Tag Archives: toxic waste

How to Lose Track of 250 barrels of Radioactive Waste — Los Alamos National Laboratory

The Triad National Security,*** the company in charge of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) operations in 2018 lost track of 250 barrels of mixed hazardous waste on their way to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad. Mixed waste contains low-level radioactive waste and other hazardous materials. Failing to track such a high volume of waste is an egregious error that falls in line with the lab’s long history of serious missteps.  “The fact that LANL has mischaracterized, misplaced, mis-inventoried — or whatever — 250 barrels of waste is pretty astounding,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

Still, Triad has committed less than a tenth of the violations that its predecessor, Los Alamos National Security LLC, used to average in a given year.  A disastrous “kitty litter” incident happened under Los Alamos National Security, in which a waste barrel was packaged in error with a volatile blend of organic cat litter and nitrate salts, causing the container to burst and leak radiation at the Southern New Mexico storage site. WIPP closed for almost three years, and the cleanup cost about $2 billion.

***Triad is a public service oriented, national security science organization equally owned by its three founding members: Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle), The Texas A&M University System (TAMUS), and The Regents of the University of California (UC).

Excerpts from Scott Wyland State report: LANL lost track of 250 barrels of nuke waste, Santa Fe New Mexican, Dec. 9, 2019

Cold World Nuclear Experiments in California

Several environmental groups on Aug. 6, 2013 sued state regulators over the cleanup of a former nuclear research lab, saying low-level radioactive waste was improperly shipped to landfills.  Consumer Watchdog, along with other groups, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Sacramento County Superior Court against the Department of Public Health and Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversees the cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.  Located about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, Santa Susana was once home to nuclear research and rocket engine tests. In 1959, one of the reactors suffered a partial nuclear meltdown. Responsible parties including Boeing Co., NASA and the U.S Energy Department have been working with state officials to meet a 2017 deadline to rid the nearly 2,900-acre site of contaminated soil.

In their complaint, the groups contend that materials from several buildings that were demolished were sent to landfills and metal recycling shops that are not licensed to accept radioactive waste. They also sought a temporary restraining order to stop Boeing from tearing down a plutonium fuel fabrication building on the hilltop complex….Officials at the toxic control agency rejected the allegations, saying that debris sent offsite posed no threat to human health or the environment.

Stewart Black, a deputy director at DTSC, said the state followed the rules in the demolishing and disposal of old buildings.   During the Cold War, workers at the site tested thousands of rockets and experimented with nuclear reactors, which were operational until 1980. And by the time the rest of the lab closed in 2006, a toxic legacy of radioactive and chemical contamination had been left.  Former workers and residents in nearby neighborhoods have blamed the lab for a variety of health problems.

Groups sue to block demolition at ex-nuclear site, Associated Press, Aug. 6, 2013

Leaking Toxics: Hanford Nuclear Site

United States: Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee got a disturbing call Friday (Feb. 15, 2013) from Energy Secretary Steven Chu: Nuclear waste is leaking out of a tank in one of the most contaminated nuclear waste sites in the U.S.  Inslee released a statement, saying a single shell tank at Hanford Nuclear Reservation is slowly losing between 150 and 300 gallons of radioactive waste each year. All of the liquid was removed from the tank in February 1995; what’s left is toxic sludge.  According to Inslee “The leaking tank was built in the 1940’s and was stabilized in February 1995, when all pumpable liquids were removed by agreement with the State. The tank currently contains approximately 447,000 gallons of sludge, a mixture of solids and liquids with a mud-like consistency. This is the first tank which has been documented to be losing liquids since interim stabilization was completed in 2005. There are a total of 177 tanks at the Hanford site, 149 of which are single shell tanks.”

Inslee said “Fortunately, there is no immediate public health risk. The newly discovered leak may not hit the groundwater for many years, and we have a groundwater treatment system in place that provides a last defense for the river. However, the fact that this tank is one of the farthest from the river is not an excuse for delay. It is a call to act now.”

Northwest News Network reporter Anna King, who’s tracking the Hanford site, found activists who say there’s a worse problem than the leak: Now that the tank is breached, where will officials put the toxic waste? “Tom Carpenter heads the Seattle-based watchdog group Hanford Challenge. He says Friday’s news highlights the fact that there’s little space to move highly radioactive waste to. So Carpenter asks, ‘If you have another leak, what do you do? You don’t have any strategy for that.’ And the Hanford Advisory Board and the state of Washington and Hanford Challenge and others have been calling upon the Department of Energy to build new tanks. That call has been met with silence.”

Hanford has been in existence since the 1940s, when the site was used to prepare plutonium for bombs….Federal officials have spent many years and billions of dollars cleaning up the reservation, including efforts to protect the nearby Columbia River. There are 177 tanks holding nuclear waste at the Hanford site; Gov. Inslee says 149 are single shelled, like the leaking one. Worse, they’ve outlived their 20-year life expectancy.

The waste mitigation work now faces a predicament with the impending sequester, the automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts that are set to take effect March 1 unless Congress reaches a different arrangement on a spending plan. Inslee says this will mean layoffs at Hanford and could even stop work there. He termed the combination of the leak and the budget cuts the “perfect radioactive storm,” according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Excerpts from KORVA COLEMAN, Nuclear Waste Seeping From Container In Hazardous Wash. State Facility, NPR, Feb. 16, 2013 and from Governor Inslee’s statement on news of Hanford leak Feb 15, 2013

Rare Earths Pollution: Australia, Malaysia and Lynas Corp.

According to the Oeko Institute, a non-profit association: The facility for refining Australian ore concentrate rich in rare earth metals of Lynas Corporation in Malaysia has several deficiencies concerning the operational environmental impacts. The environment is affected by acidic substances as well as from dust particles, which are emitted into the air in substantially larger concentrations than would be state-of-the-art in off-gas treatment in Europe. The storage of radioactive and toxic wastes on site does not prevent leachate from leaving the facility and entering ground and groundwater. For the long-term disposal of wastes under acceptable conditions concerning radiation safety a sustainable concept is still missing. These are the results of a study of Oeko-Institute on behalf of the Malaysian NGO SMSL.

In its facility in Kuantan/Malaysia Lynas refines ore concentrate for precious rare earth metals. These strategic metals are applied for example to produce catalysts…The ore concentrate to be refined in Malaysia additionally contains toxic and radioactive constituents such as Thorium. The NGO commissioned Oeko-Institute to check whether the processing of the ore leads to hazardous emissions from the plant or will remain as dangerous waste in Malaysia.

Storage of wastes insufficient

The storage of wastes, that are generated in the refining process, shall be stored in designated facilities on the site, separately for three waste categories. According to chemist and nuclear waste expert Gerhard Schmidt, there will be problems with the pre-drying of wastes that is of a high Thorium content. “Especially in the wet and long monsoon season from September to January, this emplacement process doesn’t work”, says Schmidt. “The operator has not demonstrated how this problem can be resolved without increasing the radiation doses for workers”.

Additionally the storages are only isolated with a one-millimeter thick plastic layer and a 30 cm thick clay layer. This is insufficient to reliably enclose the several meters high and wet waste masses. “For the long-term management of these wastes Lynas has urgently to achieve a solution”, claims Gerhard Schmidt, and adds: “in no case those wastes should be marketed or used as construction material, as currently proposed by the operator (Lynas) and the regulator (AELB/MOSTI). According to our calculations this would mean to pose high radioactive doses to the public via direct radiation”.

One of the most serious abnormalities is that in the documents relevant data is missing, which prevents reliably accounting for all toxic materials introduced”, says project manager Gerhard Schmidt. “So it is not stated which and to what amount toxic by-products, besides Thorium, are present in the ore concentrate. Also in the emissions of the facility via wastewater only those constituents are accounted for that are explicitly listed in Malaysian water regulation, but not all emitted substances.” The salt content of the wastewater is as high that it is comparable to seawater. This is discharged without any removal into the river Sungai Balok.

The scientists at Oeko-Institute evaluate the detected deficiencies as very serious. Those deficiencies should have been already detected in the licensing process, when the application documents were being checked. However the operator received a construction license in 2008 and a temporary operating license in 2012.

Especially for the safe long-term disposal of the radioactive wastes a suitable site that meets internationally accepted safety criteria has to be selected urgently. A consensus has to be reached with the affected stakeholders, such as the local public and their representatives. “If it further remains open how to manage those wastes in a long-term sustainable manner, a future legacy associated with unacceptable environmental and health risks is generated”, considers Schmidt. “The liability to prevent those risks and to remove the material is so shifted to future generations, which is not acceptable.”

Rare earths are important metals that are used in future technologies such as efficient electro motors, lighting and catalysts. In its study from 2011 “Study on Rare Earths and Their Recycling” Oeko-Institute showed that no relevant recycling of these metals is performed so far. Albeit recent positive developments in this direction: satisfying the prognosticated global requires the extension of the worldwide primary production.

Rare earth refining in Malaysia without coherent waste management concept, Oeko Institute Press Release, Jan. 28, 2013

See also  Oeko Report on Lynas (pdf)e

The iPhone, radioactive waste and rare earths: the Lynas case

Lynas Corporation, an Australian based mining company are constructing a rare earth processing plant, known as the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) in Gebeng industrial estate in Kuantan, Malaysia. The LAMP will process lanthanide concentrate which will be trucked from the mine site in Mt Weld Western Australia to the Port of Fremantle where it will be shipped to Malaysia. This report provides an assessment of the emissions from the LAMP plant rather than Lynas Corporation‟s activities in Western Australia. The LAMP plant will have significant atmospheric, terrestrial and waterborne emissions of toxic chemicals and radionuclides including uranium, thorium and radon gas.

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A Malaysian high court put on hold until October 4 a temporary operating license granted to Lynas Corp Ltd’s controversial rare earth plant near the eastern city of Kuantan, prompting an 8 percent fall in the Australian firm’s shares on Tuesday (Sept. 24, 2012).  The rare earth plant – the world’s biggest outside China – has been ready to fire up since early May, but the company has been embroiled in lengthy environmental and safety disputes with local residents since construction began two years ago [regarding the handling of radioactive waste at the plant].

The plant is considered important to breaking China’s grip on the processing of rare earths, which are used in products ranging from smartphones to hybrid cars.

Lynas confirmed the Kuantan High Court’s decision on Tuesday, but said it would not affect production at the plant and that it plans to strongly assert its rights at the next court hearing…Lynas shares plunged more than 8 percent after the court order to A$0.795, their lowest close in almost three weeks as investors closely track each move in the sensitive case. Earlier this month they rose up to 50 percent when Malaysia approved the license.

Activists linked to the environmental group, Save Malaysia Stop Lynas, want the court to suspend the temporary license until two judicial review cases challenging the government’s decision allowing the plant to operate are heard.  “It’s a small victory, but there is still a long way to go,” Tan Bun Teet, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters after the court decision. “We will fight tooth and nail. We have a lot at stake,” he added.  The group’s previous attempts to legally stop the plant had failed.

Lynas received a temporary operating license for its long-delayed $800 million rare earth plant earlier this month, enabling it to start production as early as October.  The Malaysian Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB) issued the permit following an earlier recommendation from a government committee.  Protests over possible radioactive residue have drawn thousands of people and the project has become a hot topic ahead of an election that must be held by early next year.

Sources

Lee Bell, Rare Earth and Radioactive Waste: A Preliminary Waste Stream Assessment of the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant, Gebeng, Malaysia, National Toxics Network. April 2012

Siva Sithraputhran, Malaysian court puts license on hold for Lynas rare earth plant, Reuters, Sept. 25, 2012