The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

U.S. Congressional Budget Office fails to consider costs of nuclear-weapons making clean-up

CBO Cost Estimation of Nuclear Modernization Omits Hazardous Cleanup High-level radioactive waste pose threats to environment around nuclear management facilities , By Robert Alvarez, ith its $1.2 trillion price tag for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal and production complex, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office has induced “sticker shock” on Capitol Hill. Yet despite this enormous projected cost for rebuilding the U.S. triad of land, submarine, and bomber nuclear forces, the CBO has in fact lowballed its estimate by excluding the costs for environmental restoration and waste management of the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex.

Even though the cleanup of nuclear weapons sites comes from the same congressional spending account as DOE nuclear weapons modernization, the CBO chose to exclude an additional $541 billion in legacy costs. If these costs are included, the total price tag goes to $1.74 trillion over three decades.

The largest of these cleanup costs, at $179.5 billion, is attributed to the stabilization and disposal of high-level radioactive wastes generated from the production of plutonium. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) informed Congress in 2013 that these wastes are “considered one of the most hazardous substances on earth.”

About 100 million gallons are stored in 227 underground tanks, many larger than state capitol domes and ranging in age from 43 to 73 years. Over 1 million gallons of these contaminants have leaked at the DOE’s Hanford site in Washington state, threatening the Columbia River.

The removal and stabilization of these wastes at Hanford by mixing them with molten glass, at an estimated cost of as much as $72.3 billion, represents the single largest, most expensive, and potentially riskiest nuclear cleanup project ever undertaken by the United States. It’s roughly comparable to the Apollo moon program in cost and risk, except there’s no moon.

Even without factoring in cleanup, an analysis of the DOE costs for the nuclear warheads program shows that while the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has shrunk by 56 percent since 2003, the annual per-warhead cost has increased by about 422 percent. This huge cost growth in the nuclear stockpile budget is largely due to ever-growing overhead expenses for abandoned and antiquated structures not formally part of the DOE cleanup program. Many of these facilities contain hazardous materials and have been ignored for several decades.

To keep the lights on, the DOE weapons complex must pay for things like collapses, flooding, fires, and preventing roofs from falling in. In 2015, the DOE Inspector General warned that, “delays in the cleanup and disposition of contaminated excess facilities expose the Department, its employees, and the public to ever-increasing levels of risk [and] lead to escalating disposition costs.”

The Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for instance, has a high-risk “footprint” of abandoned contaminated structures, mostly built in the 1940s, that is 2.5 times larger than the Pentagon building. Although Y-12 has not produced weapons for more than 25 years, its annual budgets have increased by nearly 50 percent since 1997, to more than $1 billion a year.

Over the past 20 years, there have been dozens of fires and explosions at Y-12 involving electrical equipment, glove boxes, pumps, waste containers, and nuclear and hazardous chemicals. Several of these incidents resulted in worker injuries and destruction of property.

As late as September of this year, unstable amounts of highly enriched uranium, called “material at risk” have spontaneously combusted. For more than 20 years, Y-12 has not been able to stabilize its backlog of “materials at risk.”

In a December 2016 DOE report to Congress, the unaccounted-for liability of getting rid of 2,349 of the DOE’s abandoned facilities over the next 10 years was roughly estimated at $32 billion. The DOE finds that among those are 203 unattended “high-risk” facilities and estimates a cost of $11.6 billion to close them down safely.

The most recent high-profile examples of aging-infrastructure risks include the collapse, last May, of a section of tunnel at the Plutonium and Uranium Extraction Facility, known as PUREX, a long-idle component of the sprawling Hanford nuclear site, 200 miles east of Seattle. The tunnel holds an enormous amount of radioactive wastes, and hundreds of workers were forced to seek cover.

And in June of this year, during the process of tearing down a building that was known to contain countless respirable plutonium particles, 31 workers inhaled or ingested plutonium during a work shift, after failing to take necessary precautions. It took four months for the DOE’s contractor to inform the public about the mishap and to tell the workers about their doses.

he costs for the disposition of excess plutonium from the nuclear weapons programs is pegged by GAO at $56 billion. In 2012, the U.S. Government determined that it no longer needed 43.4 metric tons of plutonium for military needs.

The majority of that plutonium is stored in facilities at the DOE’s Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas, that were built in the 1940s. The plutonium is densely packed in special containers that are only meant for “interim” storage.

In 2010 and 2017, unexpected 2,000-year rains flooded a major plutonium storage area with several inches of water, which shut down the plant and impacted about 1,000 containers at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars in recovery funds.

Because plutonium weapon components can become dangerous if mishandled or improperly stored, a Pantex worker told me, while I was working for the DOE’s Secretary, that it was like “having a zoo full of wild animals.”

Because the plutonium disposition program is way over budget and is stalled without a credible path forward, tens of tons of plutonium are likely to remain in these 70-plus-year-old structures awaiting further floods and additional threats to their safety and integrity.

While an ever-growing amount of plutonium will be stored in antiquated structures at the Pantex plant, another 1,000 abandoned facilities will be added to the list of sites requiring specialized disposition over the coming decade. Costs for the disposal of large amounts of hazardous wastes in the abandoned structures are not included in the DOE’s 2016 estimate and are likely to add several billions of dollars more.

When the DOE cleanup program was created in 1990, Congress made sure that it would be paid for from the same pot of money designated for the U.S. arsenal of nuclear warheads. These legacy costs should not be isolated from estimates of the nation’s nuclear weapons budget.

The need to protect the safety and health of workers and the American public from the mess produced by the current and previous nuclear weapons stockpiles should not be ignored as we proceed to deal with the future of nuclear weapons in the 21st century. As former Senator John Glenn of Ohio, a staunch supporter of the Cold War, would often say, “What good is it to protect our nation with nuclear weapons if we poison our people in the process?”

A senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, Robert Alvarez served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999. During this tenure, he coordinated the Energy Department’s nuclear material strategic planning and established the department’s first asset management program.


January 1, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, politics, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Hanford, USA and Mayak, Russia – their hidden radioactive megapollution

Radioactive Waste And The Hidden Costs Of The Cold War,  Forbes, David Rainbow, Assistant Professor, Honors College, University of Houston, 4 Dec 17, Hanford, a dusty decommissioned plutonium production site in eastern Washington state, is one of the most polluted places in the country. The disaster is part of the inheritance of the Cold War.

A few months ago, a 110-meter-long tunnel collapsed at the site, exposing an old rail line and eight rail cars filled with contaminated radioactive equipment. This open wound in the landscape, which was quickly covered over again, is a tiny part of an environmental and human health catastrophe that steadily unfolded there over four decades of plutonium production. Big Cold War fears justified big risks. Big, secretive, nuclear-sized risks.

Hanford and other toxic reminders of the Cold War should serve as a cautionary tale to those who have a say in mitigating geopolitical tensions today, as well as to those who promote nuclear energy as an environmentally sustainable source of electricity. The energy debate must balance the downside – not just the risk of a nuclear meltdown but also the lack of a permanent repository for the still-dangerous spent fuel rods – with the environmental benefits of a source of electricity that produces no greenhouse gases. People on both sides of the issue have a vested interest in how the current geopolitical tussling over nuclear weapons plays out……

Even if, as we all hope, the “new Cold War” never gets hot, escalating tensions can have seriously harmful effects at home. The radioactive cave-in at the Hanford site earlier this year should serve as a reminder of that.

Nuclear refinement at Hanford began as a part of the Manhattan Project during World War II, the highly secretive plan to develop a nuclear bomb.

Initially, the drive to mobilize for war justified substantial costs, among them significant damage to human and environmental health in the U.S. resulting from the nuclear program. Hanford was integral to the program: its plutonium fell on Nagasaki. But after the end of the war, the scale of production at the site increased to a fevered pitch thanks to the ensuing competition for global influence between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that became the Cold War.

Our gargantuan stockpiles of nuclear arms demanded gargantuan quantities of plutonium. Forty-five years of work at Hanford – from 1943 to 1987 – yielded 20 million uranium metal plugs used to generate 110,000 tons of fuel. The process also generated 53 million gallons of radioactive waste, now stored in 177 underground tanks at the facility, and created 450 billion gallons of irradiated waste water that was discharged onto “soil disposal sites,” meaning it went into the ground. Some of the irradiated discharge simply ran back to where it had originally been taken from, the nearby Columbia River. The Office of Environmental Management at the Department of Energy is currently overseeing a cleanup project involving 11,000 people. It is expected to take several decades and cost around $100 billion.

Kate Brown’s award-winning book, “Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters,” is a history of the Hanford plant and its Soviet doppelgänger, a plant in the Ural Mountains called Maiak. Brown points out that over the course of a few decades, the two nuclear sites spewed two times the radiation emitted in the Chernobyl explosion. Yet few Americans at the time, even those involved in plutonium production, realized this was going on or how dangerous it was.

Naturally, the hidden nature of the project meant that information was hard to come by. As Brown shows, even the experts, managers and scientists involved directly in overseeing the production process knew little about the seriousness of the risk. Doctors studying the effects of radiation on people didn’t have access to the research related to environmental pollution. Scientists studying fish die-offs had no way of connecting their findings to the deteriorating immune systems of humans in the same areas. Most poignantly, researchers measuring the effectiveness of nuclear bombs on the enemy did not communicate with researchers measuring the threat of nuclear bombs on the workers making them.

Consequences for the workers were grave. Hanford and Maiak’s hidden mega-pollution was collateral damage in the fight to win the Cold War. Russia, like the U.S., is still living with the damage, and trying to bury it, too.

Within two days of the tunnel collapse at the Hanford site this past May, workers filled the breach with 53 truckloads of dirt and narrowly avoided a radiological event. However, these eight railcars are hardly the only waste left behind in the U.S. from our cold conflict with the Soviet Union, in which our willingness to risk human and environmental health was proportionate to our fears. It’s going to be a while before it’s all cleaned up. In the meantime, hopefully our leaders will work to keep the new Cold War from getting any worse.

December 6, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, Russia, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Funding arrangements for clean-up at Hanford nuclear site – ‘Dangerous and destructive’’

‘Dangerous and destructive.’ That’s how board describes Hanford’s funding trend, BY ANNETTE CARY  NOVEMBER 11, 2017  \

November 13, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Examining the hype in Australia about space exploration

Australia’s international space agency hype,10876  s the current hype about space travel justified, and what of the human and environmental cost? Noel Wauchope reports.

ENTHUSIASM for space travel has been mounting since Australia hosted the recent International Astronautical Congress (IAC), held in Adelaide in September.

Then there was the announcement that Australia is getting a space agency!

We are informed by space scientist Dr Megan Clarke:

“ … more than 3000 of the world’s top space experts wildly cheered [and] all aspects of Australian society were united on the need for a national agency.” 

In November, the very brilliant and appealing space travel and nuclear power enthusiast, Professor Brian Cox is to tour Australia! Champion astronaut Scott Kelly has just published his exciting bookEndurance: a Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery.

Dare anyone throw cold water on all this joy?

Intriguingly, the Australian Government, while proudly hyping up this initiative, has not yet come up with a title for the new agency. However, someone else has and they have set up an elegant and professional-looking website for it: Australian Research and Space Exploration (ARSE).

Let’s start with that most important consideration — money

Although everyone says that space exploration is going to be an economic bonanza, I can’t see how it’s actually going to bring in money. There are some vague suggestions about finding mineral resources on other planets. Even NASA seems hard-put to find any real commercial benefits.

They discuss a few useful scientific and medical technologies — for example, water purification techniques and advanced eye surgery. These are side benefits of space research but surely could have been developed more cheaply with research on Earth directly intended for the purpose. I am reminded of the “benefits” of man walking on the moon in 1966 – we got Teflon – and even that didn’t turn out so well.

What about the costs of space exploration, space travel and sending a man to Mars? It is very hard to locate actual figures. Even three years ago, NASA’s space travel research cost taxpayers US$17.6 billion (AU$22.9 billion) — and costs have surely risen by now.  A huge part of the cost is in fitting and fuelling the space rockets’ thermoelectric generators with the production of the plutonium fuel being the most costly part of the expense.

Plutonium fuel

Plutonium 238 fuelled Voyager 1, which is expected to keep going until 2025, the New Horizons trip to Pluto and Cassini, which recently crashed into Saturn. NASA is sanguine about risks of a space exploration accident, claiming that it’s a low probability.

Karl Grossman has described a previous accident, dispersing plutonium widely and the risks involved in the Cassini project thus:

‘ … the Plutonium-238 used in space devices is 280 times more radioactive than the Plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons.’ 

A very small amount of Plutonium-238, that cannot be seen, felt, or measured with a Geiger counter is enough to kill you. One nanoparticle inhaled and lodged in the lungs is enough to give anyone lung cancer. In experiments with dogs, there was no dose low enough to NOT cause the death of these animals. Just one nanoparticle the size of dust (1 microgram) that could not even be seen, was enough to kill every dog tested.

There is a long list of space travel accidents, including 19 rocket explosions causing fatalities, as well as nine other crashes/accidents causing fatalities. There seems to be no published research on rockets and space debris that have ended up in the oceans. We can assume that such ocean debris does exist, including the long-lasting radioactive particles of plutonium, to be carried thousands of miles by ocean currents.

Ocean crashes are sometimes reported, but the public is generally unaware of the space junk and the plutonium that goes into the oceans. NASA is very coy about publicly stating that the rocket’s rockets’ thermoelectric generators are, in fact, fuelled by plutonium.

NASA continues research on solar-powered space flights, but that idea seems out of fashion at the moment.

The human toll of space travel

The human toll of space travel is not emphasised. However, Scott Kelly, who holds the U.S. record for time spent in space, has been quite frank about this in his new book. As an identical twin, Scott is an especially useful person for studying the effects of space on the body.

He became, in fact, a laboratory research animal — a sacrificial lamb, perhaps, in the cause of space research:

‘I lost bone mass, my muscles atrophied and my blood redistributed itself in my body, which strained and shrank the walls of my heart. More troubling, I experienced problems with my vision, as many other astronauts had. I had been exposed to more than 30 times the radiation of a person on Earth, equivalent to about ten chest X-rays every day. This exposure would increase my risk of a fatal cancer for the rest of my life.’

Despite Scott’s extraordinary health problems, which linger to this day, he is optimistic and keen about human travel to Mars.

Which brings us to the biggest consideration: the ethics of all this.

I am fascinated that it is stated in Wikipedia, in assessing the cost of sending humans to Mars (over US$500 billion or AU$651 billion), that:

‘The largest limiting factor for sending humans to Mars is funding.’

I think that the human cost should be a bigger “limiting factor”. There’s still the problem of lethal radiation on the trip and on Mars. Plus it’s a one-way trip. Scott Kelly has detailed, especially, the mental distress of being stuck in a spacecraft for months, isolated from human society and from loved ones, as well as the physical problems. Despite all this, Scott is keen on space travel and humans going to Mars. He is carried along, it seems, by a love of adventure, of risk, of achievement and fame.

Comfortable old white men in suits are planning the Mars trip; Younger, enthusiastic young men and women, like Scott Kelly, are mesmerised by the adventure and perceived “glory”. Should we be encouraging them on this suicide mission?

We are constantly being told of the benefits to come, in space travel. What benefits? Are they greater than the huge environmental and personal risks? And the financial costs – the US$500 billion (AU $651 billion), paid for by the tax-payer? That money could go to meet real human needs. There’s something wrong with our priorities when we mindlessly accept enthusiasm for technology, innovation, and so on, as better than healing the health of this planet and its populations.

Nuclear power

And there is one other issue — nuclear power. The space hype coincides with the current drastic downturn in the fortunes of the nuclear industry. To continue with space research/travel, plutonium is needed. And the only way to get it is from nuclear reactors. Space science could be a lifeline for the failing nuclear industry.

It’s no coincidence that the International Astronautical Congress was held in Adelaide — Australia’s hub of nuclear ambition. It’s no coincidence that Professor Brian Cox is visiting, hot from his recent pep talks to the nuclear industry in Wales.

The uncritical hype about space travel ties in well with the pro-nuclear hype, especially in South Australia.

November 2, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, AUSTRALIA, technology | Leave a comment

Dear oh dear! USA hasn’t enough plutonium for both space exploration and nuclear weapons


Why is it that the citizens of teh United States put up with their tax money going to produce toxic plutonium for useless dangerous space travel and even more useless dangerous and illegal nuclear weapons.?

What happens when a spacecraft powered by plutonium crashes into a city?

Report: It’s space travel power versus pits at Los Alamos By Mark Oswald / Journal Staff Writer, Thursday, October 5th, 2017 SANTA FE – At Los Alamos National Laboratory, a mandate to produce more of the plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons is bumping up against goals to produce power systems for NASA’s “long duration space missions.”

The U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that lab officials say that plutonium work for NASA systems “must compete with other priorities for facility space” at the LANL’s plutonium facility, specifically production of nuclear weapons “pits.”

The problem could significantly effect a key step in production of “radioisotope power systems” (RPS) and delay delivery of the systems for NASA’s missions, says the GAO report.

RPS produce power by converting heat from decay of plutonium-238 into electricity and can operate where solar panels or batteries would be ineffective and can operate for more than a decade, according to the report.

An RPS is currently used to power the roving Mars Science Laboratory, known as Curiosity, that has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012. Other missions in the coming years are slated to use the power systems, including another rover, Mars 2020.

The GAO was asked to review the situation in part because the National Academy of Sciences has expressed concern about future NASA missions because of a diminishing supply of plutonium-238. Until 2015, it hadn’t been made in the U.S. for more than 25 years. Various laboratories within the Department of Energy are involved. The GAO report says LANL maintains capability for producing Pu-238 and its work involves Pu-238 storage, chemical processing, analysis, fuel processing and encapsulation of Pu-238…..

LANL is also under orders to produce as many as 80 plutonium pits by 2030, as part of an expansive update of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. None have been made for several years.

The GAO report says the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semi-autonomous agency within DOE that includes LANL and the rest of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, is currently “focused primarily” on making pits and has not coordinated with the Pu-238 program in connection with potential modifications of the Los Alamos plutonium facility…….

October 7, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, technology, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The problem of plutonium: justification for its reprocessing is now dead

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  

Forty years of impasse: The United States, Japan, and the plutonium problem   Masafumi Takubo &Frank von Hippel23 Aug 2017, Recently, records have been published from the internal discussions in the Carter administration (1977–80) on the feasibility of convincing Japan to halt its plutonium-separation program as the United States was in the process of doing domestically. Japan was deeply committed to its program, however, and President Carter was not willing to escalate to a point where the alliance relationship could be threatened. Forty years later, the economic, environmental, and nonproliferation arguments against Japan’s program have only been strengthened while Japan’s concern about being dependent on imports of uranium appears vastly overblown. Nevertheless, Japan’s example, as the only non-weapon state that still separates plutonium, continues to legitimize the launch of similar programs in other countries, some of which may be interested in obtaining a nuclear weapon option.

In June 2017, the National Security Archive, a nonprofit center in Washington, DC, posted four-decade-old documents from the Carter administration’s internal debate over how to best persuade Japan to defer its ambitious program to obtain separated plutonium by chemical reprocessing of spent power reactor fuel.11. See: all notes

Foreign civilian plutonium programs had become a high-level political issue in the United States after India used plutonium, nominally separated to provide startup fuel for a breeder reactor program in its first nuclear weapon test in 1974 (Perkovich 1999Perkovich, G. 1999India’s Nuclear BombOakland, CAUniversity of California Press. [Google Scholar]). The United States reversed its policy of encouraging the development of plutonium breeder reactors worldwide to avoid an anticipated shortage of uranium. The breeder reactors would convert abundant non-chain-reacting uranium 238 into chain-reacting plutonium and then use the plutonium as fuel, while conventional reactors are fueled primarily by chain-reacting uranium 235, which makes up only 0.7 percent of natural uranium.

The Ford administration (1974–77) blocked France’s plan to sell spent fuel reprocessing plants to South Korea and Pakistan but did not succeed in persuading Japan to abandon its nearly complete Tokai pilot reprocessing plant. Therefore, when the Carter administration took office in January 1977, it inherited the difficult plutonium discussion with Japan.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See: [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

The earliest document in the newly released trove is a 19-page memo dated 24 January 1977, in which career State Department official Louis Nosenzo briefs the incoming Carter political appointees on the issue.22. See: all notes His arguments are strikingly similar to those being made some 40 years later by United States and international nongovernmental organizations such as the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See: [Google Scholar]) and by US government officials – most recently, members of the Obama administration.33. Japan Times, “U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House,” 21 May 2016.View all notes

These arguments are, in brief, that the separation and use of plutonium as a fuel is not economically competitive with simply storing the spent fuel until its radioactive heat generation has declined and a deep underground repository has been constructed for its final disposal. In this “once-through” fuel cycle, the plutonium remains mixed with the radioactive fission products in the intact spent fuel and therefore is relatively inaccessible for use in weapons.

Presumably with tongue in cheek, he opined that “[s]pace limitations are a real problem only for countries like Luxemburg.” (Luxemburg, about equal in area to St. Louis, Missouri, did not and still does not have a nuclear program.) Subsequently, it was pointed out that the volume of an underground repository for highly radioactive waste is determined not by the volume of the waste but by its heat output; the waste has to be spread out to limit the temperature increase of the surrounding buffer clay and rock (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See: [Google Scholar]). Reprocessing waste would contain all the heat-generating fission products in the original spent fuel, and the heat generated by the plutonium in one ton of spent MOX fuel would be about the same as the heat generated by the plutonium in the approximately seven tons of spent low-enriched uranium fuel from which the plutonium used to manufacture the fresh MOX fuel had been recovered.

