AUSTRALIA’S RADIOACTIVE WASTE: WHAT TO DO WITH IT? WHERE TO PUT IT? WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? WHY KEEP PRODUCING IT?

April 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STOP PRODUCING THE WASTE, ONLY THEN WILL WE TALK ABOUT WHAT TO DO WITH IT

 

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Western Australia: Mulga Rock Uranium Project threatens environmental impacts from Tailings waste:

April 2, 2018

Briefer (Nov 2017) by David Noonan, Independent Environment Campaigner

Uranium mining has unique, inherent risks and long term impacts. The West Australian Parliament has passed a Motion (Legislative Council 23 May 2012) recommending:

The government adopt equivalent or better environmental management regulatory requirements for any future uranium mine in Western Australia as exists under Commonwealth and Northern Territory legislation for the operation of the Ranger uranium mine in the Northern Territory with regard to the disposal of radioactive tailings, including the requirements that –

(a) The tailings are physically isolated from the environment for at least 10,000 years: and

(b) Any contaminants arising from the tailings do not result in any detrimental environmental impacts for at least 10,000 years.”

The Barnett era WA gov Approval for the Mulga Rock Uranium Project (Dec 2016) fails to comply with required Commonwealth & NT legislative standards or with the WA Parliament recommendation.

There are two types of intended Tailings Storage Facilities (TSF): an Above Ground TSF and multiple Mine Pit TSF’s in 4 areas across 30 km. An “authorised extent of physical and operational elements” (Approval Schedule 1 Table 2) place some limits on Above Ground TSF but no limits on Mine Pit TSF’s:

Initial disposal for no longer than 2 years after commencement of mining operations, in the above ground TSF labelled on Figure 2. After this time, all disposal must be in the mine pits”;

Disposal of no more than 3 Mtpa of beneficiation rejects and no more than 2 Mtpa of post-leaching tailings material”, within an Above Ground TSF cleared area of up to 106 ha.

Mine Pit TSF’s are not required to use “best available landform modelling over 10 000 years post mine closure” or to try to meet a safety outcome that is applied to the Above Ground TSF disposal:

Condition 16 (1) ensure that the above ground TSF is safe to members of the public and non-human biota, geo-technically and geo-morphologically, and geo-chemically non-polluting.”

Condition 15-1 allows for a plume of tailings seepage and contaminants to move in groundwater:

The proponent shall manage the design and maintenance of all TSF’s to … ensure that the tailings plume is within background groundwater concentrations at the M39/1080 lease boundary”.

The TSF Monitoring and Management Plan (C 15-3) provides for the proponent: “to manage impacts on groundwater quality including from seepage of contaminants into the groundwater and/or soil”.

Conditions 12 & 14 only seek to “minimise impacts” on Inland Waters, on groundwater, and impacts on water quality, including: “Acid and Metalliferous Drainage from seepage into groundwater”.

A number of Management Plans relevant to TSF’s, Groundwater & Environment issues are required: “prior to substantial commencement of the proposal or as otherwise agreed in writing by the CEO” (Conditions 6-1 & 7-1). These Plans require the approval of the CEO Depart of Environment. 2

Barnett era WA gov Uranium Approvals fail to protect Aboriginal Heritage sites:

Redress is required to WA Uranium Approvals authorisation of impacts to Aboriginal Heritage in favour of mining vested interests and irrespective of cultural & heritage values. Aboriginal people should have rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent over any WA uranium mine proposal.

The WA Approval to the Mulga Rock Uranium Project (Condition 11-1 Aboriginal Heritage) authorises impacts to registered Aboriginal Heritage sites and to “unregistered sites”, with a weak objective to only minimise impacts on heritage sites rather than to properly protect sites and avoid impacts:

  1. minimise impacts as far as practical to registered sites DAA 1985 and DAA 1986 and unregistered sites.”

An Aboriginal Heritage Management Plan is required to be approved “prior to ground disturbing activities being undertaken” with decision powers held by the CEO of the Depart of Environment.

Flawed Federal Uranium Approval fails to mention Aboriginal Heritage or Tailings issues:

The Federal Approval to the Mulga Rock Uranium Project (02 March 2017, Minister Josh Frydenberg MP) inexplicably fails to mention Aboriginal Heritage or regulation of uranium mine radioactive tailings. These are unacceptable omissions of key Federal EPBC Act responsibilities to protect the environment from nuclear actions. The Federal ALP should commit to address this Liberal failure.

WA Approval Conditions require a “Compliance Assessment Plan” by May 2018:

WA Approval Condition 4 “Compliance Reporting” requires the proponent submit a “Compliance Assessment Plan” by May 2018, to the satisfaction of CEO Depart of Environment. This will test the new ALP State gov: acquiesce to uranium mining or require robust Plans to protect the environment.

Further, the CEO has a power under Condition 5 to require release of all validated environmental data relevant to assessment of the Mulga Rock Project “within a reasonable time period approved by the CEO”. These data sets should be made public ASAP and well prior to any Project commencement.

marginal Uranium Project risks a pristine Priority Ecological Community:

The Mulga Rock Uranium Project site is entirely inside the Yellow Sandplain Priority Ecological Community and upstream from the Queens Victoria Springs ‘A Class Nature Reserve’. The project poses a serious long term risk to a listed ‘pristine’ area through production of approx. 32 million tonnes of radioactive tailings and seepage of wastes that require isolation for over 10 000 years.

The Bulletin Magazine (Oct 2016) reports capital costs for Mulga Rock processing and mining infrastructure and indirect costs at over A$360 million, with a planned annual production of uranium oxide concentrate at (only) 1,350 tonnes over a mine life of 16 years. A ‘break even’ Uranium Price for Mulga Rock has been estimated at US$50 per pound. Steve Kidd a former senior official of the World Nuclear Association writes in NEI Magazine (Sept 2017) that: “…uranium prices are set to remain in the US$20’s per pound for a long time, maybe throughout the whole of the 2020’s.

For further info see: www.ccwa.org.au/nuclearfreewa and www.ccwa.org.au/mulga_rocks 

Australia. Mark Parnell on the final report of the Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission

April 2, 2018

What we saw with the royal commission is that they had a number of paid consultants—paid by you and I, the taxpayers—and they engaged these consultants who had clear, ongoing connections with the nuclear industry, often as lobbyists for the industry.

It became apparent very early on that the state was off on a frolic of its own. It was embarking on this major investigation about having a nuclear waste dump in South Australia when everyone knew that the bulk of the laws that regulate these things are at the commonwealth level.

Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission – Parliamentary Committee Report, Legislative Council, October 18th, 2017 http://www.markparnell.org.au/speech_prn.php?speech=1532

The final report of the Joint Committee on Findings of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was tabled in the South Australian Parliament on October 17 2017.  A copy of the report can be found here.

As a Member of the Parliamentary Committee, Mark spoke to the Report on October 18, and outlined his findings and recommendations in the Greens’ Minority Report.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: The notion that South Australia could become fabulously wealthy if only we would agree to take the world’s high-level nuclear waste was ill-conceived from the very beginning. The committee heard evidence about previous attempts to establish nuclear waste dumps in other parts of the world and in Australia. Those attempts have mostly failed because the fundamentals just do not stack up. The liability lasts forever, the technology is unproven and risky, the economics are flawed and the public do not want it under any circumstances, according to the South Australian citizens’ jury. So, this current proposal for South Australia has predictably and properly gone the way of its predecessors and it has been comprehensively dumped.

Whilst the Greens welcome the inevitable abandonment of this project, it has come at a significant cost to the community. Millions of dollars of public funds have been wasted pursuing this folly, and the community is rightly angry that other worthwhile projects and other investigations have suffered through this unnecessary distraction from the real issues that are facing South Australia.

The committee only had one recommendation that received majority support. That is the recommendation that no further public money be spent on a nuclear waste dump in South Australia. Read the rest of this entry »

Women, today and always, understand and fight the peril of nuclear war, nuclear pollution

April 2, 2018

WOMEN WILL RID THE WORLD OF NUCLEAR BOMBS, https://www.damemagazine.com/2018/03/09/women-will-rid-the-world-of-nuclear-bombs/ While Trump and Kim Jong-un plan to compare button sizes, female activists are working to erase nuclear threat. But will it be enough?, Dame,  

During this dangerous time, women are leading the charge to eradicate weapons of mass destruction and forestall nuclear war. We saw this most recently in the 2017 U.N. Treaty to Prohibit the Use of Nuclear Weapons. Approved with 122 states voting for, and one against, it is the first legally binding global ban on nuclear weapons, with the intention of moving toward their complete elimination. The preamble to the treaty recognizes the maltreatment suffered as a result of nuclear weapons, including the disproportionate impact on women and girls, and on indigenous peoples around the world. The treaty has been predominantly championed and promoted by women.

My interest in nuclear issues began nearly 10 years ago when I first uncovered my mother’s work as an antinuclear activist with a group called Women Strike for Peace. I have been following women doing nuclear activism all over the world—writing about them, protesting with them, teaching about them in my university classes—and I often bring my daughter with me. My mother’s story is being passed down through an intergenerational maternal line, and with it, the activism that may help save the world, or at least help shift its view on disastrous weapons. Learning about my mother’s work radically changed my perception of her. It also changed my life.

Between 1945 and 1963, more than 200 atmospheric, underwater, and space nuclear bomb tests were conducted by the U.S., primarily in the Nevada desert and the Marshall Islands. Hundreds more took place around the world. In many instances citizens were not informed of the tests, nor were they warned of their effects. The negative health impacts of the testing and exposure to ionizing radiation turned out to be vast: early death, cancer, heart disease, and a range of other incurable illnesses, including neurological disabilities, weakened immune systems, infertility, and miscarriage. Ionizing radiation damages genes (it is mutagenic), so the health ramifications of exposures are passed down through the generations.

In the 1950s, scientists concerned with the health impacts of bomb testing and the spread of ionizing radiation conducted the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey. The survey showed that radioactive fallout had traveled far and wide. Cow and breast milk contaminated with the isotope strontium 90 had entered children’s teeth. Strontium 90 metabolizes as calcium and these isotopes remain active in the body for many years. When Dagmar Wilson and Bella Abzug—who went on to become a Congresswoman and co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan—learned the results of the Baby Tooth Survey, they formed Women Strike for Peace. The group brought together concerned mothers from across the U.S. The women organized. First within their communities. And then, 50,000 mothers protested across the country, and 15,000 descended on Washington, D.C. for Women’s Strike for Peace Lobbying Day on November 1, 1961. My mother was one of those 15,000 protestors. The group’s efforts brought vast political attention to the dire health consequences of radioactive fallout and led to the banning of atmospheric bomb testing by the U.S., Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union in 1963, with the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Women Strike for Peace reflects a cultural nuclear gender binary—with women constructed as peaceful antinuclear protectors of children and the nation, and men positioned as perpetrators of nuclear war—the designers, planners, and regulators of weapons of mass destruction.

Has this exclusion of women from nuclear decision-making led to our current crisis—a host of locations worldwide contaminated with radioactive waste, and the great potential for nuclear war? Leading anti-nuclear activists seem to think so.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age men have dominated and controlled nuclear weapons design and policy. As Benjamin A. Valentino, Associate Professor of Government, and Coordinator, War and Peace Studies Program, Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College says, it is only recently that women have had access to positions of power in the military sphere. This is true in weapons’ sciences and engineering as well. While many women worked on the Manhattan Project, most held administrative roles. Has this exclusion of women from nuclear decision-making led to our current crisis—a host of locations worldwide contaminated with radioactive waste, and the great potential for nuclear war? Leading anti-nuclear activists seem to think so.

Carol Cohn, founding director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights at the University of Massachusetts-Boston suggests that nuclear-weapons discourse is deeply rooted in hegemonic patriarchy. In nuclear techno-language metaphors of male sexual activity are used to describe nuclear violence. Nuclear missiles are referred to in phallic terms. The violence of nuclear war is described in abstract and impersonal terms, such as “collateral damage.” In her recent New York Times op-ed, Cohn finds it unsurprising that hypermasculine nuclear language has surfaced so blatantly today with Trump’s tweets about the size of his nuclear button and his overall muscular championing of expanding the nuclear weapons complex.

Following the Women Strike for Peace model, legions of anti-nuclear NGOs worldwide are predominantly led by women, including Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Reaching Critical Will, the German Green Party, Mothers for Peace, Just Moms (St. Louis), International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, Green Action Japan, the women of Koondakulam in India, the antinuclear nuns Megan Rice, Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert, and many more.

