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back to article Sellafield's nuclear waste measured in El Reg units

A National Audit Office report into cleaning up Sellafield nuclear plant - described as Blighty's "largest and most hazardous nuclear site" - has concluded there is "considerable uncertainty over the time required and cost of completing facilities to treat and store highly radioactive material held in deteriorating legacy ponds …

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Fun

It was. That's all, thank you :-)

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Megaphone

Best. Bootnote. Ever.

Time and time and time and time again I'm amazed by the hysteria that nuclear power and radiation provokes.

And before anyone mentions Fukoshima: we do not live in an active earthquake zone.

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Anonymous Coward

"barely radioactive at all"

That's not the point. You can't just measure the "amount of radioactivity" and consider the stuff "safe" if the value is below some arbitrary threshold. You can't assess the danger without knowing exactly which radioactive isotopes are present in the material, what chemical compounds those isotopes are bound into, and how those chemical compounds might interact with the biosphere if they were to be released. Generally you don't have that information; all you have is a big pile of slightly radioactive "dirt". So you have to assume the worst, for example, that all the radioactivity is coming from a compound that would find its way into people's thyroid glands and accumulate there.

In other words, it's not "hysteria". It's just taking sensible precautions in the face of a lack of knowledge.

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Would that be

the iodine-131 with an eight-day half-life, then?

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Re: "barely radioactive at all"

"You can't just measure the "amount of radioactivity" and consider the stuff "safe" if the value is below some arbitrary threshold."

But that is what we do all the time. Radioactivity above this level, into those 27 swimming pools. Radioactivity below this level? Stick it in the usual landfill.

Take, for example, thorium. Radioactive, although not all that much. You wouldn't want to eat but other than that.....and the eating would largely be about heavy metal poisoning anyway.

The better school labs used to have it although that went out a few decades back. The official advice if you find some at the back of the lab cupboard is to run the tap and tip it down the sink. The dilution takes it below some arbitrary level you see?

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Re: "barely radioactive at all"

Uhmmmmm, yes, we pretty much CAN consider material safe if it's below a threshold. And those thresholds aren't arbirtrary by the way. A lot of research went into them.

As mentioned, the biggest danger from the remaining radioactive material is that they are not natural materials and thus very poisonous as heavy metals. Plutonium for instance is about 40 times more poisonous as lead. This would be why you don't want to just chuck it into a landfill. But needing to bury it in a geological vault and keeping it guarded is just stupid. Most intermediate level "waste" is LESS radioactive than naturally occuring uranium ore deposits found in several locations around the world. There are area's in the world where the normal bedrock (a lot of it granite) contains so much natural uranium it would be classified as "intermediate level waste" if it came from a nuclear plant site.

The whole reason the radiation at these low levels is considered dangerous is because the model used to determine the effect of ionising radiation exposure over time is a so called "Linear Non Threshold" model. Meaning no bottom threshold is used and ANY level of radiation is considered to have an effect over time.

This is ofcouse BULLSHIT as there is no discernably higher cancer incidence in areas of higher natural background radiation. (Which, again, in some parts of the world is higher than what is considered a safe level for nuclear workers)

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Re: "barely radioactive at all"

Anonymous Coward is right for once, you can't just look at numbers about radiation as if it's no different than eggs or marbles. This is RADIATION we are talking about. It's some serious shit. If you get radiation on your clothes you are in serious trouble you can't wash it off because its so sticky and will be on you forever slowly turning you into a mutant. Don't think you can just put your clothes in the washing machine with persil stain remover and it'll be fine. No it won't. You can't even see radiation coming it's invisible, contrary to popular opinion it doesn't glow green. If you want to avoid radiation you have to stay away from nuclear power plants and bombs. If Fukushema taught us anything it's that nuclear power plants and water don't mix and in the UK we have LOTS of water falling from the sky all the time. If all the rain fell at once it would be like a downwards tsunami ON THE POWER PLANT. Wake up people!

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Re: "barely radioactive at all"

I can't decide if NomNomNom has written a parody of the typical hysteria induced by ignorance of radiation, radiation safety and risk, combined with the media hyperbola and distortions or it actually is ignorant and ridiculous hysteria.

If Fukishima did teach us anything it is that even very old Nuclea rpower plants when hit by massive natural catastrophies and subject to unexpected combinations of evenst are very very safe.

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Re: "barely radioactive at all"

But wait, NomNomNom! I have this betalight keyring and it does glow green! I thought that was how you knew the radiation was still in it! Does that mean it's coming out? Is that why I have an extra leg on my leg now?

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Anonymous Coward

@Alan Johnson

"I can't decide if NomNomNom has written a parody of the typical hysteria induced by ignorance of radiation, radiation safety and risk, combined with the media hyperbola and distortions or it actually is ignorant and ridiculous hysteria."

The odds are good that he was serious. Arising from the same mindset that makes him the true believer in AGW that he is.

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Trollface

@Alan Johnson

"I can't decide if NomNomNom has written a parody of the typical hysteria induced by ignorance of radiation, radiation safety and risk, combined with the media hyperbola and distortions or it actually is ignorant and ridiculous hysteria."

The odds are good that he was taking the piss. NomNomNom is a serial troll.

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Happy

Can you give the conversion from Swatch to Becquerel?

We need to know

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Happy

I would prefer to know what a Swatch is in terms of the banana equivalent dose.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose

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Boffin

68000 m³

Thus a cube of 41m on each side equals about 1 Sellafield?

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Happy

Re: 68000 m³

Correction - a Radioactive cube of 41m on each side equals about 1 Sellafield.

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Re: 68000 m³

Correction to the correction - a not very radioactive cube of 41m in each side equals about 1 Sellafield.

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Cornish sand

Isn't the sand on some Cornish beaches sufficiently naturally radioactive to be classified as intermediate level waste?

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Boffin

Re: Cornish sand

Some of the rocks probably are too, with all the Radon gas coming from the crust down there too.

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Re: Cornish sand

I'm certain I've read somewhere this is why they can't build a nuclear power station in Cornwall as it's impossible to create a decommissioning scheme that returns the site to the required level of radioactivity, which is lower than any site there would be to start with.

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Re: Cornish sand

'Isn't the sand on some Cornish beaches sufficiently naturally radioactive to be classified as intermediate level waste?'

Cornish granite is enriched in K40, uranium and thorium plus all their delightfully unstable decay products so much of the county does have relatively high background radioactivity. I can't think of anywhere where the sand is especially radioactive, but I could imagine some alluvial deposits of heavy uranium and thorium minerals might exist where the waves have washed away less dense materials.

The average annual exposure to background radiation in West Cornwall is something like 8mSv most of which comes from radon bubbling up from the granite. The average additional annual exposure for nuclear workers is 0.2mSv. A full body CT scan is 10mSv and the annual limit for people working in the nuclear industry is just 20mSv.

I do know that the radioactive sources we had in our physics lectures back at Humphry Davy Grammar School were considerably less powerful than the chunks of uraninite in the walls. We probably had the only cloud chamber that was permanently closed through fog.

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Rename all things nuclear

THE problem with nuclear waste as with all things nuclear is the word 'nuclear' at which point al debate becomes irrational and the media loves to scare the population. 26 Swimming pools is a tiny volume of waste compared to the vast amount of waste some of it hazardous generated annually about whcih nobody pays very much attention.

The great ething about nuclear waste is it is easy to track an dthe more active waste decays relatively rapdily.

I have a suggestion that we rename nuclear power stations to chromodynamic power stations and nuclear waste as residual power resource. We may then have some sort of rational debate.

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Stop

Re: Rename all things nuclear

"I have a suggestion that we rename nuclear power stations to chromodynamic power stations and nuclear waste as residual power resource. We may then have some sort of rational debate."

Political correctness can only take you so far. It may feel good for the people affected, but the average person isn't THAT dumb. They soon realize a feces is just another name for a turd, and a turd by any other name is STILL a turd.

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Re: Rename all things nuclear

I've noticed that rationality of argument is inversely proportional to the frequency at which the arguer refers to nuclear as "nucular"

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Re: Rename all things nuclear

"Political correctness can only take you so far. It may feel good for the people affected, but the average person isn't THAT dumb"

Then why are MRI scans so much better accepted than NMR scans?

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Thumb Up

Re: Rename all things nuclear

Not to mention the untold hundreds of kilograms of radioactive material (mostly uranium) we just blow into the air using coal fired plants.

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Holmes

Re: Rename all things nuclear

Dear John ,

A quote from wikipaedia

"See also: Magnetic resonance imaging

The application of nuclear magnetic resonance best known to the general public is magnetic resonance imaging for medical diagnosis and magnetic resonance microscopy in research settings, however, it is also widely used in chemical studies,"

It seems NMR=MRI or MRI=NMR

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Holmes

Re: Rename all things nuclear

> It seems NMR=MRI or MRI=NMR

thatisthejoke.jpg

> chromodynamic power stations

Actually the energy comes from the potential energy stored in the electromagnetic field, so one would have to call them electromagnetic power stations. Which is boring.

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Go

Risk management.

Given that the world's oceans contain 4.5 billion tons of uranium already, perhaps we should just chuck this stuff into the sea? If we spent the money thereby saved on cancer research and treatment, we would save far more lives than could possibly be taken by the infinitesimal increase in seawater radioactivity.

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Re: Risk management.

No, because the greenies fear even the tiniest bump in radioactivity will affect the food chain, which would then, pardon the metaphor, come back to bite us.

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Go

Re: Risk management.

Great plan! Of course you have priced in the very large egg whisk required to ensure sufficiently thorough mixing of all of the world's oceans?

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Re: very large egg whisk

No need. It is an article of faith in dark green circles that any contamination introduced at one point in the world's oceans immediately spreads to every other point.

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Sheesh!! It's not pronounced 'kilometers'...

It's 'kilometers'!

Next thing you know, you'll be pronouncing that planet 'Uranus', instead of, well, you know.

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LFTR's

Stop me if I'm wrong, but Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors use this waste as fuel do they not? The end result is insanely high level waste but barely enough to fill a lunch box?

I didn't understand much of what was going off, but if you have two hours to spare, watch this beast.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9M__yYbsZ4

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Re: LFTR's

Thorium rocks!

that video actually shows the edited highlights of the technology in 5 minutes, for the weak of attention-span.

P

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Coat

Re: LFTR's

"Thorium rocks!"

Which ones? Thorite, thorianite, monazite, allanite or zircon?

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Too cheap to meter

"Ever wonder why nuclear power never became too cheap to meter? "

Well, no one ever said that distribution would be cost free. It was probably assumed that supply would incur a fixed charge for connection, like telephone rentals. But the electricity stopped being 'free' when H-bombs went out of fashion as the military and politicians realised that Mutually Assured Destruction was not such a clever idea after all. Power stations then had to pay their way.

Quite a bit of the UK's plutonium actually went down the discharge pipe at Sellafied; of the order of a couple of hundred kilograms. Much of it remains in the mud on the seafloor there. The amount is definitely not negligible, but the best advice seems to be to leave it where it is.

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Meh

Re: Too cheap to meter

> H-bombs went out of fashion

When did they go out of fashion? "Having enough Pu" is not the same at all...

For example.... refurbishing totally useless airplane-carried nukes? Yes we can: Billions more needed to refurbish B61 nuclear bombs

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Renaming Windscale to Sellafield didn't exactly achieve much did it?

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Boffin

Very Interesting

I'd never seen the figures before - usually it's just quoted as 'x tonnes of radioactive waste', without any reference to HOW radioactive. There seems to be an in-built assumpètion that all the stuff is very dangerous. For Intermediate level waste, why not just excavate a hole that's approx 100 swimming pools in volume, line it with cement hals a metre to a metre thick, and re-fill it with excavated earth + Intermediate level waste. The waste will be diluted, so considerably less than 1 watch per tonne of earth, PLUS it will be sealed in concrete so it will be quite safe.

100 swimming pool' volume is not THAT big, it's about what you would excavate for the foundations of a big tower block, so teh waste would be both securely contained, and it wouldn't be so expensive

Couple of questions for the knowledgeable - How many years of operation of the plant is the 27 swimming pools waste from? And how much more radiactive is the high-level waste?

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Re: Very Interesting

Might be worth dying the cement red as well, that way in decades to come it'll make anyone digging into it think twice. It's what you do if you have to leave some radioactive material down an oil well. Not that I've ever had to do that, it was close though...

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Re: Very Interesting

quote: "For Intermediate level waste, why not just excavate a hole that's approx 100 swimming pools in volume, line it with cement hals a metre to a metre thick, and re-fill it with excavated earth + Intermediate level waste. The waste will be diluted, so considerably less than 1 watch per tonne of earth, PLUS it will be sealed in concrete so it will be quite safe."

Or if any of the other figures (including background radiation in Cornwall) are accurate, you could actually increase the total radiation output by using Cornish earth to do the diluting, for some definitions of "intermediate" level waste. Since background radiation is (at least partially) responsible for the gene mutations that stop the human race from stagnating, I'd recommend chemically sieving out the known toxic materials (e.g heavy metals) and then just dumping the rest as fertiliser in any of the lowest background radiation areas in the country. We'd be doing the gene pool a favour :)

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Boffin

How many years of operation of the plant is the 27 swimming pools waste from?

Probably a couple of hundred more years than the plant has been running.

I believe that PNTL ship the stuff there for reprocessing from all over the world.

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Boffin

Help on El Reg Units

Just what is the formal definition of the Jub? can't find the original article in which it is first described.

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Happy

Re: Help on El Reg Units

This will help with conversion:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/page/reg-standards-converter.html

Explanation:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/28/additional_reg_standards/

Original article about large bare breasts:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/25/barmaid_fined/

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Mushroom

High Level Waste

In order to aid understanding I can help with the precise amount of high level waste. Saw it in a government report a few years ago. Well, OK being honest here, a newspaper's version of a government report.

There were about 3 semi-detached family homes worth of high level waste at Sellafield. The rest is intermediate or low level. I don't know how much of that they've now vitrified and dumped in barrels though. I'm not sure how one converts the semi-detached family home into the Olympic sized swimming pool unfortunately...

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Re: High Level Waste

'I'm not sure how one converts the semi-detached family home into the Olympic sized swimming pool unfortunately...'

You use the standard IOC conversion and multiply through by nine billion quid.

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research is boring and facts ruin a story

from <http://www.nuclearpolicy.info/docs/briefings/a99.pdf> (dated june '98, a little old but do let me know if anything has changed)

"

Liquid HLW at Sellafield: Risks, Alternatives & Policy Lessons

An indication of the hazard potential of the tanks is provided by their inventory of the radioactive isotope caesium­137, which is responsible for most of the offsite radiation exposure from the 1986 Chernobyl accident. The Chernobyl reactor core contained about 70 kilograms of caesium­137 and about 30 kilograms were released. The Sellafield tanks contain 2,100 kilograms of caesium­137.

"

from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesium-137>

"

One gram of caesium-137 has an activity of 3.215 terabecquerel (TBq)

"

Caesium-137 is used as a representative of typical radioactivity as I recall. It's not low level waste that worries me, it's human stupid- sorry, I meant it's high level waste that's scary.

Hey Lester, I'm a bit busy right now but why don't you ring up sellafield and ask them for the breakdown? I'm sure they'll help cos they've nothing to hide and nothing to fear, right?

yes?

right?

ok?

do let us know when you get it.

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Devil

Sellafield - the British attempt to go further than NUMEC, Pennsylvania?

Yes, yes, yes. However, I do hope that no-one is going to vaporize 2t of Cs-137 just for the hell of it. It will not be in concentrated form, and I hope they transformed it into salts. Reactors accumulate it as vapour in the Zyrcalloy tubes, IIRC.

Having a 30-y half life, [which is why it has such a high Bq number], vitrify the hell out of it, then off to the pits for a 300y wait. Problem solved.

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Re: Sellafield - the British attempt to go further than NUMEC, Pennsylvania?

@Destroy All Monsters

> I do hope that no-one is going to vaporize 2t of Cs-137 just for the hell of it

Thinks you? From the report, a bit more:

"

War, terrorism and sabotage are common events in history. During the 20th century, energy facilities in general, and nuclear facilities in particular, have been targets of war, terrorism and sabotage. The Sellafield site and building B215 [the main caesium 137 tank] are highly vulnerable to such events. No­one can reliably estimate the probability that a malicious act will cause a release from a Sellafield HLW tank, but this probability may be much higher than 1 per 10 million years, which is the probability asserted by NII for a class of HLW tank accidents. [hey @DAM, do you think this probability is realistic?]

"

More? Ok then, from <http://www.nrc.gov/security/faq-security-assess-nuc-pwr-plants.html#2>

"

In February 2002, the NRC ordered nuclear power plant licensees to develop specific plans and strategies to respond to a wide range of events, including the impact of an aircraft. Licensees have taken actions as a result of the NRC Advisories and Orders to mitigate the effects of a September 11-type aircraft attack

"

BTW NRC = the US nuclear regulatory authority. I know B215 isn't a nuclear plant but ... you can see the possibilities I'm sure.

How about cockups, after all man is not the only agent. From the pdf mentioned before:

"

NII asserts that fire and explosion pose no threat to the HLW tanks. However, reprocessing plants around the world have suffered large and small explosions. A HLW tank exploded in the USSR in 1957. A particular concern at Sellafield is the potential for organic material to be inadvertently transferred from THORP or B205 to B215 via a HLW pipeline. Experience and analysis indicate that this material could enter into an explosive reaction, with an energy yield equivalent to that from 1 tonne of TNT. Such an explosion in an evaporator or tank at B215 could lead to a release from the HLW tanks.

"

> Having a 30-y half life, [which is why it has such a high Bq number], vitrify the hell out of it, then off to the pits for a 300y wait.

Leaving aside the cost of guarding the pits for 300 years (care to give an estimate?), why do you suppose this has not been done already given the serious risk it poses? Answer - I don't know. Maybe there's a good reason?

> Problem solved.

Damn right!

Damn, no wait a minute. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sellafield#B30>

"

Building B30, colloquially known as dirty thirty, is a pond which was used to store spent fuel from MAGNOX power stations [...] It is impossible to determine exactly how much radioactive waste is stored in B30 [...] There are expected to be about 1.3 tons of plutonium, 400 kg of which are in mud sediments [...] Radiation around the pool can get so high that a person is not allowed to stay more than 2 minutes, seriously affecting decommissioning. The pool is not watertight, time and weather have created cracks in the concrete, letting contaminated water leak.

"

The half life of assorted plutonium isotopes can be found here <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium>

I know more about this subject than you, I spent a long time researching it although I claim to be no more than a layman. The more I learnt the more worried I got. There's a *lot* out there that people don't know because they don't want to (not secret stuff, all reliable & publicly available).

I'm not against nuclear power, it's a tool like any other, it's just the talent, near genius in fact, of the bulk of people to not look at 'horrid stuff' that scares me. Whether 'horrid stuff' means nuclear power, known tsunami/earthquake risk near nuke plants, financial bubbles and mismanagement, consequences of population growth, or even the little stuff like paedophile celebrities who got away with it when they were alive because no-one had the guts to deal with it. All the same thing at root.

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Re: research is boring and facts ruin a story

The release of Caesium from Chernobyl has not been associated with any health impact at all. the only radiological effect on the population was a small increase in thyroid cancer presumed due to the I-131 release and probably the poor response of the soviet authorities as this has a short half life, it can be mitigated by advice over a period of weeks after release, the use of iodine supplements and monitoring for thyroid cancer. The number of extra deaths from thyroid cancer was from memory ~9 which is obviously a tragedy to those concerned but insignificant compared to say deaths from a single accident in the transport industry and compared to the worst ever renewable energy disaster it is very very very small approximately 10,000 times smaller in terms of deaths let alone environmental damage.

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