Category Archives: kernafval | nuclear waste

15,000 Abandoned Uranium Mines Protested At DC EPA Headquarters

Eurasia Review | Klee Benally | January 30, 2016


On Thursday, January 28 at 12:30 PM, representatives of Indigenous organizations from the Southwest, Northern Great Plains, and supporters called for “no nukes” in a protest addressing radioactive pollution caused by 15,000 abandoned uranium mines (AUMs) posing a toxic threat in the US. The demonstration was held at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters to call for immediate clean up of these hazardous sites, protection of Indigenous sacred areas from uranium mining, and for intervention in communities where drinking water is poisoned with radioactive contamination. The groups charged that the EPA has been negligent in addressing these toxic threats that severely threaten public health, lands, and waterways.

“Native American nations of North America are the miners’ canaries for the United States trying to awaken the people of the world to the dangers of radioactive pollution”, said Charmaine White Face from the South Dakota based organization Defenders of the Black Hills.

South Dakota has 272 AUMs which are contaminating waterways such as the Cheyenne River and desecrating sacred and ceremonial sites. An estimated 169 AUMs are located within 50 miles of Mt. Rushmore where millions of tourists risk exposure to radioactive pollution each year.

Indigenous communities have been disproportionately impacted as approximately 75% of AUMs are located on federal and Tribal lands. A majority of AUMs are located in 15 western states with the potential to impact more than 50 million people.

Out of 272 AUMs in South Dakota only one, the Riley Pass Mine located on US Forest Service held lands, has been cleaned up but the process has been called inadequate and concerns were raised about the reclamation budget. “My concern is how with the balance remaining from a $179 million mine reclamation settlement, the USFS says that local affected communities will be able to use the remainder on community projects and training to replace uses of the Grand River, which flows into Missouri River. The river is destroyed through this act of radioactive genocide.” stated Harold One Feather, a member of Defenders of the Black Hills, “After discussing the $179M Tronox settlement for the Riley Pass Uranium Mine Reclamation, the US Forest Service said the affected communities can submit budgets to use up any remaining balance after mine reclamation.”

Outside of the EPA headquarters the groups chanted, “Radioactive Pollution Kills!”, “No More Churchrock Spill, No More Fukushima!”, and “Clean Nuclear is a deadly lie!” in response to the EPA’s Clean Power Plan which they state promotes nuclear energy.

From January 25-28, Clean Up The Mines, Defenders of the Black Hills, Diné No Nukes, Laguna and Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment & Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, and Indigenous World Alliance, met members of congress, Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, DC.

The Clean Up The Mines! campaign is focused on passing the Uranium Exploration and Mining Accountability Act that would ensure clean up of all AUMs. The act was submitted as a draft to Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D–AZ) two years ago but has yet to be introduced to Congress.

Currently, no comprehensive law, regardless of mining era, requires clean-up of all these dangerous abandoned uranium mines allowing corporations and the federal government to walk away without taking responsibility for the continuing harms they have caused.

“This is an invisible national crisis. Millions of people in the United States are being exposed as Nuclear Radiation Victims on a daily basis.” said Mrs. White Face, “Exposure to radioactive pollution has been linked to cancer, genetic defects, Navajo Neuropathy, and increases in mortality. We are protesting the EPA today because we believe that as more Americans become aware of this homegrown radioactive pollution, then something can be done to protect all peoples and the environment. In the meetings we had in DC, not only were AUMs discussed, but we also talked about radioactive pollution from coal dust, coal smoke, and in water.

These show a need for amendments to the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act,” said Mrs. White Face.

The groups addressed extreme water contamination, surface strip coal mining and power plants burning coal-laced with radioactive particles, radioactive waste from oil well drilling in the Bakken Oil Range, mill tailings, waste storage, and renewed mining threats to sacred places such as Mt. Taylor in New Mexico.

“The U.S. is violating its own Executive Orders and laws intended to protect areas sacred to Native American people on public lands by applying the General Mining Act of 1872.” Petuuche Gilbert of the Laguna Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment & President of the Indigenous World Association, “The U.S is discriminating against Indigenous peoples when it permits mining on these lands. Specifically, the U.S. is violating: Executive Order 13007, Executive 13175, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“With adherence to out-dated, racist policies promoting colonialism, such as the 1872 mining law,Indigenous peoples across the country will continue to be oppressed, and we will continue to demand that our land be returned and restored to its original condition, to that of before the colonization by the United States,” stated Leona Morgan of Diné No Nukes. “The United Nuclear Corporation mill tailings spill of 1979, north of Churchrock, New Mexico left an immense amount of radioactive contamination that down-streamers, today, are currently receiving in their drinking water. A mostly-Navajo community in Sanders, Arizona has been exposed to twice the legal limit allowable for uranium through their tap–this is criminal!” said Morgan. Diné No Nukes is a collective focused on educating the general Navajo population about the issues created by US Atomic Energy Commission, as well as ongoing and new threats from the nuclear industry.

Tommy Rock, a member of Diné No Nukes and graduate student from the state of Arizona stated that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan was extremely similar to a crisis near the Navajo Nation in Sanders, AZ. “The regulatory agencies are responding by sending the Army National Guard to provide bottle water for the community of Flint. However, the small community of Sanders which is also predominantly an Indigenous community that is off the reservation are not receiving the same response from the state regulatory agency or the state legislatures and the media,” stated Rock who worked on a recent study that uncovered levels of uranium in the drinking water system of residents and an elementary school in Sanders that violated the drinking water standard for uranium. Rock continues, “The same can be said about two Lakota reservations. They are Pine Ridge and Rock Creek, Standing Rock Reservation that have not received any assistance from regulatory agencies. This exemplifies the inconsistency among the US EPA regions about responding to Indigenous communities compared to non-Indigenous populations which are facing the same issue regarding access to safe drinking water.”

Mr. Rock called for the community of Sanders to be included in the second Navajo Nation 5-Year Clean-Up Plan and an amendment to the Clean Water Act. “Another issue around water is the mining industry is contaminating the rivers. They are disregarding the Clean Water Act because the act does not address radionuclides. This needs to be amended so the policy can enforce that companies be accountable for their degradation to the watershed areas. This can also be beneficial to US EPA because they do not have the funds to clean every contaminated river by the mining industry and other commercial industry,” stated Mr. Rock.

“These uranium mines cause radioactive contamination, and as a result all the residents in their vicinity are becoming nuclear radiation victims,” states Petuuche Gilbert, a member of the Acoma Nation, LACSE, MASE, and IWA. “New Mexico and the federal government have provided little funding for widespread clean up and only occasionally are old mines remediated. The governments of New Mexico and the United States have a duty to clean up these radioactive mines and mills and, furthermore, to perform health studies to determine the effects of radioactive poisoning. The MASE and LACSE organizations oppose new uranium mining and demand legacy uranium mines to be cleaned up,” said Mr. Gilbert.

“In 2015 the Gold King Mine spill was a wake-up call to address dangers of abandoned mines, but there are currently more than 15,000 toxic uranium mines that remain abandoned throughout the US”, said Ms. White Face. “For more than 50 years, many of these hazardous sites have been contaminating the land, air, water, and national monuments such as Mt. Rushmore and the Grand Canyon. Each one of these thousands of abandoned uranium mines is a potential Gold King mine disaster with the greater added threat of radioactive pollution. For the sake of our health, air, land, & water, we can’t let that happen.”

The delegation was supported by Piscataway Nation and DC area organizations such as Nipponzan Myohoji Temple, Popular Resistance, Movement Media, La Casa, NIRS, & the Peace House.

*Klee Benally of Clean Up the Mines

Radioactive waste dogs Germany despite abandoning nuclear power

New Scientist | Daily News, 29 January 2016

Major problems at a salt mine where 126,000 drums of radioactive debris are stored are fuelling public distrust of long-term waste disposal plans, reports Fred Pearce from Asse, Germany


Ronald Frommann/Clean Energy Wire

Half a kilometre beneath the forests of northern Germany, in an old salt mine, a nightmare is playing out.

A scheme to dig up previously buried nuclear waste is threatening to wreck public support for Germany’s efforts to make a safe transition to a non-nuclear future.

Enough plutonium-bearing radioactive waste is stored here to fill 20 Olympic swimming pools. When engineers backfilled the chambers containing 126,000 drums in the 1970s, they thought they had put it out of harm’s way forever.

But now, the walls of the Asse mine are collapsing and cracks forming, thanks to pressure from surrounding rocks. So the race is on to dig it all up before radioactive residues are flushed to the surface.

It could take decades to resolve. In the meantime, excavations needed to extract the drums could cause new collapses and make the problem worse.

“There were people who said it wasn’t a good idea to put radioactive waste down here, but nobody listened to them,” says Annette Parlitz, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), as we tour the mine.

