Archive for the ‘– plutonium’ Category

The danger of plutonium being released at United States at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

February 1, 2017

Puget Sound’s ticking nuclear time bomb, Crosscut by , 10 Jan 17  “……“Command and Control” shows what can happen when the weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us, and it speaks directly to Puget Sound citizens: Locally, we face a similar threat in Hood Canal with the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

An accident at Bangor involving nuclear weapons occurred in November 2003 when a ladder penetrated a nuclear nose cone during a routine missile offloading at the Explosives Handling Wharf. All missile-handling operations at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) were stopped for nine weeks until Bangor could be recertified for handling nuclear weapons. Three top commanders were fired but the public was never informed until information was leaked to the media in March 2004.

The Navy never publicly admitted that the 2003 accident occurred. The Navy failed to report the accident at the time to county or state authorities. Public responses from governmental officials were generally in the form of surprise and disappointment.

The result of such an explosion likely would not cause a nuclear detonation. Instead, plutonium from the approximately 108 nuclear warheads on one submarine could be spread by the wind…… http://crosscut.com/2017/01/nuclear-accidents-bangor-accident-command-and-control/

Radioactive legacy at Rocky Flats

September 13, 2016

The concerns are not limited to the refuge itself. There is plenty of plutonium offsite, thanks to a combination of sloppy practices onsite and the high winds for which the area is notorious. In 2010, one researcher discovered high concentrations of plutonium in dust in the crawl space under a local home. Researchers have concluded that smoke from a series of fires and plutonium blown from waste holding areas were probably the main sources. Peer-reviewed studies have found high rates of lung and brain cancers, leukemia, and other diseases among workers at the plant. 

We are left with a conundrum: Is Rocky Flats a brilliant urban wildlife resource, or a dangerous radioactive legacy? The weird but inescapable truth is that it is both.

Rocky Flats: A Wildlife Refuge Confronts Its Radioactive Past, Environment 36016 AUG 2016: REPORT

The Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver was a key U.S. nuclear facility during the Cold War. Now, following a $7 billion cleanup, the government is preparing to open a wildlife refuge on the site to the public, amid warnings from some scientists that residual plutonium may still pose serious health risks.by fred pearce “…….In a previous life, Rocky Flats was a secret place, where over almost four decades Dow Chemical and Rockwell International, as contractors working for the U.S. government, turned plutonium from military reactors into an estimated 70,000 grapefruit-sized triggers at the heart of hydrogen bombs. Few installations were as important during the Cold War as the Rocky Flats Plant, which operated from 1952 to 1989. And by all accounts, preventing plutonium pollution of the surrounding environment, including that of the people of Denver, was low on the list of priorities……

In nearby Boulder recently, I sat round a kitchen table with half a dozen scientists — chemists, meteorologists, engineers, and hydrologists — some of whom became opponents of the plant after having conducted research in the area for government agencies. They told me that the public should be permanently prevented from setting foot anywhere near Rocky Flats because of the risks from the millions of tiny particles of plutonium in the soil – any one of which, they said, if breathed in might lodge in your lungs, irradiating and ultimately killing you. …..

biologist Harvey Nichols, whom I spoke to in Boulder, said the government’s sampling regime was unlikely to have identified hotspots in surface soils; nor did its safety standards account for the risk of ingesting plutonium, which could irradiate organs. “If they open the refuge, children will be exposed to plutonium. Why would we do that?” asked LeRoy Moore, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and a long-time opponent of opening up the former weapons site.

Behind some of this wariness lies deep suspicion about what secrets may lie hidden at the Rocky Flats plutonium plant. It has a murky history of rule breaking and disregard for the basics of handling nuclear materials.

There were frequent fires in the plutonium handling areas, caused by spontaneously combusting plutonium. The biggest was in 1957. Kept secret at the time, it burned out the stack filters and released about a pound of plutonium in smoke, much of which rained out over what is now the wildlife refuge, and in lesser quantities across several Denver suburbs. Plutonium inventories at the plant showed discrepancies that sometimes reached more than 100 kilograms a year. By the time Rocky Flats closed, an estimated 1.2 tons of the deadly metal could not be accounted for. There was also widespread dumping and spraying of plutonium-contaminated wastes on land around the facility, some of which got into local creeks or was whipped up by the wind. There were allegations of illegal incineration of plutonium waste that led to a notorious FBI raid in 1989, after which the site was shut down.

A federal grand jury sat for three years to hear evidence from the FBI raid. Two days after the jury handed down its indictment, a plea bargain was struck between the U.S. Justice Department and Rockwell — the private contractor then running the place — which resulted in guilty pleas for minor charges, but with the evidence and grand jury conclusions being sealed forever.

