National news outlets, citing "secret" Ministry of Defence (MoD) documents, are reporting that "serious safety breaches" and "leaks of liquid radioactive waste" have occurred at the Faslane nuclear submarine base. It's sort of true, but one would release many times more radioactive material into the Clyde by dropping a luminous …
"one cheap luminous-dial wristwatch" worth of radiation as a standard Reg unit just doesn't roll off the tongue as well as the other units. Try again...
This does highlight the need for the US and UK to greatly increase production of cheap luminous-dial wristwatches domestically. I believe many of these are currently produced in China, and we don't want to find ourselves with a cheap luminous-dial wristwatch gap!
...Predictable, but mine's the lead-lined one.
Game, Set and Match Mr Lewis!
Can we expect to read about this on Ben Goldacre's blog? Maybe not 8-(
I'm wearing a tritium dial watch now!
And I was wearing on an aeroplane last night.
That's almost an airborne international nuclear incident that only Steven Seagal would be qualified to sort out!
Quick, call the fucking Guradian!
Mocking lefties: how to do it proper
Re the AC who said "Quick, call the fucking Guradian!":
I think you will find that the approved mis-spelling when poking fun at said paper is "Grauniad"
Mine's the one with "Pedant" chalked on the back by the class bully
I thought this was going to explain why so many people from the West of Scotland are what I can only describe as "mutants".
Thanks for this...
....I really am tired of the over-sexed-up documentaries that have "secret" documents with "stunning" revelations, "highly classified" with outrageous consequences, because basically its all a load of pap.
The number of documents I have seen on documentaries recently listed like the above and the authors that didn't even have headers or written on the correct paper is ridiculous and the channels should really watch what they are broadcasting, one day it will bite them on the bottom!
So thank you author for highlighting this and for that I give a heart!
St. Mary's Island, Chatham
Is where the RN used to unscrew the lids of nuclear reactors to have a look inside, back when there was a naval dockyard in Chatham.
Today, it's a housing development, touted by local estate agents as one of the more desirable parts of sunny Medway to live (yes, I know that's a very relative concept) and so property prices there attract a premium over the surrounding areas.
According to local lore, when they move in, residents of St. Mary's Island are advised not to grow vegetables in their gardens, "just in case".
Makes one wonder...
...just how many Plastimo Iris compasses (yes, they glow, and they're slightly bigger than a Timex) get dropped overboard, doesn't it? I routinely wear one on a neckstrap when I'm out playing floatabouts. Does this mean I'm a radiological hazard or does it just mean that I'm out of the gene pool?
Top stuff, Lewis.
Oh, just one more thing: Tritium == keyring for most of us who have been here for more than ten minutes http://www.theregister.co.uk/2004/12/07/glowring_returns/ How many of these per atomic sub?
Better not mention the radon emissions from the tarmac then.
Its actually easy to plaster this sort of story all over the media because of a couple of reasons
The media is not about telling the truth, its about viewers/readers and a nice scare story about 'Nuclear subs leaks toxic waste" sells more papers and gets more viewers than "Scottish lock gets 0.0001% more radioactive due to sub leak than it would have done dropping a lump of cornish granite in it"
the other reason is this
The woeful standard of science education in this country, meaning its easy to sell any nuclear story based on the population being fed 'radiation is evil' stories all the time.
Plutonium is perfectly safe to handle so long as 2 precautions are taken, its sealed in a decent heavy duty plastic bag and you dont put more than 9Kg in one bag (tends to go bang a bit at that point), but to the population 'educated' by a media just trying to sell papers , plutonium is the most lethal substance known and .00001% of a microgram will kill instantly*
whats the IT angle then?
*note: if you were alive during and after atomspheric nuclear bomb testing, you have about that much in your lungs anyway.......
Another great article from Lewis. It is a pleasure to read them.
El Reg: Give a man a rise ;)
New Age Blokes
At first I thought he was talking about Real Luminous Dial Watches, you know, the ones with radium.
You have to be careful with these watches, since they will trip the nuclear-terrorist-detector-sensors in many places... but they do make excellent mother in law gifts.
Yeah, this sort of thing is how the Nuclear Industry got a bad rap.
Nothing to do with Chernobyl, Three Mile Island or all those spills a Windscale that used to brighten every other month when I were a lad.
But I agree this submarine nonsense is, on the (luminous) face of it, daft.
When will they learn...
Its like they are living in a bad 1950's horror film, where a bug gets into some nuclear water and all of a sudden grows to the size a building. Or that Nuke plants blow up like Hiroshima if they melt down. Or that Chernobyl is a good example of a melt down and not of Soviet incompetence.
I wonder if they will ever realize that the sun releases more radiation than a well-run regulated reactor. Or that a bog-standard smoke detector contains a radioactive Isotope (Americium) that is greater than all of the 'waste' that the MoD has ever released. Or that a microwaved burrito contains the equivalent amount of radiation....
Re: Reg Units
"This does highlight the need for the US and UK to greatly increase production of cheap luminous-dial wristwatches domestically"
No good, the US bans them for some reason or another. Probably to protect the children or to curb pornography or some such nonsense.
The actual environmental damage isn't the issue; that the Navy effectively sticks two fingers to SEPA and St. Andrew house is.
That same navy intends to make Faslane the sole base for its nuclear submarines, starting with seven Trafalgar class submarines in Devonport taking the High Road North before 2015.
I'd be willing to bet all the deuterium oxide in China that it's not because submariners like the Highland scenery.
Cheap Luminous-Dial Wristwatches
Quite apart from thinking that Lewis is going a bit OTT seeking closure after many years of guilt feelings from having lost his watch in the Gareloch by taking it out that nice, concerned, Grauniad writer, the use of the CLDW would seem far more sensible a unit than high levels of bequerels where gigas and teras are the norm.
(Although I remember scare stories about wearing CLDWs ...)
(And SEPA's E stands for Environment not Environmental)
While I both agree with the ridiculousness of the scaremongering and with the need, in principle and as things are now, for nuclear power to replace fossil fuels as much as possible, I also think that the author exaggerates a bit himself at some point.
I mean the last paragraph of the second page ("That, quite frankly, is insane - but that's the freakish world of nuclear safety for you."). Sure, maybe things have been regulated too much before (**in hindsight**, remember), but I suspect that things that not only go bang but also spread highly toxic elements into the environment should be approached with quite a lot of caution. Then relax as we later learn how things really go -- see for example the Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, in the 1970s, which from nowadays sounds like crazy paranoia. The way that it was written in the article sounds like those crazy anarcho-capitalists common here in the USA, who think nothing should be regulated or capitalism will die a horrible socialist death. Or something. I strongly suspect that's not what Mr. Page meant, but it surely sounded like that in that paragraph.
Or do you really think any old cowboy should be allowed to play with fission as desired, in hopes of quickly advancing the field, cutting costs, etc.?
Missing the point.
Sepa's point of course is not that vast amounts of radioactivity were released into the loch but:
1. The leaks betray a worryingly lacadaisicall attitude to nuclear safety and were easily avoided. IOW the culture needs to change, or a real problem could easily occur. Or has Mr Lewis's service proved the old familiarity breeds contempt adage?
2. The MoD made no effort to quantitate what was actually released in many of the cases complained of. Again see above for how this refers to attitude.
Before you jump on me, I have radioactive experience too. Using various much nastier isotopes than tritium in biomedical tracing experiments and if Mr Lewis were to try using his attitude in any UK biology lab the radioactivity protection officer would take his ability to use radioactivity off him. Due to a lack of training during my PhD in NZ I almost certainly have radioactive flourine in my thyroid. So far at least no problems . . .
So this would be
the same hydrogen-3 isoptope that naturally occurs in most water anyway - even more so in geothermal water sources that subsequently find their way into rivers and hence town/city water supplies (at least where I live).
I learned a very little about this at school, a long time ago, using the old-style units such as Rads and Rems (One of the school staff was in the Royal Observer Corps, who in those days were in the fallout-measuring business).
When Chernobyl went up, everyone was using different units, and hence some numbers became very large. Nobody in the press bothered to explain them.
