Posts Tagged ‘Plutonium’

Global: Strahlendes Loch im Himmel

Montag, Juli 30th, 2012

“NASA’s Dangerous Alliance With the Nuclear Industry

Nukes on Mars


World Nuclear News, the information arm of the World Nuclear Association which seeks to boost the use of atomic energy, last week heralded a NASA Mars rover slated to land on Mars on Monday, the first Mars rover fueled with plutonium.

“A new era of space exploration is dawning through the application of nuclear energy for rovers on Mars and the Moon, power generation at future bases on the surfaces of both and soon for rockets that enable interplanetary travel,” began a dispatch from World Nuclear News. It was headed: “Nuclear ‘a stepping stone’ to space exploration.”

In fact, in space as on Earth there are safe, clean alternatives to nuclear power. Indeed, right now a NASA space probe energized by solar energy is on its way to Jupiter, a mission which for years NASA claimed could not be accomplished without nuclear power providing onboard electricity. Solar propulsion of spacecraft has begun. And also, scientists, including those at NASA, have been working on using solar energy and other safe power sources for human colonies on Mars and the Moon.

The World Nuclear Association describes itself as “representing the people and organizations of the global nuclear profession.” World Nuclear News says it “is supported administratively and with technical advice by the World Nuclear Association and is based within its London Secretariat.”

Its July 27th dispatch notes that the Mars rover that NASA calls Curiosity and intends to land on August 6th, is “powered by a large radioisotope thermal generator instead of solar cells” as previous NASA Mars rovers had been. It is fueled with 10.6 pounds of plutonium.

“Next year,” said World Nuclear News, “China is to launch a rover for the Moon” that also will be “powered by a nuclear battery.” And “most significant of all” in terms of nuclear power in space, continued World Nuclear News, “could be the Russian project for a ‘megawatt-class’ nuclear-powered rocket.” It cites Anatoly Koroteev, chief of Russia’s Keldysh Research Centre, as saying the system being developed could provide “thrust…20 times that of current chemical rockets, enabling heavier craft with greater capabilities to travel further and faster than ever before.” There would be a “launch in 2018.”

The problem—a huge one and not mentioned whatsoever by World Nuclear News—involves accidents with space nuclear power systems releasing radioactivity impacting on people and other life on Earth. That has already happened. With more space nuclear operations, more atomic mishaps would be ahead.

NASA, before last November’s launch of Curiosity, acknowledged that if the rocket lofting it exploded at launch in Florida, plutonium could be released affecting an area as far as 62 miles away—highly-populated and including Orlando. Further, if the rocket didn’t break out of the Earth’s gravitational field, it and the rover would fall back into the atmosphere and break up, potentially releasing plutonium over a massive area. In its Final Environmental Impact Statement for the mission, NASA said in this situation plutonium could impact on “Earth surfaces between approximately 28-degrees north latitude and 28-degrees south latitude.” That includes Central America and much of South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.

The EIS said the costs of decontamination of plutonium in areas would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” The Curiosity mission itself, because of $900 million in cost overruns, now has a price of $2.5 billion.

NASA set the odds very low for a plutonium release for Curiosity. The EIS said “overall” on the mission, the likelihood of plutonium being released was 1-in-220.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space , for more than 20 years the leading opposition group to space nuclear missions, declared that “NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining its dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry. Both entities view space as a new market for the deadly plutonium fuel…Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? We don’t need to be launching nukes into space. It’s not a gamble we can afford to take.”

Plutonium has long been described as the most lethal radioactive substance. And the plutonium isotope used in the space nuclear program, and on the Curiosity rover, is significantly more radioactive than the type of plutonium used as fuel in nuclear weapons or built up as a waste product in nuclear power plants. It is Plutonium-238 as distinct from Plutonium-239. Plutonium-238 has a far shorter half-life–87.8 years compared to Plutonium-239 with a half-life of 24,500 years. An isotope’s half-life is the period in which half of its radioactivity is expended.

Dr. Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear physicist and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, explains that Plutonium-238 “is about 270 times more radioactive than Plutonium-239 per unit of weight.” Thus in radioactivity, the 10.6 pounds of Plutonium-238 being used on Curiosity is the equivalent of 2,862 pounds of Plutonium-239. The atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki used 15 pounds of Plutonium-239.

The far shorter half-life of Plutonium-238 compared to Plutonium-239 results in it being extremely hot. This heat is translated in a radioisotope thermoelectric generator into electricity.

The pathway of greatest health concern for plutonium is breathing in a particle leading to lung cancer. A millionth of a gram of plutonium can be a fatal dose. The EIS for Curiosity speaks of particles that would be “transported to and remain in the trachea, bronchi, or deep lung regions.” The particles “would continuously irradiate lung tissue.”

There hasn’t been an accident on the Curiosity mission. But the EIS acknowledged that there have been mishaps previously—in this spaceborne game of nuclear Russian roulette. Of the 26 earlier U.S. space missions that have used plutonium listed in the EIS, three underwent accidents, it admitted. The worst occurred in 1964 and involved, it noted, the SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. The 2.1 pounds of Plutonium-238 fuel onboard dispersed widely over the Earth. Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long linked this accident to an increase in global lung cancer. With the SNAP-9A accident, NASA switched to solar energy on satellites. Now all satellites and the International Space Station are solar powered.

The worst accident of several involving a Soviet or Russian nuclear space systems was the fall from orbit in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite powered by a nuclear reactor. It also broke up in the atmosphere as it fell, spreading radioactive debris over 77,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada.

In 1996, the Russian Mars 96 space probe, energized with a half-pound of Plutonium-238 fuel, failed to break out of the Earth’s gravity and came down—as a fireball—over northern Chile. There was fall-out in Chile and neighboring Bolivia.

Initiatives in recent years to power spacecraft safely and cleanly include the launch by NASA last August 8th of a solar-powered space probe it calls Juno to Jupiter. NASA’s Juno website currently reports: “The spacecraft is in excellent health and is operating nominally.” It is flying at 35,200 miles per hour and is to reach Jupiter in 2016. Even at Jupiter, “nearly 500 million miles from the Sun,” notes NASA, its solar panels will be providing electricity. Waves

Solar power has also begun to be utilized to propel spacecraft through the friction-less vacuum of space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010 launched what it termed a “space yacht” called Ikaros which got propulsion from the pressure on its large sails from ionizing particles emitted by the Sun. The sails also feature “thin-film solar cells to generate electricity and creating,” said Yuichi Tsuda of the agency, “a hybrid technology of electricity and pressure.”

As to power for colonies on Mars and the Moon, on Mars, not only the sun is considered as a power source but also energy from the Martian winds. And, on the Moon, as The Daily Galaxy has reported: “NASA is eying the Moon’s south polar region as a possible site for future outposts. The location has many advantages; for one thing, there is evidence of water frozen in deep dark south polar craters. Water can be split into oxygen to breathe and hydrogen to burn as rocket fuel—or astronauts could simply drink it. NASA’s lunar architects are also looking for what they call ‘peaks of eternal light’—polar mountains where the sun never sets, which might be a perfect settings for a solar power station.”

Still, the pressure by promoters of nuclear energy on NASA and space agencies around the world to use atomic energy in space is intense—as is the drive of nuclear promoters on governments and the public for atomic energy on Earth.

Critically, nuclear power systems for space use must be fabricated on Earth—with all the dangers that involves, and launched from Earth—with all the dangers that involves (1 out of 100 rockets destruct on launch), and are subject to falling back to Earth and raining deadly radioactivity on human beings and other life on this planet.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.”


(Quelle: Counterpunch.)

USA: Viel Atommüll, noch mehr Atommüll…

Mittwoch, Juli 14th, 2010

“U.S. plutonium waste underestimated, says researcher


Photo: Great Beyond/Flickr

The United States has about three times more waste plutonium than the last official government estimate released 14 years ago, said Robert Alvarez, senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Hanford has been responsible for about a third of the waste, and much of it remains there, according to Alvarez’s calculations.

The last official estimate of plutonium waste nationwide was 3.7 tons. But Alvarez said a better preliminary estimate is about nearly 14 tons, with about 4.4 tons at Hanford, which produced plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program.

‘I was very surprised at the inventory of plutonium waste at Hanford,’ he said.

He plans to publish his findings, which are based on a review of government reports and data, in Science and Global Security, a peer-reviewed journal published by Princeton University. Alvarez was a senior policy adviser at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration.

Plutonium waste at Hanford includes plutonium mixed in the 53 million gallons of waste held in underground tanks. The worst of that waste will be treated at the $12.3 billion vitrification plant now under construction.

It also includes suspected plutonium-contaminated waste that temporarily was buried in central Hanford starting in 1970 until DOE had a national repository for the waste. Congress ordered that such waste, called transuranic waste, be disposed of a national repository starting that year.

Enough waste to fill 72,000 55-gallon drums temporarily was buried and about two-thirds of it has been dug up. Waste that proves contaminated with plutonium at high enough levels to be classified as transuranic is being shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, the nation’s repository for transuranic waste.

Alvarez estimates the stored or buried transuranic waste that has been or will be sent to New Mexico accounts for about half of Hanford’s plutonium waste.

But Hanford also has plutonium-contaminated waste buried before 1970 and plutonium-contaminated liquids that were discharged into the soils in central Hanford.

‘A lot of this is going to be hard to retrieve,’ Alvarez said.

DOE has concentrated its efforts in recent years on cleaning up Hanford contamination along the Columbia River, and work is in early stages now to come up with a cleanup plan for central Hanford, where much of the plutonium waste is.

That includes characterization of waste in old burial trenches and in the soil by methods such as drilling, sampling and ground-penetrating radar. The data will be used to develop a proposal that will be reviewed by Hanford regulators, the tribes and the public before a decision is made on how to clean up the waste, according to DOE.

Any decision will be based on actual data, not estimates, said DOE spokesman Geoff Tyree.

‘DOE headquarters is checking the report to see if it offers new information,’ DOE said in a written statement. ‘This doesn’t appear to alter our approach to cleanup.’

The DOE Office of Environmental Management has asked an independent technical review board made up of scientists from the national laboratories and DOE offices of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration to do a more comprehensive examination of Alvarez’s estimates. That’s normal protocol for outside reports, Tyree said.

DOE already is concerned about discharges of radioactive waste to the soil in central Hanford. It’s not practical to excavate more than 60 feet below the ground’s surface but in central Hanford some contamination is as much as 300 feet deep.

DOE has proposed launching a field research center at Hanford in early 2011 to tackle the problem.

Liquid discharges from the Plutonium Finishing Plant until 1973, when discharges began to be routed to Hanford’s underground waste tanks, are of particular concern to Alvarez. He believes plutonium has penetrated deep underground at high rates.

Because of solvents and salts in the liquid, plutonium may have traveled deeper than anticipated, instead of adhering to the soil closer to the ground level, he said.

Alvarez believes levels of plutonium will become the reference contaminant for central Hanford, determining cleanup standards there.

Officials with the state of Washington, a regulator on Hanford work, were on furlough Monday and not available to comment.

Estimates of plutonium waste increased since 1996 for three reasons, Alvarez said in his study. In some cases residual plutonium left at sites such as Hanford was reclassified as waste because the nation no longer needed to gather and process the residual plutonium for the weapons program.

With Hanford tank waste, better characterization by DOE showed the tanks contained about twice the plutonium estimated in 1996.

In addition, DOE did not have measurement technologies when plutonium production began that are as accurate as those used today.

Many of Alvarez’s estimates were based on data DOE collected as part of a comprehensive draft study on tank waste, the Draft Tank Closure and Waste Management Environmental Impact Statement released in late October, Tyree said.

— Annette Cary: 582-1533;; More Hanford news at hanfordnews. com.”


(Quelle: Northwest News.)

USA: Was Obama von Eisenhower lernen könnte

Donnerstag, Juni 17th, 2010

“Declassified Documents Show Cold War Origins of Global Cutoff Proposal and Why It Failed

By William Burr

Washington, DC, June 16, 2010 – U.S. presidents long before President Obama have sought an international fissile material cutoff treaty but the reasons they have failed remain with us today, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive. The proposed treaty would cut off the worldwide production of fissile material–plutonium and highly-enriched uranium–for nuclear weapons. According to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first president to propose a cutoff, “we have always said it is not technically feasible to ban the bomb now but we have actively urged the cutoff as a first step.” President Obama echoed Eisenhower’s argument in his speech in Prague at Hradcany Square on April 5, 2009, where he endorsed a cutoff treaty, along with a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and as part of his long-term nuclear abolition commitment.

The documents published today provide a close look at how the cutoff proposal developed during the 1950s and 1960s, how policymakers debated and discussed it, and why it was dropped from the U.S. arms control agenda during the 1970s, only to return after the Cold War ended. Some of the highlights are:

* Eisenhower’s early linkage of the cutoff to nuclear proliferation concerns and to short-term U.S. nuclear superiority: “we can’t go on the way we are with the nuclear build-up and the spread of capabilities.” Nevertheless, if a cutoff was implemented, it would leave the United States with a “very substantial nuclear capability.”

* Washington’s fissile material advantages informed the Soviet Union’s objections to a cutoff (paralleling Pakistan’s concerns about India today). According to Ambassador Semyon Tsarapkin, “why should [Washington] expect [the Soviets to] accept this since [the U.S.] had produced these materials for five years longer than they?”

* The controversy over the impact of a cutoff on the production of tritium, an important nuclear weapons fuel with a short half-life. During an NSC discussion, Eisenhower argued that even if the cutoff ended tritium production, the Soviets would also be affected and that would “cut down [their] ability to destroy the United States.” While current U.S. government proposals exclude tritium from a cutoff treaty, this is a controversial issue, and some nuclear experts propose its inclusion.

* A 1960 report on verifying a cutoff acknowledged that detecting clandestine nuclear facilities would be a significant challenge and that the new centrifuge uranium enrichment technology, later at issue in controversies over Pakistan and Iran, would be “easier to conceal” than gaseous diffusion plants.

* A 1961 report on the cutoff, led by Cornell University President James Perkins, which argued that a “high degree of access” was essential to check diversions and “prove the existence of a clandestine plant.” While that could compromise U.S. or Soviet technological advances, “access would improve the US intelligence position.”

* The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s changing assessment of a cutoff. Early in the 1960s, they saw a cutoff as “not disadvantageous,” but near the end of the decade, they argued that uncertainties about future stockpile needs make it “impossible to rule out … a potential for significant disadvantage to US interests.”

Declassified documents suggest that the fissile material production cutoff was integral to Cold War propaganda and diplomatic campaigns, which helps explain why it failed during the 1960s. During the 1950s and 1960s, when superpower tensions, massive production of nuclear weapons, and atmospheric nuclear tests stoked fear of nuclear war worldwide, both U.S. and Soviet heads of state tried to reduce fears with disarmament proposals, but they never let diplomacy trump their military postures. Even the strength of U.S. support for the cutoff depended on shifting military perceptions of the U.S.-Soviet balance of fissile materials stockpiles. Under such circumstances, the nuclear disarmament proposals that Moscow and Washington offered were largely nonnegotiable, whatever their merits were.

After the Cold War ended, international support for a cutoff treaty emerged as a way to check nuclear proliferation, but talks at the United Nations Committee for Disarmament (CD) negotiations have stalled. Seeking to build its fissile material stockpile, Pakistan, with possible Chinese backing, is now one of the chief obstacles. Whether the Committee for Disarmament will be able to persuade Pakistan to support the negotiations is one of many challenges facing the Obama administration.

Follow the link below for more information:

(Quelle: National Security Archive.)