Tag Archives: nuclear waste

Cleaning Radioactive Water

tritium. Image from wikipedia

Russia’s nuclear energy giant Rosatom’s subsidiary RosRAO has created a prototype water decontamination plant for use at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings’ Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station — the site of Japan’s largest nuclear disaster in March 2011. The scrubbing facility, unveiled in June 2014, is capable of removing tritium, or radioactive hydrogen, from nuclear-tainted water, something beyond the capabilities of the Fukushima plant’s current cleanup equipment. Distillation and electrolysis isolate and concentrate the isotope, which is then locked away in titanium. Experiments under conditions similar to those on the ground reportedly show the technology cutting wastewater’s radioactive material content to one-6,000th the initial level, making it safe for human consumption or release into the ocean.

Duplicating the facility near the Fukushima site and running it for the five years necessary to process 800,000 cu. meters of contaminated water would cost around $700 million in all. Companies in Japan and the U.S. are at work on their own facilities for tritium disposal, but the Russian plan’s cost and technological capability make it fully competitive, according to the project’s chief.

Rosatom has made other overtures to Japan. Executives from a mining and chemical unit have visited several times this year for talks with Japanese nuclear companies, aiming to cooperate on decommissioning the Fukushima plant and upgrading a reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture for spent nuclear fuel. Russia has amassed a wealth of expertise dealing with damaged nuclear reactors in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster, and would like Japan to draw on that knowledge, the subsidiary’s chief executive said.

Revving up nuclear technology exports is essential to re-energizing Russia’s domestic industry and breaking free of dependence on the resource sector, Moscow has decided. The nuclear business, along with the space industry, is one of the few tech-intensive sectors where the country is internationally competitive. President Vladimir Putin has leaned more heavily on leaders in Europe and emerging countries in recent years to agree to deals with Russia’s nuclear companies.

In Japan, the public has grown wary of nuclear energy since the accident, leaving demand for new plants in the country at next to nil. Yet Japan has more than 10 reactors slated for decommissioning, creating a market worth up to 1 trillion yen ($9.42 billion) by some calculations. Russia aims to use cooperation on the Fukushima plant to crack the broader market and grow its influence, a source at a French nuclear energy company said…

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nevertheless visited Russia in May 2016 for top-level talks despite U.S. objections, eager to make progress on territorial disputes over islands north of Hokkaido. Preparation is underway for another summit in the far-eastern city of Vladivostok in September 2016, as well as a visit by Putin to Japan before the year is out.
Excerpts from TAKAYUKI TANAKA, Japan nuclear cleanup next target in Russian economic offensive, Nikkei Asian Review, July 24, 2016

Leaking Radioactive Water into the Ocean

Chernobyl Nuclear Accident from 1986 to 2016

Chernobyl containment. . image from EBRD

A workforce of around 2,500 people is finishing a massive steel enclosure that will cover Chernobyl’s reactor 4, where the radioactive innards of the nuclear plant are encased in a concrete sarcophagus hastily built after the disaster.  If all goes to plan, the new structure—an arch more than 350 feet high and 500 feet long—will be slid into place late next year over the damaged reactor and its nuclear fuel, creating a leak-tight barrier designed to contain radioactive substances for at least the next 100 years.

The project, known as the New Safe Confinement,  is a feat of engineering.  [see also the Chernobyl Gallery] It will take two or three days to slide the 36,000-ton structure into place. The arch, which looks something like a dirigible hangar, is large enough to cover a dozen football fields. “You could put Wembley Stadium underneath here, with all the car parks,” said David Driscoll, the chief safety officer for the French consortium running the construction site.

Three decades ago, an army of workers scrambled to build a concrete sarcophagus around Chernobyl Reactor 4, which released a radioactive plume after a reactor fire and explosion on April 26, 1986.  At least 30 people died as an immediate result of the accident, which contaminated parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and sent radioactive dust and debris over Europe. Pripyat, the company town of 50,000, was completely evacuated.

Emergency workers and evacuees received doses of radiation significantly above natural background levels, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers acknowledge high levels of thyroid cancer among people who were children at the time of the accident, from exposure to radioactive iodine…

Nicolas Caille, project director for Novarka, the consortium of Vinci SA and Bouygues SA, the French contractors running the project, said about 1,000 people work on a typical shift at the construction site, keeping to a schedule of 15 days in and 15 out….

