2014, February 5th - USA, New Meico - WIPP (Waste Isolation Plant) The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is the world's third deep geological repository licensed to permanently dispose of transuranic radioactive waste for 10,000 years. The plant is estimated to cost $19 Billion. A station filter was found on February 15, 2014 to be contaminated with plutonium-239 and plutonium-240. Wastes containing plutonium blew through the WIPP ventilation system, traveling 2,150 feet to the surface, contaminating at least 17 workers, and spreading small amounts of radioactive material into the environment. The source of contamination was later found to be a barrel that exploded on February 14 because contractors at Los Alamos National Laboratory packed it with organic cat litter instead of clay cat litter. Other barrels with the same problem were then sealed in larger containers. The location of the leak was estimated to be approximately 1,500 feet (460 m) from the air monitor that triggered the contaminants in the filtration system. The contaminants were spread through more than 3,000 feet (910 m) of underground tunnels, leading to the 2,150-foot (660 m) exhaust shaft into the surrounding above-ground environment. (Image left - Damaged drum 2014 incident)
2011, March 11th - Japan, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Triple meltdown in multiple reactors due to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. By 12th March, the hourly radiation from the plant reached 1.015 Sv (101.5 rem) - an amount equivalent to that allowable for ordinary people in one year. 70,000 to 80,000 people had been evacuated from homes in northern Japan. The Japanese government estimates the total amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere was approximately one-tenth as much as was released during the Chernobyl disaster. Significant amounts of radioactive material have also been released into ground and ocean waters. Measurements taken by the Japanese government 30–50 km from the plant showed caesium-137 levels high enough to cause concern, leading the government to ban the sale of food grown in the area. Tokyo officials temporarily recommended that tap water should not be used to prepare food for infants. In May 2012, TEPCO reported that at least 900 PBq had been released "into the atmosphere in March, 2011 alone."
2006, March 6th - Erwin, Tennessee, USA.35 l (7.7 imp gal; 9.2 US gal) of a highly enriched uranium solution leaked during transfer into a lab at Nuclear Fuel Services Erwin Plant. The incident caused a seven-month shutdown. A required public hearing on the licensing of the plant was not held due to the absence of public notification.
2011, Oak Harbor, Ohio, USA - Since its 1978 commission date, Davis-Besse Nuclear Power station has been plagued by near-catastrophes.
2011 - Dsposal solution for radioactive waste - funding for the permanent, deep-geological radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada was canceled in 2011, making every reactor a de facto radioactive waste dump at the least environmentally suitable sites for potable water, in flood, erosion, and earthquake zones.
2011 - Cracks and voids were discovered in the building's concrete. To replace aging, deteriorating, damaged parts, an unprecedented four large cuts have been made through the Davis-Besse concrete shield building which prevents release of radiation.
2002 - Neglected, leaking boric acid in the coolant water had eaten through more than seven inches of the steel reactor lid, leaving only a 3/16" liner to prevent radiation release. The plant closed for two years, costing ratepayers $600 million. Davis-Besse was fined $33.5 million, the largest in NRC history.
1972 - Because it was built in a flood plain, a Lake Erie storm caused massive flooding of the entire construction site including the pre-operational reactor.
1985 - Davis Besse had a loss-of-feedwater accident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission closed the plant for a year.
2005, November - Braidwood, Illinois, USA - Tritium (a radioactive isotope) contamination of groundwater was discovered at Exelon's Braidwood station. Groundwater off site remains within safe drinking standards though the NRC is requiring the plant to correct any problems related to the release.
2005, April 19th, Sellafield, UK - Nuclear material leak. 20 tons of uranium and 160 kg (350 lb) of plutonium dissolved in 83 kl (2,900 cu ft) of nitric acid leaked over several months from a cracked pipe into a stainless steel sump chamber at the Thorp nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The partially processed spent fuel was drained into holding tanks outside the plant.
2003, April - Paks, Hungary - Partially spent fuel rods undergoing cleaning in a tank of heavy water ruptured and spilled fuel pellets at Paks Nuclear Power Plant.
1999, September 30th - Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan Inadequately trained part-time workers prepared a uranyl nitrate solution containing about 16.6 kg (37 lb) of uranium, which exceeded the critical mass, into a precipitation tank at a uranium reprocessing facility in Tokai-mura northeast of Tokyo, Japan. The tank was not designed to dissolve this type of solution and was not configured to prevent eventual criticality. Three workers were exposed to radiation doses in excess of allowable limits. Two died, 116 other workers received lesser doses though not in excess of the allowable limit.
