Radiological threats

  • Nuclear processingContinued funding for S.C. mixed-oxide fuel (MOX) plant – at least until fall

    Federal legislators have secured the funds to keep the mixed-oxide fuelplant (MOX) at the Savannah River Sitein South Carolina moving forward at least into fall, according to South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and members of the state’s congressional delegation. The 310-square mile site once produced components for nuclear weapons, but since the agreement with Russia to turn nuclear weapons into reactor fuel, the site has focused on repurposing and cleanup.

  • Nuclear safetyU.S. nuclear plant licensees should seek, act on nuclear plant hazards information

    A new report concludes that the overarching lesson learned from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is that nuclear plant licensees and their regulators must actively seek out and act on new information about hazards with the potential to affect the safety of nuclear plants. The committee that wrote the report examined the causes of the Japan accident and identified findings and recommendations for improving nuclear plant safety and offsite emergency responses to nuclear plant accidents in the United States.

  • Radiation risksDOE chief to visit WIPP to discuss funding for recovery efforts

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will visit Carlsbad, New Mexico on 12 August to discuss funding for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) recovery efforts.Traces of americium and plutonium were released from a nuclear waste drum on 14 February and were detected in the air almost a half-mile outside WIPP. On 15 May, the DOE confirmed that the damage occurred on a waste drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory.

  • SpooksU.K. launches inquiry into radiation poisoning of former KGB agent

    British authorities have announced that a public inquiry will be held into the death of former Russian KGB officer who became a British citizen, Alexander Litvinenko.Litvinenko, 43, died in 2006 after he was poisoned with radioactive polonium while drinking tea with two former KGB agents at a London hotel.

  • Nuclear wasteFire shuts down nuclear repository, but DOE still recognizes operator for “excellent” performance

    Five days after an underground truck fire closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), the Energy Department (DOE) awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), the operating contractor of the nuclear repository, $1.9 million for “excellent” performance during the past year.Shortly after the truck fire, WIPP was shut down because of radiation leak, Still, “No federal or contractor official has lost their job, been transferred, been moved off the WIPP contract or otherwise held accountable. No leadership has changed at the federal level. No company has lost a contract,” noted an industry observer.

  • Nuclear wasteJapan testing underground nuclear waste storage depot, despite local concerns

    Data is being collected at the Horonobe Underground Research Center, in Horonobe, Japan to determine whether the site is able to begin storing radioactive waste in conditions which could last for 100,000 years.Japanese utility systems have produced more that 17,000 tons of “spent” nuclear fuel rods from power plants which are no longer useful but are expected to remain radioactive for around several thousand years.

  • Radiation risksTennessee man pleads guilty to attempting to extort a nuclear contractor

    Adam Winters, 26, of Robbins, Tennessee, has pleaded guilty in a $2.5 million extortion case involving Babcock and Wilcox, a managing contractor at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. According to Oak Ridge Today, Winters sent the contractors an e-mail on 8 May, threatening to injure their reputation by publishing roughly 1,200 slides containing evidence from nuclear testing, including the amount of radiation used on animals.

  • Radiation risksLos Alamos lab admits mishandling toxic waste, causing repository radiation leak

    In a letter addressed to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), lab officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have admitted to mishandling toxic waste shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the nation’s only permanent repository for plutonium-contaminated waste from government nuclear facilities.

  • Radiation risksWIPP radiation leak investigation focuses on Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) accident investigation team reviewing the leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico has turned its focus to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Communications between LANL and EnergySolutions, the contractor which packaged LANL’s waste for shipment to WIPP, have revealed that EnergySolutions switched from using an inorganic clay-based absorbent in the storage drums to an organic wheat-based mixture. Scientists are now trying to determine whether the switch to the organic substance is to blame for the chemical reaction that led to the explosion.

  • Nuclear safetyMaking nuclear power plants more resilient during earthquakes

    Researchers in Finland are examining current nuclear power plants’ structure to see where improvements could be made to make them more resilient during earthquakes. Finland currently is building new nuclear power plants, and within ten years, the country expects to be getting 60 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants.

  • Radiation risksUsing cosmic rays to peer inside Fukushima Daiichi reactors

    Muon radiography (also called cosmic-ray radiography) uses secondary particles generated when cosmic rays collide with upper regions of Earth’s atmosphere to create images of the objects that the particles, called muons, penetrate. The process is analogous to an X-ray image, except muons are produced naturally and do not damage the materials they contact. Los Alamos National Laboratory the other day announced an impending partnership with Toshiba Corporation to use muon tomography safely to peer inside the cores of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors and create high-resolution images of the damaged nuclear material inside without ever breaching the cores themselves. The initiative could reduce the time required to clean up the disabled complex by at least a decade and greatly reduce radiation exposure to personnel working at the plant.

  • Nuclear operationsNNSA says security at Y-12 National Security Complex has improved

    Retired Air Force lieutenant-general and now National Nuclear Security Administration(NNSA) chief Frank Klotz asserted last week that security at the Y-12 National Security Complexat Oak Ridge National Laboratory(ORNL) has improved significantly since a 28 July 2012 break-inat the plant when three aging peace activists, led by an 82-year old nun, managed to breach the facility’s supposedly impregnable perimeter security systems.

  • Dirty bombsUrgent need: Dirty bomb detection technology which does not rely on helium

    It has taken 4.7 billion years for Earth to accumulate our helium reserves, but these reserves are dwindling at an alarming rate, and will be exhausted by around 2025. The supplies we have originated in the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks, and there is no chemical way to manufacture helium. The Department of Defense and other agencies use Helium-3 (He-3) to detect neutrons emanating from Special Nuclear Material (SNM) in order to counter the threat of nuclear-fueled explosives such as dirty bombs. Since the supply of He-3 is rapidly drying up, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) awarded a $2.8 million contract to Alion Science and Technology to develop a replacement technology which will detect neutrons without relying on He-3.

  • Nuclear wasteNRC will not require nuclear plants to transfer waste to dry cask storage

    Cooling pools on the grounds of U.S. nuclear plants, where toxic nuclear waste is stored, are near capacity, and in 2010 the plug was pulled on the Yucca Mountain centralized national nuclear waste repository, meaning that for the foreseeable future radioactive will continue to accumulate on site at the more than 100 nuclear power plants. Lawmakers called on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to require nuclear plants to hurry the transfer of spent fuel from the cooling pools to dry cask storage, which scientists consider much safer. The NRC, however, has decided that, at least for now, there is now reason to require nuclear plants to do so.

  • Nuclear facilitiesCritics: U.K. nuclear watchdog plagued by “indefensible” conflicts of interest

    Britain’s nuclear watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation(ONR), is receiving technical advice from companies it is tasked with monitoring, leading industry insiders to accuse the watchdog of accepting advice tainted with “unbelievable” conflicts of interest. ONR’s chairman, Nick Baldwin, noted that the agency is concerned about possible conflicts of interest, but that there is a “small gene pool” of firms capable of advising ONR inspectors.