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Cost Estimate for Plutonium Pit Project at Savannah River Site Hits $16.5 Billion, $5 Billion above Current Estimate

“Given the myriad of cost and schedule threats facing the SRS pit facility, it’s simply not acceptable that DOE will for four years hide updated costs estimate and technical updates for this daunting project,”

 “The shocking cost jumps and continuous delays underscore questions about the need for the redundant SRS pit plant,

NEWS PROVIDED BY Savannah River Site Watch, January 25, 2023,

Public Interest Group Obtains and Releases DOE Assessment of the SRS Plutonium Processing Facility, to make Plutonium Pits for Provocative New Nuclear Warheads

Given the myriad of cost and schedule threats facing the SRS pit facility, it’s simply not acceptable that DOE is hiding updated cost estimates and technical information for this daunting project.”

— Tom Clements, Director, Savannah River Site Watch

COLUMBIA, SC, US, January 25, 2023 /EINPresswire.com/ — A key U.S. Department of Energy document assessing the progress of planning for the proposed plutonium pit project at the Savannah River Site reveals a cost range billions of dollars higher than what has been previously known. DOE has not made the document public and it is only now being released by a non-profit organization tracking the costly project.

The document prepared in 2021 by the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – the nuclear weapons agency inside DOE – estimates that the controversial project to fabricate plutonium pits (cores) for new nuclear warheads could range from $8.7 billion to $16.5 billion, far higher than the currently known cost range of $6.9 billion to $11.1 billion.

The cost estimate for the SRS Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF) – also known as the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant (SRS) PBP) – is presented in a report by a NNSA team that analyzed the SRS pit project in March 2021, three months before the current cost estimate was released and the project given the go-ahead. The review of the documentation to move ahead with the pit project is titled “Critical Decision (CD)-1 Independent Project Review (IPR) – Savanah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF).” [Correct spelling is “Savannah.”]

The SRS pit “project review,” requested by the acting administrator of the NNSA, was obtained on January 9, 2023 by the public interest organization Savannah River Site Watch via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. (Key documents are linked here, in SRS Watch news release.)

The document affirms that the congressionally mandated 2030 date to fabricate 50 or more plutonium pits at SRS, in the shell of the partially finished plutonium fuel (MOX) building, cannot be met and makes the startling revelation that the facility would not produce pits until February 2036, a full 2 years after the anticipated 2034 approval to operate, in so-called Critical Decsion-4.


That 2036 start date for the SRS nuclear bomb facility is beyond the 2032-2035 start date presented in congressional testimony by NNSA. The Critical Decision-1 go-ahead decision and rough cost estimate came in June 2021 but a more refined cost estimate might not be available for four years, when Critical Decision-2 is reached in mid-2025, with a new project cost baseline and a supposed 90% design completion. The just-revealed cost estimate includes CD-1 costs.


“Given the myriad of cost and schedule threats facing the SRS pit facility, it’s simply not acceptable that DOE will for four years hide updated costs estimate and technical updates for this daunting project,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch, in Columbia, SC. “The shocking cost jumps and continuous delays underscore questions about the need for the redundant SRS pit plant, which is being pursued at SRS to fill the funding hole when the MOX boondoggle was terminated in 2018,” added Clements.

This significantly higher cost estimate of the program to make new plutonium pits for questionable new nuclear warheads is actually higher as “it does not include Fee or NNSA Other Direct Cost (ODC), both of which are still being developed, typically they are 4% and 2% respectively.”

SRS Watch is a non-profit, public-interest organization working on sound policies and projects by the U.S. Department of Energy, with a focus on the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Abandoned plutonium fuel (MOX) building at DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina, coutersy High Flyer to SRS Watch; DOE aims to turn the building into the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant.

Diagram of nuclear warhead, with plutonium pit. Image by South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP).

Public Interest Group Obtains and Releases DOE Assessment of the SRS Plutonium Processing Facility, to make Plutonium Pits for Provocative New Nuclear Warheads

Given the myriad of cost and schedule threats facing the SRS pit facility, it’s simply not acceptable that DOE is hiding updated cost estimates and technical information for this daunting project.”

— Tom Clements, Director, Savannah River Site Watch

COLUMBIA, SC, US, January 25, 2023 /EINPresswire.com/ — A key U.S. Department of Energy document assessing the progress of planning for the proposed plutonium pit project at the Savannah River Site reveals a cost range billions of dollars higher than what has been previously known. DOE has not made the document public and it is only now being released by a non-profit organization tracking the costly project.

The document prepared in 2021 by the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) – the nuclear weapons agency inside DOE – estimates that the controversial project to fabricate plutonium pits (cores) for new nuclear warheads could range from $8.7 billion to $16.5 billion, far higher than the currently known cost range of $6.9 billion to $11.1 billion.

The cost estimate for the SRS Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF) – also known as the SRS Plutonium Bomb Plant (SRS PBP) – is presented in a report by a NNSA team that analyzed the SRS pit project in March 2021, three months before the current cost estimate was released and the project given the go-ahead. The review of the documentation to move ahead with the pit project is titled “Critical Decision (CD)-1 Independent Project Review (IPR) – Savanah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF).” [Correct spelling is “Savannah.”]

The SRS pit “project review,” requested by the acting administrator of the NNSA, was obtained on January 9, 2023 by the public interest organization Savannah River Site Watch via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. (Key documents are linked here, in SRS Watch news release.)

The document affirms that the congressionally mandated 2030 date to fabricate 50 or more plutonium pits at SRS, in the shell of the partially finished plutonium fuel (MOX) building, cannot be met and makes the startling revelation that the facility would not produce pits until February 2036, a full 2 years after the anticipated 2034 approval to operate, in so-called Critical Decsion-4.

That 2036 start date for the SRS nuclear bomb facility is beyond the 2032-2035 start date presented in congressional testimony by NNSA. The Critical Decision-1 go-ahead decision and rough cost estimate came in June 2021 but a more refined cost estimate might not be available for four years, when Critical Decision-2 is reached in mid-2025, with a new project cost baseline and a supposed 90% design completion. The just-revealed cost estimate includes CD-1 costs.

“Given the myriad of cost and schedule threats facing the SRS pit facility, it’s simply not acceptable that DOE will for four years hide updated costs estimate and technical updates for this daunting project,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch, in Columbia, SC. “The shocking cost jumps and continuous delays underscore questions about the need for the redundant SRS pit plant, which is being pursued at SRS to fill the funding hole when the MOX boondoggle was terminated in 2018,” added Clements.

This significantly higher cost estimate of the program to make new plutonium pits for questionable new nuclear warheads is actually higher as “it does not include Fee or NNSA Other Direct Cost (ODC), both of which are still being developed, typically they are 4% and 2% respectively.”

The document is mentioned in a footnote (on page 3) in a report issued on January 13, 2023 by the Governmental Accountability Office – “NNSA Does Not Have a Comprehensive Schedule or Cost Estimate for Pit Production Capability” (https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-23-104661) but the cost information in the just-released NNSA report was not mentioned or analyzed by the GAO. Rather, GAO reported the NNSA’s cost figures from the Fiscal Year 2023 budget justification – $6.9 billion to $11.1 billion. – and cited NNSA’s “concerns that publicizing preliminary or uncertain information would lead to misinterpretation over increasing costs if preliminary numbers rise.”

The GAO also said that “using NNSA’s fiscal year 2023 budget justification GAO identified at least $18 billion to $24 billion in potential costs for the 80-pit-per-year” pit production construction costs at the Savannah River Site and the Los Alamos National Lab (LANL), where NNSA is aiming for production of 30 or more pits per year………………………………..

The just-revealed $8.7 billion to $16.5 billion SRS pit plant cost could increase the range of the cost of the two pit facilities to a staggering $19.8 billion to $29.4 billion. ………………………………..

“NNSA must immediately implement transparency about the challenging SRS pit project and regularly release cost and technical information but it appears they are choosing the path of needless secrecy and obfuscation, a sure sign the project isn’t healthy,” said Clements. “The clock is ticking on this project and it sadly looks like we could have another MOX debacle in the making by an inflexible bureaucracy that urgently needs an education in openness,” added Clements.  https://www.einnews.com/pr_news/613279071/cost-estimate-for-plutonium-pit-project-at-savannah-river-site-hits-16-5-billion-5-billion-above-current-estimate

 

    

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January 25, 2023 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Diluted plutonium disposed of at Carlsbad nuclear waste site as program draws controversy

“DOE decided to do this before they did any of the analysis,” Hancock said. “All these documents are to give legal cover and justify decisions already made.”

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus

Federal nuclear waste officials announced a shipment of diluted surplus, weapons-grade plutonium was disposed of using a repository near Carlsbad last month, after it was sent to New Mexico from South Carolina, amid criticism from nuclear watchdog groups in the state.

The shipment contained plutonium diluted using a process known as “downblending” that lowered its radioactivity to meet requirements at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, where the U.S. Department of Energy disposes of transuranic (TRU) nuclear waste in an underground salt deposit.

It was brought to WIPP from the DOE’s Savannah River Site, a laboratory where the federal government develops nuclear weapons.

After the downblending, the waste meets the definition of TRU waste, read an announcement from the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and can be legally disposed of at WIPP.

Disposal at WIPP was in response to a 2020 agreement between the DOE and State of South Carolina that called for the removal of 9.5 metric tons (MT) of plutonium waste from the state, reached after years of negotiations and litigation.

The waste was initially brought to Savannah River to be irradiated at a mixed-oxide (MOX) facility, converting the nuclear waste into fuel…………………………………………………………

The initial shipment was announced as the DOE was underway with a public comment period on using the same “dilute and dispose” method for 34 metric tons (MT) of plutonium waste, most of which is at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.

But this would entail shipping waste from Pantex to Los Alamos, then to Savannah River Site for final packaging before going to WIPP, meaning the waste would cross through New Mexico three times.

