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Earth Power The Military Science

Sandia Helps Secure Kazakh Nuclear Material 88

Posted by timothy
from the for-make-benefit-glorious-nation-of-kazakhstan dept.
RedEaredSlider writes "A large cache of enriched nuclear fuel – some 13 metric tons — was stored in a nuclear reactor in the port city of Aktau, on the Caspian seacoast. The reactor was a Soviet-era fast breeder reactor, designed to make nuclear fuel for both weapons and power plants. The reactor, which started operations in 1973, also provided 135 megawatts of electricity, 9 million gallons of water per day and steam for hot water and heating for Aktau. It was shut down by the Kazakh government in 1999. Getting the material out of a seaport was one way to make it harder to steal, [Dave Barber of Sandia Labs] said. So the US and Kazakh governments embarked on a project to move it to a guarded — and remote — facility in the interior."
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Sandia Helps Secure Kazakh Nuclear Material

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  • A few months after we took Iraq, we secured and flew out almost 14 tons of Yellow Cake in 55 gallon drums, 4 to a pallet,on C-17's to Diego Garcia, where it was put on ships to other places. A year or two later 3 of our pilots came down with Lymphoma. Uncle Sam says it was unrelated...
    • by timeOday (582209) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @09:22PM (#35189768)
      Eeks, were they wearing dosimeters?
    • by evanism (600676)
      nothing like looting the country for the spoils of war, hmmmm?

      Did it for the "wmd/justice/free kurds/make up reason here"?
      • My experience with AF pilots is that they are non-political big boys with big toys - like to fly.

        I know that will not make you happy, but that's most AF pilots...
        • by tehcyder (746570)

          My experience with AF pilots is that they are non-political big boys with big toys - like to fly.

          I know that will not make you happy, but that's most AF pilots...

          You don't get to be non-political just because you're not interested in politics, unless you go and live on a desert island. Fighting in a war is a political act.

          • by chaos579 (1645021)
            I have to agree with this. as far as I know, there has never been a war that was not driven by politics except maybe the american revolutionary war.
      • 14 tons of yellowcake isn't worthless(there was a peak in 2007, to $136/pound, which would give that shipment a best-case value of ~$3.8million. More typically, though, spot prices are under $50/pound, often more like $30, which would only be ~$840,000); but I'd be quite surprised if that operation ended up being profitable for anybody, unless it was handed over to some lucky winner at a totally sweetheart price. C-17s aren't exactly RyanAir, never mind the broader costs...
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @09:46PM (#35189846) Homepage

      A few months after we took Iraq, we secured and flew out almost 14 tons of Yellow Cake in 55 gallon drums, 4 to a pallet,on C-17's to Diego Garcia, where it was put on ships to other places. A year or two later 3 of our pilots came down with Lymphoma. Uncle Sam says it was unrelated...

      Yellowcake isn't particularly radioactive [yahoo.com]. To get a significant exposure to radiation they would have had to essentially breath it.

      • Jet loads of pallets of big duty drums? Sure that's perfectly safe.
        • by icebike (68054)

          Yes, apparently it is.

          Its in sealed drums. They guys filling the drums were probably the ones at greatest risk.

        • by definate (876684) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @10:26PM (#35190014)

          "The yellowcake removed from Iraq in 2008 was material that had long since been identified, documented, and stored in sealed containers under the supervision of U.N. inspectors. It was not a "secret" cache that was recently "discovered" by the U.S, and the yellowcake had not been purchased by Iraq in the years immediately preceding the 2003 invasion. The uranium was the remnants of decades-old nuclear reactor projects that had put out of commission many years earlier: One reactor at Al Tuwaitha was bombed by Israel in 1981, and another was bombed and disabled during Operation Desert Storm in 1991."
          Source [snopes.com]

          This doesn't sound like it was dodgy hidden under cover drums or anything like that. It sounds as if it was well regulated.

          • by nojayuk (567177)

            There were drums of yellowcake (actually not yellow in colour) refined uranium ore in storage at Tuwaitha in Iraq, under IAEA seal. During the 2003 invasion the Iraqi security on the site ran away and the US-led forces did not secure the area for several months after the regime folded, despite it being a site of extreme importance in terms of WMDs and nuclear proliferation.

            The local Iraqi population took this opportunity to loot the site, stealing everything that was worth stealing. They broke into the st

        • by Iskender (1040286) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @10:40PM (#35190064)

          The material you're talking about is an alpha emitter. This means the radiation is stopped by things like barrels, walls, your clothes, your skin and air.

          There would only be residual gamma radiation. This would become harmless on the way from the barrels to the cockpit. If you're not trolling you would do well to read up on how different types of radiation work.

          The above poster was right about it being no risk unless someone ingested it. The pilots were exposed to dangerous radiation though: airplanes are routinely hit by powerful cosmic radiation which is much worse than anything coming from yellowcake barrels.

          • by MrKaos (858439)

            The material you're talking about is an alpha emitter. This means the radiation is stopped by things like barrels, walls, your clothes, your skin and air.

            The above poster was right about it being no risk unless someone ingested it.

            I think you are overlooking the possibility that at least one of the drums had a broken seal and radioactive isotopes were released into the plane. There are any number of possibilities to allow material to be released into the aircraft and it is a ridiculous assumption on your part to discount that it was not *possible*. They *could* have breathed in the isotope after the initial trip - especially if they kept flying the same aircraft.

            I'd like further information. If three airmen from the same aircraft al

            • by Iskender (1040286)

              I think we're arguing past each other here. The grandparent said:

              Jet loads of pallets of big duty drums? Sure that's perfectly safe.

              To this I replied that it's perfectly safe, or at least safer than background radiation in a plane. You'll probably agree that that phrasing implies that they were dealing with something profoundly dangerous. You also quoted me saying that it might be dangerous if someone ingested it.

              Note that he didn't talk about leaking barrels: that's an extra assumption. Unless we have data on barrels leaking (and leaking significant amounts for that mat

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @11:09PM (#35190134) Journal
        That would be the main health concern. As a freestanding gamma source you don't have much to worry about; but a mixture of uranium, decay products, and whatever delightful residues and impurities remain from the leaching process is not the sort of dust one would want to be breathing.

        If the drums were properly sealed, no problem. If one or more of them were damaged, the handlers could quite easily be tracking around and breathing the dust. That would probably be unrecommended...
      • by bug1 (96678)

        If i had to transport Yellow Cake, i would quickly check Yahoo and be satisfied with that answer. NOT !!!

        • by jo_ham (604554)

          Yes, just as reliable as some guy on slashdot claiming it to be unsafe.

          Just sayin'

    • by MrKaos (858439)

      A few months after we took Iraq, we secured and flew out almost 14 tons of Yellow Cake in 55 gallon drums, 4 to a pallet,on C-17's to Diego Garcia, where it was put on ships to other places. A year or two later 3 of our pilots came down with Lymphoma. Uncle Sam says it was unrelated...

      Do you have any further information on this incident, a link perhaps?

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @09:09PM (#35189720) Homepage

    Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that a breakaway Russian Republic called Kazakhstan will be transferring nuclear fuel to the United Nations in a few days. Here's the plan. We get the fuel and we hold the world ransom for... ONE MILLION DOLLARS!

    • by n6kuy (172098)

      But first, we get Moose and Squirrel!

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      If one million is good enough, then think how much easier it is to get just 1000. But where 1000 will do, 1 can do even better.

      Gentlemen, ONE DOLLAR.

      ONE FREAKING DOLLAR OR THIS WORLD GETS IT!

  • Duh, big juicy story, lots of details. Right out of a James Bond novel, with Nuclear Powered Ninjas too. Just need sharks and lasers.
    • by cxbrx (737647)
      In a few months, when new satellite data is uploaded to your favorite map site, these should be fun to find. http://www.sandia.gov/LabNews/110128.html [sandia.gov] says "transport nuclear materials 1,860 miles by train across the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railway_stations_in_Kazakhstan [wikipedia.org] has two maps of railways in Kazahkstan. The Sandia site also has pictures.
      • by cxbrx (737647)
        Sandia [sandia.gov] says "along a journey by train across Kazakhstan to Kurchatov; while it was at another interim storage pad there; and along a truck route to a long-term concrete storage pad in northeast Kazakhstan." Wiki says "In its heyday Kurchatov (which was known by its postal code Semipalatinsk-16) was a closed city, one of the most secretive and restricted places in the Soviet Union."
  • GREAT SUCCESS!
  • One would expect the water in a nuclear reactor to be continuously recycled; using it to provide the city with water doesn't make any sense at all.

    • Re:Water? Really? (Score:4, Informative)

      by icebike (68054) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @10:15PM (#35189978)

      I'm guessing it was for the Desalination plant. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/7190472 [panoramio.com]

      That was probably part of the reason they built the reactor in the first place. (Old school desalination).

      • Yes, it's this one [wikipedia.org]. It was actually multipurpose, though - it was used to produce water and power for the entire city, and also to produce plutonium for other Soviet programs.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There's the inner loop/s that has the water that has had a fortune spent on treating it so that it will corrode the pipework, turbines etc as little as possible and then there's all the other water loops. That water doesn't get let out.
      With nuclear there's often a small reactor loop that exchanges heat with a turbine loop (so the the turbines don't become radioactive - the inner loop water becomes radioactive itself because it's exposed to lots of neutrons). After that there is a cooling loop where the wa

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In a fast breeder reactor (FBR) like the one mentioned in the article, the primary coolant was liquid sodium. There are no FBR's that operate with water as the primary coolant because relatively larger amounts of water versus sodium are required to provide adequate cooling of the fuel. Such quantities of water in the reactor core would thermalize far too many fast neutrons to breed fuel. The only water used would be in the secondary coolant loops which could provide heat to steam generators to power turbine

        • by dbIII (701233)
          You don't give away the expensive water that has been treated such that the turbines last a long time. Of course it's still very hot once it's left a low pressure turbine so you can use it to make very low pressure stream via a heat exchanger into seawater and distil drinking water that way.
          It's fairly similar to what is done anyway with heat exchanged from the turbine exhaust into the incoming boiler water - an "economiser" in more conventional thermal power station units.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Saturday February 12, 2011 @10:20PM (#35189998)

    The US helped remove a half ton of fissile material from Kazakhstan in 1993-94 in a covert project called Project Sapphire [washingtonpost.com] at a cost of $27 million.

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      $27 Million to move half a ton of material, really? so $100,000 for transport and security, where did the other 26.9 million dollars go?

      • The most reliable assumption for this stuff is security or construction contractors.

      • by Jenming (37265)

        If the cost of failing to secure the material is measured in trillions, you don't squabble over millions, you spend them on even more security.

        Also the cost of containing the radiation is likely very high.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          If the cost of failing to secure the material is measured in trillions, you don't squabble over millions, you spend them on even more security.

          Also the cost of containing the radiation is likely very high.

          I thought we'd all just agreed it was perfectly safe as long as you didn't eat it?

      • Actually, my quote might have been a bit misleading - I don't know how much the logistics cost, but we paid Kazakhstan $27 million for the material.

        • by MrL0G1C (867445)
          Ahh, ok, that makes my rant look silly now, but I guess I was right about $27million transport costs being crazy, funny thing is other respondents tried to justify the price, a lot of people will look for justification of anything that govt's do, rather than just accept that all gov't actions are not morally correct.
  • US get 13 ton of nuclear material from my country yet I show US my sister, she show her vazhïn to US and say "You will never get this you will never get it la la la la la la."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear Fuel removes you!

  • That's 13 tonnes of material
  • by ehack (115197) on Sunday February 13, 2011 @12:10AM (#35190292) Journal

    Why would the cash-strapped republic of K. not resell the material for reprocessing to some country that has running reactors, rather than store it?

    • by Alex Belits (437) *

      Because they expect it to become much more useful later when oil production will drop -- and their neighbors Russia and China are likely to pay more for it then?

      Because they plan to build their own nuclear power plants later, and would rather not lose the material that can be easily processed locally?

      Because most of the country is a massive desert, and would be the safest place to handle such material as far as possibility of disasters and contamination is concerned?

      Because they already sell more Uranium ab

  • Sangria not necessary. Vodka sufficient secure all Kazakh nuclear material under 18 years of age.

  • and have some way to handle it without exposing themselves to a lot of radiation

    If they're "suicide" whatevers, they won't care about that. In fact, that might never enter into the picture. Someone might, for example, choose to detonate one portable device in the midst of it all and let the prevailing winds do the rest.

    Me, I'd be rethinking above-ground storage...or at least ringing the site with some quality ground-to-air missiles.

  • by MrKaos (858439) on Sunday February 13, 2011 @08:58AM (#35191730) Journal
    From the article;

    A large cache of enriched nuclear fuel - some 13 metric tons -- was stored in a nuclear reactor in the port city of Aktau, on the Caspian seacoast.

    The really interesting thing about this story is that it demonstrates exactly why a well engineered spent fuel containment facility with appropriate logistics to support it is required in the United States. Currently there is approximately 70,000 tons of spent fuel around the U.S waiting transportation to longer term facilities. So if the following statement illustrates the logistics required to move 13 tons from one location;

    The nuclear fuel was placed in steel casks, each one the size of a train car. Each of the 60 casks weighs 100 tons. They are designed to hold the material for 50 years, and they were taken across Kazakhstan to a remote location...The casks were put onto a special train, which made the 1,860 mile journey under guard. To make sure that nobody tried to sabotage the transport, nearly every mile of the tracks ahead were checked for damage.

    then it also illustrates what an enormous logistics challenge moving 70,000 tons of spent fuel from multiple locations around the U.S represents. I point this out because often, when conversations arise around nuclear power, the discussion is focused on the reactor technology and none on any of the other logistic and infrastructure required to support the reactors operating.

    Efforts like this are a positive one to reduce the threat of asymmetrical nuclear weapons use and should be applauded, even if they are only to a temporary location. Considering that the DOEs own report into Yucca mountain said that the geology was unsuitable for the containment of nuclear waste there should be no doubt why a geologically stable (embedded in granite as opposed to pumice) spent fuel containment facility is a necessity in the U.S. It has to be built to last as it will become the center point of many other large logistics operations that connect it to nuclear facilities around the country.

    • by Jenming (37265)

      Your comparison is missing a key point.
      They moved 13 tons of _enriched_, near weapons grade fuel.

      You are talking about 70,000 tons of _spent_ fuel.

      Very different logistical concerns.

      • by MrKaos (858439)

        Your comparison is missing a key point. They moved 13 tons of _enriched_, near weapons grade fuel.

        You are talking about 70,000 tons of _spent_ fuel.

        Very different logistical concerns.

        Perhaps you would like to elaborate.

        You may not be aware but the 70,000 tons of material I'm talking about *is* pu-239 i.e. plutonium. In other words _spent_ fuel is *plutonium*. Enriching fuel is the process of separating fissionable U-235 from non-fissionable U-238 (depleted Uranium). Here are some more details with some more pictures of the casks [physorg.com]. That article points out

        Sandia provided security and logistics expertise to complete the transfer across Kazakhstan of spent fuel containing 11 tons (10 metric

        • by Jenming (37265)

          1) It is easier to build a bomb with weapons grade fuel than pu-239.
          2) It is easier to fuel a reactor with weapons grade fuel than pu-239.

          The value of spent fuel is less than the value of raw ore.
          The value of weapons grade fuel is far greater than the value of raw ore.

          Which do you think people are going to try harder to steal?

          • by MrKaos (858439)

            1) It is easier to build a bomb with weapons grade fuel than pu-239.

            2) It is easier to fuel a reactor with weapons grade fuel than pu-239.

            Well that depends on the bombs and the reactor doesn't it. So apart from stating the obvious, what is your point?

            The value of spent fuel is less than the value of raw ore.

            The value of weapons grade fuel is far greater than the value of raw ore.

            The Department of Energy's Plutonium Certified Reference Materials Price List [doe.gov] and Uranium Certified Reference Materials Price List [doe.gov] list the values of the respective materials as follows

            • raw ore per gram (Uranium Metal un-enriched) $323.75
            • weapons grade fuel per gram (Uranium Metal enriched ) $920
            • spent fuel per gram (plutonium, pu239) $10,890

            So as you can see the value of the spent fuel is ov

          • Which do you think people are going to try harder to steal?

            Which tastes best?

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