From terrestrial to celestial: NETS connects nuclear professionals with space missions

April 14, 2022, 3:00PMNuclear NewsAmy Reed
NETS participants are credited with helping relaunch the nation’s domestic production of Pu-238 to fuel the Mars Perseverance rover. (Photo: NASA)

Connecting nuclear engineers and scientists with space exploration missions has been a focus of the American Nuclear Society’s Aerospace Nuclear Science and Technology Division since its creation in 2008. One of the main ways those connections are made is through the Nuclear and Emerging Technologies for Space (NETS) conference, which the division supports in conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Purdue University mass-alpha spectroscopy research draws notice

April 14, 2022, 12:00PMNuclear News

Research into the high-resolution detection of plutonium mixtures by Purdue University professor Rusi Taleyarkhan and his team was featured on the cover of the February issue of the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectroscopy, published by the British Royal Society of Chemistry.

The published research focuses on novel hybrid mass-alpha spectroscopy technology. Taleyarkhan and his team applied centrifugally tensioned metastable fluid detector sensor technology to the detection of mixtures of plutonium-239/240. This technology can serve as an alternative to conventional alpha radiation spectroscopy sensors and to mass spectroscopy systems, which can take weeks to deploy and are cost-prohibitive, especially when deployed in low-radiation fields for long periods of time.

Plutonium transported from IAEA laboratory to Oak Ridge

March 30, 2022, 9:46AMNuclear News

Truck loaded with nuclear cargo before departing the IAEA’s Nuclear Material Laboratory. (Photo: NNSA).

Plutonium from an International Atomic Energy Agency laboratory in Austria has been removed to the United States, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration announced on March 29.

The plutonium was shipped from the IAEA’s Nuclear Material Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where it will be used in sealed sources for nonproliferation research and development.

Safeguards: The plutonium included in the shipment represents approximately 15 years of accumulated residue from inspection samples collected in support of the IAEA’s safeguards mission, according to the NNSA. Technical experts from ORNL and Savannah River National Laboratory worked with a team from the IAEA for several years to complete all activities required for the safe and secure transportation of the material to Oak Ridge.

ORNL researchers employ extraction probe for rapid safeguards analysis

October 19, 2021, 7:29AMNuclear News
ORNL’s Benjamin Manard places a swipe on the extraction stage of Advion’s Plate Express, a microextraction tool that has been paired with a mass spectrometer. (Photo: Carlos Jones/ORNL, DOE)

International nuclear safeguards verification relies on a precise count of isotope particles collected on swipes during International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of nuclear facilities and isolated through a series of lengthy chemical separations that can take about 30 days to complete. On October 15, Oak Ridge National Laboratory—a member of the IAEA’s Network of Analytical Laboratories (NWAL)—announced that analytical chemists at the site have developed a faster way to measure isotopic ratios of uranium and plutonium collected on swipes, which could help IAEA analysts detect the presence of undeclared nuclear activities or material.

Actinide Days are here!

August 26, 2021, 12:10PMANS News

ANS is celebrating Actinide Days by giving some exceptional radioisotopes the credit they deserve on social media, and today it’s double the fun, with both plutonium-238 and uranium-238 getting a turn in the spotlight. While the actinides may be buried in the bottom row of the periodic table, isotopes of these elements are hard at work in applications in medicine, industry, power, and space. Visit ANS on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to join the conversation and speak up for your favorite actinides.

Waste management at Los Alamos’s PF-4 a continuing challenge

July 12, 2021, 9:30AMRadwaste Solutions
The Plutonium Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Photo: LANL)

The Defense Nuclear Facility Safety Board, which provides independent federal oversight of Department of Energy weapons facilities, has reported that low-level radioactive and other combustible waste is accumulating in the basement of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Plutonium Facility (PF-4), and that housekeeping and waste management in the PF-4 basement have been a continuing challenge.

Savannah River doubles shifts for processing surplus Pu

July 8, 2021, 6:57AMRadwaste Solutions
A view of Savannah River’s K Area Complex, where plutonium downblending operations take place. (Photo: DOE)

The Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management has doubled the number of work shifts for employees in glove box operations at its Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The increased work pace will help the department meet its commitment to South Carolina to remove surplus plutonium from the state, the DOE said.

Final stage of cleanup resumes at Hanford’s Plutonium Finishing Plant

June 7, 2021, 9:29AMRadwaste Solutions
A loaded waste container at the site of the former Plutonium Finishing Plant is surveyed to ensure that it is safe for transfer to Hanford’s on-site disposal facility. (Photo: DOE)

Final cleanup activities at the Hanford Site’s demolished Plutonium Finishing Plant have resumed following a pause in work prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Energy announced. Crews with the DOE’s Richland Operations Office and site contractor Central Plateau Cleanup Company will remove, package, and dispose of rubble remaining from the demolition of the plant’s plutonium reclamation facility, which was torn down in 2017.

