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Earth Power The Military Science

Sandia Helps Secure Kazakh Nuclear Material 88

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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  • 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 []. To get a significant exposure to radiation they would have had to essentially breath it.

  • 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. []

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

  • 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 [] at a cost of $27 million.

  • 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 []

    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 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.

  • Re:Water? Really? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 12, 2011 @11:50PM (#35190246)

    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 turbines/desalinization operations/hot water for the city of Aktau.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming