Nuclear Wasteland

SUBHEAD: Today is the 70th anniversary of the USA dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima Japan.

By Juan Wilson on 6 August 2015 for Island Breath -
(http://islandbreath.blogspot.com/2015/08/nuclear-wasteland.html)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT4mSoZsbzM
Image above: This is a still frame from a film of the atomic detonation known as Grable. This event was the result of the first and only firing of the Atomic Cannon at the Nevada Test Site in 1953. From (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT4mSoZsbzM).

Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima Japan with an atomic bomb by the United States. As you know, three days later we dropped a similar bomb on Nagasaki. The Japanese, thinking we might create similar devastation on other cities every few days were forced into an unconditional surrender.

Of course, it wasn't just the atomic bombs that ended the Second World War. The Japanese military was punched out by mid 1945 and we had control of the skies over their cities.

America had learned in Europe that massive bombings in places like Dresden could create "firestorms" that burned out entire cities as heat fueled winds blew flaming debris across entire neighborhoods.

Oo March 9, 1945 the US Air Force bombing of Tokyo with conventional explosives and incendiaries, in an attempt to create a firestorm, killed more people than the atomic bomb we detonated on Hiroshima.  But the A-bombs had more drama and stole the show!

Not only that, but the nuclear fission provided something more - death by nuclear radiation - in the forms of sterilization, cancers and nonviable mutations.

I am worried about the nuclear weapons proliferation in the world. Many people are. It was demonstrated in 1983 that detonating even a small fraction of our nuclear weapons in the atmosphere will create what a team that included Carl Sagan called a "Nuclear Winter" blotting out the sun in a radioactive haze of dust long enough to destroy human agriculture and poison the planet.

Since then Russia (USSR) and America (USA) have backed down from the kind of nuclear brinksmanship that marked preceding decades. We even reduced the number of weapons. Thanks for bringing this to our attention and saving our generation for self extinction through Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD .

The Secret Ingredient
However I'm more worried about nuclear energy despite what my mentors;  Stuart Brand - Creator of the Whole Earth Catalog , James Lovelock - The discoverer of the Gaia Principle , James Hansen - NASA scientist who warned of Global Warming; have to say about using atomic energy to keep civilization going. I'd rather go Paleo in the hunter-gatherer sense.

Nuclear power stations are designed to "burn" uranium. The byproducts of that burn are the creation heavier transuranic elements, including plutonium. Worldwide, some 140,000 pounds of plutonium that is contained in used fuel is removed when refueling nuclear reactors each year (see
(http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Nuclear-Fuel-Cycle/Fuel-Recycling/Mixed-Oxide-Fuel-MOX/)

Keep in mind that the bomb that detonated 70 years ago over Hiroshima contained only six pounds of plutonium. The nuclear industry is required to store hundred of thousands of pounds of plutonium and
other highly radioactive materials in spent fuel ponds in their plants virtually forever. Why? Because there is no place to take them.

In the United States the siting of a safe place to put nuclear waste has been a comedy of errors as well as an ongoing tragedy. The only site that has been operational in recent years has been the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. It was a salt mine that was converted to a nuclear waste storage facility.

 Organic Kitty Litter
On Valentine's day in 2014 a 55 gallon barrels of nuclear waste material, including plutonium, burst into flames and contaminated much of the underground facility. It also blew an undisclosed amount of plutonium particles through its ventilation system into the air across parts of New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma. The plant was shutdown and remains shut down.

Ironically, it was waste from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Alimigordo, New Mexico that packed the barrels with nuclear waste and sent them off to WIPP. At least 57 barrels with nuclear waste were packed with the wrong kind of kitty litter - organic instead of the regular. 
Los Alamos National Laboratory packed 57 barrels of nuclear waste with a type of kitty litter believed to have caused a radiation leak at the federal government's troubled nuclear waste dump, posing a potentially "imminent" and "substantial" threat to public health and the environment, New Mexico officials said Monday,  See 5/20/14 (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/potential-imminent-threat-from-new-mexico-nuclear-waste-officials-say/)
 A yearlong investigation by the US Department of Energy has confirmed that a major accident at a nuclear waste storage facility was caused by the wrong type of kitty litter. Last year, a single 55-gallon drum of waste material was found to have burst its seams at the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), dispersing radioactive material throughout the underground facility. The drum had been packed with organic rather than inorganic kitty litter, which led to "a series of ever-increasing heat releasing reactions" that breached the drum. See 3/27/15 (http://www.theverge.com/2015/3/27/8299325/kitty-litter-nuclear-waste-accident-wipp). 
You'd think LANL would know better - they invented nuclear fission with the Manhattan Project that created the Hiroshima bomb in the first place. Anyway, there is now no place in the United States approved and prepared to take the radioactive waste of American nuclear power plants. No one in their right mind would volunteer to locate such a facility nearby.

Note the Yucca Flats high level nuclear waste facility projects, which had been fought for years by locals and enviromentalists, lost it funding just a month after the Fukushima Daiichi tragedy began.

Rot in Place
Without a place to take radiation waste from nuclear power plants the United States has defaulted to keeping nuclear waste inside the plants themselves. This means leaving the "spent", yet radioactive, fuel rods in pools of cooling water inside the containment buildings that house the nuclear reactors or in  Fuel Buildings. The Fuel Building were designed for:
The half life of Plutonium 239 is over 24,000 years - that's longer than all human civilization. The half life of Uranium 238 is 4.5 billion years. It's not likely humans will ever see even a half reduction of the 238 isotope.

Fuel Buildings and Spent Fuel Pools were not designed for the permanent storage of nuclear waste. In fact, the American nuclear power plant fleet on line today was designed to be operational for only 40 years. It is likely our dependence atomic energy will force us to extend these old plants past use past their design criteria. The nasty fact is that the radiation bombardment by high charged heavy particles breaks down gaskets, concrete, reinforcing bars and even the stainless steel that make up nuclear power plant.

The point is that the buildings we will depend on to keep nuclear waste in place will not outlast their poisonous content. Case in point - Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant on the Hudson River went online in 1976 and was one of the last nuclear facilities put on line because of disaster at nearby Three Mile Island accident in 1979.

Note that Indian Point is on the Hudson River 40 miles upstream from New York City, a tri-state metropolitan area with 20 million people.

One Lesson Learned
WikiPedia writes (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island_accident)
The Three Mile Island accident inspired Charles Perrow's Normal Accident Theory, in which an accident occurs, resulting from an unanticipated interaction of multiple failures in a complex system. TMI was an example of this type of accident because it was "unexpected, incomprehensible, uncontrollable and unavoidable".
Perrow concluded that the failure at Three Mile Island was a consequence of the system's immense complexity. Such modern high-risk systems, he realized, were prone to failures however well they were managed. It was inevitable that they would eventually suffer what he termed a 'normal accident'. Therefore, he suggested, we might do better to contemplate a radical redesign, or if that was not possible, to abandon such technology entirely.
"Normal" accidents, or system accidents, are so-called by Perrow because such accidents are inevitable in extremely complex systems. Given the characteristic of the system involved, multiple failures which interact with each other will occur, despite efforts to avoid them. Such events appear trivial to begin with before unpredictably cascading through the system to create a large event with severe consequences.

Genie in the Bottle
 The ongoing Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster is a key example of a situation out of our control with no end in site. It is amazing to me that the Japanese government has not forsaken relying on its fifty-four nuclear plants that were temporarily shutdown after Fukushima.

Japan should be asking for all the help the world could offer to contain a mess that is destroying their nation and the Pacific Ocean. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe still plans to reopen the idle plants as soon as possible to keep their industries churning.
 
Before the world's ability to manage the 20th century infrastructure we inherited is gone we need to get our priorities in order. In my opinion, at the top of the list would be to safely back away from nuclear power.

That means building no new nuclear power generating plants. It means shutting down the existing aging plants as well. It will mean determining the safest way of storing the nuclear waste we have already produced whether in situ or a new designated location.

There is little time to waste. We live in a time of exhausted resources and a strained environment. This is leading us to a long term financial contraction that will include economic deflation and depression. Even our ability to keep aviation, rail and the US Interstate Highway systema operational may be challenged... and interstate trucking will be vital to maintenance of safe storage of nuclear waste.

If we fail in this effort and slide into an agrarian post-industrial lifestyle we will have to live with great swatches of uninhabitable landscape filled invisible, tasteless poisons that offer no warning or explanation.

Don't let that genie out of the bottle.


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