MOX fuel rods used in Japanese Nuclear Reactor present multiple dangers, DC Bureau By Joseph TrentoMarch 15th, 2011 The mixed oxide fuel rods used in the compromised number three reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi complex contain enough plutonium to threaten public health with the possibility of inhalation of airborne plutonium particles. The compromised fuel rods supplied to the Tokyo Electric Company by the French firm AREVA.
Plutonium is at its most dangerous when it is inhaled and gets into the lungs. The effect on the human body is to vastly increase the chance of developing fatal cancers.
Masashi Goto, a reactor researcher and designer for Toshiba, told the Foreign Correspondents Club in Toyko the mixed oxide (MOX) fuel used in unit 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility uses plutonium, which is “much more toxic than the fuel used in the other reactors.”
Goto said that the MOX also has a lower melting point than the other reactor fuels. The Fukushima facility began using MOX fuel in September 2010, becoming the third plant in Japan to do so, according to MOX supplier AREVA.
Part of the process of making MOX fuel is to grind plutonium into a fine power before it is robotically inserted into fuel rods. Experts agree these tiny plutonium particles once airborne are extremely dangerous to human health. One of the unique characteristics of mixed oxide fuel is that relatively little of the plutonium in the fuel rods is used up in the fuel cycle in a reactor. “When the plutonium in the fuel rods goes into a reactor for commercial power, a very little of it is going to be consumed. I don’t know what percentage, maybe half percentage or something like that, but it’s going to generate an extraordinary amount of contamination throughout the fuel rods…,” says William Lawler, an expert on radioactive waste…….
Mixed oxide fuel is a combination of finely ground up plutonium particles and uranium oxide fabricated into fuel rods at an AREVA subsidiary in La Hague, France. The fuel is made from reprocessing old reactor fuel. Reprocessing was abandoned by the United States in the 1970s because of the dangers of weapons proliferation.
The CIA has reported that Japan’s nuclear power program was not limited to the peaceful production of electrical power. The program had its roots in a secret weapons program that caused the CIA to conclude as far back as 1964 that Japan could assemble within months a nuclear weapon.
Because of the Japanese public’s fear of nuclear weapons, the various subsequent Japanese governments have kept the program secret and have repeatedly denied its existence when news organizations made inquiries. http://www.dcbureau.org/20110315782/natural-resources-news-service/mox-fuel-rods-used-in-japanese-nuclear-reactor-present-multiple-dangers.html#sthash.NydPfWmn.dpuf
NuClear News, April 15 Alternatives to MOX A new report by Frank von Hippel and Gordon MacKerron reviews programs in France, Japan, the UK and the US to dispose of large stocks of separated plutonium in nuclear power reactor mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. Most of these efforts have suffered long delays and large cost increases and all have failed to reduce plutonium stockpiles. This has led some of these countries to consider alternatives.
A less costly and more effective approach may be to treat plutonium as a waste to be processed into a stable form and deeply buried. These alternative approaches include disposal with radioactive waste or spent fuel or disposal down a 3-mile (5-kilometer) deep borehole. The report recommends that more than one direct-disposal approach be pursued. It also recommends that the countries that share the problem of plutonium disposal collaborate on exploring direct-disposal options.
Finally, it recommends that the quantities of plutonium disposed by the weapon states be verified by the IAEA. The huge cost overruns in the under-construction MOX plant at the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina led the Obama Administration to conclude in 2013 that plutonium disposal via MOX “may be unaffordable.”
This has revived policy interest in the U.S. in the possibilities of direct disposal of plutonium as a waste. Efforts to convert foreign separated plutonium into MOX fuel encountered technical problems in the UK, forcing the abandonment of the Sellafield MOX Plant. The UK has therefore looked, in at least a pro forma way, at direct-disposal alternatives.
In the late 1990s, the U.S. studied in considerable depth a “can-in-canister” option in which immobilized plutonium would be embedded in some of the high-level reprocessing waste from which it had been originally separated. This was a way to create a radiation barrier around the plutonium like that around the plutonium in spent fuel, which makes plutonium inaccessible except via chemical and mechanical operations controlled remotely from behind thick radiation shields.
The can-in-canister approach also shares the merit with MOX that it just adds marginally to the quantity of an already existing waste form for which a geological repository has to be found in any case. This option may still be of particular interest in the US, which will be disposing of reprocessing waste for several decades into the future.
In France and the UK, where high-level waste vitrification has been ongoing in parallel with reprocessing, it may be impossible to pursue the “can-in-canister” option unless it is planned well before reprocessing ends. There are other options, however. One that appears increasingly attractive is deep borehole disposal. It does not involve a radiation barrier, but retrieval would be much more difficult than from a closed geological repository.http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo73.pdf
How The First Lump Of Plutonium Made On Earth Got Lost http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2015/01/how-the-first-lump-of-plutonium-made-on-earth-got-lost/ SARAH ZHANG, 9 JAN 15, A few years ago, the first lump of plutonium scientists ever made on Earth disappeared from display in Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science. Berkeley physicists think they have finally found it again — thankfullybefore it got thrown out as radioactive waste.
This precious lump of plutonium dates back to 1941. Plutonium doesn’t exist naturally on Earth, except in trace amounts. So to study plutonium, scientists first had to make it. Berkeley physicist Glenn Seaborg got access to a newly built cyclotron, where he and his collaborators bombarded uranium with neutrons. The material then decays into the new element of plutonium.
After a year, they had enough plutonium for the first sample large enough to weigh. It was all of 2.77 micrograms.
Seaborg would go on to win a Nobel Prize for his discovery of plutonium and other transuranium elements. The room where he did his work in Gilman Hall has since become a US National Historic Landmark. That historic sample was converted into plutonium oxide and placed in a glass tube, where it was put on display in Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science.
In the late 2000s, however, Berkeley began to worry about the dangers putting the plutonium on display. The sample was removed and put away — except no one really knew where. Some time later, a box labelled “First sample of Pu weighed” was found at the Berkeley’s Hazardous Material Facility, a waystation for hazardous waste. Thankfully, a knowledgable eye saw it and discerned its historical value.
The label’s claim was promising, but how could we prove that this was actually Seaborg’s sample? With science, of course. The Physics ArXiv Blog explains:
It turns out that plutonium created in a cyclotron is very different from most plutonium, which is created inside nuclear reactors and then separated from spent nuclear fuel. That’s because this stuff always contains another isotope, plutonium-241.
This is a half-life of just over 14 years and decays into americium-241. So samples of plutonium from nuclear reactors, always contain americium-241 in amounts that grow over time. What’s more, Am-241 in turn decays producing gamma rays with an energy of 59 kiloelectron volts.
Eric Norman’s lab at Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering monitored the sample for gamma rays with an energy of 59 kiloelectron volts. They didn’t find any, meaning the sample was most likely created in a cyclotron like Seaborg’s. In addition, the mass matches up. The evidence all points toward this being the missing plutonium.
Now that Seaborg’s sample has been recovered, there’s talk of putting it back on display in his former office in Gilman Hall — perhaps a more fitting place than the trash bin. [The Physics ArXiv Blog]
Savannah River Site Becoming World’s Nuclear Dumping Ground, despite Safety Risks By: GLORIA TATUM Atlanta Progressive News 6-9-2014
“……..We are wasting money and increasing the risk of a terrorist accident if we build that MOX plant at SRS. Plutonium fuel cost more than uranium fuel and there’s plenty of uranium on the planet. So we are taking other people’s plutonium to keep a MOX plant running and no one wants to buy the output from it,” Gundersen told APN.
Plutonium is a man made element derived from the transformation of uranium through fission. Plutonium, Pu-239, has a half life of 24,100 hundred years; that’s the time it will take for half of the plutonium to radioactively decay. Radioactive contaminants are dangerous for ten to twenty times the length of their half-lives, meaning that if plutonium gets into the environment, it will be dangerous essentially forever. If ingested into the body, it causes DNA damage in tissue, and cancer.
