it's science, jim...

Nuclear Nugget Archive - some links may not be working as some of them are quite old now

Sellafield trends new 3D technology for spare parts

Things get a bit 3D at Sellafield, thanks to those nice people at World Nuclear News

Sellafield Ltd is pressing cutting-edge 3D printing technology into service to help meet the challenges of decommissioning one of the world's oldest and most complex nuclear sites.

3D printing is a way of manufacturing metal or plastic parts directly from design data, using lasers to fuse together high-performance materials layer by layer. Metal parts can be printed in a wide range of materials including titanium, stainless steel and brass, to a high resolution.

Sellafield's head of technical capabilities Donna Connor described 3D scanning and printing as the "holy grail" for materials scientists, offering many opportunities. Up to now replacement parts for such plants would have to be custom-manufactured, which is an expensive and time-consuming process. The new technology, however, offers the chance to make components relatively quickly and easily, saving both time and money.

According to Sellafield managing director Tony Price, the high definition achieved by the printing process makes parts that are more accurate, stronger and more reliable than those produced using traditional techniques. The company has already saved £25,000 ($42,000) on a single project when it used 3D blue-LED scanning technology to design a replacement lid for a 40 tonne solid waste transfer container.

Sellafield  claims to be the first nuclear company to be pioneering the new technology, working with using 3D specialist companies 3T RPD and Central Scanning to create metal and plastic components, parts and one offs.

If 2 AtAts mated, would this be the result..?

A touch of Star Wars down Fukushima - way, courtesy of Lucas W Hixson, reporting for Enformable.

Japanese electronics manufacturer Toshiba has developed a 4-legged remote-controlled robot  that stands 1 meter tall on four 27 ½ inch long legs.  The robot is equipped with six video cameras and a radiation detector, and sort of looks like a video projector on legs resembling the ‘walker’ robots from Star Wars.

”This robot can enter parts of the plant that haven’t been investigated before,” said a Toshiba spokesman. During the demonstration, the robot experienced a case of stage fright. The shuffling Tetrapod locked up and suddenly froze after it tried to balance itself, forcing technicians to carry it away

Toshiba claims the tetrapod-shaped robot will be able to work for 300 days in a high-radiation environment, and is capable of carrying a load of 45 pounds.  Instead of moving along a tread on a track like other robots designed for the Fukushima disaster cleanup, the 27 and a half inch-long legs give it a very animal-like appearance allow it to traverse obstacles up to 16 inches high, and also ascend and descend staircases.

Riding on top attached to a folding arm, the robot carries another smaller mobile robot, which is also equipped with a camera and can be unloaded to inspect the underside of pipes and tight areas.  The smaller robot is attached by a cable, but if it becomes stuck the larger robot is equipped to cut the cord and detach it. 

RadBall - new clean-up device, or some strange new sport?

The North-West Evening Mail gets technical.

Sellafield nuclear site is trialling the RadBall in their ongoing radioactive clean-up operation. They say the device, developed by the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory, has proved successful thus far, as it helped distinguish between different types of radioactive material in a nuclear waste store.

Phil Reeve, head of decommissioning technical, said: “We have three strict criteria when assessing what our suppliers can offer us: it has to improve safety; to save the taxpayers’ money; and accelerate decommissioning timescales. The RadBall looks like it could be right on the ball and trial results at Sellafield have already demonstrated that it could be valuable help in our mission to clean up the site.

“It could be used to identify radiation hazards in enclosed cells, nuclear stores, glove boxes and hard to access facilities undergoing decommissioning.”

Sellafield say the RadBall is about the size of a grapefruit and contains layers of radiation sensitive films that change colour when exposed to radiation.

Decontamination technical specialist, Alex Jenkins, said: “NNL’s RadBall has shown itself to be able to accurately detect the location of items or small differences in the levels of radioactivity.The information it provides can also help save money by identifying the appropriate disposal route for nuclear waste.”

La Mer...♫

Robert Williams, writing for The Ecologist, does a bit of deep sea diving.

Plans for undersea nuclear power reactors around the coast of France could see a boom in uptake of the technology - but serious questions about costs and waste disposal remain unanswered.

Since the oil shocks of the 1970’s the French government has invested heavily in nuclear power. With no oil or gas fields of its own and coal fields almost exhausted, it began a large-scale nuclear energy programme.

There are now 58 nuclear reactors in France, which provide nearly 80% of the country’s electricity supply. Now, in a bid to bring dependable energy to remote coastal communities, the French government has decided to give the green light to a different kind of nuclear power programme - smaller nuclear reactors to be based on the ocean floor.

The concept for the nuclear submarine, known as FlexBlue, involves a cylindrical vessel about 100 meters long and 15 meters in diameter that would encase a complete nuclear power plant with an electrical capacity of between 50 MW and 250 MW. By comparison Sizewell B power station in Suffolk has an output of almost 1200MW.

Flexblue would comprise a small nuclear reactor, a steam turbine-alternator set, an electrical plant and associated electrical equipment. Submarine power cables would carry electricity from the Flexblue plant to the coast.

With costs significantly cheaper than traditional onshore reactors - estimated at several hundred million Euros compared to about 5 billion Euros for a full-sized reactor - French engineers believe it could lead to a boom in the uptake of nuclear power.

Sceptics are concerned that warmer water released from the reactors could be dangerous for local ecosystem. And, should there be a nuclear accident ‘the sea will be destroyed,’ according to the President of Anti-nuclear organisation Crilan, based in Cherbourg. ‘The fierce warming-up of the water will cause a massive thermal shock that will destroy sea life.’  

It's time to send in the droids - new plans afoot for robotic 'first responders.'

It’s time to dust off those robot designs – the Economic Times of India brings us this courtesy of the New York Times.

In the event of another disaster at a nuclear power plant, the first responders may not be humans but robots. The Pentagon's research and development agency is to announce a competition Tuesday to design specialized robots that can work in disaster zones while operating common tools and vehicles.

Rumours of the challenge have already set professional and amateur robot builders buzzing about possible designs and alliances. Aaron Edsinger, a founder of Meka Robotics in San Francisco, said he was speaking with fellow roboticists around the country and was considering a wide array of possible inspirations.

In the Tuesday announcement, the Defense Advanced Research and Planning Agency (DARPA), lists eight likely tasks the robot will need to perform - among them driving a vehicle to a simulated disaster site, moving across rubble, removing rubble from an entryway, climbing a ladder, using a tool to break through a concrete wall, finding and closing a valve on a leaking pipe, and replacing a component like a cooling pump.

The idea for the competition came from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan a year ago, said Gill Pratt, a program manager in DARPA's defense sciences office. "During the first 24 hours," he added, "there were things that should have been done but were not done because it was too dangerous for people to do them."

The agency has not announced how much it intends to spend on the program or how large the prize will be. Corporate and university teams will compete to enter the robots in contests in 2013 and 2015. The robots will not need to be completely autonomous but rather will be "supervised" by human operators, much as ground-based pilots fly military drones.

DARPA officials said they were hoping for international participation in the competition.

Watch out! There may be some very dodgy spiders residing at Savannah River nuclear!!

Rob Pavey, reporting for the August Chronicle, goes on a spider hunt – maybe…

Savannah River Site will seek outside help in its quest to define a mysterious, cobweb-like growth that thrives on spent nuclear fuel.

Analysis so far shows that bacteria are present in this material,” SRS spokesman Jim Giusti said. “We presently know nothing of its origin, how this material was formed or if this is the result of biological activity.”

The “white, string-like” substance was discovered in October growing among spent fuel assemblies submerged in pools in the U.S. Department of Energy site’s L Area, where nuclear materials from foreign and domestic research reactors are stored and guarded.

Savannah River National Labora­tory gathered samples of the growth, which will be analysed at two DNA labs – the Georgia Genomics Facility at the University of Georgia and EnGenCore at the University of South Carolina.

Although scientists aren’t sure exactly what the material is, the mysterious lint appears to be spreading.

Moderate cobweb growth has been observed on about 7 percent of the stored nuclear material, with at least some level of growth found on 40 percent of the spent fuel. “It seems to like the fuel,” Giusti said. “And it doesn’t seem to care which kind of fuel – or how long it’s been in the basin.” Results from DNA sampling are expected in late March or April.

The existence of the growth, first reported in December by The Augusta Chronicle, was disclosed in a declassified report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which speculated the material was “biological in nature.”

If it all goes wrong, would you have to press Control/Alt/Delete??

Found this gem on the pages of today’s Independent and is brought to you by Mark Piesing.

Bill Gates, with fellow Microsoft man, former chief technology officer Nathan Myrhold, is betting that a small Silicon Valley-style startup called TerraPower just down the road from Microsoft HQ in Washington state can deliver a radical reactor design known as a travelling-wave reactor. If it works it could provide humanity with the same elusive – and some say impossible – cocktail of safe, limitless, cheap and carbon-free energy that fusion promises but never delivers.

This multimillion-dollar project isn't merely a case of West Coast dreaming. TerraPower has been working with more than 24 partners from around the world to develop a design for the reactor to meet its "aggressive timescale" to break ground on the prototype by 2015–16 and begin operations in 2020–21. As well as working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the design, TerraPower has discussed a deal with the Russians to test equipment for the new reactor in their own experimental reactors, as well as Japan's Kobe Steel to develop its metal casing. Although TerraPower hasn't yet finalised a deal with a country to host the prototype, nuclear-friendly – cynics would suggest regulation-lite – countries such as China, Russia and India are in the frame.

Scientists from around the world also saw the potential for this design. The Dutch, Japanese and Ukrainians are among the most recent to be attracted by its promise of cheap, sustainable, zero-carbon electricity produced by using the nuclear waste from the current generation of reactors. Just the waste that already exists in the Paducah nuclear storage facility in Kentucky could power the entire US for more than 1,000 years – before you even get started on the years of waste still to be produced. It is also a reactor that will, in effect, refuel itself, coming with all the fuel it needs already in its core to last its lifetime of 30 or more years; by comparison, a conventional reactor requires fuel to be shipped in every 18 to 24 months and the radioactive waste to be taken away.

For more on this, please read on. 

Maybe this should be 'Silly Science' - just don't shoot the messenger...

Are iPods and iPads radioactive?? We don’t know the answer to this one, but there is a chap on You Tube who seems to think so. 

Of course, there has been much speculation about this – and Chris Smolinski from Black Cat Systems in the US has been testing the theory. The graph pictured shows one of his readings.

Uses for Seaweed - Number 42...

We found this little gem on the pages of the Appeal Democrat’sYou Docs’ section – here it is, pretty much as it appears…

Q: I found the radiation leaks from Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear plants truly frightening. Someone at my health-food store said everyone should start eating more seaweed. How would that help? Deirdre, San Diego

 A: Many types of seaweed contain alginate, which prevents about 78 percent of radioactive products from being absorbed by your bones and teeth. Seaweed also contains iodine, which takes up residence in your thyroid and keeps any radioactive iodine that's around from being able to settle there, where it can cause cancer.

But like the potassium iodide tablets that flew off the shelves after Japan's disaster, seaweed won't protect you from radiation burns, sickness or cancer elsewhere in your body. Plus, eating large amounts of iodine-laden seaweed every day when you're in no radiation danger has a downside: It actually can slow or halt healthy thyroid activity.

If you do buy seaweed, check the label carefully for its origin (not the distributor's location). Don't buy seaweed from waters near Japan; it could be contaminated with radioactive iodine.

Otherwise, your biggest radiation risk is likely from unnecessary medical tests. About half your personal radiation exposure probably is from X-rays and CT scans. If you're afraid of becoming your own nightlight, always ask if each and every X-ray or scan is necessary.

Look, just gimme the pills - whaddya mean you haven't got any...?

Found on the pages of the New York Times and ‘blogged’ by Matthew L Wald.

The nuclear calamity at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has reopened a 30-year debate about how to stockpile potassium iodide, a drug that protects the human thyroid gland from radioactive iodine emitted in reactor accidents.

Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, pointed out on Tuesday that he held a hearing on this subject in March 1982, after the commission that investigated the Three Mile Island accident recommended stockpiling the drug. Twenty years after that, Congress approved a law including a provision that he wrote requiring the federal government to provide the drug to state and local governments for people within 20 miles of reactors, if the governors requested it.

But the Bush administration held up the program because the White House decided it was not necessary. Now, with the United States embassy in Tokyo distributing potassium iodide to Americans who are more than 100 miles from Fukushima, Mr. Markey is trying again to get his law enforced.

There is a glitch, though. Even in areas within 10 miles of a nuclear plant, 10 states have not requested the drug. Those are Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, according to Mr. Markey.

A staff member said that Mr. Markey had written to the governors in 2002 to advise them that the potassium iodide was available, and contacted them again last week  - although the people occupying the governors’ offices had changed over the years. Fukushima’s experience, Mr. Markey said, shows that potassium iodide can be needed beyond 10 miles of a nuclear reactor. “Hoping for the best is not the same as preparing for the worst,’’ he said.

Would this reactor withstand aircraft impact...?

Jesse Emspak writing for the International Business Times, looks at the structure of future nuclear reactors.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved a proposed rule that says advanced boiling water reactors must be built to withstand aircraft impacts similar to the one that brought down the World Trade Centre.

An advanced boiling water reactor is a new design that moves much of the water pumping apparatus inside the reactor vessel, as well as simplifying the cooling system.

STP Nuclear Operating Company submitted an application in June 2009 to amend their reactor design. The comapny had originally applied to build a reactor in Texas, but in 2009 the NRC said that builders had to assess how well a plant could withstand a hit from a commercial aircraft. STP had to file a revised application.

The new rule will certify that STP accounted for an aircraft impact properly. That means if a plane were to hit the reactor vessel or outlying buildings, it should take only minimal work from the operating technicians to ensure the reactor remains cool and that the pool for spent fuel remains intact. STP plans to build a reactor in Texas.

Most nuclear reactor containment buildings are large concrete structures, so it is unclear whether any airplane could bring them down. However, the outlying buildings that contain the control and support for the reactor itself are more vulnerable, the NRC says.

In which we come over all public spirited....

Never let it be said that we aren’t public spirited here at anythingradioactive; so thanks to Eyana Adah McMillan, reporting for the York Dispatch, for the following. York County residents living near nuclear power plants can receive free potassium iodide tablets from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The tablets will be distributed Thursday, Aug. 12, at 12 locations around the state, the department said.

In York County, residents can get tablets from 3 to 7 p.m. at Airville Fire Co., 3576 Delta Road; Fishing Creek Salem United Methodist Church, 402 Valley Road, Etters; and the York County State Health Center, 1750 N. George St. in Manchester Township. The tablets are for people who live, work or go to school within a 10-mile radius of a nuclear power plant.

In Pennsylvania the five plants are: Peach Bottom Power Station (pictured) in York County; Beaver Valley Power Station in Beaver County; Limerick Generating Station, Montgomery County; Susquehanna Steam Electric Station, Luzerne County; and Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, Dauphin County.

The state is issuing four 65-milligram tablets per person. People can pick up tablets for relatives or residents unable to get them on their own. No identification is required to get the tablets, said Penny Kline, a department of health spokeswoman. Residents also will receive directions on how to store the tablets and under what conditions the tablets should be taken, she said.

A new app for your iPhone? Well, maybe not just yet...

Researchers at the University of Utah are now using a visualization app from Apple's App Store that displays simulations of a nuclear reactor’s core on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, according to a report from Tech News Daily.

The reactor simulation allows researchers “to look at existing nuclear power plants and predict the performance if we want to increase the power or prolong their life,” said Tatjana Jevremovic, director of the nuclear engineering program at the University of Utah.  With these modern and more detailed simulation tools, we can design new types of nuclear power plants in a faster fashion than 15 or 20 years ago,” she added.

Due to the sensitive and proprietary nature of the nuclear reaction data, this information is not yet publicly available. But "very soon we will generate something for use in the public domain," said Jevremovic, who added that the simulations and visualizations should be a great educational tool.

The computer simulations can show the density of neutrons in the reactor over space and time as well as display fission reaction rates. Named AGENT (Arbitrary Geometry Neutron Transport), this reactor simulation software has now been brought to life through a visualization app called ImageVis3D Mobile. (17/5/10)

Roach motel technology for cesium 137

Ted Gregory writing for the McClatchy News Service (and found on the pages of the New Hampshire Sentinel Source) dons his lab coat for this scientific discovery.

It may be oversimplifying to suggest that the microscopic mechanism that Mercouri Kanatzidis and Nan Ding have developed resembles a roach motel of nuclear waste, where the ghastly undesirable checks in but doesn’t check out. Kanatzidis prefers to call it a Venus flytrap.

Either way, the results are the same. The pinkish, powdery material the two researchers created traps
cesium-137, a prevalent, stubborn radioactive contaminant. And trapping it could make clearing it from toxic sites immensely easier.

Essentially, the sulfide framework acts as a “very tiny, tiny building with rooms,” Kanatzidis said. The cesium enters the building then bonds to the “sulfide walls” of the interior. In a more scientific context, the flexible sulfide structure contains organic, positively charged ions that can change positions with cesium in a watery solution. That reaction prompts the structure of the framework to close only on the cesium ions, preventing them from escaping. Other similar ions are not trapped.

Kanatzidis, a professor at Northwestern University and a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory, and Ding, an assistant chemistry professor at Claflin University in Orangeburg, S.C., made the discovery in 2007. Scientists maintain that cesium-137 is among the most dangerous radioactive isotopes, largely because the soft, silvery-white metal has a half-life of 30 years, easily enters the body and can bring on cancer decades after exposure.

A remnant from nuclear weapons testing and nuclear power plants, cesium-137 is believed to be the main source of radiation still present from the notorious nuclear power plant explosion in 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine, pictured here.

Worker exposed to Uranium Hexafluoride - don't worry, 'He' feels fine...

The Earth Times brings us this. A worker has been accidentally exposed to a radioactive substance, uranium hexafluoride, at a uranium enrichment plant in Gronau in northern Germany, officials said. Hospital doctors said there was no immediate evidence his health had been damaged. An air-filtration machine cleaned the contaminated air and none of it reached the outside world.

"There's no radiation at all coming from him. He feels just fine," said Otmar Schober, head of the nuclear medicine clinic at Muenster University Hospital. Blood, saliva and urine samples are being sent to a laboratory to find if he absorbed any of the substance.

Uranium hexafluoride forms a corrosive acid when it comes in contact with moisture in air and can be lethal from contact alone.

The Urenco Company gave no details on how the substance escaped in the container preparation unit at Germany's only enrichment plant on Thursday. Urenco said there had been no threat to the public. A spokeswoman said an investigation into the cause was under way. The plant enriches uranium for use in nuclear-power reactors. Anti-nuclear groups have vainly called for it to be closed.(29/1/10)

US power plants keep going - oh goody...

Paul Voosen, reporting for Scientific American, has a look at America’s power stations.  Increasingly dependable and emitting few greenhouse gases, the U.S. fleet of nuclear power plants will likely run for another 50 or even 70 years before it is retired (long past the 40-year life span planned decades ago) according to industry executives, regulators and scientists.

With nuclear providing always-on electricity that will become more cost-effective if a price is placed on heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, utilities have found it is now viable to replace turbines or lids that have been worn down by radiation exposure or wear. Many engineers are convinced that nearly any plant parts, most of which were not designed to be replaced, can be swapped out.

"We think we can replace almost every component in a nuclear power plant," said Jan van der Lee, director of the Materials Ageing Institute (MAI), a nuclear research facility inaugurated this week in France and run by the state-owned nuclear giant EDF.

"We don't want to wait until something breaks. By identifying components that are wearing down and replacing them, suddenly nuclear plants will find that, technically, there is no age limit" he said.

Is it illegal to expose people to any level of radiation without medical justification?

The following report, which goes quite well with the previous item on this page, was found courtesy of the Daily Mail’s web pages.  A human X-ray machine which produces 'naked' images of passengers has been introduced at Manchester airport, enabling staff to instantly spot any hidden weapons or explosives.

Fears have been raised that the Rapiscan Secure 1000, which resembles a large filing cabinet, may not be safe for women in the early stages of pregnancy or children. Other travellers might not want to be scanned because of the graphic nature of the images, bosses admit.

The X-Rays penetrate one-tenth of an inch into the body, enough to detect any devices or drugs hidden just under the skin. Dr Sarah Burnett, who works as an independent radiologist, raised concerns about the safety of the device two years ago, when she was asked to undergo a full body scan at Luton Airport.

She said: 'It is illegal to expose people to any level of radiation without medical justification. So how is it that the Government is allowed to irradiate us willy-nilly at airports? 'I am particularly concerned about the potential effects on women in their first trimester of pregnancy.’ Here’s a handy link for you to look at:  Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004[11].

'The machines are referred to as 'low-dose', but there is a school of thought that there is no 'safe' radiation dose," said Dr Burnett, who has had 15 years' experience working in the NHS. "It is true that passengers are exposed to 'cosmic' radiation within the aircraft, but there's nothing they can do about that - it can't be avoided. We can, however, avoid deliberately exposing people to radiation.'

Sarah Barrett, head of customer experience at Manchester Airport, played down the fears, claiming that even frequent fliers did not need to worry about radiation from the low-level x-ray. She said a dental X-ray transmits 20,000 times more radiation and that the Rapiscan would make the check-in process much quicker for passengers, who will not have to remove their coats, shoes or belts. So, dear reader, what do you prefer: a full pat-down if you make the arch ‘beep’ or a low-level dose of radiation? Update: we went through one of these in Feb '12 at LAX - happy to report that we are still here and not (as far as we know) yet glowing in the dark...!

Having radiation treatment? Best read this, then (we are not scaremongering, just reporting)

We haven’t had many science-based stories lately, so here’s one, courtesy of the IAEA that will make you sit up and listen (or run for the hills!) Radiation is being widely used inappropriately in medical diagnosis and an international response is required because of the magnitude of the problem say participants of a joint IAEA/European Community workshop that concluded last week. The event was held in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Experts from 40 countries attending the workshop agreed that reliance on technology in medicine is increasing, radiation doses are becoming higher and there are serious "knowledge deficits" among health professionals. The rate at which radiation is used unnecessarily is in the range of 30 percent the workshop participants were told.

During the event, it also emerged that the traditional approach to communication of radiation dose and risk among referring physicians and radiological practitioners has been ineffective and a new initiative to standardise a new simple approach should be undertaken. But experts also said that radiological diagnosis is a vital tool that has saved countless lives allowing doctors to detect hidden diseases and make ever more accurate diagnoses

The workshop was part of a collaborative global initiative the IAEA is taking with other international organizations to developing a series of measures aimed at strengthening radiation protection of patient.

Lab coats on - again - this time we're off to Sweden

Dan and Michelle, writing for the Hogan Science Daily News, don white coats for this science news.

Material that is 100,000 times heavier than water and more dense than the core of the sun is being produced at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and is aimed at an energy process that is both more sustainable and less damaging to the environment than current nuclear power.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Gothenburg's department of chemistry have produced a material so heavy that a 10 cm cube would weigh 130 tons. So far, only microscopic amounts of the new material have been produced. New measurements that have been published in two scientific journals, however, have shown that the distance between atoms in the material is much smaller than in normal matter.

Leif Holmlid, a professor in the chemistry department, said he believes it's an important step on the road to commercial use of the material. The material is produced from "heavy hydrogen," also known as deuterium, and is therefore known as "ultra-dense deuterium."

Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen that is found in large quantities in water; more than one atom per 10,000 hydrogen atoms has a deuterium nucleus. The isotope is denoted "2H" or "D." Deuterium is used in a number of conventional nuclear reactors in the form of heavy water (DO).

D’youthinkhesaurus? Nope, it’s Reactorsaurus: Dounreay’s newest recruit.

Our thanks to the people at World Nuclear News for this gem. Engineers have designed a robotic system for hazardous work on the Dounreay Prototype Fast Reactor. The two-armed machine - which also has ten eyes and four ears - has been named 'Reactorsaurus'.

The 75 tonne robot takes the form of a traversing carriage with two 16 metre arms. Operators in a remote control room will use binocular cameras on each arm to take apart the highly radioactive internal structures of the 254 MWe reactor.

 The arms will be able to cut up and reduce the size of reactor components using diamond wire, hydraulic shears, oxy/propane and plasma cutting. Operators will also be able to listen in on the action using two microphones on each of the arms.

 Jared Fraser, head of the Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd's design team, said: "Completion of the design phase of a complex and unique piece of equipment like this is a credit to the entire team.”

Psst: you live near North Anna? You want some pills..? I got some..

Rusty Dennen, reporting for the Free Lance-Star brings us this medical tale that may be of some interest to you, should the need arise...

Pills to protect against a specific type of radiation poisoning will continue to be provided to those who live near North Anna Power Station in Virginia (pictured).

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced this week that it will keep supplying states with potassium iodide. Residents around Dominion power's other Virginia nuclear plant - Surry Power Station on the James River in Surry County - also would be included. The medicine is intended for anyone who lives or works within each plant's 10-mile emergency planning zone.

Potassium iodide is a non-prescription medication routinely added to table salt to make it "iodized." It can protect against poisoning by radioactive iodine, one of the contaminants that could be released during a severe reactor accident. It also helps reduce the risk of thyroid cancer and other diseases by blocking the thyroid gland's absorption of radioactive iodine.

New fusion reactor possible from boffins at Texas University

Right – lab coats on for this report found on the Physics World web site and written by Michael Banks.

Physicists at the University of Texas have proposed a new type of fusion reactor that could destroy the most biologically hazardous nuclear waste. It would consist of a spherical tokamak containing a deuterium-tritium plasma, which would produce streams of neutrons that would be fired into the waste held in a "blanket" around the reactor. If built, the reactor could be operational in 15-20 years’ time and could even be used to generate electricity.

High-level nuclear waste contains not only uranium and plutonium but also other "transuranic" elements that are heavier than uranium and are the principal source of longer-lived radiation. Most such waste is put into stainless-steel flasks and stored in vaults, although it is possible to reprocess spent fuel and separate uranium and plutonium from the fission products.

The new reactor would destroy the transuranic waste in a two-step process both involving the process of "transmutation". The idea of transmutation has been around for some time and involves converting radioactive material, with a half-life on a geological timescale, into something with a much shorter half-life. Waste would still need to be stored, but its long-term hazard would be reduced.

Meet me in St Louis, toothy....?

Thanks to the Baltimore Sun for the kind of story that we can really get our teeth into.

Questionnaires will soon be sent to thousands of men who donated their baby teeth half a century ago to scientists seeking to learn whether radioactive fallout in milk the donors drank as children affected their health later in life.

It's the latest step in a study that began in the 1950s and 1960s at Washington University, but then stalled for decades.

Fifty years ago, concern about atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons spurred a group of local scientists and other area residents to begin the project, then called the St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey.

An early apparent link between fallout and health problems was established by the study. But now, more than 40 years later, the study is resuming. Researchers now hope to find links between fallout and instances of cancer in children born in the 1950s and early 1960s.

I was going to say it's a load of balls - but it's not: meet the Radball...

Jorn Madslien brings us this little scientific gem, found on the BBC’s online news service.

Matt Clough is a member of a team of scientists at the recently-established National Nuclear Laboratory, a nuclear technology services provider owned by the state, but run as a private enterprise.


Mr Clough and his team are behind the RadBall, or radiation ball, made from a polymer material that becomes opaque when exposed to radiation. The basic idea is that it's transparent when it's new," he grins, holding it up against the light. The darker it is, the more radiation it's absorbed."

To nuclear de-commissioners, who are working to clean up the mess left behind from half a century of nuclear weapons and energy production, the RadBall could soon become a vital tool.


The RadBall's main advantage is that it is very portable. "You can use it in hard-to-reach areas in the plant and in areas where electric devices struggle with high radiation levels," Mr Clough explains.

"It tells us where the hazards are and how severe they are."


Every home should have one of these - whatever it is...

Once again, anythingradioactive is at the cutting edge of interesting technology, following hard on the heels of John Vidal reporting for the Guardian. Our thanks to him for the following.


Scientists at Los Alamos have said that nuclear power plants smaller than a garden shed and able to power 20,000 homes will be on sale within five years. The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.


Hyperion, a New Mexico-based company that has been given the go-ahead by the US government, said last week that it has taken its first firm orders and plans to start mass production within five years. 'Our goal is to generate electricity for 10 cents a watt anywhere in the world,' said John Deal, chief executive of Hyperion. 'They will cost approximately $25m [£13m] each. For a community with 10,000 households, that is a very affordable $250 per home.'


Deal claims to have more than 100 firm orders, largely from the oil and electricity industries, but says the company is also targeting developing countries and isolated communities. 'It's leapfrog technology,' he said.


Sticky tape X-Rays - new discovery from UCLA

This rather odd report comes with thanks to Jessica Griggs, reporting for The New Scientist this week.

Peeling ordinary sticky tape can generate bursts of X-rays intense enough to produce an image of the bones in your fingers. Seth Putterman and colleagues from the University of California, Los Angeles used a motor to unwind a roll of sticky tape and recorded the electromagnetic emissions. Ripping the tape from its roll at 3 centimetres per second generated X-ray bursts of 15 kiloelectronvolts – each lasting one-billionth of a second, and containing over a million photons.

Putterman admits he is not sure exactly what is going on. "My attitude is to marvel at the phenomenon – all we are doing is peeling tape, and nature sets up a process that gives you nanosecond X-ray bursts."

Exactly what drives this process is still a mystery, but it is well known that if two surfaces rub over one another, one becomes positively charged and one negatively charged.

In this case, the sticky adhesive becomes positive, and the polyethylene roll negative. This charge difference builds up until an electron jumps from the adhesive to the roll, with enough energy to produce X-rays when it hits the tape.

Moonbase living  gets one step nearer thanks to NASA

This came to us via a fairly circular route, so we thought we’d run it as it’s not one that would normally come our way. So our thanks goes to Katherine Martin who works at the Glenn Research Centre in Cleveland for this report.

NASA astronauts will need power sources when they return to the moon and establish a lunar outpost and engineers are exploring the possibility of nuclear fission to provide the necessary power.

A fission surface power system on the moon has the potential to generate a steady 40 kilowatts of electric power, enough for about eight houses on Earth. It works by splitting uranium atoms in a reactor to generate heat that then is converted into electric power.

"Our goal is to build a technology demonstration unit with all the major components of a fission surface power system and conduct non-nuclear, integrated system testing in a ground-based space simulation facility," said Lee Mason, principal investigator for the test. Testing of the non-nuclear system is expected to take place at Glenn in 2012 or 2013.

Granite worktops - are they a health hazard in your home?

We thought we’d be useful today (just for a change!) and do a bit of ‘public information service’ stuff for you, so here goes.


There has been a lot of chatter on-line recently about the safety of granite worktops as many people now choose them to put in their kitchens.  So, on your behalf, we have been searching around for an answer and have come across this on the pages of The Independent’s web site. 


Question: Are granite worktops a health hazard in the home?


The short answer is no. Radon is a natural radioactive gas that is present at low levels in all homes and even in outdoor air. Higher levels can occur in some parts of the country, such as the limestone areas of Derbyshire and the North-west and the granite areas of the South-west. Exposure to high levels of radon over a long period significantly increases the risk of lung cancer. The main source of radon in homes is the ground beneath the building. Granite worktops and fireplaces do not emit much radon and will not increase the radon level inside a home by a significant amount. Further information about radon is available on the website of the National Radiological Protection Board, or a free information pack can be obtained by ringing them on 0800 614529.


Want to own one of these?

We were sent this press release today, and thought we’d share it with you, just in case you felt the need to own one…

Launched by Lab Impex Systems, the SmartCAM is the next generation Continuous Air Monitor (CAM) that will give users unparalleled performance in terms of detectable limit, sensitivity and speed to alarm.  The SmartCAM utilises state-of-the-art Spectral Measurement Analysis in Real Time (SMART) technology.  This provides real advances in alpha particulate detection techniques.

In operation the SmartCAM continually monitors alpha and beta particulates deposited on a static card mounted filter (optional moving filter will also be available) with a high efficiency solid - state detector.

The SmartCAM utilises proven features of LIS's previous generation CAM, the CMS-2000, such as the highly efficient head design.  Where the SmartCAM sets itself apart from other systems is in its ability to accurately determine background (Radon and Gamma) ensuring the limitation of costly false alarms.

