Operator of New Mexico nuclear dump reaped $1.9 million bonus after underground truck fire http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/07/20/operator-new-mexico-nuclear-dump-reaped-1-million-bonus-after-underground-truck/ CARLSBAD, N.M. – The contractor that operates the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico received a $1.9 million bonus just five days after an underground truck fire closed the facility.
The Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1nLfPmq) Sunday that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership the funds based on an “excellent” job performance in maintaining the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.
Some observers say last February’s fire and the radiation leak that followed nine days later show the contractor failed at its job.
Initial probes by federal regulators into both incidents identified a host of management and safety shortcomings.
The Department of Energy says it is not considering revising or terminating its contract with Nuclear Waste Partnership.
The company has a contract to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant through 2017.
The nuclear option still dogged by waste disposal problems http://www.independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/the-nuclear-option-still-dogged-by-waste-disposal-problems,6675 Climate News Network 16 July 2014 Nuclear power is seen as one of the possible solutions to climate change, but the recent closure of five U.S. power stations is forcing the industry to face up at last to the damaging legacy of how to deal with radioactive waste. Paul Brown fromClimate News Network reports.
LONG-TERM employment is hard to find these days, but one career that can be guaranteed to last a lifetime is dealing with nuclear waste.
The problem and how to solve it is becoming critical. Dozens of nuclear power stations in the U.S., Russia, Japan, and across Europe and Central Asia are nearing the end of their lives.
And when these stations close, the spent fuel has to be taken out, safely stored or disposed of, and then the pressure vessels and the mountains of concrete that make up the reactors have to be dismantled. This can take between 30 and 100 years, depending on the policies adopted.
In the rush to build stations in the last century, little thought was given to how to take them apart 40 years later. It was an age of optimism that science would always find a solution when one was needed, but the reality is that little effort was put into dealing with the waste problem. It is now coming back to haunt the industry.
Not that everyone sees it as a problem. A lot of companies view nuclear waste as a welcome and highly profitable business opportunity.
Either way, because of the dangers of radioactivity, it is not a problem that can be ignored. The sums of money that governments will have to find to deal with keeping the old stations safe are eye-wateringly large. They will run into many billions of dollars — an assured income for companies in the nuclear waste business, stretching to the end of this century and beyond.
The U.S. is a prime example of a country where the nuclear waste issue is becoming rapidly more urgent.
The problem has been brought to the fore in the U.S. because five stations have closed in the last two years. The Crystal River plant in Florida and San Onofre 1 and 2 in California have closed down because they were judged too costly to bring up to modern standards. Two more – Kewaunee in Wisconsin and the Vermont Yankee plant – could no longer compete on cost with the current price of natural gas and increased subsidies for renewables.
Nuclear Energy Insider, which keeps a forensic watch on the industry, predicts that several other nuclear power stations in the U.S. will also succumb to premature closure because they can no longer compete.
The dilemma for the industry is that the U.S. government has not solved the problem of what to do with the spent fuel and the highly radioactive nuclear waste that these stations have generated over the last 40 years. They have collected a levy – kept in a separate fund that now amounts to $31 billion – to pay for solving the problem, but still have not come up with a plan.
Since it costs an estimated $10 million dollars a year to keep spent fuel safe at closed stations, electricity utilities saddled with these losses, and without any form of income, are taking legal action against the government.
The U.S. government has voted another $205 million to continue exploring the idea of sending the waste to the remote Yucca Mountain in Nevada — an idea fought over since 1987 and still no nearer solution. Even if this plan went through, the facility would not be built and accepting waste until 2048.
The big problem for the U.S., the utility companies and the consumers who will ultimately pay the bill is what to do in the meantime with the old stations, the spent fuel, and the sites. Much of the fuel will be moved from wet storage to easier-to-manage dry storage, but it will still be a costly process. What happens after that, and who will pay for it, is anyone’s guess.
The industry is having a Nuclear Decommissioning and Used Fuel Strategy Summit in October in Charlotte, North Carolina, to try to sort out some of these issues.
But America is not alone. The U.K. has already closed a dozen reactors. Most of the rest are due to be retired by 2024, but it is likely that the French company EDF, which owns the plants, will try to keep them open longer.
