nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

U.S. lawmakers want defense budget of $577 billion

weapons1Thornberry’s Defense Budget Exceeds Pentagon’s Request by $16 Billion, DoD Buzz By  | Friday, February 27th, 2015 A lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives is calling for a fiscal 2016 defense budget that would exceed spending caps by $50 billion.

Rep. William “Mac” Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, submitted the proposal in a letter Friday to Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, and chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Thornberry and most of his colleagues on the defense panel recommended a national defense budget of $577 billion. The figure is $16 billion more than the Obama administration’s request — which already exceeds spending caps for the Defense Department’s base budget by about $35 billion. More importantly, it signals a growing divide within the GOP over how much funding the Pentagon should receive at a time when the U.S. military is taking on new missions in the Middle East, Europe and Asia……..

While defense hawks like Thornberry and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, are pushing for more military spending and an end to automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, budget hawks such as Price are trying to reduce overall federal spending to cut the deficit and balance the budget………http://www.dodbuzz.com/2015/02/27/thornberrys-defense-budget-exceeds-pentagons-request-by-16-billion/

February 28, 2015 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Nuclear weapons expansion in North Korea

Atomic-Bomb-Smflag-N-KoreaNorth Korea’s Nuclear Expansion, NYT By FEB. 27, 2015 North Korea could be on track to have an arsenal of 100 nuclear weapons by 2020, according to a new research report. The prediction, from experts on North Korea, goes well beyond past estimates and should force renewed attention on a threat that has been eclipsed by other crises.

At the moment, the United States and five other major powers are negotiating an agreement that would constrain the nuclear program in Iran, which does not possess any nuclear weapons. North Korea, on the other hand, is estimated to have already produced 10 to 16 weapons since 2003.

The new assessment comes from Joel Wit, a former American negotiator with North Korea who is now a senior fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security. They conclude that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have been growing since 2009 and are now “poised for significant expansion over the next five years.” That poses serious threats for other countries in Asia and for the United States.

Details about the programs are hard to come by given North Korea’s closed system. As a result, the researchers have outlined possible scenarios for the next five years, ranging from 20 nuclear weapons to 100, which would put North Korea on a par with India, Pakistan and Israel. Independently, China has also estimated the program to be capable of producing the higher range of weapons, another expert on North Korea told The Times.

North Korea already has 1,000 ballistic missiles including the medium-range land-based Nodong missile, which is mobile and accurate enough to attack cities, ports and military bases in Japan and South Korea. The country may also possess limited long-range missiles that can reach targets in the United States, the report said. It has also succeeded in miniaturizing nuclear weapons so they can fit on both medium-range and long-range missiles………….http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/27/opinion/north-koreas-nuclear-expansion.html?_r=0

February 28, 2015 Posted by | North Korea, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Obama’s Nuclear Zero Dream fading

text-relevantIs Obama’s Vision of Nuclear Zero Leading to Nowhere?, CounterPunch, by SHAMS UZ ZAMAN Islamabad. 27 Feb 15 

As the Second Cold War gathers pace between Moscow and Washington, over range of issues, optimism is fading over possibility of ‘a world free of nuclear weapons’ envisioned by nuclear pessimists since the dawn of nuclear age. The prospects had never been so promising, as had appeared to be, after President Obama’s speech at Prague in 2007 followed by the announcement to cancel deployment of missile defence shield in European theatre, presumably due to Russian concerns. However, the situation changed after U.S. adopted the off-shore rebalancing policy, referred to as ‘Asia-Pivot’, in 2011 which presumably was aimed at containing China and Russia. Obama’s recent pledge to grant India the privileged nuclear status amongst the non-NPT signatory states has further damped the prospects to envision a world free of nuclear weapons in foreseeable future.

Since the promulgation of new set of U.S. strategic priorities for the Asia-Pacific region, China and Russia appears to be in the process of reviewing and enhancing their nuclear and missile capabilities. China recently tested its improved variant of road missile ICBM DF-31B, capable of delivering multiple warheads Multiple Independently Targeted Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) on the U.S. mainland, while its improved version, named DF-41, is still under development. China is also arming its fleet of stealth submarines with JL-2 ballistic missiles to acquire an assured second strike nuclear capability. Beijing’s antagonism to Washington’s Asia Pivot has seemingly provoked the former to forsake its traditional policy of non-interventionism and neutrality. Chinese non-traditional approach on Ukraine crisis and implicit support to Russia in this new escalating cold war can thus be better understood in the context.

Russians are not lagging behind either. Their newly developed SLBM, Bulava with a strike range of 10000 kms and capability to carry up to 6 – 10 MIRVs of 100 – 150 KT each has become part of the nuclear inventory. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Sochi, criticized Washington for pursuing plans to develop hypersonic weapons under the Global Strike Programme and repudiated the U.S. allegations of violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) which according to him was in response to U.S. unilateral abrogation of ABM treaty back in 2002. Russian emerging nuclear posture has also become a source of concern for the U.S. and NATO.

The U.S. nuclear initiatives also appear to be out of step with the contemplated roadmap towards a world free of nuclear weapons. Washington is in a process of revitalizing its nuclear arsenals at an astounding cost of $ 1 trillion spanning over a period of thirty years. Such plans risk undermining President Obama’s initiative for global nuclear zero and the future of new START initiative between Russia and United States.

In South Asia, Indian massive defence spending and conventional arms buildup risks offsetting the regional strategic balance. ……..

To mitigate these risks major powers, especially the U.S., China and Russia, shall have to take major initiatives by formulating a cooperative framework for debating and finding solutions to the contentious issues, (UN can also provide such a platform). State situated in troubled regions like India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and Israel could subsequently be involved to take on the challenging issues along with the subject of nuclear proliferation, without which Obama’s dream of nuclear zero would remain a distant utopia.

Shams uz Zaman holds M.Phil degree in Strategic & Nuclear Studies from National Defence University Islamabad. He is visiting faculty member at Roots University International College, Islamabad and frequently writes in newspapers, magazines and research journals on nuclear and strategic issues. He has has also co-authored the book: “Iran and the Bomb – Nuclear Club Busted”. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/02/27/is-obamas-vision-of-nuclear-zero-leading-to-nowhere/

February 28, 2015 Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Competition from clean energy results in Illinois Bill to help Exelon nuclear corporation

Consumer advocates and business groups, however, quickly questioned the need for legislation that would benefit a single company.

Exelon, critics gird for battle as pro-nuclear bill is filed in Ill. Jeffrey Tomich, E&E reporter EnergyWire: Friday, February 27, 2015 The stage is set for an energy policy showdown in Illinois after lawmakers from both parties introduced a bill aimed at aiding three Exelon Corp. nuclear plants that have struggled in recent years in the face of increasing competition from wind energy and natural-gas-fired generation.

The legislation filed in the House and Senate would replace the Illinois renewable energy standard with a low-carbon portfolio standard requiring 70 percent of electricity used in areas served by large investor-owned utilities to come from low-carbon sources of generation……. Continue reading

February 28, 2015 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

Illinois energy Bill increases public costs, but benefits nuclear company Exelon

Exelon accused of seeking nuclear bailout http://www.fierceenergy.com/story/exelon-accused-seeking-nuclear-bailout/2015-02-27 February 27, 2015 | By  Exelon yesterday introduced its “Low Carbon Portfolio Standard” — legislation that is receiving opposition from groups like AARP Illinois and the BEST (Better Energy Solutions for Tomorrow) Coalition who are urging state lawmakers to reject this legislation, saying it would increase electric bills in order to “bail out Exelon’s nuclear plants.”

A 2014 analysis by Crain’s Chicago Business found that Exelon’s Illinois nuclear fleet is profitable and Exelon CEO Chris Crane even stated “Exelon had a strong year, both operationally and financially…our generation fleet and utilities continued to perform at high levels.”

For Exelon’s part, it says it is not seeking a bailout. Exelon made more than $2 billion in 2014.

This bill rewrites Illinois energy policy to increase costs for public and private entities statewide and benefits only Exelon,” said Steve Davis, legislative co-chair for Illinois Association of Wastewater Agencies, a BEST Coalition member. “Policy like this will increase the cost of doing business in Illinois and make Illinois less competitive.”

The organizations attempting to block Exelon’s Low Carbon Portfolio Standard claim that even if Exelon has financial issues with its Illinois nuclear fleet, although contrary to publicly available information, those issues will be resolved, in part, by a recently approved rate increase for Exelon’s subsidiary ComEd that will increase ComEd revenue by approximately $232 million.

For more:
– visit this website 

February 28, 2015 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

Thorotrast: the highly cancer-causing thorium drug – (no longer used)

ThoriumThorotrast  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thorotrast

   Thorotrast is a suspension containing particles of the radioactive compound thorium dioxide, ThO2, that was used as a radiocontrast agent in medical radiography in the 1930s and 1940s. (Use in some countries, such as the U.S., continued into the 1950s.)

Thorium compounds produce excellent images because of thorium’s high opacity to X-rays (it has a high cross section for absorption). Unfortunately, thorium is retained in the body, and it is radioactive, emitting harmful alpha radiation as it decays. Because the suspension offered high image quality and had virtually no immediate side-effects compared to the alternatives available at the time, Thorotrast became widely used after its introduction in 1931. (António Egas Moniz contributed to its development.).[1] About 2 to 10 million patients worldwide have been treated with Thorotrast.

Safety Even at the time of introduction, there was concern about the safety of Thorotrast. Following injection, the drug is distributed to the liver, spleen, lymph nodes, and bone, where it is absorbed. After this initial absorption, redistribution takes place at a very slow pace. Specifically, the biological half-life is estimated to be 22 years.[2] This means that the organs of patients who have been given Thorotrast will be exposed to internal alpha radiation for the rest of their lives. The significance of this long-term exposure was not fully understood at the time of Thorotrast’s introduction in 1931.

Due to the release of alpha particles, Thorotrast was found to be extremely carcinogenic. There is a high over-incidence of various cancers in patients who have been treated with Thorotrast. The cancers occur some years (usually 20-30) after injection of Thorotrast. The risk of developing liver cancer (or bile duct cancer) in former Thorotrast patients has been measured to be well above 100 times the risk of the rest of the population. The risk of leukemia appears to be 20 times higher in Thorotrast patients.[3] Thorotrast exposure has also been associated with the development of angiosarcoma. German patients exposed to Thorotrast had their median life-expectancy shortened by 14 years in comparison to a similar non-exposed control group.[4]

The Danish director Nils Malmros‘s movie, Facing the Truth (original Danish title At Kende Sandheden) from 2002, portrays the dilemma that faced Malmros’s father, Richard Malmros, when treating his patients in the 1940s. Richard Malmros was deeply concerned about the persistence of Thorotrast in the body but was forced to use Thorotrast, because the only available alternative (per-abrodil) had serious immediate side-effects, suffered from image quality problems and was difficult to obtain during the Second World War. The use of Thorotrast in Denmark ended in 1947 when safer alternatives became available. Today, iodinated hydrophilic molecules are universally used as injected contrast agents for X-ray procedures.

February 28, 2015 Posted by | 2 WORLD, health, thorium | Leave a comment

New report on remarkable rise in cancer incidence near Fukushima nuclear power plant

cancer_cellsCancer Rates Soar By 6000% Near Fukushima Site, New Report Shows http://yournewswire.com/cancer-rates-soar-by-6000-near-fukushima-site-new-report-shows/#sthash.vDZTGCNV.dpuf by Sean Adl-Tabatabai  27 Feb 15 Cancer rates in areas surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactor in Japan have soared by 6000% according to reports, yet the government and media are carrying on as if its business as normal.

