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Japan’s massive accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable plutonium

Japan’s intentional plutonium surplus https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2017/08/39a5a7121fcf-opinion-japans-intentional-plutonium-surplus.html ByAlan J. Kuperman, KYODO NEWS , 17 Aug 17,

 Japan owns nearly 50 tons of separated plutonium. That is enough for over 5,000 nuclear weapons. Yet Japan has no feasible peaceful use for most of this material.

This raises an obvious question: How did a country that forswears nuclear arms come to possess more weapons-usable plutonium than most countries that do have nuclear arsenals?

Some argue it is the unforeseen consequence of unexpected events, such as the failure of Japan’s experimental Monju breeder reactor, or the Fukushima accident that compelled Japan to shut down traditional nuclear power plants.

Indeed, Kyodo News quoted a former U.S. government official last year making such a claim. He asserted that “The accumulation of plutonium by Japan was not anticipated by Congress or any agency of the U.S. government,” when Washington in 1988 gave Japan 30-year approval to separate plutonium from spent fuel originally supplied by the United States or irradiated in U.S.-technology reactors.

But that is false.

Japan’s massive accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable plutonium was foreseen three decades ago.

In testimony submitted to the U.S. Congress in March 1988, and published that year, Dr. Milton Hoenig of the Nuclear Control Institute — where I worked at the time — documented how Japan’s planned separation of plutonium from spent fuel greatly exceeded its planned recycling of such plutonium in fresh fuel. The inevitable result, he predicted, was that Japan would accumulate enormous amounts of separated plutonium.

As his testimony detailed: “By the end of the year 2017…according to present plans, about 255 metric tons of Japanese-produced plutonium will have been separated in reprocessing plants in Japan and Europe. The announced plans of Japan demand the use of some 130 metric tons of separated plutonium as reactor fuel through the year 2017, mainly in light-water reactors in a commercial program to begin in 1997.”

Thus, he concluded, Japan’s declared plans would yield 125 tons of surplus plutonium by 2017.

Subsequent unforeseen events did not cause Japan’s huge plutonium stockpile, as the U.S. official claimed, but actually reduced it somewhat. Notably, Japan has postponed the commercial operation of its huge Rokkasho reprocessing plant, which could separate another eight tons of plutonium each year.

The hard truth is that creation of a plutonium surplus was not an accident but the inevitable consequence of Japanese nuclear policy that the U.S. government acquiesced to in 1988.

Why did Japan intentionally acquire a stockpile of plutonium sufficient for thousands of nuclear weapons? Neighboring countries suspect it is to provide Japan the option of quickly assembling a large nuclear arsenal. Not surprisingly, both China and South Korea are now pursuing options to separate more plutonium from their own spent nuclear fuel.

Three urgent steps are necessary to avert this latent regional arms race. First, Japan should terminate its Rokkasho plant, which is an economic, environmental, and security disaster. The last thing Japan needs is more surplus plutonium.

Second, the United States and Japan should seize the opportunity of their expiring 1988 deal to renegotiate new terms restricting plutonium separation, which could also serve as a model for ongoing U.S.-South Korea nuclear negotiations.

Finally, innovative thinking is needed to shrink Japan’s plutonium stockpile. In light of the worldwide failure of breeder reactors, and post-Fukushima constraints on traditional reactors, most of Japan’s plutonium will never become fuel. Instead, it should be disposed of as waste. The U.S. government has recently made a similar decision, abandoning plans to use recovered weapons plutonium in fuel and instead intending to bury it.

U.S.-Japan collaboration to dispose of surplus plutonium in a safe, secure and economical manner could help make up for the misguided bilateral decisions that created this problem 30 years ago.

(Alan J. Kuperman is associate professor and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project — www.NPPP.org — at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.)

August 18, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

Another big nuclear problem in Asia – accumulation of plutonium

Tokyo and Washington Have Another Nuclear Problem, Foreign Policy, BY HENRY SOKOLSKIWILLIAM TOBEY, AUGUST 17, This week, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera are meeting in Washington with their U.S. counterparts, Rex Tillerson and James Mattis, to discuss how the United States and Japan should respond to the latest North Korean provocations. This is wise; only through close cooperation with Japan and South Korea, and by working with China, will we be able to address effectively the nuclear threat Pyongyang poses.

