Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

International Committee of the Red Cross reiterates calls for nuclear weapons prohibition

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 25, 2016 at 12:49 am

Astana Times, Kazakhstan, 24 August 2016
By Bauyrzhan Serikbayev

On the eve of the international conference Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World to be held Aug. 29 in Astana, Christine Beerli, Vice-President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) talked to The Astana Times on modern challenges in achieving global nuclear disarmament.

What is the ICRC’s position on the importance of the continued struggle to ban nuclear weapons and nuclear tests?

Like the Republic of Kazakhstan, the ICRC has some fundamental views on nuclear weapons and on how to move towards a world without them. I appreciate this opportunity to share them with you.

ICRC has been involved in nuclear issues ever since the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. One of the ICRC’s delegates, Dr. Marcel Junod, was the first foreign doctor in Hiroshima to assess the effects of the atomic bombing and to assist its victims. In his diaries, Junod wrote “The centre of the city was a sort of white patch, flattened and smooth like the palm of a hand. Nothing remained.”

The ICRC, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement more broadly, have long been concerned about the human suffering that results from any use of nuclear weapons. As is now known, nuclear weapons can have severe and long-term consequences on human health and can even affect the children of those exposed to the ionising radiation released by a nuclear explosion. Information published last year by the ICRC and the Japanese Red Cross Society indicate that today, some 70 years after the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese Red Cross hospitals in those cities continue to treat several thousand victims each year for cancers and illnesses attributable to the atomic bombings of those cities. The health of children born to survivors in the years following their direct exposure to the blasts is also being monitored. The fact that thousands of civilian victims still live at risk and still require treatment for illness and suffering attributable to atomic bomb radiation is incomprehensible. This is equally true for the people and plight of Semipalatinsk, where even though the last test was conducted in 1989, the effects continue to be felt. Clearly, these situations must never occur again.

Thankfully, nuclear weapons have not been used in an armed conflict for more than 70 years and nuclear testing is now a rare occurrence. Yet, today there remains a significant risk of intentional or accidental nuclear detonation. This includes the risk of hostile use and also a detonation that may occur through malfunction, mishap, false alarm and misinterpreted information.

And despite these risks, there remains no effective means of assisting a substantial portion of survivors in the immediate aftermath, while adequately protecting those who will be called upon to deliver assistance. The reality is that if a nuclear weapon were to detonate in a populated area, there would be an overwhelming number of people in need of treatment and most of the local medical facilities would be destroyed or unable to function. Access to the area would likely be impossible due to debris and damage to infrastructure. And assistance providers would face serious risks associated with exposure to ionising radiation. In most countries and at the international level there is little capacity and no realistic or coordinated plan to deal with such challenges.

The risk of the tremendous human costs of nuclear weapons led the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in 2011 to appeal to states to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again. We also called on them to prohibit their use and completely eliminate them through a legally-binding international agreement in accordance with their existing commitments. The ICRC President, Peter Maurer, repeated this call in 2015 and urged states to set a timeframe within which to achieve this goal. While negotiating the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons may take some time, the nuclear-armed states and their allies can and should take immediate steps to reduce the risks that such weapons pose by reducing the role of nuclear weapons in their military plans and reducing the number of warheads on high alert, where such a status exists.

Unfortunately, 2015 was not a year of great progress in the field of nuclear disarmament. The Review Conference of Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons failed to reach a consensus agreement on advancing nuclear disarmament despite previous commitments. There are also reports that the pace of reduction of nuclear arsenals has slowed and that nuclear-armed states continue to modernise their arsenals. Such developments are cause for serious concern.

At the same time, it is encouraging that a 2015 United Nations General Assembly resolution on nuclear weapons supported by 139 countries recognised the need to bring about the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons and urged all states to works towards this goal. Equally promising were the work and recommendations of the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations, which just concluded in Geneva. In the view of the ICRC, it was the most significant and substantial discussion to date within the UN system on specific measures to achieve nuclear disarmament. The discussions highlighted that there are a range of approaches that can advance disarmament. Its recommendation for the UN General Assembly to convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons has potentially historic implications. This and the rest of the group’s recommendations must be seriously considered and taken forward by states.

The ICRC believes that urgent action must be taken to reduce the dangers that nuclear weapons pose and that states must begin negotiations to prohibit their use and secure their eventual elimination. This is a humanitarian imperative. Protecting humanity from the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons requires courage, sustained commitment and concerted action. Today’s complex security environment highlights both the challenges and necessity of such steps. Nuclear weapons are often presented as promoting security, particularly during times of international instability. But weapons that risk catastrophic and irreversible humanitarian consequences cannot seriously be viewed as protecting civilians or humanity as a whole. We know now more than ever before that the risks are too high, the dangers too real and perils of inaction are much too great.

How, in your view, do events like the Building a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World conference in Astana help in pursuing the goals of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and the ICRC’s mission?

On behalf of the ICRC, I would like to thank the Republic of Kazakhstan for inviting me to participate in this important event. Kazakhstan has shown in word and in action that it is an ardent advocate of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Its commitment is reflected in the convening of this annual conference, its decision to voluntarily renounce the nuclear weapons it inherited upon gaining independence, its role in establishing Central Asia as a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone, its membership in the Asian Nuclear Safety Network and its efforts in the UN and numerous other fora to help advance the elimination of nuclear weapons. Kazakhstan’s election as at non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2017 provides an opportunity to further these goals.

Events like the conference in Astana are very important to raise awareness of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the need to ensure that such weapons are never used or detonated again. They also help foster dialogue among states in an effort to help advance nuclear disarmament.

The upcoming conference is a key part of the international dialog on nuclear weapons, particularly in this region of the world. It builds upon previous and important events like the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was held in New York from April 27-May 22, 2015;the Conferences on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons, convened respectively by Norway in March 2013, Mexico in February 2014 and Austria in December 2014 and the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Taking Forward Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament Negotiations which I mentioned earlier.

The conference is also part of the ongoing and effective efforts of Kazakhstan on this issue. Kazakhstan’s political and legal initiatives on nuclear weapons clearly demonstrate its high level of commitment and determination to advance nuclear disarmament.

These important efforts, and those taken by others in partnership with the broader international community, will help ensure that a world without nuclear weapons will become a reality. The elimination of these weapons is particularly important to actors such as the ICRC, given our humanitarian mission. We never again want to see a nuclear weapon detonate nor ever again have to witness or respond to their horrific humanitarian consequences.

Nuclear accident in New Mexico ranks among the costliest in U.S. history

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Workplace exposure on August 24, 2016 at 12:53 am

By Ralph Vartabedian

Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2016, 3:00 AM

When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations.

The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste.

But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.

Washington state officials were recently forced to accept delays in moving the equivalent of 24,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford site to the New Mexico dump. The deal has further antagonized the relationship between the state and federal regulators.

“The federal government has an obligation to clean up the nuclear waste at Hanford,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “I will continue to press them to honor their commitments to protect Washingtonians’ public health and our natural resources.”

Other states are no less insistent. The Energy Department has agreed to move the equivalent of nearly 200,000 drums from Idaho National Laboratory by 2018.

“Our expectation is that they will continue to meet the settlement agreement,” said Susan Burke, an oversight coordinator at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The dump, officially known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production since World War II into ancient salt beds, which engineers say will collapse around the waste and permanently seal it. The equivalent of 277,000 drums of radioactive waste is headed to the dump, according to federal documents.

The dump was dug much like a conventional mine, with vertical shafts and a maze of horizontal drifts. It had operated problem-free for 15 years and was touted by the Energy Department as a major success until the explosion, which involved a drum of of plutonium and americium waste that had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The problem was traced to material — actual kitty litter — used to blot up liquids in sealed drums. Lab officials had decided to substitute an organic material for a mineral one. But the new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35% of the underground area.

“There is no question the Energy Department has downplayed the significance of the accident,” said Don Hancock, who monitors the dump for the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.

Though the error at the Los Alamos lab caused the accident, a federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the dump. The dump’s filtration system was supposed to prevent any radioactive releases, but it malfunctioned.

Twenty-one workers on the surface received low doses of radiation that federal officials said were well within safety limits. No workers were in the mine when the drum blew.

Energy Department officials declined to be interviewed about the incident but agreed to respond to written questions. The dump is operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership, which is led by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM. The company declined to comment.

Federal officials have set an ambitious goal to reopen the site for at least limited waste processing by the end of this year, but full operations can not resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

In addition, the federal government faces expenses — known as “hotel costs” — to temporarily store the waste before it is shipped to New Mexico, said Ellis Eberlein of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

The Hanford site stores the equivalent of 24,000 drums of waste that must be inspected every week. “You have to make sure nothing leaks,” he said.

The cleanup of the Three Mile Island plant took 12 years and was estimated to cost $1 billion by 1993, or $1.7 billion adjusted for inflation today. The estimate did not include the cost of replacing the power the shut-down plant was no longer generating.

Other radioactive contamination at nuclear weapons sites is costing tens of billions of dollars to clean up, but it is generally the result of deliberate practices such as dumping radioactive waste into the ground.

James Conca, a consultant who has advised the Energy Department on nuclear waste issues, described the accident as a comedy of errors and said that federal officials are being “overly cautious” about the cleanup. “It got contaminated, but a new exhaust shaft is kind of ridiculous,” he said.

For now, workers entering contaminated areas must wear protective gear, including respirators, the Energy Department spokesperson said. She noted that the size of the restricted area had been significantly reduced earlier this year.

Hancock suggested that the dump might never resume full operations.

“The facility was never designed to operate in a contaminated state,” he said. “It was supposed to open clean and stay clean, but now it will have to operate dirty. Nobody at the Energy Department wants to consider the potential that it isn’t fixable.”

Giving up on the New Mexico dump would have huge environmental, legal and political ramifications. This year the Energy Department decided to dilute 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium in South Carolina and send it to the dump, potentially setting a precedent for disposing of bomb-grade materials. The U.S. has agreements with Russia on mutual reductions of plutonium.

The decision means operations at the dump must resume, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“They have no choice,” he said. “No matter what it costs.”


Twitter: @RVartabedian

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

Overwhelming Majority: Ban the Bomb in 2017

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 23, 2016 at 9:13 am

By Suzie Snyder, Nuclear Disarmament Programme Manager for Pax in the Netherlands.


A nuclear working group at the UN concluded its work in Geneva today and the majority of governments voted to recommended that the UN General Assembly set up a conference in 2017 to negotiate a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are the only weapon of mass destruction that are not outlawed by international treaty. But that is about to change.

2017 Conference
After more than twenty years of nothing, this working group just had a breakthrough. 107 governments said they support:

“The convening by the General Assembly of a conference in 2017 open to all states, international organisations, and civil society, to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons leading towards their total elimination”

It was a group of Pacific Island countries that said these exact words first. Diplomats who have personal connections with nuclear weapons- relatives who remember seeing the bombs explode in the distance. Friends that can never go home to what were once islands of paradise, and are now radioactive wastelands.

The 54 member African Group, the 33 member Community of Latin America and Caribbean countries (33) also voiced their support for a conference in 2017. For the first time, the ASEAN grouping (11) added their collective voice to this call for negotiations next year on a new nuclear weapons treaty.

It is now up to the October meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee to take up this recommendation, and set up a meeting next year to negotiate a new treaty to finally make nuclear weapons illegal.

Putting people first
This breakthrough is result of the new global discourse on nuclear weapons. Since Norway hosted the first conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in 2013, the effect of the weapons on humans and the environment has taken center stage.

Three conferences were held on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (Norway, Mexico, Austria). These brought together governments, academia and civil society for fact based examination of what the weapons can do- and what can be done to mitigate their effect. The result was: nothing. The conferences found that there is no way to recover from any use of nuclear weapons in populated areas, and no way to prevent the damage from crossing borders.

No one can deny the catastrophic humanitarian harm that would be the result of any use of nuclear weapons. By discussing the effect of the weapons, they have been increasingly seen as illegitimate. The majority of countries have rejected the use of nuclear weapons, under any circumstances.

There are only a very few countries that still hold onto the idea that nuclear weapons are useful. It is actually less than 20% of UN members. These countries include the possible use of nuclear weapons in their security strategies or doctrines. Overwhelmingly, however, the recognition is that any use of the nuclear weapons would have a catastrophic effect not constrained by national borders.

Banning the bomb
International treaties exist to prohibit all other weapons of mass destruction (Chemical and Biological) as well as to outlaw other weapons with indiscriminate effects (anti-personnel landmines and cluster bombs). The fact that nuclear weapons are not clearly illegal is simply bizarre.

No weapon has ever been eliminated before it was made illegal, and nuclear weapons are no exception. A ban would not only make it illegal for nations to use or possess nuclear weapons; it would also help pave the way to their complete elimination. Nations committed to reaching the goal of abolition have shown that they are ready to start negotiations in 2017.

The overwhelming majority is about to ban the bomb.

For more information: http://www.icanw.org

Follow Susi Snyder on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/susisnyder

DISTRACTION: US to push UN Security Council Ban on Nuclear Tests

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on August 21, 2016 at 7:22 am

By Thalif Dean

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2016 (IPS) – As part of his nuclear legacy, US President Barack Obama is seeking a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution aimed at banning nuclear tests worldwide.

The resolution, which is still under negotiation in the 15-member UNSC, is expected to be adopted before Obama ends his eight year presidency in January next year.

Of the 15, five are veto-wielding permanent members who are also the world’s major nuclear powers: the US, Britain, France, China and Russia.

The proposal, the first of its kind in the UNSC, has generated widespread debate among anti-nuclear campaigners and peace activists.

Joseph Gerson, Director of the Peace and Economic Security Program at American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization that promotes peace with justice, told IPS there are a number of ways to look at the proposed resolution.

The Republicans in the US Senate have expressed anger that Obama is working to have the U.N. reinforce the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he noted.

“They have even charged that with the resolution, he is circumventing the US constitution, which requires Senate ratification of treaties. The Republicans have opposed CTBT ratification since (former US President) Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 1996”, he added.

In fact, although international law is supposed to be U.S. law, the resolution if passed will not be recognized as having replaced the constitutional requirement of Senate ratification of treaties, and thus will not circumvent the constitutional process, Gerson pointed out.

The five veto-wielding permanent members are also the world’s major nuclear powers: the US, Britain, France, China and Russia.
“What the resolution will do will be to reinforce the CTBT and add a little luster to Obama’s ostensible nuclear abolitionist image,” Gerson added.

The CTBT, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in 1996, has still not come into force for one primary reason: eight key countries have either refused to sign or have held back their ratifications.

The three who have not signed – India, North Korea and Pakistan – and the five who have not ratified — the United States, China, Egypt, Iran and Israel – remain non-committal 20 years following the adoption of the treaty.

Currently, there is a voluntary moratoria on testing imposed by many nuclear-armed States. “But moratoria are no substitute for a CTBT in force. The four nuclear tests conducted by the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) are proof of this,” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

Under the provisions of the CTBT, the treaty cannot enter into force without the participation of the last of the eight key countries.

Alice Slater, an Advisor with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and who serves on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War, told IPS: “I just think it’s a big distraction from the momentum currently building for the ban-treaty negotiations this fall at the UN General Assembly.”

Additionally, she pointed out, it will have no effect in the US where the Senate is required to ratify the CTBT for it to go into effect here.

“It’s ridiculous to do anything about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty since it isn’t comprehensive and it doesn’t ban nuclear tests.”

She described the CTBT as strictly a non-proliferation measure now, since Clinton signed it “with a promise to our Dr. Strangeloves for the Stockpile Stewardship Program which after 26 underground tests at the Nevada Test Site in which plutonium is blown up with chemical explosives but doesn’t have a chain reaction.”

So Clinton said they weren’t nuclear tests, coupled with high tech laboratory testing such as the two football fields-long National Ignition Facility at Livermore Lab, has resulted in the new predictions for one trillion dollars over thirty years for new bomb factories, bombs and delivery systems in the US, said Slater.

Gerson told IPS a report from the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Nuclear Disarmament will be considered at the upcoming General Assembly session.

The U.S. and other nuclear powers are opposing the initial conclusions of that report which urges the General Assembly to authorize the commencement of negotiations in the U.N. for a nuclear weapons abolition treaty in 2017, he added.

At the very least, by getting publicity for the CTBT UN resolution, the Obama administration is already distracting attention within the United States from the OEWG process, Gerson said.

“Similarly, while Obama may urge the creation of a “blue ribbon” commission to make recommendations on funding the trillion dollar nuclear weapons and delivery systems upgrade in order to provide some cover for reducing but not ending this spending, I am doubtful that he will move to end the U.S. first strike doctrine, which is reportedly also being considered by senior administration officials.”

Were Obama to order an end to the U.S. first strike doctrine, it would inject a controversial issue into the presidential election, and Obama doesn’t want to do anything to undercut Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the face of the dangers of a Trump election, he argued.

“So, again, by pressing and publicizing the CTBT resolution, U.S. public and international attention will be distracted from the failure to change the first strike war fighting doctrine.”

Besides a ban on nuclear tests, Obama is also planning to declare a policy of nuclear “no first use” (NFU). This will reinforce the US commitment never to use nuclear weapons unless they are unleashed by an adversary.

In a statement released August 15, the Asia‐Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, “encouraged the U.S. to adopt “No First Use” nuclear policy and called on Pacific allies to support it.”

Last February, Ban regretted he was not able to achieve one of his more ambitious and elusive political goals: ensuring the entry into force of the CTBT.

“This year marks 20 years since it has been open for signature,” he said, pointing out that the recent nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – the fourth since 2006 — was “deeply destabilizing for regional security and seriously undermines international non-proliferation efforts.”

Now is the time, he argued, to make the final push to secure the CTBT’s entry into force, as well as to achieve its universality.

In the interim, states should consider how to strengthen the current defacto moratorium on nuclear tests, he advised, “so that no state can use the current status of the CTBT as an excuse to conduct a nuclear test.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com


UN Disarmament Working Group Calls for 2017 Negotiations to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 21, 2016 at 6:53 am

August 19, 2016

Geneva – A few minutes ago a special UN working group involving most of the world’s countries concluded its work with the recommendation that negotiations begin in 2017 toward a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons.

Of the countries present today, 68 voted in favor of the final report, 22 against, with 13 abstentions. The final report language and roll call of votes are not available yet.

One hundred and seven countries attending the working group at one time or another since February have variously stated their support for starting ban negotiations as soon as possible.

The United States did not attend the meeting. U.S. nuclear allies did however attend, and over months several of these states led what turned out to be an unsuccessful effort to block progress.

States which have pledged to support negotiations that would ban nuclear weapons now number 127, a strong UN majority which augurs well for success of pro-ban states this fall in the General Assembly.

Today’s press release of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a network of 440 organizations in 93 countries, follows. Further details will no doubt be available in the coming hours.

Majority of UN members declare intention to negotiate ban on nuclear weapons in 2017

United Nations disarmament talks concluded in Geneva today with the overwhelming majority of nations signaling their intention to launch negotiations in 2017 for a global ban on nuclear weapons.

One hundred and seven nations in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific, together with several in Europe, united behind a proposal to convene a conference next year to outlaw nuclear weapons.

A small handful of nations argued that nuclear weapons are essential for their security and therefore should not be prohibited. However, these opponents failed to block the majority and prevent negotiations from proceeding.

The Geneva talks began in February and continued in May and August as part of a special UN working group established last year to advance nuclear disarmament negotiations, which have long been stalled at the UN.

The group today adopted its final report by vote. The report recommends that a conference be held next year to negotiate “a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law, despite their inhumane and indiscriminate nature. The proposed ban would address this legal anomaly.

“There can be no doubt that a majority of UN members intend to pursue negotiations next year on a treaty banning nuclear weapons,” said Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

“This is a significant moment in the seven-decade-long global struggle to rid the world of the worst weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “The UN working group achieved a breakthrough today.”

“We expect that, based on the recommendations of the working group, the UN General Assembly will adopt a resolution this autumn to establish the mandate for negotiations on a ban on nuclear weapons in 2017.”

UN talks recommend negotiations of nuclear weapons ban treaty

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on August 21, 2016 at 6:44 am

From ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons)
August 19, 2016

In a dramatic final day, the groundbreaking UN talks on nuclear disarmament concluded by making a clear recommendation to start negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

Known as the “Open-Ended Working Group” (OEWG), the talks have taken place in February, May and August of this year and have outlined a number of elements that should be included in a new legally binding instrument which prohibits nuclear weapons. The majority support for the ban treaty was clearly underlined by joint statements delivered by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the Pacific as well as statements from several European states.

Resistance continued to come throughout the working group from a small group of states who continued to argue that nuclear weapons are essential to their national security. Despite threatening to block a report which contained a recommendation for a ban treaty, these governments did not have the leverage to thwart the successful outcome of the group.

After long deliberations, it seemed that States were going to agree to a compromised report which reflected the views of both sides of the ban treaty issue. However, after this agreement had seemingly been secured behind closed doors, Australia made a last-second turnaround and announced that it was objecting to the draft of the report and called for a vote. In spite of the opposition from Australia and several other pro-nuclear weapon states, the majority was able to carry the day. On that basis, the working group was able to recommend the start of negotiations on a new legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons.

This breakthrough is result of the new global discourse on nuclear weapons. Bringing together governments, academia and civil society, a series of three conferences have uncovered new evidence about the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and the risks of their use, whether accidental or intentional. The momentum generated by the “humanitarian initiative” has now culminated with the international community on the verge of negotiating a nuclear weapons ban.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited under international law, despite their inhumane and indiscriminate nature. A ban would not only make it illegal for nations to use or possess nuclear weapons; it would also help pave the way to their complete elimination. Nations committed to reaching the goal of abolition have shown that they are ready to start negotiations next year.

It is now up to the October meeting of the UN General Assembly First Committee to bring forward this process by issuing a mandate to start the negotiating process.

Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Workplace exposure on August 14, 2016 at 8:15 am

Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World

As citizens of this planet inspired by the Second Thematic World Social Forum for a Nuclear-Fission‐Free World, conducted in Montreal from August 8 to August 12, 2016, we are collectively calling for a mobilization of civil society around the world to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to put an end to the continued mass‐production of all high‐level nuclear wastes by phasing out all nuclear reactors, and to bring to a halt all uranium mining worldwide.

This call goes out to fellow citizens of all countries worldwide who see the need,whether as an individual or as a member of an organization, for a nuclear-­fission‐free world. We are committed to building a global network of citizens of the world who will work together, using the internet and social media to overcome isolation, to provide mutual support and to coordinate the launching of joint actions for a world free of nuclear fission technology, whether civilian or military.

We will begin by creating communication channels to share information and educational tools on legal, technical, financial, medical, and security‐related matters linked to

military and non‐military nuclear activities. We will pool our resources across national boundaries in a spirit of cooperation, allowing us to contribute to the formulation of a convergent and unified response to counteract the plans of the nuclear establishment that operates on a global scale to multiply civil and military nuclear installations worldwide and to dump, bury and abandon nuclear wastes.

We recognize each nuclear weapon as an instrument of brutal and unsurpassed terror, designed to kill millions of innocent men, women and children at a single stroke. We realize that even a limited nuclear war can provoke sudden extreme climate change on a global scale, crippling agricultural production and threatening the survival of all higher forms of life. We are grimly aware that a nuclear‐armed world will surely destroy itself and set in motion a process that will undo four billion years of evolution. We are determined to help guide the world away from the brink of nuclear annihilation.

We recognize each nuclear reactor as a repository of the most pernicious industrial waste ever known; waste so radioactive that it spontaneously melts down if not continually cooled; waste that, when targeted by terrorists or saboteurs, or by conventional warfare, will render large portions of the earth uninhabitable for centuries; waste that contains material that can be used as a nuclear explosive at any time in the future, for thousands of years to come.

We recognize uranium as the key element behind all nuclear weapons and all nuclear reactors, and we endorse the call by the International Physicians for the Prevention of- Nuclear War and by the 2015 Quebec World Uranium Symposium for a total global ban on the mining and processing of uranium.

We will use our networks

‐to pressure governments everywhere to put an end to nuclear fission

‐to expose the dangers associated with the export and transport of nuclear materials and nuclear waste;

‐to puncture the myths used to prop up and justify our irrational nuclear addiction;

‐to tell the sobering stories of nuclear victims and nuclear refugees;

‐to emphasize our moral responsibilities not to burden future generations with a poisonous nuclear legacy;

‐to warn governments without nuclear facilities to realize the dangers and avoid becoming enmeshed in this technology;

‐to disseminate the findings of engineers, doctors, biologists, ecologists, physicists and concerned citizens having special knowledge and appreciation of nuclear dangers;

‐to promote and popularize the wide variety of renewable energy alternatives that are green and sustainable;

‐to launch lawsuits and to support whistle‐blowers to halt the most egregious examples of nuclear malfeasance;

‐to promote non‐violent conflict resolution, and

‐to denounce the illegal, immoral, and insane obsession with nuclear weapons arsenals.

We invite all people, groups and organizations involved in the effort for a world without nuclear fission and uranium mining, to commit themselves to this effort. We also ask them to endorse this declaration and to transmit it widely in their networks.

This declaration is partly inspired by the Tokyo Appeal issued by the First Thematic World Social Form for a Nuclear‐Free World held in Tokyo and Fukushima in March 2016.

To endorse the declaration send name and e‐mail address to ccnr@web.ca and to JGerson@afsc.org


A Solar Flare Almost Sparked a Nuclear War in 1967

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace on August 11, 2016 at 6:53 am


On May 23rd, 1967, the United States Air Force scrambled to ready nuclear missile-laden aircraft for deployment. Radar systems designed to detect incoming Soviet missiles had just been disrupted, in what the military perceived to be an act of war. But before any nukes were launched in retaliation, it seems Air Force command was told to stand down.
Just in the nick of time, the United States’ newly minted Solar Forecasting Center was able to convey the true cause of the radar jamming: a rash of powerful solar flares. That’s according to a new military history paper, which reveals for the first time just how close humanity came to annihilating itself because of space weather.

“This is what we would characterize as a really near miss,” lead author Delores Knipp, a former Air Force officer and space weather physicist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Gizmodo.
Space weather is a catch-all term for a bunch of high-energy material the sun hurls our way during periods of heightened activity. It starts with a solar flare, which sends a burst of x-rays and ultraviolet light streaming off into space. When a flare strikes the upper portion of our atmosphere, called the ionosphere, it acts like an EM pulse, ripping electrons off atoms and building up tremendous electrical charge.
This can cause radio devices to go dead, as Thomas Berger, director of the Space Weather Prediction Center at NOAA, told Gizmodo last summer:

Radio communications are sometimes impacted. Over the horizon radio becomes difficult. When airplanes are flying over the poles, the only way they communicate with control centers is high frequency radio waves bouncing over the continents. But it’s just a temporary difficulty lasting ten minutes to hours at the most.
Following a major flare, the sun typically pops off a giant cloud of magnetized plasma, called a coronal mass ejection (CME). This slow-moving blob of starstuff can take from 12 hours to several days to reach the Earth, but it’s responsible for the most severe consequences of space weather, including the aurora borealis (northern lights) and widespread power blackouts.

As Berger emphasized, space weather is usually a temporary difficulty. But it can lead to much bigger problems if people in power don’t understand what’s happening, as illustrated by the Great Solar Storm of May 1967. At the time, the US military had just begun to routinely monitor solar activity through a network of observers at the Air Force’s Air Weather Service, which provided daily updates to forecasters at NORAD.

On May 18th, observers noted a group of sunspots concentrating in a single area on the surface of the sun. On the afternoon of May 23rd, a series of bright solar flares were observed and photographed in sequence (including one that would later be classified as the largest solar radio burst of the 20th century). Shortly after the flares were spotted, NORAD’s Solar Forecast Center put out a bulletin predicting a “significant” worldwide geomagnetic storm within 36 to 48 hours.
The forecast came not a moment too soon. Just as it was being issued, the Air Force was placing additional aircraft in “ready to launch” status, in response to its Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS) going dark.

That radar system, which operated in far northern latitudes throughout the Cold War, is a textbook example of the sort of technology that can be knocked out by space weather. According to Knipp and her co-authors—some of whom are retired US Air Force officials with close knowledge of the events—it’s likely that information from the Solar Forecasting Center made it to the highest levels of command in time to avert a nuclear disaster.
“The aircraft did not launch—we’re pretty certain of that,” Knipp said. “Was war imminent? What we know is that decisions were being made on the tens of minutes to hours basis, and that information got to the right place at the right time to prevent a disaster.”

About 40 hours later, a geomagnetic storm hit the Earth, disrupting radio communications and igniting the northern lights as far south as New Mexico for about a week.

“What we know is that decisions were being made on the tens of minutes to hours basis, and that information got to the right place at the right time to prevent a disaster”
I’ve argued before that the dangers of extreme space weather are not well appreciated. For instance, if the largest geomagnetic storm on record—the Carrington Event of 1859—were to hit us today, it could fry transformers worldwide, knocking billions of people off the grid for weeks to months. But it hadn’t occurred to me that space weather could trigger an even greater disaster in a militarily-tense era, if the consequences for technology were not well understood.
Rather than spelling the end of modern society, the May 1967 solar storm fueled US interest in space weather monitoring, setting the stage for the forecast tools we have today. Let’s just hope fortune favors us again the next time the sun throws a sucker punch our way.


COMMENT:  The way to eliminate an accidental nuclear war is to abolish nuclear weapons.

Watching the Nuclear Watchdog

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on August 9, 2016 at 3:22 am

By Janette D. Sherman, MD


Despite scientific findings linking low-level radiation exposure and cancer that go back as far as Madam Marie Curie in the 1930s, the nuclear power industry in the U.S. has evaded rigorous examination of the risks its plants pose to their neighbors and downwinders.

Senator Ted Kennedy demanded a study of cancer risks 27 years ago. For an industry that has been splitting uranium atoms to heat water and create electricity since 1957, one study hardly seems adequate. A second study is pending, but industry watchdogs worry it is so compromised that its results will be predictable.

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board issued a “Phase 2 pilot planning report.” The report was designated “planning” because executives at the agency have yet to decide how to conduct the study.

The current federally-sponsored study of cancer rates near nuclear plants is now nearly six years old, and will take at least five more years, maybe more, to complete. The planning is being shaped by regulators closely aligned with an industry that stands to lose if nuclear energy plants are linked to cancer.

The current study of cancer rates near nuclear plants is now nearly six years old, and will take at least five more years, maybe more, to complete. The planning is being shaped by regulators closely aligned with an industry that stands to lose if nuclear energy plants are linked to cancer.

To appreciate how flawed the process has been, a little history is needed. The building of nuclear power plants in the U.S. began in 1943 to produce atomic bombs. It was not until 1957 that plants began to produce electricity. In the 1980s, the number of power reactors peaked at 112. That is now 99 and falling.

Despite known releases of radiation from these reactors into the environment and a connection between radiation exposure and cancer that is now widely accepted among medical researchers, federal officials spent decades declaring no risk of developing cancer to anyone living near a reactor—without conducting any studies to support their claims.

That ended in 1988 when Ted Kennedy wrote a letter to James Wyngaarden, director of the National Institutes of Health. Kennedy had learned of an article in the medical journal The Lancet describing high leukemia rates around the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station near Boston. Wyngaarden took the senator’s not-so-subtle hint, and responded three weeks later:

“The National Institutes of Health is actively involved in studying the adverse effects of ionizing radiation, and we concur with your view that the risks at low levels need further clarification … We are currently correlating county mortality data from the 1950s through early 1980s with reactor operations.”

Wyngaarden wasn’t truthful about his staff “currently correlating” cancer data. No such process had begun until Kennedy’s letter arrived. Wyngaarden also demonstrated his pro-industry bias by writing: “The most serious health impact of the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident that can be identified with certainty is mental stress to those living near the plant, particularly pregnant women and families with teenagers and young children.”

Following Kennedy’s request, the National Cancer Institute issued a report in July 1990, concluding: “The survey has produced no evidence that an excess occurrence of cancer has resulted from living near nuclear facilities.” Researchers, however, for the most part only surveyed cancer deaths, not incidences, thus limiting the consideration of radiation-sensitive cancers like thyroid and child cancer, which most victims survive. The safety of nuclear plants was subsequently ignored by officials except when they cited the 1990 report as evidence that it is “safe” to live near nuclear plants.

Then in May 2009, seemingly out of nowhere, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) posted a “pre-solicitation” notice for experts to conduct a cancer study near U.S. nuclear plants.

As encouraging as that might appear, an NRC-sponsored study of cancer risks near the reactors it regulates is a blatant conflict of interest. Approximately 90 percent of NRC funding comes from licensing fees paid by companies that own the nuclear plants that the commission regulates. Bad news about cancer and nuclear plants means bad news for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Moreover, NRC officials do not have medical backgrounds. They are mostly physicists and engineers, typically moving through the revolving door connecting the regulatory community and the industry. Most employees either have worked at nuclear plants or they will work at nuclear plants when they leave the agency.

To direct the study, the NRC approved a no-bid contract to the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. Located at the world’s oldest nuclear weapons plant, the institute has extensive contracts with the U.S. Energy Department, which is strongly invested in nuclear development.

That conflict was too obvious. After protests by activists, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey intervened and the NRC responded by moving the study to the National Academy of Science, whose National Academy Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board would direct the project.

The Radiation Study Board’s chair was Richard Meserve, himself a former NRC chair—and an illustration of how compromised our nation’s nuclear regulators are.

Meserve has been a senior counselor to a law firm that works for the nuclear industry, a board member of nuclear energy companies in Texas and California, and board advisor to a French-U.S. conglomerate with plans to build new nuclear plants in the U.S.

Protests by anti-nuclear activists compelled Meserve to recuse himself from the project. Yet while other members of the study board are not as compromised as Meserve, few have backgrounds in public health or medicine, and none has ever published a peer-reviewed article on cancer near nuclear plants.

By now critics of this process expect a report that finds “no link” between cancer risk and living in proximity to a reactor.

Yet science uncompromised by relations with the industry has reached a different conclusion. At least 60 published, peer-reviewed studies have linked cancer to low-level exposure to radiation (particularly among children who are most susceptible).

Examples? A 2012 study of all nuclear plants in France found elevated levels of child leukemia in the vicinity of the plants. A 2008 study in Germany came to a similar conclusion regarding child leukemia and that country’s nuclear generating facilities.

A study in Archives of Environmental Health in 2003 found cancer rates in children that were 12.4 percent higher than nationwide occurrences in 49 counties surrounding 14 nuclear plants in the eastern U.S. (Note: The author was one of the five researchers.)

The obligation among government employees and scientists to maintain their objectivity and to protect human health is on the line with this upcoming study. That unbiased research is unlikely unless grassroots organizations and individuals keep the pressure on elected officials.

Declaration of the International Meeting of the World Conference against Atomic & Hydrogen Bombs

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 7, 2016 at 10:30 pm

Declaration of the International Meeting

Seventy one years ago, the USA used nuclear bombs for the first time against humanity by releasing atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With tremendous destructive power and radiation, the two bombs burned out the cities and claimed the lives of about 210,000 people by the end of the year. It was a hell on earth. The Hibakusha who survived then had to suffer from latent effects and social discrimination for many subsequent years. Such inhumane weapons should not be used again in any circumstances whatsoever.

The nuclear powers still maintain more than 15,000 nuclear warheads. Not a small number of them are on alert for launch. The concern for the outbreak of nuclear war due to deteriorating regional tensions is real. A recent study shows that even if only a small percentage of existing nuclear weapons are used, it would cause serious climate change and would bring the human race to the brink of extinction. The elimination of nuclear weapons is an urgent task for the very survival of the humanity.

By international law and justice, weapons of mass destruction are widely perceived to be illegal. As biological and chemical weapons have been banned by international treaties, nuclear weapons should be banned immediately and made illegal.

At present, a new move to open the door to a “world without nuclear weapons” is developing. Substantial discussions for a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons have begun at the United Nations.

The 70th Session of the UN General Assembly adopted by majority a number of resolutions calling for the start of negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. With the support of more than 70% of the member states, it also decided to convene an open-ended working group (OEWG) to discuss “concrete effective legal measures” to achieve “a world without nuclear weapons”. The meetings of the OEWG turned out to be an epoch-making opportunity where substantive matters for a treaty to ban nuclear weapons were discussed, and the convening of a conference in 2017 to negotiate a treaty was proposed. We cordially request that the OEWG include the commencement of negotiations for a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons in the recommendations submitted to the coming session of the UN General Assembly.

The motive power of these developments is found in the anti-nuclear peace movement all around the world, including the Hibakusha who have kept warning about the inhumanity and atrocity of nuclear weapons. The appeals of Hibakusha in the international political arenas have elicited huge responses. Through the 2015 NPT Review Conference, where international anti-nuclear peace movements rallied, the voices demanding legally binding measures have expanded ever more widely.

The forthcoming session of the UN General Assembly in autumn will have discussions, focusing on the report of the OEWG. To ban nuclear weapons by treaty and eliminate them is the long standing core demand of the World Conference against A and H Bombs. Now is the time to make every possible effort to build overwhelming public support to achieve this goal.

The five nuclear powers of the USA, Russia, the UK, France and China are working in unison to counter this development. Their posture and that of their allies who follow them is clearly a major obstacle put in a way to achieve a “world without nuclear weapons”.

They boycotted the OEWG, and their allies who spoke for them, including Japan, oppose any immediate step to take to achieve the elimination of nuclear weapons and insist that the “step-by-step” is the only practical approach. History proves, however, that this approach does not really lead us one step closer towards nuclear disarmament. It is an approach that puts off the abolition of nuclear weapons into indefinite future.

While being defensive before the argument on humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, the nuclear powers still cling to the “nuclear deterrence” doctrine, saying that the security aspects should also be considered. The essence of this argument is to try to justify the use or threat to use nuclear weapons against other countries to protect so-called national interest, which is the most dangerous concept. Besides, deterrence has actually induced nuclear proliferation in the name of “self-defense”, and thus helped spread threat to peace.

Opening a door to a “world without nuclear weapons” will only be possible by defeating such absurdity in the posture of the nuclear powers.

The focal point today is a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons. We must make every effort to strengthen the movement and public opinion demanding the commencement of negotiations and conclusion of such a treaty. No first use of nuclear weapons and ban on their use, ratification of the CTBT, ending the development, replacement and modernization of nuclear arsenals, and reduction of nuclear armament are also all important. These measures will become more effective, if the movement and public opinion demanding an agreement on the prohibition of nuclear weapons are mobilized.

The nuclear weapon-free zones are playing an important role for regional peace and security, and their further development is called for. As agreed upon by the past NPT Review Conferences, an international conference for the creation of a nuclear weapon and WMD-free zone in the Middle East should be convened with no further delay. The problem of nuclear development of North Korea should be resolved through diplomacy, including the resumption of the six party talks.

To achieve a “world without nuclear weapons”, it is essential to resolve regional conflicts and contentious problems by peaceful means based on the peace principles of the U.N. Charter and international law, excluding the use or threat to use force. International community in unity must isolate and root out terrorism, which resorts to indiscriminate killing, by non-military means. For the purpose of preventing proliferation, it is all the more urgent to reach an agreement to prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

Releasing greater resources by drastic cuts in military expenditures, including the cost for maintenance and development of nuclear forces, overcoming poverty and disparity, improvement of living standard and welfare, and protection of human rights and democracy are all integral parts of “a peaceful and just world”.

Although the Japanese Government is expected to play an appropriate role as the only A-bombed country, it is actually acting as a spokesperson for nuclear powers. At home, it forced through the security-related laws, or War Laws, disregarding the constitutional principles of peace, to consolidate its readiness to take part in war overseas. Relying on the US “nuclear deterrence”, it is even taking theposition of agreeing to the use of nuclear weapons. Underlying this is the absolute priority given to the Japan-US military alliance.

In the meantime, a wide range of people have risen in action demanding the abolition of War Laws and restoration of constitutionalism. Against this background, all opposition parties came together to field their united candidates in the House of Councilors elections in July. In Okinawa, a united candidate who opposes the construction of a new US base defeated a former Cabinet member. The Japanese anti-nuclear peace movement took active part in this struggle. The International Meeting of the 2016 World Conference against A and H Bombs expresses solidarity with the Japanese movement which stands in defense of the Constitution and works to establish a non-nuclear and peaceful Japan.

The movements and public opinion of the peoples of the world are the driving force to open a nuclear weapon-free, peaceful and just future. We propose the following actions:

— To build the “International Signature Campaign in Support of the Appeal of the Hibakusha, the Atomic Bomb Survivors of Hiroshima & Nagasaki, for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons” and other actions to build public opinion demanding the start of negotiations for a treaty to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons, with the goal of hundreds of millions signatures collected worldwide. To help to promote these actions, we will continue to make widely known the damage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and help Hibakusha to speak about their experiences internationally. We will carry out these activities particularly on such occasions as the nuclear disarmament deliberations of the UN General Assembly, UN International day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (Sept. 26) and UN Disarmament Week (Oct. 24-30).

— Let us extend relief and solidarity with the Hibakusha and support them to achieve their demand for state compensation. Let us call for the relief of the victims of the nuclear tests and nuclear plant accidents. Let us strengthen our support of the sufferers of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. We strengthen our solidarity with the zero NPP movement. Let us extend our support to the victims of Agent Orange and depleted uranium, and other war victims.

— Let us strengthen our solidarity with all such movements against war and for peace, reduction and dismantling of foreign military bases from Okinawa, Guam and other places, effective control of arms exports and military industry, cuts in military expenditures, improvement of living conditions, employment and social welfare, overcoming poverty and disparity, prevention of climate change, protection of global environment, elimination of sexism and other discriminations, overcoming social justice and for sustainable development.

The Hibakusha appeal: “It is our strong desire to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world in our lifetime, so that succeeding generations of people will not see hell on earth ever again.” Responding to their pressing desire, with fresh determination, let us make many steps forward to a “nuclear weapon-free, peaceful and just world”.

August 4, 2016

International Meeting, 2016 World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs


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