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Japan to Give Plutonium from Spent Fuel to France, – (but the high level wastes must be returned to Japan)

 https://www.nippon.com/en/news/yjj2022062000945/japan-to-give-plutonium-from-spent-fuel-to-france.html  Tokyo, June 21 (Jiji Press)–The Japan Atomic Energy Agency will give France plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel from its Fugen advanced converter reactor, officials have said.

The agency will conclude a contract with a French nuclear company this month at the earliest, according to the officials.

The French side is expected to reprocess the spent nuclear fuel from the reactor, which is in the decommissioning process, in the central Japan prefecture of Fukui.

On Wednesday, the Japanese and French governments exchanged notes on the transportation and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel and the return of high-level radioactive waste to Japan.

The two sides agreed to start the removal of 731 spent nuclear fuel assemblies from Fugen in April 2023 and complete the work by the end of March 2027.

June 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

US Government Secret Files: Human Experiments With Plutonium Side Effects

by SOFREP, 22 May 22, ” ……………………………………   The Manhattan Project…………..    The most famous development of the Manhattan Project was when they produced atomic bombs, two of which were the Little Boy Bomb and the Fat Man Bomb, that were dropped on the two cities of Japan, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. There was also this not-so-famous bomb that was supposed to be the third bomb to be dropped in Japan had they not surrendered, known as the Demon Core (know why it was called as such here.)

Although a huge chunk of the Manhattan Project was dedicated to the development and production of the weapons, a small portion of it was dedicated to studying the health effects of the radioactive materials involved in the project, which was Plutonium.

Human Experiments

………………….     the huge amounts of radioactive materials used in the experiments also led to widespread contamination even outside of the research facilities. They wanted to know exactly the risks and dangers that these researchers were facing, so they began studying the effects of radiation on human bodies.

The plutonium toxicity studies began with rats as the main subject. These were quickly deemed inconclusive, so they decided to move the experiments onto human trials beginning in 1945. They didn’t realize at the time that rats are pretty resistant to radiation. At that time, details about plutonium were not yet disclosed to the public, so they decided that for the secrecy of it, they would not inform anyone outside of scientific circles about the trials, not even the human test subjects.

A total of eighteen human subjects were selected and injected with plutonium without their knowledge from 1945 until 1947, their ages ranging from 4 to 69. One common thing about them was their diagnosis of a terminal illness.

Patient CAL-1

One of the involuntary subjects of the human radiation experiment was a house painter from Ohio in his late 50s named Albert Stevens, or patient CAL-1. At that time, he had checked into the University of California Hospital in San Francisco and was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was suggested that a gastroscopy be performed to make sure that the diagnosis was accurate, but it never really happened. And so Stevens was chosen for the study because, according to acting chief of radiology Earl Miller, “he was doomed” to die.

Before he underwent the operation that would try to rid him of cancer, Stevens was injected with what would be known as the highest accumulated radiation dose in any human, 131 kBq (3.55 µCi) of plutonium. After that, stool and urine samples were taken from Stevens for analysis. He then underwent an operation to remove his cancer, which included taking out parts of his liver, entire spleen, lymph nodes, part of his pancreas, part of his omentum, and most of his ninth rib.

When some of the materials removed from Stevens were analyzed, they discovered that Stevens was misdiagnosed and did not have cancer in the first place. He was, in fact, suffering from a large gastric ulcer. He and his family were not informed about it and were instead told that his recovery was speedy. …………..  https://sofrep.com/news/us-government-secret-files-human-experiments-with-plutonium-side-effects/

May 23, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Seismic Concerns at Los Angeles Nuclear Laboratory and Expanded Plutonium Pit Production

Seismic Concerns at LANL and Expanded Plutonium Pit Production http://nuclearactive.org/, May 19th, 2022, Ongoing  Plutonium operations at Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Technical Area 55 are centered in the middle of the 36-square mile national nuclear weapons facility.  LANL is the only U.S. facility with the capabilities to fabricate plutonium triggers, or the fissile pits, for nuclear weapons.  However, Technical Area 55, or TA-55, is located within the complex Pajarito Fault Zone between two young, north – south running faults called the Guaje Mountain and    Rendija Canyon faults.  Visual evidence of faulting     can be found in the canyons to the north of TA-55.  http://nuclearactive.org/gilkeson/ see Seismic Documents.

The U.S. Department of Energy owns LANL.  It has plans for expansion of all things plutonium-pit production at the Plutonium Facility and at least five new support buildings at TA-55.  CCNS anticipates that DOE will continue its efforts to conceal and ignore the reality of the growing seismic threats of the young faults.

