Egypt withdrew last week from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference, apparently out of frustration at inaction to create a nuclear-free Middle East. The withdrawal came during the recent NPT review conference in Geneva. The move raises concerns that because Israel possesses nuclear weapons - possibly as many as 200 warheads - Egypt may also now turn to atomic arms production. Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying: "The goal of the Egyptian decision is to send a strong message that it does not accept the continued lack of seriousness in dealing with the issue of establishing a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East." The ministry highlighted that the decision to postpone a conference to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons in the Middle East violated the decision made in the 2010 NPT conference to hold the conference in 2012. Egypt continues to call on Israel to join the NPT and place all its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
Beyond Nuclear advocates for the elimination of all nuclear weapons and argues that removing them can only make us safer, not more vulnerable. The expansion of commercial nuclear power across the globe only increases the chance that more nuclear weapons will be built and is counterproductive to disarmament.
The US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee has produced the first batch of US manufactured non-weapons grade plutonium in 25 years after traditionally purchasing the deadly material from Russia. NASA will use the plutonium to power space probes, a practice that began in the 1970s, prompting continued alarm. Beyond Nuclear's Karl Grossman described the use of plutonium powered space probes as both dangerous and unnecessary in a 1996 article, pointing out that if something went wrong, "the space probe could break up in the Earth's atmosphere, raining plutonium back down on the Earth's surface." Quoting NASA's own Final Environmental Impact Statement for the then Cassini Mission, he quoted the agency acknowledging that, if that were to happen, "Approximately 5 billion of the estimated 7 billion to 8 billion population ... could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure."
Instead of using plutonium, the European Space Agency had already recommended, in 1994, new, high-performance silicon solar cells for use in future demanding deep-space missions. In July 2011, Grossman wrote on the subject again, pointing out that NASA intends to send a solar-powered probe beyond Mars to Jupiter.
Clearly, other motives are at work in manufacturing new plutonium. Ironically, Oak Ridge was the site of a protest on July 28, 2012, when three pacifists, including Michael Walli, 82-year old nun, Sister Megan Rice, and Greg Boertje-Obed (pictured left to right) breached security at the facililty, unimpeted by barbed wire, armed guards and video cameras and splashed blood on the Highly Enriched Uranium Facility and hung banners on its walls. Their trial is set for May 7th in Knoxville. Although forced to demonstrate in a different area of the site, protesters continue to rally at Oak Ridge in opposition to a proposed new Uranium Processing Facility at the notorious Y-12 National Security Complex. A recent protest is pictured below.
"This is a bad, old idea that's been uniformly rejected on a bipartisan basis by politicians when it came up in the past, and it's been strongly opposed by citizen groups like mine and others," said Don Hancock, a member of the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information in Albuquerque. "It's also clear that it's illegal." Hancock was commenting on federal plans to ship some of the radioactive waste from Washington's Hanford Nuclear Reserve to New Mexico, a plan supported by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D). Both states will need to approve the plan. Six of the Hanford tanks holding radioactive sludge from nuclear weapons production have been found to be leaking intro groundwater. The plan would mean shipping 3 million gallons of radioactive waste from Hanford to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad.
On Wednesday, January 9, 2013, 6 anti-nuclear activists, arrested during a peaceful Hiroshima-Day protest at the gates of Las Alamos National Laboratory on August 6, 2012, went to trial before Judge Alan Kirk in Los Alamos Municipal Court.
The defendants spoke passionately about US commitments under The 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and decisions of the International Court of Justice as well as for the need to expend resources to confront climate change, the real and immediate threat to national security, not to expand the dangerous and archaic nuclear arsenal.
In his decision, Judge Kirk found the 6 guilty of obstructing movement and refusing to obey an officer and not guilty of trespass. Judge Kirk levied fines of $100 each for the two guilty charges. He also sentenced the LANL 6 to one year’s probation and charged each $142 in court fees.
The Defendants then Petitioned the Court to allow them to do community service or jail time rather than pay fines or costs to Los Alamos County. On Feb. 7, Judge Kirk granted the defendants’ Motion to do twenty hours of community service at not-for-profits they selected in their local community, subject to the Court’s approval, but he denied their Motion to do time instead or to do community service for the court costs.
Jeffrey Haas, attorney for the LANL 6, said "It was as a result of the defendant’s strong principles that Judge Kirk allowed them to convert their fines to community service with organizations with whom they had political agreement in their own communities. A good precedent."
Though the LANL 6 had different reasons for standing firm on Hiroshima Day, they are united in their demands that the US divert spending from nuclear weapons to cleaning up the environment and beginning the work to reverse global warming. All stated that it was more important to get out their message than the municipal ordinances they were accused of violating. In his closing argument, Attorney Haas said it was crazy to keep producing hazardous, dangerous, and useless nuclear weapons in an era when the real national security threat was catastrophic climate change, which the US ignores to its peril.
Leaks from radioactive waste tanks at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation could amount to as much as 1,000 gallons a year. The radioactive effluent threatens ground water and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Hanford has 177 aging tanks that store millions of gallons of radioactive sludge. The federal government built the Hanford facility in south-central Washington at the height of World War II as part of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Now the tanks at Hanford hold some 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste.
Writes Hanford Watch president, Paige Knight, about recent revelations regarding multiple radioactive leaks from the tanks at the Hanford Nuclear facility:
"This latest news of the increase in Hanford Tank leaks is highly disturbing. In my 20 years of working on Hanford cleanup issue this is not the first time that the truth has come out too late. DOE and its contractors have in the past fabricated or downplayed the data about leaks from the tanks to the environment.Their negligence in assessing the data is an ongoing problem through the last 2 + decades of the cleanup program through different leaders in the agency. I believe we really have to look at the lack of intentional and conscientious oversight of the contractors and labs that test the tanks. This issue demands that DOE and Congress appropriate money for building new tanks to contain the waste while DOE finds its way to get the Waste Treatment Plant back on track, if that is possible. We CANNOT fail to treat millions of gallons of radioactive waste sitting in failing underground tanks, no matter if they sit far from the Columbia River, the life blood of the Pacific Northwest or the five miles from the river as they truly do. The contractors and the DOE have created a cash cow that sucks the taxpayers dry. It is time for this mentality and practice to change and for the government and we, the people, to demand a moral and physical resolution to cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Safe storage and treatment of nuclear waste is tantamount to protecting our waterways, our health, our economy and future generations. This will require an end to the production of nuclear waste. All nuclear reactors no matter how "small" will produce deadly waste. Cleanup is the price we pay and that we are owed by a nuclear weapons and nuclear power industry that has been uncontrolled. "