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Sandia Helps Secure Kazakh Nuclear Material

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the for-make-benefit-glorious-nation-of-kazakhstan dept.

Earth 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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88 comments

Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (0)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189714)

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...

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

evanism (600676) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189816)

nothing like looting the country for the spoils of war, hmmmm?

Did it for the "wmd/justice/free kurds/make up reason here"?

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189830)

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...

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#35197976)

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.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

chaos579 (1645021) | more than 3 years ago | (#35198318)

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.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190118)

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...

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (3, Informative)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189846)

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.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189888)

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

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190000)

Yes, apparently it is.

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

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (5, Informative)

definate (876684) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

nojayuk (567177) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191874)

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 storage bunkers, found these large plastic drums full of dirt, tipped them out and took the drums to store drinking water in. The "dirt" was yellowcake ore.

Yellowcake is only mildly hazardous, both chemically and radioactively. Mining and initial processing of the ore body releases daughter isotopes trapped within the rocks which are the result of billions of years of radioactive decay and which produce most of the alpha and beta particles and all of the gamma radiation but after the processing at the mine is complete the most active of those daughter isotopes such as radon-222 have been removed.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (3, Informative)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 3 years ago | (#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:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191338)

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 all contracted the same type of cancer a year or so after transporting radioactive materials it's an extraordinary co-incidence.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 3 years ago | (#35193218)

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 matter) there's no reason to assume that that's the case.

Well unless the pilots actually all contracted cancer in an improbable way. But note that that information is completely unsourced, so I'll stick to pointing out that Uranium won't kill you always in every way: it's not Polonium and several bad things have to happen for it to kill you. If the barrels were competently sealed (there's no evidence to contradict this I believe) then the risk of the yellowcake killing all three pilots was probably significantly lower than the risk of flying without radioactives.

Until I see any evidence to the contrary I'll stick to this being a basic radioactivity scare story.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35189948)

I seem to recall that there where "experts" (like you?) who said drinking DDT was perfectly fine as well.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190042)

That argument is asinine.

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190382)

Ah right, ColdWetDog is a yellowcake expert to you because of his slashdot comment. Nice move trying to link him to DDT, anyone else care to try to try the full Godwin on him?

Hey, has anyone even bothered to ask the OP to cite his source?

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190134)

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...

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

bug1 (96678) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191590)

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

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191918)

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

Just sayin'

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (2)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191412)

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?

Re:Ah yes... Radioactive Material Removal... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35193718)

no he doesn't because it is a BS story

Obligatory Dr Evil (3, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189720)

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!

Re:Obligatory Dr Evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35189770)

One million? There is no way that is enough to buy some sharks with lasers on their frigging heads.

Re:Obligatory Dr Evil (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190102)

All you want is ONE MILLION DOLLARS?

Yeah, sure, but hey, would you mind signing a few papers first? Nothing important, just a few loan documents.

Re:Obligatory Dr Evil (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191206)

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!

pics of Bond girl villainess in Kazakh steppes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35189726)

Or it didn't happen.

and this story isnt a lure for the bad guys (1)

evanism (600676) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189802)

Duh, big juicy story, lots of details. Right out of a James Bond novel, with Nuclear Powered Ninjas too. Just need sharks and lasers.

Re:and this story isnt a lure for the bad guys (1)

cxbrx (737647) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190148)

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.

Re:and this story isnt a lure for the bad guys (1)

cxbrx (737647) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190180)

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."

Water? Really? (1)

Saberwind (50430) | more than 3 years ago | (#35189912)

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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35189976)

Yeah, until you consider the nuclear reactor powered a desalination plant. Caspian sea coast, remember?

Re:Water? Really? (3, Informative)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#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).

Re:Water? Really? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191328)

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.

Re:Water? Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190096)

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 water quality doesn't matter anywhere near as much (some places even use seawater). The heat can also be used to boil seawater which can then be condensed as seawater.
Nuclear is used because you can get a lot of heat but that also means you need a lot of cooling. That's just a siting issue that only means you need to put it next to vast amounts of water such as a large river, lake or sea. The water is still there after it has used it - the stuff that evaporates comes back as rain and everything else flows through.

Re:Water? Really? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Water? Really? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191564)

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.

Re:Water? Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35194360)

Your expectations are correct. They use something called "heat exchangers" to isolate the water in the reactor from the water that goes to the town.
Actually, they probably use multple sets of heat exchangers. There is probably a main loop that circulates water through the core, a second loop to
circulate water through the turbines, and a third loop for the "city water".

District heating makes a lot of sense if the reactor is close to a population center. The heat is low quality (hot enough to heat houses, but not enough to boil water).
Either dump it to a cooling tower, a lake or river, or heat houses. A no brainer.

Harder to steal? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35189994)

"Getting the material out of a seaport was one way to make it harder to steal" ...How?

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190010)

Now its in a remote guarded facility. Previously it was on the outskirts of the city, just sitting in a mothballed reactor.

Still, I basically agree that getting it out of the country would have made it even harder to steal.
Kazakhstan does not seem to me to be the safest or most stable of places.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190440)

Still, I basically agree that getting it out of the country would have made it even harder to steal.
Kazakhstan does not seem to me to be the safest or most stable of places.

Based on what, exactly?

Re:Harder to steal? (2)

tnk1 (899206) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190886)

Probably because it has "-stan" in its name and, as far as gross generalizations go, its not completely unwarranted.

On the other hand, you can be sure that a lot of people, including certain interested foreigners, are keeping a close eye on the material. It should be safe enough. If anything, I don't think the Russians will want that stuff getting loose any more than the people in the US would.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35198808)

Probably because it has "-stan" in its name and, as far as gross generalizations go, its not completely unwarranted.

Kazakhstan is pretty far from anything in this stereotype, as far as politics and economy are concerned.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#35198048)

Still, I basically agree that getting it out of the country would have made it even harder to steal. Kazakhstan does not seem to me to be the safest or most stable of places.

Based on what, exactly?

Based on Borat, probably.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

slashqwerty (1099091) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190466)

Now it is hidden in a remote and classified location--1,860 miles down the railroad track, outside on a slab of concrete in the northeastern part of the country, in 60 casks each the size of a railroad car. Don't worry, nobody will find it there.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191100)

Kazakhstan does not seem to me to be the safest or most stable of places.

Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian republic to see no bloodshed following the breakup of the USSR, 10% growth year after year, and major international investment. Almaty and Astana look like Dubai now, all glittering skyscrapers and high-tech installations. It's OK if you don't know much about the country, but drawing a conclusion from ignorance is just silly.

Re:Harder to steal? (2)

icebike (68054) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191184)

The government is just as ruthless in holding down dissent as some Arab states. There hasn't been an open election there in decades, and the president is looking to hand the government over to his daughter and son-in-law. He's playing a 4 way power broker between major powers, but he can only keep that up till al qaeda moves in, as they have already started doing.

He dies, and that country spirals out of control. Its Egypt all over again.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191208)

Al Qaeda has a negligible presence in northern Central Asia and virtually none in Kazakhstan, which in spite of some statistics that ask people to answer a religion is one of the most non-religious countries on Earth. Nazarbayev isn't as "ruthless in holding down dissent" as typical Arab dictators. Human rights group bemoan some harrassment of opposition, but there's no institutionalization of torture. And plenty of commentators note that, regardless of government pressure, an opposition is unlikely to flourish because people feel there's no way to be more effective economically than Nazarbayev. Personally, I think a case could be made for slight concern, but the country is damn stable and posts like yours are fearmongering by people who probably haven't spent much time in the country.

Re:Harder to steal? (1)

Reservoir Penguin (611789) | more than 3 years ago | (#35192656)

That's exactly what Mubarak thought. People would be grateful for 30 years of stability and economic growth.

I live in Russia (an authoritarian country, I admit) in a Siberian province bordering Kazakhstan. That guy is a dictator of Lukashenko (another wonderful pro-stability president-for-life) caliber, no doubt about it.

Not the first time this has happened (3, Informative)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Not the first time this has happened (2)

anne on E. mouse cow (867445) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191646)

$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?

Re:Not the first time this has happened (1)

Jenming (37265) | more than 3 years ago | (#35192436)

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.

Re:Not the first time this has happened (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#35198100)

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?

Re:Not the first time this has happened (1)

Dachannien (617929) | more than 3 years ago | (#35194494)

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.

Re:Not the first time this has happened (1)

anne on E. mouse cow (867445) | more than 3 years ago | (#35194594)

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.

Please don't bother to read the linked article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35196248)

Its not like it actually answers your question or anything

It's a very nice!!!! (1)

Dishwasha (125561) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190002)

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."

You need to RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190112)

The US didn't get this material - it was moved from near the port to a secure location on the *interior*.

Re:You need to RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190632)

Well, as long as we're being truthful here,
you didn't get the nuclear material either,
nor did you get any of his sister's vazhïn,
and to top it all off, you didn't get the joke.

Re:You need to RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35191096)

The real joke is, his sister is a transvestite, and he gets all that vazhïn he wants!

In Soviet Russia (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190050)

Nuclear Fuel removes you!

Aktau is a wasteland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190100)

Am I the only US citizen that reads this who has been to Aktau?

Re:Aktau is a wasteland (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35190170)

None of the rest of us will admit it.

Why store rather than resell? (2)

ehack (115197) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190292)

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?

Re:Why store rather than resell? (2)

Alex Belits (437) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190482)

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 abroad than what is considered healthy for an industrialized nation?

Re:Why store rather than resell? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35195560)

I believe because it's illegal under the NPT. That's the whole point of a non-proliferation treaty. No country can sell enriched uranium from a fast breeder. Even material that is sent out to be reprocessed and stored overseas must return to the originating country. If they produced it, they keep it.

Someone with more knowledge of nuclear matters and the NPT can better comment.

Re:Why store rather than resell? (1)

tehcyder (746570) | more than 3 years ago | (#35198136)

Someone with more knowledge of nuclear matters and the NPT can better comment.

It's a fucking communist-Islamofascist conspiracy to undermine the virility of the US, and probably involves fluoride in the water too.

I, Borat, declare... (1)

theNAM666 (179776) | more than 3 years ago | (#35190524)

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

Bad initial assumption (1)

ibsteve2u (1184603) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191044)

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.

Re:Bad initial assumption (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35193772)

"suicide" whatevers would only be useful if the nuclear fuel was already at the target. Islamists don't like Kazakhstan's government much, with all the secularism, dictatorship, and toleration of Russians (1/4 of population) and fermented mare's milk (which Russians don't drink), but it's a pretty low priority target. Plus once it's out of Aqtau, there aren't too many people around. Eastern Kazakhstan is a barren semi-desert which includes the old Soviet nuclear testing site.

The logistics required to move spent fuel (2)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35191730)

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.

Re:The logistics required to move spent fuel (2)

Jenming (37265) | more than 3 years ago | (#35192462)

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.

Re:The logistics required to move spent fuel (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35195248)

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 tons) of highly enriched uranium and 3.3 tons (3 metric tons) of weapons-grade plutonium

You also may not be aware that _spent_ fuel is *more* radioactive than enriched fuel which is what dictates the size and volume of the casks so, actually, they are very similar logistic concerns.

Re:The logistics required to move spent fuel (1)

Jenming (37265) | more than 3 years ago | (#35201968)

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?

Re:The logistics required to move spent fuel (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35205066)

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 over 20 times the value of the raw ore, that's not my presumption, that's the certified price listed by the DOE. Since your ability to do research so obviously needs to be refined I'll leave it as an exercise for you to figure out what weapons grade material actually is and why the reality runs counter to your assumptions.

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

I think you need to re-assess your belief system about nuclear issues as the things you have been saying seem to be rhetoric and flawed reasoning stated in an attempt to win an argument rather than to communicate any facts. None of the statements you made change the facts regarding the logistics of moving nuclear materials. So unless you can provide some actual facts to the contrary, I'll just presume you've conceded to the points raised in my original post.

mediafirelinks.org (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35192090)

Sangria not necessary. Vodka sufficient secure all Kazakh nuclear material under 18 years of age. Mediafire Links [mediafirelinks.org]

where could that be? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35192314)

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 (which is classified) in the northeastern part of the country.

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. The casks are now stored in a guarded area outdoors, and rest on a giant slab of concrete.

A secret location that is 1860 miles to the northeast, where train tracks run, where a special train went ... That sort of narrows it down a bit.

Also, it sounds like they just buried these containers in concrete. But, the containers were only good for 50 years? Is concrete really awesome at storing nuclear waste or something?

Large Amount? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35196216)

Given that 10 lbs of uranium is only one cup, 8 oz, or so.
28 660.0941 pounds which is 13 metric tonnes, only takes up a volume of a cube 35" along each side.

Amazing. I guess big things do come in small packages.

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