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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

UK unions, formerly opponents of nuclear power, are now slow to understand the increasing role of renewable energy

Dave Elliott’s Blog 5th Oct 2017, The UK Trade Unions currently mostly back nuclear power.

In 2016, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady noted that the Hinkley project ‘will
be the largest construction project in the UK, creating 25,000 high-quality
jobs and 500 apprenticeships’.

It wasn’t always like this. In 1986, in
the wake of Chernobyl, the TUC backed a nuclear ‘moratorium and review’
policy. In the same year, the Labour Party had confirmed its 1985 anti
(civil) nuclear power stance, with a two thirds majority for phasing it
out.

The then quite dominant Transport and General Workers Union said it
was ‘clear and unambiguous in its position on nuclear power. We support a
halt to nuclear expansion and a safe and planned phase out of nuclear power
in this country.’

So what has changed? Well it’s taken nearly 30 years,
but renewables are now big (25%) growing, and creating jobs- with nearly
126,000 people employed in the UK renewable energy industry in 2017
according to the REA.

However, the unions still seem unsure, and some have
taken to recycling dubious statistics and arguments to try to undermine the
case for renewables. At its 2016 annual Congress the GMB Union’s National
Secretary, Justin Bowden, noted that‘over the last 12 months there were
46 days when wind was supplying 10% or less of the installed and connected
wind capacity to the grid’ and insisted that ‘until there is a
scientific breakthrough on carbon capture or solar storage, then nuclear
and gas are the only reliable shows in town which those advocating a
renewable energy-only policy have to accept.”

This doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For over half of those 46 low-wind days
i.e. outside of winter, and for most of the nights, overall energy demand
would have been low, so a low wind input would not matter. When it did,
existing gas plants would have ramped up a bit more to provide the extra
energy needed e.g. as they do any way to meet daily peaks. As more
renewables come off the grid, other balancing measures can also be used, so
there is not really a problem. But inflexible base-load nuclear plants are
no use for this – they can’t vary output regularly, quickly and safely.
They just get in the way of the flexible supply and demand approach that is
needed.

http://delliott6.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/trade-unions-and-nuclear-power.html

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October 9, 2017 Posted by | employment, UK | Leave a comment

UK politician criticises nuclear workers’ union as “the voice of big business”

Politics Home 28th Sept 2017, A powerful trade union has labelled Clive Lewis “anti-working class” after
he launched an extraordinary attack on their defence of the nuclear
industry. The GMB said the former Shadow Cabinet member’s remarks were
“offensive to our members”.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour party
conference, Mr Lewis said the unions, and the GMB in particular, had become
“the voice of big business”. He also accused them of fighting “to the
bitter end” for the arms industry, but failing to speak up for the
renewable energy sector because it didn’t generate union members.

The Labour MP for Norwich South said: “One of the problems with where trade
unions are at the moment is that they have been so weakened that I think
they have become, and have been used by big business as, a voice for big
business.

“Because big business understands that if you have a unionised
workforce they also become spokespeople for you. They create a situation
where you have a wide and broad spectrum politically of people supporting
your particular position.

“On nuclear, yes, GMB and other unions are staunchly supporting it because the jobs there generate union members.
Contrast that to the highly self-employed solar sector: the unions have no
trade unions there. They are not speaking up at all for them…
https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/political-parties/labour-party/news/89369/clive-lewis-accused-being-%E2%80%98anti-working-class%E2%80%99

September 30, 2017 Posted by | employment, politics, UK | Leave a comment

Construction workers at Hinkley Point C nuclear project reject pay offer, will support industrial action

Bridgwater Mercury 21st Sept 2017, CONSTRUCTION workers at Hinkley Point C have overwhelmingly rejected a
renewed pay offer in the long-standing dispute over pay and bonuses on the
project. Industrial action is now likely after 95 per cent of staff
rejected the new deal from EDF which was understood to be about a five per
cent increase on their gross pay. A worker at the power plant site, who did
not want to be named, expects the same proportion of the workforce will
support industrial action. He said: “Considering it is the biggest
project in Europe strike is an absolute catastrophe”.
http://www.bridgwatermercury.co.uk/news/15550499.Strike_action_at_Hinkley_Point_C_would_be__absolutely_catastrophic___power_plant_worker_says/

September 25, 2017 Posted by | employment, UK | Leave a comment

More delay for Britain’s Hinkley nuclear project,as labour dispute worsens

Guardian 21st Sept 2017, The UK’s first new nuclear power plant for 20 years could be delayed
again, after trade unions for construction staff working on the £20bn
Hinkley Point C project announced a ballot for strike action in a dispute
over pay. More than 95% of members balloted by GMB and Unite rejected a pay
increase offered by the French energy company EDF and its contractor Bylor
after months of discussions. Any extension of the labour dispute risks
further time and cost overruns for Europe’s largest construction project,
which is already behind schedule and over budget.
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/sep/21/hinkley-point-c-fresh-strike-threat-over-pay-dispute-delays

September 23, 2017 Posted by | employment, UK | Leave a comment

Scott Pruitt has turned America’s Environment Protection Agency into a nerve-wracking mess

turning the agency into a hollow shell by whacking its budget, overturning rules based on bogus reportand keeping employees in the dark allows Pruitt and his allies to claim publicly that all they are doing is restricting the EPA to its original purpose, not demolishing it.

In fact, the damage that Pruitt is inflicting will take years to repair.

Scott Pruitt’s EPA Is Crazyland, Clean Technica , August 22nd, 2017 “…..By Meteor Blades     Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton at The New York Times report that Pruitt has injected a sense of paranoia at the agency, making career employees feel as if they are the enemy. Those staffers say floors at EPA HQ are frequently locked, and if they wish to see Pruitt, they must have an escort. They are often told to leave their cellphones behind and not to take notes in meetings with him:“Mr. Pruitt, according to the employees, who requested anonymity out of fear of losing their jobs, often makes important phone calls from other offices rather than use the phone in his office, and he is accompanied, even at E.P.A. headquarters, by armed guards, the first head of the agency to ever request round-the-clock security.

“A former Oklahoma attorney general who built his career suing the E.P.A., and whose LinkedIn profile still describes him as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,’ Mr. Pruitt has made it clear that he sees his mission to be dismantling the agency’s policies — and even portions of the institution itself.

 “But as he works to roll back regulations, close offices and eliminate staff at the agency charged with protecting the nation’s environment and public health, Mr. Pruitt is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former agency employees.”…….

Among the examples of Pruitt’s moves to undermine the agency’s mission is what was done to the analysis of the Waters of the United States rule put in place during the Obama administration to expand EPA’s oversight of large bodies of water to the streams and rivers that feed them. This attempt to preserve wetlands and clean up polluted tributaries was widely attacked by farmers, real estate developers, and rightist ideologues.

Pruitt was determined to dump the rule. So he ordered a rewrite of a lengthy analysis that had shown that the rule’s economic benefits far outweighed its costs. The EPA’s staffers dutifully complied, and when their report emerged, more than half a billion dollars in benefits from the rule had been erased:

Jeffrey Ruchs, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an organization representing government employees in environmental fields, said the E.P.A. could not allow changes like this to take place, or expect its employees to follow such directives.

“‘This is a huge change, and they made it over a few days, with almost no record, no documentation,’ Mr. Ruchs said, adding, ‘It wasn’t so much cooking the books, it was throwing out the books.’ […]

“’The mere fact they are telling people not to write things down shows they are trying to keep things hidden,’ said Jeffrey Lubbers, a professor of administrative law at American University.”

The secrecy extends to the most mundane matters. Unlike previous agency administrators, he doesn’t post his schedule and makes it difficult for top staffers to even know where he is traveling on government business……

turning the agency into a hollow shell by whacking its budget, overturning rules based on bogus reports and keeping employees in the dark allows Pruitt and his allies to claim publicly that all they are doing is restricting the EPA to its original purpose, not demolishing it.

In fact, the damage that Pruitt is inflicting will take years to repair. https://cleantechnica.com/2017/08/22/scott-pruitts-epa-crazyland/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+IM-cleantechnica+%28CleanTechnica%29

August 23, 2017 Posted by | employment, environment, politics, USA | 2 Comments

V. C. Summer former nuclear workers filing lawsuits against nuclear plant employers

Attorneys filing lawsuits against nuclear plant employers, http://wach.com/news/local/attorneys-filing-lawsuits-against-nuclear-plant-employersby Michelle Zhu, 18 Aug 17, 

It’s called the WARN Act, which stands for Worker Adjustment Retraining Notification. It requires employers of more than 100 workers to provide 60 day advance notice of mass layoffs. In response, Attorney Jack Raisner and his partners filed lawsuits against both Westinghouse and SCANA at the beginning of August.

At this point, complaints have been filed and the Outten and Golden firm is waiting for an answer. Attorney Raisner says they can’t guarantee an outcome but they feel confident something will come out of the case. If the plaintiffs win, all employees will receive up to eight weeks of lost pay, plus benefits. The process could take as little as a few months or up to several years.

August 19, 2017 Posted by | employment, Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Escalating dispute at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria

18 Aug 17, The dispute at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria has
escalated amid claims workplace meetings to discuss a 1.5% have been banned
by bosses. The union Unite, which is preparing to ballot its 2,000 members
for industrial over the offer which it says is “completely
unacceptable”, has hit out at the management move.
http://www.thebusinessdesk.com/northwest/news/2008261-union-hits-sellafield-workplace-meetings-%E2%80%98ban%E2%80%99

August 19, 2017 Posted by | employment, UK | Leave a comment

Hundreds of workers laid off, thousands of contractors lost jobs: lawsuit against Westinghouse over VC Summer nuclear failure

Pittsburgh Gazette 11th Aug 2017, Following the filing of a lawsuit alleging that Westinghouse Electric Co. violated labor laws by laying off hundreds of workers without proper notice, the bankrupt nuclear company confirmed Friday that it has furloughed 870 employees across the company.

The number represents all full-time Westinghouse employees who had been working on the VC Summer
nuclear power plant in South Carolina and includes 125 workers at
Westinghouse’s Cranberry headquarters. The majority of the furloughs took
place at the site of the VC Summer nuclear power plant construction
project.

The project was canceled last week by two South Carolina utilities. Years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget, theproject was expected to cost another $8 billion to complete.

In addition to the Westinghouse layoffs, thousands of contractors working on the South Carolina site also lost their jobs.

The lawsuit, filed in bankruptcy court on Thursday by Andrew Fleetwood, a field engineering manager at VC Summer,
claims Westinghouse employees like him were furloughed “without being given any indication that his employment or that of his co-workers would ever recommence.”  http://powersource.post-gazette.com/powersource/companies/2017/08/11/Westinghouse-furloughed-870-employees-in-fallout-from-the-cancelled-South-Carolina-nuclear-project/stories/201708110130

August 14, 2017 Posted by | employment, USA | Leave a comment

Workers’ health at risk at Idaho nuclear lab

Unheeded warnings, repeated mistakes put workers’ health at risk at Idaho nuclear lab, Idaho Statesman, BY PATRICK MALONE AND PETER CARY, The Center for Public Integrity AUGUST 10, 2017 

August 11, 2017 Posted by | employment, incidents, USA | Leave a comment

Workers in Southern USA States now facing climate change health hazards

In Sweltering South, Climate Change Is Now a Workplace Hazard  Workers laboring outdoors in southern states are wrestling with the personal and political consequences of a worsening environment, NYT, By YAMICHE ALCINDORAUG. 3, 2017, GALVESTON, Tex. — Adolfo Guerra, a landscaper in this port city on the Gulf of Mexico, remembers panicking as his co-worker vomited and convulsed after hours of mowing lawns in stifling heat. Other workers rushed to cover him with ice, and the man recovered.

But for Mr. Guerra, 24, who spends nine hours a day six days a week doing yard work, the episode was a reminder of the dangers that exist for outdoor workers as the planet warms.

“I think about the climate every day,” Mr. Guerra said, “because every day we work, and every day it feels like it’s getting hotter.”……

 to Robert D. Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University who some call the “father of environmental justice,” the industrial revival that Mr. Trump has promised could come with some serious downsides for an already warming planet. Professor Bullard is trying to bring that message to working-class Americans like Mr. Guerra, and to environmental organizations that have, in his mind, been more focused on struggling animals than poor humans, who have been disproportionately harmed by increasing temperatures, worsening storms and rising sea levels.

“For too long, a lot of the climate change and global warming arguments have been looking at melting ice and polar bears and not at the human suffering side of it,” Professor Bullard said. “They are still pushing out the polar bear as the icon for climate change. The icon should be a kid who is suffering from the negative impacts of climate change and increased air pollution, or a family where rising water is endangering their lives.”

The “environmental justice movement” has, in fact, caught on with major environmental groups, but it has far to go before it begins moving the dial in the nation’s politics. Professor Bullard envisions the recruits for his movement coming not only from the liberal college towns of the Northeast and Midwest, but also from the sweltering working-class communities in the Sun Belt, which he sees as the front line of the nation’s environmental wars.

Residents of working-class communities in the Sun Belt often cannot afford to move or evacuate during weather disasters. They may work outside, and they may struggle to cover their air-conditioning bills. Pollution in their communities leads to health problems that are compounded by the refusal of most Sun Belt state governments to expand Medicaid access under the Affordable Care Act…….. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/us/politics/climate-change-trump-working-poor-activists.html

August 4, 2017 Posted by | climate change, employment, USA | Leave a comment

Hanford workers inhaled radioactive plutonium – new tests show

Tests show Hanford workers inhaled radioactive plutonium, Susannah Frame, KING 5   August 03, 2017 On June 8 approximately 350 Hanford workers were ordered to “take cover” after alarms designed to detect elevated levels of airborne radioactive contamination went off.  It was quickly determined that radioactive  particles had been swept out of a containment zone at the plutonium finishing plant (PFP) demolition site. The work is considered the most hazardous demolition project on the entire nuclear reservation.

At the time Hanford officials called the safety measure “precautionary.” Officials from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, which owns Hanford, and the contractor in charge of the demolition, CH2M Hill, downplayed the seriousness of the event with statements including, it appeared “workers were not at risk”, “(the alarm went off) in an area where contamination is expected” and there was “no evidence radioactive particles had been inhaled” by anyone.

The KING 5 Investigators have discovered those statements are incorrect. An internal CH2M Hill email sent to their employees on July 21 was obtained by KING. It states that 301 (test kits) have been issued to employees and of the first 65 workers tested, a “small number of employees” showed positive results for “internal exposures” (by radioactive plutonium).

Sources tell KING the “small number of employees” is twelve. Twelve people out of 65 is 20 percent. Still outstanding are 236 tests. A communication specialist with CH2M Hill sent a statement that more positive results are expected. “We expect additional positive results because analytical tests like a bioassay can detect radiological contamination at levels far lower than what field monitoring can detect,” said Destry Henderson of CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Company.

Several veteran Hanford workers were surprised by the number of people with internal contamination from a single event.

“I’ve worked there for 27 years and I’ve never seen this many people contaminated internally,” said one employee with radiation expertise who did not want to be identified………

Hanford workers said they are not concerned about the small dose of radiation detected, but about the contamination inside the body from plutonium. All radiation is not created equal.Radiation from an x-ray, air flight or a microwave are different and far less dangerous types than the kind emitted by plutonium inside the body. Unlike x-rays, air travel or microwaves, plutonium emits alpha radiation, which is the most destructive type to inhale or ingest.

“Alpha particles damage or destroy DNA and can cause cancer,” said Kaltofen.

“If I get a chest x-ray or CT scan, that’s a different type of radiation,” said Dr. Erica Liebelt, Medical and Executive Director of the Washington Poison Center. “These people’s risk could be quite low because that number was very very small. (But) you have concerns about (alpha) radiation disrupting the cells and causing genetic disruption in the cells and cellular damage. And that’s what causes the increased risk for cancers in three organs: lungs, liver, and bone,” said Liebelt, who is also a board certified toxicologist……http://www.king5.com/news/local/hanford/tests-show-hanford-workers-inhaled-radioactive-plutonium/461574180

August 4, 2017 Posted by | employment, health, USA | Leave a comment

USA Labor Department tactic: delay compensation as long as possible – nuclear workers die

Longtime critics of the program’s administration point to numerous examples not only of claimants dying after years of waiting for their compensation but of spouses who refiled for survivorship claims dying while waiting for their compensation awards.

Labor Department Whistleblower: Agency Officials Intentionally Denied or Delayed Pay-Outs to Nuclear Workers in Hopes They Would Die Government attorney who raised red flags said Perez, other Obama officials ignored his complaints about hostility toward nuclear-worker claims, Washington Free Beacon  Susan Crabtree, 21 July 17,

A senior attorney at the Labor Department is accusing agency officials of writing and manipulating regulations to intentionally delay and deny congressionally mandated compensation to nuclear-weapons workers who suffered from sicknesses—and in some cases died—as a result of their work building the nation’s Cold War nuclear arsenal.

The attorney, Stephen Silbiger, says Labor Department leadership under former Labor Secretary Tom Perez ignored years of his complaints about the “open hostility” he said some officials exhibited toward claimants, many of whom are too poor and sick to fight the agency’s denials and red tape in federal court.

When Congress passed the law creating the compensation program in 2000, a bipartisan group of lawmakers promised these nuclear workers a claimant-friendly path to compensating them or their families for illnesses related to the country’s nuclear build-up and their exposure to toxins at bombing-making facilities.

Under the law, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA), qualified workers or their survivors who were diagnosed with certain types of cancer or other diseases from exposure to toxic substances at covered facilities are entitled to between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation to help pay medical bills and loss of wages due to their illnesses, with a cap of $400,000.

However, Silbiger and other critics say government officials often purposely thwarted workers’ attempts to seek the compensation by writing regulations that made qualification much more stringent than Congress intended, failing to disclose all the application rules, changing eligibility rules midstream, and delaying compensation for years until the sick workers died.

“There’s explicit hostility toward claimants, and this has become a game for bureaucrats to see how clever they can be in manipulating the statute and the regs to deny benefits to indigent claimants,” Silbiger told the Washington Free Beacon in his first public complaint about the program’s administrators.

Silbiger says the problems with the compensation program parallel some of those at the heart of decades of Veterans Affairs Department corruption and abuse.

“The problem in the VA is that nobody would confront these people [poorly administrating the VA medical service]—it’s very similar,” he said. “Nobody really cares about the program—these people have no real constituency. They’re rural, they’re elderly, they have no political clout, so they’re ignored.”

Silbiger, an attorney in the Labor Department’s Solicitor’s Office, which is charged with meeting the agency’s legal service demands, says that President Donald Trump and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta now have a chance to fix the problems.

Two Labor Department spokesman did not respond to repeated emails seeking answers to a list of Free Beacon questions about the program, including whether there is a current claimant backlog, exactly how many claimants have received compensation versus how many have filed for it, and why top officials never took action in response to Silbiger’s complaints.

The Democratic National Committee, which Perez now chairs, also did not respond to a request for comment after acknowledging receipt of the questions……….

Longtime critics of the program’s administration point to numerous examples not only of claimants dying after years of waiting for their compensation but of spouses who refiled for survivorship claims dying while waiting for their compensation awards.

Some of Silbiger’s complaints echo recent allegations from the Alliance of Nuclear Workers Advocacy Groups (ANWAG), although the two parties said they do not know each other and have not conferred on the topic or anything else.

In a letter to the Labor Department Inspector General Scott Dahl dated July 12, ANWAG called for an immediate and full investigation into the administrators’ handling of the claims “to determine if unethical or illegal regulatory procedures occurred which may have resulted in unjustified denial of claims.”………

ANWAG, however, remains deeply concerned about other recent eligibility rules changes, they say make it more difficult to qualify for compensation. In its July 12 letter to the Labor Department’s inspector general, ANWAG argued that that changes to the rules EEOIC program administrators made earlier this year are illegal because they were never formally adopted through the rulemaking process and were used to deny claims months and even years before officially proposed.

“We do not take this step lightly,” ANWAG stated in its letter, noting that it represents more than 100 advocates across the country helping sick nuclear workers and their survivors receive compensation Congress promised them.

“We believe government employees responsible for implementing EEOICPA have abused their power, ignored the laws of the land [and] failed to comply with executive orders requiring that agencies operate in a transparent manner,” ANWAG wrote, noting that the Labor Department received nearly 500 comments during the rulemaking promise with many commenters voicing their objection to the proposed changes, including those dealing with changes to eligibility for wage-loss compensation.

The new rules require that a worker must identify the “trigger month” in which he first became disabled and that the worker must be employed during that “trigger month” to receive any wage-loss compensation.

ANWAG argued that the new rule did not take into account that the symptoms of the illness could have begun long before a worker left their position and long before reaching a definitive doctor diagnosis of their illness.

“Since DOL regulations accepts [sic] that a worker was injured the last day he or she worked at a facility, it seems logical that DOL would only need to review the medical records they relied upon to accept a disease and compare those records (such as date of diagnosis or documentation of symptoms consistent with the disease before a formal diagnosis was rendered) to the Social Security Administration’s quarterly wages to determine when the worker first lost wages due to [a] covered disease,” the organization wrote.

To make matters worse, the Labor Department revised the rule for wage-loss claims to reflect this more stringent standard in July 2015, four months before they issued proposed rules to do so, the group said. It cited a case in which EEOICP administrators used the same language about the new “trigger month” requirement.

ANWAG also cited a case of the EEOICP officials using this “unauthorized wording” to deny a wage-loss claim seven years ago, in February 12, 2009.

The group also referred to the Lucero decision to back up their argument that the Labor Department is narrowly and illegally interpreting the law Congress passed to compensate nuclear workers for their illnesses in a timely and even-handed way.

“It is ANWAG’s position that DEEOIC has, at least in the changes made for wage-loss claims, overstepped their authority by restricting the ability to claim loss of wages to a very narrow time period,” Barrie wrote.

“Congress understood that many workers suffered from occupational disease which went often not correctly diagnosed for months after the symptoms appeared,” she argued.

“The statute clearly lays out the manner for which DEEOIC is to figure out amount of wage loss. It does not give DEEOIC the authority to limit wage loss to only workers who were employed during the same month they were diagnosed with a covered condition.” http://freebeacon.com/issues/labor-department-whistleblower-agency-officials-intentionally-denied-or-delayed-pay-outs-to-nuclear-workers-in-hopes-they-would-die/

July 28, 2017 Posted by | employment, health, Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Problems at Los Alamos National Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4) – dangerous plutonium pits

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks, Science,  By The Center for Public IntegrityR. Jeffrey SmithPatrick Malon Jun. 30, 2017 “……..A unique task, unfulfilled for the past four years

Before the work was halted in 2013, those overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal typically pulled six or seven warheads from bombers or missiles every year for dismantlement and invasive diagnostic testing. One reason is that the unstable metals that act as spark plugs for the bombs — plutonium and highly-enriched uranium — bathe themselves and nearby electrical components in radiation, with sometimes unpredictable consequences; another is that all the bombs’ metallic components are subject to normal, sometimes fitful corrosion.

Plutonium also slowly decays, with some of its isotopes becoming uranium. And the special high explosives fabricated by nuclear scientists to compress the plutonium cores in a deliberate detonation also have an unstable molecular structure.

Invasive testing provides details vital to the computer modeling and scientifically simulated plutonium behavior that has replaced nuclear testing, said DOE consultant David Overskei. He compared the pit — so named because it is spherical and positioned near the center of a warhead — to the heart of a human being, explaining that destructive testing is like taking a blood sample capable of exposing harmful maladies.

The aim, as Vice President Joe Biden said in a 2010 National Defense University speech, has been to “anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal.” Weapons designers say it’s what anyone would do if they were storing a car for years while still expecting the engine to start and the vehicle to speed down the road at the sudden turn of a key.

Typically, warheads selected for testing are first sent to the Energy Department’s Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Technicians there gently separate their components — such as the detonators — at that site; they also send the pits — used in a primary nuclear explosion — to Los Alamos, and the highly-enriched uranium — used in a secondary explosion — to Oak Ridge, Tenn. The arming, fusing, and firing mechanisms are tested by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and other locations.

At Los Alamos, the pits are brought to Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4), a boxy, two-story, concrete building with a footprint the size of two city blocks.  Inside are hundreds of special “glove boxes” for working with plutonium, a series of individual laboratories, and a special vault, in which containers hold plutonium on racks meant to ensure that escaping neutrons don’t collide too often with other atoms, provoking them to fission uncontrollably. Only a small portion of the building is normally used for pit surveillance, while about a fifth is used for pit fabrication, and another seven percent for analytical chemistry and pit certification. Budget documents indicate that annual federal spending for the work centered there is nearly $200 million.

“The Los Alamos Plutonium Facility is a unique and essential national security capability,” McMillan, the lab’s director, said last September during a visit by then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who watched as technicians — attempting to restart their work after the lengthy hiatus — used pressing machines and other equipment to fabricate a mock pit, rather than a usable one.

The building lies in the middle of a 40-acre campus in the mountains above Santa Fe hastily built during World War II to coordinate the construction of the two nuclear bombs used in Japan. Los Alamos is still considered the foremost U.S. nuclear weapons facility — where six of the nine warheads currently in the U.S. arsenal were designed, and where plutonium-based power supplies for most of the nation’s deep-space probes are fabricated. Hundreds of nuclear physicists work there.

Unfortunately, it also has an active seismic zone beneath the PF-4 building, producing persistent worries among the staff and members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a congressionally-chartered oversight group, that if it experienced a rare, large earthquake, the roof could collapse and toss chunks of plutonium so closely together a chain reaction would ensue, spewing radioactive, cancer-causing plutonium particles throughout nearby residential communities.

Millions of dollars have already been spent to diminish this risk, which until recently exceeded federal guidelines, and the Trump administration last month proposed spending $14 million in 2018 alone to strengthen the building’s firewalls and sprinkler systems. The government has also sunk more than $450 million into preparations for construction of a modern and more seismically durable pit production facility at Los Alamos, projected to have a total price tag between $1.5 billion and $3 billion.

Making new pits involves melting, casting, and machining the plutonium, while assessing how well or poorly the pits are aging requires using various instruments to withdraw small pieces for detailed chemical and material analysis. These operations are typically done in the glove boxes, by specialists whose hands are inserted into gloves attached to the side of sealed containers meant to keep the plutonium particles from escaping. But the work is messy, requiring constant vigilance to be certain that too much of the metal doesn’t pile up in a compact space. The byproducts include “chunks, shards, and grains of plutonium metal,” all of it radioactive and unstable, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report.

Notably, a 2013 Los Alamos study depicted leaks of glove boxes at PF-4 as frequent — averaging nearly three a month — and said they were often caused by avoidable errors such as inattention, improper maintenance, collisions with rolling storage carts, complacency and degradation from the heat that plutonium constantly emits. It said that sometimes those operating or supervising the equipment “accepted risk” or took a chance, rushed to meet a deadline, or otherwise succumbed to workplace production pressures.

“Operations always wants it yesterday,” the lab’s current criticality safety chief and the lone NNSA expert assigned to that issue in the agency’s Los Alamos oversight office warned in a private briefing for their colleagues at Sandia labs last month. Managers “must shield analysts from demands” from production personnel, they said.

Besides posing a serious health risk to those in PF-4, glove box releases of radioactive material each cost the government $23,000 to clean up, on average, the Los Alamos study said.

An acute shortage of criticality experts

Calculating exactly “how much material can come together before there’s an explosion” — as the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once put it — is a complex task. While visiting the production site for highly-enriched uranium in

Oak Ridge, Tenn., during the 1940’s, for example, Feynman was surprised to see stocks of that fissionable material deliberately stored in separate rooms, but on an adjoining wall that posed no barrier to collisions involving atoms of uranium and escaping neutrons on both sides. “It was very dangerous and they had not paid any attention to the safety at all,” Feynman wrote years later.

Plutonium work is so fraught with risk that the total mass of that metal allowed to be present in PF-4 is strictly limited. A decade ago, the limit was increased without an appropriate understanding of the risks, according to an NNSA technical bulletin in February. But with pieces of it strewn and stored throughout the normally busy building, partly because the vault is typically full, its managers have labored for years to systematically track down and remove excess stocks. They had some success last year, when they got rid of nearly a quarter of the plutonium on the building’s “main floor,” according to recent budget documents.

Criticality specialists are employed not only to help set these overall mass limits but to guide technicians so they don’t inadvertently trigger chain reactions in their daily work; those specialists are also supposed to be the first-responders when too much dangerous material is found in one place.

“The weird thing about criticality safety is that it’s not intuitive,” Don Nichols, a former chief for defense nuclear safety at the NNSA, said in an interview. He cited an instance in which someone operating a stirring machine noticed that fissionable liquids were forming a “critical” mass, so the operator shut the stirrer off, not immediately realizing that doing so made the problem worse. In other instances, analysts had judged a plutonium operation was safe, but then more workers — whose bodies reflect and slow neutrons — wound up being present nearby, creating unanticipated risks.

Those doing the weapons disassemblies and invasive pit studies are typically under “a big level pressure” to complete a certain number every year, Nichols added. They are expected to do “so many of these in this amount of time,” to allow the labs to certify to the president that the stockpile is viable. Meanwhile, the calculations involved in avoiding criticality — which depend on the shape, size, form, quantity, and geometric configuration of material being used in more than a dozen different industrial operations — are so complex that it takes a year and a half of training for an engineer to become qualified and as many as five years to become proficient, experts say.

“It’s difficult to find people who want to do this job,” particularly at the remote Los Alamos site, said McConnell, the NNSA safety chief. With plutonium use mostly confined to creating the world’s most powerful explosives, “there are…very few public-sector opportunities for people to develop these skills,” he added. As a result, he said, many NNSA sites lack the desired number of experts, which slows down production.

At the time of the 2013 shutdown, after numerous internal warnings about the consequences of its mismanagement, Los Alamos had only “a single junior qualified criticality safety engineer” still in place, according to the February NNSA technical bulletin. Nichols, who was then the NNSA’s associate administrator for safety and health, said McMillan didn’t “realize how serious it was until we took notice and helped him take notice.”

Without having adequate staff on hand to guide their operations safely, technicians at PF-4 were unable to carry out a scheduled destructive surveillance in 2014 of a refurbished plutonium pit meant for a warhead to be fit atop American submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It’s been modernized at a cost of $946 million since 2014, with total expenses predicted to exceed $3.7 billion. Generally, up to 10 of the first pits produced for a new warhead type are set aside for surveillance to assure they’re safely constructed and potent before they’re deployed. But the planned disassembly was cancelled and the NNSA hasn’t scheduled another yet, because of the shutdown.

The lab also hasn’t been able to complete planned invasive studies of the aging of plutonium used in a warhead for an aircraft-delivered nuclear bomb, now being modernized at an estimated cost of $7.4 billion to $10 billion.

Former deputy NNSA director Madelyn Creedon told an industry conference in March that if new funds are given to the agency in President Trump’s new budget, she knows where she’d advise it be spent. “One of the things that doesn’t take a huge amount of money but it’s one that has been cut back over the last couple of years, is surveillance — enhanced surveillance” of existing warheads, Creedon said……..http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/safety-problems-los-alamos-laboratory-delay-us-nuclear-warhead-testing-and-production

July 1, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, employment, Reference | Leave a comment

Low morale in India’s nuclear industry: exodus of scientists

Scientists’ exodus hits Bhabha Atomic Research Centre http://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2017/jun/24/scientists-exodus-hits-bhabha-atomic-research-centre-1620535.html, By Richa Sharma  24th June 2017 NEW DELHI: The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), which hogged the limelight for unnatural death of nuclear scientists in the past few years, is faced with a different challenge now: Attrition. As many as 85 scientists have left the country’s top nuclear research facility in the last five years, according to an RTI reply.

The reason ranges from lack of professional working environment to harassment. Early this year, a BARC scientific officer went missing after sending an email to her family in which she cited wok pressure and mental harassment by her senior. She, however, returned home a week later.
This was not the first time when such allegations were made. In 2015, a group of BARC scientists wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alleging harassment and victimisation by their seniors and sought his intervention.

Things seem to have not improved as the RTI query revealed that 85 scientists and technical officers— mostly in their early or mid level—have quit between 2012 and 2016. The centre did not give any reason for the same.
The number of deaths in the nuclear research facility presents a horrific story as 73 suicides, including by many scientists, were reported between 1995 and 2016. Many BARC scientists were also found dead in mysterious conditions and murdered.

According to the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), adequate arrangements are in place at workplace and departmental residential township for security of scientists.
“Unnatural death of scientists/employees of DAE are always being accorded due importance and this office monitors sensitive cases of death from time to time in consultation with Units, Intelligence Bureau, local police,” said the DAE.

June 26, 2017 Posted by | employment, India | Leave a comment

Hinkley C nuclear station; a very poor bet for jobs

Morning Star 16th June 2017, Ian Fairlie: THE Labour Party’s recent election manifesto says a Labour
government would support nuclear power as part of a low-carbon energy mix and that it would continue to support Hinkley C. The reason is that Jeremy Corbyn needs trade union support and some major unions think that nuclear
power will furnish many jobs.

But this is a myth, a shibboleth. The real situation is that renewable energy already provides far more jobs than
nuclear does now, and will provide far more jobs more quickly than nuclear ever would — even if current government plans were to succeed. The problem is that promoting nuclear power diminishes the prospects of creating new jobs in renewable energy industries — eg in establishing a large offshore wind manufacturing base.

Let’s look at the Hinkley C site, for example. Although about 4,500 jobs would exist each year during the
main phase of construction, EDF has admitted most would be temporary and filled by overseas workers. And if it were ever completed, it would only employ 900 workers. In fact, Hinkley C would be a remarkably poor bet for Britain and British unions, as industry insiders expect 90 per cent of the work at Hinkley, and all high-tech work, would go to French firms. For example, in 2013, EDF Energy completed a very large gas-fired power station at West Burton in Nottinghamshire where 100 per cent of the engineering contracts — even the concrete — went to French firms.
http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-b8c7-Does-nuclear-power-really-provide-jobs

June 19, 2017 Posted by | employment, UK | Leave a comment