The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Plutonium in space – the danger in space probes

The final mission for Cassini, Enformable, 26 Apr 17, Karl Grossman Despite protests around the world, the Cassini space probe—containing more deadly plutonium than had ever been used on a space device—was launched 20 years ago. And this past weekend—on Earth Day—the probe and its plutonium were sent crashing into Saturn.

The $3.27 billion mission constituted a huge risk. Cassini with its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel was launched on a Titan IV rocket on October 17, 1997 despite several Titan IV rockets having earlier blown up on launch.

At a demonstration two weeks before in front of the fence surrounding the pad at Cape Canaveral from which Cassini was to be launched, Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City University of New York, warned of widespread regional damage if this Titan IV lofting Cassini exploded on launch. Winds could carry the plutonium “into Disney World, University City, into the citrus industry and destroy the economy of central Florida,” he declared………

on an Earth “flyby” by Cassini , done on August 18, 1999, it wouldn’t have been a regional disaster but a global catastrophe if an accident happened.

Cassini didn’t have the propulsion power to get directly from Earth to its final destination of Saturn, so NASA figured on having it hurtle back to Earth in a “sling shot maneuver” or “flyby”—to use Earth’s gravity to increase its velocity so it could reach Saturn. The plutonium was only used to generate electricity—745 watts—to run the probe’s instruments. It had nothing to do with propulsion.

So NASA had Cassini come hurtling back at Earth at 42,300 miles per hour and skim over the Earth’s atmosphere at 727 miles high. If there were a rocket misfire or miscalculation and the probe made what NASA in its “Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission” called an “inadvertent reentry,” it could have fallen into Earth’s atmosphere, disintegrating, and releasing plutonium. Then, said NASA in its statement, “Approximately 7 to 8 billion world population at a time … could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.”

The worst accident involving space nuclear power occurred in 1964 when a satellite powered by a SNAP-9A plutonium system failed to achieve orbit and fell to Earth, breaking apart and releasing its 2.1 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel, which dispersed all over the planet. According to the late Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, that accident contributed substantially to global lung cancer rates……….

the U.S. Department of Energy working with NASA has started up a new production facility at its Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to produce Plutonium-238 for space use. Other DOE labs are also to participate.

Says Gagnon of the Maine-based Global Network: “Various DOE labs are rushing back into the plutonium processing business likely to make it possible for the nuclear industry to move their deadly product off-planet in order to ensure that the mining operations envisioned on asteroids, Mars, and the Moon will be fully nuclear-powered. Not only do the DOE labs have a long history of contaminating us on Earth but imagine a series of rocket launches with toxic plutonium on board that blow up from time to time at the Kennedy Space Center. They are playing with fire and the lives of us Earthlings. The space and the nuke guys are in bed together and that is a bad combination—surely terrible news for all of us.”

“The Global Network,” said Gagnon, “remains adamantly opposed to the use of nuclear power in space.”

April 28, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, safety, technology, USA | Leave a comment

Brexit and Britain’s problem of nuclear waste

NucClear News no 95 May 17  Brexit & Radwaste As Britain heads towards a hard Brexit and Brexatom – quitting Euratom – thanks to a freedom of information request, the Gizmodo website has obtained details of some of the internal worries of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The document, dated 13th July 2016, runs through some of the biggest strategic challenges created by us leaving the EU.

An NDA subsidiary, Radioactive Waste Management Ltd (RWM) is engaged in research on deep geological disposal. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the EU is fronting a lot of the research cash. For example, one project – DOPAS – The Full-Scale Demonstration of Plugs and Seals, studied how to plug and seal radioactive waste. In this case Europe paid €8,700,000 – half the cost of doing it. It has also recently paid for a number of other similar projects. The document goes on to reveal that RWM is planning to seek European cash for future projects with similarly impenetrable acronyms. The best one is Europe putting an expected contribution of €3-4m into “DISCO” – a project studying the Dissolution of Spent Fuel in Waste Containers. Though it isn’t explicitly spelled out in the document, the implication is obvious: If our relationship with Europe is currently up in the air – so is the ability to pay for these important research projects.

Perhaps the biggest danger though – reading between the lines – is the risks associated with Britain becoming more hostile to immigration. “UK universities have a multinational community”, the document explains, “UK universities have been very successful in attracting the best talent (students and academic staff) from across the world, which in turn leads additional funding, better teaching and higher quality research. An inability to attract non-UK EU nationals would have a negative impact on UK universities and indirectly on the NDA estate R&D programme.”

Ultimately then, it appears that Brexit is going to create headaches when it comes to getting rid of radioactive waste.

April 28, 2017 Posted by | UK, wastes | Leave a comment

Japan’s very big problem of nuclear wastes from its failed Tokai Reprocessing Plant

The three-tier disposal scheme for the waste generated by the Tokai Reprocessing Plant is based on radiation level.

Waste with the highest radiation level, which will fill some 30,000 drums, will be buried more than 300 meters underground.

Mid-level waste, which will fill about 24,000 containers, is expected to be buried several dozens of meters underground.

Low-level waste, involving another 81,000 drums, will be buried close to the surface, the JAEA said. In the meantime, the plant’s tainted equipment and facilities will need to be decontaminated and scrapped before being filled with cement and mortar and put in drums for transport to a final disposal site.

The big problem is, there has been little progress in deciding where to bury the drums because they can’t find anyone willing to accept them.

Closure of Tokai Reprocessing Plant to cost an estimated ¥800 billion: JAEA source The Japan Atomic Energy Agency has revealed that the scrapping of the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, the nation’s first facility for reusing spent nuclear fuel, will cost an estimated ¥800 billion, an official said.

The state-backed JAEA did not reveal the cost to taxpayers in 2014, when it made the decision to shut down the plant in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, over a 70-year period.

The facility started operation in 1977 as part of Japan’s desire to establish a nuclear fuel cycle, in which all spent fuel is reprocessed to extract its plutonium and uranium to make more fuel. The policy is designed to ensure resource-dependent Japan uses its nuclear fuel as efficiently as possible.

The JAEA decided to scrap the sprawling plant after it became too costly to run under the more stringent safety rules introduced following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis. The facility comprises around 30 buildings and has large areas rife with contamination caused by its task of disassembling spent nuclear fuel.

According to the official, the startling decommissioning estimate is based on an estimate the agency made in 2003. The JAEA is finalizing the assessment and on course to submit it for approval by the Nuclear Regulation Authority as early as June.

The three-tier disposal scheme for the waste generated by the Tokai Reprocessing Plant is based on radiation level.

Waste with the highest radiation level, which will fill some 30,000 drums, will be buried more than 300 meters underground.

Mid-level waste, which will fill about 24,000 containers, is expected to be buried several dozens of meters underground.

Low-level waste, involving another 81,000 drums, will be buried close to the surface, the JAEA said. In the meantime, the plant’s tainted equipment and facilities will need to be decontaminated and scrapped before being filled with cement and mortar and put in drums for transport to a final disposal site.

The big problem is, there has been little progress in deciding where to bury the drums because they can’t find anyone willing to accept them.

Despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the government is trying to resume nuclear power generation and continue its pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle.

This policy, however, has experienced setbacks from the recent decision to decommission the Monju fast-breeder reactor, an experimental facility in Fukui Prefecture that was considered key to the nuclear fuel cycle plan.

And the completion of a new fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has also been largely behind schedule for years.

In the meantime, public concerns about the safety of atomic power remain strong at a time when the government is aiming to make it account for 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030.

The new estimate for decommissioning the Tokai Reprocessing Plant includes ¥330 billion for storing waste underground, ¥166 billion for decontaminating and dismantling the facility, and ¥87 billion for transportation costs.

The JAEA facility is not to be confused with the private uranium-processing facility in Tokai where a fatal criticality accident occurred in 1999.

April 26, 2017 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing, wastes | Leave a comment

While America builds new nuclear bombs, intractable radioactive trash grows, with no proper clean-up in sight

Area G, perhaps more than any other place at Los Alamos National Laboratory, represents the challenges that the U.S. Department of Energy faces in cleaning up the hundreds of waste sites at the lab while work continues to produce new or modernized nuclear weapons.

A report released this spring by the Energy Department’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office says that out of 2,100 contaminated sites, including Area G, only about half of the cleanup at the lab has been completed after decades of work and billions of dollars spent.

If all goes as planned, it will take Los Alamos almost a century to clean up the remnants of the nation’s first generation of nuclear weapons. All the while, tiny, new nuclear bombs are being made.

LANL’s Area G at center of nuclear cleanup effort, By Rebecca Moss The New Mexican, 23 Apr 17  LOS ALAMOS — To stand at one of the largest radioactive dumps in the nation requires a drive through two security checkpoints, a clearance badge and, for outsiders, a three-to-one guard by federal employees.

Visitors cross the final checkpoint on foot. There is just a metal gate, with stop signs and notifications that crossing this threshold means entering a nuclear facility.

The 63-acre Material Disposal Area G at Los Alamos National Laboratory holds radioactive and other hazardous waste generated by nuclear weapons production during the Manhattan Project of World War II and the Cold War that followed.

Just three feet below the dusty ground, there are nearly 40 pits and 200 shafts, containing somewhere between several hundred thousand and 11 million cubic feet of waste. Large, white structures, like joyless wedding tents, dot the mesa’s surface, holding drums of waste that are intended to be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad and disposed of forever.

Many of these drums are especially volatile. They belong to a waste stream that was improperly packaged, causing one drum to explode at WIPP in 2014, leaking radiation and shutting down the facility for nearly three years at a $2 billion cleanup cost.

Area G, perhaps more than any other place at Los Alamos National Laboratory, represents the challenges that the U.S. Department of Energy faces in cleaning up the hundreds of waste sites at the lab while work continues to produce new or modernized nuclear weapons.

The lab recently gave reporters a rare tour of Area G and other sites contaminated by waste generated before 1999, the year the Energy Department opened WIPP. It is the nation’s only permanent disposal site for transuranic waste, which includes soil, tools, gloves and other materials that have come in contact with highly radioactive elements like plutonium, which is used in weapons production. Before WIPP opened, Area G was where the lab disposed of its transuranic waste.

A report released this spring by the Energy Department’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office says that out of 2,100 contaminated sites, including Area G, only about half of the cleanup at the lab has been completed after decades of work and billions of dollars spent.

The report says the initial investigation into the extent of contamination at those sites is 90 percent done, and 93 percent of the above-ground transuranic waste — 4,000 drums — has been removed from the lab since 2011.

But much of the buried waste at Area G is likely to stay there forever.

The lab could dig everything up, but “the federal government and the state don’t require it,” said a senior lab official who took the tour with reporters. Officials on the tour prohibited reporters from quoting them by name.

A volatile collection

The circumstances that led to one of the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history began at Area G. A drum of waste improperly packaged with organic — rather than inorganic — kitty litter at Area G in 2013 and shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant overheated and burst underground in February 2014.

At Area G, there are 89 more drums similar to the one that burst. They are kept within the largest tent on the mesa, called the PermaCon.

Inside, the light takes on a yellowish-gray hue and the air is at least 15 degrees cooler than the April day outside. At the center of the space, behind a rope and a sign that reads “combustible restricted area,” the waste drums have been placed inside a refrigerated metal structure, like enormous eggs in an incubator.

They contain some of the most volatile waste at the site, a mix of nitric acids, kerosene, heavy metals, plutonium-239, uranium-238 and nitrate salt.

Sixty of the drums, like the one that burst at WIPP, contain the organic kitty litter. The rest of the 89 drums have the same waste but haven’t yet been mixed with an absorbent.

Before entering the tent, visitors must protect their eyes with plastic glasses and make sure their hands are devoid of wounds. Radiation is more easily absorbed into the body if it can slip through a cut. Visitors are told to avoid touching surfaces and their mouths, and to leave outside anything they don’t want to be surveyed for radioactive contamination.

Area G workers are told to make a habit of wearing gloves at all times, even at home, officials said. “Fight the way you train,” is how one person explained it.

Workers at the PermaCon wore purple gloves and were dressed head to boots in a yellow, plastic material that forms a protective hood and thick goggles.

A sign on a door leading to where the drums are kept informs workers that they will be exposed to 0.1 rem of radiation per hour. The average American receives 0.6 rem per year, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The drums are kept at 57 degrees Fahrenheit and monitored daily to ensure the pressure and heat do not change. If a drum starts to heat, officials can open large vents added to the drums and reduce pressure, but releasing some radiation, too, within the PermaCon.

From Area G it takes just two minutes to walk onto San Ildefonso Pueblo land; The community of White Rock is one mile from the site.

As reporters and officials exited, workers traced radiation detection monitors slowly across palms and the soles of shoes.

A repackaging process

By May, a 3-mile stretch of the road between Area G and a waste repackaging facility will be closed off daily as drums are transported uphill to the Waste Characterization, Reduction and Repackaging Facility, which looks like a series of oversized garages.

As reporters entered the facility, one worker whispered, “Hold your breath.”

Over roughly two months, lab workers will repackage the waste in two-hour shifts using a glove box — a large, sealed container. Inserting their hands into gloves attached to the box, the workers will open the drums.

The waste will be combined with water and zeolite — a fine, gray mineral mined in Western states, including New Mexico, and sold as absorbent cat litter — and stirred in an industrial kitchen mixer within the glove box. Once the waste is mixed, it will be funneled into new “daughter” drums and returned to Area G for later shipment to WIPP, officials said.

An official said zeolite was chosen as an absorbent in part because it eliminates any confusion about the type of kitty litter that can be used.

Tacked to the glove box is a printed sheet of paper with numbered instructions for how to mix the waste. It’s pinned just above the radiation detection panel that workers must press their hands against the moment they are removed from the glove box.

Fire remains a threat

Area G is situated on a mesa between two canyons, and wildfire is a threat to the drums waiting for repackaging and shipment to WIPP.

In 2000, the Cerro Grande Fire burned through both canyons simultaneously, creating extremely high temperatures on the mesa. If this happened again, an official said, the lab would cover the drums with fire blankets but could not move them. They could only hope that the flames subside before the drums overheat and begin a reaction like the one that closed WIPP.

The Los Conchas Fire in 2011 burned within four miles of Area G.

The administrations of Govs. Bill Richardson and Susana Martinez have sought to expedite the removal of vulnerable canisters from lab property. But deadlines for the lab to do so, first by 2010 and then by June 2014, went unmet, in part because waste shipments to WIPP stalled following the radiation leak caused by the Los Alamos drum.

Waste disposal at Area G is expected to stop next year when the last open pit is filled. The lab’s newly constructed Transuranic Waste Facility, an outdoor storage site, will temporarily hold newly generated waste before shipment off-site. The lab also is seeking approval from the New Mexico Environment Department for temporary storage at the plutonium processing facility where pits, the triggers for nuclear weapons, are produced. Pits are similar to small atomic bombs.

But the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency, and others have raised concerns about storing radioactive waste at these locations. New waste sites, even those intended to be temporary, increases the potential for dangerous waste to remain on lab property long term.

On the drive to Area G on a winding road within the national laboratory complex, in a lab “taxi” van playing 1980s rock, many buildings appeared more like prison structures than research facilities, with thick, glass windows — or no windows at all — and tall, barbed-wire fences.

One official remarked on the great irony of the work: The first atomic bomb took only 27 months to create, but like the myth of Pandora’s box, it unfurled a seemingly endless stream of deadly waste.

Last September, the Energy Department said the remaining scope of legacy waste cleanup is estimated to cost $3.8 billion, and it will take 24 more years to finish shipping the rest of the waste to permanent storage and decontaminating the land.

If all goes as planned, it will take Los Alamos almost a century to clean up the remnants of the nation’s first generation of nuclear weapons. All the while, tiny, new nuclear bombs are being made.

