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No chance of a fair trial for Julian Assange in America

Daniel Ellsberg: “It is outrageous that Biden has continued to pursue Julian Assange’s prosecution”, il Fatto Quotidiano, 23v Mar 22,

”……………………………………………..  Julian Assange was charged with Espionage Act violations. Did you expect that the United States, for the first time in its history, would charge a journalist for publishing truthful information in the public interest?

DANIEL ELLSBERG. The lawyers who were following this at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were predicting that Donald Trump would prosecute journalists. No president had done that yet, it’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment. It’s obviously unconstitutional, which of course doesn’t slow down Trump, and it is outrageous that Biden has continued to pursue that prosecution. He should have withdrawn the appeal Trump made for extradition of Julian, for prosecution. Biden could just drop it any time, he could do it the next hour. It was very arguably unconstitutional even in my case: I was the first to be indicted under those charges, for leaking, but I had been a former official. I was a source, not a journalist – they don’t regard sources as journalists. You could argue either side in my case, as to whether it was constitutional. In Julian’s [case] there is no argument on the other side: it’s obviously unconstitutional, in America, under our First Amendment. Obama had considered indicting Julian, but had backed off for that very reason, that if they went after Julian on those grounds, they would have no excuse for not going after the New York Times. And they didn’t want to take that on, in part because the New York Times is extremely useful to them, to successive administrations. It basically supports the empire, and doesn’t object to endless amounts of money for so-called defense. It’s a very useful outlet for them, even though it occasionally prints things they would rather not have out.

Why do you think the Biden administration doesn’t drop the case?

ELLSBERG. Biden, when he was vice president, at the very beginning, in 2010, called Julian Assange a high-tech terrorist, which is absurd. He is very much against leaks, and actually all presidents get very angry at leaks that they don’t want out, but they recoil from the prospect of clearly unconstitutional action. Trump didn’t, and Biden should have, but he hasn’t so far. It’s still not too late for him to correct that, but I don’t expect that he will. He shows so much animus toward Julian, that I don’t expect it. I don’t know why entirely, by the way. In general, in foreign policy, he has not shown anything progressive or favorable. In domestic policy, in many ways he has acted better than almost anyone expected, but on foreign policy, there is nothing to be said for him: it’s the same as Obama’s, which was not good, and pretty much the same as Trump’s.

According to Yahoo! News, the CIA tried to poison Julian Assange or kidnap him. If the United States can extradite him, do you expect a fair trial?

ELLSBERG. A fair trial? Oh, there’s no chance for him to have a fair trial, any more than any of the other people charged and convicted under the Espionage Act, or even me. I am the only one who, in a way, ‘got away with it’, in the sense of not being put in prison for life or for a long time by the administration, and that was because of a very unusual set of events, but they’re the same as we’ve learned about Julian. Just as they were considering kidnapping him from the Ecuadorian embassy, possibly killing him, possibly poisoning, but also even considering shoot-outs of various kinds that would get him, I [too] had thirteen men, twelve or thirteen, brought from Miami, CIA assets, one of them at least a CIA agent right at that time, but they had all worked for the CIA in the Bay of Pigs. They were brought up with orders to ‘incapacitate Daniel Ellsberg, totally’. When I asked the prosecutor: ‘What did that mean? Kill me?’, he said: ‘Well, the words were ‘incapacitate you totally’, but you know, those who work for the CIA never use the word ‘kill’. But they were killers, those people had been involved in efforts to assassinate Castro, and even Trujillo. They didn’t [kill me]. Again, I escaped that fate, because at the last moment they thought they were being set up to be caught, so I was lucky, over and over again. None of the other people indicted have been lucky, they all have been convicted essentially, in many cases by plea bargains, because they have been threatened with much greater sentences. Life [sentences] for treason or espionage, and they have accepted smaller charges, but that still kept them in prison for years, in many cases……………

So you think there is no chance at all of a fair trial for Julian Assange…

ELLSBERG. Because under the Espionage Act, the defendant has no chance to tell the Jury why they did what they did, or what they were hoping to achieve, what the benefits to the public were hoped to be and in some cases were realised, and what harm there really was, which was usually nothing, to the national security. That is aside from the fact, as you mentioned, that in his case, as in mine, there were crimes against him: conspiracies to harm him, totally, criminally, as was true in my case. But in my case, when it came out, the case was dropped…………..

in the case of Julian Assange, the revelations that the CIA tried, had plans to kill him didn’t make the judge drop the case…

ELLSBERG. She didn’t really consider them, seriously, which seems shocking. I mean, British law is different from American, in the sense: they don’t have a First Amendment………………… in Britain – their Act is much tougher against free speech and against the press there. So maybe the judge couldn’t take that seriously, being British. But the idea of illegally overhearing a defendant’s discussions with his attorneys, and with his doctors, and everything he said with every visitor – I visited him twice in the Ecuadorian embassy, and I am sure it was recorded – that, obviously, even in Britain [he smiles], or anywhere else, should lead to the dropping of the case, except in a clear-cut police society, let’s say, like East Germany used to be, for example.

……………….. If Julian Assange is extradited and prosecuted in America, I would say, with the mood now, since 9/11, with these last twenty years, he might well be convicted, although he shouldn’t be. The First Amendment would then be eliminated. What that means is: not only sources, but journalists would then have to fear being prosecuted and convicted for doing their job in questioning the government, putting out information the top government doesn’t want. This is a government that we know conducts aggressive wars, criminal aggressive wars, as in Iraq, absolutely, clear-cut aggression, and has very, very little concern for the people of those areas, as they are showing in Afghanistan, right now…………..

 In short: it’s a government that needs to be exposed, and it won’t be very much if…if Julian’s case is a real turning point here, then we will essentially have a press like that of Stalin’s Russia.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Legal, USA | Leave a comment

Russia holds back on full assaults on Ukraine, and Zelensky prepared to negotiate on NATO and Donbas/Crimea

Putin is not intentionally attacking civilians, that perhaps he is mindful that he needs to limit damage in order to leave an out for negotiations.”

‘even in the case of southern cities, where artillery and rockets are within range of populated centers, the strikes seem to be trying to target Ukrainian military units, many of which by necessity operating from inside urban areas.”

Sunday, Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN he is prepared to talk to the Russian president. “I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,”

Putin’s Bombers Could Devastate Ukraine But He’s Holding Back. Here’s Why,  NewsWeek, BY WILLIAM M. ARKIN  3/22/22   As destructive as the Ukraine war is, Russia is causing less damage and killing fewer civilians than it could, U.S. intelligence experts say.

Russia’s conduct in the brutal war tells a different story than the widely accepted view that Vladimir Putin is intent on demolishing Ukraine and inflicting maximum civilian damage—and it reveals the Russian leader’s strategic balancing act. If Russia were more intentionally destructive, the clamoring for U.S. and NATO intervention would be louder. And if Russia were all-in, Putin might find himself with no way out. Instead, his goal is to take enough territory on the ground to have something to negotiate with, while putting the government of Ukraine in a position where they have to negotiate.

Understanding the thinking behind Russia’s limited attacks could help map a path towards peace, experts say.

In nearly a month since Russia invaded, dozens of Ukrainian cities and towns have fallen, and the fight over the country’s largest cities continues. United Nations human rights specialists say that some 900 civilians have died in the fighting (U.S. intelligence puts that number at least five times UN estimates). About 6.5 million Ukrainians have also become internally displaced (15 percent of the entire population), half of them leaving the country to find safety.

…………… In the capital, most observable to the west, Kyiv city authorities say that some 55 buildings have been damaged and that 222 people have died since February 24. It is a city of 2.8 million people.

………………… As of the past weekend, in 24 days of conflict, Russia has flown some 1,400 strike sorties and delivered almost 1,000 missiles (by contrast, the United States flew more sorties and delivered more weapons in the first day of the 2003 Iraq war). The vast majority of the airstrikes are over the battlefield, with Russian aircraft providing “close air support” to ground forces. The remainder—less than 20 percent, according to U.S. experts—has been aimed at military airfields, barracks and supporting depots.

A proportion of those strikes have damaged and destroyed civilian structures and killed and injured innocent civilians, but the level of death and destruction is low compared to Russia’s capacity.

“I know it’s hard … to swallow that the carnage and destruction could be much worse than it is,” says the DIA analyst. “But that’s what the facts show. This suggests to me, at least, that Putin is not intentionally attacking civilians, that perhaps he is mindful that he needs to limit damage in order to leave an out for negotiations.”

Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on February 24 with an air and missile attack targeted against some 65 airfields and military installations. On the first night, at least 11 airfields were attacked. Some 50 additional military installations and air defense sites were hit, including 18 early-warning radar facilities.

In these initial salvos, a total of some 240 weapons were expended, including 166 air-, ground-, and sea-based missiles. Though there were a good number of longer-range bombers (flying from Russian soil), most of the airstrikes were shorter-range and most of the missiles launched were also short-range types of the Iskander (NATO SS-26 Stone) and Tochka (NATO SS-21 Scarab) classes.

The breadth of the attack—north to south, east to west—led many observers to compare the opening bombardment to a pattern seen in U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where large salvos concentrating on air defenses and airfields had the intent of establishing air superiority, a shock strike that would then open the skies for follow-on bombing at will. When it came to Ukraine, not only did many observers “mirror-image” Russian objectives to match U.S. practices, they also made premature (and incorrect) observations that Russia was fighting such a conflict.

Even before Russian ground forces reached Kyiv and other cities, this narrative goes, the air and missile forces would have so damaged Ukraine—including its communications and other infrastructure needed for defenses to continue working—that it would secure victory on the ground.

Russia has not achieved any of these goals. Though the outlines of its first night of strikes suggested an air superiority campaign and an intense and focused destruction of Ukraine’s military, after a month of war, continued targeting tells a different story. Russia still hasn’t completely knocked out the Ukrainian air force, nor has it established air superiority. Airfields away from the battlefield are mostly still operable and some (in major cities) haven’t been bombed at all. The fabric of communications in the country continues to operate intact. There has been no methodical Russian attack on transportation routes or bridges to impede Ukrainian ground defenses or supplies. Though electrical power plants have been hit, they are all in contested territory or near military installations and deployments. None have been intentionally targeted.

In fact, there has been no methodical bombing campaign to achieve any systemic outcome of a strategic nature. Air and missile strikes, which initially seemed to tell one story, have almost exclusively been in direct support of ground forces.

“Think of the Russian Air force as flying artillery,” says the retired senior U.S. Air Force officer, who communicated with Newsweek via email. “It’s not an independent arm. It has undertaken no strategic air campaign as American observers might be used to from the last 30 years of American conflict.”…….. Ukrainian military reporter Illia Ponomarenko says that the air defense system defending Kyiv from aircraft and missiles “has been particularly effective.

……. regardless of the Kremlin’s plans—whether Russia was actually seeking air superiority or intended to limit damage in Kyiv—there is no question that Putin has had to revise the long-range attack plan.

Over the course of almost four weeks, missiles fired at Kyiv have been scarce. Ukrainian media have reported just more than a dozen incidents involving Russian cruise and ballistic missiles intercepted over the city and its closest suburbs since February 24. And all of them, U.S. experts say, have been clearly headed for legitimate military targets.

………………………………………….. The strikes inside major cities (Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odessa) have not only been limited, but the retired U.S. Air Force officer points out that even when long-range aviation—Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers delivering cruise and hypersonic missiles —have flown strikes in western Ukraine, away from the battlefield, they have been directed at military targets.

And there has been strategic logic, at least in Russia’s view.

…………………………. Russia, the DIA analyst adds, has also been careful not to cause escalation onto Belorussian or Russian territory, or to provoke NATO. Despite operating from Belarus, Russian ground and air operations have mostly been confined to the southeastern portion of the country. And the attacks in western Ukraine, have been careful to avoid NATO airspace. For example, the Ukrainian airbase at Lutsk, home to the 204th Aviation Wing and just 70 miles south of the Belarus, was attacked March 13th by long-range bombers. The missiles were launched from the south, from over the Black Sea.

None of this is to suggest that Russia is not at fault in its invasion, or that the destruction and the civilian deaths, injuries and dislocation aren’t due to its aggression. Evidence on the battlefield, where there has been grinding fight for territory—in Kharkiv, in the contested front line towns like Mariupol, Mikolaiiv, and Sumy in the east; and Chernihiv northeast of Kyiv—indicates that civilian deaths have been much higher where ground forces are operating.

……………  “People are talking about Grozny [in Chechnya] and Aleppo [in Syria], and the razing of Ukrainian cities” a second retired U.S. Air Force senior officer tells Newsweek. “But even in the case of southern cities, where artillery and rockets are within range of populated centers, the strikes seem to be trying to target Ukrainian military units, many of which by necessity operating from inside urban areas.”

The officer requested anonymity because he is being privately briefed on the war by the Pentagon and is not authorized to speak to the news media.

He and the other analysts who spoke to Newsweek argue not only that the destruction is only a small fraction of what is possible, but also that they see a glimmer of hope in a fact-based analysis of what Russia has done.

…………. ……….. Sunday, Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN he is prepared to talk to the Russian president. “I’m ready for negotiations with him. I was ready for the last two years. And I think that without negotiations, we cannot end this war,” said Zelensky.

“I’m frustrated by the current narrative—that Russia is intentionally targeting civilians, that it is demolishing cities, and that Putin doesn’t care. Such a distorted view stands in the way of finding an end before true disaster hits or the war spreads to the rest of Europe,” the second U.S. Air Force officer says.

Heartbreaking images make it easy for the news to focus on the war’s damage to buildings and lives. But in proportion to the intensity of the fighting (or Russia’s capacity), things could indeed be much worse.

“I know that the news keeps repeating that Putin is targeting civilians, but there is no evidence that Russia is intentionally doing so,” says the DIA analyst. “In fact, I’d say that Russian could be killing thousands more civilians if it wanted to.”

“I’m no com-symp,” the analyst says. “Russia is dead wrong, and Putin needs to be punished. But in terms of concluding the war in a way that both sides can accept and where we don’t see Armageddon, the air and missile war provides positive signs.”

Every war is unique and awful, and Ukraine is no different. But Russia’s choice to modulate its destructiveness is an important counterintuitive element. Vladimir Putin can’t easily win; he can’t accept loss or retreat; and he can’t escalate. He has to keep destruction and pressure at a very careful, just-bad-enough level to keep some advantage.

I know it’s thin consolation that it could be a lot worse,” the DIA analyst says, “but to understand how that is the case should really change people’s perspectives, even inside the U.S. government, as to how to end this.”

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zelensky ready to negotiate with Russia over NATO and Donbas sovereignty, but Biden won’t budge.

There are questions galore. Principally, if it is so easy to work out a compromise over Russia’s legitimate security demands, especially regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership and the alliance’s further expansion, why was Biden so very stubborn in his refusal even to discuss it, given the urgency of the matter?

M K Bhadrakumar-Zelensky rubbishes Biden’s war on Russia, Pearls and Irritations, By P&I Guest Writers, Mar 24, 2022  What was the need for all that happened in the period since mid-December when Russia transmitted to Washington its demands for security guarantees? This question will haunt US President Joe Biden long after he retires from public life.

The foreign-policy legacy of his presidency and the reputation of this much-vaunted 80-year-old politician with a half-century’s record in public life, much of it supposedly in the domain of American foreign policy, are in tatters – irreparable.

News has appeared that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has conceded that he is willing to concede to the Russian demand that his country will not seek to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The announcement came early this week in an interview with ABC News where he revealed that he is no longer pressing for Ukraine’s NATO membership.

In fact, Zelensky let the cat out of the bag by casually adding, “I have cooled down regarding this question a long time ago after we understood that … NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine.”

Zelensky explained why: “The alliance is afraid of controversial things, and confrontation with Russia.”

This comes after his earlier revelation that he is “open to compromise” on the sovereignty of the two breakaway republics of Lugansk and Donetsk in the eastern Donbas region and on the status of Crimea.

ABC News reportedly telecast the interview on Monday night Eastern Time. Since then, the duo in the Biden team who piloted the Ukraine strategy, those apocalyptic “sanctions from hell” and the demonization of Vladimir Putin through the recent months – Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland – are nowhere to be seen.

That duo of Eastern European descent in the front seat – Blinken driving and Nuland by his side navigating him – ought to offer an explanation for this charade playing out, which is virtually demolishing American prestige as a superpower.

There are questions galore. Principally, if it is so easy to work out a compromise over Russia’s legitimate security demands, especially regarding Ukraine’s NATO membership and the alliance’s further expansion, why was Biden so very stubborn in his refusal even to discuss it, given the urgency of the matter?

Can it be that Biden was acting smart to create a fait accompli for Moscow by formalizing Ukraine’s membership at the forthcoming NATO summit on June 29-30 in Madrid?

What’s the need to destabilize the European economies and rock the world oil market at a juncture when most economies are entering a path of post-pandemic economic recovery?

What explains this unnatural obsession on the part of Biden over Ukraine’s regime?

Why such visceral hatred on Biden’s part toward Russia, something unworthy of an 80-year-old world statesman?

Why is it that the economic war against Russia has become such a very personal affair for Biden, as his White House speech on Tuesday shows?

But such an ignominious end to this entire episode over Ukraine’s NATO membership was entirely to be anticipated. Fundamentally, this is an existential issue for Russia, whereas Biden, Blinken and Nuland are dilettantes sitting 10,000 kilometers away indulging in old neocon pastimes of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, threatening them, disciplining them or punishing them for defying America’s diktat.

Even after Zelensky spoke, what has been Biden’s reaction? He scheduled a speech to announce that the US shall no longer import oil from Russia. Shouldn’t he have heaved a sigh of relief that this war in Ukraine is petering out?

Instead, he resorted to this strange toothless measure to impress the American audience that he is still on a winning streak promoting democracy in faraway lands. Isn’t such a gimmick an insult to the gullible American public?

Biden took this new step after Europeans told him plainly that they are not interested in such a move against Russia, given their heavy reliance on Russian oil.

Second, Biden doesn’t seem to know, or has pretended otherwise, that America is actually shooting at its own feet. For Russian prices are highly competitive and American companies will now have to pay much more to source heavy-grade oil suitable for their refineries………

Biden claims he is making sure that Putin won’t have money for his “war machine” if America stops buying oil from Russia. This is laughable, bordering on a lie.

The US was purchasing about 12% of Russia’s total oil exports. All right, that’s a decent figure. But it isn’t as if Russia won’t have any other buyers in a world market where the oil price has soared close to US$130 per barrel (thanks to Biden’s “sanctions from hell” against Russia)………..

Fundamentally, the problem is that the American elite is delusional. While the rest of the world knows that in a multipolar world, the United States’ capacity to force its will on other countries is inexorably in decline, the American elite shut their eyes to that reality. The present ridiculous situation was only due to this arrogance and self-deception……..

The strategic defeat that Washington has suffered will dent US prestige worldwide, weaken its trans-Atlantic leadership, unravel its Indo-Pacific strategy, and accelerate the drain of American influence in the 21st century. The Biden presidency will carry this heavy cross.

This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, which provided it to Asia Times.

M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat. Follow him on Twitter at @BhadraPunchline . His diplomatic career included assignments on the territories of the former Soviet Union and to Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. Other overseas postings included South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Turkey.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | politics international, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Multi $billion plutonium cores project – unsafe, unnecessary, and ill-conceived

The project is entirely unnecessary for the stated purposes,” ”And it will harm nearby Pueblos and communities, he added, “especially those who are nearest and most fragile.”

Pit production at LANL is an accident waiting to happen

The core debate, Searchlight New Mexico, by Annabella Farmer, 24 Mar 22,

A multi-billion-dollar project to make plutonium cores at Los Alamos National Laboratory may be unsafe, unnecessary and ill-conceived. But proponents say the mission is a must.   LOS ALAMOS — Los Alamos began as an “instant city,” springing from the Pajarito Plateau in 1943 at the dawn of the Atomic Age. More than 8,000 people flocked here to work for Los Alamos National Laboratory and related industries during the last years of World War II. Now the city may be on the brink of another boom as the federal government moves forward with what could be the most expensive warhead modernization program in U.S. history. Under the proposed plan, LANL will become home to an industrial-scale plant for manufacturing the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons — hollow spheres of plutonium that act as triggers for nuclear explosions. The ripple effects are already being felt…………

The cores — known as pits — haven’t been mass-produced since the end of the Cold War. But in 2018, under pressure from the Trump administration, the federal government called for at least 80 new pits to be manufactured each year, conservatively expected to cost $9 billion — the lion’s share of a $14.8 billion weapons program upgrade. After much infighting over the massive contract, plans call for Los Alamos to manufacture 30 pits annually and for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to make the remaining 50.
The idea of implementing an immense nuclear program at Los Alamos has sparked outrage among citizens, nuclear watchdogs, scientists and arms control experts, who say the pit-production mission is neither safe nor necessary. Producing them at Los Alamos would force the lab into a role it isn’t equipped for — its plutonium facilities are too small, too old and lack important safety features, critics say.

The lab has a long history of nuclear accidents that have killed, injured and endangered dozens if not scores of people. As recently as January,  the National Nuclear Security Administration, the federal agency in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, launched an investigation into a Jan. 7 leak at the lab that released radioactive material and contaminated six workers.

Studies accumulated over the past five years show that numerous federal agencies are well aware of the risks associated with the latest plan.

“We have a goal that’s not based in any real necessity, and that goal is leading to a rushed and therefore more expensive plan that’s more likely to fail,” said Stephen Young, an arms control and international security expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Criticism of the project has been so widespread, some believed — until as recently as last month — that it might even be tabled.

But now, the war in Ukraine has put the project in the spotlight, prompting politicians and military leaders to say that the United States must build up its nuclear weapons cache in the event of a showdown with Russia.

“I would have said pre-Ukraine there was a chance it would have been shut down,” Young said. But with the war in Ukraine, the floodgates have opened for military spending………….

Tripling an atomic goalLos Alamos National Laboratory produced the first plutonium pits as part of the Manhattan Project in 1945. Just one of these pits triggered the atomic bomb detonated at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico, and one triggered the bomb called Fat Man that destroyed Nagasaki.

Since the end of World War II, pit production at Los Alamos has been largely limited to research and design purposes. Fabricating a pit is a challenge: The greatest number the lab has ever produced in a single year is 11. Now the goal is to nearly triple that number.

The project’s opponents say that industrial-scale pit production at Los Alamos would mean a drastic shift in the lab’s purpose, requiring it to become something it was never intended to be. “There’s a whole host of engineering reasons why making pits at Los Alamos is a bad idea,” said Greg Mello, one of the project’s most vociferous and influential critics.Together with his wife, Trish Williams-Mello, he has been meticulously monitoring the lab for more than 30 years and has been opposing the pit project since its inception. Los Alamos National Lab, he says, “was never designed for this purpose. It’s not yet been made safe and may never be safe.”

Within LANL’s cramped, outdated facilities, pit production will require a huge influx of staff — some 2,500 technicians, security forces, facility operators, craft workers, engineers, scientists, professional staff and others — to perform what Mello describes as “a ballet of complexity,” working day and night to meet production goals.

Indeed, last month, inspectors for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported that renovations and other preparations for plutonium operations were underway seven days a week, 24 hours a day — an intensity that will “significantly ramp-up” in the long term, the board said.

Shift work is typical in the nuclear industry. But studies show that working at night can increase the likelihood of accidents. The fatigue it causes can lead to “severe consequences to security, safety, production, and cost,” the Oak Ridge National Laboratory reported in 2020. The report pointed to shift work as a contributing factor in the 1979 reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history…………

Federal reports, independent assessments, studies by the National Nuclear Security Administration and LANL itself offer a snapshot of the lab’s other shortcomings. Among them:

– In 2020, a withering report by the Government Accountability Office leveled a litany of criticisms at the plans to manufacture plutonium pits, noting that the National Nuclear Security Administration — the agency that oversees LANL — has already spent billions of dollars and more than 20 years trying and failing to reestablish pit production. During that time, LANL twice had to suspend operations after the discovery of pervasive safety issues, including a nearly four-year shutdown that ended in 2016.

– Even LANL has doubted its ability to succeed. The lab is only “marginally capable” of ramping up production to 30 pits per year by 2026 and sustaining that rate, it reported in 2018.

– Between 2005 and 2016, the lab’s “persistent and serious shortcomings in criticality safety” — involving potentially lethal nuclear reactions — was criticized in more than 40 reports by government agencies, safety experts and lab staff, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found.Officials at LANL declined to respond to Searchlight New Mexico’s multiple requests for an interview about these issues. Talhelm, the LANL spokesperson, instead provided a written statement………

A resident skeptic

Greg Mello doesn’t agree with the lab’s assertions about its safety and capabilities. In his view, the pit-production mission is folly.

“The project is entirely unnecessary for the stated purposes,” he said. And it will harm nearby Pueblos and communities, he added, “especially those who are nearest and most fragile.”……..

Mello’s background is in engineering, and he studied regional economics and environmental planning at Harvard. In 1989, he founded the nonpartisan Los Alamos Study Group, which has given briefings to the Department of Energy, the NNSA and others on Capitol Hill.

Pit production at LANL is an accident waiting to happen, he believes. “We have no idea, really, what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said. “But there are many possibilities.”

History illustrates a number of them. In 2011, for example, carelessness nearly led to catastrophe when technicians placed eight rods of plutonium side by side to snap a photo of them. This violated a fundamental rule of handling plutonium: When too much is put in one place it can begin to react uncontrollably, generating a burst of lethal radiation. After this near-miss, LANL engineers in charge of worker safety resigned en masse, alleging that the lab prioritized profits over safety. The result was the nearly four-year shutdown that ended in 2016.

Now, Mello fears a repeat of the negligence. He also worries about the project’s impacts on local communities, housing and transportation. There’s no workable strategy to get 2,500 more workers — including approximately 1,500 commuters — to the lab every day, he said……..

A question of need

There is yet another reason that opposition to the pit project is so fierce: Many experts believe it isn’t necessary.

The project was launched in part because of debates about how age affects plutonium cores in existing nuclear warheads. Nuclear scientists and national laboratories say the pits in the U.S. arsenal will be stable and effective for more than a century……..

Policy experts, for their part, worry that ramping up pit production will play into an arms race, ratcheting up international tensions.

“There is absolutely no reason to expand pit production capacity in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That would suggest the United States should have a larger nuclear arsenal than we currently have, and that is a dangerous knee-jerk response.”

Splitting headaches

Even some of the most ardent supporters of pit production wish the country had better options, and express doubts about splitting the mission between two facilities. Admiral Richard is among them: It will be impossible for LANL and the South Carolina site to make 80 pits each year on schedule, he told the Senate on March 8.

The federal government’s decision to split the work between two sites signaled a lack of confidence in either of them, others have suggested……..

New Mexico lawmakers continue to voice support. Last month, Heinrich told Searchlight that the state’s national labs “strengthen New Mexico’s economy by providing high-paying, high-skilled technology jobs.”

The money at stake is staggering: at least $9 billion for a decade of work at the two sites, according to the most recent federal cost estimate. Up to $3.9 billion of that will go to LANL, the NNSA says. But the real price tag might run significantly higher: The cost could run as high as $18 billion over a decade, Arms Control Today reported.

……   the effect of that money isn’t as straightforward as politicians say it is. For one, LANL’s funding tends to stay in Los Alamos County — the wealthiest in the state — resulting in a large wealth gap with surrounding areas. In fact, in the past LANL has had a negative economic impact on nearby Santa Fe, Taos and Rio Arriba counties, a 2019 BBER draft report found. Los Alamos County reaps the taxes for workers’ labor and benefits from their spending, doing little to benefit its neighbors.

Risk and resistance

The vast funds at stake may also increase the risks associated with the project. The federal government awards contract funds to LANL depending on whether it achieves its production goals. This means the lab has an incentive to meet those goals, even if it is not doing so safely.

Stopping the pit project is an urgent matter for all of these reasons, Mello argues. “This is the decade when we have to change direction in this country,” he said.

But changing direction isn’t easy. Any week now, the Biden administration is slated to release a document called a “Nuclear Posture Review,” which will determine whether the nation leans into nuclear amplification or reins it in. Choosing the latter might be difficult in light of Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling.

And if pit production proceeds at Los Alamos? It will cement New Mexico’s status as a “nuclear colony and sacrifice zone,” activists say.

In recent months, they’ve regularly left fresh flowers at a new plaque at the Santuario de Guadalupe in Santa Fe, commemorating Pope Francis’ condemnation of nuclear weapons. Activists from organizations like Nuclear Watch New Mexico have continually lodged protests. Veterans for Peace, Tewa Women United, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and other groups have gathered at the state Capitol to condemn the expansion of nuclear-waste storage in New Mexico — which pit manufacturing will require. 

As 2023 approaches and pit production starts in earnest, the chorus of resistance is likely to grow louder. Whether Washington hears it is anyone’s guess.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Record-smashing heatwaves are hitting Antarctica and the Arctic simultaneously. Here’s what’s driving them, and how they’ll impact wildlife

Dana M Bergstrom et al

Record-smashing heatwaves are hitting Antarctica and the Arctic simultaneously. Here’s what’s driving them, and how they’ll impact wildlife

Dana M Bergstrom et al

Record-breaking heatwaves hit both Antarctica and the Arctic simultaneously this week, with temperatures reaching 47℃ and 30℃ higher than normal.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Temperatures hit ‘unthinkable’ highs at both of Earth’s poles on the weekend. Climate scientists are trying to find out why

Temperatures hit ‘unthinkable’ highs at both of Earth’s poles on the weekend. Climate scientists are trying to find out why

Temperature records have been sent tumbling simultaneously in parts of Antarctica and the Arctic. Here’s what’s happening.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

As UK government touted ”media freedom”, Julian Assange in high security Belmarsh Prison was an embarassment


UK officials were worried about public reaction to their hosting a media freedom event a few miles from Belmarsh prison, where Assange is incarcerated. The Foreign Office monitored activity online, developed ‘lines to take’ and warned ‘we should be ready’, emails show.

JOHN MCEVOY23 MARCH 2022  The UK’s treatment of Julian Assange posed a public relations problem for the Foreign Office’s media freedom campaign, files seen by Declassified UK show.

In July 2019, the UK co-hosted a Global Conference for Media Freedom, a first-of-its-kind event where 50 countries gathered to form a Media Freedom Coalition.

Costing £2.4 million, the event was hailed as “a major milestone” in the UK government’s “campaign to protect journalists doing their job”.

The conference was held just months after WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. 

He was transferred to Belmarsh prison, “the closest comparison in the United Kingdom to Guantánamo”, as a UK parliamentary report has described it.

Addressing the media conference, then foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt declared: “If we act together, we can shine a spotlight on abuses and impose a diplomatic price on those who would harm journalists or lock them up for doing their jobs”.

‘We should be ready’

The hosting of a media freedom event within miles of Belmarsh prison in southeast London was seen as a public relations problem. Internal Foreign Office emails show UK officials monitored online behaviour accordingly.

After Hunt announced plans for the conference in February 2019, one official complained about “a few individual crazy responses to the FS’ [Foreign Secretary’s] tweet”.

By June, officials were requesting “Lines to Take on how best to respond to questions we expect to be raised on this occasion about the UK handling of the case of Julian Assange”.

In particular, “Icelandic criticism of UK handling of [the] Assange case” was seen to be “affecting messaging on media freedom”. 

This email was likely related to former Icelandic Interior Minister Ögmundur Jónasson, who had asserted in June that the Assange case put “the British justice system…on trial”

On 8 July, two days before the conference began, an unnamed official wrote about “a ramp up in activity by Assange campaigners”. 

One cause for concern was Assange’s mother Christine, who had “joined calls for a tweetstorm during the conference”, as well as “accounts [which] are small scale or are run by active trolls and provocateurs”.

The official outlined rules for engagement, noting “our current approach is right and we shouldn’t engage…However, we should be ready. I’m keen that we agree ahead of time how and when our approach would evolve”.

In an email with the subject line “Media Freedom Conference – online register of interest form”, one official even questioned: “what if someone like Assange applied to attend?”

The Foreign Office emails discussing Assange remain heavily redacted for reasons of “national security”.

‘No communications strategy can make this go away’

According to a recent academic study, Julian Assange “was by far the most frequently discussed individual on Twitter” with regards to the Media Freedom Coalition.

“Numerous tweets highlighted the apparent irony that the UK was establishing and leading an international initiative on media freedom, while simultaneously undermining free media…in their handling of Assange”, the researchers found.

Since 2019, the UK has nonetheless continued to use the Global Conference for Media Freedom as a vehicle through which to claim it supports press freedom.

Rebecca Vincent, the Director of International Campaigns for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), commented:

“It is disappointing that rather than looking to address the very serious substantive concerns about the case of Julian Assange, the UK Foreign Office seems to have treated the matter as only a public relations inconvenience as it prepared to host the Global Media Freedom Conference and launch the Media Freedom Coalition. 

