Tag Archives: disposal of nuclear waste

Disused, Dangerous and Nuclear

National inventory of DSRS in storage, awaiting disposal. Image from IAEA.

Most of radioactive waste arising from nuclear applications consists of disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS). Radioactive sources are used in different devices in medical, industrial and agricultural facilities. They have to be accounted for and when they are no longer usable, they have to be recovered, dismantled, stored and, as the case may be, prepared for transportation. Therefore, countries with or without nuclear power programmes have to make sure they have the ability to properly manage them. The IAEA is supporting capacity building in both regulatory framework and operation and can support removal operations. The IAEA is also developing tools (mobile tool kits, mobile hot cells, transport packages) and supporting the strengthening of regional capabilities.

In an effort to scale up the safe and secure management of disused sealed radioactive sources (DSRS), the IAEA on September 19, 2017 introduced a new concept of Qualified Technical Centres.

“At the IAEA we receive a large number of requests for assistance in characterization, conditioning and removal of all categories of DSRS,” said Christophe Xerri, Director of the IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, Xerri, Director, IAEA Division of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology  “The idea behind this initiative is to increase the worldwide capability to manage DSRS by encouraging countries with well-equipped centres and trained personnel to provide technical services for the management of DSRS, within their countries and regionally.”…

The IAEA regularly dispatches expert missions to Member States to provide advice and guidance for the recovery and conditioning of DSRS. The most recent missions include recovery and conditioning of DSRS in Honduras in July, in Ghana in August and in Malaysia in September 2017…

During the event, experts from several Member States highlighted recent projects and activities related to DSRS management. Participants learned details of a South American Source Removal Project, with 29 sources to be removed from five countries. The event also included presentations on national regulatory infrastructure for inventories of radioactive sources and progress made on the integration of mobile hot cell with borehole disposal system.

Excerpts from IAEA Announces Concept of Qualified Technical Centres for the Management of Disused Sealed Radioactive Sources, IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy, Sept. 19, 2017

Demise: nuclear plutonium alive

South Carolina is suing the U.S. government to recover $100 million in fines it says the Department of Energy owes the state for failing to remove one metric ton of plutonium stored there.  The lawsuit was filed on August 7, 2017.

Congress approved fines of $1 million per day for the first 100 days of each year through 2021, beginning 2016, if the weapons-grade plutonium was not removed from the Savannah River Site at the state’s border with Georgia, the attorney general’s office said.   The federal government cannot break its obligations and “leave South Carolina as the permanent dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium” said in the complaint.

Built in the 1950s, the U.S.-owned Savannah River Site processes and stores nuclear materialss.  A U.S. treaty with Russia in 2000 [The Plutonium Disposition Agreement]* required each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, left over from the Cold War.

The United States began building a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility, known as the MOX project, at the Savannah River Site to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it with uranium to form safer fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear reactors.  But the project is years overdue and billions over budget, and the technology for the new fuel fabrication is not fully developed. Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2016 pulled out of the plutonium pact amid rising tensions over Ukraine and Syria.  The Trump administration proposed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to scrap the project and pursue diluting the plutonium and disposing it underground, an alternative called for by the Obama administration.

Excerpts from   Harriet McLeod, South Carolina seeks $100 million from U.S. over plutonium removal, Reuters,  Aug. 9, 2017

*through which the United States and Russia agreed to immobilize 68 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Throwing Money at Nuclear Waste

Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste
…[W]ith a number of Japan’s nuclear reactors closed down for good in the wake of the Fukushima accident, the need for a permanent storage site is more pressing than ever.

The disaster, in which a 13-meter tsunami triggered by an off-shore earthquake crippled four reactors at the plant and caused massive amounts of radioactivity to escape into the atmosphere, also underlined just how seismically unstable the Japanese archipelago is and the need for the repository to be completely safe for 100,000 years.

“They have been trying to get this plan of the ground for years and one thing they tried was to offer money to any town or village that agreed to even undergo a survey to see if their location was suitable,” she said.  “There were a number of mayors who accepted the proposal because they wanted the money – even though they had no intention of ever agreeing to host the storage site – but the backlash from their constituents was fast and it was furious,” Smith added.  “In every case, those mayors reversed their decisions and the government has got nowhere,” she said. “But I fear that means that sooner or later they are just going to make a decision on a site and order the community to accept it.”

The security requirements of the facility will be exacting, the government has stated, and the site will need to be at least 300 meters beneath the surface in a part of the country that is not subject to seismic activity from active faults or volcanoes. It must also be safe from the effects of erosion and away from oil and coal fields. Another consideration is access and sites within 20 km of the coast are preferred.

The facility will need to be able to hold 25,000 canisters of vitrified high-level waste, while more waste will be produced as the nation’s nuclear reactors are slowly brought back online after being mothballed since 2011 for extensive assessments of their safety and ability to withstand a natural disaster on the same scale as the magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Fukushima.

When it is released, the government’s list is likely to include places in Tohoku and Hokkaido as among the most suitable sites, because both are relatively less populated than central areas of the country and are in need of revitalization efforts. Parts of Tohoku close to the Fukushima plant may eventually be chosen because they are still heavily contaminated with radiation from the accident.

Excerpts from Japan seeks final resting place for highly radioactive nuclear waste, Deutsche Welle, May 4, 2017

How Much Pollution to Leave Behind-cleaning up nuclear weapon sites

west lake landfill, image from wikipedia

About a mile from homes in Missouri’s St. Louis County lies a radioactive hot spot with contamination levels hundreds of times above federal safety guidelines. But there are no plans to clean it up.  That is because the location, tainted with waste from atomic-weapons work done in local factories decades ago, has been deemed by the federal government to be effectively inaccessible and not a threat. The site, which runs along and underneath a railroad track, is far off the beaten path and the contamination is covered and anchored in place, said Bruce Munholand of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is removing weapons-related waste at dozens of sites in the St. Louis area.

However, a group of private researchers funded by an environmental activist, including a former senior official of the Clinton administration’s Energy Department, is challenging those assurances.  They say a recent sampling they did suggests contamination from the radioactive hot spot is entering a nearby stream, known as Coldwater Creek, and then traveling downstream into the yards of homes. The contamination involves thorium, a radioactive material that can increase a person’s risks for certain cancers if it gets inside the body, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The dispute over the hot spot is part of a larger debate nationally over the radioactive legacy of the nuclear-weapons program. With dozens of locations being cleaned up, one question is how much contamination can safely be left behind. In many of these sites, cleanup issues involve how accessible particular locations are to the public and what future uses might be.

Some of the St. Louis weapons-related waste was stored for a time in piles above ground. Portions of it were eventually dumped in a landfill in the area, where heated arguments continue over what to do with it. Some waste simply fell off trucks and railcars as it was being transported.

Dr. Kaltofen and his fellow researchers—Robert Alvarez, the former Energy Department official, and Lucas Hixson, a nuclear researcher in Michigan—recently did a study regarding possible off-site contamination from that local landfill, known as West Lake. Published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, the study was funded by a St. Louis-area environmental activist.

In doing further work in the area, “we followed a breadcrumb trail of microscopic particles upstream from the residential neighborhoods and found this hot spot,” said Dr. Kaltofen. Sampling found levels of radioactive thorium at up to nearly 11,000 picocuries per gram, some 700 times the federal cleanup standard of 15 picocuries per gram being used by the Corps…. If contamination is still getting into Coldwater Creek and being carried into yards during floods, the hot-spot’s level of contamination and proximity to the stream makes it a prime suspect, he argued.

 

Excerpt from Radioactive Hot Spot Prompts Researchers’ Concerns, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 28, 2016

Nothing Outlasts the Fukushima Disaster: it keeps going and going….

energizer

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe moves to reopen Japanese nuclear plants that were all shut after the disaster on March 11, 2011, a distrustful public is pushing back. A court on March 9, 2016ordered Kansai Electric Power Co. to halt two of the four reactors that have been restarted, saying the utility had failed to show the public they were safe. The utility called the ruling “unacceptable” and said it would appeal….However, near the ruined Fukushima reactors……Growing swaths of land are covered with black bags full of slightly radioactive soil.

The hardest parts of the cleanup haven’t even begun. Tepco, as Tokyo Electric is known, has yet to draw up plans for removing highly radioactive nuclear fuel that melted through steel containment vessels and now sits at the bottom of three Fukushima reactors.The company estimates that the nearly $20 billion job of decommissioning the plant could take another three or four decades. That is not counting damages and cleanup costs expected to reach some $100 billion or more, including about $50 billion paid to evacuees. Legal wrangling over the disaster continues. In February 2016, three former Tepco executives were charged with professional negligence.

Tepco also is working to reduce a total 400 tons of rain and groundwater that breach the plant’s defenses daily, becoming contaminated and requiring treatment and storage. But a wall of frozen earth meant to reduce the flow has run into resistance from regulators.On large parts of the site, workers can now walk around without full-face shields or hazmat suits, using simple surgical masks for protection.Fukushima was once a prized post for elite engineers and technicians in Japan’s nuclear heyday. Now, unskilled laborers make up the bulk of a workforce of about 6,000 workers, down from a peak of 7,450 in 2014. “There’s a constant stream of people who can’t find work elsewhere,” said Hiroyuki Watanabe, a Communist city councilman in Iwaki, about 30 miles away. “They drift and collect in Fukushima.”…

Looking ahead, the biggest issue remains the reactors. No one knows exactly where the molten nuclear debris sits or how to clean it. Humans couldn’t survive a journey inside the containment vessels, so Tepco hopes to use robots guided by computer simulations and video images. But two attempts had to be abandoned after the robots got tripped up on rubble.“The nature of debris may depend on when the nuclear fuel and concrete reacted,” said Pascal Piluso, an official of France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission. “We are talking about extremely varied and complex debris.”….A government panel recently questioned Tepco’s ability to tackle the daunting task of decommissioning while seeking profit for its shareholders. The disaster nearly pushed the company to bankruptcy, prompting the government to buoy it with ¥1 trillion ($9 billion  (really????) in public money and pledge government grants and guarantees to help Tepco compensate victims.”…

Excerpts  from Fukushima Still Rattles Japan, Five Years After Nuclear Disaster, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 8, 2016

Radioactive Waste Landfill in Lebanon?

Adloun town Lebanon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has filed a lawsuit against merchants responsible for importing radioactive products into Lebanon, a judicial source told The Daily Star Thursday.  Berri filed the case with the State Prosecution on March 11, 2015, on behalf of himself as both a citizen of Lebanon and the speaker of Parliament, the source added.

The case targets those who participated “in the crime of importing radioactive products to Lebanon, which has negative effects on public health and the environment.”Berri requested that the locations of radioactive products be determined, the suspects detained and the material sent back to the source. State Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud tasked criminal investigators with carrying out the probe…

The move came after the local newspaper As-Safir reported that Defense Minister Samir Moqbel had made a decision to transform a  into a landfill for radioactive waste.  After Berri voiced his rejection to the plan, Army Commander Gen.Jean Kahwagi assured him that it would not go through.  The Secretary General of the National Council for Scientific Research Mouin Hamzeh also told As-Safir that the plan violated environmental laws, because the landfill would be close to touristic and residential areas….

As-Safir’s report also stated that “gangs and mafias” had been smuggling radioactive products from Syria and Iraq through illegal crossings on the Lebanese borders.

Excerpt, Lebanon speaker sues over radioactive imports, Daily Star, Mar. 12, 2015

Canada Nuclear Waste: the politics of secret meetings

The Darlington Nuclear Generating Station, on the shores of Lake Ontario.  Image from wikipedia

Ontario Power Generation is proposing to build a massive underground nuclear waste site at the Bruce nuclear power plant near Kincardine, Ontario (Canada) near lake Huron ,a plan that has drawn opposition from environmentalists, aboriginal groups and legislators in Michigan.  At issue were numerous meetings of the “community consultation” advisory group, comprising the mayors who sit on county council and representatives of the Nuclear Waste Management Organization and Ontario Power Generation, that began in 2005.

The citizen groups alleged the discussions were kept secret because the politicians feared damaging their electoral fortunes and pointed to informal notes from one meeting in February 2010 that showed a mayor fretting about “a negative backlash at the polls.”The probe by Amberley Gavel — a company based in London, Ont., that helps municipalities with closed-meeting procedure investigations — concluded the public never knew about any of the meetings.

It also found the discussions had a marked influence on the mayors’ decisions regarding the radioactive waste project despite their contention the meetings were simply information sessions at which they passed no motions.  The citizen groups said the province should be reviewing the conduct of Ontario Power Generation.  They also said the county response — to ask staff to provide annual reminders about the law requiring open meetings — was “appallingly weak.”  Council members have “thus far show defiance with no hint of remorse,” the statement said.

Save our Saugeen Shores and the Southampton Residents Association  called on Ontario’s ombudsman to review the circumstances that led to a report critical of Bruce County council for meeting nuclear waste representatives without telling anyone or documenting the discussions.  “This was a major error of provincewide importance in light of the evidence of an 8.5-year egregious disregard of the law and the public’s right to open and transparent government,” Rod McLeod, the group’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Colin Perkel,  Nuclear waste opponents call for penalties against ‘secret meetings’, The Canadian Press, Sept. 18, 2014

Nuclear Accidents of the Future: the preparations

anti-nuclear_protests_in_Tokyo

Three major atomic accidents [Three Mile Island US 1979, Chernobyl USSR 1986, Fukushima Japan 2011] in 35 years are forcing the world’s nuclear industry to stop imagining it can prevent more catastrophes and to focus instead on how to contain them.  As countries such as China and India embrace atomic power even after the Fukushima reactor meltdowns in 2011 caused mass evacuations because of radiation fallout, scientists warn the next nuclear accident is waiting to happen and could be in a country with little experience to deal with it.

“The cold truth is that, no matter what you do on the technological improvements side, accidents will occur — somewhere, someplace,” said Joonhong Ahn, a professor at the Department of Nuclear Engineering of University of California, Berkeley. The consequences of radiation release, contamination and evacuation of people is “clear and obvious,” Ahn said. That means governments and citizens should be prepared, not just nuclear utilities, he said.

While atomic power has fallen from favor in some western European countries since the Fukushima accident — Germany, for example, is shutting all of its nuclear plants — it’s gaining more traction in Asia as an alternative to coal. China has 28 reactors under construction, while Russia, India, and South Korea are building 21 more, according to the World Nuclear Association. Of the 176 reactors planned, 86 are in nations that had no nuclear plants 20 years ago, WNA data show…

The problem is that the causes of the three events followed no pattern, and the inability to immediately contain them escalated the episodes into global disasters with huge economic, environmental and political consequences. Even if no deaths have yet been officially linked to Fukushima radiation, for example, cleanup costs have soared to an estimated $196 billion and could take more than four decades to complete.

If nuclear is to remain a part of the world’s energy supply, the industry must come up with solutions to make sure contamination — and all other consequences — do not spread beyond station grounds, Gregory Jaczko, ex-chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in an interview in Tokyo….

Since the introduction of nuclear stations in the 1950s, the industry has focused safety efforts on design and planning. Research and innovation has looked at back-up systems, passive technology that would react even if no human operator did, and strengthened materials used in construction of atomic stations….

The official toll from the reactor explosion at Chernobyl was put at 31 deaths. Radiation clean-up work, however, involved about 600,000 people, while 200,000 locals had to be relocated.  The accident contaminated 150,000 kilometers of land and according to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev it was a factor in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In Japan, the meltdown of three Fukushima reactors helped unseat premier Naoto Kan and forced the evacuation of about 160,000 people, destroying local fishing, farming and tourism industries along the way. It also brought tens of thousands of anti-nuclear protesters out onto the streets in the country’s biggest demonstrations since the 1960s. Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator and once the world’s biggest non-state power producer, would have been bankrupted by the Fukushima accident but for billions of dollars in government aid…

Building a plant that would contain an accident within the facility boils down to cold cash, he said.  The review calls for new reactor designs to make a major release of radioactive fallout outside the station site “practically impossible,” the IAEA said. The standard would be “crucial for public acceptance and for the sustainability of nuclear energy.” Specialists on the review met for the first time in March and no conclusions are yet available, IAEA spokesman Greg Webb said by e-mail.

The problem with an engineering solution, an ever better reactor design or grander safety systems, is that based on the premise that all technology is fallible those defense systems can also fail, Berkley’s Ahn said.  “This is an endless cycle,” Ahn said. “Whatever is your technology, however it is developed, we always have residual risk.”  When the next nuclear accident occurs the world needs to have better knowledge of how to limit the spread of radiation and do the clean-up, including removing radiation from the soil, water and having an efficient evacuation drill for the population in danger zones, Ahn said. We also need more understanding of the impact of low-dose radiation on organisms, he said.  “This is about recovery from an accident, not preventing an accident,” Ahn said. “It’s completely different. And I think this concept is very necessary for the future of nuclear utilization.”

Excerpts from Yuriy Humber, World Needs to Get Ready for the Next Nuclear Plant Accident, Bloomberg, Apr. 4, 2014

The Benefits of Being a Threshold Nuclear Power: Japan v. China

japan nucler fuel limited logo

China has urged Japan to return over 300 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium to the Unites States and to explain how it intends to resolve its surplus plutonium problem. At a regular press briefing in Beijing on 17 February 2014, and in response to a question on Japan’s plutonium stocks, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated:

“China attaches great importance to nuclear proliferation risks and potential threats posed by nuclear materials to regional security. China has grave concerns over Japan’s possession of weapons-grade nuclear materials… Japan’s failure to hand back its stored weapons-grade nuclear materials to the relevant country has ignited concerns of the international community including China.”

As reported in January 2014, agreement has been reached between the United States and Japan for the return of plutonium used in the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) in JAERI Tokai Research Establishment, Tokai-mura, Ibaraki Prefecture. The formal agreement is expected to be concluded at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March 2014. In its latest declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and in its 2012 plutonium management report Japan stated that the FCA facility has the total of 331 kg of plutonium, of which 293 kg is fissile plutonium. The largest share of this plutonium was supplied by the United Kingdom in addition to that supplied by the United States.

Commenting further, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared:

“China believes that Japan, as a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, should strictly observe its international obligations of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security. The IAEA requires all parties to maintain a best possible balance of supply and demand of nuclear materials as contained in the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium. Japan’s large stockpile of nuclear materials including weapons-grade materials on its territory is an issue concerning nuclear material security, proliferation risks and big supply-demand imbalance.”

In addition to the call for the return of the weapon’s grade plutonium, the Chinese statement also raises a question over Japanese fuel cycle policy and its inability to use its existing plutonium stocks. With all 48 nuclear power reactors shutdown there is currently no demand for its separated plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. However, Japanese policy continues to plan the commercial operation of the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant as early as October 2014, following a safety assessment by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA). In its latest declaration to the IAEA, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission reported that as of 31 December 2012, Japan held 44,241 kg of separated unirradiated plutonium, of which 9,295 kg was stored in Japan and 34,946 kg was stored abroad. Japan’s plutonium program, its challenges and alternatives was recently addressed at a Tokyo symposium and in detailed analysis by IPFM.

As yet, there has been no official response from the Japanese government to the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, which has been extensively reported through Chinese media outlets

By Shaun Burnie with Mycle Schneider, China calls on Japan to return weapons grade plutonium to the United States, International Panel on Fissile Materials, Feb 18, 2014

Dirty Bomb Defused: the 2013 theft of nuclear materials

mexico nuclear theft

Authorities on December 5, 2013 recovered dangerous radioactive material from a cancer-treating medical device that was on a stolen truck and abandoned in a field, the interior ministry said.  It was in a capsule of two centimeters in diameter and authorities are now trying to isolate it safely before taking it to its original destination at a waste storage facility, the ministry said in a statement.The radioactive cobalt-60 source, which is considered “extremely dangerous” by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was originally inside a device that was in a steel-reinforced box in the truck.

The material was found in the town of Hueypoxtla about one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the truck, which the driver said was stolen by two gunmen at a service station on Monday.  The theft raised concerns about health risks while experts warned that the quantity of cobalt-60 — 60 grams — was enough to build a crude “dirty bomb,” though it was possible the thieves were only after the truck.

The United States said its national security team had monitored the situation “very closely” and that President Barack Obama was briefed throughout the day on December 4, 2013  as the search was on for the missing material.  “We also took appropriate precautionary steps along our shared border with Mexico,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.  The National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards (CNSNS) said a family found the open medical device and brought it inside their home.  “We will have to keep this family under medical watch for the sole reason of being near a certain distance from the source,” CNSNS operations director Mardonio Jimenez told Milenio television, without specifying how many members were in the family.

Authorities have warned that whoever removed the radioactive material by hand was probably contaminated and could soon die. Authorities were still looking for the thieves.They said it is not clear if they are the ones who opened the box.  But Jimenez sought to reassure residents in the 40,000-population town of Hueypoxtla.  “The source is far from the population,” he said. “There is a security operation to keep them from getting near it.”

The official blamed the transport company for the incident, saying it had acted with “negligence” by not having a security escort with the truck. The device was driven from a hospital in the northwestern city of Tijuana.  The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency also said the Mexican public “is safe and will remain safe.”  The IAEA said it had been informed by the CNSNS that the cobalt-60 was found to have been removed from its shielding “but there is no indication that it has been damaged or broken up and no sign of contamination to the area.”

The UN agency said that if not securely protected, the 60 grams of material “would be likely to cause permanent injury to a person who handled it or who was otherwise in contact with it for more than a few minutes.”  “It would probably be fatal to be close to this amount of unshielded radioactive material for a period in the range of a few minutes to an hour,” it said.  The IAEA added, however, that people exposed to the radioactive substance “do not represent a contamination risk to others.”  The incident was a reminder of the dangers posed by the huge amounts of nuclear material in hospitals and industry around the world if they are not handled properly and with sufficient security.  In particular, there are fears that extremists could steal the material and put it in a so-called dirty bomb — an explosive device spreading radioactivity over a wide area and sparking mass panic.

Mexico recovers radioactive waste that was on stolen truck, Agence France Presse, Dec. 6, 2013