19 January 2008

update on Chalk River, CANADA

Jan 19, 2008 04:30 AM
Peter Calamai
Science Reporter

The oldest nuclear research reactor in the world is still chugging away at Chalk River, already running three years beyond its scheduled retirement date to meet global demand for medical isotopes.

Yet in a nearby building two new custom-built MAPLE reactors, designed specifically for isotope production, sit idle eight years after they were supposed to replace the 50-year-old, multipurpose National Research Universal reactor.

The new reactors aren’t operating because of a series of hard-to-believe blunders by once world-class Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation responsible for designing and building them.

The blunders include:

An unproven and overly intricate design that strained the competence of AECL engineers and scientists.

Shoddy workmanship and lax quality control, which meant grit particles stopped two sets of safety control rods from shutting down the reactors.

An unexplained miscalculation about changes in reactivity – the reactor’s oomph – on which the entire safety scenario is based.

In the view of most nuclear experts and informed observers, these AECL failures are the real cause of last month’s crisis in isotope production that culminated this week in the Harper government’s unprecedented firing of Linda Keen, president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

A contributing factor was the refusal of the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien to commit roughly $500 million to replace the Universal reactor with a super-reactor called the Canadian Neutron Facility dedicated to scientific research, and test new designs for the CANDU power reactor.

Overarching all this was the meagre funding over the past decade by Liberal and Conservative governments for AECL to remedy health, safety, licensing and security shortcomings at the sprawling Chalk River laboratories.

A special 2007 report by the federal auditor general recently made public by AECL estimated that $600 million would be needed for such urgent improvements over the next five years. Yet since 2002 Ottawa has provided just $34 million.

“We should never have got ourselves in this situation,” says Bill Garland, a professor of nuclear engineering at McMaster University who worked at AECL and Ontario Hydro’s nuclear division.

“Everybody knew that Canada was the chief source of medical isotopes and yet they just stood by and did nothing. Why didn’t the U.S. build its own isotope reactor?”

Everyone also should have known that Canada’s isotope production hung by the slenderest of threads. The signs were everywhere.

As far back as October 1998, the Star ran a front-page story saying the Universal reactor was on its last legs and unless work began quickly on a replacement, Canada would suffer from a “neutron gap.”

As well, top AECL management was repeatedly hauled on the carpet before the Nuclear Safety Commission and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Control Board, to explain poor operating practices at the Universal reactor, including foot-dragging on implementing safety upgrades ordered by the federal regulator.

In June 2005, staff at the safety commission said in a written report that the AECL staff running the aging Universal reactor were prone to “overconfidence,” “complacency” and “deficiencies in management oversight and safety culture.”

These same failings, it appears, also lie behind the woes at the MAPLE reactors, which together with an extraction plant make up the Dedicated Isotope Facility.

Originally budgeted at $160 million and scheduled to begin producing isotopes by November 2000, the facility was an example of forward thinking by MDS Nordion, the private company that handles marketing and distribution of the medical isotopes produced in the Universal reactor.

Nordion contracted AECL to build the two MAPLE reactors — one as a backup — in plenty of time to begin producing isotopes before the Universal reactor shut down.

But a flawed design and slipshod workmanship meant the first MAPLE reactor flunked its initial commissioning tests. In early 2000, AECL concealed problems with the new reactor’s safety system from the nuclear watchdog for three months.

After AECL missed deadline after deadline and costs skyrocketed, MDS Nordion finally bailed in September 2005. The company handed ownership of the trouble-plagued facility over to AECL and instead signed a 40-year supply agreement.

The MAPLE woes have been a black eye for AECL’s international reputation as a designer and builder of nuclear reactors, despite the company’s attempts to distinguish them from CANDU power reactors.

Especially upset are the retired nuclear engineers, managers and regulators who largely constitute the membership of the Canadian Nuclear Society.

“It’s appalling to have a project that far behind schedule and that far over budget,” says Fred Boyle, a former editor and current publisher of the society’s magazine.

Yet the most common reaction over the deep-seated woes at Chalk River among experts and well-informed insiders is sorrow rather than anger. The former head of one of the largest federal science agencies, speaking on a condition of anonymity, chose these words:

“Canada was in a position of pre-eminence in the world in basic nuclear research, in the nuclear technology for building reactors and in the production of isotopes. Now we’re nowhere as competitive in all three of those areas.

“It’s sad, very sad.”

18 January 2008

The Doctor, depleted uranium, and the dyning children

The Doctor, the Depleted Uranium, and the Dying Children

53 min 2 sec

An award winning documentary film produced for German television by Freider Wagner and Valentin Thurn. The film exposes the use and impact of radioactive weapons during the current war against Iraq. The story is told by citizens of many nations. It opens with comments by two British veterans, Kenny Duncan and Jenny Moore, describing their exposure to radioactive, so-called ‘depleted’ uranium (DU), weapons and the congenital abnormalities of their children. Dr. Siegwart-Horst Günther, a former colleague of Albert Schweitzer, and Tedd Weyman of the Uranium Medical Research Center (UMRC) traveled to Iraq, from Germany and Canada respectively, to assess uranium contamination in Iraq.


17 January 2008

1974 CIA NIA showed Isreal had stockpile and that there would be proliferation: NSA

National Security Archive Update, January 14, 2008

In 1974 Estimate, CIA Found that Israel Already Had a Nuclear

Stockpile and that

"Many Countries" Would Soon Have Nuclear Capabilities


Washington DC, January 14, 2008 - In the wake of the Indian "peaceful nuclear

explosion" on May 17, 1974 and growing concern about the spread of nuclear

weapons capabilities, the U.S. intelligence community prepared a Special National

Intelligence Assessment, "Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear

Weapons," published today by the National Security Archive.

The 1974 Indian test created shock waves in the U.S. government, not only because

of its broader implications, but because the intelligence community had failed to

detect that it was imminent (This failure led to an intelligence post-mortem.)

The possibility that the Indian test might lead to a nuclear arms race in South Asia

and create new pressures for nuclear proliferation elsewhere induced the U.S.

government, which under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had treated this problem

as a lower-level issue, to begin viewing developing policies to curb proliferation

as a higher priority.

That the SNIE estimated that "many countries" would have the economic and

technological capability to produce nuclear weapons by the 1980s underlined

the seriousness of the problem, as did another statement:

"Terrorists might attempt theft of either weapons or fissionable materials."

Noting that there were over 50,000 nuclear weapons in the world, the report

observed that

"absolute assurance about future security is impossible."

The CIA released the 1974 SNIE in response to a FOIA request by National Security

Archive senior fellow Jeffrey Richelson, author of Spying on the Bomb: American

Nuclear Intelligence from Nazi Germany to Iran and North Korea

(New York: W.W. Norton,2006). Quicker than usual, the CIA posted the SNIE on

its Web site before the National Security Archive published the document.

In response to the CIA posting, the estimate has already received some play

in the U.S. and Israeli press, as well as on www.armscontrolwonk.com. Interestingly,

twenty years ago, the CIA released an excised version of the "Summary and

Conclusions" of this document in response to a FOIA request by the Natural

Resources Defense

Council. It became the subject of a front-page story in The New York Times on

26 January 1978, under the headline, "C.I.A. Said in 1974 Israel had A-Bombs."

In response to press queries, the CIA stated that the release was a mistake

because it included some classified details.

Visit the Web site of the National Security Archive for more information about

today's posting.


16 January 2008


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