• What we learned from Chernobyl about how radiation affects our bodies

    The world has never seen a nuclear accident as severe as the one that unfolded when a reactor exploded in Chernobyl on 26 April 1986, sending vast amounts of radiation into the skies around Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. The planet had experienced massive releases like this before, in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. But Chernobyl-related radiation exposure had a more protracted character. It was the first time in history that such a large population, particularly at a very young age, was exposed to radioactive isotopes, namely iodine-131 and cesium-137, not just through direct exposure, but through eating contaminated food as well.

  • Groundwater quality changes alongside the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling

    New research demonstrates that groundwater quality changes alongside the expansion of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing but also suggests that some potentially hazardous effects may dissipate over time. The research is the first to analyze groundwater quality in the Cline Shale region of West Texas before, during, and after the expansion of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

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  • More money for nuclear safety pledged on Chernobyl 30th anniversary

    The EU and other global donors have pledged an additional $99 million to help secure the Chernobyl power plant, as ceremonies in the Ukraine mark thirty years since the disaster. The money will be used to construct a new spent nuclear waste storage facility, adding to the €2 billion already donated to helping clean up and secure the Chernobyl site. A new giant $1.7 billion steel structure will be placed over the nuclear reactor this year to prevent further radioactive leaks. The old concrete structure was put together after the meltdown, but experts say it is not leak-proof and that, in any event, it is beginning to show its age.

  • The legacy of Chernobyl -- 30 years on

    The 26 April 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. For many, especially those born since 1986, it is a word they know without appreciating the full significance of what happened on that day. For others, it was a life changing catastrophe which resulted in largest release of radioactivity in the history of nuclear energy.

  • Dealing with irradiated nuclear graphite

    Since the beginning of the nuclear power industry, a large number of channel uranium-graphite nuclear power reactors was built across the world. To date, they all are on the output stage of the operation or decommissioning preparation. Approximately 250,000 tons of irradiated graphite are accumulated in the world, including ~ 60,000 tons in Russia. Due to the specificity of irradiated graphite, the treatment of this type of radioactive waste has not been determined yet.

  • Forget Fukushima: Chernobyl still holds record as worst nuclear accident for public health

    The 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accidents both share the notorious distinction of attaining the highest accident rating on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scale of nuclear accidents. No other reactor incident has ever received this Level 7 “major accident” designation in the history of nuclear power. But the IAEA scale isn’t designed to measure public health impact. Chernobyl is by far the worst nuclear power plant accident of all time. It was a totally human-made event which was made worse by incompetent workers who did all the wrong things when attempting to avert a meltdown. Fukushima in contrast, was an unfortunate natural disaster – caused by a tsunami that flooded reactor basements — and the workers acted responsibly to mitigate the damage despite loss of electrical power. In terms of health ramifications, these two nuclear accidents were not even in the same league. While Fukushima involved radioactivity exposures to hundreds of thousands of people, Chernobyl exposed hundreds of millions. And millions of those received substantially more exposure than the people of Fukushima.

  • Belgium turns down Germany’s request to shutter two aging Belgian nuclear plants

    Belgium on Wednesday turned down a request by Germany to shut down two ageing nuclear power near the German-Belgium border. Belgium said the two plants, while old, still meet the strictest safety standards. Both the Doel and Tihange power stations, in operation since 1974, were scheduled to be shut down and decommissioned in 2015.

  • New Yorker sentenced to 16 years for trying to buy ricin

    It was a scary scenario: Chinese national Cheng Le, living in New York City, attempted to order ricin through the so-called dark Web. Ricin is a highly potent and potentially fatal toxin with no known antidote. What did Le plan to do with the ricin? Nothing good. According to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, “In Le’s own words, established at trial, he was looking for ‘simple and easy death pills’ and ways to commit ‘100 percent risk-free’ murder.”

  • Improving detection of concealed nuclear materials

    Researchers have demonstrated proof of concept for a novel low-energy nuclear reaction imaging technique designed to detect the presence of “special nuclear materials” — weapons-grade uranium and plutonium — in cargo containers arriving at U.S. ports. The method relies on a combination of neutrons and high-energy photons to detect shielded radioactive materials inside the containers.

  • Coded apertures improves, shrinks mass spectrometers for field use

    A modern twist on an old technology could soon help detect rogue methane leaks, hidden explosives, and much more. Mass spectrometers were invented in the 1930s, and they are still typically the size of an oven or refrigerator. Inherent hurdles to miniaturization have made it difficult to use them outside of a laboratory. Researchers are using software to dramatically improve the performance of chemical-sniffing mass spectrometers. With the help of modern data analytics, researchers have demonstrated a technology using a so-called “coded aperture” that promises to shrink these devices while maintaining their performance.

  • Paris attacks' mastermind had files on German nuclear waste facility

    Salah Abdeslam, the mastermind of the November 2015 terrorist attacks who is now in custody in Belgium, had in his possession documents about a nuclear research center in Germany. The Juelich nuclear center near the Belgium-Germany border is used for the storage of nuclear waste.

  • How to protect nuclear plants from terrorists

    In the wake of terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris, Istanbul, Ankara, and elsewhere, nations are rethinking many aspects of domestic security. Nuclear plants, as experts have long known, are potential targets for terrorists, either for sabotage or efforts to steal nuclear materials. At last month’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C., representatives from fifty-two countries pledged to continue improving their nuclear security and adopted action plans to work together and through international agencies. But significant countries like Russia and Pakistan are not participating. And many in Europe are just beginning to consider physical security measures. To prevent an attack at a nuclear site, governments must take security at nuclear sites seriously now, not a year from now. In light of the current terrorist threat and with four Nuclear Security Summits completed, countries with nuclear plants need to up their game with regards to physical security at nuclear power facilities before it’s too late.

  • Digital mapping project tracks the last moments of the victims of Japan’s 2011 tsunami

    Digital archives track the evacuation patterns of 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake victims between the time the earthquake and tsunami struck. The Tokyo Metropolitan University researchers who created the digital archives say they will make use of the archive to analyze evacuation behaviors — encouraging people, for instance, to avoid overestimating evacuation sites and head to higher ground.

  • New way to clean contaminated groundwater

    A team of researchers has helped discover a new chemical method to immobilize uranium in contaminated groundwater, which could lead to more precise and successful water remediation efforts at former nuclear sites. Uranium is present in contaminated groundwater at various sites in the United States as a legacy of Cold War-era processing and waste disposal activities associated with nuclear materials production.

  • What is a dirty bomb and how dangerous is it?

    The worrying news that individuals affiliated with the so-called Islamic State have undertaken hostile surveillance at a Belgian nuclear research facility has created growing speculation about the group’s nuclear ambitions. There are no indications that a terrorist group has obtained any fissile material to date. An easier option for a terrorist group would be to build a dirty bomb or, technically, a radiological dispersal device. This is the reason for sensible concern, rather than hysterical speculation about Islamic State’s recent activities in Belgium and, especially, Iraq and Syria. After all, without an effective government, it is unclear who controls the many radioactive sources in the region.