       ….Finally, there is South Korea, which has long complained that Washington has prohibited Seoul from reprocessing U.S.-origin spent reactor fuel, although Japan is permitted to do so. South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is an opponent of nuclear power plants and may not continue to push for such rights under the U.S.-ROK civilian nuclear cooperative agreement. His political opponents (Moon won his election with only a 40 percent plurality), however, are eager to secure such an option. Indeed, some opposition party figures have spoken openly of a South Korean nuclear weapons option.

Not surprisingly, all of this plutonium production planning has raised regional fears and antipathy……..

Fortunately, there is a simple fix. The Trump administration, which has zeroed funding for a U.S. capacity to make plutonium-based reactor fuel, should encourage Japan along with China and South Korea to defer proceeding with their own planned programs……

North Korea is an important problem, but it is not the only nuclear issue in Northeast Asia. If the United States, China, Japan, and South Korea can head-off a plutonium production capacity race, they will not only make joint action on Pyongyang’s nukes easier, they will prevent a potentially deeper crisis in the future. This too should be on the agenda for Secretaries Tillerson and Mattis. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/17/tokyo-and-washington-have-another-nuclear-problem-china-korea/

August 18, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, ASIA | Leave a comment

South Carolina sues federal government over plutonium left behind

SC Attorney General sues feds for $100 million over plutonium left behind, BY JOHN MONK
jmonk@thestate.com, AUGUST 08, 2017 
COLUMBIA, SC 

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office announced Tuesday it has filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to recover an eye-catching $100 million it says the U.S. Department of Energy owes the state for failing to make good on a promise to remove one ton of plutonium from the Savannah River Site this year.

“A case of such magnitude has never been filed by South Carolina against the federal government,” a press release from the attorney general’s office said.

The press release said that Congress mandated that the U.S. Department of Energy would pay South Carolina $1 million per day, beginning Jan. 1, 2016, for every day the department failed to remove from the state one metric ton of weapons-grade defense plutonium. The requirement is in place during the first 100 days of each year from 2016 through 2021.

“The Department of Energy has failed to process or remove the plutonium or pay the state the $100 million owed for 2016 or 2017. This lawsuit seeks the recovery of the $100 million owed for 2017,” the press release said……http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article166008462.html

August 9, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Near public Highway 240 at Hanford, plutonium detected in air

Plutonium detected in air near public Highway 240 at Hanford, BY ANNETTE CARY, acary@tricityherald.com, AUGUST 08, 2017 Radioactive plutonium and americium have been found in air samples collected at the Rattlesnake Barricade just off public Highway 240, where workers enter the secure area of the Hanford nuclear reservation, according to the state Department of Health.

Air samples were collected by the Department of Health on June 8, the day that workers at the Plutonium Finishing Plant were ordered to take cover indoors because of an airborne release of radioactive particles during demolition of the highly contaminated facility.

Analysis results for the air samples were received Monday, Department of Health officials said at a Hanford Advisory Board committee meeting Tuesday in Richland.

The levels of contamination in the samples were “very, very low,” said John Martell, manager of the Radioactive Air Emissions Section of the Department of Health Office…….http://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/local/hanford/article166100592.html

August 9, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Problems at Los Alamos National Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4) – dangerous plutonium pits

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production A facility that handles the cores of U.S. nuclear weapons has been mostly closed since 2013 over its inability to control worker safety risks, Science,  By The Center for Public IntegrityR. Jeffrey SmithPatrick Malon Jun. 30, 2017 “……..A unique task, unfulfilled for the past four years

Before the work was halted in 2013, those overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal typically pulled six or seven warheads from bombers or missiles every year for dismantlement and invasive diagnostic testing. One reason is that the unstable metals that act as spark plugs for the bombs — plutonium and highly-enriched uranium — bathe themselves and nearby electrical components in radiation, with sometimes unpredictable consequences; another is that all the bombs’ metallic components are subject to normal, sometimes fitful corrosion.

Plutonium also slowly decays, with some of its isotopes becoming uranium. And the special high explosives fabricated by nuclear scientists to compress the plutonium cores in a deliberate detonation also have an unstable molecular structure.

Invasive testing provides details vital to the computer modeling and scientifically simulated plutonium behavior that has replaced nuclear testing, said DOE consultant David Overskei. He compared the pit — so named because it is spherical and positioned near the center of a warhead — to the heart of a human being, explaining that destructive testing is like taking a blood sample capable of exposing harmful maladies.

The aim, as Vice President Joe Biden said in a 2010 National Defense University speech, has been to “anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal.” Weapons designers say it’s what anyone would do if they were storing a car for years while still expecting the engine to start and the vehicle to speed down the road at the sudden turn of a key.

Typically, warheads selected for testing are first sent to the Energy Department’s Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Technicians there gently separate their components — such as the detonators — at that site; they also send the pits — used in a primary nuclear explosion — to Los Alamos, and the highly-enriched uranium — used in a secondary explosion — to Oak Ridge, Tenn. The arming, fusing, and firing mechanisms are tested by Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and other locations.

At Los Alamos, the pits are brought to Plutonium Facility-4 (PF-4), a boxy, two-story, concrete building with a footprint the size of two city blocks.  Inside are hundreds of special “glove boxes” for working with plutonium, a series of individual laboratories, and a special vault, in which containers hold plutonium on racks meant to ensure that escaping neutrons don’t collide too often with other atoms, provoking them to fission uncontrollably. Only a small portion of the building is normally used for pit surveillance, while about a fifth is used for pit fabrication, and another seven percent for analytical chemistry and pit certification. Budget documents indicate that annual federal spending for the work centered there is nearly $200 million.

“The Los Alamos Plutonium Facility is a unique and essential national security capability,” McMillan, the lab’s director, said last September during a visit by then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who watched as technicians — attempting to restart their work after the lengthy hiatus — used pressing machines and other equipment to fabricate a mock pit, rather than a usable one.

The building lies in the middle of a 40-acre campus in the mountains above Santa Fe hastily built during World War II to coordinate the construction of the two nuclear bombs used in Japan. Los Alamos is still considered the foremost U.S. nuclear weapons facility — where six of the nine warheads currently in the U.S. arsenal were designed, and where plutonium-based power supplies for most of the nation’s deep-space probes are fabricated. Hundreds of nuclear physicists work there.

Unfortunately, it also has an active seismic zone beneath the PF-4 building, producing persistent worries among the staff and members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a congressionally-chartered oversight group, that if it experienced a rare, large earthquake, the roof could collapse and toss chunks of plutonium so closely together a chain reaction would ensue, spewing radioactive, cancer-causing plutonium particles throughout nearby residential communities.

Millions of dollars have already been spent to diminish this risk, which until recently exceeded federal guidelines, and the Trump administration last month proposed spending $14 million in 2018 alone to strengthen the building’s firewalls and sprinkler systems. The government has also sunk more than $450 million into preparations for construction of a modern and more seismically durable pit production facility at Los Alamos, projected to have a total price tag between $1.5 billion and $3 billion.

Making new pits involves melting, casting, and machining the plutonium, while assessing how well or poorly the pits are aging requires using various instruments to withdraw small pieces for detailed chemical and material analysis. These operations are typically done in the glove boxes, by specialists whose hands are inserted into gloves attached to the side of sealed containers meant to keep the plutonium particles from escaping. But the work is messy, requiring constant vigilance to be certain that too much of the metal doesn’t pile up in a compact space. The byproducts include “chunks, shards, and grains of plutonium metal,” all of it radioactive and unstable, according to a 2015 Congressional Research Service report.

Notably, a 2013 Los Alamos study depicted leaks of glove boxes at PF-4 as frequent — averaging nearly three a month — and said they were often caused by avoidable errors such as inattention, improper maintenance, collisions with rolling storage carts, complacency and degradation from the heat that plutonium constantly emits. It said that sometimes those operating or supervising the equipment “accepted risk” or took a chance, rushed to meet a deadline, or otherwise succumbed to workplace production pressures.

“Operations always wants it yesterday,” the lab’s current criticality safety chief and the lone NNSA expert assigned to that issue in the agency’s Los Alamos oversight office warned in a private briefing for their colleagues at Sandia labs last month. Managers “must shield analysts from demands” from production personnel, they said.

Besides posing a serious health risk to those in PF-4, glove box releases of radioactive material each cost the government $23,000 to clean up, on average, the Los Alamos study said.

An acute shortage of criticality experts

Calculating exactly “how much material can come together before there’s an explosion” — as the Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman once put it — is a complex task. While visiting the production site for highly-enriched uranium in

Oak Ridge, Tenn., during the 1940’s, for example, Feynman was surprised to see stocks of that fissionable material deliberately stored in separate rooms, but on an adjoining wall that posed no barrier to collisions involving atoms of uranium and escaping neutrons on both sides. “It was very dangerous and they had not paid any attention to the safety at all,” Feynman wrote years later.

