Tag Archives: nuclear waste

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

Nuclear Submarines on Fire

Soviet Delta class submarine-firing-SS-N-18 missiles. image from wikipedia

More than 80 firefighters and 20 fire trucks were involved in the work to extinguish the fire [that occurred on nuclear submarine  the “Oryol”], at around 2PM Moscow time during  works on the submarine, at Zvezdochk,  shipyard in Severodvinsk Russia.   The first information that the fire had been put out, came at around 5PM, but this information turned out to be false. The fire was not extinguished until 00:57 Moscow time, after the dock with the submarine had been flooded.  The vessels reactor had been shut down and the fuel had been unloaded before the repairs started. The submarine had no weapons onboard

One of many accidents
This accident that occurred on April 7, 2015 was the latest in a series of accidents that have occurred at Zvezdochka and other ship repair yards in Northwest-Russia during the last years.

On December 29, 2011 a fire broke out on the nuclear-powered Delta IV-class submarine “Yekaterinburg” while it was in a floating dock at the naval yard Roslyakovo just north of the town of Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula. According to the first official reports the fire only harmed the outer rubber coating of the submarine, and all the missiles had removed from the vessel before going in dock. Later Northern Fleet officials admitted that the submarine had both missiles and torpedoes on board. “Yekaterinburg” was re-launchedin June 2014, after two years of repairs.

In March 2014, during decommissioning work on the Oscar-II class nuclear submarine “Krasnodar” at the Nerpa naval yard north of Murmansk, the rubber on the outer hull of the submarine caught fire. There were no radioactive leakages, and no one was hurt in the accident.

Tuesday’s accident was the seventh at Zvezdochka in ten years, according to RIANovosti.  The other accidents were:

February 19 2010: Fire during dismantling of the Akula-class nuclear submarine K-480 “Ak Bars”. No casualties. Cause of fire: violation of fire safety during hot works.
December 11 2009: Leak of two cubic meters of liquid radioactive waste from a broken pipeline. No casualties, no radioactive waste leaked into the environment.
October 6 2009: Fire during dismantling of the Yankee-class nuclear submarine K-403 “Kazan”. The fire occurred during use of gas-flame cutter. Workers evacuated, no casualties.
March 25 2009: Fire during dismantling of the Yankee-class nuclear submarine K-411 “Orenburg”. The rubber coating of the vessel caught fire during hot works. No casualties.
July 26 2007: The main ballast tank of a nuclear submarine in dry dock was punctured as a result of excess air pressure. No casualties.
August 1 2005: Two people died in a fire during dismantling of an Akula-class nuclear submarine. Cause of the fire was ignition of vapors of fuel and lubricants during hot works.

Excerpts  from Trude Pettersen, Fire-struck nuclear submarine to be repaired, Barents Observer, Apr. 8, 2015

Controlling Radioactive Water: Leaks of Fukushima to the Pacific Ocean

pacific

Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant’s operator announced on Feb. 22, 2015, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the plant.  Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and ground water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus.  Tepco said its inspections of tanks storing nuclear waste water did not find any additional abnormalities, but it shut the gutter to prevent radioactive water from going into the Pacific Ocean.
Fresh leak detected at Fukushima N-plant, Agency France, Presse, Feb. 23, 2015

The Cost of Decommissioning Nuclear Reactors

Reactor pressure vessel transported from site for burial. Image from wikipedia

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said late in 2014  (pdf) that almost 200 of the 434 reactors in operation around the globe would be retired by 2040, and estimated the cost of decommissioning them at more than $100 billion.  But many experts view this figure as way too low, because it does not include the cost of nuclear waste disposal and long-term storage and because decommissioning costs – often a decade or more away – vary hugely per reactor and by country…. The IEA’s head of power generation analysis, Marco Baroni, said that even excluding waste disposal costs, the $100 billion estimate was indicative, and that the final cost could be as much as twice as high. He added that decommissioning costs per reactor can vary by a factor of four.Decommissioning costs vary according to reactor type and size, location, the proximity and availability of disposal facilities, the intended future use of the site, and the condition of the reactor at the time of decommissioning.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates that the cost of decommissioning in the United States – which has some 100 reactors – ranges from $300 million to $400 million per reactor, but some reactors might cost much more.  France’s top public auditor and the nuclear safety authority estimate the country’s decommissioning costs at between 28 billion and 32 billion euros ($32-37 billion).  German utilities – such as E.ON, which last month said it would split in two, spinning off power plants to focus on renewable energy and power grids – have put aside 36 billion euros. .  Britain’s bill for decommissioning and waste disposal is now estimated at 110 billion pounds ($167 billion) over the next 100 years, double the 50 billion pound estimate made 10 years ago.  Japanese government estimates put the decommissioning cost of the country’s 48 reactors at around $30 billion, but this is seen as conservative. Russia has 33 reactors and costs are seen ranging from $500 million to $1 billion per reactor.

