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Rare earths’ radioactive wastes -a toxic issue in Malaysia

Australian mining company Lynas gets permission to dispose of radioactive waste in Malaysia, dividing locals ABC 

Key points:

  • Malaysia has renewed the rare earth plant licence of Australian company Lynas
  • Green groups say Lynas’ activities pose a threat to the local environment
  • Lynas says it will meet the licence obligations set by Malaysia’s Government

Outside of China, the Australian firm, Lynas, is the world’s only major producer of rare earth minerals, which are crucial in the production of high-tech gear including smartphones, laser-guided missiles and electric car batteries.

The ore is dug up at Mount Weld in Western Australia and then shipped to Malaysia, where the cost of processing is significantly lower.

The low-level radioactive waste is a by-product of the enrichment process and Malaysian activists are convinced it poses a threat to local communities.

At a recent protest in Kuantan, several hundred people rallied against the Australian firm and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s decision to extend its licence to operate.

“[The radioactivity] will be passed through our children and our children’s children,” said Moses Lim, a chemical engineer turned activist.

“We may be gone, but our grandchildren will curse us.”

Mr Lim claimed the issue had the potential to “tarnish the good name of Australia” in the minds of millions of Malaysians. But the Prime Minister, 94-year-old Dr Mahathir, dismissed criticism of Lynas’ operations in Malaysia.

“It’s not Chernobyl. This isn’t going to be dangerous,” he said.

‘We just have to accept this fate’

The issue has split the local community, which relies on the hundreds of high-paying jobs that the processing facility provides.

At a local fish market in Kuantan, a mother who declined to offer her name told the ABC she feared radioactive contamination from the facility would make its way into her food.

“I am scared, but I have no choice but to buy the fresh fish from here. We just have to accept this fate,” she said.

“I think Lynas should be shut down for the sake of the surrounding environment.”

But other locals said there was nothing to worry about, blaming politicians for trying to capitalise on the issue by whipping up fear in the community.

Raja Harris bin Raja Salleh, the chief fisher in Balok village, said the residents are “not at all scared”.

“Lynas is the same as other agencies and factories that produce chemicals. The accusations against Lynas are political,” he said.

Toxic waste becomes a toxic issue

The issue of Lynas’ radioactive waste has become politically toxic for the Mahathir-led coalition, which promised in opposition to close the Australian plant.

Now in government after last year’s shock election result, there has been a major backing down.

Lynas is allowed to keep operating its plant and has been given six months to find a suitable site within Malaysia to permanently dispose of 580,000 tonnes of low-level radioactive waste currently stockpiled at the Kuantan facility.

The company has also been given four years to relocate its cracking and leaching processing operation — which creates the radioactive waste — to Western Australia.

Wong Tak, a Malaysian Government MP who attended the Kuantan protest, said the cabinet decision to extend the licence was a “great disappointment”.

The long time anti-Lynas campaigner claimed the issue was serious enough to fracture the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope, Coalition.

“I know the majority of backbenchers are with us, and I will even say the majority of the cabinet are with the people.”

Dr Mahathir has taken a pragmatic approach to the issue, saying the decision to extend the licence was based on expert advice, not the “popular view”.

“Either we get rid of the industry and lose credibility in terms of foreign direct investment, or we can take care of the problem,” he said……

The fate of Lynas in Malaysia is being keenly watched around the world amid concerns rare earth materials could become a bargaining chip in the ongoing US-China trade war.

In 2010, the Chinese supply of rare earths to Japan suddenly stopped for two months following a territorial dispute over Japan’s claim to the Senkaku Islands, which angered China.

The construction of the Lynas plant in Malaysia was largely funded in 2011 by Japan, which needed a reliable supply of rare earths.

China currently holds a near-monopoly on the production of rare earth minerals, with Lynas producing about 13 per cent of global supply.https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-22/malaysians-divided-on-radioactive-waste-from-aussie-miner-lynas/11434122

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August 22, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Malaysia, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

India’s Govt prohibits mining of thorium and other atomic minerals by private entities  

Govt prohibits mining of atomic minerals by private entities   https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/govt-prohibits-mining-of-atomic-minerals-by-private-entities/article28732945.ece July 27, 2019 

Atomic minerals zirconium, monazite and thorium are found in abundance along several beaches of the country

The government has prohibited mining of atomic minerals by private entities and will grant operating rights to only state-run companies to “safeguard” strategic interest of the country, according to a gazette notification issued on Saturday.

Atomic minerals zirconium, monazite and thorium are found in abundance along several beaches of the country.

Zircon have potential applications in the strategic, defence and hi-tech sectors as it contains an important strategic element, called hafnium, which is used in the field of atomic energy.

Monazite is a mineral of thorium, uranium and rare earths and it has a high percentage of neodymium which has several hi-tech applications.

Zirconium, hafnium and thorium are very important strategic elements used in different stages of the country’s nuclear power programme, and since monazite and zircon occur in beach sand minerals, any loss or pilferage of these minerals at any stage of mineral handling or processing “shall affect the larger national interest”, the notification said.

“In offshore areas and their strategic importance, it is imperative that the mineral concessions in offshore areas be brought at par with the onshore areas in their treatment and therefore, in order to safeguard the strategic interest of the nation, it is expedient in larger national interest to prohibit the grant of operating rights in terms of any reconnaissance permit, exploration license or production lease of atomic minerals” in any offshore areas to anyone, except a government owned or controlled company, it stated.

“The central government hereby prohibits grant of operating rights in respect of atomic minerals in any offshore areas in the country…to any person, except the government or a government company or a corporation owned or controlled by the government, under the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act, 2002,” it said.

The government also “rescinded” any action taken by it earlier in this regard.

July 29, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, India, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

China faces up to the pollution and radioactive waste problems of rare earths mining and processing

“To us as an environmental group, we hope that the environmental damage can stop and that these external [pollution costs] could be internalized in the cost” of products, Ma Jun, a leading Chinese environmentalist and director of the Institute for Public and Environmental Affairs, said in a phone interview.

Ma’s fear is that other regions around the world could suffer a similar fate if they become, like China, the supplier of cheap rare earth elements, with little or no environmental price attached

China Wrestles with the Toxic Aftermath of Rare Earth Mining    https://e360.yale.edu/features/china-wrestles-with-the-toxic-aftermath-of-rare-earth-mining, 

China has been a major source of rare earth metals used in high-tech products, from smartphones to wind turbines. As cleanup of these mining sites begins, experts argue that global companies that have benefited from access to these metals should help foot the bill.

July 22, 2019 Posted by | China, environment, RARE EARTHS, Reference | Leave a comment

Illegal transport of thorium at Georgia’s border with Armenia

Georgia intercepts radioactive substance at border with Armenia  http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-07/15/c_138229300.htm  Source: Xinhua Editor: yan TBILISI, July 15  – Georgia on Monday detained an Armenian citizen who was charged with illegally transporting the radioactive substance Thorium at the border with Armenia.

According to the Georgian State Security Service, the radioactive substance was intercepted at the Sadakhlo checkpoint when the suspect in a mini-bus was inspected.

The total weight of the packages carried by the suspect was 71.63 kg, and they contained radioactive isotope Thorium 232, which is a nuclear material and poses a threat to life and health.

The mini-bus was moving from Armenia to Russia through Georgia.

If convicted, the detainee will face 5 to 10 years in prison.

July 15, 2019 Posted by | EUROPE, secrets,lies and civil liberties, thorium | Leave a comment

India’s nuclear power programme unlikely to progress. Ocean energy is a better way.

The problem is apparently nervousness about handling liquid Sodium, used as a coolant. If Sodium comes in contact with water it will explode; and the PFBR is being built on the humid coast of Tamil Nadu. The PFBR has always been a project that would go on stream “next year”. The PFBR has to come online, then more FBRs would need to be built, they should then operate for 30-40 years, and only then would begin the coveted ‘Thorium cycle’!

Why nuclear when India has an ‘ocean’ of energy,  https://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/why-nuclear-when-india-has-an-ocean-of-energy/article28230036.ece

M. Ramesh – 30 June 19 Though the ‘highly harmful’ source is regarded as saviour on certain counts, the country has a better option under the seas

If it is right that nothing can stop an idea whose time has come, it must be true the other way too — nothing can hold back an idea whose time has passed.

Just blow the dust off, you’ll see the writing on the wall: nuclear energy is fast running out of sand, at least in India. And there is something that is waiting to take its place.

India’s 6,780 MW of nuclear power plants contributed to less than 3% of the country’s electricity generation, which will come down as other sources will generate more.

Perhaps India lost its nuclear game in 1970, when it refused to sign – even if with the best of reasons – the Non Proliferation Treaty, which left the country to bootstrap itself into nuclear energy. Only there never was enough strap in the boot to do so.

In the 1950s, the legendary physicist Dr. Homi Bhabha gave the country a roadmap for the development of nuclear energy.

Three-stage programme

In the now-famous ‘three-stage nuclear programme’, the roadmap laid out what needs to be done to eventually use the country’s almost inexhaustible Thorium resources. The first stage would see the creation of a fleet of ‘pressurised heavy water reactors’, which use scarce Uranium to produce some Plutonium. The second stage would see the setting up of several ‘fast breeder reactors’ (FBRs). These FBRs would use a mixture of Plutonium and the reprocessed ‘spent Uranium from the first stage, to produce energy and more Plutonium (hence ‘breeder’), because the Uranium would transmute into Plutonium. Alongside, the reactors would convert some of the Thorium into Uranium-233, which can also be used to produce energy. After 3-4 decades of operation, the FBRs would have produced enough Plutonium for use in the ‘third stage’. In this stage, Uranium-233 would be used in specially-designed reactors to produce energy and convert more Thorium into Uranium-233 —you can keep adding Thorium endlessly.

Seventy years down the line, India is still stuck in the first stage. For the second stage, you need the fast breeder reactors. A Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) of 500 MW capacity, construction of which began way back in 2004, is yet to come on stream.

The problem is apparently nervousness about handling liquid Sodium, used as a coolant. If Sodium comes in contact with water it will explode; and the PFBR is being built on the humid coast of Tamil Nadu. The PFBR has always been a project that would go on stream “next year”. The PFBR has to come online, then more FBRs would need to be built, they should then operate for 30-40 years, and only then would begin the coveted ‘Thorium cycle’! Nor is much capacity coming under the current, ‘first stage’. The 6,700 MW of plants under construction would, some day, add to the existing nuclear capacity of 6,780 MW. The government has sanctioned another 9,000 MW and there is no knowing when work on them will begin. These are the home-grown plants. Of course, thanks to the famous 2005 ‘Indo-U.S. nuclear deal’, there are plans for more projects with imported reactors, but a 2010 Indian ‘nuclear liability’ legislation has scared the foreigners away. With all this, it is difficult to see India’s nuclear capacity going beyond 20,000 MW over the next two decades.

Now, the question is, is nuclear energy worth it all?

There have been three arguments in favour of nuclear enFor Fergy: clean, cheap and can provide electricity 24×7 (base load). Clean it is, assuming that you could take care of the ticklish issue of putting away the highly harmful spent fuel.

But cheap, it no longer is. The average cost of electricity produced by the existing 22 reactors in the country is around ₹2.80 a kWhr, but the new plants, which cost ₹15-20 crore per MW to set up, will produce energy that cannot be sold commercially below at least ₹7 a unit. Nuclear power is pricing itself out of the market. A nuclear power plant takes a decade to come up, who knows where the cost will end up when it begins generation of electricity?

Nuclear plants can provide the ‘base load’ — they give a steady stream of electricity day and night, just like coal or gas plants. Wind and solar power plants produce energy much cheaper, but their power supply is irregular. With gas not available and coal on its way out due to reasons of cost and global warming concerns, nuclear is sometimes regarded as the saviour. But we don’t need that saviour any more; there is a now a better option.

Ocean energy

The seas are literally throbbing with energy. There are at least several sources of energy in the seas. One is the bobbing motion of the waters, or ocean swells — you can place a flat surface on the waters, with a mechanical arm attached to it, and it becomes a pump that can be used to drive water or compressed air through a turbine to produce electricity. Another is by tapping into tides, which flow during one part of the day and ebb in another. You can generate electricity by channelling the tide and place a series of turbines in its path. One more way is to keep turbines on the sea bed at places where there is a current — a river within the sea. Yet another way is to get the waves dash against pistons in, say, a pipe, so as to compress air at the other end. Sea water is dense and heavy, when it moves it can punch hard — and, it never stops moving.

All these methods have been tried in pilot plants in several parts of the world—Brazil, Denmark, U.K., Korea. There are only two commercial plants in the world—in France and Korea—but then ocean energy has engaged the world’s attention.

For sure, ocean energy is costly today.

India’s Gujarat State Power Corporation had a tie-up with U.K.’s Atlantic Resources for a 50 MW tidal project in the Gulf of Kutch, but the project was given up after they discovered they could sell the electricity only at ₹13 a kWhr. But then, even solar cost ₹18 a unit in 2009! When technology improves and scale-effect kicks-in, ocean energy will look real friendly.

Initially, ocean energy would need to be incentivised, as solar was. Where do you find the money for the incentives? By paring allocations to the Department of Atomic Energy, which got ₹13,971 crore for 2019-20.

Also, wind and solar now stand on their own legs and those subsidies could now be given to ocean energy.

July 1, 2019 Posted by | India, Reference, renewable, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

U.S. Dept of Energy accepts reimbursement claims for clean-up of thorium and uranium pollution

DOE Accepts Reimbursement Claims for Uranium, Thorium Processing Remediation

BY STAFF REPORTS, 28 June 19
The Department of Energy is accepting claims through Sept. 13 for reimbursement of expenses for cleanup of certain uranium and thorium processing sites in the current 2019 federal fiscal year. The agency said in a Federal Register notice Tuesday that its Office…(subscribers only)  https://www.exchangemonitor.com/doe-accepts-reimbursement-claims-uranium-thorium-processing-remediation/

June 29, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, politics, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Renewable energy and the problem of radioactive wastes from rare earths processing

Toxic waste: Lynas Corporation and the downside of renewable energy, Independent Australia, 28 April 2019  In some cases, renewable energy can have profoundly harmful environmental effects if not managed correctly, writes Noel WauchopeAUSTRALIA’S LYNAS CORPORATION is currently under the business and political spotlight. The current controversy over Lynas rare earth elements company is a wake-up call to an area of vulnerability in renewable technologies – the radioactive pollution produced by developing the rare earth elements essential for today’s hi-tech devices. Electric cars, batteries, energy efficient lighting, smartphones, solar panels, wind turbines and so on all need some of the 17 mineral elements classed as rare earth. The mining and processing of this produces radioactive trash.

Environmentalists, in their enthusiasm for renewable energy, seem unaware of this fact, while they rightly condemn coal and nuclear power, for their toxic by-products.

Australia’s Lynas Corporation has two major rare earth facilities — mining at Mount Weld, Western Australia, and processing at Kuantan, Malaysia. For years, there’s been a smouldering controversy going on in Malaysia, over the radioactive wastes produced by the refining facility at Kuantan.

Now, this has come to a head. On 17th April, the Malaysian Government insisted that Lynas Corp must remove more than 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste from the country, for its licence to be renewed in September.

Australian Government legislation and policy prohibits the import of radioactive waste. However, some categories of radioactive waste are exempt from this law, if they contain very low levels of radioactivity.

Here’s where it all gets terribly complicated.

Wesfarmers wants to take over Lynas. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) is examining this, and especially Wesfarmers’ involvement with the Malaysian government. The Age on 16 April, reported that Prime Minister Mahathir, following discussions with Wesfarmers, announced that a company interested in acquiring Lynas had promised to extract the radioactive waste before exporting the ore to Malaysia.

All this raises the question of exactly what would an Australian company, such as Wesfarmers, do with that radioactive waste? This is a thorny problem. And what would Lynas do about their current problem?……

It is complicated to grasp the methods used and just what is required for the proper cleanup of the Lynas rare earth elements refining. Lynas CEO Amanda Lacaze maintains that the wastes left behind are only marginally radioactive. ……

culture and history really have their impact, precisely in Malaysia’s experience of rare earth processing. Even if the Lynas waste really is only slightly radioactive, Malaysians remember the environmental and health disaster of Bukit Merah; where, early this century, rare earth processing left a toxic wasteland.

China’s rare earth element processing disaster in Inner Mongolia is better known, an environmental catastrophe from the 1960s which lingers today. Modern processing has improved safety in waste management. In relation to nuclear power, there is an abundance of information on radioactive waste management, for China and for other countries. However, there’s little or no information that’s easily available to specifically discuss radioactive waste from rare earth processing.

Australia does have another, smaller, rare earth elements mining and processing operation, Arafura Resources, in Central Australia. The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (EPA) found this acceptable…..

What is clear, is that the production of the world’s hi-tech devices is not a simple matter as far as the environment goes. Climate change activists, anti-nuclear activists and environmentalists in general can keep on promoting renewable energy and electric cars.

But they seem to be blind to the total picture, which includes the downside. Obviously, it is necessary to ensure safer disposal of the trash from rare earth mining and processing. A better idea is to develop the design of devices so that the minerals can be retrieved from them and recycled, thus greatly eliminating the need for mining rare earth. And this is beginning to happen.  …..

Energy conservation is the biggest factor in the change that is needed. Social change, however difficult that will be, is going to be the most important answer — the transition from a consumer society to a conserver society.

The Lynas radioactive trash controversy is not going to go away quickly, however much governments and corporations want to keep it under wraps. And it also could be a catalyst for discussion on that downside of renewable and hi-tech devices. This is something to think about as we throw away last year’s iPhone in favour of the latest model.  https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/toxic-waste-lynas-corporation-and-the-downside-of-renewable-energy,12619#disqus_thread

April 29, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

Australian rare earths company Lynas in a pickle over its radioactive wastes in Malaysia

Record result but still no breathing space for Lynas,  The Age, Colin Kruger, April 20, 2019 

It should have been a great week for Lynas Corp…..  Despite soft prices in the rare earths market – and a forced shutdown of its operations in Decemberdue to a local Malaysian government cap on its production limits – Lynas reported a 27 per cent jump in revenue to $101.3 million in the March quarter……

Unfortunately, Lacaze could provide no information on the glaring issue outside the company’s control that imperils its future: the regulatory cloud around the 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste produced by its Malaysian operations since 2013, which is jeopardising the renewal of its licence to operate in the country. …..

the company was still “seeking clarification” on comments earlier this month by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, which appeared to solve the problem of the licence pre-condition that Lynas says it cannot meet – removal of the radioactive waste by September 2.

Mahathir said Lynas – or any potential acquirer (without explicitly naming Lynas’ estranged suitor, Wesfarmers, whose $1.5 billion indicative offer for the group was rebuffed in March) – would be able to continue to operate in Malaysia if it agreed to extract the radioactive residue from its ore before it reached the country.

Despite two cabinet meetings since that announcement, Mahathir has failed to clarify his comments, or confirm whether it means Lynas might not need to move the existing mountain of radioactive waste that has been accumulating at its $1 billion, 100-hectare processing facility in Kuantan province.

It was the only update that mattered, and the continuing silence has not helped its cause.

The PM’s comments – which have mired Wesfarmers in controversy over what exactly its chief executive, Rob Scott, said to Mahathir in a meeting ahead of this statement – hinted at a path Lynas could have taken instead of processing its ore in Malaysia.

Crown jewel

Lynas’ crown jewel is its world-class rare earths deposit in Mt Weld, Western Australia.

Lynas initially planned to process the ore near its WA mine but was attracted by the infrastructure in Kuantan, including water, electricity, chemical and gas supplies, a skilled labour force and proximity to its customers in the region.

The eventual decision to set up its processing plant in Malaysia meant Lynas also exported the controversy over what happens to the toxic waste produced by the extraction process. And as the water-leached purification (WLP) residue – which contains low-level radioactive waste – has accumulated since production started in 2013, so has the push-back.

It reached its nadir in December last year when the Malaysian government made the export of the radioactive waste a pre-condition of its licence being renewed beyond September.

The Malaysian PM would be well aware that the implications of closing the rare earth processing plant extend well beyond Malaysia and Australia.

Global implications

There are significant global concerns about the fact that China dominates the supply of rare earths – a group of 17 elements crucial to the manufacture of hi-tech products like digital cars, smart phones and wind turbines.

Lynas is the only significant miner and processor of rare earths outside China.

Not that this means anything in Malaysia, where there has been no end to the negative news that has dogged the Lynas operations since it set foot in the country.

Fresh allegations

Lynas was just this week forced to deny fresh allegations it had breached Malaysian environmental regulations by storing more than 1.5 million tonnes of waste on-site for years.  The worry for Lynas is that the latest complaint, by Malaysian MP Lee Chean Ching, related to the 1.13 million tonnes of non-toxic waste produced by its operations, not the 450,000 tonnes of radioactive waste.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age also revealed this week that Lynas was warned in a confidential 2011 report, by crisis management group Futureye, that there was an “urgent need” for it to win the local community’s support.

The report presciently warned that its operations in the country could be jeopardised if it did not change the way it dealt with environmental concerns and the government. ….

Concerns pre-date Lynas

Malaysian concerns around rare earth processing pre-date Lynas.

In the 1990s, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi closed a rare earths processing plant and spent more than $US100 million cleaning up the waste after residents complained of birth defects and a spike in leukemia cases in the community, according to a New York Times report………https://www.theage.com.au/business/companies/record-result-but-still-no-breathing-space-for-lynas-20190419-p51flq.html

April 22, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Malaysia, politics international, RARE EARTHS, wastes | Leave a comment

Australian rare earths processing company Lynas is rebuked by Malaysian environmental and consumer groups

Lynas is being unscientific, not SAM or CAP  https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/471173  SM Mohamed Idris   6 Apr 2019 Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) and the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) refer to the letter by Lynas Malaysia reported in Malaysiakini on 5 April 2019, which says that our recent statements about the plant’s wastes are “false and ignore scientific fact.”

The controversy is over the definition of wastes from the Lynas’ water leach purification (WLP) process, which contains thorium and uranium.

Lynas claims that the wastes are naturally-occurring radioactive material (called NORM), while we claim that the wastes are not naturally-occurring, but have been technologically-enhanced and should be called technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive material known as TENORM.

Citing “two eminent scientists”, Lynas states as fact that “the small amount of thorium and uranium in the WLP generated are not man-made but naturally occurring radionuclides found in soil, water and in food.”

Lynas is clearly distorting the facts.

First of all, the thorium and uranium containing wastes generated by Lynas are not found to naturally occur in the Gebeng area, where the plant is located. On the contrary, the raw material which is processed by the Lynas plant is lanthanide concentrate that contains the thorium, uranium and the rare-earth.

This raw material is processed and imported from the Mount Weld mine in Australia and is brought to Malaysia. It is then subject to further processing in Gebeng by Lynas.

Therefore, how can it be said that say that the thorium and uranium are naturally occurring in the soil, water and in food when they were not there before in the Gebeng area, if not for the Lynas operations?

Moreover, what is even more significant is that we are talking about the generation of an accumulated amount of more than 450,000 metric tonnes of radioactive wastes from the Lynas operations thus far. To call this naturally-occurring radioactive material is indeed unscientific.

Secondly, the wastes that Lynas has generated from the WLP process clearly falls within the definition of TENORM, as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as: “Naturally occurring radioactive materials that have been concentrated or exposed to the accessible environment as a result of human activities such as manufacturing, mineral extraction, or water processing.”

April 9, 2019 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, Malaysia, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

India:  Union ministry of mines protects beaches from mining for thorium

Private firms jolted by beach sand mining ban, Times of India M K Ananth , 24 Feb 19,  MADURAI: Environmentalists fighting against rampant illegal   sand mining have hailed the gazette notification by the  Union ministry of mines changing the rules that earlier  allowed private companies to mine rare earth minerals found   on beach sand. They said the notification was much awaited and would help save the coastal treasures.
Activist Lal Mohan of Kanyakumari said rampant mining by  private players had led to erosion of the shores and many  sand dunes that acted as barriers during natural disasters  such as tsunami had disappeared. He accused private players of influencing officials and exploiting coastal minerals and  exporting monazite.
Stating that monazite on the coast   had high concentration of thorium that was considered an  atomic mineral, he said research was on to use it instead of uranium.  “It is to eliminate the use of uranium and the large reserve s of thorium in India. At many places, private companies  have exploited thorium and exported it to Australia, China and Russia, he said… .. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/madurai/private-firms-jolted-by-beach-sand-mining-ban/articleshow/68133578.cms

February 25, 2019 Posted by | environment, India, thorium | 1 Comment

Future is not looking good for thorium nuclear reactors

the millions in subsidies thorium will require to become commercially viable would be better spent on solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

Can Thorium Offer a Safer Nuclear Future?  Thomas net by David Sims.    

Nuclear energy has numerous advantages, but there are drawbacks as well: nuclear waste poses a significant environmental threat, meltdowns are a possibility and nuclear materials can be used to create weapons of mass destruction.

However, advocates of using thorium as a nuclear fuel instead of uranium point out that it solves many of these problems……. (unsuitable for nuclear weapons, wastes last less long, can’t melt down )

If it’s so great, why aren’t we using it?  When nuclear power was being developed in the 1950s, it was part of a broader Cold War strategy. Governments were paying for the research and it was in their interest to develop uranium as the primary nuclear fuel because it could also be used in weapons development.

However, critics of the thorium alternative point out that it’s more expensive than uranium because it can’t sustain a reaction by itself and must be bombarded with neutrons. Uranium can be left alone in a reaction, while thorium must be constantly prodded to keep reacting. Although this allows for safer reactions (if the power goes out it simply deactivates), it’s a more expensive process.

Thorium is a popular academic alternative: in the lab it works well, but it hasn’t been successfully — or profitably — used on a commercial scale yet.

Current Usage of ThoriumIndia is the market leader in trying to harness thorium for the energy grid. It has the largest proven thorium reserves and the world’s only operating thorium reactor, Kakrapar-1, a converted conventional pressurized water reactor. China is working to develop the technology as well, while the United States, France and Britain are studying its viability.

Flibe Energy, which is based in Huntsville, Alabama, recently noted the company is looking to establish a liquid fluoride thorium reactor in the U.S. within the next decade, with Wyoming as a possible location.

Proponents of renewable energy concede that thorium is preferable to uranium, but argue that the millions in subsidies thorium will require to become commercially viable would be better spent on solar, wind and other alternative energy sources.

While nuclear advocates are more hospitable to thorium, they are hesitant to put all their eggs in one basket at this point. The element hasn’t shown itself to be feasible as a profitable commercial energy source, whereas uranium has. Despite a history of reactor meltdowns and near-meltdowns, there’s a renewed emphasis on nuclear power in the world today, and nuclear industry advocates don’t see now as the time to try an unproven alternative.

The bottom line is that when it comes to thorium versus uranium, thorium is more abundant, as well as cleaner and safer, but given current capabilities, it produces more expensive energy than uranium and still leads to environmental waste issues.

Thorium could be part of the answer to the world’s energy needs, but it currently lacks a track record of cost-effective energy generation. In the meantime, nations like China and India are taking the lead in developing thorium-based nuclear systems. https://news.thomasnet.com/featured/can-thorium-offer-a-safer-nuclear-future/

February 23, 2019 Posted by | business and costs, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

Radioactive poisoning by the world’s military – the scandalous case of Sardinia

How paradise island Sardinia was poisoned by the world’s military | Foreign Correspondent  

 

Italian military officials’ trial ignites suspicions of links between weapon testing and birth defects in Sardinia https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-29/sardinia-military-weapons-testing-birth-defects/10759614

Key points:

  • Eight former commanders of a bombing range are before Italian courts
  • Locals living near Quirra firing range describe multiple cases of deformities and cancer as “Quirra syndrome”
  • Italy’s army has dismissed a report linking exposure to Depleted Uranium to disease suffered by the military
  • Watch the full episode on ABC iview

“She died in my arms. My whole world collapsed. I knew she was sick, but I wasn’t ready.”

Her daughter, Maria Grazia, was born on the Italian island of Sardinia with part of her brain exposed and a spine so disfigured her mother has never allowed her photo to be published.

This was only one of many mysterious cases of deformity, cancer and environmental destruction that have come to be called the “Quirra syndrome”.

Eight Italian military officers — all former commanders of the bombing range at Quirra in Sardinia — have been hauled before the courts.

It’s unprecedented to see Italian military brass held to account for what many Sardinians say is a scandalous coverup of a major public health disaster with international consequences.

Bombs and birth defects — is there a link?

In the year baby Maria Grazia was born, one in four of the children born in the same town, on the edge of the Quirra firing range, also suffered disabilities.

Some mothers chose to abort rather than give birth to a deformed child.

In her first television interview, Maria Teresa told Foreign Correspondent of hearing bombs exploding at the Quirra firing range when she was pregnant.

Enormous clouds of red dust enveloped her village.

Later, health authorities were called in to study an alarming number of sheep and goats being born with deformities.

Shepherds in the area had routinely grazed their animals on the firing range.

“Lambs were born with eyes in the back of their heads,” said veterinary scientist Giorgio Mellis, one of the research team.

“I had never seen anything like it.”

One farmer told him of his horror: “I was too scared to enter the barn in the mornings … they were monstrosities you didn’t want to see.”

Researchers also found an alarming 65 per cent of the shepherds of Quirra had cancer.

The news hit Sardinia hard. It reinforced their worst fears while also challenging their proud international reputation as a place of unrivalled natural beauty.

The military hit back, with one former commander of the Quirra base saying on Swiss TV that birth defects in animals and children came from inbreeding.

“They marry between cousins, brothers, one another,” General Fabio Molteni claimed, without evidence.

“But you cannot say it or you will offend the Sardinians.”

General Molteni is one of the former commanders now on trial.

Years of investigation and legal inquiry led to the six generals and two colonels being charged with breaching their duty of care for the health and safety of soldiers and civilians.

After repeated attempts, Foreign Correspondent was refused interviews with senior Italian military officials and the Defence Minister.

Governments earning money by renting out ranges

Sardinia has hosted the war games of armed forces from the west and other countries since sizable areas of its territory were sectioned off after World War II.

Rome is reported to make around $64,000 an hour from renting out the ranges to NATO countries and others including Israel.

Getting precise information about what has been blown up, tested or fired at the military sites and by which countries is almost impossible, according to Gianpiero Scanu, the head of a parliamentary inquiry that reported last year.

Many, including current Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta, have previously accused the Italian military of maintaining a “veil of silence”.

Speaking exclusively to the ABC, chief prosecutor for the region, Biagio Mazzeo, said he is “convinced” of a direct link between the cancer clusters at Quirra and the toxicity of the elements being blown up at the defence base.

But prosecuting the case against the military comes up against a major hurdle.

“Unfortunately, proving what we call a causality link — that is, a link between a specific incident and specific consequences — is extremely difficult,” Mr Mazzeo said.

What is being used on the bases?

A recent parliamentary inquiry revealed that 1,187 French-made MILAN missiles had been fired at Quirra.

This has focussed attention on radioactive thorium as a suspect in the health crisis.

It’s used in the anti-tank missiles’ guidance systems. Inhaling thorium dust is known to increase the risk of lung and pancreatic cancer.

Another suspect is depleted uranium. The Italian military has denied using this controversial material, which increases the armour-piercing capability of weapons.

But that’s a fudge, according to Osservatorio Militare, which campaigns for the wellbeing of Italian soldiers.

“The firing ranges of Sardinia are international,” said Domenico Leggiero, the research centre’s head and former air force pilot.

Whatever is blown up on the island’s firing ranges, it’s the fine particles a thousand times smaller than a red blood cell that are being blamed for making people sick.

These so-called “nanoparticles” are a new frontier in scientific research.

They’ve been shown to penetrate through the lung and into a human body with ease.

Italian biomedical engineer Dr Antonietta Gatti gave evidence to four parliamentary inquiries.

She has suggested a possible link between disease and industrial exposure to nanoparticles of certain heavy metals.

The World Health Organisation says a causal link is yet to be conclusively established and more scientific research needs to be done.

Dr Gatti said armaments had the potential to generate dangerous nanoparticles in fine dust because they are routinely exploded or fired at more than 3,000 degrees Celsius.

Inquiry confirms causal links

In what was labelled a “milestone”, a two-year parliamentary investigation into the health of the armed forces overseas and at the firing ranges made a breakthrough finding.

“We have confirmed the causal link between the unequivocal exposure to depleted uranium and diseases suffered by the military,” the inquiry’s head, then centre-left government MP Gianpiero Scanu, announced.

The Italian military brass dismissed the report but are now fighting for their international reputation in the court at Quirra where the eight senior officers are now on trial.

The ABC understands commanders responsible for another firing range in Sardinia’s south at Teulada could soon also face charges of negligence as police conclude a two-year investigation.

Until now the military has been accused of acting with impunity.

Perhaps their reckoning has come.

 

February 4, 2019 Posted by | children, depleted uranium, Italy, Reference, thorium | 1 Comment

Thorium Molten Salt Nuclear reactor (MSR) No Better Than Uranium Process

The safety issue is also not resolved, as stated above: pressurized water leaking from the steam generator into the hot, radioactive molten salt will explosively turn to steam and cause incredible damage.  The chances are great that the radioactive molten salt would be discharged out of the reactor system and create more than havoc.  Finally, controlling the reaction and power output, finding materials that last safely for 3 or 4 decades, and consuming vast quantities of cooling water are all serious problems.  

The greatest problem, though, is likely the scale-up by a factor of 500 to 1, from the tiny project at ORNL to a full-scale commercial plant with 3500 MWth output.   Perhaps these technical problems can be overcome, but why would anyone bother to try, knowing in advance that the MSR plant will be uneconomic due to huge construction costs and operating costs, plus will explode and rain radioactive molten salt when (not if) the steam generator tubes leak.

The Truth About Nuclear Power – Part 28, Sowells Law Blog , 14 July 2014 Thorium MSR No Better Than Uranium Process, 

Preface   This article, number 28 in the series, discusses nuclear power via a thorium molten-salt reactor (MSR) process.   (Note, this is also sometimes referred to as LFTR, for Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor)   The thorium MSR is frequently trotted out by nuclear power advocates, whenever the numerous drawbacks to uranium fission reactors are mentioned.   To this point in the TANP series, uranium fission, via PWR or BWR, has been the focus.  Some critics of TANP have already stated that thorium solves all of those problems and therefore should be vigorously pursued.  Some of the critics have stated that Sowell obviously has never heard of thorium reactors.   Quite the contrary, I am familiar with the process and have serious reservations about the numerous problems with thorium MSR.

It is interesting, though, that nuclear advocates must bring up the MSR process.  If the uranium fission process was any good at all, there would be no need for research and development of any other type of process, such as MSR and fusion. Continue reading

October 5, 2018 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, technology, thorium | 1 Comment

Thorium nuclear reactors and their ability to produce nuclear weapons material

The half-lives of the protactinium isotopes work in the favor of potential proliferators. Because protactinium 232 decays faster than protactinium 233, the isotopic purity of protactinium 233 increases as time passes. If it is separated from its uranium decay products a second time, this protactinium will decay to equally pure uranium 233 over the next few months. With careful attention to the relevant radiochemistry, separation of protactinium from the uranium in spent thorium fuel has the potential to generate uranium 233 with very low concentrations of uranium 232—a product suitable for making nuclear weapons. 

Thorium power has a protactinium problem https://thebulletin.org/2018/08/thorium-power-has-a-protactinium-problem/ By Eva C. Uribe, August 6, 2018  In 1980, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) observed that protactinium, a chemical element generated in thorium reactors, could be separated and allowed to decay to isotopically pure uranium 233—suitable material for making nuclear weapons. The IAEA report, titled “Advanced Fuel Cycle and Reactor Concepts,” concluded that the proliferation resistance of thorium fuel cycles “would be equivalent to” the uranium/plutonium fuel cycles of conventional civilian nuclear reactors, assuming both included spent fuel reprocessing to isolate fissile material.

Decades later, the story changed. “Th[orium]-based fuels and fuel cycles have intrinsic proliferation resistance,” according to the IAEA in 2005. Mainstream media have repeated this view ever since, often without caveat. Several scholars have recognized the inherent proliferation risk of protactinium separations in the thorium fuel cycle, but the perception that thorium reactors cannot be used to make weapons persists. While technology has advanced, the fundamental radiochemistry that governs nuclear fuel reprocessing remains unchanged. Thus, this shift in perspective is puzzling and reflects a failure to recognize the importance of protactinium radiochemistry in thorium fuel cycles. 

Protactinium turns 100. The importance of protactinium chemistry for obtaining highly attractive fissile material from thorium has been recognized since the 1940s. However, the story really begins 100 years ago during the earliest research on natural radioactivity. In 1918, Austrian-Swedish physicist Lise Meitner and German chemist Otto Hahn were on a quest to discover the long-lived isotope of “eka-tantalum” predicted to lie between thorium and uranium in the periodic table. The isotope they sought would decay to actinium, which was always found with uranium but was known to be the parent of an unknown natural radioactive decay chain distinct from that of uranium 238, the most common isotope of uranium found in nature.

Meitner and Hahn discovered that treating pitchblende with nitric acid yielded an insoluble fraction of silica that associated with tantalum and eka-tantalum. After many years, they purified enough eka-tantalum for identification and measured its properties. As discoverers of eka-tantalum’s longest-lived isotope, Meitner and Hahn named this new element protactinium. They had isolated protactinium 231, a member of the uranium 235 decay chain. In 1938, they discovered that protactinium 233 could be produced by neutron irradiation of thorium 232, the most abundant isotope in naturally occurring thorium.

For the next several decades, protactinium was shrouded in “mystery and witchcraft” due to its scarcity in nature and its perplexing chemical properties. We now know that protactinium’s peculiar chemistry is due to its position in the periodic table, which lends the element vastly different chemical properties than its neighbors. Protactinium behaves so differently from thorium and uranium that, under many conditions, their separation is inevitable.
Scientists did not investigate the macroscopic chemistry of protactinium until the Manhattan Project. In 1942, Glenn T. Seaborg, John W. Gofman, and R. W. Stoughton discovered uranium 233 and observed its propensity to fission. Compared with naturally occurring uranium 235, uranium 233 has a lower critical mass, which means that less material can be used to build a weapon. And compared with weapons-grade plutonium 239, uranium 233 has a much lower spontaneous fission rate, enabling simpler weapons that are more easily constructed. A 1951 report by the Manhattan Project Technical Section describes extensive efforts devoted to the production of uranium 233 via neutron irradiation of thorium 232. Because the initial thorium feed material was often contaminated with natural uranium 238, the scientists obtained pure uranium 233 by using a variety of methods for separating the intermediate protactinium 233.

By this time, advances in technology and projections of uranium shortages stimulated interest in developing a breeder reactor, which produces more fissile material than it consumes. In the late 1960s, a team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory designed a Molten Salt Breeder Reactor fueled by thorium and uranium dissolved in fluoride salts, but it could only breed uranium 233 by continuously removing impurities—including protactinium 233—from the reactor core. To improve breeding ratios, the researchers investigated methodsfor removing protactinium from the molten fluoride salts.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter banned commercial reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, citing concerns with the proliferation of technology that could be used to make nuclear weapons. And with the high startup costs of developing new reactors, there would be no place for the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor in the energy market. With the end of research on thorium reactors came the end of ambitious research on protactinium separations. Over time, the role of protactinium in obtaining weaponizable uranium 233 from thorium was largely forgotten or dismissed by the thorium community.

Thorium reactors born again. Fast forward to 2018. Several nations have explored thorium power for their nuclear energy portfolios. Foremost among these is India. Plagued by perennial uranium shortages, but possessing abundant thorium resources, India is highly motivated to develop thorium reactors that can breed uranium 233. India now operates the only reactor fueled by uranium 233, the Kalpakkam Mini reactor (better known as KAMINI).

Thorium reactors have other potential advantages. They could produce fewer long-lived radioactive isotopes than conventional nuclear reactors, simplifying the disposal of nuclear waste. Molten salt reactors offer potential improvements in reactor safety. Additionally, there is the persistent perception that thorium reactors are intrinsically proliferation-resistant.

The uranium 233 produced in thorium reactors is contaminated with uranium 232, which is produced through several different neutron absorption pathways. Uranium 232 has a half-life of 68.9 years, and its daughter radionuclides emit intense, highly penetrating gamma rays that make the material difficult to handle. A person standing 0.5 meters from 5 kilograms of uranium 233 containing 500 parts per million of uranium 232, one year after it has been separated from the daughters of uranium 232, would receive a dose that exceeds the annual regulatory limits for radiological workers in less than an hour. Therefore, uranium 233 generated in thorium reactors is “self-protected,” as long as uranium 232 levels are high enough. However, the extent to which uranium 232 provides adequate protection against diversion of uranium 233 is debatable. Uranium 232 does not compromise the favorable fissile material properties of uranium 233, which is categorized as “highly attractive” even in the presence of high levels of uranium 232. Uranium 233 becomes even more attractive if uranium 232 can be decreased or eliminated altogether. This is where the chemistry of protactinium becomes important.

Protactinium in the thorium fuel cycle. There are three isotopes of protactinium produced when thorium 232 is irradiated. Protactinium 231, 232, and 233 are produced either through thermal or fast neutron absorption reactions with various thorium, protactinium, and uranium isotopes. Protactinium 231, 232, and 233 are intermediates in the reactions that eventually form uranium 232 and uranium 233. Protactinium 232 decays to uranium 232 with a half-life of 1.3 days. Protactinium 233 decays to uranium 233 with a half-life of 27 days. Protactinium 231 is a special case: It does not directly decay to uranium, but in the presence of neutrons it can absorb a neutron and become protactinium 232.

Neutron absorption reactions only occur in the presence of a neutron flux, inside or immediately surrounding the reactor core. Radioactive decay occurs whether or not neutrons are present. For irradiated thorium, the real concern lies in separating protactinium from uranium, which may already have significant levels of uranium 232. Production of protactinium 232 ceases as soon as protactinium is removed from the neutron flux, but protactinium 232 and 233 continue to decay to uranium 232 and 233, respectively.

The half-lives of the protactinium isotopes work in the favor of potential proliferators. Because protactinium 232 decays faster than protactinium 233, the isotopic purity of protactinium 233 increases as time passes. If it is separated from its uranium decay products a second time, this protactinium will decay to equally pure uranium 233 over the next few months. With careful attention to the relevant radiochemistry, separation of protactinium from the uranium in spent thorium fuel has the potential to generate uranium 233 with very low concentrations of uranium 232—a product suitable for making nuclear weapons.
Scenarios for proliferation. Although thorium is commonly associated with molten salt reactors, it can be used in any reactor. Several types of fuel cycles enable feasible, rapid reprocessing to extract protactinium. One is aqueous reprocessing of thorium oxide “blankets” irradiated outside the core of a heavy water reactor. Many heavy water reactors include on-power fueling, which means that irradiated thorium can be removed quickly and often, without shutting the reactor down. As very little fission would occur in the blanket material, its radioactivity would be lower than that of spent fuel from the core, and it could be reprocessed immediately.

Myriad possibilities exist for the aqueous separation of protactinium from thorium and uranium oxides, including the commonly proposed thorium uranium extraction (THOREX) process. Alternatively, once dissolved in acid, protactinium can simply be adsorbed onto glass or silica beads, exploiting the same chemical mechanism used by Meitner and Hahn to isolate protactinium from natural uranium a century ago.

Another scenario is continuous reprocessing of molten salt fuel to remove protactinium and uranium from thorium. Researchers at Oak Ridge explored the feasibility of online protactinium removal in the Molten Salt Breeder Reactor program. Uranium can then be separated from the protactinium in a second step.

Sensible safeguards. Protactinium separations provide a pathway for obtaining highly attractive weapons-grade uranium 233 from thorium fuel cycles. The difficulties of safeguarding commercial spent fuel reprocessing are significant for any type of fuel cycle, and thorium is no exception. Reprocessing creates unique safeguard challenges, particularly in India, which is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

There is little to be gained by calling thorium fuel cycles intrinsically proliferation-resistant. The best way to realize nuclear power from thorium fuel cycles is to acknowledge their unique proliferation vulnerabilities, and to adequately safeguard them against theft and misuse.

August 10, 2018 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, thorium, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Thorium nuclear power – not so great, really

Today, advocates of thorium typically point to a variety of advantages over uranium. These include fail-safe reactor operation, because most thorium reactor designs are incapable of an explosion or meltdown, as was seen at Chernobyl or Fukushima. Another is resistance to weapons proliferation, because thorium reactors create byproducts that make the fuel unsuitable for use in nuclear weapons.Other advantages include greater abundance of natural reserves of thorium, less radioactive waste and higher utilisation of fuel in thorium reactors. Thorium is often cast as “good nuclear”, while uranium gets to carry the can as “bad nuclear”.

Not so different

While compelling at first glance, the details reveal a somewhat more murky picture. The molten salt architecture which gives certain thorium reactors high intrinsic safety equally applies to proposed fourth-generation designs using uranium. It is also true that nuclear physics technicalities make thorium much less attractive for weapons production, but it is by no means impossible; the USA and USSR each tested a thorium-based atomic bomb in 1955.

Other perceived advantages similarly diminish under scrutiny. There is plenty of uranium ore in the world and hence the fourfold abundance advantage of thorium is a moot point. Producing less long-lived radioactive waste is certainly beneficial, but the vexed question remains of how to deal with it.

Stating that thorium is more efficiently consumed is the most mischievous of the claimed benefits. Fast-breeder uranium reactors have much the same fuel efficiency as thorium reactors. However, they weren’t economic as the price of uranium turned out to rather low.

May 19, 2018 Posted by | ANTARCTICA, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment