It will be difficult to bring the number down to anything approaching the amount of funding skeptics are said to get:
Work has been halted on two rulemaking projects that would have reduced the amount of radiation the government permits workers and the public to be exposed to without their consent. The improved limits would have been in line with internationally accepted standards, Bloomberg BNA reports. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission announcement says stopping the process of setting stricter radiation exposure limits was “due to the high costs of implementing such changes.” The purpose of the NRC is to protect public and nuclear worker health and safety, but this time it’s just saving money for the nuclear industry.
The cancellation of two unfinished and long-overdue precautionary improvements, noted in the Dec. 27 Federal Register, came as a shock to nuclear industry watchdogs who have campaigned for increased radiation protection since 1990. That year, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommended that radiation industry worker exposures be reduced by three-fifths, from 50 milliSieverts per year to 20 milliSieverts per year. (A milliSieverts is a measure of the body’s absorption of radiation.) The recommendation has never adopted by the United States. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, ICRP sets standards used worldwide as the basis for radiological protection, working to reduce cancer and other diseases caused by radiation exposure.
Ed Lyman, with the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg BNA the termination of these projects “makes the US look out of step with the rest of the world. It makes it look like we’re basing our regulations on obsolete information.” Jerry Hiatt, with the industry lobbying group Nuclear Energy Institute, was relieved by the NRC move telling Bloomberg that existing rules were adequate, and that it’s unnecessary to reduce currently permitted exposures.
The rulemaking project was begun by the NRC staff in 2008 and was intended to update the country’s radiation protection standards in accordance with ICRP’s international standards, primarily with respect to radiation dose. The NRC staff had previously recommended that the commission reduce the total radiation worker exposure from 50 milliSieverts-per-year to 20 milliSieverts-per-year — in line with the ICRP’s 1990 global recommendation. However, the NRC rejected the recommendation.
The NRC’s decision not to align permitted radiation exposures with those of the ICRP is the equivalent of “throwing out one of the most significant changes to get the US in step with the rest of the world,” Lyman said. The commission formally approved the stop-work orders in April, but it only notified the public on Dec. 27.
The NRC also decided to stop work on a second rulemaking which would have brought the US in line with international rules regarding daily releases of radioactive waste water from nuclear reactors. By way of explanation, the NRC said, its current standard “continues to provide adequate protection of the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment.”
Over the last 70 years, permitted radiation exposure limits for workers and the public have dramatically decreased as science has come to better understand the toxic and cancer-causing properties of low doses.
In its 2012 pamphlet “Radiation Exposure and Cancer” the NRC acknowledges that, “[A]ny increase in dose, no matter how small, results in an incremental increase in risk.” Likewise, the National Academy of Sciences, in its latest book-length report on the biological effects of ionizing radiation BEIR-VII, says: “[L]ow-dose radiation acts predominantly as a tumor-initiating agent,” and that “[T]he smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.” And the US Environmental Protection Agency agrees, “[A]ny exposure to radiation can be harmful or can increase the risk of cancer … In other words, it is assumed that no radiation exposure is completely risk free.”
But today, when the international standard dose limit is less than half what our own government allows, it’s the radiation industry shareholders that are being protected by the NRC, not public health and safety.
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John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.
Britain’s nuclear regulator is under government investigation for reportedly dismissing several serious accidents as posing no safety risk.
The government launched the investigation after a report by the Times revealed the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has ignored serious mistakes at power plants and military bases, including the accidental discharge of a torpedo at a nuclear submarine base.
Experts accuse the regulator of being cozy with the nuclear industry and too reluctant “to frighten the horses.”
The Times reports officials at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which is responsible for the ONR, are investigating the regulator following the newspaper’s disturbing revelations.
The ONR says all of its safety classifications follow international guidelines and insists it is a robust and independent regulator.
However, the rate of incidents deemed to be “of no nuclear safety significance” has increased to more than one per day over the past five years, raising questions as to how seriously the regulator is treating accidents.
Between 2012 and 2015, these incidents included at least 30 fires, a dozen leaks, three road accidents involving nuclear material, and the inadvertent discharge of a torpedo at Plymouth nuclear submarine docks.
Other serious incidents deemed to be of a no concern include the contamination of at least 15 workers with radioactive material and a complete power cut at a nuclear weapons base.
Dr David Toke, a reader in energy politics the University of Aberdeen, said the revelations indicated safety issues were a “low priority” for the ONR.
Nuclear expert Professor Stephen Thomas said the reports reinforced his suspicions that “the first priority for the ONR is not to frighten the horses.”
“Ironically, since they became an independent body rather than being part of the Health and Safety Executive [in 2014], they seem to have got worse,” Thomas told the Times.
“Independence is just a cheap and easy way for government to wash its hands of its rightful responsibility.”
The University of Greenwich academic added: “Independent regulators must be accountable to the public and if it is not through a democratically elected government, who is it through?”
Thomas said the ONR had previously ignored warnings about the safety of tending the lifespan of an old reactor design, the AGR, that is still in use in the UK, as well as the reliability of the newer EPR model reactor, which will be used at Hinkley Point C.
The world is waiting to hear what President-elect Donald Trump has in mind for governing the U.S. Among the biggest questions is what will happen to the budget for climate and energy-related activities. […]
Here’s where a number of federal agencies stand with climate and energy funding, what they spend it on, and what could be under fire after Jan. 20 when Trump takes office. The budget numbers below are based on the 2017 fiscal year budget requests for each agency or department.
2017 climate-related budget: $8.5 billion
What it’s spent on: Energy efficiency and renewable and nuclear energy research and development as well as science and computing. […]
2017 climate-related budget: $1.1 billion
What it’s spent on: Supporting scientific research and managing landscapes for climate resilience as well as expanding public access to climate-related information. The Interior Department, through the U.S. Geological Survey, funds climate science centers […]
2017 climate-related budget: $984 million
What it’s spent on: Almost anything the U.S. does about climate change on the international stage comes via the State Department. That includes committing money to the Green Climate Fund […]
2017 climate-related budget: $1.9 billion
What it’s spent on: NASA funds a variety of climate research on earth and in space. […]
Environmental Protection Agency
2017 climate-related budget: $1.1 billion
What it’s spent on: Climate and air quality research and development as well as enforcing climate rules and regulations such as the Clean Power Plan […]
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
2017 climate-related research and development: $190 million
What it’s spent on: NOAA’s climate science budget funds both in-house researchers and a number of programs at universities. … Full article
China may scale down plans for nuclear power because of slowing demand for electricity and construction setbacks
For China’s nuclear industry, 2016 has been a frustrating year. So far, construction has started on only one new plant, and its target of bringing 58 gigawatts of nuclear capacity in service by 2020 seems impossible to meet.
At present, China has 19.3 gigawatts of nuclear supply under construction and a further 31.4 gigawatts already in service. Given that new plants take five years or more to build, the country faces a shortfall of more than seven gigawatts on its target.
All the plants started between 2008 and 2010 are online except for six imported reactors. These include four AP1000 reactors designed by Westinghouse, based in the USA but owned by Toshiba of Japan; and two European Pressurised Reactors (EPR), developed by Areva, a French multinational group specialising in nuclear power.
The plants are not expected to be completed before 2017 and all will be at least three years late, an unprecedented delay in China’s nuclear history. It would be surprising if China was not disillusioned with its suppliers and their technologies.
The EPR and AP1000 reactors have been problematic to build. The two EPRs are 3-4 years late although there is little available information detailing why. Meanwhile, EPR plants in Finland and France, which should have been completed in 2009 and 2012, respectively, will not be online before 2018.
There are no obvious problems that account for the majority of the delays at any of the sites, just a series of quality and planning issues that suggest the complexity of the design makes it difficult to build.
The four AP1000s are also running 3-4 years late. They are being built by China’s State Nuclear Power Technology Company (SNPTC), which has not built reactors before. There is some publicly available information about the problems suffered in China with the AP1000s, including continual design changes by Westinghouse. The reactor coolant pumps and the squib valves, which are essential to prevent accidents, have been particularly problematic, for example.
Still, China is expected to be the first country to complete construction of AP1000 and EPR designs, a scenario it did not expect or want. The government is required to develop and demonstrate test procedures for bringing the plants into service, which could take up to a year. These test procedures are developed by vendors and generally standardised although national safety regulators must approve them and can add specific requirements.
In 2014, a senior official at China’s nuclear safety regulator, the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) complained that only a small number of test procedures had been developed for the AP1000, and no acceptance criteria had been submitted for review. He said the same issues affect the EPR.
China will likely be reluctant to commit to further AP1000s (and the CAP1400, a Chinese design modified from the AP1000) until the first of the Westinghouse designs is in service, passes its acceptance tests, and demonstrates safe, reliable operation. There are no plans to build additional EPR reactors.
In fact, state-owned China General Nuclear (CGN) and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) opted instead to develop medium-sized reactors (1000 megawatts), the ACP1000 and the ACPR1000, respectively, based on Areva’s much older M310 design rather than the EPR.
The slowdown in electricity demand growth at home has left China with surplus power-generating capacity. Nuclear is now competing against coal plants supplied with cheap fuel. Furthermore, nuclear has a lower priority for dispatch in winter than combined heat and power plants, which warm homes and factories and typically burn coal and gas.
In 2015, nuclear power accounted for only 3% of China’s electricity and at any plausible rate of building nuclear plants, it is unlikely that nuclear would achieve more than 10% of China’s electricity supply.
This year, one reactor (Hongyanhe 3) in Liaoning, operated for only 987 hours in the first quarter of 2016, just 45% of its availability, while reactors in Fujian (Fuqing) and Hainan (Changjiang) were shut down temporarily.
Another challenge is the strain placed on China’s nuclear regulators in the face of such an ambitious target. The NNSA is under particular pressure to oversee the operation of 36 plants and the construction of 20 plants, as well as being the first regulatory authority to review six new designs. Not even the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which monitored standards during the huge build out of the industry in the 1960s and 1970s, has faced such a workload.
Safety authorities are usually reluctant to appear critical of their international peers but in 2014, a senior French safety regulator described NNSA as “overwhelmed”, and claimed that the storage of components was “not at an adequate level”. A senior official from SNPTC said in 2015: “Our fatal weakness is our management standards are not high enough.” To build up the capabilities to support such a large construction programme a pause in ordering new plants and equipment may be necessary.
The 58GW target of nuclear capacity in service by 2020 is not achievable and, like nuclear capacity targets in the past in China and elsewhere, it will be quietly revised down. The challenge for the Chinese nuclear industry is to do what no other nuclear industry worldwide has been able to do; to bring the cost of nuclear generation down to levels at which it can compete with other forms of generation, particularly renewables.
If it is unable to do this, China cannot afford to carry on ordering nuclear plants and nuclear will retain a small proportion of the electricity mix.
This leaves China’s nuclear export drive in a precarious position. Since 2013, China has turned its attention to nuclear export markets, offering apparently strong advantages over its competitors. The Chinese government can call on all the resources of China to offer a package of equipment, construction expertise, finance and training that none of its rivals, even Russia, can match.
Unlike its competitors, it also has a huge amount of recent construction experience allowing it to supply cheap, good quality equipment. Its attempt to build reactors in the UK is an important element to this strategy; convincing an experienced user of nuclear power that a Chinese plant is worth investing in is a strong endorsement of their technology.
Despite these advantages China has had little export success so far. In part, this is because there are fewer markets open to new nuclear. Such markets are typically found in developing countries where the financial risks are greater, and where governments have tried and failed to launch nuclear power programmes themselves.
It seems clear there is a political element to the Chinese nuclear export strategy, which is to gain influence and leverage in the importing countries. However, if the world nuclear market does not pick up soon, the Chinese government may decide to put its formidable resources behind other technologies that would develop influence with less economic risk. If China’s nuclear home market is not flourishing, this decision will be much easier.
Russia has suspended a post-Cold War deal with the US on disposal of plutonium from decommissioned nuclear warheads. The decision was explained by “the hostile actions of the US” against Russia and Washington’s failure to observe the terms of the deal.
A decree signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin cites “the radical change in the environment, a threat to strategic stability posed by the hostile actions of the US against Russia, and the inability of the US to deliver on the obligation to dispose of excessive weapons plutonium under international treaties, as well as the need to take swift action to defend Russian security” as justification for suspending the deal.
While Russia suspended the plutonium reprocessing deal, it stressed that the Russian fissile material, which was subject to it, would not be used for any military purpose, be it production of new weapons or research.
The suspension decree has come into force, but it needs to be approved by the Russian parliament, which may overrule the president’s decision. Leonid Slutsky, who’s slated to be appointed head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the newly-elected parliament, said it would be given a priority.
“It’s a very important issue. It’s about taking swift action to protect Russian national security. We will deal with it as soon as the bill is submitted,” he told TASS.
The development was not entirely surprising, since Russia earlier expressed its dissatisfaction with how the US wants to handle plutonium reprocessing.
Washington decided it would be cheaper to mix nuclear materials with special diluents. Russia insisted that the US was violating the terms of the deal, which required it to use a nuclear reactor to transmute plutonium. Unlike the mixing technology, the latter method makes the process irreversible.
The treaty between the US and Russia, which regulates how the two countries are to dispose of plutonium from nuclear warheads decommissioned as part of the parallel reduction of the two countries’ Cold War arsenals, was signed in 2000. Each country was required to dispose of over 34 tons of fissile material by turning it into so-called MOX fuel and burning it in nuclear reactors.
However, costs for building a facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, where the US was supposed to fabricate MOX fuel from its plutonium, spiraled out of control. Under the Obama administration, the US decided that it would instead use the cheaper reversible process, arguing that it was in line with the spirit of the deal with Russia.
Russia expressed its concerns over the unilateral move in April, shortly after a nuclear security summit held in the US.
“We signed an agreement that the plutonium will be processed in a certain way, for which facilities would be purpose-built,” Putin said at the time. “We have met our commitments, and constructed the necessary facilities. The US has not.”
The US rejected the criticism from Russia. The “new US method would not require renegotiation of the agreement,” US State Department spokesperson Jennifer Bavisotto said.
“Indian Point” is a film about the long problem-plagued Indian Point nuclear power plants that are “so, so risky—so close to New York City,” notes its director and producer Ivy Meeropol. “Times Square is 35 miles away.”
The plants constitute a disaster waiting to happen threatening especially the lives of the 22 million people who live within 50 miles from them. “There is no way to evacuate—what I’ve learned about an evacuation plan is that there is none,” says Meeropol. The plants are “on two earthquake fault lines,” she notes. “And there is a natural gas pipeline right there that an earthquake could rupture.”
Meanwhile, both plants, located in Buchanan, New York along the Hudson River, are now essentially running without licenses. The federal government’s 40-year operating license for Indian Point 2 expired in 2013 and Indian Point 3’s license expired last year. Their owner, Entergy, is seeking to have them run for another 20 years—although nuclear plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. (Indian Point 1 was opened in 1962 and closed in 1974, its emergency core cooling system deemed impossible to fix.)
At Indian Point 2 and 3 there have been frequent accidents and issues involving releases of radioactivity through the years. The discharges of tritium or irradiated water, H30, which cannot be filtered out of good water, into the aquifer below the Westinghouse nuclear plants and also the Hudson River have been a major concern.
But it’s not just Indian Point that “Indian Point” is about. The film emphasizes: “With so much attention focused on Indian Point, the future of nuclear plants in the United States might depend on what happens here.”
“I would give the film an ‘A.’ I wholeheartedly recommend it for wide release throughout the United States,” says Priscilla Star, founder of the Coalition Against Nukes: “It is a stellar learning tool. It depicts the David-versus-Goliath struggle involving those trying to close these decrepit nuclear plants and the profit-hungry nuclear industry. It shows grassroots activists fighting the time bombs in their community.”
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. For the past two weeks it has been showing five-times-a-day at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, also in Manhattan. That run will go until Thursday, July 21. On Friday, July 22, it is to open in Los Angeles. After its theatrical release, it will air on the Epix cable TV channel.
Among those in the film are anti-Indian Point activist Marilyn Elie and long-time environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon who has written extensively about Indian Point. And also Entergy employees appear. Meeropol and her crew were given full access to the nuclear plants.
The documentary provides a special focus on Dr. Gregory Jaczko. He was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) when the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan began in March 2011. As notes Meeropol, Jaczko sought to have “lessons learned” from the Fukushima catastrophe—which involved General Electric nuclear plants—applied to nuclear power plants in the U.S. And he was given “a really tough time.” Pressure by the nuclear industry caused Jaczko, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, to be “pushed out” as NRC chairman and member. Meeropol tells of how “this guy, a decent person trying to do his job, was completely abused.”
Meeropol, in an interview, said the NRC “is too closely linked to the nuclear industry. It’s not going to do anything that the nuclear industry regards as too costly or onerous. I want that to be one of the biggest takeaways from the film—how a regulatory body cares more about the industry it is supposed to regulate than the public. And of all industries that should be regulated, it’s the nuclear power industry.” She said she found the nuclear industry and nuclear energy officials in the U.S. government “one and the same.”
Meeropol began the “Indian Point” film project in January 2011. She had moved from Brooklyn up to the Hudson Valley “a decade ago when our son was born. Commuting in and out of the city on the Metro-North train, I went right past the plants. They looked so foreboding and odd there in that beautiful landscape.”
Also, until she, her husband and son moved upstate, “having lived in New York City, I had no idea how close they were to the city.”
Further, in the community where they went to live, Cold Spring, 15 miles from the plants. “we could hear the [emergency] sirens” from the plants and she was unsettled receiving in the mail an “emergency preparedness booklet titled: ‘Are You Ready?’”
So the experienced filmmaker started doing research on the “dangerous endeavor of making nuclear energy.” With the Fukushima disaster beginning just a few months after she started on the film, that “broadened” its perspective.
She said the films she has made have always been “character-driven” and she was attracted to feature in “Indian Point” Marilyn Elie—“she knows her stuff”—and Roger Witherspoon. “I liked his dynamic. He is a journalist. She is an activist.” She stressed to Entergy officials that she would be even-handed “and quite amazingly was given access” to the plants. Her connecting with Jaczko was crucial. It “became my crusade to redeem Greg Jaczko before the world.”
She started making the film on a shoe string. “I ran out of money numerous times.” But she was able to get financial support from the Sundance Institute, the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Catapult Fund, and individual contributions. And “partnering” with Julie Goldman, founder of Motto Films, was extremely important. Goldman is also producer of “Indian Point.” A “very generous grant” was received from the MacArthur Foundation which also “opened up other doors.”
The avidly pro-nuclear New York Times (its pro-Indian Point editorials never cease and its last reporter who long covered the plants and the nuclear industry has now gone on to a job with the PR arm of the industry) said in its review: “’Indian Point’ is a good overview of the issues, with insights into the problems of regulating the industry.” It complained about Meeropol’s being “steadfast in providing both sides.”
Meanwhile, Indian Point sits there on the Hudson, continuing with accidents and in emitting what the NRC says are “permissible” levels of radioactivity. They are highly likely candidates for a Chernobyl or Fukushima-level catastrophe in the most highly populated area of the United States. And the NRC, steadfastly ignoring Jaczko’s warnings, in league with Entergy, seeks to let the decrepit time bombs run for another 20 years—just asking for disaster.
The good news is that New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been endeavoring to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed and safe-energy activists and an array of environmental and safe-energy organizations are working hard to shut them down—and the film “Indian Point” is out.
India has failed to achieve membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which is a group of countries seeking «to contribute to the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons through implementation of two sets of Guidelines for nuclear and nuclear-related exports». Given that members of the NSG already supply India with uranium, New Delhi’s campaign is intriguing, especially as one of the Group’s main requirements is that suppliers of nuclear-associated material may authorise such trade «only when satisfied that the transfer would not contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons».
It could not be clearer that this international agreement forbids provision of nuclear expertise or material to a country that has not ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which the US State Department describes as «the cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime».
But even cornerstones can be undermined, and that process began when President George W Bush started negotiations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2005 to produce a US-India nuclear cooperation agreement. It took considerable effort by both sides to come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement whereby India would have access to nuclear material and technology consistent with the primary US aim of entry to the potentially large Indian market for construction of nuclear power stations.
The commercially-based Agreement for Cooperation between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of India concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy of 2007 is known as the 123 Agreement because it was necessary to amend Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act 1954 which governs ‘Cooperation with Other Nations’.
India declined to abide by the Act’s specification that it «must have full-scope International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, essentially covering all major nuclear facilities», because this would involve inspection of defence-related establishments, and Washington promptly removed this inconvenient requirement.
The modified Act seemed to clear the way for nuclear collaboration on a major scale, but there has as yet been no commitment by US nuclear plant manufacturers, mainly because they do not want to be held financially responsible for a nuclear accident at a power station which they designed or built.
It is accepted worldwide that national nuclear plant operators are accountable in the event of accidents, but India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, and Rule 24 of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Rules, 2011, provide for the right of recourse, pursuit of which could involve foreign enterprises, be they suppliers or operators, being held liable for damages. In spite of lobbying by US President Obama during his 2015 visit to India, which was much praised as having achieved a «breakthrough» in removing the liability barriers which India’s parliament strongly supported, there has been no radical change that would encourage US firms to seek major contracts. (The Westinghouse Electric Company, generally thought to be American, which is negotiating to build six nuclear plants in India, has been owned by Japan’s Toshiba since 2006.)
In February 2015 India’s Ministry of External Affairs stated that the Civil Liability Act «channels all legal liability for nuclear damage exclusively to the operator» – but Clause 17 of the Act specifies that operators are permitted to seek financial recourse from suppliers after paying compensation for «patent or latent defects or sub-standard services», which are, naturally, open to legal interpretation in the event of a disaster, which is no doubt being borne in mind by India’s legislators who have not forgotten the 1984 disaster at the Union Carbide chemical plant at Bhopal that killed and maimed many thousands of people.
While there have as yet been no commercial benefits to the US from its nuclear accord with India, there have been other effects, including some that are less than desirable in the context of «proliferation of nuclear weapons» which is condemned by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The Arms Control Association records that «In September 2008, in a move led by the United States, the Nuclear Suppliers Group eased long-standing restrictions on nuclear trade with India by the group’s members. NSG rules generally forbid the sale of nuclear goods, such as reactors and fuel, to non-NPT countries». Before this ‘easing’ of international constraints, India had been unable to import uranium and was therefore entirely reliant on its own mines, which produce only low-grade ore but are in the long term capable of providing fuel to any number of nuclear facilities, civilian and military. The only drawback is that domestic processing would be enormously expensive. Importing uranium is very much cheaper.
As a result of being excused from the international stipulation requiring its adherence to the NPT before being permitted to import nuclear fuel and technology, India negotiated nuclear cooperation arrangements with eleven nations, including the holder of the world’s largest uranium deposits, Australia, whose government’s 1977 Uranium Export Policy had specified that «customer countries must at a minimum be a party to the NPT and have concluded a full-scope safeguards Agreement with the IAEA». But profit beats morality, and, as noted by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, «Australia was the last domino to fall when it created an exception for India to its export policies in December 2011».
Countries involved in nuclear cooperation with India observe similar rules to those of Australia which specifies that its uranium «may only be exported for peaceful non-explosive purposes». And of course it cannot be claimed that foreign-supplied uranium could be used to produce nuclear weapons. These are manufactured at installations using India’s abundant (although process-expensive) indigenous ore which, thanks to the flexibility of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, is no longer needed to fuel civilian nuclear power stations. Quantities, quality and details of application need not be revealed.
Following the US-India nuclear agreement the president of the Federation of American Scientists, Charles D Ferguson, wrote in Arms Control Today that «by granting India access to uranium, the deal allows India to divert its indigenously-mined uranium to military applications without detracting fuel from the civilian program» – and that is the crux of the entire affair.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group, at the urging of the United States, approved a measure that assists India to produce more nuclear weapons more economically. The «cornerstone of the nonproliferation regime» was dealt a massive blow. Although the US Hyde Act of 2006 requires the President to inform Congress of non-compliance with «the provision of nuclear fuel in such a manner as to facilitate the increased production by India of highly enriched uranium or plutonium in unsafeguarded nuclear facilities» it is impossible for the US to certify that this is not taking place because there is no provision for verification. Clever India.
Membership of the NSG remains a major foreign policy goal for India, and US support for its ambition was formally indicated in 2015 joint statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi which «committed [them] to continue to work towards India’s phased entry» to the Group. The US has made it clear that it will continue to support India’s efforts to achieve its objective, and that the requirement for «full compliance» with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or other «equivalent international nuclear nonproliferation agreement» is irrelevant so far as India is concerned.
It’s intriguing how international agreements can be reinterpreted, distorted, massaged or just plain ignored when it suits Washington’s policies – and, it seems, the pockets, prosperity and re-election prospects of America’s Legislators.
It may take Germany over a hundred years to bury its mounting pile of nuclear waste in a spot it is yet to secure, a special parliamentary commission has concluded.
After two years of research, the repository commission presented its 682-page report to the parliament on Tuesday where it called into question an on-time solution to the problem of radioactive storage.
“The German Bundestag is due, according to current estimates, to start searching for an optimal secure place in 2017. Decades will pass before the waste can be buried and possibly more than a century before this process ends,” the report predicted.
The German government announced in 2011 it was going to phase out all eight nuclear reactors by 2022, following the Fukushima disaster. The initial plan was to find a suitable place by 2031 where to store highly-radioactive spent nuclear fuel, with the dump scheduled to open in 2050.
The ten worst acts of the Nuclear Age described below have set the tone for our time. They have caused immense death and suffering; been tremendously expensive; have encouraged nuclear proliferation; have opened the door to nuclear terrorism, nuclear accidents and nuclear war; and are leading the world back into a second Cold War. These “ten worst acts” are important information for anyone attempting to understand the time in which we live, and how the nuclear dangers that confront us have been intensified by the leadership and policy choices made by the United States and the other eight nuclear-armed countries.
1. Bombing Hiroshima (August 6, 1945). The first atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on the largely civilian population of Hiroshima, killing some 70,000 people instantly and 140,000 people by the end of 1945. The bombing demonstrated the willingness of the US to use its new weapon of mass destruction on cities.
2. Bombing Nagasaki (August 9, 1945). The second atomic bomb was dropped on the largely civilian population of Nagasaki before Japanese leaders had time to assess the death and injury caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima three days earlier. The atomic bombing of Nagasaki took another 70,000 lives by the end of 1945.
3. Pursuing a unilateral nuclear arms race (1945 – 1949). The first nuclear weapon test was conducted by the US on July 16, 1945, just three weeks before the first use of an atomic weapon on Hiroshima. As the only nuclear-armed country in the world in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the US continued to expand its nuclear arsenal and began testing nuclear weapons in 1946 in the Marshall Islands, a trust territory the US was asked to administer on behalf of the United Nations. Altogether the US tested 67 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, with the equivalent explosive power of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs daily for that 12 year period.
4. Initiating Atoms for Peace (1953). President Dwight Eisenhower put forward an Atoms for Peace proposal in a speech delivered on December 8, 1953. This proposal opened the door to the spread of nuclear reactors and nuclear materials for purposes of research and power generation. This resulted in the later proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional countries, including Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
5. Engaging in a Cold War bilateral nuclear arms race (1949 – 1991). The nuclear arms race became bilateral when the Soviet Union tested its first atomic weapon on August 29, 1949. This bilateral nuclear arms race between the US and USSR reached its apogee in 1986 with some 70,000 nuclear weapons in the world, enough to destroy civilization many times over and possibly result in the extinction of the human species.
6. Atmospheric Nuclear Testing (1945 – 1980). Altogether there have been 528 atmospheric nuclear tests. The US, UK and USSR ceased atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963, when they signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty. France continued atmospheric nuclear testing until 1974 and China continued until 1980. Atmospheric nuclear testing has placed large amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere, causing cancers and leukemia in human populations.
7. Breaching the disarmament provisions of the NPT (1968 – present). Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states, “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament….” The five nuclear weapons-states parties to the NPT (US, Russia, UK, France and China) remain in breach of these obligations. The other four nuclear-armed states (Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea) are in breach of these same obligations under customary international law.
8. Treating nuclear power as an “inalienable right” in the NPT (1968 – present). This language of “inalienable right” contained in Article IV of the NPT encourages the development and spread of nuclear power plants and thereby makes the proliferation of nuclear weapons more likely. Nuclear power plants are also attractive targets for terrorists. As yet, there are no good plans for long-term storage of radioactive wastes created by these plants. Government subsidies for nuclear power plants also take needed funding away from the development of renewable energy sources.
9. Failing to cut a deal with North Korea (1992 to present). During the Clinton administration, the US was close to a deal with North Korea to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. This deal was never fully implemented and negotiations for it were abandoned under the George W. Bush administration. Consequently, North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and conducted its first nuclear weapon test in 2006.
10. Abrogating the ABM Treaty (2002). Under the George W. Bush administration, the US unilaterally abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. This allowed the US, in combination with expanding NATO to the east, to place missile defense installations near the Russian border. It has also led to emplacement of US missile defenses in East Asia. Missile defenses in Europe and East Asia have spurred new nuclear arms races in these regions.
David Krieger is a founder and president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
According to a new report, the Japanese government worked in concert with TEPCO to purposely cover up the meltdown at Fukushima in 2011.
“I would say it was a coverup,” Tokyo Electric Power Company President Naomi Hirose announced during a press conference. “It’s extremely regrettable.”
Masataka Shimizu, president of TEPCO at the time of the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent nuclear disaster, told employees not to go public with the term “meltdown” — allegedly in capitulation to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.
For two months, TEPCO officials euphemized the meltdown in public statements as “core damage,” even as they had full knowledge of the true extent of the catastrophe. Though a few company officials initially used the term “meltdown,” it abruptly vanished from public discussions just three days after the disaster struck.
According to the report, Shimizu rushed a note to Vice President Sakae Muto as he held a press conference that warned him against using the word meltdown.
“Considering this fact, it is presumable that the Prime Minister’s Office requested Shimizu to be careful about admitting to a meltdown in public,” the report states, as Japan Times noted.
Though the three lawyers who authored the report did not find direct evidence, they surmised it was “highly likely” governmental pressure was behind the amelioration of information about the scope of the disaster.
As CBS News reported, former officials from the Prime Minister’s Office denied all allegations a cover-up had taken place. In fact, former government spokesman and current secretary general of the opposition Democratic Party denounced the report as “inadequate and unilateral” — particularly as the lawyer-authors are allied with the current ruling party.
Attorney Yasuhisa Tanaka, who headed the panel investigation, admitted TEPCO likely didn’t intentionally cover up that a meltdown had occurred, saying,
“Looking at the situation back then, we think it was too difficult for Tepco to use the term meltdown because even the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency couldn’t use it,” because of pressure from the government, Japan Times noted.
That agency had been Japan’s nuclear watchdog in March 2011, at the time of the disaster.
Notably, five years after the catastrophe, TEPCO revealed the existence of a company manual in which a meltdown is ‘official’ once 5 percent or more fuel rods have suffered damage. But, as Japan Times explained:
“As of March 14, 2011, Tepco estimated that 55 percent of the fuel rod assemblies in reactor No. 1 and 25 percent of those in reactor No. 3 were damaged but did not declare they were damaged until May that year.”
In euphemizing the meltdown, TEPCO and the Japanese government left countless civilians in peril; despite evacuations, many had been reluctant to leave their homes and might have done so sooner had the full scope of a meltdown been clear.
TEPCO remains embroiled in controversy over secrecy and alleged incompetent handling of the cleanup of Fukushima. In February this year, three former TEPCO executives were charged with negligence over the disaster.
The Swedish parliament has today agreed to abolish a tax on nuclear power as it recognizes nuclear’s role in helping it to eventually achieve a goal of 100% renewable generation.
The framework agreement announced by the Social Democrats, the Moderate Party, the Green Party, the Centre Party and the Christian Democrats, will see the tax phased out over two years. It also allows for the construction of up to ten new nuclear reactors at existing sites, to replace plants as they retire. Setting 2040 as the date at which Sweden should have a 100% renewable electricity system, the document stresses that 2040 is a ‘goal’ and not a cut-off date for nuclear generation.
A variable production tax on nuclear power introduced in 1984 was replaced by a tax on installed capacity in 2000. Since its introduction this tax has gradually increased and today corresponds to about 7 öre (0.8 US cents) per kilowatt-hour. In February this year, utility Vattenfall said that the capacity tax had brought its nuclear operating costs to around 32 öre (3.8 US cents) per kWh. However, its revenue from nuclear power generation is only about 22 öre (2.6 US cents) per kWh.
Swedish utilities had sought redress against the tax through the courts, but the European Court of Justice ruled last October that Sweden could continue to tax nuclear power, deciding the tax is a national, rather than European Commission, matter.
Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall welcomed the agreement, which he said gave the utility the predictability it needed. “The abolishment of the nuclear capacity tax is an important precondition for us to be able to consider the investments needed to secure the long-term operation of our nuclear reactors from the 1980s,” he said. Vattenfall’s reactors at Forsmark and Ringhals have undergone a comprehensive modernisation programme to allow them to operate until the mid-2040s. However, to continue operating beyond 2020 they must meet stricter safety requirements through the installation of independent core cooling. Investing in those upgrades was economically impossible with the tax in place.
“Even with the abolishment of the capacity tax, profitability will be a challenge,” Hall concluded. “Low electricity prices put all energy producers under pressure and we will continue to focus on reducing production costs. Naturally, investment decisions must be taken on commercial grounds, taking all cost factors and expected long-term market developments that the agreement implies into account,” Hall said.
The director general of the World Nuclear Association, Agneta Rising, said: “Today’s announcement is a positive development. It is vital that there is now consistent policy to give operators the confidence to make the investments needed in their plant to allow for their long term continued operation. Other countries should follow Sweden’s example and ensure that their energy policies provide a level playing field that treats all forms of generation equally on their merits.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has unveiled a plan allowing radioactive contamination in drinking water at concentrations vastly greater than the levels permitted by the Safe Drinking Water Act for long periods following release of nuclear materials.
EPA’s “Protective Action Guides” (or PAGs) dramatically relax allowable doses of radioactive material in public drinking water following a Fukushima-type meltdown or “dirty bomb” attack.
They cover the “intermediate phase” after “releases have been brought under control” – an unspecified period that may last for weeks, months or even years.
The agency has declared that the strict limits for chemical exposure in the Safe Drinking Water Act “may not be appropriate… during a radiation incident.”
EPA states that it “expects that the responsible party… will take action to return to compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act maximum contaminant levels as soon as practicable” but during the indefinite meantime –
The general population may be exposed to radioactive iodine-131 at 10,350 pico-curies per liter of water.
By contrast, the current limit is 3, resulting in a 3,450-times increase;
The current strontium-90 limit of 8 pico-curies per liter would be allowed a 925-fold increase; and
In an attempt to shield “sensitive populations,” the plan proposes 500 millirem per year for the general population but only 100 millirem for children under 15, pregnant or nursing mothers without explaining how these latter groups will get access to less contaminated water.
“Given this monstrous proposal, it unclear what lessons EPA learned from the contaminated water calamity of Flint, Michigan,” said. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) executive director Jeff Ruch. “It is unfathomable that a public health agency would prescribe subjecting people to radioactive concentrations a thousand times above Safe Drinking Water Act limits as a ‘protective’ measure.”
Internal EPA documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act litigation brought by PEER show that EPA itself concluded that proposed concentrations “would exceed MCLs [Maximum Contaminant Limits of the Safe Drinking Water Act] by a factor of 100, 1000, and in two instances, 7 million.”
The internal analysis estimated for one radionuclide that drinking only one small glass of water “would result in an exposure that corresponds to a lifetime of drinking liters of water per day at the MCL level.”
The Bush Administration in its last days unsuccessfully tried to put forward similar proposals, which the incoming Obama Administration pulled back.
Now, in the waning months of the Obama Administration, those plans are moving forward with new exposure limits higher than the Bush plan it had rejected.
“President Obama goes to Hiroshima to urge a nuclear-free world while his EPA facilitates a nuclear-ridden water supply,” added Ruch. “It speaks volumes that the current Obama drinking water plan is less protective than his predecessor’s.”