The bill for dealing with existing nuclear waste in Britain is constantly rising and currently stands at £74 billion, even without any other reactors being decommissioned.
The government is already spending £2 billion each year trying to clear up the legacy of past nuclear activities, but has as yet found no solution to dealing with the thousands of fuel rods still in permanent store at power stations.
As with the U.S., even if a solution is found, it would be at least 2050 before a facility to deal with this highly dangerous waste could be found. By that time, billions of pounds will have been expended just to keep the used fuel from igniting and causing a nuclear meltdown.
It is hard to know how the industry’s finances could stand such a drain on its resources without going bankrupt.
Similar problems are faced by Germany, which is already closing its industry permanently in favour of renewables, and France, with more than 50 ageing reactors.
Japan, still dealing with the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in 2011, is composed of crowded islands where few people will welcome a nuclear waste depository.
Many countries in the former Soviet bloc with ageing reactors look to Russia – which provided them – to solve their problems. But this may be a false hope, as Russia has an enormous unsolved waste problem of its own.
In all these countries, the issue of nuclear waste and what to do with it is a problem that has been put off – both by the industry and politicians – as an issue to be dealt with sometime in the future. But the problem is becoming more urgent as the costs and the volume of waste rises dramatically.
Unlike any other form of generation, even dirty coal plants, getting rid of nuclear stations is no simple matter. To cleanse a nuclear site so that it can be used for another industrial use is difficult. Radioactivity lasts for centuries, and all contamination has to be physically removed.
For many critics of the industry, the nuclear waste issue has always been a moral issue – as well as a financial one – that should not be left to future generations to solve. The industry itself has always relied on its continuous expansion, and developing science, to deal what it calls “back end costs” at some time in the distant future.
But as more stations close, and fewer new ones are planned to raise revenue, putting off the problem no longer seems an option, either for the industry or for the governments that ultimately will have to pick up the bill.
Outcry prompts expedited plan to move fuel at Kewaunee nuclear plant Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel by Thomas Content 6 July 14 The Kewaunee nuclear power plant stopped producing electricity more than a year ago, but it left behind highly hazardous waste that has no place to go.
Radioactive rods of used nuclear fuel are cooling in a large storage pool inside the reactor, located east of Green Bay on the shore of Lake Michigan. Plant owner Dominion Resources Inc. wants to speed up plans to empty the pool and put the rods in more secure long-term storage.
Under Dominion’s plan, all of the spent fuel will be moved from the pool by the end of 2016. The rods will be encased in 24 concrete casks, each standing 18 feet tall, that will be moved from the reactor building to a concrete pad outside, said Dominion spokesman Mark Kanz.
Once they’re relocated, it’s unclear how long the radioactive remnants of the nuclear industry will stay in the casks. That’s because the federal government has no long-term plan for disposing of the waste now stored at scores of reactors around the country. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, Wisconsin has 1,430 tons, or about 2%, of the nation’s spent fuel.
Dominion hired NAC International of Atlanta to build and fill the casks, and move them from the Kewaunee reactor building. Terms of Dominion’s deal with NAC haven’t been disclosed, but the company told federal regulators that it will spend $103 million through 2016 to manage the spent fuel.
The company accelerated plans to remove and encase the spent fuel to address concerns raised by members of the local community, Kanz said.
Last year, residents and officials in the Kewaunee County Town of Carlton criticized Dominion after the company said it would take the full 60 years allowed by the federal government to decommission the power plant.
Taking that long to shutter the plant would cripple efforts to attract economic development to the area, they said………
A nuclear safety watchdog group, the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the risk to the public is decreased when the spent fuel is placed in concrete casks rather than keeping it in spent fuel pools………
The project is being paid for by the customers of three Wisconsin utilities — the former co-owners of the power plant. Those customers paid surcharges over the years into a decommissioning fund.
The value of that fund is less than Dominion says it needs to spend, at $649.3 million at the end of 2013. Dominion says the money is being invested so that it will grow over time and that there should be sufficient money available to pay for the decommissioning.
Dominion has also committed $60 million from its Virginia-based parent company toward the project, in the event funds in the decommissioning fund run short.
Wisconsin’s electric utility customers wouldn’t end up having to pay more, because Dominion bought the plant from Wisconsin utilities and took responsibility for decommissioning at that time.
