At the risk of shocking you, it turns out that underground nuclear tests in Nevada vented significant amounts of radiation.
U.S. above-ground testing ended in 1962. However, since 1961, radioactive material escaped from 433 tests, "some of which have simultaneous detonations" where several explosions would go off at once, the report says. "However, only 52 of these are designated as having offsite releases," according to the report.There's also astonishing news from Santa Susana, CA, where a sodium reactor melted down in 1959:
The study shocked even the most veteran SSFL observers, revealing that the now-infamous 1959 meltdown of the lab’s Sodium Reactor Experiment (SRE) most likely caused cancer in 260 to 1,800 people within a 62-mile radius of the east Ventura County lab.Meanwhile, the news that radioactive snails have been discovered in Spain puts Reuters in a playful mood. It posted the article in its "Oddly Enough" section - which is normally consecrated to incompetent thieves, people who fall into chemical toilets, and intricate sexual mishaps - and gave it the droll heading Investigating escargots that glow?
This is standard-issue hackwork; glowing snails are funny, just like depressed fish. The reality, though, remains rather drab:
The discovery of radioactive snails at a site in southeastern Spain where three U.S. hydrogen bombs fell by accident 40 years ago may trigger a new joint U.S.-Spanish clean-up operation, officials said Wednesday.I bring these stories up because a group of nuclear-industry experts has reportedly proclaimed that the most serious threat of nuclear terrorism comes from dirty bombs made with radioactive medical waste.
The hydrogen bombs fell near the fishing village of Palomares in 1966 after a mid-air collision between a bomber and a refueling craft, in which seven of 11 crewmen died.
Part of the argument here is that "nuclear power plants are essentially fortresses," and are therefore impregnable to terrorists. Maybe that's so. But as I've mentioned before, the entire security force at Oak Ridge National Labs was "killed" in 90 seconds during a preparedness exercise. In another incident, sixteen foreign-born workers with phony immigration papers were able to enter ORNL's Y-12 weapons plant with impunity.
Just in case you noticed the dates on these stories, and assumed the problems have been addressed, an article dated 10/16/06 says:
The Energy Department cannot meet its own post-Sept. 11 security standards to repel a terrorist force at the Ft. Knox of uranium, a facility in Tennessee that stores an estimated 189 metric tons of bomb-grade material, agency officials acknowledged.Last, here's a tangentially related story:
The material is stored in five masonry and wood-frame buildings at the Y-12 facility, a key part of the nation's nuclear weapons infrastructure at the Oak Ridge site near Knoxville.
A train carrying high-level nuclear waste between plants owned by CP&L/Progress Energy was recently boarded illegally by one or more inmates in Richmond County, NC...."If these people had been intending to cause serious harm, they were in perfect position to do so," said Nora Wilson, an organizer with the group. "Being scared off by armed guards after they were already on the train? That's too late."Putting these anecdotes - and their implications - aside, it's interesting to think about the potential effects of dirty bombs versus the actual effects of soberly debated U.S. policy at sites like Hanford and Yucca Flat. Radiological dispersal is interpreted very differently depending on whether the culprits "hate America," or have merely designated part of it as a national sacrifice zone.
(Photo by Emmet Gowin.)
UPDATE: I just remembered that CKR discovered a similarly grim radioactivity-themed story in Reuters "Oddly Enough" section.
UPDATE II: POGO Blog has more on the current ORNL findings.