The use of MOX fuel does not get rid of plutonium; instead it becomes part of the lethal soup of ingredients termed “high level nuclear waste.” There are no safe long-term storage for nuclear waste, only interim storage solutions for waste that will remain hazardous for thousands of years.
“When I hear plutonium in the environment, it becomes a problem not only for the next generation – we were not even a [human] species a quarter of a million years ago – we might be a new species before this stuff completely disintegrates from the environment,” Gundersen said. http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/nuclear-dumping-ground-despite-safety-risks.html
Citizens living downstream from the site have complained for years of high levels of cancer and death in their community, which they attribute to the SRS and Plant Vogtle’s nuclear reactors across the river on the Georgia side.
“The DOE is more interested in jobs this year and totally forgetting about the environmental costs for the next 300 or a thousand years. It’s unfair to the people of Georgia and South Carolina to make some money now and pollute the Savannah River for a thousand years,” Gundersen said. http://www.fairewinds.org/secretly-dumping-peoples-problems/#sthash.mtEhWriM.dpuf
The nuclear money pit, The Economist Does America really need a new plutonium production line? Dec 15th 2014 | LOS ANGELES THE RECENT sabre rattling by Vladimir Putin may have unwittingly done what the United States Congress has failed to do for decades: refocus attention—and billions of additional dollars—on overhauling America’s nuclear arsenal. The $585 billion defence bill for the next fiscal year sailed through the House of Representatives last week with broad bipartisan support, and then did the same in the Senate on December 12th, despite all the fractious squabbling over the $1.1 trillion government funding measure.
More pertinently, the $11.7 billion request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a branch of the Department of Energy that oversees nuclear weapons, naval reactors and nonproliferation activities on behalf of the military, represents a 4% increase over the previous year. The biggest chunk of that—covering work on modernising the country’s nuclear weapons—is to increase by 7%. All this at a time when mandated “sequestration” cuts are supposed to be reducing military spending.
All told, the federal government intends allocating up to $1 trillion to upgrade the country’s missiles, bombers and submarines over the coming decades. Continue reading
SWR (German public television broadcaster), 2013 (emphasis added):
- 25:00 in — The dumping of nuclear waste in the sea was banned worldwide in 1993, yet the nuclear industry has come up with other ways. They no longer dump the barrels at sea; they build kilometers of underwater pipes through which the radioactive effluent now flows freely into the sea. One of these pipes is situated in Normandy [near] the French reprocessing plant in La Hague… The advantage for the nuclear industry? No more bad press… disposal via waste pipes remains hidden from the public eye, quite literally.
- 28:30 in — 400 km from La Hague [as well as] Holland [and] Germany… we find iodine… 5-fold higher tritium value than [reported] by the operator Areva. It’s now obvious why citizens take their own measurements.
- 30:15 in — Molecular Biologist: “The radioactive toxins accumulate in the food chain. This little worm can contain 2,000-3,000 times more radioactivity than its environment. It is then eaten by the next biggest creature and so on, at the end of the food chain we discovered damage to the reproductive cells of crabs… These genetic defects are inherited from one generation to the next… Cells in humans and animals are the same.”
- 32:00 in — The 2nd disposal pipe for Europe’s nuclear waste is located in the north of England… Radioactive pollution comes in from the sea. Their houses are full of plutonium dust… The pipe from Sellafield is clearly visible only from the air… nuclear waste is still being dumped into the sea. Operators argue this is land-based disposal… It has been approved by the authorities.
- 35:45 in — Plutonium can be found here on a daily basis, the toxic waste returns from the sea… it leaches out, it dries, and is left lying on the beach. The people here have long since guessed that the danger is greater than those responsible care to admit… Every day a smallexcavator removes plutonium from the beach… In recent decadesthe operator at Sellafield has tossed more than 500 kg of plutonium into the sea.
- 42:00 in — We take a soil sample… The result turns out to be alarming. The amount of plutonium is up to 10 times higher than the permissible limit.
Yahoo News, Dec 5, 2014: All this radiation from the [Fukushima] disaster has definitely not been isolated to just Japan. Researchers monitoring the Pacific Ocean, in which much of the radiation spilled into, have detected radioactive isotopes this past November just 160 km [100 miles] off the coast of California. So this story will continue to unfold for many years to come.
Japan had a dual use nuclear program. The public program was to develop and provide unlimited energy for the country. But there was also a secret component, an undeclared nuclear weapons program that would allow Japan to amass enough nuclear material and technology to become a major nuclear power on short notice.
That secret effort was hidden in a nuclear power program that by March 11, 2011– the day the earthquake and tsunami overwhelmed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant – had amassed 70 metric tons of plutonium. Like its use of civilian nuclear power to hide a secret bomb program, Japan used peaceful space exploration as a cover for developing sophisticated nuclear weapons delivery systems.
The United States deliberately allowed Japan access to the United States’ most secret nuclear weapons facilities while it transferred tens of billions of dollars worth of American tax paid research that has allowed Japan to amass 70 tons of weapons grade plutonium since the 1980s, a National Security News Service investigation reveals. These activities repeatedly violated U.S. laws regarding controls of sensitive nuclear materials that could be diverted to weapons programs in Japan. The NSNS investigation found that the United States has known about a secret nuclear weapons program in Japan since the 1960s, according to CIA reports. Continue reading
Japan’s plutonium stockpile jumped to 47 tons in 2013 KYODOHTTP://WWW.JAPANTIMES.CO.JP/NEWS/2014/09/17/NATIONAL/JAPANS-PLUTONIUM-STOCKPILE-ROSE-47-TONS-2013/#.VBTITPRDUNL SEP 17, 2014 Japan had about 47.1 tons of plutonium in and outside the country at the end of 2013, about 2.9 tons more than the year before, the Cabinet Office said on Tuesday. Newly added were 2.3 tons generated through spent fuel reprocessing outsourced to Britain and 640 kg not reported to the global watchdog in 2012 and 2013. The 640 kg is part of mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel stored in a reactor that was offline during that time.
Revelations of the unreported 640 kg stoked controversy in June, though the Japan Atomic Energy Commission had said it was exempt from International Atomic Energy Agency reporting requirements, insisting at that time that fuel inside reactors is considered “being used.”
Under Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling policy, plutonium extracted by reprocessing conventional uranium fuel is consumed by existing reactors in the form of MOX fuel. But this policy is jeopardized by public concerns about nuclear power amid the Fukushima crisis.
A further increase in plutonium could raise concerns in the international community about its possible diversion to nuclear weapons.
The earlier unreported 640 kg of plutonium was contained in MOX fuel loaded in March 2011 into reactor 3 of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai nuclear plant in Saga Prefecture during its regular checkup, but has been left there unused as the reactor could not restart in light of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 complex.
Plutonium found in city nearly 30 miles from US nuclear site — Newspaper: Explosion ‘melted through’ container causing radioactive release — More Pu-241 went airborne than all other types of plutonium combined, yet not included in test results http://enenews.com/plutonium-detected-city-30-miles-nuclear-site-explosion-melted-container-released-four-types-plutonium-officials-testing-pu-241-leaked-all-others-combined?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ENENews+%28Energy+News%29
Carlsbad Current-Argus, Sept. 9, 2014: DOE will provide WIPP update next week — It appears the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is far from reopening… According to photographic evidence made public by the DOE, it appears a chemical reaction caused an explosion inside one of the waste drums. The explosion melted through portions of the drum, and the incident triggered a small release of americium and plutonium into the outside air about half a mile from the facility.
“Plutonium… about half a mile from the facility”? Recently published air monitoring data from the state of New Mexico indicates that soon after the WIPP radioactive release 3 types of plutonium were found nearly 30 miles away in Carlsbad, the state’s 10th largest city. The levels were similar to those found within the nuclear site’s boundary:
- WIPP NW Border, 2/21-2/28: Plutonium-238 = 0.015 pCi/sample (Lab minimum detectable activity [MDA] = 0.0082)
- WIPP site, 2/21-2/28: Plutonium-239/240 = 0.0092 pCi/sample (MDA = 0.0062)
- WIPP site, 2/28-3/11: Plutonium-238 = 0.027 pCi/sample (MDA = 0.024)
- Carlsbad, 25+ mi. away, 2/28-3/11: Plutonium-238 = 0.016 pCi/sample (MDA = 0.0074)
- Carlsbad, 25+ mi. away, 2/28-3/11: Plutonium-239/240 = 0.022 pCi/sample (MDA = 0.0074)
More Plutonium-241 was released from WIPP than all other plutonium isotopes combined, yet officials have not included it in any publicly available test results:
- Plutonium-241 = 15,900 dpm
- Plutonium-239/240 = 11,600 dpm
- Plutonium-238 = 514 dpm
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
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”
Main plutonium facility might “collapse” in earthquake unless repairs are completed; scope of work needed still unknown
Board says full re-start of LANL plutonium facility premature; nuclear criticality accidents not ruled out
On May 16, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB, Board), cautioned Congress about the structural integrity of the main plutonium facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the event of an earthquake similar to those which have rocked the site in recent millenia. The building in question, “PF-4,” was built in 1978 to earlier, less stringent earthquake standards.
The Board was established by Congress in 1988 to advise the Department of Energy (DOE) on the safety of DOE’s nuclear facilities.
Also on the 16th, DNFSB Chairman Peter Winokur wrote National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Frank Klotz about the Board’s concerns regarding LANL’s planned re-start of higher-hazard plutonium operations in PF-4 without first evaluating the potential of those operations to result in nuclear criticality accidents. Such accidents, were they to occur as a result of human error, mechanical failure or any other cause, would invariably involve very high levels of radiation and have often been fatal to surrounding workers. Such accidents have happened before at LANL and at other nuclear facilities in the U.S. and abroad. (See for example this LANL review.)
Regarding the first issue DNFSB writes in its “Report to Congress on the Status of Significant Safety Issues Concerning the Design and Construction of DOE’s Defense Nuclear Facilities” that:
..the Board remains concerned that PF-4 is vulnerable to seismic collapse. The large plutonium inventory of PF-4, coupled with the facility’s proximity to the public, creates the potential for high off-site radiological consequences. DOE is pursuing actions to address the collapse vulnerability, but maintains that PF-4 is safe to operate in the interim and complies with DOE standards for seismic performance. The Board communicated to DOE in a letter dated July 17, 2013, that it does not agree… -: http://lasg.org/press/2014/press_release_20May2014.html#sthash.cCZ6igPz.VLFKX1CD.dpuf
Covert mission: Plutonium source might be Canada Questions being asked about mystery cargo BY IAN MACLEOD, OTTAWA CITIZEN MARCH 30, 2014 The nuclear fuel carrier Pacific Egret slipped into the harbour at Charleston, South Carolina, on March 19 and unloaded a top-secret cargo at the port’s Naval Weapons Station.
Fitted with naval guns, cannons and extensive hidden means of repelling a terrorist assault, the three-year-old British vessel was purpose-built to transport plutonium, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and mixed-oxide (MOX) nuclear fuel on the high seas.
Its previous publicly reported position had been exiting the Mediterranean at the Strait of Gibraltar almost two weeks earlier on March 7, carrying a delicate nuclear cargo loaded at the La Spezia naval base in northern Italy.
As the vessel entered the North Atlantic that day, its tracking image vanished from an online marine traffic monitoring system. The ship the size of a football field became all but invisible to unauthorized eyes.
Questions are now being raised about whether the sensitive cargo included recycled plutonium that originated here in Canada.
The clandestine business of transporting shiploads of fissile nuclear materials between nations rarely comes into public view. An eight-kilogram piece of plutonium-239 the size of a grapefruit could obliterate much of Ottawa in seconds — as it did to Nagasaki in August 1945. It’s aptly named after the ancient Greek god of the underworld……… Continue reading
A Botched Plan to Turn Nuclear Warheads Into Fuel Bloomberg, By Matthew Philips April 24, 2014 As the Soviet Union was unraveling and the Cold War was winding down in the early 1990s, negotiators in Washington and Moscow began talking about how best to dispose of the plutonium inside thousands of nuclear warheads the two nations had agreed to dismantle. The cheapest and easiest method was to immobilize the radioactive material by encasing it in molten glass and burying it. But the Russians balked at that, likening it to flushing gold down the toilet. Ultimately, it was decided that the plutonium would be converted into fuel for nuclear power plants. In September 2000, the U.S. and Russia signed an agreement under which each side would turn 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium into mixed-oxide fuel, or MOX, that could be combined with uranium for use in commercial reactors.
In the U.S., that huge task would take place at an aging plutonium factory in South Carolina called the Savannah River Site. From the 1950s to the 1980s, the 310-square-mile facility had churned out about 36 tons of weapons-grade plutonium for nuclear warheads. Now, the plant would turn those same warheads into fuel rods. The Department of Energy initially estimated it would cost about $1 billion to convert the plant. Construction began in August 2007, with an expected completion date of 2016.
The U.S. government even had a ready customer for the rods. Charlotte-based Duke Energy (DUK), one of the largest nuclear power companies in the U.S., signed on as a buyer. From 2005 to 2008, the company ran tests of MOX fuel the Department of Energy got from France. The fuel worked fine. Everything was going according to plan.
Almost seven years after construction began, the MOX plant is now 60 percent built. But it’s looking increasingly likely that it won’t ever be completed….The MOX plant in South Carolina requires 85 miles of pipe, 23,000 instruments, and 3.6 million linear feet of power cables. The project is vastly over budget: The Department of Energy has sunk about $5 billion into it so far and estimates it will cost an additional $6 billion to $7 billion to finish the plant, plus an additional $20 billion or so to turn the plutonium into fuel over 15 years. In its 2015 budget request released in March, the Department of Energy announced it will place the MOX project on “cold standby,” effectively mothballing the project for the foreseeable future. “It’s a major fiasco,” says Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted. It’s a classic boondoggle.”
The MOX plant is the latest blunder for the Department of Energy, which has a reputation for mismanaging big, complicated projects, particularly those related to nuclear energy. Costs for a nuclear waste treatment plant in Washington State have nearly tripled to $13 billion. A uranium processing facility in Tennessee once estimated to cost around $1 billion is now tipping the scales at around $11 billion, according to an Army Corps of Engineers study. It’s also running about 20 years behind schedule. A Department of Energy spokesman declined to comment for this article…….http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-04-24/u-dot-s-dot-botches-plan-to-turn-nuclear-warheads-into-fuel
Arak nuclear reactor resolved says Iran http://www.skynews.com.au/world/article.aspx?id=969168 April 20, 2014 Iran and six world powers have resolved their differences over the country’s plutonium-producing Arak reactor, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi says.
The reactor, which has yet to be completed, has been a main point of contention at the ongoing talks aimed at ending the stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The governments of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany – the so-called P5+1 – have expressed concern that Iran could use the plutonium produced at the facility in the western city of Arak to build nuclear weapons.
‘We have suggested that we will produce only one-fifth of the originally planned plutonium, and this was welcomed by the P5+1,’ said Salehi.
The world powers have called for Arak’s closure or for technical changes so that it no longer turns out plutonium.
Salehi said Arak would not be shuttered because Iran needs it to produce medical isotopes for civilian use, but that reducing its plutonium production capacity alleviates negotiators’ concerns.
The heavy water reactor uses natural uranium as its fuel and will generate plutonium as a by-product.
Iran and the sextet agreed in an interim deal in November on a limited suspension of sanctions in return for some nuclear concessions from Tehran, including suspending construction of the Arak reactor and scaling back uranium enrichment.
Under the broader agreement that both sides are aiming to conclude by July, Iran is expected to accept additional nuclear curbs while the world powers have promised to permanently lift all sanctions and to help Iran build new reactors.
Tehran insists that it has no plans to build nuclear weapons.
Iran and the P5+1 will hold expert-level nuclear talks May 5-9 in New York, said Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, according to Press TV.
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