Today, Rocky Flats has ostensibly been rehabilitated. Decommissioning of the plant began in 1992. The 10-year cleanup, funded by the federal government, was completed in 2005 – “the largest and most successful environmental cleanup in history,” according to government officials.

The cleanup, carried out by the Department of Energy (DOE) and its contractors, required the removal of six plutonium processing buildings and some 800 other structures; the removal of 500,000 cubic meters of radioactive waste, much of it to off-site Department of Defense facilities; and the cleanup of 88 landfills and other sites across the core production area.

But to cart away all the infrastructure, buildings, and contaminated soils would have cost $37 billion and taken 65 years, the DOE estimated. Congress approved a budget of $7 billion. The 1,300-acre core area where manufacturing took place remains cordoned off and under the control of the Department of Energy. Surrounding that core is the former buffer zone that will comprise the new nearly 5,000-acre wildlife refuge. The government has deemed the area safe without further remediation. ……..

On my tour with Lucas, we drove along the chain-link fence separating the core and buffer zones, past the sites of covered-over landfills; past the notorious 903 pad, where thousands of 55-gallon drums of fluids laced with plutonium were stored during the 1960s, corroding and leaking into the ground; and past grassy areas where liquid wastes containing plutonium were sprayed across the land. Nobody can say for sure how much of the missing plutonium might still be lurking in such places. Official estimates suggest they might be measured in tens of grams. But those estimates could be orders of magnitude too low, wrote Thomas Cochran, a former nuclear physicist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The concerns are not limited to the refuge itself. There is plenty of plutonium offsite, thanks to a combination of sloppy practices onsite and the high winds for which the area is notorious. In 2010, one researcher discovered high concentrations of plutonium in dust in the crawl space under a local home. Researchers have concluded that smoke from a series of fires and plutonium blown from waste holding areas were probably the main sources. Peer-reviewed studies have found high rates of lung and brain cancers, leukemia, and other diseases among workers at the plant.

More than two decades after its operations closed, the legacy of Rocky Flats lingers in the public mind in Colorado. In May, a local citizens action group,Rocky Flats Downwinders, launched a call for people who lived near the site to come forward if they think they may have suffered illness as a result of its operations. So far, says Downwinders activist Alesya Casse, the group has received more than 3,000 responses. Rocky Flats Downwinders says the government has done no comprehensive epidemiology to assess health impacts from the known releases of plutonium into their communities.

The main trouble with plutonium is that it remains a hazard for tens of thousands of years. The half-life of the main isotope found at Rocky Flats, plutonium-239, is 24,100 years. Even if most of what remains is in contaminated buildings that are currently buried, will it stay that way? Critics of the refuge fear not.

In 2013, major floods caused extensive soil slips on hillsides within the core area. More earth movements followed rains last winter, leaving ugly gashes on grassy slopes, as I saw during my visit. The DOE’s custodian at Rocky Flats, Scott Surovchak, told me the slides I saw were on the site of a landfill that operated from 1952 to 1968, which probably only contains “construction debris, office and cafeteria waste.” But at least one barrel of radioactive material is recorded as having been removed from the landfill. Since the 2013 floods, tiny amounts of plutonium and americium (a decay product of plutonium-241) have been found by monitors in the creeks that drain from Rocky Flats toward the South Platte River.
For now, such matters are not major concerns for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which has managed the land since 2007. Lucas remains confident about opening up the refuge to visitors. On the other side of Denver, he already manages wildlife at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a former chemical weapons production site that opened to the public in 2011. He anticipates Rocky Flats could attract up to 150,000 visitors a year.

“We need to get people out here on the refuge, then the fears will evaporate,” he says. But that is just what worries critics of the government plan. Forgetting about the plutonium is the worst thing that could happen, they claim. “What happens after fences fall and memory fades?” asks Moore.

We are left with a conundrum: Is Rocky Flats a brilliant urban wildlife resource, or a dangerous radioactive legacy? The weird but inescapable truth is that it is both. http://e360.yale.edu/feature/rocky_flats_wildlife_refuge_confronts_radioactive_past/3025/

The Coke Can Plutonium Experiment

February 2, 2015

On arrival at lecture halls, he would push his stand-in for plutonium into an empty Coke can he had sawn in half. During his talks, he would hold the can up so his audience could see it, and say the contents could incinerate a city. “A six-pack of these is a nuclear arsenal,” he would say.

A World Awash in a Nuclear Explosive? TruthOut,  19 March 2014 12:24 By Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey SmithCenter for Public Integrity | Report Washington #……..The Coke Can Experiment In the abstract, there’s plenty of alarm in official circles. “Just one nuclear weapon exploded in a city — be it New York or Moscow; Tokyo or Beijing; London or Paris — could kill hundreds of thousands of people,” President Barack Obama told the United Nations Security Council in September 2009. “And it would badly destabilize our security, our economies, and our very way of life.”

But Cochran has long criticized the effectiveness of one of Washington’s most costly and elaborate strategies to prevent such a catastrophe — a global effort to detect and capture illicit fissile materials at border crossings and major world ports.

Since 2003 the United States has spent more than $850 million on equipment and training for customs officials at 45 foreign ports so they can scan shipping containers to detect nuclear materials. It’s a daunting assignment. About 432 million shipping containers crisscrossed the oceans in 2009 alone. U.S. ports accept 15 million containers every year.

The initial goal of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration under the so-called Megaports program was to install equipment at more than 100 foreign ports by 2018 and train local officials to scan half of global traffic. But many countries with large stocks of nuclear explosive materials did not participate in the program, according to the NNSA, including France, India, Russia and Japan.

Some countries that installed the U.S. equipment — like Panama — later reported using it on a tiny fraction of their cargo. As of 2012, China had installed just a single monitor at one port, out of 12 Chinese ports given high priority rankings by Washington, according to a report that year by the Government Accountability Office.

The NNSA has never released data on what nuclear materials its foreign partners reported seizing, but intelligence officials have said the equipment has only flagged tons of mildly radioactive scrap metal, not the makings of potential bombs.

“The technologies used … may not be able to detect nuclear or other radiological material that has been shielded or masked, and terrorists could also bypass” it, the GAO report stated. It added that the Energy Department, which inherited some of the scanners as cast-offs from the Department of Homeland Security, didn’t adequately test them; instead, it changed the name of the hardware to “avoid the negative connotations associated with” its prior service.

At a Washington symposium last year meant to showcase some new technologies for portal monitoring, Cochran stood in the audience, cautioned the sponsor that they might want to turn off their video recorders, and then firmly tore apart the premise that such detection devices could play a useful role in protecting the country from nuclear terror.

“I wouldn’t put another penny” in such technologies, Cochran said, because “it won’t reduce the risk.” The billions already spent could better have been used for “intelligence, police work, locking up materials at the source,” or eliminating their production altogether. Millions of illegal immigrants “didn’t go through ports,” he said. And screening all rail cars and container ships would be impossibly costly.

Cochran says that border detection is a particularly futile exercise for enriched uranium. Radiation detectors would have to be placed on top of a container, he says, to register the kind of radiation given off by uranium. Plutonium is more difficult to shield, but it could still be done — perhaps by packing the plutonium in a light material, like a plastic containing many hydrogen atoms to absorb the neutrons that would set off a detector.

“The only way you can solve this problem is by securing the plutonium at the source,” or by not producing it in the first place, he said. “You can’t secure the border.”

Battered by persistently critical audits and by criticisms like Cochran’s, the Energy Department has slowly been shifting ground. In budget documents last year, DOE suspended installation of new scanning equipment at large container seaports pending a review on the cost and effectiveness of the program. The administration’s budget called for eliminating the $133 million program in fiscal 2014. Congress in January also capped spending on the Megaports program, providing enough funds to expand it only modestly.

While Cochran couches many of his arguments in the language of mathematics and physics, he has also sought to drive home his points with theatrics.

At the height of the 1970s battle over the Clinch River Breeder Reactor, he hit on an idea for demonstrating how easy it would be to smuggle the fuel needed for an atomic bomb past international borders.

So for $100, he purchased by mail from a Massachusetts lab supply company a 6.8 kilogram — 15 pound — cylinder of dense, heavy, depleted uranium, a mildly radioactive waste material from reactors that cannot be used to make a bomb. Fifteen pounds was the largest order allowed without a government license; the same quantity can still be purchased readily today. The cylinder had the same weight and a similar bulk as the plutonium used in the Nagasaki bomb.

Then, when he flew to lectures or meetings, Cochran wrapped the uranium in lead, stuck it in a length of yellow-painted pipe with a handle welded to it and carried it through airport security. After being stopped at an x-ray machine in one airport, he told the operator “it’s uranium, don’t worry about it. It’s okay.” She let him through and he carried it onto the plane.

On arrival at lecture halls, he would push his stand-in for plutonium into an empty Coke can he had sawn in half. During his talks, he would hold the can up so his audience could see it, and say the contents could incinerate a city. “A six-pack of these is a nuclear arsenal,” he would say.

During a 1995 Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing in the Capitol building about how easy it would be to smuggle plutonium out of Russia, Cochran produced his Coke can and waved a hand-held radiation detector over it to prove it was radioactive.

Six years later, after the 9/11 attacks, ABC News correspondent Brian Ross asked Cochran to borrow his Coke can, and wound up smuggling it from Vienna back to the United States, first by boarding a train through the Balkans and then by container ship out of Istanbul. The ship docked at a Staten Island facility where Customs officials said they had installed detectors capable of spotting radioactive materials.

