Detection

  • U.S., industry grappling with a growing nuclear waste problem

    Thirty years ago congress voted to fund the building of centralized nuclear waste repository at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. Four years ago to Obama administration pulled to plug on the project, and nuclear wasted has continued to accumulate on the grounds of nuclear plants – active and shuttered – around the United States. As of May 2013, the U.S. nuclear industry had 69,720 tons of toxic nuclear waste to deal with. The administration strategy calls for a short-term centralized storage facility by 2025, and a permanent national geological repository by 2048.

  • New compound offers protection against chemical weapons

    Researchers have discovered that some compounds called polyoxoniobates can degrade and decontaminate nerve agents such as the deadly sarin gas, and have other characteristics that may make them ideal for protective suits, masks or other clothing. The use of polyoxoniobates for this purpose had never before been demonstrated, scientists said, and the discovery could have important implications for both military and civilian protection. A UN report last year concluded that sarin gas was used in the conflict in Syria.

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  • Pressure grows for building a centralized nuclear waste repository

    In 2010, after $9 billion and twenty-five years of construction, the Obama administration pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain centralized nuclear waste repository. Toxic nuclear waste continues to accumulate on the grounds of U.S. nuclear power plants, with concerns growing about the security of keeping so may tons of such toxic materials in such a dispersed manner. Concerns have been heightened lately by the wave of closing, for economic reasons, of nuclear power plants, and worries about the safety of radioactive waste remaining behind on the grounds of shuttered plants. Senate Bill 1240 calls for the development of a Nuclear Waste Administrationto take responsibility for transporting and storing nuclear waste, and find the right geological location for a new centralized repository.

  • Cracked lid of a nuclear waste container may be source of WIPP radiation leak

    The radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has been linked to a waste container shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), raising questions about the safety of other containers stored at the lab’s northern New Mexico facility and at the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site in Andrews, Texas.As a precautionary measure, LANL has been ordered to remove thousands of similar containers filled with toxic waste from outdoor storage. Critics of nuclear waste storage practices have blamed the recent radiation accidents on a diminishing culture of safety at the fifteen-year-old WIPP.

  • Mustard plants help detect use of chemical weapons

    Making nations comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention requires that scientists can accurately detect the use of chemical warfare agents. Currently they carry out tests on soil from areas where use is suspected. Many nerve agents composed of organo-phosophorous compounds, however, leach from soil over time, removing the evidence of use and making verifying the deployment of chemical weapons like sarin, soman, and VX difficult. Researchers report that white mustard plants can help by allowing detection for up to forty-five days after the chemical weapons were used.

  • Cesium chloride blood irradiators increase dirty bomb risk

    Federal officials want to halt the use of blood irradiators used by hospitals and blood centers to ensure that blood is properly treated before transfusions occur. The irradiation devices contain cesium chloride, a highly radioactive powder which terrorists could use to make a dirty bomb. A 2008 reportby the National Academy of Sciences recommended stopping the licensing of new cesium chloride radiation sources, thereby encouraging the adoption of alternative sources with a less dispersible form of radioactive cesium, including cobalt-60 or X-ray irradiators.

  • Safety of nuclear waste storage questioned

    The aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, and the Chernobyl accident, offers proof that high doses of radiation can have pernicious effects on plant and animal life. The largest human-made radiation risk, however, lies in nuclear waste stored near reactors or in underground repositories like the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant(WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

  • Converting light to sound for better weapons detection, medical imaging

    A device that essentially listens for light waves could help open up the last frontier of the electromagnetic spectrum — the terahertz range. So-called T-rays, which are light waves too long for human eyes to see, could help airport security guards find chemical and other weapons. They might let doctors image body tissues with less damage to healthy areas. They could also give astronomers new tools to study planets in other solar systems. Those are just a few possible applications.

  • New Mexico demands clarifications, reassurances on WIPP radiation leaks

    New Mexico’s environment secretary Ryan Flynn has ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) to explain how it will protect public health and the environment while it investigates a radiation leak at the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). The plant has not been in compliance with various permit requirements since the February underground fire and radiation leak, which eventually led to a plant shutdown.

  • Problems continue to plague the Oxide Conversion Facility at Y-12

    Oxide conversion is critical to recycling weapons-grade uranium, making it useful in nuclear warheads or for other purposes. The Oxide Conversion Facility (OCF) at the Y-12National Security Complex has been operating inconsistently in recent years. A report by the staff of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board(DNFSB) said there was a plan to resume operations the week of 7 April 2014, but that did not happen.

  • Absorbent used in kitty litter may be cause of radiation leaks in U.S. nuke dump

    A wheat-based absorbent often used in kitty litter may be the likely cause of the radiation leak that led to the closure of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant(WIPP), the U.S. only underground nuclear waste repository, according to Jim Conca, a former geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL). Conca noted that EnergySolutions, a Salt Lake City-based company hired to  package radioactive waste at LANL into containers for shipment to the WIPP, switched from using a clay-based absorbent in the storage drums to a wheat-based mixture.

  • Lawmakers want safer waste storage at nuclear plants

    Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a set of bills aimed at improving the safety and security of nuclear power plants’ waste in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism. One of the bills would require nuclear power plant operators to accelerate the transfer of nuclear waste stored in spent fuel pools into dry cask storage units. Current Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) regulations allow spent fuel to remain in spent fuel pools until the reactor completes decommissioning, which can take as long as sixty years. Another bill would stop the NRC from issuing exemptions to its emergency response and security requirements for reactors that have been permanently decommissioned.

  • Leaders of Chinese city delay alerting residents to deadly radiation risk

    Authorities in the East China city of Nanjing delayed,for thirty-six hours, notifying residents about the loss of deadly isotope iridium-192 pellets at a local industrial plant. The pellets disappeared on Wednesday, and plant officials informed government authorities on Thursday – but did not inform city residents until Saturday. The extremely toxic pellets, the size of beans, were found the following Saturday in an open field one kilometer from the plant. The plant management detained four employees at the plant on Sunday for violating radioactive work regulations and storage rules, and they are likely to face criminal charges.The plant is using the isotope to find flaws in metal components.

  • Bolstering shipping security

    During a press conference following the March 2014 Nuclear Secu­rity Summit in the Hague, President Barack Obama noted that his biggest security concern was not Russia — or any other regional superpower — but rather “the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.” Experts say that the most likely way in which a nuclear weapon would potentially come to a major U.S. city is not on the tip of a missile but in the belly of a ship, noting that this view has been openly validated by the intelligence community. In 2007, Congress passed a law requiring all overseas cargo containers to be inspected before they are loaded on a U.S.-bound ship. That law, however, has never been enforced.

  • Validating air sampling techniques to fight bioterrorism

    Air and surface sampling techniques currently used by the U.S. government are effective in fighting bioterrorism and potentially saving lives, a new study says. Air sampling has been readily accepted for similar uses such as measuring for particulate matter, but using it to detect bacteria in biological terrorism was a new concept instituted after the 9/11 attacks. This type of sampling is now part of a sophisticated system used by the DHS and the Department of Defense. In order for the system to work more efficiently, however, experts say that the detection cycle, which currently takes between 12-36 hours, would need to produce results in a shorter time frame.