Opponents of this proposal in New Mexico feared the repeated trips through their state would increase the risk of exposing their communities to radiation.

Critics oppose use of New Mexico site to dispose of plutonium

Don Hancock, nuclear waste program manager at Albuquerque watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center said the group and others in the state opposed the project and its use of WIPP.

He said DOE’s practice of seeking approval for separate segments of the plutonium waste, rather than for all of the waste at once was intended to protect decisions already made without public input.

“DOE decided to do this before they did any of the analysis,” Hancock said. “All these documents are to give legal cover and justify decisions already made.”…………………………………………

Hancock argued using WIPP as the disposal site for the plutonium, even after its diluted to meet the requirements of TRU waste, marked an undue expansion of WIPP’s mission beyond what the people of New Mexico agreed to when the facility was sited in their state.

“We don’t oppose geologic disposal. We don’t think WIPP is the right place,” he said. “WIPP has a limited mission. It was never intended for surplus plutonium. It’s already been decided. The public should be outraged.” https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/2023/01/20/diluted-plutonium-disposed-of-at-carlsbad-nuclear-waste-site/69811929007/

January 22, 2023 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Savannah River Site, Los Alamos plutonium pit production plan could cost over $30 billion

Matthew Christian, Aiken Standard, S.C. Sat, January 14, 2023 https://news.yahoo.com/savannah-river-los-alamos-plutonium-005900374.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9uZXdzLmdvb2dsZS5jb20v&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADJqdcGm_qX6CdNLQ8_g7p81OistELVP4KvAUR1PfQl-0Q2SBtdSRa8GwdKyTIcwvX8aofXxou_a1DmL9axGTUu9S4o5f35bRYrwMTXGG5ZaoooE2PgjQaFWi5uLyJbf3gg8EShjtVi5A26UqvyJcSYMPWp9GQCX2T9NlsjflzJW

Jan. 13—It could cost over $30 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration to reestablish plutonium pit production, according to recently released report.

Allison Bawden, director of natural resources and environment at the Government Accountability Office, wrote Thursday the Government Accounting Office has identified between $18-$24 billion in potential costs to begin production of 80 plutonium pits per year by 2036 at the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Plutonium pits are the core of a nuclear weapon into which a neutron is injected to begin an uncontrolled reaction.

The United States has been without a permanent capability for plutonium pit production since 1989 after a combination of environmental mismanagement — the EPA and the FBI raided the facility in 1989 after receiving reports of numerous environmental violations from employees — and the end of the Cold War stopped pit production at the Rocky Flats facility in Colorado.

From 2007-2012, around 10 pits per year were made at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Trying to restart plutonium pit production and modernizing the Los Alamos National Laboratory for production has cost $8.6 billion since 2005 according to the report.

NNSA plans to produce 50 pits per year at the Savannah River Site beginning in 2036 and 30 pit per year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory beginning in 2027.

At the Savannah River Site, the plans call for the failed Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility to be converted into the Savannah River Plutonium Production Facility.

Bawden says the NNSA estimates through 2035 a cost of between $6.9-$11.1 billion to make the conversion, which is in three steps: getting the main building ready, providing utilities and other infrastructure to the area and constructing an administration building, security facilities and a training area.

Other costs include $6.94 billion for plutonium modernization program at the Savannah River Site and the Los Alamos National Laboratory .

At the Savannah River Site, Bawden says costs include preparing employees to produce pits and learning from the Los Alamos National Laboratory how to produce pits more efficiently. She says at Los Alamos the costs include designing a pit production line, getting equipment, hiring and training staff and making sure the production line is working and checking the quality of the produced pits.

She adds other costs at the Los Alamos National Laboratory include between $4.17-$5.61 billion for capital projects, $240-244 million for support buildings and $45-46 million for maintenance and recapitalization.

Bawden spends a few pages in the 84-page report discussing activities at other Department of Energy-owned sites that are not included in the NNSA cost estimates.

Those activities include design of a warhead at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the lab making sure the produced pits meet the specifications of the warhead, experimental facilities at the Nevada National Security Site, production of non-nuclear pit components at the Kansas City National Security Campus, disassembling pits at the Pantex Plant in Texas and storing produced waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Including these costs and developing more thorough estimates of the costs at the Savannah River Site and Los Alamos is one of two recommendations the GAO makes in the report.

The other is for the NNSA to develop a more complete schedule of activities and when they’re supposed to happen.

Bawden notes NNSA decision-makers said both recommendations will be implemented later in the process when firm construction plans for the Savannah River Plutonium Production Facility are set in 2024 or 2025. She adds the NNSA decision-makers said they are hesitant to make more thorough cost estimates because of a concern of making an estimate, then paying a higher cost and having the public concerned about rising costs for the project.

January 15, 2023 Posted by | - plutonium, business and costs, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

The U.S. Can’t Make Enough Plutonium Triggers for Its Nuclear Warheads

The Pentagon wants 80 new plutonium pits per year by 2030. It doesn’t look like that’s possible.

VICE, By Matthew Gault 13 Jan 23,

American power relies on the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. One of the reasons the U.S. military is so powerful is that the country is sitting on more than 5,000 potential world-ending nuclear weapons. But those nukes are aging and America hasn’t been building more. The Pentagon’s goal is to spin up production and make 80 plutonium pits—the trigger mechanism for nukes—a year by 2030. A new report from federal investigators said that’s a pipe dream.

A nuclear pit is a hollow ball of plutonium. On a basic level, nuclear weapons work by surrounding one of these balls with high explosives. When the high explosives go off, they apply uniform pressure to the plutonium pit and cause a nuclear explosion. They are a key ingredient in nuclear weapons, but America hasn’t made a new one since 1989.

America’s nuclear infrastructure is crumbling and in desperate need of modernization, according to the Pentagon. To keep America’s nukes running, the Pentagon wants to start production again. According to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it’s not going well.

This isn’t shocking. The National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) warned Congress in 2022 that the official plan to meet a deadline of 80 pits produced per year by 2030 wasn’t going to happen. According to the GAO, the NNSA doesn’t even know how much it will cost to create the infrastructure to build these pits, what resources it will need, or how long the project will take. “According to officials, such a life cycle cost estimate has not been completed because of concerns about releasing preliminary or uncertain information,” the report said.

For a brief period after the end of the Cold War it seemed like broad nuclear disarmament might be possible. That didn’t happen and now the U.S. is falling behind on modernization goals it set for itself. …………………….

America has pushed to modernize its nuclear forces. The U.S. Air Force is building a new intercontinental-ballistic missile and revealed a new stealth bomber last year with the fanfare of a Super Bowl halftime show. But these fancy new weapons require plutonium cores, and it doesn’t look like the U.S. can build them fast enough. https://www.vice.com/en/article/88qp5k/the-us-cant-make-enough-plutonium-triggers-for-its-nuclear-warheads

January 13, 2023 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Feds push plan to dispose plutonium using nuclear waste repository near Carlsbad

Adrian Hedden, Carlsbad Current-Argus  https://www.currentargus.com/story/news/2023/01/05/feds-push-plan-dispose-plutonium-nuke-waste-site-near-carlsbad-waste-isolation-pilot-plant-nuclear/69747932007/

Federal nuclear waste managers said they planned to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus, weapons-grade plutonium at a nuclear repository in New Mexico after the waste is diluted to a lower level of radioactivity.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) proposed in 2020 a “dilute and dispose” method of eliminating the plutonium from the environment, ultimately via emplacement at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant repository near Carlsbad.

Before that can happen, the NNSA said the waste can be “downblended” to meet requirements at WIPP, which is designed to dispose of transuranic (TRU) waste that can only be of a certain level of radioactivity.

In an environmental impact statement (EIS) released last month, the NNSA said it preferred a plan that would see the plutonium shipped from the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory in northern New Mexico for processing, then to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina where it would be prepared for final disposal at WIPP.

That means the waste would travel through New Mexico at least twice which drew the ire of watchdog groups in the northern portion of the state, and concern from New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Public comments were being accepted on the proposal until Feb. 14, and four hearings were scheduled: Jan. 19 in North Augusta, South Carolina, Jan. 24 in Carlsbad, Jan. 26 in Los Alamos and a virtual meeting on Jan. 30.

Information on the meetings and how to comment were posted in the Federal Register under citation 87 FR 77096.

New Mexico the nation’s ‘nuclear waste dump?’

Cindy Weehler, co-chair of Santa Fe-based activist group 285 ALL said the EIS called for the federal government to divert from WIPP’s original mission, potentially putting more New Mexicans at risk of exposure to radiation and for longer.

“Surplus plutonium is not the kind of waste that was agreed to when WIPP was defined,” she said. “We insist on an end to the emplacement of waste in New Mexico. We want an end to the weapons-based radioactive waste coming through our neighborhoods.”

The EIS did list alternatives to the preferred plan, potentially seeing the waste processed completely for disposal at either Savanna River or Los Alamos before shipment to WIPP.  

This could cut down on transportation, but Weehler said the NNSA’s overall plan was symptomatic of a broader effort to keep WIPP open beyond its previously defined closure date of 2024 and expand the kinds of wastes that can be disposed of at the facility.

“We want an end to the situation where New Mexico is the only nuclear waste dump for all 50 states,” Weehler said. “The concern is that if you increase the number of shipments, the number of years, and you increase the dangerousness of the waste, at some point, somewhere an accident is inevitable.

“That would be catastrophic for the community where it occurs.”

Don Hancock, nuclear waste program manager at Albuquerque-based government watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center said the plutonium waste was never intended for disposal at WIPP.

He said the federal government should prioritize legacy TRU waste sitting at DOE sites like Los Alamos as was the repository’s original intention.  

“Dilute and dispose waste shouldn’t go to WIPP in the first place,” Hancock said. “NNSA wants to prioritize waste that WIPP was not designed for.”

New Mexico, Carlsbad leaders clash over plutonium disposal

In April 2022, Lujan Grisham echoed the concerns in a letter to U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, sharing a petition from 285 ALL that gathered 1,165 signatures in opposition from across the 10 states Weehler said were impacted by the transportation route.

Lujan Grisham wrote that many New Mexicans had “ongoing frustrations” with the federal government not involving New Mexicans in nuclear waste disposal plans that involved the state’s repository – the only such facility in the U.S.

“Specifically, the New Mexicans who signed the petition raised concerns about the transportation of the surplus plutonium waste stream between the DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the WIPP,” read the letter to Granholm.

“As Governor, I take these concerns seriously and request that the Department of Energy take action to address the issues raised by New Mexicans.”

But the project was supported by local leaders in Carlsbad, about 30 miles west of the WIPP site, and the city’s Mayor Dale Janway, a frequent supporter of operations at WIPP who argued the program would be conducted safely.

“The proposed action is to dilute surplus plutonium to prevent use and disposing of the resulting CH-TRU waste at WIPP. I support this proposal as a safe, cost-effective solution,” Janway said in a statement.  

January 6, 2023 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Getting rid of plutonium pits — so many questions

 https://www.santafenewmexican.com/opinion/editorials/getting-rid-of-plutonium-pits-so-many-questions/article_4178b6d4-824e-11ed-aaa7-775a96e0dc9f.html 25 Dec 22. A Department of Energy proposal to dilute and dispose of plutonium waste at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad is ready for public comment — the draft environmental impact statement, all 412 pages of it, has been released.

The public can weigh in, whether in writing or by showing up for public hearings that will take place early next year.

Buckle up. This is going to be a contentious discussion.

The U.S. wants to be rid of 34 metric tons of plutonium bomb cores, or pits, stored at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo. The pits are Cold War legacies; because WIPP is restricted in the type of waste it can take, before disposing of it, the material must be diluted. Thus, the term, dilute and dispose. The Department of Energy’s decision about the waste was announced two years ago, but with no details.

At one point the Energy Department wanted to turn Cold War plutonium into a mixed oxide fuel for use in commercial nuclear plants. That would have happened at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, but billions in cost overruns and delays hamstrung the effort, and the Trump administration killed the project in 2018.

It chose the dilute-and-disposal plan.

The draft statement fleshes out just what would happen to prepare the pits for disposal — in a facility, we might point out, that currently is seeking a renewal of its hazardous waste permit from the state of New Mexico. WIPP is open, but state Environment Department Secretary James Kenney and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham want more oversight of waste disposal at the plant.

That back and forth is separate from the Energy Department dilute-and-disposal proposal, but the permit discussion provides context for the coming fierce debate.

Here’s what community members already are questioning. The Energy Department plan includes considerable time on highways carrying radioactive material, including trucking the stuff at least twice through New Mexico. That would include trips on congested corridors inside the southern edge of Santa Fe. First, the material would be shipped to LANL, where workers would convert it to oxidized powder. From Los Alamos, the powder would be transported to Savannah River

There, crews would add an adulterant to make the powder unusable in weapons. The dilution portion taken care of, the material would be taken to WIPP, the underground disposal site.

That’s a lot of time on the highway for radioactive material, especially considering conditions on Interstate 40. It seems an expensive and inefficient way of disposing of plutonium — a 3,300-mile trip, ending with the materials deep beneath the ground at WIPP.

That’s a site, by the way, that only was supposed to store low-level transuranic waste — the contaminated gloves, equipment, clothing, soil and other materials that need to be disposed of safely. The WIPP mission continues to be expanded, another reason the state must increase its oversight. We expect elected officials — whether the governor or members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation — to speak up further about possible plutonium pit disposal, too.

There are questions about whether the pits need to be removed from Pantex at all, or whether work to make them inoperable in weapons could take place where they currently are being held. That would mean improving storage facilities, but eliminate a lot of highway traffic. Barring keeping the pits in place, all waste roads lead to New Mexico, That why residents here have a huge stake in determining what happens to these pits.

Stay alert for notices of meetings and time for public comment. There’s no guarantee informed opposition will change plans by agencies intent on certain action, but speaking up beats staying quiet. Oh, and think about this: before rushing full speed ahead to produce even more plutonium pits, it’s time to at least try to find a way to dispose of the waste we’ve already created.

Maybe, just maybe, not all the waste has to be buried in New Mexico. Or driven across New Mexico highways. It’s a big country.

December 25, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | 2 Comments

America’s complicated problem of disposing of tons of plutonium bomb cores, as the government to spend $1.7 billion on more plutonium bomb cores

The nuclear security agency’s draft statement comes as the Senate approved a military spending bill that seeks to funnel $1.7 billion to the lab’s pit operations, an unprecedented funding amount.

Weehler said the government should hold off on producing pits, which will generate more waste, until it has figured out a safe and effective way to dispose of the radioactive material it already has.

LANL would aid in diluting plutonium in controversial disposal plan

 https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/lanl-would-aid-in-diluting-plutonium-in-controversial-disposal-plan/article_e6cb6380-6d26-11ed-9a6c-731a070c9235.html By Scott Wyland swyland@sfnewmexican.com, Dec 17, 2022

The federal government has released a draft environmental impact statement on its plans to dilute and dispose of surplus plutonium, plans that worry some activists, residents and state officials because the radioactive material would be trucked at least twice through New Mexico, including the southern edge of Santa Fe.

The U.S. Energy Department’s nuclear security agency placed a notice of the 412-page draft in the Federal Register on Friday, providing details on the plutonium disposal it first announced two years ago but had kept mostly silent about.

Agencies want to get rid of 34 metric tons of plutonium bomb cores, or pits, that are left over from the Cold War and being kept at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas.

Plans call for shipping the material to Los Alamos National Laboratory, where it would be converted to oxidized powder, then transported to Savannah River Site in South Carolina so crews can add an adulterant to make it unusable for weapons.

From there, it would go to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground disposal site in Carlsbad. This “downblending” is required because WIPP only takes waste below a certain radioactive level.

The public will have a chance to weigh in, both with written comments and at several public hearings scheduled for early next year.

Critics have spoke out against the plan for more than a year, arguing it puts communities along the trucking routes at risk and should be reconsidered.

Cindy Weehler, who co-chairs the watchdog group 285 ALL, said the environmental review confirms her concerns about the region becoming a hub for material that is more radioactive than the transuranic waste — contaminated gloves, equipment, clothing, soil and other materials — the lab now ships to WIPP.

“The preferred option is still to do this 3,300-hundred-mile road trip and have the two operations occur at two different labs,” Weehler said.

The impact statement offers possible alternatives, such as doing all the downblending at the lab or Savannah River to reduce transportation, but it makes clear the original plan is the preferred method.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has been quiet about the dilute-and-dispose plans, other than to acknowledge an environmental impact statement was underway.

This silence has frustrated residents, state and local officials and community advocates like Weehler.

If all the downblending is done at the lab, it would keep the plutonium from being hauled through a dozen states, so that would be better for many neighborhoods across the country, Weehler said.

However, dangerous radioactive substances would still go through Los Alamos and Santa Fe counties twice, she said.

Whether the oxidized powder leaves the lab in pure form or is adulterated, it would be hazardous to breathe in if the containers were breached in an accident, she said.

The draft statement said the powder would go into a steel canister, which would be placed into a reinforced 55-gallon drum known as a “criticality control container.” As many as 14 control containers can be put into a heavily fortified Trupact shipping container.

The lab has an operation known as ARIES for oxidizing plutonium on a small scale. Boosting the quantity would require installing more glove boxes — the sealed compartments that allow workers to handle radioactive materials — and other equipment to the plutonium facility, the statement said. The additions would expand the facility to 6,800 feet from 5,200 feet.

Structures would have to be built to accommodate the work, including a logistical support center, an office building, a warehouse, a security portal and a weather enclosure for the plutonium facility’s loading dock, the statement says.

The idea of doing away with surplus plutonium began after the Cold War. In 2000, the U.S. and Russia agreed to each eliminate 34 metric tons of the plutonium so it could no longer be used in nuclear weapons.

Russia reportedly withdrew from the pact later, but the U.S. decided to stick with its commitment.

The Energy Department originally sought to build a Savannah River facility that could turn Cold War plutonium into a mixed oxide fuel for commercial nuclear plants. But after billions of dollars in cost overruns and years of delays, the Trump administration scrapped the project in 2018 and decided to go with diluting and disposing of the waste.

One nuclear waste watchdog questioned why the leftover pits must be removed from Pantex at all.

That facility should be able to continue storing the plutonium safely, just as it has since the 1990s, said Don Hancock, director of nuclear waste safety for the nonprofit Southwest Research and Information Center.

“If it’s not safe to be at Pantex, then that raises some severe questions about the safety of the Pantex plant for its assembly and disassembly mission” for nuclear weapons, Hancock said.

Hancock said he opposes the government using WIPP as the sole disposal site for the diluted plutonium and other nuclear waste.

The nuclear security agency’s draft statement comes as the Senate approved a military spending bill that seeks to funnel $1.7 billion to the lab’s pit operations, an unprecedented funding amount.

Weehler said the government should hold off on producing pits, which will generate more waste, until it has figured out a safe and effective way to dispose of the radioactive material it already has.

“This is just a commonsense thing,” she said. “We have the weaponry we need.”

December 19, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, USA | Leave a comment

Dismantling Sellafield: the epic task of shutting down a nuclear site

Nothing is produced at Sellafield anymore. But making safe what is left behind is an almost unimaginably expensive and complex task that requires us to think not on a human timescale, but a planetary one

Guardian, by Samanth Subramanian 15 Dec 22,

“……………………………………………………………………….. Laid out over six square kilometres, Sellafield is like a small town, with nearly a thousand buildings, its own roads and even a rail siding – all owned by the government, and requiring security clearance to visit………. having driven through a high-security gate, you’re surrounded by towering chimneys, pipework, chugging cooling plants, everything dressed in steampunk. The sun bounces off metal everywhere. In some spots, the air shakes with the noise of machinery. It feels like the most manmade place in the world.