“This is what they’re looking for or should be looking for and this is what they absolutely have to stop,” Cochran said on camera. But Customs inspectors never opened the ornamental Turkish chest the can was stored in, and it was later carried by truck to a warehouse at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge, across from Manhattan.

U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner told ABC that inspectors determined “that container did not pose a threat for having, let’s say, some sort of nuclear weapons grade material in it or a nuclear device.”

But Cochran said Customs could not have detected anything without opening the crate, and obviously missed it. “You can reliably detect most anything with sufficient money or time to do it, but you don’t have sufficient money or time to do it at a border,” he says. “So basically you can’t reliably detect it.”

After a second smuggling episode embarrassed the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the department dispatched agents to the ABC News offices in Los Angeles, the home of a cameraman, and Cochran’s home in Alexandria, Va., where they blocked him from leaving to shop for groceries.

“Has any law been broken?” Cochran asked. An agent said she wanted to ask him some questions. Cochran said he would, but only in his office during the work week, and only with an NRDC lawyer present. The meeting never occurred and no charges were ever filed. But Homeland Security officials seized the depleted uranium.

Asked about the episode several months ago, Gillian M. Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement service, said she could not find any information about the investigation or the fate of the sample.

So ended the tale of the nuclear Coke can — at least for now. Cochran isn’t making any promises about the future. “I think it’s a more dangerous time [than] when Ted Taylor was making his case, and I began to make that case,” Cochran says. “It was difficult to point to active terrorist cells that were out there, poised to get this kind of material. And now we know they’re out there.”

Annoying? Perhaps. Persistent? For sure. But the way Cochran sees it, sometimes that’s what it takes.http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22531-a-world-awash-in-a-nuclear-explosive

Why plutonium is so dangerous

February 2, 2015

A World Awash in a Nuclear Explosive? TruthOut,  19 March 2014 12:24 By Douglas Birch and R. Jeffrey SmithCenter for Public Integrity | Report Washington “……..Just a Few Pounds Worth of Plutonium? There’s been a ghoulish debate between officials and independent scientists about how much plutonium is needed to fuel a clandestine bomb. But both agree it’s not much.

The U.S. bomb that destroyed half of Nagasaki in 1945 had 6.2 kilograms of plutonium in it, or 13.6 pounds. But experts say it was over-engineered — only one kilogram fissioned, they concluded later.

The International Atomic Energy Agency nonetheless decided years ago that eight kilograms of plutonium, or 17.6 pounds, are needed to make a bomb and so that’s the quantity its monitoring is geared to stop from getting loose.

Cochran and his NRDC colleague Christopher Paine challenged the IAEA standard in 1995 with a study concluding that only 3 kilograms — 6.6 pounds — would be needed to fashion a “very respectable” bomb with the explosive power of a kiloton, or 1,000 tons of TNT. But no matter who is right, Rokkasho’s annual plutonium production would be enough for 1,000 weapons or more.

To build an efficient plutonium bomb, the plutonium would have to be shaped into a sphere so it could be compressed with conventional explosives and rapidly reach critical mass, Cochran said. If the plutonium is crammed together too slowly, it becomes, according to an old weapons-designer joke, “fizzle” material instead of fissile material. It detonates prematurely, and only a tiny fraction is fissioned.

But a skilled, well-financed team could take a thermos-full, Cochran says, shape it into a hollow sphere about the size of a baseball or softball, pack it inside a sphere of explosives in a way that focuses the blast inward and turn it into a weapon that could produce a nuclear blast of one or two kilotons, equal to 1,000 or 2,000 tons of TNT.

“The technology needed to make a plutonium bomb is very old,” Cochran says. “This is not rocket science. So it’s within the capability of a team of people who had some sophistication.”

He paused. “This is why people worry about plutonium.”

A one-kiloton device exploded at ground level in a heavily populated area would be comparable in its effects to the Nagasaki bomb that exploded more than 1,500 feet in the sky, causing about 75,000 deaths and a similar number of injuries. A 2003 study by Harvard’s Matthew Bunn, a former White House adviser now at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, pegged the direct cost of damage from a 10-kiloton bomb at $1 trillion, along with incalculable political, economic, and social chaos.

The danger that plutonium harvested from the spent fuel of civilian reactors could be used to build nuclear weapons was dramatized in 1974. India used a reactor built by Canada under the U.S. Atoms for Peace program to produce plutonium that fueled the first nuclear explosive detonated by a country other than the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

The bomb was built from plutonium produced by India’s CIRUS — for “Canadian-Indian Reactor, U.S.” — at the Trombay nuclear complex north of the city now called Mumbai. CIRUS is a type of reactor that uses heavy water as a moderator and can run on natural rather than enriched uranium. The research reactor being built by Iran at Arak is also a heavy-water design.

Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter reacted by trying to discourage the development of civilian plutonium programs at home and abroad. Carter tried to stop Japan’s by withholding permission to use U.S.-supplied materials and technology for the effort. But Japan insisted on proceeding, and the White House settled for an agreement under which Japan would seek permission for each new batch it made.

Then, in 1982, President Reagan issued a secret National Security Decision Directive giving Japan “advance consent” to produce plutonium and trade it with European allies, as long as it met certain guidelines. And in 1987, Reagan went further, publicly granting Japan blanket approval essentially to make all the plutonium it wished, as part of a broader nuclear trade agreement. The groundwork for Rokkasho had thus been laid.http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22531-a-world-awash-in-a-nuclear-explosive

 

Plutonium pumped into ocean from Europe, as well as from Japan

February 2, 2015
TV: Plutonium being pumped into ocean through miles of underwater pipes — Nuclear waste left lying on beach — Kids playing on sand where machines scoop up plutonium each day — Alarming test results 1,000% legal limit (VIDEO & PHOTOS)http://enenews.com/tv-plutonium-being-pumped-ocean-miles-underwater-pipes-nuclear-waste-left-lying-beach-kids-playing-sand-machines-scoop-plutonium-day-video-photos?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ENENews+%28Energy+News%29
SWR (German public television broadcaster), 2013 (emphasis added):
  • 25:00 in — The dumping of nuclear waste in the sea was banned worldwide in 1993, yet the nuclear industry has come up with other ways. They no longer dump the barrels at sea; they build kilometers of underwater pipes through which the radioactive effluent now flows freely into the sea. One of these pipes is situated in Normandy [near] the French reprocessing plant in La Hague… The advantage for the nuclear industry? No more bad press… disposal via waste pipes remains hidden from the public eye, quite literally.
  • 28:30 in — 400 km from La Hague [as well as] Holland [and] Germany… we find iodine… 5-fold higher tritium value than [reported] by the operator Areva. It’s now obvious why citizens take their own measurements.
  • 30:15 in — Molecular Biologist: “The radioactive toxins accumulate in the food chain. This little worm can contain 2,000-3,000 times more radioactivity than its environment. It is then eaten by the next biggest creature and so on, at the end of the food chain we discovered damage to the reproductive cells of crabs… These genetic defects are inherited from one generation to the next… Cells in humans and animals are the same.”
  • 32:00 in — The 2nd disposal pipe for Europe’s nuclear waste is located in the north of England… Radioactive pollution comes in from the sea. Their houses are full of plutonium dust… The pipe from Sellafield is clearly visible only from the air… nuclear waste is still being dumped into the sea. Operators argue this is land-based disposal… It has been approved by the authorities.
  • 35:45 in — Plutonium can be found here on a daily basis, the toxic waste returns from the sea… it leaches out, it dries, and is left lying on the beach. The people here have long since guessed that the danger is greater than those responsible care to admit… Every day a smallexcavator removes plutonium from the beach… In recent decadesthe operator at Sellafield has tossed more than 500 kg of plutonium into the sea.
  • 42:00 in — We take a soil sample… The result turns out to be alarming. The amount of plutonium is up to 10 times higher than the permissible limit.

Yahoo News, Dec 5, 2014: All this radiation from the [Fukushima] disaster has definitely not been isolated to just Japan. Researchers monitoring the Pacific Ocean, in which much of the radiation spilled into, have detected radioactive isotopes this past November just 160 km [100 miles] off the coast of California. So this story will continue to unfold for many years to come.

Watch SWR’s investigative report here

The latest confidence trick- PRISM – Power Reactor Innovative Small Module

December 29, 2013

The plutonium stockpile poses enormous problems for the government. Not only is it highly radioactive and an immense potential danger to health, it is also a target for terrorist attacks and for anyone interested in stealing nuclear weapons-grade material.

The NDA’s report to DECC is understood to conclude that the Prism fast reactor is as credible as the two other options based on Mox fuel, even though GE-Hitachi has not yet built a commercial-scale plant for burning plutonium waste. DECC, however, has refused to release the report under a Freedom of Information request 

It is understood that the NDA has been impressed by proposals from GE-Hitachi to build a pair of its Prism fast reactors on the Sellafield site,

Revealed: UK Government’s radical plan to ‘burn up’ UK’s mountain of plutonium http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/revealed-uk-governments-radical-plan-to-burn-up-uks-mountain-of-plutonium-8967535.html 28 Nove 13 A radical plan to dispose of Britain’s huge store of civil plutonium – the biggest in the world – by “burning” it in a new type of fast reactor is now officially one of three “credible options” being considered by the Government, The Independent understands. However, further delays have hit attempts to make a final decision on what to do with the growing plutonium stockpile which has been a recurring headache for successive governments over the past three decades.

The stock of plutonium, one of the most dangerous radioactive substances and the element of nuclear bombs, has already exceeded 100 tonnes and is likely to grow to as much as 140 tonnes by 2020, bolstered by a recent decision to include foreign plutonium from imported nuclear waste.

Ministers had pledged to resolve the plutonium problem in a public consultation but are sitting on a secret report by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which is believed to confirm that there are now three “credible options” for dealing with the plutonium stored at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria.

The original “preferred option” was to convert the plutonium into a form of nuclear fuel called mixed oxide (Mox) and then to burn this in conventional nuclear reactors. However, serious questions have been raised about this proposal in the light of the expensive failure of a previous £1.4bn Mox plant at Sellafield, which had to be closed in 2011.

Two other options are now on the table, according to the NDA report. One involves a Canadian nuclear power plant called a Candu reactor which will burn a simpler form of Mox fuel. The other more radical proposal is to burn the plutonium directly in a fast reactor built by GE-Hitachi.

The NDA report, which is classified as commercially confidentially, was itself delayed by several months before being submitted in August to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The Government’s response to it was supposed to have been published within weeks but has now been delayed until next year – to the consternation of the companies involved in the consultation process.

The plutonium stockpile poses enormous problems for the government. Not only is it highly radioactive and an immense potential danger to health, it is also a target for terrorist attacks and for anyone interested in stealing nuclear weapons-grade material.

The NDA’s report to DECC is understood to conclude that the Prism fast reactor is as credible as the two other options based on Mox fuel, even though GE-Hitachi has not yet built a commercial-scale plant for burning plutonium waste. DECC, however, has refused to release the report under a Freedom of Information request, saying that publishing its contents could jeopardise future commercial negotiations.

The Independent also understands that DECC is seeking the views of the National Security Council, chaired by the Prime Minster David Cameron, before it releases its public position statement on what should be done with the plutonium stockpile – such is the sensitivity of the issue.

One industry insider said that the delay by DECC may in part be due to the intense negotiations over the strike price for electricity generated by the new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point in Somerset. But another reason is the undoubted sensitivity of any future decision over which option to go for when dealing with the growing plutonium problem.

Although the final contract is unlikely to be signed before 2015, both Candu and GE-Hitachi are keen to know whether they are still in the race for tendering against the French company Areva, which was originally hoping win the contract to build a £3bn Mox plant for plutonium disposal without running up against any competitors.

A previous public consultation process led the NDA to recommend the conversion of the plutonium into Mox fuel, which would in itself make it less attractive to terrorists. However, Sellafield has a poor record of producing viable Mox fuel and there are no power stations in the UK willing to burn it given that uranium fuel is much cheaper.

However, over the past two years the NDA has performed a U-turn over another option, which is to burn the plutonium directly in a purpose-built fast reactor. Ironically this was the original intention 40 years ago and the reason for building up a plutonium stockpile in the first place, but Britain’s own fast-reactor programme was abandoned in the 1990s.

It is understood that the NDA has been impressed by proposals from GE-Hitachi to build a pair of its Prism fast reactors on the Sellafield site, which could in theory burn the plutonium stockpile for up to 60 years, making it safe as well as generating carbon-free electricity.

Perilous task of removing Fukushima no.4’s spent nuclear fuel rods from pool

September 14, 2013

Japanese gamble Armageddon in Last Ditch Fukushima Effort, Whiteout Press, August 20, 2013. Fukushima, Japan Japan gambles the world “……….For the past two years, there have been varying and sporadic reports, some official and some unofficial, describing how the Fukushima nuclear meltdown is anything but under control. In fact, millions of gallons of radioactive wastewater continue to spill out into the Pacific to this day. And while the reactors and their safety mechanisms continue to break down, the world comes closer and closer to global Armageddon.

To stop the complete and total meltdown of Japan’s nuclear reactors, authorities have proposed a dangerous plan. The biggest problem is Fukushima’s Reactor Number 4. The reactor’s cooling pool for spent nuclear rods is located on the top floor of the TEPCO building. And that building was heavily damaged by the 2011 quake. Due to its instability, authorities say they must move the 400 tons of spent fuel rods right away.

Spent fuel rod transfers occur on a fairly regular basis, but always under the most secure and controlled setting due to the potential nuclear catastrophe that would happen if just one spent rod is mishandled. In the case of Fukushima’s Reactor 4, officials will attempt to remove 1,300 spent fuel rods from a structurally unsafe building in a highly contaminated environment.

The problems and dangers

One nuclear fallout expert, Christina Consolo, spoke to RT News to answer the outlet’s questions regarding the situation in Fukushima. She detailed a list of potential problems authorities might encounter when they attempt to move the spent rods. Those potentially catastrophic hurdles include (from RT News):

  • The racks inside the pool that contain this fuel were damaged by the explosion in the early days of the accident.
  • Zirconium cladding which encased the rods burned when water levels dropped, but to what extent the rods have been damaged is not known, and probably won’t be until removal is attempted.
  • Saltwater cooling has caused corrosion of the pool walls, and probably the fuel rods and racks.
  • The building is sinking.
  • The cranes that normally lift the fuel were destroyed.
  • Computer-guided removal will not be possible; everything will have to be done manually.
  • TEPCO cannot attempt this process without humans, which will manage this enormous task while being bombarded with radiation during the extraction and casking.
  • The process of removing each rod will have to be repeated over 1,300 times without incident.
  • Moving damaged nuclear fuel under such complex conditions could result in a criticality if the rods come into close proximity to one another, which would then set off a chain reaction that cannot be stopped.

What is most likely to go wrong?

When asked what the biggest potential dangers are in removing the damaged spent fuel rods, Christina Consolo replied, “The most serious complication would be anything that leads to a nuclear chain reaction. And as outlined above, there are many different ways this could occur. In a fuel pool containing damaged rods and racks, it could potentially start up on its own at anytime. TEPCO has been incredibly lucky that this hasn’t happened so far.”

She also expressed concern for the human workers that will have to submerse themselves into a highly radioactive environment and then perform extremely precise movements. Not only might their senses and thinking be affected, but their protective gear will make the entire operation somewhat clumsy.

“My second biggest concern would be the physical and mental fitness of the workers that will be in such close proximity to exposed fuel during this extraction process,” Consolo told RT News, “They will be the ones guiding this operation and will need to be in the highest state of alertness to have any chance at all of executing this plan manually and successfully. Many of their senses, most importantly eyesight, will be hindered by the apparatus that will need to be worn during their exposure to prevent immediate death from lifting compromised fuel rods out of the pool.” http://www.whiteoutpress.com/articles/q32013/japanese-gamble-armageddon-in-last-ditch-fukushima-effort/

Sellafield’s plutonium in the teeth of all British children

August 4, 2013

Plutonium from Sellafield in all children’s teeth  , public affairs editor The Guardian 30 November 2003 Government admits plant is the source of contamination but says risk is ‘minute’ Radioactive pollution from the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria has led to children’s teeth across Britain being contaminated with plutonium.

The Government has admitted for the first time that Sellafield ‘is a source of plutonium contamination’ across the country. Public Health Minister Melanie Johnson has revealed that a study funded by the Department of Health discovered that the closer a child lived to Sellafield, the higher the levels of plutonium found in their teeth. (more…)

The secret radioactive poisoning of a vast tract of Australian land

August 4, 2013

Dig for secrets: the lesson of Maralinga’s Vixen B The Conversation, Liz Tynan, 26 July 13  ”……lack of knowledge about the British nuclear tests in Australia is not surprising. The tests were not part of the national conversation for many years. Even when older people remember that nuclear tests were held here, no-one knows the story of the most secret tests of all, the ones that left the most contamination: Vixen B.

Maralinga is a particularly striking example of what can happen when media are unable to report government activities comprehensively. The media have a responsibility to deal with complex scientific and technological issues that governments may be trying to hide. While Maralinga was an example of extreme secrecy, the same kind of secrecy could at any time be enacted again. With the Edward Snowden case, we have seen what can happen when journalists become complicit in government secrecy, and we have learned the press must be more rigorous in challenging cover-ups.

At Maralinga, part of our territory became the most highly contaminated land in the world. But the Australian public had no way of granting informed consent because no-one knew it was happening. Remediating the environmental contamination was delayed for decades for the same reason. While arguments might be mounted for the need for total secrecy at the time (although these arguments are debatable in the case of Vixen B), there was no reason to keep the aftermath totally secret as well.

The British nuclear test program ran for 11 years, from 1952 to 1963, at the Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australia coast, and Emu Field and Maralinga in the South Australian desert. A total of 12 “mushroom cloud” bombs were exploded: three at Monte Bello, two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga. These were known as the major trials.

The tests of far greater consequence were the 12 Vixen B tests, only held at Maralinga ………

The errors perpetuated by the Pearce report resulted in considerable confusion and misinformation about plutonium contamination at Maralinga for many years.

The contemporary media missed Vixen B completely. The authorities had prepared a carefully-worded media statement to issue if any journalist became curious about the continued activity at Maralinga long after the major tests had ended. That statement was not used, because no-one came looking for many years.

