• New fuel materials to make nuclear reactors safer

    Nuclear power is an important energy source in the United States and around the world and is essential as a clean energy to reduce current carbon emissions from fossil fuels. However, many people feel the risk of nuclear accidents does not outweigh the benefits associated with nuclear energy. Scientists are exploring new materials for nuclear fuel, which could make current light water reactors (LWRs) safer.

  • Researchers crack 50-year-old nuclear waste problem, making waste storage safer

    Researchers have adapted a technology developed for solar energy in order to selectively remove one of the trickiest and most-difficult-to-remove elements in nuclear waste pools across the country, making the storage of nuclear waste safer and nontoxic — and solving a decades-old problem. The scientists figure out how to remove americium from nuclear waste pools, opening the door for expanding the use of one of the cleanest and efficient energy sources on the planet.

  • view counter
  • We still don’t really know the health hazards of a nuclear accident

    Five years after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and thirty years after the Chernobyl accident, scientists are still disagreeing about the impact on human health — such as how many people have got cancer as a result and how dangerous the exclusion zones currently are. The people of Fukushima, except those in the worst contaminated areas, will eventually be encouraged to return to their homes. In the absence of better understanding, scientific and political arguments about how safe the radiation levels are will continue. What is abundantly clear, though, is that we need to understand the comparative health effects of radiation versus relocation. Developing a new approach in our response to nuclear accidents and the decisions that are made in their immediate aftermath is vital so that we can avoid unnecessary panic and evacuation — something virtually all scientists agree on.

  • “Acceptable risk” is a better way to think about radiation exposure in Fukushima

    Five years after the Fukushima disaster, many of these people remain refugees, unable to return home for fear of radiation exposure. As the radioactivity cleanup continues, people are coming to an uncomfortable realization: although cleanup can reduce the level of radioactive contamination, the environmental radiation dose levels within the prefecture will remain elevated for many generations before they finally reach the very low levels that existed prior to the accident. So, when will it be safe for people to return to their homes and to normal life in the Fukushima Prefecture? With regard to radiation exposure, “safe” really means an “acceptable level of risk,” and not everyone agrees on what is acceptable. Providing people with this risk characterization information, at the very least, is within the power of all radiation regulatory agencies, even if achieving complete cleanup of the environment is beyond their reach. This public information void about radiation risks needs to be filled. People can make their own decisions once they’re empowered with credible and intelligible risk information.

  • Radioactive strontium, cesium from Fukushima continue to leak to the ocean

    Scientists investigated the levels of radioactive strontium and cesium in the coast off Japan in September 2013. Radioactive levels in seawater were 10 to 100 times higher than before the nuclear accident, particularly near the facility, suggesting that water containing strontium and cesium isotopes was still leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

  • News coverage of Fukushima disaster inadequate

    Five years after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, the disaster no longer dominates U.S. news headlines, although experts say it is a continuing disaster with broad implications. A new analysis finds that U.S. news media coverage following the disaster minimized health risks to the general population.

  • view counter
  • The lasting legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima

    It is thirty years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. It is also five years since the Fukushima disaster. Greenpeace says that to mark these anniversaries, it has commissioned reviews of scientific studies examining the continued radioactive contamination in the affected areas, and the health and social effects on the impacted populations.

  • Fukushima five years on: Three lessons from the disaster

    It has been five years since the emergency sirens sounded at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant following the massive 2011 earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami. The partial meltdown of three reactors caused approximately 170,000 refugees to be displaced from their homes, and radiation releases and public outcry forced the Japanese government to temporarily shut down all of their nuclear power plants. On the fifth anniversary of the partial meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant, Stanford’s Rodney Ewing says we should rethink our language, reassess natural disaster risks, and appreciate the links between nuclear energy and renewables.

  • Bird droppings caused N.Y. nuclear reactor power outage

    On 14 December, one of the nuclear reactors at Indian Point nuclear power plant outside New York City was safely shut down for three days, following an electrical disturbance on outdoor high voltage transmission lines. Outside experts investigating the incident found the bird droppings were the cause of the electrical disturbance.

  • 2014 French nuclear accident more serious than official reports suggested

    German media charges  that the French nuclear authority and the French company operating the aging Fessenheim nuclear facility in France, concealed the seriousness of the April 2014 incident at the site. The French nuclear authorities withheld information not only from the German government, but also from the IAEA, to which they were required to submit a detailed report about the incident.

  • Air data can be used to reconstruct radiological releases

    New research demonstrates that experts can use data from air sampling technology to not only detect radiological releases, but to accurately quantify the magnitude and source of the release. This has applications for nuclear plant safety, as well as national security and nuclear nonproliferation monitoring.

  • Predicting clay swelling for better nuclear waste disposal

    Bentonite clay is planned to be used as a key barrier in the deep geological disposal of high-level nuclear waste. To ensure the safety of disposal, it is crucial to understand and predict the swelling behavior of bentonite clay. The swelling property, however, is regulated by multiple structural and environmental factors. A new model simulates the atomic-level interactions among the components of clay-water system, reproducing the swelling trends and swelling pressures measured by experiments with good accuracy.

  • Extrusion technique creates new fuel from depleted uranium

    Advanced nuclear reactors will use new types of fuel. To ensure such systems are safe, experimental fuel samples must be fabricated and tested in safe research environments. Marking an important step toward the advancement of a new type of reactor, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) employees recently completed the first successful test of fabrication equipment in the Experimental Fuels Facility (EFF). Specifically, they finished depleted uranium extrusions — a process of shaping material by forcing it through a die.

  • Ending civilian use of highly enriched, weapon-grade uranium

    Efforts to convert civilian research reactors from weapon-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuels are taking significantly longer than anticipated, says a report from the National Academies of Sciences. The report calls for the federal government to take immediate steps to convert civilian research reactors currently using weapon-grade HEU fuel to a lower-enriched HEU fuel while awaiting the qualification of new LEU fuel.

  • With plutonium-238 sample, ORNL restores U.S. capability dormant for nearly thirty years

    With the production of fifty grams of plutonium-238, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have restored a U.S. capability dormant for nearly thirty years and set the course to provide power for NASA and other missions. There are currently only thirty-five kilograms, or about seventy-seven pounds, of plutonium-238 set aside for NASA missions, and only about half of this supply meets power specifications. This is only sufficient to power two to three proposed NASA missions through the middle of the 2020s.