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Nuclear Info Kept From Congress and the Public

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the much-to-hide dept.

Censorship 309

Thermite writes "On March 6, 2006 an accident occurred at Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, Tennessee. According to reports, almost 9 gallons of highly enriched uranium in solution spilled and nearly went into a chain reaction. Before the accident in 2004, the NRC and The Office of Naval Reactors had changed the terms of the company's license so that any correspondence with Nuclear Fuel Services would be marked 'official use only.' From the article: 'While reviewing the commission's public Web page in 2004, the Department of Energy's Office of Naval Reactors found what it considered protected information about Nuclear Fuel Service's work for the Navy. The commission responded by sealing every document related to Nuclear Fuel Services and BWX Technologies in Lynchburg, Va., the only two companies licensed by the agency to manufacture, possess and store highly enriched uranium.' The result was that the public and Congress were both left in the dark for 13 months regarding this accident and other issues at the facility."

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309 comments

Oh Please (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20306947)

We're supposed to be outraged, because we can't see the documents about an accident that *almost* happened?

Re:Oh Please (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20306985)

because we can't see the documents about an accident that *almost* happened?

If they're hiding the little "oopsie"s, what about the accidents that did happen?

Re:Oh Please (5, Funny)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307099)

if its anything like this one, we wouldn't be left in the dark...

We'd glow in it.

Bastards!!! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307199)

I was at they naval station. A guy told me it was Gatorade and I drank some. I got the last laugh though, I was shooting nuclear cum up his wifes ass. Hoorahh!!!

YOUR MOM!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307373)

Lol, your mom jokes

This seems a little overblown. (5, Insightful)

raehl (609729) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307235)

It does not appear that anyone's intent was to hide accidents - the original problem was that sensitive Navy information that shouldn't have been released was getting released, so instead of doing the narrow fix and just not releasing the sensitive documents, the (extremely through/lazy, you pick) step was taken and all the documents from the Navy fuel supply companies were restricted.

As an apparent unintended consequence (or a willfully accepted consequence) of the policy change to make sure that sensitive documents stopped ending u on websites, non-sensitive documents regarding safety incidents ended up being restricted as well.

But, even when the accident occurred, the regulatory commission apparently even made a point of having a special vote to make sure the party responsible for the incident was properly, and publicly, identified.

There is a definite difference between changing a policy to hide safety accidents and safety accidents not getting disclosed as well as a result of a policy change. The latter is the case here. The policy will be adjusted.

On the flip side, imagine the uproar if the policy had originally only specified that sensitive documents got restricted, and sensitive information was released anyway because someone mistakenly labeled a sensitive document as non-sensitive? It's a trade-off - and while the current policy made it harder for the public to find out about an accident, it's also true that a different policy would increase the risk of accidental release of sensitive material.

Either way, there's no reason to assign nefarious intent where apparently none is due.

Re:Oh Please (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307087)

I guess you're only outraged at stuff when the president isn't from your party. Go back to sleep... Trust blindly...

Re:Oh Please (3, Insightful)

nonsequitor (893813) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307093)

We're supposed to be outraged, because we can't see the documents about an accident that *almost* happened?
The chain reaction *almost* happened, a spill of highly enriched uranium in solution *DID* happen. The fact that this involves the safety records of a major DoD supplier being hidden from congress is troubling. This prevented congress from taking actions like mandating increased at the facility. You better believe that a solution of highly enriched uranium is a carcinogen, if that stuff were to be spilled more often or even to pollute the water table *AND* the company knew it had happened, then still nobody else would know. This is not about the next Chernobyl, think Simpsons Movie.

Re:Oh Please (3, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307703)

This isn't a situation where they hid the facts from congress. It is a situation where a paperwork processing change from before the incident cause the incident's paper work to go unnoticed by congress. The reporting became classified and out of direct sight.

I'm sure this can be fixed. It isn't like carelessness is rampant and they sought out to hide the incident.

I guess the big surprise here is that a company is able to change classifications of certain paperwork without talking to the agencies with oversight. It should be that the classifications should be mandated by a set of guidelines and maybe some notification system to oversight panels when something happens. The government agency automatically assume one thing and marked the reports classified where even if they should be classified, the people overseeing them should stil be aware of them.

Re:Oh Please (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307287)

There might be an accident in January of 2008, I want the reports published now!

Re:Oh Please (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307835)

There might be an accident in January of 2008, I want the reports published now!

The presidential primaries are already getting heavy coverage.

Duh (1, Insightful)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 6 years ago | (#20306995)

What're we supposed to do? Tell *everyone (including possibly terrorists and enemy combatants) about every little nuclear accident we ever have?

Yes, we should (3, Interesting)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307049)

Unfortunately, I can't tell if you're being serious. If so, how would terrorists benefit from knowing, after the fact, that we had a nuclear accident? If you're being serious (and I hope you're not) this sounds a lot to me like "OMG! Think of the terrorists!"

Re:Yes, we should (1)

iminplaya (723125) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307103)

The funny thing is that even when it's an accident, one or more groups of "terrorists" will claim credit for it. Egos and bragging rights and all that. They'll get some free publicity and admiration from their friends.

Re:Yes, we should (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307317)

Don't underestimate a crazy persons ability to twist any piece of knowledge to their advantage.

Re:Duh (1)

Elder Entropist (788485) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307071)

What would terrorists do with information about a nuclear accident we have had in the past?

Re:Duh (3, Insightful)

Jedi Alec (258881) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307107)

Decide you're perfectly capable of blowing yourselves up and retire? Win-win!

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307081)

Congress as enemy? That will cause a chain reaction....

Sad Times are these... (3, Insightful)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307193)

Sad Times are these... when
1. passing ruffians can say `nee' at will to old women
2. the sarcasm in my post is not obvious as all hell.

Hey, at least I suspected it! (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307403)

It's not necessarily your fault that you sarcasm wasn't obvious as all hell, but if you read what some people post in all seriousness here, you have to admit that it wasn't that obvious! (What's the name of that law regarding satire/parody and right-wing conservatives again?)

Re:Duh (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307297)

Actually, I'm interested in hearing from the IT security experts here. (Which is, what, 30% of /.ers? ;-] )

Based on the same idea about rejecting "security by obscurity", would you advocate publishing on the internet, the complete blueprints and documentation of every nuclear plant in the US, hiding only private keys and passwords for access? Why or why not? How much should be freely available?

Re:Duh (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307391)

All that information is public now.

Attempting to Hide it only make people feel secure; which leads to people getting sloppy with actual security.

People knowing how a nuclear power plant works doesn't make them able to change anything.

Re:Duh (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307527)

My proposal referred to *all* blue prints and documentation. That doesn't just mean "how nuclear power plants work". It means all entrances and exit, floor layouts, fences, delivery points, supply arrival times, etc.

So where I can I download that?

Re:Duh (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307531)

Based on the same idea about rejecting "security by obscurity", would you advocate publishing on the internet, the complete blueprints and documentation of every nuclear plant in the US, hiding only private keys and passwords for access? Why or why not? How much should be freely available?
That depends. Will the benefits to having the blueprints and documentation in the glare of public scrutiny outweigh the harm of having that information in the hands of the adversary?

One key difference between a building and general-purpose software is that software is a lot more malleable. Find a bug today, fix it tomorrow, roll out the patch the day after tomorrow. OK, even if it's not that fast you can get your software fixed within a few weeks of discovering the bug.

Try that with a flaw in a building design.

There are some aspects of building security that are malleable. Most of these are human processes and procedures. For example, you can change how often guards patrol the perimeter faster than you can debug and patch Linux.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307415)

"What're we supposed to do? Tell *everyone (including possibly terrorists and enemy combatants) about every little nuclear accident we ever have?"

You are scaremongering.....
a nuclear whatever exploding in your backyard !!!

DANGEROUS

Do not hide mistakes....correct them!

Your attitude makes my world unsafe.....maybe you are the enemy combatant you talk about....please go back and hide under the rock's you came crawling out of....(the terrarists are coming)....scaredy cat.

Unsafe procedures of nuclear whatevers are more dangerous as any terrorist is.

Congress Isn't for Everyone (1, Flamebait)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307493)

Duh, Congress isn't "everyone". The whole point of a republic [wikipedia.org] is to represent the governed people who consent to let those representatives make decisions and hear info on our behalf.

The core hypocrisy of "Republicans" is how they hate the republic, preferring a monarchy whose benign neglect amounts to corporate anarchy.

This kind of Republican fraud goes well beyond the $5 word "hypocrisy" [etymonline.com] . Republicans prefer rulers to be mere actors on a political stage, fed their lines from under the platform, written by their corporate sponsors.

Republicans have studied Ben Franklin's famous reply [harpers.org] to a new American's question about what kind of government, "a republic or a monarchy", they'd just created in Independence Hall:

A republic, if you can keep it

Knowing they could steal it best by first stealing its wardrobe. And they studied their Party's first president, Lincoln, especially well his (often attributed [cnn.com] ) observation that

You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

So they make sure that when all of the people sometimes aren't fooled, that we're as discouraged as possible from doing something about it. Like scaring us with images of "terrorists and enemy combatants".

It's not going to work this time.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307771)

I went looking for something I read not too long ago, about how waste material from nuclear disarmament is stored in poor quality containers and leaking into the environment.

Besides that google simply wouldn't bring up the results I was looking for, it struck me as a bit odd that whatever search terms related to the issue I tried, the results were always the same: a lot of "Russia this" and "Russians that" (and NOT Chernobyl alone), but very little about the US. Except some propaganda explaining what they all do to protect you and the environment.

Only exception (meaning the only important US event that came out) was the Rocky Flats [wikipedia.org] case, but that's almost ancient history (and despite that, the area still glows at night - polluted ground water isn't something you decontaminate in a few decades).

You must feel lucky, living in a country where accidents never happen.

How do they keep a straight face (1)

Silver Sloth (770927) | more than 6 years ago | (#20306999)

From TFA - quoting Nuclear Fuel Services Executive Vice President Timothy Lindstrom, a Navy veteran who joined the company in September

``I think it is important that the public recognize that we do have a very robust safety program at NFS. We live in this community and take our stewardship very seriously,'' he said.

``I think if we were to have an event like this again, we would push to make it public,'' he added. ``Clearly it would have been better to have this discussion 18 months ago than it is to have it now.''
Was that his nose growing or what?

Re:How do they keep a straight face (0)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307243)

Why would his nose grow?

It isn't fact that all people running business is evil. Even if people want to make it look that way. There is no reason not to believe this person.

Re:How do they keep a straight face (2, Insightful)

joto (134244) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307427)

There is no reason not to believe this person.

Uh, yes there is. He has already shown himself a liar, so I would say the likelyhood he would lie again, is pretty high. But I disagree with the notion that his actions would be evil. Such a spill would probably not be of much danger to the public anyway, and given the public outcry and scare whenever something happens that involves the magic word "nuclear", maybe it was even smart of him. Let's face it, this wasn't, and could never be, another Chernobyl.

Keeping the above in mind, it's not that unlikely that I would have lied too, had I been in his shoes.

Re:How do they keep a straight face (1)

Elemenope (905108) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307517)

It was smart of him up until the part where he got caught. Seriously, for those of us who think that nuclear power would be a good stopgap energy solution to invest in, cover-ups really set back the team, probably a great deal more than the original incident would have if they just copped to it in a low-key fashion.

Re:How do they keep a straight face (4, Funny)

Sans_A_Cause (446229) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307869)

The magic depends on how you pronounce the word "nuclear". If you pronounce it "New Cle Ur", it is very frightening and you are likely a mad scientist or hippie liberal. Then it's a black magic word. But, if you pronounce it "New Kuh Ler", you are a down-home, folksy kind of guy and people like you and will believe what you say. Then it becomes a white magic word.

Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (5, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307039)

Congress' approval ratings are tied with the historical low. Do they even know why?

I'm a conservative and typically voted Republican, and even *I* wanted the Dems to come into power to repair the damage of Bush's administration. But on any issue involving something the DoD / DoE marks as classified, they just shrug and say, "Bush's people called it classified. I guess we can't exercise oversight after all."

I know this post will likely cost me some karma. I just wish I could spend *all* my karma on it and actually get my congressmen and senators to DO THEIR FSCKING JOBS and stop this crap.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (4, Insightful)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307113)

  1. On March 6, 2006, the Republicans were still in charge of Congress.
  2. How would Congress know if information was being kept from them? (Perhaps I'm missing something here.)
Not that I dispute your overall point that Congress could do even more oversight than they're already employing. You should note, however, how many pundits keep bemoaning this oversight as "witch hunts" or "fishing expeditions".

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307385)

Yes, well, the only thing they're liable to get on a "fishing expedition" is fish with three eyes. If there's a spill like this, isn't the EPA supposed to be notified? This does come under the heading of "environmental damage" or "inadvertent release of toxic chemicals" doesn't it? If so, there would be a record -- the EPA isn't the Department of Homeland Security.

s/would/should/ (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307451)

If so, there would be a record -- the EPA isn't the Department of Homeland Security.
That's just what they want you to think!

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307779)

If there's a spill like this, isn't the EPA supposed to be notified?

I think that nuclear accidents fall under the purview of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is also the licensing authority for nuclear facilities and sites. In this case, it sounds like they did notify the NRC, but that the NRC had decided to classify/FOUO everything that had to do with this particular site (because of its involvement with the Navy's nuclear fuels program, apparently), so their disclosure was never made public or sent to Congress.

It probably either went to, or was accessible to, particular members of Congress, though. Probably the members of some subcommittee (whichever one deals with the NRC -- Energy and Environment, maybe?) who have access to otherwise-classified stuff. It just didn't go out to everyone or become part of the Congressional Record, like it would have if it had been unclassified.

The real question here is why was this company/site's stuff all classified, and was there a real reason why it needed to be? Government bureaucrats have a knee-jerk reaction to stamp the highest-possible classification on everything, just "to be safe." In a place like the DOE, their toilet paper is probably stamped FOUO.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307563)

Democrat or Republican,

They Both are very foul and makes you feel dirty being near them.

I have NEVER met a congressman I trusted. I never met a President or cabinet member I trusted. I never met a Supremen Court Justice that I trusted.

Yes I have met many of them over the years.

If you are in government and have been a rich man most of your life, you do not have a single iota of a clue as to the reality of life and therefore are UNQUALIFIED to pass laws or judgement.

Yet the typical americans vote for these pieces of shit.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307197)

Bush's people called it classified. I guess we can't exercise oversight after all.

The question is, are they right? If the Bushies *do* declare something classified, or within the purview of executive privilege, what power does congress have to exercise oversight? No, this isn't sarcastic or anything. I really would like to know.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307389)

Just because something is classified doesn't mean congress cannot have oversight. It only means that certain members can see all the details and the entire congress can know about lower level details behind closed doors.

There are a few congressmen with a theoretical higher security clearance then the president has. No the office of the president overrides the clearance by the nature of the job so he isn't restricted from seeing something, but it doesn't mean he has a high clearance.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307401)

That's really the big question. Do we want to have a government where the executive has the power to use magic words (e.g. "national security") which automatically circumvent all of the constitution's checks and balances?

Is this exploit a bug or a feature? I know what Stalin would say, but I'm more curious about the opinion of average citizens. Sometimes they say surprising things. [alibi.com]

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307593)

what power does congress have to exercise oversight?

In theory, 2/3 of both houses could vote for a law that properly defines classified material and grants congress access to it. In practice, with our 2-party system that's carefully calibrated to maintain a near 50/50 split, it won't happen any time soon.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

caluml (551744) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307277)

I'm a conservative and typically voted Republican, and even *I* wanted the Dems to come into power to repair the damage of Bush's administration.

In Britain, and possibly other countries, we vote for who we want in power - not vote against them, but hope they'll rescue you. Apologies if I'm not getting something obvious here.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

Elemenope (905108) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307455)

What you're not getting (and from outside the US, it might not even be all that obvious) is that Bush is so bad in many deeply unconservative ways that even may rank-and-file Republicans were voting across party lines to attempt to counterbalance his excesses by installing an opposition congress. In the final analysis, many believe that having something of a constitution left is preferable to having their own party in power as it drives everything straight into the ground. The irony, of course, is that the newly minted democratic majority has been utterly useless at counterbalancing Bush, and probably will remain so until 2008.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307507)

Britian isn't any different. Not voting is the same as voting for the other guy. You can be in a position of not liking anyone who is on the ballot and end up voting for someone in order to keep someone else out.

What the op did was something considered free speech. Weather he is a republican or not doesn't really matter. He is claiming to vote for someone who he didn't agree with because who he claims he normally agrees with have been worse then what was already in office.

Personally, I don't think he was ever a conservative voting liberal. The two styles don't match. Generally when a conservative is frustrated, they don't vote which would be the same as letting the other guy win. They don't typically help the extreme opposite get into office by voting for them directly. None the less, the point is just as valid and nothing in Britain is different in this respect.

One thing is different in Britain (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307623)

They have more parties to choose from. I think that was the GP's point, but I could be mistaken. In the US, however, voting 3rd party is unfortunately a lot (although not quite) like not voting.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307321)

You do realize that the Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate? Usually all it takes is all the Republicans and a handful of Democrats to block these measures. So, stop blaming the Democrats.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

SomeGuyTyping (751195) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307479)

Who gives a shit if they are Rep or Dem - use common sense and do your damn job

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (1)

letxa2000 (215841) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307701)

You do realize that the Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate? Usually all it takes is all the Republicans and a handful of Democrats to block these measures. So, stop blaming the Democrats.

Oh brother. So when the GOP has a majority, the Democrats cry that they don't have any power to stop anything. The people obey their wishes and elect a Democratic majority and we still can't blame them?

Face it, this has been a useless Congress and you can't blame it all on the GOP. The Democrats are their own worse enemy and I think you'll be surprised how they pay for their ineptness in 2008. The Democrats would've been much better off having not won in 2006 so the pent up anti-Bushism could have flourished in 2008. People have now seen Democrats "in action", the Congress has a lower approval rating even than Bush, and that is not unimportant going into a presidential election year. To top it off, Democrats have actually convinced themselves that people are completely bailing on the Republican party so they have a certain cockiness to them--they think they can win in 2008 simply because they aren't Republican. They're going to be surprised. They have an advantage in 2008 because they're not Bush, but the Republican party has that advantage too.

Quite a few Republicans voted Democrat in 2006 for Congresscritters (myself included). Don't misinterpret that as meaning that those people would vote for Hillary, Obama, or any other liberal for president.

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307429)

Back in the bad old days of the USSR (and today in China) the authorities routinely kept accidents hidden from the public. Since we're seeing greater controls over travel, comunication, secret monitoring (all in the name of stopping counterrevolutionaries^H^H^H...^Hterrorists) it looks like our nation is starting to turn into the old USSR except with the Chinese take on capitalism.

Don't wait for any regulation either. Anytime someone tries to control things like this they get chastised for being anticompetitive and being a burden on the poor innocent small businessperson. Try to protect the public and you are a anti-free market commie. Enjoy your radiation poisoning!

Re:Fscking Congress (YES this is a rant) (2, Insightful)

digitalchinky (650880) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307603)

What can congress do to stop some random guy or girl in a white lab coat with clipboard in hand from knocking over a jug of radioactive sludge? Seems to me like it was a screw up in procedure on several levels, these can be fixed.

What you are doing is whining about some political agenda that has no relevance to the article, write a letter if you feel so strongly.

Wow, I feel safe (2, Insightful)

Fx.Dr (915071) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307041)

"I think if we were to have an event like this again, we would push to make it public,"

And I think that this kind of ass-backwards thinking is exactly what's going to result in the next Chernobyl. How about instead of spending all your time on clean-up and PR, put a little foresight into the management of the damn facility.

"Clearly it would have been better to have this discussion 18 months ago than it is to have it now."

Clearly. Asshat.

Re:Wow, I feel safe (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307269)

Chernobyl and not happen to a US reactor.

I see your point, but so many people don't understand Nuclear power or Chernobyl I like to keep a clear division.

More accidents are inevitable (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307559)

For a few reasons...

People are fallable and make mistajes. No matter the safeguards and systems in place, people will screw up. Sure you might be able to fire them for not following procedure etc, but that won't clean up the mess.

Safety is not king. Money is. Operators are very reluctant to scram reactors or spend up huge on safety and equipment "just in case" because they really want to maximise profits. Thus, they operate in the risk zone. Bad calls are inevitable.

Re:Wow, I feel safe (1)

Capt James McCarthy (860294) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307755)

"And I think that this kind of ass-backwards thinking is exactly what's going to result in the next Chernobyl. How about instead of spending all your time on clean-up and PR, put a little foresight into the management of the damn facility."

If every nuclear, coal, NG, or any other plant made public all of their accidents, mass panic would ensue. And we'd never get more nuclear power plants that are needed. Not that it's on the horizon either.

And to ensure that the article is quoted properly:

" including a leak that could have caused a deadly, uncontrolled nuclear reaction."

Yet there is not a shred of accurate information to determine how exactly this would happen.

"glovebox and an old elevator shaft, where the solution potentially could have collected in such a way to cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction."

By repeatedly stating an "uncontrolled nuclear reaction" places in the minds of the reader a huge mushroom cloud. This is sensationalism and not accurate. Don't fall for it.

I'm not saying that issues like this should be hidden, but I don't think it necessarily for public consumption. Most folks probably can't handle the cold, hard facts of the world anyways.

Re:Wow, I feel safe (1)

Fx.Dr (915071) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307807)

"I'm not saying that issues like this should be hidden..."

But that's exactly what did happen. I agree with you in that not every little incident should be reported to the public (via local/national news, etc...), but actively making sure that information about incidents such as there are completely inaccessible to the public is something else entirely.

Elephants.... (1)

Kernel Corndog (155153) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307047)

Erwin sure can't get it right. Almost century trying to escape their elephant hanging history and now this... (google hanged elephant)

Re:Elephants.... (1)

Mateo_LeFou (859634) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307135)

"Kill the elephant. Let's kill him," the crowd began chanting. Later, Sheriff Gallahan "knocked chips out of her hide a little" with his .45, according to witness Bud Jones. But the circus manager stated, "There ain't gun enough in this country that he could be killed"; another approach would have to be attempted."

Panic... (1)

ZiakII (829432) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307051)

I can imagine why they downplayed it when it happened due to fear of a public panic, but to wait 13 months to even tell the public is ridiculous.

fear of panic is BAD reason for secrecy (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307607)

There are some good reasons for keeping secrets about a nuclear incident, but preventing public panic is not one of them.

In a case like this, the PR guy's job is to frame the information so it comes out factual and in a way that defuses any OMGtheskyisfalling response before it happens. Withholding the information just hurts you in the long run.

I remember this episode.... (5, Funny)

bladel (104002) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307053)

...where Homer falls asleep at the control panel:

FTA:

The leak was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid ``running into a hallway'' from under a door, according to one document.

Re:I remember this episode.... (2, Funny)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307183)

The leak was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid ``running into a hallway'' from under a door, according to one document.

I can't even tell you how many times this happened at my old place. Damn roommates...

Re:I remember this episode.... (1)

Radon360 (951529) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307185)

The leak was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid ``running into a hallway'' from under a door, according to one document.

Perhaps that yellow liquid was from the technician who pissed his pants when he realized what just happened.

corepirate nazis 'secretly' wrapping US in alloys? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307055)

what a surprise/secret?

previous post:
corepirate nazis now providing 'cloud' cover
(Score:-1, Troll)
by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, @09:48AM (#20303795)
http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2002/06/13240.sht [indymedia.org] [indymedia.org] ml [indymedia.org]

we're watching right now as they spray phoney clouds over our city. yikes almighty. took some pictures of the 'trail', & the 'lovely' 'rainbow' around the sun.

it must not be that good for US or the whoreabull corepirate nazi execrable would be bragging about it.

see you there?

Re:corepirate nazis 'secretly' wrapping US in allo (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307659)

A /. bug ate your URL. Add "ml" to the URL above.

Appearently /. doesn't like URLs ending in shtml.

Yellow Liquid (2, Funny)

Evil W1zard (832703) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307201)

"The leak was discovered when a supervisor saw a yellow liquid ``running into a hallway'' from under a door, according to one document."

Highly Enriched Uranium or Godzilla's Urine?!?!? You be the judge.

Second most serious violation (5, Interesting)

dontthink (1106407) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307207)

FTA:

McIntyre defended the commission's decision not to fine Nuclear Fuel Services, even though the agency rated the uranium leak last year as its second most-serious violation.
(Emphasis mine) Personally, I would be interested to know what the most serious violation was...

If I had to guess (1)

benhocking (724439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307535)

I'd say Three Mile Island. Mind you, it's just a guess.

Re:Second most serious violation (4, Funny)

ShaunC (203807) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307629)

Leaking the uranium was the second most serious violation. Leaking the fact that there had been a uranium leak was the most serious violation...

chain reaction (1)

waterford0069 (580760) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307211)

"nearly went into a chain reaction"

As I RTFA, I take that to mean it would have been a really unhealthy day for any one near by, al la blue-flash (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticality_accident [wikipedia.org] ); not a really unhealthy day for anyone for miles around, al la mushroom cloud(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushroom_cloud [wikipedia.org] ) .

Near chain reactions shouldn't be disclosed (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307219)

Only actual chain reactions need be disclosed and the mushroom cloud should serve as public notice. Anything more would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

That's the Risk of Privatization (4, Interesting)

mpapet (761907) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307253)

In the mad rush to privatize government, the broader issue of a serious lack of oversight will become quite common.

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/0 6/murphy200706 [vanityfair.com]

Re:That's the Risk of Privatization (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307565)

Which is why I'm totally shocked by the number of people who stand firmly behind Ron Paul and his plan to dismantle nearly everything about the government, and specifically all of the organizations that provide some sort of oversight for the public (FDA, EPA, SEC, FDIC, etc). And yet, these are often the very same people who will jump on a chance to bash China for using lead paints in toys, or for putting nasty things in toothpaste or whatever. Guess what - without those organizations keeping an eye on things like that, American companies would quickly go down that same path.

Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (3, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307259)

The commission said there were two areas, the glovebox and an old elevator shaft, where the solution potentially could have collected in such a way to cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.
I am not a physicist, but I don't think that packing enriched uranium into a glovebox could cause a nuclear reaction. With the elevator shaft -- are they imagining something crushing the uranium under great pressure? Is that enough? This sounds very unlikely to me. Nuclear material isn't "explosive" in the typical sense. Can someone qualified chime-in on this?

Re:Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (1)

rcamans (252182) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307467)

yo are thinking of a nuclear explosion, and no, that would not occur. However, the fuel cold have a chain reaction, and get very hot and messy. radioactives polution would be the result. good stuff - almost as good as breathing that stuff GW Bush puts out every day in DC.

Re:Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (2, Insightful)

Stranger4U (153613) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307499)

For the record, I am a physicist.
A lot of nuclear materials can under-go a chain reaction if a significant mass is accumulated. It has to do with production versus escape of neutrons and scales as volume-to-area. So, if two sub-critical masses were combined, they could become critical. I am somewhat leary of a "spill" making something go critical, unless the mass was over-critical and the container provided some damping effect.

Fissionables in solution are weird. (5, Interesting)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307845)

> A lot of nuclear materials can under-go a chain reaction if a significant mass is accumulated. It has to do with production versus escape of neutrons and scales as volume-to-area. So, if two sub-critical masses were combined, they could become critical. I am somewhat leary of a "spill" making something go critical, unless the mass was over-critical and the container provided some damping effect.

Actually, the "spill" makes it more likely, not less likely.

Fissionables in solution are tricky things to deal with. Consider the following four cases:

1) Homer Simpson drops a subcritical hunk of a water-soluble U235 salt into a swimming pool. No big deal. It's a single subcritical mass of U235, and the neutrons fly straight out of it and into the surrounding water, and not enough bounce back into the mass to present a problem. Homer reaches in with a net, and pulls the chunk of salt out of the net. "No problemo."

2) A little while later, as the harmless chunk dissolves into the huge pool, there will be localized spots near the chunk, with both sufficiently-high concentration of fissionable materials and the right amount of moderating material between them for a criticality incident. "D'OH!"

3) "Aha! I'm smart! I'll prevent that scenario by dissolving it, a bit at a time, by adding it to the pool by using a salt shaker near the pump intake!" Congrats! The U235 atoms are, at all times, sufficiently widely-dispersed, that there is no criticality risk. "Woohoo!"

4) A few weeks after your swim, the place is shut down and everyone gets fired. The maintenance guy forgets to drain the pool. The water gradually evaporates, and concentrations in the remaining water begin to rise... and a few years later, some guy spraying graffiti by the abandoned poolhouse wonders WTF that blue flash was. "D'OH!" again.

I'm on a roll here, so I may as well close off the "security by obscurity" issue. There are places where security by obscurity works, and this is one of them.

The deal here is that criticality incidents, especially involving fissionables in solution are a function of degree of enrichment (in the case of uranium as the solute), nuclear properties of the solvent, local concentrations of the ions in solution, and a whole boatload of other things, in order to build cool toys, you often have to deal with them all, simultaneously. I'm not in the building-of-cool-toys industry, and have mercifully I've never had a need to know.

Some of these things are public domain, but others (particularly those things pertaining to the design of shipborne Naval reactors, which use HEU because there simply isn't enough space on all types of ships to permit the use of LEU-based designs) are classified. Given a description of an incident, however, it may be possible to place upper and lower bounds on some of the classified parameters - bounds that are narrower than the published numbers, and there are plenty of adversaries who would be delighted to deduce things about our Naval capabilities (a lot more interesting/useful than even our bomb designs), given just a few more missing puzzle pieces. The math is hard, and denying adversaries the pieces of the puzzle that they can use to derive the whole picture isn't security by obscurity, it's just good security practice.

Re:Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (1)

michrech (468134) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307513)

Yes, but they aren't going to be doing so on slashdot...

The commission said there were two areas, the glovebox and an old elevator shaft, where the solution potentially could have collected in such a way to cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction.
I am not a physicist, but I don't think that packing enriched uranium into a glovebox could cause a nuclear reaction. With the elevator shaft -- are they imagining something crushing the uranium under great pressure? Is that enough? This sounds very unlikely to me. Nuclear material isn't "explosive" in the typical sense. Can someone qualified chime-in on this?

Re:Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (1)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307637)

but I don't think that packing enriched uranium into a glovebox could cause a nuclear reaction

And you'd be wrong. From the wikipedia article on fast neutron reactors [wikipedia.org] : "Such a reactor needs no neutron moderator, but must use fuel that is relatively rich in fissile material when compared to that required for a thermal reactor." In essence, the fast neutrons emitted by the radioactive decay of the fuel triggers further fission, resulting in a chain reaction. Or, as the article on fast breeder reactors [wikipedia.org] states, "While fast neutrons are less likely to be absorbed by uranium-235 or plutonium-239 than thermal neutrons, the highly enriched fuel used in fast breeder reactors allows for a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction."

Note, the key, here, is the fact that this was an *enriched* fuel leak. Were this regular Uranium, you'd be absolutely right, as the neutrons would need to be thermalized (slowed down by a moderator) before a chain reaction could progress, hence the need for a moderator in a traditional reactor design.

Re:Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (1)

SchmellsAngel (1020963) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307691)

The uranium was in a liquid form ("solution", FTA). Less likely to catch fire, easier to process, but also easier to mishandle in a way that would promote a nuclear reaction.

What causes the reaction is not pressure but neutrons. If the liquid is pooled up flat on the floor, most neutrons shoot out the top or bottom of the puddle. If that puddle is piled up in a bucket, or in the bottom of a glovebox (not the kind in your car, but the kind you reach into with lead-lined gloves) then more neutrons can hit more uranium and make more neutrons. Enough neutrons, and a blue flash results. Geometry matters.

Not sure why he threw the elevator shaft in there. Maybe there's a bucket at the bottom.

Re:Chain reaction? I'm skeptical (3, Informative)

dontthink (1106407) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307775)

It wouldn't have caused an explosion, just a chain reaction a la what is sustained in a nuclear reactor - except this would be completely uncontrolled and unshielded. As everyone here probably knows, fission is caused by one neutron busting apart a big nucleus, throwing out more neutrons (among other things). Criticality happens when there are more neutrons in a given "generation" (instant, essentially) than the previous generation (for a given geometry, etc). In a power reactor this ratio of neutrons in a given instant to the previous instant (k) is (very close to) 1 - ie the neutron flux remains (relatively) stable across short time frames (the flux varies significantly with fuel burnup). Once you go to k > 1, the reaction increases very rapidly and thats when things get dangerous in an uncontrolled environment. There would be "nuclear reactions", even fission, going on in a tablespoon of the stuff, just not at a rate necessary to create a chain reaction and establish criticality. How much of this stuff it would take to create and maintain a chain reaction depends on a lot of things - geometry, what else is in the liquid solution (ie anything hydrogenous would help thermalize/"slow-down" the neutrons to the point where fission is most likely, maintaining the chain reaction), and the amount of enrichment (since this is weapons/navy grade stuff, it was extremely high, meaning you wouldn't need much). That said, I don't have a good estimate of how much of this stuff it would take, but I do know that a sphere of pure Pu-239 a little bigger than a softball (~12kg) is a critical configuration. I have a BS in Nuke Engineering, but haven't had a reactor theory course for a few years and shifted career paths, so I apologize for any errors.

While I'm for oversight, what would Congress do? (3, Insightful)

xC0000005 (715810) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307305)

Your average congressman/woman is not fit for the types of duties we already allow them - allocating money. Let's say this had all been open, and it was brought up before an oversight committe in Congress. What exactly is a congressman going to bring to the table at such a discussion?
CongressMan A: "I'm outraged at this. You stored Uranium in plain gray containers, spilled them, and then didn't buy cleanup services from my home state. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Uranium Dude: "We acknowledge that we were wrong to spill the uranium, and promise to paint the containers yellow, AND buy the yellow paint from your home state."
Congressman A: "That's damn right you will! Yellow paint and pork in one day. That's congressional leadership."

We need people with experience in handling such materials on the oversight committe - congresspeople can go off and write some vision law or national spotted insect day - in other words, what they are good at. And we need some sort of realistic expectations on what punishments would ever be meted out. I doubt we would ever ditch a uranium supplier because it's in our best interests for security to keep the number of entrants in the field small. And we wouldn't want disgruntled employees deciding to contract out.

Re:While I'm for oversight, what would Congress do (0, Troll)

E++99 (880734) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307675)

Agreed. When has Congress ever used an oversight hearing to do anything constructive? All they are interested in doing is turning important issues into political weaponry. I say the more is hidden from Congress the better. If the laws establishing the NRC need adjusting, let the executive branch bring it to their attention.

"Almost" a chain reaction ? (3, Insightful)

Ollabelle (980205) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307351)

I'm sorry, but I missed something. If it's in the container, it's safe, but if it's loose on the floor, it's liable to start a chain reaction? That just doesn't sound right. I smell an ulterior motive in this story.

Re:"Almost" a chain reaction ? (4, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307713)

I'm sorry, but I missed something. If it's in the container, it's safe, but if it's loose on the floor, it's liable to start a chain reaction?

Any container designed to hold enriched uranium would be carefully shaped so as to avoid coming anywhere near to creating a critical mass. In this incident, the risk was that the liquid would flow into the elevator shaft, where it would pool into a compact shape that could create a critical mass.

Should be: Public, maybe, Congress, no (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307377)

I can see temporarily keeping documents from the public until they can be properly sanitized, provided this is done in a timely manner and isn't over-done.

However, Congress, or at least the parts of Congress that oversees civilian use of nuclear material, should have immediate and unfettered access. These same Congressmen should be specifically alerted any time there is an event that could affect regional or national interests.

The lawmakers and key appointed officials from the surrounding areas, including certain state officials, should be briefed any time there is an event that affects the region, such as a toxic or radioactive material spill that escapes into the environment.

Misleading title (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307411)

Congress was not kept from the results. The public was. Anything marked "For Official Use Only" (with or without the "for") is self-regulated. Meaning, if you aren't doing it for official use, you stop yourself from reading it. It also means you can't distribute it willy-nilly.

All members of Congress have at least the right to view FOUO information. Some politicians disagree with marking this material as such, and they are quoted in the article. But at NO TIME were they banned from the information.

The title written as it is lends itself to a much more insidious plot, and that is far from what occurred.

Nuclear power and Milton Friedmann dittoheads (2, Insightful)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307441)

A few years ago, I had a conversation about next generation energy with a friend (one of those "privatize everything" types). He lambasted people for fearing nuclear energy as he saw it as the way of the future. This story is *exactly* the argument I made to explain the legitimacy of public fears of nuclear power. We let the private industry in with it's self-serving interests and God forbid something goes wrong. Just like on Three Mile Island, private industry finds it in their interest to sweep problems under the rug to the detriment of the public good.

Re:Nuclear power and Milton Friedmann dittoheads (1, Troll)

stoneymonster (668767) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307549)

I would like to see estimates for the number of people killed per watt produced of nuclear power, vs. that of coal. I suspect coal will come out as the far more dangerous alternative historically (even adjusted for the late introduction of nuclear power as a source). Has anyone seen such a study? My suspicion is that dying from protracted respiratory disease is just not sexy enough to get people worked up like radiation poisoning.

The bushies hiding something??? (-1, Troll)

sizzzzlerz (714878) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307459)

Please, Joe. Say it ain't so!

So What? (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307537)

Seriously, why do you need to even know this stuff? Was the public harmed? No. Were workers harmed? No. No harm, no foul. There's no need to cover up becuase there is nothing to report. Just another industrial accident, move along.

If you ask me, this minor incident was probably leaked and sensationalized for reasons more political than actually any public good. So... what are you going to do about it knowing this that hurts you?

NFS has always kept very quiet about what it does. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307557)

I used to live near Erwin, TN and NFS was always secretive about it's work. Yes we know they recycle material from weapons grade uranium to produce reactor fuel. They also supply fuel for nuclear subs and ships for the Navy. The rest of what they do is not know. There was also an interesting event that seemed related to them as well about 3-4 years ago. The local sheriff for that area busted a couple of suspected terrorists with fake Israeli passports that came in through Canada. They were driving a moving truck and heading towards where the NFS complex is located. Another strange coincidence to that was the apache helecopters that were searching for them with their full armament. This was odd since they don't do training with apaches in that area and they were flying along the roads searching for someone. The feds got involved on that, but I suspect there is some relation to the guys with an empty truck heading towards Erwin and NFS on fake Israeli passports. Erwin isn't exactly a town people (especially non-white folks) travel to for vacation and it's known in East TN for it's past racist problems. One of the best statements I heard about Erwin was from someone I knew that worked at the school there... "We don't have a racist problem, we have plenty of chinese and mexicans in our area..." Given the area, the views of many folks in that backwards town and such, a couple of middle eastern guys with fake Israeli passports in a moving truck could only be there for one reason that I know of and it's NFS.

It's about time they un-cover all that happens with NFS. I'm no gov conspiracy theorist or anything, but the events in a backwards small mountain town like that catch peoples eye. I am sure there are other facilities and private gov contract companies that have much of the same view as NFS does. With how scary accidents like this are and some of the unusual things that happen around plants like that, it's rather disturbing.

Sign of the Times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307585)

Must be a sign of the times here on slashdot. I'm so used to reading political news posted by kdawson that I was left wondering what the National Republican Committee had to do with nuclear fuel.

It is NOT that they were trying to hide it (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307591)

It's that they thought you were gullible enough to believe their lies about how safe nuclear fission energy sources are.

Re:It is NOT that they were trying to hide it (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307841)

Nine people died in the United States in one coal mining accident. How many have died from fission?

This just in (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307615)

The government is extremely Bureaucratic! *Gasp*

Only 2 steps away from chain reaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20307621)

If the enriched uranium liquid had run into a series of fuel rod castings and those castings just happened to tip over, falling precisely into a nearby reactor, this thing could have gone critical.

Highly enriched fuel (1)

TopSpin (753) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307721)

Just an FYI; highly enriched fuel is used for naval reactors (aircraft carriers, submarines, etc.) Typical power reactors aren't designed to burn this in large quantities.

Here's a photo of the facility. [citizen-times.com] That's a guard tower in the right foreground.

They kept a lid on it for 3 years. I note that this was NRC policy, as opposed to a company cover up. The NRC is typically rather open [nrc.gov] about these sort of events.

This is why there are legitimate concerns (3, Insightful)

cliffski (65094) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307831)

about nuclear power. I'm opposed to it. not on any technical grounds, or any dogmatic or spiritual bollocks, just because I do NOT trust private companies with this stuff, nor do I trust them to handle GM food responsibly either. If we had decades of perfect safety records on existing reactors, combined with absolute transparency on what goes wrong and who is to blame and what happened if something does fail, then maybe I'd be convinced that this is a technology that you can trust private companies, or for that matter, the government, to use safely.
This is not currently the case. here in the UK, we even falsified documents to show the japanese we had carried out safety procedures on their reprocessed fuel. Not surprisingly, they sent it back.

The risk of nuclear accidents is VERY small, but the potential worst case effect of one if it does happen is massive. With other forms of power like tidal, solar, wind, the worst case scenarios tend to be very very benign. As a result, I'd rather we spent the same cash investing in those technologies than one with so many potential downsides, including the leak risk, the theoretical meltdown, the security risks, potential health problems, need for uranium, centralised nature of the technology, need to be near large supplies of water, yada yada yada...

nuclear is great in theory, so is GM, but in practice, I don't vaguely think we are there yet in terms of safety.

Miscommunication (1)

Spazmania (174582) | more than 6 years ago | (#20307875)

Its all a miscommunication. If the congress wanted "nu-ku-lar" information, they should have asked for it.
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