A new facility to safely and securely store spent nuclear rods is being built at the nuclear power complex. The Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility, or ISF2, is intended to store spent fuel rods for a minium of 100 years…..The Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant in Chernobyl…retrieves highly active liquids from their current tanks, processes them into a solid state and moves them to containers for long-term storage. …

Wildlife has flourished in the forest [surrounding Chernobyl], which is largely off limits to humans. Officials say species such as lynx, wild boar, wolves, elk, bear and European bison have rebounded.

Excerpts from Nathan Hodge, 30 Years After Chernobyl Disaster, an Arch Rises to Seal Melted Reactor, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25, 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

Too Hot to Bury: nuclear waste from nuclear weapons, the West Lake Landfill

fire west lake landfill, feb. 2014, image wikipedia

The West Lake Landfill is an unlined mixed-waste landfill located in Bridgeton, Missouri, near St. Louis and the Mississippi River, whose contents have been shown to include radioactive waste; it is thus also an EPA Superfund cleanup. It is operated by Bridgeton Landfill,
LLC; Rock Road Industries, Inc.; and CotterCorporation …Contamination from this landfill containing nuclear-weapons-related waste likely has migrated off-site, according to a study published in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity...The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have said their radiation sampling hasn’t shown evidence of the site posing a threat to the public.

The study’s authors, who include Robert Alvarez, a former senior Energy Department official in the Clinton administration, said they gathered more than 200 samples of soil and sediments from a roughly 75-square-mile area around the landfill. Dozens of the samples contained levels of radioactive lead that exceeded a cleanup standard used in the past by the federal government, the study said.  With West Lake being the largest known nearby repository of radioactive material, the findings are “strong evidence” of the landfill being the primary source, the study concluded. Radon gas is likely escaping from the site and decaying into radioactive lead, said the study.  Some of the highest levels were found in dust samples from several homes, said Mr. Alvarez. Those locations ” deserve further attention,” he said.  Mr. Alvarez, who has been critical of many federal nuclear policies, said some of the contamination, particularly in the homes, could be residue from old above-ground weapons-waste storage sites that were in the area until the early 1970s, when what was left was buried at West Lake.

For instance, as previously reported, federal surveys have found yards of some homes near a tainted creek that runs through the area to be contaminated with low levels of radioactive material, mainly thorium…..

Excerpt from John R. Emshwiller Study Finds Radioactive Waste at St. Louis-Area Landfill Has Migrated Off-Site, Nasdaq, Jan. 2, 2016

Stop Fukushima Freeways in the United States: the Campaign

stop fukushima freeways. image from http://www.nirs.org/fukushimafreeways/stopfukushimafreeways.htm

Over 250 intensely radioactive nuclear waste shipments would cross through
the Washington DC metropolitan area and thousands more would travel across the roads, rails
and waterways of the nation, if [the Yucca Mountain permanent repository in Nevada is approved]….The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), an NGO, released maps of the likely routes radioactive shipments would use…

According to the map, highly radioactive waste fuel from nuclear power reactors in Virginia and
Maryland would pass through the DC area on railroad tracks next to Metro Rail trains, including
passing though Union Station. Each shipment contains several times more radioactive material
than the Hiroshima bomb blast released, with 20 to 50 tons of irradiated fuel assemblies in each  canister….  [Accident may happen during the shipments]…The shipments would also be vulnerable to attack or sabotage….Large-scale nuclear waste transport would also occur if, as some in Congress advocate, a“centralized interim storage” site for high-level radioactive waste were created.

Excerpts from Stop Fukushima Freeways Campaign Kicks Off, Nuclear Information and Resource Service Oct. 27, 2015

Impacts of Nuclear Accidents: ASEAN

singapore

In Asia, plans have been delayed but not derailed. China and India, between them, have almost 50 nuclear plants in operation and are building even more.  In Southeast Asia, Vietnam could have its first power reactors by 2020. Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have also made plans.

“Southeast Asia is quasi-completely dependent on fossil fuels,” said Professor Arnoud De Meyer, President of Singapore Management University….Nuclear-based energy can add security and stability to the region’s source of energy. For Singapore, 95 per cent of its electricity comes from natural gas powered plants. Its cost is tied to oil prices.  Experts say Singapore’s choice, although the cleanest among fossil fuels, is also an expensive choice….This is because the cost associated with importing natural gas to run Singapore’s power plants is also higher….

In 2010, Singapore embarked on an extensive study of whether nuclear-based electricity could be added to its energy mix.  Two years later, it concluded that nuclear risks for Singapore outweighed the benefits.  “It was all to do with size,” said Professor Tim White, co-director of Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute.  “The first factor was that we did not really need a very large single nuclear reactor. Singapore just does not have that need for energy. So we would have had to look at modular designs, but none of those designs are actually operating at the moment – at least for power. So Singapore did not want to be the first one off the rack to take these new designs.

“The other concern was that after Fukushima, it was realised that the exclusion zone around the reactor was in fact as large as Singapore. So that meant one Fukushima accident in Singapore and that’s the end of the country. …But the study also concluded that Singapore needs to build up its nuclear knowledge and capability. In 2014, the government announced it would set aside S$63 million over five years for the Nuclear Safety Research and Education Programme.  The programme would train local scientists and engineers in three key areas – radiochemistry, radiobiology and risk assessment

Even if Singapore would never have electricity generation by nuclear sources, countries around us will do it, or may well do it,” said Prof De Meyer. “But nuclear radiation is not something that stops at borders. If there is an accident or a problem, Singapore will be automatically influenced by it.,,,

But first, one expert says ASEAN needs a regulatory framework to address transboundary issues such as the management of nuclear fuel, waste and risk management….“If something happens, for example, in Indonesia’s nuclear facility, which will be built very close to Singapore, it will affect the whole country,” said Associate Professor Sulfikar Amir from NTU’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Excerpts from Monica Kotwani, Singapore must be prepared to handle nuclear developments: Experts, Channel NewsAsia,  27 Sep 2015

Where Waste Leaches into Water: uranium tailings in Central Asia

Mailuu Suu, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan:   Dr Osekeeva’s 38 years practising family medicine in this idyllic-looking valley in southern Kyrgyzstan make her a cataloguer of death. Cancer rates are rising, she says, and she thinks she knows the culprit. Buried along the river in and around Mailuu-Suu, a town of some 20,000 people, lurks the poisonous legacy of the Soviet Union’s first atom bombs: 2m cubic metres of radioactive waste leaching into the water supply.  Mailuu-Suu was once closed to outsiders. Its well-paid workers were treated as members of the elite: they received perks such as handouts of beer and beach vacations in Crimea. Over the years, they mined and milled 10,000 tonnes of uranium ore into yellowcake, ready for conversion into bomb material. Uranium was also sent from as far as East Germany and Czechoslovakia to be processed here.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and local industry in 1991, the specialists left. Supervision of the town’s 23 tailings sites—dumps containing the hazardous leftovers—became sporadic. Fences and warning signs have been looted for scrap metal. Today, cows graze atop the invisible menace. Goats sleep inside an abandoned uranium mineshaft. Local dairy products and meat are often unsafe; kitchen taps spew silty river water laced with heavy metals.

Neighbouring countries worry. The river through Mailuu-Suu is prone to earthquakes and floods. It is only about 15 miles (25km) upstream from Central Asia’s breadbasket, the Fergana Valley, which is home to over 10m people. Every few years landslides block the flow, threatening to flood the dumps and wash radionuclides over the melon patches and cornfields downstream. A European aid official warns of a “creeping environmental disaster”.

Mailuu-Suu is only a small part of the picture. Dotting hills above the Fergana—straddling the post-Soviet republics of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan—lie dozens of other tailings dumps. Many also contain other heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and cadmium, which can be more dangerous to the body than radiation. Few are secured or monitored.

The three countries are hardly on speaking terms, so cross-border co-operation is non-existent. …Kyrgyzstan, however, has made a little progress. Between 2010 and 2012, an $8.4m World Bank-led project moved 150,000 cubic metres of waste from one of the most accident-prone tailings dumps in Mailuu-Suu to a safer spot up the hill. But locals complain they were not briefed properly about this. They say workers stirred up radioactive dust; many claim cancers have grown more frequent since the transfer.

The government is appealing to the European Union for $50m to deal with ten sites at Mailuu-Suu it says are in need of “urgent” relocation. Others estimate that even this relatively small project would cost hundreds of millions. Kyrgyz officials grumble that donors are slow to make decisions, spending millions on assessments that take years.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says the landslides and flooding make Mailuu-Suu “high risk” and a top priority. But donors can be forgiven for hesitating. Corruption and inertia have eroded many government institutions in Kyrgyzstan and its neighbours.

Uranium in Central Asia: Poisoned legacy, Economist, July 11, at 40