Excerpt, Global nuclear decommissioning cost seen underestimated, may spiral, Reuters, Jan, 19, 2014

Los Alamos to WIPP: the full story of nuclear waste mismanagement

LANL container damaged at WIPP. image from doe

The Timeline

June 2011: Las Conchas Fire threatens transuranic nuclear waste stored at Los Alamos.

Jan. 5, 2012: New Mexico Environment Department and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) prioritize cleanup of above-ground legacy waste and agree on a June 30, 2014, deadline to ship all Cold War-era nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

June 26, 2012: Gov. Susana Martinez visits Los Alamos to celebrate the 1,000th shipment of waste to WIPP.

Aug. 1, 2012: LANL changes policy, requiring organic kitty litter instead of the clay-based variety to absorb liquids in packaging of nuclear waste.

September 2012: The lab begins using organic kitty litter exclusively as an absorbent in waste.

August 2013: LANL officials authorize waste packaging contractor EnergySolutions to add neutralizer to acidic waste, despite manufacturer’s warnings about incompatibility.

Dec. 4, 2013: Waste Drum 68660 is packaged at Los Alamos for shipment to WIPP.

Feb. 5, 2014: An underground truck fire forces evacuation at WIPP.

Feb. 14, 2014: A chemical reaction causes the drum to rupture, triggering a radiation leak that exposed more than 20 workers to contamination and indefinitely shut down WIPP.

May 2014: The first public reports emerge that organic kitty litter may have been a factor in the radiation leak at WIPP, and WIPP officials learn details about the waste from LANL that indicate the lab hid certain truths about its contents and their volatility.

June 17, 2014: LANL scientists conclude heat from the ruptured drum at WIPP could have made up to 55 more drums stored nearby more volatile.

July 23, 2014: LANL officials acknowledge a lead-contaminated glove in the waste drum that burst at WIPP has been added to the factors being investigated as the possible cause.

Sept. 30, 2014: U.S. Department of Energy announces full resumption of activities at WIPP could be five years away and estimates the recovery cost at $500 million.

Oct. 1, 2014: U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General issues a report condemning LANL for failing to follow its own internal safety procedures and warnings against mixing volatile components in the drum that ruptured at WIPP.

In the summer of 2012, Gov. Susana Martinez visited the hilltop facilities of Los Alamos National Laboratory to commemorate a milestone. The lab, under an agreement with the state, had just shipped its 1,000th truckload of Cold War-era nuclear waste from the grounds of Los Alamos to a salt cavern deep under the Southern New Mexico desert.  The achievement meant the lab was well on its way to meeting a June 30, 2014, deadline imposed by Martinez to remove radioactive gloves, machinery and other equipment left over from decades of nuclear weapons research.

For Los Alamos National Security LLC, the private consortium that operates the lab, the stakes were high. Meeting the deadline would help it secure an extension of its $2.2 billion annual contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.

But the following summer, workers packaging the waste came across a batch that was extraordinarily acidic, making it unsafe for shipping. The lab’s guidelines called for work to shut down while the batch underwent a rigid set of reviews to determine how to treat it, a time-consuming process that jeopardized the lab’s goal of meeting the deadline.
Instead, the lab and its various contractors took shortcuts in treating the acidic nuclear waste, adding neutralizer and a wheat-based organic kitty litter to absorb excess liquid. The combination turned the waste into a potential bomb that one lab chemist later characterized as akin to plastic explosives, according to a six-month investigation by The New Mexican.
The lab then shipped a 55-gallon drum of the volatile material 330 miles to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the nation’s only underground repository for nuclear waste, southeast of Carlsbad. Documents accompanying the drum, which were supposed to include a detailed description of its contents, were deeply flawed. They made no mention of the acidity or the neutralizer, and they mischaracterized the kitty litter as a clay-based material — not the more combustible organic variety that most chemists would have recognized as hazardous if mixed with waste laden with nitrate salts, according to interviews and a review of thousands of pages of documents and internal emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
On Feb. 14, with the campaign to clear the waste from Los Alamos more than 90 percent complete, the drum’s lid cracked open. Radiation leaked into the air. Temperatures in the underground chamber soared to 1,600 degrees, threatening dozens of nearby drums. At least 20 workers were contaminated with what federal officials have described as low levels of radiation.

The facility, meanwhile, remains shut down as an estimated $500 million recovery effort expected to last several years gets underway, leaving thousands of containers of nuclear waste destined for WIPP stranded at national laboratories across the country.

Documents and internal emails show that even after the radiation leak, lab officials downplayed the dangers of the waste — even to the Carlsbad managers whose staff members were endangered by its presence — and withheld critical information from regulators and WIPP officials investigating the leak. Internal emails, harshly worded at times, convey a tone of exasperation with LANL from WIPP personnel, primarily employees of the Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership, the contractor that operates the repository.
Taken together, the documents provide a window into a culture of oversight at the lab that, in the race to clean up the waste, had so broken down that small missteps sometimes led to systemic problems….

The National Nuclear Security Administration’s Accident Investigation Board, an arm of the Energy Department, is expected to soon release findings of its investigation on the cause of the radiation leak. And the New Mexico Environment Department is set to begin levying fines against LANL that some lab officials expect could total $10 million or more.  As its report takes shape, the federal board is exploring what role LANL contractors’ profit motive and the rush to meet the deadline imposed by the state Environment Department — a key objective necessary to fully extend its lucrative contract — played in the missteps that caused the leak.,,,

More than three months after the leak, LANL chemist Steve Clemmons compared the ingredients of the drum, labeled Waste Drum 68660, to a database of federal patents and found that together, the drum’s contents match the makeup of patented plastic, water-gel and slurry explosives, according to a memo.  “All of the required components included in the patent claims would be present,” Clemmons wrote in the May 21 memo.
Personnel at WIPP were oblivious to Clemmons’ discovery…. Frustrations over LANL’s reluctance to share what it knew about Waste Drum 68660 had been percolating at WIPP long before the discovery of the memo that suggested the drum contained all the ingredients of a patented plastic explosive.  A May 5 email between WIPP employee James Willison and federal contractor Fran Williams suggested LANL was reluctant to acknowledge the most basic details about what Waste Drum 68660 held. “LANL used a wheat-based kitty litter rather than clay-based kitty litter as a stabilizer,” Willison wrote. “They fessed up after we nailed down the general area. … A

Excerpts from Patrick Malone, LANL officials downplayed waste’s dangers even after leak, The New Mexican, Dec. 9, 2014

Sweden–100 percent Renewable Energy?

Swedish waste management. Image from http://www.skb.se/default____24417.aspx

Sweden may be facing the phase out of nuclear power following agreement by the country’s Social Democrats and their junior coalition partner, the Green Party, to set up an energy commission tasked with achieving a 100% renewable electricity system….The parties said in separate, but identical statements that nuclear power should be replaced with renewable energy and energy efficiency. The goal, they said, should be at least 30 TWh of electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020. A goal for 2030 has yet to be set, they added. Support for offshore wind and solar power are needed “in addition”, they said.

Nuclear power “should bear a greater share of its economic cost”, they said. “Safety requirements should be strengthened and the nuclear waste fee increased.”  Waste management in Sweden is undertaken by SKB while safety regulations are set by the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority. Both of these operate independently of government.  State-owned utility Vattenfall’s plan to build a new nuclear power plant has been “interrupted”and the company will lead the country’s energy system towards a higher share for renewable energy, they said.

Excerpt from Sweden faces future without nuclear, World Nuclear Association, October  12014

The Mismanagement of Radioactive Waste: Los Alamos, United States

storage of radioactive waste at wipp

Excerpt from Remediation of Selected Transuranic Waste  Drums at Los Alamos National Laboratory –Potential Impact on the Shutdown of the Department’s Waste Isolation Plant by U.S. Department of Energy Office of Inspector General Office of Audits and Inspections, Sept. 30, 2014

The Department of Energy’s (Department) Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC is one of the Nation’s premier national security laboratories. As part of its mission, LANL generated a large volume of transuranic (TRU) waste consisting mostly of radioactively contaminated clothing, tools, rags, debris and soil. In January 2012, a framework agreement was established between the Department and the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) to ship 3,706 cubic meters of combustible and dispersible TRU waste from LANL to the Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, for permanent disposal by June 30, 2014. The Department established the Central Characterization Project (CCP) to characterize and certify waste to help ensure that it met WIPP’s waste acceptance criteria. Since the TRU waste campaign began, LANL reported that it had shipped TRU waste to WIPP and was on track to meet target disposal dates.

On February 14, 2014, a radiological release from one TRU waste drum was detected in the underground repository at WIPP. As a consequence, underground operations at WIPP were suspended and the Nation’s only operating deep geologic repository for the permanent disposal of defense-related TRU waste was shut down for an indefinite period. The impact of the shutdown, both incurred to date and in the future, is valued in terms of tens of millions of dollars….

On May 15, 2014, visual evidence confirmed a breached container that originated from LANL. We initiated a special inquiry to determine whether LANL appropriately managed the remediation and repackaging of waste shipped to WIPP….

Notably, Los Alamos National Security, LLC and its subcontractor, Energy  Solutions, added potentially incompatible materials to waste stored in drums during the waste  remediation process at LANL’s Waste Characterization, Reduction and Repackaging Facility  (WCRRF). Specifically:

• Organic absorbent material (organic kitty litter) was added to the waste stored in the  drums, materials that may result in a chemical reaction; and
Liquid acid neutralizers were also addded to the drums, substances that were potentially
incompatible with the stored waste.

LANL’s waste processing and safety related control procedures should have prevented the addition of these potentially incompatible materials. However, the process failed in this matter.
Specifically, LANL’s procedure revision process failed to adequately analyze potential reactivity
issues and/or provide sufficient detail in the waste remediation procedure. In addition, LANL
violated established environmental requirements by treating a corrosive waste outside its
environmental permit by adding neutralizers and absorbents to the waste.