Radiological threats

  • Nuclear accidentsNew light shed on reactor fuel behavior during severe nuclear reactor accidents

    UO2 is the primary fuel component in the majority of existing nuclear reactors, but little is known about the molten state because of its extremely high melting point. Until now, the extremely high temperature and chemical reactivity of the melt have hindered studies of molten UO2. This lack of fundamental information has made it difficult to evaluate issues associated with the interaction of molten UO2 with a reactor’s zirconium cladding and steel containment vessel. A new discovery about the atomic structure of uranium dioxide will help scientists select the best computational model to simulate severe nuclear reactor accidents.

  • Radiation detectionSandia Lab’s mobile neutron imager shines in urban emergency response exercise

    A nuclear device has been hidden in a high-rise building in a major metropolitan area. Emergency responders have intelligence that narrows down the location to a single city block, but it is not safe to search door-to-door. Can they identify the exact location of the device quickly without the culprits realizing a search is on? The answer is a definite yes. Sandia Lab’ mobile imager of neutrons for emergency responders (MINER) system did just that at an emergency response exercise in downtown Chicago earlier this year. The exercise used a sealed laboratory radiation source that mimics the radioactive signature of more nefarious material.

  • NukesU.S. planning expansion of nuclear production in the face of safety concerns

    Despite the release of a damning report regarding the 14 February nuclear waste accident at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the government is planning ramped-up production of nuclear weapons cores, a move which is raising red flags for those calling for reform of nuclear production and storage procedures.

  • DetectionTransparent nanoscintillators for radiation detection in homeland security, medical safety

    Researchers say recently identified radiation detection properties of a light-emitting nanostructure built in their lab could open doors for homeland security and medical advances. The researchers describe a new method to fabricate transparent nanoscintillators by heating nanoparticles composed of lanthanum, yttrium and oxygen until a transparent ceramic is formed. A scintillator refers to a material that glows in response to radiation.

  • Radiation risksA second drum at nuke waste repository poses radiation leak danger

    At a recent meeting of the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee in Carlsbad, officials were informed that a second waste drum containing nuclear materials, could also contain the same mix of ingredients as the waste drum from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) which caused a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in February.

  • 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.