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Archive for the ‘Plutonium’ Category

After decades of secrets, Rocky Flats still gives me pause

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Politics, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 17, 2018 at 1:19 am

Denver Post, June 16, 2018

I most likely owe my very existence to the atomic bomb.

My father was in what was supposed to be the first wave of soldiers to occupy Japan in World War II. Based on the battles of Iwo Jima, Guam, and Okinawa, they had been told by their commanding officers that there was little chance they would survive. It had been estimated that the U.S. would lose at least a million soldiers in the occupation. My father figured he would be one of them.

My father strongly believed that more lives were saved than were lost by our use of nuclear weapons. Over the years he convinced me that was true.

I am, however, opposed to nuclear contamination.

Rocky Flats has become infamous for nuclear contamination. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and anyone else who has studied Rocky Flats admits that there was massive nuclear and hazardous waste contamination at the site. They also admit that the contamination was both inside and outside the boundaries of the plant.

The contamination, mostly from plutonium fires and corroding drums full of nuclear hazardous waste, was kept secret from the public by the DOE and its contractors until 1969. The highly visible billowing black smoke from a fire that year made it obvious to outside observers that nuclear contamination was escaping from the site. Independent tests were performed to assess the extent of contamination. When the civilian monitoring teams challenged government officials with the observed measurements, they were told that actually, most of the offsite contamination had come from a more catastrophic fire in 1957. It was the first time anyone in the public had been made aware of that disaster.

Due to Cold War fears and the growing number of military targets identified behind the Iron Curtain, DOE pushed its contractors hard to produce more and more plutonium triggers faster and faster. Safety for workers and the community was secondary, or an afterthought. The contractors were given blanket immunity by the federal government for most lawsuits, should problems occur. This attitude led to numerous accidents and unnecessary exposures for workers, as well as growing piles of waste that had to be stored onsite. Plutonium was handled in such a haphazard fashion that more than a ton of it was eventually lost, or unaccounted for. This culture led to Rocky Flats being ranked by the DOE as the most dangerous nuclear site in the United States. Two of its buildings made the list of the ten most contaminated buildings in America. Building 771 at Rocky Flats was number one.

In 1989, based on information from a plant whistle-blower alleging environmental crimes, the FBI and EPA raided Rocky Flats. This eventually led to the closure of the site and a special grand jury which, after more than 3 years of testimony, sought to criminally indict three government officials and five employees of the plant contractor. The Department of Justice refused to indict, however, and instead negotiated a plea bargain with the contractor, who was required to pay an $18.5 million fine. This was less than they collected in bonuses from the DOE that year, despite more than 400 environmental violations being identified. The evidence and findings of the grand jury were sealed by court order.

When Rocky Flats closed, the DOE estimated that it would take over $35 billion and 70 years to adequately clean the site. Congress appropriated them only $7 billion, and clean-up began.

What is contested is how much contamination remains on- and offsite after the clean-up, and what risk, if any, may persist. The government has reams of data and multiple exhibits supporting their claim that the risk is low. Concerned community groups and anti-nuclear activists also have data supporting their claim that the risk is not negligible.

I do not know where the truth lies. There is credible science and support on both sides. What I do know is that two of the men who have seen the most evidence concerning the level of contamination at Rocky Flats, the lead agent for the FBI raid and the foreman of the grand jury, continue to advocate for the prohibition of public access to the site. This gives me great pause.

When I was a kid, I guess I watched too many westerns.

They led me to believe that it was a noble thing to stand up to powerful forces when you thought they may be wrong, or when you felt you needed more information before you could support them. They lied to me. In real life, what I have found is that when I have the temerity to question the government’s claims, or ask for additional, independent information to help me decide where the truth may lie, I am labeled a “general of the scare brigade”, “reckless” and “irresponsible”.

I just wish I had the level of certainty that they have who feel so confident in publicly shaming my search for truth.

Mark B. Johnson, MD, MPH, is executive director of Jefferson County Public Health.

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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.

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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.

Activists say moving prairie dogs to Rocky Flats could unearth plutonium

In Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Politics, Public Health on July 7, 2017 at 8:49 am

BY ANICA PADILLA AND TAMMY VIGIL, Fox 31, Denver, July 6;, 2017

BOULDER, Colo. — Activists are threatening to sue over a proposal to relocate a colony of more than 200 prairie dogs from Longmont to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson County.

In June, activists hoping to prevent the extermination of the colony told the Longmont Times the refuge was available as a receiving site.

Then, on Thursday, attorney Randall Weiner issued a statement saying the burrowing animals could bring plutonium buried underground to the surface and spread radioactive waste to surrounding areas.

Weiner stated that radioactive components were buried eight feet below the surface, well within range of prairie dogs.

“Prairie dogs and other burrowing animals can dig as far as 18 feet into the ground… and build surface mounds by accumulating dirt from below ground,” Weiner stated.

“There also are no barriers to prevent the prairie dogs from migrating back and forth between the Refuge and the Central Operable Unit, and then later leaving the site altogether,” Weiner continued.

Several groups have already filed a federal lawsuit to block construction of trails and a visitor’s center at the refuge because of environmental risks.

They are threatening more litigation if federal investigators don’t do an environmental assessment on the impacts of moving 200 prairie dogs to the site..

“Even the smallest speck is a huge danger to public health,” says Longmont resident and lawsuit plaintiff Jon Lipsky.

From 1952 to 1994, the Rocky Flats Plant produced nuclear and nonnuclear weapons, including plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons.

During that time, plutonium was leaked into the air, soil and water.

“Workplace accidents, spills, fires, emissions, leaking storage containers and day-to-day operations allowed plutonium and chemicals to be released from the plant site,” according to the State of Colorado website.

“In the middle of the refuge is a 1,300 acre Super Fund site. There are subsurface infrastructures, buildings, tunnels, pits, two open landfills,” says Lipsky, who headed the FBI raid on Rocky Flats in 1989 that led to its eventual closure.

Cleanup of contamination at the site began in the 1990s but concern about the long-term impacts on residents nearby remained.

In 2016, Metropolitan State University of Denver and Rocky Flats Downwinders conducted a health study that found people living downwind of the nuclear weapons plant faced more health problems.

Colorado’s Department of Health responded on behalf of U.S. Fish and Wildlife by saying: “…the lands that became the refuge were suitable for any and all uses. The extensive and expensive cleanup had reduced contaminant concentrations to well below levels of concern.”

The state says it also considered the potential disturbance from burrowing animals in its risk assessments.

But critics of the project don’t buy it.

“Nothing was treated below three feet. If I’m a fear-monger by bringing up the facts, then I’m being a fact-monger,” Lipsky said.

“They are ignoring the public and violating their health and safety when they do something like this,” said Weiner.

The Department of Justice hasn’t yet responded for a comment to the letter.

The Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge is set to open to the public in summer 2018.

Report: U.S. nukes to cost $400B over next decade

In Cost, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium on February 16, 2017 at 11:11 pm

 

By Mark Oswald, Journal North, February 15, 2017

SANTA FE – The cost over the next decade of operating, maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal – including for work at national laboratories like Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico – is estimated to be $400 billion, according to a new report by the Congressional Budget Office.

That’s up from the last decade-long estimate of $348 billion that the budget office made in December 2013 for the years 2014 to 2023.

The new report says the expected average of $40 billion in nuclear weapons expenses per year through 2026 takes into account that programs are further along than when the previous estimate was made and some modernization efforts, particularly for a new bomber, have become better defined. Also, updates of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles “have increased in scope or have been accelerated,” says the CBO report.

The $400 million estimate for the decade includes $87 million for the national laboratories around the country, including costs related to “maintaining current and future stockpiles of nuclear weapons.” In New Mexico, that work includes ramping up the production of plutonium “pits,” the grapefruit-size cores of nuclear bombs that serve as triggers, at Los Alamos. No new pits have been made since 2011, but LANL is under a mandate to make as many as 80 by 2030.

The huge nuclear arsenal modernization plan now underway was part of President Barack Obama’s deal with Congress over ratification of the New START Treaty on arms control that Obama signed in 2011.

Greg Mello of the local Los Alamos Study Group research and advocacy organization said the CBO’s report leaves out some big-ticket items, such cleanup for nuclear weapons work and disposing of old nuclear weapons buildings, which put the actual 10-year costs at more than $500 billion.

“No one can tell what these huge, multi-decade programs will cost but, over the next 30 years, the total cost will certainly be above a trillion dollars,” said Mello. “These modernization plans conflict with other DoD (Department of Defense) acquisition plans. Nobody has any politically realistic idea of where all this money will come from.”

Other projected costs for the next 10 years include: $189 billion for weapons delivery systems such as missiles, ballistic missile submarines and long-range bombers; $9 billion for “tactical” nuclear weapons delivery systems, such as shorter-range aircraft; and $58 billion for the DoD’s “command, control, communications and early warnings systems.

Another $56 billion was included as coverage in the event that the cost of nuclear programs exceed “planned amounts at roughly the same rates that costs for similar programs have grown in the past.”

https://www.abqjournal.com/950875/report-u-s-nuke-arsenal-will-cost-400-billion-over-next-decade.html

The United States and Russia Are Prepping for Doomsday

In Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, War on October 10, 2016 at 10:43 pm

By Jeffrey Lewis, Foreign Policy Magazine, October 7, 2016

Withe the collapse of yet another arms reduction agreement, Washington and Moscow are now sitting on a stockpile of plutonium good for tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.

The other day, a little present arrived in the mail. It was book, or rather a pair of doorstops. Titled Doomed to Cooperate, the massive two-volume set is about 1,000 pages of essays, interviews, and vignettes from more than 100 participants in the remarkable period of cooperation between the nuclear weapons complexes of the United States and Russia in the immediate post-Cold War period. Siegfried Hecker, who edited the volumes, titled them after the remark of a Soviet scientist, who said of the shared danger that nuclear weapons pose, “Therefore, you know, we were doomed to work together, to cooperate.” Not everyone got the message, certainly not Vladimir Putin. Set against relations between Washington and Moscow today, the incredible stories in Hecker’s two volumes seem to be from another era entirely. On Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending a plutonium disposition agreement with the United States due to its “unfriendly actions.” (An unofficial translation is available from the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, as is a draft law submitted by the Kremlin.) Putin’s decree ends one of the last remaining forms of cooperation from that remarkable era.

“Plutonium disposition” is a fancy sort of phrase, the kind of term of art that, when I drop it at a cocktail party, sends people off to refill their drinks. But plutonium is the stuff of which bombs are made. After the Cold War, the United States and Russia agreed to dispose of tons of plutonium to make sure it could never be put back into bombs.After the Cold War, the United States and Russia agreed to dispose of tons of plutonium to make sure it could never be put back into bombs. So believe you me, when the Russians decide that maybe they should just hang on to that material for a while longer, it’s not so boring.

And we’re talking about a lot of plutonium here. If you recall the dark days of the Cold War, or maybe just read about them in a book, the United States and Soviet Union each had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons. That’s sort of insane if you think about what just one nuclear bomb did to Hiroshima and another to Nagasaki. But the United States and the Soviet Union each built stockpiles in excess of 30,000 nuclear weapons at their peak, massive arsenals of nuclear weapons that vast exceeded any conceivable purpose. And at the beating heart of the vast majority of those bombs were tiny little pits of plutonium.

Washington and Moscow have made great strides in reducing their vast nuclear arsenals, although we still have more than enough nuclear weapons to kill each other and then make the rubble bounce. The United States, for example, has reduced its stockpile from a peak of 31,255 nuclear weapons in 1967 to 4,571 in 2015. Let’s just say Russia’s stockpile is comparable, though perhaps not quite as modest.

Of course, retiring a nuclear weapon requires it to be dismantled. In the United States, a backlog of thousands of weapons awaits dismantlement. That queue stretches to 2022, and few experts think the United States will meet that target. And even once a weapon is dismantled, that still leaves the plutonium. As long as the plutonium exists, it can be turned back into a nuclear bomb.

The United States and Russia have lots and lots of plutonium left over from the Cold War. Neither country makes new plutonium anymore, or at least no weapons-grade plutonium, but don’t worry — there’s still more than enough to keep you up at night. The International Panel on Fissile Materials, at Princeton University, estimates the stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium at 88 metric tons for the United States and 128 metric tons for Russia. To give you a sense of how much plutonium that is, it is an unclassified fact that a nuclear weapon can be made with as little as 4 kilograms of plutonium. It’s a slightly touchier subject that this is the average in the U.S. stockpile — one can make do with less. But let’s do the math: Even at 4 kilograms per nuclear weapon, 88 metric tons represents enough material for 22,000 nuclear weapons.

One hundred and twenty-eight metric tons is enough for 32,000 nuclear weapons. Want to get your arms race on?

When the Cold War ended, the more enlightened souls among us realized that reducing these stockpiles of plutonium was a critical task.When the Cold War ended, the more enlightened souls among us realized that reducing these stockpiles of plutonium was a critical task. As long as the plutonium remained, so did the possibility of resuming the arms race. Or, god forbid, the possibility the material might fall into the wrong hands. A pair of studies by the National Academy of Sciences (published in 1994 and 1995) called excess fissile material a “clear and present danger to national and international security.”

The United States and Russia freely admitted that much of their stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium was excess to any conceivable need. In addition to programs to help Russia keep track of its massive amount of material, Washington and Moscow agreed to eliminate some of it. For the plutonium stockpile, in 2000 the United States and Russia each offered 34 metric tons for elimination under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement. That represents 8,500 nuclear weapons that Russia will never build and another 8,500 nuclear weapons that will never enter the U.S. arsenal. Of course, that was only a portion of the massive stockpile, but along with an agreement to “downblend” highly enriched uranium, it was a promising start to making sure the arms race never started up again.

And then … nothing happened. As it turns out, Washington and Moscow make better enemies than friends. Plutonium isn’t easy to dispose of, and the United States and Russia quarreled endlessly about how to eliminate the material. The story of why the material was never disposed of is long and complicated, involving different technological attitudes in Russia and the United States, as well as healthy helpings of South Carolina barbecued pork. The simplest way to put it is this: The United States and Russia quickly fell to arguing, requiring a new disposition plan in 2007, followed by more arguing until the disposition plan was amended in 2010, and both sides were still arguing about amending the deal when Putin finally pulled the plug this week. Pavel Podvig, who literally wrote the book on Russia’s nuclear program, tells the whole sordid story if you want to read about it.

At some level, though, the details don’t matter. The technical and political questions of how best to eliminate the plutonium pale in comparison to the political urgency of eliminating the threat it poses — they should. If either side wanted a solution, there were options. Knowledgeable observers like Podvig offered plenty of constructive solutions that might have kept the agreement alive. We collectively chose to do nothing.

And so here we are. Putin’s decree states that Russia isn’t planning on turning the plutonium back into weapons just yet. But there is no reason it couldn’t. And there is no clear plan for what happens to it now. The plan seems to be that the United States and Russia will simply continue to sit on tens of thousands of nuclear weapons’ worth of plutonium for the indefinite future. (Oh, and plutonium ages better than Sophia Loren, so the bombs that might be built out of it could be menacing your grandchildren.) If you think about it, this isn’t really a plan at all — just a terrible inability to do anything in the face of a common danger or head off what looks like a return to Cold War animosity.

If anything makes Hecker’s collection of stories seem like they come from another time, it is that. Once upon a time, there was a collective belief among American and Russian scientists that they could do something about the shared danger posed by nuclear weapons. They may have joked about being “doomed to cooperate,” but it was a wry humor. These men and women who were charged with building the weapons to destroy one another still believed that we could work together to make the world a safer place. We’ve lost that sense. And without the belief that we can cooperate, what are we other than doomed?

Putin suspends nuclear pact, raising stakes in row with Washington

In Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, War on October 4, 2016 at 8:23 am

By Dmitry Solovyov and Christian Lowe | MOSCOW

Reuters, Monday, October 3, 2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday suspended a treaty with Washington on cleaning up weapons-grade plutonium, signaling he is willing to use nuclear disarmament as a new bargaining chip in disputes with the United States over Ukraine and Syria.

Starting in the last years of the Cold War, Russia and the United States signed a series of accords to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals, agreements that have so far survived intact despite a souring of U.S.-Russian relations under Putin.

But on Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending an agreement, concluded in 2000, which bound the two sides to dispose of surplus plutonium originally intended for use in nuclear weapons.

The Kremlin said it was taking that action in response to unfriendly acts by Washington. It made the announcement shortly before Washington said it was suspending talks with Russia on trying to end the violence in Syria.

The plutonium accord is not the cornerstone of post-Cold War U.S.-Russia disarmament, and the practical implications from the suspension will be limited. But the suspension, and the linkage to disagreements on other issues, carries powerful symbolism.
“Putin’s decree could signal that other nuclear disarmament cooperation deals between the United States and Russia are at risk of being undermined,” Stratfor, a U.S.-based consultancy, said in a commentary.

“The decision is likely an attempt to convey to Washington the price of cutting off dialogue on Syria and other issues.”

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement on Monday that bilateral contacts with Moscow over Syria were being suspended. Kirby said Russia had failed to live up to its commitments under a ceasefire agreement.

Western diplomats say an end to the Syria talks leaves Moscow free to pursue its military operation in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but without a way to disentangle itself from a conflict which shows no sign of ending.

Russia and the United States are also at loggerheads over Ukraine. Washington, along with Europe, imposed sanctions on Russia after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and backed pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine.

LIST OF GRIEVANCES

Putin submitted a draft law to parliament setting out under what conditions work under the plutonium accord could be resumed. Those conditions were a laundry list of Russian grievances towards the United States.

They included Washington lifting the sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine, paying compensation to Moscow for the sanctions, and reducing the U.S. military presence in NATO member state in eastern Europe to the levels they were 16 years ago.

Any of those steps would involve a complete U-turn in long-standing U.S. policy.

“The Obama administration has done everything in its power to destroy the atmosphere of trust which could have encouraged cooperation,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement on the treaty’s suspension.

“The step Russia has been forced to take is not intended to worsen relations with the United States. We want Washington to understand that you cannot, with one hand, introduce sanctions against us where it can be done fairly painlessly for the Americans, and with the other hand continue selective cooperation in areas where it suits them.”

The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning it in nuclear reactors.

Clinton said at the time that there was enough of the material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons. Both sides back then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former Cold War adversaries.

Russian officials alleged on Monday that Washington had failed to honor its side of the agreement. The Kremlin decree stated that, despite the suspension, Russia’s surplus weapons-grade plutonium would not be put to military use.

(Additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin and Alexander Winning; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

A Dozen Reasons Why the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge Should remain Closed to the Public

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 1, 2016 at 1:05 am

Prepared by LeRoy Moore, PhD, Rocky Mountain Peace & Justice Center, September 2016

After completion of the Superfund cleanup of the 6,500-acre site of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, about three-fourths of the site (roughly 7 square miles) was removed from the Superfund list of most contaminated sites and transferred from the Department of Energy (DOE) to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to operate as a Wildlife Refuge. DOE retained 1,309 acres (about 2 square miles) of more contaminated land that remains on the Superfund list and is surrounded by the Refuge.

  1. Long-term danger of plutonium Plutonium 239, the contaminant of principal concern at Rocky Flats, has a half-life of 24,110 years. It remains dangerously radioactive for more than a quarter-million years. Any quantity left in the environment poses an essentially permanent danger.
  2. Plutonium’s lethal quality The alpha radiation emitted by plutonium cannot penetrate skin. But tiny particles inhaled or taken into the body through an open wound will lodge somewhere in the body. For as long as it resides in the body – typically for the rest of one’s life – it bombards surrounding cells with radiation. The result may be cancer, a compromised immune system or genetic harm passed on to future generations.
  3. Hazardous in very small amounts Plutonium particles of 10 microns or smaller can be inhaled. One micron is 1/millionth of a meter (a meter is 39.37 inches, slightly longer than a yard). For further comparison, the average diameter of a human hair is about 50 microns. Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that airborne particles at Rocky Flats “are probably smaller than 0.01 microns.” Researchers at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium particle induces mutations in mammal cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm that can become cancer, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher doses.
  4. Extent of contamination at Rocky Flats unknown Fires, accidents, routine operations, and random dumping during production years released plutonium particles to the environment. The prevailing wind heads east and southeast, but it blows in all directions some of the time. Hence, plutonium was scattered across the whole of the nearly 10 square-mile site. No one knows the full extent of the contamination because this was not determined. The methods used to locate plutonium could have missed hot spots.
  5. The difference between the cleanup the public sought and what it got In 1995 the single most widely supported cleanup recommendation from the public called for eventual cleanup to average background radiation levels from global fallout, with initial cleanup to go as far in this direction as current technology allows while the site becomes a research lab for development of technology to do better. Neither happened. Instead, the cleanup finally agreed to by DOE, EPA and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in 2003 allowed in the top 3 feet of soil a quantity of plutonium up to 1,250 times average background levels, with much more allowed in soil at a depth of 3 to 6 feet and no limit on the quantity of plutonium allowed in soil below 6 feet.
  6. Dollars and date, not public health, drove the cleanup DOE and its contractor, Kaiser-Hill, made a secret deal with Congress to cleanup and close Rocky Flats by a fixed date for a fixed sum. Tailoring the cleanup to fit these limits, they rejected appeals from some in the public willing to seek more funds for a more thorough cleanup. Of the $7 billion allotted to close the site by December 2006, no more than $473 million (about 7%) could be spent on actual remediation of the environment. Kaiser-Hill received $560 million for its work.
  7. Local people rejected both the cleanup and recreation at the wildlife refuge Of the individuals and organizations that commented on the final Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement adopted in June 2003, 85.6% rejected the plan as inadequate, due mainly to the plutonium being left behind. 81% of those who commented on FWS plans to open the wildlife refuge to public recreation opposed the idea. These comments are part of the public record.
  8. Plutonium not stable in the environment EPA and CDPHE claim that there is no pathway by which plutonium left in soil at Rocky Flats can reach human subjects. This is refuted by a 1996 study in which ecologist Shawn Smallwood shows that 18 species of burrowing animals present at Rocky Flats dig down to as much as 16 feet, constantly redistributing soil and its contents. In a wholly random way they bring buried plutonium to the surface where tiny particles can be transported near and far by the wind common at the site and made available to be internalized by unwitting humans. In any given year burrowing animals disturb 10 to 12% of surface soil on the site. Though this study was done in 1996, EPA and CDPHE ignored it when in 2003 they approved the final cleanup plan for Rocky Flats.
  9. The cleanup does not protect the most vulnerable, especially children The “risk-based cleanup” at Rocky Flats was calculated to protect a wildlife refuge worker, that is, a physically active adult in good health. The cleanup was not designed to protect the very young, the very old, the infirm. FWS expects children to visit the wildlife refuge. The human child, without question, is the most vulnerable to plutonium exposure of all creatures, because a child is likely to stir up dust, to eat dirt, to breathe in gasps, or to scrape a knee or elbow, all ways of taking plutonium into the body. Once internalized, the material integrates with the child’s tissue development and wreaks havoc within the child’s body for the duration of her or his life. Playing with plutonium is a dangerous proposition.
  10. EPA and CDPHE mislead the public when they say Rocky Flats is “safe” The National Academy of Sciences report on Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (2006) affirms that exposure to any level of ionizing radiation is potentially harmful. In 2004 British researchers concluded that cancer risk from exposure to very low doses of plutonium may be ten or more times more dangerous than allowed by existing official standards for permissible exposure.
  11. EPA and CDPHE oppose informed consent for visitors to the wildlife refuge State Representative Wes McKinley was foreman of the grand jury that spent nearly 3 years reviewing evidence of alleged environmental lawbreaking at Rocky Flats collected by the FBI in its 1989 raid on the plant. 65 cartons of documents from this investigation remain sealed in the Denver federal courthouse; they were never examined by EPA and CDPHE, regulators of the Rocky Flats cleanup. McKinley is under court order not to reveal what he learned about conditions at Rocky Flats, but he objects to opening the wildlife refuge to the public. His efforts to get informed consent regarding risk at the refuge for potential refuge visitors were opposed by the very agencies that made no effort to determine whether the 65 cartons in the federal courthouse contain data pertinent to the Rocky Flats cleanup.
  12. Genetic effects of plutonium exposure are poorly understood In a 2000 study Diethard Tautz said genetic effects of radiation exposure on a given species of wildlife may not show up until generations later when harm is irreversible. Ecologist Shawn Smallwood found that no study of genetic effects on wildlife has been done at Rocky Flats or any other DOE site. Any harm to wildlife at Rocky Flats will not be confined to the bounds of the site. Deer from the site have been shown to have plutonium in their bodies. Nobel Prize winner Hermann Muller, writing about humans in 1964, reached a conclusion very similar to that of Tautz, namely, that the effect of radiation exposure may not be apparent for several generations.

For documentation and more information, see Plutonium and People Don’t Mix at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moore

 

 

Five Things Scarier Than a Nuclear Trump

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health on August 8, 2016 at 2:01 am

By Ralph Hutchison, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance

The specter of an erratic, impulsive person with the nuclear launch codes at his fingertips has people talking about nuclear weapons again. That’s a good thing. There are nearly 20,000 warheads and missiles distributed around the world. They are capable of killing hundreds of millions of people in one afternoon. They are a greater and more imminent threat to life on the planet even than climate change. They are, to put it simply, an existential peril.

So of course it’s scary to think someone who is likely to say or do anything that pops into his or her head might be in a position to set off the final conflagration that results in mass murder on a scale impossible even to contemplate, with nuclear winter to follow, and widespread radiation contamination that will last for hundreds of millions of years.

But if that’s your biggest worry about nuclear weapons, you haven’t been paying attention.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. A lot of the scariest stuff about nuclear weapons is discussed in classified briefings, things too devastating for our tender ears to hear—even though the policies and plans being discussed could turn our tender ears and the rest of our tender bodies, along with our children and everyone we know, to ash in a millisecond.

Here are five things worth worrying about more than Donald Trump’s crazy.

1. Anyone else with the launch codes. The downside to crazy Trump is he makes everyone else look saner. But saner is not necessarily rational. To buy into current US policy, you have to buy into an irrational policy that virtually guarantees any time we use nuclear weapons to advance our agenda or protect our interests, we are committing not only homicide, but suicide. Right now, more than 1,000 US nuclear warheads are on hair-trigger alert. Our policy reserves the right to “First Use,” meaning we can launch without a nuclear provocation, say, for instance, a pre-emptive strike. And our policy includes a nuclear umbrella that has promised many, many countries we will come to their defense if they are attacked—South Korea, for instance, and Japan. Central and South America, and eastern European countries in NATO. Would we, really, start a nuclear war because we gave our word? This is a profoundly important question, not debated in public—the fate of the Earth, literally, hangs in the balance.

2. Accidental launches, miscommunications and mistakes. The story of nuclear weapons is a story that includes way too many mistakes and accidents. Few people know we came within minutes of a nuclear launch in 1995, when Russia misread a weather satellite launch from Norway. Even fewer know of US accidents that have lost nuclear weapons over land and sea in other countries. Or that our “command and control” is so slack that six nuclear warheads were mistakenly flown across the US—officially, they were missing for several hours. Not even the pilot realized he had them. You might shrug it off and say, “No harm, no foul,” except for this: what if they had been diverted elsewhere, by someone else, and no one noticed for hours? What if they hadn’t been found “safely” tucked away on a US Air Force jet hundreds of miles from home—what if they had been taken somewhere else and weren’t found? Investigations have repeatedly found misbehavior on the part of US military personnel assigned to staff the missile silos that would launch Armageddon—the bottom line is it doesn’t necessarily take an act of the President to trigger disaster.

3. Dirty bombs. Nuclear weapons can kill millions without exploding in a thermonuclear mushroom cloud. Because their ingredients are, even without being detonated, among the deadliest toxins known to humans. The health risks of plutonium are measured in the millionths of a curie—a tiny amount, dispersed in the air, can kill hundreds or thousands of people, and cause cancers in many, many more. So a terrorist who gets hold of a bomb may not be able to detonate it without launch codes, but if he or she is willing to risk suicide, plutonium, lithium deuteride, and highly enriched uranium could be removed from the warhead and repurposed to make a dirty bomb—a terror weapon that, exploded in a crowded place, would poison and kill thousands and thousands of people.
It is impossible to eliminate the possibility of a dirty bomb as long as there is a “market” for fissile materials. With thousands of nuclear weapons deployed around the world, in various states of security — did you realize the uprising in Turkey in July 2016 placed 50 US nuclear warheads stationed at Incirlik air base at risk? That protesters denied military and other forces access to the base for several hours? That electrical power from outside the airbase was cut off for days?—the possibility of a sale or theft of radioactive materials on the black market is real.
It is this kind of scenario, the possible diversion of nuclear materials, that has brought people like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and scores of other military, security and diplomatic officials to the conclusion that we must abolish our nuclear weapons because their very existence makes us less secure, not more secure.

4. The new nuclear arms race. You should know that our nuclear stockpiles are not static. Over the years, arms control agreements have reduced the number of US warheads and bombs from the tens of thousands to less than ten thousand, and the number of deployed warheads is even less.
At the same time, the United States is committed to “modernizing” every facet of its nuclear weapons program—building new multibillion dollar bomb production plants, upgrading and modifying our current nuclear warheads, designing and building new missiles to deliver warheads, and investing hundreds of billions in new jets, submarines and bombers. All told, plans call for spending a trillion dollars over the next thirty years—four million dollars an hour, every hour, for thirty years!
Our plan to modernize hasn’t gone unnoticed. Russia and China are taking steps (albeit spending a lot less money) to upgrade and extend the lives of their nuclear stockpiles. We have entered a new global nuclear arms race, led by the policies and actions of the United States.

5. Inevitability. Although US and Russian nuclear policy is nothing if not irrational, that does not preclude us from applying a touch of simple logic to nuclear weapons. Do you think the likelihood of nuclear war is very small—but not zero? Most people would agree with you. But that means the probability of a nuclear war at some time—unless we get rid of them—is 100%. The question is “what does ‘at some time’ mean?” It doesn’t mean never, because the probability is not zero. Does it mean forty years from now? Or forty minutes?
There are lots of safeguards and procedures to guard against accidental launch; and we hope for leaders who are rational enough to refuse an impetuous launch. And we might hope a nuclear-armed leader faced with an apparent launch—like Boris Yeltsen was in 1995 when Russian radar read a weather satellite launch as a possible nuclear missile because somewhere along the line the standard communication lines had broken down—would guess conservatively, even if it means risking his entire country.
But it’s just that—a hope. Because the safeguards and procedures meant to secure our stockpile and control launches depend on humans. Who make mistakes. As in: “To err is human.” That’s not just a cute way to brush off our mistakes—it’s a fundamental truth about human nature. We are not able to be perfect every time.
When three anti-nuclear activists entered the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in the middle of the night in July 2012 in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, if they had taken a left turn instead of a right after crossing the Perimeter Intrusion Detection and Assessment Zone, they would have entered a ramshackle warren of deteriorating buildings where the US is actively manufacturing thermonuclear cores for the W-76 warhead. Unnoticed. If they had been armed, with malign intent, the resulting catastrophic chaos would be a mark in history greater than 9/11—an explosive device that caused the collapse of Building 9212 would have unleashed a cloud of radioactive dust that would have poisoned not only Oak Ridge, but nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, and who knows how far the wind would have carried the toxins—which would remain deadly for more than a hundred million years! If they had stolen even one warhead, or a dozen kilograms of highly enriched uranium, they would have triggered a global manhunt lasting until they were captured or until they used their uranium in a major metropolitan area to plant the seeds of hundreds of thousands of cancers.
The intrusion at the bomb plant was an important lesson to everyone who thinks nuclear weapons make us safe and secure.
These weapons, deadlier than we can even comprehend, depend on human beings to control them, safeguard them, and make decision about their use. In Oak Ridge, on that July night, expensive security systems, complicated physical barriers including four fences, high-tech warning equipment, and a guard force of hundreds failed to stop an 82 year-old nun and two 50+ year-old men from penetrating every security barrier and spending twenty minutes uninterrupted inside the lethal-force-authorized zone.
The security we think nuclear weapons provide is an illusion, just like all the security at Y-12. The cost of living under that illusion, without thinking about it, could be our very existence.

So next time someone asks about Donald Trump’s finger on the button, remember that behind that question of the political moment is a much more important question. Nuclear weapons are real. They threaten our very existence, and the threat grows every day, no matter who is President of the United States. Shouldn’t we do something—like everything we possibly can—about that?

Rocky Flats Downwinders Health Survey

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health on June 27, 2016 at 7:45 am

If you lived within 10-Miles of Rocky Flats from 1952-1992, please take the Rocky Flats Downwinders Health Survey.

https:/www.rockyflatsdownwinders.com

Jock Cobb, MD, pioneer activist on Rocky Flats dies at age 96

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 27, 2016 at 1:35 am

When I learned about Rocky Flats in 1979 I joined people occupying the railroad tracks entering the facility because I wanted to stop production of nuclear bombs and bring an end to a possible nuclear war. But very soon I attended a seminar on radiation health effects, done by Jock Cobb of the CU medical school. He was a spectacular teacher, able to make complex matters clear even as he presented the moral necessity of action. I learned from him to pay attention to the public health and environmental sides of the nuclear weapons enterprise.

Jock Cobb just died. The link to a Denver Post article about him is http://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/25/john-c-cobb-obituary/

I earlier posted to this blog an article describing Jock Cobb’s effort to study the effect of plutonium in the gonads. He collected samples but they were never analyzed, as you can see from reading the following: Rocky Flats plutonium in the gonads? Samples collected but never analyzed — entry dated August 11, 2014.