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Nuclear Proliferation

Nuclear power was the failed answer to the horrors of the atomic bomb - the so-called "Peaceful Atom." However, the two technologies are inextricably linked. Countries such as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea clandestinely developed nuclear weapons using the infrastructure, technology and know-how of their "civilian" nuclear programs. Contained expansion of nuclear power across the globe only increases the chances of nuclear weapons development and is counterproductive to disarmament.

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Wednesday
Sep282016

Commemorating the Fermi 1 meltdown, 50 years later

John G. Fuller's iconic 1975 book "We Almost Lost Detroit" helped open many eyes to the dangers of nuclear powerNext Wednesday, Beyond Nuclear is joining with grassroots environmental allies in southeast Michigan to mark the 50th anniversary of the Oct. 5, 1966 partial meltdown of the infamous Fermi Unit 1 plutonium breeder reactor located on the shore of Lake Erie. In the form of our "Freeze Our Fukushimas" and "Got KI?" campaigns, the lessons that should have been learned from this close call with catastrophe, that endangered the Great Lakes, and countless numbers of people downwind and downstream, will be applied to resisting ongoing operations at Fermi 2 (a Fukushima Daiichi twin design), as well as seeking to block the proposed new Fermi 3 reactor.

Shockingly, Fermi 1 was originally under serious consideration, by both private corporations (such as Dow Chemical, which went on to found and manage the Rocky Flats, CO plutonium trigger factory), as well as the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, as a source for fissionable materials for nuclear weapons, and even fission products for radiological weaponry (a.k.a. dirty bombs).

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Tuesday
Feb092016

Former Rep. David Hobson: Not Cutting MOX Is My "Biggest Regret"

The MOX facility, still under construction, in October 2015 (Photo: © High Flyer, Special to SRS Watch)In a blog post at the website of Project on Government Oversight (POGO), David Hobson, former Republican U.S. Congressman from Ohio, and former Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee, has described the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River Site in South Carolina as "the biggest, baddest earmark of all time," and his failure to nix it, despite grave concerns, as his "biggest regret."

(A Feb. 8th New York Times article quotes Hobson on MOX, and features the High Flyer/SRS Watch photo to the left.)

MOX was originally a Bill Clinton administration program -- a so-called "non-proliferation" initiative, in collaboration with Russia, for the U.S. to "dispose" of tens of tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium, by converting it into civilian nuclear power plant fuel.

Astoundingly, what was supposed to have cost $1.6 billion and taken three years to build, has now been under construction for 16 years, and cost $4.5 billion -- with no end in sight. (The New York Times article above reports 2040 as the estimated completion date for the MOX plant -- 37 years behind the original schedule.)

As Hobson reports:

[E]stimates for finishing the job range between $25 billion and a staggering $114 billion. Not only is the project more than one-thousand percent over cost and years behind schedule, the MOX facility lacks even a single U.S. utility customer for its commercial reactor fuel. (emphasis added)

That latter point is most ironic, in that DOE was offering the MOX fuel to nuclear power plants for no charge! But as Ed Lyman at UCS has long made clear, MOX is difficult and even risky to use in reactors designed to use uranium fuel -- and a meltdown involving MOX would be worse for health and environment downwind and downstream.

Hobson also states:

It should be acknowledged that the US can continue to uphold its agreement with Russia without the MOX facility. The Department of Energy has identified several alternative strategies to dispose of the plutonium that have been independently verified to be more cost effective, timely, and safer.

Critics of MOX, including NIRS, Don't Waste MI, and many others, argued two decades ago for such an "alternative strategy," rather than the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility. Their preferred non-proliferation alternative to nix MOX was to mix the weapons-grade plutoium back into the high-level radioactive waste from which it came in the first place, and then dispose of the mixture as the forever deadly radioactive waste as part of the national high-level radioactive waste disposal program. Plutonium never should have been considered a commercial commodity, given its inherent safety and security risks.

In addition to POGO and Taxpayers for Common Sense, as Hobson acknowledges in his blog post, groups like Don't Waste MI, and First Nations in Ontario and Quebec, opposed MOX from the start.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. court in Kalamazoo, MI before federal judge Richard Enslen, by Toledo attorney Terry Lodge, on behalf of Don't Waste MI -- Alice Hirt v. Bill Richardson -- sought to block the lead test assembly for the MOX program. Lodge won a 10-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), due to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) failure to fulfill its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) duties to carry out an environmental assessment of the risks.

However, DOE was able to overcome the legal resistance and force the Los Alamos, NM to Chalk River, ON "safe, secure" truck shipment (usually reserved for nuclear weapons transports) through Michigan in Jan. 2000. 

But, a threatened "human chain" on First Nations territory in Ontario led U.S. and Canadian authorities to finish the final leg of the shipment by helicopter. This would have been illegal in U.S. airspace, under U.S. law. Instead, it took place just across the border, in Sault Saint Marie, Ontario.

The transfer from truck to helicopter was carried out under armed guard by U.S. Marine Reservists on Canadian soil, in Sault Saint Marie, ON -- much to the chagrin of certain Canadian Members of Parliament. The helicopter shipment took place, even though the container holding the weapons-grade MOX lead test assembly was not certified for air transport -- raising the specter that, had the air shipment crashed, the container would have released its ultra-hazardous contents into the environment.

The person at DOE in charge of the MOX program during President Clinton's administration, and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson's tenure, was Laura Holgate. Holgate is now a high ranking member of President Obama's National Security Council, assigned very sensitive non-proliferation duties at the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

As Hobson's blog post mentions, the George W. Bush administration, and its DOE, fully embraced MOX as well -- defending its continuance as essential to South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's re-election bid. (Sanford lost the governorship due to an extra-marital affair scandal, but later won election to the U.S. House.) Instead, the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility has become an astronomically expensive "make work" jobs program in South Carolina, at federal taxpayer expense.

Nukewatch South/NIRS/Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and their expert witness, Dr. Ed Lyman from Union of Concerned Scientists, have officially intervened and watchdogged the MOX Fuel Fabrication Facility's safety and security risks for well over a decade. Their contention focuses on Material Control & Accounting. The intervention still goes on.

The biggest irony of the MOX mega-boondoggle is that immobilization would likely have been completed by now, for a fraction of the taxpayer money already wasted. (DOE managed to accomplish vitrification at the West Valley, NY reprocessing facility, for example, although vitrification at Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State has gone very badly, thus far.) Thus, MOX has been entirely counter-productive as a non-proliferation policy, as critics warned two decades ago.

Wednesday
Jan062016

Eight countries. 2,055 nuclear tests. 71 years.

In the name of national security, eight countries have tested nuclear weapons all over the world since 1945, frequently near populated places. North Korea’s claim of hydrogen bomb test draws skepticism, condemnations.

The Washington Post has created a powerful online animation depicting nuclear weapons test blasts worldwide since 1945.

Of course, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were more than "tests" -- they were attacks on cities, killing hundreds of thousands, mostly civilians.

But, as Dr. Arjun Makhijani of IEER has documented, DOE listed even Hiroshima and Nagaski as "tests" decades after the attacks took place.

Thursday
Sep102015

"Senate Dems block GOP measure to kill Iran [nuclear] deal"

As reported by Politico:

Senate Democrats on Thursday successfully blocked a measure meant to kill President Barack Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, dealing a decisive defeat to Republicans’ attempts to derail the controversial agreement and ensuring its survival.

With a 58-42 vote, Democrats filibustered the disapproval resolution that Republicans and other deal opponents had tried to send to Obama's desk, where it would have been vetoed. But with more than enough support from Democrats to sustain that veto, the fight largely turned to the minutiae of Senate procedure and the suspense of whether Democrats would halt the bill from reaching the White House altogether.

Wednesday
Sep092015

"Energy secretary is urged to end U.S. nuclear fuel program at Savannah River"

As reported by Steven Mufson at the Washington Post:

A group of more than a dozen prominent former arms negotiators and senior diplomats has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz urging an end to the U.S. nuclear fuel program at the government’s Savannah River complex that they say is too costly and a threat to non-proliferation efforts.

...The signatories included former nuclear arms negotiators Robert Einhorn and Robert Gallucci; former ambassadors Thomas Pickering and Joseph Nye; former White House director for arms control, former Pentagon and intelligence official Henry S. Rowen; former head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Jessica Matthews; former Nuclear Regulation Commission members Peter Bradford and Victor Gilinsky; National Medal of Science winner and a designer of the first hydrogen bomb Richard Garwin; and nuclear policy experts Henry Sokolski, Frank von Hippel, S. David Freeman and Ploughshares Fund president Joseph Cirincione.

SRS Watch has posted the letter online.

The MOX fuel fabrication facility [FFF] at the U.S. Department of Energy's [DOE] Savannah River Site [SRS] was supposed to convent 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium into nuclear fuel for commercial atomic reactors. MOX is short for Mixed Oxide, referring to mixed uranium-plutonium oxide nuclear fuel.

The MOX FFF has proceeded despite the protests of anti-nuclear and non-proliferation critics for the past two decades, who urged that the excess weapons-grade plutonium be mixed back into the high-level radioactive waste from which it came in the first place, and treated as dangerous, deadly radioactive waste, not a commercial nuclear power commodity.

The MOX FFF project has turned into a $5 billion boondoggle. The still under construction MOX FFF was built too small to house the needed equipment, for one thing! But if the project continues, tens of billions of additional taxpayer dollars could be wasted, on an undertaking that undermines U.S. credibility on nuclear weapons non-proliferation, not to mention the risks of using plutonium fuel in reactors not designed for it in the first place.

For example, Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 had loaded MOX fuel into its reactor core in September 2010, just six months before the nuclear catastrophe began. 6% of the core consisted of MOX fuel; plans were to expand that to a 33% MOX core. Unit 3 then experienced the largest of the hydrogen gas explosions in March 2011, after its core began to melt down. The radioactive dust, so to speak, has not yet settled on what role the MOX fuel played in contributing to the full-scale melt down at Unit 3, the size of its destructive H2 explosion, and, most significantly of all, the severity of the hazardous radioactivity releases that resulted.

Critics have long resisted MOX. This has included grassroots anti-nuclear efforts, as in the Midwest. In the mid- to late-1990s, for example, a coalition of groups from Chicago to Ontario undertook a Nix MOX caravan, that generated significant media coverage.

This was followed by a lawsuit -- Alice Hirt v. Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy -- in federal court in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The pro bono environmental attorneys, Terry Lodge and Kary Love, on behalf of clients including Alice Hirt of Don't Waste Michigan in Holland, MI, sought to block DOE's shipment of weapons-grade plutonium, converted to experimental MOX reactor fuel, by truck from Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory in New Mexico, through Michigan, to Chalk River Nuclear Lab, Ontario. The environmental coalition initially won a Temporary Restraining Order against the shipment in late 1999, but by January 2000, DOE was able to force the shipment through.

Despite this, plans to use MOX fuel at Commonwealth Edison (later Exelon) reactors in IL, as well as at the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in ON, fell apart. The MOX FFF at SRS, however, has kept the MOX scheme alive for 20 years, at huge cost to U.S. federal taxpayers, as well as at risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and environmental catastrophe.

Here are some additional examples of Nix MOX activism in the late 1990s: