Monday, September 03, 2007

Iran isn't going to nuke us

but Tennessee just might.

Some 35 liters, or just over 9 gallons, of highly enriched uranium solution leaked from a transfer line into a protected glovebox and spilled onto the floor. The leak was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid ``running into a hallway'' from under a door, according to one document.

The commission said there were two areas, the glovebox and an old elevator shaft, where the solution potentially could have collected in such a way to cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.

``It is likely that at least one worker would have received an exposure high enough to cause acute health effects or death,'' the agency wrote.

It happened at Nuclear Fuel Services [that photo scares me], a company in tiny [and scenic!] Erwin, TN, that has been converting weapons-grade uranium into fuel for your neighborhood nuclear power plant [mostly a good thing], but can't tell you that it damn near nuked you because that would be giving out government secrets.

Tenn. Nuclear Fuel Problems Kept Secret
Monday August 20, 2007 9:01 PM
Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A three-year veil of secrecy in the name of national security was used to keep the public in the dark about the handling of highly enriched uranium at a nuclear fuel processing plant - including a leak that could have caused a deadly, uncontrolled nuclear reaction.

The leak turned out to be one of nine violations or test failures since 2005 at privately owned Nuclear Fuel Services Inc., a longtime supplier of fuel to the U.S. Navy's nuclear fleet.

The public was never told about the problems when they happened. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission revealed them for the first time last month when it released an order demanding improvements at the company, but no fine.

Read the entire article here.



Steve Bates said...
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Steve Bates said...

"... converting weapons-grade uranium into fuel for your neighborhood nuclear power plant [mostly a good thing], ..." - hipparchia

Compared, perhaps, to what else might happen to the weapons-grade uranium, I suppose this could be called a "good thing." The primary trouble with nuclear power in general... and I am not an absolute opponent for all time under all circumstances... is the disparity between the time scale of human institutions and the longevity of nuclear waste. Couple that with the human propensity to err and the direly dangerous nature of that waste, and you have a recipe for irregular but not infrequent disasters.

In less than a century, we've had a couple of major nuclear power "accidents" big enough that the names of their locations will be associated with the disasters for a very long time. Dog knows how many incidents of the magnitude of the one described here have taken place, because all sorts of people, governments, etc. conceal them from public knowledge.

If a Chernobyl-sized event comes along, say, twice a century, how often do we get one tenfold that magnitude, or worse? If an event the size of this one happens, say, once a year, what are the consequences of that for the (presumably civilized) locations in which they occur?

Let's just say that for my nuclear power source I prefer a fusion reaction... at about the distance of the Sun from me.

hipparchia said...

I like your definition of nuclear power, because 90-something million miles is about as close to it as i want to get too.

it's true that i meant the "mostly a good thing" mostly in the spirit of beating swords into plowshares. i'm not entirely sure that we wouldn't be better off just storing it as it is, rather than using it for anything, but better to use it for electricity than for weaponry.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

Although I understand (I think) the benefits of nuclear energy, it scares the shit out of me.

hipparchia said...

it would give us a fair amount of cheap electricity for quite awhile, and now that electric cars are becoming viable, that would really help the oil situation.

ethically, it's not an entirely bad choice. better to risk, in our ever-growing lust for cheap energy, exposing ourselves to the occasional radiation leak than to go around the globe killing other people and taking their energy sources.

but yeah, nuclear fuel is truly scary shit and i don't want to go that route either.