Archive | Nuclear Weapons

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Will We Poison Ocean Fish With Fukushima Water?

Posted on 17 July 2016 by admin

nuclear-arms-md-336Each day some 300 tons of water is used to cool the broken nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power facility. This becomes a part of the stored water in the over 10 meter tall steel tanks which hold over 750,000 tons of water stored at the plant (see first link below to see picture). As of February 2016 there were 1,106 water tanks on the property. The water is stored because during this process the water becomes irradiated with nuclear particles that make the water dangerous to human health. This process began following the earthquake that caused the tsunami and meltdowns at the power plant on a fateful day in March 2011.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, that runs this plant, feels that it should be allowed to pump this water into the ocean.   The problem they are trying to solve is what to do with the water. It is only through 10% of the decommissioning process that is expected to take an additional 30 – 40 years.

It treats the stored water before it is pumped into storage or presumably the ocean. Today they have deployed filtration devices that remove the dangerous isotopes of strontium and cesium. Unfortunately, they do not yet remove tritium that is very costly and difficult to remove.

An article that appeared in The Guardian on April 13, 2016 quoted Ken Buesseler, senior scientist of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He was commenting about the tritium released by the Fukushima plant, “I would think more has been put into the Irish Sea (from the UK’s Sellafield plant) than would ever be released off Japan.”

The same article goes on to quote Simon Boxall, an oceanographer at the University of Southampton who said, “Even if all of the contaminated water were released into the ocean, it would not contain enough tritium to be detectable by the time it dispersed and reached the US west coast about four years later.” The isotope has a half-life of 12.3 years and all of the storage tanks at the Fukushima Plant contain only 57ml of tritium.

While Simon Boxall dismisses the radioactive water issue, he is not so dismissive when it comes to the already heavily impacted fishing industry. He felt there might be local effects on fish caught in future years.

This fear is echoed by Dr. Ken Buesseler in an article in the April 24, 2015 Daily Beast.   Remember the water used to cool Fukushima is filtered for cesium.   His concern was cesium that has a half-life of 30 years. He said, “That’s a long time. So you take a contaminated tuna, put it in a can, and it takes 30 years for half of that cesium to decay away per natural processes.”

The quote continued, “The bad news is, the Japanese found, through their own monitoring data, cesium levels weren’t going down in fish. That means they’re getting a source – they’re getting fed more cesium. There are still leaks at the site.” Unfortunately the cesium and strontium remain high.

The point is that no one knows what the water will do to fish caught off Japan or fish in the ocean generally. They are radioactive and neither the oceans nor humans can afford more radioactive fish. Japan’s request to discharge the cooling water into the ocean should be turned down. The world cannot afford this solution.

This is a need that has fallen to the company that runs the plant. It may be that this company cannot afford to own more land as a site for water storage. Governments can help. The Japanese or American or the United Nations can come up with the cash that is needed. A concerned populace should provide the political cover so no one is burdened with the cost of storing 300 tons of water a day. We cannot have this contaminated water in the ocean.

Use the following links to access additional information or see the original documents that were the basis of this article.

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‘Aging Out’ of Nuclear Weapons

Posted on 23 February 2016 by Jerry

In 1996 President Bill Clinton became the first world leader to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In 1999 Bill Clinton suffered a major defeat when the U.S. Senate rejected this treaty’s ratification. Not since just after World War I when the Senate refused to ratify the treaty setting up the League of Nations had the Senate balked at ratifying a major arms treaty. Although both Clinton and Obama have sought ratification in the interim, the Senate continues to block ratification of this treaty.

This is after we have overcome the two main objections to this treaty that bans all nuclear test blasts including those conducted underground. In October 2015 a group headed by Energy Secretary Earnest Moniz, the head of the NNSA Frank Klotz, directors of the main nuclear weapons labs at Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia National Laboratories, former Deputy Energy Secretary Charles Curtis and others stated emphatically that the ‘stockpile stewardship program’ that was initiated in place of ratification of this treaty was an unbridled success.

NNSA head Klotz stated, “Today we have a more detailed understanding of how a nuclear weapon works than was possible under nuclear testing.” He gave credit to the development of supercomputers and our modeling skills to have replaced the needs for more actual nuclear tests.

With the implementation of the worldwide seismic monitoring network that consists of 170 seismic monitoring stations in 73 countries we now have a system that can tell us if others have tested an underground nuclear weapon. Not only can we now detect an underground explosion using seismic waves but also we can use an additional 11 monitors to detect an undersea explosion or 60 monitors detecting frequency waves in the open atmosphere or 80 detectors measuring radioactive particles in the air.

