Radiological threats

  • Plutonium processingS.C. fights to keep costly plutonium processing project alive

    The United States and Russia have agreed to dispose of thirty-four tons of weapon-grade plutonium each, an amount equal to 17,000 nuclear warheads. The United States budgeted $4 billion for a mixed-oxide fuel project, known as MOX, at the Savannah River Site, S.C., to process the plutonium, but construction costs have now reached $8 billion, and officials estimate the facility will cost about $30 billion over its operating years. DOE has suspended the MOX project and is looking for alternative plutonium processing methods. South Carolina has sued the federal government, arguing that since Congress has authorized the funds for MOX, the administration must spend the money.

  • Nuclear powerSome see small modular reactors as offering a better future for the nuclear industry

    A full-size reactor costs up to $8 billion, takes years to build, and decades to achieve a return on investment. Some experts say the future of the nuclear industry should be based on small underground reactors, which are cheaper and quicker to build. Other experts say that smaller reactors mean needing many more of them to produce the same amount of power as traditional reactors, and having more reactors means increasing security concerns.

  • Radiological threatsDetecting and defeating radiological threats

    Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Radiological Assistance Program (RAP) team works to stay ahead of any radiological threats by using many detection tools that have become increasingly sophisticated and user-friendly. During a deployment, researchers and technicians with backgrounds in various aspects of radiological controls and analysis conduct field monitoring and environmental sampling, assessment, and documentation activities to help decision makers choose appropriate protective actions for the safety of both the public and first responders.

  • Nuclear wasteDebate over Ontario, Canada underground nuclear waste facility intensifies

    Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) proposal to construct an underground nuclear waste disposal facility near the company’s Bruce Nuclear plantand on the edge of the Great Lakes is facing growing opposition from local municipalities and environmentalists. The facility would store low and intermediate nuclear waste from OPG’s Bruce, Pickering, and Darlington nuclear facilities. Environmentalists are concerned that a leak in the underground facility would be devastating for communities which depend on water from the Great Lakes.

  • Nuclear proliferationNC State awarded $25 million NNSA grant to launch nuclear proliferation detection effort

    North Carolina State University was awarded a 5-year, $25 million grant by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) to develop the next generation of leaders with practical experience in technical fields relevant to nuclear nonproliferation. The new Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities, or CNEC, aims to be the pre-eminent research and education hub dedicated to the development of enabling technologies and technical talent for meeting the challenges of nuclear nonproliferation in the next decade.

  • DetectionNew detection technology to help combat nuclear trafficking

    According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the greatest danger to nuclear security comes from terrorists acquiring sufficient quantities of plutonium or highly enriched uranium (HEU) to construct a crude nuclear explosive device. The IAEA also notes that most cases of illicit nuclear trafficking have involved gram-level quantities, which can be challenging to detect with most inspection methods. Special algorithm coupled with commercial X-ray scanners allows detection of small amounts of fissile materials in luggage.

  • NukesFloating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    By David L. Chandler

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • Nuclear powerDebate over closing NY’s Indian Point nuclear power plant intensifies

    Indian Pointnuclear power plant, just thirty miles from New York City, has presented a conundrum for environmentalists who advocate clean-air initiatives, caps on carbon emissions, and increasing investment in non-polluting renewable energy sources — but at the same time argue that nuclear power poses a safety hazard to the surrounding area and demand that Indian Point cease operations. Closing the plant would require a long-term energy strategy to replace the 2,000 megawatts the plant currently produces.

  • Nuclear weaponNew consortium dedicated to developing nuclear arms control verification technologies

    A consortium of thirteen universities and eight national laboratories, led by the University of Michigan and including the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a partner, has been awarded a $25 million grant by the NNSA. The consortium is dedicated to the research and development (R&D) of nuclear arms control verification technologies, including nuclear safeguards effectiveness.

  • Plutonium processingAlternative strategy for uranium processing at Oak Ridge

    A group of twenty-five experts referred to as the Red Team, assigned to review alternatives to the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, have reached a “strong consensus” on what could be an alternative strategy, but will spend the next two weeks polishing their work before presenting it to National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Red Team was instructed to design a way to move uranium processing from Building 9212, Y-12’s Second World War-era center for processing highly enriched uranium, by 2025 and at under $6.5 billion.

  • Plutonium processingNew group formed to monitor Savannah River Site, nuclear waste issues in SE U.S.

    Savannah River Site Watch (SRS Watch), a new public-interest watchdog group, was launched last week in what it said was a response to the need for increased monitoring of the nuclear projects carried out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The group says it has been formed to focus on an array of nuclear projects now underway at Savannah River Site (SRS), the sprawling 310-square mile complex located near Aiken, South Carolina.

  • Nuclear wasteLos Alamos National Lab resumes transuranic waste shipments

    The waste was received at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas, where it will be temporarily staged until it can be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico for final disposal. WIPP has been closed since mid-February as a result of radiation leaks in underground storage tunnels. The shipments keep LANL on track to complete 3,706 Campaign on schedule. The campaign aims to remove 3,706 cubic meters of nuclear waste from LANL by 30 June 2014.

  • Nuclear safeguardsNew center will work to improve methods to detect, prevent the spread of nuclear weapons

    The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has awarded the University of Michigan $25 million to establish the Center for Verification Technology. A team from thirteen universities will work with eight national labs to analyze nuclear nonproliferation efforts, improve technologies for monitoring weapons-grade materials and detecting secret weapon tests, and train the next generation of nonproliferation experts.

  • Dirty bombPossibility of “dirty bombs” a major terrorism threat

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned that there were 140 cases of missing or unauthorized nuclear and radioactive material in 2013 — a pressing reminder that the possibility of possession of nuclear materials by terrorist organizations is both real and current.

  • Nuclear hazardsNew drone-based system improves safety of dealing with nuclear hazards

    Hazardous nuclear events have the potential to cause widespread damage to individuals and the environment. Getting close enough to these incidents to accurately assess the problem can be extremely dangerous. Following the incident at the Fukushima power plant in Japan in 2011, for example, helicopter pilots assessing the site were exposed to significant amounts of radiation. Researchers have developed a new system for remote and accurate assessment of dangerous nuclear accident sites.