• NRC: storing spent nuclear fuel in cooling pools is safe

    The nuclear reactors now in service in the United States were built with the assumption that the spent fuel would be removed from nuclear the facilities after a few years, but because the government has failed to provide a centralized place to store the spent fuel, utility companies have had to store an ever-growing quantity of it in spent fuel pools on the grounds of the facilities. Scientists argue that it would be safer to move some of the spent fuel into giant steel and concrete casks, where it can be stored dry, with no reliance on water, pumps, or filters to keep them cool. The nuclear industry and the NRC do not agree.

  • Surviving a nuclear explosion in your city

    During the cold war, scientists modeled every imaginable consequence of a nuclear explosion. Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore Lab mathematician, found a gap in the sheltering strategies for people far enough from ground zero to survive the initial blast but close enough to face deadly radioactive fallout. Dillon’s model’s addresses the most vulnerable people, those who found shelter from the blast in lightweight buildings, or buildings lacking a basement (these buildings are more easily penetrated by deadly radioactive dust). His recommendations:  if adequate shelter is fifteen minutes away, people should remain in their initial, poor-quality shelter no longer than thirty minutes after detonation. If the better shelter is only five minutes away, however, individuals should move there immediately, leaving the closer but unsafe buildings altogether.

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  • Iconic Doomsday Clock remains at five minutes to midnight

    Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: It is still five minutes to midnight — and much too close to doomsday. The minute hand of the Bulletin’s iconic Doomsday Clock has been at five minutes to midnight since January 2012. In explaining why the hand would remain so close to figurative doomsday, the Bulletin’s science and security experts focused on the failure of world leaders to take action which would reduce the possibility of catastrophe related to nuclear weapons and climate change.

  • B61-11 earth-penetrating weapon tested for first time in seven years

    One of the main purposes of the U.S. nuclear stockpile is deterrence, and one important way to assure deterrence is to have a successful surveillance test that shows that the systems in the stockpile work. Sandia’s annual surveillance program for each weapon type consists of flight tests, lab tests, and component and material tests. On 20 November 2013, researchers conducted a rocket-driven impact test of the nonnuclear components of the B61-11 earth-penetrating weapon, the first such test in seven years. Flight tests subject the weapon to shock, vibration, temperature, rotation, weather, and more. Sandia pulls random units from the stockpile for tests.

  • Interim nuclear agreement with Iran goes into effect 20 January

    The United States and the EU announced Sunday that on 20 January Iran will start implementing November’s “comprehensive agreement.” One of the main clauses in the agreement calls for Iran to begin eliminating its stockpile of highly enriched uranium – that is, uranium enriched to 20 percent or higher — in eight days’ time from the start date. In addition to eliminating its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium before the end of January, Iran will also freeze other aspects of its nuclear program, accept more rigorous inspections of its nuclear facilities, and disable the cascade that produces 20 percent-enriched uranium. In exchange, Iran would receive some the relief from the sanctions, providing a $7 billion boost to the Iranian economy. The bulk of relief is in the shape of $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets which will be repatriated to Tehran in regular instalments throughout the six months until the deal concludes in July.

  • Nations' nuclear ambitions not discouraged by few suppliers

    Twenty-nine countries are considering constructing their first nuclear power plant. There are doubts as to which of these nuclear “newcomer” countries can actually succeed and join the thirty-one countries that already operate nuclear reactors. If even half of the national plans for nuclear power plants materialize, the geography of nuclear energy would radically change and could revitalize a stagnant industry. But given the obstacles to starting a national nuclear power program even for rich and stable countries, it’s not likely to happen quickly elsewhere.

  • Guards at U.K. nuclear weapons facility slept on the job, skipped routine patrols

    Police officers of the U.K. Ministry of Defense police, assigned to guard Britain’s nuclear weapons, are under investigation after it has been reported that they had slept on the job and failed to complete routine patrols at a nuclear weapons facility. The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Burghfield, Berkshire, is the location of the complex final assembly of nuclear weapons, and also where the U.K. nuclear warheads are maintained and decommissioned.

  • India-Pakistan nuclear war would lead to world-wide famine: study

    An India-Pakistan nuclear war may see the use of about 100 Hiroshima-size bombs – about half of India and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals. A new study says that a nuclear exchange on such a scale would “probably cause the end (of) modern industrial civilization as we know it” by subjecting about two billion people to the risk of starvation, and causing massive economic and social disruptions far away from the theater of war. Among the consequences of a nuclear exchange: Chinese winter wheat production could decline by 50 percent during the first year and by more than 30 percent over ten years; there would be a 21 percent decline in Chinese middle-season rice production during the first four years and an average 10 percent decline in the following six years; corn and soybean production in the United States would decline by 10 percent on average for ten years.

  • Stolen nuclear material found intact in Mexico

    Mexican police yesterday said they have found a truck, a white 2007 Volkswagen cargo vehicle, which was stolen Monday by thieves who apparently were not aware that it was carrying toxic radioactive medical material from a hospital to a disposal site. The cobalt-60 the truck was carrying could be used to build a “dirty bomb.” The IAEA said that more than 100 incidents of thefts and other unauthorized activities involving nuclear and radioactive material are reported to the agency annually.

  • Y-12 security breach update: Old nun awaits sentencing while costs of new Y-12 facility not to be released until 2015

    On 28 July 2012, three senior citizens, led by an 83-year old nun, easily breached the supposedly impregnable security systems protecting the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The three peace activists wondered the grounds of the maximum security facility for a while before being noticed by security personnel. While the three aging protesters are awaiting sentencing, the two companies — Bechtel Corporation and Babcock and Wilcox – which were responsible for designing and implementing security at Y-12, have been named as the primary construction contractors for planning and design of the new uranium processing facility (UPF) to be built at Y-12.

  • Uranium, plutonium, heavy water … why Iran’s nuclear deal matters

    The agreement reached with Iran will limit enrichment to 5 percent U-235 and allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors regular visits (even daily) to their facilities. The inspectors can easily determine the ratios of U-235 and Pu-239 in the input fuel and waste streams via the characteristic radiation signatures of the isotopes involved. These stand out like a sore thumb to their instruments. In addition, the IAEA will measure the amount of U-235 employed at each facility to determine if any of the uranium is diverted to undisclosed locations. While this arrangement is operating it is highly unlikely that Iran will be able to build nuclear weapons.

  • The interim agreement between the P5+1 and Iran: the details

    The P5+1 countries (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China, facilitated by the European Union) have been engaged in negotiations with Iran in an effort to reach a verifiable diplomatic resolution which would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. On Sunday, the P5+1 and Iran reached a set of initial understandings which halts, at least temporarily, the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolls it back in key respects. In return, for Iran’s concessions, and as part of this initial step, the P5+1 will provide what the agreement describes as “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible” relief to Iran.

  • Nuclear experts: world is safer, but risks remain

    Speaking at a two-day short course on Nuclear Weapon Issues in the Twenty-First Century earlier this month, leading nuclear weapons scientists and policymakers said that despite some troubling areas, the world is a safer place than in past decades, and they expressed cautious optimism it is continuing in that direction. They warned, however, that despite this progress, crises involving nuclear weapons can still spiral out of control.

  • Reducing volume of nuclear waste by 90 percent possible

    Engineers have developed a way significantly to reduce the volume of some higher activity wastes, which will reduce the cost of interim storage and final disposal. The researchers have shown that mixing plutonium-contaminated waste with blast furnace slag and turning it into glass reduces its volume by 85-95 percent. It also effectively locks in the radioactive plutonium, creating a stable end product.

  • The irreducible elements of a Freeze Plus interim agreement with Iran

    Iran and the P5+1 are set to resume talks on Iran’s nuclear program tomorrow, Thursday, 7 November in Geneva.The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) has developed a list of what it calls “irreducible elements” which a negotiated interim agreement should aim to achieve. These four elements are: Stopping the advance of Iran’s centrifuge and Arak reactor programs; extending breakout times; capping the Iranian centrifuge program and ensuring that it will not expand beyond this cap (in terms of enrichment output) during the next 5-15 years; and increasing the chance of finding a secret centrifuge or plutonium separation plant.