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Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare. 

The history of nuclear power’s imagined future: Plutonium’s journey from asset to waste, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By William Walker, September 7, 2021 

Bill Gates is deluded in believing that the plutonium-fuelled, sodium-cooled, “Versatile Power Reactor” in which his company Terrapower is involved, has a commercial future.[18] His support is also unwelcome insofar as it helps to perpetuate the myth that plutonium is a valuable fuel, posing acceptable risks to public safety and international security. Reprocessing is a waste-producing, not an asset-creating, technology. It adds cost rather than value. It merits no future when seen in this way.

‘ ………..Plutonium’s history  and its legacies are the subject of a recent book by Frank von Hippel, Masafumi Takubo and Jungmin Kang.[1] Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare. It is an impressive study of technological struggle and ultimate failure, and of plutonium’s journey from regard as a vital energy asset to an eternally troublesome waste

Toward heaven or hell?  The conflict over plutonium’s future…………..

From creation of a future to preservation of the present

Construction of the British and French reprocessing plants at Sellafield and Cap de la Hague proceeded throughout the 1980s.[6] Their primary justification—preparing for the introduction of fast breeder reactors—had lost all credibility by the time of their completion. The German, British and French breeder programs had been cut back, soon to be abandoned, and in 1988 Germany cancelled plans to build its own bulk reprocessing plant at Wackersorf. Although Japan’s confidence in its fast breeder reactor program also waned, it was kept alive to avoid disrupting construction of the reprocessing plant at Rokkasho-mura.

Faced by the plutonium economy’s demise, reprocessing was re-purposed by its supporters to provide the industry and its governmental backers with reason not to do the obvious—abandon ship. Creating an essential future was replaced by a rationale designed to preserve and activate the newly established reprocessing infrastructures. ……. plutonium’s energy value could be realised through its replacement of fissile uranium in “mixed-oxide fuels” for use in existing thermal reactors………

Thirty years after the Euro-Japanese reprocessing/recycling system’s launch, the experiment can only be judged a failure. The reasons are set out in persuasive detail in von Hippel, Takubo and Kang’s book. It is a system undergoing irreversible contraction after a long struggle, involving heavy expenditure and many troubles. Germany and the UK have already exited, the UK shutting its THORP reprocessing plant in 2018 and delaying its Magnox reprocessing plant’s closure only because of the coronavirus pandemic.[9] Instead, its Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has been given the costly (more than $138 billion) and long-lasting (more than 100 years) task of returning Sellafield and Dounreay to “green-field sites.”

Japan’s engagement with reprocessing and plutonium recycling was already deeply troubled before the Fukushima accident closed reactors: The Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant was operating only fitfully, MOX recycling was not happening, and plutonium separated from Japanese spent fuels in France and the UK was marooned there, probably indefinitely, by inability to manage its return in MOX fuel (cutting a very long story short).[10] The declared intention to soldier on with bulk reprocessing seems increasingly bizarre and is surely unsustainable. ……….

France’s national utility EDF, saddled with enormous debts, is striving to reduce its exposure to reprocessing.  It is symptomatic that no spent fuel discharged from EDF-owned and -operated reactors in the UK, including those under construction at Hinkley Point, will be reprocessed………

The move away from reprocessing is being accompanied by a transition towards dry-cask storage of spent fuels. It entails their removal from water pools at reactors after a few years’ cooling and their insertion in large concrete or stainless steel containers, ………

 Reprocessing continues in India and Russia, if fitfully, where fast reactor programmes are still being funded. Japan’s commitment remains. ………

There is particular concern about China’s engagement with reprocessing and its dual civil and military purposes…………

……………. Separated plutonium is a waste

The authors remind readers of the persistent dangers that reprocessing poses to public safety and international security: the risks of accident and exposure to radiation, the proliferation of weapons, the possibility of diversion into nuclear terrorism, and the undesirable complication of radioactive waste disposal. “In our view, it is time to ban the separation of plutonium for any purpose” (their italics) is their concluding sentence. This may be the case, but the US and other governments are unlikely to respond to their call. They have so much else to contend with—climate change, pandemics, economic distress, arms racing on a long list—leaving a ban on plutonium separation low in their priorities. They are also all too aware of past failures to institute such bans,  whether in commercial or military domains, from the Carter Policy in the 1970s to the stalled Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty in the 1990s and subsequently.

Another conclusion cries out to be drawn from this book. Plutonium’s separation and usage for energy purposes was an experiment that can now decisively be pronounced a failure.  Experience has shown that separated civil plutonium is a waste. The book’s first of many figures, reproduced below,  is the most telling. Up to the mid-1980s, the global stock of separated plutonium was predominately military and held in warheads, peaking at around 200 tons. It now exceeds 500 tons. The increase is due to the ballooning of civil stocks as plutonium’s separation has outstripped consumption. The global stock of separated plutonium now includes material extracted from the post-Cold War dismantlement of Russian and US nuclear warheads that is also effectively a waste.[16]

Civil plutonium is therefore not an asset, it is not “surplus to requirement;” it is a waste.  This is the message that needs to be proclaimed and acknowledged, especially by governments, utilities, and industries desiring that nuclear power have a solid future and make a contribution to the avoidance of global warming. For reasons set out in von Hippel’s recent article in the Bulletin, Bill Gates is deluded in believing that the plutonium-fuelled, sodium-cooled, “Versatile Power Reactor” in which his company Terrapower is involved, has a commercial future.[18] His support is also unwelcome insofar as it helps to perpetuate the myth that plutonium is a valuable fuel, posing acceptable risks to public safety and international security. Reprocessing is a waste-producing, not an asset-creating, technology. It adds cost rather than value. It merits no future when seen in this way.

Even if all civil reprocessing ceased tomorrow, the experiment would have bequeathed the onerous task of guarding and disposing of over 300 tons of plutonium waste, and considerably more when US and Russia’s military excess is added in. Proposals come and go.  Burn it in specially designed reactors? Blend it with other radioactive wastes? Bury it underground after some form of immobilization? Send it into space? All options are costly and hard to implement. Lacking ready solutions, most plutonium waste will probably remain in store above ground for decades to come, risking neglect. How to render this dangerous waste eternally safe and secure is now the question.     Extensive References . https://thebulletin.org/premium/2021-09/the-history-of-nuclear-powers-imagined-future-plutoniums-journey-from-asset-to-waste/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ThursdayNewsletter09272021&utm_content=NuclearRisk_HistoryOfNuclearPowersImagined_09102021


September 28, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, Reference | Leave a comment

Latest on America’s plutonium ”pits” costly fiasco

Stumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE’s uphill climb of nuclear modernization, https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/572477-stumbling-plutonium-pit-project-reveals-does-uphill-climb-of  BY TOM CLEMENTS, — 09/15/21   

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is mounting a full-court press for the “modernization” of the nuclear weapons production complex, an effort packed with capital-intensive projects on which contractors thrive. A cornerstone of modernization, a new plant to make the plutonium “pits” for new nuclear weapons already faces problems. Yet, Congress and the Biden administration are moving ahead despite gathering storm clouds.

“Pits” are the hollow plutonium spheres that cause the initial nuclear explosion in all U.S. nuclear weapons. New pits would first go into the new W87-1 warhead for a new missile, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), meant to replace the U.S.’s current ICBMs. Second in the queue is a submarine launched missile. Both weapons have their detractors, but pits could prove to be their ultimate stumbling block.

The new pit plant will be at DOE’s sprawling Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. Already SRS’s plans face massive cost increases and schedule delays, causing skepticism in Congress.

In 2020, NNSA presented an initial cost estimate of $4.6 billion for the SRS pit plant. By June of this year that cost estimate had more than doubled to a stunning $11 billion. Timelines continue to slip as well. NNSA has quietly admitted in its fiscal year 2022 budget request that the original 2030 operational date to produce 50 pits had slipped until between 2032 and 2035.  

While more schedule setbacks loom, the NNSA has tried to save some time by cutting corners. The most obvious is the rushed manner in which they conducted a legally required environmental analysis of the project. In their haste, NNSA failed to analyze environmental justice concerns and impacts of pit production across the DOE complex. Of paramount concern, disposal of plutonium waste has not been reviewed. Public interest groups filed a lawsuit against DOE on June 29, demanding preparation of a required Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. A response to the lawsuit is due on Sept. 27. 

None of this should be surprising. SRS lacks pit production experience and has a record of problems. Perhaps that is why the NNSA is also having the Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico to also produce pits. That lab has been assigned to ramp up its current pit production with a goal of producing 30 pits per year by 2026 ¾ a tall task for a facility plagued by plutonium-handling problems.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, knows all of this. He highlighted the agency’s chronic inability to carry out modernization projects earlier this year saying, “in nearly every instance, NNSA programs have seen massive cost increases, schedule delays, and cancellations of billion-dollar programs. This must end.”

On Aug. 31, when speaking about pit production in a Brookings Institution virtual event, Smith went further saying that “Savannah River sort of gives me an involuntary twitch after the whole MOX disaster. I don’t trust them.” 

And what a disaster it was. MOX was a plutonium fuel plant at SRS that NNSA wasted $8 billion on before termination in 2018. Smith’s mistrust is well placed— his committee should investigate the failed construction of the MOX plant before handing the same facility billions more for a new project.

In the event at Brookings, Smith defended his lack of action on pits and the GBSD, saying that decisions about them are in a “tactical pause” until the cost of the SRS plutonium bomb plant is clearer and as we wait and see if President Biden will honor his pledge to reduce reliance on nuclear weapons, of which almost 4,000 are deployed or in active reserve. 

Of course, Smith is incorrect as there is no pause in either the projects or the spending. If he wants a real pause, he must act. Without strong leadership and oversight, the programs could quickly develop the same inertia as MOX leaving us with another multi-billion fiasco with nothing to show for it.

He and his colleagues should fight to reduce fiscal year 2022 funding authorization in the National Defense Authorization Act for the SRS pit plant ($710 million), Los Alamos pit production ($1 billion) and the W87-1 warhead ($691 million for NNSA and $2.6 billion for the Department of Defense). He should review the reuse of 15,000 existing pits stored at DOE’s Pantex Plant in Texas. He should also demand a proper environmental review of pit production.

Waiting for Biden is an inadequate strategy. Action is needed now by Chairman Smith and Congress to increase our collective security by fulfilling their leadership responsibilities. Requiring a true pause on pit production would not only stop money from being wasted on this project but would act as a wake-up call that nuclear weapons projects don’t have a blank check from Congress.

Tom Clements is the director of Savannah River Site Watch a public interest organization in Columbia, South Carolina, which monitors U.S. Department of Energy management of weapon-usable materials, nuclear weapons production, and clean-up of high-level nuclear waste, with a focus on the Savannah River Site.

September 16, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Reclassifying nuclear wastes, and other ethical and technical problems at Hanford

“DOE sort of granted itself the authority to do that reclassifying,”

“We’re not convinced of any need to reclassify any of the high-level wastes,” said Ecology Department spokesman Randy Bradbury.

“We believe this rule lays the groundwork for the department to abandon significant amounts of radioactive waste in Washington State precipitously close to the Columbia River,”

Reclassifying a significant amount of high-level waste into low-activity waste is key to reaching that 80%, the report said.

Ultimately, this project, originally scheduled to be finished this decade, will likely be completed in the latter half of this century. In other words, it could take 70 to 75 years (mid-1990s to 2069) to deal with the 56 million gallons of radioactive tank waste created by 42 years of manufacturing plutonium.

A plan to turn radioactive waste into glass logs has raised a lot of questions, many of which don’t appear to have public answers. CrossCut, by John Stang, August 16, 2021”……………………..Whistleblower alarm

Red flags have also been raised over the quality of construction of the new treatment facilities.

In 2010, Walt Tamosaitis, a senior manager at a subcontractor designing the pretreatment plant, URS Corp., alerted his superiors and managers at lead contractor Bechtel to a risk of hydrogen gas explosions that could bend and burst pipes in the plant, spraying radioactive fluids. He also pointed out that radioactive sludge could clog the pipes and tanks in the plant, increasing the chance of uncontrolled releases of radiation. And he raised the issue of corrosion causing leaks in the pretreatment plant.

Tamosaitis’ superiors told the Energy Department that the design problems were fixed as of July 1, 2010 — over Tamosaitis’ protests, but in time for Bechtel to collect a $5 million bonus from the department.

For raising the alarm, he was demoted and exiled to an insignificant offsite job, Tamosaitis alleged in a lawsuit against Bechtel. He alleged illegal retaliation, eventually reaching a $4.1 million settlement with the company. Meanwhile, in 2011 and 2012, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a technical advisory body monitoring DOE, plus the Government Accounting Office, confirmed Tamosaitis’ concerns.

In 2015, the Energy Department announced that it would not have the entire complex operational by 2022, the deadline at the time. Department officials pointed to the same issues Tamosaitis had identified in 2010.

Also on hold is construction of the pretreatment plant — a prerequisite to the high-level waste glassification project, which is scheduled to begin production in 2023, according to the current state and federal agreement.

What the future holds

The U.S. Department of Energy has been giving contradictory signals about new plans for dealing with some of the high-level waste. 

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August 17, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment

Secrecy, delays, budget problems as USA tries to clean up Hanford, the most radioactively polluted site in the nation.

Hanford has 56 million gallons of radioactive waste in those 177 underground tanks at this remote decommissioned nuclear production site near the Columbia River in Benton County

Those leak-prone tanks are arguably the most radiologically contaminated place in the Western Hemisphere.

At least 1 million gallons of radioactive liquids have leaked into the ground, seeping into the aquifer 200 feet below and then into the Columbia River, roughly seven miles away. Since the mid-1990s, Hanford’s plans involve mixing the waste  in the tanks with benign melted glass and then storing it in glass logs.

Today, the project’s budget is at least $17 billion, and the first glassification plant for low-activity waste is scheduled to start up in late 2023. So far, the federal government has spent $11 billion on the glassification project, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative agency of Congress.

That one plant, however, will only handle 40% to 50% of the low-activity wastes, depending on who is doing the estimating. A second low-activity waste plant or a stil-to-be-determined new approach is needed to the remaining wastes.is What will happen to the rest of the waste is still up for debate.

All of the single-shell tanks and the majority of the double-shell tanks are way past their design lives

Cleaning up nuclear waste at Hanford: Secrecy, delays and budget debates

A plan to turn radioactive waste into glass logs has raised a lot of questions, many of which don’t appear to have public answers.
CrossCut, by John Stang, August 16, 2021 Stephen Wiesman has worked for about three decades on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s project to convert the radioactive waste in its huge underground tanks into safer glass logs.

Although he’s retired now and involved in an advisory capacity, he understands the project — and its ongoing challenges — better than almost anyone.

Wiesman sees this task with a mix of cautious optimism, frustration, sympathy for the people dealing with its complexities, and a deep belief that the tank wastes must be dealt with. “There isn’t an emotion that I haven’t felt,” he said.

The project faces a cluster of challenges: financial, technical and political. And the secrecy around the plans to solve these issues makes it difficult for anyone to gauge whether the most polluted spot in the nation will ever become a benign stain on the landscape of eastern Washington.  

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August 17, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, USA | Leave a comment

Canada’s political leaders oblivious to the dangers in making plutonium accessible?

Our political leaders seem oblivious to the dangers to the entire planet that could result from widespread access to plutonium. If Canada can access plutonium, so can any other country. If many countries have access to plutonium, the possession of nuclear weapons must be regarded as a real possibility. In a nuclear-armed world, any conflict anywhere can turn into a nuclear war. The stakes could not be greater

Plutonium: from Nagasaki to New Brunswick,    https://nbmediacoop.org/2021/08/09/plutonium-from-nagasaki-to-new-brunswick/ by Gordon Edwards, August 9, 2021   Today, August 9, is the 76th anniversary of the US military’s atomic bombing of the City of Nagasaki in Japan. The nuclear explosive used was plutonium.

The destructive power of plutonium was first revealed on July 16, 1945, when a multicoloured mushroom cloud bloomed over the American desert – the first atomic explosion, top-secret, and much more powerful than expected. Robert Oppenheimer, the man in charge, was awestruck and thought of the words from the Bhagavad-Gita: “I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds.”

Three weeks and three days later, on August 9, 1945, the City of Nagasaki was destroyed with a single plutonium bomb.

Plutonium is named for Pluto, god of the dead. It is the primary nuclear explosive in the world’s nuclear arsenals. Even the largest nuclear warheads, based on nuclear fusion, require a plutonium “trigger” mechanism. Access to plutonium is key to the construction of such thermonuclear weapons. Removing the plutonium from nuclear warheads renders them impotent.

