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Scare Tactics? Or Just Scary?

The Scotsman has news about the Russian military's spent nuclear fuel in a rather alarmist article. It is full of facts, but also leans to innuendo and speculation about worst case scenarios without giving the uninitiated readers fits over how dangerous this might be.

While I agree that the stuff is dangerous, don't believe all the hype about worst case scenarios in this one. It is pretty unlikely that this fuel (It is spent fuel, remember) could corrode away and pool in the bottom in any kind of fissionable pile which would suddenly go supercritical (i.e. blow up) by the addition of a chunk of it dropping from the rafters or something. My problem with the articles like these is they always go to someone who can give you the worst or best case scenarios, but not the likely scenarios.

My feelings on this story are that even 15 yrs after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism, the new "capitalist democracy" that is Russia still can't manage to take care of their infrastructure and safeguard their weapons systems and waste any better than the Iraqis can. So the next time you hear how Iraq is a mess, just remember that Russia hasn't advanced much in the 15 yrs since they overthrew Communism and we don't much complain about their progress, do we? Try doing it while bad folks are shooting at you.

Then come talk to me about how Iraq is going so poorly, Dhimmicrats.

After the fold, a discussion about what the likely outcome of the fuel stockpile disintegration would be.


If the article is correct, it seems likely that the fuel rods from the decommissioned reactors are being suspended in a pool of water or with some sort of air cooling around them to remove the heat still coming from those fuel rods after they have been removed. After Uranium fissions, it turns into what are called decay products based roughly on splitting the Uranium atom and ending up with fission products with atomic weights around the weight of Krypton and Cesium. Most of the fission fragments fall near these two atoms weight, although others are possible. The distribution curve for the probability of what Uranium will fission into looks like two peaks in with the tips centered around Krypton and Cesium. Since the probabilty curve looks like two breasts, we called it the Mae West curve. I'm sure you pups today call it the Pam Anderson curve or some such nonsense.

Anyway, these fission products are usually radioactive and that is where all the really bad radiation comes from in nuclear power plants. Uraniums half life makes it a very low radiation source. The fission products are what is dangerous after long exposures.

Since they are radioactive, they make heat through the decay process. Lots of physics invovled here, so just take my word for it they need to be kept cool for a long time, but the amount of heat removal required to keep them from melting goes down exponentially the longer they are stored until only the long half life decay products are left. This means the amount of heat removal stays pretty constant after a few months.

The article indicates the fuel rodsa are corroding. If they were in water, this would occur more slowly perhaps. Corrosion is accelerated by contact with oxygen, so air cooling might speed this process along if the Russian don't handle the corrosion problem.

When the spent fuel plates corrode, the fuel pellets, where the uranium is, might fall to the bottom of the pool or the ground. Since water acts as a moderator to slow down neutrons and enhance the fission process, these nimrods in Norway are concerned that the fuel dropping into one big homogeneous pile would suddenly have enough neutrons zooming around to cause spontaneous fission on a scale big enough to cause the fission process to go supercritical.

(A reactor is critical when the amount of neutrons it loses just equals the amount fission makes. The "goes into" neutrons equal the "goes out of" neutrons. That makes power at some low level and is always present when uranium fuel is present. To make higher level of fission occur, you have to add more neutrons. When you add lots all at once you get a big change in power. You would have to add a butt-ton more to get an explosion. Butt-ton being a technical term.)

So the possibility that a fuel rod could corrode and drop sufficient uranium into the already messy pile of fuel on the bottom of the pool would have to be a pretty small possibility indeed. Could it happen, sure. Likely, not so much.

Anyway, Enough of the physics lesson. The likelihood that enough fuel could corrode and drop uranium in a tight little configuration where it could then get a big chunk of uranium dropped on it is pretty unlikely, don't you think? And why assume that humans can't fix this problem. The Russians living there don't want the stuff to explode, so they would likely take some action to clean up or move the stuff that falls on the bottom of the pool, or move the rods to prevent more corrosion, or any number of things to keep themselves from getting blown up along with the fuel rods.

There is still the human factor going in favor of bad things though. After all Chernobyl occurred because the operators ran a test on that reactor after disabling safety systems designed to prevent just such an accident from occurring. And Chernobyl happened didn't it? Yes, and the stupid were punished.

Anyway, I think this article is much ado about nothing. So don't worry your pretty little heads over it. Listen to Shipwreck instead.

Subsunk out.