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Japan commits to reducing its excess of plutonium

Japan to cap plutonium stockpile to allay U.S. concerns, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, June 17, 2018 

Japan plans to boost measures to curb surplus plutonium extracted from the reprocessing of spent fuel at nuclear power plants, including capping the country’s stockpile of the highly toxic material.

The move followed the U.S. and other countries’ calls for Japan to reduce excess plutonium in light of nuclear nonproliferation and the threat of terrorist attacks involving nuclear materials.

The Cabinet Office’s Japan Atomic Energy Commission will incorporate the measures in the five-point basic nuclear policy expected at the end of this month, the first revision in 15 years.

A reduction in the volume of plutonium held by Japan will also be specified in the government’s basic energy plan, which will be revised next month.

Japan possesses about 10 tons of plutonium inside the country and about 37 tons in Britain and France, the two countries contracted to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. The total amount is equivalent to 6,000 of the atomic bomb that devastated Nagasaki in 1945.

In the policy, announced in 2003, the government vowed not to possess plutonium that has no useful purpose. The government has pledged not to have surplus plutonium to the International Atomic Energy Agency………

Japan can reprocess spent nuclear fuel under the Japan-U.S. Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

The 30-year pact is expected to be automatically extended beyond its expiration on July 16.

After the expiration, however, the pact will be scrapped six months after either Japan or the United States notifies the other side of its intention to do so.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono has expressed concern about the “unstable” future of the agreement after July, and Japan has worked to meet a request from Washington to clearly spell out steps to reduce Japan’s plutonium stocks.

The government’s draft policy calls for allowing retrieval of plutonium strictly based on the projected amount to be used at conventional nuclear reactors as mixed plutonium-uranium oxide fuel, commonly known as MOX fuel.

It will also step up oversight on utilities with the aim of reducing the amount of plutonium to a level allowing the nuclear reprocessing plant under construction in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, and other facilities to operate properly.

In addition, electric power companies will cooperate with each other in the use of MOX fuel, so that the amount of Japan’s surplus plutonium that is now overseas will be reduced.

For example, Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co., two utilities that began using MOX fuel ahead of other utilities, will consider using more MOX fuel at their nuclear plants for the benefit of Tokyo Electric Power Co., whose prospect of bringing its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture back on line remains uncertain.

When the 2.9 trillion yen ($26.37 billion) reprocessing plant in Rokkasho goes into full operation, about eight tons of new plutonium will be added annually as Japan’s surplus plutonium…..

of nine reactors that have resumed operations following the introduction of more stringent safety standards after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear disaster in 2011, only four can use MOX fuel.

The operation of the Rokkasho plant will likely be significantly curtailed even if it is completed amid that environment.

(This article was written by Yusuke Ogawa, Rintaro Sakurai and Shinichi Sekine.) http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201806170027.html

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June 18, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

US demands Japan reduce its plutonium stockpiles

Nikkei Asian Review 10th June 2018 , US demands Japan reduce its plutonium stockpiles. Trump-Kim summit raises
questions about Tokyo’s nuclear exemption. The U.S. has called on Japan to
reduce its high levels of stockpiled plutonium, a move that comes as the
Trump administration seeks to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear
weapons, Nikkei has learned.
https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-Relations/US-demands-Japan-reduce-its-plutonium-stockpiles

June 13, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan | Leave a comment

The global problem of poisonous plutonium: Japan looks at its options

a minimum requirement for any form of political consent to onsite storage would be a clear commitment by the government to phase out all nuclear power by a fixed date, so that the final amount of waste can be determined and will not just keep growing, along with the burden on local people. 

CNIC Seminar report: The problems with Japan’s Plutonium: What are they and how do we deal with them?   http://www.cnic.jp/english/?p=4135  Caitlin Stronell, CNIC BY CNIC_ENGLISH · JUNE 4, 2018  On April 20, CNIC organized a seminar with guest speaker Prof. Frank von Hippel, a nuclear physicist from Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security, presenting alternative ways to dispose of spent fuel instead of reprocessing, as well as options for disposal of separated plutonium.  After this presentation of technical solutions, a panel discussion took place. Prof. Eiji Oguma, a historical sociologist from Keio University’s Faculty of Policy Management and a well-known commentator on the post-Fukushima anti-nuclear movement in Japan, pointed out the political barriers that must be overcome if any of these technical solutions were to be actually implemented, no matter how much more reasonable they may seem from economic and safety perspectives. CNIC’s General Secretary, Hajime Matsukubo was also on the panel and brought into the discussion the international implications of Japan’s plutonium policy including the US-Japan Nuclear Agreement.

June 11, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, Reference | Leave a comment

America wasting $billions on unnecessary and dangerous plutonium pits for nuclear weapons

Editorial: Wasting billions in federal tax dollars just the pits https://www.abqjournal.com/1180661/wasting-billions-in-federal-tax-dollars-just-the-pits.html,By Albuquerque Journal Editorial BoardJune 5th, 2018

How many billions-with-a-“b” of your tax dollars is the federal government willing to waste on bad nuclear decisions? It’s in the tens of billions already, with the meter in overdrive.

There’s the $15 billion already plowed into the Yucca Mountain storage site, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nev., since 1987. The project has yet to take a thimble of nuclear waste, having been abandoned since 2010. There’s the $4 billion Mixed-Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, or MOX, at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site. MOX was designed to transform weapons-grade plutonium into commercial reactor fuel as part of a disarmament deal with the Russians. It’s more than a decade old, was supposed to open in 2016, is barely 70 percent complete and is over budget – cost estimates have skyrocketed from $1.4 billion to $17 billion.

And now there’s the multibillion plan to split the job of making plutonium pits between Los Alamos National Laboratory and a re-purposed MOX facility. As the National Nuclear Security Administration unveiled the pit production plan, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry executed a waiver to terminate MOX construction. MOX would now have to be revamped to churn out 50 pits by 2030, even though a nuclear pit has never been produced in South Carolina and there are questions of whether the complex work is even possible in the Palmetto State’s humidity. LANL would get an estimated $3 billion makeover to expand its production line, even though it has never made more than 11 pits a year and has made exactly zero since 2011; it has to crank out 30 under the new deal.

And that nuclear waste that was destined for MOX? It would end up headed to – wait for it – the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in a “dilute and dispose” operation. New Mexico never signed up for this level of waste. South Carolina lawmakers, who want MOX and its 2,000 jobs to remain, say “DOE says it now wants to pursue ‘dilute and dispose,’ but that plan was already considered and rejected…. this could lead to the permanent orphaning of at least 34 metric tons of weapons grade plutonium, enough for thousands of warheads.”

Yes, on one hand, it makes sense to find another mission for MOX – in 10 years, a utility has yet to come forward and say it wants to buy what MOX was ultimately supposed to be selling. And it is certainly politically expedient to throw a multibillion-dollar nuclear job-creator bone to South Carolina – after all, that’s where the head of the U.S. Senate resides.

But on the other, there are real questions about whether the U.S. really needs 80 new pits for an estimated $1.4 trillion-with-a-“t.” The magic 80 number comes from an Obama-era vast weapons modernization make-work plan, and Trump is expected to up that ante. Yet, the United States already has 12,000 spare pits and in storage those “have credible minimum lifetimes in excess of 100 years,” according to an independent advisory panel cited in The Economist. Making pits also produces a lot of waste, and as mentioned above, the nation can’t dispose of the metric tons it already has – more than 70,000 metric tons of used reactor fuel is in temporary facilities in 39 states and 55 metric tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium is in bunkers at the Energy Department’s Pantex warhead assembly-disassembly plant outside Amarillo and in an old reactor building at the Savannah River Site.

N.M. Democratic Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján are saying “instead of wasting billions of dollars exploring the construction of a new facility that will likely never be completed somewhere else, the Department of Energy should immediately move forward with the new, modular plutonium facilities at Los Alamos – as originally endorsed by both Congress and the Nuclear Weapons Council.” And LANL director Terry Wallace says “this commitment by the government to expand our plutonium mission reiterates the critical role we play in ensuring the nation’s security.”

There’s something to be said for going with what you know, and the nation knows LANL can build pits. But there are also billions of reasons to take a hard, unbiased look at what the nation truly needs to keep its nuclear deterrence vibrant.

And what is just expensive and dangerous busy work.

June 6, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Groups Release Key DOE Documents on Expanded Plutonium Pit Production, DOE Nuclear Weapons Plan Not Supported by Recent Congressional Actions

 https://nukewatch.org/pressreleases/PR-Pit-Production-Docs-5-31-18.pdf  May 31, 2018 Contact Tom Clements, SRS Watch, 803.240.7268, tomclements329@cs.com Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay@nukewatch.org

  Santa Fe, NM & Columbia, SC – Two key U.S. Department of Energy documents on future production of plutonium “pits” for nuclear weapons, not previously released to the public, fail to justify new and upgraded production facilities at both the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina.

The report reveals that the initial cost estimate for these new and upgraded facilities at both sites is $10 billion by 2030, and around $46 billion in total life cycle costs. Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons. Cost overruns are the rule for major projects undertaken by the National Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous nuclear weapons agency within DOE, so the costs are likely to rise yet more, according to Nuclear Watch New Mexico and Savannah River Site Watch.

NNSA’s Pu Pit Production Engineering Assessment, originally marked Unclassified Controlled Nuclear Information, was finalized on April 20, 2018. The 293-page document was obtained by Nuclear Watch and is being released so that the public may be fully informed about the agency’s misguided pursuit of new plutonium pit production facilities for future new-design nuclear weapons. The new NNSA Administrator has called future plutonium pit production her highest priority. But the Engineering Assessment fails to answer the most crucial question: why are at least 80 plutonium pits per year needed to begin with?

As background, on May 10, 2018, NNSA announced in a one-page statement:

 To achieve DoD’s [Department of Defense] 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This two-prong approach – with at least 50 pits per year produced at Savannah River and at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos – is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking.

Nuclear Watch also obtained NNSA’s 14-page Plutonium Pit Production Engineering Assessment (EA) Results. That summary document, dated May 2018, relied on the Trump Administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review for claiming the need for expanded plutonium pit production. However, that high-level review failed to state any concrete justification for the alleged pit need. Moreover, Congress is balking at funding any new pit production facilities at SRS, primarily because Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) vociferously opposes repurposing the MOX facility, now undergoing termination, and the New Mexico congressional delegation opposes any pit production outside of the Los Alamos Lab.

The Engineering Assessment details that NNSA analyzed four pit production options, one in the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility at SRS and three options at Los Alamos. NNSA chose the most expensive combination, repurposing the MOX facility and increasing pit production at LANL to 30 pits per year. Los Alamos is currently authorized to produce 20 pits per year, but has failed to achieve even that because of ongoing nuclear criticality safety issues (moreover, LANL proposed to produce all 80 pits per year, which NNSA rejected). SRS has never produced pits, raising new nuclear risks at that site and concern about new waste streams.

The Engineering Assessment makes clear that “moderate risks” in the option of repurposing the MOX plant at SRS includes any failure to quickly terminate the MOX project, due to subsequent delays in closing out the project and terminating contracts. Likewise, the report affirms a longheld concern that there is a “very high probability for incomplete construction records/as-built drawings” for the MOX project. On May 10, DOE began congressionally sanctioned termination of the bungled MOX project, but it is being opposed in last-ditch, desperate attempts by Senator Lindsey Graham and the State of South Carolina. The Engineering Assessment makes explicitly clear that terminating the MOX program is the crucial prerequisite for plutonium pit production at SRS and that “some work [on repurposing the MOX plant] can be completed during MOX closeout,” contrary to both the wishes of Congress and requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Expanded plutonium pit production is NOT needed to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, according to Nuclear Watch. In fact, no pit production for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile has been scheduled since 2011, and none is scheduled for the future. Up to 15,000 “excess” pits and another 5,000 in “strategic reserve” are already stored at DOE’s Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX. In 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century1 (they currently average 40 years old). A 2012 follow-on study by the Livermore Lab found that the “graceful aging of plutonium also reduces the immediate need for a modern highcapacity manufacturing facility to replace pits in the stockpile.” 2

 Future pit production is for speculative future new designs being pushed by the nuclear weapons labs, so-called Interoperable Warheads for both land- and sub-launched missiles that the Navy does not support. 3 Moreover, as the Engineering Assessment makes clear, future pits will NOT be exact replicas of existing pits. This could have serious potential consequences because heavily modified plutonium pits cannot be full-scale tested, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to return to nuclear weapons testing, which would have severe international proliferation consequences.

The Engineering Assessment also explicitly links raising the administrative limit on plutonium at LANL’s “Rad Lab” to expanded pit production. This contradicts a recent draft environmental assessment in which NNSA claimed that re-categorizing the Rad Lab as a Hazard Category-3 nuclear facility was necessary only to maintain basic analytical chemistry capabilities, while omitting any reference whatsoever to expanded plutonium pit production.

The Engineering Assessment briefly outlines what could be a major vulnerability to NNSA’s pit production plans, that is the agency’s future compliance (or not) with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Assessment states that if “compliance is delayed, [this] extends the schedule, increases costs, and/or delays production.” Both Nuclear Watch and SRS Watch assert that the law requires that major federal proposals be subject to public review and comment before a formal decision is made. Arguably, a formal decision to raise production to 80 pits or more per year necessitates a new or supplemental nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), which the new dual-site decision strongly buttresses. Follow-on site-specific NEPA documents will then be necessary, with full public participation and hearings. All of this could introduce substantial delays to NNSA’s plutonium pit production plans.

“While it’s clear that the bungled MOX project is unworkable from technical and cost perspectives and must rapidly be terminated, there is no justification to convert the abandoned facility to a nuclear bomb production plant,” said Tom Clements, director of SRS Watch. “We agree that money must now be spent closing and securing the MOX building, but not on the new, unauthorized pit mission. Spending taxpayer funds to now begin conversion of the MOX plant to pit production, as is indicated in the pit report, is premature and can’t even be considered until Congress approves the NNSA approach for new facilities and an environmental impact review with public participation takes place,” added Clements.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “NNSA has already tried four times to expand plutonium pit production, only to be defeated by citizen opposition and its own cost overruns and incompetence. We realize that this fifth attempt at a new pit plant is the most serious yet, but we remain confident it too will fall apart. The enormous financial and environmental costs of new nuclear bomb factories and the fact that expanded plutonium pit production is simply not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile will doom this effort. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production decision is really all about.”

June 4, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Trump administration scraps MOX project to generate power from plutonium

Trump administration axes project to generate power from plutonium, Timothy Gardner, WASHINGTON (Reuters) 13 May 18 – The Trump administration plans to kill a project it says would have cost tens of billions of dollars to convert plutonium from Cold War-era nuclear bombs and burn it to generate electricity, according to a document it sent to Congress last week.

The Department of Energy submitted a document on May 10 to Senate and House of Representative committees saying that the Mixed Oxide (MOX) project at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina would cost about $48 billion more than $7.6 billion already spent on it. The United States has never built a MOX plant.

Instead of completing MOX, the administration, like the Obama administration before it, wants to blend the 34 tonnes of deadly plutonium – enough to make about 8,000 nuclear weapons – with an inert substance and bury it underground in a New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). Burying the plutonium would cost about $19.9 billion, according to the document, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.

“We are currently processing plutonium in South Carolina for shipment (to WIPP) … and intend to continue to do so,” Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a letter sent to committee leaders.

Legislation passed in February allows the Energy Department to advance burying the plutonium if it showed that the cost would be less than half of completing MOX……..

Edwin Lyman, a physicist at science advisory group the Union of Concerned Scientists concerned about plutonium getting into the wrong hands, said Perry had made a sensible decision. “MOX was a slow-motion train wreck, and throwing good money after bad simply wasn’t an option.”

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa Shumaker  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-plutonium-mox/trump-administration-axes-project-to-generate-power-from-plutonium-idUSKCN1IE0LH

May 14, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, politics, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

USA National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plan for unnecessary production of plutonium pits

What’s Not in NNSA’s Plutonium Pit Production Decision,  Santa Fe, NM –May 10, 2018 Contact Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay@nukewatch.org Scott Kovac, Nuclear Watch NM, 505.989.7342, scott@nukewatch.org 

Today the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced: To achieve DoD’s [the Defense Department] 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. This two-prong approach – with at least 50 pits per year produced at Savannah River and at least 30 pits per year at Los Alamos – is the best way to manage the cost, schedule, and risk of such a vital undertaking.
 First, in Nuclear Watch’s view, this decision is in large part a political decision, designed to keep the congressional delegations of both New Mexico and South Carolina happy. New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are adamantly against relocating plutonium pit production to South Carolina. On the other hand, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was keeping the boondoggle Mixed Oxide (MOX) program on life support, and this pit production decision may help to mollify him. This could also perhaps help assuage the State of South Carolina, which is suing the Department of Energy for failing to remove plutonium from the Savannah River Site as promised.
But as important is what is NOT in NNSA’s plutonium pit production decision:
: • There is no explanation why the Department of Defense requires at least 80 pits per year, and no justification to the American taxpayer why the enormous expense of expanded production is necessary.
 • NNSA avoided pointing out that expanded plutonium pit production is NOT needed to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. In fact, no production of plutonium pits for the existing stockpile has been scheduled since 2011, and none is scheduled for the future.
• NNSA did not mention that in 2006 independent experts found that pits last a least a century. Plutonium pits in the existing stockpile now average around 40 years old. The independent expert study did not find any end date for reliable pit lifetimes, indicating that plutonium pits could last far beyond just a century.
NNSA did not mention that up to 15,000 “excess” pits are already stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, TX, with up to another 5,000 in “strategic reserve.” The agency did not explain why new production is needed given that immense inventory of already existing plutonium pits.
• Related, NNSA did not explain how to dispose of all of that plutonium, given that the MOX program is an abysmal failure. Nor is it made clear where future plutonium wastes from expanded pit production will go since operations at the troubled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are already constrained from a ruptured radioactive waste barrel, and its capacity is already overcommitted to existing radioactive wastes.
 • NNSA did not make clear that expanded plutonium pit production is for a series of speculative future “Interoperable Warheads.” The first IW is meant to replace nuclear warheads for both the Air Force’s land-based and the Navy’s sub-launched ballistic missiles. The Obama Administration delayed “IW-1” because the Navy does not support it. However, the Trump Administration is restarting it, with annual funding ballooning to $448 million by 2023, and “IW-2” starting in that same year. Altogether the three planned Interoperable Warheads will cost at least $40 billion, despite the fact that the Navy doesn’t support them. 1
 • NNSA’s expanded plutonium pit production decision did not mention that exact replicas of existing pits will NOT be produced. The agency has selected the W87 pit for the Interoperable Warhead, but its FY 2019 budget request repeatedly states that the pits will actually be “W87- like.” This could have serious potential consequences because any major modifications to plutonium pits cannot be full-scale tested, or alternatively could prompt the U.S. to return to nuclear weapons testing, which would have severe international proliferation consequences.
 • The State of South Carolina is already suing the Department of Energy for its failure to begin removing the many tons of plutonium at the Savannah River Site (SRS). NNSA’s pit production decision will not solve that problem, even as it will likely bring more plutonium to SRS. 
• The independent Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board has expressed strong concerns about the safety of plutonium operations at both the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) LANL and SRS, particularly regarding potential nuclear criticality incidents. 2 NNSA did not address those safety concerns in its plutonium pit production decision.
• Politicians in both New Mexico and South Carolina trumpet how many jobs expanded plutonium pit production will create. Yet NNSA’s expanded plutonium pit production decision does not have any solid data on jobs produced. One indicator that job creation will be limited is that the environmental impact statement for a canceled $6 billion plutonium facility at LANL stated that it would not produce a single new Lab job because it would merely relocate existing jobs. Concerning SRS, it is doubtful that pit production could fully replace the jobs lost as the MOX program dies a slow death. In any event, there certainly won’t be any data on the greater job creation that cleanup and renewable energy programs would create. Funding for those programs is being cut or held flat, in part to help pay for nuclear weapons programs.
• Finally, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that major federal proposals be subject to public review and comment before a formal decision is made. NNSA’s decision does not mention its NEPA obligations at all. In 1996 plutonium pit production was capped at 20 pits per year in a nation-wide Stockpile Stewardship and Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). NNSA failed to raise that production limit in any subsequent NEPA process, despite repeated attempts. Arguably a decision to produce 80 pits or more per year requires a new or supplemental nation-wide programmatic environmental impact statement to raise the production limit, which the new dual-site decision would strongly augment. This then should be followed by whatever site-specific NEPA documents might be necessary.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “NNSA has already tried four times to expand plutonium pit production, only to be defeated by citizen opposition and its own cost overruns and incompetence. But we realize that this fifth attempt is the most serious. However, we remain confident it too will fall apart, because of its enormous financial and environmental costs and the fact that expanded plutonium pit production is simply not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production decision is really all about.