When Wisconsin regulators approved the sale of the Kewaunee Power Station in 2005, they ordered Dominion to return any unspent decommissioning funds to state ratepayers……
As the stalemate in Washington over waste storage continues, the stockpiles of stored spent nuclear fuel enclosed in concrete casks are multiplying. How long the concrete casks will stay at the Kewaunee, Point Beach and La Crosse reactors in Wisconsin is very much up in the air.
Dominion’s plan calls for concrete casks to start being shipped to the control of the federal government within seven years — but that timeline may be merely wishful thinking, said David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ nuclear safety project.
“I likely have a better chance of winning the lottery than spent fuel leaving Kewaunee site in 2021 — and I don’t buy lottery tickets,” he said. http://www.jsonline.com/business/outcry-prompts-expedited-plan-to-move-fuel-at-kewaunee-nuclear-plant-b99302369z1-265974071.html
Gov’t Expert: Plutonium is certainly being discharged into Pacific Ocean from Fukushima plant; Flowing out of ruptured containments — TV: Reactor water turns into ‘yellowish, fizzing liquid’ from damaged fuel rods… “It actually vibrates” (PHOTO & VIDEO) http://enenews.com/study-plutonium-being-discharged-fukushima-pacific-ocean-flowing-ruptured-containment-vessels-tv-reactor-water-becomes-yellowish-fizzing-liquid-damaged-fuel-rods-actually-vibrates-video?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ENENews+%28Energy+News%29
P. Bossew, German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, PLUTONIUM EMISSION FROM THE FUKUSHIMA ACCIDENT (pdf), 2013 (emphasis added): While much has since been published on environmental contamination and exposure to radio-iodine and radio-caesium, little is known about releases of plutonium […] The inability to cool the fuel led to melting of parts of the reactor cores (which parts exactly, is not yet well known) […] [Causes of the containment] ruptures and leaks […] are not entirely clarified […] explosion seems to have produced further structural damage in the containments, at the one hand, and on the other hand released large amounts of radionuclides into the environment. […] the fraction of Pu released into the environment can be expected to be higher [than] atmospheric releases only. Certainly some Pu has been released with liquid effluents and discharged into the ocean. […] The liquid discharges certainly also contained Pu. […]
‘Modern Marvels‘ History Channel (at 19:45 in): It is now 28 hours since the accident at Three Mile Island began. The men in the control room have no way of looking into the reactor…. it now seems clear some of the 36,000 slendertubes holding the uranium fuel have cracked, this is allowing radioactivity to escape into the reactor coolant water. It is imperative operators know how much radioactivity is now in the coolant. Too much, and the nuclear chain reaction could restart… Foreman Ed Hauser agrees to risk his life to take the readings. This is allowing radioactivity to enter the coolant water. He is in for an even greater scare when he draws the coolant water sample. The water from the reactor should be clear; instead he stares at a yellowish, fizzing liquid… It actually vibrates in his hand.
See also: Study: Water helps dissolve Fukushima’s melted nuclear cores, accelerates corrosion — Plutonium concentrates on outer edge of fuel — Poses “a much longer environmental threat” than initial releases — Transport of nuclear material into environment to continue for many years if not isolated
Nuclear site home to the 1976 ‘Atomic Man’ disaster that exposed worker to ’500 times’ the occupational standard of radiation to be demolished Daily Mail, 4 July 14
- Harold McCluskey was working at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation when a chemical reaction caused a glass glove box to explode.
- He was exposed to the highest dose of radiation from the chemical element americium ever recorded — 500 times the occupational standard
- It took more than a year for doctors to remove enough radioactive material from his body to make it safe for him to be around other people
- The DOE hopes to have the facility ready for demolition by summer 2016
“……….Hanford contains the nation’s greatest collection of nuclear waste, and for more than two decades has been engaged in the dangerous work of cleaning up that waste. The space now dubbed the McCluskey Room is located inside the closed Plutonium Finishing Plant and is scheduled for cleanup this summer.
‘It’s been largely closed up since the accident,’ Geoff Tyree, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Energy in Richland, said Wednesday. ‘It was restricted for the potential for airborne radiation contamination.’
Since 2008, the Department of Energy and contractor CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company have been preparing the plant for demolition.
‘About two-thirds of the Plutonium Finishing Plant is deactivated — cleaned out and ready for demolition,’ said Jon Peschong, an assistant DOE manager in Richland. ‘Cleaning out the McCluskey Room will be a major step forward.’
When specially trained and equipped workers enter the room this summer, they will encounter airborne radioactivity, surface contamination, confined spaces and poor ventilation, the DOE said.
They will be wearing abrasion-resistant suits that protect them from surface contamination and chemicals. A dual-purpose air system will provide cool air for breathing and cool air throughout the suit for worker comfort, allowing them to work for longer periods of time. The suits are pressurized, to prevent workers from coming into contact with airborne contaminants.
The McCluskey Room ‘is going to be the toughest work ahead of us as we finish cleaning the plant and getting it ready for demolition by the end of September 2016,’ Tyree said. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2678623/Department-Energy-plans-demolition-nuclear-site-home-1976-Atomic-Man-disaster-exposed-worker-500-times-occupational-sta
Russia announces enormous finds of radioactive waste and nuclear reactors in Arctic seas August 28, 2012 by Bellona Enormous quantities of decommissioned Russian nuclear reactors and radioactive waste were dumped into the Kara Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Siberia over a course of decades, according to documents given to Norwegian officials by Russian authorities and published in Norwegian media. “…..The catalogue of waste dumped at sea by the Soviets, according to documents seen by Bellona, and which were today released by the Norwegian daily Aftenposten, includes some 17,000 containers of radioactive waste, 19 ships containing radioactive waste, 14 nuclear reactors, including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel; 735 other pieces of radiactively contaminated heavy machinery, and the K-27 nuclear submarine with its two reactors loaded with nuclear fuel.
Bellona’s two decades on the case
“Bellona has worked with this issue since 1992 when we first revealed the dangerous nuclear waste laying at the bottom of the Kara Sea,” said Bellona President Frederic Hauge.
He acknowledged, however, that a precise accounting from the Russian side could hardly be expected given Russia’s own ignorance of the extent of the dumped radioactive waste………
Making way for oil exploration
Bellona’s Igor Kurdrik, an expert on Russian naval nuclear waste, said that, “We know that the Russians have an interest in oil exploration in this area. They therefore want to know were the radioactive waste is so they can clean it up before they beging oil recovery operations.” He cautiously praised the openness of the Russian report given to Norway and that Norway would be taking part in the waste charting expedition.
Bellona thinks that Russia has passed its report to Norway as a veiled cry for help, as the exent of the problem is far too great for Moscow to handle on its own.
The most crucial find missing
Kudrik said that one of the most critical pieces of information missing from the report released to the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority was the presence of the K-27 nuclear submarine, which was scuttled in 50 meters of water with its two reactors filled with spent nuclear fuel in in Stepovogo Bay in the Kara Sea in 1981.
Information that the reactors about the K-27 could reachieve criticality and explode was released at the Bellona-Rosatom seminar in February…….http://bellona.org/news/uncategorized/2012-08-russia-announces-enormous-finds-of-radioactive-waste-and-nuclear-reactors-in-arctic-seas
Study: Fukushima plutonium in playground 60 km from nuclear plant — “Proves that indeed Plutonium has been emitted by the accident” — Some “in the form of fuel fragments”? — Up to 14 Billion Bq of Pu-239 and-240 released (MAP) http://enenews.com/study-fukushima-plutonium-in-playground-60-km-from-nuclear-plant-proves-that-indeed-plutonium-has-been-emitted-by-the-accident-some-may-be-in-
P. Bossew, German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, PLUTONIUM EMISSION FROM THE FUKUSHIMA ACCIDENT (pdf), 2013 (emphasis added): [...] Apparently no explosive fuel fragmentation occurred, so that little, if any of the release happened in the form of fuel fragments. […] Only scattered data are available from the farther surroundings. It can be assumed that continuous and frequent monitoring of environmental media for Pu from locations more distant than a few km was deemed unnecessary […] Given two different sources (global and Fukushima fallout) with different, but known 238Pu : 239+240Pu ratios, the contributions of the both in a sample which is a mixture of both can be calculated […] we estimated a median 2.28 (95% conf. interval 1.98 –2.58),  and 2.19 ± 0.48 (1 ), , for Fukushima emissions. […] The background Pu ratio in global fallout has been reported 0.035 ± 0.008 […] a map of the 238Pu : 239+240Pu ratio in the region around the NPP […] The “trace” towards NW from the NPP, in which the Pu ratio deviates strongly from the background […] This proves that indeed Pu has been emitted by the accident […] For 238Pu, the Fukushima contribution is much higher than the global one in many places (as detectable at all) because the Pu ratio is much higher in Fukushima (~2.19) than in global fallout (~0.035). […] Keeping with [the total 137Cs release of] 15 PBq given by NISA […] we find an atmospheric emission of 239+240Pu equal 4.2 GBq. Using the upper estimate of released 137Cs, 50 PBq, a release of 14 GBq is found. [NISA 239+240Pu estimate = 6.4 GBq; Zheng et al. 239+240Pu estimate = 1.0 to 2.4 GBq] […] It should be stressed that the evidence of Pu from Fukushima does not pose any radiological concern [...]
P. Bossew, German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, Hirosaki University, Anthropogenic Radionuclides in Environmental Samples from Fukushima Prefecture (pdf), 2013: Three samples [all taken approx. 60 km from FDNPP, 1 from a parking area in Koriyama city and 2 from a playground in Fukushima city] were measured twice [...] Sample 4 was too small for a meaningful analysis. […] The result found in this study is consistent with a Pu/ Cs ratio reported by Imanaka et al. (2012) for a highly contaminated place in the Fukushima zone as below 1 E-6 [...] Zheng et al. 2011 found 239+240 Pu/137Cs in soil, close to the NPP, as (3.6 ± 1.1) E-7 (only samples with 241Pu>0 considered, and Fukushima contribution 87% to the sample J-village, surface soil , as suggested by the authors), which is in good agreement with the results of this study.
See also: Scientists: Plutonium released from Fukushima “is of radiological concern”; Reactor must be source, not spent fuel pool — Study: Plutonium found 120 km from plant; “Pu and non-natural uranium certainly increased in environment”
Sweden plans big rise in fees to nuclear decommissioning fund http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/sweden-plans-big-rise-in-fees-to-nuclear-decommissioning-fund/articleshow/37335517.cms By Reuters | 27 Jun, 2014 OSLO: Sweden on Friday proposed a sharp rise in fees nuclear power producers have to pay the country’s nuclear decommissioning fund, saying previous cost estimates were too low.
Sweden has three nuclear power plants with ten reactors in operation, generating about 40 per cent of the country’s electricity needs. The oldest reactors are expected to be shut at the beginning of the next decade.
OSLO: Sweden on Friday proposed a sharp rise in fees nuclear power producers have to pay the country’s nuclear decommissioning fund, saying previous cost estimates were too low. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) said it has proposed raising fees by 73 per cent to 0.038 crowns ($0.01) per kilowatt-hour from 0.022 crowns for 2015.
It said the Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Company (SKB) had to recalculate fees to the nuclear decommissioning fund for the period of 2016-2017.
“The SSM has assessed that the costs for decommissioning and final disposal for the Swedish nuclear power industry may be underestimated by SKB by at least 11 billion Swedish crowns ($1.63 billion),” the authority said in a statement.
Sweden’s state-owned utility Vattenfall operates seven reactors and Germany’s E.ON three. Finnish utility Fortum has stakes in six Swedish nuclear reactors.
Britain’s nuclear clean-up bill soars to £110bn http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/10921309/Britains-nuclear-clean-up-bill-soars-to-110bn.html Spiralling costs at Sellafield site in Cumbria contribute to £6.6bn increase in bill for tackling Britain’s nuclear waste By Emily Gosden
8:16PM BST 23 Jun 2014 The bill for cleaning up Britain’s nuclear waste has topped £110bn, after a £6.6bn increase in the cost estimate for work required over the next 120 years
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said that the biggest increase derived from a fresh assessment of the work required at Sellafield, the country’s biggest and most toxic nuclear site.
Sellafield, in Cumbria, is now estimated to cost £79.1bn to clean up, but the NDA warned that the total would “increase significantly next year” once it had fully assessed a new “performance plan” for the site.
The NDA controversially renewed a contract with Nuclear Management Partners to manage Sellafield despite fierce criticism from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office of the company’s performance.
The NDA’s annual report and accounts make clear the huge scale of uncertainty that exists over the ultimate bill for Britain’s civil and military nuclear waste.
It says it has “reviewed a number of scenarios with a range of possible outcomes” and found that “the estimated cost could have a potential range from £88bn to £218bn”.
The figure of £110bn is on an “undiscounted” basis. Once discounted, the total is £65bn.
25 years on at America’s most contaminated nuclear waste site BBC News, Washington 10 June 2014 By Taylor Kate Brown The town of Hanford, Washington, has long been the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the US. But critics say poor management has put the site in further danger.
When Susan Leckband moved to eastern Washington state to take a job 30 years ago, radioactive contamination was not on her mind.
“I loved my job,” she says.
But it was only a handful of years before the place she worked, Hanford, turned from a plutonium production complex to a massive environmental clean-up site.
For Leckband, the question is not about the past, but the progress made on cleaning contaminated buildings and soil.
“It’s important to the entire Pacific North-West… the food crops, the salmon, the Indian tribes – it’s a huge, huge obligation,” she says.
Situated on a plain along the Columbia River, the Hanford site is where the US produced plutonium used in the Manhattan Project, for the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, and for a Cold War stockpile………despite some progress, the site’s most complicated and potentially dangerous waste issue – 56 million gallons (255 million litres) of high-level radioactive waste sitting inside tanks at the centre of the site – is facing more problems.
In the mid-1980s, activists and reporters began to unwind Hanford’s history, detailing safety lapses and environmental hazards across the site. ………
Hanford’s daunting clean-up problem in 1989
100 sq miles (259 sq km) of contaminated groundwater
56 million gallons (254 million litres) of liquid waste, in tanks buried just below ground
More than 1,000 ad hoc burial sites of waste
Hundreds of contaminated buildings
450 billion gallons of contaminated water released at ground level……..http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26658719
Fracking brings instability and anxiety to the area around USA’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP)
Will Fracking Cause Our Next Nuclear Disaster? 09 June 2014 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | The idea of storing radioactive nuclear waste inside a hollowed-out salt cavern might look good on paper. The concept is to carve out the insides of the caverns, deep underground, then carefully move in the waste. Over time, the logic goes, the salt will move in and insulate the containers for thousands of generations. “The whole game is to engineer something that can contain those contaminants on the order of tens of thousands of years,” Tim Judson, the executive director of the Nuclear Information Resource Service(NIRS), told Truthout. NIRS is intended to be a national information and networking center for citizens and environmental activists concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues, according to Judson.
Salt-cavern storage was the plan for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), the world’s third-deepest geological repository, constructed and licensed to permanently dispose of radioactive waste for 10,000 years. The repository sits approximately 26 miles east of the town of Carlsbad in southeastern New Mexico.
Since shipments began in 1999, more than 80,000 cubic meters and 11,000 shipments of waste have been transferred to WIPP.
But at the moment, there are several ongoing critical problems at the site, which has been closed and unable to accept shipments of radioactive waste ever since a fire and radiation release in February. Dozens of barrels of radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Lab, like the one that caused the radiation leak, now pose an “imminent” or “substantial” threat to public health and the environment.
Yet, these problems could pale in comparison to what might happen at the site if an earthquake were to strike, or if the protective salt layer were compromised by nearby drilling for oil and gas, and in particular, hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking.
Fracking is a technique used in obtaining gas and petroleum, in which water is mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, and the mixture is injected at extremely high pressure into a wellbore to create small fractures.
Thus, one would logically deduce that fracking should never be done anywhere near WIPP. However, it is being done there, and experts expect it to increase.
“In the last three years, a dozen fracking wells have become operational within five miles of the site [WIPP],” Don Hancock, the director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at Southwest Research and Information Center, told Truthout.
Given that it is already well known that fracking causes earthquakes, it is clear that the nuclear waste storage site is now in danger of having its structural integrity compromised.
“These are the major concerns,” Hancock warned. “There is clearly a possibility that the deep fracking can affect the stability, but even more likely is fracking liquids nearing or entering the waste beds – which would be a very bad thing.”
“They Are Drilling All Around It”
Truthout spoke with a state of New Mexico employee who is intimately familiar with the permitting and drilling processes related to WIPP. The employee spoke on condition of strict anonymity, due to a fear of reprisals from the pro-drilling administration of radical right-wing Tea Party Governor Susana Martinez.
“There is so much drilling coming online down there now,” the employee explained. “They are going back into existing fields and drilling horizontally, and the WIPP siteis located right in the middle of all these fields, so they are drilling all around it.”
The source said that the oil and gas companies who are drilling and fracking near WIPP “have permission to go under the [WIPP] boundary to target the reservoirs there, so it appears as though most of the wells are horizontal, and that is a concern.”
According to the employee, “The fracking fluids they are injecting are very unstable, and if it continues like this there could be big problems…. There was a 5.2 [earthquake] in West Texas from fracking, and that’s a big concern given the sensitivity of the WIPP site and what the possible consequences could be.”…….http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/24201-will-fracking-cause-our-next-nuclear-disaster
25 years on at America’s most contaminated nuclear waste site BBC News, Washington 10 June 2014 By Taylor Kate Brown “…….In February, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden accused the DOE of a “never-ending pattern of failing to disclose what it actually knows about conditions at Hanford”. Wyden is most recently concerned about the tanks holding by-products of plutonium production, buried just below the surface at the centre of the site.
The original containers, single-shell tanks built in the 1940s and 1950s, had already leaked at least 1 million gallons of liquid waste into the ground. Hanford officials built double-shell tanks in the 1970s and 1980s and began transferring the radioactive waste into the newer vessels.
But in October 2012, the energy department announced one of the double-shell tanks was leaking into the space between the two shells. Waste in that tank has not entered the environment.
Wyden released an engineering review that said six other double-shells had similar construction flaws. He accused the agency of hiding what they knew, as the report had been made months after the initial leak announcement, but no other warnings from the DOE had followed.
Meanwhile, Hanford officials have recently submitted a plan to start emptying the leaking tank in two years.
Then, in late March, two dozen workers fell ill because of chemical vapours near the tanks. Workers again noticed vapours around the tanks in May. The composition of the waste in the leaking tank makes it more likely to corrode, Fletcher says. No other double-shell tank holds such a mixture and full inspections on the tanks will now be done more frequently,
But in general, the double-shells must do their job for several more decades until a waste treatment plant – currently under construction – immobilises in glass all 56 million gallons of waste in the tanks.
The treatment plant was scheduled to become operational by 2019, but construction has been slowed or entirely halted on two key parts of the plant for additional testing. Once the treatment plant goes into operation, parts of it must be run entirely by robotics because of the high radioactivity of the waste. Regulators call it a “black-box” system.
Hanford Challenge represents two whistleblowers, Walt Tamosaitis and Donna Busche, who say they have been punished for expressing concerns about the treatment plant’s design.
Carpenter says the whistleblowers are speaking up now because once the plant begins operations, there will be no chance to fix potentially dangerous errors.
Both Tamosaitis and Busche have been fired by URS, one of the contractors at Hanford.
The energy department says it has asked its inspector general to “review the circumstances surrounding the termination of Ms Busche”, a safety manager who alleged continuing harassment since she first brought up concerns in 2011. Meanwhile the waste remains in the aging tanks. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26658719
Will Fracking Cause Our Next Nuclear Disaster? 09 June 2014 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout “…….Due to the ongoing problems at WIPP, the federal government’s Department of Energy (DOE) recently notified the state of New Mexico that it would be unable to meet a June 30 deadline to remove 3,706 cubic meters of nuclear waste from the mesa at Los Alamos National Lab where it is stored.
“As we work to assess the conditions of the transuranic waste program at the lab, we have decided to halt further shipments until we can reassure the public that it is safe to do so,” DOE Deputy Under Secretary David Klaus said.
As a result of the February radiation leak and fire within the facility, WIPP officials at the site discounted any effect of the current leak on human health, saying no radiation escaped to the surface. But they did not speak about the extent of the problem or how it eventually would be cleaned up.
“Officials at WIPP continue to monitor the situation,” DOE spokeswoman Deb Gillsaid at the time of the leak. “We are emphasizing there is no threat to human health and the environment.”
Contradicting Gill’s assurances, plutonium readings were detected at a DOE field office half a mile from the site. Joe Franco, the manager of the DOE field office, confirmed the readings……… Continue reading
Breaking Bad: A Nuclear Waste Disaster By Joseph Trento, DC Bureau, June 5th, 2014″…….. Former President George W. Bush and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s single largest political contributor, the late Texas billionaire Harold C. Simmons, founded Waste Control Specialists and used his political influence to get the West Texas nuclear disposal site approved by state and federal licensing officials. The political efforts used to secure the licensing caused years of controversy in Texas. Environmentalists opposed the site because it is on an important aquifer in Texas. Another reason is that one of Simmons’s companies had operated a lead incinerator in Dallas that became an EPA Superfund Site.
Despite this environmental pedigree, LANL and DOE officials chose Waste Control Specialists to administrator their alternative nuclear waste storage site. While technically the company has licenses only for low-level nuclear waste, under its Texas permit, Waste Control can accept certified waste from federal agencies.
DOE officials said the Waste Control site is just a temporary alternative to the disabled WIPP. That is not true. Los Alamos and other national laboratories with high-level nuclear waste have been planning to use the Texas site for years, well before is licenses had been approved. The political promises that were made that it would be only for low-level waste were a ruse. As long as four years ago, during a Savannah River Site Citizens Advisory Board meeting in Aiken, South Carolina, DOE officials and SRS contractors talked openly about using the Texas site to offload uranium waste from SRS.
In late May, DOE investigators became so concerned about the Los Alamos containers being stores in what amounts to an open pit, they halted the shipments to Waste Control. The 112 canisters already at Waste Control were ordered to be isolated and surrounded by large concrete containers as well monitored by television camera. As of May 28, seventy-three Los Alamos containers have been segregated and covered with the cement and gravel-filled barriers.
Harold Simmons’s team lobbied hard to get only the second license in U.S. history from DOE for a private nuclear dump. They got the licensing in the last days of the Bush administration. Prior to the LANL decision to ship containers of transuranic waste to the site, there were warnings to Waste Control that it had already been accepting waste it was not permitted to receive.
Pressure has been building for years for DOE to stabilize and isolate its growing high-level nuclear waste stream. After the WIPP explosion, the DOE suddenly concluded that the thousands of feet below earth in salt beds were no longer needed to store the most deadly radioactive material on earth. Open trenches in the West Texas desert would be good enough. On April 2, tractor trailers hauled the first of the Los Alamos casks of radioactive high-level waste to the Andrews County dump before the WIPP investigation team succeeded in halting the shipments……”.http://www.dcbureau.org/201406059835/natural-resources-news-service/breaking-bad-nuclear-waste-disaster.html
they must stop making this radioactive trash
Failed Nuclear Weapons Recycling Program Could Put Us All in Danger io9, Mark Strauss, 7 June 14, Some government screw-ups are so epic that they require decades of effort. Such was the case for the recently cancelled plan to convert surplus weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel. Not only did the U.S. waste $4 billion dollars, it increased the likelihood that terrorists could obtain bomb-making materials.
It sounded like a good idea at the beginning. Let’s turn megatons into megawatts!
In 2000, the United States and Russia signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA). Each country pledged to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of plutonium from their nuclear weapons programs. U.S. nuclear weapons contain less than four kilograms of plutonium, so the combined total of 68 metric tons is enough for some 17,000 nuclear weapons. Disposing of this plutonium would make it more difficult to reverse U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions and would prevent terrorists from gaining access to the material.
The United States settled on a plan to convert most of its surplus plutonium into fuel for nuclear reactors. A massive reprocessing plant would be built at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, which, during the Cold War, had refined nuclear material for deployment in warheads. Now, the site would have a new mission: creating nuclear fuel from a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxide, otherwise known as mixed oxide fuel, or MOX. Although nuclear power plants in the U.S. use fuel made from low-enriched uranium (LEU), other countries had demonstrated that MOX was a viable alternative.
Instead, the final outcome was a mothballed facility and a still-increasing supply of surplus plutonium. Like I said, this isn’t your typical government boondoggle. It was twenty years in the making………. Continue reading
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