At the U.N. conference to ban nuclear weapons in 2017, I asked Civil Society experts and participants about the importance of women as leaders in the antinuclear movement, and about the hegemony of masculinity in the nuclear weapons complex.

“Of course many men support disarmament and have participated in the treaty and current anti-nuclear efforts in general, but women overwhelmingly lead,” said Tim Wright, of the Australian branch of ICAN. ICAN won the 2017 Nobel Prize for their work on The Treaty to Prohibit the Use of Nuclear Weapons.

Ray Acheson, of Reaching Critical Will, said the proliferation of nuclear weapons is deeply embedded in “a misogynist and hegemonic culture of violence.” She stated this culture is oppressive to women, LGBTQ, the poor, and people of color, and, “we must smash patriarchy.” Such is the feminist cry heard around the world, but in this case, it might actually save us.

Beatrice Fihn, director of ICAN, explained that men are raised to be violent, to think it’s necessary to resolve differences through force, while “women, conversely, are socially trained to negotiate and compromise.”

According to Fihn, the problem in a patriarchal world is that peaceful negotiations are viewed as weak. The U.S. misogynist-in-chief feels we must drop nuclear bombs, expand our nuclear arsenal, and strong-arm competing nations, such as North Korea and Russia. The very act of supporting disarmament efforts in a patriarchal framework places “you in a feminine category,” Fihn stressed. “Those in favor of abolishing nuclear weapons, whether male or female, are characterized in negative, feminized terms. This characterization must be changed. It is not weak to abolish weapons of mass destruction. It is life-affirming.”

Women better understand this because they are the ones in charge of improving quality of life for all. Women most often function as caretakers of children and the elderly, they are aware of the human cost of war and radioactive disaster. When thinking about nuclear war, they wonder, if war breaks out, “How will we feed our children, how will we feed our sick? What will happen to our communities?” Fihn says she fears nuclear violence in respect to the safety of her own children. Fihn’s concern for her children echoes the concerns of my mother and her antinuclear cohort in the 1950s and ’60s. Like Fihn, they worked to save their children—all children—from radiation contamination and nuclear war. I hope I can carry on that legacy, and that my daughter chooses to pick up the cause as well.

For the 2017 UN Treaty to Prohibit the Use of Nuclear Weapons, women helped prepare key elements of the document and gave vital health testimony. Particularly poignant were tales from Australian Indigenous, Marshallese, and Hibakusha (Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors) women. I interviewed many of these women. Abacca Anjain-Madison, a former Senator of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, told me that between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear bomb tests on the Atoll Islands. Many babies born during the testing period resembled jellyfish and died quickly after their births. The Marshallese developed very high rates of cancer (and other diseases) as a result of ionizing radiation exposures. Now, with climate change, the radioactive dangers persist. Rising sea levels threaten the Runit Dome—a sealed space that contains large amounts of radioactive contamination. The dome has also begun to crack, and the U.S. has no plans to assist Marshallese with this crisis. They finished the cleanup and sealed the dome in 1979. Abacca Anjain-Madison asserts the clean up was not sufficient and the dome was never meant to be permanent. The Marshallese to do not have the means to protect themselves from the impending disaster.

Mary Olson, Southeast Director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, gave a presentation at the UN on the unequal health impacts of radiation exposures. Women remain unaccounted for in nuclear regulatory safety standards. Based on the data set from the BEIR VII report that both Olson and Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research have studied, women are twice as likely to get cancer, and nearly twice as likely than men to die from cancer associated with ionizing radiation exposures. Children are five to 10 times more likely to develop cancer in their lifetimes from radiation exposures than adult males, and girls are most vulnerable of all. Scientists do not yet understand why there is an age and gender disparity. The standard “reference man” by which radiation safety regulations are set are based on a white adult male. Olson and Makhijani argue that safety regulations must change to account for age and gender disparities. Further studies are needed to assess how people of different races are impacted by radiation exposures. To date, no such completed studies exist.

At the closing of the conference and signing of the 2017 UN Treaty to Prohibit the Use of Nuclear Weapons, two speeches were made—one by Setsuko Thurlow, a Hiroshima survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and leading campaigner for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Abacca Anjain-Madison of the Marshall Islands also spoke.

Setsuko Thurlow told her story of beholding the bomb dropping on her city in 1945. She described how, as an 13-year-old child, she witnessed the death of her brother, and “unthinkable” violence thrust upon on her people. For Thurlow, the signing of the UN Treaty to ban nuclear weapons is a miracle, but she believes we must rid the world of weapons entirely. She will not give up her efforts until that day comes. Neither will I.

Heidi Hutner is a writer and professor at Stony Brook University in New York. She teaches and writes about ecofeminism, literature, film and environmental studies. Currently, Hutner is working on a narrative nonfiction book manuscript titled, “Accidents Can Happen: Women and Nuclear Disaster Stories From the Field.”   Find her @HeidiHutner

March 28 – anniversary of Three Mile Island nuclear disaster and the lies about “no-one died”

April 2, 2018

Too little information clouds real impact of TMI, https://beyondnuclearinternational.org/2018/03/25/too-little-information-clouds-real-impact-of-tmi/ By Beyond Nuclear staff

The disaster at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, began on March 28, 1979. Today, 39 years later, the reality, of what really happened, and how many people it harmed, remains cloaked in mystery and misinformation. Unlike the popular catchphrase, TMI is a story of too little information.

What happened?

The two unit Three Mile Island nuclear power plant sits on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River, just ten miles southeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. TMI Unit 2 was running at full power, but had been commercially operational for just 88 days when, at 4 A.M. on Wednesday, March 28, 1979, it experienced either a mechanical or electrical failure that caused the turbine-generator and the nuclear reactor to automatically shut down.

The pressure and temperature in the reactor began to increase, but when a relief valve on top of the reactor’s primary coolant pressurizer stuck open, malfunctioning instrumentation indicated that the valve had shut. While cooling water emptied out of the reactor, operators mistakenly reduced the amount of cooling water flowing into the core, leading to the partial meltdown.

Workers deliberately and repeatedly vented radioactive gas over several days to relieve pressure and save the containment structure. Then came fears of a hydrogen explosion. But by April 1, when President Jimmy Carter arrived at the site, that crisis had been averted, and by April 27 the now destroyed reactor was put into “cold shutdown.” TMI-2 was finished. But its deadly legacy was to last decades.

How much radiation got out?

Within hours of the beginning of the nuclear disaster, onsite radiation monitors went off the scale because radiation levels exceeded their measurement capacity. There were only a few offsite radiation monitors operating that day. Subsequent examination of human blood, and of anomalies in animals and plants, suggest that significant levels of radiation were released.

In the days following the TMI meltdown, hundreds of local residents reported the same acute radiation exposure symptoms as victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings — nausea and vomiting, severe fatigue, diarrhea, hair loss and graying, and a radiation-induced reddening of the skin. For example, Marie Holowka, a dairy farmer near TMI, recalled as she left the milkhouse that morning that, outside, “it was so blue, I couldn’t see ten feet ahead of myself.” There was a “copper taste” in the air. She was later treated for thyroid problems. Given the absence of monitors and the paucity of evidence, the only real radiation meters were the people of Three Mile Island.

“No one died:” The biggest lie


Given that exposure to ionizing radiation is medically understood to cause diseases like cancer which can be fatal, there is no way to definitively state that “no one died at TMI” or later developed cancers. The opposite is far more likely to be true.

Estimates can be complicated by the long latency period for illnesses caused by exposure to radiation. Sometimes exposed populations move away and cannot be tracked. Nevertheless, long after a catastrophic radiation release, disease can still manifest, both from the initial radiation exposure and from slow environmental poisoning, as the radionuclides released by the disaster are ingested or inhaled for many generations.

The only independent study that looked at the aftermath of TMI was conducted by the late Dr. Stephen Wing and his team at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They looked at radiation-specific markers in residents’ blood, called biomarkers, to assess dose rather than relying solely on industry measured (or mis-measured as the case was) radiation emissions. The team concluded that lung cancer and leukemia rates were two to 10 times higher downwind of the Three Mile Island reactor than upwind.

Harm to animals and plants

After the radiation release from Three Mile Island, a number of plants exhibited strange mutations including extra large leaves (gigantism), double-headed blossoms and other anomalies. These plant anomalies were documented over decades by Mary Osborn, a local resident who conducted meticulous plant research and is a founder of Three Mile Island Alert. (Her deformed rose is pictured at the top of this story.)

Robert Weber, a Mechanicsburg veterinarian, reported a 10% increase in stillbirths, and a marked increase in the need for Cesarean Sections among sheep, goats and pigs in 1979, 1980, and 1981 in a 15-mile area around the TMI site. Dr. Weber also reported significant increases in the cancer rate among animals with shorter life spans such as dogs and cats. These findings are consistent with research around Chernobyl.

Evacuation failure

During the licensing phase of the construction and operation of TMI, a nuclear disaster was considered unthinkable. Consequently, emergency plans were practically non-existent when TMI began its meltdown. Emergency planning officials were repeatedly misinformed by TMI owner, Metropolitan Edison, on the disaster’s progression, and kept in the dark about the need for public protective actions in the early days at TMI.

On March 30, Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh finally “advised” that pregnant women and pre-school age children voluntarily evacuate a five-mile perimeter around TMI, an anticipated target population of 3,500 people. Instead, approximately 200,000 people spontaneously evacuated from a 25-mile perimeter.

TMI demonstrated that managing human responses during a nuclear catastrophe is not realistic and provokes unique human behavior not comparable to any other hazard.

Competing loyalties between work duty and personal family caused a significant number of staffing problems for various emergency response roles. As the crisis intensified, more emergency workers reported late or not at all.

Doctors, nurses and technicians in hospitals beyond the five-mile perimeter and out to 25 miles, spontaneously evacuated emergency rooms and their patients. Pennsylvania National Guard, nuclear power plant workers, school teachers and bus drivers assigned to accompany their students, abandoned their roles for family obligations. A similar response could be expected in the same situation today.

You can find our full investigation — The Truth About Three Mile Island — on our website. It is free to download and reprint.

 

Radioactive wastes – thousands of years before it is safe

April 2, 2018

Another Voice: Nuclear power, part 2, waste http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/article/NP/20180324/LOCAL1/180329966, By Crispin B. Hollinshead 

Let’s not forget the facts on ionising radiation: there is no “safe level”

April 2, 2018

Another Voice: Nuclear Power, part 1, Radiation http://www.ukiahdailyjournal.com/article/NP/20180318/LOCAL1/180319910 Crispin B. Hollinshead   

Harmful effects of radiation on Fukushima’s macaque monkeys

April 2, 2018

Stark health findings for Fukushima monkeys https://beyondnuclearinternational.org/2018/03/11/stark-health-findings-for-fukushima-monkeys-of-concern-for-humans/ By Cindy Folkers

Nuclear waste containers: the problem of corrosion in copper canisters

April 2, 2018

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

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

The Copper Corrosion Conundrum  No2Nuclear Power  http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/NuClearNews_No105.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MIT’s $millions plan for small nuclear fusion station

April 2, 2018

MIT Receives Millions to Build Fusion Power Plant Within 15 Years https://gizmodo.com/mit-receives-millions-to-build-fusion-power-plant-withi-1823644634?IR=T   Ryan F. Mandelbaum 10 Mar 18 Nuclear fusion is like a way-more-efficient version of solar power—except instead of harnessing energy from the rays of a distant sun, scientists create miniature suns in power plants here on Earth. It would be vastly more efficient, and more importantly, much cleaner, than current methods of energy production. The main issue is that actually realizing fusion power has been really difficult.

Some, like the folks at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, still worry that the excess neutrons produced in fusion could lead to radioactive waste or contaminants, as well as high costs.

Nature points out that there are plenty others are in the fusion-with-high-temperature-superconductors game, too. Princeton has its own tokamak, and there’s a British company called Tokamak Energy using a similar device to produce fusion energy. But all of the cash towards the MIT effort is significant.

“If MIT can do what they are saying—and I have no reason to think that they can’t — this is a major step forward,” Stephen Dean, head of Fusion Power Associates, in Maryland, told Nature.  Perhaps all fusion power needed to become reality was, well, a lot of money. Mumgaard said that CFS’ collaboration with MIT will “provide the speed to take what’s happening in the lab and bring it to the market.”