Last fall, the Stanley Foundation held a meeting in Santa Fe to collect stories of nuclear adventures. It was great fun, with us old talky folks and younger enthusiastic listeners. I met a number of people I knew only through social media!
They recorded some of us old talky people and have just published a number of recordings.
It was was an enormous tailings pond, 1 km long & .5 km wide. Right on the Baltic… It was set on a base of cambrian blue clay. The problem of having all those tons of material on it was that the whole thing could just slide into the sea.
I am so proud of what the Estonians have done, pictured above. The green area is the stabilized tailings pond. And one of the things that the Estonian government wanted was economic development, hence the growing port around it.
On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed near the town of East Palestine, Ohio. Fifty cars derailed, ten of which carried hazardous chemicals. Federal investigators say a mechanical issue with a rail car axle caused the derailment.
A fire broke out in the rail cars, residents were evacuated, and the material in some of the cars was drained and set on fire. Draining the material prevented a BLEVE, a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion, which is what happens when tanks of liquid are heated in a fire. A breach in a hot tank like this releases both chemical energy when the liquid explodes and the heat energy as the liquid flashes instantly into a gas. These explosions are extremely powerful.
But then they had to do something with the liquid, so they burned it, producing a thick black cloud of smoke.
The latest is combining two components to make an enormously strong glue, as we do with epoxy. That’s what mussels have been doing much longer.
Mussels live in a difficult environment – sea rocks between the tide lines. They are constantly battered by waves. They glue themselves to the rocks with a glue that they form by mixing iron and vanadium compounds.
Tobias Priemel, Gurveer Palia, Frank Förste, Franziska Jehle, Ioanna Mantouvalou, Paul Zaslansky, Luca Bertinetti, and Matthew Harrington, at McGill University, found that mechanism. The photo illustrates how it works. And vanadium is a very rare metal in biological processes.
Image credit: T. Priemel A scanning electron micrograph (left) shows part of a microchannel within the glue-secreting organ of a mussel. The channel is lined with cilia (blue). Mussels release adhesive protein sacs (green) from their tissues (yellow) into the microchannels. The sacs rupture, forming a fluid mass (purple). The mussel also releases metal particles into the channel, where they help crosslink the proteins and cure the glue. A 3D reconstruction of SEMs (right) gives a view across an entire microchannel. Microchannels are 10–100 µm across.
Nations to the northwest of Russia reported slightly increased levels of radiation on several days in June. The levels were harmless to human health and the environment.
The isotopes observed include Cs-134, Cs-137, Ru-103, I-131, and isotopes of cobalt. The possible source region for the June 22 and 23 observations was calculated by the monitoring organization for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBTO), which has isotope monitoring stations around the world. The tweet doesn’t say this, but that region was probably calculated by considering the winds during that period. (Lassina Zerbo is the director of the CTBTO.)
Iodine-131 was observed at more northerly stations and on different days than the other isotopes. It has a half-life of 8 days and is a fission product, as are the other isotopes except for cobalt. Cobalt is an activation product of the steel containment vessel for a reactor. It seems likely that these observations come from a leaking nuclear reactor, but where?
Russia has reactors in the suspect area, but officials there have said that none of them have leaked.
Last week, a test of the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile was thought to be planned for the Kapustin Yar test site, north of the Caspian Sea.
Nothing more than a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) was announced by the Russian government, so it’s not clear why this exclusion would have been for Burevestnik in particular. Up until now, Burevestnik tests have been further north. The deadly test of last year was within the area calculated by the CTBTO.
There’s not enough information to conclude anything more than that these emissions were from a reactor. Russia is party to conventions requiring it to provide information on accidents involving the release of radiation. The other nations within the possible source area have been conscientious about their adherence to those conventions. Russia hasn’t.
I’m quoted in articles in The Verge and the Daily Beast (also Bellingcat) on chemical weapons in Syria. Rachel Becker discusses the long-term effects of chemical weapons. Adam Rawnsley debunks Russian disinformation.
In September, a cloud of ruthenium-106 spread over Europe. Ruthenium-106 is used in nuclear medicine, and it is extracted from used nuclear reactor fuel. The amounts were tiny – one of the things about radioactive materials is that they can be detected at very, very low concentrations.
There are many atmospheric sampling stations around Europe, and their readings were mapped. The top graphic is the result. The center of the cloud was between the Ural Mountains and the Volga River. The amounts over Europe were not dangerous to health, but the amounts closer to the source might have been. Ruthenium was no longer detected in France after October 13. Read More
After the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the directors of the nuclear weapons laboratories on both sides quickly got together to work on securing nuclear weapons and the materials they are made from. They were supported by their governments. NATO helped. The cooperation was a marvelous thing to see and to experience. I had a small part in dealing with leftover Soviet nuclear problems.
In 1998, I traveled to Estonia to help deal with a former Soviet uranium-processing plant. I’ve written up my experience. Siegfried Hecker, the director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a primary mover in the lab-to-lab cooperation, has collected the experiences of many participants in a two-volume set, Doomed to Cooperate. He has also set up a website for more information, which is where my story appears.
Check it out. The top photos are mine, of one part of the site in 1998 and in 2011.
A tunnel collapsed in the 200 Area of Washington State’s Hanford Reservation. The 200 Area is where fuel elements from Hanford’s reactors were processed to recover the plutonium that went into American nuclear weapons. I was not aware of an underground rail system there. The system is probably in the 200 area only because the reactors are much too far away to make an underground system possible. Read More