As part of a longer article about “Steel rain” cluster artillery, John Ismay writes:
The Army’s first generation of artillery cluster shells was born out of the service’s bitter experience facing human wave attacks in the Korean War. A top-secret postwar program at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey raced to create a new generation of weapons it called COFRAM, for Controlled Fragmentation Munition. The idea was to design artillery shells that broke open in midair, dispensing little grenades that exploded in more uniformly sized pieces than earlier munitions did. The key, they found, was to score the inside walls of the grenade body in a crosshatch type of design. (The M67 fragmentation hand grenade still in use today is a direct descendant of the COFRAM program.) By blanketing large areas with smaller munitions, they hoped human wave attacks could be defeated.
These COFRAM munitions stayed largely under wraps until early 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson panicked over the possibility of North Vietnamese forces overrunning the Marine base at Khe Sanh. The president discussed the possibility of using small nuclear weapons with Pentagon leadership to defend the base, but his commander in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland, suggested that nukes would not be necessary.
I can’t say I’ve ever read that particular factoid before – that LBJ was prepared to drop a nuclear bomb on Vietnam! I’d heard of rumors of Nixon considering this, but never Johnson. Perhaps I just missed this in all the history I’ve read. Still concerning.
The United States military and civilian government both really screwed over the Marshall Islands. Horrifying.
THERE is no consistent air service to the coral atoll of Enewetak in the Marshall Islands, where the United States tested 67 nuclear weapons between 1946 and 1958. On my first trip to the capital, Majuro, in 2010, to study the danger posed there by the rising ocean, I managed to get on a special flight taking dignitaries to Enewetak for the dedication of a school. From there, I boarded a small boat to visit a nuclear waste dump that the world had all but forgotten.
The Marshall Islands are only about six feet above sea level. Its survival and that of other island nations are on the minds of negotiators gathering this week in Lima, Peru, for a United Nations climate change conference.
This place stands out for its misfortunes: ravaged first by radioactivity from tests conducted after World War II and, now, by the rising seas that threaten to swallow it.
Detonated an insane amount of nuclear weaponry, then split the scene like a bad morning-after date…
Bikini was so radioactive that there was little hope of allowing its displaced population ever to return home. But the military studied how to clean up Enewetak so that at least some land could become habitable again. The Defense Department concluded that there was so much soil contaminated with cesium-137 and strontium-90 that the safest approach was to leave it alone and let it decay naturally. Both have half-lives of about 30 years.
But also left behind by the blasts was plutonium-239, which has a half-life of 24,000 years. With enough plutonium-239 in the right form, a bomb could be made. That is why the United States participated in a $150 million operation, completed in 2012, to secure and clean up the plutonium at a Soviet-era nuclear test site in Kazakhstan.
At Enewetak, the United States decided in the late 1970s to dump as much plutonium-contaminated soil as it could gather into a 33-foot-deep crater on Runit that had been carved out in 1958 by a bomb roughly the size of the one detonated over Hiroshima.
In addition to the contaminated soil, crews filled 437 plastic bags with plutonium chunks they had picked up from the ground, left behind when one bomb misfired. These also went into the crater, which was then covered with an 18-inch-thick concrete cap. Most of the rest of the radioactive waste, with too little plutonium to trouble with, was bulldozed into the lagoon, over the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency and the displaced people of Enewetak. American officials also chose to leave radiation on the land at levels far higher than would be allowed after a similar cleanup in the United States.
Northern Mariana Islands
and with typical American nonchalance for the future, the US didn’t really plan for what would happen to the nuclear waste beyond a few years:
Longevity was not among the design criteria for the Runit dome (unlike Yucca Mountain in Nevada, where, until recently, the federal government planned to deposit its spent nuclear fuel deep underground in facilities designed to be safe for at least one million years). In fact the dome does not meet American standards for landfills for household trash.
A task force of the federal government’s National Research Council warned in 1982 that the dome might be breached by a severe typhoon. But a 2013 report sponsored by the Department of Energy saw no reason to worry. “Catastrophic failure of the concrete dome,” it said, “and instantaneous release of all its contents into the lagoon will not necessarily lead to any significant change in the radiation dose delivered to the local resident population.”
The reason, according to the report, was that the radiation inside the dome was “dwarfed” by the radiation in the sediments in the lagoon. Thus a leak from the dome would be no added threat because it is dirtier on the outside than the inside. Plutonium isotopes recently discovered in the South China Sea have been traced to the Marshall Islands, some 2,800 miles away.
An inspection last year found that the dome was deteriorating, and the radioactive groundwater below rises and falls with the tides. Storms wash sand onto the dome; vines grow in the cracks.
Wasted Youth Wanna Make Fight – Guam 1998
You should click through and read the rest of Michael B. Gerrard’s article, you’ll be amazed and terrified. And as the Pacific Ocean rises, all of this nuclear waste is going to sent right into all of our food supplies. Guam may be a thousand miles away or so, but that’s too close for my comfort. We all still live on the same planet…
I’ve noticed that the Japanese restaurants I frequent have been much less busy recently. I wondered if the Japanese earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster was effecting the fish, and this was a danger I should pay attention to. Apparently, not so much, instead, irrational fear of the unknown is a bigger reason why people are not eating sushi this spring.
NPR posed the question to Masashi Kusakabe, director of the Nakaminato Laboratory for Marine Radioecology not far from Tokyo. The research center is devoted to figuring out precisely what happens to radioactive material that gets into the ocean.
Kusakabe says what’s been getting into the Pacific Ocean near Fukushima is mostly radioactive iodine. It dissolves in water, and experiments have shown that the iodine tends to concentrate in algae. Then it gets even more concentrated as it works its way up the food chain.
Kusakabe says that might sound bad, “but the iodine we’re talking about now is iodine -131, which has a very short half-life at eight days.”
Every eight days, half of the iodine goes away. So after a few weeks, there’s not much iodine-131 left in a fish. Kusakabe says radioactive cesium is a lot worse: Its half-life is measured in decades, not days. But so far, much less cesium has gotten into the ocean at Fukushima. Also, the ocean is so vast that radioactive materials are heavily diluted by the time they travel even a few miles.
So the Japanese fish most likely to become contaminated are the ones that spend their entire lives right near the Fukushima power plant. And the government isn’t letting fishing vessels anywhere near the place.
But what about the ocean-going fish that show up on sashimi platters — fish like salmon and tuna? Might they be contaminated by radioactive material from the power plant?
“I don’t think so,” he says, “because tuna move everywhere. They travel, you know, maybe hundreds of kilometers, so they never stay there.”
A tuna might swim by the Fukushima plant. But it wouldn’t hang around long enough to become seriously contaminated.
Kusakabe says the biggest threat to the Japanese fishing industry right now isn’t radiation. It’s fear.
Bob Herbert is absolutely right: a catastrophic nuclear accident in a populated area like Ohio or Illinois would instantly trivialize the BP Gulf disaster. Nuclear power has some positive aspects, but the negative consequences are horrific.
[this is actually a coal plant, I think, in northern Indiana]
Americans are not particularly good at learning even the most painful lessons. Denial is our default mode. But at the very least this tragedy in the gulf should push us to look much harder at the systems we need to prevent a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant, and for responding to such an event if it occurred.
Right now, we’re not ready.
Nuclear plants are the new hot energy item. The Obama administration is offering federal loan guarantees to encourage the construction of a handful of new plants in the U.S., the first in decades. Not to be outdone, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a certifiable nuke zealot, would like to see 100 new plants built over the next 20 years.
There is no way to overstate how cautiously we need to proceed along this treacherous road. Building nuclear power plants is mind-bogglingly expensive, which is why you need taxpayer money to kick-start the process. But the overriding issues we need to be concerned about, especially in light of our horrendous experience with the oil gushing in the gulf for so long, are safety and security.
We have to be concerned about the very real possibility of a worst-case scenario erupting at one of the many aging nuclear plants already operating (in some cases with safety records that would make your hair stand on end), and at any of the new ones that so many people are calling for.
Nuclear waste, possibility of a meltdown, and the energy corporations that build and maintain nuclear plants are not trustworthy – i.e., are more concerned about quarterly profits, and getting corporate welfare – I’m certain there are other objections, but aren’t these enough?
Radioactive water that leaked from the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant has now reached a major underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of southern New Jersey, the state’s environmental chief said Friday. The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to halt the spread of contaminated water underground, even as it said there was no imminent threat to drinking water supplies.
The department launched a new investigation Friday into the April 2009 spill and said the actions of plant owner Exelon Corp. have not been sufficient to contain water contaminated with tritium. Tritium is found naturally in tiny amounts and is a product of nuclear fission. It has been linked to cancer if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin in large amounts.
“There is a problem here,” said environmental Commissioner Bob Martin. “I am worried about the continuing spread of the tritium into the groundwater and its gradual moving toward wells in the area. This is not something that can wait. That would be unacceptable.” The company did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The tritium leaked from underground pipes at the plant on April 9, 2009, and has been slowly spreading underground at 1 to 3 feet a day.
At the current rate, it would be 14 or 15 years before the tainted water reaches the nearest private or commercial drinking water wells. But the mere fact that the radioactive water — at concentrations 50 times higher than those allowed by law — has reached southern New Jersey’s main source of drinking water calls for urgent action, Martin said.
Crazy fools, did they think the problem would just solve itself? If corporations want to be treated like people, then corporations that subvert the public interest should lose their corporate charter. Or worse.
Could our nation’s love affair with the defense contractors sabotage a possible solution to global climate change? Nuclear power is much more efficient than coal and natural gas, there just was that little problem of nuclear (uranium) waste.
But the book [Fluid Fuel Reactors] inspired him to pursue an intense study of nuclear energy over the next few years, during which he became convinced that thorium could solve the nuclear power industry’s most intractable problems. After it has been used as fuel for power plants, the element leaves behind minuscule amounts of waste. And that waste needs to be stored for only a few hundred years, not a few hundred thousand like other nuclear byproducts. Because it’s so plentiful in nature, it’s virtually inexhaustible. It’s also one of only a few substances that acts as a thermal breeder, in theory creating enough new fuel as it breaks down to sustain a high-temperature chain reaction indefinitely. And it would be virtually impossible for the byproducts of a thorium reactor to be used by terrorists or anyone else to make nuclear weapons.
Weinberg and his men proved the efficacy of thorium reactors in hundreds of tests at Oak Ridge from the ’50s through the early ’70s. But thorium hit a dead end. Locked in a struggle with a nuclear- armed Soviet Union, the US government in the ’60s chose to build uranium-fueled reactors — in part because they produce plutonium that can be refined into weapons-grade material. The course of the nuclear industry was set for the next four decades, and thorium power became one of the great what-if technologies of the 20th century.
Perhaps the contemporary energy crises will encourage nations, and their engineers, to re-examine thorium.
Thorium is a naturally occurring, slightly radioactive metal. It is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the Earth’s crust.
Thorium was successfully used as an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium in the molten-salt reactor experiment (MSR) from 1964 to 1969 to produce thermal energy, as well as in several light-water reactors using fuel composed of a mixture of 232Th and 233U, including the Shippingport Atomic Power Station (operation commenced 1957, decommissioned in 1982). Currently, officials in the Republic of India are advocating a thorium-based nuclear program, and a seed-and-blanket fuel utilizing thorium is undergoing irradiation testing at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow. Advocates of the use of thorium as the fuel source for nuclear reactors state that they can be built to operate significantly cleaner than uranium based power plants as the waste products are much easier to handle.
I have slightly more than zero knowledge to apply to this question, but I’m intrigued by the thought of thorium becoming more widely utilized. What are the downsides to transferring nuclear power plants to thorium from uranium, other than cost? What is this somewhat celebratory article leaving out? What’s the flaw? Nothing is ever this simple. I don’t think…