For this reason, we have now measured and verified all of the tests of nuclear blasts by North Korea. Our network of monitors is so pervasive and sensitive that we can normally measure a sub-one megaton explosion or any other low-yield event.

With these principal restraints now gone, scientists, nuclear pundits and world leaders are suggesting this is the time to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For example, only eight nuclear-capable states must ratify the treaty for it to become effective – China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. Fully 183 countries have signed the treaty. Of these 164 states have ratified the agreements. Russia, the other large nuclear weapons power, has signed and ratified the agreement.

As an example, Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization suggested a sort of domino effect. If both Israel, that has never acknowledged having nuclear weapons and Iran, who has just signed an agreement to not develop a weapon for 15 to 20 years both ratify the treaty, this would initiate a domino effect. This would apply pressure to Egypt to begin the establishment of a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.

A January 29, 2016 article in the International Business Times by Himanshu Goenka quotes Zerbo as saying, “Iran and Israel ratifying CTBT would provide momentum for Egypt to do so as well, which in turn would put pressure on the U.S. to ratify it as well. China would not ratify the treaty before the U.S., India wouldn’t do so before China and Pakistan wouldn’t ratify it before India, therefore making the U.S. action crucial.”

The article continued by saying that Zerbo added that North Korea was the least likely to ratify the CTBT. He said the international community needed to change the way it dealt with the East Asian country. It is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons in the 21st century. It should be the target of worldwide condemnation and the subject of more sanctions.

The U.S. Senate should ratify the treaty in any case since its two main objections have been resolved. We should ratify because our worldwide sensor network serves as verification that countries either have or have not adhered to the treaty. We also have gained far more from supercomputer modeling that we could ever learn from additional test blasts.

Unfortunately the U.S. is not going to ratify the treaty in the Senate until one political party, probably the Democrats, dominates Congress. We are subject to a political stalemate. Once Congress is willing, the U.S. should ratify the treaty.

While this treaty does not eliminate nuclear weapons it does ban any further blast testing. This means the weapons will eventually age into obsolescence and we will age out of our nuclear weapons.

While all countries ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are only a single step that does not accomplish the ultimate goal, it is a step in the right direction. We should settle for half measures if we cannot accomplish a full forbidding of all weapons.

Ultimately we should continue to impose harsh sanctions on North Korea in an effort to get them to sign and ratify this treaty. In the meantime other negotiations that continue to reduce the size of our arsenals should continue. We, at the bottom line, should not care how the world rids itself of the nuclear menace. We should just end it anyway we can.

Use the following links to find out more information or access the original documents used to prepare this article.


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Chernobyl Still Threatens; Has Animals & Tourists

Posted on 23 October 2015 by Jerry

Protected space around the once power plant at Chernobyl is a very risky place. Climate change is raising temperatures and reducing rainfall everywhere. Brush and trees have taken over 70% of everything in the exclusion zone that is an area about four times the size of New York City. The area is prone to fires. The smoke that would be produced is especially toxic and can release contaminants that include radioactive isotopes of cesium, strontium and plutonium into the air.

This poses a risk certainly to Chernobyl but also to all of Europe. Wildfires have broken out in 2002, 2008 and 2010. They cumulatively redistributed an estimated 8% of the cesium-137 deposited by the original explosion. No one knows how damaging new fires would be but redistribution of the original cesium, strontium and plutonium might lead to crop contamination throughout Europe.

This possibility, that there might be crop contamination in Europe, is in part a result of the severity of the original contamination at Chernobyl. While this accident was one of only two events earning the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rating of 7 it released 10 times the radiation of the other event that earned a 7 rating that was the meltdown at Fukushima, Japan. This 7 rating indicates “countermeasures to protect the public.”

While still not completely funded, the new Chernobyl protective cover is scheduled to be finished by November 2017. As you may remember a previous article on this blog (see Chernobyl 2012: the Disaster That Keeps Reminding) gives a complete description of the radiation damage suffered by the tons of concrete and iron used in the original covering of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl.   The convex structure being built over the original ‘sarcophagus’ hopefully will allow us to dismantle the original reactor and remove all radioactive material from the power plant itself.

There is a conspiracy theory documentary about Chernobyl developed by Chad Garcia shown at the Sundance Film Festival entitled The Russian Woodpecker.  It points to the recent Russian actions in Ukraine and labels them an outgrowth of continued Russian meddling in the region. More importantly it offers an alternate description of the original meltdown at Chernobyl. This film points to other nuclear accidents like the 3rd most damaging contamination at Kyshtym (identified as a level 6 disaster by the International Nuclear Event Scale) also in the Soviet Union and draws an unflattering comparison to Chernobyl.

A recent international study of animal life in the Chernobyl exclusion zone headed by Tatiana Deryabina of the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve (PSRER) showed that wildlife in the zone has rebounded since the accident. Based on this study, there was no evidence of long-term radiation damage to the large mammal populations. The numbers of elk, wild boar and wolves grew. The wolf population is more than seven times larger than those in nearby uncontaminated nature reserves. The conclusion of these efforts was that the reason wildlife blossomed was more a result the absence of humans than anything else.

Co-author Jim Smith, a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Portsmouth in the USA said, “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming, and forestry, are a lot worse.” A recent article in The Guardian from early October 2015, stated, “But sadly, this study clearly shows that putting a big fence around an area to keep people out is beneficial to wildlife, even if the negative effects of radiation contamination on wildlife – increased mutation rates, cancers and other abnormalities – may be masked by this advantage.”

This series of articles implies that no people are allowed in the exclusion zone because of the dangers and yet there are several tour firms that care for the tourists who want to tour a once forbidden place or stay in one of the few hotels inside the exclusion zone.

Visitors are brought into the zone by tour busses from Kiev. Once in the exclusion zone they have to sign a disclaimer that warns them not to touch anything or sit on the ground. Body scanners are used just before tourists leave on the tour busses. If an alarm sounds, guards sweep the person for radioactive dust before they are allowed to leave.

It is just under thirty years since the explosions and nuclear contamination of Chernobyl. And yet, the surrounding town looks just as it did when it was evacuated days after the meltdown. The city of Pripyat looks the way it did before the fall of the iron curtain. Its Ferris wheel is rusted and traces of life in the former USSR are strewn everywhere.

As the site ages the radioactivity may lessen a little but will stay radioactive for decades. It is important we not forget why the area is off limits and what happened here lest we repeat it in the future or have another event that spreads radioactivity over a wide area.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or access the original documents used to write this article. cience/grrlscientist/2015/oct/05/what-happened-to-wildlife-when-chernobyl-drove-humans-out-it-thrived


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Reid Retires, Yucca Safe, WIFF or Boreholes Options

Posted on 01 August 2015 by Jerry

Soon we will have another point at which we can decide how and where to store our nuclear waste.  Senator Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader, is to retire in 2016.  He has, with President Barack Obama’s support, politically blocked the U.S. from moving forward on the Yucca Mountain storage of this nation’s nuclear waste.  With his retirement and the time clock running out on Mr. Obama’s presidency, we have another chance to reinstitute Yucca Mountain if we want to.

In early 2015 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined Yucca Mountain would be safe if we chose to operate it as a nuclear waste storage facility.  Finally, the Commission completed its last two volumes of its five-volume safety evaluation.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) was instituted by the federal government to store weapons related nuclear waste (see published on this website on June 29, 2014).  This repository, outside Carlsbad New Mexico, was designed for another level and is presently frozen at one storage level.  We could store twice as much nuclear waste at this facility if we opened up another storage level.

We could decide that a distributed storage option should aggregate present storage sites into a regional use of individual boreholes.  The notion of using boreholes punched into layers of granite has been around a long time but has been discarded many times as less feasible than a single repository.

Boreholes up to 5,000 meters deep could hold multiple types of waste with the most critical waste stored the deepest, between 3,000 and 5,000 meters with successive layers of clay, rocks and cement to seal the boreholes.  It would take 700 to 950 such boreholes to house the nation’s entire amount of high-level waste.

Each borehole would cost about $40 million dollars.  This is inexpensive however, recognizing we have already spent over $15 billion dollars assessing the suitability of Yucca Mountain.  So far, estimates range has high as $90 billion in the total amount spent on Yucca Mountain so far.

The final option is to leave the nuclear waste materials in water pools near the nuclear reactors that have generated the waste material.  Of course this nation’s use of nuclear reactors remains way down.  In fact, the number of nuclear power plants that are active in the U.S. fell below 100 with the closure in late 2014 of the Vermont Yankee plant that shuttered its operations.  This gives us less that 100 active storage sites or water pool installations to worry about.

The risks of these options are well documented, for instance, in terms of the vulnerability to terrorists, the risks incurred in moving large quantities of radioactive materials to a single national or several regional storage sites, or the contamination of ground water no matter which methodology is used.

While many pundits will argue the various pros and cons of these options, the solution will still boil down to a decision that must be made.

If you assume that all options have their shortcomings and that each shortcoming can be worked around using additional safety measures, we will still need someone’s final word.  We each need to decide which is the best option, whether the siting of storage is open to constituent or voter decisions or whether the federal government should just make an arbitrary decision.

Is the decision a popular one to be made by each electorate, is it to be left to politicians who will use their process to decide what should be done or should it be left to the scientists the government chooses to listen to?  We believe this entire issue will boil down to this one element, which is who gets to decide?

We believe nuclear power must be increased if the U.S. is to fulfill the commitments President Obama made to the rest of the world.  The March 25, 2015 issue of Scientific America had an article entitled Nuclear Letdown that states, “Without nuclear power, the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would set limits on carbon dioxide emissions from all power plants will become increasingly more costly to implement.  And if states cannot meet the plan’s requirements, the U.S.’s promise to China to cut greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 28 percent by 2025 may fall through.”

Of course more nuclear plants will create more waste that we must deal with.  This storage decision must be made and each of us must formulate a position that we should communicate to others.

Our position is the decision should not be made on the basis of some vote taken in a territory or a political decision by politicians. We believe the federal government should make a decision based upon the best judgment of their scientists.  The decision should be made on the basis of which is the safest alternative for the nation and its citizens.  A decision should be made and soon.

Use the following links to access more information or the original documents used in our research.

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A Nuclear Explosion in the U.S. in February 2014?

Posted on 29 June 2014 by Jerry

Why didn’t we hear about the nuclear explosion in the United States on February 14, 2014?  Why is it being billed as “dodging a bullet”?  Are nuclear waste materials so common that we are not surprised when there is an explosion at our most sensitive government storage site?

While most people are familiar with the years of controversy about our Yucca Mountain nuclear storage plans in Nevada, a project ultimately shelved by the U.S., almost no one knows about our one storage facility in use outside of Carlsbad in New Mexico.  Carved out of a salt bed some 655 meters (2,148 feet) below the desert, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) houses some 90,000 cubic meters (3,177 million square feet) of low and medium-level nuclear waste from decommissioned nuclear warheads in the U. S. (see the article on Russian/American cooperation on cleaning up nuclear weapons material).

The explosion, which occurred on February 14 involved some two or three barrels of nuclear waste which exploded at the facility releasing a significant amount of nuclear radioactive material into the entire site with some small amount of radioactivity being released into the atmosphere.  While no cause has yet been identified, collapsing walls or ceilings at the site have been ruled out.  This facility will be closed for at least 18 months.

More troubling than the explosion however are the results of a Department of Energy probe into just what went wrong at the site.  An editorial in the May 15, 2014 issue of Nature cited “an atmosphere of complacency”.   It cites the report as specifying a “litany of failings, from an insidious continually deregulation of safety standards and cutting of corners to dilapidated safety equipment, and a lax security culture.”  WIPP’s response to the accident itself was “delayed and ineffective” according to the Editorial.

For example, only one continuous radiation monitor underground sounded the alert of high radiation levels.  All of the other monitors were out of order.  This finding is no different than those of the much studied Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan.  The Editorial cites the “hubris, overconfidence in safety assumptions, dilution or non-respect of safety standards, a weak security culture and crucially, lack of tough, independent scientific and technical oversight” common to both reviews.

These findings are similar to those found in a review of the chain of command of the air force which found a surprising lack of seriousness in manning U.S. nuclear missile sites.  This lack of seriousness led to the removal of several supervising generals responsible for these sites.

Taken together these and other recent reviews show the striking vulnerability this nation is facing in its handing of nuclear materials.  Adding insult to injury the government that had planned to expand the WIPP storage site has shelved its plans due to hydraulic fracturing nearby.

The area is rich in oil, gas and minerals.  A May 15, 2014 article in Nature magazine states, “This poses the risk that the WIPP repository could be disturbed by future drilling and mining, for example, by the puncture of the high pressure brine reservoirs beneath WIPP.”

These reports highlight the ongoing complacency of a nation that believes its nuclear weapons problems have been dealt with.  For years our government and those of the rest of the world have tried to reassure us the problems have gone away.  Guess what, they haven’t.

Use the following links to access further information or the actual sources used when writing this article.


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