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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Thorium nuclear power was a commercial failure- nothing to do with nuclear weapons, as pro nukers pretend

Thorium-pie-in-skyThorium Reactors: Fact and Fiction, Skeptoid  These next-generation reactors have attracted a nearly cultish following. Is it justified?   by Brian Dunning  Skeptoid Podcast #555  January 24, 2017

Podcast transcript     “………True or False? Thorium reactors were never commercially developed because they can’t produce bomb material.

This is mostly false, although it’s become one of the most common myths about thorium reactors. There are other very good reasons why uranium-fueled reactors were developed commercially instead of thorium-fueled reactors. If something smells like a conspiracy theory, you’re always wise to take a second, closer look.

When we make weapons-grade Pu239 for nuclear weapons, we use special production reactors designed to burn natural uranium, and only for about three months, to avoid contaminating it with Pu240. Only a very few reactors were ever built that can both do that and generate electricity. The rest of the reactors out there that generate electricity could have been any design that was wanted. So why weren’t thorium reactors designed instead? We did have some test thorium-fueled reactors built and running in the 1960s. The real reason has more to do with the additional complexity, design challenges, and expense of these MSBR (molten salt breeder) reactors.

In 1972, the US Atomic Energy Commission published a report on the state of MSBR reactors. Here’s a snippet of what was found:

A number of factors can be identified which tend to limit further industrial involvement at this time, namely:

  • The existing major industrial and utility commitments to the LWR, HTGR, and LMFBR.
  • The lack of incentive for industrial investment in supplying fuel cycle services, such as those required for solid fuel reactors.
  • The overwhelming manufacturing and operating experience with solid fuel reactors in contrast with the very limited involvement with fluid fueled reactors.
  • The less advanced state of MSBR technology and the lack of demonstrated solutions to the major technical problems associated with the MSBR concept.

In short, the technology was just too complicated, and it never became mature enough.

It is, however, mostly true that, if we’re going to use a commercial reactor to get plutonium for a bomb, recycling spent fuel from a uranium reactor is easier, and you can get proper weapons-grade plutonium this way. It is possible to get reactor-grade plutonium from a thorium reactor that can be made into a bomb — one was successfully tested in 1962 — but it’s a much lower yield bomb and it’s much harder to get the plutonium.

The short answer is that reduced weapons proliferation is not the strongest argument for switching from uranium fuel to thorium fuel for power generation. Neither reactor type is what’s typically designed and used for bomb production. Those already exist, and will continue to provide all the plutonium that governments are ever likely to need for that purpose.

There’s every reason to take fossil fuels completely out of our system; we have such absurdly better options. If you’re like me and want to see this approach be a multi-pronged one, one that major energy companies, smaller community providers, and individual homeowners can all embrace, then advocate for nukes. You don’t need to specify thorium or liquid fuel or breeders; they’re already the wave of the future — a future which, I hope, will be clean, bright, and bountiful.  https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4555

February 1, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, thorium | 1 Comment

Greenland – environment future threatened by mining for uranium and rare earths

greenland-johan-petersen-fjordYou can’t live in a museum’: the battle for Greenland’s uranium, Guardian, Maurice Walsh, 28 Jan 17  A tiny town in southern Greenland is fighting for its future. Behind it sits one of the world’s largest deposits of uranium. Should a controversial mine get the green light?

………….Since 2009, the island has been an “autonomous administrative division” within Denmark, giving its 56,000 inhabitants control over local resources. The idea of full independence within a generation or two is the dominant theme of local politics – even if the price of breaking free would be an annual Danish subsidy worth some £7,500 a head……
 in 2013, the government granted four times the number of exploration licences approved in 2003 – so has the pressure to repeal a 1988 ban on uranium mining: this prevented the extraction of uranium, as well as any minerals that might have uranium as a byproduct. In 2013, after a debate that divided the country, Greenland’s parliament voted narrowly to repeal the ban.
Kvanefjeld, near Narsaq, is one of many potential mines. Last month, an Australian company was given the green light to begin construction of a zinc and lead mine on the northern coast; there are currently 56 active licences to exploremining for gold, rubies, diamonds, nickel, copper and other minerals elsewhere.

But uranium has made Kvanefjeld the most controversial project, and the focus of a debate about whether this is the economic path that Greenland should pursue. (The most common argument raised against is the danger that radioactive dust will fall on neighbouring settlements and farmland.) An Australian-owned company, Greenland Minerals and Energy (GME), has spent nearly £60m developing a plan for an open pit mine here. It was due to submit an environmental impact assessment by the end of 2016, but the deadline has been extended……….

In a move that sounds counterintuitive, GME is promoting its mine as a contribution to the new global green economy. According to the company, 80% of the commercial deposits in Kvanefjeld are rare earth minerals, commonly used in wind turbines, hybrid cars and lasers; uranium accounts for only 10%. “The market for rare earth minerals is deciding this,” says operations manager Ib Laursen. “Everybody is looking for them. Instead of Greenland being a passive receiver of global warming from the western world, it could contribute to green technology.”

It is a clever pitch. Greenland’s ice sheet has become the benchmark measurement for the march of global warming; research published in September showed that ice loss is accelerating more rapidly than previously feared. Greenland is also the emblematic victim of climate change: Inuit hunters and fishermen are called on in international conferences, to describe how their traditional lifestyles are being destroyed by warming seas.

But what the rest of the world see as creeping ruination, local politicians see as an opportunity. The melting ice sheet will make some minerals more accessible, and reveal others that are so far unknown.

……….Most of the world’s rare earth minerals come from China (six state-owned enterprises control nearly 90% of the planet’s supply), and the scale of environmental degradation there has given open pit mining a bad reputation. Concerned locals in Greenland invoke images of wasted landscapes and pools of toxic and radioactive waste, gleaned from a Google search. Similarly, the history of uranium mining has been one of blithe disregard for the environment……

Laursen.presents his mine as an environmentally friendly alternative to Chinese mines, modelled on international standards of best practice. He says the fears of radioactive dust floating over south Greenland are groundless. The crushed rock discarded once the minerals have been extracted, known as tailings, will be turned into slurry and carried in a pipeline to the bottom of a nearby lake. “It would never surface as dust,” Laursen says: the lake will be sealed in perpetuity by an impermeable dam……..

Frederiksen (sheep farmer) was alert to the dangers of radioactive dust because he had studied sheep farming in Norway in the mid-90s, when animals there were still affected by the fallout from Chernobyl. The scientists said they would remove dust from the mine by sprinkling it with water. “Well, water is usually frozen here in the winter,” Frederiksen tells me now, “so I asked them, ‘How are you going to have water to sprinkle then?’ And they said they would answer that when the environmental impact assessment arrived. When someone asked if it was possible to have no pollution in a mining area, the elderly man told us there had never been mining without pollution.” Frederiksen and Lennert believe most of the sheep farmers oppose the mine, but they avoid too many conversations about it just in case: polarisation risks harmony, and they might need each other in difficult times……….

In the past two elections, the people have decided, by voting for parties that support the uranium mine. Now, Qujaukitsoq says, it is a decision for the government. “Are we hesitant? No. We have no reservations about creating jobs.” For him it is the only way of saving Narsaq from stagnation. Whatever image the rest of the world cherishes, one thing is clear: Greenland will make its own way in the age of climate change.

 Maurice Walsh travelled as part of the Arctic Times Project, an international team exploring the transformation of the Arctic.more https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/28/greenland-narsaq-uranium-mine-dividing-town

January 30, 2017 Posted by | ARCTIC, environment, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

The facts about thorium nuclear reactors

text thoriumThorium reactors also produce uranium 232, which decays into an extremely potent high-energy gamma emitter that can penetrate one meter of concrete, making the handling of this spent nuclear fuel extraordinarily dangerous.

Although thorium advocates say that thorium reactors produce little radioactive waste, they simply produce a spectrum of waste that’s different from those from uranium 235, which includes many dangerous alpha and beta emitters and isotopes with extremely long half-lives, including technetium 99, with a half-life of 300,000 years, and iodine 129, with a half-life of 15.7 million years.

No wonder the U.S. nuclear industry gave up on thorium reactors nuclear-priesthood

in the 1980s. This was an unmitigated disaster, as are many other nuclear enterprises undertaken by the nuclear priesthood

Thorium,    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/helen-caldicott/thorium_b_5546137.html-Helen Caldicott Founding President of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Founder of Womens Action for Nuclear Disarmament, Aug 31, 2014 

There is an extraordinary push by certain individuals to extol the wonders of thorium-fueled nuclear reactors. In fact, so concerted is this push that some blame me for preventing the ongoing expansion of such technology. So here are the facts about thorium for those who are interested.

The U.S. tried for 50 years to create thorium reactors, without success. Four commercial thorium reactors were constructed, all of which failed. And because of the complexity of the problems enumerated below, thorium reactors are, by an order of magnitude, more expensive than uranium-fueled reactors.

The longstanding effort to produce these reactors cost the U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, while billions more dollars are still required to dispose of the highly toxic waste emanating from these failed trials.

The truth is that thorium is not a naturally fissionable material. Continue reading

January 28, 2017 Posted by | thorium | Leave a comment

Growing problem of discarded electronic devices

Mountains of discarded smartphones, electronics raise health and environmental concerns across Asia , ABC News The waste from discarded electronic gadgets and electrical appliances has reached severe levels in East Asia, posing a growing threat to health and the environment unless safe disposal becomes the norm.

Key points:

  • More than 12 million tonnes of waste dumped in 12 countries
  • Many countries lack laws governing discarded electronics, study finds
  • China identified as the biggest culprit, doubling its waste in five years

China was the biggest culprit, with its electronic waste more than doubling, according to a new study by the United Nations University.

But nearly every country in the region had massive increases between 2010 and 2015, including those least equipped to deal with the growing mountain of discarded smartphones, computers, TVs, air conditioners and other goods.

On average, electronic waste in the 12 countries in the study had increased by nearly two-thirds in five years, totalling 12.3 million tonnes in 2015 alone, according to the study……..

Asia as a whole is the biggest market for electronics and appliances, accounting for nearly half of global sales by volume, and produces the most waste.

Guiyu, a heavily-polluted rural town in China that specialises in dismantling consumer electronics, some of it exported from rich countries, has become synonymous with the costs of a throwaway high-tech world.

China has cleaned up Guiyu and other centres like it but the Basel Action Network, which brought Guiyu to international attention, said most of the dangerous practices continue in Guiyu, albeit concentrated within a new industrial park on its outskirts.

Ruediger Kuehr, one of the study’s authors, said the amount of waste being generated was higher than governments estimate, partly because of their narrower definitions, and should be a wake-up call to policymakers and consumers.

“We are all benefiting from the luxury of these electrical and electronic products to a certain extent, it makes our lives easier, sometimes more complicated,” he said.

“However if we want to continue like this we must be reusing the resources contained in electronic and electrical equipment.”

A smartphone, for example, uses more than half the elements in the periodic table, some of which are very rare, and in the longer-run will be exhausted without recycling, said Mr Kuehr. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-15/gadget-mountain-rising-in-asia-threatens-health-and-environment/8183908

January 16, 2017 Posted by | 2 WORLD, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

Now is the opportunity for Samsung to redesign smartphones, for recycling of rare earths

The Toxic Legacy of 4.3 Million Flammable Samsung Smartphones http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/11/02/toxic-legacy-those-flammable-samsung-smartphones

recycle-rare-earths-2

Greenpeace presses the electronics giant to recycle the defective phones and keep their hazardous components out of landfills. What will become of the 4.3 million Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphones at risk of spontaneous combustion? The environmental group Greenpeace says Samsung’s corporate crisis presents a “big opportunity” to develop a new model for recycling and repurposing e-waste.

Samsung, the world’s largest smartphone maker, “has said that it will not recycle the phones and has still not offered any clarity on what it will do,” Greenpeace claimed Tuesday in a statement.

In September, Samsung recalled millions of Note 7 phones worldwide following a series of high-profile incidents in which some devices burst into flames. The company says it has sold more than 3 million devices. Greenpeace, citing data from the German research firm Oeko-Institut, says another 1.3 million were produced but never sold.

Smartphones contain toxic heavy metals such as hexavalent chromium, arsenic, beryllium, and cadmium. They enter the environment when buried or incinerated and accumulate in air, soil, and water, as well as in humans and wildlife. Much of the electronic waste ends up in such countries as Vietnam, China, and Nigeria, where poor communities burn circuit boards and plastic and soak microchips in acid to extract materials, which can turn entire villages into toxic waste dumps.

Those 4.3 million Samsung phones are worth a lot of money.

According to Greenpeace, the devices collectively contain 220 pounds of gold (worth about $4.6 million at current market prices), between 44 and 132 pounds of palladium ($408,000 to $1.2 million), more than 2,200 pounds of silver (at least $657,000), 20 metric tons of cobalt (about $575,000), and one metric ton of tungsten ($260,000).

“These materials could be recovered but would instead end up harming the environment if Samsung doesn’t repurpose or reuse these precious minerals,” Greenpeace said. “Dumping millions of phones also raises the issue of Samsung’s transparency and claims to support a ‘circular economy,’ and of the responsibility associated with resource efficiency.”

Greenpeace has launched a petition asking Samsung not to trash the phones.

Samsung did not respond to several emails seeking comment.

 “Samsung has a big problem but also a big opportunity to learn how to create a better system for actually recycling phones and putting them back into future products,” said Gary Cook, senior IT analyst at Greenpeace USA. “They have a chance to make investments and get to scale for creating new systems for recovering the resources put into these phones.”

Cook said this is the first time in recent history that so many phones have been recalled at once. “It’s the exact same model returned at the exact same time,” he said. “It’s a real opportunity, given the volume, to create a system for recovery and refurbishing.”

Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network, an anti-e-waste group, said he did not think Samsung would simply chuck so many valuable phones.

I was a little confused by the Greenpeace petition,” Puckett said. “Nobody in their right mind would dump cell phones, and certainly Samsung would never do that. They would certainly have these at least shredded and smelted.”

“Samsung is one of the more transparent companies as to where recycling is done,” he said. “In North America, it has agreed to use the strictest standards and send those materials only to certified recyclers.”

Still, smartphone recycling in general “is very low,” Cook said. Every time you buy a new phone, all these products are coming from virgin resources,” he added. “And it’s not just a Samsung problem. The entire sector basically digs it up, manufactures it with a short product life, and starts again every three years. It’s not sustainable.”

There are at least 2 billion cell phones in the world. The vast majority will be buried in landfills or incinerated, Cook said. In 2010, Americans tossed some 2.4 tons of electronics (including about 150 million phones), of which 27 percent was recycled.

Many U.S. electronics recycling programs are scams, according to the Basel Action Network, which put GPS devices on 205 electronic products and dropped them off at recycling centers and charities. They found that more than 40 percent of the products were shipped offshore, winding up in landfills in Hong Kong, mainland China, and elsewhere.

Some 75 recycling companies—many of which claim that they do not export e-waste—did sell discarded electronic equipment overseas, and most of it went to developing countries.

Cook said that recent design changes make the devices much harder and more expensive to open for repair or disassembling.

Still, given the value of some components, an efficient disassembly method would fuel the market for recycling. For now, it’s cheaper to extract the materials from the ground than from the phones, Cook said.

Consumers, he said, have several options for reputable recycling programs, including those approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and CTIA–The Wireless Association.

Picking the right recycler is crucial, Puckett said.

“Otherwise, there will be a huge sucking sound of sending this stuff to bad processing and recycling in Asia,” he said, “as opposed to doing it right.”

November 5, 2016 Posted by | RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

Rising demand for lithium, and the pollution resulting from this

IN YOUR PHONE, IN THEIR AIR  A TRACE OF GRAPHITE IS IN CONSUMER TECH. IN THESE CHINESE VILLAGES, IT’S EVERYWHERE. WASHINGTON POST, STORY BY PETER WHORISKEY   PHOTOS BY MICHAEL ROBINSON CHAVEZ  VIDEOS BY JORGE RIBAS   OCTOBER 2, 2016 “……DEMAND RAMPS UP

While U.S. consumers may seem uninvolved in — and untouched by — the Chinese pollution, the truth is more complicated.

The U.S. demand for cheap goods helps keep the Chinese factories going. More than a quarter of the emissions of two key pollutants in China — sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — arose from the production of goods for export, according to research published in 2014 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The largest share of exports goes to the United States.

Moreover, the same researchers found that some of the pollution in China reaches the United States — the air pollution drifts across the ocean and raises ozone levels in the western part of the country, according to the study.

“Outsourcing production to China does not always relieve consumers in the United States . . . from the environmental impacts of air pollution,” according to the authors of the study, which was conducted by a consortium of scientists from China and the United States.

Now the rise of the electric-car industry promises a huge surge in the lithium-ion battery business.

Making batteries big enough to power cars will cause a daunting leap in demand. A laptop requires just a handful of the familiar, thin, cylindrical lithium-ion batteries known as “18650s.” A smartphone requires even less. But a typical electric car requires thousands of times the battery power.

Today, the best known “gigafactory” for electric-car batteries is the one being built by Tesla in the Nevada desert — a plant the company says will produce 500,000 electric-car batteries annually. But it’s just one of many. About a dozen other battery gigafactories are being planned around the world.

This is “not just a Tesla story,” said Simon Moores, managing director of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a firm that tracks demand and assesses prices for raw materials in the industry. “The demand is rising everywhere, especially in China.”   Todd C. Frankel and Yanan Wang in Washington and Xu Jing contributed to this report.

October 4, 2016 Posted by | China, environment, RARE EARTHS, Reference, USA | Leave a comment

The tiresome ‘Thor-Bores” – exploding the hype about thorium nuclear reactors

Thorium-cultThorium: new and improved nuclear energy? https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-energy/thorium-new-and-improved-nuclear-energy

There is quite some – sometimes tiresome – rhetoric of thorium enthusiasts. Let’s call them thor-bores. Their arguments have little merit but they refuse to go away.

Here are some facts:

  • There is no “thorium reactor.” There is a proposal to use thorium as a fuel in various reactor designs including light-water reactors–as well as fast breeder reactors.
  • You still need uranium – or even plutonium – in a reactor using thorium. Thorium is not a fissile material and cannot either start or sustain a chain reaction. Therefore, a reactor using thorium would also need either enriched uranium or plutonium to initiate the chain reaction and sustain it until enough of the thorium has converted to fissile uranium (U-233) to sustain it.
  • Using plutonium sets up proliferation risks. To make a “thorium reactor” work, one must (a) mix the thorium with plutonium that has been stripped of the highly radioactive fission products; (b) use the mixed-oxide thorium-plutonium fuel in a reactor, whereby the plutonium atoms fission and produce power while the thorium atoms absorb neutrons and are turned into uranium-233 (a man-made isotope of uranium that has never existed in nature); (c) strip the fission products from the uranium-233 and mix THAT with thorium in order to continue the “cycle”. In this phase, the U-233 atoms fission and produce power while the thorium atoms absorb neutrons and generate MORE uranium-233. And so the cycle continues, generating more and more fission product wastes.
  • Uranium-233 is also excellent weapons-grade material. Unlike any other type of uranium fuel, uranium-233 is 100 percent enriched from the outset and thus is an excellent weapons-grade material and as effective as plutonium-239 for making nuclear bombs. This makes it very proliferation-prone and a tempting target for theft by criminal and terrorist organizations and for use by national governments in creating nuclear weapons.
  • Proliferation risks are not negated by thorium mixed with U-238. It has been claimed that thorium fuel cycles with reprocessing would be much less of a proliferation risk because the thorium can be mixed with uranium-238. In fact, fissile uranium-233 must first be mixed with non-fissile uranium-238. If the U-238 content is high enough, it is claimed that the mixture cannot be used to  make bombs with out uranium enrichment. However, while more U-238 does dilute the U-233, it also results in the production of more plutonium-239, so the proliferation problem remains.
  • Thorium would trigger a resumption of reprocessing in the US. In most proposed thorium fuel cycles, reprocessing is required to separate out the U-233 for use in fresh fuel. Reprocessing chemically separates plutonium and uranium and creates a large amount of so-called low-level but still highly radioactive liquid, gaseous and solid wastes.
  • Using thorium does not eliminate the problem of long-lived radioactive waste. Fission of thorium creates long-lived fission products including technetium-99 (half-life of over 200,000 years). Without reprocessing, thorium-232 is itself extremely long-lived (half-life of 14 billion years) and its decay products will build up over time in irradiated fuel. Therefore, in addition to all the fission products produced, the irradiated fuel is also quite radiotoxic. Wastes that pose long-term hazards are also produced at the “front end” of the thorium fuel cycle during mining, just as with the uranium fuel cycle.
  • Attempts to develop “thorium reactors” have failed for decades. No commercial “thoriumreactor” exists anywhere in the world. India has been attempting, without success, to develop a thorium breeder fuel cycle for decades. Other countries including the US and Russia have researched the development of thorium fuel for more than half a century without overcoming technical complications.
  • Fabricating “thorium fuel” is dangerous to health.  The process involves the production of U-232 which is extremely radioactive and very dangerous in small quantities. The inhalation of a unit of radioactivity of thorium-232 or thorium-228 produces a far higher dose than the inhalation of uranium containing the same amount of radioactivity. A single particle in the lung would exceed legal radiation standards for the general public.
  • Fabricating “thorium fuel” is expensive. The thorium fuel cycle would be more expensive than the uranium fuel cycle. Using a traditional light-water (once-through) reactor, thorium fuel would need both uranium enrichment (or plutonium separation) and thorium target rod production. Using a breeder reactor makes costly reprocessing necessary.
The bottom line is this.Thorium reactors still produce high-level radioactive waste. They still pose problems and opportunities for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They still present opportunities for catastrophic accident scenarios–as potential targets of terrorist or military attack, for example. Proponents of thorium reactors argue that all of these risks are somewhat reduced in comparison with the conventional plutonium breeder concept. Whether this is true or not, the fundamental problems associated with nuclear power have by no means been eliminated.

 

August 13, 2016 Posted by | Reference, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

Previously classified documents help legal case for thorium affected nuclear workers

Once secret documents helping lawyers argue for sick nuclear workers at South Carolina complex Unlike many lawyers, Bob Warren agreed to represent sick workers at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The pay has been low, but Warren has for 13 years handled their cases in hopes of gaining compensation from the federal government. He’s done so, despite battling Parkinson’s disease and financial difficulties.Today, he continues to press their cases from a tiny law office in Black Mountain, N.C.  BY SAMMY FRETWELL sfretwell@thestate.com COLUMBIA, SC , 11 Aug 16, 

sick worker Idaho

Lawyers are using once-classified government documents to argue that potentially thousands of sick nuclear weapons workers and their families should be eligible for federal benefits.

The documents, released late last year, provide evidence that some workers at the Savannah River Site were exposed to thorium after 1972 even though the government said the South Carolina plant no longer had significant quantities of the radioactive material, said Bob Warren, an attorney representing ex-SRS employees.

Warren said the federal records show that SRS had ample amounts of thorium, a metal used in nuclear reactions that can cause cancer. Warren obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act from the U.S. Department of Energy after a three-year wait.

“Without this information, we would not be able to go forward,’’ Warren said in an interview with The State. “These documents are pivotal in making the case.’’

In a letter to a government radiation advisory board, Warren asks that more people employed at SRS be compensated for illnesses they contracted while working there.

Warren’s request, to be discussed by the advisory board Wednesday, seeks to expand a federal compensation program by making it easier for people who worked at SRS from 1973-2007 to gain benefits for cancer the site caused.

The federal government has already made it easier for many sick workers employed before 1973 at SRS to receive compensation because of likely exposure to thorium at the site.

Those eligible for benefits could get up to $400,000 each under the federal compensation program. The program, available to sick workers at federal weapons complexes across the country, has been criticized as a bureaucratic maze of rules so tough that many deserving people have been denied benefits. Some ex-workers have died before receiving compensation, according to a McClatchy newspapers investigation last year.

“There is no reason not to expand,’’ Warren’s written comments said, noting that approving his request would make “many more workers and their survivors eligible for benefits from the … program before they die.’’

Warren said if he is successful, several thousand people who worked at SRS from 1973 to 2007 could receive benefits.

SRS is a 310-square mile federal atomic weapons site near Aiken along the Georgia border. It was a cornerstone of the nation’s Cold War nuclear weapons production effort, at times employing more than 10,000 people. Many who worked there were exposed to radiation, and some now say the exposure made them sick.

Federal officials charged with recommending whether to expand the program are expected to challenge Warren’s arguments at Wednesday’s meeting of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health. But Warren said it’s hard to dispute what he has found in more than 1,300 pages of records that the government released.

The documents, many of which were previously classified, contradict past federal justification for not expanding the compensation program, he said. The records indicate that thorium existed in notable quantities for years at SRS after 1972 – despite government arguments that it did not.

Among the documents are:

▪  Handwritten records from SRS officials showing that more than 8 tons of thorium were stored at the site in 1998.

▪ A 1982 memo from a ranking SRS official showing that thorium was among the radioactive materials the government wanted to discard.

▪  A 1976 inventory report showing about 7 tons of thorium on the site.

In addition, Warren’s comment letter to the advisory board uses the deposition of a top site official to show that the government had no bioassay medical screening program for thorium exposure before 2000.

Thorium is used in the aerospace industry and in nuclear reactions. Breathing thorium dust may cause an increased chance of lung disease as well as lung and pancreatic cancer years after being exposed, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Thorium, which is odorless and tasteless, also has been linked to bone cancer, the agency reports.

The 1,300 pages released by the government now “definitely show thorium shipments to, and in some cases from, SRS after 1972,’’ Warren’s letter says. In the past, federal health officials charged with giving the advisory board information have not provided documentation that would have helped the board recommend expanding the program to cover more recent years, he said.

The Department of Energy had no immediate comment on the thorium issue. It could be months before Warren’s request is resolved……….

Under the federal compensation program, employees sickened by numerous types of cancer at SRS and other federal weapons sites must show that the radiation they received was a significant cause of their illnesses. But the government also can declare entire classes of workers as eligible without requiring each worker to document his or her doses. The class designation can occur when individual dosage records are unavailable to workers.

Bioassy records are unavailable for individual workers to show exposure to thorium, Warren said. So Warren argues that all workers from 1973-2007 should be eligible for compensation. In 2011, he was successful in persuading the government to make workers prior to 1973 eligible for compensation because of thorium exposure.

Warren’s petition is part of a 14-year-effort to obtain compensation for people who say they were sickened by radiation at SRS. An attorney in Black Mountain, N.C., Warren is one of the few lawyers who took on SRS compensation cases, which do not pay attorneys well. He plans to retire soon because of health problems but he works with South Carolina lawyers Warren Johnson and Joshua Fester, who will continue the work.

Nationally, the government has paid more than $12 billion to sick ex-nuclear workers and their families, including those from SRS, McClatchy newspapers reported last year. The energy employees compensation program began in 2001. http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article94448307.html

August 12, 2016 Posted by | health, Legal, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

The Thorium Nuclear Dream – a critical assessment

Thorium-dreamThorium: new and improved nuclear energy?  https://wiseinternational.org/nuclear-energy/thorium-new-and-improved-nuclear-energy

There is quite some – sometimes tiresome – rhetoric of thorium enthusiasts. Let’s call them thor-bores. Their arguments have little merit but they refuse to go away.

Here are some facts:

  • There is no “thorium reactor.” There is a proposal to use thorium as a fuel in various reactor designs including light-water reactors–as well as fast breeder reactors.
  • You still need uranium – or even plutonium – in a reactor using thorium. Thorium is not a fissile material and cannot either start or sustain a chain reaction. Therefore, a reactor using thorium would also need either enriched uranium or plutonium to initiate the chain reaction and sustain it until enough of the thorium has converted to fissile uranium (U-233) to sustain it.
  • Using plutonium sets up proliferation risks. To make a “thorium reactor” work, one must (a) mix the thorium with plutonium that has been stripped of the highly radioactive fission products; (b) use the mixed-oxide thorium-plutonium fuel in a reactor, whereby the plutonium atoms fission and produce power while the thorium atoms absorb neutrons and are turned into uranium-233 (a man-made isotope of uranium that has never existed in nature); (c) strip the fission products from the uranium-233 and mix THAT with thorium in order to continue the “cycle”. In this phase, the U-233 atoms fission and produce power while the thorium atoms absorb neutrons and generate MORE uranium-233. And so the cycle continues, generating more and more fission product wastes.
  • Uranium-233 is also excellent weapons-grade material. Unlike any other type of uranium fuel, uranium-233 is 100 percent enriched from the outset and thus is an excellent weapons-grade material and as effective as plutonium-239 for making nuclear bombs. This makes it very proliferation-prone and a tempting target for theft by criminal and terrorist organizations and for use by national governments in creating nuclear weapons.
  • Proliferation risks are not negated by thorium mixed with U-238. It has been claimed that thorium fuel cycles with reprocessing would be much less of a proliferation risk because the thorium can be mixed with uranium-238. In fact, fissile uranium-233 must first be mixed with non-fissile uranium-238. If the U-238 content is high enough, it is claimed that the mixture cannot be used to  make bombs with out uranium enrichment. However, while more U-238 does dilute the U-233, it also results in the production of more plutonium-239, so the proliferation problem remains.
  • Thorium would trigger a resumption of reprocessing in the US. In most proposed thorium fuel cycles, reprocessing is required to separate out the U-233 for use in fresh fuel. Reprocessing chemically separates plutonium and uranium and creates a large amount of so-called low-level but still highly radioactive liquid, gaseous and solid wastes.
  • Using thorium does not eliminate the problem of long-lived radioactive waste. Fission of thorium creates long-lived fission products including technetium-99 (half-life of over 200,000 years). Without reprocessing, thorium-232 is itself extremely long-lived (half-life of 14 billion years) and its decay products will build up over time in irradiated fuel. Therefore, in addition to all the fission products produced, the irradiated fuel is also quite radiotoxic. Wastes that pose long-term hazards are also produced at the “front end” of the thorium fuel cycle during mining, just as with the uranium fuel cycle.
  • Attempts to develop “thorium reactors” have failed for decades. No commercial “thoriumreactor” exists anywhere in the world. India has been attempting, without success, to develop a thorium breeder fuel cycle for decades. Other countries including the US and Russia have researched the development of thorium fuel for more than half a century without overcoming technical complications.
  • Fabricating “thorium fuel” is dangerous to health.  The process involves the production of U-232 which is extremely radioactive and very dangerous in small quantities. The inhalation of a unit of radioactivity of thorium-232 or thorium-228 produces a far higher dose than the inhalation of uranium containing the same amount of radioactivity. A single particle in the lung would exceed legal radiation standards for the general public.
  • Fabricating “thorium fuel” is expensive. The thorium fuel cycle would be more expensive than the uranium fuel cycle. Using a traditional light-water (once-through) reactor, thorium fuel would need both uranium enrichment (or plutonium separation) and thorium target rod production. Using a breeder reactor makes costly reprocessing necessary.
The bottom line is this.Thorium reactors still produce high-level radioactive waste. They still pose problems and opportunities for the proliferation of nuclear weapons. They still present opportunities for catastrophic accident scenarios–as potential targets of terrorist or military attack, for example. Proponents of thorium reactors argue that all of these risks are somewhat reduced in comparison with the conventional plutonium breeder concept. Whether this is true or not, the fundamental problems associated with nuclear power have by no means been eliminated.

May 2, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

Nuclear industry up to their old tricks, spruiking “new nuclear”

Thorium reactors Some enthusiasts prefer fueling reactors with thorium – an element 3x as abundant as uranium but even more uneconomic to use. India has for decades failed to commercialize breeder reactors to exploit its thorium deposits.

But thorium can’t fuel a reactor by itself: rather, a uranium- or plutonium-fueled reactor can convert thorium-232 into fissionable (and plutonium-like, highly bomb-usable) uranium-233. Thorium’s proliferation [8], waste, safety, and cost problems differ only in detail from uranium’s: e.g., thorium ore makes less mill waste, but highly radioactive U-232 makes fabricating or reprocessing U-233 fuel hard and costly.

nuclear-dream-1

‘New’ nuclear reactors? Same old story, Ecologist, Amory Lovins 12th April 2016 The nuclear industry is forever reinventing itself with one brilliant ‘new’ idea after another, Amory Lovins wrote in this classic 2009 essay. But whether it’s touting the wonders of future SMRs, IFRs or LFTRs, the reality never changes: the reactors they are building right now are over time, over budget and beset by serious, entirely unforeseen technical problems….. Continue reading

April 15, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

EPA will clean up thorium pollution adjacent to West Lake Landfill.

EPA says it will remove radioactive dirt on private property adjacent to landfill, St Louis Post Dispatch, By Jacob Barker St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2 Apr 16 

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to clean up spots of dirt on private property just outside the radioactively contaminated West Lake Landfill.

Testing from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources identified radioactive contamination on property beyond the landfill’s perimeter, according to a report released Friday. The agency said the findings were “consistent” with prior EPA studies.

Levels of thorium were above Environmental Protection Agency limits for unrestricted use in two locations on the edge of property now used as a service and repair facility for AAA Trailer Services.

The contamination is to the west of the northernmost part of the West Lake Landfill known as “Area 2,” which is not adjacent to thesmoldering Bridgeton Landfill……..

EPA limits thorium levels to 7.9 pico Curies per gram for unrestricted use (a pico Curie represents 2.2 atomic disintegrations per minute). ……. Thorium mostly emits radiation that can’t pierce the skin, so radiation exposure is mostly through ingestion or inhalation.

West Lake was contaminated with byproducts from uranium processing for the nation’s early nuclear weapons program. Thorium was the only uranium decay product found at levels above EPA guidelines in the DNR tests. The DNR report recommended further investigation around the areas where the contamination was detected. http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/epa-says-it-will-remove-radioactive-dirt-on-private-property/article_3732051c-ea91-5ba2-9120-88fe8e0cc5b8.html

April 4, 2016 Posted by | environment, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Radium isotopes in coal ash – from its thorium and uranium content

Radioactive Contaminants Found in Coal Ash https://nicholas.duke.edu/news/radioactive-contaminants-found-coal-ash, September 2, 2015
  • Avner Vengosh
  • Heileen Hsu-Kim
  • Nancy Lauer DURHAM, N.C. — A new Duke University-led study has revealed the presence of radioactive contaminants in coal ash from all three major U.S. coal-producing basins.The study found that levels of radioactivity in the ash were up to five times higher than in normal soil, and up to 10 times higher than in the parent coal itself because of the way combustion concentrates radioactivity.

    The finding raises concerns about the environmental and human health risks posed by coal ash, which is currently text thoriumunregulated and is stored in coal-fired power plants’ holding ponds and landfills nationwide.

    “Until now, metals and contaminants such as selenium and arsenic have been the major known contaminants of concern in coal ash,” said Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “This study raises the possibility we should also be looking for radioactive elements, such as radium isotopes and lead-210, and including them in our monitoring efforts.”

  • Radium isotopes and lead-210 occur naturally in coal as chemical by-products of its uranium and thorium content. Continue reading

September 28, 2015 Posted by | environment, radiation, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

St Louis suburb contaminated by radioactive thorium

ThoriumNuclear Waste Taints St. Louis Suburb,   Radioactive thorium found at residential properties is linked to nuclear-weapons work done decades ago ,WSJ, By  JOHN R. EMSHWILLER Aug. 23, 2015

Radioactive contamination has been discovered at three residential properties in the St. Louis area, adding fuel to a long-running controversy about how much damage was done to the environment and possibly people’s health by nuclear-weapons work performed there decades ago.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which disclosed the finding last week, said it was the first time it found such contamination on residential properties while cleaning up waste related to weapons programs in the St. Louis area……….

For years, the Corps has been cleaning up largely industrial and commercial sections in the St. Louis area that were contaminated as part of the weapons-program work that began during World War II. The national legacy of radioactive and chemical contamination from the atomic-weapons program, including its impact on St. Louis, was examined in a 2013 Wall Street Journal series.

The contaminated residential properties are near Coldwater Creek, which, which has been at the center of ongoing tensions over the past few years runs through suburban areas northwest of downtown St. Louis and passes an area formerly used to store weapons-program waste.

Federal officials have long acknowledged contamination got into the creek, which feeds into the Missouri River, and included it in their cleanup work. How far the taint was carried has remained a question.

Current and former residents of nearby areas have argued that contamination from the creek had spread into their neighborhoods during periods of flooding and they have pushed for extensive sampling of houses and yards. They also contend residents have suffered from an unusually large number of cancer cases and other maladies possibly linked to radioactive contamination………

Last September, the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services wrote a letter to federal authorities saying it had found a significantly higher incidence of leukemia in areas around Coldwater Creek though it hadn’t determined whether there was a link to weapons-program contaminants. It asked them to join in a health study.

Last week, a spokesman for the state health department said it is still in discussions about what steps to take next. The St. Louis County Department of Public Health is putting together its own health-study effort, said its director, Faisal Khan.

“The community around Coldwater Creek continues to have severe concerns about their own health and how much their health problems might be related to where they lived,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which was invited to participate in the study, didn’t have an immediate comment. In the past, the agency has said it was working with state officials and referred questions to them.

Write to John R. Emshwiller at john.emshwiller@wsj.com   http://www.wsj.com/articles/nuclear-waste-taints-st-louis-suburb-1440361689

August 26, 2015 Posted by | environment, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Rare earths industries struggling with problems

rare-earth-dysprosiumMost Chinese rare earth miners running at a loss — report, Mining.com  Cecilia Jamasmie | August 12, 2015 About 90% of China’s rare earth producers are currently operating at a loss as prices for the coveted elements — used in high-tech sectors — continue to drop due to overcapacity and illegal mining.

According to the Association of China Rare Earth Industry, local companies have been losing money for months and many are expected to close up shop before year-end.

Chen Zhanheng, the group’s deputy secretary-general, told China Daily the main issues weighing on the market are oversupply and illegal mining.

Many companies rushed into rare earth mining and production business when prices were high, he told the paper, producing much more than what the market really needed.

“Rare earths are not as difficult to mine and process as many seem to think, so many illegal miners are bypassing regulations to dig and smelt the metals. This, in turn, has led to a glut in the market,” he said.

The situation has not only affected small producers. The country’s six largest rare earth miners are also feeling the pinch, according to Investorintel:

Xiamen Tungsten, for instance, reported a sharp drop in its net profit in the first half of 2015, the company’s rare earth business has suffered a loss of $11.5 million during the period, $8.8 million more than the year before. Guangdong Rising Nonferrous is forecast to lose $5 to $6 million, down about 600% when compared to the $1 million reported last year last year. China Minmetals Rare Earth expected its net profits in the first half to stand at up to $470,000.

End of a monopoly

Until 2010, China controlled around 97% of the supply of the coveted metals, used in advanced electronics, defense and renewable energy. But when it sought to impose export controls to give an advantage to domestic electronics producers, prices soared by up to 20 or 30 times previous levels.

Attractive prices encouraged investment in the sector in the U.S., Australia and other places outside China. But, at the same time, it fired up smuggling from the Asian nation and a consequent drop in prices.

Rare earths were further battered earlier this year, when China scrapped export tariffs, which had inflated international prices, after a World Trade Organization ruling.

Now market observers are saying that prices for the 17 sought-after elements should start picking up by year-end. However, they also warn that a glut of supplies, including from illegal mines and smuggling in China, could cause the market to crash back down.

Investment confidence has been badly hit by the poor performances of the two major producers outside China — Molycorp (NYSE:MCP-A) and Lynas Corp (ASX:LYC).

Canadian rare earth companies have also shed nearly all of their value in the last few years. Shares of Avalon Rare Metals (TSE:AVL) are down 96% from their 2011 high, while Quest Rare Minerals’ (TSE:QRM) stocks have dropped about the same, since March 2012.

Meanwhile, China continues to restrict the number of firms allowed to produce and export rare earths. This means there will remain a significant supply bottleneck that is likely to encourage smuggling as well as illegal production in the nation, with the feared consequences in prices. [excellent graph on original]  http://www.mining.com/most-chinese-rare-earth-miners-running-at-a-loss-report/

August 15, 2015 Posted by | China, RARE EARTHS | Leave a comment

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors unlikely to be commercially developed

Around the World, Nuclear Can’t Compete With Growing Renewables “What is spectacular is the extent to which the nuclear industry is appearing to ignore reality.”  Katherine Tweed Greentech Media, July 16, 2015 “……..For the reactors that are in operation, many are aging rapidly. The mean age for reactors worldwide is about 29 years, and most were designed for life spans of 40 years, but many will operate beyond that. The cost of going beyond 40 years isn’t cheap — about $1 billion to $5 billion per reactor. By 2050, nuclear’s share of global electricity generation is expected to be similar to its role today, which amounts to about 10 percent.

Given the cost and time necessary to build large reactors, many in the industry have argued for a move to small modular reactors. Yet SMRs have also suffered from higher-than-expected costs and long development timelines, the report states.

SMRs-mirage

The U.S. Department of Energy has been one of the proponents of this technology, yet none of the designs it said in 2001 could be available by the end of the decade were deployed. Of the two companies the DOE chose years later for SMR development funding, one slashed its spending on SMRs in 2014. NuScale, the other SMR manufacturer, is still continuing with development. Even so, “there is no evidence that SMRs will be constructed in the United States anytime soon,” the report states.

The picture is not rosier in other countries that have lent support to SMRs. South Korea, for example, has been developing an SMR since the 1990s, and while it was approved in 2012, no orders have yet been received. Saudi Arabia did say earlier this year it would test the technology in a three-year pilot.

“The static, top-heavy, monstrously expensive world of nuclear power has less and less to deploy against today’s increasingly agile, dynamic, cost-effective alternatives,” wrote Porritt. “The sole remaining issue is that not everyone sees it that way — as yet.”http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/renewables-outpace-nuclear-in-major-economies

July 18, 2015 Posted by | technology, thorium | Leave a comment