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Nuclear Weapons

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.

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Thursday
May302013

Risk of "dirty shutdown" at Paducah gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant

Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Photo credit: USEC/U.S. Department of EnergyIn a two-part series, Geoffrey Sea of Neighbors for an Ohio Valley Alternative (NOVA) has exposed deep financial troubles which could lead to major radiological risks at the Paducah gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment plant in Kentucky. Mind boggling mismanagement, or worse, by U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are to blame.

Part I, entitled "Countdown to Nuclear Ruin at Paducah," was published May 22nd, and warned that there were just 9 days left to avert a "dirty shutdown" in the many miles of enrichment cells. If the uranium laden gas solidifies within the system, it will make eventual decommissioning and clean up astronomically expensive for taxpayers, and radiologically risky for workers.

Part II, "Slow Cooker at Paducah Comes to a Boil,"  was published May 28th, with only three days left to avert dirty shutdown.

Paducah has operated since the 1950s. In its early years, enriched uranium from Paducah supplied the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.

Sea reports that Paducah, which employs the highly energy intensive gaseous diffusion uranium enrichment process, has the single biggest electric meter in the country, electrified by two dirty coal plants. It is also one of the single biggest emitters of ozone layer destroying CFC-114, which also happens to be a very potent greenhouse gas.

In September 1999, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post broke the story that post-reprocessing uranium from Hanford Nuclear Reservation, containing fission products and transuranics, had been secretively run through Paducah. Local residents, such as Ron Lamb, had already been long protesting Technetium-99 in his drinking well water, however. Paducah whistleblower Al Puckett helped expose a secret dumping ground for radioactive and hazardous wastes on site. Such revelations help to explain the high cancer rate amongst Paducah workers and area residents.

As Sea reports, USEC is still seeking a $2 billion federal loan guarantee from the Obama administration for its proposed American Centrifuge Plant at Portsmouth, Ohio. Newly confirmed Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz has deep ties to USEC, both during his time in the Clinton DOE, as well as afterwards, as a paid private consultant.

Tuesday
May142013

Write letters of support to nuclear resisters

The Nuclear Resisters are encouraging the anti-nuclear and anti-war community to write letters of support to imprisoned activists around the world, including Greg Boertje-Obed, Sister Megan Rice and Michael Walli, currently imprisoned and awaiting sentencing for their breach of security at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, TN. Please visit the Nuclear Resisters special webpage to write to imprisoned activists. Boertje-Obed, Rice and Walli will not be sentenced until mid-September. Even the Bush-appointed judge opined that "It is preposterous that Congress would pass a law that would not distinguish between peace protestors and terrorists." However, because the three were convicted of sabotage, which is considered under law as "an act of violence" against the United States, some thought the judge faced no other legal choice but to remand them in custody for now. Activists maintained a vigil outside the courthouse during the trial (Pictured. Photo by Felice Cohen-Joppa).

Thursday
May092013

"Prophets of Oak Ridge" convicted, face up to 30 years in prison

Illustration by Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post's "The Prophets of Oak Ridge" storyThe Washington Post ran a long piece in its Style section on April 30th, telling the story of "The Prophets of Oak Ridge" -- three Plowshares anti-nuclear weapons activists, who penetrated deep into the HEUMF (weapons-grade Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility), supposedly one of the most secure sites in the United States. The coverage included artistic renditions of the Plowshares action (see left, for a depiction of the scene when Y-12 nuclear weapons complex security officers first encountered the three non-violent activists).

Today, a jury in a federal court room in Knoxville, TN convicted Catholic Nun, Sister Megan Rice (age 83), Vietnam vet Michael Walli (age 64), and Catholic Worker Greg Boertje-Obed (age 57) on multiple counts. The three face up to 30 years in prison, for supposedly intending to injure the national security of the United States.

The Washington Post, as well as OREPA (the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance), have provided coverage of the court proceedings.

Friday
May032013

Egypt walks out of NPT review conference

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.

Wednesday
Apr242013

US now making its own plutonium for space probes

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.