It is a good idea to at least test the feasibility of deep boreholes. As one resident said “Something must be done with the wastes”. There is no obligation on that community to agree to actually accept high level nuclear waste – only to host the testing of the deep bore concept.
The whole project would really make sense if it were combined with a definite plan to STOP MAKING TOXIC RADIOACTIVE WASTES, by closing down all nuclear reactors. This could be done, with genuine good will, and planning for compensation and transition to other employment for workers in the nuclear industry.
New Mexico town steps up for nuclear borehole projectLMT Online, , January 15, 2017 “……. The U.S. Energy Department, Quay County and two energy development companies say the nation’s latest nuclear waste experiment could inject as much as $40 million into the county’s economy. Nara Visa residents just have to agree to let the companies drill a three-mile-deep borehole — seven times deeper than the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad — into the crystalline, granite crust of the earth a few miles outside of town, on land currently occupied by fat, black cattle.
Right now, the project is pegged as a scientific experiment. The Energy Department says no nuclear waste will be placed in the test borehole.
The ultimate goal is to find a permanent place to dispose of the ever-growing and deadly stockpile of spent nuclear fuel rods and high-level radioactive waste collected at nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons laboratories nationwide.
Until this year, no town in the U.S. had agreed to the proposal. But when the Quay County Commission approved the plan in October, it put Nara Visa on track to become the first.
About seven miles outside Nara Visa, there is a small, gravel roadside park where semi-truck drivers pull off U.S. 54 to sleep. Below the earth, the granite is devoid of oil but just right for deep drilling.
These 10 acres belong to Louis and Elaine James, who’ve agreed to lease it to the government………
As far as the nuclear waste component is concerned, Louis James, 69, said, “I have more of a problem with it sitting over at Pantex 100 miles away than I do with it being under the ground, because you know it will get you if they ever attack those spots.” He was referring to the Pantex Plant, a nuclear weapons assembly facility outside Amarillo, Texas……
The test hole planned for the James’ property is meant to be just 8 1/2 inches wide but would go deep below ground, first through the water table and a mile through sediment before hitting the top of a crystalline rock layer. From there, the hole would be drilled another two miles into the Earth. This is the layer where nuclear waste would be stored, then sealed off with a steel casing and concrete to protect the environment and water in the mile span separating the waste from the land’s surface.
Utah-based DOSECC Exploration Services LLC and Enercon Federal Services, Inc., based in Atlanta, are developing the Nara Visa proposal and are one of four groups that have been granted the go-ahead from the Energy Department for Phase 1 of the project. This is referred to as “community buy-in,” gaining not only public approval but also support for the project, and securing the land for the borehole site.
If DOSECC and Enercon win this bid, they will get $35 million over a five-year period to drill the first hole. The Energy Department will grant an additional $50 million to drill a second, wider borehole if the first is successful……
State Rep. Dennis Roch said that after meeting with the companies, he felt confident there was “no connection between this viability test and the ultimate decision of where to dispose of nuclear waste way down the road.”…….
The Nara Visa site would only be permitted for drilling, he added. Nuclear waste storage would require an entirely different permitting and regulatory process…….
WIPP, after being closed for nearly three years following the radiation leak, began depositing waste below ground for the first time in December. But the stagnation of waste disposal at these facilities left the Energy Department scrambling for alternatives, and in 2012, deep boreholes resurfaced as a potential alternative, an idea that was first floated in the 1950s.
To store all of the waste sitting at 77 U.S. facilities, the Energy Department needs to drill 950 boreholes at an estimated $20 million per hole, or $71 billion for the entire project, including transportation, environmental reclamation, monitoring and site characterization, according to the 2010 Sandia study. In contrast, Yucca Mountain was estimated to cost $96 billion.
Each hole is expected to contain 400 vertically stacked fuel pods that, unlike the costly steel drums used to pack waste headed to WIPP, would not require specialized containers but instead would be stored in their spent fuel form or glass. Multiple boreholes could be drilled just over 200 meters apart to avoid thermal reactions.
Though the Sandia study said boreholes could be used for nuclear reactor waste, Mast from Enercon said he believes the Energy Department is only looking at boreholes for waste from nuclear weapons development.
To actually begin placing nuclear waste in the boreholes will require an amendment to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
Nuclear power producers want government-mandated long-term contracts or other mechanisms that require customers to buy power from their troubled units at prices far higher than they would pay otherwise.
Since the 1950s, U.S. nuclear power has commanded immense taxpayer and consumer subsidy based on promises of economic and environmental benefits. Many of these promises are unfulfilled, but new ones take their place and more subsidies follow.
Today, the nuclear industry claims that keeping all operating reactors running for many years, no matter how uneconomic they become, is essential in order to reach U.S. climate change targets.
Economics have always challenged U.S. reactors. After more than 100 construction cancellations and cost overruns costing up to $5 billion apiece, Forbes magazine in 1985 called nuclear power “the greatest managerial disaster in business history … only the blind, or the biased, can now think that most of the money [$265 billion by 1990] has been well spent.” U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Chair Lewis Strauss’ 1954 promise that electric power would be “ too cheap to meter” is today used to mock nuclear economics, not commend them.
As late as 1972, the Atomic Energy Commission forecast that the U.S. would have 1,000 power reactors by the year 2000. Today, we have 100 operating power reactors, down from a peak of 112 in 1990. Since 2012, power plant owners have retired five units and announced plans to close nine more. Four new reactors are likely to come on line. Without strenuous government intervention, almost all of the rest will close by midcentury. Because these recent closures have been abrupt and unplanned, the replacement power has come in substantial part from natural gas, causing a dismaying uptick in greenhouse gas emissions.
The nuclear industry, led by the forlornly named lobbying group Nuclear Matters, still obtains large subsidies for new reactor designs that cannot possibly compete at today’s prices. But its main function now is to save operating reactors from closure brought on by their own rising costs, by the absence of a U.S. policy on greenhouse gas emissions and by competition from less expensive natural gas, carbon-free renewables and more efficient energy use.
Only billions more dollars in subsidies and the retarding of rapid deployment of cheaper technologies can save these reactors. Only fresh claims of unique social benefit can justify such steps.
When I served on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1977 through 1982, it issued more licenses than in any comparable period since. Arguments that the U.S. couldn’t avoid dependence on Middle Eastern oil and keep the lights on without a vast increase in nuclear power were standard fare then and throughout my 20 years chairing the New York and Maine utility regulatory commissions. In fact, we attained these goals without the additional reactors, a lesson to remember in the face of claims that all of today’s nuclear plants are needed to ward off climate change.
Nuclear power in competitive electricity markets
During nuclear power’s growth years in the 1960s and 1970s, almost all electric utility rate regulation was based on recovering the money necessary to build and run power plants and the accompanying infrastructure. But in the 1990s, many states broke up the electric utility monopoly model.
Now a majority of U.S. power generation is sold in competitive markets. Companies profit by producing the cheapest electricity or providing services that avoid the need for electricity.
To justify their current subsidy demands, nuclear advocates assert three propositions. First, they contend that power markets undervalue nuclear plants because they do not compensate reactors for avoiding carbon emissions or for other attributes such as diversifying the fuel supply or running more than 90 percent of the time.
Second, they assert that other low-carbon sources cannot fill the gap because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. So power grids will use fossil-fired generators for more hours if nuclear plants close.
Finally, nuclear power supporters argue that these intermittent sources receive substantial subsidies while nuclear energy does not, thereby enabling renewables to underbid nuclear even if their costs are higher.
Nuclear power producers want government-mandated long-term contracts or other mechanisms that require customers to buy power from their troubled units at prices far higher than they would pay otherwise.
Providing such open-ended support will negate several major energy trends that currently benefit customers and the environment. First, power markets have been working reliably and effectively. A large variety of cheaper, more efficient technologies for producing and saving energy, as well as managing the grid more cheaply and cleanly, have been developed. Energy storage, which can enhance the round-the-clock capability of some renewables is progressing faster than had been expected, and it is now being bid into several power markets — notably the market serving Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
Long-term subsidies for uneconomic nuclear plants also will crowd out penetration of these markets by energy efficiency and renewables. This is the path New York has taken by committing at least $7.6 billion in above-market payments to three of its six plants to assure that they operate through 2029.
Nuclear power versus other carbon-free fuels While power markets do indeed undervalue low-carbon fuels, all of the other premises underlying the nuclear industry approach are flawed. In California and in Nebraska, utilities plan to replace nuclear plants that are closing early for economic reasons almost entirely with electricity from carbon-free sources. Such transitions are achievable in most systems as long as the shutdowns are planned in advance to be carbon-free.
In California, these replacement resources, which include renewables, storage, transmission enhancements and energy efficiency measures, will for the most part be procured through competitive processes. Indeed, any state where a utility threatens to close a plant can run an auction to ascertain whether there are sufficient low-carbon resources available to replace the unit within a particular time frame. Only then will regulators know whether, how much and for how long they should support nuclear units.
If New York had taken this approach, each of the struggling nuclear units could have bid to provide power in such an auction. They might well have succeeded for the immediate future, but some or all would probably not have won after that.
Closing the noncompetitive plants would be a clear benefit to the New York economy. This is why a large coalition of big customers, alternative energy providers and environmental groups opposed the long-term subsidy plan.
The industry’s final argument — that renewables are subsidized and nuclear is not — ignores overwhelming history. All carbon-free energy sources together have not received remotely as much government support as has flowed to nuclear power.
Nuclear energy’s essential components — reactors and enriched uranium fuel — were developed at taxpayer expense. Private utilities were paid to build nuclear reactors in the 1950s and early 1960s, and received subsidized fuel. According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, total subsidies paid and offered to nuclear plants between 1960 and 2024 generally exceed the value of the power that they produced.
The U.S. government also has pledged to dispose of nuclear power’s most hazardous wastes — a promise that has never been made to any other industry. By 2020, taxpayers will have paid some $21 billion to store those wastes at power plant sites.
Furthermore, under the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, each plant owner’s accident liability is limited to some $300 million per year, even though the Fukushima disaster showed that nuclear accident costs can exceed $100 billion. If private companies that own U.S. nuclear power plants had been responsible for accident liability, they would not have built reactors. The same is almost certainly true of responsibility for spent fuel disposal.
Finally, as part of the transition to competition in the 1990s, state governments were persuaded to make customers pay off some $70 billion in excessive nuclear costs. Today, the same nuclear power providers are asking to be rescued from the same market forces for a second time.
Christopher Crane, the president and CEO of Exelon, which owns the nation’s largest nuclear fleet, preaches temperance from a bar stool when he disparages renewable energy subsidies by asserting, “I’ve talked for years about the unintended consequences of policies that incentivize technologies versus outcomes.“
But he’s right about unintended and unfortunate consequences. We should not rely further on the unfulfilled prophesies that nuclear lobbyists have deployed so expensively for so long. It’s time to take Crane at his word by using our power markets, adjusted to price greenhouse gas emissions, to prioritize our low carbon outcome over his technology.
Peter Bradford is a the former chair of the Maine’s Public Utilities Commission and former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory commissioner. He also is on the board of the Union of Concerned Scientists. This piece was originally published on TheConversation.com.
The good—the very good—energy news is that the Indian Point nuclear power plants 26 miles north of New York City will be closed in the next few years under an agreement reached between New York State and the plants’ owner, Entergy.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has long been calling for the plants to be shut down because, as the New York Times related in its story on the pact, they pose “too great a risk to New York City.” Environmental and safe-energy organizations have been highly active for decades in working for the shutdown of the plants. Under the agreement, one Indian Point plant will shut down by April 2020, the second by April 2021.
They would be among the many nuclear power plants in the U.S. which their owners have in recent years decided to close or have announced will be shut down in a few years.
This comes in the face of nuclear power plant accidents—the most recent the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan—and competitive power being less expensive including renewable and safe solar and wind energy.
Last year the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant in Nebraska closed following the shutdowns of Kewanee in Wisconsin, Vermont Yankee in Vermont, Crystal River 3 in Florida and both San Onofre 2 and 3 in California. Nuclear plant operators say they will close Palisades in Michigan next year and then Oyster Creek in New Jersey and Pilgrim in Massachusetts in 2019 and California’s Diablo Canyon 1 in 2024 and Diablo Canyon 3 in 2025.
This brings the number of nuclear plants down to a few more than 90—a far cry from President Richard Nixon’s scheme to have 1,000 nuclear plants in the U.S. by the year 2000.
But the bad—the very bad—energy news is that there are still many promoters of nuclear power in industry and government still pushing and, most importantly, the transition team of incoming President Donald Trump has been “asking for ways to keep nuclear power alive,” as Bloomberg news reported last month.
As I was reading last week the first reports on the Indian Point agreement, I received a phone call from an engineer who has been in the nuclear industry for more than 30 years—with his view of the situation.
The engineer, employed at nuclear plants and for a major nuclear plant manufacturer, wanted to relate that even with the Indian Point news—“and I’d keep my fingers crossed that there is no disaster involving those aged Indian Point plants in those next three or four years”—nuclear power remains a “ticking time bomb.” Concerned about retaliation, he asked his name not be published.
Here is some of the information he passed on—a story of experiences of an engineer in the nuclear power industry for more than three decades and his warnings and expectations.
THE SECRETIVE INPO REPORT SYSTEM
Several months after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania in March 1979, the nuclear industry set up the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) based in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea was to have a nuclear industry group that “would share information” on problems and incidents at nuclear power plants, he said.
If there is a problem at one nuclear power plant, through an INPO report it is communicated to other nuclear plant operators. Thus the various plant operators could “cross-reference” happenings at other plants and determine if they might apply to them.
The reports are “coded by color,” explained the engineer. Those which are “green” involve an incident or condition that might or might not indicate a wider problem. A “yellow” report is on an occurrence “that could cause significant problems down the road.” A “red” report is the most serious and represents “a problem that could have led to a core meltdown”—and could be present widely among nuclear plants and for which action needs to be taken immediately.
The engineer said he has read more than 100 “Code Red” reports. What they reflect, he said, is that “we’ve been very, very lucky so far!”
If the general public would see these “red” reports, its view on nuclear power would turn strongly negative, said the engineer.
But this is prevented by INPO, “created and solely funded by the nuclear industry,” thus its reports “are not covered by the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and are regarded as highly secretive.” The reports should be required to be made public, said the engineer. “It’s high time the country wakes up to the dangers we undergo with nuclear power plants.”
THE NRC INSPECTION FARCE
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is supposed to be the federal agency that is the watchdog over nuclear power plants and it frequently boasts of how it has “two resident inspectors” at each nuclear power plant in the nation, he noted.
However, explained the engineer, “the NRC inspectors are not allowed to go into the plant on their own. They have to be escorted. There can be no surprise inspections. Indeed, the only inspections that can be made are those that come after the NRC inspectors “get permission from upper management at the plant.”
The inspectors “have to contact upper management and say they want to inspect an area. The word is then passed down from management that inspectors are coming—so ‘clean up’ whatever is the situation is.”
“The inspectors hands are tied,” said the engineer.
THE 60- AND NOW 80-YEAR OPERATING DELUSION
When nuclear power plants were first designed decades ago, explained the engineer, the extent of their mechanical life was established at 40 years. The engineer is highly familiar with these calculations having worked for a leading manufacturer of nuclear plants, General Electric.
The components in nuclear plants, particularly their steel parts, “have an inherent working shelf life,” said the engineer.
In determining the 40-year total operating time, the engineer said that calculated were elements that included the wear and tear of refueling cycles, emergency shutdowns and the “nuclear embrittlement from radioactivity that impacts on the nuclear reactor vessel itself including the head bolts and other related piping, and what the entire system can handle. Further, the reactor vessel is the one component in a nuclear plant that can never be replaced because it becomes so hot with radioactivity. If a reactor vessel cracks, there is no way of repairing it and any certainty of containment of radioactivity is not guaranteed.”
Thus the U.S. government limited the operating licenses it issued for all nuclear power plants to 40 years. However, in recent times the NRC has “rubber-stamped license extensions” of an additional 20 years now to more than 85 of the nuclear plants in the country—permitting them to run for 60 years. Moreover, a push is now on, led by nuclear plant owners Exelon and Dominion, to have the NRC grant license extensions of 20 additional years—to let nuclear plants run for 80 years.
Exelon, the owner of the largest number of nuclear plants in the U.S., last year announced it would ask the NRC to extend the operating licenses of its two Peach Bottom plants in Pennsylvania to 80 years. Dominion declared earlier that it would seek NRC approval to run its two Surry nuclear power plants in Virginia for 80 years.
“That a nuclear plant can run for 60 years or 80 years is wishful thinking,” said the engineer. “The industry has thrown out the window all the data developed about the lifetime of a nuclear plant. It would ignore the standards to benefit their wallets, for greed, with total disregard for the country’s safety.”
The engineer went on that since “Day One” of nuclear power, because of the danger of the technology, “they’ve been playing Russian roulette—putting one bullet in the chamber and hoping that it would not fire. By going to 60 years and now possibly to 80 years, “they’re putting all the bullets in every chamber—and taking out only one and pulling the trigger.”
Further, what the NRC has also been doing is not only letting nuclear plants operate longer but “uprating” them—allowing them to run “hotter and harder” to generate more electricity and ostensibly more profit. “Catastrophe is being invited,” said the engineer.
THE CARBON-FREE MYTH
A big argument of nuclear promoters in a period of global warming and climate change is that “reactors aren’t putting greenhouse gases out into the atmosphere,” noted the engineer.
But this “completely ignores” the “nuclear chain”—the cycle of the nuclear power process that begins with the mining of uranium and continues with milling, enrichment and fabrication of nuclear fuel “and all of this is carbon intensive.” There are the greenhouse gasses discharged during the construction of the steel and formation of the concrete used in nuclear plants, transportation that is required, and in the construction of the plants themselves.
“It comes back to a net gain of zero,” said the engineer.
Meanwhile, “we have so many ways of generating electric power that are far more truly carbon-free.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
“The bottom line,” said the engineer, “is that radioactivity is the deadliest material which exists on the face of this planet—and we have no way of controlling it once it is out. With radioactivity, you can’t see it, smell it, touch it or hear it—and you can’t clean it up. There is nothing with which we can suck up radiation.”
Once in the atmosphere—once having been emitted from a nuclear plant through routine operation or in an accident—“that radiation is out there killing living tissue whether it be plant, animal or human life and causing illness and death.”
What about the claim by the nuclear industry and promoters of nuclear power within the federal government of a “new generation” of nuclear power plants that would be safer? The only difference, said the engineer, is that it might be a “different kind of gun—but it will have the same bullets: radioactivity that kills.”
The engineer said “I’d like to see every nuclear plant shut down—yesterday.”
In announcing the agreement on the closing of Indian Point, Governor Cuomo described it as a “ticking time bomb.” There are more of them. Nuclear power overall remains, as the experienced engineer from the nuclear industry said, a “ticking time bomb.”
And every nuclear power plant needs to be shut down.
Puget Sound’s ticking nuclear time bomb, Crosscut by Glen Milner, 10 Jan 17 “……“Command and Control” shows what can happen when the weapons built to protect us threaten to destroy us, and it speaks directly to Puget Sound citizens: Locally, we face a similar threat in Hood Canal with the largest concentration of deployed nuclear weapons in the United States at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
An accident at Bangor involving nuclear weapons occurred in November 2003 when a ladder penetrated a nuclear nose cone during a routine missile offloading at the Explosives Handling Wharf. All missile-handling operations at the Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific (SWFPAC) were stopped for nine weeks until Bangor could be recertified for handling nuclear weapons. Three top commanders were fired but the public was never informed until information was leaked to the media in March 2004.
The Navy never publicly admitted that the 2003 accident occurred. The Navy failed to report the accident at the time to county or state authorities. Public responses from governmental officials were generally in the form of surprise and disappointment.
byPETE DOLACKThe ongoing environmental disaster at Fukushima is a grim enough reminder of the dangers of nuclear power, but nuclear does not make sense economically, either. The entire industry would not exist without massive government subsidies.
Quite an insult: Subsidies prop up an industry that points a dagger at the heart of the communities where ever it operates. The building of nuclear power plants drastically slowed after the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, so it is at a minimum reckless that the latest attempt to resuscitate nuclear power pushes forward heedless of Fukushima’s discharge of radioactive materials into the air, soil and ocean.
There are no definitive statistics on the amount of subsidies enjoyed by nuclear power providers — in part because there so many different types of subsidies — but it amounts to a figure, whether we calculate in dollars, euros or pounds, in the hundreds of billions. Quite a result for an industry whose boosters, at its dawn a half-century ago, declared that it would provide energy “too cheap to meter.”
Taxpayers are not finished footing the bill for the industry, however. There is the matter of disposing radioactive waste (often borne by governments rather than energy companies) and fresh subsidies being granted for new nuclear power plants. None of this is unprecedented — government handouts have the been the industry’s rule from its inception. A paper written by Mark Cooper, a senior economic analyst for the Vermont Law School Institute for Energy and the Environment, notes the lack of economic viability then:
“In the late 1950s the vendors of nuclear reactors knew that their technology was untested and that nuclear safety issues had not been resolved, so they made it clear to policymakers in Washington that they would not build reactors if the Federal government did not shield them from the full liability of accidents.” [page iv]
“Despite the profoundly poor investment experience with taxpayer subsidies to nuclear plants over the past 50 years, the objectives of these new subsidies are precisely the same as the earlier subsidies: to reduce the private cost of capital for new nuclear reactors and to shift the long-term, often multi-generational risks of the nuclear fuel cycle away from investors. And once again, these subsidies to new reactors—whether publicly or privately owned—could end up exceeding the value of the power produced.” [page 3]
The many ways of counting subsidies
Among the goodies routinely given away, according to the Concerned Scientists, are: Continue reading →
— In the last days of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to dramatically increase allowable public exposure to radioactivity to levels thousands of times above the maximum limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to documents the agency surrendered in a federal lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These radical rollbacks cover the “intermediate period” following a radiation release and could last for up to several years. This plan is in its final stage of approval.
The documents indicate that the plan’s rationale is rooted in public relations, not public health. Following Japan’s Fukushima meltdown in 2011, EPA’s claims that no radioactivity could reach the U.S. at levels of concern were contradicted by its own rainwater measurements showing contamination from Fukushima throughout the U.S. well above Safe Drinking Water Act limits. In reaction, EPA prepared new limits 1000s of times higher than even the Fukushima rainwater because “EPA experienced major difficulties conveying to the public that the detected levels…were not of immediate concern for public health.”
When EPA published for public comment the proposed “Protective Action Guides,” it hid proposed new concentrations for all but four of the 110 radionuclides covered, and refused to reveal how much they were above Safe Drinking Water Act limits. It took a lawsuit to get EPA to release documents showing that –
The proposed PAGs for two radionuclides (Cobalt-60 and Calcium-45) are more than 10,000 times Safe Drinking Water Act limits. Others are hundreds or thousands of times higher;
According to EPA’s own internal analysis, some concentrations are high enough to deliver a lifetime permissible dose in a single day. Scores of other radionuclides would be allowed at levels that would produce a lifetime dose in a week or a month;
The levels proposed by the Obama EPA are higher than what the Bush EPA tried to adopt–also in its final days. That plan was ultimately withdrawn; and
EPA hid the proposed increases from the public so as to “avoid confusion,” intending to release the higher concentrations only after the proposal was adopted. The documents also reveal that EPA’s radiation division even hid the new concentrations from other divisions of EPA that were critical of the proposal, requiring repeated efforts to get them to even be disclosed internally.
“To cover its embarrassment after being caught dissembling about Fukushima fallout on American soil, EPA is pursuing a justification for assuming a radioactive fetal position even in cases of ultra-high contamination,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has called for the PAGs to be withdrawn on both public health and legal grounds. “The Safe Drinking Water Act is a federal law; it cannot be nullified or neutered by regulatory ‘guidance.’”
Despite claims of transparency, EPA solicited public comment on its plan even as it hid the bulk of the plan’s effects. Nonetheless, more than 60,000 people filed comments in opposition.
“The Dr. Strangelove wing of EPA does not want this information shared with many of its own experts, let alone the public,” added Ruch, noting that PEER had to file a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to force release of exposure limits. “This is a matter of public health that should be promulgated in broad daylight rather than slimed through in the witching hours of a departing administration.”
Fukushima Radiation Looms. No Nuclear Power Plant On Planet Earth! “The Incompatibility of Radiation with Human Life” By Eiichiro OchiaiGlobal Research, January 05, 2017.…………… Approximately 450 nuclear power reactors are presently on this earth. In the nuclear power production of electricity, only one third of the heat produced in a reactor is converted into electricity, and the remainder two third of heat is released into the surrounding. A typical 1giga watt reactor will release 4.7 x 1016 joule of heat into the environment per year. This much heat will bring 100 million tons of water at zero degree to boiling. This is with a single nuclear reactor. The nuclear power reactors are excellent environmental heaters. Hundreds of such reactors are operating on this earth. But this fact is ignored in the argument of the nuclear power being environmentally clean. This is not the only reason for the nuclear reactors being unclean.
In addition, this typical reactor of 1 giga (thousand mega) watt of capacity (electricity) produces in a year radioactive material equivalent to about 1000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. In 2015, the total amount of electricity produced by nuclear reactors was 2,441 BkWh (billion kilo watt hours: data ), which is 8.79 x 1018 joule. It was produced by about 280 nuclear reactors of 1 giga watt capacity. So they produced radioactive material approximately equivalent to 280,000 Hiroshima bombs. In addition, they released 1.3 x 1019 joule of heat into the environment. These are the values for just one year. Nuclear power reactors have been operating the last forty years, though not always this many.
Anyway, an enormous amount of radioactive material has been made on the earth. How much of it has been released into the environment is not easy to estimate. They have come out into the environment through the tests of the nuclear weapons, use of depleted uranium bombs, the routine release of some radioactive material from the nuclear facilities under normal conditions and others, in addition to the accidents at nuclear facilities. The effects of the released radioactive material have been amply observed and reported, and yet are not shared with the majority of humankind. We mention here only a few cases, and refer them to a few major sources. The nuclear weapon explosion tests in the atmosphere affected the people in the eastern side, Utah, of the test site in Nevada (1951-1960, ref ). Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in the present Ukraine (1986) was one of the worst nuclear facility accidents, and people are still suffering . Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster (2011) cause by the huge earthquake along with tsunami is far from settled, and health effects are only now becoming manifest . These incidents represent the notion that the nuclear power is “not clean” at all, rather it is the dirtiest……http://www.globalresearch.ca/fukushima-radiation-looms-no-nuclear-power-plant-on-planet-earth-the-incompatibility-of-radiation-with-human-life/5566712
The results of the study, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMI), provide “direct evidence about cancer risks after protracted exposures to low-dose ionizing radiation,” said the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.
The findings demonstrate “a significant association between increasing radiation dose and risk of all solid cancers,” the study’s co-author, Dr. Ausrele Kesminiene, told sources.
“No matter whether people are exposed to protracted low doses or to high and acute doses, the observed association between dose and solid cancer risk is similar per unit of radiation dose,” he added.
Myth: the new generation of nuclear reactors are designed to recycle nuclear waste
BUST: These reactors don’t exist
These reactors often spoken of by advocates of nuclear energy are hypothetical. There are none of these “Generation IV” reactors commercially operating anywhere in the world:
Even the demonstration plants are still decades away
Various designs are still under investigation on paper and have been for many years.
The first demonstration plants are projected to be in operation by 2030-2040, so they are yet to be tested and still many years away.
Problems with earlier models
The specific type of Generation IV reactor that would recycle waste – the Integral Fast Reactor – only exists on paper, but earlier models of fast reactors have been expensive, underperforming, and have had a history of fires and other accidents, with many countries abandoning the technology.
These reactors would still produce some waste
The Integral Fast Reactor is called “integral” because it would process used reactor fuel on-site, separating plutonium (a weapons explosive) and other long-lived radioactive isotopes from the used fuel, to be fed back into the reactor. It essentially converts long-lived waste into shorter lived waste. This waste would still remain dangerous for a minimum of 200 years (provided it is not contaminated with high level waste products), so we are still left with a waste problem that spans generations.
The theory is that these reactors would eat through global stockpiles of plutonium
When thinking about recycling waste it’s important not to confuse recycling existing stockpiles of waste with these reactors perpetually running off of their own waste, which they could also be operated to do. If they ran off their own waste, they would not consume existing waste beyond the initial fuel load.
Myth: nuclear is the only alternative to coal for baseload power
The Commission has entirely ignored the immense evidence that DOE’s plans for disposal of several types of defense waste pose much greater threats to water resources, most especially at Hanford
“I am dismayed that the Commission saw fit to recommend that the Department of Energy (DOE) have a large upfront role in both the next steps for repository program, … DOE was in large part responsible for the mess the program is in now,
Radioactive Wastes From Nuclear Bomb Program Given Short Shrift In Blue Ribbon Commission ReportEnEws Park Forest, TAKOMA PARK, MD–(ENEWSPF)–January 27, 2012. Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, today commented on some of the recommendations of the final report of the Presidential Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future.
The commission was created to address U.S. nuclear waste issues after the Obama administration cancelled the Yucca Mountain program….
….On wastes from the nuclear bomb program:
Makhijani: “It is tragic that the Commission did not substantively address the most pressing radioactive waste contamination threats to precious water resources – for instance hundreds of times the drinking water limit at Hanford, Washington on the banks of the Columbia River.
The Commission had a charter to conduct a ‘comprehensive’ review of the nuclear waste problem, including defense wastes from the nuclear bomb program. Yet, it simply said it did not have the resources to deal with all the problems and punted the nuclear weapons waste issue to Congress while focusing on commercial spent fuel at nuclear reactor sites.” Continue reading →
No other force epitomizes the absolute destructive power humanity has unlocked in the way nuclear weapons have. And the weapons rapidly became more powerful in the decades after that first test.
The device tested in 1945 had a 20 kiloton yield, meaning it had the explosive force of 20,000 tons of TNT. Within 20 years, the US and USSR tested nuclear weapons larger than 10 megatons, or 10 million tons of TNT. For scale, these weapons were at least 500 times as strong as the first atomic bomb.
To put the size of history’s largest nuclear blasts to scale, we have used Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap, a tool for visualizing the terrifying real-world impact of a nuclear explosion.
11 (tie). Soviet Tests #158 and #168
On August 25 and September 19, 1962, less than a month apart, the USSR conducted nuclear tests #158 and #168. Both tests were held over the Novaya Zemlya region of Russia, an archipelago to the north of Russia near the Arctic Ocean.
No film or photographs of the tests have been released, but both tests included the use of 10-megaton atomic bombs. These blasts would have incinerated everything within 1.77 square miles of their epicenters while causing third-degree burns up to an area of 1,090 square miles.
10. Ivy Mike
On November 1, 1952, the US tested Ivy Mike over the Marshall Islands. Ivy Mike was the world’s first hydrogen bomb and had a yield of 10.4 megatons, making it 700 times as strong as the first atomic bomb.
Ivy Mike’s detonation was so powerful that it vaporized the Elugelab Island where it was detonated, leaving in its place a 164-foot-deep crater. The explosion’s mushroom cloud traveled 30 miles into the atmosphere.
9. Castle Romeo
Romeo was the second US nuclear detonation of the Castle Series of tests, which were conducted in 1954. All of the detonations took place over Bikini Atoll. Castle Romeo was the third-most powerful test of the series and had a yield of 11 megatons.
Romeo was the first device to be tested on a barge over open water instead of on a reef, as the US was quickly running out of islands upon which it could test nuclear weapons.
The blast would have incinerated everything within 1.91 square miles.
8. Soviet Test #123
On October 23, 1961, the Soviets conductednuclear test #123 over Novaya Zemlya. Test #123 used a 12.5 megaton nuclear bomb. A bomb of this size would incinerate everything within 2.11 square miles while causing third-degree burns in an area of 1,309 square miles.
No footage or photographs of this nuclear test have been released.
7. Castle Yankee
Castle Yankee, the second-strongest of the Castle series tests, was conducted on May 4, 1954. The bomb was 13.5 megatons. Four days later, its fallout reached Mexico City, about 7,100 miles away.
6. Castle Bravo
Castle Bravo, detonated on February 28, 1954, was the first of the Castle series of tests and the largest US nuclear blast of all time.
Bravo was anticipated as a 6-megaton explosion. Instead, the bomb produced a 15-megaton fission blast. Its mushroom cloud reached 114,000 feet into the air.
The US military’s miscalculation of the test’s size resulted in the irradiation of approximately 665 inhabitants of the Marshall Islands and the radiation poisoning death of a Japanese fisherman who was 80 miles away from the detonation site.
3 (tie). Soviet Tests #173, #174, and #147
From August 5 to September 27, 1962, the USSR conducted a series of nuclear tests over Novaya Zemlya. Tests #173, #174, and #147 all stand out as being the fifth-, fourth-, and third-strongest nuclear blasts in history.
All three produced blasts of about 20 megatons, or about 1,000 times as strong as the Trinity bomb. A bomb of this strength would incinerate everything within 3 square miles.
No footage or photographs of these nuclear tests have been released.
2. Soviet Test #219
On December 24, 1962, the USSR conductedTest #219 over Novaya Zemlya. The bomb had a yield of 24.2 megatons. A bomb of this strength would incinerate everything within 3.58 square miles while causing third-degree burns in an area up to 2,250 square miles.
There are no released photos or video of this explosion.
1. The Tsar Bomba
On October 30, 1961, the USSR detonated the largest nuclear weapon ever tested and created the biggest man-made explosion in history. The blast, 3,000 times as strong as the bomb used on Hiroshima, broke windows 560 miles away, according to Slate.
The flash of light from the blast was visibleup to 620 miles away.
The Tsar Bomba, as the test was ultimately known, had a yield between 50 and 58 megatons, twice the size of the second-largest nuclear blast.
A bomb of this size would create a fireball 6.4 square miles large and would be able to give humans third-degree burns within 4,080 square miles of the bomb’s epicenter.
The first atomic bomb
The first atomic blast was a fraction the size of the Tsar Bomba, but it was still an explosion of almost unimaginable size.
According to the NukeMap, a weapon with a 20-kiloton yield produces a fireball with a radius of 260 meters, making its total width the size of 5 football fields. It would spew deadly radiation over an area 7 miles in width, and would produce third-degree burns in an area over 12 miles in width.
If dropped over lower Manhattan, a bomb of that size would kill over 150,000 people and produce fallout stretching all the way to central Connecticut, according to the NukeMap.
The first atomic bomb was tiny by nuclear weapons standards. But its destructiveness is sill nea lry impossible to grasp.
It wasn’t, however, the first article to suggest that our love for coal was wreaking destruction on our environment that would lead to climate change. The theory—now widely accepted as scientific reality—was mentioned in the news media as early as 1883, and was discussed in scientific circles much earlier than that.
The French physicist Joseph Fourier had made the observation in 1824 that the composition of the atmosphere is likely to affect the climate. But Svante Arrhenius’s 1896 study titled, “On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature on the ground” was the first to quantify how carbon dioxide (or anhydrous carbonic acid, by another name) affects global temperature. Though the study does not explicitly say that the burning of fossil fuels would cause global warming, there were scientists before him who had made such a forecast.
According to Prof Tyndall’s research, hydrogen, marsh gas, and ethylene have the property to a very high degree of absorbing and radiating heat, and so much that a very small proportion, of say one thousandth part, had very great effect. From this we may conclude that the increasing pollution of the atmosphere will have a marked influence on the climate of the world.
Phillips was relying on the work of John Tyndall, who in the 1860s had shown how various gases in the atmosphere absorb heat from the sun in the form of infrared radiation. Now we know that Phillips was wrong about a few scientific details: He ignored carbon dioxide from burning coal and focused more on the by-products of mining. Still, he was drawing the right conclusion about what our demand for fossil fuels might do to the climate.
Newspapers around the world took those words published in a prestigious scientific journal quite seriously. ……..
Nichols found many examples between 1883 and 1912, where newspapers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kansas City Star, and York Daily, wrote articles about what rising carbon dioxide levels would do the climate.
What’s Next for Climate Action?Prominent scientists say researchers and policy makers need to focus more on adapting to warming and on controversial geoengineering techniques to limit it By Annie Sneed on December 16, 2016 , Scientific American, SAN FRANCISCO—Despite President-elect Donald Trump’s distaste for the Paris climate agreement, countries around the world are already working to ensure that the global temperature rise stays below 2 degrees Celsius. This week at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference here, several prominent scientists discussed the critical steps researchers and decision makers need to take now. They said reducing carbon emissions is important, of course, but countries worldwide must also put more energy into adapting to changing weather that even moderate warming will bring, as well as consider the potential of controversial geoengineering techniques to keep warming in check.
One of the primary goals of the Paris accord is mitigation—cutting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions.To help countries meet their emissions pledges, the international community needs to analyze how it can achieve “deep decarbonization,” according to Margaret Leinen, director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and president of the AGU. This means determining what emissions-reducing technologies and strategies will work best for a given country. As Leinen explained at a conference panel session, “We need to be able to evaluate these technologies quantitatively in order to understand which ones work, which ones are scalable and for what countries and energy economies they work for.”
Another major detail that still needs to be sorted out: how to track nations’ emissions, to make sure they’re sticking to their reduction targets. “We need to start asking, ‘Okay, how will you prove that you actually did what you pledged to do?’” Leinen told Scientific American after the panel. To do that, countries will have to have some kind of monitoring system, and the international community has yet to agree on the guidelines for how that system will work.
It is up to scientists and engineers to design effective monitoring systems, or strengthen existing ones. ………..
Scientists should thoroughly assess geoengineering techniques and understand what their impact on the Earth’s systems might be, including any unintended consequences. They also need to consider logistical challenges—how to actually make geoengineering techniques work, in case the world decides to use them. Then there are political and governance issues, such as how countries should respond if, say, a nation starts injecting sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere on its own to cool the planet. Despite people’s general unease with geoengineering because of its potential for major unintended consequences, it is another tool countries may eventually need to use to combat climate change. “At this point, we need to keep all options open,” Busalacchi said. “We need to have a solid and robust understanding of what geoengineering can and can’t do, in case mitigation and adaptation fall short.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-rsquo-s-next-for-climate-action/
By Patrick M. Malone, Center for Public Integrity December 21, 2016
Altogether, the three companies making these settlement payments since 2013 are involved in the operation of six of the eight active sites in the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program. Actions by the Energy Department’s contractors – including any misspending – have substantial impact there, since contract work consumes roughly 90 percent of its total spending.
Although work on energy generation and consumption garners more public attention and President-elect Donald Trump has nominated an oil-state politician – former Texas governor Rick Perry – to become the department’s new top manager, nuclear weapons-related work accounts for nearly two-thirds of all the Energy Department’s activities.
The latest case emerged from a civil lawsuit that accused two companies of both performing substandard work at a nuclear weapons-related waste site and said one of them had improperly spent government funds to lobby for more. The companies declared on Nov. 23 they would settle the allegations by making the payment, mostly to the federal government, for a total of $125 million, a massive amount for alleged Energy Department-related malfeasance.
The settlement involves work by Bechtel National Inc. and its parent Bechtel Corp., and URS Corp. and its subsidiary URS Energy and Construction Inc., which together have been trying to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington. That’s where raw uranium was enriched into fuel for nuclear bombs during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War.
The firms have denied doing anything improper. But the settlement is part of an emerging pattern.
Lockheed Martin Corp., which operates one of three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories – Sandia, agreed in August 2015 to pay $4.7 million to settle a complaint by the Justice Department that it used federal funds to lobby for a no-bid contract extension, while Fluor Corp. paid $1.1 million in April 2013 to settle accusations that it used federal funds to lobby government agencies for more business at its Hanford training facility.
Worries about the mission being underminedBesides overseeing the Hanford cleanup, Bechtel and URS (now owned by a company called AECOM) help operate the other two U.S. nuclear weapons labs — Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, which perform the bulk of U.S. nuclear weapons design work. Altogether, the firms that have reached the settlements since 2013 are involved with operations at Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico, Livermore in California, the Pantex Plant in Texas, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.
The recent settlement “demonstrates that the Justice Department will work to ensure that public funds are used for the important purposes for which they are intended,” Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s civil division, said in a written statement released on Nov. 23.
Money allocated by Congress for Hanford “is intended to fund the Department of Energy’s important mission to clean up the contaminated Hanford nuclear site, and this mission is undermined if funds are wasted on goods or services that are not nuclear compliant or to further lobbying activities,” Mizer said.
Both Bechtel and AECOM in written statements said the settlements were made to avoid messy litigation and keep the waste plant project moving. “We have performed our work…ethically and professionally,” Bechtel National Inc. spokesman Fred deSousa said in a written statement, without going into details.
In its own written statement, AECOM — which acquired URS in 2014 — complained that the Department of Justice joined the whistleblowers’ “unwarranted lawsuit against URS” based on events that preceded AECOM’s acquisition of the company. “We take our responsibilities as a government contractor very seriously and have a demonstrated track record of serving our customers with honesty and integrity,” the company’s statement said.
The Justice Department’s involvement in the case originated in civil allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing in Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Isolation Plant project, commonly called “WTP.” Under its contract with the Energy Department, Bechtel designed and is constructing machinery to convert nuclear-tainted wastes there into a stable, glassy substance suitable for safe disposal.
Three whistleblowers — Walt Tamosaitis, Donna Busche and Gary Brunson — filed a lawsuit on Feb. 4, 2013, accusing Bechtel and URS bosses of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds over a dozen years that together cost the government more than $1 billion. They also said safety lapses at the site, motivated by a desire to meet Energy Department deadlines and collect financial bonuses, were serious enough to risk a nuclear accident.
The whistleblowers’ complaint triggered an investigation by the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General, which collected emails sent between Bechtel’s project leaders, the company’s top congressional lobbyist for nuclear projects, and Energy Department employees. The whistleblowers’ attorneys subsequently obtained the emails through the civil discovery process and incorporated them into an amended complaint. The Justice Department, in turn, used the complaint as the basis for its own investigation of Bechtel and URS.
Getting $45 million in new work
In the complaint, the whistleblowers said that when they originally lodged accusations of mismanagement – several years earlier — Bechtel project leaders launched a coordinated lobbying campaign to defend itself and also to collect new revenues for additional work on the waste treatment plant project. It then billed the department for the costs of this lobbying, the complaint said.
In an email sent by one Bechtel manager to another — along with a chart detailing the work that the company could say the additional revenue would finance — the manager said “in reality if we did not receive the additional $50m … most of these activities would still likely happen,” according to the whistleblowers’ complaint. The company subsequently got $45 million added to its contract.
The full emails detailing these actions have not been publicly released, by either the government or the plaintiffs, because the messages are part of an investigation that remains “open and ongoing,” according to Felicia Jones, spokeswoman for the Energy Department Office of Inspector General. She declined to say whether her colleagues consider the whistleblowers’ description of the emails accurate.
The Justice Department’s statement affirmed that it had “alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities.” But Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Nava declined to comment about the whistleblower’s account of specific emails.
Lobbying Congress for new work isn’t against the law. But billing the government for lobbying is, according to the federal Byrd Amendment, approved by Congress in 1989. Court records state that Bechtel will pay $67.5 million of the settlement, and AECOM will pay $57.5 million; the amount of money that will go to the whistleblowers – who are entitled to a portion of any funds they help the government recover — has not been determined yet.
Charles Curtis, who oversaw the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons work from 1994 to 1997 while serving as undersecretary and then deputy secretary, said he was not aware of any improperly-funded lobbying during his tenure. But he expressed surprise that multiple contractors within the past three years have been caught doing it. “These are for-profit enterprises. They can use their shareholders’ money for lobbying, but to use congressionally appropriated money [is] a diversion of funds,” Curtis said. “It’s not only unethical … it’s illegal.”
Three years ago, it was the Fluor Corporation and its subsidiary Fluor Hanford Inc., which at the time held the contract to manage the Hanford site, that agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a separate complaint that its officials lobbied with government money from 2005 to 2010 to drum up business for a federally funded training facility there. Loydene Rambo, a Fluor employee, triggered the settlement by filing her own whistleblower suit, based on what she described as records of the lobbyists being paid with federal funds. She received a $200,000 reward, and Fluor denied any wrongdoing.
The Justice Department’s August 2015 settlement with Lockheed Martin Corporation, which runs Sandia, similarly followed improper billing of the government for a more complex and elaborate lobbying effort to extend its management contract, according to a special investigation report released by the Energy Department Office of Inspector General. Lockheed agreed to pay $4.7 million in 2015 to settle the Justice Department’s complaint about the billing. Like Fluor before it and Bechtel and URS since, Lockheed Martin in a written statement denied it had done anything wrong.
Asked by the Center about how the lobbying settlements have affected the department’s relationship with its nuclear weapons contractors, Energy Department spokeswoman Bridget Bartol said in an email that “the Department has taken and will continue to take vigorous action against any contractor who spends federal funds on improper lobbying activities.”
Bechtel remains the primary contractor on the WTP project, and Lockheed Martin still holds the contract to operate Sandia National Laboratories.
Cleanup of the Hanford site was authorized 25 years ago, and as of 2000 it was expected to cost $4.3 billion and be completed in 2011. The Department now estimates it may not be fully operational until 2037, according to pleadings filed in federal court by government lawyers defending the Energy Department in a lawsuit brought by the state of Washington to force an acceleration of the cleanup. If the job is funded at its current level of about $690 million a year until 2037, the cost would exceed $15 billion.
President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is mindful of the project’s problems and growing price tag. A recent memo to top Energy Department officials from the transition team he appointed asked them to describe “your alternatives to the ever increasing WTP cost and schedule, whether technical or programmatic.”
The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, investigative newsroom in Washington, D.C. More of its national security reporting can be found here.
What Lies Beneath In the 1960s, hundreds of pounds of uranium went missing in Pennsylvania. Is it buried in the ground, poisoning locals—or did Israel steal it to build the bomb?
BY SCOTT C. JOHNSON FOREIGN POLICY, 20 DEC 16 As a kid in the 1960s, Jeff Held thought that having a nuclear company in his backyard made life more exciting in Apollo, Pennsylvania. About 2,400 people lived alongside the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), the town’s main employer. Held’s neighborhood subsisted on atomic lore: Just 33 miles down the road in Pittsburgh, the Westinghouse Corporation had helped construct the world’s first nuclear submarine, and in Apollo, NUMEC consequently manufactured the requisite nuclear fuel, a source of stirring pride minted by the Cold War
To Held, the plant, its lights flickering over the western edge of town on the banks of the Kiskiminetas River, was “kind of neat.” When one of the town’s radiation monitors went off, children would dash through neighbors’ backyards to reach the facility—it was housed inside a refurbished steel mill with dirt floors, big windows, and dozens of smokestacks—to see what had happened.
As Held grew older, the plant that inspired his boyish thrill evolved into something more puzzling, and more sinister. NUMEC closed its doors in 1983, and in the mid-1990s, the federal government swooped in and declared several city blocks contaminated. Various agencies rolled in with bulldozers, razed the plant, and carted off the radioactive pieces, barrel by barrel, for disposal. Ever since, Apollo’s residents have been grappling with fears that NUMEC poisoned their town.
One bitterly cold day this January, Held—now 53 and Apollo’s mayor—drove me north on State Route 66, which cuts along one side of the old NUMEC site. A green chain-link fence outlines the desolate acreage where the factory once stood. Held, a stout man with a graying beard, gestured up a hill toward several decaying Victorian houses. The residents, he said, have suffered from various cancers: lung, thyroid, prostate, brain. They have argued that years of radiation soaking into their soil, air, water, clothes, and homes had led to their afflictions. To date, owners of the NUMEC property have shelled out tens of millions of dollars in compensation to locals who’ve filed suit.
Apollo’s woes didn’t end with those payouts, however. Held told me that events shifted, alarmingly, one day in September 2011, two years before he was elected mayor. That’s when he saw several white SUVs, with blue U.S. Homeland Security decals emblazoned on their sides, stationed on the road just five miles north, in Parks Township. As he drove up the road, Held said, men with high-caliber military assault rifles milled around. It looked like a Hollywood blockbuster about a terrorist attack.
In Parks, a second NUMEC facility had produced plutonium starting in 1960, but it also had served another purpose: nuclear disposal. From 1961 to 1970, the corporation dug at least 10 shallow trenches, spread across about 44 acres, into which it dumped radioactive waste; some locals speculate that other companies around the country shipped their waste to Parks to be buried too. Although the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had been put in charge of cleaning up the site in 2002, under congressional authorization, the process didn’t begin until almost a decade later—right before Held encountered the madness on the road.
In October 2011, the USACE announced that excavation activities at the site were suspended. The work was halted after Cabrera Services, a Connecticut-based contractor hired to clean up Parks, mishandled materials, which the company acknowledged. The following year, the USACE uncovered an unexpected variety of “complex” radioactive contaminants in the ground, but it didn’t say all of what it had found or how much of it. In a December 2014 report, the USACE noted that among the contaminants it expects to find are several “radionuclides of concern,” including americium-241, radium-228, uranium-235, and various types of plutonium, which, under the right conditions, could be used as ingredients for a dirty bomb. It seems the material buried at Parks is more dangerous than anyone had previously imagined.
The USACE immediately ceased the excavation and established a 24-hour patrolled security perimeter that’s still in effect today. Bidding for a new cleanup contractor starts this summer, and the work, now forecast to begin in 2017, is expected to cost roughly half a billion dollars—10 times the original estimate in 2002.
The nuclear mess in Parks could hold clues to yet another mystery in this Pennsylvania community, one that has bedeviled nuclear analysts for decades. Beginning in the early 1960s, investigators from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the agency that regulated U.S. nuclear facilities at the time, began to question how large amounts of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium had gone missing from NUMEC. Any nuclear site had a certain amount of loss, from seepage into walls and floors, for instance. In fact, between 1952 and 1968, lax standards at 20 of the country’s commercial nuclear sites resulted in an apparent loss of 995 kilograms (2,194 pounds) of uranium-235. But investigators found that at NUMEC, hundreds of pounds went missing, more than at any other plant.
NUMEC’s founder, Zalman Shapiro, an accomplished American chemist, addressed the concern in 1978, telling Arizona Congressman Morris Udall that the uranium simply escaped through the facility’s air ducts, cement, and wastewater. Others, such as the late Glenn Seaborg, the AEC’s chairman in the 1960s—who had previously helped discover plutonium and made key contributions to the Manhattan Project—have suggested that the sloppy accounting and government regulations of the mid-20th century meant that keeping track of losses in America’s newborn nuclear industry was well near impossible. Today, some people in Apollo think that at least a portion of the uranium might be buried in Parks, contaminating the earth and, ultimately, human beings.
But a number of nuclear experts and intelligence officials propose another theory straight out of an espionage thriller: that the uranium was diverted—stolen by spies working for the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. In the 1960s, to secure nuclear technology and materials, Israel mounted covert operations around the world, including at least one alleged open-ocean transfer of hundreds of pounds of uranium. Some experts have also raised questions about Shapiro himself. He had contacts deep within Israel’s defense and intelligence establishments when he ran NUMEC; several of them even turned up at his facility over time and concealed their professional identities while there.
Fifty years after investigations began—they have involved, at various times, the AEC and its successors, Congress, the FBI, the CIA, and other government agencies—NUMEC remains one of the most confounding puzzles of the nuclear era. ……….
Today, many people in the nuclear and intelligence communities are still convinced that a diversion occurred. “I tend to think it happened,” Stockton told me. “In fact, I’m damn sure it happened.” But the believers also concede that the evidence against Shapiro remains largely circumstantial; the nail in the coffin, they say, would be a confession from the aging founder of NUMEC or the release of a yet-to-be-identified document that would show definitive proof…….http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/03/23/what-lies-beneath-numec-apollo-zalman-shapiro/