Tag 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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Disagree (and Agree) With Stephen Hawking

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Jerry

Dr. Stephen Hawking, professor and research director at Cambridge University’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, has expressed his belief that technology will be our undoing and will bring new ways for things to go wrong and end humanity’s future existence. Hawking said at a teleconference in Hong Kong, “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers we have not yet thought of.” He made substantially the same statements in response to questions when recording the BBC’s annual Reith Lectures on January 7, 2016.

He said that he believes our only hope is to spread out in space and colonize other worlds. He believes that it will take at least 100 years to establish a colony on another world in our solar system and the next 1000 years to spread to other solar systems. Our objective must be to establish self-sustaining colonies that are independent of our home planet Earth. This is because he believes we will kill ourselves on planet Earth and we need to be self-sustaining elsewhere for humanity to survive.

While we agree on the threats, we must be a pessimist about the space options and an optimist that human beings on this planet are taking the steps necessary for us to survive. We must support space colonization because of the knowledge we gain about surviving in hostile environments. We cannot believe we can colonize other solar systems. We cannot believe that colonies can support more than a few thousand humans, certainly not any real fraction of the seven plus billion population of the world.

Dr. Hawking has reliance on the science fictional development of a technology that allows our speed to approach that of light. The author sees no practical approach that permits us to significantly increase our speed.  This Hawking suggestion represents his ‘hail Mary’ pass about the future.

In our book, Beyond Animal, Ego and Time, it is shown it would take 18,000 years at 150,000 miles per hour, our current rate of maximum speed, to reach the nearest star. Even if you triple or quadruple this speed the time to reach the star dwarfs our ability to maintain life in outer space by a large margin. The book is explicit about our practical isolation in the universe (see Chapter 4 about travel to Alpha Centuri C).

Those readers who have the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time or follow the blog www.iamaguardian.com know that the writer has warned about these hazards specifically with the exception of artificial intelligence. The author has warned about climate change, nuclear weapons and genetic engineering/synthetic biology. While we have also warned about the ozone depletion of the planet’s atmosphere, we have recently written blog articles about asteroids and meteors hitting the earth. On these threats there is agreement.

Although the writer wishes it were not so, he is not the fatalist that Dr. Hawking is proving to be. The outcomes we fear, while all legitimate, must be solved soon by us before our worst fears come to pass. There is certainly no option to wait for a century to solve these problems. The climate change outcome is dependent upon what humanity does in the next decade.

All of these problems should be dwelt with in the next few decades. We must have faith there is a solution to each of these hazards that has been spelled out in the blog articles over the last four years or so.

The only one we have not dealt with is the meteor strike on our planet and this too can be solved. We can interrupt the trajectory of a meteor or asteroid that we know is coming toward us. So far we are making too little an effort to identify these objects and are making no effort to learn how to modify trajectories. We just need to get going.

We must stay the course on each of the threats we face. None of them involve quick or easy fixes. We cannot give up as Dr. Hawking suggests. We can be fatalistic but not in his way. We must believe human beings will confront each threat and solve the underlying problems. We should believe in ourselves to triumph over problems we have created or we can foresee.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents used to support this article.





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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 www.iamaguardian.com/category/protect/nuclear-weapons/ 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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What Do We Do With Our Nuclear Waste?

Posted on 11 December 2014 by Jerry

The U.S. leads the planet in disposing of nuclear bomb related waste at its one of a kind Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) outside Carlsbad New Mexico.  This facility was featured in an earlier June 2014 article entitled “A Nuclear Explosion in the U.S. in February 2014?”

Unfortunately this article does not include descriptions of the environmental problem of having no permanent underground sites anywhere in the world to store high-level, power-related nuclear waste.  We continue to not clean up after ourselves at our nuclear power facilities.

There are over 460 nuclear power plants around the world.  A survey of nations shows many plans for underground national nuclear storage sites, none of which have been built.  The vast majority of these plans represent facilities to be constructed by 2025 or later.

Nuclear waste from power plants is characterized in four categories: Exempt waste and very low level waste, low-level waste, intermediate-level waste, and high-level waste.  While there is not an estimated figure that represents the total worldwide annual nuclear waste, we do get some sense of it from a Congressional Research Service report.

According to the report “There were 62,683 metric tons of commercial spent fuel accumulated in the United States as of the end of 2009.”   Further the report identifies that 48,818 metric tons were stored in pools (78%), 13,856 metric tons were stored in dry casks (22%) and that the total increases by 2,000 to 2,400 tons annually.   These figures do not include the weapons grade nuclear material stored at WIPP.

Some high-level waste goes through two processes.  First, spent fuel rods are kept in a pool of water on-site for at least a year.   Normally however, the spent rods are kept in the pools many years in order to cool them and provide protection from radioactivity.  These pools use reinforced concrete that is several feet thick in steel liners to store spent rods.  Many power plants never remove these spent rods from the storage pools.

Another option is to move the spent rods from the storage ponds to dry casks after they have cooled at least five years in one of the ponds.  Then the cooled and less radioactive spent fuel rods are ready for a more long-term storage solution.  A Stanford University web site states, “Dry Casks typically have a sealed metal cylinder to contain the spent fuel enclosed within a concrete or metal outer shell to provide radiation shielding.”

While the dry casks represent an enhanced level of safety over the pools with respect to accidents or terrorists, they are still more vulnerable than long-term underground storage.  Underground storage is the best possible solution according to an international scientific consensus.  This storage is generally focused on a period of 100,000 years.  Any longer time horizon is difficult.  Some would argue that as a practical matter 100,000 years is too long.

This ignores however that the stored rods would contain very radioactive elements.  Included is cesium-137 and strontium-90 have half-lives of 30 years after which they are only half as radioactive.  Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years

The World Nuclear Association describes a few countries that have plans.   As an example the “Swedish proposed KBS-3 disposal concept uses a copper container with a steel insert to contain the spent fuel. After placement in the repository about 500 meters deep in the bedrock, the container would be surrounded by a bentonite clay buffer to provide a very high level of containment of the radioactivity in the wastes over a very long time period.”

Their report continues, “Finland’s repository program is also based on the KBS-3 concept. Spent nuclear fuel packed in copper canisters will be embedded in the Olkiluoto bedrock at a depth of around 400 metres.”  A difference between country plans is the underground medium that is selected as the safest place for storage.  Some countries prefer salt deposits, others want granite and still others have selected clay.

This is yet again another example of a problem that we have refused to resolve over the last three decades.  The permanent underground storage is a more long-term solution than any other option and yet the world is incapable of moving on this solution.

Even though we can all agree that an underground storage site is desirable understandably no one wants one in their immediate vicinity.  In the U.S., after spending tens of billions of dollars, we abandoned the Yucca Mountain solution due to political opposition from the Nevada political establishment.

As long as we side step this long-term (semi) solution, nuclear power will continue to be controversial and more dangerous and costly than any solar or wind array.  Nuclear is still a better option than coal but we have to break the logjam of resistance at geologically acceptable sites before it becomes a viable alternative that falls on the “green” list of acceptable options.

A final solution is that citizens of each country must overwhelm political resistance from other people living near a geologically attractive site.  This is where the needs of the many out-weigh the desires of a few.  In the case of the U.S. this means we should insist that Yucca Mountain be made available for this nation’s long-term underground storage.

The other option is that the U.S. and other countries of the world agree on the optimum storage site in the world.  Then they collectively have to provide sufficient incentives for that country to step forward and volunteer to house the world’s nuclear waste underground storage site.

As a postscript to the earlier article about the nuclear explosion and contamination at the WIPP facility, the Columbus Dispatch has reported $54 million in fines levied by the government of New Mexico on the federal Energy Department.  These fines are largely because the WIPP and the Los Alamos lab did not follow the Energy Department’s own guidelines about handling nuclear waste.  It is reported that the Federal government will spend about $200 million more to eliminate radiation contamination at the WIPP facility.

At issue is the unsafe handling of a canister of waste that was sent to the WIPP by the Los Alamos labs.  This canister ruptured in a storage room and contaminated more than 20 workers at the facility.  The clean up has forced closure of the WIPP.  Some say the closure is for an indefinite amount of time.

Use the following links to access additional information or the source documents for this article.




http://www.nei.org/Knowledge-Center/FAQ-About-Nuclear-Energy (click on Safely Managing Used Nuclear Fuel)







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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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