With regard to the issue of the need for plutonium to provide startup fuel for breeder reactors, Nosenzo noted that “experimental breeders currently utilize uranium [highly enriched in the chain-reacting isotope uranium 235] rather than plutonium for start-up and this will probably also be true of commercial breeder start-up operations.”44. This was not entirely correct. Although the United States, Russian, and Chinese experimental and prototype breeder reactors started up with enriched uranium fuel and all breeder reactors could have been, plutonium fuel was used to start up the prototypes in France, Japan, and the United Kingdom. See International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders(IAEA 1980IAEA. 1980International Fuel Cycle Evaluation, Fast Breeders. Vienna: International Atomic Energy Agency. [Google Scholar]) Table III. M. Ragheb, “Fermi I Fuel Meltdown Incident” (2014). Available at all notes

“[T]here is a strong need for a US position paper presenting the above rationale with supporting analysis,” Nosenzo wrote. “This would be of value, for example, with other governments in the nuclear suppliers context and more generally … for use by sympathetic foreign ministries attempting to cope effectively with their ministries of energy, of technology and of economics.”

The last point reflected the reality that the promotion of breeder reactors was central to the plans of powerful trade ministries around the world, including Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry (now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry), and that foreign ministries sometimes use independent analyses to push back against positions of other ministries that seem extreme to them. A few years ago, an official of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, for example, privately described the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, the driving force behind South Korea’s demand for the same “right” to reprocess as Japan, as “our Taliban.”

Japan planned to start operation of its Tokai reprocessing plant later that spring, and it appeared clear to Nosenzo that it would be impossible to prevent the operation of the almost completed plant. Another memo cited Prime Minister Fukuda as publicly calling reprocessing a matter of “life and death” for Japan.55. See: all notes Japan’s government had committed itself to achieving what Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission from 1961–71, had relentlessly promoted as a “plutonium economy,” in which the world would be powered by the element he had codiscovered.

Why would the Fukuda administration have seen the separation and use of plutonium as so critical? We believe that the Prime Minister had been convinced by Japan’s plutonium advocates that the country’s dependence on imported uranium would create an economic vulnerability such as the country had experienced during the 1973 Arab oil embargo, still a recent and painful memory. Indeed, according to a popular view in Japan, further back, in 1941, it was a US embargo on oil exports to Japan that had triggered Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The plutonium advocates argued that breeder reactors would eliminate resource-poor Japan’s vulnerability to a uranium cutoff by turning already imported uranium into a virtually inexhaustible supply of plutonium fuel for its reactors.

During the past 40 years, however, uranium has been abundant, cheap, and available from a variety of countries. Furthermore, as some foreign observers have suggested, if Japan was really concerned about possible disruptions of supply, it could have acquired a 50-year strategic reserve of uranium at a much lower cost than its plutonium program (Leventhal and Dolley 1994Leventhal, P., and S. Dolley1994. “A Japanese Strategic Uranium Reserve: A Safe and Economic Alternative to Plutonium.” Science & Global Security 5: 131. doi:10.1080/08929889408426412.[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar]). Indeed, because of the low cost of uranium, globally, utilities have accumulated an inventory sufficient for about seven years. Although it took several years for Congress to accept the Carter administration’s proposal to end the US reprocessing and breeder reactor development programs, Congress did support the administration’s effort to discourage plutonium programs abroad. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 1978 required that nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries be renegotiated so that any spent fuel that had either originally been produced in the United States or had been irradiated in a reactor containing components or design information subject to US export controls could not be reprocessed without prior consent from the US government. Internally, however, the administration was divided over whether the United States could force its allies to accept such US control over their nuclear programs.

One of the final memos in the National Security Archives file, written in May 1980, toward the end of the Carter administration by Jerry Oplinger, a staffer on the National Security Council, criticized a proposal by Gerard Smith, President Carter’s ambassador at large for nuclear nonproliferation. Smith proposed that the administration provide blanket advance consent for spent fuel reprocessing in Western Europe and Japan.77. See: all notes Oplinger characterized Smith’s proposal as “surrender” and argued that, even though the danger of further proliferation in Europe or by Japan was low, their examples could be used by other countries as a justification for launching their own plutonium programs.

The Carter administration did not surrender to the Japanese and the West European reprocessing lobbies but, in 1988, in exchange for added requirements for safeguards and physical protection of plutonium, the Reagan administration signed a renegotiated US–Japan agreement on nuclear cooperation with full, advance, programmatic consent to reprocessing by Japan for 30 years. In the original 1968 agreement, the United States had been given the right to review each Japanese shipment of spent fuel to the British and French reprocessing plants on a case-by-case basis and to make a joint determination on reprocessing in Japan. This right had allowed the United States to question whether Japan needed more separated plutonium. As a result of the 1988 agreement, by the time of the 2011 Fukushima accident, Japan had built up a stock of some 44 tons of separated plutonium, an amount sufficient for more than 5000 Nagasaki-type bombs (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2012Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2012. “The Current Situation of Plutonium Management in Japan,” September 11. [Google Scholar]), and the largest amount of MOX fuel it had loaded in a single year (2010) contained about one ton of plutonium (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See: [Google Scholar]).

The initial period of the 1988 agreement will expire in 2018, after which either party may terminate it by giving six months written notice. This provides an opportunity for the US government to reraise the issue of reprocessing with Japan.

Unlike the 1968 agreement with Japan, the 1958 US–EURATOM agreement did not have a requirement of prior US consent for reprocessing of European spent fuel in West Europe. The Europeans refused to renegotiate this agreement, and, starting with President Carter, successive US presidents extended the US–EURATOM agreement by executive order year by year (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 1994Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Frans Berkhout and William Walker, “Atlantic Impasse,” September-October 1994. [Google Scholar]). Finally, in 1995, the Clinton administration negotiated language in a new agreement that the European reprocessors accepted as a commitment to noninterference (Behrens and Donnelly 1996Behrens, C. E., and W. H.Donnelly1996. “EURATOM and the United States: Renewing the Agreement for Nuclear Cooperation,” Congressional Research Service, April 26. Available at:; and [Google Scholar]). By that time, the nonnuclear weapon states in Europe – notably Germany and Italy – had lost interest in breeder reactors and the only reprocessing plants listed in the agreement were those of United Kingdom and France. Reprocessing proponents in Japan often say that Japan is the only non-weapon state trusted by the international community to reprocess. In reality, Japan is the only non-weapon state that has not abandoned reprocessing because of its poor economics.

As Oplinger pointed out, Japan played a central role in sustaining large-scale reprocessing in Europe as well as at home. In addition to planning to build their own large reprocessing plant, Japan’s nuclear utilities provided capital, in the form of prepaid reprocessing contracts, for building large new merchant reprocessing plants in France and the United Kingdom. France also played a leading role in promoting reprocessing and in designing Japan’s reprocessing plant.

Oplinger insisted that the planned reprocessing programs in Europe and Japan would produce huge excesses of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of planned breeder programs: “Any one of these three projected plants would more than swamp the projected plutonium needs of all the breeder R&D programs in the world. Three of them would produce a vast surplus … amounting to several hundred tons by the year 2000.”

He attached a graph projecting that by the year 2000, the three plants would produce a surplus of 370 tons of separated plutonium beyond the requirements of breeder research and development. The actual stock of separated civilian plutonium in Europe and Japan in 2000 was huge – using the IAEA’s metric of 8 kilograms per bomb, enough for 20,000 Nagasaki bombs – but about half the amount projected in Oplinger’s memo (IPFM 2015IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See: [Google Scholar]). This was due in part to operating problems with the UK reprocessing plant and delays in the operation of Japan’s large reprocessing plant. On the demand side, breeder use was much less than had been projected, but, in an attempt to deal with the surplus stocks, quite a bit of plutonium was fabricated into MOX and irradiated in Europe’s conventional reactors.

Forty years later, Japan’s breeder program, the original justification for its reprocessing program, is virtually dead.  Japan officially abandoned its Monju prototype breeder reactor in 2016 after two decades of failed efforts to restore it to operation after a 1995 leak of its sodium secondary coolant and a resulting fire. Japan’s government now talks of joining France in building a new Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) in France, and France’s nuclear establishment has welcomed the idea of Japan sharing the cost.8

8. See: all notes The mission for ASTRID-type fast-neutron reactors would be to fission the plutonium and other long-lived transuranic elements in spent low-enriched uranium fuel and MOX fuel, for which Japan will have to build a new reprocessing plant. According to France’s 2006 radioactive waste law, ASTRID was supposed to be commissioned by the end of 2020.99. See:, Article 3.1.View all notes Its budget has been secured only for the design period extending to 2019, however. In an October 2016 briefing in Tokyo, the manager of the ASTRID program showed the project’s schedule with a “consolidation phase” beginning in 2020 (Devictor 2016Devictor, N.2016. “ASTRID: Expectations to Japanese Entities’ Participation.” Nuclear Energy Division, French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, TokyoOctober 27. Available at: [Google Scholar]). The next day, the official in charge of nuclear issues at France’s embassy in Tokyo stated that ASTRID would not start up before 2033 (Félix 2016Félix, S. 2016. Interview with Mainichi Shimbun, October27in Japanese. Available at: [Google Scholar]). Thus, in 10 years, the schedule had slipped by 13 years. It has been obvious for four decades that breeder reactors and plutonium use as a reactor fuel will be uneconomic. The latest estimate of the total project cost for Japan’s Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, including construction, operation for 40 years, and decommissioning, is now 13.9 trillion yen ($125 billion), with the construction cost alone reaching 2.95 trillion yen ($27 billion), including 0.75 trillion yen for upgrades due to new safety regulations introduced after the Fukushima accident. The total project cost of the MOX fuel fabrication facility, including some 42 years of operation and decommissioning, is now estimated at 2.3 trillion yen ($21 billion) (Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan 2017

Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan, “Concerning the Project Cost of Reprocessing, Etc.” July 2017 (in Japanese). [Google Scholar]). In the United States, after it became clear in 1977 that reprocessing and breeder reactors made no economic sense and could create a proliferation nightmare, it took only about five years for the government and utilities to agree to abandon both programs, despite the fact that industry had spent about $1.3 billion in 2017 dollars on construction of a reprocessing plant in South Carolina (GAO 1984GAO. 1984Status and Commercial Potential of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant, US General Accounting Office. Available at:, p. 11. [Google Scholar]), and the government had spent $4.2 billion on the Clinch River Demonstration Breeder Reactor project (Peach How could Japan’s government have allowed reprocessing advocates to drive its electric-power utilities to pursue its hugely costly plutonium program over 40 years?

For context, it must be remembered that the United States, a nuclear superpower, has been much more concerned about nuclear proliferation and terrorism than Japan. Tetsuya Endo, a former diplomat involved in the negotiations of the 1988 agreement, depicted the difference in the attitude of the two governments as follows:

Whereas the criterion of the United States, in particular that of the US government … is security (nuclear proliferation is one aspect of it), that of the Japan side is nuclear energy. … [I]t can be summarized as security vs. energy supply and the direction of interests are rather out of alignment. (Endo 2014Endo, T. 2014Formation Process and Issues from Now on of the 1988 Japan-US Nuclear Agreement (Revised Edition). Tokyo: Japan Institute of International Affairs. In Japanese: [Google Scholar])As we have seen, in the United States, after India’s 1974 nuclear test, both the Ford and Carter administrations considered the spread of reprocessing a very serious security issue. Indeed, a ship that entered a Japanese port on 16 October 1976 to transport spent fuel to the United Kingdom could not leave for nine days due to the Ford administration’s objections (Ibara 1984

Ibara, T. 1984Twilight of the Nuclear Power KingdomTokyoNihon Hyoron Sha. in Japanese. [Google Scholar]). In Japan, the US concerns about nuclear proliferation and terrorism have been generally considered interference in Japan’s energy policy by a country that possesses one of the worlds’ largest nuclear arsenals. Even the eyes of parliament members opposed to reprocessing, antinuclear weapon activists and the media sometimes got blurred by this nationalistic sentiment.

Nevertheless, reprocessing is enormously costly and the willingness of Japan’s government to force its nuclear utilities to accept the cost requires explanation.

One explanation, offered by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) (Japan Atomic Energy Commission 2005Japan Atomic Energy Commission. 2005Framework for Nuclear Energy PolicyOctober 11. Available at: [Google Scholar]), involves the political challenge of negotiating arrangements for storing spent fuel indefinitely at reactor sites. The government and utilities had promised the host communities and prefectures that spent fuel would be removed from the sites. The reprocessing policy provided destinations – first Europe and the Tokai pilot plant, and then the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. The JAEC argued that, since it would take years to negotiate indefinite onsite storage of spent fuel, nuclear power plants with no place to put spent fuel in the meantime would be shut down one after another, which would result in an economic loss even greater than the cost of reprocessing.

Japan’s nuclear utilities have had to increase on-site storage of spent fuel in any case due to delays in the startup of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which was originally to start commercial operations in 1997. Indeed, the utilities have adopted the dangerous US practice of dense-packing their spent-fuel cooling pools with used fuel assemblies. Storing spent fuel in dry casks, onsite or offsite, cooled by natural convection of air would be much safer (von Hippel and Schoeppner 2016von Hippel, F., and M.Schoeppner2016. “Reducing the Danger from Fires in Spent Fuel Pools.” Science & Global Security 24: 141173. Available at: doi:10.1080/08929882.2016.1235382.[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). In the United States, spent fuel is transferred to onsite dry cask storage after the dense-packed pools become completely full. It’s better to make this transfer as soon as the spent fuel gets cool enough. Such a shift to a policy of accelerated dry cask storage would require stronger nuclear safety regulation in both countries (Lyman, Schoeppner, and von Hippel 2017Lyman, E.M. Schoeppner, and F. von Hippel2017. “Nuclear Safety Regulation in the post-Fukushima Era.” Science 356: 808809. doi:10.1126/science.aal4890.[Crossref][PubMed][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]

Second, there is the bureaucratic explanation. The bureaucracy has more power over policy in Japan than in the United States. In Japan, when a new prime minister is elected in the Diet, only the ministers change whereas, in the United States with a two-party system, policy making is shared by Congress and the executive branch to a greater extent, and a new president routinely replaces more than 4000 officials at the top of the bureaucracy.1010. See: “Help Wanted: 4,000 Presidential Appointees” (Center for Presidential Transition, 16 March 2016) at: all notes (This works both for the better and worse as can be observed in the current US administration.) Also, in Japan, unlike the United States, the bureaucracy is closed. There are virtually no mixed careers, with people working both inside and outside the bureaucracy (Tanaka 2009Tanaka, H. 2009. “The Civil Service System and Governance in Japan.” Available at: [Google Scholar]).

Third, the provision of electric power has been a heavily regulated regional monopoly in Japan. Utilities therefore have been able to pass the extra costs of reprocessing on to consumers without eroding their own profits. This monopoly structure also has given utilities enormous power both locally and nationally, making it possible for them to influence both election results and the policy-making process. Thus, even if the original reprocessing policy was made by bureaucrats, it is now very difficult to change because of this complicated web of influence.

Japan has been gradually shifting toward deregulation, especially since the Fukushima accident, but a law has been passed to protect reprocessing by requiring the utilities to pay in advance, at the time of irradiation, for reprocessing the spent fuel and fabricating the recovered plutonium into MOX fuel (Suzuki and Takubo 2016Suzuki, T., and M. Takubo2016. “Japan’s New Law on Funding Plutonium Reprocessing,” May 26. Available at: [Google Scholar]). The fact that nuclear utilities didn’t fight openly against this law, which will make them pay extra costs in the deregulated market, suggests that they expect the government to come up with a system of spreading the cost to consumers purchasing electricity generated by nonnuclear power producers, for example with a charge for electricity transmission and distribution, which will continue to be regulated.

Plutonium separation programs also persist in France, India, and Russia. China, too, has had a reprocessing policy for decades, although a small industrial reprocessing plant is only at the site-preparation stage and a site has not yet been found for a proposed large reprocessing plant that is to be bought from France. Central bureaucracies have great power in these countries, as they do in Japan. France’s government-owned utility has made clear that, where it has the choice – as it has had in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear power plants it also operates – it will opt out of reprocessing. This is one of the reasons why reprocessing will end in the United Kingdom over the next few years as the preexisting contracts are fulfilled (IPFM 2015

IPFM. 2015Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. See: [Google Scholar]).

A final explanation put forward from time to time for the persistence of reprocessing in Japan is that Japan’s security establishment wants to keep open a nuclear weapon option. There already are about 10 tons of separated plutonium in Japan, however (with an additional 37 tons of Japanese plutonium in France and the United Kingdom), and the design capacity of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to separate eight tons of plutonium, enough to make 1000 nuclear warheads per year, is far greater than Japan could possibly need for a nuclear weapon option. Also, Japan already has a centrifuge enrichment plant much larger than that planned by Iran. Iran’s program precipitated an international crisis because of proliferation concerns. Japan’s plant, like Iran’s, is designed to produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants, but the cascades could be quickly reorganized to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for 10 bombs per year from natural uranium. Japan plans to expand this enrichment capacity more than 10-fold.1111. For Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited’s current and planned enrichment capacities, see: It takes about 5000 separative work units (SWUs) to produce enough HEU for a first-generation nuclear weapon – defined by the IAEA to be highly enriched uranium (usually assumed to be 90 percent enriched in U-235) containing 25 kilograms of U-235.View all notes It is therefore hard to imagine that the hugely costly Rokkasho reprocessing project is continuing because security officials are secretly pushing for it.

The idea that Japan is maintaining a nuclear weapon option has negative effects for Japan’s security, however, raising suspicions among its neighbors and legitimizing arguments in South Korea that it should acquire its own nuclear weapon option. It also undermines nuclear disarmament. According to the New York Times, when President Obama considered adopting a no-first-use policy before leaving office, Secretary of State John Kerry “argued that Japan would be unnerved by any diminution of the American nuclear umbrella, and perhaps be tempted to obtain their own weapon” (Sanger and Broad 2016Sanger, D., and W. Broad2016. “Obama Unlikely to Vow No First Use of Nuclear Weapons.” New York TimesSeptember 5. Available at: [Google Scholar]). It’s about time for both the security officials and antinuclear weapon movements to examine this concern more seriously.

Given the terrible economics of reprocessing, its end in Japan and France should only be a matter of time. As the 40-year-long impasse over Japan’s program demonstrates, however, the inevitable can take a very long time, while the costs and dangers continue to accumulate. The world has been fortunate that the stubborn refusals of Japan and France to abandon their failing reprocessing programs have not resulted in a proliferation of plutonium programs, or the theft and use of their plutonium by terrorists. The South Korean election of President Moon Jae-in – who holds antinuclear-power views – may result in a decrease in pressure from Seoul for the “right” to reprocess.

The combined effects of the “invisible hand” of economics and US policy therefore have thus far been remarkably successful in blocking the spread of reprocessing to non-weapon states other than Japan. China’s growing influence in the international nuclear-energy industry and its planned reprocessing program, including the construction of a large French-designed reprocessing plant, could soon, however, pose a new challenge to this nonproliferation success story. Decisions by France and Japan to take their completely failed reprocessing programs off costly government-provided life support might convince China to rethink its policy.

September 16, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, history, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

USA’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant cannot fit in excess plutonium radioactive trash

Plutonium waste too much for WIPP, Albuquerque Journal, By Maddy Hayden / Journal Staff Writer,, September   8th, 2017 This story has been updated to reflect that a change in the amount of waste stored at WIPP would need a congressional amendment.

Southeastern New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant won’t have room for the 34 metric tons of excess plutonium the Department of Energy hopes to permanently dispose of there.In fact, a report by the Government Accountability Office released this week says that even the current amounts of waste planned for storage at the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository won’t fit.

The report, “Proposed Dilute and Dispose Approach Highlights Need for More Work at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant,” recommends the DOE develop a plan to expand storage capacity at the facility.

“DOE does not have sufficient disposal space at WIPP to dispose of all defense TRU waste already planned for disposal, and future sources of waste could exceed WIPP’s statutory capacity,” the report reads. “While DOE officials stated that they recognize expansion of WIPP’s disposal space may be necessary in the future, they have not analyzed or planned for expanding the facility because their focus has been on resuming waste emplacement operations at WIPP.”……..

A 2000 agreement between the United States and Russia stipulated that each nation would dispose of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium — enough to create 17,000 nuclear weapons.

While Russia suspended its participation in the agreement in October due to perceived threats from the U.S., the United States is continuing steps toward disposing of the waste.

One of the options being considered for the plutonium is a downblending process which renders the material inert. It would then be disposed of at WIPP.

That would be in addition to waste generated by DOE sites around country; those have around 71,000 cubic meters of waste waiting to be emplaced underground

The regulatory limit of waste that can be stored at WIPP is 175,565 cubic meters, as designated in the 1992 Land Withdrawal Act.

That could be changed through congressional amendment, according to the GAO……

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

Hanford will miss deadline to tear down plutonium-contaminated plant

,Tri City Herald, BY ANNETTE CARY, 3 Sept 17,  Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant will not be torn down by the legal deadline at the end of September.

September 4, 2017 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Japan’s massive accumulation of nuclear weapons-usable plutonium

Japan’s intentional plutonium surplus ByAlan J. Kuperman, KYODO NEWS , 17 Aug 17,

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

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

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

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

But that is false.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another big nuclear problem in Asia – accumulation of plutonium

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

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

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

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

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

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

South Carolina sues federal government over plutonium left behind

SC Attorney General sues feds for $100 million over plutonium left behind, BY JOHN MONK, AUGUST 08, 2017 

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

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

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

“The Department of Energy has failed to process or remove the plutonium or pay the state the $100 million owed for 2016 or 2017. This lawsuit seeks the recovery of the $100 million owed for 2017,” the press release said……

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

Near public Highway 240 at Hanford, plutonium detected in air

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

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

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

The levels of contamination in the samples were “very, very low,” said John Martell, manager of the Radioactive Air Emissions Section of the Department of Health Office…….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An acute shortage of criticality experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former deputy NNSA director Madelyn Creedon told an industry conference in March that if new funds are given to the agency in President Trump’s new budget, she knows where she’d advise it be spent. “One of the things that doesn’t take a huge amount of money but it’s one that has been cut back over the last couple of years, is surveillance — enhanced surveillance” of existing warheads, Creedon said……..

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

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

Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium, ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | JUNE 9, 2017, 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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