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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

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

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

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

Britain has faced 110 nuclear weapon alerts – four times more than the MoD admits

BRINK OF APOCALYPSE  Britain has faced 110 nuclear weapon alerts – four times more than the MoD admits, One incident reportedly saw nuclear weapons accidentally taken to Falklands War on ship carrying Prince Andrew, The Sun BY DANNY COLLINS 19th February 2017, 

February 20, 2017 Posted by | incidents, UK | Leave a comment

Explosion in engine room at Flamanville nuclear station

exclamation-Smflag-franceFlamanville plant in northern France has been hit by a massive explosion Staff writers, news.com.au    News Corp Australia Network 9 Feb 17 AN EXPLOSION at a nuclear power plant on France’s northwest coast on Thursday caused minor injuries, but the authorities said there was no risk of radiation.

The blast occurred in the engine room at the Flamanville plant, which lies 25 kilometres west of the port of Cherbourg and just across from the Channel Islands. “It is a technical incident. It is not a nuclear accident,” senior local official Jacques Witkowski said.  He said a ventilator had exploded outside the nuclear zone at the plant, which has been in operation since the 1980s and is operated by state-controlled energy giant EDF.

“It’s all over. The emergency teams are leaving,” Mr Witkowski said.Five people suffered smoke inhalation but there were no serious injuries, Mr Witkowski said.

One of the two pressurised water reactors at the plant was shut down after the explosion and the incident was declared over at 1100 GMT (10pm AEDT), the authorities said.

The two 1300 megawatt reactors have been in service since 1985 and 1986, and the site currently employs 810 people, along with an additional 350 subcontractors.

A new third-generation reactor known as EPR is being built at Flamanville, which will be the world’s largest when it goes into operation in late 2018.

“Explosions in turbines, usually related to oil in bearings overheating, are not uncommon and occur from time to time in conventional coal, oil or gas plants,” said Barry Marsden, a professor of nuclear graphite technology at the University of Manchester.

But Neil Hyatt, a professor of radioactive waste management at Sheffiled University said the incident should not be taken lightly.

“Any incident of this kind at a nuclear power plant is very serious, and the national and international regulators will want to undertake a thorough investigation to understand the cause and lessons to be learned,” he said.

Construction of the new reactor at Flamanville began in 2007 and was initially due for completion in 2012 but has been delayed several times, and its initial budget has more than tripled, to 10.5 billion euros ($11.2 billion)…….http://www.news.com.au/world/europe/flamanville-plant-in-northern-france-has-been-hit-by-a-massive-explosion/news-story/28f0f083f4850f3289939ed489f56c95

February 10, 2017 Posted by | France, incidents | Leave a comment

Pilgrim Nuclear facility reduces power because of seawater leak

Seawater leak forces reduced power at Pilgrim nuclear power plant, Wicked Local Pembroke By 

A seawater leak at Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station has prompted plant operators to sharply reduce energy output there.

Control room operators reduced power to about 50 percent on Monday afternoon, Feb. 6, after there was an indication of a leakage into the Plymouth plant’s condenser.

A power plant spokesman told the News Service on Tuesday morning that the plant is now operating at 28 percent while repair work is undertaken.

Entergy Pilgrim Station spokesman Patrick O’Brien did not have an estimate of how much seawater leaked into the plant’s condenser……..http://pembroke.wickedlocal.com/news/20170207/seawater-leak-forces-reduced-power-at-pilgrim-nuclear-power-plant

February 8, 2017 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

Another British nuclear mishap kept secret – the Scottish cold war nuclear submarine collision

exclamation-submarine,-nuclear-underwatScottish cold war nuclear submarine collision kept secret for 43 years
Documents published by CIA reveal crash between US and Soviet subs a few miles off coast of Scotland in 1974,
Guardian, , 26 Jan 17, Two nuclear submarines from rival sides in the cold war collided a few miles off the coast of Scotland in an incident that was covered up for 43 years.

The potentially catastrophic crash occurred in November 1974 when the SSBN James Madison, armed with 16 Poseidon nuclear missiles, was heading out of the US naval base at Holy Loch, 30 miles north-west of Glasgow.

Soon after leaving the port it hit an unidentified Soviet submarine that had been sent to tail it, according to a cable to then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, marked “secret eyes only” [pdf].

The cable, sent by national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, said: “Have just received word from the Pentagon that one of our Poseidon submarines has just collided with a Soviet submarine.

“The SSBN James Madison was departing Holy Loch to take up station when it collided with a Soviet submarine waiting outside the port to take up trail.

“Both submarines surfaced and the Soviet boat subsequently submerged again. There is no report yet of the extent of damage. Will keep you posted.”

The cable was published by the CIA on 17 January as part of a mass release of more than 12m pages of previously classified reports in 930,000 documents.

The cable corroborates an until-now unconfirmed report on the incident in the Washington Post on 1 January 1975 by the investigative journalist Jack Anderson. He reported that the collision left a 9ft scratch on the side of the James Madison and that the two submarines came within inches of sinking one another.

Another document marked “top secret” [pdf]released in the same batch expressed alarm that the news of the collision had leaked.

It said: “On 3 January, the NID [National Intelligence Daily] ran an item on the collision just off Holy Loch of US Polaris submarine and a Soviet attack submarine. Unfortunately, Jack Anderson had run the same news in the Washington Post a day or two earlier.

“This pre-emption on Anderson’s part forced the surfacing (no pun intended) of a piece of information in a current intelligence 2 months after the event occurred. …..

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said the secret cable exposed the “enormous risks” of nuclear weapons.

“The history of nuclear weapons is a history of near misses, accidents, potential catastrophes and cover-ups. This latest example joins 25 other near misses that could have led to nuclear war.”

CND is calling for an inquiry into Trident, the successor to the Poseidon programme, after it emerged that a malfunctioning missile with the potential to carry a nuclear warhead was forced to self-destruct in mid-air off the US coast last June.

Hudson added: “These enormous risks have to be acknowledged particularly when we also now face the increasing likelihood of cyber-attack on nuclear weapons systems. With advancing technological developments added to the already dangerous mix there can be no confidence that nuclear weapons are a credible part of British security in the 21st century……… https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/25/nuclear-submarine-collision-cold-war-cia-scotland

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

Explosion at power plant in central Russian city near Ukraine

At least one person has died in an explosion at a power plant in central Russia, media are reporting, citing Emergencies Ministry sources. The blast caused metal structures to collapse over a 600-square-meter area.

“According to preliminary reports, a gas mixture exploded at the power plant,” TASS news agency reported, citing a source at the Emergencies Ministry of the Penza region.

screenshot-from-2017-01-26-120555

The total number of victims is yet unclear, the source said. However, TASS has reported that one person died, citing the Russian Center for Disaster Medicine.

The building of the TPP-1 power plant has been partially destroyed, and some 600 square meters of its roof are said to have collapsed, according to RIA Novosti, citing a source at Emergencies Services.

The incident has not affected the city’s heating supply, TASS reported, citing the head of the Emergencies Ministry’s press service, Anna Shupilova.

“The incident did not affect the heating system of the city; the whole heating system is operating in normal mode,” she said.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

https://www.rt.com/news/375147-penza-power-plant-explosion/

Screenshot from 2017-01-26 12:11:29.png

Source for this diagram ; http://www.gazprom.com/f/posts/01/207595/annual-report-2012-eng.pdf

Background on Plant

The Novocherkasskaya GRES coal-fired power plant is owned by OGK-2 (Second Generating Company of the Wholesale Power Market), a subsidiary of the Russian gas giant Gazprom. The plant is located near the city of Novocherkassk, and consists of eight 264-MW coal-fired units. Construction was originally approved in 1952; the first unit went online in 1965, and the final, eighth unit in 1972. The plant has since been converted to run on gas as a supplementary fuel, but the primary fuel is still coal.[1][2]

The plant was formerly owned by OGK-6, which was also majority-owned by Gazprom; Gazprom merged OGK-6 into OGK-2 in November 2011. The boilers in Units 6 and 7 were replaced in 2005 and 2009, respectively.[3]

Description of Expansion

In 2011, OGK-2 signed a contract for the construction of a 330-MW ninth coal-fired unit at Novocherkasskaya. The construction contractor is SWECO Soyuz Engineering, a subsidiary of SOYUZ Holding. Unit 9 will run on circulating fluidized bed technology. Total construction cost will be about $700 million.[3] The boiler was built by U.S. company Foster Wheeler.[4] Completion was originally scheduled for November 2015.[5] In July 2015, the provincial government said the unit was on track to be completed in late 2015 or early 2016.[6]

The unit was successfully tested in December 2015.[7] The unit was completed and brought online in July 2016.[8

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Novocherkasskaya_GRES_power_station

January 26, 2017 Posted by | incidents, Russia | Leave a comment

Britain’s test fire unarmed nuclear missile went way off course, towards America’s mainland

Trident II USG photo of UK subflag-UKBritish unarmed nuclear missile ‘veered towards US mainland’ in test firing http://www.news.com.au/world/british-unarmed-nuclear-missile-veered-towards-us-mainland-in-test-firing/news-story/1c54697418967b79ff406bc805104709 JANUARY 23, 2017 THE UK government has been accused of a cover up after failing to disclose that an unarmed nuclear missile may have been mistakenly fired at the US mainland.

January 23, 2017 Posted by | incidents, UK | Leave a comment

Nuclear material misplaced at Oyster Creek

, @OglesbyAPPApp.com Jan. 4, 2017 LACEY – The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission performed special inspections of Oyster Creek Generating Station after personnel found a box of uranium-containing monitors outside the nuclear power plant’s designated nuclear-containing Material Access Area.

January 6, 2017 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment

Australia’s Lucas Height’s nuclear reactor security boss arrested for unauthorised documents and illegal gun

secret-agent-AustSMH, 24 Dec 16, Eamon Duff. A security consultant who held a “top secret” government clearance inside Australia’s only nuclear facility has been arrested and charged with the
illegal possession of “official secrets” and an unauthorised weapon.

Until February last year, Anthony Rami Haddad was manager of security and operations at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, safeguarding the site against theft, diversion and sabotage.

However, following  a stint in the Middle easrt where he worked on another nuclear security project, he returned hom eto Sydney, and last month became entangled in an unrelated investigation being run by the Australian Federal Police’s fraud and anti-corruption team.

A fortnight ago, Haddad appeared before Sydney’s Downi8ng Centre Local court, where he pleaded guilty to unauthorised receipt of official secrets under the Commonwealth crimes Act.

He has yet to enter a plea for a second charge, ppossessing an unauthorised prohibited firearm. His barrister, Nikolaos Siafakas, will apply to have the outstanding matter dealt with under section 32 of teh Mental Health Act……..

According to ANSTO documents, Haddad’s many responsibilities at Lucas Heights included the “mamagement of security operations” at the onsite Little Forest radioactive waste dump and its “seamless integration” into the facility’s “wider” protective security systems.

Haddad will reappear in court on February 7  http://www.smh.com.au/national/lucas-heights-security-boss-anthony-haddad-charged-over-official-secrets-gun-20161223-gthdwv.html

December 26, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, incidents, secrets,lies and civil liberties | Leave a comment

B-52 nuclear bomber disasters

exclamation-In 1968, a B-52 Bomber Crashed (With 4 Super Lethal Nuclear Weapons Onboard That ‘Exploded’) The National Interest,  Matthew Gault December 15, 2016 Throughout the 1950s and ’60s American bombers carrying nuclear weapons crisscrossed the globe, ready at a moment’s notice to fly into the heart of Russia and bomb it back to the stone age. Strategic Air Command — a now defunct branch of the U.S. Air Force — commanded this airborne alert force.

It was once the pride of the American military. For more than a decade, SAC bombers were no more than 15 minutes from nuking Russia. But the shifts on the bombers were long — sometimes more than 24 hours — and keeping such an alert force ready was taxing on pilots and crew.

There were many accidents.

In 1958, a B-47 carrying a nuke collided with an F-86 Sabre in the skies above Savannah, Georgia. The B-47 jettisoned its nuclear payload into the Atlantic Ocean. Authorities never recovered the bomb.

Months later, another B-47 dropped its nuke over South Carolina when a bomb technician aboard accidentally activated the emergency release. The bomb’s conventional explosives detonated and destroyed a nearby house.

 In 1966, a B-52 crashed in Spain, spilling the nuclear guts of two bombs onto nearby farms. After the accident, Spain halted nuclear-armed American planes from passing through its air space.

Those were bad, but SAC and its airborne alert survived them. Then, in 1968, a B-52 crashed near Thule Monitoring Station in Greenland and spilled its payload all over the ice. It was one disaster too many, and it signaled the end of America’s airborne alert program … and Strategic Air Command’s prestige……..

The Arctic’s climate is harsh and the radar station was fragile. Outages were frequent, and SAC needed redundancy to ensure that it didn’t attack Moscow just because it lost contact with Thule.

So SAC did what it always did. It strapped some nukes on a bomber. The air command sent one of its airborne alert bombers — complete with live nukes — to fly above the Thule monitoring station 24 hours a day … forever.

It seemed silly to keep live nukes in the air above the world’s head all day, every day. It was a sword of Damocles and it dropped in 1968.

On Jan. 21, 1968, fire swept through the cabin of the airborne B-52 watching Thule station. Smoke and flames consumed the plane and the seven crew members ejected. Six survived. The bomber crashed into an ice cap in the bay near the base.

The conventional explosives in the plane’s four hydrogen bombs exploded and cracked their nuclear payloads. Radioactive elements slid out of the bombs and onto the ice.

SAC’s Operation Chrome Dome was already on its last legs. The Thule accident just confirmed what many politicians and military leader already thought — keeping a fleet of nuclear-armed bombers in the air at all times was dangerous and insane……….

Only one of the B-52’s crew died during the Thule disaster, but his death wasn’t the end of the tragedy. The hydrogen bombs spread jet fuel and radioactive materials across the ice cap. It busted up the flow of the sea, blackened the ice and spread plutonium, uranium, americium and tritium into the ice and water……..

the Danish workers who helped clean up the site are dying of cancer. Crested Ice was a rush job done under pressure from the international community, and its leadership cut corners. American and Danish workers didn’t have the protective gear they needed to work with the radioactive materials.

The Danes tried to sue the United States for compensation and 1987, but failed. In 1995, Copenhagen paid a settlement to 1,700 members of the crew. Crested Ice, the plight of its workers and the possibility that America left contaminated material behind is a recurring story in the Danish press to this day……..This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.    http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/1968-b-52-bomber-crashed-4-super-lethal-nuclear-weapons-18746

December 17, 2016 Posted by | history, incidents, Reference, USA | 1 Comment

Nuclear worker convicted of terrorism conspiracy – had worked for 3 years while under investigation!

exclamation-Smflag-franceFrench Nuclear Plant Technician Continued Working While Under Investigation For Terrorism, BuzzFeed News, 14 Dec 16,  Paris Rida E. was put under investigation for suspected ties to terrorist groups in Syria, but that didn’t prevent him from working for several months at a nuclear power plant.

The 31-year-old technician, referred to in court proceedings as Rida E., was permitted to access nuclear plants for several months while he was being investigated by French authorities for suspected ties to terrorist groups in Syria. He was convicted on Dec. 7 of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism……https://www.buzzfeed.com/paulaveline/rida-e-employee-of-the-tricastin-and-devoted-def?utm_term=.xtWZDAWkLe#.fnNAdXYxOD

 

December 14, 2016 Posted by | France, incidents | Leave a comment

Roof collapse at USA’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant – more nuclear safety worries

An Albuquerque watchdog group is calling for an additional federal review before WIPP can reopen.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad has been working for nearly three years to recover from a radiation accident in February 2014.

safety-symbol1Waste Isolation Pilot Plant WIPPRoof collapses at WIPP raise new safety questions,Albuquerque Journal By Lauren Villagran / Journal Staff Writer Tuesday, December 6th, 2016 In a salt mine more than 2,000 feet underground where drums of nuclear waste are embedded in enormous rooms – some radiologically contaminated – workers heard a loud noise and saw a spray of salt dust.

