The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

The cover-up of workers’ illnesss in radioactively polluted clean-up of Kingston coal ash spill

A Legacy of Contamination, How the Kingston coal ash spill unearthed a nuclear nightmare, Grist By Austyn Gaffney on Dec 15, 2020  This story was published in partnership with the Daily Yonder.

………………………………….The apparent mixing of fossil fuel and nuclear waste streams underscores the long relationship between the Kingston and Oak Ridge facilities………… .

……….In 2017, a former chemist named Dan Nichols stumbled upon a news story that revealed the existence of the additional health problems TVA feared. High levels of uranium had been measured in the urine of a former cleanup worker named Craig Wilkinson. Like Thacker, Wilkinson had worked the night shift. After dredges piped the coal ash back onshore, Wilkinson used heavy equipment to scoop, flip, and dry the wet ash along the Ball Field.

Although Wilkinson worked at the Kingston site for less than a year, he quickly developed health issues, including chronic sinus infections and breathing problems that eventually led to a double-lung transplant. Frustrated by his sudden decline in health, Wilkinson shelled out over $1,000 for a toxicology test because he wanted to know what occupational hazards might be lingering in his body.

After reading Wilkinson’s story, Nichols sat stunned. Though he was not associated with the spill, he’d been unable to shake his obsession with the Kingston disaster. Nichols had worked as a Memphis-based field chemist for a wastewater technology company, and he was used to studying lab reports on industrial water supplies and samples. For years he’d been trying to solve a mystery that no one else seemed to be aware of: why Kingston regulators deleted and then altered a state-sanctioned report showing extremely high levels of radiation at the cleanup site.

Roughly a month after the spill, Nichols read a Duke University press release stating that ash samples collected at Kingston by a team led by Vengosh, the geochemist, showed radium levels well above those typically found in coal ash. Nichols knew that the state environmental regulator, the Tennessee Department for Environment and Conservation, or TDEC, was also testing soil and ash samples at the site. After seeing Vengosh’s high radium readings, he wondered if TDEC’s report would also show high levels of either radium or uranium. (Radium is a decay element of uranium.) Later that spring, Nichols visited TDEC’s website and discovered the test results.

“I opened it up and went to uranium, and it was just off the charts,” Nichols recalled. In a 2020 affidavit, Nichols reported that these levels were “extremely high so as to be alarming.” At least 27 soil and ash samples were collected from at least 20 different sites surrounding Kingston beginning January 6, 2009. The levels ranged from 84 parts per million (ppm) to 2,000 ppm. The average level was over 500 ppm, as much as 50 times the typical uranium content found in coal ash.

The next morning, when Nichols slumped back into his computer chair and refreshed TDEC’s website, he saw that the report had been changed. The high uranium readings had plummeted. Now the average uranium levels in the ash were 2.88 ppm, a tenth of the typical uranium content found in coal ash and illogically, below levels naturally occurring in soil. Luckily, Nichols had downloaded the unaltered report the night before.

A month later, Nichols sent the two lab reports to one of the attorneys representing Tennessee residents affected by the spill in a lawsuit they’d brought against TVA. According to Nichols, the lawyers weren’t interested. Nevertheless, Nichols was determined to find more proof of the unusually high levels of on-site radiation. In between cutting hay and spraying weeds on his family farm, he spent years poring over information online about TVA, coal ash, and uranium before he stumbled across Wilkinson’s story.

Back in 2014, Wilkinson’s urine tested for unusually high levels of both mercury and uranium. The mercury is more easily explained: The most common cause of mercury contamination, according to the EPA, is coal-fired power plant emissions, which account for 44 percent of all man-made mercury pollution. The 2008 spill released 29 times the mercury reported at the Kingston site for the entire decade before it, and TVA documents show high levels of additional legacy mercury were present in the Clinch River and could have migrated into the Emory. Today, Wilkinson has symptoms attributable to methylmercury poisoning including blurry vision, fatigue, a hearing impairment, memory loss, and loss of coordination that caused him to fall out of the machines he operated until retiring on disability in 2015.

But most shocking to Nichols was the high level of uranium in Wilkinson’s body — it was 10 times the U.S. average, and identical to the median levels that one study found in workers exposed to the substance. Prolonged occupational exposure to uranium is strongly linked to chronic kidney disease, which Wilkinson suffers from. Because Wilkinson’s toxicology results were taken four years after he left Kingston, they likely show lower uranium levels than what he and other cleanup workers initially had.

Wilkinson’s results left no doubt in Nichols’ mind that the original uranium readings he’d saved were significant. A reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Jamie Satterfield, contacted him after the report he saved showed up in court proceedings. Satterfield published a story about the altered uranium readings in May of this year.

In response to her story, TDEC told the News-Sentinel that its updated uranium readings, which plummeted by 98 percent, were due to a change in the sampling method used for the tests. (Satterfield also reported that radium levels had been lowered between the initial TDEC report Nichols downloaded and the updated one; the department attributed this to a “data entry error.”) In an email response to Grist and the Daily Yonder, a TDEC spokesperson elaborated that the sampling lab, which was neither staffed nor supervised by TDEC, “discovered there were interferences in the analysis of soil and ash samples for uranium” and subsequently changed the method of analysis from one EPA-approved protocol to another. The new results were then published without public notice of the alteration.

“Changing lab reports is a very serious thing,” Nichols said. “But I can assure you data entry errors don’t cause a man to test for unusually high levels of uranium. That’s [TDEC’s] big problem.”

Unbeknownst to Nichols, Russell Johnson, the district attorney with jurisdiction over Roane County, where Kingston is located, had informed TDEC’s commissioner in 2017 that he was beginning a criminal probe into the Kingston cleanup. “I am deeply concerned with the apparent intentional conduct of the cleanup contractors and their supervisors, actions that took place in Roane County, conduct that may indeed have caused serious bodily injury or possibly even death to a number of people,” Johnson wrote in a letter to TDEC.

In concert with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Johnson began investigating whether TVA or its contractors “suppressed information” as part of the coverup alleged in the 2013 worker lawsuit against Jacobs. They now have Nichols’ evidence as well. But despite this ongoing investigation, it’s unclear if workers will ever learn for certain whether or not they were exposed to dangerous substances besides the coal ash itself. (Bob Edwards, an assistant district attorney working under Johnson, told Grist and the Daily Yonder that the district attorney’s office could not comment on a pending investigation.)………………….


December 17, 2020 Posted by | employment, health, incidents, investigative journalism, Legal, PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, Uranium, wastes | Leave a comment

About writing about the nuclear crisis

Christina Macpherson’s websites & blogs

This is such an important article (We’re in a storytelling crisis”: Advice for writing on nuclear issues, from the author of “Fallout”)    Whether we like it or not, an issue becomes important to people  – not because it actually IS vitally important, but because it is described, pictured, written about as something that is important to the simplest non-expert, ordinary person.

In this pandemic period, the nuclear lobbyhas done a damn good job in just not covering the true importance of nuclear weapons. The mindless mainstream media happlygoes along with this impressive non coverage at all.

On January 22nd, the Trarty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will become international law.    The global nuclear lobby will be working overtime to portray this as silly, ineffectual, counter-productive – blah blah.

It will be a challenging time for journalism.  The need is to show that this Treaty is as valid as existing  treaties banning inhuman weapons of mass destruction, and that this Treaty enhances existing disarmament agreements, and does not conflctwith national security agreements (e.g as betweenUSA and Australia.     This Treaty is based on humanitarian concerns, an idea which the technocrats find hard to understand.

December 17, 2020 Posted by | Christina's notes | 1 Comment

The power of influence in writing on nuclear issues, – impressive storytelling in Lesley Blume’s “Fallout”

We’re in a storytelling crisis”: Advice for writing on nuclear issues, from the author of “Fallout” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Sara Z. Kutchesfahani | December 16, 2020  Storytelling is an important tool to change public perception. Recent research has shown that people are ready for nuclear weapons to enter the storytelling space, as long as these new stories are told in less intimidating ways and feature nuclear weapons in the background—rather than the forefront—of a story. Very few publications in the national security space provide a forum for storytelling, with the notable exception being the online publication Inkstick.

How can nuclear policy experts become better storytellers? I thought Lesley M. M. Blume would have some prescient advice. Her new book powerfully shows how one courageous American reporter unraveled one of the deadliest cover-ups of the 20th century—the true effects of the atomic bomb—potentially saving millions of lives. Fallout tells the incredible story of how New Yorker journalist John Hersey of Hiroshima fame was able to go to the Japanese city in the aftermath of the bombing and interview six survivors.

Even before the Japanese surrendered in 1945, the US government and military had begun a secret propaganda and information-suppression campaign to hide the devastating nature of nuclear weapons. The cover-up intensified as Allied occupation forces closed Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Allied reporters, preventing leaks about the horrific long-term effects of radiation that would kill thousands during the months after the blast. For nearly a year, the cover-up worked—until John Hersey got into Hiroshima and managed to report the truth to the world.

As Hersey and his editors prepared his article for publication, they kept the story secret—even from most of their New Yorker colleagues. When the magazine published “Hiroshima” in August 1946 as a single issue, it became an instant global sensation, and it changed the US public’s perception of the dropping of the bombs virtually overnight from that of pride to that of visceral repulsion and existential fear. Hersey’s story brought home, for millions across the United States and around the world, the true implications of the then-new atomic age.

On December 10, I interviewed Lesley about her brilliant book. We talked about how the publication of Hiroshima changed the US public’s perception of the bombs, the lessons learned, and how nuclear experts can become better storytellers. The transcript is below. [on original].

2020. Blume’s book Fallout, published in August 2020, documents the Hiroshima cover-up and how a reporter – John Hersey – revealed it to the world. …………

Lesley M. M. Blume: There was the “before” Hersey’s Hiroshima, and then there was the “after” Hersey’s Hiroshima. Before Hersey’s book came out, the atomic bomb had been largely painted by the US government and military essentially as a conventional mega weapon. It was quickly becoming an accepted part of our conventional arsenal, even a tenable cost-saving weapon—it costs a lot less money to lob a nuke at somebody than it does to move troops into an area to wage combat—and, as such, there was a widespread acceptance of and enthusiasm about the weapon between August 1945 and August 1946. The bomb was normalized, in the public’s estimation, with surprising rapidity. [US President] Harry Truman himself referred to the bomb as just a “bigger piece of artillery.”

After Hersey’s Hiroshima comes out, readers—and not just American readers, but readers around the world—are seeing what these then-experimental weapons indeed do to human beings, not just at the moment of detonation, but in the hours, days, weeks, months, and years to come. This is because Hersey was able to document the first part of the long tail of nuclear weapons, namely that they are the weapon that continues to kill indefinitely after detonation.

The book immediately affected American attitudes: the vast majority of polled Americans in August 1945 were thrilled about the bombs because, they were told, the bombings had saved both American and Japanese lives, hastened the end of the war, and avoided a land invasion. Not only that, but they also viewed it as pure vengeance. When President Truman made his announcement about the Hiroshima bombing, he said that the Japanese had been repaid manyfold for Pearl Harbor. Many people agreed with him then, and they agree with him now; people are still passionate about the payback element of it………..

Lesley M. M. Blume: As I’ve been doing publicity for Fallout this fall since the book came out on August 4, I’ve been pretty shocked by an increased complacency toward the nuclear landscape, which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has deemed the most perilous ever. I‘ve been shocked by how, here we are in the most perilous nuclear landscape in 75 years, how the nuclear threat is not on most people’s minds. And it certainly wasn’t a significant election issue by any stretch of the imagination. Whenever you would see these write ups about where the candidates stood on 10 or 12 issues such as trade with China, the pandemic, or climate change, the nuclear landscape was never one of them. The younger my interviewers were, the less concerned they were, and that’s because it hasn’t been a part of their psyche of what’s surrounding them—and not just because we’ve been dealing with other urgent existential threats like the pandemic and climate change………

And as the pandemic worsens, this issue is getting less and less attention. Fallout came out in the United Kingdom a few weeks ago, and there was no bandwidth for op-eds about staring down the nuclear threat. Nor was there much of an appetite among US editors for an op-ed advocating that the nuclear landscape be a bigger election issue—even among publications that gave Fallout considerable launch coverage.

As vaccines start to roll in, and it’s the beginning of the end for the pandemic, we need to be anticipating the moment when the news landscape opens up enough for us to leap in and start to drive home the urgency of this threat. The nuclear challenges that still face us have never been resolved in 75 years—even during historical moments when world leaders put their all into creating de-escalation mechanisms, when whole populations were completely immersed in the dangers of the nuclear threat. We are now far from eras of peak awareness like the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s, and we need to work really, really hard to create an increased awareness as soon as possible. Because with the pandemic, there’s a vaccine; with climate change, we can work to dial it back. But nuclear disaster on a global scale? There’s no coming back from that. As Albert Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

December 17, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, media, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Sleepwalking Toward the Nuclear Precipice

December 17, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, weapons and war | Leave a comment

How will Biden get the “nuclear football” i Trump does not attend the inauguration?

Here’s what happens to the ‘nuclear football’ if Trump decides to skip Biden’s inauguration

  • American presidents are accompanied by a military aide carrying a briefcase with the tools necessary for nuclear war.
  • During presidential inaugurations, nuclear command authority and the “nuclear football” are transferred to the new president.
  • But President Donald Trump may not participate in President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, which could complicate the transfer.
  • The Pentagon said there was a plan for the transfer in that scenario but declined to provide details. But nuclear-weapons experts and a former military aide who carried the briefcase provided some insight.

An important yet discreet part of the inauguration of a new president is the transfer of command and control authority over the US nuclear arsenal, but there is the possibility President Donald Trump will not attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, which could complicate matters.

Trump has refused to say whether he will attend Biden’s inauguration, but multiple reports have suggested that the president will skip the swearing-in ceremony of his successor and hold a political rally elsewhere instead.

So what happens to the “nuclear football” that accompanies the president if Trump doesn’t show? How does it get to Biden?

“That’s a good question,” Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons expert at the Federation of American Scientists, told Insider. “It is an unprecedented situation.”

The president has the sole authority to conduct a nuclear strike, and wherever he goes, he is accompanied by a military aide carrying a briefcase called the “president’s emergency satchel,” more commonly known as the nuclear football.

Every president since John F. Kennedy has been accompanied by the aide carrying the hefty briefcase, which gives the commander in chief the ability to command US nuclear forces while away from physical command and control centres.

The briefcase does not contain a button that can instantly unleash hundreds of nuclear warheads deployed on intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers. Instead, the briefcase contains communication tools, codes, and options for nuclear war.

Separate from the football, presidents carry a card, sometimes called the “biscuit,” on their person containing authentication codes. In a nuclear conflict, the president would use the codes in coordination with the tools in the briefcase to identify himself to the military and order a nuclear strike.

Incoming presidents are typically briefed on their nuclear responsibilities before taking the oath of office. Then, during the inauguration, the codes they received that morning or the day before become active, and control of the football is quietly and seamlessly passed to the new president.

Trump described that moment as “sobering” and “very scary,”telling ABC News in 2017 that “when they explain what it represents and the kind of destruction that you’re talking about, it is a very sobering moment.”

The transfer of the nuclear football is supposed to occur at noon as the new president is sworn in. The military aide who has been carrying the briefcase hands it off to the newly designated military aide, former Vice President Dick Cheney said in a past Discovery documentary. This traditionally happens off to the side and is not a part of the show.

If Trump is not at the inauguration, then the transfer process will be different. Still, the transfer will need to be instantaneous, said retired Air Force Lt. Col. Buzz Patterson, who carried the football for former President Bill Clinton.

“That’s the way it has to be,” he told Insider. “For the process to work, you have to have this clear handing off of responsibilities.” He said that how that happens would be up to the Pentagon, which serves the office of the commander in chief, not the man.

A Pentagon spokesperson told Insider the Department of Defence had a plan for the transfer on Inauguration Day but declined to provide any further details.

“We war game this stuff, and we practice it ad nauseam for years and years,” Patterson said. “There are systems in place to make sure that happens instantaneously. There won’t be any kind of question about who has it, who is in charge at that point in time.”

“We don’t take this stuff lightly,” he added. “There won’t be any kind of hiccup. It will just go down without anybody even noticing, which is what is supposed to happen.”

Kristensen, the nuclear weapons expert at FAS, speculated that the plan could resemble plans in place for situations in which a president is suddenly killed or incapacitated, situations in which nuclear command and control authority and all accompanying equipment have to be immediately transferred to the vice president or another designated survivor.

Stephen Schwartz, a nonresident senior fellow with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, recently discussed with the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation what would happen to the nuclear football if Trump did not attend the inauguration.

Schwartz, known for his research on the nuclear football, said there was more than one football. In fact, he explained, there are at least three of them — for the president, vice president, and a designated survivor.

He said that if another nuclear football had not already been prepared, one likely would be before the inauguration. There would be a military aide ready then to begin following Biden as soon as he is sworn in. And, at that time, Trump’s nuclear command and control authority would presumably expire.

“Hopefully President Trump will be there and it will be just a handoff, which is what it’s been for decades,” Patterson said, adding that if he didn’t, “it’s not that big of a deal” because the military will make sure that the transfer occurs as needed.

December 17, 2020 Posted by | politics, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Britain’s push for nuclear power makes no sense, unless it is a hidden subsidy for the Royal Navy

Britain’s push for nuclear power makes no sense, unless it is a hidden subsidy for the Royal Navy

The Government can fund a robust nuclear deterrent if it so desires, but should stop pretending that it is energy policy Telegraph, AMBROSE EVANS-PRITCHARD16 December 2020  – (subscribers only) 

December 17, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is Energy Harbor cutting nuclear plant workers’ benefits in violation of labor deal?

December 17, 2020 Posted by | employment, USA | Leave a comment

Doubts about planned Berkshire ”garden town”, because it’s too close to AWE nuclear weapons factory

BBC 15th Dec 2020, Plans to build a new “garden town” could be scrapped over concerns about a
potential nuclear emergency. The proposed 15,000-home development in
Grazeley is within a couple of miles of nuclear weapons factory AWE
Burghfield. The Office for Nuclear Regulation has extended a “detailed
emergency planning zone” (DEPZ) for the plant, taking in most of the site
earmarked for homes.

That means anyone living in the zone could be affected
by a “reasonably foreseeable” radiation emergency. Three Berkshire councils
that have worked jointly on the plans are now considering shelving the
project, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

December 17, 2020 Posted by | safety, UK, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Turkey’s unfinished nuclear plant already redundant

Critics say Turkey’s unfinished nuclear plant already redundant
Turkey’s power plant building spree has resulted in an enormous idle capacity but the construction of new plants continues at the expense of taxpayers despite the country’s bruising economic woes. Al-Monitor      Mustafa Sonmez  Dec 15, 2020

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power for 18 years, is under increasing fire for poorly planned, prodigal investments whose long-term financial fallout is coming into sharper relief as the country grapples with severe economic woes. Standing out among the most dubious investments is a series of power plants, including a nuclear energy plant still under construction, that have created an idle capacity threatening to haunt public finances for years.

The miscalculations date back to the AKP’s early years in power, when the Turkish economy — fresh from an IMF-backed overhaul — enjoyed unprecedented inflows of foreign capital that stimulated economic growth of up to 7% per year. The AKP’s economic credentials thrived, translating to lasting political gains.  The government encouraged construction as the main driver of growth, even if it relied almost entirely on the continued flow of foreign funds. While the country’s energy consumption grew its power production lagged behind and required larger imports of gas, oil and even coal to power electricity plants.

…….The government-backed investment frenzy rested on the assumption that the economy would sustain its growth pace of 6-7% per year. This belief, however, was not justified. Amid ups and downs since 2014, the economy has slowed and so has its energy demand. Consumption has increased only 44% over the past decade, according to official figures, meaning that a significant capacity is now idle while the investments continue to gulp bulky public funds and many of them have caused lasting environmental damage.

………Chief among the ongoing projects is the nuclear power plant that Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom is building in Akkuyu, on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast, under an intergovernmental agreement signed in 2010. The facility, scheduled to become operational in 2023, will be the country’s first nuclear power plant, with a capacity of 4,800 megawatts. The build-operate-transfer project has been granted a 49-year production license that expires in June 2066.

Under the deal, the Russians assumed the financing of the project, estimated to cost $20 billion, while the Turkish government provided the land free of charge and promised to purchase 70% of the plant’s electricity production for 15 years at the price of 12.35 cents/kWh. The estimate was that the cost of the 15-year purchase guarantee would total 57 billion liras, but amid the dramatic deprecation of the currency since 2018, the sum has already swelled to 140 billion liras.

Even before the currency turmoil, the project risked delays due to financing snags. Whether it could be finished on time or whether the builders and Ankara could now face additional costs remains to be seen. But given the country’s energy consumption trend, one thing is already clear: the project was a gross, prodigal misstep economically, not to mention the safety and environmental concerns over the plant’s location in an earthquake-prone area.

Ankara, however, seems to have not learned a lesson. Plans remain underway for a second nuclear power plant in Sinop, on the country’s northern Black Sea coast. The government is looking for new partners after a Japanese-led consortium abandoned the project due to prohibitive costs.

According to the Energy Ministry’s 2019-2023 strategy paper, Ankara will seek an intergovernmental deal different from that with Russia and the details of the project, including its capacity and fuel and reactor types, will be decided once the builder is found.

December 17, 2020 Posted by | politics, Turkey | Leave a comment

Russian hackers evaded layers of U.S. security to attack America’s military and intelligence agencies

New York Times 14th Dec 2020, The scope of a hack engineered by one of Russia’s premier intelligence agencies became clearer on Monday, when some Trump administration officials acknowledged that other federal agencies — the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and parts of the Pentagon — had been compromised. Investigators were struggling to determine the extent to which the military, intelligence community and nuclear laboratories were affected by the highly sophisticated attack.
United States officials did not detect the attack until recent weeks, and then only when a private cybersecurity firm, FireEye, alerted American intelligence that the hackers had evaded layers of defenses.

December 17, 2020 Posted by | Russia, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Why is UK govt taking the financial and flooding risk of Sizewell nuclear, when renewables are clearly safer and cheaper?

Tax Research UK 16th Dec 2020, There is an article in the FT this morning that suggests something that
should be obvious, but needs saying. And that is that renewable energy is
now bringing deflation into the energy market.
The article is by Mark Lewis, who is is chief sustainability strategist at BNP Paribas Asset
Management. As he puts it: With the US poised to rejoin the Paris Agreement
under the incoming Biden administration and the proliferation of net-zero
commitments from various governments, the romance between equity markets
and renewable-energy goes from strength to strength.
But in all the excitement about the future of renewables, a bigger truth is being
overlooked: the underlying reason for the astonishing transformation of
renewables over the past decade from niche to mainstream competing
head-to-head with fossil fuels is economic rather than environmental.
And as he adds: Wind and solar are intrinsically deflationary, whereas fossil
fuels are intrinsically inflationary. This has huge implications for the
distribution of value across the global energy system over the next three
What is the reason for the risk of putting anther nuclear reactor
on the Suffolk coast where the chance that it will be flooded within the
foreseeable future is high? I wish I knew. We now have the option of viable
energy to sustain the transition we need. More investment in it only
increases its appeal. And yet still we stick with the harmful solutions. I
have never got this. I never will.

December 17, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK | Leave a comment