The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where To Send It?

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

Hitting the Sun is HARD

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

The best plan of action the feds have to deal with weapons-ready plutonium is to simply store it someplace — a place where folks won’t complain to much about it. Good luck finding such a place.

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

Plutonium in space – the danger in space probes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Global Network,” said Gagnon, “remains adamantly opposed to the use of nuclear power in space.”

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

Demolition of Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant to begin soon

Teardown to begin soon at Hanford’s most contaminated building area  BY ANNETTE CARY 21 Apr 17,  Demolition should start within a few weeks on the most contaminated portion of the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant.

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

Delay in legal order to move plutonium stockpiled in South Carolina

MOX injunction delayed until at least July 31  By Michael Smith  Apr 20, 2017 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanford: Beset With Costly Overruns Continue reading

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

North Korea’s greatly increased plutonium stockpile

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

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

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

Should the North develop a reliable ICBM, it would likely have the capability of reaching the United States. A working ICBM could still be a ways off, however……. 

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

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

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

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

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

The result of such an explosion likely would not cause a nuclear detonation. Instead, plutonium from the approximately 108 nuclear warheads on one submarine could be spread by the wind……

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

The Different Dangerosity of Some Radioactive Elements.

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

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

Plutonium being collected in China and Japan? Fears of another nuclear arms race

Confronting plutonium nationalism in Northeast Asia,
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 
Fumihiko Yoshida , 30 June 16,   Although President Obama trumpeted his commitment to nuclear disarmament at this year’s Washington Nuclear Security Summit and more recently during his visit to Hiroshima, the White House has so far only discussed in whispers a far more pressing nuclear weapons-related danger—that Japan and China may soon be separating thousands of nuclear bombs worth of plutonium from nuclear spent fuel each year. If this level of production occurs, South Korea and other countries will likely try to go the plutonium route. If President Obama is to have a lasting legacy of nuclear threat reduction, his administration needs to do far more than it has to clarify just how harmful this plutonium proliferation would be to keeping peace in East Asia and the world.

Japan has already accumulated about 11 metric tons of separated plutonium on its soil—enough for about 2,500 nuclear bombs. It also plans to open a nuclear spent fuel reprocessing plant at Rokkasho designed to separate eight tons of plutonium—enough to make roughly 1,500 nuclear warheads a year—starting late in 2018. The Japanese plutonium program has raised China’s hackles. China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to import a reprocessing plant from France with the same capacity as Rokkasho. Meanwhile, South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan has.

Each of these countries emphasizes that it wants to separate plutonium for peaceful purposes. Yet in each country, there are skeptics who respond whenever this argument is made by a neighbor. China and South Korea suspect that Japan’s large stockpile of plutonium and its plans to operate the Rokkasho plant are designed to afford Tokyo some latent form of nuclear deterrence, i.e. a nuclear weapon option. A huge new Chinese commercial plutonium separation program could give Beijing an option to make far more nuclear weapons than it already has. It is unclear what Russia might make of all of this, or North Korea. One possibility is that either might use such “peaceful” plutonium production as an excuse to further expand its own nuclear arsenal. China might do the same as deterrence to Japan. If Seoul joined in, it would be even more difficult to cap North Korea’s nuclear program………

The Obama administration and Congress need to speak more clearly. As Countryman said, “(t)here is a degree of competition among the major powers in East Asia. It is a competition that in my view extends into irrational spheres…”

The United States can stop Japan from separating more plutonium and the spread of “plutonium nationalism” in East Asia only by bringing security issues to the front burner in politics and diplomacy. If the United States clearly announces that operations at Rokkasho constitute a security concern, Japan is almost sure to listen. Having the plutonium discussion between Japan and the United States is critically important; the Abe administration puts a high priority on security issues and is also very pro-United States.

Now is the time to speak clearly on these security issues—before China and Japan lock themselves into a plutonium production rivalry that will make cooperation between them and South Korea on pressing issues, including North Korea’s nuclear program, all the more difficult to secure.

July 4, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, China, Japan | Leave a comment

U.S. would back a rethink of Japan’s plutonium recycling program: White House 

KYODO MAY 21, 2016 WASHINGTON – The United States would back a change to Japan’s nuclear fuel reprocessing program because there are concerns it may lead to an increase in its ally’s stockpile of unused plutonium, a senior White House official said. … (registered readers only

May 23, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

Dangerous, pointless nuclear race in East Asia

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

A Little-Known Nuclear Race Taking Place in East Asia Is Dangerous and Pointless 5 Apr 16   Frank von HippelSenior Research Physicist, Emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University   Fumihiko YoshidaVisiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace   

plutonium238_1Plutonium was first produced and separated during America’s World War II nuclear weapons project. Its destructive power became apparent at the end of the war when, in one-millionth of a second, one kilogram of plutonium in the Nagasaki bomb fissioned and destroyed the city below.

Today, a number of countries — including France and Japan — are separating plutonium from the spent fuel of their reactors and building dangerous stockpiles of this weapon-usable nuclear material with no good economic purpose.

Japan, the only non-nuclear weapons state that separates plutonium today, has accumulated almost 50 metric tons. Last month, Japan shipped more than 700 pounds of mostly weapons-grade plutonium — enough for about 50 nuclear bombs — to a more secure location in the U.S. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been simultaneously pushing through a law to guarantee funding for a new spent fuel “reprocessing” plant designed to separate hundreds of tons of plutonium for use in reactor fuel.

Meanwhile, China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to buy a reprocessing plant from France that will separate plutonium that will probably accumulate like Japan’s. And South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan.

These plans and desires are troubling. As President Obama said during the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, “We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis … We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”

Nuclear scientists working on weapons in the U.S. during World War II had a vision that plutonium could have a peaceful use. They proposed a plutonium “breeder” reactor that would convert uranium-238 into chain-reacting plutonium whose fission could power civilization for millennia. During the 1960s, this vision infected the global nuclear energy establishment. Since the 1970s, industrialized countries havespent about $100 billion on attempts to commercialize breeder reactors. Fortunately, this effort failed. We now understand the increased dangers of nuclear terrorism and proliferation that would have resulted had plutonium, a nuclear weapons material, become a commodity like petroleum. Conventional reactors are fueled by low-enriched uranium that is not usable in weapons.

In the absence of breeders, however, France has been continuing to separate plutonium and using it to fuel some of its conventional reactors; Japan has been trying less successfully to do the same.

The plutonium-uranium “mixed oxide” fuel produced in this way costs 10 timesmore than the low-enriched uranium that is the primary fuel for conventional reactors. But France’s government insists that Électricité de France continue to fund the bankrupt government-owned company AREVA to separate plutonium from EDF’s spent fuel. Meanwhile, Japan’s government is obliging its utilities to separate more plutonium as well. Globally, including failed plutonium programs in Russia and the United Kingdom, a surplus of more than 250 tons of plutonium — enough for 30,000 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons — has been accumulated in civilian plutonium programs.

How can one explain the continuing interest in France, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea in separating plutonium? Institutional inertia is most of the answer in France and Russia but, in East Asia, the original use of plutonium — nuclear weapons — is also a factor. In South Korea, demands that the nation should have the right to be able to separate plutonium peak after North Korean nuclear tests. Security experts in Japan also increasingly justify its plutonium program as providing a latent nuclear deterrent against North Korea and China. China’s nuclear energy establishment is still enthralled with breeder reactors, but some analystsworry that China could use the reprocessing plant it plans to buy from France to quickly build up its nuclear weapons stockpile to the same scale as those of Russia and the United States.

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The United States cannot dictate to any of these countries. But it has a lot of leverage by virtue of being South Korea and Japan’s most important military ally and its agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation with both.

 The Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy can continue indefinitely, but either country can terminate it starting in 2018. On March 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman indicated that the U.S. was planning on using this leverage to force a discussion of Japan’s plutonium program. At the very least, the U.S. should demand that Japan focus on disposing of its already separated plutonium before separating more. After all, Japan’s Toyota invented the “Just-in-Time” system for minimizing inventories.

In the recently completed negotiations over the renewal of the U.S.-Republic of Korea Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the two countries kicked the issue of South Korea’s demand for the right to reprocess spent fuel down the road by launching a joint 10-year study of the “feasibility” of South Korea’s proposed program.

If the U.S. cannot convince France to hold off selling a reprocessing plant to China, it should at least insist that, as a part of the deal, both countries commit to “just-in-time” plutonium separation — that is, no stockpiling.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

The U.S. must continue to press the holdouts.

April 6, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, ASIA, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Plutonium shipped from Japan to go to Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), New Mexico

wastes-1Plutonium from Japan to be disposed of underground in New Mexico, Japan ship radiationTimes, KYODO APR 2, 2016   U.S.-bound plutonium that has recently been shipped out of Japan will be disposed of at a nuclear waste repository in New Mexico after being processed at the Savannah River Site facility in South Carolina, according to an official of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“The plutonium will be diluted into a less sensitive form at the SRS and then transported to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for permanent disposal deep underground,” said Ross Matzkin-Bridger, who is in charge of the operation at the NNSA, a nuclear wing of the Department of Energy.

“The dilution process involves mixing the plutonium with inert materials that reduce the concentration of plutonium and make it practically impossible to ever purify again,” he said in a recent phone interview.

The official made the remarks ahead of the latest Nuclear Security Summit, sponsored by President Barack Obama, which began Thursday in Washington.

On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan will give up more highly enriched uranium (HEU) as part of what Obama hailed as an unprecedented bid to tighten control over unused nuclear material…..

Japan received the plutonium and HEU fuels from the U.S, Britain and France from the late 1960s to early 1970s for research purposes in the name of “Atoms for Peace.” The nuclear fuel delivery, however, has generated controversy in South Carolina since it was reported that it was en route to the U.S. government-run SRS facility in the state.

South Carolina is “at risk of becoming a permanent dumping ground for nuclear materials,” Gov. Nikki Haley said in a recent letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, calling for the shipment to be stopped or rerouted…….

In the statement, the Japanese government made a new pledge to remove and transfer HEU fuels from the Kyoto University Critical Assembly (KUCA), another Japanese research institute, to the United States for down-blending and “permanent threat reduction.”…….

the materials recently transferred from Japan are only the tip of the iceberg. Currently, Japanese utilities possess over 47 metric tons of separated plutonium, which is equivalent to about 6,000 nuclear bombs

April 4, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, wastes | 1 Comment

US govt no longer worried about Japan’s plutonium stockpiling as weapons proliferation risk?

U.S. official changes stance on Japan’s nuclear policy   By Seima Oki / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent , 29 Mar 16, WASHINGTON — U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman said in a press conference by telephone on Monday that Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle project, which reuses spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants to extract plutonium, does not raise concerns about nuclear nonproliferation, effectively changing his earlier position on the matter.

At a hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on March 17, the assistant secretary in charge of international security and nuclear nonproliferation had voiced his concerns about Japan’s nuclear policy and said that it would be desirable for Japan to halt its nuclear fuel reprocessing project.

In the press conference, Countryman said that Japan was a pioneer in the civilian use of nuclear energy and that no other country was closer or more important as a partner to the United States than Japan.

Japan’s stockpiling of plutonium has been criticized by China at U.N. meetings and on other occasions. To this, Countryman said that Japan has been proceeding in a transparent manner, which was understandable to the rest of the world.

He also expressed his stance that the U.S. government will cooperate with Japan as an ally to wipe out anxiety in the international community.Speech

March 30, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, politics international, USA | Leave a comment