Plutonium work is so fraught with risk that the total mass of that metal allowed to be present in PF-4 is strictly limited. A decade ago, the limit was increased without an appropriate understanding of the risks, according to an NNSA technical bulletin in February. But with pieces of it strewn and stored throughout the normally busy building, partly because the vault is typically full, its managers have labored for years to systematically track down and remove excess stocks. They had some success last year, when they got rid of nearly a quarter of the plutonium on the building’s “main floor,” according to recent budget documents.

Criticality specialists are employed not only to help set these overall mass limits but to guide technicians so they don’t inadvertently trigger chain reactions in their daily work; those specialists are also supposed to be the first-responders when too much dangerous material is found in one place.

“The weird thing about criticality safety is that it’s not intuitive,” Don Nichols, a former chief for defense nuclear safety at the NNSA, said in an interview. He cited an instance in which someone operating a stirring machine noticed that fissionable liquids were forming a “critical” mass, so the operator shut the stirrer off, not immediately realizing that doing so made the problem worse. In other instances, analysts had judged a plutonium operation was safe, but then more workers — whose bodies reflect and slow neutrons — wound up being present nearby, creating unanticipated risks.

Those doing the weapons disassemblies and invasive pit studies are typically under “a big level pressure” to complete a certain number every year, Nichols added. They are expected to do “so many of these in this amount of time,” to allow the labs to certify to the president that the stockpile is viable. Meanwhile, the calculations involved in avoiding criticality — which depend on the shape, size, form, quantity, and geometric configuration of material being used in more than a dozen different industrial operations — are so complex that it takes a year and a half of training for an engineer to become qualified and as many as five years to become proficient, experts say.

“It’s difficult to find people who want to do this job,” particularly at the remote Los Alamos site, said McConnell, the NNSA safety chief. With plutonium use mostly confined to creating the world’s most powerful explosives, “there are…very few public-sector opportunities for people to develop these skills,” he added. As a result, he said, many NNSA sites lack the desired number of experts, which slows down production.

At the time of the 2013 shutdown, after numerous internal warnings about the consequences of its mismanagement, Los Alamos had only “a single junior qualified criticality safety engineer” still in place, according to the February NNSA technical bulletin. Nichols, who was then the NNSA’s associate administrator for safety and health, said McMillan didn’t “realize how serious it was until we took notice and helped him take notice.”

Without having adequate staff on hand to guide their operations safely, technicians at PF-4 were unable to carry out a scheduled destructive surveillance in 2014 of a refurbished plutonium pit meant for a warhead to be fit atop American submarine-launched ballistic missiles. It’s been modernized at a cost of $946 million since 2014, with total expenses predicted to exceed $3.7 billion. Generally, up to 10 of the first pits produced for a new warhead type are set aside for surveillance to assure they’re safely constructed and potent before they’re deployed. But the planned disassembly was cancelled and the NNSA hasn’t scheduled another yet, because of the shutdown.

The lab also hasn’t been able to complete planned invasive studies of the aging of plutonium used in a warhead for an aircraft-delivered nuclear bomb, now being modernized at an estimated cost of $7.4 billion to $10 billion.

Former deputy NNSA director Madelyn Creedon told an industry conference in March that if new funds are given to the agency in President Trump’s new budget, she knows where she’d advise it be spent. “One of the things that doesn’t take a huge amount of money but it’s one that has been cut back over the last couple of years, is surveillance — enhanced surveillance” of existing warheads, Creedon said……..http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/06/safety-problems-los-alamos-laboratory-delay-us-nuclear-warhead-testing-and-production

July 1, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, employment, Reference | Leave a comment

Accidential exposure to Plutonium: what this means for Japanese nuclear workers

Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/cancer-risk-for-japanese-exposed-to-plutonium#.WTxxNdgMNK8.twitter, ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | JUNE 9, 2017, 

 According to news reports, five workers were accidentally exposed to high levels of radiation at the Oarai nuclear research and development center in Tokai-mura, Japan on June 6th. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the facility, reported that five workers inhaled plutonium and americium that was released from a storage container that the workers had opened. The radioactive materials were contained in two plastic bags, but they had apparently ripped.

We wish to express our sympathy for the victims of this accident.

This incident is a reminder of the extremely hazardous nature of these materials, especially when they are inhaled, and illustrates why they require such stringent procedures when they are stored and processed.

According to the earliest reports, it was estimated that one worker had inhaled 22,000 becquerels (Bq) of plutonium-239, and 220 Bq of americium-241. (One becquerel of a radioactive substance undergoes one radioactive decay per second.) The others inhaled between 2,200 and 14,000 Bq of plutonium-239 and quantities of americium-241 similar to that of the first worker.

More recent reports have stated that the amount of plutonium inhaled by the most highly exposed worker is now estimated to be 360,000 Bq, and that the 22,000 Bq measurement in the lungs was made 10 hours after the event occurred. Apparently, the plutonium that remains in the body decreases rapidly during the first hours after exposure, as a fraction of the quantity initially inhaled is expelled through respiration. But there are large uncertainties.

The mass equivalent of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 is about 150 micrograms. It is commonly heard that plutonium is so radiotoxic that inhaling only one microgram will cause cancer with essentially one hundred percent certainty. This is not far off the mark for certain isotopes of plutonium, like Pu-238, but Pu-239 decays more slowly, so it is less toxic per gram.  The actual level of harm also depends on a number of other factors. Estimating the health impacts of these exposures in the absence of more information is tricky, because those impacts depend on the exact composition of the radioactive materials, their chemical forms, and the sizes of the particles that were inhaled. Smaller particles become more deeply lodged in the lungs and are harder to clear by coughing. And more soluble compounds will dissolve more readily in the bloodstream and be transported from the lungs to other organs, resulting in exposure of more of the body to radiation. However, it is possible to make a rough estimate.

Using Department of Energy data, the inhalation of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 would result in a whole-body radiation dose to an average adult over a 50-year period between 580 rem and nearly 4300 rem, depending on the solubility of the compounds inhaled. The material was most likely an oxide, which is relatively insoluble, corresponding to the lower bound of the estimate. But without further information on the material form, the best estimate would be around 1800 rem.

What is the health impact of such a dose? For isotopes such as plutonium-239 or americium-241, which emit relatively large, heavy charged particles known as alpha particles, there is a high likelihood that a dose of around 1000 rem will cause a fatal cancer. This is well below the radiation dose that the most highly exposed worker will receive over a 50-year period. This shows how costly a mistake can be when working with plutonium.

The workers are receiving chelation therapy to try to remove some plutonium from their bloodstream. However, the effectiveness of this therapy is limited at best, especially for insoluble forms, like oxides, that tend to be retained in the lungs.

The workers were exposed when they opened up an old storage can that held materials related to production of fuel from fast reactors. The plutonium facilities at Tokai-mura have been used to produce plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for experimental test reactors, including the Joyo fast reactor, as well as the now-shutdown Monju fast reactor. Americium-241 was present as the result of the decay of the isotope plutonium-241.

I had the opportunity to tour some of these facilities about twenty years ago. MOX fuel fabrication at these facilities was primarily done in gloveboxes through manual means, and we were able to stand next to gloveboxes containing MOX pellets. The gloveboxes represented the only barrier between us and the plutonium they contained. In light of the incident this week, that is a sobering memory.

June 12, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, health, Japan, radiation, Reference | Leave a comment

A Pox on the Mox – Trump budget to stop Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility

Platts 23rd May 2017  The Trump administration is proposing to end construction of a facility deigned to convert 34 mt of plutonium from surplus nuclear weapons to nuclear reactor fuel, concluding it would “be irresponsible to pursue this approach when a more cost-effective alternative exists.”

The administration, which Tuesday unveiled its proposed fiscal 2018 budget, said it will direct CB&I Areva MOX Services to develop a plan “as soon as practical,” to halt construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and securely shut the facility by late 2018.

The 2018 fiscal year starts October 1. Congress must authorize and appropriate fiscal 2018 spending and the president must sign the budget bill. The $340 million that Congress appropriated in an omnibus budget resolution for fiscal 2017 was earmarked primarily for the installation of ductwork and to seal openings in the facility used during
construction.