Plutonium is not found in nature but is created inside every nuclear power reactor,

including the one at Point Lepreau on the Bay of Fundy. Plutonium is a human-made derivative of uranium. A metallic element heavier than uranium, it is created inside the nuclear fuel along with hundreds of lighter, fiercely radioactive by-products – the fragments of uranium atoms that have been split.

The countries that have nuclear weapons – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, UK, France, Russia and China) as well as India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea – have all learned how to separate plutonium from used nuclear fuel for use in weapons. This is done by dissolving the solid fuel assemblies in a hot, highly radioactive chemical bath from which the plutonium is extracted using basic scientific procedures. Any technology for extracting plutonium from used fuel is called reprocessing.

Nuclear advocates have long dreamed of using plutonium as a reactor fuel, thereby increasing the options for new reactor designs and magnifying the longevity of the nuclear age. The problem is, once plutonium has been extracted, it can be used either for weapons or for fuel at the discretion of the country possessing it. Policing methods can be circumvented. As Edward Teller has observed: “There is no such thing as a foolproof system because the fool is always greater than the proof.”

That’s how India exploded its first atomic bomb in 1974, by using plutonium created in a Canadian research reactor given as a gift to India and a reprocessing plant provided by the US. Both the reactor and the reprocessing plant had been designated as “peaceful” facilities intended for non-military use. India declared that the bomb it had detonated was a “Peaceful Nuclear Explosive.”

After the Indian blast, it was quickly determined that several other clients of Canadian technology – South Korea, Argentina, Taiwan, and Pakistan – were also in a position to develop a plutonium-based bomb program. Swift and decisive international action forestalled those threats. In particular, South Korea and Taiwan were discouraged by their US ally from pursuing reprocessing.

Shaken by these shocking developments, in 1977 US President Jimmy Carter – the only head of state ever trained as a nuclear engineer – banned the civilian extraction of plutonium in America and tried to have reprocessing banned worldwide, because of the danger that this nuclear bomb material could fall into the hands of criminals, terrorists, or militaristic regimes bent on building their own nuclear explosive devices. As one White House adviser remarked, “We might wake up and find Washington DC gone, and not even know who did it.”

Japan is the only country without nuclear weapons that extracts plutonium from used nuclear fuel, much to the dismay of its neighbours. South Korea is not allowed to do so, despite repeated efforts by South Korea to obtain permission from the US to use a type of reprocessing technology called “pyroprocessing.” Pyroprocessing is currently undergoing experimental tests at a US nuclear laboratory in Idaho.

Now, New Brunswick has been enticed to take the plutonium plunge. The company Moltex Energy, recently established in Saint John from the UK, wants to use plutonium as a nuclear fuel in a type of reactor that is not yet fully conceptualized. The plutonium would be extracted from the thousands of solid irradiated nuclear fuel bundles currently stored at NB Power’s Point Lepreau reactor using a version of the pyroprocessing technology that South Korea has so far been denied.

On a site right beside the Bay of Fundy, the highly radioactive metallic fuel bundles would be dissolved in molten salt at a temperature of several hundred degrees. A strong electrical current would be used to strip the plutonium metal and a few other elements (less than one percent of the mass) out of the dissolved fuel.

After the government of Canada gave $50.5 million to support the Moltex project in March this year, nine retired US government advisors – all of them experts in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons – wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May, urging him to authorize an independent review of the international implications of the proposed New Brunswick plutonium scheme.

These nine experts, who have worked under six different US presidents, both Republican and Democrat, are deeply concerned that Canada’s support for reprocessing and the civilian use of plutonium could seriously undermine delicate and precarious global non-proliferation efforts that have been underway for many decades.

No reply from the Canadian government has so far been received, although Trudeau’s office acknowledged receipt of the letter and said that the matter has been entrusted to Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan.

Without any word from these two ministers, Moltex posted a response to the US experts’ letter on their corporate web site, disputing some of the claims made in the letter to Trudeau. In particular, Moltex claims that their proposed technology is not usable for nuclear weapons purposes because the plutonium is not pure, but mixed with other contaminants that cannot easily be removed.

The Moltex response has prompted another letter to Trudeau from the US non-proliferation experts, correcting this and several other misleading comments from Moltex and reiterating their call for a fully independent expert review of the non-proliferation aspects of the Moltex proposal.

Our political leaders seem oblivious to the dangers to the entire planet that could result from widespread access to plutonium. If Canada can access plutonium, so can any other country. If many countries have access to plutonium, the possession of nuclear weapons must be regarded as a real possibility. In a nuclear-armed world, any conflict anywhere can turn into a nuclear war. The stakes could not be greater.

Citizens of New Brunswick and all Canadians who realize the importance of this issue can write to our Prime Minister in support of a non-proliferation review of the Moltex proposal, and raise this matter with candidates and at the door during the next federal election campaign. We can all raise awareness of the legacy of Nagasaki and do our best to ensure that New Brunswick is not implicated by going ahead with the Moltex plutonium extraction scheme.

Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, is based in Montreal.

August 10, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, politics | 1 Comment

Moltex Energy’s nuclear pyroprocessing project with plutonium would produce weapons grade material and encourage weapons proliferation

Will Canada remain a credible nonproliferation partner?  https://thebulletin.org/2021/07/will-canada-remain-a-credible-nonproliferation-partner/

By Susan O’DonnellGordon Edwards | July 26, 2021 


Susan O’Donnell
Susan O’Donnell is a researcher specializing in technology adoption and environmental issues at the University of New Brunswick.

Gordon Edwards
Gordon Edwards is a mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility,

The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a nonproliferation partner.

Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.

On May 25, nine US nonproliferation experts sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern that by “backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the Government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime that Canada has done so much to strengthen.”

The nine signatories to the letter include senior White House appointees and other US government advisers who worked under six US presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; and who hold professorships at the Harvard Kennedy School, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin, George Washington University, and Princeton University.

Plutonium is a human-made element created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. It’s a “Jekyll and Hyde” kind of material: on the one hand, it is the stuff that nuclear weapons are made from. On the other hand, it can be used as a nuclear fuel. The crucial question is, can you have one without the other?

India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974 using plutonium extracted from a “peaceful” Canadian nuclear reactor given as a gift many years earlier. In the months afterwards, it was discovered that South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan, and Argentina—all of them customers of Canadian nuclear technology—were well on the way to replicating India’s achievement. Swift action by the US and its allies prevented these countries from acquiring the necessary plutonium extraction facilities (called “reprocessing plants”). To this day, South Korea is not allowed to extract plutonium from used nuclear fuel on its own territory—a long-lasting political legacy of the 1974 Indian explosion and its aftermath—due to proliferation concerns.

Several years after the Indian explosion, the US Carter administration ended federal support for civil reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the US out of concern that it would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by making plutonium more available. At that time, Canada’s policy on reprocessing also changed to accord with the US policy—although no similar high-level announcement was made by the Canadian government.

Moltex is proposing to use a type of plutonium extraction technology called “pyroprocessing,” in which the solid used reactor fuel is converted to a liquid form, dissolved in a very hot bath of molten salt. What happens next is described by Moltex chairman and chief scientist Ian Scott in a recent article in Energy Intelligence. “We then—in a very, very simple process—extract the plutonium selectively from that molten metal. It’s literally a pot. You put the metal in, put salt in the top, mix them up, and the plutonium moves into the salt, and the salt’s our fuel. That’s it. … You tip the crucible and out pours the fuel for our reactor.”

The federal government recently supported the Moltex project with a $50.5-million grant, announced on March 18 by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc in Saint John.

At the event, LeBlanc and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs described the Moltex project as “recycling” nuclear waste, although in fact barely one-half of one per cent of the used nuclear fuel is potentially available for use as new reactor fuel. That leaves a lot of radioactive waste left over.

From an international perspective, the government grant to Moltex can be seen as Canada sending a signal—giving a green light to plutonium extraction and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

The US experts’ primary concern is that other countries could point to Canada’s support of the Moltex program to help justify its own plutonium acquisition programs. That could undo years of efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that might want to join the ranks of unofficial nuclear weapons states such as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The Moltex project is especially irksome since its proposed pyroprocessing technology is very similar to the one that South Korea has been trying to deploy for almost 10 years.

In their letter, the American experts point out that Japan is currently the only nonnuclear-armed state that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, a fact that is provoking both domestic and international controversy.

In a follow-up exchange, signatory Frank von Hippel of Princeton University explained that the international controversy is threefold: (1) The United States sees both a nuclear weapons proliferation danger from Japan’s plutonium stockpile and also a nuclear terrorism threat from the possible theft of separated plutonium; (2) China and South Korea see Japan’s plutonium stocks as a basis for a rapid nuclear weaponization; and (3) South Korea’s nuclear-energy R&D community is demanding that the US grant them the same right to separate plutonium as Japan enjoys.

Despite the alarm raised by the nine authors in their letter to Trudeau, they have received no reply from the government. The only response has come from the Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan. His reply to a Globe and Mail reporter is similar to his earlier rebuttal in The Hill Times published in his letter to the editor on April 5: the plutonium extracted in the Moltex facility would be “completely unsuitable for use in weapons.”

But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in nonnuclear weapon states.

Similarly, a 2009 report by nonproliferation experts from six US national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military, called PUREX.

In 2011, a US State Department official responsible for US nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries went further by stating that pyroprocessing is just as dangerous from a proliferation point of view as any other kind of plutonium extraction technology, saying: “frankly and positively that pyro-processing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.”

And, despite years of effort, the IAEA has not yet developed an approach to effectively safeguard pyroprocessing to prevent diversion of plutonium for illicit uses.

Given that history has shown the dangers of promoting the greater availability of plutonium, why is the federal government supporting pyroprocessing?

It is clear the nuclear lobby wants it. In the industry’s report, “Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada,” released in March, the reprocessing (which they call “recycling”) of spent nuclear fuel is presented as a key element of the industry’s future plans.

Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious Canadians should sit up and take notice. Parliamentarians of all parties owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability. To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy.

Countless Canadians have urged Canada to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that came into force at the end of January this year. Ironically, the government has rebuffed these efforts, claiming that it does not want to “undermine” Canada’s long-standing effort to achieve a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Such a treaty would, if it ever saw the light of day (which seems increasingly unlikely), stop the production of weapons usable materials such as highly enriched uranium and (you guessed it) plutonium.

So, the Emperor not only has no clothes, but his right hand doesn’t know what his left hand is doing.

July 27, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, Reference, reprocessing, weapons and war | Leave a comment

As the world starts to panic over climate change, nuclear evangelists offer spurious solutions.

I too wish that the things that the nuclear industry says about itself were true—I wish it was green and renewable. I wish that there weren’t multiple uranium mining sites around the world with thousands of tons of uranium tailings abandoned and open to the elements, continuing to harm the health of generations born long after mining ceased.

I wish that it didn’t take immense, carbon-intensive mining projects to extract uranium from the Earth, and then again to “deposit” the spent nuclear fuel from reactors back half a kilometer underground.

Nuclear Stockholm Syndrome, https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/07/09/nuclear-stockholm-syndrome/

BY ROBERT JACOBS  9 July 21,  Bhaskar Sunkara’s recent opinion piece extoling the virtues of nuclear power and castigating its opponents as paranoid and ill-informed, is clearly motivated by his deep concerns over the dire impacts of global warming, which loom closer by the hour. Unfortunately, his arguments amount to little more than regurgitated industry talking points, in their traditional form of a Jeremiad.

First, Sunkara poses the decline of the nuclear industry in the West as an achievement of progressive political movements. Specifically, he cites the decline of nuclear power in Germany as attributable to a “Green party-spearheaded campaign.” This decline has been more reasonably ascribed to both market conditions and missteps by nuclear industry giants such as Westinghouse and AREVA. From its inception, nuclear power has been heavily dependent on government subsidies to appear economically viable (subsidies such as insurance and the disposal of waste largely configured as taxpayer burdens).

Rather than succumbing to its political opponents on the left, the industry has been sunk by its structural economic dysfunctions. In the US, this has sparked schemes to secure additional taxpayer subsidies in legislative fixes such as guaranteed returns for nuclear utilities, and outright bribery of legislators for taxpayer bailouts of failing companies.

The most simplistic recitation of nuclear industry talking points is when Sunkara dismisses concerns about nuclear waste, and extolls the mythic separation between “civilian” and “military” nuclear technologies. He asserts that most nuclear waste “can be recycled to generate more electricity,” an assertion that goes back more than half a century and has been ritualistically recited by an army of nuclear industry PR professionals before him…yet here we are 50 years later and very little spent nuclear fuel has actually been recycled. The most successful nuclear recycling nation is France which, nevertheless, is experiencing a “nuclear exit” and is unlikely to ever use this recycled fuel. AREVA, the French nuclear giant, has gone bankrupt. Reprocessing facilities like the Rokkasho plant here in Japan have never functioned properly, unless you consider their role enabling the stockpiling of plutonium by Japan to hedge against future weapon needs to be an elemental goal.

There is a difference between what can be done, and what actually happens. Rather than being recycled, hundreds of thousands of metric tons of spent nuclear fuel await “final disposal” in deep geological repositories. Some have been waiting for over 70 years. Just last week, a panel advising the EU on categorizing nuclear plant as “green” energy, and thus eligible to receive EU funding as a “sustainable investment,” concluded that the problems of nuclear waste preclude that designation.

I would point out that even though plastics manufacturers assure us that most plastic can be recycled, we still seem to be living a world with ever increasing amounts of plastic waste. Their greenwashing has not eventuated in a world full of plastics made from recycled materials. The market reality is that it is cheaper to manufacture new plastic than it is to manufacture plastic from recycled materials. Similarly, it is cheaper to discard spent nuclear fuel than it is to reprocess it.

Sunkara dismisses the irrevocable link between military and civilian nuclear technologies as imaginary. First, let’s consider the present imbrication. A 2019 Atlantic Council study places the value of the US civilian nuclear complex to the US national security apparatus at $26 billion annually simply in terms of the human capital assets: “In terms of nuclear technology innovation, export capacity, and geopolitics, a vibrant civilian nuclear energy sector is a critically important national security asset.”

However, the civilian operation of nuclear power plants also places future generations at military risk. I have written that, historically, nuclear reactors were “born violent.” That is to say, they were invented by the Manhattan Project in the early 1940s to manufacture plutonium for use in nuclear weapons, and were instrumental in killing almost 100,000 people in 1945. The “first” American commercial atomic plant in Shippingport, PA that went critical in 1958, was actually the 14th industrial nuclear reactor built in the United States, the other 13 only manufactured plutonium, which by then formed the fissile cores of thousands of nuclear weapons.

In nuclear reactors used to make electricity, this plutonium is not separated out for use in weapons. However, all nuclear power plants remain plutonium production factories. The fact that most of those tons of plutonium remain in the spent fuel rods does not mean they will stay there forever. Thousands of years from now, some government or military may dig up the spent fuel in our deep geological repositories and separate that plutonium out to build nuclear weaponry. All it would take is the technology (technology we currently possess) and the will. We continue to manufacture that plutonium—perhaps for them to weaponize. Every nuclear power plant that operates adds to that inventory; more than 99% of existing plutonium was manufactured in nuclear reactors. In 1962, the US successfully detonated a nuclear weapon assembled with just such “reactor-grade” plutonium. Our generation’s use of nuclear power silently stockpiles fissile material that will remain militarily viable for millennia.

I too wish that the things that the nuclear industry says about itself were true—I wish it was green and renewable. I wish that there weren’t multiple uranium mining sites around the world with thousands of tons of uranium tailings abandoned and open to the elements, continuing to harm the health of generations born long after mining ceased. I wish that it didn’t take immense, carbon-intensive mining projects to extract uranium from the Earth, and then again to “deposit” the spent nuclear fuel from reactors back half a kilometer underground. Estimates before construction began at Onkalo spent fuel repository in Finland were that the site would entail a “half-billion-euro construction project will generate some 2,500 person years of employment,” and would take 100 years to complete. That is just to contain the spent fuel from five nuclear power plants. The United States, by contrast, has 94 commercial nuclear power plants. There is still no actual plan for the astonishingly large and carbon-intensive site it will take to bury the more than 140,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, with some hope of containing it for thousands of generations of future human beings. This doesn’t include the thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel from the nuclear reactors operated by the US military to provide the fissile cores of more than 70,000 nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

The panic-inducing impacts of anthropic climate change spark a desperate need for immediate reassurance and calming: we want to fix it now. We long to turn some corner that will change the situation. It is unlikely that the same short-sighted military-industrial technophilia that brought us to this climate crisis will flip over and provide us the urgent path to its resolution. Technological evangelists have been auditioning for the part of Climate Change Savior to anyone who will listen. Some proffer a Reagan-era Star Wars pitch: they will fill the skies with material to block the enemy (in this case sunlight rather than Soviet ICBMs). These geoengineering quick-fix schemes are more likely to cause unplanned outcomes than to achieve their missions.

At one time nuclear weapon producers imagined they too could geoengineer the planet to shape it to human desires. They tested the use of nuclear weapons to sculpt harbors into coastlines, and to release natural gas trapped in rock formations. These experiments led to some of the most significant radiological distributions and contaminated sites in the wide panoply of nuclear testing. Still, hyper-capitalist techno utopians like Elon Musk envision the key to human habitation on Mars is the detonation of a massive arsenals of thermonuclear weapons to shape it to our needs.

The nuclear industry will ignore its market dilemmas as long as taxpayers continue to backstop its investors. However, to believe that this massive, for-profit, military-based industry has concern for the welfare of the Earth and its inhabitants is akin to believing the plastic industry is actually beavering away to make the plastic waste disappear. Repackaging their talking points out of a genuine concern for living creatures is a resource they will continue to tap so long as it flows freely. Sunkara would do better to advocate for the mass social movements that have shifted giant industries towards social welfare in the past rather than preaching that the industries themselves are saviors. Time is obviously short, wrong turns are catastrophic.


Robert (Bo) Jacobs
 is a historian at the Hiroshima Peace Institute and Graduate School of Peace Studies at Hiroshima City University. He has written and edited multiple books and articles on nuclear history and culture including, The Dragon’s Tail: Americans Face the Atomic Age, and Filling the Hole in the Nuclear Future: Art and Popular Culture Respond to the Bomb. He is a founder and a principal researcher of the Global Hibakusha Project, studying radiation exposed communities around the world. His book, Nuclear Bodies: The Global Hibakusha, will be published by Yale University Press in 2022. His Global Hibakusha blog can be found here.

July 13, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, climate change, Reference | Leave a comment

The danger of Japan’s increasing stockpile of plutonium

Japan’s plutonium stockpile climbs to 46.1 tons in 2020, first rise in 3 years, July 10, 2021 (Mainichi Japan)     TOKYO — Japan was in possession of a total of some 46.1 metric tons of plutonium at home and abroad as of the end of 2020, the Cabinet Office reported to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on July 9. The amount represents an increase of about 0.6 tons from the previous year.

The JAEC had stated that the country would reduce its plutonium stockpile under guidelines revised in July 2018, and the amount in its possession had been on a downward trend since then. The reported increase was the first in three years.

Plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel generated at nuclear plants, for the purpose of recycling. However, the international community has expressed concerns over Japan’s large plutonium stockpile, saying it could be converted into nuclear weapons.

According to the Cabinet Office report, the latest increase in the nation’s plutonium stockpile was due to the addition of roughly 0.6 tons that had been stored in Britain after being extracted from nuclear fuel but which had not been included in the stockpile due to delayed procedures. As the extraction of plutonium in Britain and France has been completed, Japan has no more unrecorded stockpiles, according to the report.

Plutonium is mixed with uranium to produce mixed oxide (MOX) fuel for use at nuclear power plants. However, none of the nuclear plants in Japan used MOX fuel in 2020. As a result, the domestic stockpile remained at the same level as the previous year, at roughly 8.9 tons.

If the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, goes into full operation in fiscal 2023, Japan’s plutonium stockpile will increase. However, only 0.6 tons of plutonium is expected to be extracted from spent fuel at the plant in fiscal 2023………….https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20210710/p2a/00m/0na/018000c

July 12, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

Nuclear injustice in New Mexico must end.

The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,100 years, but the WIPP safety assessment period is limited to 10,000 years.

Nuclear injustice in NM must end     https://www.abqjournal.com/2408088/nuclear-injustice-in-nm-must-end-ex-proposed-storage-sites-for-snf-could-create-dangers-far-greater-than-those-posed-by-wipp.html BY DENNIS MCQUILLAN    11 July 21,

New Mexico residents have long endured disproportionately high health and environmental risks from nuclear energy and weapons programs. It is time for the federal government to protect citizens of the state with the greatest possible level of safeguards.

Instead of performing critical site-suitability analyses for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and for two proposed spent nuclear fuel (SNF) “storage” sites near WIPP, federal agencies attempted to validate their predetermined conclusions that these sites were safe. The agencies either disregarded or rewrote siting criteria to accommodate their decisions to approve these sites.

WIPP is intended to provide deep geologic isolation of nuclear waste from the biosphere and, indeed, waste is buried 2,150 feet underground in 250-million-year-old salt beds. The following WIPP safety deficiencies, however, need resolution:

The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,100 years, but the WIPP safety assessment period is limited to 10,000 years.

• For years, the federal government asserted that petroleum resources were minimal to nonexistent below WIPP. But, today, WIPP is surrounded by oil and gas operations in the most prolific oil patch in the United States. The risk that oil drilling may penetrate the repository, or that liquids injected during fracking, advanced recovery and produced water disposal may migrate into WIPP salt beds, must be reevaluated.

 Risks from an artesian brine aquifer, deep-seated salt dissolution and from highly pressurized brine pockets that underlie the WIPP salt beds are not fully assessed.

The geochemical mobility of plutonium and uranium, and possible interactions with carbon dioxide generated by waste decomposition and with geologic brine, needs further analysis.

Additional prevention is needed for such human errors as the 2014 accident where plutonium contaminated nitrate salt packed with organic kitty litter generated heat, burst a waste drum, contaminated 21 workers, and released americium and plutonium into the atmosphere.

WIPP is certified to accept only national defense waste. The federal government, after spending decades and millions of dollars, failed to establish a permanent disposal site for spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors. SNF is highly radioactive and toxic due to fission byproducts created during power generation.\

The federal government now proposes to license two commercial facilities near WIPP, one in New Mexico and one in Texas, for the “storage” of SNF for up to 120 years. Unlike the deep geologic isolation at WIPP, the proposed SNF storage facilities are less than 100 feet deep, in young alluvium, and in a region with shallow groundwater, as well as concerns about ground subsidence and sinkholes. These two sites are geologically unsuitable even for SNF “storage” and it is possible that decades of “storage” could morph into permanent disposal. Excavating SNF that has deteriorated underground for 120 years is a lurid scenario. Or will future engineers build a Chernobyl-style sarcophagus with the hope that it isolates the waste for 24,000 years?

The proposed “storage” sites for SNF could create dangers far greater than those posed by WIPP. Agricultural and petroleum industry organizations expressed concerns that the SNF facilities could damage their livelihoods. Attorney General Balderas sued the federal government to stop these ill-conceived and dangerous proposals to store SNF.

The legacy of nuclear injustice in New Mexico must end. The federal government must:

• Resolve WIPP safety deficiencies

• Disallow the reckless “storage” of spent nuclear fuel

• Establish one or more permanent repositories for SNF that provide geologic isolation

July 12, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

A nuclear start-up company could undermine Canada’s global non-proliferation policy: experts

A nuclear start-up company could undermine Canada’s global non-proliferation policy: experts

the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in non-nuclear weapon states.

Similarly, a 2009 report by non-proliferation experts from six U.S. national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military, called PUREX.

By SUSAN O’DONNELL AND GORDON EDWARDS , THE HILL TIMES, JUNE 11, 2021www.ccnr.org/undermining_non-proliferation_2021.pdf

Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious Canadians should sit up and take notice. Parliamentarians of all parties owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability. To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy.

The recent effort to persuade Canada to sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has stimulated a lively debate in the public sphere. At the same time, out of the spotlight, the start-up company Moltex Energy received a federal grant to develop a nuclear project in New Brunswick that experts say will undermine Canada’s credibility as a non-proliferation partner.

Moltex wants to extract plutonium from the thousands of used nuclear fuel bundles currently stored as “high-level radioactive waste” at the Point Lepreau reactor site on the Bay of Fundy. The idea is to use the plutonium as fuel for a new nuclear reactor, still in the design stage. If the project is successful, the entire package could be replicated and sold to other countries if the Government of Canada approves the sale.On May 25, nine U.S. non-proliferation experts sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing concern that by “backing spent-fuel reprocessing and plutonium extraction, the Government of Canada will undermine the global nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime that Canada has done so much to strengthen.

The nine signatories to the letter include senior White House appointees and other U.S. government advisers who worked under six U.S. presidents: John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama; and who hold professorships at the Harvard Kennedy School, University of Maryland, Georgetown University, University of Texas at Austin, George Washington University, and Princeton University.

Plutonium is a human-made element created as a byproduct in every nuclear reactor. It’s a “Jekyll and Hyde” kind of material: on the one hand, it is the stuff that nuclear weapons are made from. On the other hand, it can be used as a nuclear fuel. The crucial question is, can you have one without the other?

India exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1974 using plutonium extracted from a “peaceful” Canadian nuclear reactor given as a gift many years earlier. In the months afterwards, it was discovered that South Korea, Pakistan, Taiwan and Argentina—all of them customers of Canadian nuclear technology—were well on the way to replicating India’s achievement. Swift action by the U.S. and its allies prevented these countries from acquiring the necessary plutonium extraction facilities (called “reprocessing plants”). To this day, South Korea is not allowed to extract plutonium from used nuclear fuel on its own territory—a long-lasting political legacy of the 1974 Indian explosion and its aftermath—due to proliferation concerns.

Several years after the Indian explosion, the U.S. Carter administration ended federal support for civil reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in the U.S. out of concern that it would contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons by making plutonium more available. At that time, Canada’s policy on reprocessing also changed to accord with the U.S. policy—although no similar high-level announcement was made by the Canadian government.

Moltex is proposing to use a type of plutonium extraction technology called “pyroprocessing,” in which the solid used reactor fuel is converted to a liquid form, dissolved in a very hot bath of molten salt. What happens next is described by Moltex chairman and chief scientist Ian Scott in a recent article in Energy Intelligence. “We then—in a very, very simple process—extract the plutonium selectively from that molten metal. It’s literally a pot. You put the metal in, put salt in the top, mix them up, and the plutonium moves into the salt, and the salt’s our fuel. That’s it. … You tip the crucible and out pours the fuel for our reactor.”

The federal government recently supported the Moltex project with a $50.5-million grant, announced on March 18 by Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc in Saint John. At the event, LeBlanc and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs described the Moltex project as “recycling” nuclear waste, although in fact barely one-half of one per cent of the used nuclear fuel is potentially available for use as new reactor fuel. That leaves a lot of radioactive waste left over.

From an international perspective, the government grant to Moltex can be seen as Canada sending a signal—giving a green light to plutonium extraction and the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel.

The U.S. experts’ primary concern is that other countries could point to Canada’s support of the Moltex program to help justify its own plutonium acquisition programs. That could undo years of efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of countries that might want to join the ranks of unofficial nuclear weapons states such as Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. The Moltex project is especially irksome since its proposed pyroprocessing technology is very similar to the one that South Korea has been trying to deploy for almost 10 years.

In their letter, the American experts point out that Japan is currently the only non-nuclear-armed state that reprocesses spent nuclear fuel, a fact that is provoking both domestic and international controversy.

In a follow-up exchange, signatory Prof. Frank von Hippel of Princeton University explained that the international controversy is threefold: (1) The United States sees both a nuclear weapons proliferation danger from Japan’s plutonium stockpile and also a nuclear terrorism threat from the possible theft of separated plutonium; (2) China and South Korea see Japan’s plutonium stocks as a basis for a rapid nuclear weaponization; and (3) South Korea’s nuclear-energy R&D community is demanding that the U.S. grant them the same right to separate plutonium as Japan enjoys.

Despite the alarm raised by the nine authors in their letter to Trudeau, they have received no reply from the government. The only response has come from the Moltex CEO Rory O’Sullivan. His reply to a Globe and Mail reporter is similar to his earlier rebuttal in The Hill Times published in his letter to the editor on April 5: the plutonium extracted in the Moltex facility would be “completely unsuitable for use in weapons.”

But the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has stated that “Nuclear weapons can be fabricated using plutonium containing virtually any combination of plutonium isotopes.” All plutonium is of equal “sensitivity” for purposes of IAEA safeguards in non-nuclear weapon states.

Similarly, a 2009 report by non-proliferation experts from six U.S. national laboratories concluded that pyroprocessing is about as susceptible to misuse for nuclear weapons as the original reprocessing technology used by the military, called PUREX.

In 2011, a U.S. State Department official responsible for U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries went further by stating that pyro-processing is just as dangerous from a proliferation point of view as any other kind of plutonium extraction technology, saying: “frankly and positively that pyro-processing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.”

And, despite years of effort, the IAEA has not yet developed an approach to effectively safeguard pyroprocessing to prevent diversion of plutonium for illicit uses.

Given that history has shown the dangers of promoting the greater availability of plutonium, why is the federal government supporting pyroprocessing?

It is clear the nuclear lobby wants it. In the industry’s report, “Feasibility of Small Modular Reactor Development and Deployment in Canada,” released in March, the reprocessing (which they call “recycling”) of spent nuclear fuel is presented as a key element of the industry’s future plans.

Important national and international issues are at stake, and conscientious Canadians should sit up and take notice. Parliamentarians of all parties owe it to their constituents to demand more accountability. To date however, there has been no democratic open debate or public consultation over the path Canada is charting with nuclear energy.

Countless Canadians have urged Canada to sign the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that came into force at the end of January this year. Ironically, the government has rebuffed these efforts, claiming that it does not want to “undermine” Canada’s long-standing effort to achieve a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty. Such a treaty would, if it ever saw the light of day (which seems increasingly unlikely), stop the production of weapons usable materials such as Highly Enriched Uranium and (you guessed it) Plutonium. 

So, the Emperor not only has no clothes, but his right hand doesn’t know what his left hand is doing.

Susan O’Donnell is a researcher specializing in technology adoption and environmental issues at the University of New Brunswick and is based in Fredericton.Gordon Edwards is a mathematician, physicist, nuclear consultant, and president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and is based in Montreal.

June 12, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, politics, technology | Leave a comment

Production of new plutonium triggers at Savannah River Site to mean more radioactive trash for South Carolina?

Advocates fear tons of nuclear waste from new Savannah River Site project,  Charleston City Paper 5th June 2021 A plan to restart a defunct South Carolina nuclear facility with a new mission has safety advocates worried about tons of new nuclear waste in an area of the state with a checkered radioactivity record.

“The essential problem with the work at the Savannah River Site (SRS) is there have been a number of newfangled ideas to either downgrade or reuse plutonium or other nuclear byproducts,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, executive director of Savannah Riverkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy group. “Often, that just means we bring in more waste that is indefinitely stored in South Carolina and often not used even for the purpose it was brought in for.”

The new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) budget includes a request for $603 million toward the production of plutonium pits, a key component in nuclear warheads, at SRS. Nearly all pits currently in the U.S. stockpile were
produced from 1978 to 1989 because the U.S. had only one active site for decades to produce new pits. The recent funding request marks a 37% increase from 2020, which moves the department closer to its goal of restoring pit production and producing 50 pits per year by 2030.

Under the project plan, SRS would repurpose its unfinished Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility as a proposed Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF).

https://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/story/advocates-fear-tons-of-nuclear-waste-from-new-savannah-river-site-project

June 7, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, weapons and war | 1 Comment

New research highlights need for international standards to safeguard against plutonium ”hot” particles.

New study delves into issues relating to soils around Maralinga region,  https://www.portlincolntimes.com.au/story/7262167/study-shows-radioactive-particles-from-nuclear-testing-persist-at-maralinga, Luca Cetta,  

A new study has highlighted the first international standards needed to safeguard against contamination from nuclear testing, and a Kokatha Elder says the impact of nuclear testing at Maralinga cannot be forgotten.

More than 100 kilograms of highly toxic uranium and plutonium was dispersed in the form of tiny ‘hot’ radioactive particles after nuclear tests were conducted by the British in remote areas of South Australia, including Maralinga.

Scientists have new evidence these radioactive particles persist in soils to this day, more than 60 years after the detonations.

The British detonated nine nuclear bombs and conducted nuclear tests in South Australia between 1953 and 1963.

There had previously been limited understanding in how plutonium was released from the particles into the environment for uptake by wildlife around Maralinga.

The new study, published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, led by Monash University researchers, warns the hot particles are more complex and varied than previously thought.

Currently, there are no international best practice standards for the environmental impact or risk assessment of plutonium and uranium-rich hot particles released during nuclear testing.

This study provides the first mechanism for future modelling to predict the environmental life cycle of plutonium from hot particles, including how they are slowly broken down in the environment over a long period, and potentially exposed to animals and humans through inhalation, soil or ground water.

“The resulting radioactive contamination and cover-up continues to haunt us,” lead study author from Monash University’s School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment Dr Megan Cook said.

“The results of our study profoundly changes our understanding of the nature of hot particles at Maralinga – despite the fact that those were some of the best studied particles anywhere in the world.”

Sue Haseldine, who grew up in the Koonibba district in the 1950s and 1960s, has long campaigned against nuclear testing and weapons.

She has been part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), an organisation awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017, and has spoken about her experience growing up in the shadow of nuclear testing at Maralinga.

Ms Haseldine said the people in the area had long-suspected there were health issues deriving from those tests.

“Experts would tell you that radiation will not last for 60 years, nor 60,000, but for a long, long time, and it is still causing troubles today,” she said.

“The old ladies told me these cancers and illnesses were not around before the bomb and over the years I have seen the rates go up.

“There are a lot more younger people with heart problems – it is known that radiation problems can cause heart diseases – and it is coming down through the generations.”

Ms Haseldine said the testing and fallout from Maralinga was not spoken about enough and that was why her campaigning with ICAN was so important.

“It is important to let people know what the government’s legacy is to us through their testing and we have to keep the past alive to protect the future, so they don’t do it to future generations,” she said.

“I grew up in the Koonibba district, but the radiation didn’t just stay in the Maralinga area.”

Study co-author professor Joël Brugger said the study invited a revisit of the implications of earlier results for the fate of plutonium at Maralinga.

“Understanding the fate of hot particles in the arid environment setting of the Australian outback is critical for securing Australia in case of nuclear incidents in the region, and returning all the native land affected by the British tests to the traditional Anangu owners of the Maralinga Tjarutja lands.”

The research team used synchrotron radiation at the Diamond Light Source near Oxford in the United Kingdom to decipher the physical and chemical make-up of the particles.

At Monash, they dissected some of the hot particles using a nano-sized ion beam, and further characterised the complex make-up of these particles down to the nano-size.

“It’s a major breakthrough,” study co-author associate professor Vanessa Wong said.

“Our observations of the hot particles from Maralinga provide a clear explanation for the complex and variable behaviour of different hot particles with respect to the chemical and physical weathering that has hindered predictive modelling to this day.

“This study provides a mechanistic foundation for predicting the future evolution of hot particles from high-temperature nuclear events and the likely exposure pathways.”

The researchers demonstrated the complexity of the hot particles arose from the cooling of polymetallic melts from thousands of degrees Celsius in the explosion cloud during their formation.

“We found that the particles contained low-valence plutonium-uranium-carbon compounds that are typically highly reactive – which is unexpected for particles that survived for over 30 years in the environment,” corresponding author Dr Barbara Etschmann said.

May 27, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, AUSTRALIA, environment | Leave a comment

Plutonium ”hot particles” are not as stable as we assumed. Research on contaminated landscape around Maralinga in outback South Australia.

We sliced open radioactive particles from soil in South Australia and found they may be leaking plutonium  https://theconversation.com/we-sliced-open-radioactive-particles-from-soil-in-south-australia-and-found-they-may-be-leaking-plutonium-161277

Barbara Etschmann, Research officer, Monash University

Joel Brugger, Professor of Synchrotron Geosciences, Monash University

Vanessa Wong, Associate Professor, Monash University

May 21, 2021 Almost 60 years after British nuclear tests ended, radioactive particles containing plutonium and uranium still contaminate the landscape around Maralinga in outback South Australia.

These “hot particles” are not as stable as we once assumed. Our research shows they are likely releasing tiny chunks of plutonium and uranium which can be easily transported in dust and water, inhaled by humans and wildlife and taken up by plants.

A British nuclear playground

After the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, other nations raced to build their own nuclear weapons. Britain was looking for locations to conduct its tests. When it approached the Australian government in the early 1950s, Australia was only too eager to agree.

Between 1952 and 1963, Britain detonated 12 nuclear bombs in Australia. There were three in the Montebello Islands off Western Australia, but most were in outback South Australia: two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga.

Besides the full-scale nuclear detonations, there were hundreds of “subcritical” trials designed to test the performance and safety of nuclear weapons and their components. These trials usually involved blowing up nuclear devices with conventional explosives, or setting them on fire.

The subcritical tests released radioactive materials. The Vixen B trials alone (at the Taranaki test site at Maralinga) spread 22.2 kilograms of plutonium and more than 40 kilograms of uranium across the arid landscape. For comparison, the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki contained 6.4 kilograms of plutonium, while the one dropped on Hiroshima held 64 kilograms of uranium.

These tests resulted in long-lasting radioactive contamination of the environment. The full extent of the contamination was only realised in 1984, before the land was returned to its traditional owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja people.

Hot potatoes

Despite numerous cleanup efforts, residual plutonium and uranium remains at Maralinga. Most is present in the form of “hot particles”. These are tiny radioactive grains (much smaller than a millimetre) dispersed in the soil.

Plutonium is a radioactive element mostly made by humans, and the weapons-grade plutonium used in the British nuclear tests has a half life of 24,100 years. This means even 24,100 years after the Vixen B trials that ended in 1963, there will still be almost two Nagasaki bombs worth of plutonium spread around the Taranaki test site.

Plutonium emits alpha radiation that can damage DNA if it enters a body through eating, drinking or breathing.

In their original state, the plutonium and uranium particles are rather inactive. However, over time, when exposed to atmosphere, water, or microbes, they may weather and release plutonium and uranium in dust or rainstorms.

Until recently, we knew little about the internal makeup of these hot particles. This makes it very hard to accurately assess the environmental and health risks they pose.

Monash PhD student Megan Cook (the lead author on our new paper) took on this challenge. Her research aimed to identify how plutonium was deposited as it was carried by atmospheric currents following the nuclear tests (some of it travelled as far as Queensland!), the characteristics of the plutonium hot particles when they landed, and potential movement within the soil.

Nanotechnology to the rescue

Previous studies used the super intense X-rays generated by synchrotron light sources to map the distribution and oxidation state of plutonium inside the hot particles at the micrometre scale.

To get more detail, we used X-rays from the Diamond synchrotron near Oxford in the UK, a huge machine more than half a kilometre in circumference that produces light ten billion times brighter than the Sun in a particle accelerator.

Studying how the particles absorbed X-rays revealed they contained plutonium and uranium in several different states of oxidation – which affects how reactive and toxic they are. However, when we looked at the shadows the particles cast in X-ray light (or “X-ray diffraction”), we couldn’t interpret the results without knowing more about the different chemicals inside the particles.

To find out more, we used a machine at Monash University that can slice open tiny samples with a nanometre-wide beam of high-energy ions, then analyse the elements inside and make images of the interior. This is a bit like using a lightsaber to cut a rock, only at the tiniest of scales. This revealed in exquisite detail the complex array of materials and textures inside the particles.

Much of the plutonium and uranium is distributed in tiny particles sized between a few micrometres and a few nanometres, or dissolved in iron-aluminium alloys. We also discovered a plutonium-uranium-carbon compound that would be destroyed quickly in the presence of air, but which was held stable by the metallic alloy.

This complex physical and chemical structure of the particles suggests the particles formed by the cooling of droplets of molten metal from the explosion cloud.

In the end, it took a multidisciplinary team across three continents — including soil scientists, mineralogists, physicists, mineral engineers, synchrotron scientists, microscopists, and radiochemists — to reveal the nature of the Maralinga hot particles.

From fire to dust

Our results suggest natural chemical and physical processes in the outback environment may cause the slow release of plutonium from the hot particles over the long term. This release of plutonium is likely to be contributing to ongoing uptake of plutonium by wildlife at Maralinga.

Even under the semi-arid conditions of Maralinga, the hot particles slowly break down, liberating their deadly cargo. The lessons from the Maralinga particles are not limited to outback Australia. They are also useful in understanding particles generated from dirty bombs or released during subcritical nuclear incidents.

There have been a few documented instances of such incidents. These include the B-52 accidents that resulted in the conventional detonation of thermonuclear weapons near Palomares in Spain in 1966, and Thule in Greenland in 1968, and the explosion of an armed nuclear missile and subsequent fire at the McGuire Air Force Base in the USA in 1960.

Thousands of active nuclear weapons are still held by nations around the world today. The Maralinga legacy shows the world can ill afford incidents involving nuclear particles.

May 22, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD | Leave a comment

China building uneconomic closed fuel cycle nuclear breeder reactors – for plutonium for nuclear weapons?

the kind of plutonium breeder reactors being built on Changbiao, they are among the least cost-effective ways to derive energy from nuclear power.

That raises the question of why China is developing these reactors for its energy use if it doesn’t make sense economically. ……. “They may be dual-purpose.

Concerns grow over China nuclear reactors shrouded in mystery

No one outside China knows if two new nuclear reactors that are under construction and that will produce plutonium serve a dual civilian-military use.  By Al Jazeera Staff, 19 May 21,

Like many of the over 5,000 small islands dotting China’s coastline, the islet of Changbiao is unremarkable in its history and geography. Jutting out from the shoreline of Fujian province like a small right-footed footprint, it has only gained recognition recently – and even then among a small handful of experts – for being home to China’s first two CFR-600 sodium-cooled fast-neutron nuclear reactors……..

The two reactors being built on Changbiao are closed fuel cycle nuclear breeder reactors. They produce plutonium. That plutonium could be reprocessed and used as a fuel source for other nuclear reactors. It could also be used to produce nuclear warheads, a lot of nuclear warheads, and produce them very quickly.

But no one outside of the Chinese officials and companies overseeing the projects knows if the intended use is purely for civilian energy, or if it serves a dual purpose for the country’s perceived nuclear deterrent needs.

That question gained even more urgency this week after a United States official accused Beijing of resisting bilateral talks with Washington on nuclear risk reduction.

The reason these breeder reactors are shrouded in mystery is that China, which had been transparent about its civilian plutonium programme until recently, stopped annual voluntary declarations to the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] on its stocks of civilian plutonium in 2017 and has not added the reactors to the agency’s database to date.

While there are occasionally reporting delays of up to a year among the nine members party to the IAEA voluntary guidelines for the management of plutonium, Frank von Hippel, a senior nuclear research physicist and co-founder of Princeton University’s Program on Science & Global Security, said China’s lack of transparency is beginning to draw concern among non-proliferation experts and governments around the world.

“This is unique at this point,” von Hippel said of the silence over China’s plutonium activities.

I’m worried’

A recent paper (PDF) co-authored by von Hippel and several other nuclear non-proliferation experts drew attention to this issue. The findings stated that China could “conservatively produce 1,270 nuclear weapons by 2030 simply by exploiting the weapons-grade plutonium this program will produce” or even increase that by a factor of two or more if China used highly enriched uranium or composite uranium-plutonium cores from the reactors in bombs and missiles.

This would feed a huge increase from the number of estimated nuclear warheads in China’s arsenal, currently thought to be around 300 to 350.

“Well, I’m worried,” von Hippel said. “They may be dual-purpose.”

While the IAEA management guidelines have been something of a failure over the years, at least they “did provide transparency”, von Hippel says. Now, everyone but China is in the dark about the plutonium programme and it is starting to draw attention……..

The China Atomic Energy Authority, the agency responsible for reporting to the IAEA, did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions about why China stopped reporting on its civilian plutonium programme. Similar requests from Al Jazeera made through China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Energy Administration and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology were likewise not acknowledged…….

The country has 50 nuclear reactors operating and 14 other conventional reactors under construction, not counting the two breeder reactors, according to IAEA data. China undershot its previous five-year target by around seven gigawatts, so appears to be making a major push to advance its nuclear power capacity over the next five to ten years.

But both Roth and von Hippel said, based on the experience of other countries that have tried the kind of plutonium breeder reactors being built on Changbiao, they are among the least cost-effective ways to derive energy from nuclear power.

“There’s a strong case, and we’ve seen this in other countries, that reprocessing [spent fuel] is not economical,” Roth said. “The reality is it’s cheaper not to reprocess your fuel than it is to reprocess. A once-through fuel cycle with low enriched uranium is a more economical approach.”

That raises the question of why China is developing these reactors for its energy use if it doesn’t make sense economically.

If the reactors are dual-use, it would, particularly from a China concerned about the adequacy of its nuclear deterrent, says von Hippel.

China’s actions, however, may spur others in the region, namely Japan and Korea, to speed up their own plutonium reactor plans.

“I think it’s in China’s best interest not to go down that path,” Roth said. “From an economic perspective, from an environmental perspective, and the impact it has regionally … they seem set on pursuing this reprocessing path, but I don’t think it is going to help them with their nuclear power goals.”

I think it’s in China’s best interest not to go down that path.

A commercial plutonium ‘timeout’?

The way forward, Roth says, is for the US to engage with China to find out why it stopped the declarations to the IAEA and pursue a path to disincentivise others in the region from pursuing plutonium reprocessing.

“I would hope that the Biden administration is choosing to engage with China on non-proliferation issues,” Roth said.

Requests made by Al Jazeera through the US Embassy in Beijing about whether the administration of US President Joe Biden was engaging with China on its halt in reporting on its civilian plutonium programme were declined.

These questions are becoming acutely important, von Hippel said, at a time of increased tension between the US and China, the potential flashpoint of Taiwan, and a growing chorus suggesting the two superpowers are engaged in a Cold War 2.0.

Whether there is interest in China discussing these matters with the US or countries in the region is unknown.

On Tuesday, the issue was thrown back into the spotlight after Robert Wood, US ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, accused Beijing of being unwilling “to engage meaningfully” with Washington on nuclear weapons talks.

“Despite China’s dramatic build-up of its nuclear arsenal, it continues to resist discussing nuclear risk reduction bilaterally with the United States – a dialogue we have with Russia,” Wood told a UN conference.

Beijing’s representative reportedly pushed back on the claim, telling the same conference that China is “ready to carry out positive dialogue and exchange with all parties”.

The increasing acrimony that characterised US-China relations under the administration of President Donald Trump didn’t exactly instil confidence in engagement on nuclear security policy, von Hippel said.

Gregory Kulacki, a senior analyst on nuclear policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists who is now based in Japan, said that the good level of engagement built up between the US and China on nuclear policy prior to the early 2000s is something of a distant memory now, with the US side bearing much of the blame for the shroud of silence from China.

“The [George W] Bush Jr administration’s decision [in 2002] to withdraw from the ABM [1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile] treaty pretty much gutted any real interest in China in pursuing arms control talks of any substance with the United States,” Kulacki said.

The Bush administration’s moves were made due to its commitments to deploy missile

defence systems in what it saw as protecting against “growing missile threats” at the time, from a potentially nuclear-armed North Korea. China saw those actions as restricting its own military capabilities in its back yard.

According to von Hippel and his co-authors, the US should work with Japan, South Korea and China on declaring a “commercial plutonium timeout” with offers to delay breeder reactors and commercial plutonium programmes if China agrees to do the same.

If all of these countries could increase the amount of transparency related to uranium holdings and related activities, it would boost confidence for all parties to scale back those programmes, he said.

The trick is figuring out who would take the first steps.  https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/5/19/concerns-grow-over-china-nuclear-reactors-shrouded-in-mystery

May 20, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, business and costs, China, weapons and war | 1 Comment

USA govt to delay removing plutonium nuclear waste from the decommissioned Hanford nuclear reservation

Washington State Nuclear Site to Delay Moving Waste Off-Site  https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/washington/articles/2021-05-13/washington-state-nuclear-site-to-delay-moving-waste-off-site

The U.S. Department of Energy and its regulators have proposed extending the deadline to ship waste contaminated with plutonium off the decommissioned Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.

By Associated Press|May 13, 2021, RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy and its regulators have proposed extending the deadline to ship waste contaminated with plutonium off the decommissioned Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state.

The proposal moves the deadline back 20 years — from 2030 to 2050 — to ship the waste to a national repository in New Mexico for permanent disposal, the Tri-City Herald reported Wednesday.

“We realized that the existing milestone dates were unachievable,” said John Price, a manager with the state Department of Ecology, which is a regulator for the nuclear site.

The Hanford nuclear reservation produced plutonium for nuclear weapons during the Cold War and World War II, leaving 56 million gallons (212 million litres) of radioactive waste in underground tanks. The 580-square-mile (1,500-square-kilometer) site is located in Richland, Washington about 200 miles (322 kilometers) southeast of Seattle.

Price also said there were some newly proposed deadlines that the Department of Ecology “enthusiastically” supports, including a commitment by the Department of Energy’s to start shipping some waste as early as 2028.

The federal agency and its regulators — the Department of Ecology and the Environmental Protection Agency — set waste cleanup plans and deadlines for the nuclear site.

The latest proposed deadlines cover suspected transuranic waste, or debris contaminated with plutonium, including about 11,000 containers stored at a Hanford complex.

Waste with artificially-made elements above uranium on the periodic table is also classified as transuranic.

A public meeting to discuss the latest proposed changes and answer questions was scheduled for Thursday.

May 15, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment