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Britain’s nuclear nightmare -the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant

UK’s dream is now its nuclear nightmare 14, 2018, by Paul Brown 

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.” Continue reading

December 17, 2018 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, UK, wastes | 2 Comments

Saudi Arabia, the Khashoggi murder case: the nuclear connections with Terra Power, Bill Gates, Breakthrough etc

US Nuclear Energy Policy & Khashoggi Murder: Appeasement Or Threat? Clean Technica, December 12th, 2018 by Tina Casey  “…………..The Nuclear Energy Connection

Either way, that brings us around to the idea that the corporate world needs to step up and press for meaningful action on the Khashoggi case, since the White House is falling down on the job.

In particular, the tech sector is feeling the pressure not only because of its financial ties to Saudi Arabia, but also because of the high profile of its biggest players.

That brings us right back around to the nuclear energy angle, where the US nuclear company TerraPower has been making waves.

TerraPower was formed back in 2006 and crossed the CleanTechnica radar during COP 2015, when it popped up in relation to a newly launched investor umbrella organization called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Breakthrough is a tech incubator with a focus on clean energy and rapid decarbonization, and nuclear energy makes the cut.

As a global organization, Breakthrough can provide TerraPower with a platform for pitching its technology overseas — a key consideration, given the morbid state of demand for new nuclear power plants here in the US.

So far TerraPower has been focusing on foreign markets, particularly China, for its new technology.

If all of this is beginning to ring some bells, that’s where the tech and Silicon Valley connections kick in.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates is financial backer of TerraPower and chairman of its board.

Gates is also the chair of the Breakthrough Coalition’s Breakthrough Energy Ventures, where you’ll find a host of other familiar top-dollar investors with an interest in decarbonization including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Vinod Khosla, and Michael Bloomberg.

Saudi Arabia is represented among Breakthrough members through Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who is Chairman of Alwaleed Philanthropies and a supporter of Gates’s “giving pledge.”

Saudi Arabia is also represented among the 24 countries (including the EU) that support the Mission Innovation clean energy initiative, which is in turn receives considerable support from Breakthrough, so there’s that.

Not for nothing, but as of last August the Department of Energy has supported a TerraPower molten salt reactor project with $28 million in cost-shared funds.

When Will The Silicon Valley Crickets Stop Chirping And Start Acting?

All this is by way of saying that when it comes to the Saudi government, the Khashoggi murder, and the cash flow, all roads lead back to Silicon Valley and the US tech sector.

The New York Times raised a red flag on Saudi financial ties to Silicon Valley last year. Among other developments since then, Tesla has been ramping up its profile in the country, and Google has expressed interest in building data centers there.

Perhaps it’s not fair for the tech sector to take all the heat, but on the other hand these are the guys who promised to make life better for millions if not billions of people all over the world. More is expected of them than, say, the CEO of a local pest control company.

The Trump family’s financial ties with Saudi Arabia seem to be the driving force behind Trump’s response to the Khashoggi murder, and now it seems those same ties have silenced the US tech sector.

The fact is that the Khashoggi murder is not going away. New details about the murder are emerging on a regular basis, and even Trump’s Republican allies have finally stirred into action.

In the latest development, today the US Senate is reportedly set to debate cutting off US support for the Saudi-lead war in Yemen. The measure has been linked directly to outrage over the country’s role in the Khashoggi killing.

Meanwhile, CleanTechnica is reaching out to TerraPower for comment, so stay tuned for more on that.

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December 17, 2018 Posted by | business and costs, Saudi Arabia, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | 1 Comment

Amazon planning to run a “global brain” for the Pentagon.

To understand the implications of JEDI, we must realize that the information being gathered and sorted will inevitably be used for the targeting and killing of not only opposing government-based military forces, but also nongovernmental individuals and groups who are viewed as political or potential military threats by the US.

The transfer of a massive amount of military information into a privately owned and built cloud, as will happen with the creation of JEDI, raises the possibility that the owner or owners of that cloud will — because of their knowledge of the cloud structure, capabilities and content — become more powerful than military and elected officials.

“Alexa, Drop a Bomb”: Amazon Wants in on US Warfare, Nick Mottern, Truthout 16, 2018 

Amazon is seeking to build a global “brain” for the Pentagon called JEDI, a weapon of unprecedented surveillance and killing power, a profoundly aggressive weapon that should not be allowed to be created.

Founded in 1994 as an online book seller, Amazon is now the world’s largest online retailer, with more than 300 million customers worldwide, and net sales of $178 billion in 2017.

Amazon has built a vast, globally distributed data storage capacity and sophisticated artificial intelligence programs to propel its retail business that it hopes to use to win a $10 billion Pentagon contract to create the aforementioned “brain” that goes by the project name Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, a moniker obviously concocted to yield the Star Wars acronym — JEDI.

As of the October 12, 2018, deadline for submitting proposals for JEDI, Amazon is the betting favorite for the contract, which will go to just one bidder, in spite of protests by competitors, chief among them Microsoft and IBM. The Pentagon appears likely to select a winner for the contract in 2019.

Jedi Powers? Continue reading

December 17, 2018 Posted by | business and costs, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

UK’s Sellafield nuclear reprocessing – a financial black hole for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

Sellafield boss warns on nuclear clean-up, Guardian, Adam Vaughan @adamvaughan_uk, 16 Dec 2018

Falling revenues from waste reprocessing have led to a financial black hole for the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority The government body given the job of cleaning up Britain’s old nuclear power stations has warned that taxpayers will have to help plug a looming multimillion-pound gap in its finances left by shrinking revenues.

David Peattie, chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, said revenues would fall more than 10% annually in coming years due to the end of an era of nuclear waste reprocessing. One plant ceased operations in November and another will stop in two years.

The group has a £3bn annual budget to clean up 17 old nuclear sites around the UK, but earns £1bn a year from services including repurposing spent nuclear fuel. “I don’t think we can fill the hole completely,” Peattie said.

He hopes to offset some of the losses by making better use of the NDA’s fleet of four ships that operate out of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. The ships were used to bring spent fuel from as far afield as Japan back to the UK for reprocessing.

Peattie also hopes to secure more non-nuclear work such as the non-food cargo it handles for Tesco using its rail business, which runs around 100 locomotives. The rail unit transports waste from nuclear power stations to be stored at the NDA’s biggest and most costly site, Sellafield in Cumbria.

The final bill could also be reduced, said Peattie if the public accepted that not all old nuclear facilities would be returned to a pristine field of “buttercups and daisies”.

The legacy of the industrial revolution means people already tolerate “industrial clutter” in parts of the countryside, he said…….

December 17, 2018 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Radioactive reindeer in Finland and Norway

Rudolph the radioactive reindeer December 16, 2018

Dosed by Chernobyl and atomic tests, reindeer and their herders are carrying a heavy nuclear burden, By Linda Pentz GunterFallout from Soviet atomic bomb tests over the Arctic Ocean, compounded by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion, have left reindeer too radioactive to eat, even today. That may be good news for the reindeer, sort of. But it’s bad news for the indigenous Laplanders in Finland and Sami herders in Norway, who carry high levels of radiation in their own bodies as well as in the reindeer on which they depend for sustenance and sales.

Reindeer carry heavy radioactive doses, mainly of cesium-137, because they devour lichen, moss and fungi, which bioaccumulate radioactive deposits from fallout. Norway’s radioactive contamination is primarily from Chernobyl, made worse because it was snowing heavily at the time of the April 26 accident. 

The Sami story is beautifully explained in this stunning photo essay by Amos Chapple and Wojtek Grojec for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

As the essay describes it, despite the length of time since the Chernobyl disaster, the fallout is a nasty gift that keeps on giving. “In 2014, there was a huge spike in radiation levels that scientists put down to a bumper season for mushrooms. Hundreds of Norwegian reindeer intended for slaughter had to be released back into the wild.”  Levels apparently shot from 1,500 becquerels per kilogram to 8,200.