1999, June - Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan Control rod malfunction - Operators attempting to insert one control rod during an inspection neglected procedure and instead withdrew three causing a 15 minute uncontrolled sustained reaction at the number 1 reactor of Shika Nuclear Power Plant. The Hokuriku Electric Power Company who owned the reactor did not report this incident and falsified records, covering it up until March, 2007
1993, April 6th - Tomsk, Russia Explosion - A pressure buildup led to an explosive mechanical failure in a stainless steel reaction vessel of the radiochemical works at the Tomsk-7 Siberian Chemical Enterprise plutonium reprocessing facility. The vessel contained a mixture of concentrated nitric acid, uranium, plutonium along with a mixture of radioactive and organic waste from a prior extraction cycle. The explosion dislodged the concrete lid of the bunker and blew a large hole in the roof of the building, releasing approximately 6 GBq (160 mCi) of Pu 239 and 30 TBq (810 Ci) of other radionuclides into the environment. The contamination plume extended 28 km (17 mi) NE of building 201, 20 km (12 mi) beyond the facility property. The small village of Georgievka (pop. 200) was at the end of the fallout plume, but no fatalities, illnesses or injuries were reported. The accident exposed 160 on-site workers and almost two thousand cleanup workers to total doses of up to 50 mSv (the threshold limit for radiation workers is 20 mSv/yr).
1986, May 4th - Hamm-Uentrop, Germany (then West Germany) - Fuel damaged - Spherical fuel pebbles became lodged in the pipe used to deliver fuel elements to the reactor at an experimental 300-megawatt THTR-300 HTGR (image right - Cooling tower of the THTR-300 demolished in 1991). Attempts by an operator to dislodge the fuel pebble damaged the pipe, releasing activated coolant gas which was detectable up to two kilometers from the reactor. The THTR-300 cost €2.05 billion and was predicted to cost an additional €425 million through December 2009 in decommissioning and other associated costs. On September 1, 1989, the THTR-300 was deactivated due to its rising cost; in August 1989, the THTR company became almost bankrupt after a long shut down time due to broken components in the hot gas duct. It had to be bailed out by the government with an amount of 92 million Marks THTR-300 was only in full service for 423 days!
1986, April 26th - Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine (then USSR) Chernobyl, located approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) north-northwest of Kiev - An explosion and fire caused a severe steam explosion, meltdown, and released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe. The official acknowledgement of the disaster came three days later and the government evacuated 350,000 residents from Chernobyl and Pripyat. The Chernobyl disaster is the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The battle to contain the contamination and avert a greater catastrophe ultimately involved over 500,000 workers and cost an estimated £11 billion ($18 billion). Long-term effects such as cancers and deformities are still being accounted for to this day. An "Exclusion Zone" was created surrounding the site encompassing approximately 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi) and deemed off-limits for human habitation for an indefinite period. Several studies by governments, U.N. agencies and environmental groups have estimated the consequences and eventual number of casualties. Their findings are subject to controversy. Yet, in 2015, the legacy of the Chernobyl disaster is still casting its poisonous shadow over Britain`s countryside. The Department of Health has admitted that more than 200,000 sheep are grazing on land contaminated by fallout from the explosion at the Ukrainian nuclear plant 1,500 miles away. Emergency orders still apply to 355 Welsh farms, 11 in Scotland and nine in England as a result of the catastrophe in April 1986." Image right: Dead fish are collected by an artificial lake within the Chernobyl site that was used to cool the turbines. The fish, which died from exposure to radiation, are abnormally large and flabby.
1983, September 23rd - Buenos Aires, Argentina - Fuel damaged - An operator error during a fuel plate reconfiguration in an experimental test reactor led to an excursion of 3×1017 fissions at the RA-2 facility. The operator absorbed 20 Gy of gamma and 17 Gy of neutron radiation which killed him two days later. Another 17 people outside of the reactor room absorbed doses ranging from 350 mGy to less than 10 mGy.
1981 March - Tsuruga, Japan Radioactive materials released into Sea of Japan; over-exposure of workers. More than 100 workers were exposed to doses of up to 1.55 mSv (155 mrem) per day radiation during repairs of the Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, violating the Japan Atomic Power Company's limit of 1 mSv (100 mrem) per day.
1980 March 13th - Saint-Laurent-des-Eaux, France A brief power excursion in Reactor A2 led to a rupture of fuel bundles and a minor 80 GBq (2,200 mCi) release of nuclear materials at the Saint-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant. The power plant was subsquently non-operational for three years. The reactor was repaired and continued operation until its decommissioning in 1992
1979 March 28th - Middletown, Pennsylvania, USA - Partial meltdown at the
Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station - Equipment failures, poor user interface design, and worker mistakes contributed to a loss of coolant and a partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station 15 km (9.3 mi) southeast of Harrisburg. While the reactor was extensively damaged, on-site radiation exposure was under less than annual exposure due to natural sources. Area residents received a smaller exposure of 1 millirem (10 µSv), or about 1/3 the dose from eating a banana per day for one year. There were no fatalities. Follow-up radiological studies predict between zero and one long-term cancer fatality. Cleanup started in August 1979, and officially ended in December 1993, with a total cleanup cost of about $1 billion and caused a total of $2.4 billion in property damages.
1977 February 22nd - Jaslovské Bohunice, Slovakia (then Czechoslovakia) - KS 150 power plant suffered a series of accidents, the worst being an accident on 1977 February 22. Fuel damaged - Operators neglected to remove moisture-absorbing materials from a fuel rod assembly before loading it into the KS 150 reactor at power plant A-1. The accident resulted in damaged fuel integrity, extensive corrosion damage of fuel cladding and release of radioactivity into the plant area. The affected reactor was decommissioned following this accident.
1975 December 7th - Greifswald, Germany (then East Germany) Station Blackout - A fire in a cable duct after a short circuit disabled the electrical power supply for all feedwater and emergency core cooling pumps. A power supply was improvised by the operating personnel after several hours. The incident was only made public in 1989. Convinced that upgrading to the new safety standards was not economically feasible, the new unified German government decided in early 1991 to decommission the station.
1969 January 21st December 7th - Lucens, Canton of Vaud, Switzerland Explosion of an experimental nuclear reactor leading to a partial core meltdown and massive radioactive contamination in a large cavern, which was then sealed. The underground location of this reactor acted like a containment building and prevented any outside contamination. No irradiation of workers or the population occurred, though the cavern containing the reactor was seriously contaminated. The cavern was decontaminated and the reactor dismantled over the next few years.
1967 May - Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, United Kingdom Partial meltdown - Graphite debris partially blocked a fuel channel causing a fuel element to melt and catch fire at the Chapelcross nuclear power station. Contamination was confined to the reactor core. The core was repaired and restarted in 1969, operating until the plant's shutdown in 2004.
Winter 1966-1967 (date & location unknown) The Soviet icebreaker Lenin, the USSR’s first nuclear-powered surface ship, suffered a major accident (possibly a meltdown — exactly what happened remains a matter of controversy in the West) in one of its three reactors. To find the leak the crew broke through the concrete and steel radiation shield with sledgehammers, causing irreparable damage. It was rumored that around 30 of the crew were killed. The ship was abandoned for a year to allow radiation levels to drop before the three reactors were removed, to be dumped into the Tsivolko Fjord on the Kara Sea, along with 60% of the fuel elements packed in a separate container. The reactors were replaced with two new ones, and the ship reentered service in 1970, serving until 1989.
1966 October 6th - Monroe, Michigan, United States A sodium cooling system malfunction caused a partial meltdown at the Enrico Fermi demonstration nuclear breeder reactor Two of the 105 fuel assemblies melted during the incident, but no contamination was recorded outside the containment vessel. After repairs it was shut down by 1972.
1964 July 24 - Wood River Junction, Richmond, Rhode Island, USA An error by a worker at a United Nuclear Corporation fuel facility led to an accidental criticality. Robert Peabody, believing he was using a diluted uranium solution, accidentally put concentrated solution into an agitation tank containing sodium carbonate. Peabody was exposed to 100 Gy (10,000 rad) of radiation and died two days later. Ninety minutes after the criticality, a plant manager and another administrator returned to the building and were exposed to 1 Gy (100 rad), but suffered no ill effects.
1960 April 3rd - Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, USA Critical Accident - The Westinghouse's 850 acre Waltz Mill facility was an experimental reactor was one of the first privately owned test reactors to operate in the United States when it went on line in July 1959. The $7 million reactor produced heat but did not produce electric power and was much smaller than commercial reactors operating today. The reactor was 9 months old when a partial meltdown of a uranium-filled fuel rods in the reactor's core caused radioactive krypton and xenon gases to billow into the air over rural Westmoreland County on April 3, 1960. The accident also resulted in the disposition of 2 million gallons of contaminated water. At least a portion of the water was retained on site in lagoons, a condition which eventually led to detectable radioisotope 90Sr in the groundwater plus contaminated soil. The public was never informed of the severity of the accident until years later. In 1997, Westinghouse began a massive $50 million cleanup that involved cutting up and removing buildings, tanks and pipes contaminated by radioactive water flushed from the reactor during the accident. This cleanup was completed in 2003.
1959 July 26th - Santa Susana Field Laboratory, California, USA (Throughout the years, about ten low-power nuclear reactors operated at SSFL, in addition to several "critical facilities" which helped develop nuclear science and applications. At least four of the ten nuclear reactors had accidents during their operation). A partial core meltdown took place when the Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) experienced a power excursion that caused severe overheating of the reactor core, resulting in the melting of one-third of the nuclear fuel and significant releases of radioactive gases. The amount of radioactivity released is variously reported as 240 to 260 times worse than Three Mile Island. Over the succeeding years, the site was cleaned up and all buildings and contamination removed. Thousands of truckload's of dirt were hauled down through a few San Fernando Valley routes over a 12-year period to clean the Santa Susana Field Laboratory land to background levels and now forms a portion of an area near the Simi Valley Adventist Hospital. There was a decade long cover-up by the US Department of Energy and thousands of pounds of sodium coolant from the time of the meltdown are not yet accounted for. The reactor and support systems were removed in 1981 and the building torn down in 1999.
1958 October 25 - Vinca, Serbia (then Yugoslavia) Criticality excursion, irradiation of personnel - During a subcritical counting experiment, a power buildup went undetected at the Vinca Nuclear Institute's research reactor. Saturation of radiation detection chambers gave the researchers false readings and the level of moderator in the reactor tank was raised, triggering a criticality excursion which a researcher detected from the smell of ozone. Six scientists received radiation doses of 2–4 sieverts (200–400 rem). An experimental bone marrow transplant treatment was performed on all of them in France and five survived, despite the ultimate rejection of the marrow in all cases. A single woman among them later had a child without apparent complications. This was one of the first nuclear incidents investigated by then-newly formed IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).
1958 May 24th July 26th - Chalk River, Ontario, Canada Fuel damaged - Due to inadequate cooling, a damaged uranium fuel rod caught fire and was torn in two as it was being removed from the core at the NRU reactor. The fire was extinguished, but not before radioactive combustion products contaminated the interior of the reactor building and, to a lesser degree, an area surrounding the laboratory site. Approximately 679 people were employed in the clean-up. A corporal named Bjarnie Hannibal Paulson who was at the cleanup did not die from his exposure, but developed unusual skin cancers. Paulson had to testify at many hearings before he was awarded compensation for his radiation injuries
1952 December 12th October 25 - Chalk River, Ontario, Canada Reactor core damaged - A reactor shutoff rod failure, combined with several operator errors, led to a major power excursion of more than double the reactor's rated output at AECL's NRX reactor. The operators purged the reactor's heavy water moderator, and the reaction stopped in under 30 seconds. A subsequent cover gas system failure led to hydrogen explosions, which severely damaged the reactor core. The fission products from approximately 30 kg (66 lb) of uranium were released through the reactor stack. Contaminated light-water coolant leaked from the damaged coolant circuit into the reactor building; some 4,000 m3 (140,000 cu ft) were pumped via pipeline to a disposal area to avoid contamination of the Ottawa River. Subsequent monitoring of surrounding water sources revealed no contamination. After the incident, approximately 1202 people were involved in the two-year-long cleanup. No immediate fatalities or injuries resulted from the incident. A 1982 follow-up study of exposed workers showed no long-term health effects, though Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) dosimetry files were lost in a 1956 fire. Future U.S. President Jimmy Carter, an engineer and then a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, was among the cleanup crew.
Less than 1% of total energy...
What is noteworthy about nuclear power is that not a lot of the total energy in a fuel rod is actually utilized and turned into electric power. In fact, less than 1% of the total power generated becomes usable electricity. Therefore, the other 99% has to be treated or allowed to decay in a safe way. The best way to do this, economically, is to store it underground
in stable areas for thousands of years.
USA License Renewals & Power Uprates
As many of the initial 40-year operating licenses for nuclear power reactors begin to expire, the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) has been aggressively renewing operating licenses for an additional 20 years. Since 2000, the NRC has approved license extensions for 32 reactors at 18 power stations, and another eight renewal applications are under review for 16 power reactors. In the near term, 17 more applications for license extensions of 22 reactors are expected. So far, not a single application has been denied, despite the inevitable fatigue of critical components and the fact that onsite storage of waste and security of fuel pools remain serious unresolved issues.
The NRC has also been allowing operators to increase reactor power, issuing 102 power uprates since 1977 for a total amplification of 4185.5 megawatts electric (MWe) uprates -The NRC expects power uprate requests at another 24 plants within the next several years. Such license for extended and amplified reactor operation does not come without cost, and this regulatory laissez-faire may be compromising the safety of these facilities. For example, following the Extended Power Uprate (EPU) in 2001 at Exelon’s Quad Cities and
Dresden nuclear power stations in Illinois—each of which increased reactor power by about 17% the operator discovered multiple
cracks in the steam dryers of each of the four reactors at the two stations. Inspectors at the plants also observed
“flow-induced vibration damage on components and supports for the main steam and feedwater lines,” as well as other power
uprate-induced problems at the plants. Exelon was forced to return the Quad Cities reactors to pre-EPU levels. Yet, the NRC has continued to allow other similar reactors to operate at extremely high power levels.