By the late 1970s, the Menzies era compliance was gone and some resourceful investigative journalists who would not follow the official line were rising. Maralinga would not stay secret for much longer……../

Ian Anderson’s 1993 New Scientist story, “Britain’s dirty deeds at Maralinga”, revealed the extent of plutonium contamination at the site and the fact that the true level of contamination had been known by the British authorities but covered up.

Australia was not a nuclear power. The country was in a highly ambiguous position – the staging ground for nuclear weapons testing carried out with great secrecy and control by another nation, the “mother country” herself. This made Australia, at least initially, curiously powerless and inept in dealing with the tests, particularly the most dangerous tests held at Maralinga, Vixen B.

The absence of media coverage and public debate created a gap in most people’s understanding of Maralinga that persists to this day.http://theconversation.com/dig-for-secrets-the-lesson-of-maralingas-vixen-b-15456

The mounting horror of Japan’s plutonium collection

July 14, 2013

Japan currently possesses 44 tons of plutonium, according to the Atomic Energy Commission. Nine tons, including the latest shipment, are in Japan, while the remaining tons are in Britain and France, where spent fuel from Japan has been reprocessed.

Storage pools for spent fuel are quickly reaching capacity at nuclear power plants across the nation. If Aomori Prefecture refuses to accept spent fuel, nuclear plants will be saddled with overflowing spent fuel pools and will be unable to continue operations.

Direct disposal, or burying spent fuel without reprocessing, was considered under the previous Democratic Party of Japan government. But discussions have gone nowhere after the Liberal Democratic Party took over government in December.

Plutonium problem lingers as mixed-oxide fuel comes to Japan June 25, 2013 THE ASAHI SHIMBUN A shipment of mixed-oxide fuel will arrive in Japan as early as June 27, part of the nation’s plutonium stockpile that is already equivalent to 5,000 Nagasaki-type atomic bombs.

The shipment, two years behind schedule due to the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, is expected to be used for plutonium-thermal (pluthermal) power generation, a key component of Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program.

However, the fuel recycling program has been plagued by so many problems that the nation’s plutonium stockpile could increase further, heightening concerns in the international community about possible nuclear weapons proliferation.

The shipment from France is also creating headaches for Kansai Electric Power Co., which plans to use the fuel at its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, pending approval of its application to restart the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors there in early July.

Under pluthermal operations, mixed-oxide fuel, which contains plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel, is used in nuclear reactors.

A French company processed spent nuclear fuel from Kansai Electric into 20 mixed-oxide fuel assemblies, which contain an estimated 900 kilograms of plutonium. Kansai Electric has not disclosed how many of the fuel assemblies will be brought into the Takahama plant.

Japan currently possesses 44 tons of plutonium, according to the Atomic Energy Commission. Nine tons, including the latest shipment, are in Japan, while the remaining tons are in Britain and France, where spent fuel from Japan has been reprocessed.

The plutonium stockpile has grown exceptionally large for a non-nuclear power. Countries have been discouraged from possessing excess plutonium for fear of weapons applications.

The shipment to the Takahama plant is drawing particular attention because it will be the first mixed-oxide fuel to arrive in Japan since the earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011.

Kansai Electric postponed the shipment of the mixed-oxide fuel after the disaster. But the utility has now been forced to accept it in the face of strong demands from France………

Another problem for the utilities is that pluthermal operations do not offer an advantage to the companies’ bottom line.

The import value of mixed-oxide fuel brought into the Takahama plant in June 2010 was 1.3 billion yen per ton, according to trade statistics and other sources. The figure is nearly five times as much as conventional uranium fuel due to costs to reprocess the spent fuel and transport it to and from France.

But electric power companies do not have the option of withdrawing from the government-led pluthermal program.

“We have no other choice because Japan needs to consume plutonium,” a senior official of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan said.

The government originally planned to consume plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel in a fast-breeder reactor, but plans have remained stalled since sodium leaked at the Monju prototype reactor in 1995………Japan’s plutonium stockpile is expected to increase because the government and utilities plan to start full-scale operations of a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture.

The Aomori prefectural government is demanding the reprocessing of all spent fuel as a condition for accepting used fuel at the plant.

Storage pools for spent fuel are quickly reaching capacity at nuclear power plants across the nation. If Aomori Prefecture refuses to accept spent fuel, nuclear plants will be saddled with overflowing spent fuel pools and will be unable to continue operations.

Direct disposal, or burying spent fuel without reprocessing, was considered under the previous Democratic Party of Japan government. But discussions have gone nowhere after the Liberal Democratic Party took over government in December.

(This article was compiled from reports by Toshio Kawada, Rintaro Sakurai, Shinya Takagi and Mari Fujisaki.) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201306250093