It was just before 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 3 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Still recovering from a radiation accident nearly three years ago, managers of the nation’s only deep geologic repository for defense nuclear waste had just two weeks prior decided to shut down the far south end of the mine after the salt ceiling collapsed in two places.Suspecting a rock fall, workers reported the incident to the Central Monitoring Room on the surface. Managers called for an evacuation of the underground and, following the latest safety protocol, activated the Emergency Operations Center 26 miles away in Carlsbad as a precaution.

The next day, a team of geotechnical and radiological control experts, members of the mine rescue team and a representative from the Mine Safety and Health Administration descended into WIPP. They found a massive area of the ceiling in Room 4 of Panel 7 had crashed: a rock fall two-thirds the length of a football field, eight feet thick.

WIPP is supposed to reopen this month. The U.S. Department of Energy has not publicly changed its position that WIPP will begin putting waste underground in December, a symbolic “end” to a recovery that still will likely go on for years.

There are regulatory hurdles left to clear. WIPP managers are expected to make public the results of a DOE “operational readiness review” this week, which could include corrective actions and could alter the time frame. New Mexico’s Environment Department must also complete a review of safety equipment, procedures and staff training and sign off that WIPP is ready.

But experts say the recent roof collapses inside WIPP – which have injured no one, thanks to precautionary closures of troubled areas – call into question the facility’s ability to handle ground control in a contaminated mine.

At the least, they say, the latest roof fall reduces available real estate underground, including potentially eliminating Room 4. At worst, the inability to keep up with maintenance could threaten worker safety, although WIPP managers frequently repeat that safety is the “highest priority.”……..

The radiation accident drastically reduced ventilation underground, curbing the number of vehicles that can operate. Workers must wear bulky protective clothing and respirators in contaminated areas and thus work more slowly. These and other constraints mean they can’t bolt back the roof at pre-accident rates, and some areas have been left unattended.

Salt was the chosen burial ground for certain types of legacy Cold War nuclear waste because, once filled and closed, the salt will slowly encapsulate the drums forever. But salt’s dynamic nature means WIPP managers are in a race against time – one they have not been winning.

“People have to understand, for WIPP to work it has to be a successful and a safe mining operation,” said Robert Alvarez, a columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and former senior policy adviser to the Energy Secretary in the 1990s in the lead-up to WIPP’s opening. “They are just not out of the woods. But they are under enormous pressure to get this thing open because of all these sites sitting on this transuranic waste.”

Transuranic waste consists of boots, gloves and other materials contaminated during weapons production. Hundreds of shipments of “TRU” waste are piling up at sites around the country, including at Los Alamos and Idaho national laboratories and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina………

Federal review sought

An Albuquerque watchdog group is calling for an additional federal review before WIPP can reopen.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant outside Carlsbad has been working for nearly three years to recover from a radiation accident in February 2014.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy dated Nov. 21, Albuquerque’s Southwest Research and Information Center and the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council asked DOE to submit WIPP to a review under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
The last NEPA review of WIPP came in 1997 – documents that “are now known to be incomplete, and in some cases, erroneous,” according to the letter.
Specifically, the letter requests NEPA analyses of WIPP’s recovery and its waste disposal plans – such as studies outlining the impacts of an underground fire like the one that occurred days before the radiation release in an unrelated accident – as well as a new analysis regarding the probability and impacts of a hot reaction inside a waste drum like the one that contaminated the facility.
– Lauren Villagran  https://www.abqjournal.com/902842/new-safety-questions-come-up-at-wipp.html

December 7, 2016 Posted by | incidents, USA | Leave a comment