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Report Says Radioactive Monitors Failed at Nuclear Plant (apnews.com) 83

A new report says mistakes and mismanagement are to blame for the exposure of workers to radioactive particles at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state. From the report: Contractor CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation on Thursday released its evaluation of what went wrong in December during demolition of the nuclear reservation's highly contaminated Plutonium Finishing Plant. The Tri-City Herald reports the study said primary radioactive air monitors used at a highly hazardous Hanford project failed to detect contamination. Then, when the spread of contamination was detected, the report said steps taken to contain it didn't fully work.

At least 11 Hanford workers checked since mid-December inhaled or ingested small amounts of radioactive particles. Private and government vehicles were contaminated with radioactive particles. The sprawling site in southeastern Washington contains more than 50 million gallons of radioactive and toxic wastes in underground storage tanks. It's owned by the U.S. Department of Energy, which hires private contractors to manage the cleanup work. Hanford was established during World War II and made the plutonium for the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The 560-square mile site also made most of the plutonium for the nation's nuclear arsenal during the Cold War.

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Report Says Radioactive Monitors Failed at Nuclear Plant

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  • Bad title... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:05PM (#56242967)

    "Nuclear plant" makes it seem like it's a nuclear power plant. The nuclear power industry in the US has been extremely safe, and subject to extreme safeguards, to the point of unprofitability.

    No, Hanford is a former military plutonium production facility, dating from the early 1940s -- things were done hastily at first due to WW2, then without good oversight and often without knowing better. They made a hell of a radioactive mess that will take decades to clean up, assuming we can find a place to put the waste (WIPP in NM needs to open).

    If you're on the West Coast and worry about Fukushima, stop worrying, and start worrying about Hanford. If an old tank full of 50 year old radwaste (which is often nitrate-based, and thus also explosive) fails, it will be nasty.

    • Re:Bad title... (Score:5, Informative)

      by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:06PM (#56242971)
      EDIT: There is actually a commercial nuclear oower plant on the Hanford site, but that isn't the problem.
    • If your monitors are radioactive, safely dispose of them and buy new ones!

    • Bad title because the monitors aren't radioactive (we hope!).

      Radiation Monitors, maybe.

      Radioactivity Monitors works.

      Radioactive monitors? Shows that neither submitter nor editor has a clue, at best....

    • Re:Bad title... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday March 11, 2018 @02:25PM (#56243245) Homepage Journal

      The nuclear power industry in the US has been extremely safe, and subject to extreme safeguards, to the point of unprofitability.

      You can't call it safe until the waste has been safely managed. Until the waste has been interred someplace sensible, nobody knows how safe nuclear will have turned out to be.

      If you're on the West Coast and worry about Fukushima, stop worrying, and start worrying about Hanford. If an old tank full of 50 year old radwaste (which is often nitrate-based, and thus also explosive) fails, it will be nasty.

      I can worry about two things at once! Three, if you count my ulcer.

      • The high-level waste from commercial power that needs to be interred is a relatively small volume and solid. Dry-cask storage or reprocessing will work in the interim -- it's not going into the environment.
      • Re:Bad title... (Score:5, Informative)

        by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @05:34PM (#56244187)

        You can't call it safe until the waste has been safely managed. Until the waste has been interred someplace sensible, nobody knows how safe nuclear will have turned out to be.

        The kind of radioactive waste you're talking about isn't really "waste", since it can be processed to remove the elements that poison fission reactions and then turned back into perfectly functional fuel rods.

        And never mind the possibilities inherent in breeder reactors, which can turn U-238 (for which read: most of the uranium in a civilian reactor) and turn it into a useful fissionable.

        Alas, the anti-nuke hysterics have pretty much eliminated the possibility of reprocessing spent fuel rods, so we dump a metric-fuckton of usable uranium into cooling tanks, let it sit for decades (or forever, since the anti-nukes have fought tooth and nail to prevent the building of reprocessing facilities), then throw it away

        • The kind of radioactive waste you're talking about isn't really "waste", since it can be processed to remove the elements that poison fission reactions and then turned back into perfectly functional fuel rods.

          Even where they do reprocess fuel, you don't get to reprocess all of it, and the waste from reprocessing is nasty af.

          • Re:Bad title... (Score:4, Informative)

            by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @07:54AM (#56246115) Journal

            while nasty, it's also relatively short-lived in comparison to unprocessed waste (hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands) and very small volume in comparison to unprocessed waste. You're removing the 1-2% of really nasty shit that prevents the other 98% of fuel from being used.

            That 2% of really nasty shit can then be vitrified to make it easier to handle and store for the orders of magnitude less time until it becomes essentially inert.

            Now only if we were actually doing that.
             

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by murdocj ( 543661 )

          Alas, the "nuclear power is perfectly safe, it will be too cheap to meter" nonsense of the pro-nuke crowd has made everyone who can think justifiably suspicious that maybe nuclear reactors aren't such a great idea.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by blindseer ( 891256 )

            Don't equate the failure of a plant processing nuclear weapons waste with a plant that is processing nuclear power waste. Anyone that can think should be justifiably suspicious of people that need to use the failure of a military weapon producing plant to prevent contamination to argue against civilian nuclear power.

            Nuclear power is in fact very safe. I'll see opinion articles mention the deaths caused by mining uranium and such as a case against nuclear power but make no mention of how many deaths there

            • Don't equate the failure of a plant processing nuclear weapons waste with a plant that is processing nuclear power waste. Anyone that can think should be justifiably suspicious of people that need to use the failure of a military weapon producing plant to prevent contamination to argue against civilian nuclear power.

              Nobody is doing that. Someone brought up a point, and I addressed it.

              Nuclear power is in fact very safe. I'll see opinion articles mention the deaths caused by mining uranium and such as a case against nuclear power but make no mention of how many deaths there are from wind and solar power.

              Wind and solar power mostly kill installers and maintenance personnel. Nuclear is harmful to everyone, like coal. And again, you still don't get to call it safe until the waste is safely managed, which it mostly ain't. It's just sitting around waiting for something bad to happen.

          • Re:Bad title... (Score:4, Informative)

            by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @09:15PM (#56244893)
            You do realize this is not nuclear power plant waste, but rather cold war era waste that was never properly stored to start with? Commercial nuclear fuel waste is much much easier to deal with.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      >If an old tank full of 50 year old radwaste (which is often nitrate-based, and thus also explosive) fails, it will be nasty.

      The tanks are already leaking. There are 177 tanks, 28 of which are double-shell and several of the double-shell detected leaks. The remaining single-shell tanks are undoubtedly leaking as they are of a similar design, but without the extra layer. You couldn't pay me enough to live down wind of Hanford, or to swim in the Columbia near it.

      http://www.king5.com/article/news/local/h

    • by Agripa ( 139780 )

      If an old tank full of 50 year old radwaste (which is often nitrate-based, and thus also explosive) fails, it will be nasty.

      Just because something is nitrate based does not make it explosive. Reactions with nitric acid to form soluble metal nitrates are common for extraction and purification. The big advantage of plutonium over uranium for bombs is that it is extracted chemically instead of via expensive isotope separation.

  • Every time storage or bad management of nuclear waste comes up it reminds me of Leslie Dewan. If the Transatomic design just converts the waste to energy that can solve many scenario's. The question is: would it be able to work on this kind of plutonium waste as well?
    • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:33PM (#56243063) Journal

      If the Transatomic design just converts the waste to energy that can solve many scenario's.

      The Transatomic design doesn't do anything yet, and clean nuclear energy is always 10 years away. Also, Leslie Dewan is mostly famous for being famous at this point. She's the engineering equivalent of a Kardashian until she actually gets one of her products to market.

    • Faux-environmentalists love to misrepresent "spent fuel" as "nuclear waste", even though >96% of the former it is just unused fuel, with the balance rapidly decaying to stability. Readers should appreciate that nuclear is the only energy source to responsibly manage its waste, and that it is only possible because nuclear produces such a trivial amount of waste to start with. None of the resource-intensive "renewable" branded sources have even been asked to do so.

      Many advanced reactors can recycle that "w

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        The problem is, those potential reactors to burn the "spent fuel" (which isn't all decaying that rapidly, though of course the most radioactive parts are) don't exist. They are designs, which might or might not work, which might or might not be cost effective, and which might or might not eventually be built.

        Until they exist, spent fuel is radioactive waste. And there's nothing "false" about that, or about worrying about that. Until that problem (and a few administrative issues) are dealt with, I really

        • Only for nuclear would people consider a concentrated energy resource to be "waste", and strain to justify application of that label.

          The fact remains that nuclear power makes the least demand on natural resources including land, and produces the least waste of any energy source, by far. Those pursuing the shutdown of nuclear, and hindering commercialization of improved and demonstrated technologies, demonstrate extreme hypocrisy by claiming to be environmentalists. You are either complicit or unwitting tool

          • by HiThere ( 15173 )

            The problem is that it *is* a concentrated energy source, and it's being handled as waste. Because it's a concentrated energy source it's dangerous. Because it's being handled as waste, it's not being cared for properly. This is a very bad combination.

