Radiological threats

  • Nuclear labsDeficiencies in U.S. nuclear labs’ emergency preparedness plans: Report

    A recently released study of seventeen U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board(DNFSB), which examined operations at the labs over the last three years, found deficiencies in emergency preparedness plans. Three New Mexico labs — the Los Alamos National Laboratory(LANL), the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant(WIPP) near Carlsbad, and Sandia National Laboratoriesin Albuquerque — exemplify various gaps in disaster preparedness throughout the nation’s nuclear defense system.

  • Nuclear accidentsPreparing the next generation of nuclear emergency responders

    The catastrophic failure of Japan’s Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011 was a turning point in how the scientific community viewed nuclear emergencies. Up to then, the emphasis had been on prevention, not response. Virginia Tech’s Sonja Schmid has won a 2014 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Development (CAREER) Award to study the prospects and problems of creating a global nuclear emergency response plan. Key issues to be addressed in her research are how to convince the world that any nuclear accident is everybody’s problem and how to mobilize an effective international response.

  • Nuclear wasteStrengthening the armor for nuclear-waste eating microbes

    A microbe developed to clean up nuclear waste and patented by a Michigan State University researcher has just been improved. Researchers had identified that Geobacter bacteria’s tiny conductive hair-like appendages, or pili, did the yeoman’s share of remediation. By increasing the strength of the pili nanowires, she improved their ability to clean up uranium and other toxic wastes.

  • Radiation risksNew device improves radiation detection

    In a move that could have important implications for national security, researchers have created a very sensitive and tiny detector that is capable of detecting radiation from various sources at room temperature. The detector is eight to nine orders of magnitude —100 million to as high as 1 billion — times faster than the existing technology. The researchers sought to utilize the exceptional electronic carrier properties of graphene to create the photo detector device. Graphene is made of carbon atoms that are arranged in a honeycomb-like geometrical structure (the diameter of a human hair is 300,000 times thicker than a two-dimensional sheet of graphene).

  • Radiation risksNo Fukushima radiation found in California’s coastal areas

    Following the 11 March 2011 Fukushima disaster, researches wanted to see whether radioactivity could be found in Bay Area precipitation. They collected weeks’ worth of rainwater around UC Berkeley Campus to find out. The results: low levels of a number of different radioactive nuclei produced by the fission of uranium-235 including, cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131. “The levels we saw were detectable, but low and not a health hazard to anyone,” said UC Berkeley’s nuclear engineering professor Eric Norman.

  • Nuclear proliferationScientists improve accuracy, reliability of nuclear tests inspection

    The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) operates the International Monitoring System (IMS) — 279 sensors-equipped facilities around the world which detect four types of physical phenomena that can provide evidence of a nuclear explosion having taken place: seismic waves, radioactive nuclei, underwater sound waves, and infrasonic waves. The evidence from the IMS is not always enough to convince signatories of the CTBT that a nuclear test has taken place. Scientists are trying to improve the accuracy and reliability of the IMS system.

  • Radiation risksNeumedicines receives $14m for acute radiation exposure countermeasures

    Neumedicines receives $14 million from BARDA to support advanced development of HemaMax, including advanced GMP manufacturing activities and a Phase 2 clinical safety study in 200 healthy human volunteers. The company says its efficacy studies have shown that a single, low-dose, subcutaneous injection of HemaMax at twenty-four hours after exposure to lethal radiation increases survival by an average of more than 2-fold without any supportive care or antibiotics.

  • 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.