The fiscal 2018 proposal states appropriations for the MOX project after this fiscal year are “to be determined,” with no dollar amount specified. A justification for terminating the MOX project that the US Department of Energy provided Tuesday noted that the facility’s $4.8 billion cost projected in 2007, with a startup date of 2015, had ballooned
to $17.2 billion by 2016, with 2048 the earliest date, by which mix-oxide fuel could be produced. DOE now estimates the completion cost at up to $26 billion.

DOE noted that analysis it and “external independent analyses” have conducted “have consistently concluded that the MOX approach to plutonium disposition is significantly costlier and would require a much higher annual budget than an alternate disposition method, ‘Dilute and Dispose.'”  https://www.platts.com/latest-news

May 26, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, reprocessing, USA | 1 Comment

It’s practically impossible to get rid of plutonium (but they still keep making it)

How To Dismantle A Nuclear Weapon, Gizmodo, Terrell Jermaine Starr and Jalopnik, May 24, 2017  “…..Getting Rid Of Plutonium Is Harder

For one, there is no civilian use for plutonium in the United States because you can’t break it down or blend it. In other words, it is always ready to be used for weapons. In fact, according to Live Science, of its five common isotopes, only plutonium-238 and plutonium-239 are used for anything.

Pu-238 is used for powering space probes and Pu-239, the isotope we’re talking about, goes through a fission chain reaction when concentrated enough. And when that process takes place, it is nuke-ready.

By the way, Plutonium is pretty damn radioactive and contains the “worst kind of fission byproducts that could enter the environment as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster,” as Live Science notes (emphasis ours):

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, plutonium enters the bloodstream via the lungs, then moves throughout the body and into the bones, liver, and other organs. It generally stays in those places for decades, subjecting surrounding organs and tissues to a continual bombardment of alpha radiation and greatly increasing the risk of cancer, especially lung cancer, liver cancer and bone sarcoma.

There are documented cases of workers at nuclear weapons facilities dying within days of experiencing brief accidental exposure to plutonium, according to the Hazardous Substances Data Bank.

Furthermore, among all the bad things coming out of Fukushima, plutonium will stay in the environment the longest. One isotope of plutonium, Pu-239, has a half-life of 24,100 years; that’s the time it will take for half of the stuff to radioactively decay. Radioactive contaminants are dangerous for 10 to 20 times the length of their half-lives, meaning that dangerous plutonium released to the environment today will stick around for the next half a million years.

That is why Japan’s reported goal to use plutonium for civilian reactors have the U.S. and China worried. At one point, Japan had around 10 tons of unseparated plutonium in-country; 37.1 tons are in France and the United Kingdom. China fears Toyko could possibly use the plutonium to develop nuclear weapons, although the Japanese did give up 331kg of it in 2016.

Collina said it’s a good thing the U.S. has no plans to use plutonium for civilian purposes.

“You can’t blend down plutonium,” he says. “It’s always weapons-usable. So if you use this stuff at nuclear power plants, you’re basically spreading weapons-usable nuclear material all around. It’s a proliferation problem because we don’t want to set the example for other nations to say, ‘I’m going to use plutonium in my civilian power program’ and therefore create a cover for a secret weapons program. We want to have a pretty clear line that says, ‘Plutonium is only used for weapons and you should not use plutonium if you’re not using it for weapons.'”

As for actually getting rid of plutonium, the process is not environmentally friendly and it never will be. Most of the plutonium that is separated from nukes is stored at the Savannah River Site (SRS), near the Georgia border. Plutonium is also stored at the Pantex Plant. It’s authorised to store 20,000 plutonium pits; current estimates find that 14,000 are stored in the facility.

But here’s the catch: you can never make it truly safe, and no one wants it near them. For example, the Department of Energy, through the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is currently overseeing construction of a facility at SRS to make MOX fuel from weapons-ready plutonium. It would then be used for commercial use.

The problem is that no one wants plutonium storage facilities in their backyards. The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, expressed concerns over the MOX fuel initiative when she was governor of South Carolina. Her issue was that the feds were supposed to remove a ton of plutonium from the state by January 2016 and ship it to another facility in New Mexico or process it for commercial use through the facility; neither happened, so she sued the Department of Energy. A federal circuit court dismissed the case.

Officially, MOX fuel is not being used in the United States, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Europe uses MOX fuel, but its plutonium is from spent nuclear fuel rather than nuclear weapons.

Former Nevada Senator Harry Reid resisted the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository project, which was supposed to be a deep geological repository storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste like Pu-239. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act amendments of 1987, the Yucca Mountains were supposed to be the key destination for storing this waste, but Reid worked with Obama to end funding for the project.

Where To Send It?

So, if no one wants plutonium in their backyard here on planet earth, where can it be disposed? Well, there have been a bunch of wild ideas, like blasting it into the sun. Which, as the video below explains, is a pretty bad idea.

Hitting the Sun is HARD

You also have to factor in the possibility the space ship won’t make it to orbit. “Space shuttles crash,” Collina said. “So if you had just one crash with a space shuttle full of plutonium, that would ruin your whole day.”

The best plan of action the feds have to deal with weapons-ready plutonium is to simply store it someplace — a place where folks won’t complain to much about it. Good luck finding such a place.https://www.gizmodo.com.au/2017/05/how-to-dismantle-a-nuclear-weapon/

May 24, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, Reference, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Plutonium in space – the danger in space probes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Global Network,” said Gagnon, “remains adamantly opposed to the use of nuclear power in space.” http://enformable.com/2017/04/the-final-mission-for-cassini/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Enformable+%28Enformable%29

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

Demolition of Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant to begin soon

Teardown to begin soon at Hanford’s most contaminated building area http://www.tri-cityherald.com/news/local/hanford/article145749544.html  BY ANNETTE CARY acary@tricityherald.com 21 Apr 17,  Demolition should start within a few weeks on the most contaminated portion of the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant.

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

Delay in legal order to move plutonium stockpiled in South Carolina

MOX injunction delayed until at least July 31 http://www.aikenstandard.com/news/mox-injunction-delayed-until-at-least-july/article_01a4ce3c-25f5-11e7-9f5c-8fd2c77c42e0.html  By Michael Smith msmith@aikenstandard.com  Apr 20, 2017 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover-up of America’s nuclear waste disaster: Hanford, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Westlake…

Hanford, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and West Lake provide only a snapshot of the wider picture. Consider the Rocky Flats Plant, a former nuclear weapons production site not far from Denver, Colorado.

“It’s a Cover-Up, Not a Clean-Up”: Nuclear Waste Smolders in Sites Across the US truth Out  March 30, 2017 By Daniel Ross, Truthout | Report Renowned wartime journalist Wilfred Burchett described the damage from the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima as “far greater than photographs can show.” When it comes to the enduring legacy of the Manhattan Project on home soil, the damage to the environment and human health is proving similarly hard to grasp.

The covert project to create the world’s first atomic weapon during WWII, coupled with the nuclear proliferation of the Cold War era, has left a trail of toxic and radioactive waste at sites across the nation that will necessitate, by some margin, the largest environmental cleanup in the nation’s history. The amount of money that has been poured into remediating the waste already is staggering. Still, it appears that the scale of the problems, and the efforts needed to effectively tackle them, continue to be underestimated by the authorities responsible for their cleanup.

Since 1989, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management — the agency charged with cleaning up “legacy” radioactive waste — has spent over $164 billion disposing of nuclear waste and contamination, completing the cleanup at 91 of 107 sites across the country. And yet between 2011 and 2016, the DOE’s Environmental Management environmental liability grew by roughly $94 billion.

Though the president’s proposed 2018 budget siphons $6.5 billion into the DOE’s Environmental Management program, up slightly from $6.2 billion this year and last, that figure is still below the roughly $8.5 billion (after adjustment for inflation) the program received in 2003. It is also well below the amount required to effectively meet urgent issues head on, said Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Program at the Southwest Research and Information Center……..

The fight over what the final budget will look like has only just begun. But beyond these hovering questions marks is something much more concrete: the sheer magnitude of the legacy waste problem, which can be traced all the way back to that game-changing atomic project of the 1940s.

Hanford: Beset With Costly Overruns Continue reading

March 31, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

North Korea’s greatly increased plutonium stockpile

plutonium_04flag-N-KoreaNorth Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Under Kim Jong Un, Plutonium Stockpile Has Reached Unprecedented Levels, International Business Times,  BY  @TIMMARCIN ON 01/12/17 In the past two years, North Korea has steadily increased its supply of plutonium and now has enough for 10 nuclear warheads, according to a report this week from the South Korean Ministry of National Defense. In all, South Korea’s 2016 Defense White Paper found that the North had increased its supply of weapons -grade plutonium to 50 kilograms, up from 40 kilograms two years ago, the Korea Times reported. The plutonium was obtained by reprocessing spent fuel rods.

Under the dictatorial rule of leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea has focused on developing its nuclear arsenal. More recently, North Korea has worked toward developing a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The increased stockpile comes amid continued threats from Kim. In a New Year’s speech, Kim provoked the West — the United States and South Korea especially — and claimed an ICBM was nearing completion…….

Should the North develop a reliable ICBM, it would likely have the capability of reaching the United States. A working ICBM could still be a ways off, however…….http://www.ibtimes.com/north-koreas-nuclear-weapons-under-kim-jong-un-plutonium-stockpile-has-reached-2474439 

January 13, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, North Korea, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The danger of plutonium being released at United States at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

plutonium_04Puget Sound’s ticking nuclear time bomb, Crosscut by , 10 Jan 17  “……“Command and Control” shows what can happen when the weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us, and it speaks directly to Puget Sound citizens: Locally, we face a similar threat in Hood Canal with the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

An accident at Bangor involving nuclear weapons occurred in November 2003 when a ladder penetrated a nuclear nose cone during a routine missile offloading at the Explosives Handling Wharf. All missile-handling operations at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) were stopped for nine weeks until Bangor could be recertified for handling nuclear weapons. Three top commanders were fired but the public was never informed until information was leaked to the media in March 2004.

The Navy never publicly admitted that the 2003 accident occurred. The Navy failed to report the accident at the time to county or state authorities. Public responses from governmental officials were generally in the form of surprise and disappointment.

The result of such an explosion likely would not cause a nuclear detonation. Instead, plutonium from the approximately 108 nuclear warheads on one submarine could be spread by the wind…… http://crosscut.com/2017/01/nuclear-accidents-bangor-accident-command-and-control/

January 11, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, safety, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The Different Dangerosity of Some Radioactive Elements.

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One night in July 2013, Xavier Nast, a French antinuclear activist, who many years before used to work at COGEMA, presently named AREVA, took the time to explain me the diffrence between some of the radioactive elements, in terms of their dangerosity.
 
As Xavier Nast told me, nothing is worth practical exercises to understand what is not always obvious at the first explanation.
 
Since the beginning of the Fukushima accident, everyone understands the situation as he/she perceives it, and everyone is right it is very serious indeed, but still we haven’t seen almost anything yet. And what we may risk to see and understand?
 
When sharing the “galette des rois”in France, some king cakes in the old days were stuffed with a a small gold coin (a gold Napoleon). If a greedy one swallowed it inadvertently, he will have to wait one to two days to recover it but his health will not be affected. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_cake
 
Imagine the coins gold plated and filled with actinides (highly toxic alpharadio transmitters) such as they all weigh 6 grams, have a diameter of 21 mm and the same visual appearance:
A) An Uranium 238 filled gold plated coin
B) A Plutonium 239 filled gold plated coin
C) A Plutonium 238 filled gold plated coin
D) A Polonium 210 filled gold plated coin
 
We will not see any difference in appearance and weight.
 
However the threshold for the lethal dose of an inhaled monolithic dust is:
0.835gram for A (Uranium 238)
0.000 000 4 gram for B (Plutonium 239)
0.000 000 001 6 gram for C (Plutonium 238)
0.000 000 000 007 gram for D (Polonium 210)
 
This means that the lethal dose of these coins could destroy:
6 lives for A (Uranium 238, there is a lot)
13,475,000 lives for B, more than Paris Metropolis population (Plutonium 239,there is a lot)
3,700,000,000lives for C, more than half of mankind (Plutonium 238 is rare)
850 billion lives for D, 120 times the world population. (Polonium 210 is very rare)
 
Yet these coins A, B, C and D have not caused you any damage after being swallowed, not even long after.Because they were all covered with a tenth mm of gold , which prevented the huge flow of alpha particles to destroy even just a little of your digestive tract.
 
Conclusion:alpha emitters radionuclides must remain CONFINED.
 
We therefore better have no nuclear plant to explode, especially one of those nuclear plants using MOX, as MOX fuel consists of 7% plutonium 239 mixed with depleted uranium, such as the ones we have many in France.
 
Knowing this, are you still willing for them to continue using their deadly nuclear technology? Do you still believe that civil nuclear is safe?

October 27, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium | , , , , , | Leave a comment