According to Naturalsociety.com:

As reports from individuals like Chieko Shiina, a supporter of the Fukushima Collaborateive Clinic talk about exploding rates of thyroid cancer in children, as well as an epidemic of leukemia, heart attacks, and other health problems, the Abe-led government and US continue to sweep the fall out of the Fukushima disaster under the rug.

Cancer rates have exploded at an increase of almost 6000% in areas near the reactor meltdown. Aside from people-on-the-street interviews that a rare media outlet like “Hodo station” will report on, mainstream media stays completely silent. One Japanese resident,Carol Hisasue, laments that as the incident has disappeared from the media, it has also disappeared from people’s consciousness.

So why does Fukushima continue to be a see no evil, hear no evil event? You can watch an over hour-long report that goes into detail, but to sum it up, people can’t even turn on their gas-stoves near Fukushima because “it would be like burning radioactive fuel in their kitchens.” The contamination levels are too ridiculous to even comprehend.

No matter if the accident was caused by a purposeful nuclear attack, an act of weather warfare (as some conspiracy analysts have suggested), or by the sheer greed of the nuclear industry who built it, it is essentially a massive nuclear weapon on fault lines. The Japanese government and TEPCO are guilty of crimes against humanity, and their neglect is compounded by a complete disregard, not only for human life, but for all life upon this planet.

The US is also responsible. After the spotlight was put on failing plants across the United States that continue to leak radiation into our air, water, and soil every day, the multi-billion dollar, US taxpayer-subsidized contracts of the nuclear industry came into question. And you can be sure any real inquiry into the infrastructure of our nuclear plants was hushed up as quickly as concerns were raised.

The World Health Organization once warned that cancer rates could soar 50% in less than 20 years – but we’ve already surpassed that estimate, which once seemed catastrophic, exponentially.

So tell me – why are we in such a hurry to forget Fukushima, and why are plans being drawn up to build more nuclear reactors in the US using taxpayer monies?

– See more at: http://yournewswire.com/cancer-rates-soar-by-6000-near-fukushima-site-new-report-shows/#sthash.vDZTGCNV.dpuf

February 28, 2015 Posted by | health, Japan | Leave a comment

Review: an apocalyptic nuclear film with a strangely pro nuclear spin

After the Apocalypse: The anti-nuclear film that wasn’t, Nuclear Free by 2o45? by Dennis, 27 Feb 15 

As the fourth anniversary of the earthquake-tsunami-meltdown syndrome approached, I looked back at an example of pro-nuclear spin that appeared in the media in the spring of 2011. Ironically, the pro-nuclear message discussed here is a film about the horrors of atomic weapon blasts in The Polygon, the sacrifice zone in Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union detonated hundreds of nuclear and thermonuclear bombs. I’m timing this article to also commemorate the birth of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement which is marked every year in Kazakhstan on February 28th.

After the Apocalypse [1] is a one-hour documentary that takes place in Semipalatinsk, a town in north-eastern Kazakhstan where the USSR detonated 456 nuclear weapons, many of them large-yield megaton hydrogen bombs. The camera goes to radioactive craters where herders still take their animals to graze. It goes to a museum where the pickled corpses of deformed babies sit in jars. However, the horror show of the past is not the main attraction. The film concentrates on the fierce struggle that still goes on today over the reproductive rights of the Kazakhstan hibakusha. The director, Antony Butts, follows a pregnant woman, Bibigul, whose wide-set eyes suggest chromosome damage. She wants to give birth despite the protestations of Toleukhan Nurmagambetov, a doctor who talks of the deformed, and too often abandoned, babies in the region as “monsters.” Continue reading

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Kazakhstan, Resources -audiovicual | Leave a comment

Jellyfish and algae becoming a bigger hazard for nuclear reactors

Spineless attacks on nuclear power plants could increase, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Natalie Kopytko  19 Feb 15 Nuclear power plants increasingly face a new enemy: the humble jellyfish.

These aquatic animals—and algae and other plants—get caught in and block the cooling water intake pipes of nuclear power plants, preventing nuclear reactors from getting the huge amount of water they need every day to cool their reactor cores and associated equipment. Continue reading

February 28, 2015 Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety | Leave a comment

Overriding public protests, South Korea renews license of second-oldest nuclear plant,

safety-symbol-Smflag-S-KoreaSouth Korea renews license of second-oldest nuclear plant, Japan Times, 28 Feb15  SEOUL – The South Korean nuclear regulator said Friday it renewed the operating license of the country’s second-oldest nuclear power plant until 2022, overriding the objections of residents and anti-nuclear groups.

The Nuclear Safety and Security Commission said that seven of nine commissioners voted to restart the Wolsong No. 1 reactor located in Gyeongju city, 275 kilometers (170 miles) south of Seoul……..

South Koreans were sharply divided over the fate of the Wolsong No. 1 plant that had operated for 30 years until its license expired in 2012. Residents of Gyeongju and members of environmental groups staged protests near the nuclear watchdog’s office when the commissioners discussed the restart in three meetings since January.

The decision to restart Wolsong No. 1 could galvanize opponents and residents living in the areas of current and future plants, said Suh Kune-yull, nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University.

“I think there could be a backlash to the nuclear energy industry,” Suh said. “It will become increasingly difficult to extend the life span of other nuclear plants or to build new ones.”…….

Opponents of the Wolsong restart said the plant failed to meet the latest safety standards that came into effect after the reactor first went into operation, and that residents near the power plant want it shut down. …..http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/27/asia-pacific/south-korea-renews-license-of-second-oldest-nuclear-plant/#.VPDfBXyUcnk

February 28, 2015 Posted by | politics, South Korea | Leave a comment

India going for $160 billion renewable energy business

renewable-energy-pictureflag-indiaIndia’s Renewable energy sector to generate $160 billion business in five years: Economic Survey By ET Bureau | 27 Feb, 2015 NEW DELHI: Positioning India as a responsible nation committed to sustainable development, the Economic Survey 2014-15 has said the Indian clean energy sector is likely to generate business opportunities to the order of $160 billion for the next five years. …….

Evoking the backdrop of the recent US-China climate pact, the Survey points out that this agreement is expected to provide a boost to the renewable energy sector globally.The document forecasts 2015 to be a momentous period with the world set to witness new agreements on climate change and sustainable development; it predicts this year will determine the course for international development and environmental policy agenda for the global community for the next 15 years.

It elaborates that in India renewable energy offers very good opportunity for businesses to set and scale up industry, leapfrog technologies, and create volumes.  Some of India’s major immediate plans on renewable energy include scaling up cumulative installed capacity to 170 GW that includes 100 GW of solar power by 2022 and establishing a National University for Renewable Energy.

To provide a big push to solar energy, two new schemes — ‘Scheme for Development of Solar Parks………..

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission launched in January 2010 seeks to establish India as a global leader in solar energy by creating policy conditions for its diffusion across the country. Installed capacity of Indian solar power in 2013-14 was 2647 MW. As per Bloomberg New Energy Finance/UNEP report, in 2013, there was a total investment of $6 billion in renewable energy in India.  http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/46394697.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

February 28, 2015 Posted by | India, renewable | Leave a comment

Google betting big on renewable energy

Google Is Making Its Biggest Ever Bet on Renewable Energy, Bloomberg,  Google Inc. is making its largest bet yet on renewable energy, a $300 million investment to support at least 25,000 SolarCity Corp. rooftop power plants.

Google is contributing to a SolarCity fund valued at $750 million, the largest ever created for residential solar, the San Mateo, California-based solar panel installer said Thursday in a statement.

Google has now committed more than $1.8 billion to renewable energy projects, including wind and solar farms on three continents. This deal, which may have a return as high as 8 percent, is a sign that technology companies can take advantage of investment formats once reserved only for banks.

 “Hopefully this will lead other corporations to invest in renewable energy,” SolarCity Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said in a phone interview.

The deal reflects the success of renewable energy companies in tapping into a broader pool of investors with financial products that emerged in the past three years, either paying dividends or sheltering cash. Those helped boost investment in clean energy 16 percent to a record $310 billion last year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg……..http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-02-26/google-makes-biggest-bet-on-renewables-to-fund-solarcity

February 28, 2015 Posted by | 2 WORLD, renewable | Leave a comment

Wind and solar farms backed by UK

UK backs £315m renewable energy projects Guardian, , 27 Feb 15, More than a dozen windfarms and five solar farms are among first projects to receive financial support under contracts for difference  More than a dozen new onshore wind farms are to receive financial backing through the coalition government’s reformed renewable incentive scheme, along with two offshore wind projects and five solar farms.

The contracts for the new renewable energy projects amount to more than £315m in total, spread across five renewable technologies, and taken together should produce more than 2GW of new generation capacity, enough to power 1.4m homes.

But green campaigners and parts of the renewable energy industry were disappointed by the auction process used to award the contracts, arguing that some technologies and projects had lost out in the reforms……..

all the forms of renewables represented, apart from energy from waste, came in at substantially less than the strike price.

This was in marked contrast to the strike price for nuclear power, which will result in one nuclear reactor being built – at Hinckley in Somerset, by the French state-backed utility EDF – for £80bn calculated on the strike price alone. Solar power, which has seen costs plummet as worldwide use of panels has risen, settled for 58% lower, with offshore wind 18% and onshore wind 17% under their respective strike prices…….

In response to the first Contracts for Difference auctions for renewables, Greenpeace Chief Scientist Dr Doug Parr said: “Today’s announcements show renewables’ costs are plummeting, and will mount a growing challenge to conventional sources of power in delivering energy security for the UK.

“Those who say we should tackle climate change but are opposed to wind and solar farms need to explain how they plan to cut carbon emissions whilst keeping consumer bills as low as possible.

“We’ve known onshore wind is much cheaper than nuclear for a while, but now we learn that solar power is already cheaper than new gas generation in some cases. It makes you wonder what could have been achieved with less party-political manoeuvring and more stable Government support for the clean technologies already being embraced by the world’s largest economies.” http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/26/uk-backs-315m-renewable-energy-projects

February 28, 2015 Posted by | renewable, UK | Leave a comment

Chronology of the radioactive thorium pollution, Bukit Merah, Malaysia

The Star has discovered that 80,000 200-litre drums containing radioactive waste are currently being kept at the dump located in the Kledang Range behind Papan town. The site is about 3km from Bukit Merah and Papan and about 15km from Ipoh. And the waste is thorium hydroxide, not amang.

ThoriumChronology of events in the Bukit Merah Asian Rare Earth development http://www.consumer.org.my/index.php/health/454-chronology-of-events-in-the-bukit-merah-asian-rare-earth-developments Eight men — a welder, a shoemaker, a general worker, a pensioner, a barber, a tractor driver, a crane-operator and a cancer victim who was to die shortly — sued Asian Rare Earth in 1985 on behalf of themselves and 10,000 other residents of Bukit Merah and the environs in Perak. They wanted to shut down this rare earth plant in their village near Ipoh because its radioactive waste was endangering their lives.

When the Mitsubishi joint venture plant opened over 1982, the villagers soon began complaining of the factory’s stinging smoke and bad smell which made them choke and cry. Worse was to come. Their health began failing, indicated not only by frequent bouts of coughs and colds, but a sharp rise in the incidence of leukaemia, infant deaths, congenital disease and lead poisoning.

For the first time in Malaysian legal history, an entire community has risen to act over an environmental issue, to protect their health and environment from radioactive pollution.

Below is the chronology of what happened when a radioactive rare earth plant was set up in Bukit Merah. Today, about 30 years later, the Government is allowing a new rare earth plant to be set up by Lynas in Gebeng, Kuantan. This new project should be scrapped if the Malaysian Government puts the health of Malaysians before profits. Continue reading

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Malaysia, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

The quietly covered up story of thorium toxicity, leukaemias and birth defects, in Malaysia

ThoriumMitsubishi Quietly Cleans Up Its Former Refinery  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rareside.html?_r=0 By  : March 8, 2011 BUKIT MERAH, Malaysia — Hidden here in the jungles of north-central Malaysia, in a broad valley fringed with cave-pocked limestone cliffs topped with acacia and durian trees, lies the site of the largest radiation cleanup yet in the rare earth industry.

Residents blamed a rare earth refinery for birth defects and eight leukemia cases within five years in a community of 11,000 — after many years with no leukemia cases. Seven of the leukemia victims have since died.

The Bukit Merah case is little known even elsewhere in Malaysia, and virtually unknown in the West, because Mitsubishi Chemical quietly agreed to fix the problem even without a legal order to do so. Local protesters had contacted Japanese environmentalists and politicians, who in turn helped persuade the image-conscious company to close the refinery in 1992 and subsequently spend an estimated $100 million to clean up the site.

Image-burnishing was important because the company is part of the Mitsubishi Group of Companies, which has long made Malaysia the cornerstone of its southeast Asian operations. The group has dominant positions in manufacturing a range of products, including air-conditioners and cars.

Mitsubishi Chemical also reached an out-of-court settlement with residents here by agreeing to donate $164,000 to the community’s schools, while denying any responsibility for illnesses.

Osamu Shimizu, the director of Asian Rare Earth, the Mitsubishi Chemical subsidiary that owns the mine, declined to discuss details of the factory’s operation before it closed in 1992. But he said that the company was committed to a safe and complete cleanup.

Workers in protective gear have already removed 11,000 truckloads of radioactively contaminated material, hauling away every trace of the old refinery and even tainted soil from beneath it, down to the bedrock as much as 25 feet below, said Anthony Goh, the consultant overseeing the project for one of Mitsubishi’s contractors, GeoSyntec, an Atlanta-based firm.

To dispose of the radioactive material, engineers have cut the top off a hill three miles away in a forest reserve, buried the material inside the hill’s core and then entombed it under more than 20 feet of clay and granite.

The toughest part of the Bukit Merah cleanup will come this summer, when robots and workers in protective gear are to start trying to move more than 80,000 steel barrels of radioactive waste from a concrete bunker. They will mix it with cement and gypsum, and then permanently store it in the hilltop repository.

The refinery processed slag from old tin mines — material rich in rare earth ore. The company and Malaysian regulators said that it was statistically possible that the leukemia cases were a coincidence because tin mining towns tend to have above-average levels of background radiation. But an academic study of another tin mining town suggested that communities of Bukit Merah’s size should only have one leukemia case every 30 years.

Lai Kwan, aged 69, still recalls how she cheerfully moved in the 1980s from a sawmill job to a better-paying position in the refinery that involved proximity to radioactive materials. She remembers that while pregnant, she was told to take an unpaid day off only on days when the factory bosses said that a particularly dangerous consignment of ore had arrived.

She has spent the last 29 years washing, dressing, feeding and otherwise taking care of her son from that pregnancy, who was born with severe mental and physical disabilities. She and other local residents blame the refinery for the problems, although birth defects can have many causes.

“We saw it as a chance to get better pay,” Ms. Lai recalled. “We didn’t know what they were producing.”

February 28, 2015 Posted by | Malaysia, rare earths, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 940 other followers