            Nuclear reprocessing can be used to cut down certain radionuclides, and when done (not usually) it reduced the problem. But a fast breeder, or a couple of other designs, are suppose to burn all the radioactive isotopes. And they haven't been built and ar

    • Leslie Dewan and Transatomic has had to walk back their claims after being challenged quite publicly by competing nuclear engineers. It became quite obvious when challenged by people that know what they are talking about that the math doesn't add up. This forced Transatomic to become nothing more than another variation on the molten salt reactor (MSR) theme. In direct competition are MSR variants like LFTR, MCFR, MSW, TMSR-LF, and DMSR/IMSR. There are also solid fuel competitors like PHWR, TMSR-SF, MSCR

      • by Skinkie ( 815924 )
        Could you maybe post a reference that they "reduced" the claimns not being a waste burner anymore?
  • by ArtemaOne ( 1300025 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:14PM (#56242999)

    You look absolutely radiant today

    • You look absolutely radiant today

      Thanks for the glowing complement.. But I'm a bit blue today..

  • That's how it works, right?

  • Shouldn't that be "radioactivity monitors"?

    • See, there's the problem: They should have bought regular monitors, not radioactive ones. They tend to decay over time.
  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @02:04PM (#56243165)

    Alpha emitters (like Plutonium) are generally a non-issue for practical purposes. You might get cancer 30 years from now if the stuff is in your lungs. Or not. But no acute effects.

    Betas are worse, but I can't think of anything that should be emitting betas in a nuclear facility.

    Now gammas are, relatively speaking, killers. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any gamma-emitters associated with nuclear power, but we're not really talking nuclear power here, we're talking nuclear weapon production. Which takes a special kind of reactor, with its own, special, problems....

    • Actually, alphas pretty bad if they get inside you. Alphas are stopped by skin inside the body, but once they get incorporated into bone or bone marrow, the alpha particles get to interact directly with cancer-prone cells. Bad news.

      So eating or breathing in alpha emitters is still not recommended.

    • Actually plutonium is not only radioactive but highly toxic.

      The 50 : 50 lethal dose is in the milli gram range ... and it does not take 30 years to die from it. Plutonium is wandering into the bone marrow ... leukemia etc. will happen quite quickly.

      • What is the lethal dose of plutonium? I went to look it up. About 22 milligrams.
        http://www.newworldencyclopedi... [newworldencyclopedia.org]

        The toxicity of plutonium is in dispute; nuclear industry advocates point to the low chemical toxicity of plutonium and ability of a worker to hold a kilogram brick of the material without protection; if inhaled or digested, however, plutonium's effects due to radioactivity overwhelm the effects of plutonium's chemical interactions with the body, and the LD50 dose for intravenous injection in an adult human weighing 70 kilograms is calculated to be approximately 22 milligrams (based on extrapolation from tests on dogs).

        What substance is also lethal at that dose? Tylenol.
        http://www.newworldencyclopedi... [newworldencyclopedia.org]

        The toxic dose of acetaminophen is highly variable. In adults, single doses above 10 grams or 140 mg/kg have a reasonable likelihood of causing toxicity. In adults, single doses of more than 25 grams have a high risk of lethality.

        For plutonium to be lethal someone would have to have 22 milligrams of plutonium injected into their bloodstream. Eating an equivalent dose of Tylenol would be just as lethal.

        Plutonium should be handled with care but let's be honest about just how lethal it might be.

        • Plutonium should be handled with care but let's be honest about just how lethal it might be.
          As a heavy metal is it about 4 times as dangerous as mercury.

          As a nuclear/radioactive material it is the deadliest on the planet. Hm ... not sure about Polonium ... we could again make a google / link war :D

          No idea why you pick the stupid links instead of the interesting one.

          So: stay stupid.

          • As a heavy metal is it about 4 times as dangerous as mercury.

            Then don't eat it. Airborne particle detectors not picking up the plutonium that isn't airborne is not a "failure" in the detectors. Getting upset about that is nonsensical.

            not sure about Polonium

            Then look it up. Polonium-210 has a half life of less than 140 days, and this waste processing site was created for the disposal of World War II and Cold War era nuclear waste. The polonium is all gone by now.
            http://www.newworldencyclopedi... [newworldencyclopedia.org]

            we could again make a google / link war

            To do that you'd have to actually link to something.

        • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

          What is the lethal dose of plutonium? I went to look it up. About 22 milligrams. http://www.newworldencyclopedi... [newworldencyclopedia.org]

          This is just plain false.

          Here is a citation from The Human Plutonium Injection Experiments [lanl.gov]:

          In July 1945, Wright Langham insisted that the 5-microgram standard be reduced by a factor of 5 on the basis of animal experiments that showed that plutonium was distributed in the bone differently, and more dangerously, than radium. Thus, the maximum permissible body burden for plutonium was set at 1 microgram.

          That's because they began to understand that assessing the lethal dose of plutonium is far more compl

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      IIUC, systematic Plutonium is a lot worse than you are indicating. And tends to lodge in the bone marrow, leading to leukemia. And my guess is that "30 years" is an estimate which is assuming a minimal exposure. At one point, IIRC, what they recommended was "if that gets in an open wound, go for immediate high amputation". That was probably a bit extreme, and I don't know what it was based on, but it makes your "No problem" evaluation seem extremely dubious.

      • And tends to lodge in the bone marrow, leading to leukemia. And my guess is that "30 years" is an estimate which is assuming a minimal exposure. At one point, IIRC, what they recommended was "if that gets in an open wound, go for immediate high amputation".

        No, amputation as treatment of exposure was never the protocol.

        https://warisboring.com/the-sc... [warisboring.com]

        They'd fish out the particles big enough to see and could recover without doing permanent damage to tissue. If it was too small to see then it was not considered a health hazard. The long term effects on health are difficult to measure given that the few people that have died since their exposure were heavy smokers (lung cancer did them in) and victims of motor vehicle accidents (can't blame that on the plutoni

        • by HiThere ( 15173 )

          Well, I can't remember where I read the thing I was originally paraphrasing, and your link is rather explicit. (I'd recommend anyone interested in this to check it out. https://warisboring.com/the-sc... [warisboring.com]

        • by MrKaos ( 858439 )

          I suggest the thing you are missing is these studies all refer to purified plutonium. They don't cover the oxide or chloride of Plutonium which can be organically bound *inside* the body.

          You don't expect the body to digest pure iron, it's ingested as an oxide, the same is true for plutonium. You can't ignore important details as if they don't exist. That just implies you have a political agenda.

          The important thing to remember about isotope decay is it is the inverse of Euler's constant [wikipedia.org] when it is unbou

  • It was homer's job to keep that working but he did not get it down as they did not hire an assistant

  • by EETech1 ( 1179269 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @02:17PM (#56243197)

    How can you decontaminate a nuclear waste site, and not have functioning radiation detection?

    Wouldn't you think there would have to be 100 different monitors around the area between workers, and equipment, the existing facility monitors, and safety systems for the area?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Because Hanford is cheap on important shit and management is idiots. It also does not help that all the DOE folks are sitting in town doing fuck all.

      I have asked repeatedly why there is no breathing air piped at PFP and around the tank farms. (Not a 10-15 minute air tank, a dedicated piped system of breathing air that you plug into. More common in really hot plants or places dealing with sulfur.)

      Anyway, Hanford sucks but it is otherwise 2-3 billion a year into the local economy.

    • How can you decontaminate a nuclear waste site, and not have functioning radiation detection?

      Because Hanford is a military site, it's exempt from the stringent monitoring required for commercial facilities.

  • by sfled ( 231432 )
    "... it's being sidelined to avoid getting in the way of agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's anti-science agenda..."
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @05:10PM (#56244079)

    For a moment I thought the headline read “Report Says Radioactive Monsters Failed at Nuclear Plant”.

  • But the monitors did not detect airborne contamination in December, possibly because some of the particles that spread were too heavy to stay aloft.

    They are calling it a "failure" of the airborne particle detectors to detect particles that were not in the air. If the particles are not in the air then people aren't going to breathe them in. It might collect on the soles of their boots but if they are licking the soles of their boots then they need to be checked for mental issues first, then radiation contamination second.

    It sounds like there were failures in managing the spread of radioactive material but this mention of a "failure" of airborne particle detectors is not one of them.

    Radiation is everywhere and if we are going to regulate its spread then we need to have sane regulations. If Grand Central Station were a nuclear power plant then it would be shutdown for exceeding the annual acceptable dose of radiation for employees.
    https://io9.gizmodo.com/grand-... [gizmodo.com]

    We need to take another look at our regulation of radioactive material. If it is as dangerous as the law says it is then we need to close off Grand Central Station and declare it a superfund site. If Grand Central Station is in fact safe to inhabit then so should any other place with an equivalent level of radioactivity.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      If it's dust particles, some of it will get into the air. If it's dust on people's feet, then they're going to be shaking off fragments into the air with every step.

      That said, I'll agree that something that heavy wouldn't float around in the air for long. But small particles, even of very heavy metals, are light, and will spread attached to larger particles of lighter stuff which are dust. With every step people raise small (or sometimes not so small) clouds of dust from the stuff they step on.

      OTOH, perh

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