nuclear-news

The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Remembering Three Mile Island

GIL SCOTT HERON – WE ALMOST LOST DETROIT (LIVE AT 98.3 SUPERFLY)

This Day in History: America’s Worst Nuclear Fears Realized at Three Mile Island Plant, VOA, 28 Mar 17, Thirty-eight years ago today — March 28, 1979 — disaster struck at 4 a.m. at the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear power plant in central Pennsylvania after its cooling system failed.

It remains the worst nuclear accident in American history. A simple plumbing failure prevented the main feedwater pumps from sending water to generators that remove heat from the plant’s core reactor.

During those pre-dawn hours, the temperature of the reactor rose steadily even as staffers were unaware that a valve in the emergency cooling system had become stuck in place, allowing cool water to flow through the valve — not reaching the reactor.

Instruments in the control room misled operators, who thought the cooling system was working normally.

As coolant flowed from the primary system through the valve, other instruments available to reactor operators provided inadequate information. There was no instrument that showed how much water covered the core. As a result, plant staff assumed that as long as the pressurizer water level was high, the core was properly covered with water.

As alarms rang and warning lights flashed, the operators did not realize that the plant was experiencing a loss-of-coolant accident — or, rather, the beginnings of a nuclear meltdown. And just after 6:00 am, data indicated the core reactor had overheated so much that radiation was detected inside the control room.

Half the core was later found to have melted………

In the months following the accident, questions were raised about possible adverse effects from radiation on human, animal and plant life around the nuclear power plant, although none could be directly correlated to the accident.

Thousands of environmental samples of air, water, milk, vegetation, soil and foodstuffs were collected by various government agencies monitoring the area.

In 1997, researchers from Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Science concluded increases in lung cancer and leukemia near the Pennsylvania plant suggested a much greater release of radiation during the 1979 accident than had been believed.

Three Mile Island Health Effects

The accident sparked sweeping safety regulations. The damaged reactor, on the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg, was never restarted. No new commercial nuclear power plant was licensed by the federal government until 2012….http://www.voanews.com/a/americas-worst-nuclear-fears-realized-at-three-mile-island-plant-in-1979/3784186.html

March 29, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

Concern about nuclear waste shipments to South Carolina

Among the materials with no disposition plan include weapons-grade plutonium, depleted uranium oxide, highly enriched uranium and heavy water.

Specifics about the quantity and timetables were redacted from the report. Lastly, the DOE report states that there is no disposition path for surplus plutonium stored at K-Area.

The DOE’s short-term strategy of continuing nuclear shipments to SRS runs counter to South Carolina’s long-held aversion to the state becoming a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

More nuclear shipments to Savannah River Site likely, report says http://www.aikenstandard.com/news/more-nuclear-shipments-to-savannah-river-site-likely-report-says/article_4a380b86-13db-11e7-87c8-c3869ab88afe.html By Michael Smith msmith@aikenstandard.com Mar 28, 2017  Shipments of plutonium and other nuclear materials are expected to continue to the Savannah River Site in Aiken County for the foreseeable future, according to government records released by a watchdog group.

The latest data dump from SRS Watch includes the 2016 SRS Nuclear Materials Management Plan the group said it obtained through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

Documents confirm that plutonium from Japan, Germany and Switzerland was shipped to the site last year, as previously reported by the Aiken Standard. The 2016 report further states the U.S. Department of Energy plans further shipments of plutonium, uranium and tritium, with some shipments expected to continue for 18 years.

“The most significant issue with respect to the current inventory of SNM (spent nuclear material) at SRS is the lack of an assigned disposition path for certain SNF (spent nuclear fuel) and plutonium materials,” the report says.

Among the materials with no disposition plan include weapons-grade plutonium, depleted uranium oxide, highly enriched uranium and heavy water.

Further, only a portion of spent nuclear fuel stored at L-Area is approved for processing at H Canyon, the report continues.

L-Area is where high and low enriched uranium used fuel is stored. H Canyon downblends this waste into low enriched uranium, which is then used to fuel Tennessee Valley Authority reactors, according to the SRS website.

Additionally, more foreign and domestic materials are expected to be shipped to L-Area through 2019 and 2035, respectively, the DOE report states.

Specifics about the quantity and timetables were redacted from the report. Lastly, the DOE report states that there is no disposition path for surplus plutonium stored at K-Area.

Options for disposing of surplus plutonium are limited. Construction of the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada halted a few years ago, while the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico also isn’t equipped to handle SRS materials.

The long-term strategy for disposing of defense plutonium remains completion of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, which would convert waste into fuel for commercial reactors.

MOX, though, is only reportedly 70 percent complete, billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule……

The DOE’s short-term strategy of continuing nuclear shipments to SRS runs counter to South Carolina’s long-held aversion to the state becoming a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

SRS Watch Director Tom Clements said in prepared comments the DOE report illustrates why importing nuclear materials to the site must cease.

“While it is clear that DOE hopes to maintain SRS as a site that receives and processes an array of nuclear materials, that role is clearly diminishing and continues to distract from the all-important clean-up mission at SRS,” Clements said in a statement. n recent years, MOX has only received minimal funding from Congress. The DOE assessment says this trend must change.

“Decisions/funding need to be made on the appropriate disposition path; which will include processing for use as mixed oxide fuel, another use, or a waste disposition,” the DOE report states.

The DOE’s short-term strategy of continuing nuclear shipments to SRS runs counter to South Carolina’s long-held aversion to the state becoming a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

SRS Watch Director Tom Clements said in prepared comments the DOE report illustrates why importing nuclear materials to the site must cease.

“While it is clear that DOE hopes to maintain SRS as a site that receives and processes an array of nuclear materials, that role is clearly diminishing and continues to distract from the all-important clean-up mission at SRS,” Clements said in a statement.

“More effort must be put into a permanent and near-term halt to the inflow of nuclear materials into SRS and the development of acceptable disposition paths for hard-to-manage materials already at the site,” the statement continued.

A federal judge recently ruled that the DOE failed to abide by legal obligations to remove or dispose of 1 metric ton of defense plutonium per year from SRS.

But the March 20 order doesn’t impose any sanctions for missing that milestone, nor does it prevent the continued flow of nuclear materials into Aiken County.

March 29, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Water level rise causes shutdown in South Korea’s Kori No. 4 nuclear reactor

South Korea’s Kori No. 4 nuclear reactor shut due to water level rise, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-nuclear-idUSKBN16Y2N6 South Korea’s Kori No. 4 nuclear reactor was manually shut down after the water level in a collection tank rose due to a coolant leak, a spokesman at the reactor’s operator said on Tuesday.

“We estimate the water level of the reactor’s collection tank increased after coolant was leaked,” said Lim Dae-hyun, the spokesman at Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co Ltd (KHNP).

Lim added that there was no release of radioactivity and that the cause of the water level increase was being investigated.

The 950-megawatt Kori No. 4 reactor is near Busan, a city more than 300 km (190 miles) southeast of the capital, Seoul.

KHNP, fully owned by state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO), runs the country’s 25 nuclear reactors, which supply about a third of South Korea’s electricity. (Reporting by Jane Chung; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

March 29, 2017 Posted by | incidents, South Korea | Leave a comment

Britain will struggle with nuclear regulatory system, after leaving European Union

Top nuclear boss advising May on protecting atomic industry from Brexit blow Energy Voice , 26 Mar 17 The German head of one of the UK’s top nuclear companies is counseling Prime Minister Theresa May’s government on what needs to be done to protect a global hub for the industry from Brexit.

With European Union leaders congregating to celebrate the Treaty of Rome’s 60th anniversary, Urenco Ltd.’s Chief Executive Officer Thomas Haeberle said he’s cautiously optimistic that new rules can be negotiated to guarantee the flow of nuclear materials in and out of the U.K. after the nation leaves the bloc.

“We are making the U.K. government, which is also our shareholder, aware of the requirements our business needs to fulfill in the context of Brexit and of leaving Euratom,” said Haeberle, referring to the European Atomic Community, a part of the EU’s bedrock agreement signed on March 25, 1957 – 26/03/20

Just as bankers have made London a global financial hub, nuclear workers have turned Britain into a central cog servicing the world’s flow of atomic materials. Urenco, the world’s second-biggest maker of reactor fuel, runs a factory in Capenhurst and oversees its global distribution network from Stoke Poges outside of London.

Owned by the U.K. and Dutch governments as well as German utilities EON SE and RWE AG, Urenco has set up a working group that “deals with all the risks and the possible mitigations,” Haeberle said. He spoke with Bloomberg a week before the EU celebrates Euratom’s 60th anniversary, his first interview since becoming CEO in January 2016.

Euratom’s main function is to safeguard nuclear fuel, making sure it isn’t diverted to make weapons. The U.K. will lose that service once it departs the EU. Nuclear fuel suppliers and power plants need certification from Euratom or whatever system succeeds it to buy material on the open market.

For Urenco’s business to continue uninterrupted after the U.K. leaves the EU, negotiators will have to seal new agreements with governments around the world setting out the new regulatory system Britain will follow after it leaves Euratom……..

Companies like Urenco face a potentially “high impact” from Brexit, Moody’s Investors Service wrote in a May 22 note saying that the overall credit impact from leaving the EU will be modest. Urenco, which has 2.1 billion pounds ($2.6 billion) of outstanding debt is rated Baa1, two grades above junk by Moody’s…… https://www.energyvoice.com/otherenergy/134874/top-nuclear-boss-advising-may-protecting-atomic-industry-brexit-blow/

 

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March 27, 2017 Posted by | politics international, safety, UK | Leave a comment

Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) sounds alarm over doctored papers & security breaches at French nuclear parts supplier

UK watchdog sounds alarm over doctored papers & security breaches at French nuclear parts supplier, Rt.com  25 Mar, 2017 

The ONR report, obtained under a Freedom of Information request and seen by Reuters, gives details on the December 16 visit by an international monitoring team to a French Creusot forge, operated by the country’s state-owned nuclear supplier Areva.

In the report, the UK watchdog warned that safety procedures at Creusot were far below the required standards for a key nuclear equipment supplier. That, they said, could lead to severe consequences for EDF’s [the largest energy company in France] Hinkley Point nuclear project currently under construction in southwest Britain, which is set to receive forgings from Creusot.

“ONR should consider the adequacy of EDF’s… oversight and assurance arrangements for Areva as a key supplier to Hinkley Point, given the performance shortfalls at Creusot Forge and the associated risks to [nuclear] components manufacture,” the regulator said, as cited by Reuters.

Among the breaches was the continued use of correction fluid on documents at the foundry, despite an earlier ban.

The ONR report also inquired into why internal inspections and audits carried out in past decades at Creusor Forge had not discovered and dealt with any of the falsification activities.

Following the December findings, two EDF nuclear reactors were stopped for months, utilities worldwide started reviewing Areva-made parts, and Paris launched a probe into the suspected falsification of documents.

The inspection of the troubled facility was carried out last year by an international team from France, Canada, the US, China, Finland, and Britain…….https://www.rt.com/news/382273-nuclear-france-failure-uk/

March 27, 2017 Posted by | safety, UK | Leave a comment

Unsafety at France’s La Hague nuclear recycling plant ? AREVA unions warn

Areva unions warn about safety at France’s La Hague nuclear recycling plant Unions says cost cuts, redundancies jeopardise safety * Regulator ASN inspects plant following union warning * ASN: plant is safe but will be vigilant, adapt procedures * ASN confirms some radioactive waste containers flawed (Adds ASN comments) Nasdaq, By Geert De ClercqPARIS, March 23 (Reuters) – 

Redundancies and cost savings are compromising safety at French nuclear group Areva’s <AREVA.PA> nuclear waste recycling facility at La Hague in Normandy, the firm’s unions say in an internal document. In an undated and unsigned note from the Areva La Hague Health and Safety Committee (CHSCT), seen by Reuters, the plant’s unions say that the Areva management’s “frantic cost-cutting is jeopardising long-established procedures” to prevent the risk of technical failures and human error. French nuclear safety authority ASN told Reuters it had received a copy of the note in November and had consequently inspected the plant, concluding that safety levels were acceptable.
However, it confirmed an incident in late 2016 – highlighted in the union note – in which several batches of highly radioactive waste were not properly processed during vitrification. It also said it would remain vigilant about issues signalled by the unions and may adapt its monitoring procedures.
 “We are launching a serious alert message: Until recently we pursued excellence in matters of safety, now we just try to be okay, which makes no sense in an industry that has no room for error,” the CHSCT note said……http://www.nasdaq.com/article/areva-unions-warn-about-safety-at-frances-la-hague-nuclear-recycling-plant-20170323-00787.

March 24, 2017 Posted by | France, safety | Leave a comment

India’s nuclear watchdog shuts down Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant due to “smallpox-like spots”

BARC scientists probing how 2 nuclear reactors contracted ‘small pox’http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/barc-scientists-probing-how-2-nuclear-reactors-contracted-small-pox/article17532987.ece PRESS TRUST OF INDIA MARCH 20, 2017 Mumbai: In a plot similar to a Bollywood thriller’s, scientists are burning the midnight oil to discover the reason behind the mysterious nuclear leak at the Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant in Gujarat.

This 21st century atomic potboiler is actually unfolding through the hard work of scientists at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), whose laboratory actually shares a wall with the famous property where Raj Kapoor used to live. Here, they are working overtime to find out the real cause of the leaks at the twin reactors in southern Gujarat.

To avoid panic and further accidents, Indian nuclear watchdog Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has shut down the affected plants till the cause has been found. Nuclear experts say the pipes, made from a rare alloy, have contracted what seems like small pox, and this contagion has spread all over the critical tubes in two Indian Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWR) at the Kakrapar facility. To make matters worse, more than a year into the investigation, the teams of scientists can’t figure out what has gone wrong.

It was on the morning of March 11, 2016, and as fate would have it, exactly five years after the Fukushima reactors in Japan began exploding, Unit Number 1 of the 220-MW PHWR at Kakrapar developed a heavy water leak in its primary coolant channel and a plant emergency was declared at the site.

The indigenously built nuclear plant had to be shut down, but no worker was exposed and there were no radiation leaks, the Department of Atomic Energy confirmed. Operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) said the reactor had shut down safely, and confirmed that safety systems had functioned normally.

The atomic thriller really begins when experts were trying to find out why a leak recognition system failed, when it should have raised an alarm. “There is a leak detection system in place in all PHWRs, but in this case it failed to detect the leak on March 11, 2016,” confirms AERB Chairman SA Bhardwaj. The watchdog body suspects the crack developed so rapidly that the electronic leak detection system just did not have the time to react.

Subsequent investigations revealed that the leak detection system was fully functioning and the operator had not shut it down to cut costs. Nothing in the core of a nuclear reactor can be done in a jiffy, and several weeks after the first leak, the initial probe using a specially designed tool revealed four big cracks in a coolant tube had led to the massive leak.

The mystery unfolds

The discovery of the crack was only the beginning of the mystery. Further efforts to find the cause established that the outside of the tube, the part not exposed to high-temperature heavy water, was corroded due to unknown causes.

This was a stunning discovery, since the outside of the failed tube was exposed only to high-temperature carbon dioxide and there had been no recorded case of a similar corrosion on the outside of any tube. It is also very hard to access this part since the space is tiny in the annulus.

The AERB then ordered that all tubes made of a special zirconium-niobium alloy be checked on the outside. To their surprise, they discovered that the contagion of the nodular corrosion, ‘small pox-like’ in layman’s parlance, was widespread in many of the 306 tubes. Similar tubes from the same batch used at other Indian reactors continued to operate without corrosion.

The needle of suspicion now pointed to carbon dioxide, a gas known to be very stable in high-radiation environments. A further post mortem revealed that Unit-2, which is twin of the affected reactor, had also been affected by a similar leak on July 1, 2015. Investigations into Unit-2’s failure were made but no conclusive result had been found. This back-to-back failure of two fully functional nuclear reactors befuddled engineers.

BARC begins probe

Undaunted, AERB ordered that the entire assembly and not just the affected tube be safely pulled out and brought to BARC, India’s foremost nuclear laboratory, for detailed failure analysis.

In addition, since India operates another 16 similar nuclear plants, a full-fledged investigation was carried out on coolant channels at all atomic power plants. The investigating team found the ‘small pox-like’ corrosion was confined only to the two units at Kakrapar.

While NPCIL heaved a sigh of relief, the finding made it all the more difficult to discern the true cause of the leaks at Kakrapar. Mr. Bhardwaj says investigators are wondering if the carbon dioxide used in Kakrapar may have been contaminated, which caused the nodular corrosion.

The source of the carbon dioxide was traced backwards, and it seems only the Kakrapar plant was sourcing its gas from a Naptha cracking unit, where it was possibly contaminated by hydrocarbons.

March 20, 2017 Posted by | incidents, India | Leave a comment

Areva factory for nuclear parts gets poor report from regulator

ill-equipped to make nuclear parts – French watchdog, Reuters, 

 Creusot Forge machinery inadequate for making huge parts

* Areva stopped commercial production at factory last year

* Areva wants to restart plant this summer

* Nuclear watchdog must give permission for restart

* Critics say oversight of French nuclear industry needs review

By Geert De Clercq PARIS, March 16 Creusot Forge, a supplier of nuclear plants around the world owned by France’s Areva , is under investigation for making substandard parts and falsifying documents.

Now, France’s nuclear regulator says machinery at the plant, which was shut for commercial production last year, is not up to the job. n an interview, Remy Catteau, the head of nuclear equipment at the ASN (Nuclear Safety Authority), said that an inspection of the plant late last year showed that it did not have the right equipment to produce the parts for the nuclear reactors. “Creusot Forge is at the limit of its technical capacity. The tools at its disposal are not adequate to manufacture such huge components. In such a situation, errors are made,” Catteau told Reuters by telephone.

“The inspection brought to light the fact that the safety culture in the plant is not sufficient to produce nuclear components.”

The disclosure adds to the problems of Areva, once the world’s biggest nuclear company, which owns Creusot Forge.

Areva shut the factory after it found that manufacturing documents at the plant may have been falsified over some 40 years and parts made by the foundry did not meet specifications.

Authorities around the world have checked the nuclear reactors using the parts. Two reactors in France – Fessenheim 2 and Gravelines 5 – were shut after the checks due to safety concerns.

The investigation by the regulator is ongoing but Areva hopes to restart production at the factory this summer, if ASN allows it……

INSPECTIONS

Precision is critical when making parts such as containment vessels, which are huge steel cylinders that house the reactor core and control rods.

Creusot Forge made the vessel lid and bottom for the Flamanville 3 EPR reactor under construction in western France. But at the end of 2014, Areva discovered excessive carbon concentrations in those components, which weaken the steel.

“For Flamanville 3, the equipment was at its limit, there was no margin for error,” Catteau said.

Flamanville’s future is now uncertain. The ASN will rule by the summer whether the new reactor can go into operation by 2018, despite those weak spots. A red light would lead to years of further delays for Areva and its customer EDF.

Regulators from the U.S., Britain, China and other countries are also looking into quality and manufacturing issues at the Creusot Forge foundry in eastern France after Areva unearthed the false manufacturing documentation from the 1965-2013 period.

“One of the ways to resolve problems was to hide things, and that was the wrong way,” Catteau said……..

Areva is being restructured and recapitalized with help from the French state after years of losses wiped out its equity. It lost 665 million euros ($702 million) last year, 2.04 billion euros in 2015 and 4.83 billion euros in 2014.

Critics of France’s nuclear energy establishment say the problems at Creusot Forge prove that oversight of the whole industry, including the ASN, needs an overhaul.

World Nuclear Industry Status Report author Mycle Schneider said France’s parliament should task independent experts with an inquiry, but he does not see the political will for that.

“The entire chain of responsibility has failed, from Areva to its client EDF and the ASN. I don’t see an initiative yet that addresses the entire scope of the problem,” Schneider said. ($1 = 0.9426 euros) (Editing by Anna Willard) http://www.reuters.com/article/areva-safety-creusot-idUSL5N1GM2XM

March 17, 2017 Posted by | France, safety | 1 Comment

Proposed transportation of liquid highly enriched uranium (HEU) to Savannah South Carolina is not safe.

Nuclear shipment not safe http://www.niagarathisweek.com/opinion-story/7189835-nuclear-shipment-not-safe/ Niagara This Week – St. Catharines, Susan Prayn 14 Mar 17,  The proposed transportation of liquid highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Chalk River to Savannah South Carolina is not safe.

A liquid highly enriched uranium mixture containing other fissionable products with high toxicity has never been transferred in the world before.

A recent report by Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a recognized nuclear transportation and waste disposal expert for many U.S states and the U.S government concludes that the NAC-LWT could not withstand more severe realistic accident conditions. For this reason, the highly radioactive liquid from Chalk River should not be transported in the NAC-LWT cask.

The liquid should be solidified before transport, or not transported at all.

 With the recent over 40-car collisions on the 401 and the diesel spill in B.C., as well as future accidents coming, why are we endangering the environment, the people, and the first responders? Is it the cost of solidifying this liquid?

The Iroquois Caucus has a media release condemning the transport and will not stand idly by.

In Indonesia, they are down blending their HEU. They have signed on to the International Repatriation Agreement. Why is Canada treated differently?

Call your local MP and ask what they are doing on this issue.

 

March 15, 2017 Posted by | Canada, safety, USA | Leave a comment

59 years ago, a nuclear bomb was accidentally dropped on South Carolina

Nuclear core was unarmed, but 6,000 pounds of explosives detonated
WYFF News 4 Mar 13, 2017, Mars Bluff SC – 
This weekend was the 59th anniversary of an event many people don’t know happened in South Carolina. On March 11, 1958, a nuclear bomb was accidentally dropped on a small community near Florence.

A U.S. Air Force Boeing Stratojet that was flying out of Hunter Air Force Base took off at about 4:30 p.m. headed for the United Kingdom and then on to Africa. The aircraft was carrying nuclear weapons as a precaution in case war broke out with the Soviet Union.

The captain of the aircraft accidentally pulled an emergency release pin in response to a fault light in the cabin, and a Mark 4 nuclear bomb, weighing more than 7,000 pounds, dropped, forcing the bomb bay doors open. The bomb, which lacked an armed nuclear core, plunged 15,000 feet to the ground below…..http://www.wyff4.com/article/moose-on-the-loose-animal-races-to-catch-up-to-snowboarder/9131703

March 15, 2017 Posted by | history, incidents, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

America’s inefficient and dangerous system of transporting nuclear weapons

More serious than the inefficiencies in moving so many parts is the vulnerability inherent in placing nuclear bombs on the highways, several experts said.

“Transportation is the Achilles heel of nuclear security and everyone knows that,” said Bruce Blair, a retired Air Force missile officer, Princeton University researcher and founder of Global Zero, a nonprofit group that seeks elimination of nuclear weapons.

The danger is not a traffic accident — even a fiery crash is not supposed to explode a warhead — but a heist.

“In an age of terrorism, you’re taking a big risk any time you decide to move nuclear material into the public space over long distances via ground transport,” Blair said. “Bad things happen.”

The troubled, covert agency responsible for moving the nation’s most lethal cargo , LA Times, 10 Mar 17 Ralph Vartabedian and W.J. HenniganContact Reporters

The covert fleet, which shuttles warheads from missile silos, bomber bases and submarine docks to nuclear weapons labs across the country, is operated by the Office of Secure Transportation, a troubled agency within the U.S. Department of Energy so cloaked in secrecy that few people outside the government know it exists.

The $237-million-a-year agency operates a fleet of 42 tractor-trailers, staffed by highly armed couriers, many of them veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, responsible for making sure nuclear weapons and components pass through foggy mountain passes and urban traffic jams without incident.

The transportation office is about to become more crucial than ever as the U.S. embarks on a $1-trillion upgrade of the nuclear arsenal that will require thousands of additional warhead shipments over the next 15 years.

The increased workload will hit an agency already struggling with problems of forced overtime, high driver turnover, old trucks and poor worker morale — raising questions about its ability to keep nuclear shipments safe from attack in an era of more sophisticated terrorism.

“We are going to be having an increase in the movements of weapons in coming years and we should be worried,” said Robert Alvarez, a former deputy assistant Energy secretary who now focuses on nuclear and energy issues for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. “We always have to assume the worst-case scenario when we are hauling nuclear weapons around the country.”

That worst case would be a terrorist group hijacking a truck and obtaining a multi-kiloton hydrogen bomb.

“The terror threat is significant,” said one high-level Energy Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the program publicly. “If you are in one of the communities along the route, you have something to worry about.”

The Times reviewed government documents dating back two decades and interviewed dozens of government officials, former military officers and arms control advocates to examine the agency. The picture that emerges is an organization hampered by an insular management, a crisis of morale among the rank-and-file and outdated equipment.

Among the findings of the Times investigation:

  • The agency is 48 agents short of its planned staffing of 370, a result of budget cuts. Weapons and tactics classes were canceled in 2011 and 2012 for lack of money.
  • More than a third of the workforce has been putting in more than 900 hours a year of overtime, which former couriers and Energy Department officials say has contributed to a breakdown in morale and rapid turnover.
  • In 2010, an inquiry by the Energy Department’s inspector general inquiry found widespread alcohol problems. It cited 16 alcohol-related incidents over a three-year period, including an agent on a 2007 mission who was arrested for public intoxication and two agents on a 2009 mission who were handcuffed and detained by police after a fight at a bar.
  • In 2014, the commander of the agency’s operation at the Y12 National Security Complex in Tennessee threatened to kill an employee in an altercation, but no disciplinary action was taken.
  • The agency’s top executive in 2009 was charged with drunk driving after police found him parked on a sidewalk with an open bottle of beer and a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.15%, nearly twice the legal limit, according to New Mexico court records.
    • The agency’s truck fleet is antiquated by commercial standards and well past its operational life even under the department’s own guidelines. About half the tractors are more than 15 years old. The high-security trailers used by the agency are even older, designed before the current era of terrorist threats.

    How the agency wound up in this state is a story of neglect that begins at the end of the Cold War…….

‘Transportation is the Achilles heel of nuclear security’

The United States has 4,018 nuclear warheads.

About 450 are in underground silos in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota. An additional 1,000 or so are on submarines, which dock at bases in Washington and Georgia. Hundreds more bombs are assigned to the U.S. strategic bomber fleet, which is based in Louisiana, North Dakota and Missouri. And a reserve stockpile sits in bunkers near the transportation office headquarters at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Each weapon — a complex physics machine that contains as many as 6,000 parts, including tanks of gas, wheels and gears, batteries, wiring, plastic-type explosives and radioactive materials — requires routine inspection, testing and maintenance.

The workers who perform those services don’t travel to the weapons. The weapons go to them.

They are picked up by the transportation office and driven to the government’s sole plant for working on live nuclear warheads, the Pantex Plant outside Amarillo in the Texas panhandle.

From there, various pieces are parceled out to government plants and laboratories across the country. Uranium assemblies travel to Tennessee, plutonium parts to New Mexico, radioactive gas canisters to South Carolina, non-nuclear classified parts to California and firing mechanisms to Kansas.

Those parts are then returned to Texas so the warheads can be reassembled and trucked back to their silos or military bases.

The system dates back to the 1950s and the rapid buildup of nuclear arms that accompanied the Cold War. Weapons were spread across the nation to ensure that a significant number could not be destroyed in a focused missile strike.

The same went for the facilities that service those weapons. But exactly where they wound up — and where they are today — largely came down to politics, as members of Congress schemed to bring high-paying jobs to their districts.

The result is an unwieldy system that requires some of the most dangerous and vulnerable components of the nation’s defense system to be routinely shipped on long-distance journeys from one end of the country to the other — and the shipments, with the coming modernization effort, are only expected to multiply…….

More serious than the inefficiencies in moving so many parts is the vulnerability inherent in placing nuclear bombs on the highways, several experts said.

“Transportation is the Achilles heel of nuclear security and everyone knows that,” said Bruce Blair, a retired Air Force missile officer, Princeton University researcher and founder of Global Zero, a nonprofit group that seeks elimination of nuclear weapons.

The danger is not a traffic accident — even a fiery crash is not supposed to explode a warhead — but a heist.

“In an age of terrorism, you’re taking a big risk any time you decide to move nuclear material into the public space over long distances via ground transport,” Blair said. “Bad things happen.”

The high-security trailers that carry the weapons present potential intruders with formidable obstacles, including shock-delivering systems, thick walls that ooze immobilizing foam, and axles designed to explode to prevent a trailer from being towed away, according to independent nuclear weapons experts.

“The trucks will kill you,” a scientist involved in the matter said.

The Energy Department recruits ex-soldiers and special operations commandos for its courier jobs, usually veterans of U.S. wars. Incoming agents train for 21 months at Ft. Chafee in Arkansas, focusing on how to counter a roadside attack by terrorists set on stealing a weapon. The couriers must pass yearly psychological and medical assessments……..

‘Ominous symptoms’ of structural problems

The agency has been the target of worker complaints for years………

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the government turned its attention to the nation’s most critical vulnerabilities and concluded that more needed to be done to prevent terrorists from obtaining a nuclear bomb.

In a 2005 letter to Congress, then-Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman called the transportation office a “top priority” and asked Congress for money for more agents, special weapons, tougher armored vehicles and improved tactics.

The goal was to increase staffing from about 290 to 420 couriers by 2008. But the agency never never reached that level, as lawmakers rejected most of the funding request. Today it aims to employ 370 agents but has 322.

The long hours couriers must work — identified as a chronic problem by the inspector general — contribute to poor morale and a tense work environment…….http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-nuclear-couriers-20170310-story.html

March 11, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

USA’s nuclear facilities under growing threat from ‘drones’

Drones a ‘Growing Threat’ to US Navy, Air Force Nuclear Facilities, Sputnik News  MILITARY & INTELLIGENCE 09.03.2017

‘Unauthorized’ flights by unmanned aerial vehicles near US Navy and Air Force bases are presenting increasingly hostile circumstances for the security of US personnel and nuclear weapons, Gen. John E. Hyten, Commander of US Strategic Command, told Congress on Wednesday……

According to Hyten’s testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, the US has some gaps to fill in regard to how it protects nuclear personnel and nuclear-warhead assets. Specifically, the US is seeking counter-UAS capabilities to eliminate small UAS vehicles, “if necessary.” The general noted that “unauthorized flights of unmanned aerial systems over Navy and Air Force installations” has become a topic of “recent concern.” ….https://sputniknews.com/military/201703091051424996-drones-growing-threat-us-facilities/

March 11, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Pilgrim Nuclear Plant Remains One of the Worst in the Nation – NRC says

NRC Says Pilgrim Plant Remains One of the Worst in the Nation, By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter March 7, 2017 PLYMOUTH – The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth remains one of the three worst performing reactors in the country, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Annual Assessment Letter.

The NRC letter indicates the plant’s performance remains under Column 4 and no further regulatory action is required……..The plant was downgraded from Column 3 in 2015 and was placed under increased oversight for safety violations and unplanned shutdowns.

If further regulatory action is needed, the plant could be placed under Column 5, the unacceptable performance level, and a shutdown order could be issued…….

Diane Turco with the Cape Downwinders, an organization calling for the immediate closure of the plant, said the Annual Assessment Letter shows that the NRC is just a cheerleader for the nuclear power industry.

“When they sent out this annual report that the performance at Pilgrim is acceptable and additional regulatory action is not required after the initial inspections, this just shows that the NRC is in support of this industry and they don’t provide for public safety,” Turco said.

“When we see systemic mismanagement, when we see equipment failing over and over and not being repaired the public is at risk.”…..

A second public meeting will be March 21 at Plymouth Memorial Hall to discuss the recent inspection findings.

The NRC said the plant would most likely face 10 to 15 more safety violations during the first public meeting in January…..

In the leaked December e-mail, Don Jackson, the lead inspector of the special inspection, raised concerns about the station’s safety culture, writing “we are observing current indications of a safety culture problem that a bunch of talking probably won’t fix.”

Pilgrim is only one of three stations in the country to be under Column 4 oversight by the NRC. The other two reactors are in Arkansas and are both operated by Pilgrim’s owner, Entergy.

Complete findings from the December and January inspection are expected in April or May.http://www.capecod.com/newscenter/nrc-says-pilgrim-plant-remains-one-of-the-worst-in-the-nation/

March 8, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

Worker sneaked a gun into a nuclear power station

Contractor brings firearm into nuke plant, http://www.enewscourier.com/news/local_news/contractor-brings-firearm-into-nuke-plant/article_443c1832-005b-11e7-af38-4fd2702fa81a.html Adam Smith, 4 Mar 17, A decision by a contractor to bring a firearm into the protected area at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant Thursday led to the plant declaring an “Unusual Event,” an official said Friday.

Ray Hopson, spokesman with the Tennessee Valley Authority, said the contractor is working as part of the scheduled refueling outage on the plant’s Unit 2. The firearm, a small-caliber derringer, was not discovered on the worker’s person, he said.

 The firearm was brought through the plant’s stringent security portal. Hopson said TVA Nuclear has taken compensatory measures to bolster security screening across its fleet.

There were no injuries or safety threats to employees or to the public.

 The Unusual Event, which is the least severe of the four emergency classifications, was declared at 12:30 p.m., Hopson said. Officials with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission were notified. The plant exited the Unusual Event at 3 p.m.

He said the contractor was escorted off the site and his nuclear access clearance was revoked.

“TVA Police are conducting an investigation to determine the next steps in the legal process relating to potential violations of federal statutes,” Hopson said. “The company takes this incident seriously and is in communication with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to evaluate performance and ensure that proper steps are taken to prevent a recurrence.”

March 4, 2017 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

Cooling system steam leak shuts down N.J. nuclear plant

 http://www.nj.com/salem/index.ssf/2017/03/cooling_system_steam_leak_shuts_down_nj_nuclear_pl.html By Bill Gallo Jr. | For NJ.com  March 01, 2017  LOWER ALLOWAYS CREEK TWP. — An increase in steam leakage in the cooling system of the Salem 1 nuclear reactor has prompted its operators to take the plant out of service, officials said.

The reactor was shut down at 2:44 p.m. Tuesday, according to Joe Delmar, a spokesman for the plant’s operator, PSEG Nuclear.

Delmar said that the condensation collected from the steam was initially measured at a stable .17 gallons per minute. That increased, though, to .30 gallons per minute.

The reactor’s cooling system contains more than 90,000 gallons of radioactive water, Delmar said Wednesday.   In order to find the source of the leak, operators cut the plant’s power down to 28 percent, but later determined the reactor needed to be totally shut down to correct the problem.

The steam leak was found on a valve used to draw samples of cooling system water for testing.

With the plant offline, it will make it safe for workers to enter the reactor containment building where the leak is located and fix the problem, Delmar said.

Delmar said there is not estimate when Salem 1 will return to service producing electricity.

He said on Wednesday that PSEG Nuclear’s other two plants at the Island, Salem 2 and Hope Creek, were operating at full power.

March 4, 2017 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment