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Geiger Readings for Aug 29, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 80  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 99   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 102  nanosieverts per hour
Lemon from Central Market = 911  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 116 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 99  nanosieverts per hour 
King Salmon - Caught in USA = 89 nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Reactors 278 - Hinkley Point C Project Problems - Part 1 of 2 Parts

Part 1 of 2 Parts

       I have blogged several times about the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor project to add two new reactors to the Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station in the U.K. It is a huge project that has taken years to set up and involves multiple countries. The British government and the French state-owned utility company EDF have now agreed that EDF will get a guaranteed strike price of one hundred and forty two dollars per megawatt hour beginning in 2026 upon completion of the reactors. The price will rise with inflation up to 2061. That is almost three times the current price of electricity generated in the U.K.

      Supporters of the deal say that the two new reactors will supply seven percent of the electricity consumed by the U.K. The electricity will be a low-carbon and predictable source of electricity in contrast to intermittent generation of wind and solar power systems. Supporters also claim that there will be billions of investment dollars and thousands of jobs created. They say that the price, although high, is favorable in comparison to other forms of clean energy. The Department of Energy and Climate Change estimates that the ratepayers will save a hundred and fifteen dollars a year in 2026 over what they would pay if the new Hinkley Point C reactors are not built.

      Critics of the Hinkley Point project say that building the new reactors at Hinkley Point would a huge waste of money and that future generations would look back on the Hinkley Point  project as a big mistake. In the face of strong opposition, the British Prime Minister is expected to sign a final deal in October during the visit of the Chinese President. The Chinese are a major investor in the project.

       HSBC bank issued a report on the Hinkley Point C project which pointed out that the arrival of new interconnects that link the U.K. power grid to Europe would allow the U.K. to import electricity much cheaper than Hinkley Point C electricity. In addition, the justification for the project is fading as electricity consumption is falling in the U.K. With available capacity and new wind and solar energy sources, the Hinkley Point strike price is too high to justify. If the deal is signed, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the U.K. to back out of the deal if the strike price is non-competitive when the reactors are completed.

    The Hinkley Point C reactors are a new design referred to as EPR which is claimed to be safer and more efficient than currently operating nuclear power reactors. However, no reactors with the new design have been built and put into operation yet. There have been major technical problems with the new design. Three other reactor projects based on the new design have all suffered major delays. One major issue has been the fifty foot high pressure vessel which is supposed to enclose the EPR reactor. One of these pressure vessel built for another sight has been found to contain steel that was forged with too much carbon which reduces its strength by as much as fifty percent, increasing the risk of cracking and radiation release. There have also been problems with the design of the cooling system. The delays and technical problems have inflated the price of EPR reactors.

(Please see Part 2)

Artist's concept of Hinkley Point C:

Geiger Readings for Aug 28, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 76  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 79   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 81  nanosieverts per hour
Yellow tomato from Central Market = 89 nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 68 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 58  nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Weapons 153 - Pakistan Increasing Its Arsenal of Nuclear Warheads

       I have blogged about the arms race between India and Pakistan. Both countries have nuclear warheads and advanced delivery systems. A new report has just been issued by two U.S. think tanks that claims Pakistan is building twenty nuclear warheads a year. Given current estimates of nuclear warheads in national arsenals around the world, this would mean that Pakistan could have the third largest stockpile of nuclear warheads within a decade. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center say that Pakistan is racing ahead of India in a new chapter of their nuclear arms race.

      Analysts have estimated that Pakistan has about one hundred and twenty nuclear warheads. India is estimated to have about one hundred. Pakistan has an advantage over India in the manufacture of low-yield nuclear warheads because it has a big stockpile of highly enriched uranium suitable for use in creating nuclear weapons. India does have a large stockpile of plutonium which it could use to create more nuclear warheads but it appears that India has opted to use the plutonium to fuel power reactor to alleviate its chronic shortage of electricity. Pakistan has used plutonium to build warheads and the Pakistanis have recently added a fourth plutonium production reactor at its Khushab Nuclear Complex.

     According to the new report, if Pakistan is, in fact, building twenty warheads a year, that would mean that in ten years they would add two hundred warheads to their arsenal giving them a total of three hundred and twenty. Only the U.S. and Russia currently have more nuclear warheads. France has about three hundred warheads, the U.K. has about two hundred and fifteen warheads and China has around two hundred and fifty. The report states that, "The growth path of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, enabled by existing infrastructure, goes well beyond the assurances of credible minimal deterrence provided by Pakistani officials and analysts after testing nuclear devices."

        It has not been easy for analysts to get an accurate count of Pakistan's nuclear weapons capability. Some Pakistani sources have disputed the new report's claim that Pakistan is going to use all its fissile materials for the manufacture of nuclear warheads in the coming years. Mansoor Ahmed, a nuclear expert at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, says that it is unlikely that Pakistan will construct more than forty or fifty new warheads in the coming years. He does admit that the Pakistani military is working on expanding its nuclear capabilities.

       Ahmed said that, "This report is overblown," and that, "...what the world must understand is that nuclear weapons are part of Pakistan’s belief system. It’s a culture that has been built up over the years because [nuclear weapons] have provided a credible deterrence against external aggression."

      India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they became nuclear armed nations in 1998. India has said that it will not strike an enemy first with nuclear weapons but Pakistan has not made a similar pledge. Since India has a larger army than Pakistan, Pakistan has said that it might use nuclear weapons against ground troops. India has nuclear weapons as a matter of prestige but Pakistan has a different attitude and has expressed a willingness to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

      In view of the projections that it would only take the detonation of about one hundred nuclear warheads to trigger a nuclear winter which would bring down human civilization, both India and Pakistan have sufficient warheads to destroy the world. In addition, with the way that prevailing winds shift around the neighboring nations, if either attacked the other with nuclear weapons, the attacker would be eating its own fallout within months. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan would be suicidal and could destroy human civilization. Hopefully, they can work out a way to live in peace.

Khushab Nuclear Complex:

Geiger Readings for Aug 27, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 80  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 73   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 81  nanosieverts per hour
Mango from Central Market = 110  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 85 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 80  nanosieverts per hour

Nuclear Weapons 152 - North And South Korea Almost Went To War

       I have blogged about the possibility of nuclear war and the probable repercussions. The most belligerent nuclear power in the world has only a few nuclear bombs and short range delivery systems. That country is North Korea. Recently, there has been an increase in hostilities as a result of a couple of South Korean soldiers being killed by a land mine in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas. South Korea responded by firing artillery at the North and the North fired back. Both Koreas went on high alert, massed troops at the border and hurled threats at each other. The U.S. military in South Korea also went to high alert.

      On August 21st, fifty North Korean submarines which were stationed around the peninsula were reported to have vanished from South Korean and U.S. radar systems. This meant that they had left their bases and submerged, bound on unknown missions.  It was feared that the leader of North Korea was preparing a preemptive strike on South Korea in case the negotiations for a lessening of tensions failed. Some military analysts thought that the submarines might be carrying commandoes to infiltrate into South Korea. Other analysts were concerned that the submarines might be preparing to attack civilian and military ships around the peninsula.

      A big concern among South Korean officials was that some of the submarines might be carrying nuclear weapons. North Korea recently successfully launched a ballistic missile from a submarine. It has also been reported that North Korea has developed a nuclear weapon that could cause a huge electromagnetic pulse (EMP) over the continental U.S. which would result in major damage to the U.S. power grid and electronic systems. North Korea launched a satellite in 2013 that may have a super EMP weapon onboard. They might launch such an attack on the U.S. in order to prevent the U.S. from supporting their assault on South Korea.

      The detonation of a small nuclear warhead in the five to ten kiloton range fifty miles above the center of the U.S. could devastate the U.S. With the power grid down, fuel and traffic would stop, water and sewage systems would fail and our society would collapse. Worst case estimates are that as many as nine out of ten citizens of the U.S. would be dead in the first year after the strike. 

      Fortunately for the people of the world, a truce was worked out between the two Koreas in the early morning hours of August 25th. South Korea agreed to stop blasting propaganda from loud speakers at the border between the two Koreas and North Korea apologized for the deaths caused by the landmine. A new border trade zone between North Korea and China was also announced on the 25th. Whether or not that had anything to do with the truce is unknown. The fifty North Korean submarines have begun returning the their bases.

     With only a few nuclear weapons and short range delivery systems, many people thought that North Korea was really only a threat to its immediate neighbors. However, with the EMP possibility, this small poor belligerent nation on the other side of the world could essentially destroy the U.S. As little comfort as it may bring, if this horrible event did happen, at least the entire global civilization would not be utterly destroyed by a nuclear winter. Even so, the impact of the collapse of the U.S. would bring down the global economic system and would probably trigger local wars over vanishing resources.

   North Korean submarine:


Geiger Readings for Aug 26, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745
Ambient office = 87  nanosieverts per hour
Ambient outside = 97   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 103  nanosieverts per hour
Redleaf lettuce from Central Market = 152  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 116 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 91  nanosieverts per hour 

Nuclear Reactors 277 - Kasakhstan Launching Nuclear Fuel Bank

        When the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was negotiated in the 1960, there was no effort made to restrain uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. It was apparently assumed that any country that had or would have the technical ability to enrich or reprocess either already had nuclear weapons or was totally committed to never having them. This assumption has proven to be wrong.

        Any signatory of the treaty has a right to pursue the development of the nuclear fuel cycle to any level. Under the treaty, such work on nuclear fuel cycles is only supposed to be for "peaceful purposes" but there is no enforcement of this restriction. Any technologically sophisticated country can build uranium enrichment facilities for the advertised purpose of creating fuel for nuclear power reactors or nuclear research reactors. However, such enrichment facilities can also produce weapons-grade materials.

       Iran has been developing enrichment facilities and the possibility that it could produce nuclear weapons has sent shockwave through the international community. This has led to the negotiation of the recent agreement with Iran to limit its enrichment capabilities.

       The international community has come to the realization that one way to reduce the dangers of enrichment proliferation is to find a way to reassure countries pursuing peaceful nuclear power that they will have secure access to fuel in the future without the need to enrich it themselves. Nuclear power plants are an enormous investment and countries without enrichment capabilities are justifiably concerned about their ability to obtain nuclear fuel on the international marked for the life of their power plants.

         There have been attempts to address this problem. Russia in association with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) maintains a reserve of low-enriched uranium (LEU) suitable for nuclear fuel at an international center in Angarsk. However, in view of the fact that Russia has withheld fossil fuels from customers over political disputes, nuclear fuel customers are justifiably reluctant to rely on Russia for a external source of fuel.

        Now Kazakhstan is officially launching an international nuclear fuel bank on August 27 which it will operate on behalf of the IAEA. The Kazakhstan fuel bank will being actual operations in 2017. It will store up to ninety tons of LEU sufficient to supply three typical light water power reactors. The LEU will be officially owned and operated by the IAEA. It will be made available to non-nuclear weapon states if they cannot secure nuclear fuel on the commercial nuclear fuel market. The applying state must be in compliance with a comprehensive non-proliferation agreement with the IAEA. After satisfying these conditions, the state would be given the LEU which it could then transfer to a fuel fabricator.

      The Kazakhstan bank was funded with voluntary contributions. The Nuclear Threat Initiative is U.S. based NGO which donated fifty million dollars. The U.S. government donated forty nine million. Twenty five million came from the European Union. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each gave ten million. Five million came from Norway. The establishment of the Kazakhstan nuclear fuel bank is a worthwhile project to reduce nuclear weapons proliferation.

Kazakhstan nuclear fuel bank:

Geiger Readings for Aug 25, 2015

Latitude 47.704656 Longitude -122.318745

Ambient office = 84  nanosieverts per hour

Ambient outside = 70   nanosieverts per hour
Soil exposed to rain water = 81  nanosieverts per hour
Iceberg lettuce from Central Market = 114  nanosieverts per hour
Tap water = 81 nanosieverts per hour
Filtered water = 73  nanosieverts per hour

Radioactive Waste 144 - Thorium From Weapons Production Polluting Residential Yards in St. Louis Area

       I have blogged recently about the left-over radioactive pollution from the Cold War and the development of nuclear weapons. There are a number of famous sites where the weapons work was carried out that are horribly polluted to this day such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. But in addition to the actual sites where the work was done, there are other places where the pollution generated by weapons work has leaked and migrated to ordinary neighborhoods. Currently, there are residential areas around St. Louis where radioactive pollution from the Cold War is a serious concern.

      A great deal of nuclear weapons work was carried out in the St. Louis area during the Cold War. The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (ACE) has been cleaning up contamination in industrial and commercial sections of the St. Louis area for years. Coldwater Creek runs through an area in St. Louis where waste from the nuclear weapons work was stored. The creek continues on through residential areas and ultimately runs into the Missouri River. Federal authorities has acknowledged that the creek contains radioactive contamination and have included it in their cleanup work. One major ongoing question is just how far the nuclear contamination was spread by the creek.

        Past and present residents of the area claim that contamination from the creek spread into their neighborhoods during periods when the creek flooded. They have argued for broad sampling of houses and yards for contamination. They also claim that there an are unusually large number of cancer cases and other health problems that may be linked to radioactive exposure. Last fall, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services sent a letter to federal officials stating that a significantly higher occurrence of leukemia in areas around Coldwater Creek had been found. The MDHS said that it had not determined whether or not the leukemia cluster had been caused by contaminants from the nuclear weapons work. It requested federal assistance for further research on the subject.

       Thorium, the radioactive isotope of hydrogen, is the primary pollutant being discussed. The ACE has, for the first time, admitted that thorium has been discovered in the ground of three neighborhoods around the creek. The federal authorities say that the thorium is at least six inched below the ground and is not a threat. The ACE says that it intends to include thorium found in residents yards in its cleanup. They are going to be doing more sampling in the general area where the thorium has been found and expect to find more.

       The ACE has also found lower levels of thorium contamination in three other places along the creek including two public parks. The contaminated areas of the parks have been fenced off according to the city manager of Hazelwood. The non-contaminated areas of the parks have remained open for public use. However, the city manager is considering closing the rest of the parks because of public protests.

        A citizens group has reacted to the admission from the ACE by saying, " “We have proof from the federal government that thorium is in people’s backyards.” The existence of these sites is a sad reflection on environmental priorities versus military priorities in our country. Some of the hundreds of billions of dollars that the federal government spends each year on defense should be shifted to cleaning up the radioactive contamination from the production of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.