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America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?
10

America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

(OP)
I was quite surprised to find out that the Santa Susana Field Lab, 35 miles from the center of Los Angeles, was the scene of partial core meltown in 1959. More radition was released there than Three Mile Island, over 900X according to one worst case analysis. A friend of mine, an engineer, told me about it. He is not one to believe in conspiracy theories so I checked it out. I read many accounts, looked at internal memos, listed to local broadcasts from investigative news teams, talked to people who lived nearby, too. Amazed how so few people have heard about it. Boeing owns the site now and denies that it is dangerous. Real estate agents sell houses less than 2 miles from the failed nuclear reactor. It is mind boggling. I wrote an article about it on engineering.com. I am very interested in what engineers in this forum have to say about it. If you have first hand knowledge about it or lived in the area I would very much appreciate hearing your story.

https://www.engineering.com/BIM/ArticleID/19944/Am...

Roopinder Tara
Director of Content
ENGINEERING.com

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

“Worse” being subjective, consider the SL-1 experimental reactor in Idaho, 1961. Full withdrawal of the control rod during maintenance caused a 3 MW reactor to go prompt critical generating 20 GW IN 4 milliseconds, vaporizing the core and all of the water inside, and causing the 26,000 pound reactor to lift more than 9’ off of the floor. They found one of the three operators who was killed impaled to the ceiling of the containment building as a result.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1

The resultant cleanup created 99,000 cubic feet of highly contaminated waste.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

And let's not forget Fermi I outside of Detroit in 1966, where they also had a partial core meltdown, and this was a sodium-cooled, fast-breeder reactor.

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/20...

Personal note: When I was about 15 years old, four years before the accident, while the plant was still under construction, me and my family got a close-up and personal tour of the Fermi I nuclear plant. My cousin was an electrical engineer working for the general contractor building the plant and he arranged for us to visit areas not open to the general public, which included not only the control room, but also down on the main floor where the turbines were located and finally, inside the containment building itself. At one time we lived only a few miles from where the plant was to be constructed, although by the time the plant was finished and put into operation, we had moved up to Northern Michigan, however we still had family living in the area, some no more than five or six miles from the power plant.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Don’t forget about when the Air Force jettisoned two nuclear bombs in Goldsboro, NC in 1961.

Uh Oh!



Good Luck,
Latexman

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I'm with Spartan on the SL-1. That was quite a mess.

Keith Cress
kcress - http://www.flaminsystems.com

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

All news to me.

I couldn't help wondering about the particulars of how/why the control rod on SL-1 came to be removed. The wiki summary of the accident investigation has the following (excerpt):

Quote:

One of the required maintenance procedures called for the central control rod to be manually withdrawn approximately 4 inches (10 cm) in order to attach it to the automated control mechanism from which it had been disconnected. Post-accident calculations estimate that the main control rod was actually withdrawn approximately 26 inches (66 cm), causing the reactor to go prompt critical, which resulted in the steam explosion. The fuel, portions of the fuel plates, and water surrounding the fuel plates vaporized in the extreme heat. The expansion caused by this heating process caused water hammer as water was accelerated upwards toward the reactor vessel head, producing peak pressures of 10,000 pounds per square inch (69,000 kPa) on the head of the reactor vessel when air and then water struck the head at 160 feet per second (50 m/s).[27]

The most common theories proposed for the withdrawal of the rod are (1) sabotage or suicide by one of the operators, (2) a suicide-murder involving an affair with the wife of one of the other operators, (3) inadvertent withdrawal of the main control rod, or (4) an intentional attempt to "exercise" the rod (to make it travel more smoothly within its sheath).[30][31] The maintenance logs do not address what the technicians were attempting to do, and thus the actual cause of the accident will never be known. The investigation took almost two years to complete.