Since it began operating in 1950, Sellafield has had different duties. First it manufactured plutonium for nuclear weapons. Then it generated electricity for the National Grid, until 2003. It also carried out years of fuel reprocessing: extracting uranium and plutonium from nuclear fuel rods after they’d ended their life cycles. The very day before I visited Sellafield, in mid-July, the reprocessing came to an end as well. It was a historic occasion. From an operational nuclear facility, Sellafield turned into a full-time storage depot – but an uncanny, precarious one, filled with toxic nuclear waste that has to be kept contained at any cost.

Nothing is produced at Sellafield any more. Which was just as well, because I’d gone to Sellafield not to observe how it lived but to understand how it is preparing for its end. Sellafield’s waste – spent fuel rods, scraps of metal, radioactive liquids, a miscellany of other debris – is parked in concrete silos, artificial ponds and sealed buildings. Some of these structures are growing, in the industry’s parlance, “intolerable”, atrophied by the sea air, radiation and time itself. If they degrade too much, waste will seep out of them, poisoning the Cumbrian soil and water.

To prevent that disaster, the waste must be hauled out, the silos destroyed and the ponds filled in with soil and paved over. The salvaged waste will then be transferred to more secure buildings that will be erected on site. But even that will be only a provisional arrangement, lasting a few decades. Nuclear waste has no respect for human timespans. The best way to neutralise its threat is to move it into a subterranean vault, of the kind the UK plans to build later this century.

Once interred, the waste will be left alone for tens of thousands of years, while its radioactivity cools. Dealing with all the radioactive waste left on site is a slow-motion race against time, which will last so long that even the grandchildren of those working on site will not see its end. The process will cost at least £121bn.

Compared to the longevity of nuclear waste, Sellafield has only been around for roughly the span of a single lunch break within a human life. Still, it has lasted almost the entirety of the atomic age, witnessing both its earliest follies and its continuing confusions. In 1954, Lewis Strauss, the chair of the US Atomic Energy Commission, predicted that nuclear energy would make electricity “too cheap to meter”. That forecast has aged poorly. The main reason power companies and governments aren’t keener on nuclear power is not that activists are holding them back or that uranium is difficult to find, but that producing it safely is just proving too expensive.

… The short-termism of policymaking neglected any plans that had to be made for the abominably lengthy, costly life of radioactive waste. I kept being told, at Sellafield, that science is still trying to rectify the decisions made in undue haste three-quarters of a century ago. Many of the earliest structures here, said Dan Bowman, the head of operations at one of Sellafield’s two waste storage ponds, “weren’t even built with decommissioning in mind”.

As a result, Bowman admitted, Sellafield’s scientists are having to invent, mid-marathon, the process of winding the site down – and they’re finding that they still don’t know enough about it. They don’t know exactly what they’ll find in the silos and ponds. They don’t know how much time they’ll need to mop up all the waste, or how long they’ll have to store it, or what Sellafield will look like afterwards. The decommissioning programme is laden “with assumptions and best guesses”, Bowman told me. It will be finished a century or so from now. Until then, Bowman and others will bend their ingenuity to a seemingly self-contradictory exercise: dismantling Sellafield while keeping it from falling apart along the way.

To take apart an ageing nuclear facility, you have to put a lot of other things together first. New technologies, for instance, and new buildings to replace the intolerable ones, and new reserves of money. (That £121bn price tag may swell further.) All of Sellafield is in a holding pattern, trying to keep waste safe until it can be consigned to the ultimate strongroom: the geological disposal facility (GDF), bored hundreds of metres into the Earth’s rock, a project that could cost another £53bn. Even if a GDF receives its first deposit in the 2040s, the waste has to be delivered and put away with such exacting caution that it can be filled and closed only by the middle of the 22nd century.

Anywhere else, this state of temporariness might induce a mood of lax detachment, like a transit lounge to a frequent flyer. But at Sellafield, with all its caches of radioactivity, the thought of catastrophe is so ever-present that you feel your surroundings with a heightened keenness. At one point, when we were walking through the site, a member of the Sellafield team pointed out three different waste storage facilities within a 500-metre radius. The spot where we stood on the road, he said, “is probably the most hazardous place in Europe”.

Sellafield’s waste comes in different forms and potencies. Spent fuel rods and radioactive pieces of metal rest in skips, which in turn are submerged in open, rectangular ponds, where water cools them and absorbs their radiation. The skips have held radioactive material for so long that they themselves count as waste. The pond beds are layered with nuclear sludge: degraded metal wisps, radioactive dust and debris. Discarded cladding, peeled off fuel rods like banana-skins, fills a cluster of 16-metre-deep concrete silos partially sunk into the earth.

More dangerous still are the 20 tonnes of melted fuel inside a reactor that caught fire in 1957 and has been sealed off and left alone ever since. Somewhere on the premises, Sellafield has also stored the 140 tonnes of plutonium it has purified over the decades. It’s the largest such hoard of plutonium in the world, but it, too, is a kind of waste, simply because nobody wants it for weapons any more, or knows what else to do with it.

…………………………………

………………………………… I only ever saw a dummy of a spent fuel rod; the real thing would have been a metre long, weighed 10-12kg, and, when it emerged from a reactor, run to temperatures of 2,800C, half as hot as the surface of the sun. In a reactor, hundreds of rods of fresh uranium fuel slide into a pile of graphite blocks. Then a stream of neutrons, usually emitted by an even more radioactive metal such as californium, is directed into the pile. Those neutrons generate more neutrons out of uranium atoms, which generate still more neutrons out of other uranium atoms, and so on, the whole process begetting vast quantities of heat that can turn water into steam and drive turbines.

During this process, some of the uranium atoms, randomly but very usefully, absorb darting neutrons, yielding heavier atoms of plutonium: the stuff of nuclear weapons. The UK’s earliest reactors – a type called Magnox – were set up to harvest plutonium for bombs; the electricity was a happy byproduct. The government built 26 such reactors across the country. They’re all being decommissioned now, or awaiting demolition. It turned out that if you weren’t looking to make plutonium nukes to blow up cities, Magnox was a pretty inefficient way to light up homes and power factories.

For most of the latter half of the 20th century, one of Sellafield’s chief tasks was reprocessing. Once uranium and plutonium were extracted from used fuel rods, it was thought, they could be stored safely – and perhaps eventually resold, to make money on the side. Beginning in 1956, spent rods came to Cumbria from plants across the UK, but also by sea from customers in Italy and Japan. Sellafield has taken in nearly 60,000 tonnes of spent fuel, more than half of all such fuel reprocessed anywhere in the world. The rods arrived at Sellafield by train, stored in cuboid “flasks” with corrugated sides, each weighing about 50 tonnes and standing 1.5 metres tall.

………….. at last, the reprocessing plant will be placed on “fire watch”, visited periodically to ensure nothing in the building is going up in flames, but otherwise left alone for decades for its radioactivity to dwindle, particle by particle.


ike malign glitter, radioactivity gets everywhere, turning much of what it touches into nuclear waste. The humblest items – a paper towel or a shoe cover used for just a second in a nuclear environment – can absorb radioactivity, but this stuff is graded as low-level waste; it can be encased in a block of cement and left outdoors. (Cement is an excellent shield against radiation. A popular phrase in the nuclear waste industry goes: “When in doubt, grout.”) Even the paper towel needs a couple of hundred years to shed its radioactivity and become safe, though. A moment of use, centuries of quarantine: radiation tends to twist time all out of proportion.

On the other hand, high-level waste – the byproduct of reprocessing – is so radioactive that its containers will give off heat for thousands of years. …………………………….

Waste can travel incognito, to fatal effect: radioactive atoms carried by the wind or water, entering living bodies, riddling them with cancer, ruining them inside out. During the 1957 reactor fire at Sellafield, a radioactive plume of particles poured from the top of a 400-foot chimney. A few days later, some of these particles were detected as far away as Germany and Norway. Near Sellafield, radioactive iodine found its way into the grass of the meadows where dairy cows grazed, so that samples of milk taken in the weeks after the fire showed 10 times the permissible level. The government had to buy up milk from farmers living in 500 sq km around Sellafield and dump it in the Irish Sea.

From the outset, authorities hedged and fibbed. For three days, no one living in the area was told about the gravity of the accident, or even advised to stay indoors and shut their windows. Workers at Sellafield, reporting their alarming radiation exposure to their managers, were persuaded that they’d “walk [it] off on the way home”, the Daily Mirror reported at the time. A government inquiry was then held, but its report was not released in full until 1988. For nearly 30 years, few people knew that the fire dispersed not just radioactive iodine but also polonium, far more deadly. The estimated toll of cancer deaths has been revised upwards continuously, from 33 to 200 to 240. Sellafield took its present name only in 1981, in part to erase the old name, Windscale, and the associated memories of the fire.

The invisibility of radiation and the opacity of governments make for a bad combination. Sellafield hasn’t suffered an accident of equivalent scale since the 1957 fire, but the niggling fear that some radioactivity is leaking out of the facility in some fashion has never entirely vanished. In 1983, a Sellafield pipeline discharged half a tonne of radioactive solvent into the sea. British Nuclear Fuels Limited, the government firm then running Sellafield, was fined £10,000. Around the same time, a documentary crew found higher incidences than expected of leukaemia among children in some surrounding areas. A government study concluded that radiation from Sellafield wasn’t to blame. Perhaps, the study suggested, the leukaemia had an undetected, infectious cause.

It was no secret that Sellafield kept on site huge stashes of spent fuel rods, waiting to be reprocessed. This was lucrative work. An older reprocessing plant on site earned £9bn over its lifetime, half of it from customers overseas. But the pursuit of commercial reprocessing turned Sellafield and a similar French site into “de facto waste dumps”, the journalist Stephanie Cooke found in her book In Mortal Hands. Sellafield now requires £2bn a year to maintain. What looked like a smart line of business back in the 1950s has now turned out to be anything but. With every passing year, maintaining the world’s costliest rubbish dump becomes more and more commercially calamitous.


The expenditure rises because structures age, growing more rickety, more prone to mishap. In 2005, in an older reprocessing plant at Sellafield, 83,000 litres of radioactive acid – enough to fill a few hundred bathtubs – dripped out of a ruptured pipe. The plant had to be shut down for two years; the cleanup cost at least £300m. …………………………………………………………………………….

Waste disposal is a completely solved problem,” Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, declared in 1979. He was right, but only in theory. The nuclear industry certainly knew about the utility of water, steel and concrete as shields against radioactivity, and by the 1970s, the US government had begun considering burying reactor waste in a GDF. But Teller was glossing over the details, namely: the expense of keeping waste safe, the duration over which it has to be maintained, the accidents that could befall it, the fallout of those accidents. Four decades on, not a single GDF has begun to operate anywhere in the world. Teller’s complete solution is still a hypothesis.

Instead, there have been only interim solutions, although to a layperson, even these seem to have been conceived in some scientist’s intricate delirium. High-level waste, like the syrupy liquor formed during reprocessing, has to be cooled first, in giant tanks. Then it is vitrified: mixed with three parts glass beads and a little sugar, until it turns into a hot block of dirty-brown glass. (The sugar reduces the waste’s volatility. “We like to get ours from Tate & Lyle,” Eva Watson-Graham, a Sellafield information officer, said.) Since 1991, stainless steel containers full of vitrified waste, each as tall as a human, have been stacked 10-high in a warehouse. If you stand on the floor above them, Watson-Graham said, you can still sense a murmuring warmth on the soles of your shoes.


Even this elaborate vitrification is insufficient in the long, long, long run. Fire or flood could destroy Sellafield’s infrastructure. Terrorists could try to get at the nuclear material. Governments change, companies fold, money runs out. Nations dissolve. Glass degrades. The ground sinks and rises, so that land becomes sea and sea becomes land. The contingency planning that scientists do today – the kind that wasn’t done when the industry was in its infancy – contends with yawning stretches of time. Hence the GDF: a terrestrial cavity to hold waste until its dangers have dried up and it becomes as benign as the surrounding rock.

A glimpse of such an endeavour is available already, beneath Finland. From Helsinki, if you drive 250km west, then head another half-km down, you will come to a warren of tunnels called Onkalo…………. If Onkalo begins operating on schedule, in 2025, it will be the world’s first GDF for spent fuel and high-level reactor waste – 6,500 tonnes of the stuff, all from Finnish nuclear stations. It will cost €5.5bn and is designed to be safe for a million years. The species that is building it, Homo sapiens, has only been around for a third of that time.

………. In the 2120s, once it has been filled, Onkalo will be sealed and turned over to the state. Other countries also plan to banish their nuclear waste into GDFs…. more https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/dec/15/dismantling-sellafield-epic-task-shutting-down-decomissioned-nuclear-site

December 14, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, decommission reactor, technology | Leave a comment

The ‘Demon Core,’ The 14-Pound Plutonium Sphere That Killed Two Scientists

By Kaleena Fraga | Checked By Erik Hawkins https://allthatsinteresting.com/demon-core December 10, 2022

Physicists Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin both suffered agonizing deaths after making minor slips of the hand while working on the plutonium orb known as the “demon core” at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico.

To survivors of the nuclear attacks in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, the nuclear explosions seemed like hell on earth. And though a third plutonium core — meant for use if Japan didn’t surrender — was never dropped, it still managed to kill two scientists. The odd circumstances of their deaths led the core to be nicknamed “demon core.”

Retired to the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagaski, demon core killed two scientists exactly nine months apart. Both were conducting similar experiments on the core, and both made eerily similar mistakes that proved fatal.

Before the experiments, scientists had called the core “Rufus.” After the deaths of their colleagues, the core was nicknamed “demon core.” So what exactly happened to the two scientists who died while handling it?

The Heart Of A Nuclear Bomb

In the waning days of World War II, the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan. One fell on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and one fell on Nagasaki on August 9. In case Japan didn’t surrender, the U.S. was prepared to drop a third bomb, powered by the plutonium core later called “demon core.”

The core was codenamed “Rufus.” It weighed almost 14 pounds and stretched about 3.5 inches in diameter. And when Japan announced its intention to surrender on August 15, scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory were allowed to keep the core for experiments.

As Atlas Obscura explains, the scientists wanted to test the limits of nuclear material. They knew that a nuclear bomb’s core went critical during a nuclear explosion, and wanted to better understand the limit between subcritical material and the much more dangerous radioactive critical state.

But such criticality experiments were dangerous — so dangerous that a physicist named Richard Feynman compared them to provoking a dangerous beast. He quipped in 1944 that the experiments were “like tickling the tail of a sleeping dragon.”

And like an angry dragon roused from slumber, demon core would soon kill two scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory when they got too close.

How Demon Core Killed Two Scientists

On Aug. 21, 1945, about a week after Japan expressed its intention to surrender, Los Alamos physicist Harry Daghlian conducted a criticality experiment on demon core that would cost him his life. According to Science Alert, he ignored safety protocols and entered the lab alone — accompanied only by a security guard — and got to work.

Daghlian’s experiment involved surrounding the demon core with bricks made of tungsten carbide, which created a sort of boomerang effect for the neutrons shed by the core itself. Daghlian brought the demon core right to the edge of supercriticality but as he tried to remove one of the bricks, he accidentally dropped it on the plutonium sphere. It went supercritical and blasted him with neutron radiation.

Daghlian died 25 days later. Before his death, the physicist suffered from a burnt and blistered hand, nausea, and pain. He eventually fell into a coma and passed away at the age of 24.

Exactly nine months later, on May 21, 1946, demon core struck again. This time, Canadian physicist Louis Slotin was conducting a similar experiment in which he lowered a beryllium dome over the core to push it toward supercriticality. To ensure that the dome never entirely covered the core, Slotin used a screwdriver to maintain a small opening though, Slotin had been warned about his method before.

But just like the tungsten carbide brick that had slipped out of Daghlian’s hand, Slotin’s screwdriver slipped out of his grip. The dome dropped and as the neutrons bounced back and forth, demon core went supercritical. Blue light and heat consumed Slotin and the seven other people in the lab.

“The blue flash was clearly visible in the room although it (the room) was well illuminated from the windows and possibly the overhead lights,” one of Slotin colleagues, Raemer Schreiber, recalled to the New Yorker. “The total duration of the flash could not have been more than a few tenths of a second. Slotin reacted very quickly in flipping the tamper piece off.”

Slotin may have reacted quickly, but he’d seen what happened to Daghlian. “Well,” he said, according to Schreiber, “that does it.”

Though the other people in the lab survived, Slotin had been doused with a fatal dose of radiation. The physicist’s hand turned blue and blistered, his white blood count plummeted, he suffered from nausea and abdominal pain, and internal radiation burns, and gradually become mentally confused. Nine days later, Slotin died at the age of 35.

Eerily, the core had killed both Daghlian and Slotin in similar ways. Both fatal incidences took place on a Tuesday, on the 21st of a month. Daghlian and Slotin even died in the same hospital room. Thus the core, previously codenamed “Rufus,” was nicknamed “demon core.”

What Happened To Demon Core?

Harry Daghlian and Louis Slotin’s deaths would forever change how scientists interacted with radioactive material. “Hands-on” experiments like the physicists had conducted were promptly banned. From that point on, researchers would handle radioactive material from a distance with remote controls.

So what happened to demon core, the unused heart of the third atomic bomb?

Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory had planned to send it to Bikini Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, where it would have been publicly detonated. But the core needed time to cool off after Slotin’s experiment, and when the third test at Bikini Atoll was canceled, plans for demon core changed.

After that, in the summer of 1946, the plutonium core was melted down to be used in the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Since the United States hasn’t, to date, dropped any more nuclear weapons, demon core remains unused.

But it retains a harrowing legacy. Not only was demon core meant to power a third nuclear weapon — a weapon destined to rain destruction and death on Japan — but it also killed two scientists who handled it in similar ways.

December 12, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, radiation, Reference, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Nuclear Power Isn’t Clean — It Creates Hellish Wastelands of Radioactive Sewage

If you want to remove plutonium from a radioactive wasteland, what do you do so that it doesn’t create another radioactive wasteland? And what does that say about the 90,000 tons of high-level waste sitting at more than 50 U.S. commercial reactor sites?

If you want to remove plutonium from a radioactive wasteland, what do you do so that it doesn’t create another radioactive wasteland? And what does that say about the 90,000 tons of high-level waste sitting at more than 50 U.S. commercial reactor sites?

Harvey WassermanTruthout October 12, 2022,

Joshua Frank’s brilliant Atomic Days, from Haymarket Books, takes us deep into the horrific clogged bowels of the failed technology that is nuclear power.

Frank’s excursion into the radioactive wasteland of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, in eastern Washington State’s Columbia River Valley, is the ultimate real-world nightmare.

Unfortunately, it serves as a wailing siren for what faces us with the atomic wastes from our commercial reactors, now joined at the toxic hip to the global weapons industry.

“Like a ceaseless conveyer belt,” Frank writes, “Hanford generated plutonium for nearly four long decades, reaching maximum production during the height of the Cold War.”

It is now, he says “a sprawling wasteland of radioactive and chemic sewage … the costliest environmental remediation project the world has ever seen and, arguably, the most contaminated place on the entire planet.”

Current cost estimates to clean up the place, says Frank, “could run anywhere between $316 and $662 billion.”

But that depends on a few definitions, including the most critical: What does it mean to “clean up” a hellhole like Hanford? If you want to remove plutonium from a radioactive wasteland, what do you do so that it doesn’t create another radioactive wasteland? And what does that say about the 90,000 tons of high-level waste sitting at more than 50 U.S. commercial reactor sites?

To put it in perspective, we spend $2.6 billion each year just to preserve Hanford as it is. The clean-up estimate, according to Frank, has roughly tripled in the past six years, leaving us to believe that in another six years it could easily be over $6 trillion.

The environmental consequences are colossal. As Frank abundantly documents, Hanford is an unfathomable mess. Giant tanks are leaking. Plutonium and other apocalyptic substances are rapidly migrating toward the Columbia River, which could be permanently poisoned, along with much more. Local residents have been poisoned with “permissible permanent concentration” of lethal isotopes on vegetables, livestock, and in the air and drinking water.

Such exposures have even included a deliberate experiment known as the “Green Run” in which Hanford operatives “purposely released dangerous amounts of radioactive iodine.”

Such emissions are especially damaging to embryos, fetuses and small children, whose thyroids can be easily destroyed (as we are now seeing at Fukushima). But back then the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wanted to know how fallout would flow in wind currents.

The product was a “death mile” stretching from the Columbia River basin to the ocean, filled with casualties of radioactive poisoning.

After decades of devastating leaks from defective storage tanks, the Los Angeles Times reported that more radioactivity was stored at Hanford “than would be released during an entire nuclear war.”

Thousands of such tanks at Fukushima may soon be given a governmental green light to dump their poisons in the Pacific, with potentially apocalyptic results.

At Hanford, “the waste was so hot it would boil … for decades to come,” i.e., right up to the present day, writes Frank.

Despite official denials, Frank documents a terrifying range of catastrophic leaks into the soil, water tables and streams throughout the reservation. By 1985, he writes, “despite $7 billion spent over the previous ten years, no progress had been made in ridding the aging tanks” of their deadly offal.

To this day “Hanford remains the most complex environmental mess in the United States,” riddled with problems that provide huge profits for corporations that land clean-up contracts and then fail to deliver, exceeding the complexity even of the infamous waste dump at West Valley, New York, and the highly radioactive fallout zone at Santa Susana, California, just north of Los Angeles.

But Hanford’s not alone. Frank also takes us to Chelyabinsk, the site of a Soviet era disaster, and to another wasteland around Kyshtym. Like the 1000-square-mile “dead zone” around Chernobyl, Hanford is full of areas where human life is perilous at best. ………………………………………………….. more https://truthout.org/articles/nuclear-power-isnt-clean-it-creates-hellish-wastelands-of-radioactive-sewage/

October 13, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | 1 Comment

Plutonium and high-level nuclear waste

About plutonium and the “reprocessing” or “recycling” of used nuclear fuel. Gordon Edwards, 12 Oct 22

Plutonium is less than 1/2 of one percent of the used nuclear fuel, but it is a powerful source of energy that can be used for military or civilian purposes (nuclear bomb or nuclear reactors). To get the plutonium out of the used fuel is a very messy operation. The places where reprocessing has been done on a large scale are among the most radioactively contaminated sites in the world. Although NWMO says that plutonium use  is not on their agenda, it is included, in writing, as one of their options. Today, in New Brunswick, government funding is going to Moltex Corp. to proceed with plans that require plutonium use. Chalk River is just beginning to build a billion-dollar brand new research facility that will be dealing with plutonium as a priority. A large nuclear industry mural painted on the walls of the Saskatoon Airport states that reprocessing used fuel to get the plutonium out is the last step in the “Nuclear Fuel Cycle”.

(1) Nuclear fuel can be handled with care before it goes into a nuclear reactor. But used nuclear fuel will never be handled by human hands again, at least for several centuries, because of the hundreds of newly-created radioactive materials inside each fuel bundle. These are (a) the broken pieces of uranium atoms that have been spit, (b) the newly-created “transuranic” (heavier than uranium) materials that are produced, and (c) the so-called “activation products” (non-radioactive materials that have been de-stabilized and so are now radioactive).  See “Nuclear Waste 101” https://youtu.be/wD2ixadwXW8

(2) Radioactivity is not a thing, but a property of certain materials that have unstable atoms. Most atoms are stable and unchanging. Radioactive atoms are unstable. Each radioactive atom is like a tiny little time bomb, that will eventually “explode” (the industry uses the word “disintegrate”). When an atom disintegrates it gives off projectiles that can damage living cells, causing them to develop into cancers later on. These projectiles are of four kinds: alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, and neutrons. These damaging emissions are called “atomic radiation”. No one knows how to turn off radioactivity, so they remain dangerous while they exist.

(The danger lasts for tens of millions of years)

(3) Used nuclear fuel is so radioactive that it can give a lethal dose of gamma radiation and neutrons to any unshielded humans that are nearby. Even the “30-year old” used fuel that  NWMO wants to transport to a “willing host community” is still far too dangerous to be handled without massive shielding and robotic equipment. The job of repackaging the used fuel bundles requires the use of shielded “hot cells” — which are specially constructed airtight rooms with thick windows (4 to 6 feet thick) and large robot arms like those used in outer space to protect the workers from being overexposed to radiation.  Any damage to the outer metal coating on the fuel bundles will allow radioactive materials to escape from inside the fuel in the form of radioactive gasses, vapours, or dust. That’s why the hot cells have to be air-tight,  and why these rooms themselves will eventually become radioactive waste. 

See https://youtu.be/g8EPo8BntPQ (below)

(3) Nuclear proponents often point out that the used nuclear fuel – the stuff that NWMO wants to “bury” underground – still has a lot of energy potential and could be “recycled”. That’s because one of the radioactive materials in the waste, called “plutonium”, can be used to make atomic bombs or other kinds of nuclear weapons, and it can also be used as a fuel for more nuclear reactors. But to get plutonium out of the fuel bundles they have to be dissolved in some kind of acid or “molten salt”, turning the waste into a liquid form instead of a solid form. This allows radioactive gasses to escape from the fuel, and makes it much more difficult to keep all the other radioactive materials (now in liquid form) out of the environment of living things. Any plutonium extraction technology is called “reprocessing”.

4) Although NWMO says that reprocessing is not their intention, it has always been considered a possibility and has never been excluded. It is stated in all NWMO documentation that reprocessing remains an option. Once a willing host community has said “yes” to receive all of Canada’s used nuclear fuel, the government and industry can then decide that they want to get that plutonium out of the fuel before burying it.  That means opening up the fuel bundles and spilling all the radioactive poisons into a gaseous or liquid medium so they can separate the plutonium (and maybe a few other things) from all the rest of the radioactive garbage. Canada has built and operated reprocessing plants in the 1940s and 1950s at Chalk River. AECL tried but failed to get the government to build a commercial-scale reprocessing plant in the late 1970s. Canada did some experimental reprocessing in Manitoba, when AECL built the “Underground Research Laboratory” to study the idea of a DGR for used nuclear fuel in the 1980s and 1990s.  Read http://www.ccnr.org/AECL_plute.html . 

(5) The big reprocessing centres in the world include Hanford, in Washington State; Sellafield, in Northern England; Mayak, in Russia; La Hague, in France; and Rokkasho, in Japan. There is also a shut-down commercial reprocessing plant at West Vallay, New York.  These sites are all environmental foul-ups requiring extremely costly and dangerous cleanups. 

HANFORD: over $100 billion needed to clean up the sitehttps://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/hanfords-soaring-cost-of-radioactive-waste-cleanup-is-targeted-as-nw-governors-seek-more-funding/

SELLAFIELD: over 200 billion pounds ($222 billion) for cleanuphttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/23/uk-nuclear-waste-cleanup-decommissioning-power-stations

MAYAK: severe environmental contamination but no cost estimateshttps://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/radwaste-storage-at-nuclear-fuel-cycle-plants-in-russia/2011-12-russias-infamous-reprocessing-plant-mayak-never-stopped-illegal-dumping-of-radioactive-waste-into-nearby-river-poisoning-residents-newly-disclosed-court-finding-says

LA HAGUE: widespread contamination, no detailed dollar figure providedhttps://ejatlas.org/conflict/la-hague-center-of-the-reprocessing-of-nuclear-waste-france

ROKKASHO: years of cost overruns and delays – $130 billion for starters

https://www.neimagazine.com/news/newsjapans-rokkasho-reprocessing-plant-postponed-again-8105722

WEST VALLEY: only operated for 6 years, about $5 billion in cleanup costhttps://www.ucsusa.org/resources/brief-history-reprocessing-and-cleanup-west-valley-ny

(6) Newer reprocessing technologies are smaller and use different approaches – but basically, any time you are going to open uo the fuel bundles, you are “playing with fire” and it is much harder to keep all the radioactive pioisons in check once they are out of the fuel bundle.

Read http://www.ccnr.org/paulson_legacy.html

(7) My feeling is that any “handling” or “repackaging” or “reprocessing” of used nuclear fuel should NOT be done in a remote community that does not have the economic or political “clout” to demand that things be done properly. If It is to be dine at all, this should be done back in the major population centres where the reactors are located and people living there can raise a fuss if things are not done safely.  

(8) Also, my feeling is that the fuel should not be moved at all until the reactors are all shut down. The radioactive wastes can be very well packaged and carefully guarded where they are. Since NWMO will only move 30-year old used fuel, there will ALWAYS be 30 years worth of unburied waste right at the surface, right beside the reactors, ready to suffer a catastrophe of some sort, no matter HOW fast they bury the older fuel. In fact, the nuclear indusrtry does not really want to “get rid” of nuclear waste at all, but just move some of the older stuff out of the way so that they can keep on making more. The best place to take the waste is where there are no reporters or TV broadcasters or influential wealthy people to blow the whistle if things go badly. Maybe I’m a little over-suspicious, but given the history of waste management, you can’t be too careful.

9) In Germany, they buried radioactive waste in an old salt mine as a kind of DGR for a very long time. When radioactive contamination kept leaking into the ground water and the surface waters, the nuclear scientists in charge did not tell the government or the public for almost 10 years. Then, when it became clear that the environment was being severely affected, the German government decided to take all the waste OUT of the DGR – a difficult and dangerous operation that will take 15-30 years and cost over 3.7 billion euros ($5 billion Canadian equivalent.) 

Read https://www.neimagazine.com/features/featureclearing-out-asse-2/

Any potential willing host community would be well advised to insist that all “handling” of individual fuel bundles, of any kind whatsoever, whether repackaging or reprocessing, should not be part of the plan for the willing host community to accept. But it would have to be in writing and legally enforceable.

Of course the decision is entirely up to the willing host community, not me – and hopefully, not the industry either.

October 12, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, Reference | Leave a comment

The government’s price isn’t right for plutonium-contaminated land in Palomares (Almeria)

 https://euroweeklynews.com/2022/10/07/the-governments-price-isnt-right-for-plutonium-contaminated-land-in-palomares-almeria/By Linda Hall • 07 October 2022

FIFTY-SIX years on, Palomares is still suffering the effects of its infamous “nuclear incident.”

This occurred on January 17 in 1966 when four unarmed thermonuclear bombs were released after two US aircraft crashed in mid-air over the Mediterranean.

One bomb was found far out to sea but three fell on Palomares, releasing plutonium and contaminating an area of two square kilometres. The US army decontaminated some of the land but much remains untreated.

Spain’s central government announced in early October that it would soon be completing its estimate of the value of the plutonium-affected properties it intends to acquire.

“This would appear to be the first step in the clean-up plan drafted more than 10 years ago,” provincial media sources said.

Buying up the land was in the public interest “to safeguard residents’ health and permit a close watch on the land”, the government said, allocating €345,127 for the compulsory purchase of 324,073 square metres of land.

According to the same sources, the 30 owners involved, who include developers and agricultural growers, dismissed the €1 per square metre compensation as “laughable.”

They maintained that this was particularly risible after Spain’s Energy, Environmental and Technological Research Centre (CIEMAT) recommended a price of €17 per square metre of rural land and €83 for building land in a 2007 report to the Nuclear Safety Council.

Most of the land in question is located within the Cuevas del Almanzora boundaries although five properties belong to Vera.

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October 7, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, Spain | Leave a comment

Gullible governments – US Energy Department returns to costly and risky plutonium separation technologies

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Jungmin KangMasafumi TakuboFrank von Hippel | September 14, 2022, On July 17, the United Kingdom ended 58 years of plutonium separation for nuclear fuel by closing its Magnox nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield. This leaves the UK with the world’s largest stock of separated power-reactor plutonium, 140 metric tons as of the end of 2020, including 22 tons separated for Japan. The UK is also second in the world only to Russia in the size of its overall inventory of separated plutonium with 119 tons, including 3.2 tons for weapons. Russia’s stock, 191 tons, is mostly “weapon-grade” separated for use in nuclear weapons during the Cold War, but the UK’s power-reactor plutonium is also weapon usable, and therefore also poses a security risk. The UK has no plan for how it will dispose of its separated plutonium. Its “prudent estimate” placeholder for the disposal cost is £10 billion ($12.6 billion).

One obvious way to get rid of separated plutonium would be to mix it with depleted uranium to make “mixed-oxide” (MOX) fuel energetically equivalent to low-enriched uranium fuel, the standard fuel of conventional reactors. Despite the bad economics, since 1976 France has routinely separated out the approximately one percent plutonium in the low-enriched uranium spent fuel discharged by its water-cooled reactors and recycled the plutonium in MOX fuel.

But both the UK and the US have had negative experiences with building their own MOX production plants.

In 2001, the UK completed a MOX plant, only to abandon it in 2011 after 10 years of failed attempts to make it operate. For its part, the US Energy Department, which owns almost 50 tons of excess Cold War plutonium, contracted with the French government-owned nuclear-fuel cycle company, Areva (now Orano), in 2008 to build a MOX fuel fabrication plant. But the United States switched to a “dilute and dispose” policy for its excess plutonium in 2017 after the estimated cost of the MOX plant grew from $2.7 billion to $17 billion.

Despite decades of failed attempts around the world to make separated plutonium an economic fuel for nuclear power plants, the United States Energy Department is once again promoting the recycling of separated plutonium in the fuel of “advanced” reactor designs that were found to be economically uncompetitive 50 years ago. At the same time, other countries—including Canada and South Korea, working in collaboration with the Energy Department’s nuclear laboratories—are also promoting plutonium separation as a “solution” to their own spent fuel disposal problems. These efforts not only gloss over the long history of failure of these nuclear technologies; they also fail to take into account the proliferation risk associated with plutonium separation—a risk that history has shown to be quite real.

Renewed advocacy for plutonium separation. As the UK finally turns its back on plutonium separation, the United States Energy Department is looking in the other direction. Within the Energy Department, one part, the Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation, is struggling to dispose of excess Cold War weapons plutonium, as two others—the Office of Nuclear Energy and ARPA-E (Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy)—are promoting plutonium separation……………………………………..

In fact, the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy is promoting sodium-cooled reactor designs based on the Idaho National Laboratory’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II, which was shut down in 1994 due to a lack of mission after the end of the US breeder program a decade earlier. The Energy Department’s office is now supporting research, development, and demonstration of sodium-cooled reactors by several nuclear energy startups.

Among them is Bill Gates’ Terrapower, to which the department has committed as much as $2 billion in matching funds to build a 345-megawatt-electric sodium-cooled prototype reactor—called Natrium (sodium in Latin)—in the state of Wyoming. One of Wyoming’s current senators, John Barrasso, is a leading advocate of nuclear power and could become chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources if the Republicans take control of the upper chamber in the elections this fall.

Terrapower insists Natrium is not a plutonium breeder reactor and will be fueled “once through” with uranium enriched to just below 20 percent and its spent fuel disposed of directly in a deep geologic repository, without reprocessing. Natrium, however, is set to use, initially at least, the same type of fuel used in Idaho’s Experimental Breeder Reactor II. The Energy Department maintains that this spent fuel cannot be disposed of directly because the sodium in the fuel could burn if it contacts underground water or air. On that basis, the Idaho National Laboratory has been struggling for 25 years to treat a mere three tons of spent fuel from the Experimental Breeder Reactor II using a special reprocessing technology called “pyroprocessing.”

In pyroprocessing, the fuel is dissolved in molten salt instead of acid, and the plutonium and uranium are recovered by passing a current through the salt and plating them out on electrodes. In 2021, Terrapower stated that it plans to switch later to a fuel for Natrium that does not contain sodium but then received in March 2022 the largest of eleven Energy Department grants for research and development on new reprocessing technologies.

Liquid-sodium-cooled reactor designs date back to the 1960s and 1970s, when the global nuclear power community believed conventional power reactor capacity would quickly outgrow the available supply of high-grade uranium ore. Conventional reactors are fueled primarily by chain-reacting uranium 235, which comprises only 0.7 percent by weight of natural uranium. Because of this low percentage, nuclear power advocates focused on developing plutonium “breeder” reactors that would be fueled by chain-reacting plutonium produced from the abundant but non-chain-reacting uranium 238 isotope, which constitutes 99.3 percent of natural uranium. (Liquid-sodium-cooled reactors are sometimes called “fast-neutron reactors” because they utilize fast neutrons to operate. Sodium was chosen as a coolant because it slows neutrons less than water. Fast neutrons are essential to a plutonium breeder reactor because the fission of plutonium by fast neutrons releases more excess secondary neutrons whose capture in uranium 238 makes possible the production of more plutonium than the reactor consumes.)

Large programs were launched to provide startup fuel for the breeder reactors by reprocessing spent conventional power-reactor fuel to recover its contained plutonium.

………………………………….. Only a few prototypes were built and then mostly abandoned. In 2020, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency estimated that sufficient low-cost uranium would be available to fuel existing conventional reactor capacity for more than a century.

Zombie plutonium-separation programs. Even though separated plutonium has morphed from the nuclear fuel of the future into a disposal problem, civilian plutonium separation continues in several countries, notably France, Japan, and Russia. It is also being advocated again by the offices within the US Energy Department that fund research and development on nuclear energy.

Russia still has an active breeder reactor development program, with two operating liquid sodium-cooled prototypes—only one of them plutonium fueled—plus a small, liquid, lead-cooled prototype under construction. But Russia has already separated 60 tons of power-reactor plutonium and has declared as excess above its weapons needs approximately 40 tons of weapon-grade plutonium. These 100 tons of separated plutonium would be enough to provide startup fuel for five years for six full-size breeder reactors.

China and India have breeder reactor prototypes under construction, but their breeders are suspected of being dual-purpose. In addition to their production of electric power, the weapon-grade plutonium produced in uranium “blankets” around the breeder cores is likely to be used for making additional warheads for their still-growing nuclear arsenals.

France and Japan require their nuclear utilities to pay for reprocessing their spent fuel and for recycling the recovered plutonium in MOX fuel, even though both countries have known for decades that the cost of plutonium recycling is several times more than using low-enriched uranium fuel “once through,” with the spent fuel being disposed of directly in a deep geological repository.

Claimed benefits of reprocessing. Advocates of plutonium recycling in France and Japan justify their programs with claims that it reduces uranium requirements, the volume of radioactive waste requiring disposal, and the duration of the decay heat and radiotoxicity of the spent fuel in a geologic repository. These benefits are, however, either minor or non-existent. First, France’s plutonium recycling program reduces its uranium requirements by only about 10 percent, which could be achieved at much less cost in other ways, such as by adjusting enrichment plants to extract a higher percentage of the uranium 235 isotopes in natural uranium. Second, with proper accounting, it is not at all clear that recycling produces a net reduction in the volume of radioactive waste requiring deep geological disposal. Third, the claimed heat reduction, if realized, could reduce the size of the repository by packing radioactive waste canisters more closely. But this is not significant because, with the currently used reprocessing technology, americium 241, which has a 430-year half-life and dominates the decay heat from the spent fuel during the first thousand years, remains in the reprocessed waste.

Claims of the reduced toxicity of reprocessed waste turn out to be false as well. For decades, France’s nuclear establishment has promoted continued reprocessing in part out of hope that, after its foreign reprocessing customers did not renew their contracts, it could sell its plutonium recycling technology to other countries, starting with China and the United States. But, with the notable exception of the canceled US MOX plant, these efforts so far have not materialized, and the willingness of the French government to continue funding its expensive nuclear fuel cycle strategy may be reaching its limits………………………..

Proliferation danger. Aside from the waste of taxpayer money, there is one major public-policy objection to plutonium separation: Plutonium can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The chain-reacting material in the Nagasaki bomb was six kilograms of plutonium, and the fission triggers of virtually all nuclear warheads today are powered with plutonium. Reactor-grade plutonium is weapon-usable, as well.

In the 1960s, however, blinded by enthusiasm for plutonium breeder reactors, the US Atomic Energy Commission—the Energy Department’s predecessor agency—promoted plutonium worldwide as the fuel of the future. During that period, India sent 1,000 scientists and engineers to Argonne and other US national laboratories to be educated in nuclear science and engineering. In 1964, India began to separate plutonium from the spent fuel of a heavy-water research reactor provided jointly by Canada and the United States. Ten years later, in 1974, India used some of that separated plutonium for a design test of a “peaceful nuclear explosive,” which is now a landmark in the history of nuclear weapon proliferation……………………….

False environmental claims for reprocessing. Since the 1980s, advocates of reprocessing and plutonium recycling and fast neutron reactors in the Energy Department’s Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories have promoted them primarily as a strategy to facilitate spent fuel disposal.

The George W. Bush administration, which came to power in 2001, embraced this argument because it saw the impasse over siting a spent fuel repository as an obstacle to the expansion of nuclear power in the United States. To address the proliferation issue, the Bush Administration proposed in 2006 a “Global Nuclear Energy Partnership” in which only countries that already reprocessed their spent fuel (China, France, Japan, and Russia) plus the United States would be allowed to reprocess the world’s spent fuel and extract plutonium. The recovered plutonium then would be used in the reprocessing countries to fuel advanced burner reactors (breeder reactors tweaked so that they would produce less plutonium than they consumed). These burner reactors would be sodium-cooled fast-neutron reactors because the slow neutrons that sustain the chain reaction in water-cooled reactors are not effective in fissioning some of the plutonium isotopes. After Congress understood the huge costs involved, however, it refused to fund the partnership…………………………….

Plutonium and the geological disposal of spent fuel. Despite the unfavorable economics, the idea of separating and fissioning the plutonium in spent fuel has been kept alive in the United States and some other countries in part by continuing political and technical obstacles to siting spent fuel repositories. Proponents of reprocessing have managed to keep their governments’ attention on plutonium because it is a long-lived radioelement, a ferocious carcinogen—if inhaled—and has fuel value if recycled.

But detailed studies have concluded that plutonium makes a relatively small contribution to the long-term risk from a spent fuel geologic repository for spent fuel from commercial power reactors.

……………………………………………….. risk assessments are theoretical, but they are based on real-world experience with the movement of radioisotopes through the environment.

The main source of that experience is from the large quantities of fission products and plutonium lofted into the stratosphere by the fireballs of megaton-scale atmospheric nuclear tests between 1952 and 1980. During that period, the Soviet Union, the United States, China, the United Kingdom, and France injected into the stratosphere a total of about eight tons of fission products and 3.4 tons of plutonium—comparable to the quantities in a few hundred tons of spent light water reactor fuel. These radioisotopes returned to earth as global radioactive “fallout.”

…………………………………… In addition to the proliferation danger dramatized by the case of India, plutonium separation also brings with it a danger of a massive accidental radioactive release during reprocessing. The world’s worst nuclear accident before Chernobyl involved the Soviet Union’s first reprocessing plant for plutonium production, in 1957……………………………………………..

Gullible governments. Nearly half a century after India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974 with assistance provided inadvertently by Canada and the United States, both countries’ governments seem to have forgotten about the proliferation risk associated with spent fuel reprocessing. Today, advocates of fast-neutron breeder or burner reactors are pitching again the same arguments—used before the test—to gullible governments that seem unaware of the history of this issue. This ignorance has created problems for Canada’s nonproliferation policy as well as that of the United States.

In Canada, a UK startup, Moltex, has obtained financial support from federal and provincial governments by promising to “solve” Canada’s spent fuel problem. Its proposed solution is to extract the plutonium in the spent fuel of Canada’s aging CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactors to fuel a new generation of molten-salt-cooled reactors. The Moltex company also proposes to make Canada an export hub for its reactors and small reprocessing plants.

In South Korea, the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, with support from Energy Department’s Argonne and Idaho National Laboratories, has similarly been campaigning to persuade its government that pyroprocessing spent fuel and fissioning plutonium in sodium-cooled reactors would help solve that country’s spent fuel management problem.

It is time for governments to learn again about the risks involved with plutonium separation and to fence off “no-go zones” for their nuclear energy advocates, lest they unintentionally precipitate a new round of nuclear-weapon proliferation.

Notes:

[1] Carbon 14 and iodine 129 are difficult to capture during reprocessing and therefore are routinely released into the atmosphere and ocean by France’s reprocessing plant at La Hague. Also, had the uranium 238 in the spent fuel not been mined, its decay product, radium 226, would have been released within the original uranium deposit. So, even though some reprocessing advocates join with nuclear power critics in amplifying the hazards of plutonium and other transuranic elements in underground radioactive waste repositories, they generally omit comparisons with reprocessing hazards (in the case of reprocessing advocates) or with natural uranium deposits (in the case of repository opponents). https://thebulletin.org/2022/09/some-fuels-never-learn-us-energy-department-returns-to-costly-and-risky-plutonium-separation-technologies/

September 21, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, Reference | Leave a comment

Weapons-grade plutonium secretly sent from South Carolina to Nevada removed early

The Nevada site was used to conduct nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1992.

 https://www.wltx.com/article/news/regional/weapons-grade-plutonium-from-south-carolina-nevada-removed/101-dba724ee-6fbb-46b0-8d06-3cb9c00Associated Press, September 17, 2022, CARSON CITY, Nev — Weapons-grade plutonium that secretly was sent to Nevada over objections from the state has been removed ahead of schedule, federal officials said.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement that she was notified by the National Nuclear Security Administration late Friday that the plutonium had been removed. The work that started last year had been expected to wrap up by the end of 2026.

The U.S. Energy Department under former President Donald Trump had planned to ship a full metric ton (2,204 pounds) of plutonium to Nevada from South Carolina, where a federal judge ordered the material be removed from a Savannah River site.

Nevada had argued in a lawsuit that the clandestine shipment of half a metric ton (1,100 pounds) of plutonium to the vast Nevada National Security Site — an area larger than the state of Rhode Island — in 2018 amounted to a “secret plutonium smuggling operation.” The U.S. government argued it kept the shipment secret because of national security concerns.

The Nevada site was used to conduct nuclear weapons testing from 1945 to 1992.

The legal battle ended in mid-2020 after the federal government agreed to remove the highly radioactive material already trucked to Nevada and abandon any future plans to send more.

The material now is held at a site in New Mexico, a congressional aide told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

September 20, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Plutonium secretly shipped to Nevada removed sooner than expected

By Gary Martin Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 16, 2022

WASHINGTON – A half-metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium secretly shipped into Nevada has been removed four years early under federal court order and an agreement reached by U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, officials said Friday.

Cortez Masto, D-Nev., first announced the removal of the plutonium, stored at the Nevada National Security Site north of Las Vegas.

She was notified by the National Nuclear Security Administration late Friday………………….

The NNSA shipped the plutonium from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to Nevada in 2019 under federal court order.

Nevada officials, while notified it would happen, were incensed when efforts to stop the transfer through federal courts became moot after the Department of Energy disclosed the plutonium had already been shipped into the state.

Four years ahead of schedule

“When I heard that the Trump administration secretly shipped weapons-grade plutonium to our state, I acted immediately to ensure it was removed,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

Cortez Masto also secured in writing a pledge by Perry not to send any more plutonium from South Carolina to Nevada.

“I’m proud to announce the removal has been completed four years ahead of schedule,” Cortez Masto said.

A federal judge ordered the Department of Energy to remove weapons grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina after a facility to turn the radioactive material into fuel for nuclear power plants was terminated.

Some of the material was sent to the Nevada facility, and some to the Pantex Plant in Texas until pits to accommodate the material at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were completed, according to NNSA.

The material from Nevada now has been shipped to Los Alamos, a congressional aide confirmed.

Secret shipment from South Carolina draws ire

Former Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, was furious that the Energy Department shipped the plutonium to Nevada when the state in May 2019 had notified the federal government of its intent to seek an injunction to prevent the transfer.

Sandoval directed then-state Attorney General Adam Laxalt to file a lawsuit in federal court in Reno to block the shipment.

But the lawsuit was dismissed after Energy Department lawyers in 2020 disclosed in court papers that the shipment had already occurred, making the state’s lawsuit moot.

Gov. Steve Sisolak and state Attorney General Aaron Ford, both Democrats, filed another lawsuit and won a ruling that would force the federal government to eventually remove the plutonium.

………. the danger of exposure to the materials prompted the federal judge to order the plutonium moved from South Carolina.

‘Beyond outrage’

The secret shipping of the plutonium, because of federal national security concerns, drew the ire of Nevada officials of both major political parties who accused Perry and the Energy Department of lying to the state about its intent…………………………….

The shipment heightened tensions between Nevada and the Trump administration, which also sought to open Yucca Mountain as a permanent nuclear waste repository, just 60 miles north of Las Vegas.  https://www.reviewjournal.com/news/politics-and-government/plutonium-secretly-shipped-to-nevada-removed-sooner-than-expected-2641314/

September 19, 2022 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment