaction with sulphide. The Court found that there is significant uncertainty regarding pit-corrosion due to reaction with sulphide. This uncertainty has not been included in the safety analysis. In addition, there is uncertainty about the sauna effect, which may have an amplifying effect on pit corrosion.
  • · 3. Local corrosion in the form of stress corrosion due to reaction with sulphide. The Court found that there is significant uncertainty regarding stress corrosion due to reaction with sulphide. This uncertainty has not been included in the safety analysis. In addition, there is uncertainty about the sauna effect, which may have an amplifying effect on stress corrosion.
  • · 4. Hydrogen embrittlement is a process that affects the mechanical strength of the canister. The Court found that significant uncertainty regarding hydrogen embrittlement remains. This uncertainty has not been taken account of in the safety analysis.
  •  · 5. The effect of ionizing radiation on pit corrosion, stress corrosion and hydrogen embrittlement. There is significant uncertainty regarding ionizing radiation impact on pit corrosion, stress corrosion and hydrogen sprays. This uncertainty has been included to a limited extent in the safety assessment.

Meanwhile, the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) is to carry out an expert peer review of a Canadian research programme on microbiologically influenced corrosion of canisters that will be used to dispose of used nuclear fuel. The NNL has been contracted by Canada’s National Waste Management Organisation (NWMO) to review its work on the potential for corrosion of the copper-clad canisters. The NWMO is responsible for designing and implementing the safe, long-term management of Canada’s used nuclear fuel under a plan known as Adaptive Phased Management. This requires used fuel to be contained and isolated in a deep geological repository, with a comprehensive process to select an informed and willing host for the project.

The used fuel will be isolated from the environment using a series of engineered barriers. Fuel elements comprise ceramic fuel pellets, which are themselves highly durable, contained inside corrosion-resistant zircaloy tubes to make fuel elements. Bundles of fuel elements are placed into large, durable copper-coated steel containers which are designed to contain and isolate used nuclear fuel in a deep geological repository, essentially indefinitely. The canisters will be placed in so-called “buffer boxes” containing by bentonite clay, providing a fourth barrier.

World Nuclear News reports that although copper is highly resistant to corrosion, under anoxic conditions – that is, where no oxygen is present – sulphate-reducing bacteria have the potential to produce sulphide, which can lead to microbiologically induced corrosion (MIC) of copper. Waste management organisations and regulators therefore need to understand the levels of sulphide that will be present in a geological disposal facility, to understand its potential to migrate to the canister surface and the potential for it to cause copper corrosion, the NNL said.

The NWMO has been actively developing computer models that will be used to evaluate the potential for MIC once a disposal site has been selected, and has selected the NNL to carry out a peer review of its work because of the UK laboratory’s expertise in the biogeochemical processes that could affect repository performance and in developing computer modelling techniques that simulate the effects of sulphate-reducing bacteria. The work is linked closely with NNL’s participation in the European Commission Horizon-2020 MIND (Microbiology in Nuclear waste Disposal) project. (4

Thorium reactors – NOT a solution to nuclear waste problem

April 2, 2018

Dispelling Claim 5: Thorium decreases the waste problem  

Thorium ‒ a better fuel for nuclear technology? Nuclear Monitor,   by Dr. Rainer Moormann  1 March 2018

Thorium use delivers virtually the same fission products

as classical uranium use. That is also true for those

isotopes that are important in issues around long-term

disposal.  Those mobile long-lived fission products

(I-129, Tc-99, etc.) determine the risk of a deep geological

disposal when water intrusion is the main triggering event

for accidents. Thorium therefore does not deliver an

improvement for final disposal.

Proponents of thorium argue that thorium use does not

produce minor actinides (MA)5, nor plutonium. They argue

that these nuclides are highly toxic (which is correct) and

they compare only the pure toxicity by intake into the body

for thorium and uranium use, without taking into account

that these actinides are hardly mobile in final disposal

even in accidents.

What is  Sellafield?

April 2, 2018

Cumbria Trust 10th Feb 2018, Andrew Blowers OBE is Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at The Open
University and is presently Co-Chair of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy/NGO Nuclear Forum. This is one of a series of articles drawn on his latest book, “The Legacy of Nuclear Power” (Earthscan from Routledge, 2017). The views expressed are personal.

What is  Sellafield? Fundamentally, these days, it is the UK’s primary nuclear waste-processing, management and clean-up facility. Concentrated on a compact site of 1.5 square miles is a jumble of buildings, pipes, roads, railways and waterways, randomly assembled over more than half a dozen decades, which together manage around two-thirds by radioactivity of all the radioactive wastes in the UK.

The Sellafield radioactive waste component includes all the high-level wastes (less than 1% by volume, over half the radioactivity) held in liquid form or stored in vitrified blocks, and half the volume of intermediate-level wastes (the other half being heldat various sites around the country). The nation’s radioactive waste is mainly held at Sellafield and there it must remain, at least until the programme of management and clean-up is concluded.

New production facilities such as for MOX or reprocessing are exceedingly improbable, the proposed new reactors at nearby Moorside are doubtful, and although a GDF, if one is ever developed, might yet be located in West Cumbria, Sellafield will for long be caretaker of the nation’s wastes. Where and when the undertaker will come to bury them remains unclear, and may remain so for the foreseeable future.

The nuclear decommissioning process

April 2, 2018
Why decommissioning South Africa’s Koeberg nuclear plant won’t be easy  The Conversation,  Hartmut Winkler  Professor of Physics, University of Johannesburg, January 26, 2018  

“……..There are three stages in the rehabilitation of a nuclear facility.

  1. The plant must be dismantled. This is complicated because most of the material in and around the plant is radioactive to varying degrees and therefore dangerous to anything exposed to it. Radioactivity reduces with time, but for some isotopes commonly found in nuclear waste, the drop in radiation levels can be very slow. Because of this a plant will only be dismantled years after it’s been switched off.
  2. The dangerous nuclear waste, or high level waste must be reprocessed. Most of the material stays dangerous for decades but some isotopes retain high levels of radiation levels for thousands of years. A portion of nuclear waste can be converted into reusable or less radioactive forms through nuclear engineering processes. These processes are complex and there are only a few facilities in the world that can perform them. This means that South Africa’s high level waste will have to be transported overseas. Reprocessing facilities include La Hague in France and the Russian Mayak site, thought to be responsible for the 2017 ruthenium leak incident.
  3. The remaining nuclear waste must be secured in storage, virtually forever. This needs an isolated site that can’t be damaged by natural disasters or other processes that could cause radioactive material to seep into the surrounding environment, especially ground water. This final storage need is a massive headache worldwide. An example is the German Gorleben final repository site. It’s been the scene of protests for decades, preventing any further storage of waste on the site.

There are a handful of cases where the first two stages have been completed, typically over periods of ten years. But completing the final storage phase of nuclear waste hasn’t been achieved for any former plants. Their most hazardous waste is still in temporary storage, sometimes even on site………

The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning

April 2, 2018

Nuclear power in crisis: we are entering the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning, Energy Post,  by Jim Green  “…………The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning     The ageing of the global reactor fleet isn’t yet a crisis for the industry, but it is heading that way. In many countries with nuclear power, the prospects for new reactors are dim and rear-guard battles are being fought to extend the lifespans of ageing reactors that are approaching or past their design date.

Perhaps the best characterisation of the global nuclear industry is that a new era is approaching ‒ the Era of Nuclear Decommissioning ‒ following on from its growth spurt from the 1960s to the ’90s then 20 years of stagnation.

The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning will entail:

  • A slow decline in the number of operating reactors.
  • An increasingly unreliable and accident-prone reactor fleet as ageing sets in.
  • Countless battles over lifespan extensions for ageing reactors.
  • An internationalisation of anti-nuclear opposition as neighbouring countries object to the continued operation of ageing reactors (international opposition to Belgium’s ageing reactors is a case in point ‒ and there are numerous other examples).
  • Battles over and problems with decommissioning projects (e.g. the UK government’s £100+ million settlement over a botched decommissioning tendering process).
  • Battles over taxpayer bailout proposals for companies and utilities that haven’t set aside adequate funds for decommissioning and nuclear waste management and disposal. (According to Nuclear Energy Insider, European nuclear utilities face “significant and urgent challenges” with over a third of the continent’s nuclear plants to be shut down by 2025, and utilities facing a €118 billion shortfall in decommissioning and waste management funds.)
  • Battles over proposals to impose nuclear waste repositories and stores on unwilling or divided communities.

The Era of Nuclear Decommissioning will be characterised by escalating battles (and escalating sticker shock) over lifespan extensions, decommissioning and nuclear waste management. In those circumstances, it will become even more difficult than it currently is for the industry to pursue new reactor projects. A feedback loop could take hold and then the nuclear industry will be well and truly in crisis ‒ if it isn’t already.

Editor’s Note

Dr Jim Green is the editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter, where a longer version of this article was originally published.


Uranium tailings pollution in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Colorado

April 2, 2018

And so, the billions of tons of silt that has accumulated in Lake Mead and Lake Powell serve as archives of sorts. They hold the sedimental records of an era during which people, health, land, and water were all sacrificed in order to obtain the raw material for weapons that are capable of destroying all of humanity.

The 26,000 tons of radioactive waste under Lake Powell West’s uranium boom brought dozens of mills to the banks of the Colorado River — where toxic waste was dumped irresponsibly.

In 1949, the Vanadium Corporation of America built a small mill at the confluence of White Canyon and the Colorado River to process uranium ore from the nearby Happy Jack Mine, located upstream in the White Canyon drainage (and just within the Obama-drawn Bears Ears National Monument boundaries). For the next four years, the mill went through about 20 tons of ore per day, crushing and grinding it up, then treating it with sulfuric acid, tributyl phosphate and other nastiness. One ton of ore yielded about five or six pounds of uranium, meaning that each day some 39,900 pounds of tailings were piled up outside the mill on the banks of the river.

In 1953 the mill was closed, and the tailings were left where they sat, uncovered, as was the practice of the day. Ten years later, water began backing up behind the newly built Glen Canyon Dam; federal officials decided to let the reservoir’s waters inundate the tailings. There they remain today.

If you’re one of the millions of people downstream from Lake Powell who rely on Colorado River water and this worries you, consider this: Those 26,000 tons of tailings likely make up just a fraction of the radioactive material contained in the silt of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

 During the uranium days of the West, more than a dozen mills — all with processing capacities at least ten times larger than the one at White Canyon — sat on the banks of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Mill locations included Shiprock, New Mexico, and Mexican Hat, Utah, on the San Juan River; Rifle and Grand Junction, Colorado, and Moab on the Colorado; and in Uravan, Colorado, along the San Miguel River, just above its confluence with the Dolores. They did not exactly dispose of their tailings in a responsible way.

At the Durango mill the tailings were piled into a hill-sized mound just a stone’s throw from the Animas River. They weren’t covered or otherwise contained, so when it rained tailings simply washed into the river. Worse, the mill’s liquid waste stream poured directly into the river at a rate of some 340 gallons per minute, or half-a-million gallons per day. It was laced not only with highly toxic chemicals used to leach uranium from the ore and iron-aluminum sludge (a milling byproduct), but also radium-tainted ore solids.

 Radium is a highly radioactive “bone-seeker.” That means that when it’s ingested it makes its way to the skeleton, where it decays into other radioactive daughter elements, including radon, and bombards the surrounding tissue with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. According to the Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, exposure leads to “anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer (especially bone cancer), and death.”

It wasn’t any better at any of the other mills. In the early 1950s, researchers from the U.S. Public Health Service sampled Western rivers and found that “the dissolved radium content of river water below uranium mills was increased considerably by waste discharges from the milling operations” and that “radium content of river muds below the uranium mills was 1,000 to 2,000 times natural background concentrations.”

 That was just from daily operations. In 1960, one of the evaporation ponds at the Shiprock mill broke, sending at least 250,000 gallons of highly acidic raffinate, containing high levels of radium and thorium, into the river. None of the relevant officials were notified and individual users continued to drink the water, put it on their crops, and give it to their sheep and cattle. It wasn’t until five days later, after hundreds of dead fish had washed up on the river’s shores for sixty miles downstream, that the public was alerted to the disaster.

Of course, what’s dumped into the river at Shiprock doesn’t stay in Shiprock. It slowly makes its way downstream. In the early 1960s, while Glen Canyon Dam was still being constructed, the Public Health Service folks did extensive sediment sampling in the Colorado River Basin, with a special focus on Lake Mead’s growing bed of silt, which had been piling up at a rate of 175 million tons per year since Hoover Dam started impounding water in 1935. The Lake Mead samples had higher-than-background levels of radium-226. The report concludes:

 “The data have shown, among other things, that Lake Mead has been essentially the final resting place for the radium contaminated sediments of the Basin. With the closure of Glen Canyon Dam upstream, Lake Powell will then become the final resting place for future radium contaminated sediments. The data also show that a small fraction of the contaminated sediment has passed through Lake Mead to be trapped by Lakes Mohave and Havasu.”

And so, the billions of tons of silt that has accumulated in Lake Mead and Lake Powell serve as archives of sorts. They hold the sedimental records of an era during which people, health, land, and water were all sacrificed in order to obtain the raw material for weapons that are capable of destroying all of humanity.

Ignoring the danger of ionising radiation: nuclear waste dumping in the sea

March 31, 2018

The idea that nuclear pollution can be rendered safe by extreme dilution has been proven wrong

radioactive materials bioaccumulate. A worm can contain 2,000 to 3,000 times higher levels than its environment. The worm is then eaten by another marine animal, which gets eating by another, and so on. At each step, the radioactive level rises. Barbey has identified reproductive defects in sea crabs, caused by radioactive contamination, and these genetic defects are passed on to future generations of crabs.

Are we to believe the same is not happening in humans, who are at the top of the food chain?

The fact of the matter is that a certain number of cancer deaths are considered acceptable in order to keep costs for the nuclear waste industry down. The question no one has the answer to is: At what point do the deaths begin to outweigh the cost-savings of the nuclear industry?

As to where such cost-benefit considerations came from in the first place, the filmmakers identify the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP)

the nuclear industry is hardly operating for the benefit of the many.

The Rarely Discussed Reality of Radioactive Pollution

Story at-a-glance

  • For decades, the common method of nuclear disposal was to dump plutonium-filled steel barrels into the ocean. Today, many if not most of these barrels have corroded and disintegrated, releasing radioactive material into the environment
  • “Versenkt und Vergessen” (Sunk and Forgotten) investigates what happened to the barrels of nuclear waste, and how radioactive material is disposed of today
  • In 1993, nuclear waste dumping into the ocean was banned worldwide, yet the ocean remains a primary dumping ground for radioactive waste
  • Instead of ditching barrels overboard, the nuclear waste industry built pipes along the bottom of the sea, through which the radioactive material is discharged directly into the open sea
  • Cancer deaths are considered acceptable to keep costs for the nuclear waste industry down. According to the International Commission on Radiological Protection, this cost-benefit consideration is part of Epicurus’ utilitarian ethics, which states that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few

By Dr. Mercola

A rarely addressed environmental problem is radioactive pollution from nuclear waste disposal. For decades, the common method of nuclear disposal was to simply dump plutonium-filled steel barrels into the ocean.

Starting with an overview of the past, the featured documentary, “Versenkt und Vergessen,” (Sunk and Forgotten), notes that in May 1967, 100,000 tons of nuclear waste from Germany, Great Britain and France were dumped in the North Atlantic, the Irish Sea and the English Channel. And that was just one of many loads.

Officials claimed the waste would be safely diluted at depths of about 4,000 meters (2.5 miles). The motto was: “The solution to pollution is dilution.” But was it? The film crew investigates what happened to these barrels of nuclear waste, and how radioactive material is disposed of today, now that ocean dumping is no longer allowed.

1970s Activism Raised Awareness but Could Not Stop Nuclear Dumping

Greenpeace began raising public awareness about the practice of dumping nuclear waste in the ocean during the 1970s. Alas, the nuclear industry remained unfazed. Instead, environmentalists were attacked and criminalized. John Large, a nuclear physicist who was involved in the development of a British nuclear bomb in the 1960s, knows a thing or two about nuclear dumping.

In addition to barrels filled with plutonium, nuclear reactor fuel rods were also routinely dumped into the ocean. And, while specific sites had been chosen for the disposal, there are no guarantees the rods or barrels actually made it there.

The reason for this is because the ship’s crew were continually exposed to radioactivity as long as the rods remained onboard. This meant the captain had to pay careful attention to exposure times to protect the health of the crew, and if they ran into bad weather, the cargo would have to be dumped wherever they happened to be when the clock ran out.

Dumping Inventory Records Tell Us Little

In addition to that, many entries in the disposal inventory records simply read, “not known,” when it comes to the amount, content or location of the disposal. With such an apparent lack of precision in the dumping inventory records, how might the fate of the barrels and fuel rods be ascertained?

The filmmakers turn to the British Health Protection Agency (HPA), which is responsible for radioactive waste. Alas, they have little choice but to rely on the information they’re given, no matter how incomplete. Michael Meacher MP, who was Minister for the Environment between 1997 and 2003 and an opponent of the nuclear dumping policy, believes the lack of record keeping is no accident.

He suggests it was probably an agreement between the British ministry of defense, the Army and the nuclear industry — none of which really wanted anyone to know how much was dumped, what kind of materials were disposed of or exactly where. The less information anyone has, the lower the chances of any of them being held responsible. “This is a sort of conspiracy,” Meacher says, adding that the long-term effects of dumping radioactive waste into oceans are entirely unknown.

Fundamental Assumptions Proven Wrong

The idea that nuclear pollution can be rendered safe by extreme dilution has been proven wrong. As noted by Large, “The fundamental underlying problem was that they assumed that if you dilute the radioactivity with tons and tons of water, it’s safe to discharge. And that has been proven wrong time and time again.” Evidence of this was collected by a German research group in the mid-‘80s.

The exploratory group visited nuclear dumping sites in the Atlantic where they retrieved several barrels, and found plutonium in the water, seabed and fish. An internal document titled “Position paper on the implications of deep sea disposal of radioactive waste,” issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), notes that “Increased concentrations of plutonium in the dump sites indicates plutonium leaks from the barrels.”

Now these toxins have dispersed into the biosphere, and dispersion does not equate to safety. At its headquarters in Monaco, IAEA scientists are conducting experiments to assess the impact of radioactive waste on marine life by feeding marine animals with contaminated food sources. The IAEA, which continuously monitors the ocean floor, claims it has not found any other dumped barrels. The assumption, therefore, is that the barrels ditched in the English Channel have all disintegrated.

Nuclear Waste in the English Channel

There have been no additional investigations at the dumpsites since, however, so is the IAEA correct in its assumption that all dumped barrels have corroded and no longer retrievable? The film crew decides to conduct its own investigation, and travels to an area called Hurd Deep, located in the English Channel near the island of Alderney, where 28,000 barrels of radioactive waste and munitions is known to have been deposited at a depth of 100 meters (328 feet) or less.

With the use of a small unmanned submarine, the team surveils the area. What do they find? On the very first dive, the camera-equipped submersible documents a still undamaged barrel, which could potentially be salvaged. On the second dive, a thoroughly corroded and disintegrating barrel is found — barely half an hour’s boat ride from the coast of France.

With nuclear waste dumped so close to land, what effects might it have on the environment and residents? The team follows professor Chris Busby to Alderney, where a doctor has reported an unusually high number of cancer cases and deaths. Unfortunately, exact statistics on cancer deaths cannot be obtained due to data protection protocols.

Based on informal inquiries, however, the team finds that the island, which has a total of just 2,400 residents, has had quite a few cancer-related deaths. The government, however, assures Busby that everything is fine, and that levels of radioactivity in the environment are far too low to cause harm. According to the IAEA, the dilution hypothesis does work, and despite very large amounts of radioactive waste having been deposited in some areas, the water would still meet safe drinking water standards, were it not saltwater.

Busby disagrees, as does Claus Grupen, a nuclear physicist at the University of Siegen in Germany, who says, “If the amount in which [the radioactive waste] is diluted is infinitely vast — if I discharge it into outer space — then it might be well-diluted. But the Earth is a very small body, and the concentration is growing.” The conclusion is that the radiation is merely spreading out. It’s not actually “disappearing” at all, and according to Busby, every single radionucleotide has the potential to trigger cancer.

Nuclear Ocean Dumping Continues

In 1993, nuclear waste dumping was banned worldwide, in large part thanks to the ongoing efforts of Greenpeace. But that doesn’t mean the practice has stopped. The nuclear industry has merely changed the way it’s doing the dumping. Instead of ditching barrels overboard, the industry built pipes along the bottom of the sea, through which the radioactive material is pumped. To where, you might ask? Directly into the open sea.

One of these nuclear waste pipes is situated in La Hague, Normandy, where physicist David Boilley has founded an environmental group against nuclear ocean dumping. In his view, the nuclear accident in Fukushima has had global ramifications, forcing us to rethink how we view “clean food.” It’s no longer possible to assume that clean water equals clean and healthy fish.

A fish may ultimately be caught in water considered clean, but if that individual fish has, at any point in its life, swum through a contaminated area or eaten contaminated food, it will be contaminated to some degree. So being caught in clean water is no guarantee that it will be free of radioactive contaminants. “It’s like gambling,” Boilley says. “You may be lucky or unlucky.”

Back in Boilley’s lab, water samples prove to have tritium levels that are fivefold higher than those provided by the French nuclear operator Areva. This is why the group, and other environmentalists, refuse to rely on “official” measurements, and insist on taking their own. Fish and shellfish bought at the local market are also tested, as are other marine animals found on the ocean floor.

Microbiologist Pierre Barbey explains that radioactive materials bioaccumulate. A worm can contain 2,000 to 3,000 times higher levels than its environment. The worm is then eaten by another marine animal, which gets eating by another, and so on. At each step, the radioactive level rises. Barbey has identified reproductive defects in sea crabs, caused by radioactive contamination, and these genetic defects are passed on to future generations of crabs.

Are we to believe the same is not happening in humans, who are at the top of the food chain? According to Barbey, the cellular impact is the same. Plutonium has been found in gray seals off the coasts of Europe, and cesium has been found in porpoises. Since the ecosystem is a closed system, every animal must be protected from radioactivity. None is “disposable.” And what happens to the animals will ultimately affect us too.

Why Ocean Dumping Continues Despite Ban

Next, the team visits Sellafield, home of 80 percent of the U.K.’s nuclear waste. This site also has waste pipes dumping radioactive materials into the ocean. In 1997, Greenpeace activists drew attention to the pipe. One of the activists was Shaun Burnie, who to this day continues his fight against the nuclear discharges. He’s particularly concerned about the health and welfare of the locals, especially those who live right on the beach.

Their homes have been found to contain plutonium-contaminated dust, and tests reveal these high-risk individuals have higher levels of radioactivity in their bodies. They even have plutonium in their teeth. Radioactive material originating from Sellafield has also been found along the coast of Norway. But how is it that the nuclear industry can continue disposing of radioactive waste into the ocean when ocean dumping has been banned?

The answer may surprise you. The industry claims the pipes are part of a land-based disposal system, and therefore legal. When asked if there’s a scientific, logical reason why barrels are banned while open discharges into the ocean are allowed, Hartmut Nies with the IAEA replies, “I think it is more of a philosophical question.”

Wolfgang Renneberg, an expert on radioactive waste disposal and director general for nuclear safety in the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, offers a more definitive answer: There’s only one reason why open discharges are allowed, and that is economics. To install a system to ensure discharges have a near-zero radioactivity would likely be so expensive, it would likely render the plant economically unviable.

Rising Childhood Leukemia Rates Dismissed

So, despite reports of rising rates of leukemia in Sellafield — which, according to Busby are 10 times higher than the rest of the country — the discharges continue. And, since investigations into cancer clusters keep finding the nuclear operation at Sellafield is not a factor, plutonium-contaminated beaches remain open to the public.

Many locals have come to suspect the authorities are being “deliberately imprecise in their work” to hide the extent of the problem. In an area of the beach where official soil testing has not been done, the filmmakers find plutonium levels up to 10 times higher than the permissible limit. Still, some nuclear industry experts insist the dangers associated with radioactive material is small. One 30-year veteran in the industry, Richard Wakeford, says:

“I assess the risk of radiation … to be very small, and should really not be a major [concern] to parents or anyone else. There are much more important things to be worried about. There are two major ideas: Either childhood leukemia is a rare response to a common, but as of yet unidentified, infection, or [it’s due to] large-scale urban, rural population mixing.”

As noted in the film, “Conclusion: Either a virus or population mixing around Sellafield is responsible for cancer — but not the highly toxic nuclear waste from the sea?!” The team turns to another expert, the German physician Klaus Hoffmann, member of a number of German federal radiation protection committees. When asked what he thinks about the U.K’s denial of a link between rising leukemia rates and radioactive pollution, he says:

“They are simply wrong. There is little evidence for the population mixing hypothesis, and there’s absolutely no evidence of the virus hypothesis. There is neither a virus, nor are there antibodies. In other words, forget this whole infection hypothesis. These hypotheses have arisen primarily to explain away any risk from radiation.”     

Industry Cost-Savings Weighed Against Human Life

The fact of the matter is that a certain number of cancer deaths are considered acceptable in order to keep costs for the nuclear waste industry down. The question no one has the answer to is: At what point do the deaths begin to outweigh the cost-savings of the nuclear industry?

As to where such cost-benefit considerations came from in the first place, the filmmakers identify the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) — an independent charity “established to advance for the public benefit the science of radiological protection, in particular by providing recommendations and guidance on all aspects of protection against ionizing radiation.”

While interview requests with the Commission went unanswered, they discovered a video online in which former ICRP chairman Roger Clarke explains the cost-benefit principle by quoting one of Epicurus’ utilitarian ethics, which states that, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

In this case, you could argue the nuclear industry is hardly operating for the benefit of the many. If the true costs of operations were considered, it would become clear that there are far less expensive, not to mention less toxic, ways to produce energy. As noted in the film, we need safer forms of energy. The waste pipes need to be closed, and any retrievable barrels recovered from the ocean floor and secured. If we do nothing, our environment will continue to deteriorate, and so will human health.