Investigators analyzed the flux wires installed during the maintenance to determine the power output level. They also examined scratches on the central control rod. Using this data, they concluded that the central rod had been withdrawn 26.25 inches (66.7 cm).[20] The reactor would have been critical at 23 inches (58.4 cm), and it took approximately 100 ms for the rod to travel the final 3.25 inches (8.3 cm). Once this was calculated, experiments were conducted with an identically weighted mock control rod to determine whether it was possible or feasible for one or two men to have performed this. Experiments included a simulation of the possibility that the 48-pound (22 kg)[32] rod was stuck and one man freed it himself, reproducing the scenario that investigators considered the best explanation: Byrnes broke the control rod loose and withdrew it accidentally, killing all three men.[11]

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

John,

Thanks for the link. I'm Alvin's younger brother, and agree that we did not almost lose Detroit. I worked to decommission the plant during the summer of '75. Sodium is neat stuff.

When considering the safety of nuclear generated power, please consider the alternatives. How many have died from coal?

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

SL-1...what happens when you let Army play with nuclear reactors. (My opinion is not neutral - former Navy Nuc here!)

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I worked at the Santa Susana site for 2 year from 7/1/1963 to7/1/1965. This was before the development of the Semi Valley.

I was employed by Rocketdyne (another division of north American Aviation) that used the vast majority of the area because of the area required for testing of liquid propellant rocket engines. I think we had 12 or 17 test stands. With the development of much more powerful rocket engines, much of the testing was moved to a site near Edwards Air Force base. The up-grading of the capacity of the stands was ongoing as long as possible.

I believe another division of North American occupied another division (Atomics International???) was just down the road in Santa Susana.

The rocket testing used liquid and gaseous propellants - liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen(LOX) and a very few other minor exotic propellant additives that completed the fuel blend. All were liquid/vaporous and dispersed or burned.

The rocket test stands were steel structures up to 200' high including the fuel tanks. The steel structure sat on a massive cantilevered concrete foundation on the side of the rock. The exhaust from the engine was down on to a steel flame deflector mounted of the steep rocky terrain. The deflector was cooled by water that was film of cooling to preserve and stabilize the deflector. One day a 3' long heavy (75#?) wrench was left on the deflector before a firing. The wrench hit the window of the observation building about 1000' away and went into about 5 separate 1-1/2" layers of "bullet-proof glass".

The many deer and mountain lions were never injured. We fed them by tossing lunch leftovers down from our offices/trailers. There was also a old building near us the was referred to as the "old log cabin" that previously was a "roadhouse bar" for Hollywood stars to use decades ago.

It was a great experience. I also got to attend paid engineering graduate courses at USC 3 or 4 nights every week. Also, 60 miles mileage and dinner every day.

I would have paid to get the experience.

Dick

Engineer and international traveler interested in construction techniques, problems and proper design.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I think you got to count this as a pretty close call as well even though the bulk of the radioactive material was contained. They were 4 actual BOMBS that went loose that day. Lsat time I looked (15 years ago) it was still vacant land with a small fence around it, no warning signs, with encroaching development in the area. I may be wrong, but it seems that it was never entirely cleaned up. USAF didn't learn all that much during the 5yrs since those other two bombs got lost in 1961.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1966_Palomares_B-52_...

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Been plenty of accidents in North America. Semi Hills SRE reactor, SL-1, Fermi, Chalk River (Canada). That only gets you up to 1966. A good book to read on these is Atomic Accidents by James Mahaffey. Then, if you want to get into the military incidents, read Command and Control by Eric Schlosser.

One of the things I found interesting is when Canada had their first accident at Chalk River in 1952 (they had another in 1956), Admiral Rickover decided to help, sending a team led by a young Lt. James Carter. 27 years later, as President Jimmy Carter, he visited Three Mile Island only 4 days after that accident.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

2
If we're going to bring up kids playing with fissionable material, we have to mention the Radioactive Boy Scout incident.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

phamENG, that's an amazing story. Thanks.

While we had already moved from Michigan to SoCal, during the time that these events were taking place, I was a frequent visitor to the Detroit and during this period I was working for EDS, which was part of GM. In fact, our office was in Farmington Hills Township, which bordered Commerce Township. And I have to say is that this is the first that I've ever heard of this. Amazing what a smart kid can do if they're creative enough. That being said, I would hope that if someone tried this today, that the 'alarm bells' would go off quicker than that did back in 1995 winky smile

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

That Boy Scout thing is really scarey. I got as far as black powder, but never thought about taking it to the nuc level.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

This quote at the end of Harper's "the Radioactive Boyscout" phamEngr cited is telling.
“It’s simply presumed that the average person wouldn’t have the technology or materials required to experiment in these areas."
Consider the number of people that have built Farnsworth–Hirsch fusor devices just for fun I think the regulators underestimate the power of human curiosity. (https://www.fusor.net/)
<disclaimer>While the fusor is far less unsafe than the boyscout's breeder reactor, it defiantly is not a safe toy.</disclaimer>
Fred

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

phamENG: Great article... bright kid. It was grade 6 or 7 that I first made nitro... and I thought I was doing good.

Dik

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

As a former boy scout and rad worker myself, I was always intrigued by that one.

In looking it up to post the link yesterday I discovered something unfortunately, though. I didn't dig into it, but something went terribly wrong and that bright young mind was ultimately wasted. Not sure if it was the fallout (sorry) from the legal issues or what, but he died a few years ago in his late 30s - drugs and alcohol. Hard to imagine what somebody with that level of intelligence, curiosity, and motivation could have done with the right mentor to guide him.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

A major problem was that he'd already received a life-time exposure to radiation and therefore was blocked from working in the field. He may have had other problems, but alcoholism finished him off.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote (stevenal)

I'm Alvin's younger brother
username (last 2 letters) checks out. Small world!

Quote:

Amazing what a smart kid can do if they're creative enough.
I think the writing style built up the "radioactive boyscout" to imply more than he really did. They make the kid out as a genius, focusing on his INTENT to build a breeder reactor in his shed. I see he accomplished two surprising things, he got hold of radioactive materials and he apparently did succeed in concentrating Thorium to some extent. Yes, that’s something impressive, but other than that there’s not much evidence reading through those 6 pages that he succeeded in anything other than spread the radioactive materials that he bought around, making a mess.

There are real genius kids out there doing amazing nuclear things at young ages. Taylor Wilson did achieve fusion at the age 14. Then Jackson Oswalt did so at age 13.

As far as op article
  • Mushroom clouds are associated with nuclear bombs, not nuclear power.
  • You spent a little too much time on the China syndrome for me.
  • In my decades in the nuclear industry, I have never heard of a reactor being “turned on”. Reactors are “started up”. The “turn on” terminology conjures up imagines of a comically simplified reactor with an on/off button. (Starting up a reactor involves a lot more than manipulating one switch/button.)

=====================================
(2B)+(2B)' ?

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I didn't make black powder and nitro until I was in high school. Slow learner.

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The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

In 1967 I was taking high school chemistry under a particularly adventurous teacher who tickled my curiosity.

I walked into the local chemical supply house and purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids in quart quantities, along with a half pound of iodine crystals and a gallon of 50% ammonia solution. No questions were asked, no eyebrows raised, no background checks. Plunk down the cash and walk out.

Nothing radioactive, but the stuff of many a curious experiment.

old field guy

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

OFG:
I was in grade school and I kept having my dad write notes to Mr.Borthistle, the druggist... for stuff. Finally my dad relented and wrote him a note giving me a carte blanche...

Dik

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

3DD: "A major problem was that he'd already received a life-time exposure to radiation and therefore was blocked from working in the field. He may have had other problems, but alcoholism finished him off."

That's a shame... I would have thought the kid had great potential...

Dik

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

OFG - Lots of fun was had with that combination of chemicals.

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The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I seem to recall 'barking dog' with other stuff...

Dik

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote (ofg)

I walked into the local chemical supply house and purchased concentrated nitric and sulfuric acids in quart quantities, along with a half pound of iodine crystals and a gallon of 50% ammonia solution. No questions were asked, no eyebrows raised, no background checks. Plunk down the cash and walk out.
Making ammonium triiodide, by any chance? I've had some fun with that myself.

=====================================
(2B)+(2B)' ?

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

By chance I posted this in Petroleum Production a couple of days ago, and as it also concerns radiation exposure, I add it here in case there are a few of you interested in alternative supplies ???
https://www.eng-tips.com/viewthread.cfm?qid=465745

Genius, maybe not so much, but certainly tenacity and perserverence come to mind.

Start up vs. turn on. I get it, but it is interesting to think about the languistics. I started up my car today, but I think when I buy a Tesela, I will have to turn it on. Neither will take more effort than rotating an ignition, or a "starter" switch, pushing a button or presenting a key code of some kind. Will I also start up my electric personal drone, or simply say "Alexa! Drone On!" So what items need to be started up as opposed to being turned on? Will Alexa know the difference? Sorry, went over the fence.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

My father was a Phd health physicists and did a fair bit of consultancy work in the North Sea/Scotland with scale.

Lost count over the years of the number of surprises he brought home that were issues.

Still remember him getting a ltr of raw still wash from every distillery in Scotland after Chernobyl fall out hit Scotland. I think he needed 10ml per sample to count. Very good for cleaning bicycle gears I seemed to remember. I have never been a huge fan of whisky which I suspect stems from that time.

He had one set of slides which he used for the Offshore rad safety course, they basically paid for myself and sister to go through university and fund her through her Phd.

One item that sticks in my mind was some safety what for a better word could be called buttons. They were for lighting door knobs when the power failed. They were largish alpha sources which normally wouldn't be an issue in the ceiling etc. Just that these were all fitted to door handles and everyone was getting a contact dose when they opened the door. But to be fair they were bloody bright when you wanted to find the door. I saw them again 15 years later in Motels in Florida while doing flight training and used a barrier every time I opened a door with them fitted.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Ammonium-tri-iodide.
Great stuff. I first made it with tincture of iodine and ammonium hydroxide cleaning solution and a coffee filter.
For those of you who haven't played with this stuff, it is one of the most unstable explosives known.
Paradoxically the instability makes it safe.
It is made wet and does not become explosive until it dries.
Any quantity larger than the head of a wooden match will be triggered into a series of mini explosions by the self contraction caused by the drying.
It would be mixed wet and dabbed on to targets such as doorknobs, light switches, gearshift levers, anything that the intended victim was expected to touch.
Any contact would cause it to decompose with a bang, a flash, a sting to the finger and a purple stain.
Spotted on the floor of a college dorm late at night anyone returning later would wake up the residents with a series of mini explosions.
I never heard of an injury but there were a couple of threats of injury directed towards the perpetrators.
I later moved up to a kit in a small box, about 6"x6"x6".
Inside was a bottle of ammonium hydroxide, a bottle of iodine pellets, a 2" filter funnel and filter papers and a small aspirator pump with a rubber inlet that would fit over most water taps.
I could make a batch in under two minutes.
One time my friends borrowed my kit and did up my bedroom. They used way too much. I got zapped 4 or 5 times but throughout the night I was repeatedly awakened by self detonation of very large blobs as they dried.
One experiment that I heard about but never got around to trying.
It was claimed that if a sugar cube was doped with the stuff and left out during fly time that the impact of a house fly landing on the sugar cube was enough to set it off and kill the fly.
That is believable to anyone who has played with the stuff.
My son recently turned 14. Do I dare tell him about the stuff? No, probably not.

Bill
--------------------
"Why not the best?"
Jimmy Carter

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I lived in a dorm my freshman year and there were a couple of chemistry majors who messed around with ammonium-tri-iodide. They used to sprinkle it on the floor in the hallways of the dorm, and you could hear that stuff go off in the middle of the night when someone was walking to the bathroom/showers. Speaking of bathrooms, they finally cracked-down on this activity when someone decided to spread some of the wet ammonium-tri-iodide onto the black toilet seats. Of course, after it dried, it was undetectable until someone sat down. The resulting burns proved to be quite painful, and after a few late-night calls to the nurses station, the dorm manager threatened to have the perpetrator(s) expelled, if this sort of thing continued. Needless, to say, things got a bit quieter around the place after that.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

We first made it in high school when a classmate with an older brother passed down the wisdom. Nearly got expelled when the vice principle pulled a paper towel out of the dispenser and the rest of the paper towels filled the air. Made small batches in college with plenty of hi-jinx then sophomore year they replaced the old chemistry building with a brand new one. They lined the hallways with chemicals and we students went "shopping". They also left all the labs unlocked. So we mixed up a big batch using all brand new glassware. While rushing to simultaneously rinse the crystals and clean up, we let the filtrate start to dry out. I saw a crack open up in the "mud" and added water and stuck a stirring rod in it. That's when all hell broke loose. A small quantity exploded and blew the remaining crystals all over me and the lab. We cleaned up everything we could and went to dinner as they were about to quit serving. Standing in line nonchalantly while stained head to foot and specs on my clothing exploded, keep moving, nothing to see here!

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The Help for this program was created in Windows Help format, which depends on a feature that isn't included in this version of Windows.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Waross,

I made it when I was growing up but it was pretty expensive at least for what I was paying for iodine.

I wanted to make mercury fulminate but never felt confident playing with mercury.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

2
I was telling my wife about the breeder-reactor boy scout story. Then she remembered hearing the story of El Cobalto.

A few extracts:
"No one knew the truck was dangerously "hot." From a distance of less than one meter, it emitted 50 rads an hour..."

"...a radiation alarm went off when a delivery truck took a wrong turn near the gates of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico."

"About 600 tons of the contaminated steel were shipped to the U.S. from December 1983 to January 1984."

www.sparweb.ca

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Wow.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?


Radioactive scrap is a recurring problem.

This paper identifies 28 incidents between 1983 and 1993.
From the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Scientific and Technical Information library
https://www.osti.gov/etdeweb/servlets/purl/2068529... (in case the link does not work, see the attachment).

Most foundries take precautions.

us epa guidance
https://www.epa.gov/radtown/radioactive-material-s...

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Report on the Improvement of the Management of Radiation Protection Aspects in the Recycling of Metal Scrap 2001.
http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/trans/radiation...

Fred

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I am reminded that wrecked pre-WWII ships are harvested specifically because they are not contaminated with fallout from all the nuclear testing. And there was a program in the US to collect outgrown baby teeth in an effort to discover the rate of radioactive material uptake from cows eating fallout contaminated grass, producing radioactive contaminated milk, which ended up in radioactive baby teeth. https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/tooth-fairy-go...

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Actually, it's the air are we breath that is slightly more radioactive from nuclear testing and accidents. Blast furnace smelting of iron ore uses large quantities of air. As a result new steel is slightly more radioactive than pre-1945 steel. For many nuclear instruments and materials for special physics experiments new steel is unusable. It's more than just steel. Lead ingots salvaged from ancient shipwrecks are valued for shielding. Museums only need a couple for display and research. The rest are a valuable as specialized raw material.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

The El Cobalto reminds me of a somewhat similar modern example. A shipping container was stuck and isolated at a port in Italy because of radioactive scrap. Link

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Does anyone have any idea how much that low background steel is worth? I work in a factory that is over 100 years old. There have been several businesses here over the years, and some equipment from previous owners remains here. There are numerous old workbenches with 2-1/2" thick steel tops. Way over designed for workbenches and nobody knows the origin of them. I always wondered if they are pre WWII, or maybe even salvaged from battleships and cruisers when they were scrapped afterwards.

Brad Waybright

It's all okay as long as it's okay.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Its worth quiet a bit more than normal steel.

The trick is to find someone that's looking for it.

Do some searches for radiation instrumentation producers and email them directly.

I got a plate of armour from scapa flow and it was very gratefully received by my dad.

The other places to try are university bio medical heath departments they use it for setting up experiments.

Another place to try is NASA.

There is also a requirement for low radiation lead.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Milliontown,
Thanks for that link.

Quote (Center for National Policy president Stephen Flynn)

"The radiation portals that were deployed in the aftermath of 9/11 are essentially fine, except for three problems: They won't find a nuclear bomb, they won't find highly enriched uranium, and they won't find a shielded dirty bomb," says Stephen Flynn, a terrorism expert and president of the Center for National Policy. "Other than that, they're great pieces of equipment."

Hmmm. yeah great.

www.sparweb.ca

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

For what it's worth, here's an interesting developing development:

Pentagon awards contracts to design mobile nuclear reactor

https://www.defensenews.com/smr/nuclear-arsenal/20...

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Interesting? Yes. Good idea? I think...no. The Army tried it once before and it didn't work out. I'm sure they'll get the tech right this time, but the other issues seem too big to justify.

Quote (JohnRBaker's linked article)

“Fielding these reactors without commanders fully understanding the radiological consequences and developing robust response plans to cope with the aftermath could prove to be a disastrous miscalculation,” warned Lyman.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I have been out of the industry for a decade now, however the few notices I still receive seem to be mainly work on small modular reactors, so I thought they were advancing and becoming mainstream

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Years ago (30 or so) there was a company down near San Diego that was working on so-called SMR's (Small Modular Reactors). I made some sales calls down there trying to sell them our software. Nothing ever came of it as they were always strapped for cash, but it was interesting talking to them and looking at the drawings and scale-models. While they weren't talking about portable power plants, their idea was to develop small reactors that could be used to supply power to industrial operations in remote places, like a mining operation in the desert or the arctic.

If I recall correctly, the idea was to treat these 'reactors' as a sort of nuclear 'battery' in the sense that the reactor itself would be manufactured and assembled in a factory, the nuclear fuel would be loaded and then it would be sealed and shipped to the site where it was to be used, installed, hooked to the steam turbines and put in operation. When it came time to to refuel the reactor, the entire module would be swapped-out for a new one, already fueled, and the old one would be taken back to the factory to be either refurbished and refueled, or dismantled and scrapped, recycling what they could and disposing, as nuclear waste, the contaminated parts.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I think the UK already has a design.

But similar to the Nuke subs getting lifted out the water at Faslane as soon as it becomes out the water based it becomes highly illegal. Stick it on a boat and everyone is happy.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

It appears that there are many different projects under way around the world working these SMR's, but so far, only a couple have ever gotten to the operational stage, although several appear to be in the licensing phase, per the chart in the Wiki article below:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_modular_reacto...

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Experimental modular or portable nuclear reactors have been around since the start of the nuclear era. Camp Century constructed in the Greenland ice sheet was powered by a PM-2A portable reactor (PM-2A for 'Portable Medium power, 2nd generation). There was a PM-3A deployed at McMurdo Base in Antarctica.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I think the chart in the Wiki item referenced in my post was attempting to represent the commercial efforts to produce SMR's. It doesn't appears to include any sort of government/military owned/operated installations.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

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RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

If they could work out how to do a Thorium reactor as a microreactor, that would be a much safer alternative.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Something seems off about that article. It feels more like a political statement (war is bad!) than an objective and informed scientific piece.

Thorium is only useful as a fuel if it's transmuted to uranium 233 by absorbing a neutron from another fissionable material. That's not to say there aren't benefits over fast fission, but it's still a fission reactor. And as for them being "meltdown proof"...well...the Titanic was unsinkable.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I don't know if it's really making the "war is bad" argument; maybe 'nuclear war is bad'. It is a fact that it's nearly impossible to create materials for nuclear weapons from a Thorium reactor, which is the main reason Uranium reactors were chosen back in the day.

It does require a small amount of Uranium to start the reaction, but far less than Uranium reactor of the same output, and the waste material, while toxic, is not what is needed to make a dirty bomb, so if the materials were to fall into the wrong hands, it is all around much less dangerous than if it was a Uranium/Plutonium reactor. While anything can theoretically happen, a Thorium reaction is not self-sustaining, which make the chances of a melt-down vanishingly small.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

My understanding is a little different. While Thorium itself may not be able to form a self sustaining reaction, once you've begun the transmutation process to U-233, you no longer have Thorium - you have fissionable uranium. And that is a self sustaining reaction.

I'm guessing by dirty bomb you mean nuclear bomb - while that has been true historically, it wasn't so much a shortcoming of U-233 as it was the seemingly inseparable presence of U-232 (which is too unstable for reliable weapons development). Newer technologies are thought to be capable of separating them. So a nuclear bomb could be possible in the near future if it isn't already. And then, of course, a dirty bomb is just a conventional explosive with radioactive material on top to be spread around and contaminate an area. U-233 can certainly do that.

I agree that this is a worthwhile technology to explore as it does seem safer and less environmentally hazardous than current nuclear pursuits. My only point is that we should be cautious about how it's portrayed. That article doesn't seem to bring up any of the downsides or risks, which is what I would expect from a thoroughly researched piece on a new develop in nuclear technology.

(Disclaimer: I've been out of the nuclear game for a while. If I've placed my foot in my mouth on any of these points, I hope somebody will inform me so I can remove it. Thanks.)

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

My understanding was that a typical Thorium reactor made the conversion of the Thorium to U-233 as it was needed for the reaction, so there would not be much, if any, U-233 present once the reaction was shut down. I could be wrong. I haven't read extensively on the subject, and I've never worked in the nuclear industry.

I'm sure there are more thorough articles out there about Thorium reactors; that just happened to be one that popped up in my web search that seemed with a quick skim to explain the basics.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Fair enough - not trying to beat up on you. Thanks for bringing Thorium into the conversation.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

A little more background on the Thorium reactor function and a waste material comparison to a U-235 reactor:

Thorium Converts to Uranium Inside the Reactor

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

A dirty bomb is a sub-nuclear/non-nuclear bomb that spreads radioactive material; the point isn't the explosive ability, but the environmental damage - hence dirty.

https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fac...

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

I understand what a radioactive dirty bomb is. My reason for contending that a Thorium nuclear power is safer in this respect compared to Uranium based nuclear power, is due to the minuscule to non-existent amount of radioactive waste produced.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

There is more than enough waste off thorium reactors to make a dirty bomb. Its just that the reactor runs relatively clean because the fuel processing is done on the fly so to speak. And it doesn't build up over the months between refuelling.

You don't actually have to have that much for a dirty bomb and its doesn't need to be particularly active for it to be a complete pain in the bum to get rid of.

Dirty bombs are more about terror than actual effect.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

BridgeSmith, I was more focused on phamENG's reply.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

3DDave - were you trying to disagree or agree?

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote:

There is more than enough waste off thorium reactors to make a dirty bomb.

Given enough time to stockpile it, I suppose; although the origin of the discussion was concerning microreactors falling into the hands of terrorist groups. In that context, I find it unlikely that a Thorium reactor of that size would have enough U-235 in it to contaminate much. Certainly far less than a Uranium/Plutonium reactor of the same size, were it to be captured.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Dirty bombs don't need U-235 which is relatively inactive in the grand scale of things.

There is no nuclear reaction in a dirty bomb its just a terror method of spreading radioactive isotopes around an area which then needs to be cleared up. What isotope they spread around doesn't really matter all they want is the headline of "dirty bomb" in the media.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Thorium reactors breed all sorts of radioactive byproducts, most of which generate gamma rays as decay products, which is the aim of dirty bombs.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
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RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Again, I know what a radioactive dirty bomb is, but thank you Alistair_Heaton for explaining it one more time.

I never claimed a Thorium reactor produced no material that could be used in a dirty bomb; only that it would produce far less of that material than a Uranium-based reactor of the same power output. As a scare tactic, I suppose any amount of radioactive material (or none) would suffice, but an effective dirty bomb would need a larger amount of radioactive material.

That brings us to the other advantage of a molten salt reactor (MSR), the type used for Thorium power plants - availability of the radioactive material from a 'captured' portable reactor (which again, was what was being discussed). In MSRs, the little bit of U233 is mixed in with the much greater volume of the highly toxic salt. Separating it out (without poisoning yourself almost instantaneously) requires specialized equipment, which presumably would not be readily available to your average roving band of Taliban fighters, etc. By contrast, in a Uranium reactor, the radioactive material is concentrated in the fuel rods. Remove and abscond with the fuel rods, and you have the radioactive material for a dirty bomb, all neatly packaged and ready to be strapped onto an explosive device.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote:

Thorium reactors breed all sorts of radioactive byproducts, most of which generate gamma rays as decay products, which is the aim of dirty bombs.

The bomb maker has to survive at least long enough to build it, though. (See the last paragraph of my previous post)

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote:

which presumably would not be readily available to your average roving band of Taliban fighters,

We know that's not quite true; both Pakistani and Russian nuclear expertise was once available for general hire.

Nevertheless, in general, at least some of the Taliban and its ilk aren't that concerned about personal health or longevity, so long as mission goals are accomplished

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote:

Nevertheless, in general, at least some of the Taliban and its ilk aren't that concerned about personal health or longevity, so long as mission goals are accomplished.

Again, even surviving long enough to accomplish the mission goals would be a challenge when dealing with the materials from an MSR.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Given the level of public understanding, a dirty bomb only has to distribute a detectable quantity of radiation to be effective.

We're very good at detecting radiation.

A.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote:

...a dirty bomb only has to distribute a detectable quantity of radiation to be effective.

Probably true, at least temporarily...the first time. After the initial panic subsides, the perpetrators' readily apparent ineptitude would likely work against them in their quest to incite fear in the future.

Rod Smith, P.E., The artist formerly known as HotRod10

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Quote:

... temporarily...the first time. After the initial panic subsides...

...he says 3+ months into a growing global panic about something else... ...are all the schools in your state shut down yet?

www.sparweb.ca

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Thorium, decays vis the 'thorium series'. The decay products have relative short radioactive lifetimes (years). U-233 decays vis the thorium series route.
Uranium decays via the 'uranium series'. The decay products have long radioactive lifetimes (centuries).

Yes, there are some things like double neutron capture, other isotope impurities, etc. that mean that there are always some decay products via other decay routes even with thorium. But there are a lot less.

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Like all reactors it will have carbon 14 cobalt 60 iron 55 in all the surrounding structure. To be honest it would be easier to just steal a NDT radiography source.

I wonder how many of us are now subject to monitoring by our National security due to this thread :D

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Alistair:

<sarcasm on> I resent your implication! This is the free United States of America! We have the technology to monitor everyone all the time and pay government servants to listen. Does anyone believe we are NOT being monitored, at least for certain words or phrases? <sarcasm off>

RE: America’s Worst Nuclear Disaster Was in California. Who Knew?

Pretty minor stuff, compared to viewing Al Qaeda videos showing their garbage and semi truck based missile launchers, along with their stirring martial music.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
I can do absolutely anything. I'm an expert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKorP55Aqvg
FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies forum1529: Translation Assistance for Engineers Entire Forum list http://www.eng-tips.com/forumlist.cfm

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