News ABC's University Nuclear Scandal

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ABC News' Brian Ross spent four months investigating security at our nation's nuclear reactors. His report that will air tonight on ABC News' "Primetime." It concludes that terrorists would have a fairly easy time stealing some of the reactors. Ross says one of those soft targets is at Penn State University.

The investigation found that the guard outside the reactor at Penn State was unarmed and asleep in a lawn chair. The reactor contains material that a terrorist could steal and turn into a dirty bomb.
http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=local&id=3531902

Apparently these journalists have absolutely no idea about nuclear reactors at all. These are university reactors... they cannot generate energy as they are not connected to turbines, cannot really be "stolen", and can only pretty much heat up water (referring to the "swimming pool" type reactors that are in some universities). They would make a really poor threat for terrorists, unless they want to boil some water. And it seems to be hardly worth defending as well...

And as for the dirty bomb part, I will refer to Morbius' post on the thread below. From what I know of most modern-day nuclear reactors, they mainly use uranium (which has a long half life and low radioactivity) of some sort, uranium oxide or possibly MOX, dirty bombs cannot feasibly be made out of the material. (see link below).

https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=573611&postcount=20

...the NRC replied to TRTR to say that their investigation revealed that these were nothing but a bunch of ABC hooligans out for some cheap journalistic thrills. But the NRC didn't end there, going on to scold the entire adventure:

"The NRC continues to believe that trying to gain access to reactor facilities under potentially suspicious circumstances, especially in the current threat environment, creates unnecessary concerns, diverts limited resources, and inappropriately distracts from high priority law enforcement activities."
http://blog.nam.org/archives/2005/10/abc_goes_nuclea_1.php [Broken]

So the main question is... why does ABC propagate the anti-nuclear hype if they should know that the attention has no scientific basis? Plain old regular U-238 wouldn't make much of a use as a dirty bomb, so why do the journalists keep spouting it :confused:
 
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Pengwuino

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motai said:
So the main question is... why does ABC propagate the anti-nuclear hype if they should know that the attention has no scientific basis? Plain old regular U-238 wouldn't make much of a use as a dirty bomb, so why do the journalists keep spouting it :confused:
Ratings. Oh dear god, think of the ramifications... thats a pretty high rating show...
 
911
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University research reactors as sources for dirty-bomb material

From the first time a research reactor is turned on, its uranium fuel rods contain fission products. These fission products are extremely radioactive and dangerous and would make excellent dirty-bomb material.

Furthermore, university research reactors until recently contained weapons-grade uranium. Even though university research reactors never have to change their fuel, the NRC decided that it would be a good idea to change out the weapons-grade uranium they normally hold, exchanging it with downblended 19.9% enriched uranium (still bad to get into the wrong hands, but very far from the enrichment levels needed for weapon construction).
 

Pengwuino

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I wanna see Morbius's view on this. Had no idea they used enriched uranium... i figured a few would have weps grade though
 
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hitssquad said:
From the first time a research reactor is turned on, its uranium fuel rods contain fission products. These fission products are extremely radioactive and dangerous and would make excellent dirty-bomb material.
Thanks hitssquad, I forgot about that. Though I would think that if any potential terrorists were to collect the fission products, they would be putting themselves in harms way in doing so.
 

Astronuc

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Many university research reactors are of th Triga design - http://triga.ga.com/45years.html [Broken]

US Installations - http://triga.ga.com/install_usa.pdf [Broken]

http://triga.ga.com/fuel.html [Broken]

I seem to remember that the fuel was highly enriched - about 70% U-235 in the U. That way it did not need refueling very often, and the power density was quite low. However, there has been a program over the last decade or so to reduce the quantity of U-235 to about 20% or less.
 
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R

rachmaninoff

What where you expecting from a website called "Action News"? :rolleyes:
 
911
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Fuel enrichment, research reactors, and weapons

Pengwuino said:
Had no idea they used enriched uranium... i figured a few would have weps grade though
All reactors, except for Canada's CANDU reactors, that run on uranium 235 use enriched uranium. Enrichment means boosting the U-235 content relative to the U-238 content. CANDU reactors run on natural uranium (uranium which has a U-235 content of 0.711%), but they are able to do this because they use "heavy" (highly-enriched in deuterium, the second isotope of hydrogen) water as a moderator, instead of ordinary water.

Weapons grade uranium is uranium that is enriched to about 92% or so or greater. Typically, research reactors have been running on 70%-enriched fuel. So, this is not really weapons grade, but it is close to it and would help bring a clandestine bomb-maker closer to his goal if he could obtain it. Apparently some research reactors may have been fueled with 90% enriched uranium, which if not weapons-grade is extremely close to it:

http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20040815/news_1n15nukes.html [Broken]

I don't know if that is true, though. Perhaps they were all fueled with only 70%-enriched uranium as Astronuc said. I have been informed by the administrators in charge of the Oregon State University (OSU) research reactor here in Corvallis that the NRC is extremely concerned about the highly-enriched fuel and is switching out all of the highly-enriched fuel with fuel that is purposely downblended to below their arbitrary cutoff point of 20%. Hence, all of the research reactors will soon (if they are not already) be fueled with exactly 19.9%-enriched uranium.

Note: it was true, at least previously when the fuel was typically 70%-enriched, that university research reactors were considered fueled-for-life once they had their initial charge of uranium fuel-rods installed. During a 2002 tour of the OSU reactor a student asked, "What do you do with the spent fuel?" The reactor administrator answered, "Good question. There is no spent fuel. The fuel that is in there is actually sufficent to last for the life of the reactor."

The situation is similar with nuclear submarines. They run on highly-enriched fuel, and therefore they only need to be refueled about once every 10 years or longer. Typically a commercial electric-power-generating reactor will run on ~3%-enriched fuel and will have its fuel changed every 18 months or so. (However, in a commercial power reactor only 1/3 of the fuel rods are changed during each refueling, so one might say that the fuel rods actually tend to last ~4.5 years).
 
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M

m78

April 11, 2005

Two U.S. University Research Reactors to be Converted From Highly Enriched Uranium to Low-Enriched Uranium
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of the Bush administration’s aggressive effort to reduce the amount of weapons-grade nuclear material worldwide, Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman announced today that the Department of Energy (DOE) has begun to convert research reactors from using highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to low-enriched uranium fuel (LEU) at the University of Florida and Texas A&M University.

This effort, by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and the Office of Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, are the latest steps under the Global Threat Reduction Initiative’s Reduced Enrichment for Research and Test Reactors program. As part of this program, NNSA is minimizing the use of HEU in civilian nuclear programs by converting research reactors and radioisotope production processes to the use of LEU fuel and targets. HEU is weapons-grade nuclear material that can be used to make a nuclear weapon or dirty bomb.

“The Department of Energy is committed to reducing the threat posed by the availability of weapons-grade nuclear material here at home and around the world,” said Secretary Bodman. “These research reactors are secure and used for peaceful purposes, but by converting them to use low-enriched uranium, we are taking a significant step forward to ensure that weapons-usable nuclear material does not fall into the wrong hands.”

The Global Threat Reduction Initiative, announced in May 2004, aims to identify, secure, remove, and/or facilitate the disposition of high-risk, vulnerable nuclear and other radiological materials and equipment that pose a threat to the international community.

DOE has targeted 25 research reactors in the United States for conversion, and of those 25, 11 have already been converted to the use of LEU fuel. The United States has converted more reactors than any other single country, and this latest initiative represents an important acceleration in DOE’s effort to convert the remaining reactors. The planned completion date for the conversions of the University of Florida and Texas A&M University reactors is in late 2006. DOE’s goal is to complete all remaining conversions by 2014.

Media contacts:
Mike Waldron, 202/586-4940
Bryan Wilkes/NNSA, 202/586-7371

Number: R-05-099

http://www.doe.gov/engine/content.do?PUBLIC_ID=17760&BT_CODE=PR_PRESSRELEASES&TT_CODE=PRESSRELEASE
 

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