Friday, August 05, 2011

What could --- Oooppss

In 1965, the Soviet nuclear powered ice-breaker V.I. Lenin suffered the first of its two nuclear accidents. One reactor suffered a loss of coolant before the nuclear fuel was removed. Due to all the heat, many of the rods melted themselves to the reactor vessel. The melted parts of the reactor core were sealed and disposed of in 1967 on an island. The second accident in 1967 involved a leak in one of the reactors. They had to use sledgehammers to get through the containment vessel to find the leak. The sledgehammers damaged the reactor vessel beyond repair. The repair and installation of new reactors was completed by 1970. In 1989 the ice-breaker was retired.

Back in 1994, in the primitive days of the Internet when a 56k modem was high speed, an American teen managed to turn his mother's garden shed into a Superfund site. David Hahn was a Boy Scout who managed to get his Atomic merit badge in 1991. But he did not stop there. Using various means including social engineering nuclear officials, he managed to obtain critical information. Along with material. First he wanted to create a neutron gun. Then he decided to try and create a breeder reactor. Then things started to get hot when his Geiger counter picked up radiation five doors down from his mother's house. So he started to take his project apart. It was the parts in his car that unraveled the whole mess, someone had called the police reporting a teen was stealing tires. Police found David Hahn. Along with a toolbox in the car's trunk that David said was radioactive. So the garden shed was taken apart and buried with other radioactive waste. David refused treatment for radiation exposure. And that should have been that. Except in 2007 David Hahn was arrested and convicted of stealing smoke detectors. His 90 day sentence was delayed because he had to get treatment for radiation exposure. His mug shot ain't pretty.

In these modern 21st Century times, such incidents might be filed under lessons not to repeat. It seems some have not learned. Or are just betting they can avoid the pitfalls this time around.

Example of the first, of not learning, seems to be this story out of Sweden. This delightful chap tried to do Hahn one better. He tried to build a reactor on his kitchen table. Then he had an attack of sanity, called Swedish nuclear officials to ask some questions about legality, and then the man and his project was scooped up before any harm happened.

Second one is from Russia and is far more troubling due to the possible scope of impact if calamity happens. And again it seems the Arctic environment is what could be affected, including all those polar bears everyone worries about. The Russians want to put on large cargo vessels nuclear reactors so they can stake better claims on Arctic resources. They use their experience with nuclear ice-breakers as justification that these 'nuclear wessels' will be safe. Right. Its also mentioned that Algeria and Indonesia are interested in floating nuclear power stations. Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, and Spain I think would object to such a plan; all of them worrying what happens if the vessel founders and the reactor gets breached in the confines of the Mediterranean Sea. And just thinking of such a vessel getting caught in another tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh gives me major goose pimples.

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