Statement on the successful landing of NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars

February 18, 2021, 3:13PMPress Releases

ANS congratulates NASA for the successful landing of Perseverance on Mars. We look forward to watching from afar its exploration of the Red Planet and search for past microbial life. This is a proud moment as well for nuclear science and technology as a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator will be powering the rover to mission success.

American Nuclear Society recommends NNSA use surplus plutonium for clean energy

February 1, 2021, 11:16AMPress Releases

La Grange Park, IL – The American Nuclear Society (ANS) is recommending that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) consider using surplus plutonium from nuclear weapons as fuel for advanced reactors to generate carbon-free energy, rather than diluting and disposing 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico as proposed by the NNSA.

NNSA to hold virtual public meetings regarding Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program

January 19, 2021, 3:01PMNuclear News

The Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration will hold two virtual public meetings on a new environmental impact statement for its Surplus Plutonium Disposition Program (SPDP). The meetings will be held on Monday, January 25, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) and Tuesday, January 26, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET). Participants can join by computer, telephone, or other device. A Notice of Intent contains a full description of the proposal and other options for providing public comment until February 1.

The program: The SPDP EIS will analyze alternatives for the disposition of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium using the capabilities at multiple sites across the United States. The NNSA’s preferred alternative, the dilute and dispose approach (also known as plutonium downblending), includes converting pit and non-pit plutonium to oxide, blending the oxidized plutonium with an adulterant, and emplacing the resulting transuranic waste underground in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in New Mexico. The approach would require new, modified, or existing capabilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Pantex Plant in Texas, and WIPP.

DOE ends dispute with South Carolina on Pu removal

September 2, 2020, 11:59AMRadwaste Solutions

The DOE is working to remove plutonium stored at its Savannah River Site.

The Department of Energy has reached a settlement with the state of South Carolina to remove 9.5 metric tons (t) of plutonium from the state, the agency announced on August 31. Under the settlement, which resolves litigation over the storage of surplus plutonium at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, S.C., the state will receive an upfront lump sum of $600 million in economic and impact assistance payments. In return, the DOE will be allowed more time (through 2037) to remove the plutonium from the state without the threat of lawsuits.

The settlement stems from the DOE's termination of the Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility in 2018. The MOX facility was intended to meet a nonproliferation agreement between the United States and Russia to dispose of 34 t of weapons-grade plutonium by converting it to nuclear fuel for commercial power reactors. Reported to be 70-percent completed when construction was halted, the MOX facility was approximately $13 billion over budget and 32 years behind schedule, according to the DOE.

Savannah River HB Line placed in safe shutdown status

June 24, 2020, 2:24PMRadwaste Solutions

The HB Line facility at SRS is located on top of the H Canyon chemical separations facility.

The HB Line facility at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina was recently placed in a reversible safe shutdown status, the DOE announced on June 24. The shutdown will save about $40 million a year starting in 2021, compared to 2016, when the facility’s plutonium feedstock operation was at its peak.

Experimental Breeder Reactor I: A retrospective

December 19, 2019, 5:29PMANS Nuclear CafeWill Searight

In the not-so-distant 20th century past, our planet was in an uncertain new-world order. The second of two major wars had dramatically reshaped the landscape of the world's nations. It was not by any means assured that the extraordinary nuclear process of fission, which itself had been discovered mere years before the second war's end, would be successfully utilized for anything but the tremendous and frightening powers realized in thermonuclear warheads. In the years following, a humble project materializing out of the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho was to challenge that assertion and demonstrate that nuclear fission could indeed be a commercial, peaceful source of electrical power for civilizations around the globe.

Plutonium Disposition by “Downblending and Disposal”

May 29, 2014, 9:21PMANS Nuclear CafeAdam Hoffman

Plutonium_ring 211x201The subject of plutonium disposition has a long history that dates back to the end of the Cold War, combining complex technical, policy, and diplomatic issues. A discussion of this history is timely because the Department of Energy recently released a report1 evaluating technological alternatives to the current approach of disposing of plutonium using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. One option-referred to as "downblending and disposal"-was assessed favorably in terms of cost, timeliness, and technical risk, but it introduces new technical and political challenges. This blog post provides a brief summary of the storied history of plutonium disposition.

The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn

February 20, 2013, 2:57PMANS Nuclear CafeStan Tackett

Cassini-Huygens is a Flagship-class NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft sent to the Saturn system. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since its arrival there in 2004, as well as observing Jupiter and the Heliosphere, and testing the theory of relativity. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of gestation, it includes a Saturn orbiter Cassini and an atmospheric probe/lander Huygens that landed in 2005 on the moon Titan. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2013.  It is powered by a plutonium power source, and has facilitated many landmark scientific discoveries in its mission to the stars.

Dr. G. Ivan Maldonado presents ANS comments at TVA Board hearing

September 11, 2012, 10:00AMANS Nuclear Cafe

On August 16, G. Ivan Maldonado, PhD, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, attended a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board Meeting on behalf of the American Nuclear Society to present comments on the use the of mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel technology to accomplish the timely disposition of surplus weapons-grade plutonium.