The [uranium] tailings made Moab [Utah] glow — and not in a good way. For nearly 30 years, the various companies that operated the facility dumped ton after ton of the radioactive sandy byproduct into an unlined impoundment area located 750 feet from the river. Over the decades, this Geiger-hot waste, which ultimately totaled 12 million cubic yards, was spread over 130 acres at a depth of more than 80 feet. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), which took over remediation of the site, the tailings “have an average radioactivity of 665 picocuries per gram of radium-226,” and because the center of the monstrous pile has a “high water content…excess water in the pile drains into underlying soils, contaminating the ground water.”
Some the deleterious consequences are revealed in “The American West at Risk,” an illuminating book whose authors pay special attention to the Moab mill. It’s hard to dispute their claim that it ranks “high in the annals of indiscriminate disposal,” for the tailings each day continue to release “an estimated 28,000 gallons of radioactive pollutants and toxic chemicals into the only major river draining the southwestern United States.” […]
U.S. nuclear site “a true horror story” — Officials should be screaming at top of their lungs in outrage — “Problems could lead to explosions or nuclear reactions” #Hanford
In February, officials announced that six single-shell tanks were leaking. These are not the first leaks; there have been decades of earth contamination.
The decision was made to begin construction of the plant before the design had been vetted. Consequently, there are design problems that could lead to explosions or nuclear reactions.
Senators Murray and Cantwell, et al., should be screaming at the tops of their lungs in outrage. Instead, it appears it’s up to us to make our voices heard. Surely they’d all want to hear from their constituents.
Japan Has Won The Race To Extract Gas From Offshore Methane Ice
This is the first successful production of natural gas from off-shore supplies of methane hydrate, a huge untapped energy resource.
Japanese officials report they’ve produced natural gas from underwater methane hydrate, a frozen mix of water and methane known as “burning ice.” Previous experiments have successfully extracted gas from on-shore deposits, but this is the first time we’ve been able to do it with deep sea reserves.
Methane hydrates are made of gas molecules of methane that are trapped in a lattice of water ice. When the ice melts, because of change in temperature or pressure, the gas is released and can ignite to create that fiery ice effect.
The U.S., South Korea and China have also been working to harness the substance as fuel for years. It’s one of the world’s greatest untapped energy resources, found within the permafrost near the Earth’s poles and under much of the sea floor.
Finding alternative fuel sources is especially vital for Japan, a country has to import huge amounts of energy, especially after the Fukushima disaster curtailed the Japanese nuclear program.
A team of Japanese drillers started extracting gas from methane hydrate deposits about 1,000 feet below the seabed off the central coast of Japan on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. They separated the ice and the methane by lowering the pressure in the reserve.
(If you can read Japanese, you can see the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s statement here.)
Trial extraction will continue for about two weeks to determine how much gas can be produced. The drilling technology will hopefully be commercially available in five years.
By Corine Lesnes
WASHINGTON – Radioactive sludge has long been leaking from a nuclear site less than 10 kilometers from one of the West Coast’s biggest rivers, and no one seems to care.
According to Tom Carpenter, director of environmentalist organization Hanford Challenge, this virtual media blackout should come as no surprise. The consequences of the leak will only be visible on the long term: “It will be a burden for the future generations,” he says.
The Hanford nuclear site is well known to environmentalists: it is one of the oldest such facilities in the U.S., and was one of the two World War II Manhattan Project plants (with Oak Ridge, Tennessee) where the plutonium used for the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs was manufactured.
Hanford is a massive site that spreads over 1,500 square kilometers, 250 kilometers southeast of Seattle, Washington. “It is the most contaminated site in the whole country,” says Carpenter.
“Two-thirds of the U.S.’s nuclear waste is stored here,” says Carpenter. Since the plant was shut down in 1987, Hanford has become the symbol of the difficulties in the treatment of nuclear waste on the long term, especially at a time of budget cuts.
After the plant was decommissioned, the federal government and the state of Washington both agreed to clean up the site but encountered many problems. On Feb. 22, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, announced that at least six underground tanks containing highly radioactive matter had started leaking. Earlier statements by the Energy Secretary Steven Chu only mentioned one defective tank.
“The secretary (Chu) is very clear that there is no imminent public health threat with these leaks,” Inslee was quick to tell reporters.
Tom Carpenter doesn’t disagree – in the short term. No contamination has been detected in the Colombia River. But on the long term, he says, it’s a different matter – plutonium has a half-life of 250,000 years.
The Hanford Nuclear Reservation, as it is called, was built in the 1940s with not much thought to contamination. Out of 177 tanks containing 200,000 cubic meters of highly radioactive sludge, 149 are single-shelled and a third have already experienced leaks, according to Carpenter: “378 million liters have already leaked from the tanks, a record for the U.S.”
A dirty bomb
Since it was decommissioned, the former military facility has been the subject of the largest environmental cleanup operation the country ever seen. To prevent plutonium from leaking into the ground, scientists recommend immediate decontamination but the new High-Level Waste Facility that will be used to “vitrify” the radioactive waste into big cylinders that will be buried, won’t be operational until 2019.
In the meantime, neither local nor federal authorities want to invest in a temporary solution. Even though, “there is still time to collect the toxic sludge leaking from the tanks,” says Carpenter.
One of the problems is the political context on nuclear regulation. The Energy Department is dragging its feet to the point that the Washington State decision makers are finding it very difficult to obtain any information on what is really happening at Hanford. “The Energy Department owns this site and sets its own rules. They simply don’t want to spend any money,” says Carpenter.
As for Congress, “It hasn’t paid any attention to the Hanford situation in ten years and has never asked for a hearing.” Ron Wyden, the new senator of the neighboring state of Oregon wants to change the situation. After visiting the Hanford site, he announced that he would ask for an audit at the General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
While the announcement of new leaks did not make the front pages, local inhabitants are growing only more upset. “If a terrorist had dropped the dirty-bomb equivalent of this much radioactive material onto a major city, the entire country would be mobilized,” wrote a Seattle Times reader.
Another wrote: “Al Qaeda should save its time and money and forget about us. We’re going to kill ourselves before they do. No one seems to know what’s really going on at Hanford or how to handle the mess.”