” # # #

 1 See 2012 Navy memo demonstrating its lack of support for the Interoperable Warhead athttps://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88. 2 For example, see Safety concerns plague key sites proposed for nuclear bomb production, Patrick Malone, Center for Public Integrity, May 2, 2108,https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/05/02/safety-concerns-nuclear-bomb-manufacturesites/572697002/

May 12, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, politics, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Los Alamos National Laboratory will share production of plutonium pits with the Savannah River Site in South Carolina

NNSA announces decision on pit production, L A Monitor, May 11, 2018,  Los Alamos National Laboratory will share production of plutonium pits with the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, the Nuclear Weapons Council and National Nuclear Security Administration announced Thursday.

LANL will maintain production of 30 plutonium pits per year, while the Savannah River Site will produce 50 pits per year.

“To achieve DoD’s 80 pits per year requirement by 2030, NNSA’s recommended alternative repurposes the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to produce plutonium pits while also maximizing pit production activities at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico,” according to Thursday’s release.

……. Plutonium pits are the size of a softball and are used as trigger mechanisms for nuclear weapons…..

The NNSA was given a mandate by Congress to manufacture 80 plutonium pits per year by 2030 as part of a nuclear weapons modernization plan. The NNSA has been studying which site would best be able to accommodate the manufacture of plutonium pits. ……
Nuclear Watch New Mexico criticized the decision as purely political.

“First, in Nuclear Watch’s view, this decision is in large part a political decision, designed to keep the congressional delegations of both New Mexico and South Carolina happy,” said Nuclear Watch Executive Director Jay Coghlan. “New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are adamantly against relocating plutonium pit production to South Carolina. On the other hand, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham was keeping the boondoggle Mixed Oxide (MOX) program on life support, and this pit production decision may help to mollify him.

Coghlan said he believes the split plan will ultimately fail.

“NNSA has already tried four times to expand plutonium pit production, only to be defeated by citizen opposition and its own cost overruns and incompetence,” Coghlan said. “But we realize that this fifth attempt is the most serious.

“However, we remain confident it too will fall apart, because of its enormous financial and environmental costs and the fact that expanded plutonium pit production is simply not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile. We think the American public will reject new-design nuclear weapons, which is what this expanded pit production decision is really all about.”

Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, took a more pragmatic view. ……

“Pit production isn’t needed for decades, even for a large arsenal, but Congress has demanded it, so the bulk of the work will leave LANL. The R and D (research and development) work will stay behind. This transition is many years down the road. Pit production will always be difficult, expensive and dangerous wherever it’s done.”

A fact sheet about the decision can be found here.  http://www.lamonitor.com/content/nnsa-announces-decision-pit-production

May 12, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

  Idaho State University Lost Enough Weapons-Grade Plutonium to Make a Dirty Bomb. 

Motherboard 8th May 2018.On Friday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced that Idaho
State University may face an $8,500 fine after losing one gram of
weapons-grade plutonium. Although this quarter-sized amount of plutonium is
nowhere near enough to make a nuclear weapon, it is enough to make a dirty
bomb that spreads radiation, according to the Associated Press.
https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/evqjp4/idaho-state-university-lost-enough-weapons-grade-plutonium-to-make-a-dirty-bomb

May 9, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment

Continued safety concerns about production of “plutonium pits” for nuclear bombs

Safety concerns plague key sites proposed for nuclear bomb production, USA Today , Patrick Malone, Center for Public Integrity . ET May 3, 2018

Decision due soon on where plutonium parts for the next generation of nuclear weapons are to be made 

The Department of Energy is scheduled to decide within days where plutonium parts for the next generation of nuclear weapons are to be made, but recent internal government reports indicate serious and persistent safety issues plague both of the two candidate sites.

Some experts are worried about the safety records of either choice: Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where plutonium parts have historically been assembled, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where other nuclear materials for America’s bombs have been made since in the 1950s.

An announcement by the Trump administration about the location is expected by May 11 in preparation for the ramped-up production of nuclear warheads called for by the Defense Department’s recent review of America’s nuclear weapons policy.

Recent internal government reports obtained by the Center for Public Integrity have warned that workers at these plants have been handling nuclear materials sloppily or have failed to monitor safety issues aggressively.

……….The continued mistakes at Los Alamos follow a three-year period of stasis in the U.S. plutonium production program forced by the lab’s inability to meet safety standards for plutonium operations. Los Alamos’ plutonium facility shelved all the nation’s high-hazard plutonium work, including the production of nuclear weapons cores or “pits,” in the summer of 2013, and has recently resumed most but not all of the wor

The prolonged shutdown at Los Alamos — the birthplace of the nuclear bomb — provoked National Nuclear Security Administration’s principal assistant deputy administrator for defense, Philip Calbos, to remark during a panel discussion at National Defense University in February that nuclear rivals are noticing America’s missteps.

………..Plutonium pits are the shiny metallic, softball-size orbs that hold the most potent destructive force man has ever harnessed in a weapon. During the Cold War, the Rocky Flats production site in Colorado made as many as 2,000 a year. Decades of poor disposal of nuclear wastes and other dangerous environmental practices culminated in a dramatic FBI raid in 1989 that led to the site’s closure in 1992.

Nuclear criticality safety, the craft of avoiding a self-starting, potentially lethal, nuclear chain reaction merely from positioning too much plutonium too closely together, is an ever-present concern during such production……..https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/05/02/safety-concerns-nuclear-bomb-manufacture-sites/572697002/

 

May 4, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, safety, USA | Leave a comment

America’s over-loaded plutonium waste sites pose a serious danger

Science Recorder 27th April 2018 , The U.S. Energy Department has 54 metric tons of surplus plutonium at sites
across the country and cannot decide what to do with it, according to department officials. Nuclear researchers warn that many of these sites are
storing more of the radioactive substance than is safe and that a mishap at any one of them could lead to full-blown disaster.
https://sciencerecorder.com/article.php?n=united-states-has-too-much-deadly-plutonium-on-its-hands&id=144178

April 30, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

The under-rated risks from plutonium

Homeland Preparedness News 27th April 2018 , A new paper from the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) provided
recommendations for mitigating risks related to separated plutonium. As compared to highly enriched uranium (HEU), separated plutonium has not
received enough attention as a security risk, NTI Counselor John Carlson said in the paper, titled “Mitigating Security Risks from Separated Plutonium: Some Near-Term Steps.”
Eight countries currently hold more than 375 metric tons of separated plutonium, which is produced by reprocessing irradiated nuclear fuel. The paper recommends minimizing stocks and specific actions in production, storage and use of the material. “Even small quantities [of plutonium] could be of interest to terrorists if they see opportunities for acquiring plutonium in a number of locations or for use in a radiological dispersal device,” Carlson said.
https://homelandprepnews.com/stories/28131-nuclear-threat-initiative-highlights-separated-plutonium-security-risks/

April 30, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, Reference, safety | Leave a comment

How can USA and Russia’s Plutonium Disposition Program finally become effective?

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 24th April 2018 , During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union manufactured
enormous quantities of plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. When that era
ended, the United States and the newly formed Russian Federation began to
reduce their nuclear arsenals. Both nations possessed large stockpiles of
plutonium—a problem that posed both a sustained threat to the environment
and a risk of future nuclear weapons proliferation.

In 2000, the United States and Russia pledged to dispose of their excess plutonium in order to
mitigate the security concerns, safety risks, and storage costs. They
signed the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, which requires
each country to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of weapons plutonium.

Unfortunately, the agreement failed to solve the excess plutonium problem.
Eighteen years later, the United States has been unable to develop a
successful strategy to safely, affordably, and permanently dispose of
plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons, despite a high degree of
industrial capability and technical expertise. Why has the United States
been unable to either implement its obligations under the disposition
agreement or execute its own policy? And how can the Plutonium Disposition
Program finally become effective?
https://thebulletin.org/what-went-wrong-us-plutonium-disposition11733

April 27, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

Who is responsible for plutonium contamination at Washinton nuclear cleanup site?

LA Times 23rd April 2018, As crews demolished a shuttered nuclear weapons plant during 2017 in
central Washington, specks of plutonium were swept up in high gusts and
blown miles across a desert plateau above the Columbia River.

The releases at the Department of Energy cleanup site spewed unknown amounts of
plutonium dust into the environment, coated private automobiles with the
toxic heavy metal and dispensed lifetime internal radioactive doses to 42
workers.

The contamination events went on for nearly 12 months, getting
progressively worse before the project was halted in mid-December. Now,
state health and environmental regulators, Department of Energy officials
and federal safety investigators are trying to figure out what went wrong
and who is responsible.
http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2018/04/why_was_plutonium_dust_left_to.html

April 27, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, USA | Leave a comment

How the diabolically dangerous plutonium cores killed two nuclear scientists

The Nuclear ‘Demon Core’ That Killed Two Scientists https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/demon-core-that-killed-two-scientistsAfter World War II ended, physicists kept pushing a plutonium core to its edge. BY SARAH LASKOW 
APRIL 23, 2018 

Since the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, the world has been in a state of readiness for nuclear combat. In this secretive domain, mistakes and mishaps are often hidden: This week we’re telling the stories of five nuclear accidents that burst into public view.
THE WAR WAS OVER—JAPAN HAD surrendered. The third plutonium core created by the United States, which scientists at Los Alamos National Lab had been preparing for another attack, was no longer needed as a weapon. For the moment, the lab’s nuclear scientists were allowed to keep the sphere, an alloy of plutonium and gallium that would become known as the demon core.

In a nuclear explosion, a bomb’s radioactive core goes critical: A nuclear chain reaction starts and continues with no additional intervention. When nuclear material goes supercritical, that reaction speeds up. American scientists knew enough about the radioactive materials they were working with to be able to set off these reactions in a bomb, but they wanted a better understanding of the edge where subcritical material tipped into the dangerous, intensely radioactive critical state.

 One way to push the core towards criticality involved turning the neutrons it shedback onto the core, to destabilize it further. The “Critical Assembly Group” at Los Alamos was working on a series of experiments in which they surrounded the core with materials that reflected neutrons and monitored the core’s state.

The first time someone died performing one of these experiments, Japan had yet to formally sign the terms of surrender. On the evening of August 21, 1945, the physicist Harry Daghlian was alone in the lab, building a shield of tungsten carbide bricks around the core. Ping-ponging neutrons back the core, the bricks had brought the plutonium close to the threshold of criticality, when Daghlian dropped a brick on top. Instantly, the core reacted, going supercritical and Daghlian was doused in a lethal dose of radiation. He died 25 days later.

His death did not dissuade his colleagues, though. Nine months later, they had developed another way to bring the core close to that critical edge, by lowering a dome of beryllium over the core. Louis Slotin, another physicist, had performed this move in many previous experiments: He would hold the dome with one hand, and with the other use a screwdriver to keep a small gap open, just barely limiting the flow of neutrons back to the bomb. On a May day in 1946, his hand slipped, and the gap closed. Again, the core went supercritical and dosed Slotin, along with seven other scientists in the room, with gamma radiation.

In each instance, when the core slipped over that threshold and started spewing radiation, a bright blue light flashed in the room—the result of highly energized particles hitting air molecules, which released that bolt of energy as streams of light.

The other scientists survived their radiation bath, but Slotin, closest to the core, died of radiation sickness nine days later. The experiments stopped. After a cooling-off period, the demon core was recast into a different weapon, eventually destroyed in a nuclear test.

April 25, 2018 Posted by | - plutonium, incidents, USA | Leave a comment