Radiological threats

  • Nuclear risksCritics: PG&E downplays quake risk to Diablo Canyon nuclear plant

    Since the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California was opened by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) in 1985, geologists have discovered three fault lines nearby, which could threaten the plant. The three faults are capable of quakes even stronger than the one which ravaged the Napa Valley last year, and critics of PG&E say the company has been minimizing the risks the three faults pose. The company rejects the criticism. The critics are now suing to company to force it to reapply for an operating license – with the information about the three faults included in the application.

  • Nuclear wasteScientists develop deep borehole disposal (DBD) method to deal with nuclear waste

    Technologies which will enable nuclear waste to be sealed five kilometers below the Earth’s surface could provide a safer, cheaper and more viable alternative for disposing of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste. Scientists calculate that all of the U.K.’s high level nuclear waste from spent fuel reprocessing could be disposed of in just six boreholes five kilometers deep, fitting within a site no larger than a football pitch. The concept — called deep borehole disposal — has been developed primarily in the United Kingdom, but is likely to see its first field trials in the United States next year.

  • Nuclear forensicsImproving plutonium identification

    Researchers have developed a new kind of sensor that can be used to investigate the telltale isotopic composition of plutonium samples — a critical measurement for nuclear non-proliferation efforts and related forensics, as well as environmental monitoring, medical assays, and industrial safety. The novel device, based on “transition edge” sensor technology developed at NIST, is capable of ten times better resolution than all but the most expensive and time-consuming of current methods, and reduces the time needed for sample analysis from several days to one day.

  • African securitySouth Africa refuses to give up cache of weapon-grade uranium

    In the 1980s, White minority-ruled South Africa built six nuclear bombs. In 1990s the F. W. de Klerk government began planning the transformation of the country into a democracy. As part of the transition, the country’s nuclear weapons, and nuclear weapons-making infrastructure, were dismantled under IAEA supervision. TheWhite-minority regime and, since 1994, the democratically elected South African government, have both held to, and refused to give up, the 485 pounds of weapon-grade nuclear fuel – some of it extracted from the dismantled weapons and some of it already produced but not yet put in warheads. Despite pressure by successive U.S. administrations, South Africa says it is determined to keep its weapon-grade nuclear fuel.

  • ForensicsFrench experts rule out foul play in 2004 death of Yasser Arafat

    A French prosecutor yesterday announced that French medical and forensic experts have ruled out poisoning as the cause of the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The prosecutor of the western Paris suburb of Nanterre said the experts, following a thorough examination, found there was no foul play in Arafat’s death. The findings by the French experts are identical to findings by a different French team and to the findings of Russian experts. A Swiss team, however, initially said that their test results of personal affects left behind by Arafat led them to conclude that radioactive poisoning was “more consistent” as an explanation of Arafat’s death.

  • Radiation risksProtecting crops from radiation-contaminated soil

    Almost four years after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, farmland remains contaminated with higher-than-natural levels of radiocesium in some regions of Japan, with cesium-134 and cesium-137 being the most troublesome because of the slow rate at which they decay. In a just-published study, scientists have identified a chemical compound that prevents plants from taking up cesium, thus protecting them — and us — from its harmful effects.

  • Nuclear powerControlling the adverse effects of radiation could change nuclear fuel

    The adverse effects of radiation on nuclear fuel could soon be better controlled. Researchers have studied how specific properties of materials involved in nuclear energy production, and their performance, can change their response to radiation. In particular, the other researchers looked at actinide materials — which include well-known elements like uranium and thorium — and their response to highly ionizing radiation.

  • Nuclear forensicsNuclear forensics to the aid of nuclear detectives

    Fans of the popular TV series “CSI” know that the forensics experts who investigate crime scenes are looking for answers to three key questions: “Who did it; how did they do it; and can we stop them from doing it again?” The field of nuclear forensics has similar goals and uses similar techniques — but with even higher stakes. “In nuclear forensics, we want to know first, is someone able to put together the parts to make a nuclear weapon and set it off?” says one researcher. “And second, if one is set off, can we find out who did it, how they did it and are they going to do it again? Like traditional forensics, we’re looking for nuclear signatures, just like fingerprints; we’re looking for the technological and material clues and evidence to tell us what somebody had done to make this unfortunate thing happen.”

