« Happy New Year | Main | Getting some help »

January 20, 2007



Hi Brendan...

I bet you sort of figured I would answer you on this, so let me get started.
As far as I know, the ground beneath Indian Point is not soil, not aggregate gravel, and is not stratified layers (with water cracks running horizontally between). As I understand it, it is solid ancient rock, straight down to the earth's mantle, rock with no interstices, except from wound cracks induced by the blasting to build Indian Point. The wound cracks , not being geological in origin, do not go anywhere, but exist in a diminishing circle around each blast location, So, rather than some "pool" existing, or some "groundwater" (as you might find in some midwestern area, like the oglala aquifer) there actually is no pool, and there is no groundwater (no aquifer).

What does sit beneath Indian Point is a solid rock mass, with microscopic wound cracks of very short length, centered on the Indian Point excavation profile. Water from plant activities over the last 50 years has entered the wound cracks, and now exists within tiny feathered spaces inside solid rock, kind of the way your 3 fingers exist in the holes in a bowling ball, but just imagine the solid part of the bowling ball being 1000 feet across, and 1000 feet deep, and imagine the finger holes shrunk down to a millionth of an inch in diameter. The trapped water is not going anywhere, is not free, and is not connected (as far as anyone knows) with any geological flow channel able to move it anywhere.

Looking globally at the 3 dimensional outline of the feathered region (what part of the bowling ball is drilled out) you get the misnomered "plume" of some 350 feet, a non-plume because it is just a virtual object, an autocad outline of those drill samples made by entergy where a non-zero radiation sample turned up. Actually, the whole thing, plume, and non-plume are all solid rock.

Right now Entergy, using the virtual outline "plume" as a drilling guide, is surrounding the "plume" with suction shafts, and reverse pumping these shafts, to draw whatever is in the feathered cracks BACK UP to a treatment station, and to draw whatever is seeping down toward the feathered cracks OUT through the suction shafts. Meanwhile, at the top, in the old crappy Con Edison fuel pool where the original leak began, Entergy has set up a cleaning station to remove all radioactive stuff from the water by chemical absorption means, thus removing any potential future leaks, and when they are done, the entire fuel pool will be hemetically sealed, drained, epoxied, fitted with permanent sensors to note any recurrances, and retired, empty of any fuel, with the fuel going to dry casks, or Yucca mountain.

If and/or when Entergy leaves, this cleaning operation will cease. It is not mandated by law, and Entergy is doing it to be a good enough neighbor to be able to run their revenue making units a few more years.
NRC has gone blind deaf & dumb on these leak issues elsewhere, and is actually looking to Entergy to invent the new legal framework right here, in their nicey-dicey suction & cleanout routine. If NRC likes it, they may make all the other nuke plants do it too. If Entergy is prevented from finishing it, no nuke plant anywhere will be forced to do it, and NRC will probably drop it, and not return to it.

So, that kinda covers the "strontium plume" issue.
Now on to the "strontium fish" issue.

The world was blanketed in strontium from 1945 through 1995, when all the nuclear powers tested bombs above ground.Future archeologists will date the earth by its pre-strontium, and post strontium layers, just like the pre and post Santorini layers, or the 65 million year ago asteroid hit. It is everywhere, including in Brendan Tween's molars, and in Ren's incisors. If Ren, or Bren, were chopped up ground to a mush, centrifuged to a paste, cleansed with 8 successive baths of nitric acid, re-centrifuged to a crystalline residue, which was then mixed with ion-free distilled water, boiled for 8 hours, and cooked onto the surface of a special stainless steel disk, which was then heat-dried for 2 days, before being isolated in a sealed flask for a month, and then unsealed, and run through a geiger counter looking for a tell tale 20,000 decays per minute beta particle profile, specific to Yttrium, and those Yttrium radiations extrapolated backwards by a very nebulous calculus computation , inferring the PREVIOUS presence of Strontium, from the presence of its daughter product Yttrium, then, depending on whether the lab tech had cleansed and calibrated every solution correctly, run every reaction exactly the right time, not contaminated any step of the 238 steps, and had then computed the back-track correctly, we would get EITHER just background levels OR a level just a wee bit above background. Taking into account the fact that bone & tooth COLLECT strontium, concentrating it by about 5.7 times over background, it means that any ground-tooth reading near or just above background actually implies an environmental level BELOW background (by a factor of 5.7), We now have an explanation of why different labs get different readings. The test is so nebulous, so easy to do "wrong", and so close to background, that it can't be believed, unless you set up a program of constant fish collection, and constant testing, to generate a body of samples that would screen out individually blown test runs..... AND you would need to compare this to a CONTROL COHORT , of "definitely-non-strontium" fish, and run each one of those tests at the same time as each of the "strontium-fish" tests, doing it under the typical double blind protocol, in order to determine where MDL lies (Minimum Detectable Level). Our challenge as a scientific community is to find a control cohort anywhere on the planet. Maybe cave fish from deep underground somewhere (provided no strontium rain ever penetrated their cave). I spent some time downloading the actual DOE test procedures, and I have them on my desk at work. One surprising and dismaying thing I found was the test procedure for finding strontium on Bikini Atoll fish, was double the length of the test used for finding strontium in freshwater fish. the "Marine Protocol" is much longer and more rigorous, because the dissolved residual actinides in the high mineral content of seawater causes false positives, and must be religiously screened out, by an additional 175 steps not done in the non-marine protocol.

Then, just like it hit you,


Did the test lab use the Marine Protocol, or the freshwater protocol?

Since the Hudson salt line moves up and down river with the tides and the rains, unless a separate "Semi-Marine-Protocol" were devised (AND CORRECTLY APPLIED), a large error trap, one might even say a GAPING ERROR TRAP yawns beneath a single test run, on 12 measly Hudson fish, done only once and with no control cohort , and a wiggly well nigh impossible to determine MDL level, depending on just how salty each fish was. I hope that helps. If you like, I can send you those DOE test protocols, so you don't have to take any of this on faith.

Have a nice Sunday, and say hello to your Diva for me

Your old buddy Ren

b tween

Ren -

I would love to see links to the DOE test protocols, if you wouldn't' mind putting them up.

But on the matter of the geological founding of the facility. Your illustration of the site is very clear and it's a compelling argument for the unlikelihood of some leak causing leaching of particulates into the water, but as I understand it, the "hot" pools are less than 150 feet from the river, cracks that long are not unexplainable, and that over the years Entergy has acknowledged that water has escaped and nobody at this point knows what to do about it.

And frankly, I seriously hope that the NRC does base rules for other facilities on their experiences at IP, because it's one of the bastard stepchildren, and if they can standardize ways to make that dinosaur safe, those practices should be universally applied across the country.

But it's like trying to prepare a 66 GTO for a stock car race. It might look good on paper, but it won't win any races.


The docs are all in pdf, and have no distinct url for each doc.Therefore you have to enter the search machine at: http://www.osti.gov/bridge/basicsearch.jsp, and devise your own lookups. I found about 20 separate "how to" technician's cookbook docs, which are brain numbing if you have no idea what the big picture is. Let me list the titles here, of my top finds.

DOE/EM-0089T rev 2 (842 pages)
WSRC-TR-99-0219 rev 0

Depending on how large samples are, how radioactive in SR they are, how contaminated with natural (terrestrial) radioactive elements, the tests give multiple decision points, where the path forward is not clearly delineated, but depends on a judgement, or a roll of the dice.The tech is advised to to a chemical weight assay, or a radiological decay-count (geiger counter) reading, or to use Yttrium 85, or Strontium 85 as tracer carriers. The tech is warned in an entire separate document, which I have included, to quality control his/her efforts under an 842 page QC regime, for acceptable results.Essentially, after grinding the fish to a puree, it is centrifuged, and the liquid discarded. The thick gel paste remaining is treated with fuming nitric acid, then cleaned of the nitric acid residue, and centrifuged again. This set of 2 steps is repeated up to 8 times, depending on technician due diligence, and various warning signs observed by the tech, and prescribed in the manual, as to just when to stop, and move on. The residue is then mixed with a precise amount of deionized distilled water, and stirred slowly, precisely, and for a very long time into an exact amount of carefully prepared barium chromate. The barium chromate acts to leach out any interfering ions that did not react with the nitric acid. Again, by judgement, this is done once, or several times, depending on due diligence. The residue is again centrifuged, and a similar third type of reagent, iron hydroxide, is mixed in, burning off certain radioactive elements. Once a satisfactory residue is obtained , it is stirred on a magnetic hotplate-stirrer to a Ph of 5-6 with 50%NAOH , mixed with 15 ml of 2M NA2CO3, heated, and boiled for 30 minutes.It is allowed to settle overnight, and sucked through a filter, which is boiled in nitric acid and discarded. The leachate from the filter cooking ought to contain any strontium, if it is present. But strontium itself is both radiologically and chemically indistinguishable fom other elements, and its presence cannot be tested for directly. Therefore the residue is boiled onto a stainless steel disk, and heat dried onto the disk over 2 days, slowly, to avoid burning or ignition. The disk is isolated in a sealed flask and put aside for at least 14 days, but sometimes 28 days.This is to allow a fraction of the SR90 (if present) to naturally decay into Yttrium YR90, which is detectable. This is known as "Yttrium ingrowth". Note that only a small proportion of the strontium if present, will turn into yttrium, so that you are now awaiting an orders of magnitude smaller sample, embedded on the SS disk, and natural Yttrium can also be present.The Yttrium by-product will give off a distinctive radiation reading in beta particles, and now the mathematical part of the test can begin. Depending on how complete ingrowth is-- 97% of any Yttrium that is going to appear will appear by 14 days, or greater at 28 days, the lab tech will now extraplolate backwards to guess the amount of strontium that reduced itself to Ytrrium over the last month. This calculation is actually pretty easy, if you are talking about a wheelbarrow full of yttrium, but gets touchier and more subject to impurities and calculational assumptions as the sample size diminishes.In the case of a single pureed Hudson river shad, the sample becomes vanishingly small. Add to that, the filter technology has changed of late, obsoleting many results, if new filter parameters are not taken into account. I belive this caused the "7-times discrepancy" that made the newspapers recently. For a revised rewrite of my original comment to you, check out : http://whitenuclearsnowflake.blogspot.com/

Bren, if no other plant is trying to solve the issue, IPEC turns into a hero by doing so. The other plants basically just bought off the local landowners, fenced the land, and did nothing, like in Erin Brockovitch. No law tells anybody they have to solve any of this, especially if you can claim no aquifer is impacted. You are missing just how proactive Entergy has become on this. They are sucking out the rocks and cleaning them. This sends shivers up the spines of Exelon and others, who would rather evade, haggle, lie, or stonewall. Give credit where credit is due.

b tween

I love your blog, why don't you allow comments? I suppose it makes sense - you would be extremely busy responding to comments all day long if you did. IPSEC would be all over you like a cheap suit.
Nonetheless, I really wanted to weigh in on the trans fat post!
Sometimes those kinds of regs make sense. Laws like motorcycle helmet requirements, seat belts, etc. These are things that directly cost the taxpayers a fortune in medical money and should be banned when the alternatives are not costly or particularly inconvenient. Artificial trans fats are likely carcinogens, so the producers of garbage foods should be grateful that their market will live longer to buy more of their garbage food. And happily, to some extent, processed food makers are feeling the pinch of the marketplace and many have already switched on their own - Wendy's being a good example.
To bring alcohol into the debate is casting a red herring. Alcohol is not dangerous unless it is abused, and at the same time, it can provide medicinal benefits - like red wine is known to. There is no need to ban it.
Tobacco should be banned, because the costs to taxpayers in terms of medical expenses are unbelievably high. It is still legal only because of politics and money, not good sense. But the tobacco lawsuits have shifted the cost of the damage from the state to the peddlers what have profited from the sale of products they knew to be dangerous.
As an extension of this, even when it hasn't wanted to, the government has been forced to hold the producers of bad things accountable - like GE's being forced to pay for the PCB cleanup. As hard as the EPA tried to footdrag on that, it eventually had to fine GE.
The entities that profit from activities that pose dangers to the environment they operate in will all eventually be called to account for it.
In the case of strontium 90, I think there should be serious concern despite the small sample. It's known to be leaking from IP, in small quantities, and in the sense that droplets of water on my wall usually mean there's a serious problem with the roof, Entergy has an obligation to do whatever it takes, at whatever cost, to find and stop the leaks.
I do give them credit for trying, but considering that they beat estimates by 3 cents a share during Q406, they can certainly afford to throw big guns at the problem. Imagine if they did. It wouldn't be necessary to throw obscure science into the mix as chaff intended to confuse the basic point: while there's any leak at all, the facility is not "safe".
Levels of threat - small leaks vs. big leaks, into granite or into an aquifer, radioactive and deadly or benign - they are irrelevant because common sense dictates that little leaks become big leaks. Given time, trickles become rivers.

The comments to this entry are closed.