Kaitlin Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office, said the “biggest priorities right now are the safety of the workers and the public as we execute our mission.”

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or

April 24, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

An American nuclear waste dump plan stalls

“We consider it a major victory,” said Karen Hadden of the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, an environmental advocacy group that has opposed Waste Control Specialists’ expansion plans.

While the company’s questionable finances were a factor in its request, Hadden suggested that mounting public opposition might also have played a role.

West Texas nuclear waste project on hold — for now Dallas-based Waste Control
Specialists has asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to temporarily suspend a review of its application to store tens of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel at its West Texas dump. The Texas Tribune 
APRIL 19, 2017 A proposal to bring the nation’s spent nuclear fuel to West Texas appears to be on the ropes.

Waste Control Specialists, which currently stores low-level radioactive waste in Andrews County, has asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to temporarily suspend a review of its application to store tens of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel currently scattered at reactor sites throughout the country. The Dallas-based company pitched the massive expansion as a solution to a problem that has bedeviled policymakers for decades.

The reason for the requested freeze? The company, which runs the state’s only radioactive waste dump, is bleeding cash and is struggling to find the estimated $7.5 million needed to continue the licensing process. Waste Control Specialists “is faced with a magnitude of financial burdens that currently make pursuit of licensing unsupportable,” Rod Baltzer, the company’s president and CEO, said in a letter to the federal commission dated Tuesday.

The review’s price tag caught the company off guard, Baltzer wrote.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed Wednesday that it would freeze the review.

“Managers are working with the staff to close out their work to prepare for a future resumption, and to reassign them to other casework,” said Maureen Conley, a commission spokeswoman.

The request comes as EnergySolutions, a Salt Lake-city based waste company, is trying to buy Waste Control Specialists. The U.S. Department of Justice is suing to block the merger, arguing it would essentially create a monopoly on radioactive waste disposal.

“WCS expects to go forward with this project at the earliest possible opportunity after completion of the sale,” Baltzer said in a statement.

Experts call this week’s request a setback for a project that the company initially suggested it would start constructing by 2019; opponents of the plan declared the request a win for their side.

“We consider it a major victory,” said Karen Hadden of the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, an environmental advocacy group that has opposed Waste Control Specialists’ expansion plans.

While the company’s questionable finances were a factor in its request, Hadden suggested that mounting public opposition might also have played a role. In February, Bexar County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing shipment of high-level nuclear waste through the San Antonio area on its way to the site. Midland-area residents have urged local officials there to back a similar resolution.

And several longtime Andrews residents spoke out against the project in February during a public hearing held by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“I think WCS is becoming aware that this is a bigger battle than they anticipated,” said Hadden…..

Waste Control Specialists has been the only company in the country officially seeking to build a temporary storage facility while the federal government grapples with finding a permanent disposal site. But this month, a New Mexico group submitted an application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build a temporary storage facility, just across the state line from Andrews.

In a 2014 letter to his then-fellow state leaders, Rick Perry — who championed the WCS expansion as Texas governor — cited that competition as reason to move ahead with the project. He now heads the U.S. Department of Energy, which plays a major role in advancing and implementing policy on nuclear waste.

April 24, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Demolition of Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant to begin soon

Teardown to begin soon at Hanford’s most contaminated building area  BY ANNETTE CARY 21 Apr 17,  Demolition should start within a few weeks on the most contaminated portion of the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant.

April 22, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Delay in legal order to move plutonium stockpiled in South Carolina

MOX injunction delayed until at least July 31  By Michael Smith  Apr 20, 2017 

An injunctive order that would move plutonium disposition forward in Aiken County will have to wait until at least July.

U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs signed an order giving all parties until July 31 to develop a jointly written statement that will be used to frame the order. The previous deadline was April 21.

Childs previously ruled the U.S. Department of Energy failed to comply with an agreement to dispose of 1 metric ton of weapons grade plutonium by Jan. 1, 2016. South Carolina sued the DOE, the National Nuclear Security Administration, NNSA director Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz and former Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz in February 2016, saying the defendants reneged on their obligations to dispose of plutonium or make $1 million a day “economic assistance payments.”

Childs ruled the federal government failed to dispose of plutonium as agreed, but refused to issue any financial sanctions. Her order asks all parties to develop a joint statement to determine exactly what the injunction will say.

The April 20 order to delay comes at the request of the DOE and its codefendants.

According to court documents, the DOE’s budget is only funded through April 28.

In addition, the DOE cited difficulty in coordinating with a number of program offices and officials, “a process which is complicated by the fact that a number of leadership positions at DOE are not presently filled.”

The motion goes on to say that settlement negotiations will continue. If an agreement can’t be reached by the deadline, then both parties will submit individual statements, court records state.

The DOE missed the Jan. 1, 2016 deadline because the mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel fabrication facility at the Savannah River Site in Aiken County isn’t built yet.

Once operational, MOX will convert plutonium stockpiles into fuel for commercial reactors. It’s presently about 73 percent complete, sources familiar with the project say.

The plutonium disposition is part of a nuclear deal with Russia, both nations agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of defense plutonium. An NNSA news release from 2011 heralding the MOX deal said that’s enough plutonium to make 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Russia suspended, but didn’t withdraw from, the agreement in 2016. While not citing MOX directly, Russian President Vladimir Putin cited “unfriendly” practices by the U.S.

Both nations were supposed to begin disposition in 2018, the NNSA news release said.

April 22, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Experimental deep bore project under consideration

County commissioners weigh nuclear waste storage project   — County commissioners in southern New Mexico are in debate over a federal project that aims to determine whether nuclear waste can be stored far underground.

The Otero County Commission discussed a proposed resolution in opposition of the project Thursday, but the panel decided to hold off on taking any action, The Alamogordo Daily News reported (

Commissioners say they have received comments from residents both for and against the project, which involves the drilling of narrow, vertical holes deep into the ground to test whether they can hold disposed nuclear material.

The U.S. Department of Energy is paying for the testing by New Mexico-based TerranearPMC and has said no nuclear waste will be involved.

Fred Stong, director of FIRST Robotics New Mexico, voiced his support for the project during Thursday’s meeting, saying he would like to see it continue because there are many residents who support science and technology.

“There is no waste in this program. This is a wonderful geographical opportunity,” Stong said. “Our job is to bring technology in, not drive away technology from this community.” But resident Bobby Jones said the federal government’s plan was too risky and he doesn’t “support the project because of what might happen afterwards.”

TerranearPMC CEO Kenneth Fillman said he shares residents’ concerns and an environmental assessment will be conducted before the company moves forward with the project.

The Otero County Commission meeting came the same day Harding County passed a resolution opposing a similar borehole project in neighboring Quay County.

April 17, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Delay in Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) planned underground storage facility for nuclear waste

OPG nuclear waste site remains on hold, pending more studies by Mark Sabourin EcoLog, 4/13/2017 

Progress remains stalled on Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG’s) planned underground storage facility for nuclear waste following review of its latest submission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). The CEAA has told OPG that the additional information it supplied at the CEAA’s request is not good enough and has asked for more about alternatives to OPG’s preferred site 680 metres below the surface and 1.2 km from the shore of Lake Huron.

The report and recommendation of the Joint Review Panel on the project have been on the desk of the federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change since May 2015. Though the report found that, with certain mitigation measures, the project was not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects, it remains widely unpopular on both sides of the Canada-US border. The minister has so far avoided making a decision by requesting studies on technically and economically feasible alternative sites and an updated analysis of cumulative environmental effects of OPG’s recommended site.

OPG submitted its new analysis in December 2016 but, following a technical review and public comment period, the CEAA has declared it inadequate. The CEAA says that OPG’s selection of alternative locations is based on limited criteria, and that differences among locations have not been clearly described. It also takes issue with OPG’s analysis of cumulative environmental effects and its proposed mitigation measures. It has raised 21 specific issues and asked OPG to report on each.

OPG is proposing a deep geologic repository for low- and intermediate-level nuclear waste in a geologically stable rock formation 680 metres below the site of its Bruce nuclear power plant. According to OPG, the bulk of the waste, which is currently stored aboveground, will decay within 300 years, though a portion will remain radioactive for another 100,000 years. It argues that entombment deep below ground in geologically stable rock is the safest long-term option.

However, opponents argue that a site near the shore of one of the Great Lakes, the source of water for more than 40 million people, is the wrong choice.

April 14, 2017 Posted by | Canada, wastes | Leave a comment

Almaraz nuclear incident sparks calls for probe, halt to storage plan

 Portugal news Online, BY TPN/ LUSA   12-04-2017   Environmental campaigners have called for an investigation into an unplanned stoppage at the nuclear plant at Almaraz, near the border with Portugal, while a member of the European parliament for Portugal’s governing Socialist Party said such incidents should prompt an “immediate halt” in the construction of a waste storage facility on the site.

“These incidents should prompt the Spanish authorities to immediately halt construction of the waste storage and to plan, in consultation with Portugal and the European Union, for the plant’s closure”, said EU MP Carlos Zorrinho, in a statement sent to Lusa News Agency.
While the incidents “are apparently without systemic risk (…) in the case of nuclear energy the precautionary principle and that of zero tolerance should apply”, he concluded.
Zorrinho’s comments came following an incident at the plant earlier this week, on Monday, when an unplanned stoppage occurred in one of the main pumps…….

In February, Spain and Portugal agreed to settle a dispute involving plans to build a nuclear waste storage facility at Almaraz with the help of European Union mediators.
That was after Portugal lodged a formal complaint because of Spain’s failure to carry out a full environmental impact study before advancing with the plan.

April 14, 2017 Posted by | Spain, wastes | Leave a comment

The Sahara’s little known nuclear wasteland

In the Sahara, a Little-Known Nuclear Wasteland, “There’s nothing nuclear in what I do. It’s just rocks we dilute into powder.”, Catapult, Hannah Rae Armstrong Apr 12, 2017  Activist Azara Jalawi lives with her mother, a nomad; her daughter Amina, who watches Mexican soap operas and dates a local human trafficker; her son Doudou, nicknamed “Slim Shady,” and a lean girl, probably a slave, in the town of Arlit, Niger, a mining hub of about forty thousand set deep within the Tuareg Sahara, a slow-baking proto-Chernobyl, a little-known nuclear wasteland.

Around Arlit, prehistoric volcanoes and petrified forests rise from the sand. Beneath it lie the skulls of giant crocodiles who preyed on dinosaurs a hundred million years ago. Within the rocky plateaus are havens like the oasis at Timia, where orange, grapefruit, and pomegranate groves ripen and flower in the desert. For forty years, the French nuclear-energy giant Areva has mined uranium here, and milled it into yellowcake, the solid concentrate that is the first step towards enriching uranium for nuclear fuel or weapons. Three miles outside the town, fifty million tons of radioactive tailings—a waste byproduct containing heavy metals and radon—sit in heaps that resemble unremarkable hills. In strong winds and sandstorms, radioactive particles scatter across the desert. “Radon daughters,” odorless radioactive dust, blanket the town. Public health and the environment exhibit strange symptoms of decay—mysterious illnesses are multiplying; grasses and animals are stunted. The people of Arlit are told that desertification and AIDS are to blame. ………..

Living atop an open-pit uranium mine has made the people ill, in ways they do not understand. Breathing radioactive dust, drinking contaminated well water, and sleeping between walls stitched from radioactive scrap metal and mud, the people tell stories to fill the gaps in their knowledge. ………

At her brother Doudou’s high school, funded by the mining company, students are told not to do drugs or set things on fire. Teachers tell Doudou nothing about the contaminated well water he consumes daily. At lunch on my first day in Arlit, I ask nervously about the source of the water in a chilled glass bottle on the table. “Don’t worry, it’s the well water,” they assure me. “We drink it all the time.” I learn later that well water readings reveal contamination one hundred times beyond the World Health Organization’s threshold for potable water.

………. a dim awareness of the contamination risks was just beginning. Almoustapha Alhacen, a yellowcake miller and environmental activist, recognizes himself on the cover of a 2012 book I’ve brought with me: “Being Nuclear: Africans and the Global Uranium Trade.” He is the man wearing a gas mask and gloves. “The problem with Areva is it never informed people that radioactivity exists and that it is dangerous,” he says. An NGO called the Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radioactivity (CRIIRAD), created by a French EU deputy after the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe, equipped him with a device and trained him to take readings. Once, he recalls, he saw a pregnant woman eating mud next to the road that leads from the mine to the town. This road is often tamped down with clay from the mines, and the tires that cross it regularly give it a fresh, invisible wash of radon. Almoustapha took a reading there and found radioactivity twenty-four times higher than the safe level. At markets selling scrap metal used for building houses, and at the community taps where people draw water, he took readings that were off the charts.

“Arlit was built around uranium. And humanity needs uranium,” Almoustapha says, speaking quickly and with rage. “But what happens next for us, when the uranium runs out, Areva leaves, and we are left with 50 million tons of radioactive waste?” As an activist, he ponders the future and the environment with seriousness. But these become abstract concerns before the fact of his job, which he needs right now. In a white turban and sunglasses, with sequined leather jewelry adorning his chest, he protests: “There’s nothing nuclear in what I do. It’s just rocks we dilute into powder, powder we dilute into liquid. It’s just mechanics, like for any car.” …….

If any state benefits from the distraction counter-terrorism provides from these underlying issues, it is France. Insecurity shields the mines from environmental scrutiny. Threats justify deepening militarization, an ongoing erosion of Nigerien sovereignty and independence. And the French mines still face no real obstacle to radiating the radiant desert. In fact, they’re expanding. A new mine—Africa’s largest—is being built near Arlit, at a site called Imouraren. There, a “security belt” encircles 100,000 acres, marking the land off limits to nomads.

April 14, 2017 Posted by | environment, Niger, Uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

Trump’s plans to revive Yucca nuclear waste dump idea

Trump plans to revive nuclear waste plans axed by Obama in 2010 Fred Pearce, 7 Apr 17, 

The Trump administration last month revived controversial plans to bury the US’s growing stockpile of highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants and weapons factories in tunnels dug into Yucca mountain in Nevada.

But, with local opposition to the plan axed by President Obama undimmed, scientists at the Department of Energy are already hedging their bets.

They are pursuing an alternative scheme to drop the hot radioactive waste down hundreds of deep shafts across the US, where it can mix with molten granite in the Earth’s crust.  Next month, they are expected to announce the site for the first test drilling.

The US currently has some 79,000 tonnes of spent fuel in at least 76 power-station cooling ponds and secure dry stores across the country.  Another 2000 tonnes are added each year.  The stores contain an estimated 444,000 petabecquerels of radioactivity, which is some 50 times more than released from all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests.

“US spent fuel pools are densely packed and at severe risk of a fuel fire in the event of an earthquake or terrorist attack that drained cooling water from the pools,” says Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington DC.

Dry air-cooled stores are safer. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says such stores could act as a stopgap for up to 160 years. But all agree that geological burial is eventually needed for waste that will be dangerous for tens of thousands of years. The question is where?

Desert fuel dump

Yucca Mountain, which is part of the former atomic weapons testing grounds in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas, has for 30 years been earmarked as the sole burial ground for spent fuel, the most dangerous radioactive waste.  A tunnel was dug 500 metres into the mountain in the early 1990s.

The plan was to start taking spent fuel in 1998. But local opposition blocked the plan, and some geologists questioned its safety, warning of the risks of local volcanoes erupting magma into the storage tunnels and blasting radioactivity to the surface.

President Obama effectively abandoned the $100-billion project in 2010 by pulling funding for the licensing process.  But he failed to find a replacement site, and Washington is already liable for an estimated $30 billion to compensate power companies for its failure to deliver a final burial ground for their waste fuel.

Last month, President Trump asked Congress to approve $120 million to resume licensing for Yucca Mountain.  But the state’s governor and senators vowed to continue blocking the plan.

Quietly, since 2010 the Department of Energy (DOE) has established an alternative disposal route.  The idea is to bury the spent fuel in hundreds of narrow shafts drilled 5 kilometres down into solid granite.

Up to 40 per cent of the US might have suitable bedrock, but the technique has still to be tested.  In December, the DOE selected four companies to find somewhere with the right geology and local support for test drilling.

And last month, at a conference in Phoenix, Arizona, Tim Gunter, the DOE’s head of spent fuel management said he expected to announce a test site in May.  One site being discussed is in granite bedrock beneath Haakon County in South Dakota. Others are in Texas and New Mexico.

Fergus Gibb of the University of Sheffield, UK, who first came up with the idea 15 years ago, says the radioactive waste would generate so much heat it would melt the surrounding rock and then slowly solidify into a ”granite coffin”.  Yucca may soon be yesterday’s news.

April 8, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Nuclear Decommissioning makes every other disaster in the post-war period pale into insignificanc

nuClear News No.94 April 2017  The UK Government has been forced to pay nearly £100m in a settlement with two US companies – Energy Solutions and Bechtel – for mishandling the way it awarded a £6.1bn nuclear decommissioning contract. Ministers have ordered an inquiry headed by the former boss of National Grid to find out why the procurement process was so flawed. Labour said the payout showed “dramatic levels of incompetence”. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) will also terminate the contract it awarded for cleaning up the UK’s old Magnox reactor sites nine years early. The sites include Bradwell, Chapelcross, Hinkley A and Hunterston A. (1)

The High Court ruled last summer that the NDA had “manipulated” and “fudged” the tender process. It meant that the wrong company won the work to decommission 12 UK nuclear sites (10 Magnox sites plus Harwell and Winfrith). The move opens the door for other bidders to attempt to reclaim their bid costs, which could run to an additional £50m. The contract was awarded in 2014 to Cavendish Fluor Partnership, a joint venture between the UK’s Babcock International and Texas-based Fluor. However, the consortium cannot be asked to take on the extra work because that could increase potential compensation claims by companies that wrongly lost out in the tender. Some industry sources have complained that the government plumped for an unrealistically low bid for the work at the outset. Another losing bidder, UK Nuclear Restoration Ltd, which is a consortium of Amec Foster Wheeler, Atkins and Rolls-Royce, said that the settlement “raises serious concerns” about the procurement process and that it has raised the implications of the judgment with the government and the NDA. (2)

Former National Grid chief executive Steve Holliday has been appointed to lead an independent inquiry into what went wrong. The inquiry will look at how the mistakes were made and by who, how the litigation was handled, and the relationship between the NDA and the government departments. Holliday will publish an interim report in October. The government now has the daunting task of starting a new tendering process for the 12 sites, as the deal with Cavendish Fluor Partnership (CFP) will end early, in September 2019 instead of 2028. (3)

Babcock said in a statement the CFP, in which it has a 65% stake, has come to a mutual agreement with the NDA to bring to an end the contract at the end of August 2019, having operated the contract for a full five years. Babcock said it had become apparent that the work that needs to be done is now materially different in volume from that specified in the NDA’s tender, and this puts the contract at risk of a legal challenge. What those material differences are remains a mystery.

The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “It has become clear to the NDA through this consolidation process that there is a significant mismatch between the work that was specified in the contract as tendered in 2012 and awarded in 2014, and the work that actually needs to be done. The scale of the additional work is such that the NDA board considers that it would amount to a material change to the specification on which bidders were invited in 2012 to tender.” (4)

The failure of the contract award process was “inevitable” according to nuclear power expert Dr Paul Dorfman, from University College London’s Energy Institute. “They were set up to fail and have failed because the understanding of costs and complexity to nuclear decommissioning is changing all the time,” he said. “Magnox reactors were thrown up in a rush to give electricity too cheap to meter and create plutonium and there was no thought of how they would be decommissioned. Each Magnox reactor is bespoke so decommissioning each one is different with its own complexities and challenges. The more we learn about dealing with the ‘back end’ of nuclear power, the more we see how complex and costly it is.” (5)

Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said: “Why should anyone believe that this astonishing level of incompetence will suddenly end when we start to build new reactors? Just because Hinkley Point C is not a Magnox reactor doesn’t just suddenly make the industry competent.” (6)

The Daily Telegraph declared today “if we could, we would stop this madness … In committing to new nuclear, we seem to have joined a runaway train, with no hope of getting off. Has not the time finally arrived for a fully fledged rethink of the merits of Britain’s nuclear energy strategy?” (7)

Roy Pumfrey continued: “We agree – it is time to stop this madness. The UK’s nuclear decommissioning costs have increased from £55.8 billion in 2008 to £117.4 billion at the last count. Although EDF is required to set aside funds for decommissioning Hinkley Point C, this is only up to an agreed limit. The taxpayer will be on the hook for the all too predictable shortfall.”

Chris Huhne, former energy secretary for the coalition government, said the remit for the enquiry by Steve Holliday was not broad enough and it needed to look at the total cost of nuclear decommissioning. “It is a complete mess, it’s deeply embarrassing but it’s actually I’m afraid only the latest in a long line of embarrassments,” Huhne told BBC Radio 4. “We’re not even scraping the surface with the problem that this legal case has exposed.” Huhne, who was energy secretary between 2010 and 2012 and left the before the contract was awarded, said the cost of decommissioning the UK’s old nuclear fleet had increased £107bn in the last five years to £161bn. “In terms of industrial strategy this makes every other disaster in the post-war period pale into insignificance.” He said the problem stemmed from how early reactors stations were complex bespoke constructions made without consideration to how they would later be disassembled. “We ordered a whole series of Savile Row suits rather than a bunch of work-a-day Marks & Spencer suits… Every single one of those reactors is different. Even the fuel rods in every single one of those reactors are different – crazy.” (8) Huhne called on the government not to allow subsidies for new reactors. That was the coalition government policy. It should be the policy again but the government seems to be relenting – it’s opening the door to exactly a repetition of the sort of disaster that we see today. (9)

April 8, 2017 Posted by | decommission reactor, politics, UK | Leave a comment

Owners of the failed San Onofre nuclear plan agree to relocate radioactive waste from the San Diego County coastline.

Edison agrees to negotiate new home for San Onofre plant’s nuclear waste. EIN NewsDesk, 7 Apr 17, Jeff McDonald, 

Owners of the failed San Onofre nuclear plant agreed Friday to begin negotiations aimed at relocating tons of radioactive waste from the San Diego County coastline.

The announcement came in the form of a brief filed in San Diego County Superior Court, where a showdown hearing was looming next week between majority plant owner Southern California Edison and environmentalists who want the spent fuel shipped off-site.

The change of heart is significant for Edison, which has long said that storing 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste on the grounds for decades to come is a safe and reasonable option.

Edison and San Diego attorney Michael Aguirre, who filed the lawsuit that led to the settlement negotiations, declined to comment beyond a single-page joint news release.

Advocacy groups opposed to the burial plan were thrilled with the announcement.

“That’s huge,” said Charles Langley of Public Watchdogs when told about the deal. “The fact that they are willing to consider moving it is an amazing situation.”

The mutual notice filed in court Friday requests that the judge postpone next week’s scheduled hearing at least until July to provide lawyers from both sides of the dispute time to work out a settlement……….

There was no word Friday on where the spent fuel may end up.

Possible locations include Palo Verde in Arizona, where Edison is part-owner of another nuclear plant; Nevada, where federal regulators have long planned a national repository; or one of a handful of proposed private dumps.

Edison is in the process of moving the San Onofre waste from climate-controlled pools to so-called dry cask storage — steel-lined canisters scheduled to be buried near the shuttered twin reactors north of Oceanside.

The company plans to complete the transfer by 2019 and return the leased property to the federal government as soon as possible.

The Citizens Oversight lawsuit sought an injunction against the Coastal Commission permit, arguing that the location was unsafe because more than 8 million people live within 50 miles of the site.

The plaintiffs also complained that the canisters are subject to leaks, saltwater intrusion, tsunamis and earthquakes. The storage devices Edison is planning to use have been certified by federal regulators for 20 years of use. Critics of the dry-cask plan note that radioactive waste remains dangerous for thousands of years……more

April 8, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

EDF’s nuclear decommissioning – financial problems

Another month in UK’s failing new nuclear programme nuClear News No.94 April 2017 EDF Finances A French Parliamentary report from the National Assembly’s Commission for Sustainable Development and Regional Development says the clean-up of French reactors will take longer, be more challenging and cost much more than French nuclear operator EDF anticipates. Whereas Germany has set aside €38 billion to decommission 17 nuclear reactors, and the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority estimates that clean-up of UK’s 17 nuclear sites will cost between €109‒250 billion over the next 120 years, France has set aside only €23 billion to decommissioning its 58 reactors. In other words France estimates it will cost €300 million per gigawatt (GW) of generating capacity to decommission a nuclear reactor, Germany estimates €1.4 billion per GW and the UK estimates €2.7 billion per GW.

EDF says it wants to set aside a €23 billion fund to cover decommissioning and waste storage for an estimated €54 billion final bill ‒ and the difference between these two figures will be closed through the appreciating value of its equities, bonds and investments ‒ in other words, ‘discounting’. Unfortunately, recent experience has taught us that markets can go up and down over time ‒ especially the very long-time periods involved in radioactive waste management. But for a company that has huge borrowings and an enormous debt of €37 billion, €23 billion is a large sum of money to find. Any significant change in the cost of decommissioning would have an immediate and disastrous impact on EDFs credit rating ‒ something that the debt-ridden corporation can simply not afford. EDF is already in financial trouble. Along with bailing out collapsing AREVA, EDF also has to bear the huge financial burden of the failing reactor newbuild at Flamanville. It will also have to pay for extending the life of France’s existing nuclear power stations (to 2025), at a cost of €55 billion.

On top of all this the French authority tasked with disposal of all the countries vast and increasing waste burden (Andra) has recently ramped up the estimated cost for the planned national nuclear waste repository at Cigéo, to €25 billion ‒ and EDF must pay for most of Cigéo’s construction. Although €5 billion more than EDF anticipated, it still seems a gross underestimation, and the costs are likely to rise considerably. (21)

April 8, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, decommission reactor, France, politics | Leave a comment