Overview: Mass Radiation Exposure

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Author: Richard Denton, MD

Disclaimer: I am a medical doctor and will concentrate on the medical aspects. I have no conflict of interest as some nuclear physicists might who are paid by the nuclear industry.

Radiation is one of the six crises that this Platform addresses; each one could annihilate civilization as we know it. Radiation could do so in either an acute or chronic manner. The acute effects would come from a major accident, miscalculation, or terrorist attack or an actual nuclear war. The chronic effects are killing by inducing cancers and other medical conditions.

Radiation exposure is of course related to the other five global threat scenarios. Radiation is interconnected as part of a nuclear war that would immediately kill millions from radiation. A nuclear bomb is not just a bigger better bomb but emits radiation that kills locally and at a distance over time. Because of its power, it would put dust and smoke into the stratosphere that would cause a decrease of the sun’s penetration. A “nuclear winter” would result, causing death of millions by famine. Some people suggest that nuclear power is “green” —even the answer to climate change. But nuclear power plants could be a target of terrorists using cyberwarfare or crashing an airliner into a reactor.

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Over the past year or so, I have been reading on and off about the project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which is digitizing and re-analyzing old nuclear test films. Dr. Greg Spriggs – a weapons physicist – is leading the project, which has partnered with archivists and film preservation experts, including Dr. Jim Moye. This is vital, as many of the old film reels documenting the nuclear weapons tests are disintegrating from age and radiation exposure.

Dr. Spriggs has noted that the early bomb yield calculations (essentially the calculations determining how powerful the nuclear weapon is/was) was done by hand (with the assistance of a Kodagraph) during the mid-twentieth century (1940s – 1960s) and often at fast speeds (likely due to military, political, and societal pressure). This has resulted in calculation errors of the bombs’ yields. In some circumstances, a bomb’s yield is/was off by as much as 30%.

Three particular reasons (among many other reasons) that this is alarming include:

1) A significant amount of the contamination in the Marshall Islands was noted to have been caused by a “miscalculation” and “misfiring” of an United States nuclear weapon or nuclear weapons in the late 1960s. Is it possible these errors – and subsequently some of the massive regional radioactive contamination – were due to inaccurately analyzed test films and rushed calculations? Dr. Spriggs notes that the cloud height – depicted in the films – can be used to estimate nuclear fallout – and that the calculations for cloud heights were additionally off by as much as 10-15%. Dr. Spriggs notes – in The Verge interview – that many scientists were simply “eyeballing” the size of the explosions at this time.

2) How accurate is presently-used data in regards to the efficacy and power of the United States nuclear weapons fleet? I hope that nuclear weapons are never actually used, though it would be alarming to consider that some weapons may not work as intended, or may have inaccurate estimates as to their power.

3) Do other countries have similar errors in their nuclear weapons-related data?

The Seeker video on this project – linked below – alarmingly notes: “the U.S. detonated over 200 nuclear weapons to gather scientific data about their potential. That data was gospel for years, until a weapons physicist decades later found out the figures were off by huge margins.”

Please additionally see some of my previous comments on Project Save the World in regards to other bomb components now aging past their lifespan – such as the aerogel FOGBANK – resulting in degradation of bomb and weapon components. Concerns were voiced in the late 2000s regarding manufacturing of the aerogel FOGBANK, as this compound is/was classified and many people who know how to make it have either died, were senile, and/or are retired. There were several articles a few years ago (pre 2007-2008) discussing concerns that the United States may not have all the relevant information to restart FOGBANK manufacturing programs. Los Alamos Laboratories in their Nuclear Weapons Journal [Issue 2, 2009] (linked below) discusses various challenges in the manufacturing of FOGBANK – which restarted in the late 2000s/early 2010s.

Archiving the nuclear test footage is important. However, it is alarming to consider that governmental discussions are oriented around modernizing nuclear weapons, rather than dismantling them.

Here are some articles and videos (arranged alphabetically by author’s surname / project name) discussing the nuclear weapons tests films preservation project:

Title: How To Watch a Declassified Nuclear Test Film Like A Weapons Physicist
Author: Becker, Rachel
Publication(s): The Verge
Date: 13 May 2017
Link: https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/13/15633380/nuclear-test-film-declassified-weapons-physicist-watch

Title: Physicist Declassifies Rescued Nuclear Test Films
Author: O’Brien, Nolan
Publication(s): Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Date: 14 March 2017
Link: https://www.llnl.gov/news/physicist-declassifies-rescued-nuclear-test-films

Title: Declassified Nuclear Test Films Reveal Hidden Truths About Our Atomic Past
Author: Seeker
Publication(s): Seeker
Date: 3 August 2017
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-QVPXBcxLU

Title: Preserving the Past to Protect the Future
Author: Spriggs, Dr. Greg and Auten, Holly
Publication(s): Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Date: October/November 2017
Link: https://str.llnl.gov/october-2017/spriggs
Article Publication Link (Direct) : https://str.llnl.gov/content/pages/october-2017/pdf/10.17.1.pdf

FOGBANK-related articles:

Title: Did America Forget How To Make The H-Bomb?
Author: Baumann, Nick
Publication(s): Mother Jones
Date: 1 May 2009
Link: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2009/05/fogbank-america-forgot-how-make-nuclear-bombs/

Author: Lewis, Jeffrey
Publication(s): Arms Control Wonk
Date: 7 March 2008
Link: https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/201814/fogbank/

Title: Fogbank: Lost Knowledge Regained
Author: Lillard, Jennifer
Publication(s): Nuclear Weapons Journal [Los Alamos National Laboratory] (2009 Edition, Issue 2, Pages 20-21)
Date: 2009
Link: https://www.lanl.gov/science/weapons_journal/wj_pubs/17nwj2_09.pdf

Title: Fogbank Is Mysterious Material Used in Nukes That’s So Secret Nobody Can Say What It Is
Author: Trevithick, Joseph
Publication(s): The Drive: The Warzone
Date: 3 April 2020
Link: https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/32867/fogbank-is-mysterious-material-used-in-nukes-thats-so-secret-nobody-can-say-what-it-is

This may be of interest as well:

Rachel Maddow additionally discusses how “no one today remembers the exact formula for making [FOGBANK]” on page 221 in Chapter 9 (called “An $8 Trillion Fungus Among Us”) in her book “Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power” (2012). As such, FOGBANK has been a bit of a reverse engineering challenge. This chapter additionally discusses a few of the many maintenance-related challenges of the US nuclear weapons fleet, such as nuclear weapons’ external components simply falling apart from age. Maddow further notes corrosion and fungal growth on external components of nuclear missiles is a particular challenge for military bases in Louisiana, due to the humid and warm subtropical climate.

Apparently – according to Maddow – the engineering of some type of fuses for nuclear weapons was forgotten as well, as the old engineers who created them passed away before anyone thought to document the manufacturing process in detail. Another concern is that nuclear weapons may be undergoing unknown or unpredictable chemical reactions within their various components as they age. Stray vapours from an ICBM already caused an explosion in the 1980s – near the Ozarks in Arkansas. Could each nuclear weapon be a ticking, dirty, time bomb (even if not intentionally used)? Yikes.

An excerpt from Maddow’s chapter is available here: https://publicism.info/politics/drift/10.html

This is a fascinating interview – from Radio Canada International in 2010 – by Dr. Gordon Edwards on the risks of forest fires in areas with radioactive materials and/or environmental radioactive contamination. If you have ten minutes to spare, please take a listen to it.

Link: http://www.ccnr.org/Wildfires_2010_08.mp3

This is an interesting article about the situation of nuclear power in Switzerland.

Title: Switzerland Switches Off Nuclear Plant As It Begins Exit from Atomic Power
Author: 20 December 2019
Publication(s): Reuters
Date: 20 December 2019
Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-swiss-nuclearpower/switzerland-switches-off-nuclear-plant-as-it-begins-exit-from-atomic-power-idUSKBN1YO19J

Article Excerpt:

“MUEHLEBERG, Switzerland (Reuters) – Switzerland’s Muehleberg nuclear power station went off the grid on Friday after 47 years, marking the end of an era as the shutdown starts the country’s exit from atomic power.

The 373-megawatt-capacity plant which opened in 1972 has generated enough electricity to cover the energy consumption of the nearby city of Bern for more than 100 years.

In scenes shown live on Swiss TV, at 12.30 pm (1130 GMT) a technician pressed two buttons in the control room to stop the chain reaction and deactivate the reactor, shutting down the plant for good.

The closure is the first of Switzerland’s five nuclear reactors to be shuttered following the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan, which triggered safety concerns about nuclear power around the world.

Neighboring Germany is due to abandon nuclear power stations by 2022, while Switzerland’s government has said it would build no new nuclear reactors and decommission its existing plants at their end of their lifespan.

The Swiss decision to quit nuclear power was upheld in a 2017 referendum which also supported government plans to push forward sustainable energy with subsidies to develop solar, wind and hydroelectric power.

No dates have been set for the shutdown of Switzerland’s other nuclear power stations, although the Beznau plant near the German border, which dates back to 1969, is expected to be next.

As recently as 2017, Switzerland’s nuclear power stations generated a third of the country’s power, compared with around 60% from hydroelectric and 5% from renewable.

Muehleberg’s operator, the state-controlled energy company BKW, decided in October 2013 to shutter the plant, saying plans to invest in its long-term future were no longer viable.

Output has been winding down in the last few weeks as the final fuel loaded in the summer of 2018 was depleted.

After the shutdown, a 15-year decommissioning process will get under way, costing 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.06 billion). No plans have been agreed for how the site will be redeveloped.

Shutting down Muehleberg has generated mixed emotions.

“There is a lot of Swiss know-how in the power plant. Old valves, for example, which still come from (Swiss engineering company) Sulzer. A piece of factory and economic history is lost,” said one worker, who asked not to be named.

“It also hurts when we cut up everything that we have nurtured over the years.”

Anti-nuclear campaigners, however, hailed the move.

“Clearly, we welcome the decision to close the plant,” said Philippe de Rougement, president of the campaign group Sortir du Nucleaire. “We would have loved it to close much earlier.”

Switzerland’s use of nuclear energy had delayed its development of renewable energy sources, he said.

“Nuclear energy was a grave mistake for Switzerland. We have had the electricity, but the future generations will have to manage the toxic waste and they won’t thank us.””

Dr. Ann Frisch shared this fascinating article with me the other day and I wanted to share it with readers of Project Save the World.

Title: Nuclear waste disposal: Why the case for deep boreholes is … full of holes
Author: Krall, Lindsay
Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Date: 26 March 2020
Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/03/nuclear-waste-disposal-why-the-case-for-deep-boreholes-is-full-of-holes/

Article Excerpt(s):

“Many challenges to the viability of borehole disposal stem from the limit that modern drilling techniques impose on borehole diameters. Although the precise borehole geometry is dependent on location-specific geologic variables, deeper boreholes generally necessitate smaller diameters. Such a limitation has implications both in terms of the barrier system that surrounds the nuclear fuel and in terms of the ability to fully characterize the geology of the disposal site.

To accommodate canisters whose diagonal cross-section has a length of 30 centimeters, the diameter of Deep Isolation’s curving boreholes must be larger than 40 centimeters. Since this exceeds the 22-centimeter standard for oil and gas extraction, the technical feasibility of Deep Isolation’s drilling scheme remains unclear. But if it is feasible, then a 40-centimeter diameter borehole would restrict the thickness of the canister walls to about one centimeter. As compared to deep-mined repositories, which could accept canisters with walls thicker than 5 centimeters, thin-walled canisters will have adverse safety consequences for the workers who will load the waste into the boreholes. Therefore, potential worker exposures to and environmental releases of radioactivity during canister loading warrants careful consideration.

For instance, gamma radiation emitted by spent fuel can penetrate a canister wall and expose operators to radiation. The thick-walled canisters destined for deep-mined repositories will attenuate a significant portion of this penetrating radiation, but the thin-walled canisters inherent to borehole disposal will have negligible shielding capability.

The sheer number of canisters will pose further challenges. Canister designs for mined repositories will have a capacity of at least four spent fuel assemblies, whereas borehole canisters will each contain only one assembly. Lowering hundreds of thousands of flimsy canisters into hundreds of narrow boreholes in a safe, timely fashion will be tricky, to say the least. If a canister is punctured or becomes stuck during this phase, then the risk to operators and the environment could be high.

Investing in the necessary research, design, and development needed for drilling, shielding, and canister emplacement for Deep Isolation’s concept might be justified, if this approach would improve the financial and long-term safety case for spent fuel disposal relative to a deep-mined repository. But, the thin-walled canisters will also adversely affect long-term safety as well, insofar as they will be more likely to fail through corrosion compared to a thicker canister.”

This is a fascinating article by Julie Salverson – who is additionally the author of “Lines of Flight: An Atomic Memoir.” I am hoping to locate a copy of Ms. Salverson’s book once libraries re-open after COVID-19.

Title: They Never Told Us These Things
Author: Salverson, Julie
Publication(s): Maisonneuve Magazine
Date: 12 August 2011
Link: https://maisonneuve.org/article/2011/08/12/they-never-told-us-these-things/

Article Excerpt(s):

“Long ago, there was a famous rock called Somba Ke—“The Money Place”—on the eastern shore of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. Loud noises came from this place and it was bad medicine to pass near it. In the old days, a group of caribou hunters camped at Somba Ke for a night. One of them—a man named Ehtséo Ayah, known in his community as “Grandfather”—had a dream and saw many strange things: men with white faces climbing into a big hole in the ground, a great flying bird, a big stick dropped on people far away. This would happen sometime in the future, after we are all gone, the prophet said. In his vision, everyone died. Everyone burned.

Theresa Baton recounts this tale, recorded by the elder George Blondin, as we sit in her narrow, smoky trailer. There is a framed photo of Ayah on the sideboard. Baton is a strikingly beautiful woman, as slender and fit as her husband, Peter. They are two of the few Dene grandparents left alive in Déline, an indigenous community of several hundred people in the Northwest Territories. In the waning days of World War II, the people of Déline and the white miners working at nearby Port Radium ferried bags of uranium ore from the Eldorado mine—where Somba Ke once sat—across Great Bear Lake. The ninety-pound sacks were carried on men’s backs, loaded onto boats and transported about two thousand kilometres south to Alberta. The crushed ore was refined in Port Hope, Ontario. Then it was sent to the Manhattan Project in New Mexico, where it was used to develop the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Few Canadians know about their country’s role in one of history’s most destructive acts of war.

The day before I visit the Batons, their neighbour Isadore Yukon—who transported the sacks by boat—tells me his arms would get red from the ore, and he’d grow so exhausted crossing back and forth over the lake that he’d lie down on the bags to sleep. Peter and Theresa moved to Déline a long time ago, and the uranium mine closed in the early 1960s. Theresa says that when they lived at Port Radium, the women would make tents from the sacks for their families to sleep in. There has been a lot of illness since then, and many deaths from cancer. Déline has come to be called the “Village of Widows.” The town’s surviving elders say the prophet Ayah warned them. These are people who still have no word for radiation.

For decades, the Sahtúgot’ine—Bear Lake people—had only heard rumours about where the pitchblende, or uranium, gleaned from their land ended up. In the 1990s, a meeting between the Dene and Gordon Edwards, co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, confirmed the deadly tie binding Port Radium to Hiroshima. Then an extraordinary thing happened. A Dene delegation got on a plane and went to Japan to offer the hibakusha—the bomb survivors—an apology.

In 2001, I learn that much of the uranium used in developing the atomic bombs dropped on Japan was from Great Bear Lake. This information comes from a colleague, Peter van Wyck, who wants to know if I’ll accompany him on a research trip. How would I like to follow the path of uranium from the Northwest Territories to New Mexico? I’ve always been attracted to catastrophic events: the fault lines in the psyche of a culture; the secrets that fester in families, leak quietly into communities and eventually—sometimes—explode. I work in theatre, so I decide to tell the story of Great Bear Lake’s uranium by writing an opera.

A year later, I find myself in the Batons’ trailer. Dizzy from the cigarette smoke, I stand up to leave. Theresa grabs my hand and thanks me for coming. “You didn’t bring one of those tape recorders,” she says. “That’s good.” Later, one of the community workers tells me, “Lots of people come to interview the elders here. Not many come to talk.” As I bundle into my new snowsuit, Peter shakes his head and insists on lending me a pair of long beaver mitts. He says the weather is unusually cold at minus forty-eight, and that, if I pay attention, I can hear ice crack.

I wave goodbye and stumble into the frigid air. As I head to my hotel, I pass the cemetery with its rows of tiny white crosses. Sitting offshore in a blanket of brilliance is Isadore Yukon’s old tugboat, the Radium Gilbert—retired sometime in the 1960s and bought by the Dene Band Council for one dollar. Her graffiti-scratched hull tilts drunkenly in the snow. When they took a Geiger counter through the boat years ago, it was her shower that had the highest levels of radioactivity.

I started going to seminars about how to survive a nuclear war when I was sixteen. It was 1971, and the peace movement—the one my generation thought would save the world—was just getting going. Helen Caldicott hadn’t yet terrified us with her documentary If You Love This Planet, but I still didn’t sleep at night. While my parents sat with their Scotches watching Ed Sullivan on our black-and-white television, I went to the field behind our house on the outskirts of Toronto to see if planes flying overhead would drop something big. I lived in perpetual anticipation of sudden explosions. I wanted to be sure that when the world blew up there would be an escape route, a door with an exit sign. One Sunday afternoon in August, I clipped an announcement from the Toronto Telegram, figured out the mysteries of the subway system and found my way to a convention hall downtown. There, I looked at exhibits about how to keep food for long periods of time, and took notes on staying warm underground during a Canadian nuclear winter.

After graduating from university, I took the train west to the coast. I had job leads in Edmonton and Vancouver, so I researched each city’s escape plan. Every municipality, now as well as then, has a strategy in the event of disaster. Edmonton felt safer because there were highways out of town. Vancouver made me nervous—all those mountains hemming you in on one side, the unforgiving ocean on the other. During a beautiful summer spent on Wreck Beach, while my new friends were falling in and out of love, I read survival manuals and discovered that the most organized city in North America was Seattle. There was a clear chain of command, one person who made the decisions and put the action plan into effect: the Fire Chief. I seriously considered moving there.

When William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1949, he spoke about the curse of not having a future. “There are no longer problems of the spirit,” he said. “There is only the question: when will I be blown up?” In Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, Robert Lifton and Greg Mitchell write that, since 1945, personal losses—the death of a loved one, dislocation from home—have merged with extreme threat: “Just as, after Hiroshima, every antagonism between nations takes on the potential for destroying the entire world, so does every personal trauma potentially take on that end-of-the-world association.” Every danger we experience, personal or private, puts us psychically on the edge of disaster, worrying about the next emergency: an earthquake in Japan, a friend with cancer, a depressed parent.

For North Americans, the September 11 attacks didn’t inaugurate the visceral, urgent sense of threat to “home” and “security”; they merely ripped off the protective scab that had grown over the wounds of 1945. We still live in fear—of terrorism, of radiation contamination, of the apocalypse. The twentysomething man who owns the corner store near my house says he doesn’t think about nuclear weapons. But he knows the planet will have no edible food in ten years, so he keeps tins and seed packets in the basement. That is what humans do when we’re in danger: we hide, we conceal ourselves, we seek shelter. Like Adam, we are always running for cover. God asks Adam, “Where are you?” Goethe replies, “If I knew myself, I’d run away.”

Great Bear Lake is more than thirty thousand square kilometres of inland sea, close to the upper limit of the tree line. It’s bordered on its south and west sides by black and white spruce, with a sprinkling of muskeg; on its north, the forest gives way to tundra. During the 1930s, a whole village sprung up around the site of the Eldorado mine on the lake’s eastern shore. There was a school, a store and lodging for the white miners. Once, the circus even came to town.

I stay at Grey Goose Lodge, the only hotel in Déline. A dozen rooms, a restaurant, a gift shop and a porch. It’s February. With so little daylight, time is organized differently here, and there is unrelenting activity. Large vehicles idle outside, exhaust clouding the brittle air. If you turn the motors off, they’ll freeze up and you won’t get them going again.

In my hotel room, I run a bath and sit with my feet in hot water, thinking about what I’ve learned in Déline so far. “We did not know the ore was bad,” one person said. “Non-natives didn’t know, either.” The Dene started to ask questions in the 1980s when their men began to die. The Medical Officer of Health for the Northwest Territories only began a register of diagnoses and deaths in 1989–90; the year before, it listed fourteen Dene men who worked in the mining, milling or transport of radium and uranium. All of them died from cancers associated with exposure to radioactive contaminants: lung, bone, throat.

Deborah Simmons, a staff person for the Déline Uranium Team, comes to the hotel and drops off They Never Told Us These Things, a report the Dene researched, wrote and carried to Ottawa in 1998. The 160 pages are carefully detailed and plainspoken. I read that, from the beginning of the mine’s operations, the government had kept crucial information from the Dene. In 1932, the Annual Report of the Department of Mines mandated weekly lung tests for miners, as well as monthly blood tests for lab workers—but only in Canada’s south. The 1933 report included a lengthy and detailed examination of the ore’s dangers: “when the insidious and deadly nature of radium is considered, too much care cannot be taken.” But nobody told the Dene who carried and transported it. Nor, it seems, did anyone tell the white miners who worked underground, and who also lived at Port Radium.

Cindy Kenny Gilday, a Dene activist and a major force behind the trip to Hiroshima, writes about a packed community meeting in Déline, where lawyers delivered a year’s worth of uranium-impact research from the archives in Ottawa. “‘In the mountain of papers we dug up in Ottawa this year on this issue, there is not one mention of the Dene, your people,’” the lawyers say in Gilday’s retelling. “The hall went completely silent. The elders had incredulous looks on their faces, a combination of sadness and anger.”

The DUT has spent years researching the effects of the mine on the community. In 1998, it sent a delegation to Ottawa. A year later, it agreed to a co-operative process with the federal government to research the health and environmental impacts of the mine. The result—called the Canada-Déline Uranium Table Final Report, released in 2005—made twenty-six recommendations. Some have been addressed, and cleanup work in partnership with the Dene is ongoing. But the report also concluded that there was not enough evidence to link working for Eldorado to cancers in the area. Although significant contamination was found in the lake and on the mine site, none, according to the report, would harm the fish or wildlife the people depend on.

The CDUT report has faced criticism both inside and outside Déline. Well-known environmental journalist Andrew Nikiforuk expressed concern that the study’s narrow framing weakened its findings. Intertek, the official fact-finder hired for the CDUT report, was not able to access key archival information. The only statistics considered relevant in the determination of cancer-related deaths were body counts. But in David Henningson’s 2006 documentary, Somba Ke: The Money Place, cancer research scientist Rosalie Bertell argues that using death records to assess the effects of uranium on a population is insufficient. “Bertell maintains that the only way to do this kind of investigation (she apparently offered this to the community) is to do blood and urine analyses,” Peter van Wyck writes in his book Highway of the Atom, “which would at least allow for correlation with exposure.”

Eldorado was reopened as a silver mine in 1963, then closed again in 1982. Today, almost ten years after my visit to Déline, Alberta Star Development Corporation has extensively staked and test-drilled the area. The company’s website describes large uranium anomalies that have never been explored, and Alberta Star is trying to determine “if there is a potential resource to support the recommencement of commercial production at the mine sites.” Alberta Star’s permit, granted with permission from the Déline Land Corporation, officially expires in 2013, but if it continues to meet regulatory requirements, its mineral claim will remain in effect indefinitely. Uranium mining doesn’t just provoke controversy—it also provides jobs.

Known for their pioneering self-governance, the Sahtúgot’ine have undertaken a series of initiatives in land stewardship, including cleanup work at the various abandoned mine sites on the lake, as recommended by the CDUT report. Still, many questions remain. They Never Told Us These Things asks how Ottawa could have knowingly let the Bear Lake people select contaminated areas for settlement during their land-claims process in the early nineties. The Sahtúgot’ine say their families have lost faith in governments and their young people see no future; they believe that their place in the world is poisoned and their children will die.

The Dene report also mentions the Japanese: “We are suffering intense guilt and grief in our community that the materials we carried to the barges and to the aircraft went to make an atomic bomb that killed many tens of thousands of human beings in Japan. Our people feel that if they had been told what they were helping to do, they would not have done it.”

Shortly before I leave Déline there is a feast. I sit beside long sheets of brown paper rolled out on the community hall floor, and eat caribou and potatoes. The meat is too gamey for me; it makes me gag and I’m ashamed. I look around at the people I have met and wonder how I’ll do justice to any of this with the opera I plan to write. (It would eventually become Shelter, composed by Juliet Palmer and produced by Tapestry New Opera in Toronto.) I have tried to get a sense of this place but have deliberately not asked questions that might stir up painful memories. After dinner, two more people invite me to visit their homes the next day—my last in Déline—and have tea. Suddenly, a week seems painfully inadequate.

Following the meal, we move to rows of chairs and have a discussion about Eldorado, and what it means to unearth this history. A woman stands up, leans for a moment on her husband’s shoulder, straightens and says, “Let’s get on. It’s about the future. Enough with the past.” Another man beside her seems angry. He gets up, speaks to the group: “If you’ve got something to say, pull it out of your pocket. Otherwise, it will rot.”

When I fly out of Déline, I have a stopover in Norman Wells, the Northwest Territories. In the town’s small museum, there’s a display of photos and artifacts from the Eldorado mine, and I find a photograph of a bottle fastened to a plywood frame. I lean over the railing to look more closely. The bottle is attached to a commemorative plaque placed outside the miners’ changing room at Port Radium. Inside the bottle is trinitite, the olive-coloured, glass-like substance made when the sand hit by the first atomic explosion melted and solidified. The trinitite traveled all the way from the New Mexico desert to the mine at Port Radium. I decide to make the same trip in reverse.

At the National Atomic Museum in Albuquerque, there are sterling silver earrings for sale in the shapes of Little Boy and Fat Man, the two bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When they were first sold in the museum’s boutique, Japanese tourists complained and the earrings were removed. But when I visit in 2004 they are back, displayed on the shelf with other assorted souvenirs. I buy a pair, thinking nobody will believe me otherwise, then drive down an open highway to southern New Mexico, arriving after sunset at a cheap motel. I lie awake thinking about the next day, about putting on a miner’s cap and taking an elevator a mile underground. I think about cancer and gamma rays and wish I were writing an opera about eating and drinking across Italy.

I hit the road again as the sun comes up and suddenly, in the middle of scrub desert, there is the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, advertised as “the world’s first underground repository licensed to safely and permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste.” This includes all kinds of things, like lab coats and instruments, that have been exposed to enough uranium to have a half-life longer than twenty years—they will be radioactive for a very long time. The WIPP is surrounded by kilometres of fence and wire. I check in at the gate, park the car and meet an engineer, a public relations guy and a young indigenous man with a briefcase and a crooked smile. They sit me down in a boardroom and give me a two-hour briefing: what to know before going down the elevator shaft.

Things don’t go wrong at the WIPP. If they do, there are controls. For example, when you get “occupational exposure,” you’ll hear one of three levels of alarms (“Bell, Yelp or Gong”), at which point you move to the colour-coded staging area. You have to be over eighteen to visit. You sink more than six hundred metres, travelling fast in a tiny elevator, passing through forty-two square kilometres of fossilized coral reef; millions of years ago, this area was covered by ocean. Each drum of waste is wrapped in layers of lead and dropped slowly into one hundred million cubic metres of salt, one of nature’s most stable compounds.

Radioactive waste comes here by truck from seven sites across the United States—a huge, choreographed dance number. To get a truck into the WIPP, you need to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops; the engineer says, “We’re held hostage by politics.” I think of the elderly World War II veterans I watched the day before, guiding bored high-school students through the Atomic Museum. They delivered a sanitized account of why the bomb was dropped, with no mention of the politics around Truman’s decision: the opening gambits of the Cold War; the pressure to show America’s new weapon to the Russians and to create a test case the government could study.

The elevator plummets through the earth. We step out into a long tunnel bustling with workers, their hard hats eager spotlights in the dull blackness. I tentatively put my hand against cold wet walls of salt, and the engineer continues his story with enthusiasm. There are three or four trucks on the road at a time, travelling with their precious cargo. Two guys are on board each truck, and they stop every 150 miles for a complete two-hour inspection. The drivers need thirty-five thousand miles of driving experience, can have no violations, are all in their forties or fifties—they know what they’re doing. There have only been two “road events,” one involving a nineteen-year-old and a six-pack of Corona. The kid’s Toyota hit the back of the truck and flipped it at some rural intersection in a not-to-be-mentioned state. Apparently there was no damage, and they tell me the beer was okay.

I also have an invitation to visit the Trinity site in the White Sands Missile Range, where the first atomic bomb was exploded on July 16, 1945. I stop for a coffee, delaying, afraid of this part of my journey. It seems crazy to have spent my youth trying to escape a nuclear blast and to now, voluntarily, drive to Ground Zero. But it also feels like something is coming full circle in my life, even if I don’t know what it is.

I head west across sixty-four kilometres of the Tularosa Basin. White Sands, located in south-central New Mexico, helps the US military with “experimentation, test, research, assessment, development and training in support of the Nation at war.” On my way to the Trinity site, I step out onto the tarmac of a tiny missile museum. Holding my hair back with both hands as the February wind slams into me, I stare at what must be thirty military rockets, tall white cones crowded onto an acre of land, a flock of odd birds stranded in this empty way station.

White Sands is an endless expanse of desert and cactus, and most of what goes on here is secret. There is a great deal of terrorism research, and somewhere out of sight is a scale model of the building targeted in the Oklahoma City bombing. I’m taken through a guarded gate and driven into the desert until we reach a small circular area surrounded by a high wire fence. I walk inside. In the centre is a three-and-a-half-metre stone monument marking the spot where the bomb exploded. Every metre or so along the fence, tied crudely to the wire, are black-and-white photographs: the blast, the farmhouse where the scientists stayed, an atomic equation. As we enter, someone tells me not to worry; one hour of radiation here is about the same as skiing on a mountain in sunlight. I look at my watch.

My father is almost ninety. His most vivid memory of the atomic bomb, he tells me, is of my mother coming into their kitchen with a magazine in her hands. “I was cooking, a pot was simmering, I was stirring. She stood in the doorway, shaking, in a yellow sundress. Life magazine photos, I think. Thin-skinned, your mother.” He smiles and reaches a bony, spotted arm to pat me on the knee. “She was missing the tough layer, the one that keeps you safe. A strong woman on the outside. Inside, fragile. Things could break.”

August 6, 1945 was a Monday. The Enola Gay left Tinian Island’s North Field at 2:45 am. There were little explosions along the runway from the flashes of photographers, who were alerted that something big was breaking. Special Bombing Mission Number 13 took off without a hitch, with Little Boy in its bomb bay. The target was the T-shaped Aoio Bridge, in the centre of Hiroshima.

The Enola Gay dropped its bundle at 8:15 am. At 2:58 pm, the plane landed back on Tinian. The pilot was decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross, while the other members of his crew received Air Medals. On August 9, 1945, the Enola Gay flew reconnaissance to Kokura as a support plane for Special Bombing Mission Number 16, which dropped Fat Man on the city of Nagasaki.

Physicist John Manley suggested the blast of the Trinity atomic bomb—the first ever—looked like a black rose, its petals unfurling as it grew skyward. In October of 1945, a crowd gathered in the Los Angeles Coliseum to witness a recreation of the bombing of Japan. A mushroom cloud burst from the field to the enraptured cheers of the crowd.

Many of the atomic-bomb scientists were deeply conflicted about their discovery. After a party celebrating the first test, J. Robert Oppenheimer saw a colleague throwing up and thought, “It’s started.” Three months later, the “father of the bomb” retired as director of Los Alamos, and each worker was given a silver pin stamped with a large “A” and a small “bomb.” “I never saw a man in such an extremely nervous state as Oppenheimer,” US Vice-President Henry Wallace wrote in his diary. “The guilt consciousness of the atomic bomb scientists is one of the most astounding things I have ever seen.”

Fifty-three years after Fat Man and Little Boy, the delegation of Sahtúgot’ine travelled from Déline to Japan, to apologize to atomic bomb survivors and their relatives. The filmmaker Peter Blow was with them, shooting his documentary Village of Widows. When I watch the film for the first time in my living room in Toronto, it is an old Dene man’s testimony about the ore that stops me. “I thought it was gold,” he says. “I thought they made rings, or something, in the south.”

On my last night in Déline, I go ice fishing. A man named Gordon Taniton, his round face framing a flashing smile, has been teasing me that I don’t have “northern patience.” He picks me up from the steps of the small community centre. I climb onto his red snowmobile and we follow the shoreline of Great Bear, past tiny houses puffing smoke as the sun bleeds fire along an indigo horizon. We lurch onto the lake and head full steam toward a small white canvas tent about a kilometre out. As we pull up, Gordon switches off the engine and the silence roars back like a giant wave hitting an empty beach.

He takes me inside and proudly shows me a battered couch, an acrylic rose rug and an airtight stove. He loads it up with wood, tosses in a match and points at a dark circle cut out of the floor. “The fish down there aren’t just food. They give us Sahtú people our freedom. Maybe one will find you.” He hands me a cold black rod. “Don’t let the fire go out—you’ll freeze! Sit yourself on that couch, prop your feet to hold you steady and drop your line down. Then wait.”

I listen as the snowmobile disappears into the night. After a half-hour or so, my northern patience wears out and I pull out my copy of They Never Told Us These Things. The bundle of papers falls open to a photocopied page I hadn’t noticed before.

It’s a map, drawn in pencil, of the mine on Great Bear Lake. The names of its authors are written in the upper right-hand corner: Huey Ferdinand, Irene Betsidea, Mary Kodakin, Paul Baton. Along the top, a jagged line indicates a row of cliffs, the pencil tracing how the land curves into inlets. There are small squares indicating locations of interest: the tugboat that carried the ore, places contaminated by oil, a winter airstrip, a tennis court (beside chemical bags), houses for miners (beside sewage dumped in the water), a bank, store, skating rink, school. In a small circle is written, “deep pond on top of hill.” Outside the circle: “child drowns, pond drained.”

The map—situated as it is inside a report sent to Ottawa, a book on a shelf, an archive—shows what French theorist Pierre Nora calls “les lieux de mémoire.” These are sites where an intersection of history, memory and engagement “blocks the work of forgetting” and “carries a will to remember”; they are transitive moments in the culture of a living people.

Running diagonally across the map are two long, narrow strips, with a row of tiny arrows inside each. These are the underground tunnels that lead from the mine, more than 240 metres below the surface, to “way far” under the lake. Water has continuously penetrated the three-metre-wide tunnels. The Dene are concerned that, decades after the mine was abandoned, water that has absorbed radioactive minerals has filled the tunnels and is now seeping back into the lake.

Great Bear is a beautiful spot to sit and fish. I think of the 740,000 tons of radioactive tailings left in the lake beneath me. Thorium-230, a hazardous nuclide found in uranium tailings, has a half-life of about eighty thousand years.”

This is a very interesting article about Canada’s role in the development of nuclear weapons and the impact of uranium mining on the Dene (First Nations) people of Northwest Territories. The article additionally references a 19th century prophecy by Dene Medicine Man Ehtseo that may align with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan). The author of this article – Dr. Sean Howard – has additionally published several articles in Peace Magazine.

Title: Canada’s Uranium Highway: Victims and Perpetrators
Author: Howard, Sean
Publication(s): Cape Breton Spectator
Date: 7 August 2019
Link: https://capebretonspectator.com/2019/08/07/canadas-uranium-dene-bomb/

Article Excerpt(s):

“On numerous occasions in recent decades, Canadian governments have apologized for a host of egregious wrongdoings.

While such words of contrition are too often unaccompanied by adequate actions, they can help make visible, as Trudeau argued in his 2017 apology, the “hard truths” Canadian society needs to confront.

Yet the most extraordinary apology in Canadian history was surely that offered by the victims of systematic mistreatment by the Canadian government to the victims of a crime against humanity they unknowingly helped others commit. For on 6 August 1998, 10 members of the small Sahtúgot’ine Dene community of Déline (Fort Franklin) in the ‘Northwest Territories’ apologized in Hiroshima for the atomic destruction of that city – and the death of over 200,000 civilians – exactly 53 years earlier by a bomb made in part from uranium from their land.

The Dene didn’t even mine the stuff, a role reserved for the all-white below-ground workforce of Eldorado Gold Mines Ltd., placed under state control during World War Two. They were allowed only to help it on its long and winding way, 3,000 miles by river, lake, road and air, from Port Radium on Great Bear Lake to Port Hope on Lake Ontario, where, from 1942-45, the suddenly precious ore – the ‘new gold’ of the atomic age – was, together with ‘Belgian’ uranium from the Congo, refined and dispatched to Los Alamos, the desert lab in New Mexico secretly building the new, city-smashing Superweapon.

There, as Concordia professor Peter van Wyck chronicles in his 2010 study The Highway of the Atom, it “made its transformed debut at Alamogordo,” site of the Trinity test of 16 July 1945 (‘The Day the Sun Rose Twice’, an “entrance reprised shortly afterward, over the clear morning skies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

The existence of this epic road to hell was unsuspected by the Dene until long after Eldorado stopped mining for radium and uranium in 1960. Beginning in the 1970s, and spiking sharply in the 1980s, many of the men who had handled and carried the ore – and the men who had mined it – began to die from cancer, raising obvious questions about health and safety which soon led in shocking directions.

In the 1990s, Gordon Edwards, co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), told a group of Déline Dene there was compelling evidence that the ore that had made so many of them sick had been used to kill vast numbers of innocent people. By the end of decade, Déline was better known as The Village of Widows, the title of a film by Peter Blow, documenting not only the toll on the community but its extraordinary Hiroshima pilgrimage.

The Village of Widows was broadcast on the Canadian Vision channel in 1998; the following June, without mentioning the film, CBC News announced it “has learned about a dark chapter in Canadian history,” a scandal surrounding “the raw materials used to make the atomic bombs that fell on Japan.”

The “Dene,” the CBC ‘revealed,’ “were never told of the health hazards they faced, even though the government knew … as early as 1932 that precautions should be taken in handling radioactive materials”. Instead of which, for example:

“Paul Baton, now aged 83, used to lift sacks of uranium ore onto boats. He said workers dressed in casual clothes and uranium dust ” — gold dust yellow — “covered the men like flour.”

‘Paul’ Baton was actually Peter Baton, interviewed by scholar and playwright Julie Salverson for her Lines of Flight, an Atomic Memoir published in 2016. Peter’s wife, Theresa, told her:

…that when they lived in Port Radium, the women would make tents for their families to sleep in from the sacks that carried the uranium.

The image harrowingly evokes the poverty of the workers, as detailed in a December 1998 article, ‘Déline Dene Mining Tragedy,’ in First Nations Drum:

During the beginning of the war efforts, the mine was kept running at a very high pace, utilizing non-Native miners brought in from all over the country. The Dene were employed as ‘coolies’ packing 45-kilogram sacks of radioactive ore for three dollars a day, working 12 hours a day, six days a week.

This at a time when the ore was worth over $70,000 a gram.

Cindy Kenney-Gilday, a member of the delegation to Hiroshima and Chair of the Déline Dene Band Uranium Committee, told First Nations Drum journalist Ronald B. Barbour that the toll taken on “my own home” is “the most vicious example of cultural genocide I have ever seen.”

“Kenney-Gilday,” Barbour wrote, “who has suffered the loss of her father to colon cancer and brother to stomach cancer, stressed that” because “it is the grandfathers in Dene society” who traditionally transmit teachings and worldways to younger men and boys, “the loss of these men in the community” has left “too many men” without guides.

The guide to all Dene, of course, is the land itself, and the legacy of the Eldorado era has been to create “a radioactive heartland.” Wrote Barbour:

Over 1.7 million tons of radioactive waste and tailings was callously dumped into and around the lake, drastically contaminating food sources.

Kenney-Gilday, though, was keen to stress the link between the local and global tragedies involved. In Hiroshima, she told Barbour:

One of the widows expressed deep sorrow that the material that came out of our land had killed innocent victims in a land that’s foreign to us.

In 1998, the Déline Dene Band Uranium Committee released a 160-page, 14-recommendation report, “They Never Told Us These Things.”

In a 2011 article in Maisonneuve, Salverson recounts a community meeting in Déline to discuss the report, “where [non-Dene] lawyers delivered a year’s worth of uranium-impact research from the archives in Ottawa,” revealing that in “the mountain of papers we dug up … there is not one mention of the Dene, your people.”

“The hall,” Kenney-Gilday remembers, “went completely silent. The elders had incredulous looks on their faces, a combination of sadness and anger.”

Nor were they once mentioned in Eldorado: Canada’s National Uranium Company, the official company history commissioned from University of Toronto historian Robert Bothwell in the early 1980s as controversy grew over the criminal negligence of Eldorado as both as a private and Crown corporation.

Van Wyck quotes a 1986 review, noting that:

[A] company history is often a sign of trouble. It frequently signifies the passing of a generation of managers, the need to clean up the company image after a corporate catastrophe, or the loss of institutional memory. Increasingly, corporate histories are now being written as part of a long-range planning process. This book by Robert Bothwell is an example of all of the above.

The pernicious result, as van Wyck laments, is that despite its abject failure to “consider issues of health and safety or Aboriginal involvement,” or to draw “comprehensively” on company archives now under lock-and-key in Ottawa, Bothwell’s account – “the work of a single author under a contractual arrangement with a corporate body” – has “come to constitute the field of historical facts for all questions pertaining to Eldorado.”

In 1999, the Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development appointed a Canada-Déline Uranium Table (CDUT) to investigate ‘health and environmental issues relating to the Port Radium mine.’ In 2005, its final report, while acknowledging “the perceptual link between exposure to mining activities and illness and death,” found no evidence of abnormal cancer rates in the area; it also concluded that the numerous environmental “impacts” and examples of contamination it considered were “not a cause of concern from an ecological perspective.”

The findings, Salverson writes, drew fierce criticism from “both inside and outside Déline”: “Well-known environmental journalist Andrew Nikiforuk,” who had been studying the issue for years, “expressed concern that the study’s narrow framing weakened its findings,” while “Intertek, the official fact-finder hired for the CDUT report, was not able to access key archival information” – the very information, perhaps, that had so disinterested Bothwell.

Most controversially, the “only statistics considered relevant in the determination of cancer were body counts,” with other easily-obtainable, highly-pertinent evidence (e.g. blood and urine samples) excluded, despite the report’s own admission that “cancer statistics should be interpreted cautiously because of gaps in the NWT cancer registry prior to 1990 and the small populations in both Déline and the NWT.”

As van Wyck notes, in a 2006 documentary on Déline – David Hennington’s Somba Ke: The Money Place – scientist and anti-nuclear campaigner Dr. Rosalie Bertell argued that relying “on death records alone” effectively killed off the study: “Yet again,” he writes, “the testimony of their dead has proven insufficient. Once again, the living are passed over in silence.”

In a 2008 CBC radio documentary, Bothwell claimed that uranium from the Eldorado mine was not used in the bombs dropped on Japan, basing his conclusion – that only the higher-quality ore from the Congo was needed – on documents seen in the course of his 1980s research. Although such documents might be among those the Déline Dene are barred from viewing, it seems odd that Canadian government agencies should either not know or would deliberately exaggerate the extent of the country’s wartime role. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), for example, provides the public with a presumably well-informed summary of ‘Canada’s Historical Role in Developing Nuclear Weapons’:

The extraction and processing or uranium as well as research into the production of nuclear materials for military purposes are part of Canada’s history. The better-known chapter of that history is probably Canada’s participation in the Manhattan Project … when our country supplied and refined uranium for use in US facilities.

On 6 August 1945, C.D. Howe, Canada’s Minister of Munitions and Supply and Reconstruction, issued a statement – or what van Wyck called “a terrifying sociopathic analysis” – arguing “the real significance” of Hiroshima was not that “this new bomb has accomplished an almost incredible feat of destruction, important as that fact may be,” but that “the bomb is a sign in which we can all appreciate that the basic problems of the release of energy by atomic fission have been solved.”

A week later, responding to “widespread interest in the work carried on in Canada,” Howe’s ministry provided more details of ‘Canada’s Role in Atomic Bomb Drama,’ including naming the 89 Canadian scientists (eight of them women) employed at a hitherto-secret atomic research laboratory in Montreal. Howe himself – who offered the Americans “Alberta’s wide-open spaces as a test site for the new weapon” – stressed that:

…having ample supplies of basic materials, good water supplies, and isolated sites well suited to the work, Canada … has been able to enter as a pioneer into an important new field …

Yet how well-known is this history today? In Lines of Flight, Salverson recounts her first contact with such facts, a phone call from her friend Peter van Wyck: “Did you know,” he asked, “that the uranium used to develop the atomic bombs dropped on Japan came from a uranium mine in northern Canada?” “No, she admits, “I didn’t. Nor did most people, I would later learn. Somehow this was left out of our public school curriculum.”

Van Wyck himself only learned from watching Village of Widows: for both, Canada’s contributions to the greatest ‘drama’ of modern history were Things They Were Not Told. (The extent of this ‘erasure’ will presumably have varied widely in time and place over the atomic age, and I welcome any feedback from Spectator readers on their own experiences as teachers or students.)

In 2015, van Wyck wrote of the Dene apology : “how is it that one comes to assume responsibility for that over which one has no control. How? How in the midst of recognizing their own disaster, did they attend to the Japanese survivors? Struggle though I have, I cannot answer this question.”

One factor, I suspect, is the fact the Dene were warned by the 19th century prophet and medicine man Ehtseo (Louis Ayah), that the Somba Ke rock – future site of the Eldorado mine – would become the source of great evil. As told in George Blondin’s 1990 collection, When the World was New: Stories of the Sahtú Dene, Ehtseo recounted a vision of “people going into a big hole in the ground – strange people, not Dene. Their skin was white…and they were going into a hole with all kinds of metal tools and machines.” Then “I saw”:

..big boats with smoke coming out of them, going back and forth on the river. And I saw a flying bird – a big one. They were loading it with things… I watched them and finally saw what they were making – it was something long, like a stick. … I saw what harm it would do when the big bird dropped this thing on people – they all died from this long stick, which burned everyone. The people they dropped this long thing on looked like us, like Dene. … But it isn’t for now; it’s a long time in the future.

And ‘for now,’ in They Never Told Us These Things, we have the acknowledgment of the Déline Dene not only that “we are suffering intense grief…that the materials we carried to the barges and to the aircraft went to make an atomic bomb that killed many tens of thousands of human beings in Japan,” but that “our people feel that if they been told what they were helping to do, they would not have done it”, surely suggesting the apology was intended in part to convey – perhaps to themselves, and future generations, as well as others – that given the chance they would have shown sufficient humanity, to resist such inhumanity. That they would today be able to say, as Chief Poundmaker proudly declared in 1885: “I did everything to stop bloodshed. If I had not, there would have been plenty of blood spilled…”

The hard truth is that no apology can ‘unspill’ blood, no confession undo a crime. But does that mean the Prime Minister should not say sorry, in Déline and in Hiroshima?”

An interesting article from Bellona regarding the impacts of COVID-19 on the nuclear energy industry. A number of sensitive sectors – such as nuclear power plant operators – are requesting staff member lodge on site to limit potential exposure routes to COVID-19. This further illustrates concerns over the aging and shrinking workforce of experts and technicians in the field of nuclear energy.

Title: Covid-19 Could Cause Staff Shortages in the Nuclear Power Industry
Author: Digges, Charles
Publication(s): Bellona (Nuclear Issues)
Date: 20 March 2020
Link: https://bellona.org/news/nuclear-issues/2020-03-covid-19-could-cause-staff-shortages-in-the-nuclear-power-industry

Article Excerpt(s):

“As the Covid-19 virus grinds world economies to a halt, several national nuclear operators are weighing how to keep sensitive and vulnerable infrastructure chugging along in the face of staff shortages due to the illness.

A number of national contingency plans, if enacted, could mark an unprecedented step by nuclear power providers to keep their highly-skilled workers healthy as governments scramble to minimize the impact of the global pandemic that has infected more than 240,000 people worldwide.

Officials in the United States, for instance, have suggested they might isolate critical technicians at the country’s nuclear power plants and ask them to live onsite to avoid exposure to the virus. Many operators say they have been stockpiling beds, blankets and food to support staff for that purpose.

Should that fail to stem the pandemic’s effect on the nuclear work force, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it would shut down any of America’s 60 nuclear plants if they can’t be appropriately staffed.

Other operators, however, are already seeing the spread of the infection slow things down. In Great Britain, authorities announced they are shutting down a nuclear fuel reprocessing site at Sellafield after 8 percent of its 11,500-strong staff were forced to self-isolate to avoid infection. The move came after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus last week, and will lead to a gradual shutdown of the site’s Magnox facility, which is slated to close permanently later this year.

Sellafield told employees that it would work to “make best use of available people”.

France, the world’s most nuclear dependent nation, announced staff reductions at its Flameville plant in the country’s north. The EDF, France’s national nuclear operator, said that, due to high regional infection rates, it was reducing the staff at the plant from 800 to 100. As early as March 10, EDF reported that three workers at nuclear power plants had tested positive for the virus.

A spokesman for the Flameville plant told Reuters that “we have decided to only keep those in charge of safety and security” working while the coronavirus crisis runs its course.

French grid operator RTE expects nuclear availability to stay 3.6GW below the 2015 to 2019 average and likewise predicts a national drop in nuclear demand.

Taken together, the emergency responses of national nuclear operators are symptoms of a big problem that Covid-19 posed to the nuclear sector, Mycle Schneider and independent energy and nuclear policy analyst told Power Technology Magazine.

“Covid-19 constitutes an unprecedented threat on sensitive strategic infrastructure, above all the power sector,” he said.

“The French case sheds light on a fundamental societal safety and security issue that got little attention in the current Covid-19 crisis. Operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants draw on a small group of highly specialized technicians and engineers.”

Because of that very level of specialization, some in the US nuclear industry are considering simply isolating nuclear plant technicians onsite in a sort of preventative quarantine.

Maria Korsnick, head of the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute told the New York Times that plants are “considering measures to isolate a core group to run the plant, stockpiling ready-to-eat meals and disposable tableware, laundry supplies and personal care items.”

The US Department of Homeland Security is responsible for working with nuclear power plant operators to maintain their operations during a national emergency. On Thursday, the department issued guidelines that echoed the ones suggested by Korsnick.

“When continuous remote work is not possible, businesses should enlist strategies to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease,” the DHS said in a memo, according to Power Magazine. “This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, separating staff by off-setting shift hours or days and/or social distancing.”

Roy Palk, president and CEO of New Horizons Consulting, which advises energy companies in the US, told the magazine that, “There are a lot of unanswered questions because this is not a model everyone is used to working with.”

To keep the lights on, he said, utilities and power plant operators might have to consider keeping staff onsite for the long term.

“These operators have a license to operate, they’re highly skilled, highly trained. They have to be certified.” he told the magazine. “These individuals need to be on the job, they need to be healthy. They have a big obligation to the public.”

Reuters contacted a dozen other power providers, all of whom said they were implementing plans to moderate risks to their employees and to ensure continuity of service, but who declined to comment on whether sequestering staff was a possibility.

In New York, Consolidated Edison Inc, which provides power to around 3.3 million customers and gas to about 1.1 million customers in New York City and Westchester County – both of which are under virus lockdowns – said it was taking steps to keep critical employees healthy, including separating some control center personnel to other locations where they can perform their work.

Duke Energy Corp, which provides power to 7.7 million customers in six states and gas to 1.6 million customers in five states, said it instituted additional worker screening measures, such as temperature checks, at generating and other critical facilities.

Puget Sound Energy, which serves more than 1.5 million customers in the Seattle, Washington area – a region hard hit by coronavirus – said all non-essential workers are working remotely, and the utility has limited access to facilities that provide critical operations.”

Mr. Fred Pearce – the author of “Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age” (2018) published the following article in The Atlantic in May 2018. The article discusses the legacy of decades of nuclear waste from nuclear power plants across the United States. Mr. Pearce is a freelance author and investigative journalist based in the United Kingdom, though has worked globally. I thought that this article may be of interest to members, readers, and viewers of Project Save the World.

Title: The 60-Year Downfall of Nuclear Power in the U.S. Has Left a Huge Mess
Author: Pearce, Fred
Publication(s): The Atlantic
Date: 28 May 2018
Link: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/05/the-60-year-downfall-of-nuclear-power-in-the-us-has-left-a-huge-mess/560945/

An interesting summary from CBC’s Canada: A People’s History in regards to Canada’s connection to the production of the atomic bombs used on Hiroshima (Japan) and Nagasaki (Japan) via uranium mining.

Title: Mining for a Bomb
Author: CBC – Canada: A People’s History
Publication(s): CBC – Canada: A People’s History
Date: 2001
Link: https://www.cbc.ca/history/EPISCONTENTSE1EP14CH2PA3LE.html

Article Excerpt(s):

“Canada supplies uranium for the development of the U.S. atomic bomb, while native-Canadian miners work in clouds of radioactive dusk

One of Canadas biggest contributions to the war effort remained shrouded in secrecy in early 1940s. And the secret would devastate the northern Canadian natives who were hired to mine a deadly metal called uranium.
In 1942, a group of scientists led by physicist Enrico Fermi used a pile of uranium and graphite in an abandoned squash court at the University of Chicago to demonstrate the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.

The experiment launched the Manhattan Project, the race to build an atomic bomb during the Second World War. Fundamental to the American military’s work was a ready supply of uranium, a deadly radioactive element crucial to the construction of nuclear weapons. The Americans contacted their Canadian allies to fulfill the needs.

Years earlier, Gerald Labine had found uranium on the remote shores of Great Bear Lake in the Northwest Territories. Hed closed the mine at the outbreak of war but in 1942 received a phone call from C.D. Howe, the Minister of Munitions and Supply and the mastermind behind Canadas economic war transformation.

“I want you to reopen,” Howe told Labine. “Get together the most trustworthy people you can find. The Canadian Government will give you whatever money is required… And for God’s sake don’t even tell your wife what you’re doing.”

The ore was mined by the Dene, a semi-nomadic people who followed the migratory caribou herds. The miners were paid three dollars a day to haul forty-five kilogram sacks of ore out to barges on the Mackenzie River for the long trip to the United States. The Dene called the grey stone the “money rock.”

By the end of 1943, the mine was operating at full capacity, producing the 60 tonnes of uranium oxide requested by the Americans. Paul Baton worked for three months in clouds of the radioactive dust.

“I was coated like flour in radium dust as it leaked from the heavy bags on my back. It gets into your clothes, hair, mouth and hands. During the long barge trips across the lake and down the Bear and Mackenzie we would sleep and sit on the sacks.”

In Ottawa, mining officials were warned that exposure to radium dust was harmful. (Radium is a radioactive metal found in uranium.) The information was kept secret.

Local children also played with the ore and waste from the mine was dumped into Great Bear Lake. Dene women used the discarded sacks as shelters.

“Our canvas tents were all worn out and could not keep the rain out very well. Because the men worked as labourers for the mine, they kept ripped ore bags and brought these back for us to use. I made three tents from these bags. ”

After the war, the Dene town on the shores of Great Bear Lake would become known as the village of widows, because so many of the men die of cancer.

At Los Alamos, New Mexico, the uranium was used to develop the first atomic bomb in a feverish race that brought together dozens of scientists. Howe offered Albertas wide-open spaces as a test site for the new weapon but the Americans preferred the New Mexico desert.

The atomic bomb was successfully tested on July 16, 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Then on August 6, the American bomber Enola Gay, flew over Japan and dropped the atomic bomb code-named Fat Man on Hiroshima, a city of 343,000. Sixty per cent of the city was razed by the blast, and 100,000 people died immediately, with tens of thousands dying of radiation poisoning within several months.”

I read this interesting article from Public Watchdogs earlier this evening. The article discusses the risk of radioactive-contaminated geysers forming in areas with buried nuclear waste products – especially if subterranean storage silos flood. This is due to the radioactive-materials heating the groundwater and is coined the Yellowstone Effect.

Link: https://publicwatchdogs.org/flooding-likely-to-create-radioactive-geysers-at-songs/

“According to the report, if the superheated silos are flooded, they could potentially erupt with deadly radioactive steam geysers. The phenomenon has been dubbed “The Yellowstone Effect,” because the geysers are likely to mimic the action of the famous “Old Faithful” geyser at Yellowstone National Park. According to Edison’s own documents, the beachfront nuclear waste storage facility is subject to flooding and bluff collapse.

The exterior temperature of the thin-walled canisters average 452°F, while the surface of the silos that hold them are at least 350°F, well above the boiling point of water (212°F). In the event of flooding, cold ocean water will flash to steam once it enters the superheated silos, ejecting a deadly blast of radioactive steam from the outlet vents at the top of the below-ground silos.

According to Paul Blanch, a Public Watchdogs’ subject matter expert, “If the site is flooded, the integrity of the 5/8” thick stainless steel canisters may be compromised by pressure and thermal shock. We expect the phenomenon to occur whenever water floods the silos.”

An interesting article from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) around the risks of transporting nuclear and/or radioactive materials.

Title: A Moving Target: Nuclear Security During Transport
Author: Pletukhina, Inna
Publication(s): International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) News
Date: 24 January 2020
Link: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/a-moving-target-nuclear-security-during-transport
Notes: The article identifies that even minor variables – such as a small traffic collision – can have significant impacts. The article additionally acknowledges the challenges of unpredictable variables in the modelling of transportation safety protocols. 

Article Excerpt(s):

“Nuclear and other radioactive material is hardest to protect when it is transported from point A to point B — more than half of the incidents of theft of radioactive material reported to the IAEA between 1993 and 2019 occurred while it was in transport.

How to further strengthen nuclear security during transport is one of the topics that will be discussed at the IAEA’s upcoming International Conference on Nuclear Security: Sustaining and Strengthening Efforts (ICONS 2020). The conference will provide a forum for ministers, policymakers, senior officials and experts to discuss current approaches and priorities for nuclear security.

“There are a lot of moving parts when transporting these materials, which makes them an appealing target for theft or sabotage,” said David Ladsous, Head of the Transport Security Unit at the IAEA. “Secure transport at every step is essential to ensuring society can continue to benefit from these materials, while keeping them out of the hands of terrorists or criminals.”

Around 20 million shipments of nuclear and other radioactive material are regularly transported within countries and across borders each year. These materials are used in industry, agriculture and medicine, as well as in education. Some of them are also radioactive sources that are no longer useful, known as disused sources.

The aim of nuclear security during transport is to ensure that the material is secured throughout and that it is not used for criminal or malicious purposes. While the level of security differs depending on the sensitivity of the material, the fundamental elements of secure transport include physical protection, administrative measures, training and protection of information about the transport routes and schedule. In some cases, escort personnel may also need to be armed.

Some of the major challenges with transport include the fluidity of the situation and the need to continually assess any potential threats and adjust the plans accordingly.

“At a stationary facility, it is easier to protect a radioactive source, or a disused source, through the facility’s security systems and measures as well as its layers of defense. When it is in transport, there are many more variables, people involved and context changes with every mile travelled. Even an incident as small as a minor traffic collision could freeze the flow of traffic and paralyze the movement of people and goods,” Ladsous said.

To prepare for all possible scenarios, the professionals involved, such as operators, regulators, police, military, and health and environmental agencies, have to use agreed operational procedures and communication methods. These coordinated efforts are guided by legislation and regulations that designate appropriate responsibilities to the relevant authorities, outline communication procedures and ensure sufficient financial support. When this coordination occurs internationally, it involves all relevant customs and transit authorities, which is often facilitated with support from the IAEA.

“During conversion of our research reactor from high enriched to low enriched uranium fuel, we had to transport highly radioactive spent reactor fuel from the site to the airport to be sent back to the original manufacturer, and we had to transport the new low enriched uranium fuel from the airport to the facility,” said Yusuf A. Ahmed, Director of the Centre for Energy Research and Training in Nigeria, who was involved in the conversion project. “Although the transport time is only a few hours, there is a lot that can happen during that time, from simple traffic accidents to malicious interventions and sabotage of shipments.”

Upon request, the IAEA also helps countries to draft regulations associated with transport security. In 2019, the IAEA supported more than 15 countries in drafting transport security requirements.

“As a country embarking on nuclear power, we will be transporting a significant amount of nuclear material and radioactive sources on our roads,” said Sami Sulaiman, Chairman of the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority. “In early 2020, we will have a decree, drafted with IAEA assistance, that will strictly regulate any movement of such material.”

While only around 30 countries use nuclear power and therefore have significant amounts of nuclear materials to transport, almost all countries use radioactive sources. The IAEA assists countries with the security of disused sources. Such sources are beyond their useful life but can remain radioactive for a long time and frequently require transport to temporary storage facilities or permanent repositories.

“Whether it’s a disused source or radioactive material that’s ready for use, these materials need well-coordinated nuclear security systems and measures to minimize the vulnerabilities of transport and strengthen nuclear security overall,” Ladsous said.”

An interesting article from Northwest Public Broadcasting around initiatives in managing nuclear waste. What are folks thoughts on this? Should there be increased opportunities for private companies to become involved in nuclear waste management – or should this be reserved for government agencies?

Title: As Nuclear Waste Piles Up, Private Companies Pitch New Ways To Store It
Author: Brady, Jeff
Publication(s): Northwest Public Broadcasting
Date: 2 May 2019
Link: https://www.nwpb.org/2019/05/02/as-nuclear-waste-piles-up-private-companies-pitch-new-ways-to-store-it/
Notes: Discusses the Peace Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pennsylvania. Some interesting graphics are included in the article!

Article Excerpt(s):

Congress is once again debating how to dispose of the country’s growing inventory of nuclear waste. Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso is proposing legislation that would jumpstart licensing hearings for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site in Nevada. The Trump administration also is asking Congress for money to resume work on that decades-old project.

But that may not end local opposition or a longstanding political stalemate. And in the meantime, nuclear plants are running out of room to store spent fuel.

Running Out Of Room

The Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in South Central Pennsylvania illustrates the problem. It’s one of 80 sites, across dozens of states, where nearly 80,000 metric tons of waste from power plants is stored where it was generated, at taxpayer expense.

Spent fuel removed from the Peach Bottom reactor is first stored in racks in a big pool. It’s surrounded by a bright yellow plastic barrier and signs that read “Caution: Radiation Area.”

“They are under about 22 feet of water,” says Reactor Engineering Manager Mark Parrish. “They are continuously being cooled, as they still have some amount of decay heat even after they’ve operated in the reactor.”

The spent fuel stays here for seven to 10 years while it cools.

Once it’s safe to remove the spent fuel from the pool, it’s stored outside in white, metal casks that look like big water heaters. They are lined up on a concrete base, behind razor wire and against a hillside near the power plant.

Currently there are 89 casks at Peach Bottom with room for three more, says Pat Navin, site vice president for Exelon, the company that partially owns and operates the power plant.

“That is 40 years worth of spent fuel stored over there currently and it’s less than the size of a football field,” says Navin. “Probably half a football field.”

It’s a surprisingly small amount of waste when you consider that’s enough spent fuel to produce about 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity over four decades.

But without a permanent disposal site, Navin says they’re going to run out of room. So they’re expanding the temporary storage to hold all the waste generated through the 60-years the plant is licensed to operate.

Navin says this storage is safe. The metal containers are sturdy enough to withstand things like an earthquake and, eventually, a move.

“When the opportunity comes for these to be sent somewhere else then these will double as a shipping container as well,” he says.

Private Companies Propose Their Own Storage Plans

As the waste piles up, private companies are stepping in with their own solutions for the nation’s radioactive spent fuel. One is proposing a temporary storage site in New Mexico, and another is seeking a license for a site in Texas.

But most experts agree that what’s needed is a permanent site, like Yucca Mountain, that doesn’t require humans to manage it.

“Institutions go away,” says Edwin Lyman, acting director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “There’s no guarantee the owner will still be around for the duration of time when that waste remains dangerous, which is tens or hundreds of thousands of years.”

A California company says it has a viable plan for permanent storage. Deep Isolation wants to store spent fuel in holes drilled at least a thousand feet underground in stable rock formations. The company says the waste would be separate from groundwater and in a place where it can’t hurt people.

“I like to imagine having a playground at the top of the Deep Isolation bore hole where my kids and I can go play,” says CEO Elizabeth Muller.

Last November Muller’s company conducted a test north of Austin, Texas. Crews lowered an 80-pound canister into a drilled hole. It was a simulation, so no radioactive substances were involved. The goal was to determine whether they could retrieve the canister, too.

The test was successful, and that’s important. Regulators require retrieval because new technology could develop to better deal with the spent fuel. And the public is less likely to accept disposal programs that can’t be reversed, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Proving the waste can be retrieved may be the easy part. The bigger challenge is federal law, which doesn’t allow private companies to permanently store nuclear waste from power plants.

Current law also says all the waste should end up at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. By contrast, Deep Isolation’s technology would store waste at sites around the country, likely near existing nuclear power plants.

“I just don’t see how there would be political support from every other state, other than Nevada, for changing the law, so that spent nuclear fuel could stay in your state forever,” says Lyman.

Of course, despite the law, all that waste in dozens of states is staying put for now.

The Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) recently released a two-part documentary called “Nuclear Courtship” which discusses plans for a deep geological repository (nuclear waste dump) in Northern Ontario. The documentary is quite interesting and I recommend checking it out. It is available at these links:

Part One: https://aptnnews.ca/2020/02/07/indigenous-communities-courted-as-nuclear-industry-looks-for-place-to-put-used-fuel/

Part Two: https://aptnnews.ca/2020/02/14/opportunity-for-youth-or-sacrifice-zone-community-reaction-to-nuclear-waste-burial-plan-is-mixed/

An alarming article around radioactive contamination in the vicinity of the Columbia River in Oregon State, USA.

Title: 2.5 Million Pounds Of Radioactive Waste Illegally Dumped In Oregon Landfill Near Columbia River
Author: Samayoa, Monica
Publication(s): Northwest Public Broadcasting
Date: 15 February 2020
Link: https://www.nwpb.org/2020/02/15/2-5-million-pounds-of-radioactive-waste-illegally-dumped-in-oregon-landfill-near-columbia-river

Article Excerpt:

“Goodnight Midstream provides brine water supply and recycling services to the oil and gas industry for fracking operations. The liquid that Chemical Waste Management had received had been in contact with rocks underground that contained radium, said ODOE’s nuclear waste remediation specialist Jeff Burright.

“Then they filtered that water so that they can reuse it, that radium was captured in what are known as filter socks, which are very long teabags if you will, and it accumulated there and what we’ve gathered is about 80% of the total waste consisted of these filter socks,” Burright said.

Oregon has a threshold of five picocuries per gram of radium 226. Picocuries are a measurement of the radioactivity in a liter of air.

“The waste that was received at Chemical Waste Management Arlington had a range of concentrations over the time running from just a few picocuries per gram up to the maximum in about one and half tons total was around 1,700 picocuries per gram,” Burright said.

Initially, Chemical Waste Management had no records of a relationship with Goodnight Midstream. But it was later confirmed that the North Dakota company contracted a third party, Oilfield Waste Logistics, to dispose of its solid waste. Shipping manifests showed that OWL was sending Goodnight Midstream’s waste to Arlington.

“OWL basically misrepresented the fact that this waste could come into Oregon. … In the manifest that they provided to Chemical Waste Management Arlington, it basically said that this waste does fit within Oregon’s regulations,” Niles said. “The other part of the problem is that Chemical Waste Management did not do their due diligence to ensure what they were being told by OWL was in fact accurate.”

ODOE’s notice of violation has directed Chemical Waste Management to prepare a risk assessment to develop a corrective action plan to prevent recurrence. This will also help determine the best and safest course of action for the waste that is already buried in the landfill near the Columbia River.

ODOE hasn’t issued any fines associated with the illegal dumping of radioactive waste. Officials said it doesn’t meet the criteria that would qualify for a fine. ODOE expects the risk assessment action plan to be submitted by the end of April.

“This is the first time that we’ve had an incident like this that we have become aware that radioactive material has been brought into the state and illegally disposed in violation of our rules,” Niles said.

Dan Serres from the Columbia Riverkeeper said the news of the illegal dumping of fracking waste is a serious violation of the public trust and it’s a huge risk for Oregonians.

“It’s seems unacceptable that Oregon can be used as a radioactive fracking waste dump for three years,” Serres said.

“Oregon is trying to move in the direction of clean energy and what this tells us is, it is urgently important to stop using fracked gas and fracked oil as quickly as possible, because of these health risks that come with fracking to workers and communities where this toxic material is being dumped,” Serres said.

Waste Management Inc. officials said in a written statement that they are cooperating with state regulators and are committed to improving the procedures they use to ensure they’re complying with Oregon law. They said they now send waste samples to an independent technical experts for analysis prior to accepting it.”

I had not previously heard of France’s nuclear weapons testing in Algeria – though I had heard of France’s nuclear weapons testing in the South Pacific. The Algerian tests (Ekker and Reganne) totaled 17 tests during the early and mid-1960s. Testing of the atomic bomb stopped in Algeria in 1966.

For those of you interested – here is an interesting mix of articles on the subject:

Title: Algeria: 60 Years On, French Nuclear Tests Leave Bitter Fallout
Author: Bryant, Elizabeth
Publication(s): Deutsche Welle (DW)
Date: 13 February 2020
Link: https://www.dw.com/en/algeria-60-years-on-french-nuclear-tests-leave-bitter-fallout/a-52354351
Notes: This article identifies the post-colonial legacy of France’s nuclear testing (17 tests) in Algeria. The article additionally identifies how to date only a few hundred people – including only one Algerian – have been compensated.

Title: Diplomatic Effects Of The French Nuclear Tests In Algeria
Author: D., Romana
Publication(s): ArcGis: StoryMaps
Date: 1 November 2019
Link: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/6cd1a9ef9d284557a90b2c353b5f5875
Notes: This site discusses how France used the atomic bomb to shape its foreign policy and place as a global power.

Title: Algerians Suffering From French Atomic Legacy, 55 Years After Nuke Tests
Author: Magdaleno, Johnny
Publication(s): AlJaazera America
Date: 1 March 2015
Notes: AlJaazera identifies how France has had little accountability for the atomic tests in Algeria. This article additionally identifies how people in remote desert communities near the test site would re-use the melted metal remains of objects that were tested on. This melted metal was then re-used to create jewelry and kitchen utensils. It may still be radioactive.

Title: Declassified Files Expose Lies Of French Nuclear Tests
Author: Todd, Tony
Publication(s): France24
Date: 14 February 2014
Link: https://www.france24.com/en/20140214-map-shows-huge-radiation-spread-french-saharan-nuclear-tests
Notes: Todd’s article Identifies that the radioactive contamination from the testing site in Algeria is significantly larger than France initially claimed. The radioactive fall out from the Gerboise Blue site spreads from the Central African Republic to Southern Spain.

Title: Algeria Seeks New Compensation Over French Nuclear Tests
Author: Yurou
Publication(s): Xinhua Net
Date: 29 January 2018
Notes: This article discusses the ongoing dialogues between Algeria and France to determine a formal compensation plan and program for those impacted by the atomic bomb testing in Algeria.

Title: 12 Years And Counting: Effort To Lock Hanford’s Radioactive Waste In Glass Faces More Delays
Author: Stang, John
Publication(s): Crosscut
Date: 14 February 2019
Link: https://crosscut.com/2019/11/12-years-and-counting-effort-lock-hanfords-radioactive-waste-glass-faces-more-delays
Notes: An interesting article about delays (12 years and counting now) in opening the glass vitrification plants at Hanford in Washington State, USA. There are allegedly issues with under-funding.

Article Excerpt:

“Already 12 years behind schedule, a project at the Hanford nuclear complex meant to transform millions of gallons of radioactive waste into benign glass faces yet another delay.

Since the 1990s, Washington state has been prodding the U.S. Department of Energy to build two “glassification” plants at Hanford that would permanently contain the waste stored in aging tanks on the site. Delays have added to the cost of the project, now estimated at $17 billion.

Glassification was supposed to begin in 2007. On the current schedule, lower-level radioactive waste wouldn’t be entombed in glass cylinders until 2023. And the high-level radioactive wastes? At present, glassification of that waste is set to begin in 2036, 29 years behind the original deadline.

The Energy Department wants to push that target back even further, and last month began negotiations with state leaders to do so. Those negotiations are also expected to address whether additional tanks must be built to hold the waste, a move the state supports, but which the DOE has been reluctant to adopt

“We want to try to come up with a schedule that doesn’t have to be revised every few years,” said Suzanne Dahl, section manager for tank waste management with the state Department of Ecology. Dahl noted that the longer the project takes, the more it will cost the federal government.

Located dead center in the 584-square-mile Hanford Nuclear Reservation is the most radiologically and chemically polluted spot in the Western Hemisphere. The site’s 177 underground tanks hold 56 million gallons of radioactive fluids, sludges and chunks, mixtures of roughly 100 different substances.

Hanford’s 149 single-shell tanks are all beyond their design lives, and at least 67 have leaked. More than 1 million gallons of waste have seeped into the ground in a plume extending toward the Columbia River, seven miles away. Some of the leaked waste has reached the river.

The site also has 28 newer, safer double-shell tanks, which are now at the end of their design lives. The inner shell has leaked in one of the double-shell tanks, rendering it useless.

Since the mid-1990s, Hanford’s master plan has been to build a facility to mix and melt the waste with glass flakes to encase the radioactive substances in huge glass logs capable of holding in the radiation for 10,000 years. The basic concept has been to create a pretreatment plant to separate highly radioactive waste from less radioactive, or “low-activity,” waste. A glassification plant would be built for each stream.

Roughly one-third of Hanford’s radioactive waste can be tackled in the low-activity waste facility, Dahl said. Another third is encased in salt cakes, which must be dissolved before the waste can be processed at the low-activity waste plant. The final third is just too radioactive and must wait until the high-level waste plant is up and running.

Construction of the glassification complex began in 2002. The cost of the project has increased from $4 billion in 2000 to about $17 billion today.

The Department of Ecology and Energy Department have anticipated new delays in the high-level waste glassification facility.

In late 2017, the Energy Department told the state it had concerns about the plants’ costs and design risks, hinting start-up of the low-activity waste plant could be 2024 instead of 2023. However, Dahl and Alex Smith, the Department of Ecology nuclear program manager, recently said in an interview that the state still expects the low-activity waste plant to open in 2023.

In May, Maia Bellon, director of the Department of Ecology, wrote to Ann White, who resigned a few days later as the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for environmental management. Bellon expressed concerns that the Energy Department could miss key deadlines. The federal department had agreed to have the main pretreatment plant running by 2033, and the high-level waste treatment plant would be ready by 2036. In September, it told the state it has concerns about meeting those deadlines.

“All this caused extensive heartburn at the state level,” Dahl said

In a statement to Crosscut, an Energy Department spokesperson said “the potential interplay” of otherwise manageable factors in the high-level waste glassification project requires a delay out of “an abundance of caution.” The department did not elaborate on those factors.

Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Seattle-based watchdog organization Hanford Challenge, contended that a major problem is that the Energy Department accepted a flawed approach to the glassification project at the turn of the century.

A basic piece of the project’s design is the use of black cells — sections that will become too radioactive for humans to enter — which would greatly hamper any work to fix inevitable mechanical and chemical troubles or replace equipment. Carpenter said the project should have adopted an approach used in plutonium processing plants built during World War II and the Cold War. Each plant contains a battleship-sized room called a “canyon,” with massive cranes set up to reach and move every piece of radioactive equipment in the massive chamber.

Carpenter also noted that having a single main pretreatment plant is a bottleneck.

The Energy Department is working on building a second, small pretreatment facility for the low-activity waste glassification plant. That quick-to-be-built facility will filter out cesium 137, one of the highly radioactive substances in the tank wastes. The Energy Department hopes that removing the cesium will be enough to convert some highly radioactive wastes to low-activity wastes.

Meanwhile, state officials argue that the feds have not funded the glassification effort at the level everyone agreed, almost two decades ago, was needed to keep the project on schedule.

The glassification complex’s annual budget has held steady at $690 million since the project began, despite predictions that the appropriation needed to be increased to keep construction on track. The state said it does not have a definitive figure on how much the annual budget should have grown; a 2011 Department of Ecology estimate suggested it would need to reach up to $900 million. No increase ever materialized.

Another problem has been the quality of construction.

In 2010, Walt Tamosaitis, an employee of the subcontractor designing the pretreatment plant, URS Corp., told his superiors and managers at lead contractor Bechtel National that several design problems had not been solved.

There was risk of hydrogen gas explosions that could bend and burst pipes in the plant, spraying radioactive fluids. Radioactive sludges could clog the pipes and tanks in the plant, increasing the chance of uncontrolled releases of radiation. And there was a risk of corrosion causing leaks in the pretreatment plant.

Tamosaitis’ superiors told the Energy Department that the design problems were fixed as of July 1, 2010 — over Tamosaitis’s protests but in time for Bechtel to collect a $5 million bonus from the department.

For raising the alarm, Tamosaitis alleges, he was demoted and exiled to an insignificant offsite job. He filed a lawsuit against Bechtel, alleging illegal retaliation, eventually winning a $4.1 million settlement. Meanwhile in 2011 and 2012, the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, a technical advisory body monitoring the Energy Department, and the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, confirmed Tamosaitis’ concerns.

In 2015, the Energy Department announced that it would not have the entire complex operational by the 2022 deadline. It pointed to the same issues Tamosaitis had identified.

The state contends the Energy Department needs to install two to four new underground tanks at an estimated cost of $100 million each. So far, the Energy Department has been disinclined to do so and has not budgeted for them. The state wants to tackle the matter during the ongoing negotiations, though the federal department has been noncommittal.

Waste will have to be shifted between the tanks before it is funneled into the low-activity waste plant. Water is sometimes sprayed into the tanks to break up solid wastes, another process that requires extra tanks to hold the liquids. At the same time, the specter looms of additional leaks showing up in the inner shells of the double-shell tanks.

Carpenter fears that the continual delays will prompt the feds to give up on glassification and return to a previously rejected cheaper method, encasing waste in concrete grout.

Carpenter said discussions have popped up in federal circles that grout should be considered again as a quicker, cheaper and less-headache-inducing approach. “Their fallback for all of that is concrete. All you hear is ‘grout, grout, grout,’ ” he said.

Concrete has a lifespan of decades, not millennia, before it falls apart, Carpenter said. “It’s not going to last,” he said. “These radionuclides have [lifespans of] hundreds of thousands of years, or even millions of years.”

The state-federal negotiations are tentatively set to be finished no later than July 31 [2020].”

Check out this interesting site from ICANW called Schools of Mass Destruction! This project discusses the connection between American post-secondary institutions and the nuclear weapons industry. It is both interesting and shocking.

Link: https://universities.icanw.org/

The project’s executive report can be found at this link:

Link: https://universities.icanw.org/schools_of_mass_destruction

Summary Excerpt:

“Universities across the United States are identified in this new report for activities ranging from directly managing laboratories that design nuclear weapons to recruiting and training the next generation of nuclear weapons scientists. Much of universities’ nuclear weapons work is kept secret from students and faculty by classified research policies and undisclosed contracts with the Defense Department and the Energy Department.

The goal of the report is to spark ethical reflection and action about institutional and individual involvement in the nuclear weapons complex. Specifically, the report recommends:

1) Provide greater transparency into connections with the nuclear weapons complex;

2) Stop directly managing nuclear weapons production sites and dissolve research contracts solely related to nuclear weapons production;

3) For contracts with dual-purpose research applications, demand greater transparency and create specific processes for ethical review of this research;

4) Advocate for reinvestment of weapons activities funding to non-proliferation and environmental remediation efforts;

5) Join cities and state legislatures in urging the federal government to support the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and reverse course on nuclear arms control backsliding.”

I am additionally truly shocked to hear of the sums of money being spent on upgrading the United States nuclear weapons arsenal. According to the Executive Report mentioned above:

“Over the next ten years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates U.S. taxpayers will pay nearly $500 billion to maintain
and modernize their country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, or almost $100,000 per minute. A separate
estimate brings the total over the next 30 years to an estimated $1.7 trillion.”

Thank you to Evnur Taran for sharing with me this interesting article.

Title: The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Site Has Always Been A Political Football. Trump Is The Latest President To Fumble
Author: Macfarlane, Allison
Publication(s): Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
Date: 21 February 2020
Link: https://thebulletin.org/2020/02/the-yucca-mountain-nuclear-waste-site-has-always-been-a-political-football-trump-is-the-latest-president-to-fumble
Notes: Discusses the ongoing challenge that the Yucca Mountain site poses – as well as the need for political innovation in the field of nuclear waste management and storage.

Article Excerpt:

“As with much policy-setting in the Trump administration, a single tweet from the president on February 6 appeared to reverse a previous stance. The message about Yucca Mountain, the nation’s proposed geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste, set the media alight with speculation about new actions in US nuclear waste policy. But has anything changed, really?

The new policy, if it is such a thing, is a little wobbly. It’s unclear whether the administration is or is not supporting Yucca Mountain as a waste repository. The Energy Department’s Undersecretary for Nuclear Energy and nominee for Deputy Secretary, Mark Menezes, stated six days later in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing that “what we’re trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca.” A White House official tried to square the circle of conflicting messages, stating: “There is zero daylight between the President and Undersecretary Menezes on the issue.”

At the same time, Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget did not include funds for Yucca Mountain, unlike in previous years. In point of fact, though, Congress has not appropriated funding for Yucca Mountain in the past decade. The proposed repository site made it about halfway through the licensing process at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and halted when the Obama administration’s Energy Department tried to pull the license application. The state of Nevada still strongly opposes Yucca Mountain and hasn’t changed its tune since passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act Amendments in 1987 (colloquially known in Nevada as the Screw Nevada Bill), which designated Yucca Mountain as the proposed repository site.

Trump’s tweet acknowledges the fierce and long-standing opposition to Yucca Mountain in a swing state he lost by a slim margin in 2016. The Democratic presidential candidates are unanimously opposed to storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

A permanent impasse. Yucca Mountain has spent much of its existence as a political football. The original Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 required detailed characterization of three potential repository sites for the disposal of the nation’s spent commercial nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste from the nuclear weapons complex. By 1986 it was clear that work on three sites would be very costly, and Congress balked at the price tag. Political wrangling ensued, and it was no accident that among the three states under consideration—Nevada, Texas, and Washington—the one with the most-junior congressional delegation, including a newly elected Senator Harry Reid, was selected as the only site to be characterized by the Energy Department for suitability as a repository.

Thereafter, appropriation of funds for work on Yucca Mountain was continuously subject to political whims in Congress. Senator Reid, for instance, repeatedly blocked funding for Yucca Mountain after the House had approved it. And it’s an old adage among US nuclear waste experts that nothing ever happens with nuclear waste during an election year.

At the moment, no one involved in the process has an incentive to make progress. An extremely partisan House and Senate are at a permanent impasse on an issue that bears little on re-election chances (except in Nevada). The nuclear industry has found they can build new reactors—the two Westinghouse AP1000 units under construction in Georgia—without a solution to their spent fuel problem. The Energy Department, originally tasked with solving the problem, has no legal authority (or appropriations) to move forward. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which passed a Continued Storage Rule in 2014, vacated its ability to force a solution. And many anti-nuclear interest groups that oppose waste transport and repositories have called for “hardened on-site storage.”

Pressure to do something is building, though, as more reactors shut down around the country. Since 2013, nine reactors have permanently closed, and by 2025 at least six more are slated to join them. These 15 will join the 12 reactors already shut down, for a total of 27 around the country. Eleven of them have been or are being completely decommissioned, so all that will remain on site will be the spent fuel, awaiting a solution. Leaving spent fuel in dry storage in perpetuity is not a solution: The casks won’t last forever and will need to be changed out periodically (experts do not yet know how long they will last). Can the American public ensure that a benevolent government will exist 50, 100, or 1,000 years from now to carry out this task? We cannot.

“Solutions” that aren’t. Both President Trump and Undersecretary Menezes referenced “innovative approaches” to dealing with spent nuclear fuel. Are there actual alternatives to a repository at Yucca Mountain? There might be alternatives to the Yucca Mountain site, but there is no escaping the need for a deep geologic repository to dispose of spent nuclear fuel. Numerous studies have come to this conclusion, including the US National Research Council, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future established by the Obama administration to consider alternative strategies of nuclear waste disposal (I served on the commission), and a recent report out of Stanford and George Washington Universities (I was on the steering committee for the report).

Ideas such as “advanced” reactors that use waste as fuel, deep borehole disposal, and the perpetually-proposed reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel have all been presented as solutions to our current dilemma. None are. Studies that my colleagues and I have done, and the National Research Council consensus report, show that all reactors and reprocessing schemes produce wastes that are highly active and long-lived and therefore still require disposal.

The Trump administration appears interested in reviving reprocessing as a “solution” for spent nuclear fuel. It’s not a solution, simply a costly management strategy. The few countries that still reprocess spent fuel, such as France, plan to use a geologic repository for the high-level waste produced. France, in fact, has already selected a site for its repository. Even if somehow, as some claim, reprocessing reduced wastes to those dominated by 30-year half-lives, a repository would still be required as, again, institutions cannot be guaranteed to last 300 years, the amount of time needed for the waste to fully decay. With impending climate-change effects such as significant sea level rise by 2100, who knows what the world will look like in 300 years, both physically and politically?

Deep boreholes, though perhaps appropriate for some radioactive wastes, would be hard-pressed to handle spent fuel due in part to the narrow borehole diameter, limited to thin-walled canisters that can only hold one spent fuel assembly each. The thin walls and significantly more numerous canisters would increase worker doses and reduce the canisters’ strength to resist the overlying rock burden. The depth of the boreholes—up to 5 kilometers—and the limited ability to access them without disturbing the natural environment would result in a limited capability to adequately characterize the geologic environment at depth. Even more challenging would be to ensure that radioactivity cannot escape up the backfilled borehole.

Political innovations needed. All countries with commercial nuclear energy programs agree that geologic repositories are the only solution to the problem of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The problems facing repositories are not primarily technical (though these exist), but political. Political innovations are truly needed to successfully site these facilities.

Such innovations already exist: Finland is currently constructing its deep geologic repository, and Sweden isn’t far behind. Switzerland, France, and Canada have all made significant progress in the last few years. The United States, in fact, is the only country with an operating deep geologic repository—the Waste Isolation Pilot Project that houses transuranic waste from the nuclear weapons complex in southeastern New Mexico—proving that it can be done here.

There are important lessons to learn from the mistakes and successes of these other programs: The host community must accept the site by a large majority; the host community must be compensated; it must be allowed to veto the site, up to a predefined point in the process; the process works best when the host community is allowed to participate in site development and conduct its own independent research; the nuclear waste management organization and the nuclear regulator must be trusted institutions; and the waste management organization must have the ability to manage its own budget and plan for the long term.

None of this is rocket science, and these lessons have been spelled out numerous times in the United States. The real question is whether anyone with political power is listening.”

Professor Metta Spencer recently shared with me a recent episode of the Nuclear Hotseat podcast. The Nuclear Hotseat podcast is produced by Libbe HaLevy. More information about Nuclear Hotseat can be found here:

The specific episode was Episode 449: Hemp: Can It Remediate Plutonium? Rockey Flats Project with Tiffany Hansen

Link: http://nuclearhotseat.com/2020/01/30/hemp-can-it-remediate-plutonium-rocky-flats-project-w-tiffany-hansen/

While I had not had a chance to listen to this podcast episode, the synopsis of it describes an interesting project at Rocky Flats, Colorado – where hemp is being used to bioremediate and phytoremediate radioactively contaminated soils. Rocky Flats is a former nuclear weapons manufacturing complex near Denver, Colorado, United States of America. Plants are known to be effective bioremediators (phytoremediation) in environmentally contaminated zones – though the plants themselves then become radioactive – leading to questions of what to do with radioactive plant materials after bioremediation projects. There are additionally questions about whether some plant species are more effective bioremediators and phytoremediators than others.

Nuclear Hotseat links to a website by Rocky Flats Downwinders which discusses this hemp bioremediation and phytoremediation project. Here is that site:

Title: Rocky Flats Phytoremediation Project
Author: Rocky Flats Downwinders
Date: N.D.
News Agency: Rocky Flats Downwinders
Link: http://rockyflatsdownwinders.com/rocky-flats-hemp-phytoremediation-project/

Article Excerpt / Notes:

This article discusses a bill passed on 18 January 2020 by the Colorado House of Representatives to study hemp’s potential in bioremediation and phytoremediation of contaminated soils.

It is additionally interesting to hear the Rockly Flats hemp bioremediation/phytoremediation project is partnered with Dr. Michael E. Ketterer of Northern Arizona University- who has previous experience researching radioactive (plutonium) contaminated environments. This partnership additionally includes regional hemp-related businesses. I sought to locate more information about the potential benefits of hemp versus other plant species in bioremediation and phytoremediation projects. There are a lot of cannabis-related activists groups and cannabis-related blogs which have re-published materials on hemp’s benefits as a bioremediator and phytoremediator. However, the source data was not immediately clear on some of these websites. Subsequently, I tracked down the following book source:

Title: American Hemp: How Growing Our Newest Cash Crop Can Improve Our Health, Clean Our Environment, and Slow Climate Change
Chapter: Chapter 8: Hemp Cures Poisoned Land
Author: Hobbs, Jen
Date: 16 April 2019
Publisher: Skyhorse


This chapter discusses how hemp grown in areas with heavy metal contamination can subsequently result in heavy metal poisoning upon consumption – due to the plant absorbing environmental contaminants. This chapter additionally discusses experiments in the context of Chernonbyl (1998 onward) which discovered hemp will bioremediate/phytoremediate not just heavy metals, but radioactive materials as well. A list of hemp-related environmental remediation projects is provided as well.

It will be interesting to hear of further developments in the field of bioremediation and phytoremediation both with hemp and other species.

On 3 and 4 March 2020, a two-day public hearing will be taking place regarding the renewal of BWXT’s operating license. BWXT operates two uranium processing plants which are up for licensing review – one in Peterborough ON and one in Toronto ON. Both of these are in increasingly dense residential neighbourhoods. The uranium processing plant in Peterborough ON is across the street from the Prince of Wales Public (Elementary) School and has requested to double the size of the plant via a licensing provision that would allow the Toronto operations to move to Peterborough if the Toronto plant closes down. Alarming – considering the adjacent residential areas and schools. The plant in Toronto is near Dupont Street and Lansdowne Avenue and is going to have new residential developments immediately across the street. Significant concerns have arisen around the transparency of the plant regarding operations – as well as response procedures should an emergency situation (explosion, fire, etc.) unfold. Is it time to move these uranium processing plants out of residential areas?

The Toronto Star recently published an article on community response to this matter. Here is the info:

Title: This Toronto Plant Makes Fuel for Ontario Nuclear Reactors. A group of Davenport Neighbours Want It Gone
Author: Winsa, Patty
Publications: The Toronto Star
Date: 16 February 2020
Link: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/02/16/this-toronto-plant-makes-fuel-for-ontario-nuclear-reactors-a-group-of-davenport-neighbours-want-it-gone.html
Notes: See comments above and article excerpt below – this is worth reading!

Article Excerpt:

Chris Muir can see the roofline of a storage building that houses radioactive uranium dioxide powder from his backyard in Toronto’s west-end.

The building is part of a nondescript plant on Lansdowne Avenue, north of Dupont Street, where more than half the uranium pellets that fuel Ontario’s nuclear reactors are made each year by BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada.

Muir said he knew the plant was there when he bought his house in 2015, but he is now one of a chorus of community members who are asking the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) to deny BWXT’s application to renew its licence for 10 years.

He made up his mind at a public information meeting CNSC staff held near the end of January in the Davenport riding.

“It’s their inability to answer some pretty straightforward questions,” said Muir, sitting in the living room of the house he shares with his wife and two kids. “I was like, ‘What happens if there is an accident there?’” he said. “And the answer was, ‘Well there won’t be.’ That’s when I got really scared.”

The Toronto plant has never had an accident. And the nuclear safety commission said testing shows radiation levels in soil and air around the plant are not only far below allowable levels, but even lower than the radiation in our everyday lives, which comes from a variety of sources including the sun as well as the breakdown of radioactive minerals found naturally in rock and soil.

However, the application to renew the licence, which includes public hearings, is one of the first opportunities many residents will have to ask questions after finding out in 2012 from a Star story that the plant — owned by GE-Hitachi until December of 2016 — was making pellets.

The story was the result of activist Zach Ruiter, a freelance journalist and Trent University graduate, who knocked on doors to alert residents that the plant existed. Ruiter said he felt there was a lack of public awareness and not enough public consultation by the CNSC.
At that time, signs on buildings at the Toronto plant simply said the company’s name — there was no indication that it was a nuclear facility.

The CNSC required GE-Hitachi to have an outreach program, but most community members didn’t know what the plant manufactured despite its presence in the neighbourhood since 1965.

Now, nearly 250 individuals and organizations have registered to intervene either as speakers or in writing during hearings in March, when the commission will hold two-day public sessions in Toronto as well as Peterborough, where BWXT owns another former GE-Hitachi plant. The Peterborough plant consolidates the pellets into fuel bundles for Ontario Power Generation’s Pickering and Darlington nuclear generating stations.
The licence renewal, which CNSC staff have recommended be approved, is for both plants.

“From the CNSC staff perspective, there are no risks,” said Caroline Ducros, director of the safety commission’s nuclear processing facilities division. “The quantities (of uranium) that are leaving the (Toronto) plant are negligible.”

Despite the assurance, Muir said he didn’t feel confident after leaving the CNSC’s public information meeting.
There were a number of unanswered questions, he said, including what happens if the tank full of highly flammable liquid hydrogen — the pellets are baked in a furnace filled with hydrogen — catches fire? What’s the blast radius? Or the company’s emergency plan?

The company says it has an internal emergency response plan for both sites, with guidelines for emergency staff and plant personnel, which is sent to the CNSC.

And that “each BWXT facility has established emergency prevention programs to minimize the risk of fires and other hazardous events, as well as robust response plans that prescribe the actions to be taken to prevent or minimize potential health and environmental hazards,” wrote Natalie Cutler, BWXT’s director of communications and government relations, in an email.

Muir also wondered why, with such an increase in public interest, so few residents knew about the CNSC information meeting, where commission staff and experts, together with BWXT employees, anti-nuclear activists and politicians seemed to outnumber the 15 or so people from the community.

Kevin Lee, a senior regulatory policy officer at the CNSC, which employs 900 staff, said the commission couldn’t afford to notify the public by advertising in newspapers because it was too expensive. The organization relies on social media.

BWXT’s application is not only generating opposition in Toronto, but in Peterborough because of a provision in the new licence that would allow BWXT to move its Toronto pelleting operation anytime during its 10-year period to Peterborough.

Activists there say they are tired of dealing with the legacy waste from the GE-Hitachi plant, which used PCBs, asbestos as well as other chemicals at the Peterborough location, although in manufacturing operations that were unrelated to the nuclear fuel bundling division bought by BWXT.

At its height in the ’60s, the GE plant in Peterborough employed 6,000 people. But the numbers steadily decreased and in 2017 the company laid off 350 employees in its large motor division, where it made motors for cruise ship propellers or to pump oil, among other things. About 50 employees remained in engineering and sales.

“It’s just worrying because there’s alway accidents and fugitive emissions whenever there’s a factory,” said Jane Scott, who became aware of GE’s nuclear division in Peterborough about 10 years ago when her children were students at nearby Prince of Wales elementary school.

“I thought what the heck is a nuclear facility doing across from the school,” Scott said.

Scott co-founded Peterborough’s Citizens Against Radioactive Neighbourhoods (CARN) in April of last year after hearing that BWXT might move the pelleting operation to Peterborough.

“Extreme events happen and people make mistakes, as BWXT has in the past. And GE before that,” Scott said. “So it’s just a no-brainer that this should not be in the heart of our downtown.”

Scott was referring to an incident at BWXT in Peterborough where two workers wore the wrong respirator filters 15 times over a two-year period, from 2015 to 2017, exposing them to airborne beryllium, a highly toxic metal used to join parts of fuel bundles together.

“These employees were assessed and have been returned to normal duties,” said Cutler in an email. “There was no off-site exposure or release of beryllium, and there was no health or safety risk posed to the public or environment.”

In Toronto, Julie Dzerowicz, MP for the Davenport riding, said she has consulted a number of people about the BWXT pelleting plant on Lansdowne and has not heard any information that makes her think it’s a danger.

Canadians typically receive a 1.8 millisievert dose a year of background radiation, which is found naturally in the air, soil, rocks, water, plants and food, according to the CNSC. We are exposed to higher doses when we have x-rays or diagnostic imaging.
The CNSC said the annual public dose from the Toronto plant in 2018 was 0.0004 millisieverts and that epidemiological studies show there are no adverse health effects for any dose below 100 millisieverts.
Dzerowicz said if anyone presents her with evidence that shows she should be concerned for the health and safety of Davenport residents, she “will take urgent and immediate action.”

However, Dzerowicz was adamant residents in her riding be allowed to ask their own questions and requested the CNSC hold hearings in her riding, as opposed to the original location — a hotel near the Yorkdale Shopping Centre where the commission planned to simulcast proceedings from a physical location in Peterborough.

The CNSC complied and the Toronto hearings on March 2 and 3 will be held at Casa do Alentejo at 1130 Dupont St., where Dzerowicz plans to speak as an intervener.

“I’d like to represent what I’ve been hearing from Davenport residents,” she said.

Those concerns include more transparency regarding test results of air and soil samples, more safety audits of the plant by the CNSC and information about the company’s emergency plan.

BWXT does in-stack air monitoring every day and according to the company’s website, the sample results are verified by an independent laboratory. At the perimeter of the plant, five monitoring stations draw air into a filter and the amount of uranium dioxide captured by the filter is analyzed by a third-party lab.

Soil sampling is done less often — once a year by BWXT and about once every two years by the CNSC — because there has been little change in the concentration of uranium over time, said BWXT president John MacQuarrie.

Wastewater used in the plant to clean floors, equipment and protective clothing is held in storage tanks and treated to remove as much uranium dioxide as possible before it is released into the city’s sewage system.

“We all get radiation in our daily lives. And what our plant contributes to that is insignificant,” MacQuarrie said. “And we operate well below what the regulators consider as safe … And so we’re quite confident, after many years of the business being operated, that it’s a highly safe operation.”

According to company reports, from 2014 to 2018 BWXT emitted 46.2 grams of uranium dioxide into the air and 3.6 kilograms into the city’s wastewater, levels that are far below the allowable air emissions of 760 grams and water emissions of 9,000 kilograms per year. (The charitable organization Lake Ontario Waterkeeper has entered a submission recommending, among things, that what it calls “absurdly high” annual release limits be reduced.)

Among the experts Dzerowicz consulted was Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, who is contributing to a submission by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, which is intervening at the hearings on behalf of CARN.

Edwards is a former professor of math and science at Montreal’s Vanier College and has done consulting in the past on nuclear issues for government and industry.

He said studies about the effects of exposure to uranium dioxide have been largely inconclusive, mainly because there are few populations that have been exposed to breathing in the powder.

But he said the BWXT plant in Toronto is giving off “a small but significant” amount of radioactive heavy metal powder into the air that if inhaled could go deep into lung tissue and radiate a cell so that over time it could develop into cancer. He said it could take 20 years for any negative effects to appear because uranium releases its radioactive particles very slowly.

“In the case of Peterborough, there is an elementary school right across the street. And the outdoor playground faces onto the BWXT company just across the street,” possibly exposing kids to the powder for years if the pelleting operation is moved there, he said.

“I’m not saying they’re all going to get cancer. They’re not,” Edwards said. “But some of them could very well get cancer. So it’s a life-threatening situation for those few individuals who might suffer the consequences.”
BWXT says emissions from the Toronto facility are about one per cent of the regulatory limit and do not cause any health impacts to the public or the environment.

A group of scientists who live near the Peterborough fuel-bundling plant are also worried about beryllium.
In a letter to the Examiner newspaper, they expressed concern that recent testing by the CNSC showed concentrations of beryllium in local soil samples had increased since 2014.

“The clear increase of Be in soil samples is likely being driven by significant increases in air concentrations, which is particularly worrying because beryllium can be toxic if inhaled,” reads the letter. “More worryingly, the highest values of beryllium in 2019 were found in the samples in the Prince of Wales school.

“Although none of these samples have reached the threshold at which intervention is mandated, the increase alone mandates intervention and further evaluation to ascertain the source.”

Answers to whether that will happen, as well as other questions, may have to wait until commission hearings in March.

A spokesperson for the CNSC said in an email that questions about where the escaping uranium dioxide goes, what the health effects are or details about the emergency plan will have to wait until then.

“Since the Commission is a quasi-judicial administrative tribunal and currently seized with the matter of BWXT licence renewal, the Commission and CNSC staff cannot further address your followup questions,” according to the email, “as these are about substantive issues that are expected to be dealt with in the context of the upcoming hearing.”

Meanwhile, BWXT says it has no immediate plans to consolidate pellet making and fuel bundling in Peterborough.

But Dzerowicz thinks the company will move the operation from her Toronto riding in the next five years.
“What I would say to you is that over time, and my preference is sooner than later, I would love to see the uranium pelleting out of the riding and out of the city to a different location,” said Dzerowicz, explaining that given land values, it’s only natural the plant would move out to allow more housing.

“I’m not suggesting they move to Peterborough,” Dzerowicz said. “I think it needs to be in a safe area.”

Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) recently provided this insightful update on the Deep Geological Disposal projects in Ontario – and subsequently Indigenous responses to these projects.

Here is Dr. Edwards statement – which was sent to the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) mailing list on 1 February 2020:

“The Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) has voted against Ontario Power Generation’s Deep Geological Disposal (DGR) project, planned to house all of Ontario’s Low and Intermediate Level Waste at a site within a mile of the northwestern shore of Lake Huron.

To prevent confusion: there are two DGR (Deep Geological Disposal) Projects that have been under consideration in Ontario in recent years.

One DGR is for all of Canada’s irradiated nuclear fuel (called “High :Level Waste (HLW)”). That project is under the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) acting under the authority of Canada’s Nuclear Fuel Waste Act.

The NWMO site selection process has recently (late 2019) narrowed from 22 candidate sites (potential “willing host communities”) to 3 sites. One of the remaining three candidate sites is at Ignace, north of Lake Superior not far from the border between Ontario and Manitoba; the other two candidate sites are quite close to the Bruce Nuclear Power Station right beside Lake Huron. The process for finding a home for Canada’s HLW is still in its early stages even though it has been going on for decades — over 20 years under NWMO, and over 20 years before that under AECL,
Ontario Power and the Seaborn Panel.

The following article has to do with another DGR project, completely different from the first. It is a separate facility proposed by Ontario Power Generations (OPG, a provincial crown corporation that owns all of Ontario’s nuclear power reactors). The OPG DGR is NOT intended for high level waste (HLW), but for storing Ontario’s low level radioactive waste (LLW) and intermediate level radioactive waste (ILW), from all of Ontario’s nuclear reactors — with the exception of “decommissioning waste”, for which there is at present no designated approach. The OPG DGR was intended for a precise selected site close to Lake Huron, not far from Kincardine Ontario, which is also in the vicinity of the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant.

The OPG DGR project — intended for Ontario’s Low and Intermediate Level Wastes (LILW) — was given a green light by an Environmental Review Panel that held public meetings on the matter, but the federal government has delayed giving its approval for various reasons — and that approval is necessary before the project can proceed. In recent months, the major remaining stumbling block has been the lack of explicit permission from the Saugueen Ojibway Nation (SON) on whose unceded territory the OPG DGR would be located. Ontario Power Generation has pledged repeatedly that the project will not proceed without the approval of SON, and the federal government has been awaiting word from the SON.

SON has now spoken. The answer is “No”. There will be no implementation of the OPG DGR project at the site beside Lake Huron that was selected for that purpose.

However, the OPG project for LILW has no direct bearing on the first DGR project for HLW that was described in the opening paragraph above. NWMO will continue to search for a willing host community to build a DGR to house all of Canada’s irradiated nuclear fuel, including two candidate sites in the same general neighbourhood as the OPG DGR project which has now been rejected.

The nuclear waste issue is nothing if not complicated! And the Age of Nuclear Waste is just beginning….”

For context, this statement was in response to this media article:

Title: Saugeen Ojibway Nation Votes No on DGR
Author: CNW Group
Date: 31 January 2020
Publication: Yahoo! Finance
Link: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/saugeen-ojibway-nation-votes-no-031600205.html

An alarming article from the Erie, Pennsylvania-based Go Erie news outlet on the plans to extend the operation license of Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant in Homestead, Florida. The plant would not be decommissioned and/or shut down until it was 80 years old -significantly past its safe operating period. There is concern that this may lay a dangerous precedent for extending the operating licenses of other nuclear power plants beyond safe parameters and/or limit research interest into other, more environmentally friendly and sustainable energy systems. It is alarming to hear the nearby residents in the article say nuclear is clean power – given the fact that no country on Earth has a feasible plan for the long-term storage of dangerous nuclear and radioactive waste products. Most of these products sit in storage facilities near to the reactors themselves.

Title: Our Aging Nuclear Power Plants
Author: Ari Natter
Date: 9 February 2020
Publication: Go Erie
Link: https://www.goerie.com/business/20200209/our-aging-nuclear-plants


Utilities nationwide are preparing to follow suit, seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s.

Bonnie Rippingille looked out at the wisps of steam curling from the Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant across Biscayne Bay with a sense of dread. In December federal regulators approved Florida Power & Light Co.’s request to let the facility’s twin nuclear reactions remain in operation for another 20 years beyond the end of their current licenses. By that point they’ll be 80, making them the oldest reactors in operation anywhere in the world.

“That’s too old,” said Rippingille, a lawyer and retired Miami-Dade County judge. “They weren’t designed for this purpose.”

With backing from the Trump administration, utilities nationwide are preparing to follow suit, seeking permission to extend the life of reactors built in the 1970s to the 2050s as they run up against the end of their 60-year licenses.

“We are talking about running machines that were designed in the 1960s, constructed in the 1970s and have been operating under the most extreme radioactive and thermal conditions imaginable,” said Damon Moglen, an official with the environmental group Friends of the Earth. “There is no other country in the world that is thinking about operating reactors in the 60 to 80-year time frame.”

Indeed, the move comes as other nations shift away from atomic power over safety concerns, despite its appeal as a carbon-free alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. Japan, which used to get more than a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power, shut down all its plants in 2011 after a tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown at three reactors in Fukushima. Only a handful have restarted while others that can’t meet stringent new standards are slated to close permanently. Germany decided that year to shutter its entire fleet by 2022 and is now having trouble meeting its ambitious climate goals.

By contrast, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is poised to decide this year on requests by subsidiaries of Exelon Corp. to extend the life of two nuclear reactors at its Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania and Dominion Energy Inc. to extend the life of two nuclear reactors at a power plant in Surry, Virginia.

Dominion has notified the commission it intends to ask permission to extend the life of two more reactors north of Richmond, Virginia. Duke Energy Corp. has said it plans to seek license extensions for its entire fleet of 11 nuclear reactors, starting with three in Seneca, South Carolina.

“There are economic benefits,” said Rounette Nader, Duke’s director of nuclear license renewal. “Continuing to operate our existing nuclear fleet is cheaper than replacing it.”

The nuclear industry has been buffeted by a wave of early reactor retirements in the face of competition from cheap natural gas and subsidized renewable power. Constructing a new nuclear plant – the only one being built in the U.S. is years behind schedule and over budget – can cost billions of dollars. Retrofitting an existing one is more likely to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars range.

“It just makes sense,” said Maria Korsnick, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based trade group that represents nuclear utilities. “I don’t think you should look at a plant just on calendar years, but rather the way that plant has been maintained, so many components have been replaced over the years. There is nothing magic about 80.”

Opponents such as Edward Lyman, a nuclear energy expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, argue that older plants contain “structures that can’t be replaced or repaired,” including the garage-sized steel reactor vessels that contain tons of nuclear fuel and can grow brittle after years of being bombarded by radioactive neutrons. “They just get older and older,” he said. If the vessel gets brittle, it becomes vulnerable to cracking or even catastrophic failure.

Other concerns surround the durability of components such as concrete and electric cables, but an advisory board to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the independent government agency that gave Turkey Point the green light to operate into the 2050s, said those risks could be managed safely.

The commission’s decision doesn’t sit well with Philip Stoddard, mayor of South Miami, a city of 13,000 on about 18 miles away from the Turkey Point plant. He keeps a store of potassium iodide, used to prevent thyroid cancer, large enough to provide for every child in his city should the need arise.

“You’ve got hurricanes, you’ve got storm surge, you’ve got increasing risks of hurricanes and storm surge,” said Stoddard, 62. All of this not only increases the likelihood of a nuclear disaster, it also complicates a potential evacuation, which could put even more lives at risk.

Gabriel Ignetti, a 72-year-old Miami resident and retired music teacher, views nuclear power as a lesser evil than climate change and welcomes extending the life of the plant. “We have a climate emergency,” he said, “and if you have a climate emergency you can’t say we are not going to use that tool.”

That’s a point backers also highlight to make the case for extending the lives of nuclear power plants. Nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity and about 55% of the nation’s carbon-free energy.

Climate change is also one of the main cases against extending the life of Turkey Point, said Kelly Cox, the general counsel for Miami Waterkeeper, an environmental group that is challenging the NRC’s approval in federal court. New data show sea level rise in the area reach as high as 4.5 feet by 2070, but regulators from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission didn’t take those updated figures into account, Cox. said.

“They are going to be flooded,” Cox said. “If we are relicensing a major utility we need to be preparing for the impacts of sea level rise.”

Scott Burnell, a NRC spokesman, said the agency’s review process did take into account the most recent information available on sea level rise, but that “the projected rate of sea level rise and associated revisions in flood hazard are slow enough that the plants will have ample time to appropriately analyze and address possible future effects.”

Peter Robbins, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light Co. said the utility is addressing that problem using a series of pumps to decrease the salinity in the cooling canals. The main power plant and its critical component are elevated 20 feet above sea level and are protected by concrete and reinforced buildings designed to withstand hurricanes and floods.

“At the end of the day it’s a very clean, reliable source of electricity,” Robbins said. “More than anything we think this is a win for our customers. It helps keep their bills low, and there are no greenhouse gases as part of nuclear.”

In the city of Homestead, not far from the Turkey Point plant, Brian Goodwin, a 52-year-old farmer, said he supports the reactors’ extension. “I hope they build another one,” said Goodwin. “It’s good clean power.”

Check out this interesting interview (by Quick Take (Bloomberg)) which discusses Chernobyl with a former employee and liquidator of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant:


Dr. Ann Frisch shared this article with me and I thought it would be relevant for this discussion forum.

Title: H-Canyon at SRS poses ‘maintenance challenge,’ DOE cleanup chief says
Author: Colin Demarest
News Agency: Aiken Standard
Date: 15 April 2019
Link: https://www.aikenstandard.com/news/h-canyon-at-srs-poses-maintenance-challenge-doe-cleanup-chief/article_ecff0374-5f88-11e9-b58a-6b22c18d785d.html

This article pertains to the H-Canyon site of Savannah River – which from my understanding was a hydrogen bomb and plutonium production facility during the Cold War. More recently, it is used as a nuclear chemical separation plant.

“White’s H-Canyon comments came as a response to U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who questioned her last week during a House Armed Services Committee hearing. The hearing focused on President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget request.

Trump’s request, a goal-setting document for all intents and purposes, includes about $1.6 billion for Environmental Management work at SRS.

H-Canyon was constructed in the early 1950s and began operations in 1955.

The aging facility – 1,028 feet long, 122 feet wide and 71 feet tall – is the nation’s only up-and-running hardened nuclear chemical separations plant.

White last week described H-Canyon as an “extremely important facility to the United States” and as a “very precious resource.”

Wilson agreed, describing it as “just so critical for our country.”

The article goes on to discuss the plant needs repairs and upgrades, such as roof maintenance, and technology upgrades.

An interesting news briefing indicating First Nations support for alternative plans for storing nuclear waste. Previous plans indicated storage sites along the shore of Lake Huron would be used. What these new plans – and whether they are more environmentally friendly – have yet to be determined.

Title: Sault Tribe lauds decision to abandon plan to store nuclear waste near Lake Huron

Link: https://www.sootoday.com/sault-michigan/sault-tribe-lauds-decision-to-abandon-plan-to-store-nuclear-waste-on-lake-huron-2068256

“The Sault Tribe, along with the rest of the tribes in Michigan, is pleased to see Ontario Power Generation give up on this terrible idea to build a nuclear waste storage site on the shores of the Great Lakes,” Payment said. “Since 2017, the tribes in Michigan have supported our relatives in the Saugeen Ojibway Nation in their concerns over this proposal. In addition, any threat to the Lake Huron fishery that is posed by disposal of nuclear waste so close to the Great Lakes is of deep concern to us all.”

An interesting article from Independent Australia on the risk of natural disaster (forest fires) and the transportation of nuclear products – specifically nuclear waste. It focuses on the Australian context, though has applicability for other global scenarios.

Link: https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/transporting-nuclear-wastes-across-australia-in-the-age-of-bushfires,13465

Title: Transporting nuclear wastes across Australia in the age of bushfires (8 January 2020)

Excerpt: “The radiological risks associated with the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste are well understood and are generally low, with the possible exception of risks from releases in extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires. While the likelihood of such extreme accidents appears to be very small, their occurrence cannot be ruled out.

Transportation planners and managers should undertake detailed surveys of transportation routes to identify potential hazards that could lead to or exacerbate extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires.”

I tried to post the whole article here, but am having issues due to the article formatting on the website.

An interesting article from the American Security Project about the role of natural disasters and nuclear sites.

Link: https://www.americansecurityproject.org/thinking-the-unthinkable-fires-in-russia-fan-nuclear-fears/

Title: Thinking the Unthinkable: Fires in Russia Fan Nuclear Fears (11 August 2010)

“The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and years of effort to help Russia secure its nuclear stockpiles from what is euphemistically referred to as “diversion.” But the 600 wildfires raging across the Russian countryside spotlight another risk to the nuclear-industrial complex: natural disaster.

Add to the flaming peat and forest infernos, the acrid city smog and the scorched village dwellings the specter of an atomic explosion or plumes of unseen radiation. “It demonstrates that terrorists are not the only threat against Russian nuclear weapons,” Hans Kristensen, a nuclear researcher with the Federation of American Scientists, told AOL News.

Russia’s frantic maneuvers to protect radioactive material and weapons labs suggest that the government was caught unprepared. With a state of emergency declared in the Chelyabinsk region Tuesday, vegetation was hastily stripped from around the Mayak uranium reprocessing complex. About 700 miles away, at a major lab in Sarov, troops rushed to dig a five-mile moat. Both of these sites played major roles in the development of the first Soviet atomic bomb in 1949.
Sarov, about 220 miles east of Moscow, is one of Russia’s “secret cities” closed to outsiders. A former monastery, it was the site of Design Bureau No. 11, which carried out the production and assembly of the first Soviet bomb. The complex, then known as Arzamas-16, grew into a design center for thermonuclear weapons and is still Russia’s main nuclear research laboratory. The southern part of the grounds is thickly wooded.

Russia’s nuclear director, Sergei Kiriyenko, has assured President Dmitry Medvedev that all radioactive materials had been spirited away from the installation, just in case. “I can guarantee that even in an extreme situation with squalling winds, there is no danger to nuclear security, no threat of radiation, explosions or environmental consequences,” he said last week.
Over the weekend, a blazing wall of fire in the area was broken down into smaller patches that could be more easily contained.

Yet the transport of that material — experts say probably by rail — exposes it to the possibility of accident or even theft, the traditional fear among security researchers. Highly enriched uranium is frequently shipped to Siberia; the Russians burn it down to a depleted state for use by U.S. nuclear power plants to produce electricity.

“But it’s not usually in a hurry, and they probably didn’t have quite the same preparation that they normally would,” Matthew Bunn, a Harvard University nuclear researcher, told AOL News. “I would certainly have concerns while it was on the road.”

Nobody has mentioned moving the fissile material at Mayak, where the plutonium for the first bomb was refined and a huge processing center for plutonium and tritium developed. “There are thousands and thousands of canisters of plutonium oxide,” Bunn said.

Several American nuclear analysts said they also worry about fire protection at the temporary storage sites where tactical nuclear weapons are often kept while in transit. These are warheads for smaller missiles and submarines, as opposed to the long-range intercontinental missiles that make up the vast majority of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. “It’s hard to say if they are threatened, because we don’t know where all of them are,” Robert S. Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council told AOL News.

The long-range missiles, which make up the bulk of the country’s 12,000 nuclear weapons, should be safe, Kristensen said, despite the fact that they are stored deep in Russia’s dark pine forests, with the treeline in many cases just 35 feet away. The storage site Irkutsk-45, for instance, consists of five vaults near Zalari in the Transbaikal, where fires have been severe. But they lie in state at the center of underground bunkers made of concrete and steel, with perimeter chambers around them. The protection is designed to withstand a direct nuclear hit.

Still, Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson, who served as deputy commander in chief and chief of staff of the U.S. Strategic Command, said in a statement that because the New START pact has not been ratified, the U.S. has “no on-site inspectors or other verification measures to monitor the risks to the security of Russian weapons or nuclear material” during the fires. “These risks could pose serious security implications not just for Russia but for the U.S. and for the world … that our current intelligence is unable to watch closely.”

Yet arms inspectors would not be able to examine the tactical weapons that pose the most concern; these are not covered by treaties anyway. Russia keeps very quiet about the number. But estimates peg the inventory at about 5,400 with slightly more than 2,000 operational. The U.S., by comparison, keeps approximately 500 active tactical weapons, including 200 in Europe, and an additional 700 in storage.

As if all that weren’t enough, at Mayak, where the plutonium for the first bomb was refined, another problem looms. This is a heavily contaminated area. Between 1949 and 1956, the plant directly released radionuclides into a reservoir. In 1957, there was an explosion in a tank that held high-level radioactive waste. In 1967, the wind blew radioactive material out of the dried-up bed of Lake Karachav and dispersed the particles around the community.

A 2008 study by the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority found increased incidences of leukemia, solid cancers and birth defects among Mayak residents, which scientists linked to radiation exposure. If fire unleashes radioactive material deposited in the Mayak forests, “I would argue that the dangers to human health from fires and particulates are far higher than that from the radiation that would be stirred up,” Harvard’s Bunn said.

Experts said the same is true for the contaminated zones around Chernobyl, the nuclear power plant where a series of explosions rocked the No. 4 reactor on April 26, 1986, sending radioactive dust across Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and Europe.

Greenpeace Russia issued a statement today that three fires had been registered in the Bryanskregion, which includes Chernobyl, in forests highly polluted with the nuclear isotope cesium-137.

Andrew Sowder, a health physicist who monitored Chernobyl safety issues for the U.S. State Department, told AOL News that much of the radioactive material from the accident has decayed or become so tightly bound to the soil that it should not be easily dispersed by fire. Though he expects the health risks to be low, Sowder recommended monitoring and added that it will be important to reseed the area to keep the radioactive soil from blowing away later. “You don’t want erosion,” he said.

According to Reuters, radiation levels in Moscow today were within normal limits, said Yelena Popova, who heads the region’s monitoring center.”

“The animal monitoring at Savannah River and its sister sites underscores a shift in attitude within the nation’s nuclear weapons establishment.

For decades during the Cold War, workers gave little regard to the environmental consequences of the weapons operation, often dumping contaminated waste in unmarked pits with no controls to keep it from spreading into soil and groundwater.”

Interesting article about monitoring wildlife for radiation near former nuclear processing and weapon production sites. Animals can be good biomarkers if radiation is seeping into adjacent environments – and if so – how. The article offers several case examples, such as: radioactive alligators via contaminated wetlands at the Savannah Site in Georgia; a radioactive rabbit discovered near Hanford; a radioactive ant hill near Hanford; and radioactive deer at both sites. Resources are devoted to ensuring contaminated animals do not make it off site into areas the general public frequent.

Occasionally, officials open the Savannah River site up for the public to hunt animals. It has become very popular – requiring a lottery to get tickets to be allowed to hunt on site. The lack of general public access has resulted in some healthy and mostly undisturbed wildlife. Though – all animals that are shot are tested for radioactivity before being removed from site.

However, there are other concerning elements at the Savannah River Site, such as:

“The site has 37 million gallons of highly radioactive waste stored in 49 underground tanks, 22 of which are seen as high risks for leakage because they have just a single wall and no external liner. Several streams and ponds remain polluted with radioactive contaminants, and some of those waters also are fouled with heavy metals and toxic chemicals. A September audit by Congress’ Government Accountability Office found that just emptying the high-risk tanks will cost $1.4 billion more than the original $3.2 billion estimate, and could take years longer than anticipated.”


An interesting article from 14 March 2014 about the impact of Chernobyl on surrounding forest ecosystems. Apparently, regions around the Chernobyl disaster have a decreased rate of decay – due to the radiation impeding the activity and growth of fungi, insects, and microbes. Researchers additionally noted that dead trees, leaves, and fallen tree trunks are not decomposing at the same rate – leading to increased risk of intense forest fires. There is applicability for this research for other contexts beyond Chernobyl, such as Fukushima.


I have heard that Canada has had a number of uranium mines – some of which were used during the Manhattan Project. Some are still in use, though the industry has declined in recent years. The earliest mines opened in the 1930s. During the mid-twentieth century, it appears as if the standard protocol to “seal” old mines was either flooding the mine and/or boarding it up. Many of these are in remote regions – though not all. Are these “safe” ways to seal mines? Is it possible they are leaching into surrounding environments?

For low-level radioactive sites – and in other applications with radiation- certain plant species can function as a supplementary radiation detector. Of interest are spiderwort plants (in the Tradecantia genus), where the stamens (the center of the flower) mutate from blue to pink in the presence of ionizing radiation. This was initially discovered in Japan in the 1970s and has been re-iterated by several media and research articles since then. It certainly does replace the importance of Geiger counters but has potential applications for sites with low-level radioactive materials – and may be useful to detect changes in ambient radiation levels. It additionally shows the change within days of exposure to low-level ionizing radiation versus the months or years it would take (in some cases) for it to show in humans, etc.

It is important to note that specific cells mutate colour and it is not the whole flower – as this species of flower comes in a number of colours naturally ranging from blue to pink to purple.

What would happen if a tsunami hits the Cactus / Runit Dome in the Marshall Islands? In Dr. Spencer’s class on public health in the nuclear age – it was indicated that this dome was already falling apart – and that radiation levels outside the dome were equal to or greater than those inside the dome. For the unfamiliar – the dome was built in the 1970s by the United Stated Department of Energy in attempts to contain radioactive debris from their decades of nuclear testing on the atolls of the Marshall Islands. There has been a cohort lasting decades from the researchers and other US government employees involved in these tests, called Operation Crosswords. Essentially, large chunks of radioactive concrete, metal, etc. were thrown in a crater and covered in a concrete dome. Unfortunately, the soil on atolls is porous and plans to put a more solid bottom on the dome were not followed, due to budgetary concerns. If a tsunami – say from the overdue 8-9.0 + earthquake on the eastern Pacific – hits this dome – would it launch radioactive materials into the ocean currents? What are the implications if plutonium – a side effect of which is blindness, cancers, etc. – hits the currents that lead into south-east Asia’s manufacturing districts? It would depend on the trajectory of the hypothetical tsunami – as to whether the radioactive materials would hit the Americas or Asia first. Very alarming stuff to consider! Is this a greater risk than the radioactive materials circulating from Fukushima?

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, research was conducted in Europe in relation to nuclear powered pacemakers. One such model had a plutonium RTG battery. Would folks that had these implanted be required to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, like Marie Skłodowska-Curie?

Has anyone considered the role of radioactive scrap metal inadvertently incorporated into the recycling industry? I have heard this is an issue in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Bloc areas. Of particular concern was the incorporation of mildly radioactive materials into the metal being re-purposed for built materials. Having sections of a structural support beam leaching radioactivity would potentially cause structural failure due to neutron embrittlement, irregular atomic and molecular structure, etc. There was a large IAEA report (about 400 pages) from a conference in Europe several years ago around this. Several borders are setting up radioactive check-points to check for this material on train and truck shipments of scrap metal. One source known to be a problem are RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) – a class of small reactors used to power remote radio and weather beacons in Soviet times. These reactors use the heat from radioactive decay to power their components vs. moving parts such as in a CANDU reactor. The casing for these RTGs have about 500kg of metal – which make them targets for scrap harvesters. An instance in remote Georgia saw a village irradiated with Strontium-90 (I think) after one was found in the mountain woods, harvested, and someone used the fuel source for cooking – before cracking it open. Other sources of radioactive material in scrap metal are old road markers – as for several years it appeared that radium paints were used to mark the edges of roads in certain regions. Other concerns regarding radioactive material getting into scrap metal are the prevalence of recycled materials in food containers – such as food cans, pop cans, etc. which are made from recycled metal. Not good if some radioactive stuff gets mixed into this!

Correction and clarification: The Georgia incident was in the village of Lia or Liya (Tsalenjikha region) and was predominantly woodcutters that were exposed – among others in the village. This was in December 2001. Two were hospitalized for months. The strontium-90 core of these devices can provide a fatal dose of radiation in approximately two minutes. Eight known RTGs were installed in Georgia in the 1980s in relation to radio relay sites for hydroelectric projects, of which two are presently missing. Allegedly the strontium-90 cores are in ceramic form, rendering it difficult for re-use in terrorism-related purposes. As of 2002, there was a bounty of $10 000 for each of the missing RTGs – as they were to be transported to Turkey. It is likely that this plan has since been cancelled.

Yes, here in Canada, Bruce Power Corporation, the largest collection of reactors in the world were going to send radioactive steel from their plant on Lake Huron down the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River to Sweden to be reused. This was luckily stopped.

Another source of radiation exposure that is quite fascinating is the built materials of some older buildings. One that stands out in my mind is Grand Central Station in New York City. The granite materials used in its constructions are mildly radioactive. Several reports came out years ago, calculating the dose exposure of employees that worked in the station. Of note were shoe-shine boys and janitors. It was interesting to hear that the walls leach radioactivity in that building though it’s significantly less radioactivity than a Chernobyl-like event.


That being said this could be an “urban legend” – it would be fascinating to see some official research on the topic. Are there other built materials leaching radioactivity?

Has anyone looked into the environmental exposure risks from the old uranium mines globally? A number of them began in the early 20th century and continued through the late 20th century. Some were simply flooded if they were shut down before World War 2. Could this cause leaching into the surrounding environment?

An interesting yet horrifying report came out of the Northwest Territories in Canada where one of the large uranium (former pitchblende) mines used for the Manhattan Project was employing First Nations individuals to move the ore across the lake to a site where it was to be refined then shipped south. Many of these individuals developed severe forms of lung and other cancers decades later as they were inhaling radioactive particulate dust for months (if not years) on end. There were additional reports that the individuals were using old ore sacks for housing (i.e. sewn into tents) and bedding in harsher weather – increasing the radioactive dose exposure. Alarming stuff!

Nuclear energy is a subject i am deeply concerned with. Why? because my mother died of cancer when i was 16 years old. She was sick for 6 years of my life and many others I have known have had cancer including my aunt and uncle who both died of it in different forms. I think Nuclear Energy is extremely important and needs to be utilized in a way that will safeguard against accidents and radiation leakage. I am all for SMR’s(small modular reactors) but they need to be monitored properly. I believe the accident at chalk river might have been the factor responsible for my moms cancer, as we did a lot of traveling around Ontario and close to the accident site. My hope is responsible development of the technology and its regulated use will continue to be done but we need a strong education system that is being undermined by social conflict created by communication technologies leading to disruptions in learning and interacting.

Dear Richard:
SMNR still require enriched uranium and produce plutonium that can be used for making nuclear weapons. They also produce nuclear radioactive waste that we haven’t found a solution over the last 70+ years. The German KKK study found an increased risk of leukemias in children less than 5 years of age who grew up within 5 km of nuclear power reactors. This could also have a bearing on SMNR.
Richard Denton, MD

Gigantic, mysterious radiation leak traced to facility in Russia
By Ruby Prosser Scully . TECHNOLOGY July 29, 2019

The source of a gigantic, mysterious leak of radioactive material that swept across Europe in 2017 has been traced to a Russian nuclear facility, which appears to have been preparing materials for experiments in Italy.

The leak released up to 100 times the amount of radiation into the atmosphere that the Fukushima disaster did. Italian scientists were the first to raise the alarm on 2 October, when they noticed a burst of the radioactive ruthenium-106 in the atmosphere. This was quickly corroborated by other monitoring laboratories across Europe.

Georg Steinhauser at Leibniz University Hannover in Germany says he was “stunned” when he first noticed the event. Routine surveillance detects several radiation leaks each year, mostly of extremely low levels of radionuclides used in medicine. But this event was different.

“The ruthenium-106 was one of a kind. We had never measured anything like this before,” says Steinhauser. Even so, the radiation level wasn’t high enough to impact human health in Europe, although exposure closer to the site of release would have been far greater.

Read more: HBO’s Chernobyl drama highlights the human cost of nuclear catastrophe
The Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Security in Paris soon concluded that the most probable source of the leak was between the Volga river and Ural mountains in Russia. This is where Russia’s Mayak facility is located. The site, which includes a plant that processes spent nuclear fuel, suffered the world’s third most serious nuclear accident in 1957.

At the time of the 2017 leak, Russian officials denied the possibility of the facility being the source, saying there were no radioactive ruthenium traces in the surrounding soil. Instead, they suggested the source may have been a radionuclide battery from a satellite burning up during re-entry into the atmosphere.

Steinhauser and his colleagues decided to investigate more thoroughly by forensically analysing 1300 measurements from hundreds of monitoring stations across Europe. They found that radiation levels in the atmosphere were between 30 and 100 times higher than those measured after Fukushima. “This was indeed quite alarming,” says Steinhauser.

Eliminate the impossible
The team excluded Romania as the source of the accident, despite the country’s high radiation levels. Each station in the country detected the radioactive plume simultaneously, which indicated the source was far enough away for it to have grown to the width of Romania.

They also excluded a satellite as the cause because space organisations didn’t report any missing at the time. The pattern of radiation through the atmosphere didn’t match the spread of radiation from a satellite’s reentry either.

Combining these findings with information on air movements and concentration levels from monitoring data, the team found clear evidence that the release happened in the Southern Urals, which is where the Mayak nuclear facility is located.

The leak was unusual because the release was limited to radioactive ruthenium. “If there is a reactor accident, one would expect the release of radioactive isotopes of many different elements,” says Steinhauser. Exactly why such a specific element was released remained a mystery until Steinhauser learned that an Italian nuclear research facility had ordered a consignment of cerium-144 from Mayak before the incident. “There are several indications that the release of ruthenium-106 was linked to this order,” he says.

Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1907571116

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Here is a strange proposal. Build thousands of islands covered with solar panels. Use the electricity to produce hydrogen and capture the CO 2, then make fuel from it. Hmmm.

There should be more dosimeters available in places where radiation exposure might take place.

Scary. Apparently the soil outside and even in the ocean around it is also highly radioactive now.


To facilitate the eventual deployment of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs), the nuclear industry and its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), are lobbying to have SMNRs exempted from any form of public environmental assessment process. The less public attention, the better.

The Vice-chair of the Canadian Senate Committee examining the proposed law that is designed to govern questions of environmental assessment is also on the Board of “Canada Carbon” — a company planning to mine a deposit of exceptionally pure graphite in Quebec.

Very pure graphite is required for some types of nuclear reactors. Such high quality graphite is only required in nuclear reactors — there is no other use of graphite that necessitates such a near-total lack of impurities,

It seems a clear case of conflict of interest.

When Enrico Fermi achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in Chicago, he used graphite. When the US Army built reactors at Hanford to produce plutonium for bombs, they used graphite. The Windscale nuclear reactor in Northern England required graphite, as did the Chernobyl reactor that melted down in 1986. (The Windscale reactor underwent a major nuclear accident in 1957 that spread radioactivity all over Northern Europe.)

Almost all commercial power reactors require a moderator to slow down the very fast-moving neutrons that are needed to keep the nuclear chain reaction going. If a neutron bounces off other atoms without being absorbed, it loses momentum and thereby moderates its speed. The best moderators are (1) heavy water; (2) graphite; (3) ordinary water, called “light water”.

A moderator must be free of impurities that absorb neutrons, for that would diminish the number of neutrons available for nuclear fission. Such a loss of neutrons is clearly undesirable.

Some nuclear reactors, like the Canadian CANDU design, use heavy water as moderator. Others, like the British fleet of 26 MAGNOX reactors and 14 Advanced Gas-Cooled reactors, use graphite as moderator. The Russian fleet of RBMK reactors, 11 of which were still operating in 2017, also used graphite for this purpose. Most other reactors, including the American and French designs, use ordinary water, called “light water”, as a moderator.

Very pure graphite can be used also as a “neutron reflector” — by bouncing escaping neutrons back into the core of the reactor. This allows a smaller volume of nuclear fuel to undergo more fissions than would otherwise be the case. Just as reflecting mirrors can magnify the light given off by a candle, so a neutron reflector can magnify the energy produced by a given amount of nuclear fuel.

The nuclear industry is currently fighting a losing battle in North America and Western Europe. Old reactors are being shut down and new ones are not being built. In a desperate effort to keep the industry afloat, nuclear proponents are seeking public subsidies to create a new generation of “Small Modular Nuclear Reactors” (SMNRs) that can be built in a factory and transported to various locations, some of them small and isolated communities.

To reduce the size of the reactor, a neutron reflector is helpful. To minimize the threat of radioactive spills, a solid moderator may be preferred to a liquid one. For certain SMNR designs, pure graphite will be in demand — if the dreams of the nuclear industry are ever to succeed.