Radiological threats

  • 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.

  • Nuclear facilitiesGuard fired for Y-12 breach says he was made a scapegoat for contractor’s failings

    Kirk Garland, a security guard at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, was fired from his job two weeks after three aging peace activists, led by an 82-year old nun, managed, on 28 July 2012, to breach the facility’s supposedly impregnable perimeter security systems, then loiter, unnoticed, on the grounds of the facility, where bomb grade uranium is stored. The activists had enough time to spray-paint peace messages and Bible verses on walls, slosh the walls with human blood, and wrap one of the buildings with crime-scene tape. In an arbitration hearing, Garland argued that he was made a scapegoat for the larger failings of the then-security contractor,Wackenhut Services.

  • Nuclear wasteU.S., industry grappling with a growing nuclear waste problem

    Thirty years ago congress voted to fund the building of centralized nuclear waste repository at the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. Four years ago to Obama administration pulled to plug on the project, and nuclear wasted has continued to accumulate on the grounds of nuclear plants – active and shuttered – around the United States. As of May 2013, the U.S. nuclear industry had 69,720 tons of toxic nuclear waste to deal with. The administration strategy calls for a short-term centralized storage facility by 2025, and a permanent national geological repository by 2048.

  • Nuclear wastePressure grows for building a centralized nuclear waste repository

    In 2010, after $9 billion and twenty-five years of construction, the Obama administration pulled the plug on the Yucca Mountain centralized nuclear waste repository. Toxic nuclear waste continues to accumulate on the grounds of U.S. nuclear power plants, with concerns growing about the security of keeping so may tons of such toxic materials in such a dispersed manner. Concerns have been heightened lately by the wave of closing, for economic reasons, of nuclear power plants, and worries about the safety of radioactive waste remaining behind on the grounds of shuttered plants. Senate Bill 1240 calls for the development of a Nuclear Waste Administrationto take responsibility for transporting and storing nuclear waste, and find the right geological location for a new centralized repository.

  • Nuclear wasteCracked lid of a nuclear waste container may be source of WIPP radiation leak

    The radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has been linked to a waste container shipped from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), raising questions about the safety of other containers stored at the lab’s northern New Mexico facility and at the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site in Andrews, Texas.As a precautionary measure, LANL has been ordered to remove thousands of similar containers filled with toxic waste from outdoor storage. Critics of nuclear waste storage practices have blamed the recent radiation accidents on a diminishing culture of safety at the fifteen-year-old WIPP.