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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Cyber attack knocks out the radiation monitoring system of Chernobyl nuclear plant

Chernobyl nuclear plant’s radiation monitoring hit by cyber attack: Officials http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2017/jun/28/chernobyl-nuclear-plants-radiation-monitoring-hit-by-cyber-attack-officials-1621663.html  By AFP  28th June 2017 UKRAINE: The radiation monitoring system at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear site has been taken offline after a massive cyber attack, forcing employees to use hand-held counters to measure levels, officials said on Tuesday.

“Due to the cyber attack, the website of the Chernobyl nuclear plant is not working,” said Ukraine’s exclusion zone agency which oversees the Soviet plant that exploded in 1986 and is now surrounded by an uninhabited contaminated zone.

“Due to the temporary shutdown of the Windows system, the radiation monitoring of the industrial area is being done manually,” the agency said on its website.

“That means that our measurers go out with hand-held meters on the Chernobyl plant like it was decades ago,” a spokeswoman for the agency, Olena Kovalchuk, told AFP.

The plant’s destroyed reactor was enclosed in a huge metal structure last year in a bid to stop radiation leaks at the site, where more than 200 tonnes of uranium remain.

 Ukraine, along with Russia and companies across Europe, was hit on Tuesday in a wave of cyberattacks which IT experts identified as a modified version of the Petya ransomware that struck last year.

Ukraine’s exclusion zone agency said that Chernobyl’s “technological systems are working as usual” and that radiation control is “without delays”.

June 28, 2017 Posted by | incidents, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Safety mishaps imperilledscientists at Nevada and New Mexico nuclear sites

Nuclear Weapons Site Alarms Shut Off, Scientists Inhale Uranium, Most scientists were not told of risks for months after 2014 incident; investigation shows more mishaps at Nevada and New Mexico nuclear sites, Scientific American  By Patrick MalonePeter CaryR. Jeffrey SmithThe Center for Public Integrity on June 27, 2017 

At the nation’s top nuclear weapons labs and plants, safety mishaps have imperiled life and limb, and hindered national security operations.  This Scientific American story is part of a one-year investigation by reporters at the Center for Public Integrity that reveals many problems and little accountability. In addition to the Nevada accidents, a near-fission calamity in 2011 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico led to an exodus of nuclear safety engineers and a four-year shutdown of operations crucial to the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Yet penalties for these incidents were relatively light, and many of the firms that run these facilities were awarded tens of millions of dollars in profits—or even new contracts—after major safety lapses occurred.

Not a clue.

The government scientists didn’t know they were breathing in radioactive uranium at the time it was happening. In fact, most didn’t learn about their exposure for months, long after they returned home from the nuclear weapons research center where they had inhaled it.

The entire event was characterized by sloppiness, according to a quiet federal investigation, with multiple warnings issued and ignored in advance, and new episodes of contamination allowed to occur afterward. All of this transpired without public notice by the center.

Here’s how it happened: In April and May 2014, an elite group of 97 nuclear researchers from as far away as the U.K. gathered in a remote corner of Nye County, Nev., at the historic site where the U.S. had exploded hundreds of its nuclear weapons. With nuclear bomb testing ended, the scientists were using a device they called Godiva at the National Criticality Experiments Research Center to test nuclear pulses on a smaller and supposedly safe scale.

But as the technicians prepared for their experiments that spring—under significant pressure to clear a major backlog of work and to operate the machine at what a report called Godiva’s “upper energy range”—they committed several grievous errors, according to government reports.

The machine had been moved to Nevada nine years earlier from Los Alamos, N.M. But a shroud, descriptively called Top Hat, which should have covered the machine and prevented the escape of any loose radioactive particles, was not reinstalled when it was reassembled in 2012.

Also, because Godiva’s bursts tended to set off multiple radiation alarms in the center, the experimenters decided to switch the alarm system off. But because the alarms were connected to the ventilation and air filter system for the room, those were shut off as well. The only ventilation remaining was a small exhaust fan that vented into an adjacent anteroom where researchers gathered before and after experiments.

On June 16, 2014, a month after the experiments were completed, technicians doing routine tests made an alarming discovery—radioactive particles were in the anteroom. They then checked the room holding Godiva, and found radiation 20 times more intense there. The Nevada site’s managers, who work for a group of private, profit-making contractors—like most U.S. nuclear weapons personnel—ordered the rooms decontaminated. But they didn’t immediately check exposures among the scientists and researchers who had gathered for the tests, many of whom had already gone back to their own labs.

None had any clue about the mishap until two months after the experiments, on July 17, when one of them—a researcher from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory nuclear weapons lab in California—got the results from his routine radiation monitoring. His urine tested positive for exposure to enriched uranium particles.

National Security Technologies,, LLC (NSTec), the lead contractor that runs the Nevada site, subsequently collected urine specimens from its own workers who’d been in the room with Godiva during the experiments. It discovered three of its technicians also had inhaled highly-enriched uranium.

News of trouble spread–but only among the scientists and their bosses, who were accustomed to a shroud of official secrecy covering their work. No public announcement was made. According to an initial U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) investigative report dated April 28, 2015, calls eventually went out to test the 97 people present for the Godiva experiments. But for reasons that remain unclear the testing went very slowly, and not until 2016 did the DoE state that 31 were discovered to have inhaled uranium.

In a letter last summer to the Los Alamos and Nevada lab directors, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Frank Klotz suggested that the employees’ radiation doses were not large—at the high end, they were roughly equivalent to 13 chest x-rays. But once inhaled, uranium particles can keep emitting radiation for years, and so they pose an added cancer risk. Klotz’s letter deemed the exposures “safety-significant and preventable.” It could have been even worse, of course, given the absence of any timely warning.

LAB OPERATIONS RIDDLED WITH ERRORS

The four key national facilities involved in the underlying experimentation—Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore, the Nevada Test Site and Sandia National Laboratory—are among the U.S.’s premier scientific labs. They collectively employ more than 26,000 people engaged in cutting-edge and often dangerous work, governed by myriad nuclear safety regulations, with two major contract enforcement mechanisms meant to inflict financial pain when needed on the private corporations that operate them.

And yet in this case, and in others like it, not only were the labs’ procedures and responses riddled with errors, but even after attention was called to these incidents, other safety mishaps occurred. And the financial penalties imposed by the government didn’t seem to have a major impact on the labs’ conduct.

review by The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) of more than 60 safety mishaps at 10 nuclear weapons–related federal sites that were flagged in special, internal reports to Washington, along with dozens of interviews of officials and experts, revealed a protective system that is weak, if not truly dysfunctional: Fines are frequently reduced or waived while contractors are awarded large profits. Auditors say labs and production plants are overseen by an inadequately staffed NNSA and DoE, which as a result largely rely on the contractors to police themselves.

The CPI probe, partly based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals a system in which extra profit is awarded under a rating profile that persistently places higher priority on the nuclear weapons labs’ national security “mission” than on worker protections, putting production far ahead of safety. Experts say it is a practice in keeping with a culture of urgent, no-holds-barred work that took root in the nuclear weapons complex during World War II. These production pressures flow down to the highly secured rooms where workers labor with special clearances, routinely handling highly toxic and explosive materials……..

A WORKPLACE HAZARDOUS TO WHISTLE-BLOWERS……

NO FINES FOR REPEATED SAFETY INFRACTIONS….

IMPUNITY FOR TOP MANAGERS……   https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/nuclear-weapons-site-alarms-shut-off-scientists-inhale-uranium/

June 28, 2017 Posted by | health, safety, USA | Leave a comment

Flamanville nuclear reactor’s safety problems add to concerns about Britain’s similar nuclear projects

Reuters 26th June 2017, The cover of the reactor vessel EDF is building in Flamanville, France, may not be able to function more than a few years unless the utility can do additional tests which so far it has not be able to, nuclear regulator ASN said in a report.

While the long-awaited report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, concludes the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) is fit for service, EDF may have to replace its vessel cover soon after its
scheduled start-up in 2018. The requirement is a major blow for EDF, which
will have to start planning for a costly replacement of a key part before
the reactor even starts up.

The reputational damage could also add to concerns in Britain about its 18 billion pound ($23 billion) project to
build two similar EPR reactors in southwest England.

The French regulator had ordered a deep review of the Flamanville vessel following the discovery
in 2015 of carbon concentrations in the base and cover of the containment vessel, which make its steel more brittle. The report – led by the IRSN, the ASN’s technical arm – is being reviewed by a group of independent experts on Monday and Tuesday.

This autumn, ASN will partly base its final ruling on Flamanville on the experts’ recommendations. The ASN report
states that while the base of the vessel is fit for service despite the need for increased monitoring over its lifetime, manufacturer Areva NP has not been able to conduct sufficient tests on the cover as it is no longer accessible. These controls are indispensable in order to ensure the reactor’s safety over its 60-year lifetime, the report says.
http://uk.reuters.com/article/edf-flamanville-nuclear-idUKL8N1JN2OC

June 28, 2017 Posted by | France, safety, UK | Leave a comment

Hackers trading passwords used by managers at British nuclear power plants

Russian hackers trade passwords used by managers at British nuclear power plants – including ‘Rad1at10n’ and ‘Nuclear1’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4635420/Russian-hackers-trade-passwords-UK-nuclear-plant-staff.html, 

  • The passwords of two senior EDF nuclear plant managers were traded online
  • French-owned firm EDF Energy operates all 15 of Britain’s nuclear reactors 
  • Comes as thousands of government officials – including MPs – were hacked 

The passwords – ‘Nuclear1’ and ‘Radiat10n’ – are thought to have been used on the business site LinkedIn.

They were being traded by hackers who had easily guessed the letters and numbers.

EDF, which operates Britain’s 15 nuclear reactors, did not comment about the breach.

But the French-owned firm did say, according to The Times, that it is ‘continually reviewing its defences and preparedness in this area’.

The lists on which the passwords appeared were traded privately before being made public.

It comes as around 1,000 British MPs and parliamentary staff, 7,000 police employees and more than 1,000 Foreign Office officials were all understood to have had confidential information traded online without their knowledge.Even some of the prime minister’s closest government ministers, including education secretary, Justine Greening, and business secretary, Greg Clark, are thought to have been affected by the hack.

The huge database was being sold for just £2, with the low price justified by the fact it had already spent months being passed around. Its original price is likely to have been much higher.

Hackers can easily guess many passwords, especially those which are merely a word associated with a certain person but with ‘3’ instead of ‘E’ or ‘1’ instead of ‘I’.

There have been warnings that the hacked passwords could be used to blackmail workers in sensitive jobs, or even to break into government servers.

June 27, 2017 Posted by | incidents, secrets,lies and civil liberties, UK | Leave a comment

New Federal investigation into error in shipment of nuclear materials from Los Alamos National Laboratory

‘Absolutely unacceptable’ error in shipment of nuclear materials prompts probe, By Rebecca Moss | The New Mexican, Jun 24, 2017 

Los Alamos National Laboratory is facing a new federal investigation for shipping nuclear materials out of state by aircraft, in violation of federal law, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration, which called the error “absolutely unacceptable.”

The agency released a statement Friday, saying the lab had mislabeled shipments of “special nuclear materials” — a term used for radioactive, weapons-grade plutonium and uranium — that were headed last week to the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The shipments were packaged for ground cargo transportation, but instead were shipped by air, which is “a mode of transportation not authorized by Federal regulations,” according to the statement.

 Matt Nerzig, a spokesman for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, referred questions to the National Nuclear Security Administration.

The incident follows similar violations at the lab this spring involving mislabeled chemicals and hazardous waste, including nuclear materials. It also comes as the lab has faced a fresh wave of scrutiny from federal officials over whether it is capable of handling increasing quantities of plutonium as the nation ramps up its production of plutonium pits — the grapefruit-sized cores that trigger nuclear bombs — over the next 15 years at a Los Alamos facility.

The protocols for shipping sensitive nuclear materials by air are significantly different than those for ground shipments. More sensitive climate and pressure controls must be in place to transport plutonium by air, and special external controls are required to guard against an accident during flight or a radiation release, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The National Nuclear Security Administration said the incident didn’t lead to any loss of radioactive materials or contamination.

The agency said it will investigate “to determine the root cause of this incident, as well as procedures to avoid future incidents of this type,” and said it intends to hold the responsible parties accountable under the full terms of the lab’s management contract, currently held by Los Alamos National Security LLC, a consortium led by the University of California, Bechtel and other corporations.

The contract is currently up for bid, a decision made by the federal government following a series of management and safety issues. The lab is expected to be under new management in 2018.

But significant safety lapses continue.

In April, work was paused at the lab’s plutonium facility after a worker handled an unlabeled waste container that ignited, causing a small fire that gave one worker second-degree burns. In May, the lab failed to accurately document the pH levels of liquid hazardous waste shipped in drums to Colorado — the second time such an incident had occurred in six months. The waste was far more acidic than documented on its labels, which means it was likely more volatile. Those incidents triggered reviews of workplace and emergency protocols.

The lab also informed the New Mexico Environment Department this spring that it had been storing two drums containing nitrate salts in a special containment area for months, believing they were part of a volatile waste stream, only to learn the canisters were not dangerous.

These drums highlight one of the most notorious mispackaging mistakes in the lab’s recent history. A nitrate salt drum containing items laced with radioactive waste was packed with the wrong type of absorbent kitty litter at Los Alamos, causing a chemical reaction that led the drum to burst in the salt caverns of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in February 2014.

The event led to a low-level radiological release and shut down the underground nuclear waste facility for nearly three years, at a cost of over $1 billion.

At a hearing in Santa Fe earlier this month, federal officials raised questions about how the lab would deal with “unprecedented” levels of plutonium, in order to build as many as 80 pits per year by 2030 as part of the nation’s goals of modernizing its nuclear weapons stockpile.

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which advises the Department of Energy and the president, asked federal and lab officials about a lack of foresight as the program moves forward, as well as aging infrastructure at the lab. Questions also were raised about the lab consistently failing to meet expectations in its nuclear criticality safety program — which is meant to ensure serious nuclear accidents don’t occur and potentially cause a widespread release of radiation…….http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/absolutely-unacceptable-error-in-shipment-of-nuclear-materials-prompts-probe/article_5c845fee-4b05-51e8-9f19-efa63afee7a9.html

June 26, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

Call for examination, “autopsy” on pressure vessel of dead Crystal River nuclear reactor

   Permanently closed U.S. nuclear reactor should be “autopsied” Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear, 25 June 17

Permanently closed U.S. nuclear reactor should be “autopsied” Examination could identify potential safety flaws in operating reactors with parts from same controversial French forge

TAKOMA PARK, MD, June 21, 2017 –

  • A permanently closed nuclear reactor in Florida that, documents show, likely has a manufactured weakness in a vital safety component produced by a controversial French forge that also supplied components to 17 still operating U.S. reactors, should be “autopsied,” says Beyond Nuclear, a leading national anti-nuclear watchdog group.
  • The Crystal River Unit 3 reactor in Red Level, Florida, was permanently closed in 2013 and is in the decommissioning process. Research by Beyond Nuclear staff found that the Florida reactor likely shares an at-risk safety-related component manufactured at the French Le Creusot forge that is currently shut down and under international investigation for the loss of quality control of its manufacturing process and falsification of quality assurance documentation. The Crystal River reactor pressure vessel head was supplied by a factory at Chalon-Saint Marcel that assembles pieces forged at Le Creusot, both Areva-owned factories.

“The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission should seize upon this opportunity and ‘autopsy’ Crystal River 3,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project at Beyond Nuclear. “A close examination of Crystal River could provide critical safety data to inform the decision-making on whether the seventeen U.S. reactors still operating with at-risk Le Creusot parts should also be materially tested,” Gunter said.

The Le Creusot factory forges large ingots into safety-related components such as reactor pressure vessels, pressure vessel lids and steam generators.

The French industrial facility was discovered to be operating with lax quality control procedures that allowed the introduction of an excessive amount of carbon contamination into its manufacturing process, a problem technically known as “carbon segregation.”

The excess carbon weakens the component’s “fracture toughness” in the face of the reactor’s extreme pressure and temperature. Failure of a weakened component during operation would initiate the loss of cooling to the reactor and a serious nuclear accident.

At-risk safety components potentially containing these flaws, and manufactured at the Creusot Forge, have been delivered to reactors in France, other countries and the United States over a period of decades.

The NRC published Areva’s list in January 2017 identifying the 17 operational U.S. reactors with the at-risk components from the French forge. However, the federal agency did not disclose that Crystal River also installed a Le Creusot-manufactured replacement pressure vessel head during the October 2003 refueling outage and then operated the unit for nearly a decade before permanently closing.

“This information provides the incentive to do material testing on a component here in the U.S. from the suspect forge,” Gunter added. “It is only common sense, when presented in effect with the corpse, that the NRC should autopsy Crystal River before the body is buried,” he continued. ”This is a chance to better understand scientifically what the potential risks are at operating reactors with Le Creusot parts rather than relying on computer modeling, simulation or speculation,” Gunter said. “

For the sake of science and public safety, it is fortuitous that Crystal River, which operated for nearly a decade with a possible Le Creusot replacement component, is now permanently shut down and can be materially examined,” Gunter concluded.

The carbon segregation problem was first discovered at the Areva-designed EPR reactor still under construction, and now well over budget and behind schedule, at the Flamanville Unit 3 in Normandy, France. French safety authorities are investigating and are expected to make a decision in September on whether to continue with the troubled Flamanville reactor which experts say does not meet the fracture resistance standards.

Beyond Nuclear petitioned the NRC on January 24, 2017 to suspend operations at the 17 affected U.S. reactors pending thorough inspections and material testing for the carbon contamination of the at-risk components and to open an investigation into the potential falsification of Le Creusot quality assurance documentation. To date, the NRC has accepted the petition in part for further review and in part referred the potential falsification of documents to the federal agency’s allegations unit.

Only one affected nuclear plant, Dominion Energy’s Millstone 2 in Connecticut, has conducted a visual inspection on a Creusot Forge component at the behest of the state energy authority, but did not observe any defects or cracking.

However, a French newspaper revealed last week that metal specimens harvested from the Flamanville Unit 3 reactor pressure vessel, and subjected to shock resilience testing, fell dramatically below regulatory performance standards. A newly surfaced memo (jn French) from a leading safety physicist at the prestigious Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety said that, if subjected to violent pressure-thermal shock, the EPR reactor pressure vessel could shatter. Such a rupture could lead to a major loss of coolant accident and subsequently a nuclear meltdown.

June 26, 2017 Posted by | Reference, safety, USA | Leave a comment

Students and researchers at research reactors should have background checks, warns Japan’s nuclear regulator

NRA urging background checks on students using Japan’s research reactors, Japan Times, 23 June 17 KYODO Japan’s nuclear regulator has urged universities to conduct background checks on students and researchers working at research reactors, as a step to ensure the proper handling of nuclear materials and prevent terrorism, a source said Thursday.

The check items include mental disorder and criminal records and those who have access to strictly controlled nuclear material storage areas at research reactors owned by universities will be subject to the new rule.

But the decision will likely raise concerns about privacy and human rights, legal experts say. University officials are concerned that the inquiries could also discourage students from becoming researchers in the nuclear industry.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s request comes after the International Atomic Energy Agency recommended the Japanese government conduct background checks on workers at nuclear power plants and those involved in decommissioning work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Based on the recommendation, the nuclear safety watchdog decided last year to conduct background checks on workers at nuclear plants. Plant operators plan to start the checks as early as this fall.

A total of 17 check items also include students’ and researchers’ names, nationalities, employment history and addiction to alcohol, the source said……..http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/06/23/national/nra-urging-background-checks-students-using-japans-research-reactors/#.WU14LpKGPGg

June 24, 2017 Posted by | Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Defects in pressure vessel of Flamanville nuclear reactor could stall EPR’s global nuclear industry

France Info 22nd June 2017 [Machine Translation] Defects on the pressure vessel of the EPR of Flamanville: “EDF and Areva were not transparent,” denounces Greenpeace. Greenpeace believes that EDF and Areva have not sufficiently communicated on the defects of the pressure vessel of the EPR of Flamanville.

“The origin of the anomalies and the history of the design” have not been made\ public, denounces the association in particular. The NGO is based on a report to which it has had access and which is due to be published onThursday by the High Committee for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Safety (HCTISN) on anomalies in the Flamanville EPR tank ( Handle). The HCTISN is an expert committee on nuclear safety. It decided in June 2015 totake the matter of the anomalies on the tank of the EPR of Flamanville.

According to Greenpeace, the report states that EDF and Areva “did not explain to the public the origin of the anomalies and the history of the design and manufacture of the EPR reactor vessel.” The report also notes that “no alternative technical scenario has been made public, in the event of the rejection of the tank and its lid by the Nuclear Safety Agency
(ASN)”.

“Since the beginning of the case, EDF and Areva have put the ASN before the fait accompli: they refuse to communicate a plan B to force it to accept that the EPR starts with pieces veined,” explains Yannick Rousselet, in charge of Campaign for Greenpeace France. “The rejection of the tank by the ASN would trigger a ‘domino effect’ by questioning the
feasibility of all EPR projects sold by EDF and AREVA in the UK, China and inland, says Yannick Rousselet. Industrialists put an intolerable pressure on the ASN, making the future of the nuclear sector on its shoulders.” http://www.francetvinfo.fr/sante/environnement-et-sante/defauts-sur-la-cuve-de-lepr-de-flamanville-edf-et-areva-nont-pas-ete-transparents-denonce-greenpeace_2248675.html

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

Los Alamos National Laboratory safety problems endanger U.S. arsenal

Report says LANL safety problems endanger U.S. arsenal https://www.abqjournal.com/1021327/reports-slam-lanl-for-criticality-violations.html, By Associated Press, June 21st, 2017 SANTA FE, N.M. — A new report by the Center for Public Integrity highlights a history of safety and reliability problems involving plutonium work at Los Alamos National Laboratory – particularly in the area of “criticality,” the prevention of spontaneous nuclear chain reactions – as the lab is under orders to ramp up production of the plutonium “pits” that serve as triggers for nuclear bombs.

The CPI, a nonprofit investigative news group, reported that Los Alamos last year violated nuclear industry rules for guarding against criticality accidents three times more often than the U.S. Energy Department’s 23 other nuclear installations combined.

CPI’s article, which has gained national attention this week, highlights a previously unreported 2011 incident in which LANL technicians placed eight rods of plutonium side by side for a photograph to celebrate the crafting of the rods. But placing the rods so close together could have led to a criticality accident and violates “Physics 101 for nuclear scientists,” the report says.

Between 2005 and 2016, the lab’s lapses in criticality safety have been criticized in more than 40 reports by government oversight agencies, teams of nuclear safety experts and the lab’s own staff, the CPI found……

LANL is currently the only place in the country that plutonium pits can be made, and new pits are part of a hugely expensive plan to improve the nation’s nuclear weapons in coming years.

Los Alamos is under orders to make as many as 80 pits a year by 2027. The United States hasn’t made any new ones since 2011, when LANL completed the last of 29 plutonium cores for Navy submarine missiles. The most ever made at Los Alamos in a year is 11.

As the Journal first reported last week, an NNSA official said at a recent public hearing in Santa Fe that moving plutonium work away from LANL to some other site within the nation’s nuclear weapons complex is among the options now under consideration in an ongoing study.

June 23, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

Los Alamos National Laboratory’s poor handling of plutonium rods – near disaster

A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenalRepeated safety lapses hobble Los Alamos National Laboratory’s work on the cores of U.S. nuclear warheads, Center For Public Integrity , by Patrick Malone, June 19, 2017

Key findings
  • Technicians at Los Alamos National Laboratory placed rods of plutonium so closely together on a table in 2011 that they nearly caused a runaway nuclear chain reaction, which would likely have killed all those nearby and spread cancer-causing plutonium particles.
  • The accident led to an exodus of key engineers from Los Alamos who had warned the lab to take better precautions, and this led in turn to a nearly four-year shutdown of key plutonium operations at Los Alamos.
  • A similar incident in Japan in 1999 provoked a burst of radiation that caused two agonizing deaths, a mass evacuation and an order that 310,000 seek shelter. Three workers have died from such radiation bursts at Los Alamos in the past.
  • Los Alamos’s handling of plutonium — a key component of all U.S. nuclear weapons — has been criticized in more than 40 official government reports stretching over a decade, but the lab has repeatedly struggled to meet federal safety requirements.
  • Officials in Washington proposed to fine the lab more than a half-million dollars for its record of poor nuclear safety dating back a decade, but in the end chose not to do so, exemplifying what critics say is a climate of impunity for nuclear weapons contractors.

Eight rods of plutonium within inches — had a few more rods been placed nearby it would have triggered a disaster. Los Alamos National Laboratory/U.S. Department of Energy

At many jobs, this would be innocent bragging. But plutonium is the unstable, radioactive, man-made fuel of a nuclear explosion, and it isn’t amenable to showboating. When too much is put in one place, it becomes “critical” and begins to fission uncontrollably, spontaneously sparking a nuclear chain reaction, which releases energy and generates a deadly burst of radiation.

The resulting blue glow — known as Cherenkov radiation — has accidentally and abruptly flashed at least 60 times since the dawn of the nuclear age, signaling an instantaneous nuclear charge and causing a total of 21 agonizing deaths. So keeping bits of plutonium far apart is one of the bedrock rules that those working on the nuclear arsenal are supposed to follow to prevent workplace accidents. It’s Physics 101 for nuclear scientists, but has sometimes been ignored at Los Alamos……

Workplace safety, many of the reports say, has frequently taken a back seat to profit-seeking at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, lab — which is run by a group of three private firms and the University of California — as managers there chase lucrative government bonuses tied to accomplishing specific goals for producing and recycling the plutonium parts of nuclear weapons.

And these safety challenges aren’t confined to Los Alamos. The Center’s probe revealed a frightening series of glaring worker safety risks, previously unpublicized accidents, and dangerously lax management practices. The investigation further revealed that the penalties imposed by the government on the private firms that make America’s nuclear weapons were typically just pinpricks, and that instead the firms annually were awarded large profits in the same years that major safety lapses occurred. Some were awarded new contracts despite repeated, avoidable accidents, including some that exposed workers to radiation….

George Anastas, a past president of the Health Physics Society who analyzed dozens of internal government reports about criticality problems at Los Alamos for the Center, said he wonders if “the work at Los Alamos [can] be done somewhere else? Because it appears the safety culture, the safety leadership, has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

Anastas said the reports, spanning more than a decade, describe “a series of accidents waiting to happen.” The lab, he said, is “dodging so many bullets that it’s scary as hell.”https://apps.publicintegrity.org/nuclear-negligence/near-disaster/

June 21, 2017 Posted by | Reference, safety, USA | Leave a comment

Mystery drone flew over French nuclear power plant

Le Parisien  19th June 2017 A drone flew over a nuclear power plant located in the commune of Avoine, a
few kilometers from Chinon, Sunday evening in the early evening. An
investigation is underway. The Chinon nuclear power plant was overflown
by a drone on Sunday night. At around 8:20 pm, a small flying object was
observed by a station employee. Thirty minutes later, the specialized
gendarmes go to the scene, view the video surveillance images and confirm
the employee’s testimony. A research device was launched by the soldier. No
results so far. A complaint must be filed by the plant manager. The inquiry
is conducted by the Chinon Research Brigade.   http://www.leparisien.fr/faits-divers/indre-et-loire-un-drone-survole-la-centrale-nucleaire-de-chinon-19-06-2017-7066137.php

June 21, 2017 Posted by | France, incidents | Leave a comment

Fire in roof of French nuclear reactor

Reuters 19th June 2017, A fire that broke out on the roof of a nuclear reactor at the Bugey plant
in central-eastern France has been extinguished, operator EDF said on
Monday, citing fire brigade officials. The fire began at the plant’s
nuclear reactor number 5, some 35 kilometers from the city of Lyon, nuclear
regulator ASN said earlier in a statement. EDF said in a separate statement
there were no injuries or fatalities, while safety body IRSN said on
Twitter that sensors had not picked up any increase in radiation.  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-power-nuclearpower-idUSKBN19A2AH

June 21, 2017 Posted by | France, incidents | Leave a comment

Nuclear plant was kept operating although backup equipment had exploded

Palo Verde nuclear plant still ran after backup equipment exploded, Ryan Randazzo , The Republic | azcentral.com   June 13, 2017 For 57 days last year and early this year, one of the nuclear reactors at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station west of Phoenix kept running after an explosion knocked a backup generator out of service.

June 21, 2017 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

More nuclear mishaps at Hanford are to be expected

Official says more Hanford nuke mishaps likely, By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS Associated Press,  RICHLAND, Wash. 18 June 17,  — Future accidental radiation releases at the largest U.S. site of waste from nuclear weapons production are likely following back-to-back emergency evacuations of workers in May and June because aging infrastructure is breaking down, the top Energy Department official at the site told The Associated Press.

Adding to the likelihood of more nuclear mishaps at the sprawling Hanford Nuclear Reservation is inadequate government funding to quickly clean up the millions of gallons of toxic nuclear waste at the site, said Doug Shoop, who runs the department’s operations office at Hanford.

Hanford has an annual budget of $2.3 billion for cleanup but Shoop said it will cost at least $100 billion to clean up the highly toxic radioactive and chemical wastes on the 580-square mile (1,502 square kilometer) site which produced up to 70 percent of the plutonium for the U.S. nuclear arsenal since it was established in World War II.

“The infrastructure is not going to last long enough for the cleanup,” Shoop said in an interview this week. “It will be another 50 years before it is all demolished.”

Shoop made the comments after hundreds of Hanford workers were evacuated May 9 when the roof of a 1950s rail tunnel storing a lethal mix of waste from plutonium production collapsed. Tests show no radiation was released.

Then, on June 8, demolition work at a 1940s plutonium plant sent 350 workers seeking cover inside. Radiation was emitted but not deemed at a level harmful to people.

More money would lead to a faster cleanup, Shoop said. But President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for next year includes a $120 million cut for Hanford.

The official deadline for cleaning up Hanford is 2060, but Shoop said so much infrastructure at the site is deteriorating that “some facilities are not going to withstand that time.”

The site’s cleanup began in 1989 and critics have accused regulators of allowing the U.S. government to delay cleanup deadlines by decades, putting lives and the environment at risk.

“Every year that we don’t have an earthquake … has been just luck,” said Gerry Pollet, a Washington state legislator who represents a liberal Seattle district, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Hanford.

Shoop said about half of the site is free of pollution. And parts of Hanford make up the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park, where visitors can learn about the development of the atomic bomb.

But Hanford’s most dangerous contaminated waste has not been cleaned up, and the two recent evacuation incidents illustrated problems that could become more frequent in the future……..http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_HANFORD_NUCLEAR_WASTE_WAOL-?SITE=WHIZ&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

 

June 19, 2017 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

Flamanville nuclear reactor: EPR pressure vessel does not comply with safety regulations

Capital 15th June 2017, [Machine Translation] Documents from the Institute of Radiation Protection
and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) show that the EPR pressure vessel does not pass a strength test. It would therefore not be in compliance with the regulations, contrary to what is being said.

Areva and EDF play a major part of their economic future this month. First session today: As the Echos recall, the High Committee for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Safety meets to discuss the safety of the EPR nuclear reactor vessel built by Areva on behalf of a group of companies, EDF in Flamanville.

At the end of June, it will be up to the Permanent Expert Group on Nuclear Pressure Equipment (GPESPN) to assess its working. It will examine the findings of another body: the Institute of Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the
technical expert of the Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN).

A technical note published by IRSN last April, but until now completely unnoticed, shows that the pressure vessel does not comply with the regulation of nuclear equipment under pressure. And poses a major safety problem. Hidden in the
middle of a mass of documents put online, it is dated September 2015 and signed by Gérard Gary, a nuclear physicist, research director emeritus ex-CNRS attached to the laboratory of solid mechanics of the Ecole
http://www.capital.fr/entreprises-marches/epr-de-flamanville-cette-note-d-expert-qui-pointe-le-danger-de-la-cuve-1232494

June 19, 2017 Posted by | France, safety | Leave a comment