Tag Archives: radioactive 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

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

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

The 400 Nuclear Safety Failures: Nuclear Weapons, Britain

HMS Vanguard one of the  ballistic missile submarines of the Royal Navy, UK.  Image from wikipedia

Britain’s nuclear weapons base has suffered from a dozen serious nuclear safety failures in recent years, according to official records.  Over the last six years HM Naval Base Clyde, where Britain’s Trident nuclear submarine fleet is based, suffered from nearly 400 “widespread” nuclear safety events relating to a “poor safety culture”.

In 12 of these cases the problems involved an “actual or high” risk of unplanned exposure to radiation or contained release of radiation within a building or submarine, according to information released by ministers in the last week.  Last year the number of nuclear safety events involving nuclear propulsion nearly doubled, from 57 in 2013 to 99 in 2014.  In one incident in 2012, contractors working on the base were exposed to radiation while repairing submarine equipment.

The 12 most serious events at the base, classified by the Ministry of Defence as “Category B”, are ones in which there is an “actual or high potential for a contained release [of radiation] within building or submarine or unplanned exposure to radiation”.  According to the Ministry’s own criteria, this classification is used for safety events that involve a “major failure in administrative controls or regulatory compliance”.

Other serious nuclear safety events included the unsafe operation of a crane on a jetty handling explosives, faulty radiation testing, and low-level radioactive contamination around a pipe that dumps supposedly decontaminated waste into the sea.  Despite the problems, the base has not recently suffered from any of the most serious category of safety failures – ‘Category A’ – which would have involved release into the environment in the surrounding area.

Excerpt from JON STONE,Britain’s nuclear weapons base suffers from ‘serious’ nuclear safety incidents and ‘poor safety culture, Independent, Mar. 2, 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

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.

Grabbing the Vietnam Nuclear Energy Market

Nuclear Power Plant. Image from wikipedia

American firms have urged the US Congress to ratify the Vietnam-US cooperation agreement in the nuclear sector in order to create more jobs, and Russia and Japan have signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Vietnam….  [T]he Vietnamese and US representatives signed a Vietnam-US nuclear cooperation agreement in Hanoi on May 6, 2014 (Agreement 123)….

The US Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) and the US nuclear energy firms have unanimously urged the US Congress to ratify the agreement soon, emphasizing that the strengthened cooperation with Vietnam in the sector would help boost exports and create more jobs.  The US firms can expect to earn $10-20 billion from the deals with Vietnam.

Vietnam plans to produce 10,000 MW  of nuclear electricity by 2030. It is believed to be the second largest nuclear power market in East Asia following to China, while market value is expected to reach $50 billion in the next two decades.  According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), rapid modernization in Vietnam has led to a sharp increase in the demand for electricity, estimated to increase by 10-15 percent per annum.  David Durham from GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GHE) has warned that if the US Congress does not ratify the agreement, US firms will lose the lucrative market of Vietnam.

Excerpts from Vietnam nuclear power market eyed by three major countries, VietNamNet Bridge, Sept. 7, 2014

Three Companies to Grapple with Fukushima Mess

tritium

The [Japanese] government picked three overseas companies to participate in a subsidized project to determine the best available technology for separating radioactive tritium from the toxic water building up at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.  Tokyo Electric Power Co. is currently test-running a system it says is capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from the contaminated water, but not tritium.  Thus tritium-laced water is expected to accumulate at the plant in the absence of any method to remove the isotope.

The three firms chosen from 29 applicants are U.S. firm Kurion Inc., which offers technologies to treat nuclear and hazardous waste; GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada Inc., a joint venture of Hitachi Ltd. and U.S. firm General Electric Co.; and Federal State Unitary Enterprise RosRAO, a Russian radioactive waste management firm.

The government will provide up to ¥1 billion for each examination of the technologies and running costs, and consider whether any of them can be applied to treat the water at Fukushima No. 1, the industry ministry said.  The three companies are to conclude their experiments by the end of March 2016, a ministry official said.  The official cautioned there is no guarantee that any of the technologies will be put to practical use.

Three firms picked to help tackle toxic water at Fukushima No. 1, Japan Times, Aug. 26, 2014

In January 2014 it was made public that a total of 875 terabecquerels (2.45 g) of tritium are on the site of Fukushima Daiichi,and the amount of tritium contained in the contaminated water is increasing by approximately 230 terabecquerel (0.64 g) per year. According to a report by Tepco “Tritium could be separated theoretically, but there is no practical separation technology on an industrial scale.”  See Wikipedia

Cardinal Violations at the New Mexico Nuclear Dump

Drum damaged, Feb. 14, 2014

A 55-gallon drum of nuclear waste, buried in a salt shaft 2,150 feet under the New Mexico desert, violently erupted late on Feb. 14 , 2014 and spewed mounds of radioactive white foam.  The flowing mass, looking like whipped cream but laced with plutonium, went airborne, traveled up a ventilation duct to the surface and delivered low-level radiation doses to 21 workers.

The accident contaminated the nation’s only dump for nuclear weapons waste — previously a focus of pride for the Energy Department — and gave the nation’s elite ranks of nuclear chemists a mystery they still cannot unravel.  Six months after the accident, the exact chemical reaction that caused the drum to burst is still not understood. Indeed, the Energy Department has been unable to precisely identify the chemical composition of the waste in the drum, a serious error in a handling process that requires careful documentation and approval of every substance packaged for a nuclear dump….

The job of identifying the waste that is treated and prepared for burial will grow even more difficult in the years ahead when the Energy Department hopes to treat even more highly radioactive wastes now stored at nuclear processing sites across the country and transform them into glass that will be buried at future high-level dumps.

The accident at the facility near Carlsbad, N.M., known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is likely to cause at least an 18-month shutdown and possibly a closure that could last several years. Waste shipments have already backed up at nuclear cleanup projects across the country, which even before the accident were years behind schedule.

A preliminary Energy Department investigation found more than 30 safety lapses at the plant, including technical shortcomings and failures in the overall approach to safety. Only nine days before the radiation release, a giant salt-hauling truck caught fire underground and burned for hours before anybody discovered it.  The report found that “degradation of key safety management programs and safety culture resulted in the release of radioactive material from the underground to the environment.”

The 15-year-old plant, operated by a partnership led by San Francisco-based URS Corp., “does not have an effective nuclear safety program,” the investigation found.

The accident raises tough questions about the Energy Department’s ability to safely manage the nation’s stockpiles of deadly nuclear waste, a job that is already decades behind schedule and facing serious technical challenges.

“The accident was a horrific comedy of errors,” said James Conca, a scientific advisor and expert on the WIPP. “This was the flagship of the Energy Department, the most successful program it had. The ramifications of this are going to be huge. Heads will roll.”

There is no official estimate of the cost of the accident, but outside experts and a Times analysis indicate it could approach $1 billion, based on the WIPP’s annual budget; the need to decontaminate the facility; upgrades to safety that officials already have identified; and delays over the next decade in the nuclear weapons cleanup program.

The WIPP was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production into ancient salt deposits, which would eventually collapse and embed the radioactivity for at least 10,000 years. The dump was dug much like a conventional salt mine, but with a maze of rooms for the waste. It handles low- and medium-level radioactive materials known as transuranic waste, the artificial elements — mainly plutonium — created in the production of nuclear weapons. Until the Valentine’s Day disaster, it had been operating without significant problems for 15 years.

The plant’s ventilation and filtration system was supposed to have prevented any of the radioactive material from reaching the environment. But investigators discovered that the Energy Department never required the ventilation system to meet nuclear safety standards. When monitors detected radiation, dampers were supposed to route the ventilation air into filters to prevent any radioactivity from reaching the surface, but the dampers leaked and thousands of cubic feet of air bypassed filters….

The investigators are looking at a variety of materials that may have been added to the drum, including lead, tungsten, acid and even kitty litter as possible factors in the explosion…Robert Alvarez, a former assistant energy secretary and a recent critic of the department’s performance, said the risk of a radioactive release at the WIPP was supposed to be one event every 200,000 years, not one in 15 years. “This was a cardinal violation,” he said…

At the Idaho National Laboratory, there are concerns that the WIPP closure could prevent the Energy Department from fulfilling its legal agreement to remove all transuranic waste by 2018. Curt Fransen, chief of the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said federal officials had begun discussing building new warehouses at the lab to store waste as a result of the WIPP accident.At Washington state’s Hanford Site, the WIPP closure may lead to additional delays in shipping out 8,841 drums, boxes and other containers of transuranic materials to the New Mexico plant, said Deborah Singleton of the state’s Department of Ecology.

By RALPH VARTABEDIAN, Cause of New Mexico nuclear waste accident remains a mystery, Los Angeles Times,  Aug. 23, 2104