• Bacteria can help make underground nuclear waste repositories safer

    It takes about two hundred thousand years for the radioactivity of spent nuclear fuel to revert to the levels of naturally occurring uranium. As a result, most research into the long-term safety of nuclear waste disposal focuses on processes that tick to a slow geological clock: the mechanics of the rock layers that make up the storage site or the robustness of the protective barriers in place that are engineered to contain the radiation. However, all these studies neglect one key factor: biology. Naturally occurring bacteria could consume pent-up hydrogen gas in nuclear waste repositories to prevent radioactive leaks.

  • Terrorism fallout shelters: Is it time to resurrect nuclear civil defense?

    Fifty-five years ago, on 6 October 1961, President John F. Kennedy advised Americans to build an underground protective room, commonly known as a “fallout shelter,” in their homes. The American people heeded his advice and began an enormous grassroots effort to construct fallout shelters in every private residence and public building. Today, smaller nations and terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, are seeking nuclear weapons. Some nations, like North Korea, already have them. Others may be a decade away. It is not unreasonable to believe that the use of a single nuclear weapon by a rogue nation or a terrorist group now poses a more likely scenario for a nuclear confrontation than a nuclear war between Russia and the United States. We need a strategy to protect ourselves against these adversaries, and right now we don’t have one, except screening cargo. If we don’t find a more effective strategy to thwart nuclear terrorism soon, we may be forced to go back to fallout shelters as our only protective option, whether we like it or not.

  • A nerve agent antidote taken before a chemical weapons attack

    Nerve agents are molecular weapons that invade the body and sabotage part of the nervous system, causing horrific symptoms and sometimes death within minutes. Few antidotes exist, and those that do must be administered soon after an attack. Now, scientists an early-stage development of a potential treatment that soldiers or others could take before such agents are unleashed.

  • New technology pinpoints water contamination sources

    When the local water management agency closes your favorite beach due to unhealthy water quality, how reliable are the tests they base their decisions on? As it turns out, those tests, as well as the standards behind them, have not been updated in decades. Now scientists have developed a highly accurate, DNA-based method to detect and distinguish sources of microbial contamination in water.

  • Russia’s ultimatum to US: Reduce commitment to NATO, lift sanctions – or nuclear deal is off

    The Kremlin, in an unprecedented series of ultimatums on Monday, said Russia would suspend an agreement it had signed with the United States to turn weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel unless the United States rescinds the sanctions imposed on Russia because of its annexation of Crimea – and also cuts its military commitments to NATO. The Kremlin said that both the economic sanctions and the U.S. military commitments to its NATO allies are “unfriendly” acts to ward Russia.

  • Florida tightens public notification rules for pollution incidents

    Last week Governor Rick Scott instructed Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Jon Steverson to issue an emergency rule that establishes new requirements for public notification of pollution incidents. The rule is to take effect immediately. Scott issued the instruction following the sewage spill in Pinellas County and the sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales facility.

  • Massive 2014 West Virginia chemical spill was preventable: CSB

    The Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) final report into the massive 2014 release by Freedom Industries of chemicals into the primary source of drinking water of Charleston, West Virginia, concludes that Freedom Industries failed to inspect or repair corroding tanks, and that as hazardous chemicals flowed into the Elk River, the water company and local authorities were unable effectively to communicate the looming risks to hundreds of thousands of affected residents, who were left without clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

  • NIST patented single-photon detector for potential encryption, sensing apps

    Individual photons of light now can be detected far more efficiently using a device patented by a team including NIST, whose scientists have overcome longstanding limitations with one of the most commonly used type of single-photon detectors. Their invention could allow higher rates of transmission of encrypted electronic information and improved detection of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

  • HHS sponsors inhaled chlorine antidote for chemical terrorism preparedness

    Chlorine gas is a widely available industrial chemical with catastrophic consequences in industrial accidents. chlorine gas has been used as a weapon, for the first time in the First World War  and repeatedly in the recent Syrian civil war. Currently, there is no specific antidote for lung injuries caused by chlorine exposure, and treatment has been limited supportive care. The first potential antidote to treat the life-threatening effects of chlorine inhalation, a potential terrorism threat, will advance in development under a contract between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and Radikal Therapeutics, Inc. of Beverly, Massachusetts.

  • Countering enemy IEDs in culverts

    Culverts are creeks or streams that run under roads to prevent flooding, and that terrorists often use these areas to kill soldiers. The Joint Improvised-threat Defeat Agency (JIDA) challenge, held 13-21 September at Fort Benning, tested industry vendor equipment from around the United States in order to counter enemy improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in culverts.

  • Surprise finding could improve future handling of nuclear waste

    A researcher at the University of Manchester has made a surprise finding after observing variations of a chemical bond with a radioactive metal called thorium — and this newly revealed relationship could one day contribute to improving nuclear fuel management.

  • Sudan used chemical weapons against civilians in Darfur

    An Amnesty International investigation has gathered evidence of the repeated use of what are believed to be chemical weapons against civilians, including very young children, by Sudanese government forces in one of the most remote regions of Darfur over the past eight months. The investigators, using satellite imagery, more than 200 in-depth interviews with survivors, and expert analysis of dozens of images showing babies and young children with chemical weapons-related injuries, the investigation indicates that at least thirty likely chemical attacks have taken place in the Jebel Marra area of Darfur since January 2016. The most recent was on 9 September 2016.

  • Radioactive wastewater enters Florida major aquifer after huge sinkhole opens up below fertilizer plant

    At least 980 million liters of highly contaminated water — including radioactive substances – has leaked into one of Florida’s largest sources of drinking water. The leak was caused by a huge sinkhole which opened up beneath a fertilizer plant near Tampa. The sinkhole caused highly contaminated waste water to pass into an aquifer which supplies much of the state. The waste water contained phosphogypsum, a by-product of fertilizer production, which contains naturally occurring uranium and radium. the Floridan aquifer aquifer underlies all of Florida and extends into southern Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, supplying groundwater to the cities of Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Tampa, and St Petersburg.

  • Assessing the risk from Africa as Libya loses its chemical weapons

    Libya’s remaining chemical weapons left over from the Gaddafi regime are now being safely disposed of in a German facility. This eliminates the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. But can these same hands acquire weapons of mass destruction from the rest of Africa? The disposal of Libya’s chemical weapons has lowered the risk of weapons of mass destruction in Africa. But we have seen how far non-state actors are willing to go to either produce or steal such weapons. For example, analysts envision militants known as “suicide infectors” visiting an area with an infectious disease outbreak like Ebola purposely to infect themselves and then using air travel to carry out the attack. Reports from 2009 show forty al-Qaeda linked militants being killed by the plague at a training camp in Algeria. There were claims that they were developing the disease as a weapon. The threat WMD pose cannot be ignored. African countries, with help from bilateral partners and the international community, have broadened their nonproliferation focus. They will need to keep doing so if the goal is effectively to counter this threat.

  • Cleaning concrete contaminated with chemicals

    In March 1995, members of a Japanese cult released the deadly nerve agent sarin into the Tokyo subway system, killing a dozen people and injuring a thousand more. This leads to the question: What if a U.S. transportation hub was contaminated with a chemical agent? The hub might be shut down for weeks, which could have a substantial economic impact. Craig Tenney, a chemical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, is looking for better ways to clean contaminated concrete to reduce that impact.