The Beqcerel is one radioactive disintegration per second.
A gram of Tritium contains about 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms. We're talking microgram quantities of Tritium being released.
And the radiation doesn't penetrate the skin, which is already dead.
I'm also pretty sure these guys don't know about background radiation. After all, we're living within line-of-sight of a functioning nuclear fusion reactor.
or is it d'oh?
Oh, the drama...
And tritium has only a, what, 12-year half-life too (Half Life 2 - hur, hur)? Which reminds me - I need to replace the tritium-capsules in my 1911's sights anyway.
Ah, if only you all knew what has really happened there!
If you want a really dangerous luminous watch, buy an old (pre-1960) military wristwatch. Full of radium.
Oh, hang on: radium emits alphas, so you've got eat the dial. Or lick it, like an eco-liar licking a window.
Contractors and sub-contractors informal test
Is to go into a poorly lit room wearing their work gear to see what bits faintly luminesce.
Apparently a green glow in a disco is a no-go.
As a keen night fisherman, how many watches would it take to make the fish actually glow in the dark, and any particular brand.
paris, because she takes off her watch before she gets wet.
Fun and games
The Rutherford Appleton labs runs a very successful particle accelerator called ISIS. When I was there back in the late 80s it's operating license allowed it to emit a modest amount of tritium, and there were detectors round the place to sense a leak. Trouble was these kept going off, resulting in an investigation, agro, recriminations and much hand-wringing, which always came up blank.
Next door is the UK Atomic Energy Authority (as was) site at Harwell, complete with a number of specialist nuclear reactors. Now their operating license, being for reactors, allowed them to emit great gusts of tritium in comparison to the limits imposed on ISIS.
So the reckoning was that every trip of ISIS's tritium detectors was actually caused by releases of the gas from Harwell drifting over the fence and blowing in through out windows. What was one to do eh? I wonder how they're doing nowadays...
Another funny was that involving a secretary's film badge. All of a sudden this was revealing that her monthly radition dose was way off the permitted scale, and clearly something was amiss. Investigations revealed no measurable contamination in her work area (which was well out of the way anyway). Sure enough, the next month's badge was just as bad, and this called for signifcant action. A chaperone was appointed to accompany this secretary absolutely everywhere, office and home. The cause was soon identified. When she got home she was in the habbit of taking off her film badge and putting it in a granite ash tray brought back from holiday. Of course the granite, being pretty radioactive, meant that the badge was being heavily exposed!
@"Chernobyl" commenter near the top
For a start, the soviet RBMK is a pretty crap design of reactors. There's a good description of why on wikipedia, surpringly. Modern reactors can't "do a chernobyl" so you're pretty much safe.
And anyway, it suffered its massive steam explosion due to people not following procedures (It was Soviet Russia- disobey and say "madman! you'll kill us all!" and you die a painful siberian death).
IIRC there was a thing in New Scientist about heavy water being good for you... what's the opposite of a health risk?
anything like trilithium? cos that is nasty!!
There are no cheap tritium dialled watches...
The manufacturers, including Swatch, converted from tritium to Super Luminova non-radioactive luminous materials in the early 1990s, mainly because a number of countries banned their import. Since the half-life of this material is 12 years the tritium dials made before the switch are getting a bit weak.
You can still buy tritium/phosphor luminous paste from watch supply houses. There are still a few 'tactical' watches produced these days with tritium markers, but normally it is sealed in a this glass vial.
Oddly enough, the armed services themselves were just as paranoid about tritium and disposed of large numbers of watches by embedding them in cement-filled barrels and then burying the barrels. Some of them were military variant Rolexes and Omegas which would be worth more than 20,000 pounds in the collector's market these days.
What the SEPA actually said
The Scottish Environment Protection Agency said: "It is not possible to make a direct comparison between a civilian and a military site because the MoD has an exemption from the 1993 Radioactive Substances Act.
"At a civilian installation, we could be considering suspending certain activities until improvements have been made in the essential equipment, operating procedures and training to prevent a recurrence of an unauthorised release.
"We have not said, as has been implied, that we would have closed HMNB Clyde if we had the regulatory power.
"What we have said is that, for the protection of the environment, it is essential that the management of HMNB Clyde operates to the same high standards that would be expected were they regulated."
So what's the argument here?
That SEPA shouldn't be allowed to get concerned or comment upon failures in safety procedures or training at a nuclear installation in Scotland, or that the Navy shouldn't be (at least) beholden to some kind of oversight?
News=Scaremongering these days, everytime i watch or read the news (which is not often these days) i feel like its a parody of the like of The Day Today, where the tinest thing is blown up with graphics and FEAR!
I had to laugh yesterday at the WHO's announcement that only 7 people had been confirmed to have cacked it from Swine Flu. Whats todays Metro front page say? "MILLIONS COULD DIE!".
I give up.
Why? Is it true they really do have the Hulk up there doing radioactive experiments on him?
@Boris the Cockroach
Ok - solid plutonium in a bag isn't particularly dangerous (within limits), but what is very dangerous is plutonium in the environment. You really don't want plutonium dust, even in microgramme quantities lodged in your lungs. The decay of plutonium via its various products will emit highly ionising beta and alpha particles. Not to much of a problem if you've got air and a layer of plastic (or even skin) between you and the emitter. Much more of an issue if its directly irradiating living cells.
Quite apart from the danger of making a big bang, you really don't want plutonium freely available as it is an extremely good way of contaminating a large area. Now a few microgrammes of Plutonium in the lungs or other parts of the body won't kill you immediatrely; it might never do so, but for sure it will increase the long term risk of various cancers. It's not as immediately dangerous as Polonium 210 simply because the hald-life is so much longer. You really don't want either in malevolent (or careless) hands.
@Muscleguy missing the point
I fear you may have missed the point, which is that the leaks are insignificant as the entire lot was being discharged into the loch anyway.
I think you found the wrong site, you want www.abovetopsecret.com :p
RE: Bloody Ignorance
"After all, we're living within line-of-sight of a functioning nuclear fusion reactor"
Has the NIF or ITER made progress that we are unaware of?
Even the Reg is scaremongering a little bit!
You say, "Tritium is absorbed by the body".
Actually it goes through your body like water. Probably, slightly faster than water. Tritium is double-heavy hydrogen. Living organisms selectively excrete Deuterium (heavy hydrogen) because it's ever so slightly out of tune with the molecular delicacies of biochemistry. I'd imagine, though I don't know, that the same selective excretion happens to a greater extent with Tritium.
But even if it were treated exactly as hydrogen, it's not bio-accumulative. This sets tritium aside from most heavy-element radioactives, which tend to get trapped in your body. With these, to a greater or lesser extent, once you have ingested them, you are stuck with them.
I thiik he means that big one they host up in the sky every day dam wast of power in my opinion
be warned - I bought a Register Keyring containing tritium, and since using it my body has aged about six years!
@ Muscleguy II
I'm with the other guy who said you're missing the point.
I have worked for the Nuclear Authorities and so have had first hand experience with the abuse of the term "leaks". A "leak" was always classified as simply a movement of material that "might" be radioactive to ANY degree that did not occur when it was supposed to, regardless of whether it was authorised or not.
This means that technically a pot of water that had tritium (or something equally banal in these terms) that was moved from one area to another an hour later than it was supposed to, is, technically, a "leak".
Only on the serious "definitely screwed up" scenarios was any "quantitive" feedback required, so on such a pathetic amount like this that is WELL within Enviro Agencies guidlines, no quantitive reporting was required. Nothing to do with hiding stuff, nothing to do with attitudes and "familiartiy" nor contempt. It simply was unecessary.
What Lewis is getting at (it seems to me) is not the pro-CND/Greenpeace politcal nonsense of "If SEPA ran the place they'd shut it down", which as one commenter pointed out is NOT what they said, but the grossly hysterical over reaction of pretend journos (I say pretend because a real journo is supposed to be objective) and, as I see it, a deliberate corruption of the facts.
Thank you Lewis for providing a sensible scale to this.
It is bad enough we have a govt who desperately tries to tell us to be scared of everything, I don't need unqualified f**kwit journalists telling me to be frightened , just because he hasn't a f**king clue and is scared of his own shadow. I especially don't need unqualified f**kwit journos with a grossly disproportinate bias to be telling me this.
"the same hydrogen-3 isotope that naturally occurs in most water anyway - even more so in geothermal water sources that subsequently find their way into rivers and hence town/city water supplies (at least where I live)."
That would be Deuterium. The *other* hydrogen isotope which is relatively abundant and puts the heavy in heavy water.
Tritium is the artificial unstable isotope normally made in some kind of fission plant as an initiator component for nuclear weapons. And note. This is *not* water. Its a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
I'm surprised Lewis didn't mention Dalgety Bay in Fife, which is apparently ridden with radium from the instrument dials of aircraft scrapped at RNAS Donibristle. That would presumably make even his luminous watch pale (no pun intended) into insignificance...
playing on ignorance to generate fear
We get the same kind of scaremongering at Devonport dockyard in Plymouth.
If the protestors are that bothered, I wonder why they aren't more worried about the 500,000 Curies of cobalt 60 in use just up the road, being used to sterilize products at a medical equipment factory.
Actually I don't wonder, because this isn't really about radioactive material. It's about using it as leverage in a futile attempt to get our nuclear weapons fleet scrapped.
@ So what's the argument here?
No. I believe the argument is the the media shouldn't get their hands on information they don't understand, and then blow said information completely out of proportion for the sole purpose of frightening the public at large. The purpose of frightening the public? Why, to sell more newspapers, magazines, and any other media you can think of, of course!
I'd certainly agree that we shouldn't be complacent over handling nuclear materials. However, and there is a big however, you appear to be comitting that mistake of treating all nuclear materials and leaks as if they have the same potential consequences. Frankly they don't - a leak involving a small amount of tritium is simply not comparable to that of (say) high level nuclear waste from a reactor core. Tritium is not accumulated in the body over time in the way that some heavy metals would be. That's quite apart from the total amount being absolutely insignificant to the total quantity naturally in the sea.
I would expect the precautions being taken to have some relation to the risks being taken. You, on the other hand, appear to be taking an absolutist approach to this. However, people involved in risk management will know that this is not the way it works - the systems and processes that are used to handle different situations vary. Some of the materials involved in the use of radioactive materials in medicine and biological research are inherently more dangerous, if only because they are often designed to be biologically active. For instance, treatments for cancer and over-active thyroids. X-Rays are another example of ionising where repeated doses to medical staff represent a significant occupational danger unless properly controlled.
None of this is to say that there aren't some extremely unpleasant materials being dealt with in the fuels handling of the submarine nuclear reactors. But that does not appear to be what was being dealt with here. It's a bit like equating the safety systems surrounding the management of an oil depot (which failed dramatically at Hemel Hempstead a few years ago) and those in the refilling of a cigarette lighter. Much better to expend most of the effort on the former where the risks are so much higher.
In this particular case the information in the PDFs looks typical of what I'd expect from this soprt of investigation. It's certainly worth the investigation to find out if there is a wider risk - what is the worst case scenario with this sort of incident? But it doesn't warrant deliberately alarmist articles that neglect to provide the facts.
Of course one of the real issues about this case is that Faslane is in the middle of what ammounts to a political civil war between the Scottish Labour party and the SNP. I wonder whose decision it was that the Devonport submarine facility was to be closed in favour of concentrating the facilities in Faslane?
The usual Tabloid Bollox
As usual - Tabloid Media Bollox - That's why I DON'T read newspapers. I'm happy sticking to TheRegister online :)
Tritium is a naturally occuring isotope. It is created in the upper atmosphere by the irradiation of hydrogen nuclei with cosmic rays. It falls to earth as rain and appears in the groundwater and seawater. However, as it has a relatively short half-life it does not accumulate.
When atmospheric nuclear bomb tests were being carried out, atmospheric levels were greatly increased, but these days thay have fallen back to something much closer to natural levels. The quantities being discussed in this article are tinier still than naturally occuring ones (once the dilution effect of the ocean is taken into account).