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The lingering horror of thorium radioactive poisoning in West Chicago

On the one hand, the story of West Chicago and thorium is one of triumph: a small town overcomes the odds and makes a big corporation clean up its radioactive waste. On the other hand, thorium still haunts some residents, especially those living with illness or deaths in the family that they suspect are related.

Are West Chicago’s Radiation Worries Over?, BELT Magazine, By Liuan Huska, 13 July 22,

Sandra Arzola was relaxing in her West Chicago home one weekend in 1995, when she heard a knock at the door. Recently married, she shared the gray duplex with her husband, mom and sister, and family members were constantly coming and going. But when Sandra answered the door that day, what she learned would change how she looked at her home and suburban community forever.

At the door was a woman representing Envirocon, an environmental cleanup company. There was thorium on the family’s property, the woman said, and if it was OK with them, workers were coming to remove it. It was the first time Sandra had heard of thorium “It took me by left field,” she said. “But [the representative] made it sound like everything was going to be fine.”

Unknowingly, the Arzolas had bought their way into what the Chicago Tribune in 1979 called “the radioactive capital of the Midwest.” Not long after they purchased the property, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated it a Superfund site because of the hazardous waste in their yard.

The source of the danger was the old factory one block to the north of the Arzola home, which Jesse Arzola frequently went past while walking their dogs. From 1932 to 1973, the factory was the largest producer of rare earth and radioactive thorium compounds in the world. It started out producing lamps and later supplied thorium for the federal government’s atomic bomb development. But perhaps the factory’s most lasting legacy, at least in West Chicago, is the harmful radioactive waste that was dumped in ponds, piled at the factory and buried around homes and sidewalks across town.

Residents raised health concerns as early as the 1940s about the toxic material, but these were regularly dismissed by the factory, last owned by the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation. Comprehensive environmental protection rules weren’t put in place until the early 1970s, leaving the factory largely free to dispose of its nuclear waste for decades.

It has taken just as long for the company and government to clean up the radioactive waste. As of 2015, the radioactive sites under federal jurisdiction near the factory have been cleaned to EPA standards. There are no remaining health risks from the land, according to government officials.

But below the factory, the groundwater is still polluted with a range of toxins – particularly uranium – that exceed protection standards. The Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which has jurisdiction over the site, expects remediation to begin this fall. ……………………..

Prolonged or high levels of radiation exposure can damage genetic material in cells and cause cancer and other diseases later on, especially for children, who are more sensitive to radiation. Only two public health studies, published in the early 1990s, have been conducted in West Chicago. Both found elevated cancer rates in the 60185 zip code, which includes the neighborhood around the factory……………………………

The challenges facing West Chicago residents today began ninety years ago, when Charles R. Lindsay moved his lamp factory from Chicago to what was then an undeveloped little town with multiple rail connections. The factory, now officially known as the Rare Earths Facility, took monazite ore and used powerful acids to extract minerals to make gas lanterns, which burned thorium nitrate to emit an incandescent glow. During World War II, it also supplied thorium to the federal government to develop the atomic bombs that were later dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan.

During its four decades of operation, the Rare Earths Facility processed up to one hundred and forty-one thousand tons of monazite. The liquid waste from the extraction process was dumped into unlined ponds around the factory, seeping into the surrounding water table. Solid waste, a black, sand-like material known as thorium tailings, piled up on site. Old-timers share stories of sneaking into the factory grounds and playing on “Mount Thorium.” When the pile got too big, the waste was trucked down the road to a new pile in Reed Keppler Park.

Facing mounting piles of toxic waste, Lindsay came up with another solution: offer the waste to residents for landscaping. From the 1930s through the 1950s, radioactive thorium tailings were distributed across town, mixed with concrete to pour foundations, mixed with topsoil for gardens and spilled along roadways. The company continued to do this as the risks of radiation exposure became widely known starting in the late 1940s through its effects on Japanese atomic bomb survivors.

Soon after the factory moved to West Chicago, people started complaining. In 1941, nearby residents sued Lindsay Light for releasing airborne hydrofluoric acid that killed trees and shrubs nearby.

The federal government did not begin regulating nuclear materials until 1954. Starting in 1957 the company received repeated citations for safety violations, including failing to fence off radioactive storage areas, exposing workers to radiation levels above standards and improper waste disposal.

As the environmental movement gained steam through the 1960s, growing public pressure pushed Congress to create the Environmental Protection Agency and pass the Clean Air Act of 1970 and Clean Water Act of 1972. That resulted in sweeping new regulations – and obligations to the American public – for companies like Kerr-McGee, which had gotten used to operating with limited oversight…………………………….

The EPA denied the company’s request for an operating permit and the factory shuttered in 1973. It was cheaper to cease operations than follow the new rules. By 1980, Kerr-McGee had started the process of closing down the West Chicago facility for good. Pressure from residents and the city pushed the company to begin cleanup on 119 contaminated residential properties.

Still, Kerr-McGee had another plan that worried residents: to permanently store thirteen million cubic feet of radioactive waste at the factory site in a four-story, twenty-seven-acre, clay-covered cell. Concerned residents formed an organization, the Thorium Action Group, to fight the company’s proposal. This spawned more than a decade of legal battles between residents, the city of West Chicago, and state of Illinois — who wanted the thorium out of town — and the company and the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who insisted the waste could safely be stored in this densely populated neighborhood of West Chicago…………………

Moving the thorium waste out of town would take over two decades to complete. In the meantime, there was still the problem of radioactive tailings embedded around the neighborhood…………………….

The Arzolas’ experience is far from rare. Realtors in West Chicago have operated with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, said longtime realtor and former West Chicago resident Dan Czuba. Unlike for radon or lead, realtors never received directives from the state or any licensing board to disclose other harmful thorium byproducts. People have had to do their own homework and decide whether or not a home was a risk. “To this day,” Czuba said, “I still don’t know that there was an official statement of, ‘Thorium will hurt you.’”…………………………………..

Throughout the decades, various groups have tried to get the word out about thorium. The Thorium Action Group was active through the early 2000s. Once the EPA got involved and Kerr-McGee agreed to move the waste out, the group dissipated………

The lack of easily accessible information surrounding the contamination and cleanups has left some residents with the nagging worry that there may be other hidden pockets of radiation around town……….

One house to the west and across the railroad from the Arzolas, Erika Bartlett grew up playing along the tracks and under her yard’s sprawling old oak trees. When she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2012, at age thirty-four, a friend asked if there was anything she could have been exposed to.

“Wait a minute, I actually was,” Bartlett told her friend. She thought back to her high school years, when the oak trees, swingset and above-ground pool at her house were removed during the radiation remediation. Bartlett realized she had spent her childhood, starting from age four, in a neighborhood embedded with nuclear waste. She wondered how many others living near the factory had similar health problems. That started her on a yearslong personal investigation into the town’s thorium legacy.

Between 2012 and 2016, as Bartlett was undergoing cancer treatment, she knocked on doors in the neighborhoods around the factory, an area covering about one square mile. She found over 200 cases of cancers and other illnesses that could stem from radiation exposure, including birth defects, Hashimoto’s and aplastic anemia, the illness that killed the pioneering radioactivity researcher Marie Curie in 1934.

“When I first started, I didn’t think I’d find anything,” Bartlett said. “But block after block, it seemed like a bigger deal than I thought.”

The EPA estimated that, before the waste was removed, radiation levels in some residential neighborhoods in West Chicago increased lifetime cancer risks up to seventy times what is acceptable……

The only official health studies into the impacts on people living near the factory were conducted over three decades ago, by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Among residents in the 60185 zip code, studies in 1990 and 1991 found elevated rates of cancer, including melanomas and lung, colorectal and breast cancers. By grouping exposed and unexposed people together, however, researchers said more differences may have been masked……………………………………….

On the one hand, the story of West Chicago and thorium is one of triumph: a small town overcomes the odds and makes a big corporation clean up its radioactive waste. On the other hand, thorium still haunts some residents, especially those living with illness or deaths in the family that they suspect are related…………………  https://beltmag.com/are-west-chicagos-radiation-worries-over/

July 18, 2022 Posted by | environment, radiation, Reference, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Busting the nuclear propaganda about Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR)

getting enough MSRs on-line to partially slake our energy glut would take 30-50 years. Given the urgency of global warming, we’ve already misspent such luxury.

Inhalation of thorium dust by townspeople near mining operations also correlated with higher lung, pancreatic and bone cancer rates than unexposed towns.

Investing in Renewable Technologies is Safer, Faster, and Cheaper.   The Connecticut Examiner. BY SCOTT DESHEFY JANUARY 21, 2022, Thorium, formed by radioactive decay of uranium, is a naturally occurring radioactive metal found in rock, water, and soil. Found in monazite and other minerals, it’s 3X more abundant than uranium. Despite its radioactivity, small amounts of thorium were used in lantern mantles for brightness, ceramic glazes and welding rods. Until the 1950s, thorium dioxide was used as a contrast agent (i.e. Thorotrast) in medical radiology.

Between 1930 and 1950, after 2.5 million people were injected with Thoroplast worldwide, resulting lifelong exposures to thorium produced higher than normal incidences of liver tumors. Inhalation of thorium dust by townspeople near mining operations also correlated with higher lung, pancreatic and bone cancer rates than unexposed towns……………..

The U.S., China, France and Russia are currently exploring Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) , including liquid fluoride thorium reactors (LFTRs), for improved electricity-making safety and efficiency compared to conventional nukes.

LFTRs are theoretically safer and more efficient than conventional reactors because fluoride salts will contain a nuclear reaction. But fluorine gases, which potentially could be released, are extremely lethal. Furthermore, getting enough MSRs on-line to partially slake our energy glut would take 30-50 years. Given the urgency of global warming, we’ve already misspent such luxury.

If, given declining cost and proven effectiveness, green energy was given the same government subsidies as nuclear we’d be answering the climate call-to-arms posthaste. Investing in renewable and smart-grid technologies is safer, faster, and cheaper, short-term and long. Scott Deshefy is a biologist, ecologist and two-time Green Party congressional candidate. https://ctexaminer.com/2022/01/21/investing-in-renewable-technologies-is-safer-faster-and-cheaper/

January 25, 2022 Posted by | 2 WORLD, spinbuster, thorium | Leave a comment

Just the bare 144 years of above-ground storage for UK’s Chapelcross Intermediate Level Nuclear Waste

The question for policy makers is do we really want to contemplate building new nuclear power stations when the legacy will be with future generations for 102 years, nearly two and a half times beyond any new nuclear plant’s operational life. The cost of nuclear electricity generation is high and future costs of dealing with the legacy are also passed on to at least four future generations.

 Following on from a previous article on Hunterston B which was shut down last Friday I decided to have a look at one of the smaller nuclear power stations in Scotland to see how work was progressing on decommissioning.

Chapelcross nuclear power station occupies a 92 hectares site on the location of a former World War II training airfield in Annan. Chapelcross had 4 Magnox reactors, each with a 48MW output. Chapelcross was linked to sister plant Calder Hall in Cumbria which is now the site of the NDA’s
Sellafield operation.

Calder Hall closed in 2003 and Chapelcross in 2004. Both plants were originally operated by the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Their main purpose was to produce weapons-grade plutonium although they also generated electricity for the National Grid. By 1st April 2019, Chapelcross had been defuelled and all High Level Waste moved to Sellafield.

At that point, almost three years ago, the Intermediate Level Waste as well as LLW had still to be dealt with. The VLLW would appear to be close to the end of the decommissioning process. The LLW is destined for containers in Cumbria and the estimated 4,900 cublic metres of Intermediate
Level Waste will be left onsite in specially constructed containers for a period of 120 years, pending a Scottish Government decision around 2145 on disposal of the containers and contents.

The interim storage facility for storing Intermediate Level Waste at Chapelcross began 2014 and was completed by May 2021 when the first ‘package’ was placed in the facility. In announcing this progress Magnox Ltd and the NDA said in a news release; “The Interim Storage Facility (ISF) can hold over 700 waste packages of four different approved package types, and will be filled over
the next five years as part of decommissioning work. Standing at 57m long and 23m wide, it has been constructed to safely and securely store packages for 120 years.”

Work on the Intermediate Level Waste which is due to complete in 2026. The storage facility is then sealed for 120 years when a decision will be made by the Scottish Government on final disposal of ILW storage and contents.

Whilst it can be argued that the core decommissioning work will take around 22 years, the end game is still 120 years away making 144 years in total for final clearance at the site. Chapelcross operated for 44 years.

The ILW will remain on the site until 2146 although the buildings will be long gone by then. It is essential we deal with the legacies of the past and do so to the highest possible standard because we owe that to our own and future generations.

The question for policy makers is do we really want to contemplate building new nuclear power stations when the legacy will be with future generations for 102 years, nearly two and a half times beyond any new nuclear plant’s operational life. The cost of nuclear electricity generation is high and future costs of dealing with the legacy are also passed on to at least four future generations.

 Newsnet 10th Jan 2022

 https://newsnet.scot/news-analysis/nuclear-decommissioning-chapelcross-a-timeline/

 

January 11, 2022 Posted by | thorium, UK, wastes | Leave a comment

Thorium and nuclear weapons.

The Hype About Thorium Reactors, by Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, December 26 2021.

There has recently been an upsurge of uninformed babble about thorium as if it were a new discovery with astounding potentiality. Some describe it as a nearly miraculous material that can provide unlimited amounts of problem-free energy. Such hype is grossly exaggerated.

Thorium and Nuclear Weapons

One of the most irresponsible statements is that thorium has no connection with nuclear weapons. On the contrary, the initial motivation for using thorium in nuclear reactors was precisely for the purposes of nuclear weaponry.

It was known from the earliest days of nuclear fission that naturally-occurring thorium can be converted into a powerful nuclear explosive – not found in nature – called uranium-233, in much the same way that naturally-occurring uranium can be converted into plutonium.

Working at a secret laboratory in Montreal during World War II, nuclear scientists from France and Britain collaborated with Canadians and others to study the best way to obtain human-made nuclear explosives for bombs. That objective can be met by converting natural uranium into human-made plutonium-239, or by converting natural thorium into human-made uranium-233. These conversions can only be made inside a nuclear reactor. 

The Montreal team designed the famous and very powerful NRX research reactor for that military purpose as well as other non-military objectives. The war-time decision to allow the building of the NRX reactor was made in Washington DC by a six-person committee (3 Americans, 2 Brits and 1 Canadian) in the spring of 1944.

The NRX reactor began operation in 1947 at Chalk River, Ontario, on the Ottawa River, 200 kilometres northwest of the nation’s capital. The American military insisted that thorium rods as well as uranium rods be inserted into the reactor core. Two chemical “reprocessing” plants were built and operated at Chalk River, one to extract plutonium-239 from irradiated uranium rods, and a second to extract uranium-233 from irradiated thorium rods. This dangerous operation required dissolving intensely radioactive rods in boiling nitric acid and chemically separating out the small quantity of nuclear explosive material contained in those rods. Both plants were shut down in the 1950s after three men were killed in an explosion.

The USA detonated a nuclear weapon made from a mix of uranium-233 and plutonium-239 in 1955. In that same year the Soviet Union detonated its first H-bomb (a thermonuclear weapon, using nuclear fusion as well as nuclear fission) with a fissile core of natural uranium-235 and human-made uranium-233.

In 1998, India tested a nuclear weapon using uranium-233 as part of its series of nuclear test explosions in that year. A few years earlier, In 1994, the US government declassified a 1966 memo that states that uranium-233 has been demonstrated to be highly satisfactory as a weapons material. 

Uranium Reactors are really U-235 reactors

Uranium is the only naturally-occurring material that can be used to make an atomic bomb or to fuel a nuclear reactor. In either case, the energy release is due to the fissioning of uranium-235 atoms in a self-sustaining “chain reaction”. But uranium-235 is rather scarce. When uranium is found in nature, usually as a metallic ore in a rocky formation, it is about 99.3 percent uranium-238 and only 0.7 percent uranium-235. That’s just seven atoms out of a thousand!

Uranium-238, the heavier and more abundant isotope of uranium, cannot be used to make an A-Bomb or to fuel a reactor. It is only the lighter isotope, uranium-235, that can sustain a nuclear chain reaction. If the chain reaction is uncontrolled, you have a nuclear explosion; if it is controlled, as it is in a nuclear reactor, you have a steady supply of energy. 

But you cannot make a nuclear explosion with uranium unless the concentration of uranium-238 is greatly reduced and the concentration of uranium-235 is drastically increased. This procedure is called “uranium enrichment”, and the enrichment must be to a high degree – preferably more than 90 percent U-235, or at the very least 20 percent U-235 – to get a nuclear explosion. For this reason, the ordinary uranium fuel used in commercial power reactors is not weapons-usable; the concentration of U-235 is typically less than five percent.

However, as these uranium-235 atoms are split inside a nuclear reactor, the broken fragments form new smaller atoms called “fission products”. There are hundreds of varieties of fission products, and they are collectively millions of times more radioactive than the uranium fuel itself. They are the main constituents of “high-level radioactive waste” (or “irradiated nuclear fuel”) that must be kept out of the environment of living things for millions of years.

In addition, stray neutrons from the fissioning U-235 atoms convert many of the uranium-238 atoms into atoms if plutonium-239. Reactor-produced plutonium is always weapons-usable, regardless of the mixture of different isotopes; no enrichment is needed! But that plutonium can only be extracted from the used nuclear fuel by “reprocessing” the used fuel. That requires separating the plutonium from the fiercely radioactive fission products that will otherwise give a lethal dose of radiation to workers in a short time.

Thorium Reactors are really U-233 reactors

Unlike uranium, thorium cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction under any circumstances. Thorium can therefore not be used to make an atomic bomb or to fuel a nuclear reactor. However, if thorium is inserted into an operating nuclear reactor (fuelled by uranium or plutonium), some of the thorium atoms are converted to uranium-233 atoms by absorbing stray neutrons. That newly created material, uranium-233, is even better than uranium-235 at sustaining a chain reaction.  That’s why uranium-233 can be used as a powerful nuclear explosive or as an exemplary reactor fuel.

But thorium cannot be used directly as a nuclear fuel.  It has to be converted into uranium-233 and then the human-made isotope uranium-233 becomes the reactor fuel. And to perform that conversion, some other nuclear fuel must be used – either enriched uranium or plutonium

Of course, when uranium-233 atoms are split, hundreds of fission products are created from the broken fragments, and they are collectively far more radioactive than the uranium-233 itself – or the thorium from which it was created.  So once again, we see that high-level radioactive waste is being produced even in a thorium reactor (as in a normal present-day uranium reactor). 

In summary, a so-called “thorium reactor” is in reality a uranium-233 reactor. 

Some other nuclear fuel (enriched uranium-235 or plutonium) must be used to convert thorium atoms into uranium-233 atoms. Some form of reprocessing must then be used to extract uranium-233 from the irradiated thorium. The fissioning of uranium-233, like the fissioning of uranium-235 or plutonium, creates hundreds of new fission products that make up the bulk of the high-level radioactive waste from any nuclear reactor. And, as previously remarked, uranium-233 is also a powerful nuclear explosive, posing serious weapons proliferation risks. Moreover, uranium-233 – unlike the uranium fuel that is currently used in commercial power reactors around the world – is immediately usable as a nuclear explosive. The moment uranium-233 is created it is very close to 100 percent enriched – perfect for use in any nuclear weapon of suitable design.

Uranium-232 — A Fly in the Ointment

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December 27, 2021 Posted by | Reference, thorium, Uranium, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Thorium nuclear reactors pose the same weapons proliferation and safety problems, and mining pollution problems – as uranium nuclear reactors.

Is the thorium-fueled “Molten Salt reactor a proven technology?

The first thorium-fueled molten salt reactor ever built was intended to power an aircraft engine in a long-range strategic bomber armed with nuclear weapons. Despite massive expenditures, the project proved unviable as well as prohibitively costly and was ultimately cancelled by President Kennedy. However, the Oak Ridge team responsible for the aircraft engine reactor project, under the direction of Alvin Weinberg, was allowed to conduct a further thorium-fuelled molten salt reactor experiment for a period of four years, from 1965 to 1969. At the beginning, only U-235 was used; soon afterwards, a smaller amount of U-233 was used.

During its four years of operation under experimental conditions, the Oak Ridge molten salt reactor experienced over 250 shutdowns, most of them completely unplanned.  The molten-salt thorium fuelled experience of 52 years ago at Oak Ridge – the only such experience available to date – consumed about one quarter of the total budget of the entire Oak Ridge nuclear complex. It is difficult to understand how anyone could construe this experiment as demonstrating that such a technology would be viable in a commercial environment.

There are, at the present time, no thorium reactors operating anywhere in the world.

Summary (Thorium Reactors)

It appears that thorium-fuelled reactors pose the same kinds of problems, qualitatively speaking, that afflict existing nuclear reactors. Problems associated with the long-term management of nuclear waste, and the potential for proliferating nuclear weapons, are not fundamentally different even though the detailed considerations are by no means identical.

Since a nuclear reactor accident will have off-site consequences only due to the unintended release of high-level nuclear waste materials into the environment, there is no qualitative difference there either.  Thorium reactors pose the same risk of reactor accident risks as in the case of a comparable non-thorium reactor.

The “Front End” of the Nuclear Fuel Chain

So much for the “back end” of the fuel chain, but what about the “front end”? What about the dangers and environmental consequences associated with mining a radioactive ore body to obtain the uranium or thorium needed to sustain a uranium-based or thorium-based reactor system?

Thorium versus Uranium

Uranium and thorium are naturally occurring heavy metals, both discovered a couple of centuries ago. Uranium was identified in 1789. It was named after the planet Uranus, that was discovered just 8 years earlier. Thorium was identified in 1828. It was named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel accidentally discovered radioactivity. He found that rocks containing either uranium or thorium give off a kind of invisible penetrating light (gamma radiation) that can expose photographic plates even if they are wrapped in thick black paper.

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered that when uranium ore is crushed and the uranium itself is extracted, it is indeed found to be a radioactive substance, but the crushed rock contains much more radioactivity (5 to 7 times more) than the uranium itself. She identified two new elements in the crushed rock, radium and polonium – both radioactive and highly dangerous – and won two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and one in Chemistry. 

The radioactive properties of both radium and thorium were used in medical treatments prior to the discovery of fission in 1939. Because of the extraordinary damage done to living tissues by atomic radiation (a fact that was observed before the advent of the twentieth century) these radioactive materials derived from natural sources were used to shrink cancerous tumours and to destroy ringworm infections in the scalps of young children. It was later observed that while acute doses of atomic radiation can indeed kill malignant as well as benign growths, atomic radiation can also cause latent cancers that will not appear until decades later, even at chronic low dose radiation levels that cause no immediately perceptible biological damage.

Uranium Mining and Mill Tailings

It turns out that 85 percent of the radioactivity in uranium ore is found in the pulverized residues after uranium is extracted, as a result of many natural radioactive byproducts of uranium called “decay products” or “progeny” that are left behind. They include radioactive isotopes of lead, bismuth, polonium, radium, radon gas, and others. Uranium mining is dangerous mainly because of the harmful effects of these radioactive byproducts, which are invariably discarded in the voluminous sand-like tailings left over from milling the ore. All of these radioactive decay products are much more radioactive and much more biologically damaging than uranium itself.

Thorium Mining and Mill Tailings

Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more plentiful than uranium. Like uranium, it also produces radioactive “decay products” or “progeny” – including additional radioactive isotopes of lead, bismuth, polonium, radium, radon gas, thallium, and others. These radioactive byproducts are discarded in the mill tailings when thorium ore is milled. See

www.ccnr.org/Th-232_decay_chain.png .

Most of the naturally-occurring radioactivity found in the soil and rocks of planet Earth are due to the two primordial radioactive elements, uranium and thorium, and their many decay products. There is one additional primordial radioactive element, potassium-40, but it has no radioactive decay products and so contributes much less to the natural radioactive inventory.

Gordon Edwards.

P.S. I have written about thorium as a nuclear fuel several times before, beginning in 1978.

See www.ccnr.org/AECL_plute.html  ;  www.ccnr.org/aecl_plute_seminar.html ;

www.ccnr.org/think_about_thorium.pdf ;  and  www.ccnr.org/Thorium_Reactors.html

December 27, 2021 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

Thorium fuel has risks

Thorium fuel has risks

Simple chemical pathways open up proliferation possibilities for the proposed nuclear ‘wonder fuel’, warn Stephen F. Ashley and colleagues.

Thorium is being touted as a potential wonder fuel. Proponents believe that this element could be used in a new generation of nuclear-power plants to produce relatively safe, low-carbon energy with more resistance against potential nuclear-weapons proliferation than uranium. Although thorium offers some benefits, we contend that the public debate is too one-sided: small-scale chemical reprocessing of irradiated thorium can create an isotope of uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons, raising proliferation concerns.

Naturally-occurring thorium is made up almost entirely of thorium-232, an isotope that is unable to sustain nuclear fission. When bombarded with neutrons, thorium is converted through a series of decays into uranium-233, which is fissile and long-lived — its half-life is 160,000 years. A side product is uranium-232, which decays into other isotopes that give off intense γ-radiation that is difficult to shield against. Spent thorium fuel is typically difficult to handle and thus resistant to proliferation.

We are concerned, however, that other processes, which might be conducted in smaller facilities, could be used to convert 232Th into 233U while minimizing contamination by 232U, thus posing a proliferation threat. Notably, the chemical separation of an intermediate isotope — protactinium-233 — that decays into 233U is a cause for concern.

Thorium is not a route to a nuclear future that is free from proliferation risks. Policies should be strengthened around thorium’s use in declared nuclear activities, and greater vigilance is needed to protect against surreptitious activities involving this element.

Protactinium pathway

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September 11, 2021 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, thorium | Leave a comment

How to dispose of 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium for 10,000 years?

The need for a long-term commitment to plutonium disposal. The Energy Department faces the daunting and unprecedented task of geologically disposing of tens of tons of weapons-grade plutonium, so it can never be used again, while ensuring its toxic dangers do not threaten the environment over a time period longer than the existence of human civilization.

March 9, 2021 Posted by | - plutonium, thorium, USA | Leave a comment

Bill Gates has another go at getting taxpayer funding, for another nuclear venture (ships this time)

Bill Gates joins nuclear-powered shipping push, Splash Sam ChambersNovember 2, 2020  Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, has turned his attention to getting ships powered by nuclear energy.

The Microsoft co-founder, who turned 65 last week, is also chairman of TerraPower, a nuclear tech company that today announced a new venture with Mikal Bøe’s CORE POWER, French nuclear materials handling specialist Orano and American utilities firm Southern Company. The four companies plan to develop molten salt reactor (MSR) atomic technology in the United States………

The four companies have submitted an application to the US Department of Energy to take part in cost-share risk reduction awards under the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Programme to build a prototype MSR, as a proof-of-concept for a medium-scale commercial-grade reactor.

…….  we seek to build scale-appropriate technology and broad acceptance of modern and durable liquid-fuelled atomic power to shape the future of how we deal with climate change,” Bøe commented today…….

Thorium is a weakly radioactive metallic chemical element found most commonly in India and is a substance that Gates’ TerraPower has been studying closely of late.

Admitting the technology would not be cheap to install on ships, Bøe has proposed a leasing model for his batteries, similar to those deployed for aircraft engines………. https://splash247.com/bill-gates-joins-nuclear-powered-shipping-push/

November 3, 2020 Posted by | politics, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, thorium | Leave a comment

Thorium not likely to revive the nuclear energy industry

Could Thorium Revive The Nuclear Energy Industry?   Oil Price,  – Sep 27, 2020,………..It still remains to be seen whether the new thorium fuel will actually see the light of day.

The main sticking point to the promotion of thorium as a cleaner nuclear fuel is that it remains unproven on a commercial scale. Thorium MSRs (Molten Salt Reactors) have been in development since the 1960s by the United States, China, Russia, and France, yet nothing much ever came of them.

Nuclear radiologist Peter Karamoskos, of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has advised the world not to hold its breath:

Without exception, [thorium reactors] have never been commercially viable, nor do any of the intended new designs even remotely seem to be viable. Like all nuclear power production they rely on extensive taxpayer subsidies; the only difference is that with thorium and other breeder reactors these are of an order of magnitude greater, which is why no government has ever continued their funding.”

Nuclear power enthusiasts can only hope that ANEEL will not also fall victim to the thorium curse.

 

October 19, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, thorium | Leave a comment

Houthis are actively enriching Thorium extracted from Yemeni mountains and sending it to Iran for arms manufacture.

Yemen Official Warns of Blast Worse than Beirut’s over Houthi Smuggling of Thorium to Iran

Asharq Al-Awsat, 16 August, 2020 Jeddah – Asma al-Ghabri

The Yemen Coalition of Independent Women held a virtual seminar titled “Iranian intervention: A History of Disorder in The Arab Countries,” which tackled a variety of issues, including the Iran-backed Houthi militias’ smuggling of Thorium from Yemen to Iran.

Hodeidah Undersecretary Walid al-Qudaimi warned of the impending danger facing Yemen over the ongoing smuggling of the material.

Houthis are actively enriching Thorium extracted from Yemeni mountains and sending it to Iran for arms manufacture.

Qudaimi said that a blast worse than the one that took place at Beirut port on August 4, due to the explosion of highly-flammable ammonium nitrate, was in store for Yemen if the smuggling does not stop.

He said that Iranian proxies in the region like the Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Houthis and the Iraq-based Popular Mobilization Forces have resorted to using certain vulnerable countries to manufacture and store explosives, chemicals and missiles. …

“When we talk about Yemen, the catastrophe is very big and worse than we might expect,” he said, adding that Houthis control the ports of Hodeidah and use them to smuggle weapons and explosive materials of all kinds.

Most of these weapons and explosives are sent by Iran to help Houthi militias control Yemen and threaten neighboring Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia. They also use them to endanger maritime navigation in the Red Sea.

Qudaimi also tackled the FSO Safer oil tanker issue. Houthis have been obstructing efforts to perform maintenance work on board the derelict ship.

According to international reports, in the event of a leak or explosion in the floating reservoir, 1.1 million liters of crude oil will spill into the Red Sea.

This will cause serious damage to marine life, biodiversity and fish resources that cannot be compensated, in addition to the suspension of ports and international shipping lines in the region. https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2450796/yemen-official-warns-blast-worse-beirut%E2%80%99s-over-houthi-smuggling-thorium-iran

August 17, 2020 Posted by | MIDDLE EAST, thorium | Leave a comment

Thorium nuclear plan with USA firm – a dubious deal for Indonesia

July 30, 2020 Posted by | Indonesia, thorium | Leave a comment

Canada on verge of investing in plutonium

Gordon Edwards <ccnr@web.ca>\, 26 Apr 2020, It seems that the two SMNR (Small Modular Nuclear Reactor) entrepreneurs in New Brunswick (Canada), along with other nuclear “players” worldwide, are trying to revitalize the “plutonium economy” — a nuclear industry dream from the distant past that many believed had been laid to rest because of the failure of plutonium-based breeder reactors almost everywhere – e.g. USA, France, Britain, Japan …

One of the newly proposed NB SMNR prototypes, the ARC-100 reactor (100 megawatts of electricity) is a liquid sodium-cooled SMNR that is based on the 1964 EBR-2 reactor – Experimental Breeder Reactor #2. (Its predecessor, the EBR-1 breeder reactor, had a partial meltdown in 1955, and the Fermi-1 breeder reactor near Detroit, also modelled on the EBR-2, had a partial meltdown in 1966.) The ACR-100 is designed with the capability and explicit intention of reusing or recycling irradiated CANDU fuel.
The other newly proposed NB SMNR prototype is the Moltex “Stable Salt Reactor” (SSR) — also a “fast reactor”, cooled by molten salt, that is likewise intended to re-use or recycle irradiated CANDU fuel.
The “re-use” (or “recycling”) of “spent nuclear fuel”, also called “used nuclear fuel” or “irradiated nuclear fuel”, is industry code for plutonium extraction. The idea is to transition from uranium to plutonium as a nuclear fuel, because uranium supplies will not outlast dwindling oil supplies. Breeder reactors are designed to use plutonium as a fuel and create (“breed”) even more plutonium while doing so.
The only way you can re-use or recycle existing used nuclear fuel is to somehow access the unused “fissile material” in the used fuel, which means mainly plutonium.  This involves a chemical procedure called “reprocessing” which was banned in the late 1970s by the Carter administration in the USA and the first PE Trudeau administration in Canada. South Korea and Taiwan were likewise forbidden (with pressure from the US) to pursue this avenue.
Argonne Laboratories in US, and the South Korean government, have been developing (for over ten years now) a new wrinkle on the reprocessing operation which they call “pyroprocessing” in an effort to overcome the existing prohibitions on reprocessing and restart the “plutonium economy”. That phrase refers to a world whereby plutonium is the primary nuclear fuel in the future rather than natural or slightly enriched uranium. Plutonium, a derivative of uranium that does not exist in nature but is created inside every nuclear reactor fuelled with uranium, would thereby become an article of commerce.
Another wrinkle on this general ambition is the so-called “thorium cycle”. Thorium is a naturally-occurring element that can be converted (inside a nuclear reactor) into a human-made fissile material called uranium-233. This type of uranium is not found in nature. Like plutonium, uranium-233 can be used for nuclear weapons or as nuclear fuel. Although the materials are different, the ambition is the same — instead of the plutonium economy one could imagine an economy based on uranium-233.
The problems associated with both recycling schemes (the plutonium cycle and the thorium cycle) are
(1) the dangerous and polluting necessity of “opening up” the used nuclear fuel in order to extract the desired plutonium or U-233, and (2) the creation of a civilian traffic in highly dangerous materials (plutonium and U-233) that can be used by governments or criminals or terrorists to make powerful nuclear weapons without the need for terribly sophisticated or readily detectable infrastructure.
By the way, in terms of nuclear reactors (whether small or large), whenever you see the phrase “fast reactor” or “advanced reactor” or “breeder reactor” or “thorium reactor”, please be advised that such terminology is industry code for recycling — either plutonium or uranium-233.  Also, any “sodium-cooled” reactors are in this same category.
By the way, in terms of nuclear reactors (whether small or large), whenever you see the phrase “fast reactor” or “advanced reactor” or “breeder reactor” or “thorium reactor”, please be advised that such terminology is industry code for recycling — either plutonium or uranium-233.  Also, any “sodium-cooled” reactors are in this same category.

April 26, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, Canada, Reference, reprocessing, thorium | 1 Comment

Debunking James Hansen’s claims in favour of nuclear power

John Wayne squares off against Jim Hansen, Medium,  Albert Bates, 11 Jan 2020    “……. I greatly admire James Hansen …….  What annoys me, however, about Hansen, then and now, is his insistence, in utter disregard of best science, that nuclear energy can somehow save humanity from climate change because it is clean, safe, too cheap to meter and besides all that, is carbon-free. I watched with pity more than scorn when he took his time to repeat this nonsense at the recent UN climate conference in Madrid. He mounted fallacy upon fallacy in a pyramid of lies that had been heard since the 1940s coming from the Atomic Energy Commission, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency and others in thrall to the atomic devil.
Of course all of those assertions by Hansen are utter nonsense. It just goes to show that being a good climate scientist doesn’t automatically give you a doctorate in health physics. I was blessed to have met many of the world’s preeminent health physicists in the 1970s and 1980s while representing atomic victims in battles for fair compensation and writing my fifth book, Climate in Crisis: The Greenhouse Effect and What We Can Do. ………
So, when James Hansen ignorantly opines that there were no radiation fatalities from Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima and that the new generation of thorium metal reactors is inherently safe, I try to not gag ……..
 Comparing effluent to effluent, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported that emissions from presently licensed facilities produced under normal operating conditions will cause 1.7 million cancers and birth defects in the world population, barring accidents. That several-hundred page report was summarized in the Federal Register in 1979 (46 Fed. Reg. 39580). However, it excluded consideration of health effects from tritium, Tc-99, C-13 and 14 and other radionuclide emissions that were too inaccurate to estimate, they said.
By too inaccurate they meant that tritium is easily incorporated into water, and so passes through living cells very easily, and carbon is the building block of organic chemistry, inseparable from life, so if one were to try to measure their impact inside the human body, the mortality and morbidity rates would need to be raised orders of magnitude higher than 1.7 million. This could make nuclear power unacceptable so, for reasons having to do with their institutional DNA, the NRC was not going to do that……….
It is not difficult to debunk Thorium-141’s popular mythology using simple physics, as Drs. Arjun Makhijani and Helen Caldicott have, because thorium is not a naturally fissionable element and so must first be mixed with enriched Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239 before it can be fissioned under controlled conditions to make steam for a power plant. To do that mixing, never mind the reacting, is a dangerous, deadly, polluting and extremely expensive process generating loads of long-lasting and unrecoverable poisons. After reaction, the thorium blend leaves dangerous wastes like U-232, a potent high-energy gamma emitter that can penetrate one meter of concrete and will have to be kept safely out of our air, food, and water forever.
……… Officially, TMI caused no immediate deaths. But unofficial investigations and lawsuits claimed there were above-average rates of cancer and birth defects in the surrounding area. Anecdotal evidence among the local human population has been devastating.    Hansen would say that anecdotal evidence is not science, but when public health agencies are prohibited from doing the scientific studies that does not equate with no effects. We know from anecdotal evidence that large numbers of Pennsylvanians suffered skin sores and lesions that erupted while they were out of doors as the fallout rained down on them. Many quickly developed large, visible tumors, breathing problems, and a metallic taste in their mouths that matched that experienced by victims of Hiroshima, or who were exposed to nuclear tests in the South Pacific, Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Nevada.
Approximately 2 million people in the immediate area were exposed to doses that were sub-lethal for early exposure, but the latent genetic effects have been calculated, by Gofman among others, to cause life-shortening in the global population for perhaps one million people. Moreover, there is reason to suspect the doses those estimates are based upon were much lower than what may have actually occurred and gone unreported. Entire bee hives expired immediately after the accident, along with a disappearance of birds, many of whom were found scattered dead on the ground. A rash of malformed pets were born and stillborn, including kittens that could not walk and a dog with no eyes. Reproductive rates among the region’s cows and horses plummeted. The state and federal governments did nothing to track the health histories of the region’s residents. Instead, they significantly understated the scale of the release and the magnitude of the exposures, as later peer reviewed studies showed.
A National Institute of Health study in 1998 found “Results support the hypothesis that radiation doses are related to increased cancer incidence around TMI.”
Harvey Wasserman, writing for Common Dreams, said: “Meanwhile, the death toll from America’s worst industrial catastrophe continues to rise. More than ever, it is shrouded in official lies and desecrated by a reactor-pushing “renaissance” hell-bent on repeating the nightmare on an even larger scale.”
 ……….one thing for certain that can never be said of nuclear energy is that it is carbon neutral. Once you take into account the entire nuclear fuel cycle from exploration and mining, shipment of ores from Africa and China, milling, enrichment to fuel grade (enough gas and coal energy goes into that to power Australia), power generation, fuel removal and waste disposal, the fossil fuel footprint is so enormous as to be well beyond any suggestion of carbon neutrality.
[Here follows a long discussion on Marie curie, and then on John Wayne]
……… Declassified health physics reports from the Manhattan Project indicate that the senior scientists believed at least as early as 1945 that:

“. . . the genetic effect has no threshold and exposure is not only cumulative in the individual, but in succeeding generations. On this basis, there would be no tolerance dose, but rather an acceptable injury-limit.”[Parker, H.M., Instrument ation and Radiation Protection (March, 1947), Health Physics, 38:957,970, June 1980]

and:

“Even sub-tolerance radiations produce certain biological changes (cosmic rays are supposed to have some biological effects), so tolerance radiation is not what one strives to get but the maximum permissible dose.”[Morgan, K.Z., The Responsibilities of Health Physics, The Scientific Monthly, 93 (August 1946); reprinted in Health Physics 38:949–952, June 1980.]

The question of what percentage of the population can be acceptably damaged came first to the attention of the AEC at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine on January 16–19,1957. At this meeting the AEC advisors determined that a 20 percent increase in the rate of bone cancers and birth defects nationwide would be an “acceptable” effect of U.S. nuclear weapons testing activities. These scientists also acknowledged at this time that the long-term genetic effects were totally unknown.

The historical record indicates that prominent radiologists, health physicists, and geneticists of the time recognized even at the outset of America’s atomic power program that any large population exposure to even very minute amounts of ionizing radiation could create lingering public health problems and genetic damage, and these scientists went to some lengths, including sacrificing their own illustrious careers, to express their views publicly. [ long list of references given here]

[ discusses Fukushima]

….. atmospheric physicists should not opine on health physics. There is no dose of radiation below which there is not a negative biological effect. Indeed, there is a “superlinear” ratio of dose to effect at low doses, because doses that do not kill a cell cause genetic damage that is a larger health threat than dead cells, so humans and animals exposed to low doses are at greater health risk than those exposed to higher doses.

While there are hundreds of different radioactive isotopes within a nuclear reactor, the isotope Cesium-137 is easily measured and has become a standard by which to calculate impacts. During the two-day accident, 18 quadrillion becquerels of cesium were released into the Pacific (18 with 15 zeros). A typical abdominal or pelvic CT scan (the most often performed) is 14–18 thousandths of a becquerel, so during the accident the cesium dose to the environment was the same as about 1 quintillion (1 with 18 zeros) CT scans (repeated every second, continuously, for the next 300 to 600 years). Depending on the type of scan and the age and sex of the patient, a single CT scan will produce 1 cancer for 150 to 3300 exposures, or a median risk of 10 cancers per becquerel (or seivert).  [table here on original]

By that calculation, the cesium released during the Fukushima accident was capable of causing roughly 10 quadrillion cancers, but with one important difference.
When you receive radiation treatment like a CT-scan it is sudden and one-off. One second. The technician presses the button and it is on and then off. There is no danger from the machine when it is off. When radioactive elements like cesium-137 (and remember that is just one of hundreds of elements in a nuclear reactor) are released to the environment, there is no off-switch. Thus, the cesium released during the Fukushima accident is capable of roughly 10 quadrillion cancers per second. Inhaling or ingesting it can kill a person, a dolphin or a seagull, but then as the individual’s body decomposes after death — as bacteria, worms and fungi eat away the flesh and bone — the isotope goes back into the food chain to strike another individual, and another, and so on. The danger is limited only by the isotope’s half-life — the time it takes to decay to a harmless element, which for cesium-137 is 30.17 years. Scientists generally use 10 or 20 half-lives to bracket safety concerns, so for cesium 137, “safe” levels arrive in 302 to 604  years (around year 2322 to year 2624), admittedly an imperfect measurement since any residue, no matter how microscopic, may still be lethal, as we have known since before the Manhattan Project. Cesium is one of 256 radionuclides released during Fukushima, so we would need to calculate quantities, biological effectiveness, and the decay time of each of those to get the full health picture. Other isotopes in the Fukushima fuel include Uranium-235, with a half-life of 704 million years, and Uranium-238, with a half-life of 4.47 billion years, or longer than the age of the Earth.
At Fukushima, the end of the accident was not the end of the story. In 2013, 30 billion becquerels of cesium-137 were still flowing into the ocean every day from the damaged and leaking reactor cores. That is 300 billion cancer doses per second of man-made cesium added every day, or 109.5 trillion cancer doses per second added every year. To stop this assault on ocean life, and our own, over the next 5 years the owner of the plant constructed more than 1000 tanks to hold contaminated water away from the ocean. In September 2019, the Japanese government announced that more than one million tons were in storage but that space would run out by the summer of 2022 so it planned to begin releasing those billions of bequerels to the ocean again.

Swimmers and sailors who plan to compete in open water events at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might want to think about that, as might any who fish those waters or consume the catch.

What happens to ocean creatures who ingest radionuclides from leaking nuclear power plants is not very different from what happened to John Wayne, his sons and his co-stars. As the isotopes decay within the body of a dolphin or a coral polyp they send microscopic bullets hurling through DNA chains, causing tumors, sicknesses, defective offspring and death for untold generations. The chance that a single mutation will produce a beneficial result are less than one in a million. Radioactivity is, for practical purposes, forever, as we can see just by looking up at our Sun, a benevolent nuclear reactor providing us energy from the relatively safe distance of 93 million miles.

Even that radiation will kill a number of us, but far fewer than would die if, by some devilish plan or panic response, we follow Dr. Hansen’s advice. https://medium.com/@albertbates/john-wayne-squares-off-against-jim-hansen-42a258b2260d

January 21, 2020 Posted by | Reference, spinbuster, thorium | Leave a comment

Thorium and uranium pollution from Rio Tinto’s Madagascar mine

January 6, 2020 Posted by | environment, OCEANIA, thorium | Leave a comment

Kyrgyzstan bans uranium, thorium mining

Above – radioactive tailings mountain in Central Asia

December 21, 2019 Posted by | ASIA, environment, politics, thorium, Uranium | Leave a comment