31 Jul

“Late Lament”

Breathe deep the gathering gloom,
Watch lights fade from every room.
Bedsitter people look back and lament,
Another day’s useless energy spent.
Impassioned lovers wrestle as one,
Lonely man cries for love and has none.
New mother picks up and suckles her son,
Senior citizens wish they were young.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight.
Red is grey and yellow white.
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion?

Poem at the end of Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin”; poem by Graeme Edge.

Peter Van Buren has an article up about the swell idea from Congress, backed by Obama, to designate three new national parks.

The Obama administration is supporting bipartisan legislation in Congress that would designate sites in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Hanford, Washington and Los Alamos, New Mexico as America’s newest national parks. They would stand alongside Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon as part of the country’s crown jewels. Familiar names? They should be. The Hanford site produced plutonium during WWII. The Oak Ridge site enriched uranium. Workers in Los Alamos used those materials to assemble the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Japan, killing about 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as World War II ended. The sites were the production arms of the massive Manhattan Project that in large part created the current American Empire. Emerging from world war with the world’s largest army and only intact industrial society but also with the world’s only nuclear weapons gave the American Empire Project a kick start that is only now fading.[…]

Oh, yes, our national parks.  Take the family, camp out, hike the trails, have a cook-out.  Bring the in-laws and the babies.  Bring your guns and ammo.  (Thanks, you smart Congress people!)  Breathe in that air, citizens!  It’s good for you.  We swear.

Seriously – Hanford?  Los Alamos?  Oak Ridge?  Is this a herd-thinning program, or what?

Oak Ridge is also known as Y-12.   It is the world’s largest repository of enriched uranium.

“Uranium Center of Excellence.” Y-12 contains the world’s largest repository of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in metal form, storing approximately 400 MT of the material—enough for about 14,000 nuclear warheads. While Y-12 refers to itself as the “Fort Knox” for storage and management of HEU, there are a number of security risks posed by the site. Roughly 700,000 people live within a 100-mile radius of the facility. The 811-acre compound—over three miles long and half a mile wide—is nestled in a valley between two ridges. Because of its location, Y-12 is a difficult site to defend. Attackers could use the surrounding forested high ground to help gain control of the facility. Most of the HEU at Y-12 is stored in five World War II-era buildings. During NNSA’s 2007 force-on-force security test, the mock adversaries were successful in a theft scenario; meaning they were successful in removing mock SNM from Y-12.

In addition to storing uranium at Y-12, NNSA also manufactures, evaluates, and tests the uranium nuclear weapons components and canned subassemblies, which includes heavy metal cases and secondaries. The mission for these components and canned subassemblies, and the number produced, is not publicly available. Complex Transformation sets a future production target for canned subassemblies at Y-12 of about 125 per year, but the number could be increased to an annual rate of 200. Y-12 also conducts component dismantlement, storage, and disposition of surplus nuclear materials. Additionally, Y-12 supplies HEU for use in naval reactors and research reactors. The Complex Transformation SPEIS would continue these activities at Y-12.

Los Alamos.  Home to the nation’s largest supply of nuclear weapons. The place where during the New Mexico fires last June, it was discovered that as many as 30,000 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste were stored in fabric tents above ground and that for decades, contaminated waste was put in drums which were then dumped into nearby ravines.  [ “…In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy’s inspector general issued a report that said Los Alamos County firefighters weren’t sufficiently trained to handle the unique fires they could face with hazardous or radioactive materials at the site….” – That Los Alamos?  As Robert Oppenheimer put it on the 16th of October, 1945, “If atomic bombs are to be added as new weapons to the arsenals of a warring world, or to the arsenals of nations preparing for war, then the time will come when mankind will curse the names of Los Alamos and Hiroshima. The people must unite, or they will perish.”  I guess the people in charge have decided for us: we will perish while we make Los Alamos a national shrine rather than curse its name.  This is America, after all, the country of 9600 nukes.  The country that shares its depleted uranium graciously with a world just dying for it – literally.  We call it “spreading democracy”.

In 2009 and 2010, the administration of Barack Obama declared policies that would invalidate the Bush-era policy for use of nuclear weapons and its motions to develop new ones. First, in a prominent 2009 speech, U.S. president Barack Obama outlined a goal of “a world without nuclear weapons”.  To that goal, U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new START treaty on April 8, 2010 to reduce the number of active nuclear weapons from 2,200 to 1,550. That same week Obama also revised U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons in a Nuclear Posture Review required of all presidents, declaring for the first time that the U.S. would not use nuclear weapons against nonnuclear, NPT-compliant states. The policy also renounces development of any new nuclear weapons.

Momentum of the new era slowed and hard realities resurfaced in 2011, and no new breakthroughs occurred. The multilateral nuclear arms control agenda is stymied. The CTBT is no closer to ratification than when President Obama came into office. The FMCT negotiations remain stuck, and there is no indication that success is in the offing. 2011 has been more difficult and less hopeful than the recent past.

The Obama Administration, in its release of the 2012 defense budget, included plans to modernize, as well as maintain, the nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

And Hanford, let’s talk about Hanford.  I assume they won’t tell potential park visitors that Hanford is considered the most contaminated site in the US.   Hey, dig this: they allow tours of the Hanford site already.
Some fun facts about Hanford:

The Hanford site represents two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste by volume. Today, Hanford is the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States and is the focus of the nation’s largest environmental cleanup.
A U.S. government report released in 1992 estimated that 685,000 curies of radioactive iodine-131 had been released into the river and air from the Hanford site between 1944 and 1947.

While major releases of radioactive material ended with the reactor shutdown in the 1970s, parts of the Hanford Site remain heavily contaminated. Many of the most dangerous wastes are contained, but there are concerns about contaminated groundwater headed toward the Columbia River. There are also continued concerns about workers’ health and safety.

The most significant challenge at Hanford is stabilizing the 53 million U.S. gallons (204,000 m3) of high-level radioactive waste stored in 177 underground tanks. About a third of these tanks have leaked waste into the soil and groundwater. In recent years, the federal government has spent about $2 billion annually on the Hanford project.   Originally scheduled to be complete within thirty years, the cleanup was less than half finished by 2008.  Of the four areas that were formally listed as Superfund sites on October 4, 1989, only one has been removed from the list following cleanup.

Disposal of plutonium and other high-level wastes is a more difficult problem that continues to be a subject of intense debate. As an example, plutonium has a half-life of 24,100 years, and a decay of ten half-lives is required before a sample is considered to be safe.  The Department of Energy is currently building a vitrification plant on the Hanford Site. Vitrification is a method designed to combine these dangerous wastes with glass to render them stable. Bechtel, the San Francisco based construction and engineering firm, has been hired to construct the vitrification plant, which is currently estimated to cost approximately $12 billion. Construction began in 2001. After some delays, the plant is now scheduled to be operational in 2019, with vitrification completed in 2047. It was originally scheduled to be operational by 2011, with vitrification completed by 2028.  –

Got Bechtel on it; what could go wrong?  Everything, as it turns out.

Seven decades after scientists came here during World War II to create plutonium for the first atomic bomb, a new generation is struggling with an even more daunting task: cleaning up the radioactive mess.

The U.S. government is building a treatment plant to stabilize and contain 56 million gallons of waste left from a half-century of nuclear weapons production. The radioactive sludge is so dangerous that a few hours of exposure could be fatal. A major leak could contaminate water supplies serving millions across the Northwest. The cleanup is the most complex and costly environmental restoration ever attempted.

And the project is not going well.

A USA TODAY investigation has found that the troubled, 10-year effort to build the treatment plant faces enormous problems just as it reaches what was supposed to be its final stage.

In exclusive interviews, several senior engineers cited design problems that could bring the plant’s operations to a halt before much of the waste is treated. Their reports have spurred new technical reviews and raised official concerns about the risk of a hydrogen explosion or uncontrolled nuclear reaction inside the plant. Either could damage critical equipment, shut the facility down or, worst case, allow radiation to escape.

The plant’s $12.3 billion price tag, already triple original estimates, is well short of what it will cost to address the problems and finish the project. And the plant’s start-up date, originally slated for last year and pushed back to its current target of 2019, is likely to slip further.

“We’re continuing with a failed design,” said Donald Alexander, a senior U.S. government scientist on the project.  “There’s a lot of pressure … from Congress, from the state, from the community to make progress,” he added. As a result, “the design processes are cut short, the safety analyses are cut short, and the oversight is cut short. … We have to stop now and figure out how to do this right, before we move any further.”

Documents obtained by USA TODAY show at least three federal investigations are underway to examine the project, which is funded and supervised by the Department of Energy, owner of Hanford Site. Bechtel National is the prime contractor.

In November, the Energy Department’s independent oversight office notified Bechtel that it is investigating  “potential nuclear safety non-compliances” in the design and installation of plant systems and components. And the department’s inspector general is in the final stages of a separate probe focused on whether Bechtel installed critical equipment that didn’t meet quality-control standards.[…]

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent federal panel that oversees public health and safety at nuclear weapons sites, is urging Energy Secretary Steven Chu to require more extensive testing of designs for some of the plant’s most critical components.

“Design and construction of the project continue despite there being unresolved technical issues, and there is a lot of risk associated with that,” said Peter Winokur, the board’s chairman. The waste at Hanford, stored in 177 deteriorating underground tanks, “is a real risk to the public and the environment. It is essential that this plant work and work well.”  Energy Department officials acknowledged that the design questions are a significant challenge and likely to inflate the project’s cost and timetable.[…]

Everything about the waste treatment plant at Hanford is unprecedented — and urgent.  The volume of waste, its complex mix of highly radioactive and toxic material, the size of the processing facilities — all present technical challenges with no proven solution. […]

The plant will separate the waste’s high- and low-level radioactive materials, then blend them with compounds that are superheated to create a molten glass composite — a process called “vitrification.” The mix is poured into giant steel cylinders, where it cools to a solid form that is safe and stable for long-term storage — tens of thousands of glass tubes in steel coffins.

Once the plant starts running, it could take 30 years or more to finish its cleanup work.

The 177 underground tanks at Hanford hold detritus from 45 years of plutonium production at the site, which had up to nine nuclear reactors before it closed in 1989. Some of the tanks, with capacities ranging from 55,000 gallons to more than 1 million gallons, date to the mid-1940s, when Hanford’s earliest reactor made plutonium for the first atomic bomb ever detonated: the “Trinity” test at Alamagordo, N.M. It also produced the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in World War II.

More than 60 of the tanks are thought to have leaked, losing a million gallons of waste into soil and groundwater. So far, the contamination remains within the boundaries of the barren, 586-square-mile site, but it poses an ongoing threat to the nearby Columbia River, a water source for communities stretching southwest to Portland, Ore. And, while the liquid most likely to escape from the older tanks has been moved to newer, double-walled tanks, the risk of more leaks compounds that threat.  “Each day without progress (in treating the waste) further threatens the Columbia River and its surroundings.” Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire warned in November. “There are critical public health and environmental issues at play.”

The Bechtel company, under the direction of the Department of Energy, is building this waste treatment plant at Hanford to turn liquid radioactive waste into glass for safer storage.

A 1989 legal agreement among the Energy Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Washington sets strict timetables for stabilizing the tank wastes, including a 2011 deadline to get the treatment plant running. Two years ago, a negotiated extension pushed the start-up date to 2019. But a November review  by the Energy Department reported that the deadlines are at “significant risk,” because of both engineering and budget concerns.[…]

Some of the high-level waste has turned out to be more complex than anticipated, with plutonium particles up to 10 times larger than expected. That has heightened concerns among several scientists, including Tamosaitis and the staff of the nuclear facilities safety board, that the systems designed to churn that waste need further testing to address the threat of hydrogen buildup or a nuclear reaction.

The mixers will be nearly impossible to repair or modify if they fail, because they will be too radioactive — they’re in fortified rooms, known as “black cells,” that will be sealed permanently when the plant begins operating. If the system malfunctions, Tamosaitis said, “the plant is dead in the water.”

Alexander, the Energy Department scientist, also worries about the pre-treatment mixing system. Because the mixing jets and vessels were not designed to handle the larger plutonium particles and other abrasives in the high-level waste, he said, the material is likely to erode the vessels’ lining. Alexander, who has detailed his concerns in official filings, has run simulations showing that the vessels could fail well before the end of the system’s 40-year design life, potentially causing a leak inside the plant.

When the jet mixers expel waste into the vessels, they’re “like a liquid sandblaster,” and the mixing system needs years of extra testing and refinement to account for the problem, Alexander said. “If they don’t make any changes and just move ahead, it lasts maybe 10 years.”

Tamosaitis and Alexander aren’t alone in their concerns. The mixing system “is not necessarily a solid design,” said Donna Busche, a URS employee who serves as manager for environmental and nuclear safety at the site. “The research isn’t done, the design isn’t done, and there are numerous technical and safety issues … to address.”[…]

In its November construction report, the Energy Department warned that it’s on a path to spend $800 million to $900 million more than the plant’s current, $12.3 billion budget. When the project was launched, on what was expected to be a much smaller scale, it was budgeted at about $4 billion.[…]

The overrun figures may be just a hint of what’s to come: They don’t include major modifications that officials now are contemplating to address some of the technical problems that have emerged.[…]

The 2012 appropriations bill that funds the Energy Department directed officials to do a major review of “contract management” for all nuclear facility cleanups with budgets over $1 billion. The study is due in May, according to the bill, and must assess whether practices “foster a positive nuclear safety culture or resolve nuclear safety-related design issues.”

Lawmakers also balked at the department’s 2012 funding request of $840 million for the project — a 22% increase from the $690 million a year that was projected. Instead, lawmakers agreed to $740 million.

The reduced amount probably is not enough to keep the construction on schedule given the engineering challenges that have emerged, Huizenga said. Still, he added, the project “is an extremely high priority for us,” and the department will push ahead until it is complete.[…]

Enjoy your visits to the Shrines of Death.  We honor and we value the invention of the nuclear bomb and the devastation wrought by it.  The national parks system, brought into existence to conserve into perpetuity the natural beauty of this country, will now hold within its expanses the sites where we developed the ways and means to end all life on earth, if Congress has its way.  You may develop some cancers or other issues after visiting these new parks but, after all, they are monuments to death and destruction – what could be more appropriate?   The deaths of a few civilians would be a celebration of sorts.  A forever pledge to remind us what is important to us.

Breathe deep the gathering gloom.

“Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.” Gen. Omar Bradley

Update:  I was just speaking with a relative about this and it was suggested that the designation “national park” did not imply some sort of honor or reverence on these sites, but merely a method of changing the funding route. “Surely Congress does not intend for people to tour the places?”  I was asked.  Here are excerpts from the original Washington Post article about the subject.   You will note that, in fact, the making of these three spots into national parks is intended as an honor to our “greatest achievement”, and tours are being planned.

[…]The designations would make possible wider exposure of the aging laboratories, which altered history — and, some say, darkened it.

The Hanford site produced plutonium. The Oak Ridge site enriched uranium. And workers in Los Alamos used those materials to assemble the Little Boy and Fat Man bombs dropped on Japan, forcing the Japanese surrender and ending the war. About 200,000 civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki perished.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation called the creation and use of the atomic bomb “the single most significant event of the 20th century’’ in advocating the preservation of buildings once scheduled for demolition.

The president of the Japanese American Association of New York is not as nostalgic. Any commemoration of the sites, Gary S. Moriwaki said, should educate visitors “on the devastating effects of the bombs dropped” on Japan.[…]

“You can’t deny the impact nuclear weapons have had,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in nuclear policy. Zenko said preserving the Manhattan Project sites makes sense. “It’s a part of American history that most people forget.”

America’s race with Nazi Germany to develop the first atomic bomb received its code name, the Manhattan Project, in late 1941. The establishment of the Manhattan Engineering District followed in August 1942.

Huizenga said he is certain that tourists can safely visit any Manhattan Project site. “Tours will steer well clear of contaminated areas. You would have to be directly digging up the waste to be at risk of being exposed by it,” he said.[…]

That thinking changed in 1997, when a team from the federal Advisory Council for Historic Preservation visited and team members were impressed by what they saw. Later the National Park Service recommended the establishment of parks at the sites that “could expand and enhance . . . public understanding of this nationally significant story in 20th century American history.’’[…]

As a national park, Oak Ridge could easily top the roughly 1,500 visitors a year who tour the site now, said Brown, of the city visitors bureau. Tours are conducted by the Energy Department five days a week from June to September.

Brown has ridden the tour bus that boards at the nearby American Museum of Science and Energy and passes through the tall laboratory fence. The lab’s graphite reactor, she said, is an awesome sight.
“It’s really cool. It’s very nostalgic,” she said.

The tour included an old control room, where a logbook encased in glass recorded the time when the reactor first went critical, about 5 a.m. Nov. 4, 1943.[…]

At Los Alamos National Laboratory,there are no tours currently, a spokeswoman said. Kelly, of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, said she hopes a park designation will open the site to tours that would include garagelike buildings where the bombs were assembled and Oppenheimer’s old house, a small cottage where a woman has lived since 1951.


1 Comment

Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Congress, environment, MIC


One response to “Lament.

  1. paxhonu

    July 31, 2012 at 5:15 pm

    A most entirely excellent essay, Teri. From the opening poem, to the classy PVB h/t and link, and most of all, to the information itself. Oak Ridge? Los Alamos? Hanford? Why are those names, and that last one especially, never ever brought up even while mainstream pretends to at least, well minimally, consider and even occasionally, rarely actually, report on the ongoing Fukushima disaster. Oh, just answered my own question. The idiocy of the nuclear model, and the idiocy of considering it as being, dare we say “viable” for any of its purported uses, is matched only by the idiocy of a populace that would permit it. And celebrate it. With picnics and campfires on the sacred (“some call this place “magical” because it seems to change you somehow”) grounds of our new National Nuclear Parks.



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