  • Nuclear powerScientists develop accident-tolerant nuclear fuels

    The summer of 2014 marked an important milestone toward further innovation in the nation’s nuclear plants regarding the development of light water reactor nuclear fuel with enhanced accident tolerant characteristics. For several years, nuclear researchers have designed, fabricated and tested a host of novel nuclear fuels and fuel cladding materials (enclosed tubes that house the fuel in a reactor) in laboratories across the U.S. Now, testing of promising fuels and materials with enhanced accident tolerant characteristics in a U.S. nuclear test reactor is commencing. Scientists and engineers from research labs and industry have prepared advanced concepts for insertion into Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Test Reactor.

  • Nuclear cloak & daggerRussian secret agents implicated in nuclear poisoning of a critic of Putin

    Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident and a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, died in London on 23 November 2006 after suffering from radioactive polonium-210 poisoning. An inquest has established that on 1 November 2006 he ingested large quantities of the radioactive material, surreptitiously put in his tea by two agents of the Russian Federal Protective Services. A nuclear expert testifying at the inquest said that less than a millionth of a gram of polonium would be enough to kill a human being.

  • Nuclear security U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation victim of growing bilateral tensions

    One of the greatest benefits brought about by the end of the cold war was the agreement been the United States and the former Soviet republics to cooperate closely in securing the large, and not-always-well-protected, Soviet nuclear stocks. The 1991 Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, aka the Nunn-Lugar program after the two former senators — Sam Nunn [D-Georgia] and Richard Lugar [R-Indiana]) — who persuaded fellow lawmakers to fund it, has facilitated to achievement of important security measures: dismantling of thousands of nuclear warheads, securing facilities in Russia where weapon-grade material is stored, and finding suitable jobs for tens of thousands of Russian nuclear scientists, engineers, and technicians. More than two decades of cooperation in guarding weapons-grade stockpiles have now come to an end, the result of tensions over Russia’s role in Ukraine. Experts say the end of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation leaves the world “a more dangerous place.”

  • Radiation detectionRealistic radiation detection training without using radioactive materials

    Training of first responders on the hazards of actual radiological and nuclear threats has been challenged by the difficulties of adequately representing those threats. Training against such threats would involve using hazardous, highly radioactive materials, experiencing actual radiation doses in training, or require the distribution of radioactive material over a large geographical area. To avoid these issues in exercises to train responders, surrogate radioactive materials have been used, but these materials do not completely represent real threats due to their non-hazardous size and inability to be geographically distributed. Researchers have solved the problem by developing a new technology that provides realistic radiation detection training by directly injecting simulated radiation signals into the analog amplifier of the real detectors used by first responders and inspectors.

  • Nuclear facilitiesStudying cancer risks near nuclear facilities

    The National Academy of Sciences has issues a brief report which provides an expert committee’s advice about general methodological considerations for carrying out a pilot study of cancer risks near seven nuclear facilities in the United States. The pilot study will assess the feasibility of two approaches that could be used in a nationwide study to analyze cancer risk near nuclear facilities regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

  • Nuclear safetyIf South Korea’s nuclear plant staff are vulnerable, then so are the reactors

    By Alan Woodward

    Does it matter that a South Korean nuclear plant was hacked and plans of the complex stolen? As it is South Korea that’s the subject of this latest attack, everyone tends to assume it must have had something to do with North Korea. With a target as sensitive as a nuclear power plant, not unreasonably people are asking if safety could be compromised by a cyberattack. Could hackers cause the next Chernobyl or Three Mile Island? This points to an important and infrequently discussed problem, the vulnerability of critical national infrastructure. Cyber-attacks like these are a great way of levelling the playing field: why invest in massively expensive nuclear weapons program if you can simply shut down your enemies’ power, gas, water, and transportation systems? Increasingly more and more infrastructure is connected to the Internet, with all the security risks that entails.

  • Nuclear safetyOne million curies of radioactive material safely recovered

    Experts at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) helped the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Off-Site Source Recovery Project (OSRP) recover more than one million curies of radioactive sources since 1999. LANL says that the accomplishment represents a major milestone in protecting our nation and the world from material that could be used in “dirty bombs” by terrorists. “Taking disused, unwanted and, in limited cases, abandoned nuclear materials out of harm’s reach supports the Laboratory’s mission of reducing global nuclear danger,” said Terry Wallace, principal associate director for global security at Los Alamos.