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The mining, milling, and processing of uranium (conversion and enrichment) is the first stage in the nuclear weapons production cycle and has resulted in the accumulation of greater volumes of radioactive wastes in the form of uranium mill tailings than any other stage in the weapons production process. Following the mining of uranium deposits a milling process extracts uranium oxide (U3O8) producing yellow cake, which is 90% uranium oxide, as well as huge quantities of mill tailings. The yellow cake then undergoes chemical processing to produce uranium hexaflouride (UF6), a form of uranium which allows enrichment to increase the proportion of 235U relative to the 238U component. This Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) contains over 90% 235U and is now suitable for use in weapons production. Following the enrichment stage the resulting uranium metal (uranium dioxide - UO2) has to be further fabricated and milled into the proper shapes to combine with 239Pu in the actual weapon assembly process. The uranium conversion and enrichment process results in significant quantities of highly toxic uranium hexaflouride. Additional significant quantities of radioactive waste are produced when the uranium metal undergoes its final stage of processing prior to the final stage of nuclear weapons assembly. For interesting overviews of the most important source points of uranium effluents see Fernald and Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Part 5 of this Section of RADNET, as well as the DOE BEMR, which lists all of the uranium mining, milling and processing plume source points in the United States now undergoing environmental remediation as a part of UMTRA (Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978), as well as CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act 1980).

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. (May 5, 1995). Uranium enrichment. Recommendation 95-1 to the Secretary of Energy.

Federal Radiation Council. (September, 1967). Guidance for the control of radiation hazards in uranium mining. Report no. 8, revised. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Goldman, B. (October 9, 1991). Discounted lives: the costs and benefits of uranium mining and refining in Northern Ontario. Radioactive Waste Management Associates, New York, NY. 112 pp.

Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. (1997). Uranium: its uses and hazards. IEER Fact sheet.

Lapham, M., and Samet, J. (1986). Radionuclide levels in cattle raised near uranium mines and mills in northwest New Mexico. New Mexico Environmental Improvement Division, Santa Fe.

National Research Council. (1986). Scientific basis for risk assessment and management of uranium mill tailings. Board of Radioactive Waste Management. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

OECD, NRC and IAEA. (1990). Uranium resources, production and demand 1989. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris.

OECD, NRC and IAEA. (May, 1996). Uranium resources, production and demand, 1995. 66-96-07-1. ISBN 92-64-14875-2. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris. pp. 364.

Saleska, S. and Makhijani, A. (July, 1992). Environmental issues at Sequoyah Fuels Corporation's uranium conversion plant near Gore, Oklahoma. Report prepared for Native Americans for a Clean Environment. Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, Maryland.

Shearer, S.D., Jr., and Sill, C.W. (1969). Evaluation of atmospheric radon in vicinity of uranium mill tailings. Health Physics. 17. pg. 77-88.

Toro, T. (June 22, 1991). Uranium mines leave heaps of trouble for Germany. New Scientist. pg. 29.

Tso, Linda. Web page containing interview excerpts. http://www.applicom.com/vbm/BefPea.htm.

U. S. Department of Energy. (January, 1991). Annual status report on the uranium mill tail remedial action program. DOE/EM-0001. U. S. DOE Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management, Washington, D.C.

U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. (September, 1980). Final generic environmental impact statement on uranium milling. Project M-25. NURGE-0706. Vols. I and II. U. S. NRC.

(January 21, 1991). Wismut uranium cleanup will cost $10 billion, U.S. consultant says. Nuclear Fuel. pg. 5-6.

We will be posting more information and citations on this topic, meanwhile, check out our RADLINKS to other information sources on this subject.
SNAP Power Generators, Except Satellites 

As well as being used in satellites, radioisotopic power generators, called SNAP in the U.S., and RIPPLE (radio isotopic power packages for electricity) in Europe are also used in a number of industrial and maritime applications. These include offshore oil platform power sources, sonar transducers, Coast Guard buoys and light house energy sources used by U.S., European, Soviet and other government agencies. Inventories of radioactivity in U.S. SNAP units utilizing strontium in the form of SrTiO3 ranged from 30,000 to 225,000 Ci as of November 1968. Units under development at this date may contain up to a million curies (Radioactivity in the Marine Environment, p.32). Little unclassified information is available on these radioisotopic power generators or any resulting accidents which have occurred after the development and proliferation of these technologies.

Characteristics and Applications of Oceanic SNAP Systems (Panel on Radioactivity in the Marine Environment, 1971, pg. 33).
System Fuel form Fuel Quantity (kCi) Marine Application Status as of November 1968
Past and Present Systems
SNAP 7A SrTiO3 41 Coast Guard buoy Post test analysis after 3-yr operation
SNAP 7B SrTiO3 225 CG lighthouse, then, offshore oil platform Operating (relocated on oil platform in August 1996 after 2 yr on lighthouse)
SNAP 7D SrTiO3 225 Navy NOMAD buoy, Gulf of Mexico Operating (implanted January 1964)
SNAP 7E SrTiO3 31 Sonar transducer at 15,600 ft depth Operating (implanted July 1964)
SNAP 7F SrTiO3 225 Offshore oil platform Post test examination of power decrease
Future Systems
SNAP 21 SrTiO3 or SrO 33
Sonar, cable boosters, navigation aid, research Under development (environment test units 1969)
SNAP 23 SrTiO3 or SrO 75
Weather buoy, navigation buoy, offshore oil platform Under development (environmental test units scheduled 1971)
SrTiO3 or SrO, Co, or CeO Up to 10,000 Man-in-the-sea research; offshore oil, mining, and exploration; communications Application engineering and design study in progress

The Russian government has also made extensive use of radioisotopic power generators, especially in marine applications to supply a power source for isolated lighthouses. See Aarkrog (1994) Radioactivity in Polar Regions (pg. 29):
Sr-90 powered lighthouses, Siberian coast 10-15 PBq 90Sr per unit

Scrap Metal

(December 22, 1998). International concern at radioactive smuggling growing. Nuclear Engineering International. pg. 8.

Albright, Berkhout and Walker. Plutonium and highly enriched uranium 1996: World inventories, capabilities and policies. Sipri, Oxford University Press.

Allison, Graham T., Cote, Owen R. Jr., Falkenrath, Richard A. and Miller, Steven E. (March 1996). Avoiding nuclear anarchy: Containing the threat of loose Russian nuclear weapons and fissile material. Center for Science and International Affairs (CSIA), Harvard University, Studies in International Security.

Gray, Bernard. (March 14, 1997). Fears on nuclear bomb materials: Theft or threat of theft by terrorists seen as the main risk of proliferation. London Edition 2, The Financial Times. pg. 4.

Perera, Judith. (February 11, 1999). Radiation accident rated level 3 on international nuclear event scale. Nuclear Waste News. 19(6). pg. NA.

Sanz, T.L. (Winter 1992). Nuclear terrorism: Selected research materials. Low Intensity Conflict & Law Enforcement. 1(3).

Food and Irradiation

Karim, S.M.F., Awal, K.O. and Ali, M.A.T. (March 1997). Report on salvage of a jammed cobalt-60 source of the gamma beam irradiator at Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA), Mymensingh, Bangladesh. Journal of Radiological Protection. 71(1). pg. 25-29.
Industrial Measuring


Swanson, J. (December 1996). Long-term variations in the exposure of the population of England and Wales to power-frequency magnetic fields. Journal of Radiological Protection.  16(4). pg. 287-301.

French and Israeli Military Source Points

RADNET recognizes that it would not be in its own best interest to post any information pertaining to Israeli military nuclear weapons research and production facilities. Rumor has it that if the National Reconnaissance Office releases any satellite fly over data about Israeli weapons production facilities, their comfortable complex of offices at Chantilly, Virginia will be ......... All Israeli weapons production facilities are located underground, as are their waste disposal sites, but all those trucks driving around the desert and suddenly disappearing.........

The topic of French weapons production and nuclear electricity generating station source points is not a component of RADNET's efforts to document radioactive plumes due to a lack of time, staff and space. An excellent summary of French weapons production facilities and laboratories, waste disposal sites and reactor locations (50) is contained in Table 9.1 of Nuclear Wastelands, Makhijani et. al. pg. 444-456. The chapter on French source points was written by Albert Donnay and Martin Kuster; Table 9.1 and other related information may be available by contacting IEER (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Takoma Park, Maryland): See RAD 13: RADLINKS Part II-A.
Canadian Source Points

While RADNET does not maintain detailed files on Canadian source points of anthropogenic radioactivity, the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) of Atomic Energy of Canada, Ltd. (AECL), 150 km northwest of Ottawa are the most significant source of radioactive contamination within Canada. This location has recently been in the news due to an extensive tritium plume which originates from a liquid dispersal area where large quantities of tritium (25 TBq) as well as 90Sr (30 GBq) are released each year. Tritium concentrations in the plume are reported in the range of up to 10 million Bq/l near the dispersal point decreasing to 30 to 100 thousand Bq/l where the plume enters Perch Lake, decreasing to 12 thousand Bq/l where Perch Creek enters the Ottawa River. For an extensive description of the Chalk River facilities, click on the Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County link in RAD 13: RADLINKS: II-B. This facility is also the location of a proposed underground uranium and radium refinery waste disposal cavern (Deep River) as well as the location of the National Research Experimental (NRX) reactor which suffered a coolant and fuel melting accident in 1952 which was kept secret until recently. Wastes from this accident were pumped uphill to a surface storage area which remains unremediated today. The Deep River cavern may also be the location for radioactive wastes originating from environmental remediation, decommissioning, and AECL utility, hospital and research activities. The CCRC site contains a selection of bibliographic citations of reports produced by AECL. The editor of RADNET solicits any additional citations documenting anthropogenic emissions from this or any other Canadian (CANDU) source point.
Cap de la Hague 

A fuel reprocessing plant similar to but smaller than the Sellafield facility in the United Kingdom, the Cap de la Hague facility makes an appearance in radiological surveillance literature from time to time as a source point of contamination. The French government maintains a veil of secrecy about contamination originating at this location. The Cap de la Hague facility, operated by COGEMA, the French equivalent of our Department of Energy weapons production facilities, has recently been in the news because of extensive contamination discovered on the beaches and near the waste discharge outlet pipe. Greenpeace has played a major role in documenting contamination at this location including the recent fiasco where COGEMA scraped out pipe deposits and then left them in drums near the outlet, temporarily increasing contamination levels to 100 times those existing just prior to the clean-up effort. Greenpeace activists are the object of one of the more interesting quotes from a nuclear enthusiast (Simon Rippon) writing in the September issue of the American Nuclear Society's Nuclear News "In this case, levels of 200 million becquerels per liter (Bq/l) sound to be quite high, especially to those who are unaware of the ridiculously small size of a becquerel." For more information on Greenpeace activities pertaining to Europe as a nuclear wastebasket see RAD 13: RADLINKS: II-A. In the case of France, a dim awareness of the high costs of the nuclear energy pyramid scheme is just beginning to emerge, whereas in Britain consciousness of the debacle at Sellafield including the THORP reprocessing facility fiasco has reached a more advanced state of public awareness.

Cross, J.E. and Day, J.P. (1981). Plutonium and americium in seaweed from the channel islands. Environmental Pollution, 2, 249-257.
May 1978 Channel Is. Fucus vesiculosus 239,240Pu 20 pCi/kg dry weight

The Cap de la Hague has recently been in the news (Austin American Statesman, Jan. 11, 1997, etc. via Lexis-Nexis) due to a report issued by the British Medical Journal detailing elevated leukemia rates for children who visited local beaches more than once a month or ate local fish or shellfish more than once a week. The Cap de la Hague plant is operated by the state owned company COGMA, which processes wastes from 50 nuclear power plants which generate 80% of France's electricity. This facility also reprocesses waste from Japan and is the departure point of a controversial shipment of reprocessed plutonium which is being taken by ship back to Japan. For more information on this issue go to RAD 13: 2-A: Greenpeace.
Goiania, Brazil 

The state of Goiania, Brazil was the location of an accident in 1987 involving the release of several hundred thousand curies of 137Cs into an urban environment from a piece of surplus medical equipment. A teletherapy unit that contained 51 TBq (1375 Ci) of 137Cs in the form of CsCl2 powder was left in an abandoned medical clinic. The cesium was used as a power source and once abandoned was vandalized with the resultant spread of the cesium powder throughout the neighborhood.

Amaral, E.C.S., Paretzke, H.G., Campos, M.J., Pires do Rio, M.A. and Franklin, M. (1996). Transfer of 137Cs from soil to chicken meat and eggs. J. Environ. Radioactivity, 29, 3, 237-257.
May 1989 Goiania Chicken yard soil (mean of 23 samples) 137Cs 1706 Bq/kg
March 1990 Goiania Chicken yard soil (mean of 10 samples) 137Cs 3069 Bq/kg

Amaral, E.C.S., Vienna, M.E.C., Godoy, J.M., Rochedo, E.R.R., Campos, M.J., Pires de Riso, M.A., Oliveira, J.P., Pereira, J.C.A. and Reis, W.G. (1991). Distribution of Cs-137 in soil due to the Goiania accident and decisions for remedial action during recovery phase. Health Physics, 60, 91-98.

Godoy, J.M., Guimaraes, J.R.D., Pereira, J.C.A. and Pires do Rio, M.A.. (1991). Cesium-137 in the Goiania waterways during and after the radiological accident. Health Physics, 60, 99-103.

Rochedo, E.R.R., Amaral, E.C.S. and Bartell, S.M. (1992). The relative significance of pathways and parameters for the cesium-137 soil decontamination scenario at Goiania. J. Environ. Radioactivity, 15, 171-183.

International Conference on the Radiological Accident of Goiania: 10 years later. (October 26-31, 1997).
Palomares, Spain

This was the location of a midair collision between two U.S. Army planes during a refueling operation on January 16, 1966. Four thermonuclear bombs fell in the area, 3 onto soil and one into the Mediterranean Sea. Two of the bombs exploded on impact (a chemical explosion, not a nuclear explosion) releasing significant quantities of fissile material into the environment. This is the first citation the editor of RADNET has located listing specific amounts of contamination in the contaminated area. Other citations on this accident would be welcomed.

Garcia-Olivares, Antonio and Iranzo, C. Enma. (1997). Resuspension and transport of plutonium in the Palomares area. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity. 37(1). pg. 101-114.

Iranzo, E., Rivas, P. and Mingarro, E. (1991). Distribution and migration of plutonium in soils of an accidentally contaminated environment. Radiochim. Acta. 52/53. pg. 249-256.

Iranzo, E., Salvador, S. and Iranzo, C.E. (1987). Air concentrations of plutonium-239 and plutonium-240 and potential radiation doses to persons living near plutonium contaminated areas in Palomares, Spain. Health Phys. 52(4). pg. 453-462.
Rosyth, United Kingdom

The storage site for decommissioned United Kingdom nuclear submarines, Rosyth is a potential source of anthropogenic radioactivity in the future, particularly because the spent fuel and nuclear wastes at this location are destined for the underground geological disposal facility plant at Sellafield. It is very unlikely that nuclear submarine spent fuel will ever be disposed of as uncontained wastes in the hypothetical Sellafield repository which is now the subject of intense public scrutiny. No information is presently available about the total inventories of spent fuel and other radioactive wastes at this location.
Thule, Greenland 

Thule was the site of the crash of a United States bomber carrying nuclear weapons, which while not exploding, disintegrated, spreading plutonium into the ocean off the coast of Greenland in January of 1968, depositing an inventory of 1 TBq 239,240Pu; 0.02 TBq 238Pu and 0.1 TBq 241Am. (Aarkrog, 1994)

Smith, J.N., Ellis, K.M., Aarkrog, A., Dahlgaard, H. and Holm, E. (1994). Sediment mixing and burial of the 239,240Pu pulse from the 1968 Thule, Greenland nuclear weapons accident. J. Environ. Radioactivity, 25, 135-159.

One of the major advances in the evolution of nuclear weapons technology has been the development of very small nuclear warheads utilizing 1 to 2 kilograms of fissile material which then can be incorporated into a nuclear weapon and transported in a suitcase. While the United States was the first to develop this technology in the late 1960's or early 1970's, other nations either designed similar weapons or were able to obtain such designs from US intelligence sources. The Israeli government is currently the world leader in the design and production of nuclear weapons small enough to be transported, deployed and detonated by a single person. All other nuclear powers have access to this type of weapon; in the age of the proliferation of fissile material it is only a matter of time before this technology is obtained by terrorists and saboteurs. A new scenario for accidents at commercial nuclear reactors, which had never been conceived of in the good old days when LORCA's (loss of reactor coolant accidents) were the primary safety issue at such facilities, has evolved: a quick release accident (QRA), which results when a commercial nuclear reactor is vaporized by a single person with a suitcase bomb, or more likely, utilizing a surface to ground missile. Such an unspeakable scenario would be the mother of all nuclear accidents. The fissile material necessary for such a scenario is now widely available on the black market; the design plans are available on the Internet. Click here for the most up-to-date Israeli design of a portable surface to ground missile (Sorry, authorized persons only).

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory Integrated Data Base Report for 1994 (U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel and Waste Inventories, Projections and Characteristics) includes the following disclaimer "This report does not track the inventories of government production reactor spent nuclear fuel that have been reprocessed in the manufacture of nuclear weapons for national defense." (p. 2) The reader of RADNET will note that the era of commercial atomic power generation commenced in 1968, and has resulted in the accumulation of 30,200,000,000 Ci of spent fuel high-level wastes in the United States (only) as of January 1, 1996, including 9,000,000 Ci of 239Pu (145.8 MT). In contrast, the DOE report Plutonium, the First Fifty Years, lists production of 111 MT of 239Pu, but the ORNL data base reports only 957,900,000 Ci of HLW, thirty times less than commercial spent fuel inventories. The ORNL data base lists the DOE inventories of spent nuclear fuel as "greater than 2,643 metric tons of heavy metal", in contrast to commercial reactor waste inventories of 29,812 metric tons. The ORNL data base lists inventories of radioactivity (Ci) from DOE weapons productions facilities as "information not available." (p. 15) United States nuclear weapons production commenced in 1944 and reached a peak of activity just before the start up of the first commercial nuclear generating facilities. While the majority of spent nuclear fuel produced for the purpose of creating nuclear weapons was recycled in the actual manufacture of fissile plutonium, and resulted in the production of large quantities of liquid high-level waste, the cumulative radioactivity of weapons production wastes should be within the same order of magnitude as the cumulative radioactivity generated by commercial nuclear power production. Weapons production spent fuel is irradiated for a shorter time period (low burnup fuel) than commercial spent fuel (high burnup fuel) producing significantly less contaminants in the desired plutonium which results (i.e. less of the contaminant 240Pu as well as less spent fuel wastes in general). On the other hand, military spent fuel is subject to multiple reprocessing technologies at numerous weapons research, production and testing facilities resulting in large additional quantities of liquid high-level wastes which do not characterize commercial spent fuel. If Makhijani, et. al. (1995, Nuclear Wastelands, pg. 54) are correct in asserting as a general rule of thumb that three curies of 137Cs are produced per gram of plutonium recovered during reprocessing then the production of 111 megatons of plutonium has resulted in 333 million curies of 137Cs from the weapons production process.

As of Jan 1, 1995, the commercial spent fuel inventory of 137Cs is much greater, 2,310,000,000 curies produced in conjunction with 145 metric tons of 239Pu contained in domestic spent fuel. Military low burnup spent fuel therefore contains about 14.5% of the 137Cs contained in commercial high burnup spent fuel for 76.5% as much plutonium. Extending our rule of thumb slightly further, but on the conservative side, we may conclude that high burnup commercial spent fuel contains approximately 5 times more waste than results from the reprocessing of low burnup military spent fuel, at least for 137Cs (The 90Sr production ratio is even lower). Five billion curies is then a reasonable estimate of the total of US military high-level waste production, excluding unprocessed spent fuel. Of this inventory approximately 4 billion curies is missing and unaccounted for. Additional military reprocessing for the purpose, for example, of extracting 238Pu as an energy source for RTG's, will account for some lost high-level waste as well as produce additional high-level waste. While the actual amounts of military high-level wastes are classified information, it is obvious that the inventories of wastes listed for Savannah River, Hanford and INEL (<1,000,000,000 Ci) are a gross understatement of the actual amounts of liquid high-level wastes which remain as a legacy from the cold war arms race. The most likely explanation of the destination of these missing high-level wastes is that in being reprocessed into a liquid high-level waste, only about 1/5 of the resulting wastes were contained in the holding tanks at Hanford and Savannah River plants. The remaining wastes were released, uncontained, to shallow pits, holding ponds and lagoons, creeks, shallow and deep injection wells, sometimes as diluted low-level waste. Other countries including Russia and the United Kingdom also indulged in similar disposal methodologies. NIREX, the United Kingdom consortium in charge of disposing Sellafield wastes, is planning to use the same technologies for uncontained injection of radioactive wastes into the rock formations of northern Cumbria. If the spent fuel and high-level waste from Russian, French, British and other nuclear weapons programs and fuel reprocessing facilities are added to U.S. military high-level waste inventories, long lived weapons production waste inventories can be reasonably estimated at +/- 35,000,000,000 Ci. World wide nuclear power production (326 operational reactors outside of the United States) spent fuel wastes are at least double this estimate. The total world wide inventory of high-level wastes produced during the nuclear era now approaches or exceeds the 100 billion curies. "A principle activity of government in the twenty-first century will be the removal, packaging, storage and disposal, administration and supervision of the nuclear waste produced in the twentieth century." (Brack, 1993, pg. 94) A full accounting of the inventories of U.S. weapons production wastes will be a giant step in confronting the reality of the radioactive legacy of the arms race and its unfortunate footnote, the commercial atomic generation of electricity, and the social and health physics implications these wastes have for citizens living in the twenty-first century.

The GAO criticized the EPA in a report written in 1994, stating that they had not investigated the issue of radioactivity in sewage sludge.  A joint draft between the EPA and NRC was issued in 1997 on this subject.  It stated that the wastewater treatment process reconcentrates the radioactivity in the sewage sludge as it also reconcentrates the toxic metals in the sludge.  There are 24,000 facilities around the country discharging radioactive wastes into public sewers.  In 1999 they published a report on radionuclides found in sewage sludge and ash from incinerated sludge at 9 sites (citation below).  Information courtesy of Helene Shields, email to CBM, 10/18/99.  Additional citations on this topic would be welcomed.  Peak values of sludge contamination will be posted after relevant citations are reviewed.

(June 17, 1999). Sludge survey test results will aid ISCORS national survey design. Nuclear Waste News. 24 (19).

National Biosolids Partnership. (1999). Characterization of radioactivity sources at wastewater treatment facilities: A guidance document for pretreatment coordinators & biosolids managers. Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, Washington, D.C. <http://www.amsa-cleanwater.org/pubs/radioactivity/guidance.htm>

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency. (August 1999). Joint NRC/EPA sewage sludge radiological survey: Survey design and test site results. EPA 832-R-99-900. Sewage Subcommittee of the Interagency Steering Committee on Radiation Standards (ISCORS), US EPA and US NRC, Washington, DC. <http://www.epa.gov/radiation/tenorm/docs/sludgereport.htm>

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