“But the truth is that no communications strategy can make this go away. As long as Assange remains detained in the UK and as long as the US continues to seek his extradition and prosecution for publishing information in the public interest, this case will serve as a thorn in the sides of both governments and the Media Freedom Coalition itself.”

She added: “They should instead lead by example by dropping the charges, releasing Assange, and putting an end to his persecution once and for all”.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | civil liberties, media, politics, UK | Leave a comment

Bitcoin miners want to recast themselves as eco-friendly

Bitcoin miners want to recast themselves as eco-friendly

Facing intense criticism, the crypto mining industry is trying to change the view that its energy-guzzling computers are harmful to the climate.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sceptism over Boris Johnson’s plan for ”Britain carpeted in mini-nukes

Amid this seismic structural shift, it is reassuring to know that our
Prime Minister has lost none of his world-renowned vision. According to
reports, Boris Johnson wants to see Britain carpeted in so many mini-nukes
that he foresees “not quite everyone having their own small modular
reactors in their gardens, but close to it”.

Those were the words of one government aide, who sensibly chose to remain anonymous, following a summit between the Prime Minister and nuclear industry figures on Monday as
ministers ramp up plans for greater domestic production. Like much of what
comes out of Boris’s mouth, it’s genuinely hard to know where to start
with such a statement, other than to say surely he can’t be serious?

New energy schemes are a bit like higher taxes – people are in favour of them
until they are asked to bear the cost. So in a country where an application
for a new conservatory is likely to provoke a flood of letters to the
council from angry neighbours and a lengthy planning row, does anyone
genuinely believe that the average homeowner is going to allow the
Government to build a mini nuclear plant at the bottom of the garden?

It might help produce those elusive prize tomatoes, but the likelihood is
Boris’s nuclear plans will prove too radioactive for Britain’s army of

It’s not as if the average small modular reactor (SMR) is
actually that small. Rolls Royce says one of its SMRs will be roughly the
size of two football pitches.

Good luck fitting that into a shed. Like any
major infrastructure project that has Boris’s name on it, it sounds like
it was dreamt up at a No 10 lockdown party. Remember the Garden Bridge,
one of many hare-brained schemes Boris dreamt up as mayor of London? It was
scrapped in 2017 at a cost of £53m.

Reported plans for a fivefold increase
in nuclear capacity by 2050 imply the construction of at least half a dozen
big new nuclear stations in that time, but how exactly? Hinkley C,
Britain’s first new nuclear plant in three decades, will soon be nine
years overdue and £7bn over budget. Toshiba has scrapped plans for a new
plant in Cumbria, Hitachi has mothballed two new plants at Wylfa, Anglesey,
and Oldbury, Gloucestershire, and the future of Sizewell C and Bradwell are
both in doubt because they were too reliant on the Chinese.

 Telegraph 23rd March 2022

March 24, 2022 Posted by | politics, UK | 1 Comment

Official cover-up by 7 governments of the cancer deaths of nuclear test veterans

Shame of 7 governments as cover-up of deaths of UK nuclear test veterans
exposed. The Mirror has uncovered proof that seven governments knew
Britain’s nuclear test servicemen were more likely to get cancer and die
early, but did not publish the information.

Evidence has emerged of an
official cover-up of the true scale of death and illness among Britain’s
nuclear test veterans. The Mirror has uncovered proof that SEVEN
governments knew servicemen were more likely to have been exposed to
radiation, get cancer, and kill themselves, for 34 years – and never
published it.
 Daily Mirror 22nd March 2022

March 24, 2022 Posted by | 2 WORLD, health, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Ottawa’s Nuclear Funding Delays Climate Action, Ignores Indigenous Objections, Opponents Warn

Ottawa’s Nuclear Funding Delays Climate Action, Ignores Indigenous Objections, Opponents Warn The Energy Mix March 20, 2022

The federal government is delaying climate action by subsidizing small, modular nuclear reactor (SMR) development, over the objections of the remote, Indigenous communities the technology is supposed to serve as an alternative to diesel generators, opponents warned last week.

“There is no guarantee SMRs will ever produce energy in a safe and reliable manner in Canada,” the groups said in a release, after Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced a C$27.2-million grant for Westinghouse Electric’s $57-million bid to move its e-Vinci reactor toward licencing. They said systems of the type Westinghouse is developing “are not the energy answer for remote communities”, since they “do not compete when compared with other alternatives.”

In a study conducted in 2020, “the cost of electricity from SMRs was found to be much higher than the cost of wind or solar, or even of the diesel supply currently used in the majority of these communities,” the release added.

“Canadians want affordable energy that does not pollute the environment,” said Susan O’Donnell, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick. “Why would we invest in unproven technologies that, if they ever work, will cost two to five times more than building proven renewables?”

“The nuclear industry is promoting a nuclear fantasy to attract political support while purging past failures—like cost overruns and project delays—from public debate,” said Kerrie Blaise, northern services legal counsel at the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “Before Canada invests any public dollars in this yet-to-be-developed technology, they must fully evaluate the costs of nuclear spending and liabilities associated with the construction, oversight, and waste of this novel technology.”

“Studies have shown that electricity from small modular reactors will be more expensive than electricity from large nuclear power plants, which are themselves not competitive in today’s electricity markets,” said M. V. Ramana, a professor at the University of British Columbia School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, one of the co-authors of the 2020 study. “There is no viable market for small modular reactors, and even building factories to manufacture these reactors would not be a sound financial investment……………….

Last week’s government release added that SMR development will “help communities that rely on heavy-polluting diesel fuel to transition to a cleaner source of energy.” But the opposing groups say many of those remote settings are Indigenous communities, and SMR development isn’t the help they’re looking for. A December, 2018 resolution by the Assembly of First Nation Chiefs asked the industry to stop pursuing SMR development and the government to stop funding it, and “other Indigenous communities, including the Chiefs of Ontario, have passed resolutions opposing funding and deployment of SMRs”.

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Canada, opposition to nuclear, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Campaigners against Sizewell C nuclear project concerned that UK govt plans to stop local opposition to it.

Sizewell C campaigners’ fears about Government plans to accelerate nuclear
growth. Campaigners fighting plans for the Sizewell C nuclear power station
have expressed concerns about possible Government funding to help rapidly
accelerate the project.

Alison Downes, a spokesperson for campaign group
Stop Sizewell C, said she was “disturbed” about the acceleration proposal,
believing that local people could be stripped of the ability to oppose new
nuclear plants, as “planning and bureaucracy” was evaded.

She added: “We
are also concerned that industry bosses complained that the Environment
Agency and Marine Management Organisation are slowing them down. “The
notion that local people might lose their ability to oppose projects is
totally anti-democratic and detailed scrutiny by government agencies is
critical to ensure essential safeguards such as a site not flooding. East Anglian Daily Times 22nd March 2022

March 24, 2022 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Some Brits not very impressed with their government’s newbound love affair with nuclear power.

Nuclear energy push is not powered by sense  Readers fail to see the logic behind the government’s drive to go for the nuclear option to generate electricity

There is much about this government’s – and, to its shame, Labour’s – newfound love affair with nuclear power that makes no sense (Johnson announces aim for UK to get 25% of electricity from nuclear power, 21 March).

First, you cannot just turn off a nuclear power station. If we have 25% of our electricity generated by nuclear, then on days when all our needs can be met by renewables we will have to turn off 25% of our much cheaper renewable feed while using expensive, taxpayer-subsidised nuclear generation.

Second, we have no way of dealing with the mountains of dangerous high-level and intermediate-level waste that has been accruing since the 1950s. To generate more is sheer madness.

Third, nuclear power stations are vulnerable to the elements and to hostile attack – cyber, terrorist, state actors etc. Recent events in the Ukraine make this very real.

Fourth, the old argument about what we do when the wind isn’t blowing and the skies are overcast over the whole of the UK, which doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny now, falls away completely if we were to invest just a small amount of the taxpayer money that will go to the nuclear industry into research and development of electricity storage.

Finally, given the nuclear industry’s track record of bringing in plants well over budget, decades late, the proposed programme is not going to be realised until 2060 at the earliest. Why on earth are we contemplating it?
John French
Brockweir, Gloucestershire

Your report states that “electricity demand is expected to rise steadily in the next decade”. The same justification was used in 2006, when the Labour government first committed to further nuclear power stations. Based on the official forecasts issued in 2006, we should by now be consuming at least 15% more electricity than we were then.

But we are not. UK electricity consumption has in practice gone down by more than 15% since 2006. In the interim, no new nuclear power stations have been added to the system. It hasn’t collapsed, and is far less carbon-intensive.

Surely we aren’t getting fooled again by the same spurious rhetoric about endless consumption growth? In that immortal phrase of the 1970s: “Save it. You know it makes sense.”
Andrew Warren
Chairman, British Energy Efficiency Federatio

 The dash to fossil fuels is not the environmental disaster set out by António Guterres (Ukraine war threatens global heating goals, warns UN chief, 21 March). It is, at worst, the replacement of existing hydrocarbons purchased from Russia. In the longer term, it is clear that alternative renewable energy sources will displace fossil fuels and most countries will wish to do this as quickly as possible.

he government’s desire, supported by Labour, for increased nuclear power generation is bizarre. A wind turbine capable of producing 15MW can be installed offshore for £10m. Sizewell C is expected to cost £20bn and produce 3.2GW of electricity – this does not include decommissioning costs. To generate 3.2GW would need 214 turbines costing £3.2bn, albeit some money would need to be spent on storage capacity. The government plans to invest £1.7bn in Sizewell C. How is spending more than five times as much on a controversial power source that takes 10 years to build a good idea?
John Blanning

March 24, 2022 Posted by | public opinion, UK | Leave a comment

UK Tories split over nuclear power.

Boris Johnson’s energy strategy delayed AGAIN as top Tories ‘split over
nuclear power’. It is the second time the Prime Minister’s much-hyped
long-term energy strategy in the wake of the Ukraine-Russia war has been
delayed. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are thought to be at loggerheads
over investment UK nuclear production. The Government has admitted the
strategy will not be published this week as previously planned.

 Mirror 21st March 2022

March 24, 2022 Posted by | politics, UK | Leave a comment

Boris Johnson government to put limits on local community opposition to nuclear power

Boris Johnson prepares planning overhaul to speed up nuclear power plants.
Prime Minister considering reforms that would make it easier to build new
reactors after meetings with industry.

At a meeting with senior energy executives in Downing Street, ministers indicated that they were
considering reforming rules to make it more difficult for residents and officials to object to the construction of new nuclear sites.

Mr Johnson has previously pledged to put “big bets on nuclear power” as a way of
shoring up UK energy security following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and
concerns about the cost of imported fossil fuel.

Local people may have their ability to oppose new plants stripped away under proposals being
considered by ministers, but industry bosses are more concerned about the
Environment Agency and Marine Management Organisation wrapping their
projects in red tape and slowing them down, The Telegraph understands.

 Telegraph 21st March 2022

March 24, 2022 Posted by | politics, UK | Leave a comment