This is just one part of Germany’s nuclear nightmare. The country is also wrestling a growing backlog of spent fuel.

And it has to worry about vast volumes of radioactive rubble that will be created as all the country’s 17 nuclear plants are decommissioned by 2022 – a decision taken five years ago, in the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. The final bill for decommissioning power plants and getting rid of the waste is estimated to be at least €36 billion.


Ronald Frommann/Clean Energy Wire

Some 300,000 cubic metres of low and intermediate-level waste requiring long-term shielding, including what is dug from the Asse mine, is earmarked for final burial at the Konrad iron mine in Lower Saxony.

What will happen to the high-level waste, the spent fuel and other highly radioactive waste that must be kept safe for up to a million years is still debated.

Later this year, a Final Storage Commission of politicians and scientists will advise on criteria for choosing a site where deep burial or long-term storage should be under way by 2050.

But its own chairman, veteran parliamentarian Michael Muller, says that timetable is unlikely to be met. “We all believe deep geology is the best option, but I’m not sure if there is enough [public] trust to get the job done,” he says.

Lack of trust

Many anti-nuclear groups are boycotting the commission.

Although they agree Germany must deal with its own waste, they don’t trust the process of choosing a site. They fear that the authorities are secretly fixed on reviving plans for burial at Gorleben, another Lower Saxony salt dome.

Currently, 113 flasks containing high-level waste are housed in a temporary store there.

“One flask of high-level waste contains as much radioactivity as 30 Hiroshima bombs,” says Wolfgang Ehmke, who has been a campaigner for 40 years. “We cannot bury this waste here in northern Germany [because] there could be 10 ice ages, with glaciers scraping away the rocks, before the waste is safe.”

The protesters have wide popular support. And the problems at the Asse salt mine have led to further distrust of engineers and their solutions.

The abandoned mine was bought by the German government in 1965, ostensibly to research the suitability of salt domes for disposing of radioactive waste. Yet after two years, without waiting for scientific reports, the authorities secretly turned it into a cheap and supposedly permanent nuclear dump.

By then, 90 per cent of the mine’s 5 million cubic metres of salt had been excavated, and the mine was already buckling under the weight of the rocks above, says Ingo Bautz of the BfS, who oversees activities at the site.

As the walls bent, cracks formed. And because the miners had dug to within 10 metres of the impervious rock, in 1988, underground water started to trickle in.

The true state of affairs only became public knowledge in 2008. Despite hurried backfilling of much of the mine, the degradation continues. Brine seeps in at a rate of around 12,000 litres a day, threatening to flush radioactive material to the surface. “It is a disastrous situation,” says Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Environment.

Painfully slow

In 2011, the BfS ruled that the waste had to be removed. But the task is hard and likely to take decades. Just checking the state of the 13 chambers holding the waste drums is painfully slow. Engineers drilling to reach them through 20 metres of rock don’t know whether the drums have leaked, and of course they cannot risk a release of radioactivity.

Since work started in 2012, just one borehole has been completed into one of the chambers. Engineers say they will need to sink a second shaft and open up big new galleries where the drums can be made safe before they are retrieved.

But exploratory drilling has revealed that the salt dome is not as big as thought, says Bautz.

And unless care is taken to keep clear of the geological barrier, the excavations risk allowing more water in. “We can’t rule out that the mine could flood,” he says. “If that happened, retrieval would be impossible. We would backfill it all.”

Nothing will be moved until at least 2033, says Bautz. Meanwhile the bills keep rising. It costs €140 million a year just to keep the mine safe for work to continue. The final bill will run into many billions.

Is it worth it? Many experts fear that digging up the drums, with consequent risks of radioactive leaks, could create a much greater hazard than leaving them where they are.

A former top official on the project, geochemist Michael Siemann, told the media in 2012 that safe retrieval was unrealistic. “Many people know this, but no one wants to say it.”

“There could be a conflict between protecting future generations and creating risks for today,” Bautz concedes.

Germany may ultimately perform a service to the world if it can pioneer solutions that other nuclear countries may look to in the future, including the UK, which is struggling with its own waste legacy.

But if Germans ever thought that abandoning nuclear power would end their nuclear problems, they couldn’t have been more wrong.

Fred Pearce’s costs during the field trip to the mine were paid for by Clean Energy Wire, an independent non-profit media service.