A video of Chapple and Grojec’s work, on Tech Insider, also explains the impact of cesium-137 fallout on reindeer and their herders. [0n originall] 

Unfortunately, Norway’s “allowable” radiation standards are far higher than in other parts of Europe, at 3,000 becquerels per kilogram of food compared to the EU standard of 600 becquerels. When Chapple and Grojec were compiling their story, the herd they visited was testing at 2,100 becquerels, passing the Norwegian test for “safe”. The authors say that the higher levels were established by the Norwegian government in “response to radiation levels in reindeer that threatened the very existence of the Sami herders.”

This practice of simply moving the radiation goalposts to make dangerous levels safe still goes on today, of course, most notably in Japan. As was pointed out in an earlier story on our site, the Japanese government, eager to show the world that the Fukushima region could quickly be made safe for habitation, simply raised the “allowable” annual exposure rate from 1 millisievert to 20, an entirely unacceptable dose for most people, especially women and children.

In Finland, most of the persistent radiation levels are due to atomic testing during the Cold War. Measurements continue to be taken among the Lapland reindeer herders where cesium levels are ten times higher than in the rest of Finland. Although cesium levels in humans were a shocking 45,000 becquerels per kilo in the 1960s according to one report, they still hover at over 1,000 today.

The reduction in slaughter of reindeer comes with other side effects as well. As far back as 1997, it was already being observed that the increase in reindeer population, leading to “Over-grazing and trampling, is causing more damage to the fragile tundra than some of the world’s most seriously polluting factories,” wrote Geoffrey Lean in The Independent.

Now, as Russia begins using floating nuclear reactors to plunder the Arctic Ocean for oil, the region has been placed under threat of a radioactive catastrophe again. From both an economic and health perspective, neither the reindeer nor their indigenous herders can afford a second assault.

December 17, 2018 Posted by | environment, Finland, Reference | 1 Comment

The mad plan to store nuclear waste on the beach, December 16, 2018

An accident at the California storage site would leave residents nowhere to run, By Diane RayOn August 9, 2018, standing tall and looking the part of the hero, David Fritch stepped up to the lectern at a Community Engagement Panel meeting between the owner of a now shuttered nuclear power plant and local residents concerned about the beachfront disposal of nuclear waste.  “I may not have a job tomorrow,” he began, “But that’s fine. I made a promise to my daughter.”

Fritch introduced himself as an experienced nuclear power plant safety worker, sent around the country to oversee safety at various sites. He then reported what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) called a “near miss” incident at the radioactive waste storage facility of the local nuclear power plant.

On August 3, 2018,  a 100,000 pound thin-wall cask filled with deadly irradiated nuclear fuel got caught on a flange while being lowered into the steel-lined concrete vault of  the waste storage site, known as an ISFSI (independent spent fuel storage installation). The cask got stuck on a ¼” guide ring for about an hour over an 18-foot drop.

 “It was a bad day…. And you haven’t heard about it,” said Fritch. “And that’s not right.” 

It was “a bad day” at a place where close to 3.6 million pounds of high level irradiated commercial nuclear fuel are being rushed into the sands of a fragile bluff, one and a half feet above the mean high tide, 108 feet from the sea, near an active earthquake fault, in a tsunami inundation zone, behind an inadequate sea wall.

It was another “bad day” at the long troubled and now closed San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and its radioactive waste burial site on San Onofre State Beach, the iconic birthplace of California surf culture.

Coastal scientist and engineer, Rick Wilson of the Surfrider Foundation called it the worst waste site possible. Charles Langley, Director of Public Watchdogs and co-author of Radiological  Regulatory Failure, called it insane:  “Due to the danger from corrosion,” said Langley,  “you never put nuclear waste next to salt and water.”

The ISFSI opened on January 31, 2018 to public opposition from Orange County citizens groups concerned about nuclear safety, including San Onofre SafetyPublic Watchdogs, and Residents Organized for a Safe Environment (ROSE).

Fritch explained to a stunned audience that the two-man loading team handling the incident did not know that this was the second serious cask loading incident. “Public safety should be first and it is not,” Fritch said. “Behind the gate, it is not.” 

Mandated by the NRC to report a nuclear incident in writing within an hour, Southern California Edison waited 42 days to issue their report, having informed the NRC three days after the incident via a “courtesy phone call.”  Forced to issue a response, the NRC subsequently concurred with Fritch’s account, admitting to the possibility of: “a load drop event,…[in which the cask] could have fallen 18 feet into the storage vault if it had slipped off the inner ring assembly.” 

How serious would the potential outcome have been had that nuclear waste cask fallen? Tom English, environmental engineer and former Presidential nuclear waste policy advisor, and local colleagues at UCSD and at the Samuel Lawrence Foundation, concluded that a cask could have “hit the concrete floor with the explosive energy larger than two sticks of dynamite.” They noted that based on the NRC’s own analysis of a similar dropped cask of slightly different dimensions, there was a 28 percent chance following a drop event that local residents would have needed to evacuate.

How can such a rate be acceptable in a highly populated area, they wondered? In a failure scenario caused by a steep drop of a cask, the air ducts could be damaged: “Water,” warned English, “would have to pour into the hole to cool the reaction and prevent or control a meltdown….As at Fukushima…the enveloping water would instantly become radioactive steam and require the evacuation of millions of people.” 

Who would coordinate evacuation? Not the Marines standing guard across the freeway from SONGS nor any part of the federal government, which has opted out of any emergency or evacuation planning now that the nuclear plant is closed. Not by the state of California which has not come through with any comprehensive plan.

But even if there were government plans in place, nuclear emergency plans on paper are unlikely to be workable in real life. A serious accident could compromise the abutting rail line and freeway, the adjacent Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, the Pacific Ocean, vast treasures of land and wildlife, and a state that is ranked as the world’s fifth largest economy. 

By the end of 2019, Edison plans to house 73 radioactive waste casks on the shoreline site. Along with an older ISFSI on site housing 51 thin-wall casks about 100 feet further up the beach, SONGS will become the largest commercial irradiated fuel burial site in the nation. Each thin-wall cask weighs about 100,000 pounds, bolted shut and loaded with pez like pellets of uranium. “The amount of radioactive isotope, cesium 137, contained within each cask is equivalent to one Chernobyl accident worth of escaped radiation in the event of a through leak into the atmosphere,”  English told me.

Fritch’s allegation of an earlier cover-up of a loading event at the ISFSI  was verified by Nina Babiarz of Public Watchdogs in a sworn affidavit, and confirmed by the NRC in a Webinar on November 8, 2018, according to Langley.

n the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the story, there was yet another near-miss at the ISFSI.  Edison disclosed at a Community Engagement Meeting on March 21, 2018 that a four-inch bolt, used to secure a shim needed to circulate cooling helium within the nuclear waste cask, had fallen off, discovered right before the cask was to be filled and buried. Loading had been halted for 10 days but was once more underway.

Local nuclear safety advocates were horrified. What about the first four casks of the same model, already in the vault? Did they share the flaw, which could lead to overheating of the irradiated waste? The NRC declared it had made its inspection and found everything in order. However, no technology presently exists to inspect the interior of this model of thin-wall cask entombed in concrete. 

Why would anyone rush to bury high-level radioactive waste on a state beach with high seismic and corrosion risks? In the opinion of Langley, there are two reasons: First, that Edison chose the old footprint of SONGS former Unit I to sidestep superfund cleanup costs and accelerate NRC approval (claiming the NRC suggested the beachfront site); Second, by dumping the waste onto public land, Edison sprints to the finish line, potentially also dumping liability for any future nuclear accident in a legal maneuver called “bona vacantia,” or legally ownerless. Public land equals public liability.

Fritch has since left the nuclear industry. SONGS’ Chief Nuclear Officer responsible for managing the ISFSI, Tom Palmisano, has stepped down. The NRC writes that it suspects that all thin-wall casks “in the storage vaults may have had metal to metal contact” between the cask being lowered and the storage vault. There is only ½” of clearance between the cask walls and the vault lining. The NRC acknowledged: The thin-wall casks “ tend to bump against the shelf while being loaded into the vault…”.    

This raises the probability that all 29 thin-wall casks in the vault sustained damage to their exteriors, potentially accelerating cracking and leaking. At the time of the near drop incident last August, a 30th filled cask turned up locked in limbo, unable to be returned to the spent fuel pool or to be buried in the damaged vault. It remains stranded in a building, stored within a transfer cask. However, transfer casks are not intended to provide an indefinite radiation barrier for thin-wall casks but are only approved by the NRC for brief usage, protecting workers during transfer operations.  

Neither Edison, the subcontractor, Holtec, nor the NRC will release information about how they can maintain a safe temperature for the stranded cask. The NRC states only that the cask is being kept sufficiently cool. Nuclear safety advocates are not reassured, particularly since the NRC is leaving it up to Edison as to whether they choose to resume loading operations into the clearly defective model of vault, the Holtec Hi-Storm UMAX.  

Safety advocates consider this example, as well as the NRC’s pervasive pattern of lax oversight in all the near miss incidents cited in this article, as the very definition of a “captured agency,” a proverbial fox minding a hen house. Donna Gilmore, Director of San Onofre Safety and frequent intercessor with the NRC, concludes: “Congress and the President should mandate the NRC enforce safety standards…and force the NRC to stop misleading them about the safety of systems they approve.” 

Public Watchdogs and San Onofre Safety advocate for immediate closure of the beachfront ISFSI.  They propose loading the irradiated fuel into thick-wall casks that are 10 to 19.75 inches thick and stored in hardened buildings. This variant of cask, most commonly used around the world and which withstood the earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima, can be inspected and repaired to prevent leaks and explosions. These two groups then propose moving the sturdier casks across the freeway onto higher and drier ground at Camp Pendleton.  Bonus: the marines stand guard.

Nuclear safety advocates recognize, however, that the plan suggested above is a “least worst” option, by no means 100% safe. At San Onofre, as elsewhere, the problem of safely, securely, and permanently storing high-level radioactive waste is yet to be solved. Without vigilant citizen oversight and advocacy, in the hands of the nuclear industry, the “least worst” option will never be achieved.

“For nuclear disaster at San Onofre,” concludes Langley, “you don’t even need an earthquake or a tsunami, you just need the nuclear industry.” And its lapdog regulator, too.

Diane Ray became an anti-nuclear activist in the late 1970s, working with Safe ‘n Sound against nuclear plant construction at Shoreham, Long Island, NY.  Shoreham never opened. Ray is a member of Public Watchdogs.       

Headline photo is a Google Earth shot of the SONGS ISFSI just steps from the shoreline.

Editor’s Note: Beyond Nuclear supports moving the SONGS radioactive waste off the shoreline and onto Camp Pendleton. We also support HOSS — Hardened On-Site Storage. HOSS mandates that: Irradiated fuel must be stored as safely as possible as close to the site of generation as possible; HOSS facilities must not be regarded as a permanent waste solution, and thus should not be constructed underground and the waste must be retrievable; The facility must have real-time radiation and heat monitoring for early detection of problems with containers; The overall objective of HOSS should be that the amount of releases projected in even severe attacks should be low enough that the storage system would be unattractive as a terrorist target; Placement of individual canisters that makes detection difficult from outside the site boundary. Read more about HOSS.

December 17, 2018 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Countries breathe life into the Paris climate agreement — RenewEconomy

At the UN summit in Poland, nearly 200 governments agreed rules to put the historic pact into action, but failed to make strong push for faster emissions cuts The post Countries breathe life into the Paris climate agreement appeared first on RenewEconomy.

via Countries breathe life into the Paris climate agreement — RenewEconomy

December 17, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

December 16 Energy News — geoharvey

Opinion: ¶ “UK’s Dream Is Now its Nuclear Nightmare” • A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium, is shutting down. Proposed to reprocess spent fuel, it […]

via December 16 Energy News — geoharvey

December 17, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment