Plutonium release from the WIPP radioactive waste facility.

On Feb. 5, a salt truck caught fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which is located in southeastern New Mexico, 26 miles east of Carlsbad. No radioactive release was reported on that day.

On Feb. 12, an alarm sounded, indicating high levels of alpha and beta radiation underground. This is consistent with the nature of the nuclear waste stored in the repository. Workers were evacuated. CEMRC (Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring & Research Center) reported that they found 0.64 Bq of Americium 241 & 0.092 Bq of Plutonium 239+240 in the air filter 1/2 mi away from WIPP.

This repository started receiving nuclear waste in 1999 and is expected to hold 3.45 million curies of radioactivity after it is filled in 20 years or so.

I used HYSPLIT to generate a wind trajectory map from the Feb. 14 release. The release was modeled to occur at 8 PM local time on Feb. 14, at an altitude of 50 meters. Cities near the path of the plutonium include Roswell NM, Lubbock TX, Wichita Falls TX, San Angelo TX, and Elk City OK. Wichita Falls got it twice. Each red triangle is a 24-hour interval.

Here is the HYSPLIT plutonium dispersion map for the Feb. 14 WIPP radiation release, for the first 24 hours. It came in somewhat north of the trajectory map, not sure why.

At any rate, people who live in areas of southeastern New Mexico, northwest Texas, and western Oklahoma should all be concerned.

The WIPP repository contains transuranic waste shipped there from facilities like Hanford.

Trans-uranic (beyond-uranium) waste is waste contaminated by elements heavier than uranium (primarily plutonium) with half-lives greater than 20 years and radionuclide concentrations more than 100 nano-curies per gram of waste. Waste with lower concentrations is defined as low-level waste–LLW). Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years which means that after 24,000 years, half of it will have decayed into other isotopes or elements. All transuranics are man-made alpha-emitters. Alpha particles are relatively large, positively charged particles which are easily stopped by a piece of paper or your skin, but which are extremely dangerous if inhaled. Because of its cancer causing properties, the “acceptable” body dose of plutonium is less than one millionth of a gram, an invisible particle. Yet, even this amount can cause cancer 10-30 years after it is inhaled. When filled, WIPP would contain about 13 metric tons of Plutonium-239…

Transuranic waste is divided into 2 main categories by the amount of radioactivity it carries– contact-handled (CH-TRU) and remote-handled (RH-TRU) waste. CH-TRU waste is limited to a maximum dose rate of less than 0.2 rem (200 millirem) per hour measured at the surface of the drums in which it is packed. CH-TRU accounts for most of the volume of waste going to WIPP. Most of the radioactive content of the CH-TRU waste is plutonium 238-241 and americium-241 and most of the radiation is made up of alpha particles. (Americium emits some gamma rays which penetrate the waste container walls and account for the 0.2 rem being emitted per hour.)

The RH-TRU waste contains much more penetrating radiation in the form of Beta particles and Gamma rays which is the reason it has to be handled by machine in special radiation-shielded rooms called Hot Cells. (An RH-TRU waste canister is shown at left. It is a single-shell vented steel container which will hold three 55-gallon drums.) Most of the radioactive content of this waste is made up of fission products and the radionuclides are more varied: Strontium-90, Ytrium-90, Cesium-137, Barium-137, Plutonium-241, Americium-241 and Cobolt-60. Ninety-five percent of the remote-handled waste can emit 100 rem per hour at the container surface and 5% can emit up to 1000 rem per hour. This is an enormous amount of radioactivity since a dose of 400 rem will kill 50% of all exposed people. Although RH-TRU waste accounts for only around 4% of the total waste by volume, it may account for 33-45% of the total radioactivity…

WIPP goes back to 1957 when the National Academy of Scientists recommended bedded salt formations as the best type of formation for underground disposal of radioactive waste. The actual impetus to go forward with the project came in 1969-1970 when a series of fires at the DOE Rocky Flats facility near Denver, Colorado caused airborne releases of plutonium over parts of the city. (link)

Here is some background on Rocky Flats, which contains some of the radioactive waste that shipped to WIPP, along with Hanford and other facilities:

Rocky Flats was a vital part of the U.S. nuclear weapons program located near Denver, Colorado. Few people knew it existed or what the plant produced.

From 1952 to 1989, the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant produced more than 70,000 plutonium pits or “triggers” for nuclear bombs. Each pit contained enough breathable particles of plutonium to kill every person on earth.

The plant was veiled in secrecy. Colorado residents were kept unaware of the plant’s activities. Workers were not allowed to talk about their work.

There was extensive radioactive and toxic contamination in the air, water, and soil, both on-site and off-site. In addition to plutonium, off-site contaminants included tritium, beryllium, and dioxin, as well as between 1,100 and 5,400 tons of carbon tetrachloride…

There were more than 200 fires at Rocky Flats, the largest occurring in 1957 and 1969. These fires spread radioactive contamination in the Denver metropolitan area, particularly to areas south and east of the site… Elevated levels of plutonium have been found in the remains of cancer victims living near the Rocky Flats site, and many studies indicate ongoing health effects including cancer, leukemia, brain tumors, and other health issues in the surrounding population. (link)

Analyses of the geological and structural problems have found points of failure in a plutonium dump that is supposed to last for 10,000 years:

As noted by Brinster (1989, p. II-19), the Salado is not pure salt, but contains thin beds of anhydrite, polyhalite, glauberite, and mudstone. The salt was formerly believed to be so impermeable that the rooms would remain dry, but small brine seeps appeared soon after the first research rooms were opened, showing that DOE must contend with a wet waste environment. PA recognizes that waste could be carried to the surface along with cuttings from inadvertent oil wells, but all other scenarios involve radionuclides transported in flowing groundwater. The WIPP project might have been aborted if DOE had been more respectful of the historic problems of water in salt and potash mining…

The 13-ft. high by 33-ft. wide rooms will be short-lived. Large open fractures appear in the ceilings of all rooms within months of mining. Several roof-falls and floor heaves have already occurred at WIPP, so an extensive array of roof bolts has been installed to delay the failure of the remaining rooms long enough to fill them with drums. These and all future rooms will suffer collapse of major roof slabs bounded above by weak clay-bed partings. Such falls will crush the drums, and uncontained waste will enter the fractures… At the Canadian mines, the fractures sometimes breach the top of salt into an aquifer, causing inflows that flood the mine (Tofani, R., 1983, Van Sambeek, 1993). After shaft leakage, such roof breaching is the next most common cause of flooding of salt and potash mines, all of which ultimately flood because they lie below the water table. Already there is leakage occurring from the Dewey Lake Redbeds into one of the WIPP shafts, and thence into the repository. In European potash mining experience, such leakage has been irreparable. The first drop of water signals the eventual flooding of the mine. (link)

Radiolysis from the radioactive waste splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, increasing the likelihood of explosions and fires. Decay heat from the drums deforms the salt structure above the rooms.

There were record rains in the area last September, which may have caused seepage and flooding underground in the mine area.

Interestingly, an additional report came out of Russia, saying that Russian waste was (illegally) stored in WIPP and that an “experiment” was conducted on Feb. 5:

A grim “Of Special Importance” (highest classification level) report prepared by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) circulating in the Kremlin warned that the “potentially catastrophic nuclear event” currently unfolding at the US atomic Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico has prompted the White House to begin pre-staging government forces and equipment in the event a large-scale evacuation is needed. According to this report, the United States Department of Energy WIPP is the world’s third deep geological repository (after closure of Germany’s Repository for radioactive waste Morsleben and the Schacht Asse II Salt Mine) licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years that is left from the research and production of nuclear weapons, reported. A “highly significant” portion of the nuclear waste being stored at the WIPP, this report continues, was the result of the recently completed 1993 HEU Purchase Agreement between the United States and Russia that saw 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from nuclear weapons down blended into low-enriched uranium and then sent to America where it was made into fuel for nuclear power plants, and of which US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated, “For two decades, one in 10 light bulbs in America has been powered by nuclear material from Russian nuclear warheads.”

Critical to note, however, this report says, is that the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), the private American corporation serving as executive agent for the HEU Purchase Agreement, was “deliberately targeted” for elimination by the Obama administration in early 2009 leading to its 16 December 2013 announcement that it had reached an agreement with a majority of its debt holders to file a prearranged and voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring in the first quarter of 2014. Federal Security Service (FSB) intelligence experts contributing to this report say the US wanted to eliminate USEC to divert HEU Purchase Agreement uranium for the purpose of reconstituting it to its highly dangerous U-235 level to conduct experiments at the WIPP on what is called nuclear salt-water rockets (NSWR), which is a proposed type of nuclear thermal rocket designed by Robert Zubrin that would be fueled by water bearing dissolved salts of plutonium or U-235. Under tight strictures put upon it by US law, this report says, the White House needed Russia’s HEU Purchase Agreement uranium for these NSWR experiments and which is not reportable. On 5 February, however, this report continues, these NSWR experiments at the WIPP went “horrifically wrong” leading to an explosion and fire at the underground facility, followed by the 14 February “radiological event” that prompted its full evacuation. Of the greatest concern to Russian nuclear experts, this report says, is the US conducting these NSWR experiments at the WIPP facility in the first place as nearly the entire Carlsbad, New Mexico region is in danger of collapsing due to the massive sink holes appearing over these areas vast underground salt domes. (link)

If true, this would mean that the Feb. 5 event at WIPP was a plutonium release also. A dispersion map was generated for Feb. 5. Cities affected include Las Cruces NM and Alamogordo NM.

What isotopic ratios from the Unit 3 debris fragments tell us about the explosion there.

EX-SKF is reporting that highly radioactive debris fragments have been discovered at the river mouth in Naraha-machi, around 9 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. These fragments very likely came from the explosion of Unit 3 in 2011, since the degree of contamination in them resembles that found in debris near the Unit 3 building.

Tepco has published a pdf which contains analyses of radioactive isotopes and minerals in 4 samples of this debris. These analyses can tell us a lot about what happened at the Unit 3 explosion, what the state of the corium was, where it was, if it had melted through the containment at this point.

This is very important because debris went sky-high, and likely entered the stratosphere and the jet stream, and made its way to North America. The spent fuel pool fires and other reactor meltdowns caused contamination to enter the jet stream also, but not to the degree that the Unit 3 explosion did.

The Tepco pdf indicates that the samples contain an enormous amount of radioactive cesium. They also contain antimony-125, silver-110m, cobalt-60, strontium-90, curium-244, americium-241, and various isotopes of plutonium, as well as other radionuclides. This makes it the most dangerous material found at Fukushima so far. We do know from the FOIA documents that fuel rod fragments are out there too. We will see that these samples are not from the fuel rods themselves, though.

The radionuclides found in these fragments match those found in the “black substance”, or black dust, that were found by a separate analysis. So now we have a good idea of what the source of the black substance is.

Page 42 of this pdf contains a table listing the radioisotope inventories of the Unit 3 reactor. This will tell us what the ratios between the different radioactive elements should be, for any sample of pure MOX fuel. The document also contains inventories for the Unit 3 spent fuel pool. But the two inventories are so similar that the reactor inventory will be used only. We can’t tell if the radioactive contamination came from the reactor or the pool here.

I calculated the expected ratios of radioactivity from the elements in this inventory, to amounts of cesium-137, that are listed in the Tepco document. Then I calculated the observed ratios of the averages of the 4 samples. For nuclides with short half-lives, I corrected the observed ratios to July 2013.

Radionuclide   Expected ratio   Observed ratio   Observed/Expected
------------   --------------   --------------   -----------------
Sb-125              0.04             0.0034            0.085
Ag-110m             0.002            0.0001            0.05
Co-60               0.00001          0.0002           20.0
Sr-90               0.75             0.0008            0.001
Cm-244              0.011            0.0000002         0.00002
Pu-238+Am-241       0.025            0.000001          0.00004
Pu-239+Pu-240       0.01             0.0000004         0.00004

If the samples were contaminated purely from the MOX fuel rods in Unit 3, the observed/expected ratios would all be close to 1. The first thing that strikes you is how this the ratio is for cobalt-60. Co-60 is a neutron activation product. It results from neutrons interacting with structural elements like steel. The neutrons might come from neutron-emitting radionuclides like curium and plutonium. Or they could come from a criticality. Since the ratio is 20 times higher than expected, we can safely say that the cobalt-60 resulted from a supercriticality. This is yet more evidence (if any more is needed) that Unit 3 blew up in a nuclear explosion.

Cesium and iodine are the most volatile elements from the nuclear fuel. That means they get released first with increasing heat. The other nuclides beside Co-60 all have ratios far below 1. So the debris that went into the jet stream was not the fuel rods themselves, though it was contaminated with it to some degree. If the explosion blew the MOX fuel to kingdom come, the debris would contain 25,000 times as much plutonium than was found in the fragments.

Another possibility would be that a molten corium/concrete reaction led to the nuclear explosion. Here molten corium burns through the steel containment, and interacts with the concrete of the drywell, and the floor of the building. The interaction between the molten fuel and the chemical elements and water in the concrete results in a bubbling stew, with gases escaping. This is how less volatile nuclides like strontium-90 gets released from the fuel. If the explosion occurred after this reaction was underway, a certain pattern of isotope ratios would follow.

We see from the graphic that the silver ratio would be 0.97, antimony would be 0.77, curium would be 0.003. The observed ratios are far less than this. So we can conclude that the dangerous corium/concrete reaction had not yet been underway to a significant extent.

The Tepco documents states the iron (FE) was found in the samples. The photo of the wreckage at Unit 3 indicates rust (iron oxide). This argues that melted steel was involved.

There was a nuclear explosion at Unit 3 in March 11. I believe that it was triggered by a hydrogen explosion. It occurred very early in the meltdown process, which is a fortunate thing for the northern hemisphere. The corium had melted steel, but not concrete in any significant way yet. Perhaps it happened as soon as it came into contact with the concrete.

If the explosion had happened later, it might have released 25,000 times more plutonium into the jet stream. This is not to say that it did not release a large amount of plutonium. The corium-concrete reaction probably occurred after the explosion. But it didn’t blow sky-high after this reaction, but before it.

Iodine-131 surge in Japan. Strontium-90 nightmare.

New sludge data from Japan shows recent increases in iodine-131. This suggests increases in fission, probably from Units #2 and #3. Certainly the plant has become more active in emissions lately. The CSFP has been emitting steam and smoke, but hopefully this is not the source of I-131. We would be in very bad trouble if that pool went critical.

Deposition of I-131 is dependent on wind direction and precipitation (rain and snow). This map below shows the locations of the prefectures in Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi plant is on the coast in the middle of Fukushima prefecture. Gunma is furthest west… winds seldom blow from east to west in winter. In spring and summer this prefecture has prevailing winds from this direction, and hence readings tend to be higher there in those months.

And Tepco has found a fault in their radiation measuring apparatus. It turns out that groundwater from the well at the seaside direction from Unit 2 has a lot more strontium-90 and all-beta radiation than they previously said. It used to be 900,000 Bq/liter, now it’s 5 million Bq Sr-90 and 10 million Bq all-beta. And this was from July. This same well had the incorrect analysis of all-beta going from 900,000 to 3,100,000. Applying this ratio yields over 17 million Bq/liter of strontium-90 in the most recent measurement.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. corrected its radioactivity readings for groundwater from a well at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to a record-high 5 million becquerels of strontium per liter.

TEPCO officials said the strontium levels were gauged again because the previous data was wrong. They also said radioactivity readings for water taken from other wells before September were also likely erroneous.

The company had said 900,000 becquerels of beta-ray sources, including strontium, were detected in water taken on July 5, 2013, from the observation well near a water intake for the No. 2 reactor turbine building.

The new strontium data indicates that the concentration of all beta-ray sources totals around 10 million becquerels per liter of water, according to the company.

TEPCO did not announce radioactivity levels of 140 samples of groundwater and seawater taken between June and November after it found strontium readings that were higher than measurements for all beta-ray sources.

The company attributed contradictory data to malfunctions of analytical equipment. (link)

How convenient that they had an equipment breakdown before the Olympics were awarded to Tokyo.

Regarding the delayed disclosure of data, Tepco stated they were taking time to investigate the cause of wrong analysis. However after all, they didn’t release the data, which strongly suggests the on-going sea contamination, before IOC selected Tokyo as the host city of Olympic 2020. (link)

Enenews had previously linked to this pdf, which was a simulation of three different radionuclides leaking from corium to groundwater. Strontium-90 doesn’t start leaking in significant quantities until 1,000 days after the meltdown, which was approximately the time frame from last July. Cesium-137 doesn’t really get going until after 10,000 days. This is consistent with the finding of large amounts of strontium and other beta, but very little cesium in the well. According to the graph, it keeps going for 297 years. After that, these radionuclides would have decayed. The graph doesn’t contain plutonium, which would keep going for centuries or millenia.