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Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category

About the Korean War

In Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, War on August 20, 2017 at 4:11 am

 

By Tom Mayer, Peace Trains Column, August 18, 2017

The current crisis with North Korea arises from the unresolved Korean War. Here are some facts about the Korean War unknown to most Americans.

 

1. Japan annexed Korea as a colony in 1910. Japan exploited Korea brutally. The Korean War actually began in the 1930’s as a civil war against Japanese imperialism and against the Koreans who collaborated with Japanese imperialism. Kim Il Sung, the first head of North Korea (and grandfather of the current ruler), was a principal leader of the resistance movement against Japan.

2. During World War Two, grassroots liberation movements sprang up throughout Korea. These movements aimed at redistributing land (which was owned by a tiny elite) and casting off Japanese domination. In addition, over 50 thousand Koreans joined with the Chinese Communists to fight against Japan in Manchuria. These Korean soldiers subsequently helped Mao and his peasant army win the civil war in China. This motivated China to support North Korea in the Korean War.

3. Korea has been a single country for well over a thousand years. Nevertheless the day after the Nagasaki bombing, U.S. government officials (e.g. Dean Acheson and Dean Rusk) chose the 38th parallel – which had no previous relevance in Korean history – as the dividing line between North and South Korea. The purpose was to prevent Soviet troops from occupying the whole of Korea. Neither the Koreans nor the Soviets were consulted about this crucial decision. The 38th parallel has never been a recognized international boundary.

 

4. In order to forestall social revolution in Asia, the Truman administration decided to resurrect Japanese influence within East Asia. In South Korea the U.S. established a government consisting largely of persons who collaborated with Japan during World War Two. This regime brutally repressed all movements for progressive social change. Many thousands of men, women, and children were murdered by government forces and their right wing allies.

5. On June 25, 1950 North Korea launched a full scale invasion of South Korea. Prior to the attack there had been numerous border skirmishes, some of them substantial. The purpose of the invasion was (a) preventing renewed Japanese hegemony over Korea, (b) removing violent Japanese collaborators from power in South Korea, and (c) unifying the country. Although the armies of North and South Korea were of about equal size, the North Korean army proved far superior and enjoyed considerable popular support within the south. Without U.S. military intervention, North Korean forces would have vanquished their foes and unified Korea in less than one month.

6. The United States carpet bombed North Korea for three years with very little concern for civilian casualties. Every North Korean city was destroyed. The U.S. dropped more bombs on North Korea then were used in the entire Pacific theater during World War Two. Extensive use was made of napalm, and employment of nuclear weapons was seriously considered. Neutral observers said that by 1952 North Korea resembled a moonscape.

7. North Korean forces were often ruthless towards civilians, but substantial evidence shows that America’s South Korean allies were considerably more vicious and less discriminating. They frequently slaughtered the entire families of anyone suspected of being a leftist. The U.S. high command generally ignored these atrocities and sometimes participated in them. This happened at Nogun Village in July 1950 when American soldiers machine gunned hundreds of helpless civilians under a railroad bridge.

8. The Korean War was one of the most destructive wars of the 20th century. About three million Koreans died in that war, at least half of whom were civilians. By comparison, Japan lost 2.3 million people in World War Two. The Korean War was never officially ended, and (as current events indicate) could easily be restarted.

US Labor peace group writes:

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 11, 2017 at 9:43 pm

“The Solidarity Peace Delegation, concluding their July 23-28 visit to South Korea, called for immediate US-South Korean action to de-escalate growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The delegation was composed of Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, Reece Chenault of US Labor Against the War, Will Griffin of Veterans for Peace, and recent Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. It was sponsored by The Channing and Popai Liem Education Foundation and the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia (STIK). US Labor Against the War created new connections with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU,) forging what we hope will be a lasting bond between organizations.”

The Korean Peninsula is rapidly approaching the boiling point.

Yesterday, North Korean officials released a statement through the Korean Central News Agency, a state-run media outlet, in response to the U.N. Security Council’s unanimous approval of sanctions on Aug. 5 to penalize the isolated regime for its nuclear and missile programs.

“Packs of wolves are coming in attack to strangle a nation,” the North Korean statement said. “They should be mindful that the D.P.R.K.’s strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength,” it added, using the initials for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea said it was “carefully examining” plans to strike the US territory after Donald Trump launched a furious tirade at Kim Jong-un, warning that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury” if the rogue state continued to threaten America.

North and South Korea have lived in a perpetual wartime mobilization for decades, with the presence in the South of 83 US bases and nearly 30,000 US troops.

The Solidarity Peace Delegation, concluding their July 23-28 visit to South Korea, called for immediate US-South Korean action to de-escalate growing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The delegation was composed of Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK, Reece Chenault of US Labor Against the War, Will Griffin of Veterans for Peace, and recent Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. It was sponsored by The Channing and Popai Liem Education Foundation and the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia (STIK). US Labor Against the War created new connections with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU,) forging what we hope will be a lasting bond between organizations.

In times like these it is important for us to show that our bond is more than mere words, so we ask that you do the following:
· Join the emergency overnight vigil at the White House. It starts at 5 PMand will go until the following morning.
· Ask Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to reopen the lines of communication. If you want to do something immediately but don’t live in DC this is a good option. A petition is being circulated through CodePINK. Please take the time to fill it out and share with others. CodePINK.org/Tillerson
· Follow us as we continue to talk about our efforts in Korea on our blog. For information about labor in the Korean Peninsula and Reece’s recent trip, go to uslawinkorean.com as we will continue to post every day. It’s important that we know more about the struggle of our brothers and sisters so that we can be informed allies ready to answer the call when they need us. Moments like this one illustrate just how critical this connection can be.

US Labor Against the War remains committed to standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the Korean Peninsula. Peace can’t just be hoped for, it must be worked toward. We in the labor movement are no strangers to hard work and will continue striving on. As our South Korean trade union allies taught us during our visit – No to war, yes to peace!

In Solidarity,

US Labor Against the War

http://www.michaelmunk.com

The Harm Caused by Radioactivity

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health, Race, Radiation Standards on August 1, 2017 at 11:38 am

Prepared for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan

by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., July 2017.

 

Atoms and Molecules

 

All material things are made up of atoms.  There are 92 different kinds of atoms found in nature, ranging from hydrogen (the lightest) to uranium (the heaviest).

 

Every atom has a tiny but massive core called its nucleus. The nucleus is surrounded by orbiting electrons (one electron for hydrogen, 92 electrons for uranium).

 

Molecules are combinations of atoms.  For example a molecule of water is H2O – two hydrogen atoms bonded together with one oxygen atom.  The bond that holds the atoms together in a molecule is the force of electromagnetic attraction.  That force is the result of atoms sharing their orbiting electrons; it does not affect the nucleus.

 

The cells in our body contain a great many complicated organic molecules, the most important one being the DNA molecule.  DNA carries the genetic instructions that we inherited from our parents. DNA tells our cells how to reproduce properly.

 

All organic molecules have chains of carbon atoms bonded to numerous hydrogen atoms, and other types of atoms too. Such molecules are the building blocks of life.

 

Chemical energy does not involve the nucleus, it only involves the orbiting electrons. Nuclear energy refers to energy that comes directly from the atomic nucleus; it is millions of times more powerful than chemical energy. Science had no knowledge of nuclear energy until the end of the 19th century.

 

Ions and Ionizing Radiation

 

“Ionizing Radiation” refers to any form of energy that is powerful enough to break molecules apart by randomly smashing the bonds holding its atoms together.  The electrically charged fragments of broken molecules are “ions” (or “free radicals”).

 

Ions are unstable. Because they are electrically charged they repel and attract other ions, causing chaotic chemical reactions to take place rapidly. Chaos is unhealthy.

 

The most commonly encountered forms of ionizing radiation are (1) x-rays from an x-ray machine and (2) emissions from the disintegration of radioactive materials.