Verarmd uranium en het Golfoorlogsyndroom

Henk van der Keur | stichting Laka | 20 december 2015

Dat in oorlogstijd de waarheid als eerste sneuvelt weten we sinds mensenheugenis. Wat telt is de versie van de oorlogsplanners die ons door embedded oorlogscorrespondenten wordt ingeprent. Nieuw bij de Golfoorlog van 1991 was dat voor het eerst een oorlog live in de huiskamer werd gebracht. Ik herinner me de televisiebeelden van de Amerikaanse nieuwszender CNN op de kabel, een hype bij het thuisfront.

We werden permanent bestookt met ‘precisiebombardementen’ die de kijkers moesten overtuigen dat dit een ‘schone oorlog’ was. Alsof er helemaal geen burgers in Irak bestonden en er alleen militaire doelen waren. De kijkers hadden geen flauw benul van de werkelijke situatie in Irak. Toen op 17 januari het luchtoffensief tegen Irak begon, hadden de Irakezen al bijna een half jaar zwaar te lijden onder het zeer strikte VN-embargo dat begin augustus 1990 van kracht werd toen het Iraakse leger Koeweit binnenviel. Officieel waren voedsel en medicijnen uitgesloten van de economische sancties, maar in de praktijk was er vrijwel geen aanvoer meer van deze basale behoeften.

Stervende kinderen

Een jaar na de Golfoorlog kon ik met eigen ogen aanschouwen wat deze oorlog had aangericht en wat de gevolgen waren van de aanhoudende economische boycot. Op een bijeenkomst van vredesorganisaties in De Balie in Amsterdam werd besloten een delegatie naar Irak te sturen in aanwezigheid van een arts en een aantal ingenieurs. Redenen voor dat besluit was het grote zwijgen van de media over het hoge aantal burgerdoden en een rapport van het medisch team van Harvard dat een onthutsend beeld schetste van de situatie in Irak, kort na de oorlog. Een groot deel van de civiele infrastructuur was vernietigd, waaronder levensmiddelenfabrieken en voorzieningen voor drinkwater. Het team trof tienduizenden stervende kinderen aan als gevolg van epidemieën die waren ontstaan door een groot gebrek aan schoon water. Onder normale omstandigheden waren deze infectieziekten eenvoudig te behandelen, maar door gebrek aan elementaire voorzieningen, waaronder medicijnen, konden die niet worden genezen. Een jaar later, vlak voor de lente van 1992, wilde onze fact-finding missie poolshoogte nemen van de toestand in Irak. Mijn opdracht was om te pogen grondmonsters te nemen nabij de restanten van het gebombardeerde kerncomplex Al Tuwaitha, circa 30 kilometer van Bagdad. Daarvoor kreeg ik echter geen toestemming van de Iraakse autoriteiten.

Mijn bezoek aan Irak was een harde confrontatie met de werkelijkheid. De ziekenhuizen waren nog altijd overvol en er was nog steeds een groot gebrek aan basale levensbehoeften. Het sterftecijfer bij kinderen onder de vijf jaar bleef onverminderd hoog. De aanvoer van bijvoorbeeld bouwmaterialen of onderdelen voor reparatie van waterzuiveringsinstallaties lag nog altijd stil, waardoor wederopbouw uitbleef. Feitelijk werd de oorlog tegen de burgerbevolking voortgezet met sancties. Wat ook opviel was dat het aantal gevallen van kanker snel toenam.

Radioactieve munitie

Dat er veel meer aan de hand was in Irak bleek al direct bij aankomst waarbij onze delegatie in de lobby van het hotel de Duitse arts Dr. Siegwart-Horst Günther tegen het lijf liep. Hij had restanten van munitie gevonden die radioactief bleken te zijn. Niet veel later leerde ik dat ze afkomstig zijn van 30 mm antitankgranaten van het A-10 grondaanvalstoestel. Die schieten met een mix van ‘high explosive’ patronen en ‘DU penetrators’. Dat laatste type antitankgranaat bestaat uit een kern van massief uraniummetaal. Het betreft een afvalproduct van de uraniumverrijkingsindustrie, ‘depleted uranium (DU)’ ofwel verarmd uranium. Voor zover bekend werden ze tijdens Operatie Desert Storm voor het eerst gebruikt. Het zware metaal heeft een opmerkelijk lage verbrandingstemperatuur. Na inslag op een hard doel verbrandt en verpulvert de munitiekern tot zeer fijne stofdeeltjes die zich tot ver in de omgeving kunnen verspreiden. Via de longen, slokdarm of open wonden kunnen de stofdeeltjes het lichaam binnendringen. Iraakse artsen leggen een verband tussen de uraniumbesmettingen en de opkomst van doorgaans zeldzame vormen van kanker na de Golfoorlog. Aanvankelijk trof het vooral jonge kinderen. Later – medio jaren negentig – spraken Dr. Jawad Al-Ali, hoofd van het Oncologisch Centrum in Basra, en andere oncologen van een kankerepidemie in Irak. Met daaronder veel gevallen die aan twee of drie soorten kankers tegelijk leden. Een verschijnsel dat onder normale omstandigheden zelden voorkomt. De kankerclusters waren ontstaan in gebieden waar veel gebruik is gemaakt van uraniumhoudende antitankgranaten.

Siegwart-Horst Günther

De arts Dr. Siegwart-Horst Günther overlegt ons foto’s van gevonden restanten DU-munitie en aantekeningen van waargenomen aandoeningen bij kinderen die er mee speelden Bagdad, 26 februari 1991 / foto Henk van der Keur

Gevaren bekend

Juist voor de Iraakse invasie van Koeweit verscheen een rapport van het Amerikaanse leger over het strategische belang van de uraniumhoudende antitankgranaten. In een bijlage wordt door adviseurs gewezen op de potentiële gezondheidsrisico’s van het militair gebruik van verarmd uranium. De auteurs wezen vooral op de gevaren bij de verwijdering van de restanten en besmet legermaterieel in post-conflictgebieden.

Al direct na de Golfoorlog werden ook bij Golfoorlogveteranen ziekten vastgesteld, zowel acuut als chronisch, met zeer uiteenlopende symptomen, die gebundeld werden onder noemer Golfoorlogziekten of het Golfoorlogsyndroom. Het Pentagon weet die ziekten aan vaccinaties, slagveldstress, en aan de gevolgen van bombardementen: sarin en rook van oliebranden. Later voegden de Balkanveteranen zich daarbij met Balkansyndroom (Bosnië ‘94/’95 en Kosovo ’99) met vergelijkbare symptomen. Zij hebben echter niet blootgestaan aan rook, experimentele vaccins en sarin, maar wel aan verarmd uranium en andere chemische stoffen. Ondanks de snel groeiende hoeveelheid wetenschappelijk bewijsmateriaal over de schadelijke effecten van DU, blijven maatregelen uit. Dat komt doordat er nog steeds grote strategische waarde wordt toegekend aan deze wapensystemen. Alle kernmachten beschikken over DU arsenalen. Zelfs in Duitsland – één van de weinige grote landen die ze niet bezitten – gaan binnen het leger stemmen op om ze aan te schaffen. In de Koude Oorlog waren de DU-antitankgranaten bestemd voor een mogelijke tankoorlog tussen de NAVO en het Warschaupact. Nu zouden ze gebruikt kunnen worden als het conflict in Oost-Oekraïne weer oplaait in een tankoorlog tussen de NAVO en Rusland of bij de oorlog in Syrië door de A-10.

Vier jaar na de Golfoorlog verbood de Amerikaanse regering het testen van de uraniumgranaten in de open lucht. De testgebieden zijn zwaar vervuild. Op de Jefferson Proving Ground is een gebied dat bezaaid ligt met restanten van verarmd uranium, maar er liggen ook blindgangers. De Amerikaanse atoomwaakhond NRC is vorig jaar akkoord gegaan met het voorstel van het leger om het terrein niet te saneren omdat het veel te gevaarlijk en heel erg duur is. Omwonenden maken zich ernstig zorgen over uitbreiding van de besmetting via het grondwater.

Dit artikel verscheen in een dossier van VD Amok in het VredesMagazine (december 2015)


Nuclear workers show America’s darker side

The Island Packet | Editorial | December 19. 2015

The numbers are sobering. The problem is immense.

In a special report presented over the past week, our fellow McClatchy journalists put faces on the heavy and often hidden cost of America’s atomic weaponry.

A total of 107,394 workers have been diagnosed with cancers and other diseases after building the nation’s nuclear stockpile over the last seven decades. At least 33,480 former nuclear workers are dead after helping the U.S. win World War II and the Cold War before getting sick enough to qualify for government compensation.

Taxpayers have spent $12 billion so far treating and compensating more than 53,000 sick nuclear workers.

But fewer than half the workers who sought help had their claims approved. More than 54,000 workers have been denied government help. Some say the government’s tactic is to “Delay, deny, until you die.”

South Carolina, home to the Savannah River Site outside Aiken, has certainly paid a toll to the silent killer. The site that turned 65 this year was established by President Truman to produce the basic materials used in the fabrication of nuclear weapons.

Nearly 40 million gallons of highly radioactive nuclear waste remains at SRS — 90 miles up the Savannah River from where much of Beaufort County’s drinking water is withdrawn. The waste is stored in aging tanks.

And the federal government’s poor record for helping its workers is matched or exceeded by its miserable record of dealing with the nuclear waste that will threaten workers and communities ad infinitum.

Earlier, McClatchy reported that the United States already has generated more than 80,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste, and the toxic materials are stored at some 80 sites in 35 states.

The answer is a central repository, and in 1987, after immense study, Congress decreed that site would be under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. There, nuclear waste would not be a human threat for at least 10,000 years. The government spent more than $15 billion preparing to accept the waste by Congress’ 1998 deadline. Utility customers also have paid billions into this solution. But President Barack Obama egregiously mothballed Yucca Mountain as soon as he became president.

What we see is a nation in denial. We see a nation willing to consider workers in its hodgepodge of nuclear sites to be collateral damage. We see a nation that has grossly underestimated the cost to the workers.

And we see a nation that for pure politics will endanger entire communities and states by failing to confront its sick legacy of the atomic age.

We see a nation that should do much better by its own people.

Plutonium exposure prompts investigation into inactive nuclear arms plant

Los Angeles Times | Ralph Vartabedian | December 18, 2015


The Plutonium Reclamation Facility building at right with blue doors, on the Hanford nuclear reservation in Richland, Wash., where an explosion occurred in May 1997 is shown in this undated file photo. The building is part of the Plutonium Finishing Plant.

(Associated Press / Department of Energy)

A worker at a shuttered nuclear weapons plant in Washington state was contaminated with plutonium earlier this month, triggering a federal investigation into the transportation of potentially contaminated ventilation devices through three states, the Times has learned.

The incident occurred during cleanup operations at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, a highly contaminated facility that has been inactive for 25 years at the Hanford Site in central Washington, along the Columbia River.

Department of Energy officials say they do not believe any individuals, apart from the single contaminated worker, were exposed to plutonium, though it is continuing its investigation into the incident.

“We are looking into this entire event,” said Erik Olds, chief of staff at the Hanford cleanup operation.

The worker, an employee of CH2M Hill, was exposed when he removed his hazmat suit, but a subsequent investigation found contamination on the ventilation unit’s hose.

The suspect ventilation devices had been previously transported to a fire department station, a personal residence and two factories in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, triggering state and federal response teams to inspect the plants and monitor individuals. Energy Department officials found that two of the three units transported to a salesman’s home had minor contamination, but it fell below federal safety standards, Olds said.

But Tom Carpenter, executive director of the watchdog group Hanford Challenge, said Energy officials were trying to minimize the seriousness of the incident.

“They are trying to quibble about the amount of plutonium, but no amount should have ever left the facility,” he said.

Meanwhile, high-risk cleanup work at the plutonium finishing plant, which is slated for demolition next year, has been suspended.

The inspections were conducted with health officials from Washington, Ohio and Pittsburgh.

“The Ohio Department of Health received notification from the U.S. Department of Energy that there was a possibility that some contaminated personal protective equipment parts had been shipped to a manufacturer in the Cincinnati area,” said Melanie Amato, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health. “A State Health Department team was sent to the location and conducted extensive testing but all results were negative. Subsequently, a U.S. Department of Energy team arrived at the location and tested with the same results.”

Any plutonium exposure or release is considered a serious breach of safety and security rules in the Energy Department. The incident is part of a series of mishaps that include a major radiological accident at a nuclear dump in New Mexico last year that resulted in a two-year shutdown. The accident caused low-level radioactive exposure to 21 workers after the contaminated exhaust from the underground dump was blown to the surface.

The plutonium finishing plant is among the most badly contaminated buildings in the nation. It was the site of a notorious accident during the Cold War when a worker was exposed to a massive dose of radiation after an explosion and became known as the “Atomic Man.” He was so radioactive that his family could not approach him for weeks. The room where the accident had occurred remained sealed for decades until this year when workers entered it for the first time.

The ventilation units that caused the latest exposure are about the size of a shoe box and worn on a belt inside the isolation suit, so it is unclear why the exhaust hose had any contamination. They provide cooling air to the workers, while other devices filter breathing air.

The worker exposed to the plutonium had particles on his elbow, but apparently did not inhale the material. Inhalation of plutonium is among the most serious radiological exposures, because the substance can become embedded in lung tissue and deliver a long-term dose of radiation.

The Hanford site operated a series of reactors that produced plutonium, which was then chemically refined and packaged at the finishing plant, before being transported for fabrication into weapons parts in Colorado or New Mexico.

Journalism at its best uncovers the ongoing deadly legacy of the atomic age

Green World | Michael Marriotte | December 14, 2015


The unfinished MOX fuel facility at the DOE’s massive Savannah River Site, part of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex whose operation has resulted in the deaths of more than 33,000 Americans, according to a new report from McClatchy News Service.

Radiation kills.

That is a fact, established by scientific bodies like the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and incorporated into government-established laws and regulations across the world intended to reduce one’s possibility of receiving unintended radiation exposure. It is a fact recognized, for the most part, even by the world’s nuclear power industry, which generates by far the largest amounts of man-made radioactivity.

That radiation kills is the fundamental reason to oppose nuclear power. Nuclear power might fail as an electricity-producing technology for other reasons in any case–economics, etc; but there would not be what is now a decades-long, powerful movement to prevent new nuclear reactors and close existing ones if radiation were benign. Because if nuclear power were not dangerous, why would we bother? And nuclear power is dangerous because of the radioactivity it produces, and which is always not only under the threat of catastrophic release but poisons us and our planet even when it functions “normally.”

There is public controversy over what level of radiation exposure kills–controversy typically generated by a self-serving nuclear industry which requires the weakest possible radiation protection standards in order to exist, much less expand, and by the radiation deniers who back that industry–but there is no controversy that at some exposure level, radiation kills. And, of course, the prevailing view (though not incorporated by government regulation) of the NAS and other global scientific bodies is that there is no safe level of radiation exposure, that every exposure, no matter how small, carries some risk of death from cancer or other disease.

We all know these truths, but receiving real-life reminders of them is always jarring. Receiving two real-life reminders on a Monday morning is particularly grim, evoking both empathy for the victims but, even more, anger at those who allowed–and continue to allow and even encourage–the atomic age’s legacy of death and destruction.

Kudos to those who uncovered what should be scandals on par with the worst abuses of government and corporate wrongdoing in our planet’s modern history, starting with McClatchy News Service, which spent the past year investigating the U.S. victims of the Cold War–those people who worked for our nation’s nuclear weapons program.

Titled simply Irradiated, McClatchy’s journalists report that the human death toll from this program was 33,340 Americans. Patriotic Americans who believed they were engaged in the right side (and they were) of a historic battle between two great powers and who also believed their government–our government–would protect them. It didn’t. Neither did the other side’s, but we don’t have many reports on that.

But rather than have me summarize their report, I’ll quote directly:

*McClatchy can report for the first time that the great push to win the Cold War has left a legacy of death on American soil: At least 33,480 former nuclear workers who received compensation are dead. The death toll is more than four times the number of American casualties in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
*Federal officials greatly underestimated how sick the U.S. nuclear workforce would become. At first, the government predicted the program would serve only 3,000 people at an annual cost of $120 million. Fourteen years later, taxpayers have spent sevenfold that estimate, $12 billion, on payouts and medical expenses for more than 53,000 workers.
*Even with the ballooning costs, fewer than half of those who’ve applied have received any money. Workers complain that they’re often left in bureaucratic limbo, flummoxed by who gets payments, frustrated by long wait times and overwhelmed by paperwork.
*Despite the cancers and other illnesses among nuclear workers, the government wants to save money by slashing current employees’ health plans, retirement benefits and sick leave.
*Stronger safety standards have not stopped accidents or day-to-day radiation exposure. More than 186,000 workers have been exposed since 2001, all but ensuring a new generation of claimants. And to date, the government has paid $11 million to 118 workers who began working at nuclear weapons facilities after 2001.

Read the full report here.

Meanwhile, the journalists at the Center for Public Integrity have been investigating another side of the atomic age: uranium mining and nuclear fuel fabrication in India. Their findings are no less disgraceful. Their long and must-read report begins, “The Subarnarekha River roars out of the Chota Nagpur plateau in eastern India, emptying 245 miles downstream into the Bay of Bengal, making it a vital source of life and, lately, of death.”

But this is not a story primarily about the past, about a Cold War struggle between two great powers. This is a story about today, about powering India’s commercial nuclear reactor program; a program for which the U.S. not long ago signed an agreement to be part of, and just this past weekend, so did Japan–both nations want to sell more reactors to India, which could only exacerbate the death and destruction along the “river of death.”

That U.S.-India agreement raised concerns even at the traditionally pro-nuclear State Department:

In a confidential cable to Washington, Henry V. Jardine, a career foreign service officer and former Army captain, expressed blunt dismay about India’s “notoriously weak” worker protections and substandard safety procedures around mines. If safety at civil nuclear projects like these was “an apparent failure,” Jardine wondered “what standards are being maintained in India’s nuclear facilities not visible to the public.”

Again, rather than me summarizing, read the full report here.

These two reports are both examples of journalism at its finest, and both McClatchy and the Center for Public Integrity deserve our fullest congratulations. But reports like these are also all too rare as resources for such investigative reporting continue to decline. The lethal reality of the atomic age probably doesn’t sell newspapers–or web hits–these days. That doesn’t make it any less real.

One could hope that such reports would make the radiation deniers reconsider their junk science views; after all, the radiation levels experienced by these victims in India and across the U.S. were nowhere near the levels even they have to acknowledge causes death and disease. Indeed, most of these exposure levels were probably below the level the “hormesis” advocates consider safe, below the levels where these advocates are trying to convince the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to stop regulating. One could hope, but it probably won’t happen.

But these reports show why the “nuclear-free” part of a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy system is so vital and why building that system is so essential. Because radiation kills.

Michael Mariotte

December 14, 2015


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Russian BN-800 fast breeder reactor connected to grid

IPFM Blog | Shaun Burnie (with Mycle Schneider) | December 15, 2015

Thirty-one years after construction start, the BN-800 Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) at Zarechnyy, in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia, was connected to the grid on December 10, 2015 at 21:21 (19:21 MSK). In the beginning the reactor will be operating at about 35 percent of its power. According to the IAEA, the BN-800 has a nominal net capacity of 789 MWe. The reactor first reached criticality in June 2014.

The extremely long construction time is no exception. Russia has connected only four reactors to its power grid over the past ten years (including the BN-800) and the average construction time was just under 30 years.

The BN-800 is eventually to be fueled with surplus weapons grade plutonium manufactured into plutonium-uranium Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, produced at the MOX fabrication plant in Zheleznogorsk, which produced first fuel in September 2015. However, BN-800’s initial core is a combination of MOX fuel with pellets supplied by the Mayak Plant, Chelyabinsk region and vibro-packed MOX from the Research Institute of Atomic Reactors (NIIAR, Dimitrovgrad, Ulyanovsk region). Of the total of 576 fuel assemblies in the initial core, 102 are fuel assemblies with high-enriched uranium.

A full MOX core with reactor-grade plutonium would contain 2,710 kg, while the use of weapons-grade plutonium would limit the quantity to 2,215 kg.

The Russian FBR program has limited experience with plutonium based MOX fuel. Due to a combination of cost and safety issues, most of the fuel used in the BN-350 and BN-600 reactors has been based on uranium with enrichment from 17% to 26%. Some experience with plutonium fuel was acquired in the experimental BOR-60 reactor and in a few experimental fuel assemblies in BN-350 and BN-600.

Under the United States-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), signed in 2000, each nation agreed to dispose of at least 34 tons of surplus weapons-grade plutonium. The original plan by Russia to fabricate MOX fuel and use it in light water reactors was amended with an additional protocol to the PMDA, signed in 2010, whereby the 34 tons of plutonium would be “burned” in fast reactors. The change reflected the long-standing commitment in Russia to a nuclear power program based on “closed nuclear fuel cycle”, including reprocessing and FBRs. However, earlier Russian plans in the 1980’s to construct five BN-800s in the Ural region failed to materialize. Its current plans to scale up FBR deployment to 14 GWe by 2030 and 34 GWe of capacity by 2050 no not seem realistic. Plans for the next stage in fast reactor development, the BN-1200, scheduled to be operational by 2025, have been postponed due to doubts over its economic viability. As part of its “Breakthrough” program, Rosatom is also working on another FBR design, Brest-300. Preparation for the construction of the pilot unit, Brest-OD-300, are underway in Seversk (formerly Tomsk-7).

As a fast neutron reactor, the BN-800 will be capable of breeding additional plutonium, which is one reason Article VI of the PMDA Agreement imposes a ban on spent fuel and breeder blanket reprocessing during the disposition process until disposition of plutonium covered by the PMDA is complete. However, before that time, Russia can reprocess up to 30 percent of the fuel discharged by the BN-800, provided that it was made with plutonium other than disposition plutonium.