leroymoore

Archive for the ‘Nuclear powere’ Category

Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on June 23, 2018 at 12:54 am

If Donald Trump gets his way on formation of a Space Force, the heavens would become a war zone. Inevitably, there would be military conflict in space.

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which designates space as the global commons to be used for peaceful purposes—and of which Russia and China, as well as the United States, are parties—and the years of work facilitating the treaty since would be wasted.

If the U.S. goes up into space with weapons, Russia and China, and then India and Pakistan and other countries, will follow.

Moreover space weaponry, as I have detailed through the years in my writings and TV programs, would be nuclear-powered—as Reagan’s Star Wars scheme was to be with nuclear reactors and plutonium systems on orbiting battle platforms providing the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons.

This is what would be above our heads.

Amid the many horrible things being done by the Trump administration, this would be the most terribly destructive.

“It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space, we must have American dominance in space,” Trump said at a meeting of the National Space Council this week.

“Very importantly, I’m hereby directing the Department of Defense and Pentagon,” he went on Monday, “to immediately begin the process necessary to establish a Space Force as the sixth branch of the armed forces; that is a big statement. We are going to have the Air Force and we are going to have the Space Force, separate but equal, it is going to be something.”

The notion of the U.S. moving into space with weaponry isn’t new.

It goes back to the post-World War II years when the U.S. government brought former Nazi rocket scientists from Germany to the U.S.—mainly to the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama—to use “their technological expertise to help create the U.S. space and weapons program,” writes Jack Manno, who retired last year as a professor at the State University of New York/Environmental Science and Forestry College, in his book Arming the Heavens: The Hidden Military Agenda for Space, 1945-1995.

 “Many of the early space war schemes were dreamt up by scientists working for the German military, scientists who brought their rockets and their ideas to America after the war,” he relates. “It was like a professional sports draft.”

Nearly 1,000 of these scientists were brought to the U.S., “many of whom later rose to positions of power in the U.S. military, NASA, and the aerospace industry.” Among them were “Wernher von Braun and his V-2 colleagues” who began “working on rockets for the U.S. Army,” and at the Redstone Arsenal “were given the task of producing an intermediate range ballistic range missile to carry battlefield atomic weapons up to 200 miles. The Germans produced a modified V-2 renamed the Redstone….Huntsville became a major center of U.S. space military activities.”

Manno writes about former German Major General Walter Dornberger, who had been in charge of the entire Nazi rocket program who, “in  1947, as a consultant to the U.S Air Force and adviser to the Department of Defense…wrote a planning paper for his new employers. He proposed a system of hundreds of nuclear-armed satellites all orbiting at different altitudes and angles, each capable or reentering the atmosphere on command from Earth to proceed to its target. The Air Force began early work on Dornberger’s idea under the acronym NABS (Nuclear Armed Bombardment Satellites).”

For my 2001 book, Weapons in Space, Manno told me that “control over the Earth” was what those who have wanted to weaponize space seek. He said the Nazi scientists are an important “historical and technical link, and also an ideological link….The aim is to…have the capacity to carry out global warfare, including weapons systems that reside in space.”

But then came the Outer Space Treaty put together by the U.S., Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. In the 2001 TV documentary I wrote and narrate, “Star Wars Returns.”

Craig Eisendrath, who had been a U.S. State Department officer involved in its creation, notes that the Soviet Union launched the first space satellite, Sputnik, in 1957 and “we sought to de-weaponize space before it got weaponized…to keep war out of space.”

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, it entered into force in 1967.  It has been ratified or signed by 123 nations.

It provides that nations “undertake not to place in orbit around the Earth any objects carrying nuclear weapons or any other kinds of weapons of mass destruction, install such weapons on celestial bodies, or station such weapons in space in any other manner.”

Atomic physicist Edward Teller, the main figure in developing the hydrogen bomb and instrumental in founding Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, pitched to Ronald Reagan, when he was governor of California visiting the lab, a plan of orbiting hydrogen bombs which became the initial basis for Reagan’s “Star Wars.” The bombs were to energize X-ray lasers. “As the bomb at the core of an X-ray battle station exploded, multiple beams would flash out to strike multiple targets before the entire station consumed itself in in a ball of nuclear fire,” explained New York Times journalist William Broad in his 1986 book Star Warriors.

Subsequently there was a shift in “Star Wars” to orbiting battle platforms with nuclear reactors or “super” plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generators on board that would provide the power for hypervelocity guns, particle beams and laser weapons.

The rapid boil of “Star Wars” under Reagan picked up again under the administrations George H. W. Bush and son George W. Bush. And all along the U.S. military has been gung-ho on space warfare.

A U.S. Space Command was formed in 1982.

“US Space Command—dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment. Integrating Space Forces into war-fighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict,” it trumpeted in its 1998 report Vision for 2020. It laid out these words to resemble the crawl at the start of the Star Warsmovies. The U.S. Space Command was set up by the Pentagon to “help institutionalize the use of space.” Or, as the motto of one of its units declares, to be “Master of Space.”

Vision for 2020states, “Historically, military forces have evolved to protect national interests and investments-both military and economic.” Nations built navies “to protect and enhance their commercial interests” and during “the westward expansion of the United States, military outposts and the cavalry emerged to protect our wagon trains, settlements and railroads. The emergence of space power follows both of these models. During the early portion of the 2lst Century, space power will also evolve into a separate and equal medium of warfare.”

“It’s politically sensitive, but it’s going to happen,” remarked U.S. Space Command Commander-in-Chief Joseph W. Ashy in Aviation Week and Space Technology (8/9/96):

“Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue, but—absolutely—we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight fromspace and we’re going to fight intospace…. We will engage terrestrial targets someday—ships, airplanes, land targets—from space.”

Or as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Keith R. Hall told the National Space Club in 1997: “With regard to space dominance, we have it, we like it and we’re going to keep it.”

The basic concept of the Pentagon’s approach to space is contained in The Future of War: Power, Technology & American World Dominance in the 2lst Century. Written by “arms experts” George and Meredith Friedman, the 1996 book concludes: “Just as by the year 1500 it was apparent that the European experience of power would be its domination of the global seas, it does not take much to see that the American experience of power will rest on the domination of space. Just as Europe expanded war and its power to the global oceans, the United States is expanding war and its power into space and to the planets. Just as Europe shaped the world for a half a millennium [by dominating the oceans with fleets], so too the United States will shape the world for at least that length of time.”

Or as a 2001 report of the U.S. Space Commission led by then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asserted: “In the coming period the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in and through space in support of its national interests both on the earth and in space.”

Nuclear power and space weaponry are intimately linked.

“In the next two decades, new technologies will allow the fielding of space-based weapons of devastating effectiveness to be used to deliver energy and mass as force projection in tactical and strategic conflict,” stated New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century, a 1996 US Air Force board report. “These advances will enable lasers with reasonable mass and cost to effect very many kills.” However, “power limitations impose restrictions” on such space weaponry making them “relatively unfeasible,” but “a natural technology to enable high power is nuclear power in space.” Says the report: “Setting the emotional issues of nuclear power aside, this technology offers a viable alternative for large amounts of power in space.”

Or as General James Abrahamson, director of the Strategic Defense Initiative, put it at a Symposium on Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion, “without reactors in orbit [there is] going to be a long, long light [extension] cord that goes down to the surface of the Earth” to power space weaponry.

Thus nuclear power would be needed for weapons in space.

Since 1985 there have been attempts at the UN to expand the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 to prohibit not only nuclear weapons but all weapons from space. This is called the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) treaty and leading in urging its passage have been Canada, Russia and China. There has been virtually universal backing from nations around the world for it. But by balking, U.S. administration after administration has prevented its passage.

Although waging war in space was hotly promoted by the Reagan and Bush administrations and ostensibly discouraged by the Obama administration and Clinton administration, all U.S. administrations have refused to sign on to the PAROS treaty.

In my book Weapons in Space, I relate a presentation I gave at a conference at the UN in Geneva in 1999 on the eve of a vote the next day on PAROS. I spoke about the “military use of space being planned by the U.S.” being “in total contradiction of the principles of peaceful international cooperation that the U.S. likes to espouse” and “pushes us—all of us—to war in the heavens.”

I was followed by Wang Xiaoyu, first secretary of the Delegation of China, who declared: “Outer space is he common heritage of human beings. It should be used for peaceful purposes…It must not be weaponized and become another arena of the arms race.”

The next day, on my way to observe the vote, I saw a U.S. diplomat who had been at my presentation. We approached each other and he said he would like to talk to me, anonymously. He said, on the street in front of the UN buildings, that the U.S has trouble with its citizenry in fielding a large number of troops on the ground. But the U.S military believes “we can project power from space” and that was why the military was moving in this direction. I questioned him on whether, if the U.S. moved ahead with weapons in space, other nations would meet the U.S. in kind, igniting an arms race in space. He replied that the U.S. military had done analyses and determined that China was “30 years behind” in competing with the U.S. militarily in space and Russia “doesn’t have the money.” Then he went to vote and I watched as again there was overwhelming international support for the PAROS treaty—but the U.S. balked. And because a consensus was needed for the passage of the treaty, it was blocked once more.

And this was during the Clinton administration.

With the Trump administration, there is more than non-support of the PAROS treaty but now a drive by the U.S. to weaponize space.

It could be seen—and read about—coming.

“Under Trump, GOP to Give Space Weapons Close Look,” was the headline of an article in 2016 in Washington-based Roll Call. It said “Trump’s thinking on missile defense and military space programs have gotten next to no attention, as compared to the president-elect’s other defense proposals….But experts expect such programs to account for a significant share of what is likely to be a defense budget boost, potentially amounting to $500 billion or more in the coming decade.”

Intense support for the plan was anticipated from the GOP-dominated Congress. Roll Call mentionedthat Representative Trent Franks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and an Arizona Republican, “said the GOP’s newly strengthened hand in Washington means a big payday is coming for programs aimed at developing weapons that can be deployed in space.”

In a speech in March at the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station near San Diego, Trump declared: “My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea. We may even have a Space Force—develop another one, Space Force. We have the Air Force; we’ll have the Space Force.”

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, notes that Trump cannot establish a Space Force on his own—that Congressional authorization and approval is needed.  And last year, Gagnon points out, an attempt to establish what was called a Space Corps within the Air Force passed in the House but “stalled in the Senate.”

“Thus at this point it is only a suggestion,” said Gagnon of the Maine-based Global Network.

“I think though,” Gagnon went on, “his proposal indicates that the aerospace industry has taken full control of the White House and we can be sure that Trump will use all his ‘Twitter powers’ to push this hard in the coming months.”

Meanwhile, relates Gagnon, there is the “steadily mounting” U.S. “fiscal crisis…Some years ago one aerospace industry publication editorialized that they needed a ‘dedicated funding source’ to pay for space plans and indicated that it had come up with it—the entitlement programs. That means the industry is now working to destroy Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and what little is left of the welfare program. You want to help stop Star Wars and Trump’s new Space Force. Fight for Social Security and social progress in America. Trump and the aerospace industry can’t have it both ways—it’s going to be social progress or war in space.”

As Robert Anderson of New Mexico, a board member of the Global Network, puts it: “There is no money for water in Flint, Michigan or a power grid in Puerto Rico, but there is money to wage war in space.”

Or as another Global Network director, J. Narayana Rao of India, comments: “President Donald Trump has formally inaugurated weaponization of space in announcing that the U.S. should establish a Space Force which will lead to an arms race in outer space.”

Russian officials are protesting the Trump Space Force plan, “Militarization of space is a way to disaster,”Viktor Bondarev, the head of the Russian Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee, told the RIA news agency the day after the announcement. This Space Force would be operating in “forbidden skies.” He said Moscow is ready to “strongly retaliate” if the US violates the Outer Space Treaty by putting weapons of mass destruction in space.

And opposition among legislators in Washington has begun. “Thankfully the president cannot do it without Congress because now is NOT the time to rip the Air Force apart,” tweeted Senator Bill Nelson of Florida.

“Space as a warfighting domain is the latest obscenity in a long list of vile actions by a vile administration,” writes Linda Pentz Gunter, who specializes in international nuclear issues for the organization Beyond Nuclear, this week. “Space is for wonder. It’s where we live. We are a small dot in the midst of enormity, floating in a dark vastness about which we know a surprising amount, and yet with so much more still mysteriously unknown.”

“A Space Force is not an aspiration unique to the Trump administration, of course,” she continued on the Beyond Nuclear International website of the Takoma Park, Maryland group, “but it feels worse in his reckless hands.”

Advertisements

The 60-Year Downfall of Nuclear Power in the U.S. Has Left a Huge Mess. The demand for atomic energy is in decline. But before the country can abandon its plants, there’s six decades of waste to deal with.

In Cost, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Workplace exposure on May 30, 2018 at 8:59 am

Atlantic, May 28, 2018

It was just another day in the life of the defunct Hanford nuclear site, a remote part of Washington State that made most of the plutonium in America’s Cold War arsenal. On the morning of May 9, 2017, alarms sounded. Around 2,000 site workers were told to take cover indoors, and aircraft were banned from flying over the site for several hours. The roof of a tunnel had collapsed, exposing railcars that had been loaded with radioactive waste from plutonium production and then shunted underground and sealed in decades before.This post is adapted from Pearce’s new book.
There was other stuff down there too. Nobody quite knew what. Record keeping was poor, but the contents of the tunnels certainly included carcasses from animal radiation experiments, including a reported 18 alligators. The emergency lasted only a few hours. The integrity of the waste was restored. But it was a chilling reminder of the site’s perilous radioactive legacy.

Sprawling across 600 square miles of sagebrush semidesert, Hanford is a $100 billion cleanup burden, full of accidents waiting to happen. It is the biggest headache, but very far from being the only one, emerging in what increasingly look like the final years of America’s nuclear age.

It is 60 years since America’s first commercial nuclear power station was opened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Shippingport, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 26, 1958. But the hopes of a nuclear future with power “too cheap to meter” are now all but over. All that is left is the trillion-dollar cleanup.

Public fear and suspicion about all things nuclear grew sharply after March 1979, when the cooling system at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station failed and triggered a meltdown. In the end, actual releases of radiation were minimal, but the incident left behind a reputational mess in addition to the radiological one. On the day of the accident, the United States had 140 operating nuclear reactors, with 92 under construction and 28 more awaiting official approval. In the next five years, more than 50 orders for new nuclear reactors in America were canceled. New contracts entirely dried up.

Hanford has not produced plutonium for three decades. Nobody is making new material for bombs anymore. President Trump’s plans for more weapons can be met by recycling existing plutonium stocks. And even the civil nuclear industry, which still generates a fifth of America’s electricity, is in what looks like terminal decline. With cheap natural gas and renewable solar and wind energy increasingly available, the numbers no longer add up. Nuclear power plants across the nation are being closed with years of licensed operation unused.

No new nuclear power stations have come on line in the past two decades. The only new build underway, two additional reactors at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, is five years behind schedule and has seen its costs double. Its planned completion in 2022 remains uncertain.

America’s 99 remaining operational nuclear power reactors, which still deliver power to the grid, are too important to be closed overnight. But nearly half are over 40 years old. The only question is how long the regulators and accountants will allow them to keep going.

Oyster Creek in New Jersey disconnects from the grid in October with 11 years left on its license. Indian Point in New York State is to shut by 2021 due to falling revenues and rising costs. In California, Diablo Canyon is being closed by state regulators in 2025. The reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania that survived the 1979 accident will finally shut in 2019.

Shutdown is only the beginning of the end. Final closure and clearance of the sites can take decades, and the waste crisis created by decommissioning cannot be dodged. Lethal radioactive material is accumulating at dozens of power plants, military facilities, and interim stores across the country.

Some, like the train cars buried at Hanford, is evidently in a precarious situation. Much more needs urgent attention. Cleaning up and safely disposing of the residues of the nuclear adventure—much of it waste with a half-life measured in tens of thousands of years—is turning into a trillion-dollar nightmare for the nation.

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge is an oasis of prairie biodiversity covering 5,000 acres, home to prairie dogs, elk, monarch butterflies, and rare xeric grasses. It also serves as a buffer zone around the site of the largest completed nuclear cleanup to date in the United States. And David Lucas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to open it for public access in summer 2018. He’s reckoning on 150,000 visitors a year.

During the Cold War, Rocky Flats was secretly machining plutonium manufactured at Hanford into some 70,000 spheres that formed the explosive heart of each weapon in Uncle Sam’s nuclear arsenal. Plutonium pollution was routine. The plant had nowhere to get rid of the day-to-day plutonium waste, which was often dumped in hastily dug landfills or sprayed onto grassland around the plant. At an outdoor compound known as pad 903, where more than 5,000 drums of waste liquids contaminated with plutonium are stored, there’s been substantial leakage. An internal memo reported that rabbits living on the site were heavily contaminated, especially in their hind feet.

A whistle-blower’s allegations about illegal late-night incineration of plutonium waste at the plant led to an FBI raid in 1989. After that—and with demand for plutonium spheres declining following the end of the Cold War—the government closed the site. A federal grand jury sat for three years to hear testimony from the FBI raid. But two days after the jury approved indictments, the Justice Department struck a deal with Rockwell Automation, the company that managed the plant. The company pleaded guilty to some minor charges, but the FBI evidence and grand jury conclusions were sealed forever.

After the cover-up came the cleanup. The core plutonium-handling areas were declared a Superfund site, qualifying for a federal decontamination, which was completed in 2005. The federal government called it “the largest and most successful environmental cleanup in history.” But in reality it was a cut-price job. The original project was estimated at $37 billion, but Congress would sanction only $7 billion. So processing buildings were demolished, but basements and 25 miles of underground tunnels and pipelines were left behind, according to LeRoy Moore, a veteran activist who sat on a public committee in the 1980s that considered the cleanup plans.

Today, the land that housed the industrial complex remains behind a sturdy fence under the control of the Department of Energy (DOE). But the large grassland buffer zone that once protected the complex from prying eyes has been released into the care of the Fish and Wildlife Service for public access.

There are two concerns. First that, as I saw on a tour with Lucas, the fenced-off core area hardly looks self-contained. Earth slips have left ugly gashes up to 300 feet wide across a former landfill site that overlooks a creek running through the wildlife refuge. The DOE’s Scott Surovchak concedes that “slumping is very common” after heavy rain. Only constant repairs, it seems, will prevent the landfills and buried contaminated buildings and pipework from being exposed.

The second concern is the safety of the buffer zone itself. Harvey Nichols, a biologist from the University of Colorado, has found that when the plant was operating snow falling nearby was often “hot.” Falling snowflakes captured tiny plutonium particles that evaded the stack filter. Just two days of snowfall could deposit about 14 million particles on every acre of the site. “There must be tens of billions of particles in the soil today,” he told me.

The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed such concerns. In 2006 it found plutonium levels in soil samples in the buffer zone were within acceptable limits and concluded that the lands comprising the refuge are “suitable for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure.” But Moore, the activist, is unimpressed. “Prairie dogs and other critters will burrow down for several feet and bring plutonium to the surface,” he says. “Children will be exposed to plutonium. And people will start taking plutonium out into their communities on boots and cycle wheels. Why would we allow that?”

Lucas is unmoved. “We need to get people out here on the refuge. Then the fears will evaporate,” he told me. But that is just what worries his opponents. Forgetting about the plutonium is the worst thing that could happen, they say.

About 30 miles northeast of Rocky Flats, out on the prairie near the small town of Platteville, is the Fort St. Vrain spent-fuel store. It resembles nothing so much as an outsize grain store, but since the 1990s it has been holding 1,400 spent fuel rods, laced with plutonium and encased in blocks of graphite. The spent fuel was left behind when the neighboring nuclear power plant shut. The plan had been to send it to another temporary store at the Idaho National Laboratory, but the governor of Idaho banned the shipment. The Fort St. Vrain facility is designed to withstand earthquakes, tornado winds of up to 360 miles per hour, and flooding six feet deep. Also time. It will be several decades at least before the federal government finds the fuel a final resting place.

The country is littered with such caches of spent fuel stuck in limbo. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel, the most dangerous of all nuclear wastes, is stored at 80 sites in 35 states. The sites include stores at past and present power plants such as Maine Yankee, and stand-alone federal sites such as Fort St. Vrain. As the GAO puts it: “After spending decades and billions of dollars … the future prospects for permanent disposal remain unclear.” Nobody wants to give the stuff a forever home.

Nuclear waste is conventionally categorized as high-, intermediate-, or low-level. Low-level waste includes everything from discarded protective clothing to plant equipment and lab waste. It can usually be treated like any other hazardous waste, which in practice usually means burial in drums in landfills or concrete-lined trenches.

Intermediate waste contains radioactive materials with isotopes that decay with half-lives long enough to require long-term incarceration. It includes many reactor components, as well as chemical sludges and liquids from processing radioactive materials, which can often be solidified in concrete blocks. Once solid, intermediate waste can be buried safely in shallow graves, though anything containing plutonium will have to be disposed of deep underground because of the very long half-life.

Much of America’s intermediate-level waste will end up at the country’s largest deep-burial site for such radioactive material. The U.S. military’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in salt beds near Carlsbad, New Mexico, could eventually take 6.2 million cubic feet of waste. But it has had problems that have slowed progress and raised questions about its viability.

A chemical explosion in 2014 sprayed the tunnels dug into the salt beds with a white, radioactive foam. When a ventilation filter failed, some of the plutonium reached the surface, where at least 17 surface workers were contaminated. The military shut the tunnels for three years to clean up. While WIPP is today back in business, full operations cannot resume until a new ventilation system is in place, probably in 2021. The eventual cost of the accident, including keeping the dump open longer to catch up with the waste backlog, has been put at $2 billion.

High-level waste is the nastiest stuff. It includes all spent fuel and a range of highly radioactive waste liquids produced when spent fuel is reprocessed, a chemical treatment that extracts the plutonium. Most of America’s high-level waste liquids—and around 30 percent of the world’s total—are in tanks at Hanford.

High-level waste is either very radioactive and will stay so for a long time, or it generates heat and so requires keeping cool. Usually both. It accounts for more than 95 percent of all the radioactivity in America’s nuclear waste, and needs to be kept out of harm’s way for thousands of years.

There is general agreement that the only way to keep high-level waste safe is by turning the liquids into solids and then burying it all deep underground, somewhere where neither water nor seismic activity is likely to bring the radioactivity to the surface, and where nobody is likely to stumble on it unexpectedly. There is disagreement, however, about whether this buried waste should be kept retrievable in case future technologies could make it safer sooner, or whether accessibility simply places a burden of guardianship on future generations.

Before it can be buried, most high-level waste needs to be stored for up to a century while it cools. Unfortunately, this has encouraged countries to put off making plans. None of the world’s high-level waste currently has any permanent resting place. The planet is instead peppered with interim stores. America is no better. Its 90,000 metric tons of high-level waste—set to rise to as much as 140,000 tonnes by the time the last power plant closes—is mostly sitting in ponds at dozens of power stations or lockups like Fort St. Vrain.

How did the United States reach this impasse? Back in 1982, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act established that it was the government’s job to deal with this ultimate back-end problem. The act obliged Washington to begin removing used fuel from stores and other facilities by 1998 for eventual disposal at a federal facility. In 1987, Yucca Mountain, near the former Nevada bomb-testing grounds, was chosen to be the sole such facility.

In the 1990s, a five-mile tunnel was dug into the remote mountain. Then work stopped, in part because of vehement state opposition and in part because of concerns raised by geologists that a future volcanic eruption could propel buried waste back to the surface. One of President Obama’s first acts on taking office in 2009 was to formally abandon the $100 billion project. Things headed for the courts, which began awarding damages to power companies unable to make use of the nonexistent federal facility. The payouts amount to around half a billion dollars a year, and by 2022 will likely reach $29 billion.

Now President Trump wants to revive Yucca. His 2019 budget request included $120 million for the task. But the state opposition remains as strong as ever, and only $50 million was included in the final budget for Yucca-related items. Maybe Yucca Mountain will make a comeback. If not, then with no alternatives on the horizon, utilities will carry on being paid to keep spent fuel in pools next to abandoned nuclear power plants, and the interim stores in places such as Fort St. Vrain could be in business not just for decades but for centuries. The nuclear-waste time bomb will keep ticking.

The true heartland of America’s nuclear enterprise has always been Hanford. And it is the biggest and most toxic cleanup legacy too. Straddling the Columbia River, the Hanford nuclear reservation was America’s primary bomb-making factory. It was where they made the plutonium. At peak production, during the 1960s, its nine reactors irradiated 7,000 metric tons of uranium fuel annually. The intense radiation inside the reactors produced plutonium that was then extracted at five reprocessing plants. Hanford produced a total of 67 metric tons of the metal for the American arsenal, before business halted after the Cold War ended.

Plutonium production was a huge task. It required much of the electricity generated at the giant Grand Coulee Dam upstream on the Columbia, the largest hydroelectric power producer in the United States. And the mess left behind is equally mind-boggling. Since production ceased, Hanford has been conducting the country’s largest-ever environmental cleanup program. The current expenditure is $2.3 billion a year. By the time it is done the bill will be more than $100 billion.

The site holds an estimated 25 million cubic feet of solid, radioactive waste. Much of it is buried in over 40 miles of trenches and tunnels, up to 24 feet deep, including the stretch that caved in last year. Elsewhere, there are two corroding cooling ponds, each the size of an Olympic swimming pool, containing some 2,000 tons of spent fuel that never got reprocessed.

RELATED STORIES

What to Make of the Tunnel Collapse at a Nuclear Cleanup Site
Is Nuclear Power Ever Coming Back?
The Atomic-Bomb Core That Escaped World War II
But the headline Hanford problem is the 56 million gallons of acidic and highly radioactive liquids and sludges, stored in 177 giant tanks, each up to 75 feet in diameter. They are the solvent leftovers from reprocessing, and contain around twice the total radioactivity released from the world’s worst nuclear accident to date, the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl power station in Ukraine.

The tanks have been leaking for over half a century. Around a million gallons are slowly spreading toward the Columbia River, in a plume of contaminated soil covering 80 square miles. Protecting the river and its rich salmon habitat from the radioactive pollution is the number-one cleanup priority for the site’s custodians at the Department of Energy. To head off the flows, engineers are constantly pumping out radioactive water.

A better idea is to stop the leaks at the source by emptying the tanks and solidifying the liquids. The current aim is to heat them with glass-forming materials to create solid blocks that could one day be buried deep underground—maybe at Yucca Mountain. Work on a plant to do this began in 2002. It is currently 25 years behind schedule. Operations are not set to begin until 2036 and, once underway, would take 40 years.

At $17 billion and counting, the project is way over budget. Former plant engineers who have turned whistle-blowers believe it won’t be fit for the job and should be abandoned. They warn of a serious risk that particles of plutonium may settle out in the plant processing tanks, creating the potential for an accidental explosion with a big release of radiation.

The task at Hanford grows ever more daunting. After almost three decades, little of the waste and few of the tanks or processing plants have been cleaned up. Far away in Washington, D.C., some question the continuing money sink. It seems to some like a 21st-century pork barrel. Perhaps, critics say, it would be better to put up a fence and walk away. President Trump, while so far publicly supporting the Hanford cleanup, may privately agree. He has slashed its annual budget by $230 million, or about 10 percent.

Local environmentalists are scandalized. “We have got to clean up the site,” says Dan Serres, the conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper, a local NGO. The tanks should be emptied and the trenches dug up. “In a hundred years, I’d hope the Native Americans have their treaty rights to this land restored,” agrees Chuck Johnson, of Physicians for Social Responsibility. But Tom Carpenter, the executive director of Hanford Challenge, who sits on an advisory board at the Hanford Concerns Council, told me: “You are never going to dig all the waste there up.” The tanks will have to be dealt with, but “most of Hanford’s waste volume-wise is going to stay put. Hanford is going to be a national sacrifice zone for hundreds of years.”

This piece is adapted from Pearce’s new book, Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age.

FRED PEARCE is a writer based in London. His work has appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, and Yale Environment 360.

Stark health findings for Fukushima monkeys

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on March 13, 2018 at 3:22 am

By Cindy Folkers, Beyond Nuclear, Marcy 11, 2018
Seven years after the Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster began, forcing evacuations of at least 160,000 people, research has uncovered significant health impacts affecting monkeys living in the area and exposed to the radiological contamination of their habitat.
Shin-ichi Hayama, a wild animal veterinarian, has been studying the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata), or snow monkey, since before the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Now, his research has shown that monkeys in Fukushima have significantly low white and red blood cell counts as well as a reduced growth rate for body weight and smaller head sizes.
Hayama, who began his macaque research in 2008, had access to monkeys culled by Fukushima City as a crop protection measure. He continued his work after the Fukushima nuclear explosions. As a result, he is uniquely positioned to discover how low, chronic radiation exposure can affect generations of monkeys.

Japanese Macaque monkeys share close DNA with humans
The macaque is an old world monkey native to Japan, living in the coldest climates of all of the non-human primates. Like humans, macaques enjoy a good soak in the mountain hot springs in the region. It is even said that they have developed a “hot tub culture” and enjoy time at the pools to get warm during winter.
However, snow monkeys and humans share more than a love of hot springs. Human DNA differs from rhesus monkeys, a relative of the snow monkey, by just 7%. While that 7% can mean the difference between building vast cities to living unsheltered and outdoors, for basic processes like reproduction, these differences begin to fade. Consequently, what is happening to the macaques in Fukushima should send a warning about the implications for human health as well, and especially for evacuees now returning to a region that has been far from “cleaned up” to any satisfactory level.
Hayama’s research group has published two studies, each comparing data before and after the nuclear catastrophe began, and also between exposed and unexposed monkey populations. In a 2014 study, researchers compared monkeys from two regions of Japan, one group of monkeys from the Shimokita region, 400 Km north of Fukushima, and a second group of monkeys from contaminated land in Fukushima.
The monkeys in Fukushima had significantly low white and red blood cell counts. Other blood components were also reduced. The more a radioactive isotope called cesium was present in their muscles, the lower the white blood cell count, suggesting that the exposure to radioactive material contributed to the damaging blood changes. These blood levels have not recovered, even through 2017, meaning that this has become a chronic health issue.
Changes in blood are also found in people inhabiting contaminated areas around Chernobyl. Having a diminished number of white blood cells, which fight disease, can lead to a compromised immune system in monkeys as well as people, making both species unable to fight off all manner of disease.

Some macaque babies in the Fukushima zone have smaller brains post nuclear disaster
Hayama followed up his 2014 study with another in 2017 examining the differences in monkey fetus growth before and after the disaster. The researchers measured fetuses collected between 2008 and 2016 from Fukushima City, approximately 70 km from the ruined reactors. Comparing the relative growth of 31 fetuses conceived prior to the disaster and 31 fetuses conceived after the disaster revealed that body weight growth rate and head size were significantly lower in fetuses conceived after the disaster. Yet, there was no significant difference in maternal nutrition, meaning that radiation could be responsible.
Smaller head size indicates that the fetal brain was developmentally retarded although researchers could not identify which part was affected. The mothers’ muscles still contained radioactive cesium as in the 2014 study, although the levels had decreased. These mothers had conceived after the initial disaster began, meaning that their fetuses’ health reflects a continuing exposure from environmental contamination. This study mirrors human studies around Chernobyl that show similar impacts as well as research from atomic bomb survivors. Studies of birds in Chernobyl contaminated areas show that they have smaller brains.
Although Hayama has approached radiation experts to aid with his research, he claims they have rejected it, saying they don’t have resources or time, preferring to focus on humans. But humans can remove themselves from contaminated areas, and many have chosen to stay away despite government policies encouraging return. Tragically, monkeys don’t know to leave, and relocating them is not under discussion, making study of radiation’s impact on their health vital to inform radiation research on humans, the environment, and any resettlement plans the government of Japan may have.
Hayama presented his work most recently as part of the University of Chicago’s commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the first man-made controlled nuclear chain reaction. His work follows a long, important, and growing line of research demonstrating that radiation can not only damage in the obvious ways we have been told, but in subtle, yet destructive ways that were unexpected before. The implications for humans, other animals, and the environment, are stark.
Cindy Folkers is the radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear.

Ed Markey’s career-long fight against nuclear weapons

In Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on February 21, 2018 at 1:38 am

By Joshua Miller, BOSTON GLOBE, FEBRUARY 17, 2018
Radioactive isotopes were making their way into the country’s milk supply, and Edward J. Markey, the son of a milkman, was sounding the alarm.

He delivered his appeal to the biggest audience he could find: students, parents, and staff gathered for the Malden Catholic High School science fair.

The year was 1962. Markey was 15.

Twenty years later, he was a congressman calling for a freeze of nuclear weapons before almost a million protesters in Central Park. “This is just the beginning,” he pledged.

Now, more than three decades after that, Markey is still warning of our shared nuclear peril — only this time from his perch in the US Senate.

No elected official on the national scene has been banging the drum about the nuclear menace as loudly and for as long as the 71-year-old Malden Democrat.

And with President Trump’s nuclear saber rattling and fervent embrace of a new arms race, Markey’s decades-long efforts have again gained relevance.

“I work on this issue because I think it is the most important issue that faces the planet,” he said in an interview in his Boston office. “We are slipping very quickly into an era where nuclear weapons are becoming more contemplatable, more likely to be used.”

Trump has embraced a muscular nuclear posture, saying in 2016 after the election, “Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all.”

One month later, Markey introduced a bill that would prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. At a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing that included discussion of the bill, he warned that “Donald Trump can launch nuclear codes just as easily as he can use his Twitter account.”

In January, the president called for plowing money into nuclear weapon modernization to make the arsenal “so strong and powerful” it would deter any acts of aggression.

Markey expressed dismay at the push, saying it would increase the risk of nuclear war.

And the Trump administration’s nuclear posture review released this month contemplates using nuclear weapons in response to “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.”

Markey responded by saying, in part: “The Cold War is over.”

‘I work on this issue because I think it is the most important issue that faces the planet.’
Through his 41-year career in Washington as a congressman and a senator, Markey has seen the nation’s fear of thermonuclear annihilation, and attention to efforts to limit the menace, ebb and flow.

All the while, he’s made the case that the proliferation of nuclear power is directly tied to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

In the 1970s, Markey toured the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Plymouth and the still-being-built reactor in Seabrook, N.H., with concern. In 1979, he fought a public but unsuccessful battle for a half-year ban on the construction of new nuclear reactors.

During the Reagan era, when the president was leading the largest peacetime military buildup in history, Markey stayed in the limelight. In his Central Park appearance, he pushed for the United States and Soviet Union to freeze the buildup of nuclear weapons. His photo graced the front page of New York Times the day after the House of Representatives passed a temporary test ban of most atomic weapons, premised on the Soviets doing the same. He published a book on his broader anti-proliferation efforts entitled “Nuclear Peril.”

After the Soviet Union’s collapse, he pressed for greater oversight of power plants — including those in Massachusetts and New Hampshire — by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He expressed worry about the development of “mini nukes” in the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

And, even as he’s passed laws on everything from telecommunications to the environment to the opioid crisis, fighting nuclear catastrophe has remained his lodestar.

“Markey is one of the real congressional stalwarts on this,“ said David S. Meyer, a University of California, Irvine professor, who had lunch with the then-congressman about the effort to freeze the development of nuclear weapons in 1982, and has been following his career ever since. “I can’t think of somebody who has been doing it longer and more consistently than he has.”

In the Globe interview, Markey underscored his long-held belief that no country can win a nuclear war, because such a fight will have no victor.

He pointed to an errant inbound ballistic missile alert blasted to people’s phones in Hawaii last month as evidence. After the message went out, there was much panic, but the vast majority of people did not have anywhere to go.

“There is no place to run in the event of a nuclear war,” he said. “That’s my message. You cannot fight. You cannot survive a ‘winnable’ nuclear war. That is insanity. That’s part of the old nuclear war-fighting paradigm that we worked very hard to end when military strategists used to talk about the tens of millions of deaths that we could survive, as long as we inflicted far greater damage upon the Soviet Union.”

Markey paused for a moment, his arms crossed across his chest.

“That’s why I work on these issues, because there are people out there who still think in those terms. And, unless we’re very careful right now, we’re getting closer to that day —”

He left the thought unfinished.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com.

Banking on Uranium Makes the World Less Safe

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on September 11, 2017 at 6:05 am

by LINDA PENTZ GUNTER

There is a curious fallacy that continues to persist among arms control groups rightly concerned with reducing the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. It is that encouraging the use of nuclear energy will achieve this goal.

This illogical notion is enshrined in Article IV of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which rewards signatories who do not yet have nuclear weapons with the “inalienable right” to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Now comes the international low-enriched uranium bank, which opened on August 29 in Kazakhstan, to expedite this right. It further reinforces the Article IV doctrine— that the spread of nuclear power will diminish the capability and the desire to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The uranium bank will purchase and store low-enriched uranium, fuel for civilian reactors, ostensibly guaranteeing a ready supply in case of market disruptions. But it is also positioned as a response to the Iran conundrum, a country whose uranium enrichment program cast suspicion over whether its real agenda was to continue enriching its uranium supply to weapons-grade level.

The bank will be run by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose remit is “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy.” Evidently the IAEA has been quite successful in this promotional endeavor since the agency boasts that “dozens of countries today are interested in pursuing nuclear energy.”

A caveat here, borne out by the evidence of nuclear energy’s declining global share of the electricity market, is that far more countries are “interested” than are actually pursuing nuclear energy. The IAEA numbers are more aspiration than reality.

Superficially at least, the bank idea sounds sensible enough. There will be no need to worry that countries considering a nuclear power program might secretly shift to nuclear weapons production. In addition to a proliferation barrier, the bank will serve as a huge cost savings, sparing countries the expense of investing in their own uranium enrichment facilities.

The problem with this premise is that, rather than make the planet safer, it actually adds to the risks we already face. News reports pointed to the bank’s advantages for developing countries. But developing nations would be much better off implementing cheaper, safer renewable energy, far more suited to countries that lack major infrastructure and widespread electrical grid penetration.

Instead, the IAEA will use its uranium bank to provide a financial incentive to poorer countries in good standing with the agency to choose nuclear energy over renewables. For developing countries already struggling with poverty and the effects of climate change, this creates the added risk of a catastrophic nuclear accident, the financial burden of building nuclear power plants in the first place, and of course an unsolved radioactive waste problem.

No country needs nuclear energy. Renewable energy is soaring worldwide, is far cheaper than nuclear, and obviously a whole lot safer. No country has to worry about another’s potential misuse of the sun or wind as a deadly weapon. There is no solar non-proliferation treaty. We should be talking countries out of developing dangerous and expensive nuclear energy, not paving the way for them.

There is zero logic for a country like Saudi Arabia, also mentioned during the uranium bank’s unveiling, to choose nuclear over solar or wind energy. As Senator Markey (D-MA) once unforgettably pointed out: “Saudi Arabia is the Saudi Arabia of solar.” But the uranium bank could be just the carrot that sunny country needs to abandon renewables in favor of uranium.

This is precisely the problem with the NPT Article IV. Why “reward” non-nuclear weapons countries with dangerous nuclear energy? If they really need electricity, and the UN wants to be helpful, why not support a major investment in renewables? It all goes back to the Bomb, of course, and the Gordian knot of nuclear power and nuclear weapons that the uranium bank just pulled even tighter.

Will the uranium bank be too big to fail? Or will it even be big at all? With nuclear energy in steep decline worldwide, unable to compete with renewables and natural gas; and with major nuclear corporations, including Areva and Westinghouse, going bankrupt, will there even be enough customers?

Clothed in wooly non-proliferation rhetoric, the uranium bank is nothing more than a lupine marketing enterprise to support a struggling nuclear industry desperate to remain relevant as more and more plants close and new construction plans are canceled. The IAEA and its uranium bank just made its prospects a whole lot brighter and a safer future for our planet a whole lot dimmer.

Linda Pentz Gunter is the international specialist at Beyond Nuclear. She also serves as director of media and development.

High-Priced Fukushima ice wall nears completion, but effectiveness doubtful

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere on August 20, 2017 at 7:21 am

The Mainichi, Japan’s National Daily, August 16, 2017
https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20170816/p2a/00m/0na/016000c
A subterranean ice wall surrounding the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant to block groundwater from flowing in and out of the plant buildings has approached completion.
Initially, the ice wall was lauded as a trump card in controlling radioactively contaminated water at the plant in Fukushima Prefecture, which was crippled by meltdowns in the wake of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. But while 34.5 billion yen from government coffers has already been invested in the wall, doubts remain about its effectiveness. Meanwhile, the issue of water contamination looms over decommissioning work.
In a news conference at the end of July, Naohiro Masuda, president and chief decommissioning officer of Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., stated, “We feel that the ice wall is becoming quite effective.” However, he had no articulate answer when pressed for concrete details, stating, “I can’t say how effective.”
The ice wall is created by circulating a coolant with a temperature of minus 30 degrees Celsius through 1,568 pipes that extend to a depth of 30 meters below the surface around the plant’s reactors. The soil around the pipes freezes to form a wall, which is supposed to stop groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings where it becomes contaminated. A total of 260,000 people have worked on creating the wall.The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began freezing soil in March last year, and as of Aug. 15, at least 99 percent of the wall had been completed, leaving just a 7-meter section to be frozen.
Soon after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, about 400 tons of contaminated water was being produced each day. That figure has now dropped to roughly 130 tons. This is largely due to the introduction of a subdrain system in which water is drawn from about 40 wells around the reactor buildings. As for the ice wall, TEPCO has not provided any concrete information on its effectiveness.
An official of the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commented, “The subdrain performs the primary role, and the ice wall will probably be effective enough to supplement that.” This indicates that officials have largely backtracked from their designation of the ice wall as an effective means of battling contaminated water, and suggests there is unlikely to be a dramatic decrease in the amount of decontaminated groundwater once the ice wall is fully operational.
TEPCO ordered construction of the ice wall in May 2013 as one of several plans proposed by major construction firms that was selected by the government’s Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment. In autumn of that year Tokyo was bidding to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the government sought to come to the fore and underscore its measures to deal with contaminated water on the global stage.
Using taxpayers’ money to cover an incident at a private company raised the possibility of a public backlash. But one official connected with the Committee on Countermeasures for Contaminated Water Treatment commented, “It was accepted that public funds could be spent if those funds were for the ice wall, which was a challenging project that had not been undertaken before.” Small-scale ice walls had been created in the past, but the scale of this one — extending 1.5 kilometers and taking years to complete — was unprecedented.
At first, the government and TEPCO explained that an ice wall could be created more quickly than a wall of clay and other barriers, and that if anything went wrong, the wall could be melted, returning the soil to its original state. However, fears emerged that if the level of groundwater around the reactor buildings drops as a result of the ice wall blocking the groundwater, then tainted water inside the reactor buildings could end up at a higher level, causing it to leak outside the building. Officials decided to freeze the soil in stages to measure the effects and effectiveness of the ice wall. As a result, full-scale operation of the wall — originally slated for fiscal 2015 — has been significantly delayed.
Furthermore, during screening by the NRA, which had approved the project, experts raised doubts about how effective the ice wall would be in blocking groundwater. The ironic reason for approving its full-scale operation, in the words of NRA acting head Toyoshi Fuketa, was that, “It has not been effective in blocking water, so we can go ahead with freezing with peace of mind” — without worrying that the level of groundwater surrounding the reactor buildings will decrease, causing the contaminated water inside to flow out.
Maintaining the ice wall will cost over a billion yen a year, and the radiation exposure of workers involved in its maintenance is high. Meanwhile, there are no immediate prospects of being able to repair the basement damage in the reactor buildings at the crippled nuclear plant.
Nagoya University professor emeritus Akira Asaoka commented, “The way things stand, we’ll have to keep maintaining an ice wall that isn’t very effective. We should consider a different type of wall.”
In the meantime, TEPCO continues to be plagued over what to do with treated water at the plant. Tainted water is treated using TEPCO’s multi-nuclide removal equipment to remove 62 types of radioactive substances, but in principle, tritium cannot be removed during this process. Tritium is produced in nature through cosmic rays, and nuclear facilities around the world release it into the sea. The NRA takes the view that there is no problem with releasing treated water into the sea, but there is strong resistance to such a move, mainly from local fishing workers who are concerned about consumer fears that could damage their businesses. TEPCO has built tanks on the grounds of the Fukushima No. 1 plant to hold treated water, and the amount they hold is approaching 800,000 metric tons.
In mid-July, TEPCO Chairman Takashi Kawamura said in an interview with several news organizations that a decision to release the treated water into the sea had “already been made.” A Kyodo News report on his comment stirred a backlash from members of the fishing industry. TEPCO responded with an explanation that the chairman was not stating a course of action, but was merely agreeing with the view of the NRA that there were no problems scientifically with releasing the treated water. However, the anger from his comment has not subsided.
Critical opinions emerged in a subsequent meeting that the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry held in the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki at the end of July regarding the decontamination of reactors and the handling of contaminated water. It was pointed out that prefectural residents had united to combat consumer fears and that they wanted officials to act with care. One participant asked whether the TEPCO chairman really knew about Fukushima.
The ministry has been considering ways to handle the treated water, setting up a committee in November last year that includes experts on risk evaluation and sociology. As of Aug. 15, five meetings had been held, but officials have yet to converge on a single opinion. “It’s not that easy for us to say, ‘Please let us release it.’ It will probably take some time to reach a conclusion,” a government official commented.

It’s Official: Nuclear Power Can’t Compete With Renewables

In Climate change, Cost, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on August 6, 2017 at 1:38 am

Nuclear News,August 4, 2017, By Paul Brown, EcoWatch

Nuclear power now is really losing the race against renewables
The nuclear revival the global industry has been hoping for took another hammer blow this week when two reactors under construction in South Carolina were abandoned, only 40 percent complete.
The plan had been to build two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors to lead the nuclear revival in the U.S., but cost overruns and delays dogged the project and will have the opposite effect. This is a further humiliation for Westinghouse, the U.S. nuclear giant that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy because of the costs associated with this new design. Hopes that a new generation of reactors could be built in the U.S. and sold to the rest of the world rested on the success of this project, and it has spectacularly failed.
By this week, construction had already cost $9 billion, almost the entire original budget, with years of building still to go. The reactors were originally scheduled to begin producing power in 2018, but this had been put back to 2021. Cost overruns had meant the final cost could be $25 billion. Around 5,000 construction workers have lost their jobs.
Changing context
The two owners of the project who had taken control after the Westinghouse bankruptcy, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper, announced they would halt construction rather than saddle customers with additional costs……..
Nuclear power did find favor in some quarters in the U.S. because it was regarded as a low carbon source of electricity. But President Trump is trying to dismantle legislation that would have helped the industry get credit for this.
The repercussions of the decision to abandon the building of the South Carolina reactors will be felt across the Atlantic in the UK, where three reactors of the same design were due to be built in Cumbria in the northwest of England. NuGen, the UK company that planned to build them, is, like Westinghouse, a subsidiary of the Japanese giant Toshiba. It was already reviewing its plans to build them before this week’s news broke.
Officially this is still the position, but it seems unlikely that the company would gamble on trying to build reactors of a design that could not be completed successfully in the U.S.
All big nuclear companies have new designs being constructed on home turf. Their plan has been to demonstrate how well they work and then export them. But this is currently not working anywhere, most spectacularly in Europe, where the French giant EDF is in deep trouble with its flagship design, the even larger 1,600 megawatt pressurized water reactor.
Rapid delay
Prototypes under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France are, like the AP 1000, years late and over budget.
Construction has started on two more at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England, but already, within weeks of the first concrete being poured, a delay has been announced.
Although the British Government still supports the project, it has already been questioned by the UK National Audit Office, which polices government finances. The NAO said consumers will be paying far too much for the electricity even if the project is finished on time, which on the industry’s past record seems extremely unlikely.
With renewables providing more and more cheap power in Europe and across the world, it seems unlikely that any of the new generation of large nuclear plants will ever be able to compete.
Phase-out planned
Japan, still suffering from the after effects of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, is unlikely to be able to resuscitate its nuclear industry, and South Korea, with arguably the most successful nuclear construction record, has a new government which wants to phase out the industry.
Only China and Russia, where what is really happening in their nuclear industries is a closely guarded secret, remain as likely exporters of new nuclear stations.
Both countries offer to supply fuel to countries which buy their reactor models. As well as building them, they offer as part of the package to get rid of the spent fuel and waste, so any country that buys nuclear power from China and Russia is effectively tied to them for a generation or more.
So for Russia and China, selling nuclear power stations is a political decision to extend their influence rather than an economic one—and it could be an expensive option for all concerned. From a purely economic perspective, however, it appears the nuclear industry is reaching the end of the road.

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

Nuclear power for your home and business

In Climate change, Environment, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Politics, War on July 20, 2017 at 8:36 am

Dear friends –

Regardless of any other public and career commitments each of us may have, it is now essential for everyone who is, or could be, involved in the public sphere to address themselves in one way or another to the global climate crisis.

We will review the reasons for this in the next Bulletin, if they are not already clear. In a letter to local members earlier this year we said,
Today, our long inaction in the face of converging environmental and social disasters requires us to consider our lives and actions…All that we are and do, and would do, must be weighed sub specie Terrae – from the perspective of Earth…[T]he biggest story and struggle of our time and our greatest, most salient struggles, lie in the nexus of climate, energy, economics, and environment. These connected crises have now thoroughly converged…We now need to anchor all our politics, including nuclear disarmament politics, in the work of saving our only home and the creatures in it, who have come this long way with us and made us who we are. This is not just “another issue.” It is the master predicament that we and our children are facing. (1/7/17)
One small part of our collective response deserves highlighting first, and all by itself for clarity’s sake, because it is so straightforward and has so many personal, political, and economic advantages (micro and macro – both).

I am talking about nuclear power. Fusion power, that long-sought miracle of energy abundance. For your home and business or those of your friends. From the sun.

As Los Alamos gadfly and peace activist Ed Grothus used to say, the reactor location is ideal, at 93 million miles away; the power output is essentially infinite; and the distribution is universal.

Solar energy is almost perfectly accessible – almost too good to be true, and much better than almost any alternative. Google’s Sunroof algorithms estimate that just our city, Albuquerque, has 188,000 roofs that are suitable for photovoltaic installations (93% of the total), with a combined potential capacity of 3.5 gigawatts. This is more than one-third of the total summer generation capacity in the whole state (8.4 GW). (About one quarter of NM’s electricity is exported). That’s just Albuquerque roofs. It does not include parking lots (many of which would benefit from solar shade structures), or all the suitable vacant land within and around the city, which together would dwarf the solar potential of the roofs alone.

The marginal cost of a solar kilowatt-hour is, once a solar generation facility is installed, zero. Nuclear-generated electricity finally is, in that sense, “too cheap to meter.” The cost is really a capital investment, not an operating expense, and a big hunk of it makes jobs and builds skills in your community.

We here at the Los Alamos Study Group are laser-focused on the political and social changes we can foster that will help save the planet and strengthen our communities. Especially now that it is cheap, and especially here in sunny New Mexico, solar energy is an enabling technology.

Solar energy is a core part of the Gandhian “constructive program” in our time and place. He emphasized that constructive program far more than nonviolent resistance. That program, and the radical simplicity that was and is a necessary part of it, is a face of the active nonviolence we need.

We need a lot of renewable energy – distributed renewable energy, with associated ownership, skills, and renewed community institutions – quickly. For some people and institutions, it will be a “gateway” (as in, “gateway drug,” but in a positive sense) to other transitions, personal and political.

In general, and of course with exceptions, we do not see the ephemeral, convenient protests that are habitual on the political left as being at all politically effective. (Long-term protests and true nonviolent resistance are quite another matter.) Organizing people to boycott as much planetary ecocide as possible – necessarily starting with one’s own household and business – would be far more effective than showing up for the typical protest.

Of course constructive action alone is not enough. Renewable energy, even 100% renewable energy, is not enough in itself to save the climate and halt the Sixth Great Extinction. We also need effective resistance. We need radical simplicity and connection with others.

But renewable energy is necessary; it is necessary now; it is necessary on a large scale; and it is necessary that it not be controlled by a few. The process of making this happen is politically potent and fruitful across the whole range of our converging crises.

Let me be very clear. We are asking you to consider adding solar generating capacity on your home or business. We think it is politically important.

As we said last year (Bulletin 226), the Study Group has chosen to have a financial “confluence of interest” in this transition, because we believe strongly in it. It is program and fundraising, both. We are working with two employee-owned New Mexico companies:
Positive Energy: very high efficiency, long-life, hassle-free solar guaranteed installations, including all permitting and paperwork. “Smart,” long-life, battery systems. $100 to LASG for any consultation (which are free to customers); an additional $400 with system installation.
McCune Solar Works: ultra-long life, low-cost PV modules and systems; systems tailored for renters; long-life, non-toxic battery systems; much more. Free consultations. $500 to the Study Group with system installation.
If you don’t live in New Mexico, that’s fine. We still want you to think about solar energy, for all the above reasons.
If you rent, there are ways of approaching the solar energy proposition that may work for you and your landlord.

More than this, we are asking you to become climate and solar “ambassadors,” educating and connecting with others about our climate crisis and undertaking to produce a concerted response in your own circles, which will include renewable energy, especially solar energy.

Some of you have very small electric bills, which is great. There are now cheap, small solar systems with easy-to-wire AC output, which may have demonstration value for others as well as yourself.

The federal investment tax credit is still 30% until the end of 2019. The credit applies to any necessary new roofing and to carports, parking lot structures, etc. Nonprofits and churches can create LLCs to benefit from these credits.

As a result of our summer climate and solar ambassador program, we know a little bit about this industry. Talk to one of us (at 505-265-1200) if you have questions, but we will want to connect you with the real pros, who can best analyze your situation in detail.

Greg and Trish, for the Los Alamos Study Group

New South Korean president vows to end use of nuclear power

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on June 20, 2017 at 9:44 am

Moon Jae-in said he would lead country
towards a ‘nuclear-free era’ following
fears of a Fukushima-style meltdown

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, The Guardian, Monday 19 June 2017
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/19/new-south-korean-president-vows-to-end-use-of-nuclear-power
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has vowed to phase out the country’s dependence on nuclear power, warning of “unimaginable consequences” from a Fukushima-style meltdown.
Moon, a left-leaning liberal who won last month’s presidential election by a landslide following the impeachment and arrest of Park Geun-hye, said he would increase the role of renewable energy and lead South Korea towards a “nuclear-free era”.
Speaking at an event to mark the closure of the country’s oldest nuclear plant, Kori-1, he said: “So far, South Korea’s energy policy pursued cheap prices and efficiency. “Cheap production prices were considered the priority while the public’s life and safety took a back seat. But it’s time for a change.
“We will abolish our nuclear-centred energy policy and move towards a nuclear-free era. We will completely scrap construction plans for new nuclear reactors that are currently under way.”
Moon added that he would not extend the operation of ageing reactors, many of which will come to the end of their lifespans between 2020 and 2030.
Weaning South Korea off nuclear power, however, could take decades, and there is expected to be opposition from construction companies, which have increased technology exports under Moon’s nuclear-friendly predecessors.
The country was the fifth-largest producer of nuclear energy last year, according to the World Nuclear Association, with its 25 reactors generating about a third of its electricity.
The former president Lee Myung-bak saw nuclear as an important source of clean energy, while Park wanted to increase the number of reactors to 36 by 2029.
Moon recognised the role of nuclear power in South Korea’s rapid economic development, but added that Japan’s Fukushima disaster – which prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people – had convinced him that his country must look to new sources of energy.
“The country’s economic status has changed, our awareness on the importance of the environment has changed. The notion that the safety and lives of people are more important than anything else has become a firm social consensus,” he said.
Anti-nuclear campaigners have long warned of the potentially disastrous consequences of a meltdown at a nuclear plant in South Korea, where many reactors are close to densely populated areas.
The public’s support for nuclear power has weakened since the 2011 Fukushima meltdown and a 2013 corruption scandal over fake safety certificates for reactor parts.
“The Fukushima nuclear accident has clearly proved that nuclear reactors are neither safe, economical nor environmentally friendly,” Yonhap news agency quoted Moon as saying.
“South Korea is not safe from the risk of earthquakes, and a nuclear accident caused by a quake can have such a devastating impact.”
He also plans to close at least 10 ageing coal-fired power plants before his term ends in 2022 and to boost renewables’ share of the energy mix to 20% by 2030.