 

Most other forms of radiation, such as visible light, infrared, microwaves, radio and television waves, are non-ionizing.  They can not break molecular bonds.

 

Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation

 

Massive doses of ionizing radiation are deadly, killing any human being within days of exposure. So many molecules are destroyed, and so many organs are damaged, that the body cannot survive.  Such damage can be caused by a nuclear explosion.

 

Large but not lethal doses of ionizing radiation can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, sterility, eye cataracts, and severe burns that are very difficult to heal. Some of these symptoms are experienced by cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.  In the case of pregnant women, such exposures to ionizing radiation can lead to the birth of deformed children, including babies with shrunken heads and impaired intelligence.  These effects are all well-documented in the scientific literature.

 

Low doses of ionizing radiation do not cause any immediately perceptible harm, but there is always damage to living cells within the body of the person so exposed.

 

The chaotic disruption caused by ionizing radiation is damaging to any exposed cell, often killing the cell, sometimes damaging it beyond repair. Fortunately, the body can replace such dead or non-functioning cells if the damage is not too extensive.

 

There are mechanisms available within the cell that can sometimes repair the damage done by ionizing radiation, but not always.  When repair fails, a cell crippled by ionizing radiation may go on living and reproducing with damaged DNA instructions.  It then multiplies in an abnormal fashion, yielding a cancer years later.

 

Although very few damaged cells develop into cancers, a wide variety of lethal and non-lethal radiation-caused cancers have been observed in populations exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation.  These are well described in the scientific literature.

 

Under a microscope one can see that blood changes occur even with low doses of ionizing radiation.  The blood cells most easily harmed are those that are needed by the body to fight infections. Thus ionizing radiation weakens the body’s immune system, making the individual more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases.

 

In experimental animals it has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that even very small doses of ionizing radiation can damage the DNA of reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) of individuals.  Visibly defective offspring eventually result.  H. J. Muller won the Nobel Prize in 1946 for showing that there is no dose of ionizing radiation low enough to prevent harmful mutations from being caused by such exposures.

 

Similar evidence of radiation-induced mutations has not been found in human populations, but it is assumed that harmful mutations probably do occur in humans following exposure of their reproductive organs to ionizing radiation. All other species that have been studied have shown such effects.  This is the main reason that lead aprons are used to cover genitals when people are x-rayed in hospitals.

 

X-Rays – The Discovery of Ionizing Radiation

 

Ionizing radiation was unknown to science until 122 years ago.  Our first notice of ionizing radiation was the discovery of x-rays in 1895 by W. Roentgen in Germany.

 

An x-ray machine is powered by electricity. It can be turned on and off, like a light switch. When the x-ray machine is off it is harmless, but when it’s on it’s dangerous. That’s why, before giving an x-ray to a patient, the technician leaves the room.

 

When the x-ray machine is on, a powerful kind of invisible light – an x-ray – is given off.  While it can penetrate right through soft tissue as if it were made of glass, the   x-ray is blocked by denser material like bones. In this way doctors can examine the images of the bones of a human skeleton by catching their “shadows” cast by the x-rays on photographic paper or on an illuminated viewing screen.

 

The harmful effects of x-rays were discovered almost immediately.  Severe burns, eye cataracts, sterilization of experimental animals, and excess leukemia among radiologists, all caused by x-ray exposures, were recognized by the first decade of the 20th century.  And the ionizing character of x-rays was documented right away.

 

Doctors quickly realized that the destructive effects of x-rays could be used to advantage to fight malignant tumors (cancerous growths) by blasting them with     x-rays.  It works, at least partially.  Ironically, some of those same doctors years later died of cancers that were caused by their own repeated exposures to x-rays.

 

Radioactivity – The Discovery of Nuclear Energy

 

In 1896, just a year after the discovery of x-rays, a scientist in Paris named Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity. It was an accidental event.

 

Becquerel had a rock containing uranium in a desk drawer.  In that same drawer he had a photographic plate wrapped in black paper to block any light.  But when the photo was developed, there was a blurry image – apparently caused by the rock.

 

This was a stunning discovery. Somehow, the rock was giving off an invisible kind of light, penetrating right through the black paper that blocked all visible light, so as to create an unmistakable image on a photographic plate.  The rock was behaving like a miniature x-ray machine that could not be shut off. How is that possible?

 

Where was this powerful invisible light coming from? There was no external power source – no electricity, no sunlight, no chemical reactions. Over the next few years the mystery was unravelled.  It was discovered that some atoms have an unstable nucleus, and uranium is one of those.  Such unstable atoms are called “radioactive”.  The nucleus of a radioactive atom spontaneously emits ionizing radiation. And it doesn’t stop. It is an ongoing release of nuclear energy that cannot be shut off.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 1 – Radium

 

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered two new radioactive elements that are much more intensely radioactive than uranium alone. She named them “radium” and “polonium”.  They were found in the same sort of rock that Becquerel had used.

 

Later that year, Becquerel carried a sealed tube of radium in his vest pocket. As a result he got a nasty “radiation burn” on his torso that was painful, very slow to heal, and left an ugly scar. Marie Curie’s hands also suffered painful radiation burns after she handled a thin metal box containing a small tube of radium.

 

Seeing these burns, doctors used radium-filled “needles” to shrink solid tumors. Such a needle inserted into an unwanted growth delivers most of its harmful ionizing radiation to the diseased tissue while minimizing the dose to healthy tissue. Workers preparing the needles, surgeons implanting them, and nurses attending patients often received substantial doses of ionizing radiation themselves.

 

In 1908 a radium-based paint was developed that makes things glow in the dark. The invisible ionizing radiation given off by disintegrating radium atoms is absorbed and converted into visible light by specialized paint molecules. The glow that results needs no battery or other power source, not even exposure to sunlight. It just glows.

 

This soon became big business.  Thousands of teenaged girls were hired to paint the dials of watches and instruments with this wondrous new kind of paint.  By 1914 radium had become the most expensive substance on earth, at $180,000 per gram. It was painstaking work; the girls often used their lips to put a fine tip on their brush.

 

By the 1920s many of the dial painters had developed severe anemia, in some cases fatal. Autopsies of the girls’ bodies revealed ionizing radiation emanating from their bones, spleen and liver, due to tiny amounts of radium deposited in their organs.

 

Many girls also had grave dental problems with teeth breaking and falling out due to bone deterioration, plus rampant bacterial infections. Dentists working on the girls’ teeth found the jaw bones to be soft and porous, even fracturing spontaneously.  Dr. Martland, a forensic pathologist, showed in 1925 that these symptoms (termed “radium jaw”) were caused by tiny amounts of radium that had embrittled the bone.

 

Before long, cases of bone cancer began to be observed among the surviving dial painters. Over 1200 deaths from bone cancer were ultimately recorded in that population. It was crystal clear that ionizing radiation from radium deposited in the girls’ skeletons was the cause. In every case, the lethal amount of radium in any girls’ body was less than a milligram (a milligram is one thousandth of a gram).

 

Years later, several hundred of the remaining dial painters developed head cancers – cancers of the sinus and mastoid – caused by a radioactive gas (radon) produced by disintegration of radium atoms in the bones and carried by the blood to the head.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 2 – Radon Gas

 

For 400 years, underground miners in the Schneeburg region of Germany suffered from a mysterious lung ailment that killed up to half the mining population.  In the mid-19th century the disease was identified as lung cancer. The cause was unknown.

 

By the 1930s, scientists learned that the miners’ lung cancers were brought about by breathing a radioactive gas called radon. It was pervasive in the underground tunnels. Ionizing radiation given off by the inhaled gas turned lung cells cancerous.

 

Radon gas is one of the most powerful cancer-causing agents known to science. It is invisible, odourless, and tasteless. It is seven times heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. It cannot be filtered out of the air. And it is continually being created, one atom at a time, by the disintegration of radium atoms.

 

When a radium atom disintegrates it does not disappear, it becomes an atom of radon gas. So radium, a radioactive heavy metal, is gradually transforming itself into a radioactive gas. Indeed, every atom of radon was once an atom of radium.

 

These men were mining for silver and cobalt, but the ore was also rich in uranium.  Wherever uranium is found, there also is radium, as Marie Curie demonstrated in 1898. So there will be radon too – the gas is a so-called “decay product” of radium.

 

Throughout the twentieth century, underground uranium miners around the world suffered excess lung cancers caused by their exposures to radon gas – from the Navajo Indians mining uranium on the Colorado Plateau, to underground miners in Sweden and South Africa, to Canadian miners in the Northwest Territories, Northern Saskatchewan, Elliot Lake Ontario, and Newfoundland – all experienced a dramatically elevated incidence of lung cancer caused by their radon gas exposures.

 

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that currently, between 20,000 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths occur every year from American citizens breathing radon gas in their homes.  Radon gas enters homes when the soil has a higher than usual amount of radium, or when radium-contaminated materials are used in the construction of homes, as has happened in many communities.

 

Sometimes radon enters homes in the form of radioactively contaminated water (i.e. water containing dissolved radon).  In such cases high radon exposures often result from showering. Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

 

Because radium is such a deadly substance, it is now considered too dangerous to use in commercial applications. So radium became a radioactive waste product of uranium mining. Since the mid-20th century, massive piles of radium-bearing wastes – over 200 million tonnes in Canada – have been stored at the surface in the form of a fine sand.  These sandy wastes constantly give off radon gas into the atmosphere.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 3 – Polonium

 

When uranium atoms disintegrate, they change into about two dozen other radioactive materials – these are the “decay products” of uranium.  Among these decay products are radium, radon, and polonium.  That’s why uranium ore always contains radium and polonium; they are both natural byproducts of uranium.

 

Since the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility is intended to store a very large amount of uranium (1000 tonnes!), there will be always more and more radium, radon and polonium in those wastes as the centuries go by, increasing without end, as more and more uranium atoms disintegrate into their natural decay products.

 

Polonium is a radioactive solid that occurs in nature as a decay product of radon. When an atom of radon disintegrates, it becomes an atom of polonium.  In fact there are 3 different varieties (called “isotopes”) of polonium : polonium-218, polonium-214, and polonium-210. They are all radioactive byproducts of radon gas. And, of course, every atom of radon was once an atom of radium, and every atom of radium was once an atom of uranium, so it’s all happening all the time – a “decay chain”.

 

It so happens that polonium is the deadliest element on earth. Scientists at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, the place where they developed the explosive mechanism for the first atomic bomb, say polonium-210 is 250 billion times more toxic than cyanide. So whatever amount of cyanide is needed to kill a human being, that same amount of polonium-210 would be enough to kill 250 billion humans.

 

In 2008 a small amount of polonium-210 was dumped into a cup of tea in London, England, to murder an ex-Russian spy named Alexander Litvinenko.  He died an agonizing death as all his internal organs shut down one by one.  Polonium-210 attaches itself to red blood cells and so it spreads all over the body by normal blood circulation. The ionizing radiation given off by disintegrating polonium atoms is particular devastating to living tissue, wherever that tissue may be in the body.

 

When tobacco is grown, radon gas builds up under the thick leaves, and atoms of polonium are produced there. Polonium adheres to the sticky hairs on the leaves, so a very tiny amount ends up in the harvested tobacco. This situation is made worse when radioactive fertilizer is used to promote the growth of the tobacco plants.

 

The American Health Physics Society, specializing in monitoring radiation, estimates that 90 percent of the deaths attributed to cigarette smoking are actually caused by polonium-210 in cigarette smoke. So polonium is killing over 200,000 Americans per year, due to lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes caused by ionizing radiation.

 

Inuit people have more polonium in their bodies than the average Canadian because they eat a lot of caribou meat.  Caribou eat a lot of lichen, and the lichen absorbs the polonium dust that slowly settles out from radon gas atoms disintegrating in the air.

 

Is There a Safe Dose of Ionizing Radiation?

 

Large doses of ionizing radiation can cause death, radiation sickness, hair loss, sterility, radiation burns, cataracts, and many other harmful effects that are apparent within hours, days, or weeks of exposure – within a year, at least.  These are called “prompt effects”; they can all be prevented by lowering the exposure.

 

Low doses of ionizing radiation can cause cancers, leukemias, genetic damage to the DNA of reproductive cells, and a variety of other ailments that will often not become apparent for years or even decades after exposure.  These are called “delayed effects” of ionizing radiation.  (The technical term is “stochastic effects”.) Delayed effects cannot be altogether prevented just by lowering the level of exposure.

 

Many scientific bodies exist to sift through the scientific evidence and determine the truth as they see it.  These include UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), the BEIR Committee of the NAS (National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation), and the ICRP (International Committee on Radiological Protection).  These bodies have issued a series of reports over many years on the subject of ionizing radiation.

 

The scientific consensus of all these committees is that any dose of ionizing radiation, no matter how small, can in principle cause the delayed effects mentioned above: cancer, leukemia, or genetic damage.  But with very low doses of ionizing radiation, the fraction of the exposed population suffering such harm is also low.

 

All these scientific committees have accepted the “linear hypothesis” as the best guide.  The linear hypothesis implies that there is no safe threshold of exposure to ionizing radiation, because harmful effects – including lethal effects – can be experienced by individuals exposed to even low levels. To be more precise the linear hypothesis states that the number of damaged individuals in an exposed population is roughly proportional to the average dose multiplied by the size of the population.

 

It is worth noting that every nuclear regulatory body in the world has formally accepted the linear hypothesis. All radiation limits and standards are based on the linear hypothesis, with no assumed safe threshold.  This means that there is no absolutely safe dose of ionizing radiation, so all exposures should be kept to zero if possible.  The “permissible levels” of radiation exposure are based on the belief that some level of radiation-caused cancers or genetic defects is acceptable in exchange for the benefits of the radiation exposure that caused these harmful effects. It is also well-established that women and children are much more vulnerable than men.

 

When it comes to very long-lived radioactive waste materials that will be around for hundreds of thousands of years, the linear hypothesis becomes very worrisome, because the exposed population is not just those people who are living near the waste right now, but all the future generations of people who will live near the wastes for thousands of years to come.  As the exposed population grows larger and larger with time, the number of cancers and genetic defects becomes incalculable.

 

Radioactive Emissions: Alpha, Beta and Gamma

 

Sooner or later the nucleus of any radioactive atom will disintegrate (i.e. explode). Any emission given off during such a disintegration is called “atomic radiation”.  The half-life of a radioactive element is the time needed for half its atoms to disintegrate

 

Radioactivity is measured by how many disintegrations occur in one second. One disintegration per second is referred to as a “Becquerel” (Bq). A terabecquerel (TBq) is a trillion becquerels, indicating that a million million radioactive disintegrations are taking place every second. Many of the radioactive waste materials to be deposited in the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility, according to authorities, are measured in terabecquerels, sometimes even thousands of terabecquerels.

 

When a nucleus disintegrates, it ejects an electrically charged particle, travelling incredibly fast, that can smash molecular bonds with ease.  There are two types of such particles. An “alpha particle” is positively charged, whereas a  “beta particle” is negatively charged. Almost all radioactive elements can be classified into one of two categories – either as an “alpha-emitter” or as a “beta-emitter”.  For example, polonium is an alpha-emitter, while tritium (radioactive hydrogen) is a beta-emitter.

 

In many cases, a disintegrating nucleus may also give off a burst of pure energy, very similar to an x-ray, but far more powerful. Such emissions are called “gamma rays”.  Any radioactive element that gives off gamma rays is called a “gamma-emitter”.  Technetium-99m, used in hospitals for diagnostic tests, is a gamma-emitter.