We witnessed similar efforts in the mid-2000s when DOE began to design a new super Walmart-sized Nuclear Facility within TA-55 next door to the Plutonium Facility.  DOE was so bold as to dig into the volcanic tuff with heavy equipment to prepare a pad for future construction.  http://www.nuclearactive.org/news/030510.html  In the end, public opposition and escalating costs forced the cancellation of its plans.  http://nuclearactive.org/livestreamed-nuclear-safety-board-hearing-on-february-21st-in-albuquerque/

Fabricating plutonium pits for nuclear weapons involves many steps – some using aqueous processes that result in water contaminated with radiation and hazardous materials.  That water is treated across the street from the Plutonium Facility at the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility and for decades was discharged through an industrial outfall into Effluent Canyon.  Since November 2011, though, the treated water has been evaporated into the air at a mechanical evaporator.  

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency renewed the five-year industrial permit for LANL to discharge through Outfall 051 into Effluent Canyon.  https://www.epa.gov/nm/los-alamos-national-laboratory-lanl-industrial-wastewater-permit-final-npdes-permit-no-nm0028355

We note that on May 11th, CCNS, Honor Our Pueblo Existence, and the Albuquerque Veterans for Peace, Chapter No. 63, appealed the EPA decision to permit the outfall and five others to the Environmental Appeals Board.  https://yosemite.epa.gov/oa/EAB_Web_Docket.nsf/f22b4b245fab46c6852570e6004df1bd/ba987f24df0c356085258837004f3dcd

Then on May 5th, the New Mexico Environment Department approved for the first time a ground water discharge permit for not only for the Radioactive Liquid Waste Treatment Facility, the outfall and Mechanical Evaporator, but for two large solar evaporative tanks, and a new low-level radioactive liquid waste treatment facility.  In addition, DOE plans to build a liquid waste treatment facility for the transuranic plutonium liquid waste.  https://www.env.nm.gov/public-notices/, go to Los Alamos County, and scroll down to DP-1132 where the draft permit is posted, but not the final permit.

These facilities are all in support of DOE’s plans for expanded plutonium pit production at LANL.

May 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, safety, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Five new plutonium buildings for Los Alamos National Laboratory, with the costly funding details rather obscure

Nuclear agency plans five new plutonium buildings at Los Alamos lab, Santa Fe New Mexican , By Scott Wyland swyland@sfnewmexican.com, May 18, 2022  

As a further sign Los Alamos National Laboratory is inching toward its 2026 target for making 30 warhead triggers a year, nuclear security managers plan to construct five buildings in the lab’s plutonium complex over the next five years, in part to support that effort.

A new building would be funded annually, beginning in fiscal year 2023, with the aim of supporting production of the bomb cores, known as pits, and other plutonium operations, according to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget request for the coming year.

The total cost of the five buildings will be more than $240 million………………….

One critic of the lab’s pit production plans said each of the buildings was priced just under the $50 million threshold that would trigger a more rigorous congressional review.

That might allow the lab to change the office buildings into something else later for a different purpose, such as producing more pits, said Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group.

“No one ever talked about these costs before,” Mello said. “We don’t think this is the end of the surprises. There are more surprises to come.”

The federal budget for plutonium operations has climbed steeply in recent years, both at the lab and at Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where officials hope to make an additional 50 pits yearly by the mid-2030s.

Under the U.S. Department of Energy’s draft budget, the lab’s plutonium modernization funding would climb to $1.56 billion in 2023 from the current year’s $1 billion, more than a 50 percent increase.

At the same time, the nuclear security agency, an Energy Department branch, has proposed funneling $700 million this coming year toward converting Savannah River Site into a pit factory. That’s a sizable jump from the $475 million spent for that purpose in the last budget cycle………………….

Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said federal officials want the lab’s pit plant to be able to produce up to 80 pits for short periods.

He contends the lab is likely to use this “surge capacity” given the longer time it will take for Savannah River to begin production……………..  https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/nuclear-agency-plans-five-new-plutonium-buildings-at-los-alamos-lab/article_48acffdc-d5fb-11ec-985e-5b26a02df8f5.html

May 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Vitrification of Hanford’s nuclear waste is plagued with problems, would emit toxic vapours

Turning Hanford’s nuclear waste into glass logs would emit toxic vapors, says document,  https://www.opb.org/article/2022/05/09/turning-hanfords-nuclear-waste-into-glass-logs-emits-toxic-vapors-says-document/

By Allison Frost (OPB) May 10, 2022  The Hanford nuclear reservation in south central Washington state holds 56 million gallons of radioactive waste. The facility produced plutonium for U.S. atomic bombs in WWII, and it kept producing for the country’s nuclear weapons through the late 1980s.

The plan to contain that waste by turning it into glass logs, or vitrification, has been plagued with problems for decades. Some of the waste contained in underground tanks is leaking into the Columbia River. Workers have sued over exposure to toxic waste, and the current federal funding for cleanup is less than federal and state lawmakers say is needed.

Now, an internal Department of Energy document says that the vitrification process would create a toxic vapor. The next public hearing on the nuclear plant will be held Tuesday, May 10, and public comments are being accepted through June 4. We’re joined by freelance reporter John Stang who’s been covering Hanford for three decades and obtained the internal DOE document.

May 10, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Plutonium contamination in Ohio, USA

Russian nuclear warheads bought, processed and material shipped to Southern Ohio,  https://local12.com/news/investigates/russian-nuclear-warheads-bought-processed-and-shipped-material-to-southern-ohio-cincinnati-duane-pohlman-investigate-investigative-weapons-ship-russia-government-contaminated-radioactive by DUANE POHLMAN, 9 May 22,

QUESTIONS OF CONTAMINATION AND CANCER

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PORTS) is a massive facility, dominating the landscape in Pike County. It was also a massive fixture in America’s front lines during the Cold War.

For nearly five decades, from 1954 to 2001, PORTS processed uranium, critical to making America’s nuclear arsenal and fueling its nuclear navy.

Now closed and partially dismantled, PORTS is considered “ground zero” for claims of radioactive contamination in nearby communities, now riddled with rare cancers that are claiming children.

“We’ve got alarming cancer rates,” said Matt Brewster, noting Pike County is number one in Ohio for cancer rates, as compiled by the state health department.

THE PLUTONIUM PUZZLE

The US Department of Energy (DOE) which continues to oversee PORTS, insists radiation around the plant is at safe levels.

However, some of the radioactive particles in the air around PORTS are not the uranium you would expect to find, but something much more deadly: plutonium.

“The chemical and radiological toxicity associated with plutonium is many, many times worse than uranium,” notes Dr. David Manuta, who was the chief scientist at PORTS from 1992 to 2000.

Plutonium and plutonium-related particles are being picked up around Ports, both by the DOE’s own instruments and by independent studies.

In 2017, a DOE air monitor across from the now-closed Zahn’s Corner Middle School, picked up Neptunium-237. The following year, the same monitor found Americium-241. Both elements are byproducts of plutonium.

Ketterer Report by Local12WKRC on Scribd   AT TOP  https://local12.com/news/investigates/russian-nuclear-warheads-bought-processed-and-shipped-material-to-southern-ohio-cincinnati-duane-pohlman-investigate-investigative-weapons-ship-russia-government-contaminated-radioactive

May 10, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

New Mexico Governor concerned over plans for plutonium waste being disposed of in Carlsbad.

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus, 20 Apr 22,

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signaled support for an activist group opposing a plan at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant to dispose of diluted, weapons-grade plutonium in the underground nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad.

Lujan Grisham, in an April 8 letter to U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, shared a petition circulated by Santa Fe-based group 285 All in opposition of the plan and called on the federal Department of Energy to “take action” to address the concerns.

The plan proposed by the DOE would see 35 metric tons of down-blended plutonium waste sent from the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico for processing.

It would then be sent to the DOE’s Savannah River in South Carolina for final preparation and then to the WIPP site in southeast New Mexico for disposal…………..

Critics of the proposal argued the plan would transport nuclear waste across New Mexico multiple times, and the inclusion of down-blended plutonium would mark an “illegal” expansion of WIPP’s statutorily allowed waste streams.

The petition expressing those fears was signed by 1,146 people in New Mexico and delivered to Lujan Grisham’s office in Santa Fe on March 1.

In her letter to Granholm, Lujan Grisham called on the agency which owns and operates WIPP to consider the concerns raised in the petition.  https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/2022/04/20/carlsbad-waste-isolation-pilot-plant-plutonium-disposal-concern-michelle-lujan-grisham/7309367001/

April 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

USA’s production for plutonium ”pits”will fall short of the goal.

NNSA Pick To Review Plutonium Pit Plan As Goal Appears Out Of Reach, March 22, 2022 The Biden administration’s pick to lead the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) military programs told lawmakers he would review the plan to increase production of plutonium pits at two NNSA locations, as it becomes increasingly evident the administration will likely fall short of the… (Subscribers only)    https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/budget-policy-operations/nnsa-pick-review-plutonium-pit-plan-goal-appears-out-reach

March 24, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Japan’s power companies move to reduce plutonium stockpiles held overseas

Utilities move to reduce plutonium stockpiles held overseas, https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14556963 By JUNICHIRO NAGASAKI/ Staff Writer, March 8, 2022   Japan’s leading power companies decided to transfer ownership of tons of plutonium stored in Britain and France for reprocessing in a quest to reduce the stockpile as quickly as possible.

The plan was unveiled Feb. 18 by the Tokyo-based Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC). The recycling program will allow operators of pluthermal generation facilities to use plutonium produced by other utilities.

Japan has nearly 40 tons of plutonium in storage, fueling international concerns over its potential for use in nuclear weapons.

Major utilities in Japan commission facilities in Britain and France to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel produced at atomic power plants in this country. It is processed into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for reuse at domestic nuclear plants.

Japan’s plutonium stockpiles in Britain and France totaled 21.8 tons and 15.4 tons, respectively, as of December 2020. Britain shut down its only MOX plant in 2011, which means it can no longer reprocess plutonium.

As a result, and for accounting purposes, pluthermal operators such as Kyushu Electric Power Co. will exchange their plutonium reserves in Britain for the stockpile in France for use by Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other utilities that have yet to introduce pluthermal generation. The plutonium will then be reprocessed and imported back to Japan.

As a first step, 700 kilograms of plutonium will come under the ownership transfer program for use in fiscal 2026 at the No. 3 reactor of Kyushu Electric’s Genkai plant in Saga Prefecture. 

The FEPC anticipates that pluthermal power production will be in service in at least 12 reactors across Japan by fiscal 2030.

As things currently stand, the technology only applies to four reactors: the No. 3 reactor of the Genkai plant; the No. 3 reactor of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture; and the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

For that reason, utilities have not managed to drastically reduce the volume of stored plutonium.

A reprocessing facility operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, to recover plutonium from spent nuclear fuel is scheduled for completion in the first half of fiscal 2022.

But there are fears the treatment plant will not start full-scale operations to stop plutonium from accumulating further. With that in mind, the FEPC began considering how to reduce the amount of stockpiled plutonium.

March 8, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

Activist groups to rally against plutonium disposal project at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant


Adrian HeddenCarlsbad Current-Argus 23 Feb 22,
A plan to dilute weapons-grade plutonium and then dispose of it at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground repository for low-level nuclear waste near Carlsbad, drew concerns from around New Mexico amid fears transporting this stream of waste could risk public safety.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in 2020 a plan that would ship the plutonium from the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory where it would be chemically diluted.

The waste would then head to the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina for packaging before the final shipment to WIPP in southeast New Mexico.

This would mean the 34 metric tons of the waste on the way to its final resting place at the WIPP site could pass through New Mexico three times.

Cynthia Weehler, co-chair of Santa Fe-based activist group 285 All said this creates an unacceptable risk for local communities in New Mexico and 11 states she said the waste would travel through.  

285 All advocates for issues throughout New Mexico, focusing on U.S. Highway 285 which stretches from the mountains in northern New Mexico down into the high desert and oilfields of the southeast region, crossing into West Texas.

That’s why Weehler and a consortium of groups critical of WIPP and nuclear activities in New Mexico planned to deliver a petition to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham next week, asking the state’s highest government leader to oppose the plutonium project.

“Unless New Mexico says NO to WIPP expansion, other disposal locations will not be developed, and WIPP will always be the only dump site, which is not fair. New Mexico never agreed to bear the burden of being the only site,” read a portion of the petition.

Weehler said the petition has about 1,140 signatures as of Monday and is being distributed in the Santa Fe area and to communities along the transportation routes.

The petition will be delivered to the State Capitol at 11:30 a.m., March 1 during a press conference on the east side of the Roundhouse.  

“We don’t expect an accident to happen every week or every community, but when you increase the time and the shipments, we just see this as an inevitability over the time frame,” Weehler said. “It’s going to be a huge increase in shipments and it’s going to last almost this whole century.”

Weehler said Lujan Grisham should cite the legal agreement between the State and DOE that defines WIPP’s mission: to dispose of low-level transuranic (TRU) waste at the site near Carlsbad, streams she said were pre-determined by the agreement and should not be expanded.

If the DOE’s plutonium plan moves forward, Weehler said it would amount to an “expansion” of WIPP both in its mission and the volume of waste it would accept.

“The waste would be plutonium-contaminated material, contaminated during the production of nuclear weapons,” Weehler said. “This is something different (than TRU waste).”

WIPP officials said this was not the case…………………………….. 

The plutonium would be “down blended” meaning its level of radioactivity would be lowered so that the waste would qualify as TRU waste and could be disposed of at WIPP without adjusting federal policy.

“In order for it qualify, they’re having to dilute it. They’re having to adulterate it,” Weehler said. “This will never be acceptable. For them to say that is just unbelievable to me.” ……….. https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/local/2022/02/23/wipp-activist-groups-rally-against-plutonium-disposal-project/6878583001/

February 24, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, opposition to nuclear, USA | Leave a comment

Plutonium problems won’t go away

Plutonium problems won’t go away, By Chris Edwards, Engineering and Technology, February 15, 2022 

  Nuclear energy’s environmental image is as low as carbon’s,with its clean fuel potential being tarnished by legacy waste issues. Are we any closer to resolving this?

At the end of 2021, the UK closed the curtain on one part of its nuclear waste legacy and took a few more steps towards a longer-lasting legacy. A reprocessing plant, built at the cost of £9bn in the 1990s to repackage waste plutonium from pressurised water reactors in the UK and around the world for use in new fuel, finally converted the last remaining liquid residue from Germany, Italy and Japan into glass and packed it into steel containers. It will take another six years to ship it and all the other waste that belongs to the reactor owners, who are contractually obliged to take it back.

Even when the foreign-owned waste has headed back home, the UK will still play host to one of the largest hoards of plutonium in the world, standing at more than 110 tonnes. It amounts to a fifth of the world’s total and a third of the global civilian stockpile of 316 tonnes. Despite operating a smaller nuclear fleet than France’s, the UK has 1.5 times more plutonium.

It was never meant to end this way. The long-term dream was for fission-capable fuel to keep going round in a circle, only topped up with virgin uranium when necessary. The plutonium produced during fission could itself sustain further fission in the right conditions. However, fast-breeder reactors that would be needed to close the cycle remain largely experimental, even in countries such as Russia where their development continues. Driven by both safety concerns and worries about nuclear proliferation that might result from easier access to separated and refined plutonium-239, the West abandoned its fast-breeder programmes decades ago.

It is possible to reprocess spent fuel into so-called mixed-oxide fuel, but it is only good for one use in a conventional reactor. Other actinides build up and begin to poison the fission process. The only prospects for change lie in so-called Generation IV reactors, but these designs have yet to be tested and may continue to fall foul of proliferation concerns.

While operators around the world have mulled over the practicality of fuel reuse, containers of both processed and reprocessed fuel have lingered in storage tanks cooled by water despite, in some countries, being earmarked for deep burial for decades. In the late 1980s, the US Department of Energy (DoE) settled on Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the single destination for the country’s spent nuclear fuel, and scheduled it for opening a decade later. By 2005, the earliest possible opening date had slipped by 20 years. It remains unopened and will probably never open. In the interim, much of the fuel has lingered in water-filled cooling tanks while politicians consider more localised deep-storage sites.

Fukushima provided a wake-up call to the industry, not just about the problems of controlling reactors but their spent fuel. After the tsunami, engineers were concerned that without replenishment pumps, the water in the storage tanks for the spent fuel would evaporate. If the fuel then caught fire, it would likely release radioactive tritium and caesium into the atmosphere. In a stroke of luck, water leaked into the damaged ponds. Now the issue for operators of some older reactors is that the fuel canisters are just corroding into the water instead.Experts such as Frank von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University, recommend storage pools should only be used until the fuel is cool enough to be transformed into glass, immersed in concrete or both, and transferred to dry storage, preferably in a deep geological disposal facility (GDF).At a conference last November organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Laurie Swami, president and CEO of Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organisation, claimed “there is scientific consensus on the effectiveness of deep geologic repositories” for highly radioactive waste.

The UK similarly settled 15 years ago on a plan to build its own GDF for high-level waste in tandem with the establishment of a single government-owned body responsible for organising where the waste goes, in the shape of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The GDF took a small step forward at the end of 2021 when two candidate sites were announced, both close to the Cumbrian coast. The local communities have agreed in principle that the NDA can investigate where they are suitable for a set of tunnels that may extend under the Irish Sea. With the project at such an early stage, the country remains years away from opening a GDF. Finland, in contrast, has pressed ahead and expects its GDF to open in 2025, while Sweden is likely to have the second one in the world.

At the same time, there is an enormous volume of other irradiated material that cannot economically be put into deep storage. In a keynote speech at the IAEA’s conference, James McKinney, head of integrated waste management at the NDA, explained that a lot of radioactive waste is contaminated building material. The Low-Level Waste Repository at Drigg in Cumbria was designed for this kind of waste, but McKinney stressed that capacity is “precious” and in danger of running out if all the material is taken there. Over the past decade, the NDA and its subcontractors have been working to divert as much waste as possible from the Drigg site by reprocessing and repackaging it.

By bringing waste management under one umbrella instead of dividing it among power-station operators, the NDA has been able to change procurement strategies to favour the use of much more R&D for waste handling. “The destination of radioactive waste can be changed through interventions,” McKinney adds. “At this moment, we estimate some 95 per cent of potential low-level waste is being diverted away [from Drigg]. Twelve years ago, the opposite would be true.”

A recent example of this in action is the dismantling of pipes that were once installed at the Harwell research centre. More than 1,500 sections of metal pipe were delivered to oil-and-gas specialist Augean, which is using high-pressure water jets to remove radioactive scale so the metal can be recycled instead of needing long-term storage.

Getting less manageable waste away from the storage tanks presents another major challenge, particularly if it comes from the oldest reactors. For example in the UK, when spent Magnox fuel was taken out of the reactors, the magnesium cladding around it was stripped away and moved to Sellafield’s Magnox Swarf Storage Silo (MSSS). Though the swarf itself is just intermediate-level waste, Sellafield’s operator regards emptying the silo ready for transfer to long-term dry storage as one of the more hazardous projects on the site. Stored underwater to keep them cool, the packages of swarf gradually corrode and release hydrogen gas and contaminants, which can escape into the ground. Moving the waste for treatment can itself lead to more escapes.

To manoeuvre 11,000 cubic metres of waste out of the 22 chambers of the MSSS, it has taken more than two decades to design, build and install two out of three shielded enclosures and grabbing arms that can lift out pieces of the swarf and prepare it to be immobilised in concrete or glass.

The time it has taken to even begin to clean up the MSSS illustrates the core issue that faces decommissioning and clean-up programmes: the sheer difficulty of trying to handle even moderately radioactive materials in circumstances where access was never considered when these structures were first built and filled. Everything in this kind of decommissioning calls for ungainly long-distance manipulators because there is no other way to protect the clean-up crews.

As engineers struggled to deal with the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, many people in Japan thought the same thing, and expressed surprise that a country that had invested so much in robotics research had none that it could send into the reactors to even perform a survey.

Japan was not alone with this issue: no country had a dedicated nuclear-accident response robot. Work on robots began decades ago but continued only in fits and starts for the most part. After a serious incident in 1999 at an experimental reactor at Tokaimura, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry set aside $36m to develop remote-controlled machines. But the projects ended within a few years.

To help deal with the immediate problems at Fukushima, the US research agency DARPA was quick to repurpose the military and disaster robots to which it had access, originally planning to send them on Navy ships across the Pacific. But it quickly emerged that this would be too slow

At a conference organised by the International Federation of Robotics Research on the 10th anniversary of the accident, Toyota Research chief scientist Gill Pratt said the first robots “got there in the overhead luggage of commercial flights”. For all of them it was a baptism of fire.

(Here this aticle continues with a discussion on robot technology – which must be remotely done and turns out to be very problematic)

………………………………………….Deep burial seems to be the easiest way to deal with long-lived waste, assuming no-one tries to dig it up without heavy protection and good intentions hundreds or thousands of years into the future. But the question of how safe it is if the repository breaches accidentally is extremely hard to answer.

Plutonium is unlikely to be the biggest problem. Although it oxidises readily to dissolve in water, the short-lived fission products such as strontium-90 and caesium-137 could be more troublesome if they escape the confines of a storage site, according to analyses such as one performed by SKB as part of Sweden’s programme to build a deep burial site there.The half-lives of these isotopes are far shorter than those of plutonium, so the risk from them will subside after a couple of hundred years rather than the thousands for plutonium. But what if they could be shortened to days or even seconds? Any radiation could then be contained or used before the waste is repackaged.

This is the promise of laser transmutation, which uses high-energy beams to displace neutrons in donor atoms that then, with luck, smash into those unstable isotopes to produce even more unstable atoms that quickly decay. In one experiment performed by Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory, a laser transmuted atoms in a sample of iodine-129, with a half-life measured in millions of years, to iodine-128. A similar experiment at Cambridge converted strontium-90 to the medical labelling chemical strontium-89.

The bad news is that the energy required to perform transmutation at scale is enormous and not all isotopes are cooperative: their neutron-capture volumes are so small the process becomes even less efficient.Nobel laureate Gérard Mourou believes careful control over high-energy pulsed lasers will bring the energy cost of transmutation down significantly. He is working with several groups to build industrial-scale systems that could begin to clean up at least some of the high-activity waste.

Even if lasers can be made more efficient, there are further problems. For one, the waste needs to be separated as otherwise the stray neutrons will transmute other elements in the sample, generating unwanted actinides. This will not only increase the cost of reprocessing, it will increase the risk of proliferation, as it will lead to plutonium that is far easier to handle and move around, the one outcome that deep burial is meant to avoid……………………https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2022/02/plutonium-problems-won-t-go-away/

February 17, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, UK | 1 Comment

Robots used to remove Fukushima’s highly radioactive used nuclear fuel, but they’re still problematic.

Plutonium problems won’t go awayBy Chris Edwards, Engineering and Technology, February 15, 2022  ”’………………………………………At a conference organised by the International Federation of Robotics Research on the 10th anniversary of the accident, Toyota Research chief scientist Gill Pratt said the first robots “got there in the overhead luggage of commercial flights”. For all of them it was a baptism of fire.

Narrow staircases and rubble turned into insurmountable obstacles for some. Those that made it further failed after suffering too much radiation damage to key sensors and memories. Finally, some developed by the Chiba Institute of Technology were able to explore the upper floors of Reactor 2. The researchers designed their Quince to work for up to five hours in the presence of a cobalt-60 source that would generate an average dose of 40 grays per hour.

Direct radiation damage was not the only problem for the Fukushima robots. Reactors are protected by thick concrete walls. Wireless signals fade in and out and fibre-optic cabling becomes an impediment in the cluttered space of a damaged building.

To be close enough to the machines, operators had to wear bulky protective clothing that made teleoperation much harder than it would be in other environments. Several robots went into the building only to fail and get stuck, turning into obstacles for other machines.

The risk of these kinds of failure played into the nuclear industry’s long-term resistance to using robots for repair and decommissioning. Plant operators continued to favour mechanical manipulators operated by humans, separated by both protective clothing and thick lead-heavy glass.

Since Fukushima, attitudes to robots in the nuclear industry have changed, but remote control remains the main strategy. Pratt says humans remain generally better at control and are far better at dealing with the unstructured environments within many older and sometimes damaged installations.

The long-term aim of those working on these systems is to provide robots with greater degrees of autonomy over time. For example, surveillance drones will be flown with operator supervision but the machines are acquiring more intelligence to let them avoid obstacles so they need only respond to simpler, high-level commands. This can overcome one of the problems created by intermittent communications. One instance of this approach was shown when UK-based Createc Robotics recently deployed a drone at Chernobyl and Fukushima, choosing in the latter case to survey the partly collapsed turbine hall for a test of its semi-autonomous mapping techniques.

To get more robots into play in the UK, the NDA has focused its procurement more heavily on universities and smaller specialist companies, some of which are adapting technologies from the oil and gas industry.

The NDA expects it will take many years to develop effective robot decommissioning and handling technologies. It has put together a broad roadmap that currently extends to 2040. Radiation susceptibility remains an issue. Visual sensors are highly susceptible to damage by ionising radiation. However, a mixture of smarter control systems and redundancy should make it possible to at least move robots to a safe point for repair should they start to show signs of failure.

Another design strategy being pursued both in the UK and Japan is to build robots as though they are a moving, smart Swiss-army knife: armed with a variety of detachable limbs and subsystems so they can adapt to conditions and possibly even perform some on-the-fly repairs to themselves.

Slowly, the technology is appearing that can handle and at least put the waste out of harm’s way for a long time, though you might wonder why the process has taken decades to get to this stage of development. ……………. (Goes on to laser developments, again, far from a sure thing.) https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2022/02/plutonium-problems-won-t-go-away/

February 17, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Fukushima continuing, Reference | 1 Comment

Brief summary of Engineering and Technology’s fine article on UK’s plutonium problem.

At the end of 2021, the UK closed the curtain on one part of its nuclear waste legacy and took a few more steps towards a longer-lasting legacy. A reprocessing plant, built at the cost of £9bn in the 1990s to repackage waste plutonium from pressurised water reactors in the UK and around the world for use in new fuel, finally converted the last remaining liquid residue from Germany, Italy and Japan into glass and packed it into steel containers.

It will take another six years to ship it and all the other waste that belongs to the reactor owners, who are contractually obliged to take it back.

Even when the foreign-owned waste has headed back home, the UK will still play host to one of the largest hoards of plutonium in the world, standing at more than 110 tonnes. It amounts to a fifth of the world’s total and a third of the global civilian stockpile of 316 tonnes.

Despite operating a smaller nuclear fleet than France’s, the UK has 1.5 times more plutonium. It was never meant to end this way. The long-term dream was for fission-capable fuel to keep going round in a circle, only topped up with virgin uranium when necessary. The plutonium produced during fission could itself sustain further fission in the right conditions.


However, fast-breeder reactors that would be needed to close the cycle remain largely experimental, even in countries such as Russia where their development continues. Driven by both safety concerns and worries about nuclear proliferation that might result from easier access to separated and refined plutonium-239, the West abandoned its fast-breeder programmes
decades ago.

 Engineering & Technology 15th Feb 2022

https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2022/02/plutonium-problems-won-t-go-away/

February 17, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, UK | 3 Comments

Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) demands deadly plutonium stockpile be placed ‘out of use’

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) of the UK and Ireland has called for Britain’s deadly Plutonium stockpile to be placed ‘out of use’, for an early end to reprocessing, and for greater accountability and more transparency about the long-term management of radioactive materials arising from decommissioning operations at the UK’s former nuclear power plants.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is the agency charged with making safe and cleaning closed civil nuclear plants. It has just published a draft Business Plan for 2022-5 and invited comments.

In its response, the NFLA also expressed its disappointment that reprocessing at Sellafield did not end in 2020 as was originally promised and that there isstill no clear end date.

The NFLA also wants to see a comprehensive inventory of all radioactive materials created for each site, including those arising from decommissioning operations, and for local authorities to be consulted over arrangements for their transport and management.

 NFLA 3rd Feb 2022

February 5, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, UK | Leave a comment

Saving the world at plutonium mountain


Such hidden repositories might be found elsewhere, wherever nations have tested nuclear weapons or carried out other research on fissile materials such as plutonium. Will all that scientific collaboration and goodwill be readily available?

It is true, as the plaque at Degelen Mountain attests, that the world is safer thanks to this operation. But it is also true that the scars left by nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War will last for millennia.

Saving the world at plutonium mountain https://thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/18/08/2013/saving-the-world-at-plutonium-mountain Published: 18 Aug 2013 -Updated: 30 Jan 2022,  By David E Hoffman and Eban Harrell Last October, at the foot of a rocky hillside near here, at a spot known as Degelen Mountain, several dozen Kazakh, Russian and American nuclear scientists and engineers gathered for a ceremony. After a few speeches, they unveiled a three-sided stone monument, etched in English, Russian and Kazakh, which declared:

“1996-2012. The world has become safer.”

The modest ribbon-cutting marked the conclusion of one of the largest and most complex nuclear security operations since the Cold War. The secret mission was to secure plutonium — enough to build a dozen or more nuclear weapons — that Soviet authorities had buried at the testing site years before and forgotten, leaving it vulnerable to terrorists and rogue states.

The effort spanned 17 years, cost $150m and involved a complex mix of intelligence, science, engineering, politics and sleuthing. This account is based on documents and interviews with Kazakh, Russian and US participants, and reveals the scope of the operation for the first time. The effort was almost entirely conceived and implemented by scientists and government officials operating without formal agreements among the nations involved. Many of these scientists were veterans of Cold War nuclear-testing programs, but they overcame their mistrust and joined forces to clean up and secure the Semipalatinsk testing site, a dangerous legacy of the nuclear arms race.

They succeeded, but what they accomplished here may have to be done all over again if the walls of secrecy ever come down and reveal security vulnerabilities in North Korea or Iran, or in other states that have developed the atomic bomb, including China, Pakistan, India and Israel.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union carried out more than 450 nuclear explosive tests at the Semipalatinsk site, which sprawls over a portion of the Kazakh plains slightly larger than Connecticut. Most of the tests involved atomic explosions, while others were carried out to improve weapons safety, in part by examining the impact of conventional explosives on plutonium metal. A network of tunnels built under Degelen Mountain became the epicentre of these tests.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russians gradually abandoned the site. Economic conditions in the main city near the testing grounds grew desperate, and residents began to search the tunnels for metal to sell. They used mining equipment to steal copper from the electrical wiring and to scavenge rails that once carried nuclear devices far underground for explosive testing.

Conceived in 2000, Operation Groundhog suffered repeated delays, including work stoppages during the frigid winters. But with the nuclear ambitions of Al Qaeda coming into clearer view in documents seized during the invasion of Afghanistan, US officials felt the urgency of preventing plutonium from falling into the wrong hands. The concrete dome over the holes at the Balapan was completed in August 2003.

Just a few miles away, however, Degelen Mountain was still unattended, and scavengers continued to burrow in close proximity to weapons-grade plutonium. When a senior Pentagon official, Andy Weber, met with Russian and Kazakh officials in mid-2003 to discuss extending projects to the mountain, the Russians were still ambivalent and did not reveal all they knew. 

They offered the locations of three more experiments, at two sites. If work at these sample locales went well, and if the Russians felt confident that the Americans were not committing espionage, Minatom would consider sharing more information.

As it turned out, these sample locations weren’t in Degelen Mountain at all but in a nearby bunker. They involved three “kolbas” — large metal cylinders, insulated with Kevlar and fiberglass and designed to contain explosions equivalent to the force of 440 pounds of dynamite. They were most often placed deep within Degelen Mountain for plutonium tests, but three had been used above ground and were stored in the bunker.

The US Defence Threat Reduction Agency agreed to work on the three kolbas,one of which had been pried open by scavengers, and to defer action on Degelen Mountain. Operation Matchbox, begun in 2004, secured the kolbas by filling them with a concrete mixture.

In the spring of 2005, US scientists finally got the breakthrough they’d been waiting for when Russia released all the remaining information about Degelen Mountain. But it wasn’t pretty. 

The mountain contained about 220 pounds of recoverable plutonium — enough for more than a dozen nuclear bombs. Even more surprising, Russia revealed that at one location, the Soviets had left behind some high-purity plutonium and equipment that could be used to build a nuclear weapon. 

This disclosure alarmed US officials but the Russians were extremely cautious. In their reports to the US side, they used code names for 16 sites in and around Degelen Mountain, ranking them according to proliferation risk. Three of the sites were found to present the “maximum risk” if they fell into the wrong hands and were given the code names X, Y and Z. 

One day, while crews were drilling a hole at the Y site, a concrete retaining wall collapsed, exposing the plutonium and equipment. Eventually, material from two of the sites was sent back to Russia, and the third was entombed in concrete.

Scavengers continued to raid the tunnels until 2008, when Kazakhstan finally declared Degelen Mountain an “exclusion zone” — which allowed US officials to erect warning signs — and when Kazakh security forces got the authority to expel the scavengers. 

Still, the work remained slow. In a 2010 summit in Washington that included 47 nations, President Obama arranged a personal meeting with Nazarbayev. Officials of the two nations then met with their Russian counterparts. The United States, Russia and Kazakhstan agreed in confidence to complete the work at Semipalatinsk by the next summit, scheduled for March 2012 in Seoul.

This high-level commitment galvanised the operation. For the first time, Kazakh crews worked through the winters, and American officials stayed on site in Semipalatinsk with them, while increased US funding meant four crews could work simultaneously instead of one. Obama, Nazarbayev and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev announced the completion of the work in Seoul, though the news was overshadowed by Obama’s “open mike” incident with Medvedev.

Such hidden repositories might be found elsewhere, wherever nations have tested nuclear weapons or carried out other research on fissile materials such as plutonium. Will all that scientific collaboration and goodwill be readily available? 

It is true, as the plaque at Degelen Mountain attests, that the world is safer thanks to this operation. But it is also true that the scars left by nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War will last for millennia.

February 4, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, politics international | Leave a comment