- Thailand promises to store radioactive materials safely.
BANGKOK -- Thailand gave an assurance yesterday that it would ensure radioactive waste and equipment was properly stored after nine people who had been exposed to dumped radioactive material were hospitalised last week.
Manoon Aramrat, spokesman for the state-run Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP) told Reuters two of those hospitalised were in critical condition.
"We are worried and concerned about the patients who were exposed to high doses of radiation last week. I learnt from doctors at the hospital that two of them are in critical condition. The rest are in stable condition," he said.
Manoon said radioactivity was no longer a threat in Thailand.
"We would like to reassure the public and the international community that Thailand is now safe and free from radioactive exposure.
"All radioactive equipment and waste are being kept in proper storage and are under the thorough control of the OAEP," he said.
The nine patients had unknowingly handled radioactive parts from an abandoned radiotherapy machine dumped on an unused plot of land near Bangkok. Two more machines were also found at the site.
They were exposed to Cobalt 60, an isotope artificially produced to be used as a source of gamma rays or high energy radiation. It is used in cancer treatment machines, in food irradiation and in glass colouring, OAEP officials said.
Science, Technology and Environment Minister Arthit Ourairat told reporters he would welcome a visit from a team of experts from the United Nations who had offered to come to Thailand to help it streamline control of radioactive waste disposal and treat the nine patients.
Thai authorities earlier this week asked police to investigate and file charges against a distributor of imported radiotherapy machines, Kamol Sukosol Electric Co, for improper disposal of the machines on land it owned.
Police were investigating the case and formal charges had not been laid, officials said.
Kamol Sukosol has said that it is consulting its lawyers on the case.
The OAEP said the latest incident occurred due to the careless and irresponsible disposal of radioactive machines.
Thailand currently has 126 cancer treatment radiotherapy machines being used in 20 hospitals nationwide. All these were safely and properly stored, Manoon said.
"There is no harm from these machines unless people try to disassemble them. The public should not panic as all the equipment are [sic] being kept under control," he added.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- British nuclear firm's chief (BNFL) quits over safety scandal.
LONDON -- British Nuclear Fuels chief executive John Taylor has resigned over a safety scandal at the state-owned company, the Independent newspaper reported.
Britain's nuclear watchdog this month issued a damning report on the Sellafield reprocessing plant in northern England which British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) operates.
The Independent said Taylor's departure was part of a wide-ranging management shake-up that could include other senior resignations. It said this might scupper government plans to raise 1.5 billion pounds ($2.4 billion) through the sale of 49 percent of BNFL before the next general election.
No BNFL or goverment official was immediately available for comment.
The Independent quoted Trade Secretary Stephen Byers as saying: "I welcome John Taylor's decision to resign. In the circumstances it was the appropriate course of action. We can now look forward to a fresh start at BNFL under a new chief executive."
It said Taylor had wanted to stay in his job until he was told of the serious concerns that government ministers had about senior management.
The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate revealed in its report that BNFL's Mox (mixed oxide fuel) Demonstration Facility, on the site of the main Sellafield plant, had provided erroneous quality control measurements for reprocessed fuel exported to Japan.
The Japanese have demanded BNFL take back the plutonium consignments, and the government has conceded the row is a setback to its privatisation plans.
Germany's PreussenElektra says it will seek damages from BNFL after having to shut down one of its nuclear plants temporarily after finding the documentation of nuclear fuel bought from BNFL was wrong.
A U.S. campaign group is also trying to block BNFL's plans to build a nuclear waste incinerator near the famous Yellowstone National Park.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Environmentalists protest ahead of Turkish nuclear decision.
ISTANBUL -- Environmental activists wearing "masks of death" yesterday staged a lie-down protest on the eve of an expected Turkish government decision to award the first ever [contract for a Turkish] nuclear power plant.
Police in riot gear rapidly carted off some 30 people chanting "No to nuclear power plants" who lay down in the middle of a busy Istanbul square. Many demonstrators wore yellow masks with a black skull and crossbones.
Turkey has until Wednesday to award the multi-billion tender to build the plant on its southern coast. The project, delayed five times since bids were first collected in 1997, has been fraught with controversy.
Environmentalists argue that it is unnecessary when Turkey has not explored any alternative energy sources, and that the proposed site of Akkuyu, on the Mediterranean coast, lies off an active earthquake fault line.
But a housing ministry satellite survey map showed the region as one of the least earthquake prone areas in Turkey.
Two devastating earthquakes ripped through northwest Turkey last year, killing more than 18,000 people and igniting a refinery blaze which threatened to spread out of control.
Building the plant on the coast could also hurt tourism, an important source of income in the region, critics argue.
But the government says Turkey will not be able to meet a projected growth in energy demand if the plant is not built.
The three bidding consortia are lead by Westinghouse Electric Co., which is a unit of Britain's BNFL, Canada's AECL and French-German Nuclear Power International (NPI).
The project is expected to cost up to $5 billion and is slated for completion in 2007.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Post-Chernobyl disaster in human reproduction in Belarus.
MINSK, Belarus -- Post-Soviet Belarus has been plunged into a demographic disaster, with soaring levels of infertility and genetic changes 14 years after the Chernobyl disaster in neighbouring Ukraine, doctors said yesterday.
"Science cannot yet assess the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, but it is plain that a demographic catastrophe has occurred in Belarus," Vladislav Ostapenko, head of Belarus's radiation medicine institute, told a news conference.
"It is clear that we are seeing genetic changes, especially among those who were less than six years of age when subjected to radiation. These people are now starting families."
Belarus, a country of 10 million downwind from Chernobyl, bore the brunt of the April 26, 1986 explosion and fire in the power station's fourth reactor.
One quarter of its territory was subjected to severe contamination and tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. Radiation from Chernobyl spread throughout most of Europe, but Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were worst hit and still devote huge resources to cleanup operations.
Ostapenko said that within seven years of the accident, mortality rates were outstripping birth rates.
Girls in affected areas had five times the normal rate of deformations in their reproductive systems and boys three times the norm. Each year, 2,500 births were recorded with genetic abnormalities and 500 pregnancies were terminated after testing.
Thousands of cases of thyroid cancer, rare in areas not subject to high radiation levels, have been recorded in Belarus's "risk zone", where a million people still live. High levels have now been observed among teenagers.
"We are seeing problems of infertility in this generation," he said. "Exactly the sort of observations we saw in animals subjected to similar radiation."
Belarus, Ostapenko said, needed more outside help to cope with the consequences. "It is impossible to say whether we are over the peak of the consequences of radioactive contamination or whether we are just on the threshold."
Gennady Lazyuk, head of a state institute for hereditary diseases, said the aftermath of the accident was compounded by ills associated with post-Soviet hardship.
"Of course this is a complex problem and includes low living standards, alcoholism and poor nutrition," he said. "Regardless, in contaminated areas the growth rate in genetic abnormalities is more than twice as high as in uncontaminated areas."
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Plutonium shipment by helicopter is on its way to court.
by Andrew Duffy
Groups try to block Russian
plutonium fuel from entering Canada
Canada's plan to import weapons grade plutonium from Russia later this year could soon become the subject of court challenges on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
A Michigan environmental group, joined by six Canadian native and anti-nuclear organizations, is expected to file suit later this week in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in an attempt to block a shipment of Russian plutonium to Ontario's Chalk River nuclear test facility.
The shipment -- expected to arrive in Canada sometime this spring -- is part of a plan, known as the Parallex Project, to test small amounts of Russian and American bomb material to determine whether it would be suitable as fuel in Candu nuclear reactors. The reactors normally use uranium fuel.
A small shipment of American plutonium was flown by helicopter from Sault Ste. Marie to Atomic Energy Canada Limited facilities at Chalk River on Jan. 14.
Terry Lodge, an American lawyer representing the anti-nuclear coalition, said he'll ask U.S. District Court Judge Richard Enslen to suspend American financing for the project.
Since the U.S. government is paying the full cost of the project, such a move could effectively halt the shipment of Russian plutonium.
Mr. Lodge said he intends to argue the shipment offends a nuclear non-proliferation agreement signed by countries including the United States, Russia and Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy has repeatedly insisted that Canada's participation in the project is an important contribution to nuclear disarmament.
The test calls for Cold War plutonium to be mixed with regular reactor fuel; it's theorized that the mixture, known as mixed oxide or MOX fuel, will be rendered useless for nuclear warheads after being burned.
Meanwhile, Canadian environmentalists and anti-nuclear activists held a news conference yesterday to announce they'll pursue a Federal Court case unless the government changes its plans to import Russian fuel.
A legal brief, prepared for the group by the Canadian Environmental Law Association, suggests the federal Transport Department broke the law by approving the movement of plutonium by helicopter.
Administrative law requires that public officials make reasonable, fair decisions based on the "legitimate expectations" of the public.
The law association contends transport officials defied those principles by approving the air transport of plutonium even though they were aware the United States does not allow such shipments because of safety concerns.
Transport also failed to carry out an examination of credible air accident scenarios, said association lawyer Theresa McClenaghan, and ignored evidence that air was the most dangerous transportation alternative.
The department says it did not seek public consultation on the amended application because it was told that the package being used was strong enough to withstand a plane crash.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Protests greet arrival of nuclear waste shipment in Japan.
Agence France Presse
TOKYO (AFP) -- About 160 people rallied in protest Wednesday as a British ship carrying processed nuclear waste arrived at a northern Japan port after a two-month voyage from France, officials said.
The 104 rods of high-level radioactive waste, originally from five Japanese power utilities, left the French port of Cherbourg on December 29 after being treated at a French nuclear reprocessing plant at nearby La Hague.
They arrived at Mutsu-Ogawa port, near Aomori on the northern tip of Honshu Island, early in the day aboard the 4,527-tonne British cargo ship Pacific Swan, according to a spokesman for Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.
"The rods, encased in four containers, were transferred by vehicle to a storage centre," said the spokesman, Yukio Ichikawa.
The company is a joint venture of Japanese electric power companies and deals with radioactive waste from their nuclear power plants.
The rods are to be kept at the storage facility in the nearby village of Rokkasho, for 30-50 years and are then expected to be buried at a location yet to be determined.
"In awfully cold weather, the protest rally was held on and off until late afternoon, involving about 160 people," said Aomori prefectural police spokesman Nobuhiko Ootani.
"They demanded that Rokkasho should not be turned into a nuclear waste dump. They were led by an organisation linked to the (opposition) Social Democratic Party," the police spokesman said.
It was the fifth and largest shipment of Japanese nuclear waste processed in France since 1995. The French nuclear materials company, COGEMA, has already returned 168 rods of processed nuclear waste to Japan over four years.
The shipments have been the target of protests from environmental groups.
COGEMA said earlier the cargo ship reached Japan via the Panama Canal.
At the reprocessing plant, radioactive waste is heated to an extremely high temperature and turned into a vitrified substance.
Under French law all reprocessed nuclear waste must return to its country of origin. Apart from the cargo sent to Japan, two loads were sent to Germany in 1996 and 1997.
The Rokkasho centre now keeps 272 rods of reprocessed nuclear waste, weighing a total of 136 tonnes.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Radiation leak no setback for Thai nuclear plans, say officials.
Agence France Presse
BANGKOK (AFP) -- Energy officials on Wednesday denied that a leak of radioactive waste which left 10 people in hospital would fan public opposition to Thailand's plans to expand its nuclear power program.
Nuclear experts and opponents said Tuesday that the leak from a stolen capsule containing Cobalt 60, used in cancer treatments, could make it more difficult to sell the merits of nuclear power in Thailand.
Ten people were taken to hospital to be treated for radiation sickness after the leak on Saturday at a scrapyard in a suburb of Bangkok. Two are still seriously ill.
Deputy director general of Thailand's Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP) Pathom Yamkate, played down the possible impact of the incident.
He said the office had been asked to track down any other sources of radiation and would keep any found in a secure environment.
"The OAEP will keep all unused radioactive substances in a safe place -- We have security controls at nuclear power plants."
Pathom said support for nuclear energy would grow among the Thai population when the need to bolster traditional energy forms became clear.
"Thai people still have other energy to use, nuclear power is not an urgent priority, Thais will support it when they need it."
Opponents of nuclear power said Tuesday the incident would damage plans for expanding the nuclear power program here.
"This will make it more clear to the public they don't want a reactor built here," said Ida Aroonwong of the independent Alternative Energy Project, which is opposed to the construction of a 10 megawatt nuclear power plant northeast of Bangkok.
Thailand last year ordered the suspension of work on the plant -- being built by US firm General Atomics at a cost of some 90 million dollars -- amid safety concerns and protests by residents of Nakhon Nayok province.
Industry officials also admitted the incident would make it harder for them to push nuclear power.
"Incidents like this no doubt have (an) incremental negative impact on public perception of nuclear technology," said David Bock of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), which has been trying to sell nuclear reactors to Thailand and set up an office here a year ago.
"At the end of the day, all of this filters through to the public policy-making process leaving the decision makers with a task that is more difficult than it otherwise might be," said Bock.
"I liken it to a dripping tap. If there are enough of these stories coming out, and people have limited time to understand them it just casts opinion against the whole industry."
Police on Saturday evacuated people from a 150 metre (450 feet) radius around the scrapyard in the Samut Prakarn suburb on the outskirts of the Thai capital.
Three cancer therapy cobalt machines were later were removed from the site. One of the machines had been opened and the capsule containing cobalt pellets [ had been ] removed.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Environmentalists demand that Ottawa ban flights of plutonium.
by Elaine Della-Mattia
Environmentalists demand Ottawa
admit MOX was flown illegally:
Groups threaten judicial review
if government will not ban
plutonium shipments by air
Five environmental groups have banded together to ask the Canadian government today to admit it illegally transported weapons-grade plutonium by air to Chalk River.
They're also asking that Canada implement statutes or regulations such as those in the United States to prevent any further air transport of MOX fuel in Canadian skies.
If the government won't do that, the groups, with the assistance of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, will seek a judicial review, taking the government to court.
The Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) is a public interest legal clinic that represents people and organizations that can't afford a lawyer to argue environmental issues. It also acts as a voice for environmental law reform.
Kathy Brosemer, spokesperson for Northwatch, a coalition of environmental groups in Northern Ontario, said the legal opinion and the request to the government were to be presented on Parliament Hill in Ottawa today.
"We got the CELA to research this (air transport of MOX) and what they've found is that the way it was done was illegal," Brosemer said.
She said that administrative law requires "an expectation of reasonability" in decision-making by public officials.
The decision to transport the mixed-oxide fuel by air from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., to Chalk River was not reasonable because the decision was made at the last minute without examining the potential for accidents, the safety of the transport canister and the potential for any other problems, she said.
However, "the legal opinion is that we have to exhaust all political avenues first before going to court so we're asking the government to clarify that MOX fuel is not allowed to be transported by air in any statute or regulation," she said.
The government will also be asked to implement a clear statute or policy that states such substances are not allowed to be transported by air.
"This would prevent any more shipments from occurring in this way," Brosemer said.
If the government chooses to ignore the environmental group's request and implement the statutes, then a judicial review will be launched, she said.
Environmental groups that have been involved in the research include Campaign for Nuclear Phase Out, Canadian Citizens for Nuclear Responsibility, Concerned Citizens for Renfrew County, Northwatch and the Mohawks of Akwesasne.
"There is no decision yet of which groups will be seeking the judicial review. There may be some of us, all of us or perhaps other groups will want to get involved," Brosemer said.
In January, the MOX fuel was transported by truck from New Mexico to the Sault, across the International Bridge and to the airport in the Canadian Sault.
The shipment to the airport was escorted by Sault city police and Ontario Provincial Police.
It was then shipped by helicopter to Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Chalk River labs.
The five-kilogram shipment of nuclear fuel was held in a 250-kilogram reinforced steel drum called a 4H which meets international regulations for transport by land, sea and air, but not the more-stringent U.S. standards.
The more-stringent U.S. regulations that the environmental groups want Canada to follow were implemented in the 1970s after two crashes of American bombers carrying plutonium warheads. They resulted in plutonium contamination in Greenland and Spain.
The air shipment replaced an earlier plan to truck the test fuel, containing about 119 grams of plutonium from dismantled U.S. nuclear weapons, east along the Trans-Canada Highway.
AECL thereby avoided a storm of protests from environmental groups, residents and First Nations along the route.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Groups say Ottawa acted illegally by shipping plute by air.
SAULT STE. MARIE (CP) -- A coalition of environmental groups are arguing the federal government acted illegally when it flew weapons-grade plutonium across northern Ontario last month.
The five northern Ontario groups want the federal government to agree with their assertion that shipping the nuclear fuel by helicopter was illegal.
They also want the government to impose stricter rules, similar to regulations in the United States, to prevent any further air transport of the mixed oxide fuel in Canadian skies.
The groups, including Canadian Citizens for Nuclear Responsibility and Mohawks of Akwesasne, plan to seek a judicial review of the shipment if the government fails to respond to their demands.
"We got the (Canadian Environmental Law Association) to research this and what they've found is that the way it was done was illegal," said Kathy Brosemer, of the coalition group Northwatch.
The five-kilogram shipment, which contained 119 grams of plutonium, was placed in a helicopter last month in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and flown to Chalk River.
Tests are being performed on the material at the Atomic Energy of Canada labs in Chalk River to determine whether it can be used as fuel in reactors.
The plutonium was held in a 250-kilogram reinforced steel drum which meets Canadian and international regulations for transport by land, sea and air, but not the more stringent U.S. standards.
Plutonium, if inhaled, is known as a dangerous carcinogen.
Brosemer said the group believes the government acted illegally when it spirited the fuel by air because administrative law requires "an expectation of reasonability" in decision-making by public officials.
The decision was not reasonable because it was made at the last minute without examining the potential for accidents, she said.
Government officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Lawsuit looms over ''illegal'' airlift of plutonium fuel.
London Free Press
by Stephanie Rubec
A coalition of anti-nuclear groups is threatening to sue the federal government if the next plutonium shipment takes to the air.
Kristen Ostling, co-ordinator of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout, wants Transport Canada to promise a Russian plutonium shipment will be driven through Canada to a test-burn in Chalk River, not flown.
If not, Ostling said the government could be taken to Federal Court.
"We reserve the right to seek judicial review," Ostling said, flanked by representatives of six other environmental organizations.
They're angry the U.S. plutonium shipment was secretly flown from the border to Chalk River last month, ignoring an approved route to truck it in.
Lawyer Theresa McClenaghan said flying in the weapons-grade plutonium would break laws that protect against unreasonable decison-making by public officials.
The Atomic Energy Council kept the U.S. shipment date under wraps to avoid terrorist attacks and protesters, and will do the same for the Russian shipment.
The plutonium will arrive in Cornwall once the ice breaks on the St. Lawrence River. It is then supposed to be trucked to Chalk River.
Both the U.S. and Russian samples will be tested together to see if they can fuel the nuclear reactor.
Atomic Energy Canada is hoping the test burn will prove that its CANDU reactors can turn dismantled U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads into fuel.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- New Energy Projects could create four thousand jobs.
London Free Press
page A 4
by John Miner
Kincardine is asking the province to put up $100 million for two energy projects the municipality says would create 2,000 to 4,000 jobs.
"We just sent in the proposal today. We wanted to be first in the door," Kincardine chief administrative officer John deRosenroll said yesterday.
Backers of the projects say there will also be major benefits for the environment.
Step 1 of the plan calls for a natural gas pipeline to be built from Canada's main pipeline near Barrie to the Bruce Energy Centre north of Kincardine.
Some of that gas will be used to fuel a 500-megawatt electrical generation plant being built by a company.
The rest will be used by another company for a methanol plant.
The projects are expected to attract more than $400 million in private sector investment. The $100 million in provincial money, which would be repaid under the plan, would come from the province's new SuperBuild Corp., set up to invest in technology and infrastructure projects.
Jim Cook, vice-president of Integrated Energy Development Inc., developer of the methanol plant, said his company has patented a process that produces methanol while absorbing carbon dioxide.
Other methanol plants emit into the atmosphere about 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every 100 tonnes of methanol tonnes produced, contributing to global warming. Integrated's process absorbs about 40 tonnes of carbon dioxide for every 100 tonnes of methanol produced, he said.
"We believe we have a real winner," he said.
Methanol is currently used in dozens of products, from carpet to plastic bottles.
Cook said his company expects the growth area for methanol will be liquid fuel for automotive fuel cells being developed by DaimlerChrysler and other major manufacturers.
DeRosenroll said he expects it will be several months before a decision is made by SuperBuild on the project.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Cleaner energy ~ ''green energy'' ~ benefits all of us.
Bravo to the Hydro Commission of Cambridge and North Dumfries for its innovative plan to offer clean power to its energy customers.
The EarthWise program develops power from smaller, non-polluting sources, reducing the amount of power it must buy from polluting sources such as coal- or gas-fired plants that produce harmful emissions and contribute to the greenhouse effect.
But the commission is unnecessarily hobbling this worthy program from the start by charging an extra $6.50 a month to customers who sign on. Even a small surcharge is likely to discourage many people who support the program's goals from actually signing on the dotted line, and condemns it to a small-scale venture that will attract only the most committed greenies. To be sure, the program offers customers a large rebate on doing an energy audit of their home, but chances are most people willing to invest in green power have already considered energy audits.
We all benefit from any effort to promote green power generation. The more we reduce our reliance on "dirty" sources of power, the more society as a whole will save on future costs of environmental clean-up and rehabilitation.
And so we all should pay. If the costs of a relatively small project, like the proposal to build a small power generating station at the Parkhill dam in downtown Cambridge, were spread across the hydro commission's entire customer base, the price would be minimal for all. As well, the program would be assured a steady source of funding, thereby giving it a more solid foundation and cementing its chances for long-term success.
If the concept of cleaner energy is worthwhile -- and it is -- then it's worthwhile for all of us to support.
SUMMARYThe costs of a new program to generate clean power
should be borne by all of us, not just dedicated greenies.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Radioactive nightmare in Thailand due to sale of cobalt-60 scrap.
by Pravit Rojanaphruk,
Kamol Sukin and
AEPS (Alternative Energy Project for Sustainability) .
Bangkok -- In the country's first-ever case of nuclear waste leak, five people have been hospitalised for radiation sickness, but health and nuclear officials are still struggling to determine the ramifications of the radioactive nig htmare.
Below please find today's news on the radioactive waste leak in Thailand. It is on the front page of every newspaper here, and a big headline on T V. It is quite scary to really witness such a situation in Thailand. People see for real now the victims with their hands burnt, pale lips.
It is even more scary to see how the officials, esp. OAEP [ Office of Atomic Energy for Peace ] is unprepared for the event. After all the lies OAEP told people in Ongkarak, I personally simply do not want to believe when the OAEP's ofiicer said last night that the area is still safe enough for the residents around.
Radioactive waste spill pinpointed
Four days after a first patient was diagnosed as being exposed to a radioactive substance identified as Cobalt-60 and two days after the leak became public knowledge, public health officials began to express concern on how much radiation has spread over Samut Prakan.
Nuclear officials yesterday began cleaning up the radioactive leak. It was an exercise for which they had no previous experience.
At the start of the clean-up work, officials from the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP) could only say they had uncovered the radioactive source -- industrial waste Cobalt-60 pellets in unknown quantities.
The substance is estimated to have a radiation radius of 500 metres. The officials conceded that they still could not trace the origins of the radioactive substance. But they knew that its cylinder tube containing the pell ets had been wrongly broken, causing the radioactive leak. They also knew that the substance was commonly used in medical, food preservation and other industries.
Meanwhile Samut Prakan residents, especially those living in the lower-income neighbourhood of Soi Wat Mahawong, live in suspense of whether they have been exposed to the radiation.
According to witnesses, three dogs in the neighbourhood have died. And Somjit sae Jia, owner of a scrap store, was sick soon after she bought a metal cylinder as scrap.
Public health permanent secretary Sujarit Sriprapan said altogether 10 people had been exposed to the radiation as they tried to cut the "unknown" metal tube. Three were first admitted for treatment at Samut Prakan Hospital and were later transferred to Ratchawithi Hospital following the diagnosis of radiation sickness.
Two other people were being treated at Ramathibodi and Bangkok hospitals. The remaining five people were under observation, but had not yet developed symptoms.
The five victims of radiation hospitalised are Somjit, Jitrasen Jansakha, Sudjai Jairaew, Nipon Pankhan, and Decha Somsripipat.
Sujarit explained that after their radiation exposure, the five victims developed nausea, lack of appetite and falling hair.
They would later experience burns, gum bleeding, blisters, and swollen lymphatic glands.
The five victims had shown a drastic drop in white blood cells from 8000 per one millilitre to only 100, indicating the collapse of their bodies' immune system.
Somjit had bought the nuclear waste, which she understood to be scrap, since February 1. The radioactive substance had [ lain ] exposed in her store until officials found it yesterday.
Surajit also expressed puzzlement at how nuclear waste material ended up in a scrap store. It was one of the most regulated substances under the supervision of the OAEP, he said.
After checking the store, Pathom Yaemket, OAEP official, identified the radioactive leak as coming from Cobalt-60 and ordered the 30-metre surrounding area to be cordoned off and declared a dangerous radioactive zone.
Pathom said he designated the zone, because it was the area in which radioactivity was strongest.
He said the radiation would be cleaned up by removing all contaminated soil and material.
OAEP secretary general Kriansak Bhadrakhom expressed relief that the centre of radioactive leak had been uncovered and was being cleaned up.
Kriangsak expected the clean-up operation to finish as soon as possible, though declined to speculate on its completion date.
He also denied the speculation that industrial operators might have secretly dumped the nuclear waste.
"The problem occurred because someone tried to cut the nuclear protective cylinder," he said.
He insisted his office strictly monitored the movement of radioactive materials and nuclear waste.
A nuclear official said the leak was extremely serious because victims suffered radioactive exposure to a level of one curie (a unit measuring radiation intensity), which is almost next to the most dangerous level -- which would cause instant death.
[NOTE: The previous paragraph is garbled and incorrect due to incomplete understanding on the part of the reporter. A curie is a physical unit of radioactivity, not a unit of radiation exposure.]Science Minister Arthit Urairat lamented that his officials had [ been ] left in the dark as to what had happened.
"I am very concerned but I am confident that the OEAP and the Pollution Control Department under my supervision will successfully tackle the nuclear leak," he said off the cuff.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Ministry of Natural Resources quits nuclear industry lobby group.
by Mike Trickey
THE CANADIAN NUCLEAR ASSOCIATION (CNA) :
NUCLEAR LOBBY GROUP LOSES ANOTHER MINISTRY
Natural Resources latest to end membership
after media queries
The Department of Natural Resources withdrew its membership in Canada's leading nuclear industry organization yesterday mere hours after being asked to explain its membership in a lobbying group.
Natural Resources had already paid for its 2000 membership renewal, and officials had said earlier that it planned to continue as a member of the Canadian Nuclear Association, but a letter of withdrawal was sent out a few hours after the Citizen started asking questions about the 31-year-old relationship.
The Department of Foreign Affairs pulled out earlier this year after almost 20 years of membership.
Brian Moore, senior director of Natural Resources' nuclear energy division, sent a letter to the CNA, saying the department was rescinding its membership "with regret."
"This membership has provided the department with many benefits in terms of improving our understanding of issues facing the nuclear industry in Canada and in providing ready access to current information on the industry," he wrote.
"It is with some regret that the department has had to review its government membership in the CNA in light of the fact that the Canadian Nuclear Association has recently revised its mandate to reinforce that the single prime purpose of the association is to be a lobby group at the federal level."
Foreign Affairs officials say they also decided to drop their department's membership in the CNA after the organization's decision to move its head office from Toronto to Ottawa next month and to more actively emphasize government lobbying efforts.
Paul Heinbecker, assistant deputy minister for global and security policy, said Foreign Affairs had never thought of the CNA as a lobby group, but the decision was made to withdraw after the inclusion of greater lobbying efforts was included in the CNA's Vision 2000 report.
"I don't think our representatives felt themselves being lobbied particularly," he said.
"In the sense that we believe in the use of nuclear energy domestically and the export of it abroad, I'm not sure what the lobbying purpose would have been."
Foreign Affairs had been a member of the CNA since 1981 and Access to Information reports obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin show Foreign Affairs' Nuclear, Non-proliferation and Disarmament Implementation Agency has been supportive of the department's membership.
"The CNA is an organization vital to the Canadian nuclear industry," wrote agency director Ross Glasgow in a memo to Mr. Heinbecker last year.
"It provides a leadership role in responding to the changes and challenges in the development of nuclear power, both in Canada and internationally, on behalf of the Candu reactor and other nuclear technologies. The CNA is dependent on the support of industry, private membership and the government. Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been a member since 1981. Our continued membership is recommended."
Dave Martin, spokesman for the Nuclear Awareness Project, says it is a bit much for government departments to try to pretend they did not believe the CNA is a lobby group.
"There's no question the CNA's a lobby group, and it is one that has been indirectly bankrolled by the government through (Atomic Energy Canada Ltd.).
"No government agency has any business being a member of an industry lobby group. There's a question of conflict and also a question of perceived conflict. Membership by any government department in the Canadian Nuclear Association is a serious blow to its credibility and objectivity."
CNA chair Thomas Gorman said this week the organization was moving its head office to Ottawa "to counter the powerful anti-nuclear lobby."
Brian Thompson, spokesman for the CNA, says it is an industry association with about 75 members.
"We focus on government liaison on behalf of our members in order to build relations with the federal government and to ensure that our government stakeholders are well aware of the nuclear industry's contributions both to Canada and globally so that they, as policy makers, can go ahead and make appropriate policy decisions."
High-tech companies and research institutions dominate the membership list, which also includes the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Plutonium shipping container not up to US standards for air transport.
by Craig Wong
TORONTO -- Weapons-grade plutonium spirited across the skies of northern Ontario would not have got off the ground in the U.S. because regulators there believe its container would not have withstood a plane crash.
The five-kilogram shipment of nuclear fuel, which contained 119 grams of plutonium, was placed in a helicopter last month in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and flown across the province to Chalk River.
Tests are being performed on the mixed oxide at the Atomic Energy of Canada labs in Chalk River to determine whether it can be used as fuel in Canadian reactors.
The plutonium was held in a 250-kilogram reinforced steel drum which meets international regulations for transport by land, sea and air, but not the more stringent U.S. standards.
"The 4H does not qualify for air transport in the U.S.," said Sunni Locatelli, spokeswoman for the Atomic Energy Control Board.
"Most of our standards are based on (international) standards. The Americans have just developed this for their own use."
The U.S. regulations are different from those in the rest of the world because of a congressional bill passed in the 1970s after two crashes of American bombers carrying plutonium warheads. The crashes resulted in plutonium contamination in Greenland and Spain.
Greenpeace campaign director Steve Shallhorn says it's ludicrous that Canada has failed to go the U.S. route.
"The Canadian government is putting Canadians at risk by allowing a sub-standard container to be used for mixed oxide air transport," he said.
Plutonium, if inhaled, is known as a dangerous carcinogen.
Shallhorn says there's been a push to change regulations because some experts believe the containers are not capable of withstanding the impact of an airplane crash.
There are only two containers that meet the tougher U.S. standards for the commercial air transport of plutonium.
"There are no other packages that are certified," said Sue Gagner, spokeswoman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Last month's plutonium shipment was trucked from Los Alamos, N.M., to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and then on to laboratories in Chalk River by helicopter.
The helicopter portion of the journey allowed officials to avoid a maelstrom of protests promised along Highway 17 by environmental groups and residents opposed to the shipment.
The original plan was to have the substance trucked across northern Ontario along the highway, past Sudbury and North Bay to Chalk River, about 150 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.
Officials said the plan was scrapped after meetings with residents, many of whom were concerned that if something went wrong during the transport, plutonium could contaminate the environment.
A second shipment of weapons-grade plutonium from Russia is expected to arrive in Canada later this year.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Britain and Japan struggle over ship-load of plutonium (MOX) fuel.
Agence France Presse
by David Williams
TOKYO -- Despite a week of apologetic meetings, Britain said Friday it is still struggling with Japan over what to do with an embarrassing ship-load of suspect nuclear fuel.
Top energy official Anna Walker said London was grappling with demands that the reprocessed fuel be sent back to Britain because it arrived in Japan with faked quality control data.
Japan had asked for an immediate proposal from Britain on the issue while the Ministry of International Trade and Industry demanded it be sent back, according to a joint Anglo-Japanese statement.
"However, this is a complex issue which raises contractual issues between the companies and also involves both governments," Walker told a news conference at the British embassy in Tokyo.
"The UK government resolved to contribute its views, looking at all the options including sending the fuel back to the UK, as soon as possible," she said.
Britain's government had promised in December to give a full explanation of the data falsification scandal which erupted last year at British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL).
During a week of meetings in Japan with the government and the Japanese customer Kansai Electric Power Ltd., Walker expressed London's "deep regret and conveyed sincere apologies on behalf of BNFL."
But Walker, director-general for energy at the Department of Trade and Industry, indicated shipping the fuel back to Britain was not a preferred option.
"There clearly are questions about transportation over what is a very long distance," she said, adding that it was also an unsettled contractual question between BNFL and its Japanese customer Kansai Electric Power Ltd.
BNFL had admitted its employees saved time by bypassing quality control checks on mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) at the Sellafield plant in Cumbria, northwest England.
The tentacles of the scandal reached Japan when some test data were falsified on the size of fuel pellets in a shipment of MOX sent to Japan's Kansai Electric Power.
The fuel arrived in Japan last October, a sensitive time following a major nuclear accident the previous month.
Britain's chief inspector of nuclear installations, Laurence Williams, had explained to the Japanese side that the fuel was considered safe despite the falsification scandal, said Walker.
He also told the Japanese about the findings of an independent report into the scandal due to be published in Britain on February 18.
The report was delayed by a week because Britain had not realised it was a national holiday in Japan on February 11, Walker said.
While declining to reveal details of the report, Walker said investigations had been thorough and while there was no such thing as a 100 percent guarantee of a recurrence "the package of measures S will be very far-sweeping and radical indeed."
Kansai Electric Power insisted last month it wanted Britain to take back the MOX fuel in question as soon as necessary permits were obtained, even though it believed the fuel was safe.
But Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner Kazue Suzuki said the fuel should not be moved. "Our position is 'don't move the fuel' because it would cause too much risk on its way back go Britain," she told AFP.
The British MOX scandal dealt a fresh blow to Japan's nuclear power program after a fatal accident at a uranium plant last September in Tokaimura, 120 kilometers (74 miles) northeast of Tokyo.
Japan relies on 51 commercial nuclear power plants to supply one-third of its electricity.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Where is the nuclear bomb that fell on British Columbia in 1950 ?
by David Pugliese
THE DOWNING OF U.S. BOMBER 2075
On Feb. 14, 1950, an American Air Force plane
carrying a nuclear bomb
crashed in the B.C. interior.
Fifty years later,
Canada is still trying to find out
what happened to its deadly payload
One of his crew in the rear of the Strategic Air Command B-36 aircraft could see flames engulfing one of the bomber's engines. A metre-long tail of blue fire roared from engine No. 1, despite the driving hail and rain.
Capt. Barry, a 30-year-old air force pilot, calmly ordered that the engine be shut down. Seconds later, another crew member reported that engine No. 2 was on fire. Again the baby-faced, slightly balding captain ordered the engine turned off.
It was shortly before midnight, Feb. 13, 1950, that the first emergency radio signal from Capt. Barry's aircraft, number 2075, was transmitted. A minute later, the bomber began losing altitude when engine No. 5 caught fire. With only three remaining engines, the giant, silver aircraft started dropping at a rate of about 30 metres per minute.
On board 2075, Capt. Barry not only had the safety of his crew to worry about but also the aircraft's top secret cargo. Inside the belly of the B-36 sat a Mark 4 atomic bomb, a refined version of the device dropped five years earlier on the Japanese city of Nagasaki.
At the time, it was the most advanced nuclear weapon in America's growing atomic arsenal. There was no way such a device -- or even parts of one -- could ever be allowed to fall into the hands of the Russians.
To this day, the details of what happened during the next 25 minutes aboard 2075 continue to be shrouded in Cold War secrecy and speculation. Some claim that Capt. Barry and his crew dropped their atomic bomb into the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of British Columbia, before bailing out of their stricken craft. Others maintain the bomb or its radioactive components, and perhaps a second nuclear weapon, remained on board the B-36 and that a lone crew member desperately tried to pilot the plane to safety, only to crash into a mountain top in the province's remote interior.
Whatever the truth, one thing is clear. That cold winter night in 1950, the world's first Broken Arrow -- the U.S. military's code-word for an accident involving a nuclear weapon -- had just taken place over Canada.
For many in 1950, the globe could be neatly divided into a Cold War version of good and evil. Almost every leader in the western world was sounding the alarm about the dangers of the communist "Red Menace." Then External Affairs minister Lester Pearson warned Canadians that communist tentacles were spreading into the Far East. Winston Churchill praised the power of nuclear weapons, pointing out that Europe would have fallen under the boot of communism, and London would have once again come under bombardment were it not for the U.S. military's atomic bomb arsenal.
To drop those weapons on Russian targets, the U.S. Air Force had the Corvair B-36 "Peacemaker," the largest production bomber ever made. With a wingspan of 70 metres and a length of 49 metres, the B-36 was larger than today's Boeing 747 passenger aircraft. The plane was so enormous that some aviators took to naming it the "Aluminum Overcast" because, they joked, when it flew overhead it blotted out the sun.
The B-36 was originally designed in the 1940s to fly from U.S. bases to bomb targets in Europe, a job it would never undertake as the war ended before full-scale production of the aircraft could begin. But the Cold War gave the plane new life and the B-36 became one of the workhorses of the Strategic Air Command, which had been given the job to strike out at America's enemies in the event of war. At $6 million U.S. apiece, in 1950 dollars, the aircraft was the symbol of American might and its ability to deliver the A-bomb almost anywhere in the world.
The man behind the Strategic Air Command, the gruff, cigar-chomping Gen. Curtis LeMay, believed war between America and the Soviet Union was inevitable. His strategy for such a conflict was simple. Instead of waiting for a nuclear Pearl Harbor, Gen. LeMay believed in hitting the enemy where it counted -- in its cities. He had planned the incendiary bomb attacks against Tokyo during the Second World War that killed more than 80,000 Japanese. Nuclear war with the Soviets, he reasoned, might be waged with different weapons but the type of target would be the same.
To prepare, Gen. LeMay had his B-36 crews constantly fly over U.S. cities at night on practice bombing runs, honing the skills they would need to drop their atomic weapons. "People were down there in their beds and they didn't know what was going on upstairs," Gen. LeMay later wrote in his autobiography. "San Francisco had been bombed over 600 times in a month."
It was during one of those bomb runs against San Francisco that aircraft 2075 was lost. The B-36 had left Eielison Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, at 4:27 p.m. on Feb. 13 for what was supposed to be a simulated mass attack on the West Coast of the U.S. Capt. Barry and his crew were to fly down the coast of British Columbia, "attack" San Francisco, and then head to their home base in Texas. Also taking part in the attack were other B-36 bombers.
But as 2075 flew along the coast, it ran into hail and heavy rains and ice began to build on its wings and engines. Capt. Barry could hear an erratic surge in the plane's propellers. The first engine fire started about 11:25 p.m. with the others quickly following. An initial distress message reported that 2075 was having difficulty flying and that one engine was on fire. Other messages were transmitted that the aircraft might have to ditch in the Queen Charlotte Sound, off Vancouver Island. The emergency radio transmissions were picked up by another B-36 which relayed them to flight controllers in Vancouver. A commercial flight from Langley Airways also picked up the message: "B-36 mayday, water landing between Queen Charlotte Island Sound and Vancouver Island."
On board 2075, the crew faced the grave dilemma of what to do with the atomic bomb. Because nuclear weapons were relatively new, there were no standard operating procedure governing such a situation. To drop the bomb over land would risk killing civilians on the ground. Although a nuclear explosion wouldn't take place, the bomb also contained a large amount of conventional explosives which was used in its trigger mechanism.
At the same time, if the bomb was jettisoned over land there would be a risk that Soviet spies operating in Canada might recover parts of the weapon.
It was decided the aircraft would fly further out over the Pacific Ocean, drop the bomb, and then head toward the B.C. mainland where the crew could safely bail out.
According to retired Lt. Col. Paul Gerhart, as well as other crew members of 2075, the bomb was dropped around midnight. It had been timed so the conventional explosives would detonate around 1,300 metres above the ocean and crew members reported seeing a bright flash when the device blew up.
As the plane approached Princess Royal Island, about 500 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, crew member Staff Sgt. Dick Thrasher received an order over his headset to abandon ship. The aviators removed the Plexiglas windows at the front and back of the plane and began jumping out into the darkness and driving rain. Before he bailed out, Sgt. Vitale Trippodi lashed down the radio transmitter key. He had hoped that would allow any rescue team to get co-ordinates of the plane before it crashed.
Capt. Barry believed he was the last man out of the aircraft. But when his parachute opened, he looked up to see his plane do a 180-degree turn and start flying toward the B.C. interior. "The ship was on automatic pilot and somehow it turned in the air and came back over us," Capt. Barry would later tell newspaper reporters. "There were three engines burning and I could follow the ship's progress as I went down in my chute. But I don't know where it crashed."
Another crew member could see a large blue and white flame streaming all the way from one of the engines to the end of the plane.
Twelve of the crew would eventually be rescued, suffering from various stages of hypothermia and fatigue, by a Canadian fishing boat and members of the Canadian Navy destroyer HMCS Cayuga. The other five men were presumed drowned after parachuting into the frigid waters off Princess Royal Island. It's believed that winds carried them out to sea.
Newspaper accounts at the time reported that an oil slick had been spotted off Princess Royal Island, the assumption being that the B-36 plowed into the sea. No mention was made that there was a nuclear weapon on board and U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Roger Ramey told journalists the plane had been on a routine training flight. It's doubtful that Canadian officials were told of 2075's cargo -- at least not initially.
But inside the U.S. government, pointed questions were being asked about what happened to one of America's most advanced atomic weapons. The Atomic Energy Commission, which officially had ownership over the bomb, was demanding details about the crash. The commission was met with a wall of silence and secrecy from the Air Force.
The commission's concern was understandable. The bomb's design had been completed less than a year earlier. The Mark 4 was a major improvement in the development of nuclear weapons as it was the first to be made using mass produced components. It was about four metres in length and almost two metres in diameter. Its outer casing had been streamlined to avoid the aerodynamic wobble that plagued Nagasaki's Fat Man bomb. A selection of radioactive cores that were inserted into the Mark 4 gave it an explosive yield of up to 40 kilotons, the equivalent of 40,000 tons of TNT.
Bill Sheehy, an Atomic Energy Commission official, began pestering the Air Force for answers. Did the crew drop the bomb in the ocean or had it been left in the aircraft to go down with the plane? he asked in one memo. Faced with zero co-operation from the Air Force, Mr. Sheehy wrote his boss William Borden, executive director of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, to try to get some action. "I am not willing to sit back and wait until the Air Force gets damn good and ready to tell us what the hell they did with one of our atomic weapons," he wrote in frustration. Mr. Sheehy pointedly mentioned that it was the commission, not the Air Force, which was ultimately responsible for the bomb.
On March 9, 1950, Mr. Borden wrote the Air Force tactfully demanding to know what happened to its bomb. Maj.-Gen. Thomas White responded with a less than authoritative answer. "The bomb was jettisoned, presumably over the sea, and it exploded while in the air," he responded. "Its mechanism was set to detonate the charge at approximately 3,800 feet."
The general also wrote that the bomb did not contain the plutonium core, which gave the device its power. In those days, the core was sometimes carried separately from the weapon in a lead-lined box to be inserted in case of war.
A closed-door board of inquiry concluded that heavy icing on the B-36's carburetors likely caused the engine problems that had led to the crash. Similar engine fires had plagued other B-36s. Aircraft 2075 crew members testified, but were warned not to mention classified aspects of their mission, even though the reviewing committee was made up of senior Air Force members including a general. For the U.S. Air Force, the case was closed.
It was three years later that the remains of 2075 were found. But the wreckage of the giant bomber was not discovered in the ocean. Somehow the plane had increased its altitude by 300 metres and had continued to fly more than 360 kilometres north before plowing into a mountain, just north of Smithers, B.C. A rescue team scouring the interior of B.C. in August, 1953, for a downed civilian aircraft, had stumbled on to the debris.
Several weeks later, a U.S. Air Force helicopter flew to the site to examine the wreckage. But, according to research by aviation specialist Dirk Septer, of Telkwa, B.C., the crew did not land because they were worried about radioactive contamination. Instead the helicopter hovered above the site while a photographer took pictures.
On Sept. 21, an American military team, using local guides and pack horses, tried to get into the crash site, only to be beaten back by poor weather and deep snow. Eleven months later, another attempt was made to reach the wreckage, but this time the Americans decided to use helicopters. A military demolition team stripped the aircraft of its then top-secret radar systems, its bomb sights and other sensitive electronic equipment. Metal barrels, containing bricks of TNT, were parachuted in and used by the team to obliterate what was left of the wreckage. Rumours began circulating locally that a body had been recovered from the plane.
Doug Craig was 22 when he came across the B-36 wreckage two years later. Mr. Craig was part of a Geological Survey of Canada team which had been travelling to remote areas of the country to update information for maps. He found some wreckage from the B-36, the engine and smaller pieces of aluminum, strewn about the mountainside. Fellow survey members investigated further and discovered the wings, engines and a 14-metre chunk of the fuselage of 2075, all that was left of the aircraft after the U.S. demolition team had finished its work. Nearby was a U.S. military parachute and a Geiger counter. The survey crew dutifully reported its findings to the RCMP but never thought anything more about their discovery.
In 1996, retired from the Geological Survey and interested in environmental issues, Mr. Craig started asking questions about the crash. Earlier, in 1987 a U.S. military report listing nuclear weapons accidents had acknowledged that the British Columbia incident was the first to involve a bomb, but it stated that the device had been dropped into the sea. It mentioned that the bomb did not carry a radioactive core, but instead was fitted with a dummy capsule. However, it also inaccurately listed the crash site as being on Vancouver Island.
Mr. Craig was still bothered about the presence of a Geiger counter found near the wreckage. If the bomb had been dropped into the sea, as the U.S. Air Force had claimed, why would a demolition crew need a device to measure levels of radioactivity, he wondered?
Upon further research into the handling of atomic weapons in the 1950s, Mr. Craig concluded that there was a strong possibility that the bomb's plutonium core was still on board when the aircraft slammed into the mountain. There were also questions about whether a crew member had stayed on board 2075. Mr. Craig began writing Environment Canada and the Department of National Defence asking questions.
The problem for both Canadian government departments was that few official records could be found about the crash. A Sept. 6, 1996, Defence department background memo claimed that, based on information from Environment Canada, the body of one U.S. Air Force crewman had been found in the wreckage. But military officials questioned that assumption.
Defence department officials believed it was "reasonably certain the bomb was dropped over the Pacific and exploded." But there was concern that the radioactive core may have remained in the aircraft. Another Canadian military memo, dated May 21, 1997, questioned what happened with the bomb's core. It would make sense, the report reasoned, that the core would have travelled with the bomb, in case the weapon was needed in short order.
Government officials decided to mount an expedition to visit the crash site. On Aug. 11, 1997, a Canadian Forces helicopter carrying members of the military's nuclear safety team, accompanied by Mr. Craig, landed at the site.
The team found the aircraft pretty much as Mr. Craig's co-workers had seen it in 1956. There were hunks of the bomber's engines, a three-metre-tall piece of propeller, and the chunk of the fuselage. A ball turret with 20-millimetre guns lay nearby. Scattered around was ammunition for the cannons. A metal barrel, still attached to a parachute, was partly covered in snow. The barrel contained weathered bricks of TNT that had been air dropped to the U.S. demolition crew. Inside there were still about 100 charges, each slightly larger than a chocolate bar.
Strewn among the wreckage were the personal effects of the crew; leather flight hats with goggles, leather gloves, a cologne bottle, hair brush, a small souvenir totem pole that someone had bought in Alaska, and an insignia pin from the 7th bomb wing with the motto, "Death From Above." The Canadian Forces crew photographed small bone fragments near the wreckage, but those were believed to be from a small animal. They also found a metal box which housed the detonators for the Mark 4 atomic bomb. The weapon needed 32 detonators. The box, set up like an egg carton, had storage for 36. There were four remaining detonators in the box, each about the size of a small salt shaker.
Small amounts of radioactivity were detected by the nuclear safety team from the aircraft's cockpit gauges which contained radium to illuminate the dials. But aside from that, nothing else was found to indicate that the radioactive core, or a second bomb, had gone down with the plane. The saga of the Broken Arrow, however, refuses to die. Three new books, including one by Dirk Septer and another by former Department of National Defence employee John Clearwater, will be coming out in the next few months examining further details of the crash. Debate as to what actually happened the night of Feb. 13, 1950, is also kept alive on at least two Web sites. Today, many of the crew members of 2075 are dead. Capt. Barry, who would have had many of the answers, died a short time after the crash when a fighter aircraft rammed into the B-36 he was flying.
Those surviving crew members of 2075 continue to insist that although the bomb was a functioning nuclear weapon, it was without its radioactive core. The Mark 4 they carried had a lead core that was used to simulate the weight of the plutonium fuel. The equipment needed to install the core, in flight, was not on board 2075, according to one crew member, who asked not to be identified in an interview posted on a Web site.
Some researchers, such as Chuck Hansen, author of U.S. Nuclear Weapons, the Secret History, do not believe the bomb was outfitted with a radioactive core as it was only on a training flight. In those days, the cores were rare and heavily guarded at sites next to Strategic Command airbases. Chris Thorp, who was on the military investigative team that visited the site in 1997, says no evidence was found whatsoever to indicate a second bomb or core. "Is there a second core?" he asks. "Our indications say, 'No'. We went there to prove whether it was still, in fact, on site, and everything we accounted for definitely seems to indicate that there was nothing not explainable on that site."
But those reassurances have done little to convince some Canadian aviation researchers. Carl Healey and Barry Borutski, who started the Broken Arrow Aircraft Society in Terrace, B.C., point to a wide range of conflicting facts which, they contend, do not support the conclusion that 2075 carried an unarmed Mark 4.
Mr. Healey, who has visited the crash site on several occasions, says there were no reports of loud explosions that night in the Princess Royal Island area, even though several local fishermen heard the B-36 flying overhead. If the crew had actually dropped the Mark 4 and the conventional explosives on board had detonated, the sound would have been deafening.
Dirk Septer points out that eyewitnesses have mentioned that the B-36 had trouble taking off, even though according to military records it supposedly had 15,000 pounds of carrying capability to spare. Was that capability taken up by another Mark 4, which weighs about 11,000 pounds? he wonders.
As well, the body of Capt. Theodore Schreier, the officer who was officially responsible for the bomb, was never recovered. Capt. Schreier was last seen by Capt. Barry adjusting his parachute. But Mr. Septer speculates that maybe Capt. Schreier, stung by the loss of the Mark 4 when it was dropped over the Pacific Ocean, stayed aboard 2075 to try to save the much more valuable plutonium core or even a second bomb.
That would explain how the aircraft could continue flying and actually increase its altitude by more than 300 metres. Mr. Septer also wonders why U.S. military officials who visited the crash-site in 1954 were equipped with Geiger counters. "What reason would you have bring a Geiger counter if a core was not in the wreckage?" asks Mr. Septer, who believes the U.S. military recovery crew successfully retrieved the valuable plutonium which would have been protected in a lead-lined steel box.
Both Mr. Healey and Mr. Septer also question the official documentation that has been released by the U.S. government. They point out that the U.S. Air Force still lists the crash site as on Vancouver Island, a convenient bit of misinformation in their view. Other documents give the wrong latitude and longitude of the wreckage. The 1954 report on the recovery mission can't be found. As well, about 100 pages of the report on the original crash are still classified "Top Secret" and the U.S. military has declined to release them under the country's Freedom of Information Act.
Mr. Craig, who now believes there was no radioactive core on the aircraft and that the bomb was indeed dropped into the Pacific, says the questions about 2075 will never go away because the saga has all the elements of a great mystery.
"There's a nuclear bomb involved," he points out. "You have an aircraft that flew hundreds of kilometres, maybe or maybe not, on its own. There's just enough there that's tantalizing to keep the questions coming."
David Pugliese writes for the Citizen.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Editorial: We have a Gulf War Debt to soldiers exposed to health risks.
When healthy Canadians go overseas, fight for their country's values and return home ill, they should be treated compassionately and generously. That hasn't always been the case.
Canada's 4,500 Gulf War veterans were exposed to psychological stress from combat fatigue. They braved physical dangers from depleted uranium used in artillery shells, toxic clouds from burning oil refineries, contaminated water and soil, stale-dated vaccines, pesticides, and maybe chemical or bacteriological agents.
More than 300 are ill. And they've had to fight since 1990-91 to have the military acknowledge their service-related ailments.
Scientists are still skeptical about linking current ills to conditions in the field. But chronic fatigue is a reality for some. So are nausea, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, skin rashes, muscle pain, nerve damage, digestive and respiratory problems, and cancer.
This week Defence Minister Art Eggleton ordered tests for those exposed to depleted uranium. This, after traces of the radioactive metal were found in the body of Joseph Riordon, who has died. Eggleton did the right thing. If we don't look for links, we won't find any.
But there's a broader issue.
Canada's troops and peacekeepers must be given every benefit of the doubt. That means psychological support, attentive medical care, appropriate duties, and full disability pensions when required.
After years of denying or minimizing the problem, the national defence and veterans affairs departments are now providing help. A new Centre for the Support of Injured and Retired Members and Their Families was set up last year to process the 10,000 injury and illness reports each year, and the hundreds of requests for pension adjustments. Speedy, compassionate decisions are what's required. Eggleton should insist on it.
Our soldiers put their lives on the line for this country. We must not abandon them on their return.
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Scientists find weapons plutonium is more unstable than once thought.
New York Times
by William J. Broad
Russian scientists have discovered that weapons-grade plutonium is far more unstable in form than previously suspected, a finding that could have implications for the aging and reliability of America's arsenal of 10,000 or so nuclear warheads.
American scientists who recently learned of the Russian discovery say they did so in the course of an exchange program. But such teamwork has been curtailed by recent espionage fears, which American scientists fault as exaggerating the risks of cooperation and ignoring benefits like the plutonium insight.
The Russian disclosure has prompted a number of new American studies of plutonium storage and aging meant to pinpoint the potential hazards.
"We're changing our experimental and theoretical approach to take this information into account," Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, a leader in Russian cooperation at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, said in an interview. "We're doing things today that we had not planned to do one year ago."
Dr. Edward F. Hammel, a plutonium pioneer at Los Alamos, told a laboratory forum last month that the Russian insight could shake up the way nuclear weapons were made, handled, repaired and stored.
"The implications for the stockpile are immense," Dr. Hammel said, adding that the exchange visits with foreign scientists had produced "tremendous benefits."
Plutonium is one of the most complex and mysterious elements known to science. Only minute traces of it exist in nature and most has been made artificially, first in 1940, so plutonium studies span little more than half a century.
The silvery element yellows when exposed to the air and is warm to the touch because of energy released through alpha-particle decay, a kind of radiation. Its complexity stems in part from its large number of stable forms, or allotropes. Carbon has three -- diamond, graphite and amorphous.
But plutonium exists in six structural forms, all with differing densities and volumes, that vary according to temperature. They range from jumbled crystals typical of minerals to the highly ordered ones of metals, the latter allotrope being the form used in weapons. But keeping it in the metallic state can be tricky.
"The ease with which plutonium transforms itself from one crystallographic phase to another is exasperating," Dr. Hecker and Dr. Joseph C. Martz, his Los Alamos colleague, wrote recently. "The resultant phases have such radically different properties."
Added to such fickleness, plutonium is highly reactive with other metals and materials, especially oxygen and hydrogen. That can make it difficult to cast and manipulate.
During the Manhattan Project, scientists at Los Alamos found that plutonium behaved more reliably if alloyed with elements like aluminum and gallium. During cooling, these helped the element stay in its most metallic allotrope, known as delta phase. Such alloys of plutonium behaved like normal metals, being relatively plastic, compressible and resistant to corrosion. Most important for making weapons, they were easy to cast and work into special shapes because they had little or no brittleness.
For decades, the mandarins of American science assumed that the delta phase of plutonium alloyed with gallium was rock stable, a kind of Gibraltar on which the American nuclear arsenal could be erected and expected to weather centuries of storms and service.
Hints of Russian disagreement first emerged in 1975. While the Americans held that the delta phase of plutonium mixed with gallium was in a stable equilibrium at room temperature, the Russians found that it was poised to decompose to the alpha form, which is more brittle than ductile. And it is far denser, with a smaller volume, raising the threat of ruined mechanical assemblies and perhaps changes in the critical mass needed to start a nuclear chain reaction.
"The Russian work was not accepted in the West because insufficient detail was presented about the precise nature of the experiments," Dr. Hecker and Dr. Martz wrote in a manuscript for a forthcoming book.
But that changed last year at an international conference in Oxford, England. The basis for the disclosure, Dr. Hecker said, was years of exchanges after the cold war between American and Russian nuclear arms designers, with the contacts becoming increasingly cordial. At the meeting, Dr. Lydia T. Timofeeva, a Russian metallurgist, laid out the experimental basis for the plutonium insight for the first time, dazzling American scientists with its care and precision.
Dr. Matthew G. McKinzie, a former Los Alamos researcher now at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a group in Washington that tracks nuclear arms, said Russia's stockpiles of plutonium were older and larger than those of the United States, aiding such studies.
Plutonium instability, he said, could sharply cut the lifetime of weapon cores, in theory reducing them from perhaps 70 years to as little as 20 years. Rapid aging, he added, could also mean the United States would have to begin remanufacturing its nuclear arms sooner than expected, increasing the effort's scope and cost.
"The rate of aging has a tremendous impact on things like the size of the production facility and its annual throughput," Dr. McKinzie said.
Scientists at Los Alamos now believe the Russians are right, and are doing experiments to seek confirmation. Specifically, they are taking delta phase plutonium and raising its temperature slightly, and then monitoring it closely for signs of decomposition to the alpha form.
"We never would have done this before," said Dr. Hecker, a former director of Los Alamos. "In the Russian view, when you increase the temperature, you increase the speed at which things may decompose."
"Now," he added, "it's up to us to apply that to our stockpile."
The repercussions, Dr. Hecker said, could affect how plutonium for warheads is made and stored, perhaps changing things like the spacing between plutonium cores. "If you have such a transformation," he said, "shape changes, and there's distortion, and you'd have to account for that."
"It doesn't mean it makes it more dangerous," Dr. Hecker added. "But you have to think about those kind of things ahead of time."
The cooperative basis for such insights is under fire in Washington after Congress last year asserted that that Chinese spies had made off with top American nuclear secrets.
In November, a federal moratorium went into effect that bars new hiring of scientists at Los Alamos from potentially unfriendly countries like Russia and China. Foreign exchange programs and visits are also down, said Dr. Hecker, who lamented the trend.
"We're doing what no foreign nation could to do to us," he rued. "We're crippling ourselves."
. . . back to List of News Stories
- Britain vows to restore trust in nuclear power after plutonium scandal.
Agence France Presse
TOKYO, Feb 8 (AFP) -- The British government pledged Tuesday to help restore trust in nuclear energy management following the shipment of reprocessed nuclear fuel from Britain to Japan with faked quality control data.
Anna Walker, director general for energy at Britain's Department of Trade and Industry, made the vow when she met with executives of Kansai Electric Power Co. Ltd. in Osaka, a company spokesman said.
Kansai Electric Power, which serves Osaka and its industrial environs, has announced it would ship back the fuel, mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX), to its supplier, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL).
Walker arrived in Tokyo Sunday on a week-long visit to give a full explanation of the data falsification scandal at BNFL.
"Both Japanese and British goverments wish to assist BNFL in rebuilding confidence in nuclear energy matters on the part of its clients and Japanese people," Walker was quoted as saying by the spokesman, Ryuzo Hasegawa.
"Miss Walker also said she had come to convey the British government's deep regrets over the incident and convey apologies on behalf of BNFL," Hasegawa told AFP by telephone.
In a meeting with Japanese energy officials Monday, she already apologised for the scandal as she explained how the MOX fuel fuel arrived in Japan last October with faked quality control data.
BNFL has admitted its employees saved time by bypassing quality control checks on MOX at the Sellafield plant in Cumbria, northwest England.
The fuel's arrival in Japan came at a sensitive time following a major nuclear accident the previous month.
The accident, a radioactive leak at a uranium reprocessing plant in Tokaimura, exposed at least 439 people to radiation and one of them, a plant worker, died last December.
Walker explained to the power utility executives about the outcome of probes into the scandal and a "plan to prevent the recurrence of the incident," the Kansai Electric spokesman said.
But details of the explanations should be kept confidential at present, he said.
In the meeting, Kansai Electric vice president Takashi Iwasaki expressed "extreme regret" over the scandal which he said impaired "social confidence in nuclear power generation" and mutual confidence between the two countries.
Iwasaki also said he had headed up a special in-house panel to find ways to restore public confidence in nuclear power generation, the spokesman said.
The meeting lasted nearly four hours, attended by eight from the British side and 10 from the company including Iwasaki and another vice president.
The scandal prompted Tokyo Electric Power Co. Inc. in December to put off its use of a separate batch of MOX, which was recycled in Belgium, to allow time for extra checks.
Japan Atomic Power Co. also decided last month to postpone plans to use MOX fuel. But other nuclear power companies said their plans to use MOX fuel had been unchanged.
Hokkaido Electric Power Co. Inc., Tohoku Electric Power Co., and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. Inc. said they planned to start using MOX in 2010. Chubu Electric Power Co. said it planned to use MOX early this decade.
MOX fuel has been regarded as a pillar of Japan's nuclear power generation after its plan to feed plutonium into fast-breeder reactors stalled due to a 1995 accident in which a coolant leak triggered a fire at a pilot plant in Tsuruga, central Japan.
. . . back to List of News Stories
[ COMPLETE DIRECTORY ]
Since March 27th 1996, there have been over
100,000 outside visitors to the CCNR web site, plus
(counter reset July 2nd 1998 at midnight)