 

Since alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays all break molecular bonds, they are all classified as “ionizing radiation”.  As such, they are all able to cause any of the adverse effects described earlier as health consequences of ionizing radiation.

 

While alpha particles and beta particles are material projectiles, and not radiation at all, they are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “alpha rays” and “beta rays”. Being particles, however, they are much less penetrating than x-rays or gamma rays.

 

Gamma rays are the most penetrating form of atomic radiation, requiring heavy lead shielding to limit exposures.  Beta particles are much less penetrating. They can travel only a few centimetres in soft tissue, and can be stopped by an aluminum plate.  Alpha particles are the least penetrating, unable to pass through a sheet of writing paper or even a glass window. Despite the differences they’re all dangerous.

 

Due to limited powers of penetration, alpha-emitters and beta-emitters are mainly internal hazards (i.e. they normally must be inside the body to do severe harm). Once inside the body, alpha emitters are much more damaging than beta emitters.  An alpha particle is 7000 times more massive than a beta particle. If a beta particle is thought of as a kind of subatomic bullet, then an alpha particle is a kind of subatomic cannon ball : the cannon ball is less penetrating but more damaging.

Gamma rays, because of their great penetrating power, are external hazards as well as well as internal hazards (i.e. when gamma emitters are ingested or inhaled).

 

Special Dangers of Alpha and Beta Emitters

 

Gamma-emitters are easy to detect with radiation monitoring equipment. Even if a gamma emitter is inside your body it can set off a radiation alarm.  Alpha-emitters and beta-emitters are more difficult to detect even outside the body, and once inside the body they generally escape routine detection altogether. Laboratory analysis of urine or excrement or some other contaminated samples must then be carried out.

 

Canadian nuclear authorities have on occasion failed to detect alpha-emitters and beta-emitters for weeks, even while clean-up crews were being contaminated.

 

During a retubing operation at Pickering in the 1980s, workers were contaminated with a beta-emitting radioactive dust (carbon-14) for weeks. By the time authorities finally identified the danger, workers had been tracking the material to their homes on a regular basis. Bedclothes and some furniture had to be removed from workers’ homes and disposed of as radioactive waste.  Internal contamination of the worker’s bodies by inhalation and ingestion of radioactive carbon dust could not be undone.

 

More recently, during the refurbishment of the Bruce A nuclear reactors in 2009, over 500 contract workers – not regular employees of Bruce Power – inhaled alpha-emitting dust on the job for several weeks before the authorities detected the hazard. Those alpha-emitting radioactive materials are now lodged inside the worker’s lungs and other internal organs, and will be there for years to come.  Long after the job has ended, their bodies will continue to be irradiated from the inside.

 

Both of these episodes could have been avoided if nuclear authorities had tested air samples for radioactive contamination on a daily basis, or if workers had been issued respirators and protective clothing.  But incredible as it may seem, the regulator (CNSC) found none of the managers or inspectors guilty of negligence.

 

It is a fact that alpha-emitters have killed more people during the twentieth century than any other kinds of radioactive materials.  Radium, radon, polonium, and uranium are all alpha-emitters, and they have killed hundreds of thousands.

 

Inside every nuclear reactor, new man-made alpha-emitters are created, such as plutonium, neptunium, americium, and curium. These are among the alpha-emitting radioactive materials that were suspended in the air inside the Bruce reactor building while contract workers without respirators went about their work.

 

The Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility is intended to store a significant amount of plutonium and other alpha-emitting material – all of it difficult to detect, all of it highly dangerous even in tiny amounts. The main reason that the Chalk River radioactive waste will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years is that many of the human-made alpha emitters have very long lives. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years, but its decay product has a half-life of 700 million years.

 

Conclusion

 

Here are some statements from various official bodies in Canada and elsewhere:

 

  1. Report to the U.S. Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States

“Nuclear Energy’s Dilemma: Disposing of Nuclear Waste Safely” (Sept 1977)

 

“Radioactive wastes, being highly toxic, can damage or destroy living cells, causing cancer and possibly death depending on the quantity and length of time individuals are exposed to them.  Some radioactive wastes will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years.  Decisions on what to do with these wastes will affect the lives of future generations….”

 

“To safeguard present and future generations, locations must be found to isolate these wastes and their harmful environmental effects.  A program must be developed for present and future waste disposal operations that will not create unwarranted public risk.  Otherwise, nuclear power cannot continue to be a practical source of energy.”

 

  1. Nuclear Policy Review, Background Papers (Report ER81-2E)

Energy Mines and Resources, Government of Canada, 1982

 

“Despite repeated assurances that nuclear waste disposal presents no insoluble scientific, engineering, or environmental problems, the issue remains in the minds of the public and some members of the scientific community as a serious unresolved issue associated with the development of nuclear energy….”

 

“Three general issues can be highlighted.  First, there is a concern that society is imposing a serious burden on future generations by leaving behind a legacy of radioactive wastes which may prove difficult to manage….

 

“This naturally raises a second question.  How can it be proven that waste disposal systems will perform adequately over very long periods of time? ….

 

 “Finally, there is the problem of establishing what the words “perform acceptably” mean.  A clear general statement of overall principles applying to radioactive waste management has yet to be agreed upon within Canada or internationally.”

 

  1. BEIR-VII – 7th Report on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (2008)

The National Research Council of the US National Academy of Sciences

 

“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial. The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise propor-tionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. But as the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.”

 

Committee Chair Richard R. Monson, Professor of Epidemiology,

Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Press Release, June 2007

  1. Nuclear Power and the Environment, Sir Brian Flowers (Sept 1976)

Sixth Report of the UK Royal Commission on the Environment

 

 “We must assume that these wastes will remain dangerous, and will need to be isolated from the biosphere, for hundreds of thousands of years.  In considering arrangements for dealing safely with such wastes man is faced with time scales that transcend his experience…. 

 

 “The creation of wastes which will need to be contained for such periods of time, and hence of a legacy of risk and responsibility to our remote descendants, is a matter of great concern to many people.  We think, however, that some continuity must be assumed in human affairs and institutions, and in the ability of future generations to maintain the necessary containment.”

 

 “We are confident that an acceptable solution will be found and we attach great importance to the search; for we are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future.”

 

  1. Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Ontario Legislature (June 1980)

The Management of Nuclear Fuel Waste, Final Report

 

 “The consensus of the Committee is that communities are not likely to easily accept the siting of what will be perceived as a garbage dump for frightening nuclear poisons.  The waste must be disposed of.  It must be disposed of safely and permanently.  In the Committee’s view, it is most likely that government will ultimately have to choose where the unpopular site will be located….”

 

 “One of the major problems AECL must overcome is the public’s perception that its entire program — from basic research to public information — is biased by its commitment to nuclear power and consequent desire to show that waste disposal is not an insuperable problem.  The Committee’s view is that AECL compounded its credibility problem by its one-sided, overly positive and broadly pro-nuclear presentation of information.”

 

  1. A Race Against Time, Interim Report on Nuclear Power In Ontario (Sept 1978)

Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Arthur Porter

 

“Given the very long life of these toxic materials, no man-made containment system can ever be predicted to give sufficient protection.  All over the world scientists are looking for ways to use nature as a final barrier.”

 

Articles by Dr. Gordon Edwards on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation

 

  Open Letter to Physicists:  http://www.ccnr.org/open_letter.html

     Report for Environmental Advisory Council: http://www.ccnr.org/CEAC_B.html

  Estimating Lung Cancers:  http://www.ccnr.org/lung_cancer_1.html

     Review of Tritium Report:  http://www.ccnr.org/GE_ODWAC_2009_e.pdf

The Nuclear Ban Treaty

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on August 1, 2017 at 12:12 am

International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, eNews, August 2017

Approved on July 7 by a vote of 122 to 1 (Netherlands, the only NATO state to participate), with one abstention (Singapore), the nuclear ban treaty will open for signature on September 20 at the United Nations and will enter into force when 50 states have signed and ratified it.

The treaty prohibits the development, manufacture, possession, and use and threatened use of nuclear arms. There are several pathways for nuclear-armed states to join the treaty provided that they verifiably eliminate their arsenals (the US, UK, and France together declared that they will never join). There are also obligations of assistance to victims of nuclear use and testing and of environmental remediation of contaminated areas.

Origins and Significance

At a minimum, the nuclear ban treaty is a powerful and eloquent statement of the political, moral, and legal standards enjoining non-use and elimination of nuclear arms. It is grounded in an understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, and innovatively acknowledges the suffering of the victims of the use of nuclear weapons (Hibakusha) and of their testing, as well as the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons activities on indigenous peoples.

At a maximum, the treaty will serve as a framework for the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons. In this aspiration, it reflects the aim of the 1997 Model Nuclear Weapons Convention whose drafting LCNP coordinated. If the treaty is not itself used as such a framework, at least it points the way toward a convention – a comprehensive agreement on the permanent global elimination of nuclear arms.

The ban treaty effort grew out of conferences on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions held in 2013 and 2014 in Oslo; Nayarit, Mexico; and Vienna. It has deeper roots in the formation of regional nuclear weapon free zones, starting with the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco establishing such a zone in Latin America and the Caribbean; in General Assembly resolutions, notably resolution 1653 of 1961, in which a sharply divided Assembly declared the use of nuclear weapons to violate the UN Charter and other international law; the General Assembly’s request to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the legality of threat or use of nuclear weapons; and in persistent efforts by non-nuclear weapon states in Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review meetings to extract a commitment from the nuclear weapon states to commence a concrete process of negotiating disarmament. With the nuclear ban treaty, countries largely of the nuclear-weapon-free Global South, joined by Austria and Ireland, have escalated the struggle, declaring that nuclear weapons must be legally prohibited and eliminated as has been done with biological weapons, chemical weapons, landmines, and cluster munitions.

As the Japanese affiliate of IALANA has observed, a principal task now is to convince countries dependent on nuclear arms of the values and logic underlying the nuclear ban treaty. For reflections on the contradiction between the attachment of the world’s major powers and their closest allies to nuclear arms and the ban treaty, see this excellent piece by Richard Falk, a member of the LCNP Board of Directors, “Challenging Nuclearism: The Nuclear Ban Treaty Assessed.”

Elements

The nuclear ban treaty includes a number of the elements LCNP/IALANA advocated for in three conference working papers; in remarks LCNP Executive Director John Burroughs made when on two expert panels sponsored by the conference president, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez of Costa Rica; and in civil society statements to the conference made by LCNP President Emeritus Peter Weiss, Consultative Council member Jacqueline Cabasso, and Burroughs.
Those elements include:
* a preambular reaffirmation of the need for all states at all times to comply with international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law
*a preambular recitation of relevant principles and rules of IHL, including the rule of distinction, the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, the requirements of proportionality and precaution in attack, the prohibition of weapons that cause unnecessary suffering, and rules for protection of the environment
*a preambular recognition of the existing illegality of use of nuclear weapons under international humanitarian law;
* a prohibition of threatened use as well as use of nuclear weapons
* a preambular reaffirmation of the disarmament obligation as formulated by the International Court of Justice – “pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament”
It is likely that our advocacy made a difference as to inclusion of some elements, in particular the prohibition of threatened use. In his statement, Weiss observed: “Threat is the twin sister of deterrence. For what is deterrence, but the threat to use? … It cannot hurt to reaffirm a prohibition that would ensure the survival of the human race.” In a piece in the Nuclear Ban Daily published by Reaching Critical Will, Burroughs wrote: “As is the case with the prohibition of use of nuclear weapons, inclusion of a prohibition of threat of nuclear weapons would apply, reinforce, and specify existing law set forth in the UN Charter and international humanitarian law treaties and elaborated by the International Court of Justice in its advisory opinion on nuclear weapons. However, the application of existing law is complicated because it is not spelled out comprehensively in the UN Charter and in IHL treaties. Inclusion of a prohibition of threat of nuclear weapons would therefore provide desirable clarity.” Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute and a member of the LCNP Board of Directors, also made compelling comments on the immorality and illegality of using and threatening to use nuclear arms in a statement and in working papers.

Especially with the threat prohibition included, read as a whole the treaty repudiates ongoing reliance on ‘nuclear deterrence’ as an alleged basis for international security. For more on threat and deterrence, see this Japan Times story.

For background on issues before the negotiators, see Burroughs’ June Arms Control Today article. The adoption of the treaty generated some mainstream news coverage, including this New York Times story, “A Treaty Is Reached to Ban Nuclear Arms. Now Comes the Hard Part”.

Lawyers’ Letter on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

At a nuclear ban treaty conference side event, we released the Lawyers’ Letter on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons. It declares that “the nuclear ban treaty effort constitutes an important affirmation of the norms against nuclear weapons” and that the treaty will be a “major step towards negotiation of a comprehensive agreement on the achievement and permanent maintenance of a world free of nuclear arms.” It also observes: “People are capable of good-faith, law-guided, problem solving at all levels of society: family, neighborhood, national, international. Cooperative global systems have been devised for the protection of human rights, protection of the environment and prevention of climate change, prohibition of specific weapons, and more. These skills must now be applied to the next obvious step: the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

The now more than 500 signatories from more than 40 countries include Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Herta Däubler-Gmelin, former Minister of Justice of Germany; and Phon van den Biesen, counsel before the International Court of Justice in Bosnia’s genocide case and the Marshall Islands’ nuclear disarmament cases. The letter has relevance beyond the negotiations, and we continue to urge members of the legal profession to sign it.

Looking Ahead

In the weeks and months to come, LCNP will analyze and publicize the principles and objectives of the nuclear ban treaty and support the efforts of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons to promote its early entry into force. And we will advocate vigorously with respect to US policy, including for:
Reaffirmation in the new Nuclear Posture Review now under preparation of US legal and policy commitments to the achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons, and endorsement of corresponding measures, including ending plans for acquisition of new, more capable, air-launched cruise missiles and land-based missiles. For our initial comment, see the IALANA statement made at this spring’s NPT PrepCom in Vienna, “Defend the Unequivocal Undertaking to Eliminate Nuclear Arsenals”.
Peaceful resolution of the US-North Korean confrontation, as set out in an LCNP statement authored by LCNP President Guy Quinlan. It calls on the United States to drop its insistence on a North Korean commitment to denuclearization as a precondition for negotiations. See also this insightful piece in Truthout by Andrew Lichterman, Senior Research Analyst, Western States Legal Foundation, and a member of the IALANA Board of Directors, “As the US Threatened North Korea, 122 Countries Voted to Ban Nuclear Weapons”.

 

Recommended Reading –
Humanization of Arms Control: Paving the Way for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons

In this new book published by Routledge Press, Daniel Rietiker, a lecturer at the University of Lausanne and a member of the IALANA Board of Directors, explores an alternative approach to nuclear disarmament focusing on the human dimension rather than on states’ security. He analyzes the positive experiences of the movements against chemical weapons, anti-personnel mines, and cluster munitions, and explores whether they can be replicated in the nuclear weapons field. He also examines the legality of use of nuclear weapons, with special attention to international human rights law, in light of developments since the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. The book can be ordered at http://www.routledge.com.

The Republican leadership’s strategy for repealing Obamacare has depended on secrecy.

In Democracy, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on July 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

New York Times, July 26, 2017, David Leonhardt. Op-Ed Columnist

No hearings. Little public debate. Few town-hall meetings. Rushed votes. And, in a depressing spectacle yesterday, a Senate vote to move a bill forward even though neither the senators themselves nor their constituents know which bill is actually under consideration.

“I have covered every health bill in Congress since 1986,” Julie Rovner, the chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, tweeted this week. “There has NEVER been anything this nuts before in terms of process. Never.”

Let’s be clear about what could happen now: More than 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance. Millions more could see the quality of their insurance deteriorate. If this happens, people would ultimately be denied medical care or receive worse care as a result. A Times editorial has more details.

Is there anything that concerned citizens can do? Yes, there is.

“The next 24 hours are critical. The public blowback must be immediate and overwhelming,” Topher Spiro, a former Congressional aide who opposes the various bills, wrote yesterday.

Remember: The strategy for passing the bill depends on secrecy. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and their allies understand that their plans are deeply unpopular. So the best way to prevent them from taking health coverage from people is to call attention to their efforts. On Tuesday night, one Obamacare replacement bill had already failed.

Spiro suggested that people with Democratic senators call them to urge them to fight as hard as possible, by filibustering and offering unlimited amendments. Locking in the tentative no votes from Republican senators Lisa Murkowski (of Alaska) and Susan Collins (of Maine) is also critical.
Meanwhile, people who live in Ohio, Nevada, West Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana and Utah are represented by Republican senators who could provide the swing vote.

Senate leadership wants to pass a bill this week, Marianna Sotomayor of NBC reported. One worrisome possibility, as Senator Chris Murphy noted, is the Senate passing a bare-bones bill, under the guise of fixing it during so-called conference negotiations with the House. That would almost certainly lead to massive losses in insurance coverage.

If you were ever tempted to get involved in politics, now would be a good time — to make a phone call or urge friends and relatives to do so. And if you’re a United States senator who is tempted to put Americans’ well-being above partisan loyalty, now would be a really good time.

Testing Fate: The Implications of Resumed Nuclear Weapons Testing

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 18, 2017 at 9:51 pm

By Joseph Rodgers, July 17, 2017

From 1945 to 1992, the United States conducted 1,032 nuclear weapons tests in the atmosphere, under the ocean and below ground. These tests took their toll on the environment and communities downwind from test sites, with certain radioactive materials, such as Strontium-90, still measurable in our bodies.

In the quarter century since the last explosive nuclear test, cold war realities like “duck and cover” have faded from the public consciousness. To today’s young professionals, they seem quaint icons of a bygone era. However, while there is no technical requirement for a U.S. nuclear test, this 20th century pursuit is getting new consideration in the current administration. We would be well advised to examine the geopolitical context and the risks that would accompany any U.S. return to testing.

This past May, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) embarked on another review cycle to assess its status and implementation. During these negotiations in Vienna, the vast majority of states expressed strong support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

The verification regime created by the CTBT is one of the strongest in the world, involving over 321 International Monitoring Stations (IMS) and 16 laboratories that continually search for signs of nuclear testing. This sophisticated system of sensors has a variety of applications outside of the nuclear realm, ranging from tracking whale migration in the Indian Ocean to detecting asteroid impacts.

The United States signed the CTBT in 1996, but Congress has yet to ratify the treaty. Despite signing the CTBT, there is a small, yet growing, number of nuclear weapons aficionados in the United States calling for the resumption of a nuclear weapons test readiness posture and even the commencement of explosive testing itself. Testing nuclear weapons, and even allocating substantial money to test readiness, would undercut United States and international security.

North Korea remains the only country to have tested a nuclear weapon since 1998. The international community has strongly condemned North Korean testing as a violation of the testing taboo. If the United States resumes testing, we will lose a significant amount of international political leverage against the regime in Pyongyang.

There are other reasons why United States resumption of nuclear weapons testing would be a dangerous geopolitical move. Testing by the United States would almost certainly light an international fuse, triggering other states with nuclear weapons to resume testing. Russia is making substantial infrastructure investments at their old Novaya Zemlya testing facility, and could be expected to detonate a test soon after the United States does. China would likely follow. Additionally, India and Pakistan have collectively completed five nuclear weapons tests and would see new opportunities in renewed global testing. Of all the nuclear states, India and Pakistan have the most scientific knowledge to gain from a resumption of testing. A recommencement of nuclear testing would result in widespread environmental damage and a more dangerous, less politically stable world.

Arguments for renewed nuclear weapons testing by certain nuclear weapons experts, such as former Sandia National Lab President C. Paul Robinson, are appearing because the United States is planning to spend one trillion dollars modernizing every aspect of its nuclear arsenal.

This costly modernization project is aimed at enhancing nuclear weapons capabilities. For example, the B61-12 gravity bomb received a new guided tail kit, making the bomb more accurate. The W76-1/Mk4A warheads on the Trident II Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile received new arming, fuzing and firing mechanisms, dubbed “super fuzes”, significantly increasing their ability to destroy hardened targets. The Long Range Standoff Air Launched Cruise Missile is slated to receive new stealth capabilities.

Wholly new concepts are being considered, including warheads with launch “interoperability” from multiple platforms. The farther away the stockpile moves from pedigreed (certified) weapons into uncharted novelty designs, the louder the voices to resume explosive nuclear weapons testing will become. Instead, if a particular design change would introduce a significant uncertainty about its explosive reliability, that should be a “stop” sign, not a “blow it up to see what happens” signal.

Testing is unnecessary for the prudent maintenance of the modern United States nuclear arsenal. The existing Stockpile Stewardship program uses supercomputers that model nuclear explosions based off of the data collected from our 1,032 previous nuclear weapons tests. While our stockpile does not necessitate nuclear weapons testing, a resumption of testing would galvanize other states’ nuclear weapons programs.

If testing does recommence, the Nevada Test Site, where the majority of nuclear weapons detonated on United States soil occurred, is the facility most likely to be used. Nevada citizens should stand against nuclear weapons testing in their communities. Nuclear weapons testing should become a political third rail. Testing in Nevada would cause ecological devastation and carry an enormous economic cost. With Las Vegas just 80 miles away from the Nevada Test Site, tourism to Nevada would certainly decline.

Resuming nuclear weapons testing is politically untenable, internationally destabilizing, and environmentally catastrophic. Modernization of nuclear weapons by introducing novel design elements is provocative and is already contributing to an arms race. Testing will accelerate the nuclear dangers without commensurate benefit to the United States and will make our nation and the world less safe.

Joseph Rodgers is a Master’s Candidate in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS). Rodgers also serves as a Nuclear Policy Analyst at Tri-Valley CAREs, based in Livermore, California and as a Research Assistant at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at MIIS.

 

The US has dominated the world for too long and must learn to become a cooperative partner.

In Climate change, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics on July 10, 2017 at 7:08 am

Popular Resistance Newsletter, July 9, 2017
The G-20 summit highlighted a transition in geopolitical power that has been developing for years. The process has escalated in recent months since President Trump took office, but its roots go much deeper than Trump. The United States is losing power, a multi-polar world is taking shape and people power is on the rise.

The G-20 bordered on being a G-19, with the US a loner on key issues of climate change, trade and migration. These are some of the biggest issues on the planet. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been saying lately “We as Europeans have to take our fate into our own hands.” This is an indication they no longer see the US as the leader or even a reliable partner on some issues. In a summation of the G-20, Politico writes: “Hamburg will also go down as a further mile marker in Europe’s slow emancipation from the U.S.”

The United States Loses World Power

At the same time that Europe is setting its own course, Russia and China have been moving toward each other and acting in tandem, often with positions opposite the United States. While Washington was trying to isolate Russia, it has been building new friendships and alliances.

Presidents Putin and Xi have met on more than 20 occasions over the past four years. Xi now refers to Russia as China’s foremost ally. In that time, the United States built a wall of bases and missiles around both countries, intruded on China’s maritime space in the Asia Pacific and fomented regime change in Ukraine to turn that country against Russia. US aggression is backfiring and creating a multi-polar world. After meeting with Russia, President Xi met with Chancellor Merkel to sign trade deals.

Presidents Putin and Xi met before the G-20 to continue to build their alliance. Putin and Xi made deals on trade agreements and energy sales, created a $10 billion joint investment fund and came to a common approach regarding North Korea. Their approach: “dialogue and negotiation”, coupled with firm opposition to the THAAD missile system being installed by the US in South Korea.

North Korea is another issue where the US is out of step with the world. While the US was lobbying for an aggressive confrontation with North Korea over nuclear weapons, other countries were not joining in and Russia and China were urging restraint and diplomacy. The Los Angeles Times reports “White House officials have been dismayed to see China and Russia teaming up to advocate for a ‘freeze for peace’ strategy in which North Korea agrees to stop moving forward with its nuclear weapons development, in exchange for the international community easing sanctions and making other concessions.” Even Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been a lap dog to the United States, called on China and Russia to help mediate the Korean crisis.

North Korea responded by calling the US’ action a dangerous provocation that could lead to nuclear war. “More of the same” will not only continue to raise tensions but misses a tremendous opportunity to transform the relationship with North Korea and end the Korean War. Russia sought to reduce tensions by providing the United Nations with information demonstrating North Korea did not produce an ICBM, but only a mid-range missile. The world knows that North Korea is not the real threat to world peace, the United States is the problem, as William Boardman explains.Instead of diplomacy, President Trump sent B-1 Lancer bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons toward the North Korean border where they released 2,000 pound inert bombs. Others in Congress are suggesting more economic sanctions, including sanctions that will negatively impact China and other countries. These actions are driving North Korea to develop ICBM nuclear missiles in order to protect itself from the United States, and driving other nations away from the US.

President Moon, the new president of South Korea, wants a ‘sunshine policy’ of constructive engagement with North Korea, including building economic ties. Already divisions are showing between the US and South Korea, especially over the THAAD missile system. The system was rushed into Korea during the recent elections, despite Moon’s warnings. Moon has said that South Korea must take a lead role in reducing tensions. He ordered an investigation of bringing THAAD equipment into the country.

Globalization is Leaving the United States Behind

While Trump is calling for trade that puts America first, i.e. decreases the massive US trade deficit through trade protectionism, other countries are taking a different approach. Pepe Escobar reports “At the BRICS meeting on the sidelines of the G-20, they called for a more open global economy and for a rules-based, transparent, non-discriminatory, open and inclusive multilateral trading system.”

Throughout the Obama term, trade negotiations were bogged down because the US was out of the mainstream, calling for greater transnational corporate power than other countries would accept. This was one reason why negotiations slowed and the TPP was killed under election year pressure that made the agreement toxic. Now Trump wants to be even more extreme in favoring US corporations.

As Finian Cunningham writes, the world understands US economic problems better than US leaders. He writes the world knows that US “trade imbalances with the rest of the world are not because of ‘rotten deals’, as Trump would have it, but rather because the American economy has ruined itself over many decades. The off-shoring of jobs by American corporations and gutting of American workers with poverty wages are part of it.”

Some Good News

One potential piece of good news this week was President Trump meeting with President Putin for more than two hours. The meeting overcame the Russia-phobia put forth by a barrage of anti-Putin, anti-Russian propaganda that has been produced for many years. The US desperately needs a positive relationship with Russia, not just to avoid conflict with a nuclear and economic power, but because the US is becoming isolated. While not a lot came out of this first meeting, it did provide a good start for the potential resolution of many conflicts – Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, Iran and nuclear weapons, to name a few.

The meeting produced a small step that could grow into a significant positive change. The US and Russia announced a ceasefire in part of southwestern Syria that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been discussing for weeks. This could allow the US to play a positive role in Syria, in a war it has been losing.

But, this is also a test for President Trump – is he in control of the US government? Ray McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, who led the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and gave the daily intelligence briefing to multiple presidents, asks whether the Trump-Tillerson ceasefire will survive better than an Obama-Kerry ceasefire also negotiated with Putin-Lavrov. In the Obama case, four days into the ceasefire, the US air force attacked Syrian troops, sabotaging the agreement. McGovern asks two questions critical to the lives of Syrians and the future of Europe and the Middle East:

“Will the forces that sabotaged previous ceasefire agreements in Syria succeed in doing so again, all the better to keep alive the ‘regime change’ dreams of the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists?”

“Or will President Trump succeed where President Obama failed by bringing the U.S. military and intelligence bureaucracies into line behind a ceasefire rather than allowing insubordination to win out?”

The RussiaGate myth was the top priority of the media and bi-partisans. While the propaganda on alleged Russia interference continues, the US political class ignores the positive potential of the cease fire in Syria, closes its eyes to the potential undermining of the agreement by the Pentagon and talks about the myth that Russia elected Trump. As each new RussiaGate myth is published, it is shown to be false.

People Over Profit

Finally, another lesson from the G-20, people around the world are angry at political leaders who are failing them, including Donald Trump for holding back urgent action on climate change, fed up with globalization that puts people’s needs far behind the profits of transnational corporations, and are demanding changes to a system that does not listen.

Protests began before the summit and grew in size and anger as the summit progressed – always met with extreme police violence. The protests in Hamburg were large and loud. The rioting got a good deal of attention, but people also expressed their concerns on multiple issues. Srecko Horvat writes about the importance of protests to show opposition and power, but also the need to continue the work of building alternatives to the current failed systems.

A growing political movement is expressing what is so desperately needed. People look at world leaders posing in group photos and proclaiming successes as false emperors and empresses wearing no clothes. The realities are growing inequality, increasing impact from climate change and political systems that are less responsive to the people and more corrupted by transnational corporate power.

This new global alignment is a positive. The US has dominated the world for too long and must learn to become a cooperative partner. And as US power is waning on the world stage, there is an opening for people power in solidarity across borders to grow.

Why Single-Payer Health Care Saves Money

In Cost, Democracy, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on July 10, 2017 at 12:38 am

By Robert H. Frank, New York Times, July 7, 2017

Lingering uncertainty about the fate of the Affordable Care Act has spurred the California legislature to consider adoption of a statewide single-payer health care system.

Sometimes described as Medicare for all, single-payer is a system in which a public agency handles health care financing while the delivery of care remains largely in private hands.

Discussions of the California measure have stalled, however, in the wake of preliminary estimates pegging the cost of the program as greater than the entire state government budget. Similar cost concerns derailed single-payer proposals in Colorado and Vermont.

Voters need to understand that this cost objection is specious. That’s because, as experience in many countries has demonstrated, the total cost of providing health coverage under the single-payer approach is actually substantially lower than under the current system in the United States. It is a bedrock economic principle that if we can find a way to do something more efficiently, it’s possible for everyone to come out ahead.
By analogy, suppose that your state’s government took over road maintenance from the county governments within it, in the process reducing total maintenance costs by 30 percent. Your state taxes would obviously have to go up under this arrangement.

But if roads would be as well maintained as before, would that be a reason to oppose the move? Clearly not, since the resulting cost savings would reduce your county taxes by more than your state taxes went up. Likewise, it makes no sense to oppose single-payer on the grounds that it would require additional tax revenue. In each case, the resulting gains in efficiency would leave you with greater effective purchasing power than before.

Total costs are lower under single-payer systems for several reasons. One is that administrative costs average only about 2 percent of total expenses under a single-payer program like Medicare, less than one-sixth the corresponding percentage for many private insurers. Single-payer systems also spend virtually nothing on competitive advertising, which can account for more than 15 percent of total expenses for private insurers.

The most important source of cost savings under single-payer is that large government entities are able to negotiate much more favorable terms with service providers. In 2012, for example, the average cost of coronary bypass surgery was more than $73,000 in the United States but less than $23,000 in France.

Despite this evidence, respected commentators continue to cite costs as a reason to doubt that single-payer can succeed in the United States. A recent Washington Post editorial, for example, ominously predicted that budget realities would dampen enthusiasm for single-payer, noting that the per capita expenditures under existing single-payer programs in the United States were much higher than those in other countries.

But this comparison is misleading. In most other countries, single-payer covers the whole population, most of which has only minimal health needs. In contrast, single-payer components of the United States system disproportionately cover population subgroups with the heaviest medical needs: older people (Medicare), the poor and disabled (Medicaid) and returned service personnel (Department of Veterans Affairs).
In short, the evidence is clear that single-payer delivers quality care at significantly lower cost than the current American hybrid system. It thus makes no sense to reject single-payer on the grounds that it would require higher tax revenues. That’s true, of course, but it’s an irrelevant objection.

In addition to being far cheaper, single-payer would also defuse the powerful political objections to the Affordable Care Act’s participation mandate. Polls consistently show that large majorities want people with pre-existing conditions to be able to obtain health coverage at affordable rates. But that goal cannot be achieved unless healthy people are required to join the insured pool. Officials in the Obama administration tried, largely in vain, to explain why the program’s insurance exchanges would collapse in the absence of the participation mandate.

But the logic of the underlying argument is actually very simple. Most people seem able to grasp it if you ask them what would happen if the government required companies to sell fire insurance at affordable rates to people whose houses had already burned down.

No home insurer could remain in business if each policy it sold required it to replace a house costing several hundred thousand dollars. Similarly, no health insurer could remain in business if each of its policy holders generated many thousands of dollars in health care reimbursements each month.

That’s why the lack of a mandate in the alternative plans under consideration means that millions of people with pre-existing conditions will become uninsurable if repeal efforts are successful. An underappreciated advantage of the single-payer approach is that it sidesteps the mandate objection by paying to cover everyone out of tax revenue.

Of course, having to pay taxes is itself a mandate of a sort, but it’s one the electorate has largely come to terms with. Apart from fringe groups that denounce all taxation as theft, most people understand that our entire system would collapse if tax payments were purely voluntary.

The Affordable Care Act is an inefficient system that was adopted only because its architects believed, plausibly, that the more efficient single-payer approach would not be politically achievable in 2009. But single-payer now enjoys significantly higher support than it did then, and is actually strongly favored by voters in some states.

Solid majorities nationwide now favor expansion of the existing single-payer elements of our current system, such as Medicare and Medicaid. Medicaid cuts proposed in Congress have been roundly criticized. Perhaps it’s time to go further: Individual states and, eventually, the entire country, can save money and improve services by embracing single-payer health care.

Robert H. Frank is an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Follow him on Twitter at @econnaturalist.

122 Nations Create Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 9, 2017 at 2:38 am

By David Swanson

On Friday the United Nations concluded the creation of the first multilateral nuclear disarmament treaty in over 20 years, and the first treaty ever to ban all nuclear weapons. While 122 nations voted yes, the Netherlands voted no, Singapore abstained, and numerous nations didn’t show up at all.

The Netherlands, I’m told by Alice Slater, was compelled by public pressure on its parliament to show up. I don’t know what Singapore’s problem is. But the world’s nine nuclear nations, various aspiring nuclear nations, and military allies of nuclear nations boycotted.

The only nuclear country that had voted yes to begin the process of treaty-drafting now completed was North Korea. That North Korea is open to a world without nuclear weapons should be fantastic news to numerous U.S. officials and media pundits apparently suffering traumatic fear of a North Korean attack — or it would be fantastic news if the United States were not the leading advocate for expanded development, proliferation, and threat of the use of nuclear weapons. The U.S. ambassador even staged a press conference to denounce this treaty when its drafting was initiated.

Our job now, as citizens of this hapless world, is to lobby every government — including the Netherlands’ — to join and ratify the treaty. While it falls short on nuclear energy, it is a model law on nuclear weapons that sane human beings have been waiting for since the 1940s. Check it out:

Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to:

(a) Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(b) Transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly or indirectly;

(c) Receive the transfer of or control over nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices directly or indirectly;

(d) Use or threaten to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;

(e) Assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty;

(f) Seek or receive any assistance, in any way, from anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty;

(g) Allow any stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

Not bad, huh?

Of course this treaty will have to be expanded to include all nations. And the world will have to develop a respect for international law. Some nations, including North Korea and Russia and China, may be quite reluctant to give up their nuclear weapons even if the United States does so, as long as the United States maintains such enormous dominance in terms of non-nuclear military capacities and its pattern of launching aggressive wars. That’s why this treaty has to be part of a broader agenda of demilitarization and war abolition.

But this treaty is a big step in the right direction. When 122 countries declare something illegal, it is illegal on earth. That means investments in it are illegal. Complicity with it is illegal. Defense of it is shameful. Academic collaboration with it is disreputable. In other words, we have launched into a period of stigmatizing as something less than acceptable the act of preparing to annihilate all life on earth. And as we do that for nuclear war, we can build the groundwork for doing the same for all war.

 

World Rejects Nuclear Weapons in 122-1 Vote at UN

In Human rights, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on July 9, 2017 at 2:31 am

 

At the United Nations in New York, a meeting convened by a December 2016 vote of the UN General Assembly has voted to make nuclear weapons illegal.

The decisive vote of 122 ‘yes’ to 1 ‘no’ vote took place this morning in the vast and packed Conference Room 1 just off the first sub-basement of the UN, after the Netherlands called for a vote. They were the sole ‘NO’ vote though Singapore abstained.

The vote was followed by prolonged cheers and clapping both from the many nongovernmental organisations present in the completely full Conference room 1 and in an overflow room, also completely full.

The President of the conference, Ambassador Elaine Whyte-Gomez of Costa Rica, could be seen with a number of other delegates, wiping away tears as the numbers flashed onto the electronic voting board.

As the vote was announced, she announced that there was a very long list of Governments that wished to speak about the decision. In fact as I write this release in the lunch-break that list has not been exhausted.

The vote followed three weeks of often agonizing negotiations, as well as two days of preliminary negotiations in March.

The Nuclear Prohibition Treaty arguably reinforces what is already implicit in both International Humanitarian Law and in article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), namely that nuclear weapons are illegal.

While it could be argued that nuclear weapons are already illegal this treaty for the first time provides an explicit multilateral legal instrument that outlaws them.

In taking the floor, country after country noted the historic nature of what was being done. Other weapons of mass destruction such as biological weapons and chemical weapons, as well as landmines, are illegal. Yet until today, a specific instrument outlawing nuclear weapons has not been in existence. Now, there is one. Governments also noted the critical role of civil society in bringing about this result, as well as its existential necessity.

People for Nuclear Disarmament’s nuclear weapons campaigner John Hallam, who has been present for the full three weeks of the negotiation as well as participating in some of the conferences leading up to it, noted that:

” Nuclear weapons remain the only weapon that can destroy both civilization and much of the biosphere in less than a couple of hours and can do so by mistake – a mistake that has nearly taken place on upwards of a dozen terrifying occasions already.”

“To eliminate nuclear weapons completely is an survival imperative that civilization cannot evade. Its clear that the overwhelming majority of the worlds Governments understand that narrow considerations of so called ‘national security’ cannot override the imperative of the survival of civilization and of the human species, which nuclear weapons place in jeopardy. We call on all Governments without exception, including especially the Governments of the ‘official’ nuclear weapon states and other states that possess nuclear weapons, to do their moral duty to the rest of the planet and to join the treaty and eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”

“Ultimately, if we completely fail to eliminate nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons will eliminate us. Nuclear abolition is not a ‘feel-good some-century’ ambition. It is an urgent survival imperative and needs to be prioritised as such. The majority of the worlds Governments have shown that they understand that very well. Now the states that have nuclear weapons must come on board”

“We call on all Governments without exception, no matter what kinds of military alliances they may be involved with, to join the Treaty and to make the necessary changes in their security policies.”

John Hallam,

People for Nuclear Disarmament

Human Survival Project

United Nations