More information can be found at


Anglo-French nuclear plan to be unveiled

With grateful thanks to Susan Bell and Tim Shipman, writing for the Daily Telegraph. An Anglo-French plan for a new generation of nuclear power stations will be unveiled by Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown this week as part of a series of measures designed to forge a "fraternal" relationship between the two countries.

Mr Sarkozy, who arrives today, is to offer French expertise to help Britain build replacement nuclear reactors for its ageing plants, responsible for 20 % of the UK’s electricity production.

Whilst this joint effort will be hailed as a drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing Britain's reliance on fossil fuels, anti-nuclear campaigners are expected to react with dismay to the notion that Britain may follow the lead of France, which generates 80 % cent of its electricity from nuclear energy.

Well, you know where to get your Geiger counters, don't you?


Israel purchases Logol pills

We have a medical story for you today filed by Shahar Ilan, for the Haaretz web pages.

Defence establishment officials reported on Sunday that Israel has recently purchased a new supply of Logol pills used against nuclear radiation.

The pills, originally distributed in 2004 to residents of Arad and Yavneh in southern Israel, were met with strong opposition from the mayors of these Negev towns.

The initiative to repurchase the pills was reported by officials on Sunday as part of a visiting delegation  to the Soreq Nuclear Research Centre (pictured) located southeast of Dimona. The defence establishment is, however, still deciding whether to distribute these or put them in storage. 

This debate has arisen as Israel was planning to bring an electrical particle accelerator on line by March 10th which is supposed to take over the functions currently being done by the Soreq reactor.

US worker inhales Strontium 90

What is it with America and Strontium 90? If they are not digging up a desert (as mentioned below ) they are inhaling the stuff!! Here is a tale of woe found on the Idaho Press web pages.  A worker at an eastern Idaho company recently inhaled an unknown amount of Strontium 90 whilst extracting radioactive material from a nuclear gauge. He sought medical advice from the local hospital and was later released.

The incident occurred in a private facility in Bonneville County near Idaho Falls. State agencies reported no "assessed threat" to the public.

Emergency management officials said that Sabia Corp. closed and secured the building and have been assessing the best method of re-entering it in order to conduct cleanup operations. Local federal and government agencies discussed the best courses of action to recover from this incident.


Oz patients await medical tests

With thanks to Richard Macey, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald’s web pages.  Patients in Australia face having medical tests postponed because of another delay in restarting the new Lucas Heights nuclear reactor.

The $400 million OPAL reactor was shut down in July, just three months after being opened by the then prime minister, John Howard, when uranium fuel plates started coming loose.  Without the reactor, Australia has had to import radioactive ingredients, needed to make the 500,000 doses of nuclear medicine used every year, from South Africa and Canada.

The fault, requiring the redesign of fuel plates used to power the reactor, has already forced a rationing of radiopharmaceuticals, with doctors and Lucas Heights specialists having to choose who should miss out when imports are held up. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation originally expected the Argentine-designed reactor would be out of service for only eight weeks while repairs were made.


Isotope problems in Canada

With thanks to those nice people writing for the Toronto Star web pages for this one. The supplier of medical isotopes, based in Ottawa, Canada, is contradicting the federal government's version of when Ottawa first knew there was a problem with the isotope supply in November 2007.

Officials of MDS Nordion told a recent hearing that they were blunt when they met with officials from the Department of Natural Resources on Nov. 22. "We were very clear. This was a crisis situation. We had a global supply issue that was going to impact nuclear medicine and physicians around the world," said Grant Malkoske, vice-president of Strategic Technologies at MDS.

The company reprocesses isotopes produced by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. in Chalk River, Ont., and sells them to pharmaceutical companies around the world.


It's science, Jim, but not as we know it

With thanks to Eric Berger, writing for the Houston Chronicle and with no apologies for starting off this nugget by saying ‘It’s science, Jim…’ In Star Trek II Mr Spock dies after saving the Enterprise and succumbing to a lethal dose of radiation.  Even though the writers’ decided there was no cure that ‘Bones’ could give him, scientists in Texas may be on the verge of proving them wrong.

Rice University's Jim Tour and his colleagues at two Houston health institutions have found a drug that, when given to mice before radiation exposure, is 5,000 times more effective than the best-available therapy for radiation injuries.

Officials at the US Department of Defence, seeking remedies for the radiation sickness that would follow a nuclear strike, were so taken by the research that they recently gave Tour a $540,000 (around £271,000) grant and asked him to compress the next phase of testing into an almost unheard-of nine months.

"They originally asked for something in six months, but I told them that was impossible," said Tour, a chemist who directs Rice's Carbon Nanotechnology Laboratory.


Get your particle accelerator here

With thanks to Andrew Pollack, writing for the International Herald Tribune.

Medical centres in the US are rushing to turn nuclear particle accelerators, formerly used only for exotic physics research, into the latest weapons against cancer.

"I'm fascinated and horrified by the way it's developing," said Anthony L. Zietman, a radiation oncologist at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital, which operates a proton centre "This is the dark side of American medicine." It costs around $50,000 to treat prostrate cancer with protons, which is around twice the price of X-ray treatment.

Once hospitals have made such a huge investment, experts like Dr. Zietman say, doctors will be under pressure to guide patients toward proton therapy when a less costly alternative might suffice.


A look inside Australia's Opal Reactor

Australia's new research reactor has reached its full operating power of 20 MWt during commissioning. The reactor will supply radioisotopes for medical and industrial use. The Open Pool Australian Light-water Reactor (Opal) is owned and operated by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (Ansto) at Lucas Heights about 30 km outside of Sydney

Engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory, using an emerging sensing technology, have developed a suite of sensors for national security applications that can quickly and effectively detect chemical, biological, nuclear and explosive materials. This technology can also be used to detect if a country is using its nuclear reactors to produce material for nuclear weapons.


Canadian nuclear plant reopens after shutdown

Found on a recent trawl through the BBC’s web pages. A Canadian nuclear reactor producing two-thirds of the world's medical isotopes resumed operations recently after being shut down for a month.

The country's Atomic Energy Agency says that new supplies will be ready within days to meet a worldwide shortage.

The Chalk River nuclear plant in the province of Ontario, in Eastern Canada, produces isotopes used all over the world for medical imaging and diagnostic scans for fractures, cancer and heart conditions.

The 50-year old reactor was originally shut down for a week of routine maintenance but the country's nuclear regulator refused to allow it to resume production until a number of safety issues were resolved.


New Trinitite theory emerges

For 60 years, how Trinitite formed has been an unchanging part of Trinity Site lore.  After the test, the ground-zero crater was coated with Trinitite, green due to the presence of iron in the sand.


The White Sands public-affairs staff had been telling it the same way until Los Alamos National Lab Scientists Robert Hermes and William Strickfaden published the results of their recent investigation.


Strickfaden said he ran the appropriate numbers through the appropriate formulas and could not get the atomic fireball to form glass in the thickness found on site.  He said the fireball did not hover over the site long enough to account for glass that thick. After further research, they suggested that the desert sand was scooped up into the fireball instead of being baked on the ground underneath it.


Thorium Oxide - better in reactors than uranium

Thorium Oxide could be the answer to many concerns about nuclear power. Reactors that use thorium, rather than uranium, produce radioactive waste that needs to be stored for only 500 years. They can also incinerate the much longer-lived radioactive products from conventional nuclear plants, making a Chernobyl-type meltdown virtually impossible: Okay…


Treaty launches £7bn fusion project

The drive to harness the nuclear power that makes the Sun shine passed a milestone recently with the signing of an international treaty launching a £7 billion fusion energy research project.  This latest step has been inspired by the thought that fusion could solve the world’s energy needs.


MIT developes power output technology

Researchers at MIT have developed technology they say will boost the power output of nuclear power plants by 50 per cent, and make them safer to run. Well, that’s okay then…


You can't make a bomb in a bathtub

Making an atomic bomb isn’t for dummies - or for sissies. "It's not done in your basement or bathtub," said Robert Norris, a nuclear weapons expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group in Washington. Okay…


Vermont Yankee off-line

Found this on the CNN web pages, via the Dow Jones news wire. The Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, situated in Vernon, went off-line last Thursday after an automatic shutdown.

Plant officials said the shutdown occurred during routine testing of steam valves. Plant technicians are trying to determine the cause of the automatic shutdown.

Officials said the plant remains in a safe and stable condition and will be restarted after engineers complete a thorough evaluation of the shutdown.

Prior to the shutdown, the plant had been operating at a 62% power level to allow repairs on one of the plants two cooling towers.


1kg uranium produces 4,000kwh electricity

Hands up if you knew this: One kilogram (2.2 pounds) of natural uranium can produce more than 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity - equivalent to burning 38 tons of coal or 150 barrels of oil


N Korea claims successful test

SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korea claimed it conducted a successful underground nuclear test Monday (Oct 9) according to the country's official Korean Central News Agency. A U.S. military official told CNN that "something clearly has happened," but the Pentagon was working to fully confirm the report.


Uranium 238 has 4.5bn year half-life

Here’s a statistic to make you think: Uranium 238, the most prevalent isotope in uranium concentrates, has a half-life of about 4.5 billion years.


Plutonium 'valuable energy source'

Plutonium routinely made in power reactors and that from dismantled nuclear weapons, is a valuable energy source when integrated into the nuclear fuel cycle.


Plutonium not now in Earth's crust

Here’s something to ponder over your cornflakes, again from the World-Nuclear Association web site: Plutonium has occurred naturally, but except for trace quantities it is not now found in the earth's crust.


Japanese town wants to host new plant

A Japanese town has put itself forward to possibly host the country's high-level radioactive waste storage facility. Toyocho, in Kochi prefecture, was the first to respond to a government invitation


1 tonne of fuel same as 120,000 tonnes of coal

According to the World Nuclear Transport Institute  1 tonne of nuclear fuel is the equivalent of burning 120,000 tonnes of coal…


85% radiation comes from natural sources

Another gem from the people at the World Nuclear Transport Institute : 85% of the world’s radiation comes from naturally radioactive sources


We're all bathed on radiation

Here’s something to make you think: every plant, animal and human that has ever lived on Earth has been bathed in radiation for every second of its life.


Seawater plant due for Pakistan

A thermal seawater desalination plant will be coupled to the Karachi nuclear power plant as a "first step" towards the employment of large scale production of potable water which has "socio-economic significance" for Pakistan.


The country's Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) has teamed up with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to undertake a Coordinated Research Project  The result of the work will be the Nuclear Desalination Demonstration Plant (NDDP), which will use extraction steam from one of the Karachi nuclear plant's (Kanupp's) feed heaters to desalinate seawater.


Nuts to you - Brazils are radioactive

Brazil nuts are often said to be one of the most radioactive foodstuffs in the world. The Brazil nut tree tends to accumulate high amounts of calcium. In the process, the nut also accumulates high levels of other elements such as barium and radium.

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