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

July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 1. Rules With Exceptions……..

Chapter 2. Debating the Dangers…….

Chapter 3. Awakening to Threats…….

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

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

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

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

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

Radioactive contamination: the secret scandal of Muslumovo in the southern Russian Urals, downstream from the Mayak plutonium plant

July 24, 2017

In conferences debating the number of victims of the Chernobyl accident, officials who draw paychecks from nuclear lobbies make similar arguments about alcohol abuse and “radiophobia”—stress-related illnesses caused by fear of radiation.

Strange illnesses in one of the most contaminated towns in the world challenge what we think we know about the dangers of radioactivity.Slate, By Kate Brown, April 18, 2013, “……What do we know about communities living on contaminated terrain? Two years after the meltdown of three reactors in Fukushima, Japan, the World Health Organization forecasts that there will be no significant rise in cancers among people living nearby. These projections are based on guesses from models calculated from prior studies, mostly of Japanese people who survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet when Japanese scientists and inspected the bodies of 38,000 children living in the Fukushima Prefecture, they found 36 percent had abnormal growths on their thyroids a year after the accident.

We have grown accustomed to this scenario—media attention to nuclear accidents followed by a long, slow quarrel among scientists about whether the spilled fission products will damage human bodies or not. It will take decades to learn the public health impact of the 2011 meltdown. By then, most of the public will have lost interest. But there are other ways to get at this question of what it means to live on earth sullied with decaying radioactive isotopes.

No one has lived longer on contaminated terrain than people in the village of Muslumovo in the southern Russian Urals located downstream from the Maiak plutonium plant, built in 1948 to produce Soviet bomb cores. Unlike the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, daily life in Muslumovo is terrifyingly banal: long waits at medical clinics, worries over the price of prescriptions, reams of paperwork related to compensation and disability claims, sick kids, unemployment, poverty, and chronic illness.

I showed up in Muslumovo on a Saturday morning in August 2009. Muslumovo is a big village, sprawled inside a crooked elbow of the Techa River, which is slow, sluggish, and considered to be the world’s most radioactive. The village center has a train station, a few apartment buildings, and a corner store. Marat Akhmadeev met me at the station in his Soviet vintage car, dusty and dented. We jolted up and down on the choppy seas of the unpaved streets. Muslumovo is a strange village—half there and half gone. Many houses are abandoned, some partly dismantled, exposing weathered wallpaper and overturned appliances.

The Techa became a flowing radioactive reservoir in 1949 when engineers at the plutonium plant ran out of underground storage containers for high-level radioactive waste. A Dixie cup of this waste could kill everyone in a large ballroom. Compelled by the arms race, the plant director ordered it dumped in the Techa River. The men running the plant didn’t tell anyone about this decision. The 28,000 Russian, Bashkir, and Tatar farmers living on the river—drinking, cooking, and bathing with river water—had no idea. In the 1950s and ’60s special forces resettled most of the 16 contaminated villages on the Techa, but a few villages were too large and expensive to move, so they stayed. Muslumovo is one.

There’s no work in Muslumovo. A person either commutes 60 miles to the industrial city of Cheliabinsk or farms a patch of land of the long-defunct Muslumovo collective farm. Marat farms, living off the land—a term that takes on new meaning in Muslumovo, where in 2008, an American team found domestic interiors registering radiation at 40 times above the background level. After we pulled up at Marat’s house, his teenage son silently trailed us. Noticing a twitch in the boy’s step, I turned to look at him. His mouth drooped and fingers twisted, as he mouthed a stuttered greeting. Marat explained, “This is Kareem,nash luchevik,” meaning “our radiant one,” said in an off-hand manner, as if every family has a luchevik……

There is a legal contest going on over the health of the people of Muslumovo: whether they are sick and, if so, ill from the radioactive isotopes dumped in the river or from poor diets and alcohol abuse. Medical evidence has been contradictory. In 1959, Soviet scientist A. N. Marei wrote a dissertation in which he argued that the Techa villagers were in poor health because of their poor diets. In 1960, in contrast, local Soviet officials linked the river-dwellers’ illnesses to the contaminated river. This debate between nature (radiation) and nurture (lifestyle) has been going on a long time…….

Over the years, FIB-4 doctors had diagnosed 935 people on the Techa River with chronic radiation syndrome. But as thousands of people in Ukraine worried about their exposures from the Chernobyl blast, Soviet medical officials backpedaled on the FIB-4 doctors’ original findings. In 1991, Angelina Gus’kova, the chief official voice in evaluating Chernobyl health problems, argued that in fact there were only 66 cases of chronic radiation syndrome among the Techa River people. The rest, she claimed, suffered from more prosaic diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and rheumatism caused by poor diets and sanitation. As American researchers supported by the Department of Energy have taken over as lead researchers of studies in Muslumovo, the diagnosis of chronic radiation syndrome has largely dropped from the radar. Meanwhile, Russian officials, worried about lawsuits, charged that many people in Muslumovo had dreamed up illnesses in order to sue for compensation. These people, they said, had no chronic radiation disease but were chronic welfare cases looking for handouts.

The trope of ignorant, genetically deficient, and drunken villagers is a common one in Russia. In the southern Urals in the past few decades, the cliché has been useful in glossing over the human suffering connected to uncontrolled dumping into the Techa River. In conferences debating the number of victims of the Chernobyl accident, officials who draw paychecks from nuclear lobbies make similar arguments about alcohol abuse and “radiophobia”—stress-related illnesses caused by fear of radiation. It would be a mistake, however, to allow the longstanding politicization of medical studies to overtake this very important, yet overlooked, place for our understanding of radiation’s effects on human bodies. Reprinted from Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters by Kate Brown with permission from Oxford University Press USA. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/04/nuclear_contamination_in_former_ussr_radioactivity_in_muslomovo_on_techa.html

Thorium nuclear power not viable in India

July 24, 2017

A primer on India’s nuclear energy sector, Hans India , By Gudipati Rajendera Kumar  , 10 July 17 “………India has insufficient Uranium reserves of 1-2% of global reserves, but is endowed with one of the largest reserves of Thorium which constitute about 30 % of global reserves.

Thorium however is not fissile and can’t be used directly to trigger Nuclear Reaction. But it is ‘fertile’ and what makes it Nuclear Fuel is the fact that its isotope Thorium – 232 can be converted to Uranium -233 which is ‘fissile’. This process of conversion is called ‘Transmutation’. To exploit Thorium reserves Dr. Homi Jehangir Bhabha conceived ‘3 Stage Nuclear Program’….
 at present thorium is not economically viable because global uranium prices are much lower…..
 Thorium itself is not a fissile material, and thus cannot undergo fission to produce energy.  Instead, it must be transmuted to uranium-233 in a reactor fueled by other fissile materials [plutonium-239 or uranium-235].
The first two stages, natural uranium-fueled heavy water reactors and plutonium-fueled fast breeder reactors, are intended to generate sufficient fissile material from India’s limited uranium resources, so that all its vast thorium reserves can be fully utilized in the third stage of thermal breeder reactor.

Stage I – Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor [PHWR]

 In the first stage of the programme, natural uranium fuelled pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) produce electricity while generating plutonium-239 as by-product.
 [U-238 ] Plutonium-239 + Heat]
 [In PWHR, enrichment of Uranium to improve concentration of U-235 is not required. U-238 can be directly fed into the reactor core]
[Natural uranium contains only 0.7% of the fissile isotope uranium-235. Most of the remaining 99.3% is uranium-238 which is not fissile but can be converted in a reactor to the fissile isotope plutonium-239].

[Heavy water (deuterium oxide, D 2O) is used as moderator and coolant in PHWR].

•  PHWRs was a natural choice for implementing the first stage because it had the mostefficient reactor design [uranium enrichment not required] in terms of uranium utilisation…..

• In the second stage, fast breeder reactors (FBRs)[moderators not required] would use plutonium-239, recovered by reprocessing spent fuel from the first stage, and natural uranium.

•  In FBRs, plutonium-239 undergoes fission to produce energy, while the uranium-238 present in the fuel transmutes to additional plutonium-239.

transmuted to Plutonium-239?

Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 can sustain a chain reaction. But Uranium-238 cannot sustain a chain reaction. So it is transmuted to Plutonium-239.

But Why U-238 and not U-235?

Natural uranium contains only 0.7% of the fissile isotope uranium-235. Most of the remaining 99.3% is uranium-238.

•  Thus, the Stage II FBRs are designed to “breed” more fuel than they consume.

•  Once the inventory of plutonium-239 is built up thorium can be introduced as a blanket material in the reactor and transmuted to uranium-233 for use in the third stage.

• The surplus plutonium bred in each fast reactor can be used to set up more such reactors, and might thus grow the Indian civil nuclear power capacity till the point where the third stage reactors using thorium as fuel can be brought online.

As of August 2014, India’s first Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam had been delayed – with first criticality expected in 2015, 2016..and it drags on.

Stage III – Thorium Based Reactors

•   A Stage III reactor or an Advanced nuclear power system involves a self-sustaining series of thorium-232-uranium-233 fuelled reactors.

•  This would be a thermal breeder reactor, which in principle can be refueled – after its initial fuel charge – using only naturally occurring thorium.

•  According to replies given in Q&A in the Indian Parliament on two separate occasions, 19 August 2010 and 21 March 2012, large scale thorium deployment is only to be expected 3 – 4 decades after the commercial operation of fast breeder reactors. [2040-2070]

As there is a long delay before direct thorium utilisation in the three-stage programme, the country is now looking at reactor designs that allow more direct use of thorium in parallel with the sequential three-stage programme

•  Three options under consideration are the Accelerator Driven Systems (ADS), Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) and Compact High Temperature Reactor

Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor at Kalpakkam

•  The Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is a 500 MWe fast breeder nuclear reactor presently being constructed at the Madras Atomic Power Station in Kalpakkam, India.

•  The Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) is responsible for the design of this reactor.

•  As of 2007 the reactor was expected to begin functioning in 2010 but now it is expected to achieve first criticality in March-April 2016.

•  Construction is over and the owner/operator, Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Limited (BHAVINI), is awaiting clearance from the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB).

•  Total costs, originally estimated at 3500 crore are now estimated at 5,677 crore.

•  The Kalpakkam PFBR is using uranium-238 not thorium, to breed new fissile material, in a sodium-cooled fast reactor design.

•  The surplus plutonium or uranium-233 for thorium reactors [U-238 transmutes into plutonium] from each fast reactor can be used to set up more such reactors and grow the nuclear capacity in tune with India’s needs for power.

•  The fact that PFBR will be cooled by liquid sodium creates additional safety requirements to isolate the coolant from the environment, since sodium explodes if it comes into contact with water and burns when in contact with air……

1. In the first stage, heavy water reactors fuelled by natural uranium would produceplutonium [U-238 will be transmuted to Plutonium 239 in PHWR];

2.  The second stage would initially be fuelled by a mix of the plutonium from the first stage and natural uranium. This uranium would transmute into more plutonium and once sufficient stocks have been built up, thorium would be introduced into the fuel cycle to convert it intouranium 233 for the third stage [thorium will be transmuted to U-233 with the help plutonium 239].

3.  In the final stage, a mix of thorium and uranium fuels the reactors. The thorium transmutes to U-233 which powers the reactor. Fresh thorium can replace the depleted thorium [can be totally done away with uranium which is very scares in India] in the reactor core, making it essentially a thorium-fuelled reactor [thorium keeps transmuting into U-233. It is U-233 that generates the energy].

Present State of India’s Three-Stage Nuclear Power Programme

•  After decades of operating pressurized heavy-water reactors (PHWR), India is finally ready to start the second stage.

•  A 500 MW Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) at Kalpakkam is set to achieve criticality any day now and four more fast breeder reactors have been sanctioned, two at the same site and two elsewhere.

•  However, experts estimate that it would take India many more FBRs and at least another four decades before it has built up a sufficient fissile material inventory to launch the third stage.

Solution to India’s Fissile

Shortage Problem – Procuring Fissile Material Plutonium

•  The obvious solution to India’s shortage of fissile material is to procure it from the international market. http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Young-Hans/2017-07-10/A-primer-on-Indias-nuclear-energy-sector/311404

Russia’s secretive nuclear czar Sergey Kirienko

July 24, 2017

Russian media tell us that Kirienko and his PR team are off to the Kremlin to prepare Putin’s next election campaign. Looking at Kirienko’s 11 years as head of Russia’s nuclear power industry, we can say that in terms of spending and achievements on paper, Rosatom’s former head has few equals. Kirienko’s team are experts at working with the media, putting pressure on dissenters and forging loyalty

Sergey Kirienko, from nuclear to political power, Open Democracy VLADIMIR SLIVYAK 11 October 2016  After ten years as head of Rosatom, Sergey Kirienko is now deputy head of Russia’s Presidential Administration. What will he bring to the job? “…….

Information and secrecy

News of these two appointments came out rather oddly. Prior to 24 September, when RBC broke the story of Kirienko’s appointment, there had been no rumours at all about Kirienko’s move, and another two weeks passed before he was officially given his new job…….

This fact illustrates the effectiveness of Kirienko’s PR team. All of Rosatom’s information channels are hermetically sealed, and if any important news appears, it is only by the grace of the residents of the agency’s enormous headquarters building on Moscow’s Bolshaya Ordynka street. There has been the odd information leak, but usually involving foreign media, which Rosatom has little control over.

The way Kirienko’s appointment has developed as a story demonstrates the level of openness, or rather lack of it, which Kirienko’s team has created in recent years. If a major accident had occurred at a nuclear power plant in Russia during Kirienko’s time at Rosatom, it is unlikely that anyone would have heard about it for some time. Instead, there would have been a scenario reminiscent of 1986, when the Soviet government tried to hush up the scale of the Chernobyl disaster for as long as possible.

This lack of transparency is dangerous precisely because in the case of another nuclear accident, it could be a matter of life and death. And this is not a question of official secrets or nuclear weapons. Rosatom is funded by Russia’s taxpayers and has to be accountable to them — not in terms of reporting how many “mini-Olympics” have taken place at nuclear power plants, but in terms of public safety.

Paper power plants

Kirienko’s legacy at Rosatom is a separate issue. Given this recent appointment, he is, it seems, highly regarded by the Kremlin.

There may have been two to three times fewer nuclear power plants built on his watch than were planned. There may have been plenty of corruption scandals involving the arrest of senior staff, including Kirienko’s deputies, on embezzlement charges. But the corporation’s “portfolio” for power plants to be built abroad is worth an astronomical $100bn. And for the Kremlin, which periodically uses energy supply threats to put pressure on countries it is displeased with, nuclear power is not just a question of prestige and money.

To assess Kirienko’s effectiveness as a manager, however, we need to look inside Rosatom’s commission portfolio. These “orders” are not contracts specifying delivery dates, costs and a clear timescale for loan repayments (in most cases the money lent by Russia for power plant construction comes with a repayment date). Eighty to ninety per cent of these reported arrangements are agreements in principle that are vague on details, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Russian media frequently give the impression that Rosatom is building reactors all over the world. It is true that there have been orders from over 20 countries, but they are actually being built in only three places — China, India and Belarus. And in the case of the first two, international cooperation began long before Kirienko joined the nuclear energy sector.

So it is clear that Kirienko’s team has been excellent at drawing up and signing papers, and providing an information blockade for the industry. Actually building nuclear plants seems to be beyond them.

But only abroad…  https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/vladimir-slivyak/sergey-kirienko-from-nuclear-to-political-power

Most Americans believe that human-caused climate change is real

July 24, 2017

New Survey Shows Majority Of Americans Believe Climate Change Is Real And Caused By Human Activity  https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/07/06/new-survey-shows-majority-americans-believe-climate-change-real-and-caused-human-activity?utm_source=dsb%20newsletter  By Farron Cousins • Thursday, July 6, 2017 The current leadership in the United States — the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House — have a hostile relationship with climate change science. Not only has current President Donald Trump suggested that the entire concept is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, but the Legislative Branch of government is populated with a majority of representatives who do not accept the scientific consensus regarding climate change. Not only are these views dangerous for the future of the planet, but a new poll shows that these views are entirely out of sync with a majority of the U.S. population.

According to a new report by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, a majority of people in the United States believe that climate change is real and that it is mostly the result of human activities. The survey shows that 58% of the public now accepts that climate change is mostly caused by human activity, which is the highest level ever recorded of public acceptance of the human role in climate change since Yale began conducting these studies in 2008.

Here are a few key findings from the new report:

Over half of Americans (58%) understand that global warming is mostly human caused, the highest level since our surveys began in November 2008. By contrast, three in ten (30%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment – the lowest level recorded since 2008.

Only about one in eight Americans (13%) understand that nearly all climate scientists (more than 90%) are convinced that human-caused global warming is happening.

Over half of Americans (57%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming. About one in six (17%) are “very worried” about it.

About one in three Americans (35%) think people in the U.S. are being harmed by global warming “right now.”

By a large margin, Americans say that schools should teach children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming (78% agree vs. 21% who disagree).

One particularly intriguing finding from the Yale report is that the majority believe that the threats of climate change are things that will either happen in the distant future, or that they will not happen to the individuals polled or their families:

Most Americans think global warming is a relatively distant threat – they are most likely to think that it will harm future generations of people (71%), plant and animal species (71%), the Earth (70%), people in developing countries (62%), or the world’s poor (62%). They are less likely to think it will harm people in the U.S. (58%), their own grandchildren (56%) or children (50%), people in their community (48%), their family (47%), themselves (43%), or members of their extended family living outside the U.S. (41%).

The fact that most Americans either believe the threat is something that will happen in the distant future or that it won’t happen to them is one possible reason so many people are willing to vote for politicians who either outright deny the existence of climate change or who refuse to act on the issue. Currently, a majority of members of both the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate fall into one of those categories, with 53 out of 100 U.S. Senators counted as climate change deniers and 232 out of 435 House members listed as deniers.

But the truth is that climate change is not a far-off threat for Americans. Rising sea levels are already threatening drinking water in South Florida, as salt water is seeping into aquifers. Elsewhere, rising temperatures, rising sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events that have been linked to climate change are wreaking havoc. So one of the main focuses of climate science advocates needs to be educating people about the timeline so they stop viewing climate change as a problem that can be put on the back burner. It is happening right now.

Nevertheless, the fact that a majority of U.S. citizens understand the realities of climate change while our elected leaders refuse to accept the science indicates that they have become too far removed from the values, desires, and concerns of their constituents. That’s likely due in part to the massive amounts of money that fossil fuel companies spend on lobbying and direct campaign contributions which totaled $120+ million and $103 million in 2016, respectively.

 

North Korea’s missiles tests in 2017: A timeline

July 24, 2017

 http://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/north-koreas-missiles-tests-in-2017-a-timeline, 4 Jul 17 North Korea has conducted missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate since the beginning of 2017 and is believed to have made some progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

Here’s a timeline of the missile launches and tests the regime is known to have carried out this year:

Feb 12, 2017: North Korea fires its first ballistic missile in 2017, in what is seen as a show of force against the leaders of the United States and Japan reaffirming their security alliance. The missile is believed to be a mid-range Rodong or something similar, flying 500km and landing in the East Sea, also known as Sea of Japan.

March 6, 2017: North Korea fires four ballistic missiles, with three falling into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

April 16, 2017: North Korea fires an unidentified ballistic missile that explodes almost immediately after launch, defying warnings from the Trump administration to avoid any further provocations

April 29, 2017: In an apparent defiance of a concerted US push for tougher international sanctions to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons ambitions, the country test-fires a ballistic missile from the Pukchang region in a north-easterly direction. The missile reaches an altitude of 71 km before disintegrating a few minutes into flight.

May 14, 2017: Only four days after the inauguration of South Korea’s new leader Moon Jae In, North Korea fires a ballistic missile in an apparent bid to test the liberal president and the US, which have both signalled an interest in negotiations to ease months of tensions.

The missile flies for 700km and reaches an altitude of more than 2,000km before landing in the Sea of Japan or East Sea, further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same region of Kusong, north-west of Pyongyang.

While the US Pacific Command says it does not appear to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, the successful launch of a mid-to-long range missile indicated a significant advance in North Korea’s drive for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), monitors say.

The North boasts that the launch is aimed at verifying the capability to carry a “large scale heavy nuclear warhead”.

May 22, 2017: North Korea launches medium-range ballistic missile Pukguksong-2, Pyongyang’s state media reported, adding the weapon was now ready to be deployed for military action.

The test sparks a fresh chorus of international condemnation and threats of tougher United Nations sanctions.

May 29, 2017: North Korea fires at least one short-range ballistic missile that lands in the sea off its east coast. The missile is believed to be a Scud-class ballistic missile and flew about 450km. North Korea has a large stockpile of the short-range missiles, originally developed by the Soviet Union.

North Korea is likely showing its determination to push ahead in the face of international pressure to rein in its missile programme and “to pressure the (South Korean) government to change its policy on the North”, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Roh Jae Cheon said.

June 8, 2017: A volley of surface-to-ship cruise missiles are fired off North Korea’s east coast, less than a week after the United Nations expanded sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime in response to recent ballistic missile tests.

The short range missiles fly some 200km before falling into the Sea of Japan, says South Korea’s defence ministry.

June 22, 2017: North Korea conducts a “small rocket engine test on or around June 22, the respected 38 North analysis group says, after a US official reportedly suggested the test could be a step to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

It is not clear whether the test, conducted at the North’s Sohae satellite launch site, involved an ICBM engine.

July 4, 2017: Just days after South Korea President Moon Jae In and US President Donald Trump focused on the threat from Pyongyang in their first summit, North Korea fires a ballistic which flies for 930km and exceeds 2,500km in altitude in 40 minutes before falling into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Seoul and Tokyo say.

The US military says the missile is an intermediate range ballistic missile and does not pose a threat to North America, but analysts say the missile is able to reach Alaska.

SOURCES: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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

July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decades of delay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing of USA nuclear warheads is held up, due to safety factors at Los Alamos laboratory

July 24, 2017

A separate Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board report in February detailed the magnitude of the shortfall:

Los Alamos’ dangerous work, it said, demands 27 fully qualified criticality safety engineers.

The lab has 10

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

In mid-2013, four federal nuclear safety experts brought an alarming message to the top official in charge of America’s warhead production: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s sole site for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part, wasn’t taking needed safety precautions. The lab, they said, was ill-prepared to prevent an accident that could kill lab workers, and potentially others nearby.

Some safety infractions had already occurred at the lab that year. But Neile Miller, who was then the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, says those experts specifically told her that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction.

Such chain reactions generate intense bursts of deadly radiation, and over the last half-century have claimed nearly two dozen lives. The precise consequences, Miller said in a recent interview, “did not need an explanation. You don’t want an accident involving criticality and plutonium.” Indeed, Miller said, criticality “is one of those trigger words” that immediately gets the attention of those responsible for preventing a nuclear weapons disaster.

With two of the four experts remaining in her Washington office overlooking the national mall, Miller picked up the phone and called the lab’s director, Charles McMillan, at his own office on the idyllic Los Alamos campus in the New Mexico mountains, where nuclear weapons work is financed by a federal payment exceeding $2 billion a year. She recommended that a sensitive facility conducting plutonium operations — inside a building known as PF-4 — be shut down, immediately, while the safety deficiencies were fixed.

McMillan, a nuclear physicist and weapons designer with government-funded compensation exceeding a million dollars a year, responded that he had believed the problems could be solved while that lab kept operating. He was “reluctant” to shut it down, Miller recalled. But as the call proceeded, he became open to her view that the risks were too high, she added. So on McMillan’s order, the facility was shut within a day, with little public notice.

In the secrecy-shrouded world of America’s nuclear weapons work, that decision had far-reaching consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

The financial institutions that provided $344 billion available to 27 nuclear weapon producing companies

July 24, 2017

Don’t Bank On The Bomb  Dec 2016 Briefing Paper.

United States 226 Financial Institutions made an estimated USD$ 344 billion available to 27 nuclear weapon producing companies since January 2013.

 Introduction This document contains country specific information from the 2016 Don’t Bank on the Bomb update. Hall of Fame and Runners-up include financial institutions with headquarters in the country that have published policies banning or limiting investment in nuclear weapons producers. Hall of Shame are the financial institutions that have significant financing relationships with one or more of the nuclear weapons producers identified in the report. There is also a brief summary of the nuclear weapons related work of each of the identified producers. For more detail, see the full report or go to the www.DontBankOnTheBomb.com website.

This briefing paper includes:

Introduction..………………………………………………………………….

1 Hall of Shame, lists 266 organisations ………………………………………………….

Nuclear weapon producing Companies 

The financial institutions identified include banks, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, insurance companies and asset managers. They have provided various types of financial services to nuclear weapon companies including loans, investment banking and asset management.

All sources of financing provided since 1 January 2013 to the companies listed were analysed from annual reports, financial databases and other sources. The financial institutions which are most significantly involved in the financing of one or more nuclear weapon companies are shown here. See the full report for both a summary and full description of all financial institutions which are found to have the most significant financing relationships with one or more of the selected nuclear weapon companies, by means of participating in bank loans, by underwriting share or bond issues and/or by share- or bondholdings (above a threshold of 0.5% of all outstanding shares or bonds).

Figures presented are rounded up/down to the nearest dollar at the filing date. Commas (,) indicate thousands separators while periods (.) used as decimal points. For more information on loans, investment banking, and asset management, please refer to the website.

Hall of Shame

This section contains the results of our research into which financial institutions are financially involved with the nuclear weapon producing companies identified in the report. For the full methodology, see the website.

 

Each section provides the following information for each financial institution:

  • The types of financial relations which the financial institution has with one or more nuclear weapon companies (loans, investment banking and asset management).

 

Financial institution.    Amount in USD millions ……… [ list covers 5 pages] …….

 

 1.Academy Securities (United States) Academy Securities (United States) has made an estimated US$ 30 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013. Academy Securities (United States) underwrote bond issuances for an estimated amount of US$ 30 million to the nuclear weapon companies since January 2013 (see table below [on original] ). ..

  1. Adage Capital Management (United States) Adage Capital Management (United States) has made an estimated US$ 482 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013. Adage Capital Management (United States) owns or manages shares of the nuclear weapon companies for an amount of US$ 482 million (see table below). Only holdings of 0.50% or more of the outstanding shares at the most recent available filing date are included.  [table on original]
  2. Affiliated Managers Group (United States) Affiliated Managers Group (United States) has made an estimated US$ 1,426 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013.

 

  1. Affiliated Managers Group (United States) owns or manages shares of the nuclear weapon companies for an amount of US$ 1,426 million (see table below). Only holdings of 0.50% or more of the outstanding shares at the most recent available filing date are included.  [table on original]

 

  1. AJO (United States) AJO (United States) has made an estimated US$ 351 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013.

AJO (United States) owns or manages shares of the nuclear weapon companies for an amount of US$ 351 million (see table below). Only holdings of 0.50% or more of the outstanding shares at the most recent available filing date are included.  [table]

 

 6 Alyeska Investment Group (United States) Alyeska Investment Group (United States) has made an estimated US$ 143 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013.

 

Alyeska Investment Group (United States) owns or manages shares of the nuclear weapon companies for an amount of US$ 143 million (see table below, on original). Only holdings of 0.50% or more of the outstanding shares at the most recent available filing date are included.

 

  1. Amalgamated Bank of Chicago (United States) Amalgamated Bank of Chicago (United States) has made an estimated US$ 29 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013. Amalgamated Bank of Chicago (United States) provided loans for an estimated amount of US$ 29 million to the nuclear weapon companies (see table below on original ). The table shows all loans closed since January 2013 or maturing after August 2016

 

  1. American Automobile Association (United States) American Automobile Association (United States) has made an estimated US$ 4 million available to the nuclear weapons companies selected for this research project since January 2013. American Automobile Association (United States) owns or manages bonds of the nuclear weapon companies for an amount of US$ 4 million (see table below, on original). Only holdings of 0.50% or more of the outstanding bonds at the most recent available filing date are included.

 

  1. American Century Investments (United States) ……
  2. American Equity Investment Life Holding (United States)  …….
  3. American Family (United States) ……
  4. American Financial Group (United States)……
  5. American Financial Group (United States)………
  6. American National Insurance (United States)
  7. American United Mutual Insurance (United States)
  8. Ameriprise Financial (United States)
  9. Analytic Investors (United States)
  10. Anchor Bolt Capital (United States)
  11. Anthem (United States)
  12. Apto Partners (United States)
  13. AQR Capital Management (United States)
  14. Aristotle Capital Management (United States)
  15. Arrowstreet Capital (United States)
  16. Artisan Partners (United States)
  17. Associated Banc-Corp (United States)
  18. Assurant (United States)
  19. Auto-Owners Insurance (United States)
  20. Baird (United States)
  21. BancPlus (United States)
  22. Bank of America (United States) – funds a staggering number of weapons makers……
  23. Bank of New York Mellon (United States)
  24. Banner Bank (United States)
  25. BB&T (United States)
  26. Beck, Mack & Oliver (United States)
  27. Becker Capital Management (United States)
  28. Bessemer Group (United States)
  29. BlackRock (United States)
  30. Blaylock Beal Van (United States)
  31. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (United States)
  32. Blue Harbour Group (United States)
  33. Boston Private (United States)
  34. Cacti Asset Management (United States)
  35. California First National Bancorp (United States)
  36. Cantor Fitzgerald (United States)
  37. Capital Group (United States)
  38. Capital One Financial (United States)
  39. Carlson Capital (United States)
  40. Carlyle Group (United States)
  41. Cascade Bancorp (United States)
  42. CastleOak Securities (United States)
  43. CAVU Securities (United States)
  44. Central Mutual Insurance (United States)
  45. Central Pacific Financial Corporation (United States)
  46. Charles Schwab (United States)
  47. Chesapeake Partners Management (United States)
  48. Cigna (United States)
  49. Citadel (United States)
  50. Citigroup (United States) – huge no of weapons makers funded
  51. Citizens Bank & Trust (United States)
  52. Citizens Financial Group (United States)
  53. City National Corporation (United States)
  54. CL King & Associates (United States)
  55. CNO Financial Group (United States
  56. Comerica (United States)
  57. Cooper Creek Partners Management (United States)
  58. Corsair Capital Management (United States)
  59. Cuna Mutual Group (United States)
  60. D.E. Shaw & Co. (United States)
  61. Dimensional Fund Advisors (United States)

 

and so on………… to No. 226. Zeo Capital Advisors (United States)

 

Nuclear weapon producing Companies This report identifies 27 companies operating in France, India, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States that are significantly involved in maintaining and modernising the nuclear arsenals of France, India, the United Kingdom and the United States. This is not an exhaustive list. These companies are providing necessary components and infrastructure to develop, test, maintain and modernise nuclear weapons. The contracts these companies have with nuclear armed countries are for materials and services to keep nuclear weapons in their arsenals. In other nuclear-armed countries –Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea – the maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces is carried out primarily or exclusively by government agencies.  –   report goes on to list companies and their activities. …….

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

July 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An acute shortage of criticality experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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