Currently viewing the tag: “radioactive”

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation gave notice this week that it has begun considering whether to grant the Canadian company Bruce Power permission to move 16 radioactively contaminated steam generators through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway.

In a notice in the March 30 Federal Register DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration wrote that on Feb. 24 Bruce Power asked for special arrangements so that it could transport the large generators for recycling and volume reduction in Sweden.

The initial leg of transport would be by road and entirely within Canada. The steam generators would then be loaded on a vessel in Owen Sound, Ontario for transport to Sweden via Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario and interconnecting waterways as well as the St. Lawrence River. At various times the vessel would necessarily enter U.S. waters. Therefore, under IAEA special arrangement provisions, the U.S. would need to revalidate the Canadian certificate in order to permit transport.
PHMSA is recognized as the IAEA Competent Authority for the U.S. and is responsible for competent authority approval in these cases.

PHMSA intends to conduct a fully independent review of the proposed transport including safety, environmental, and fitness assessments, in consultation with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.S. Coast Guard. PHMSA must approve, deny, or institute additional controls regarding
the transport in the request for competent authority approval.

A group of over 70 mayors from U.S. and Canadian towns along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway have warned that this shipment could endanger public water supplies.

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A Dept. of Environmental Quality sampling device in Lansing has detected a small amount of radioactive iodine-131 in the air, a likely result of the Fukushima nuclear emergency in Japan.

State environmental officials say that iodine-131 is a signature radioactive isotope for Japan‘s nuclear power plant emergency and that the level detected is low — about a quarter of the level measured here during the peak of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

The DEQ maintains a continuously running air sampler in Lansing that processes 50 liters of air per minute for a total of 504,000 liters last week. The average human uses 7 liters of air per minute.

On Monday an analysis of last weeks sample showed a total activity of 23 picocuries or 0.85 becquerels of iodine-131.

“These are scant detection levels, even when compared to the radiation levels people are exposed-to every day,” DEQ said in a release. “For example, a typical banana contains 15 becquerels of potassium 40, a common radioactive isotope.”

Iodine-131 has a half life of 8 days and concentrates in the thyroid glands of exposed people. Cesium-137, another isotope associated with the Fukushima disaster, has a half life of 30 years and concentrates in bone.

Air samples taken in California have shown traces of cesium-137 from Japan.

Ken Yale of the DEQ’s Radiological Protection Division said that the Michigan air sample shows no cesium-137 in excess of typical background levels.

The state does not have measurements of radioactive isotopes in precipitation.

Snow is difficult to measure, Yale said, and it hasn’t rained since Tuesday when the department installed a system to monitor rain.

In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia officials have measured iodine-131 in rainwater at levels that exceed those established for drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the levels don’t pose a health threat with short term exposure.

In Washington state iodine-131 was found in milk this week.

Michigan monitors milk for radioactive isotopes on a weekly basis, Yale said, and results from last week should be available soon.

Radioactive pollution is expected to continue to spread throughout the northern hemisphere as the nuclear disaster continues in Japan.

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Oh, and plutonium. I suppose I should be the first to say it: Clusterfukushima….

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that it has found radioactive iodine in rainwater water in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts at levels higher that those considered safe in drinking water.

Jeff McMahon blogs for Forbes:

“It is important to note that the corresponding MCL for iodine-131 was calculated based on long-term chronic exposures over the course of a lifetime – 70 years. The levels seen in rainwater are expected to be relatively short in duration,” the agency states in a FAQ that accompanied yesterday’s brief news release.

EPA said it is receiving “verbal reports” of higher levels of radiation in rainwater samples from other states as well, and that Americans should continue to expect short-term contamination of rainwater as radioactive isotopes spread through the atmosphere from Japan.

“We continue to expect similar reports from state agencies and others across the nation given the nature and duration of the Japanese nuclear incident.”

The agency said it has ordered samples from 78 drinking water systems. It has also ordered immediate sampling of cow’s milk around the country. Milk sampling is important, EPA said, because in situations involving large releases of radioactive iodine, cows grazing on contaminated grass will accumulate the iodine in their milk. A complete analysis of the cow milk can take three days.

EPA’s only recommendation to state and local governments is to continue to coordinate closely with EPA, CDC and FDA – EPA will continue to communicate our nationwide sampling results as they come in.

EPA’s daily updates are available here.

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On the March 25 CBS Early Show, co-host Chris Wragge apparently merged his nuclear terms by warning viewers of leaks of "uranium and plutanium" at the Fukushima power plant in Japan. Neither he nor co-host Erica Hill ever corrected the error.

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Authorities in Japan raised the prospect Friday of a likely breach in the all-important containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a potentially ominous development in the race to prevent a large-scale release of radiation.

Here’s more from CNN:

Contaminated water likely seeped through the containment vessel protecting the reactor’s core, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Three employees working near the No. 3 reactor Thursday stepped into water that had 10,000 times the amount of radiation typical for a nuclear plant, Nishiyama said. An analysis of the contamination suggests “some sort of leakage” from the reactor core, signaling a possible break of the containment vessel that houses the core, he said.

Bloomberg reports, “The agency said yesterday it doesn’t think there is a physical crack in the pressure vessel or containment vessel at the No. 3 reactor.”  Back to CNN:

Plant workers were also carefully watching the plant’s No. 1 reactor, concerned that an increase in pressure noted inside that reactor could be a troublesome sign. Earlier, buildups of hydrogen gas had driven up pressure that led to explosions at three of the nuclear plant’s reactors, including the No. 1 unit.

Nishiyama conceded that “controlling the temperature and pressure has been difficult” for that reactor, which on Friday had been declared stable.

Pretty remarkable that after two weeks, the situation still isn’t stabilized.

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The Union of Ontario Indians will battle a plan to ship 1,600 tons of radioactive waste from the Bruce nuclear power complex to Sweden via the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, the group announced this week.

UOI, a political advocacy organization that represents 39 First Nation communities in Ontario, said that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Bruce Power Corporation failed to properly consult with First Nation communities before approving the plant to ship 16 contaminated steam generators from the Bruce Power complex in Kincardine.

“[M]ost of the Chiefs and Councils who are signatories to treaties all along the Great Lakes were never consulted,“ Southwest Regional Anishinabek Nation Chief Chris Plain said in a statement. “The duty to consult and accommodate must be done with the rights holders and we were never consulted.”

“We will do everything in our power to prevent the Ontario and Federal governments and the nuclear power industry from using our precious waterways as a garbage disposal route,” Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee said. “It is contrary to Supreme Court decisions, our aboriginal and treaty rights, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the laws of Nature.”

Mayors from more than 70 communities along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway have warned that the proposed shipment has not received adequate environmental review and threatens the water supply for millions people.

The ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan shows that accidents can result in radioactive contamination of water supplies.This week officials in Tokyo warned residents not to let infants drink the tap water because it contains elevated levels of radioactive iodine.

U.S. Dept. of Transportation approval is required for the Bruce shipment to pass through U.S. waters.

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According to an interesting Rob Stein article that ran a week ago in the Post, in past nuclear mishaps the psychological impact of the radiation leak has arguably done more damage than the radiation itself:

Although radiation escaping from a nuclear power plant catastrophe can increase the risk of many cancers and other health problems, stress, anxiety and fear ended up in many ways being much greater long-term threats to health and well-being after Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other nuclear accidents, experts said Monday.

“The psychological effects were the biggest health effects of all — by far,” said Fred Mettler, a University of New Mexico professor emeritus and one of the world’s leading authorities on radiation, who studied Chernobyl for the World Health Organization. “In the end, that’s really what affected the most people.”

Fears of contamination and anxiety about the health of those exposed and their children led to significantly elevated rates of suicidal thinking and anxiety disorders, and rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression about doubled, Mettler and others said.

“The effect on mental health was hugely important,” said Evelyn Bromet, a professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University who studied the aftermath of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. “People’s fears about getting cancer, or their children getting cancer, and family and friends dying from radiation exposure were very intense.”

That’s not to say that radiation is benign. Obviously, it’s not. But people have a much more intense fear of radiation than they do of other comparably damaging environmental carcinogens and the long-term impact of that fear can be extremely damaging. The articles make it seem that it’s imperative for the Japanese government to maintain its credibility during the crisis so that it can become a provider of accurate information once the immediate disaster is passed. But beyond that, I’m not really sure what you’re supposed to do about this. Certainly I’d be freaked out if I lived near a nuclear accident and reading that my own psychological dread of the radiation could be more dangerous than the radiation itself would likely only make me even more neurotic about it. Maybe they should hand out the Bene Gessrit litany against fear on postcards.


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The Japanese nuclear crisis is becoming an international issue:

A United Nations forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume coming from crippled Japanese reactors shows it churning across the Pacific, and touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting Southern California late Friday.

Health and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable. In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in 10 days, its levels measurable but minuscule.

The projection, by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, an arm of the United Nations in Vienna, gives no information about actual radiation levels but only shows how a radioactive plume would probably move and disperse.

The forecast, calculated Tuesday, is based on patterns of Pacific winds at that time and the predicted path is likely to change as weather patterns shift.

On Sunday, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it expected that no “harmful levels of radioactivity” would travel from Japan to the United States “given the thousands of miles between the two countries.”

The test ban treaty group routinely does radiation projections in an effort to understand which of its global stations to activate for monitoring the worldwide ban on nuclear arms testing. It has more than 60 stations that sniff the air for radiation spikes and uses weather forecasts and powerful computers to model the transport of radiation on the winds.

On Wednesday, the agency declined to release its Japanese forecast, which The New York Times obtained from other sources. The forecast was distributed widely to the agency’s member states.

But in interviews, the technical specialists of the agency did address how and why the forecast had been drawn up.

“It’s simply an indication,” said Lassina Zerbo, head of the agency’s International Data Center. “We have global coverage. So when something happens, it’s important for us to know which station can pick up the event.”

For instance, the Japan forecast shows that the radioactive plume will probably miss the agency’s monitoring stations at Midway and in the Hawaiian Islands but is likely to be detected in the Aleutians and at a monitoring station in Sacramento.

The forecast assumes that radioactivity in Japan is released continuously and forms a rising plume. It ends with the plume heading into Southern California and the American Southwest, including Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The plume would have continued eastward if the United Nations scientists had run the projection forward.

Clearly nothing to panic over, but this is still likely to increase pressure on the Japanese government.

Outside the Beltway

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Sharon Begley warns of an underreported danger in Japan:

The spent fuel produced by reactors has been a challenge since the dawn of the nuclear industry, with most reactor operators opting to store it in pools of cooling water on site. At the 40-year-old Fukushima plant, which was built by General Electric, the fuel rods are stored at a pool about three stories up, next to the reactor (a schematic is here). Satellite photos raise concerns that the roof of the building housing the pool has been blown off, says Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies and a senior policy adviser to the secretary of energy and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999. He and other experts are now warning that any release of radioactivity from the spent-fuel pool could make the releases from the reactors themselves pale in comparison.

Barry Brook provides a summary of the current status at Fukushima.

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The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

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Though agency scientists and industry-funded reports have warned about the public health risks of radioactive wastewater from natural gas fracking operations, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done little to address the problem.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the process of using water, chemicals and grit to blast open natural gas deposits in shale. The water that that flows back up from the well often contains traces of radioactive substances.

A New York Times investigation found that regulators are aware that radioactive fracking wastewater poses a threat to water supplies.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

People who eat fish could be at risk.

A confidential industry study from 1990, conducted for the American Petroleum Institute, concluded that “using conservative assumptions,” radium in drilling wastewater dumped off the Louisiana coast posed “potentially significant risks” of cancer for people who eat fish from those waters regularly.

The investigation also found drilling companies sometimes dump wastewater rather than treat it and are often issued warnings rather than fines if regulators discover the dumping.

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The New York Times has a multi-bombshell piece on natural gas fracking, “Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers.”  CP has done a great many pieces on the potential benefits of  fracking — and the potential dangers (see “Getting to the bottom of natural gas fracking and links below).

But while unconventional natural gas might be an energy and climate game changer (over the near term) if it can be developed in an environmentally responsible fashion, the NYT piece itself may be a game changer.

Over the past nine months, The Times reviewed more than 30,000 pages of documents obtained through open records requests of state and federal agencies and by visiting various regional offices that oversee drilling in Pennsylvania. Some of the documents were leaked by state or federal officials.

You can find “the most significant documents … with annotations from The Times” by clicking here.

Here are some excerpts from the story:

But the relatively new drilling method — known as high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — carries significant environmental risks. It involves injecting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and chemicals, at high pressures to break up rock formations and release the gas.

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.

In other words, there is no way of guaranteeing that the drinking water taken in by all these plants is safe.

And the citizens of Pennsylvania aren’t the only ones in harms way.  There are many others:

There were more than 493,000 active natural-gas wells in the United States in 2009, almost double the number in 1990. Around 90 percent have used hydrofracking to get more gas flowing, according to the drilling industry.

Gas has seeped into underground drinking-water supplies in at least five states, including Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia, and residents blamed natural-gas drilling.

Air pollution caused by natural-gas drilling is a growing threat, too. Wyoming, for example, failed in 2009 to meet federal standards for air quality for the first time in its history partly because of the fumes containing benzene and toluene from roughly 27,000 wells, the vast majority drilled in the past five years.

In a sparsely populated Sublette County in Wyoming, which has some of the highest concentrations of wells, vapors reacting to sunlight have contributed to levels of ozone higher than those recorded in Houston and Los Angeles.

Back to the Keystone State.  Here are some more of the NYT’s findings:

More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.¶At least 12 sewage treatment plants in three states accepted gas industry wastewater and discharged waste that was only partly treated into rivers, lakes and streams.

¶Of more than 179 wells producing wastewater with high levels of radiation, at least 116 reported levels of radium or other radioactive materials 100 times as high as the levels set by federal drinking-water standards. At least 15 wells produced wastewater carrying more than 1,000 times the amount of radioactive elements considered acceptable.

So, are these levels of radioactivity dangerous?  Here’s where the American Petroleum Institute comes in:

Industry officials say they are not concerned.

“These low levels of radioactivity pose no threat to the public or worker safety and are more a public perception issue than a real health threat,” said James E. Grey, chief operating officer of Triana Energy.

In interviews, industry trade groups like the Marcellus Shale Coalition and Energy in Depth, as well as representatives from energy companies like Shell and Chesapeake Energy, said they were producing far less wastewater because they were recycling much of it rather than disposing of it after each job.

But even with recycling, the amount of wastewater produced in Pennsylvania is expected to increase because, according to industry projections, more than 50,000 new wells are likely to be drilled over the next two decades.

The radioactivity in the wastewater is not necessarily dangerous to people who are near it. It can be blocked by thin barriers, including skin, so exposure is generally harmless.

Rather, E.P.A. and industry researchers say, the bigger danger of radioactive wastewater is its potential to contaminate drinking water or enter the food chain through fish or farming. Once radium enters a person’s body, by eating, drinking or breathing, it can cause cancer and other health problems, many federal studies show.

Little Testing for Radioactivity

Under federal law, testing for radioactivity in drinking water is required only at drinking-water plants. But federal and state regulators have given nearly all drinking-water intake facilities in Pennsylvania permission to test only once every six or nine years.

The Times reviewed data from more than 65 intake plants downstream from some of the busiest drilling regions in the state. Not one has tested for radioactivity since 2008, and most have not tested since at least 2005, before most of the drilling waste was being produced.

And in 2009 and 2010, public sewage treatment plants directly upstream from some of these drinking-water intake facilities accepted wastewater that contained radioactivity levels as high as 2,122 times the drinking-water standard. But most sewage plants are not required to monitor for radioactive elements in the water they discharge. So there is virtually no data on such contaminants as water leaves these plants. Regulators and gas producers have repeatedly said that the waste is not a threat because it is so diluted in rivers or by treatment plants. But industry and federal research cast doubt on those statements.

A confidential industry study from 1990, conducted for the American Petroleum Institute, concluded that “using conservative assumptions,” radium in drilling wastewater dumped off the Louisiana coast posed “potentially significant risks” of cancer for people who eat fish from those waters regularly.

The industry study focused on drilling industry wastewater being dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, where it would be far more diluted than in rivers. It also used estimates of radium levels far below those found in Pennsylvania’s drilling waste, according to the study’s lead author, Anne F. Meinhold, an environmental risk expert now at NASA.

Other federal, state and academic studies have also found dilution problems with radioactive drilling waste.

Uh, okay, NYT, you’ve sold me on the notion that I shouldn’t trust industry statements that these levels of radioactivity are harmless.

BUT how about a little follow up on that 1990 API study.  Has the petroleum industry kept knowingly dumping wastewater with radium in it off the Louisiana coast that could be causing cancer in people?  I’m sure the beleaguered people of the Bayou state would be interested in the answer.

The bottom line this bombshell story is that the natural gas industry should no longer be given any presumption of innocence or safety in regards the health impacts of fracking.  Time for the EPA and the wastewater industry to do some testing and inform the public of the dangers.

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Climate Progress

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The Chernobyl nuclear accident was not the first radiological disaster in the old Soviet Union. Radioactive waste poured into the Techa near the southwestern Siberian town of Muslyumovo in the early 1950s. A few years ago most of the 4,000 residents were moved out because of the toxicity of the place.

English Russia has a pictorial essay of what Muslyumovo looks like today.

Over the years the Norwegian site Bellona has been keeping a close eye on this sad village.
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From English Russia: The most polluted town on the planet

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Marathon Pundit

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A group of over 70 mayors from U.S. and Canadian towns along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway is warning that a planned shipment of radioactive materials from the Bruce Power nuclear complex could endanger public water supplies.

Bruce Power operates North America’s largest nuclear power plant in Kincardine, Ontario near the shore of Lake Huron. The company plans to ship 16 school bus-sized radioactive steam generators over the Great Lakes to a metal recycling facility in Sweden.

The Environmental News Servicereports that the mayors of the Cities Initiative say that they are seriously concerned about what they see as flaws in the environmental review of the proposed shipment.

“Safety scenarios do not consider more serious accidents, rely on a series of assumptions, and lack an assessment of ecological risk,” the mayors warned.

“The [Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission] revised staff report confirms many of our concerns,” said George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and past chair of the Cities Initiative. “However,” he said, “we disagree with the conclusions of the revised report, and feel that an accident involving this shipment does pose a significant environmental and public health risk.”

In addition, the mayors are concerned about the potentially precedent-setting nature of the shipment. They warn that the amount of radioactive waste to be shipped exceeds by 50 times the international allowable limit for a single shipment in inland waters.

The removal of the generators is part of a project to restart two reactors at the complex.

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Barrack Obama is the poison, and George W. Bush is the antidote. For Democrats!
American Thinker Blog

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