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‘Medical Scientific’ committee, stacked with nuclear executives, promotes nuclear power in space

“The nuclear industry views space as a new—and wide-open—market for their toxic product that has run its dirty course on Mother Earth.”

“Now it appears that the nuclear industry has also infiltrated the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that has been studying missions to Mars. ”

It’s going to take enormous grassroots action—and efforts by those in public office who understand the error of the space direction being taken—to stop it.

Nuclear Rockets to Mars?, BY KARL GROSSMAN– CounterPunch, 16 Feb 21,

A report advocating rocket propulsion by nuclear power for U.S. missions to Mars, written by a committee packed with individuals deeply involved in nuclear power, was issued last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The 104-page report also lays out “synergies” in space nuclear activities between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. military, something not advanced explicitly since the founding of NASA as a civilian agency supposedly in 1958.

The report states: “Space nuclear propulsion and power systems have the potential to provide the United States with military advantages…NASA could benefit programmatically by working with a DoD [Department of Defense] program having national security objectives.”’

The report was produced “by contract” with NASA, it states.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) describes itself as having been “created to advise the nation” with “independent, objective advice to inform policy.”

The 11 members of the committee that put together the report for the National Academy includes: Jonathan W. Cirtain, president of Advanced Technologies, “a subsidiary of BWX Technologies which is the sole manufacturer of nuclear reactors for the U.S. Navy,” the report states; Roger M. Myers, owner of R. Myers Consulting and who previously at Aerojet Rocketdyne “oversaw programs and strategic planning for next-generation in-space missions [that] included nuclear thermal propulsion and nuclear electric power systems; Shannon M. Bragg-Sitton, the “lead for integrated energy systems in the Nuclear Science and Technology Directorate at the Idaho National Laboratory:” Tabitha Dodson, who at the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency is chief engineer of a program “that is developing a nuclear thermal propulsion system;” Joseph A. Sholtis, Jr., “owner and principal of Sholtis Engineering & Safety Consulting, providing expert nuclear, aerospace, and systems engineering services to government, national laboratories, industry, and academia since 1993.” And so on.

The NAS report is titled: “Space Nuclear Propulsion for Human Mars Exploration.” It is not classified and is available here.

Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, from its offices in Maine in the U.S., declared: “The nuclear industry views space as a new—and wide-open—market for their toxic product that has run its dirty course on Mother Earth.”

“During our campaigns in 1989, 1990, and 1997 to stop NASA’s Galileo, Ulysses and Cassini plutonium-fueled space probe launches, we learned that the nuclear industry positioned its agents inside NASA committees that made the decisions on what kinds of power sources would be placed on those deep space missions,” said Gagnon. “Now it appears that the nuclear industry has also infiltrated the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that has been studying missions to Mars.  The recommendation, not any surprise, is that nuclear reactors are the best way to power a Mars mission.”

“It’s not the best for us Earthlings because the Department of Energy has a bad track record of human and environmental contamination as they fabricate nuclear devices. An accident at launch could have catastrophic consequences.”

Stated Gagnon: “We fought the DoE and NASA on those previous nuclear launches and are entering the battle again. The nuclear industry has its sights set on nuclear-powered mining colonies on an assortment of planetary bodies—all necessitating legions of nuclear devices being produced at DoE and then launched on rockets that blow up from time to time.”

“We urge the public to help us pressure NASA and DoE to say no to nukes in space. We’ve got to protect life here on this planet. We are in the middle of a pandemic and people have lost jobs, homes, health care and even food on their table.”

“Trips to Mars can wait,” said Gagnon.

There have been accidents in the history of the U.S.—and also the former Soviet Union and now Russia—using nuclear power in space……

(Article goes on to explain how solar power can be, and is being used for space travel and research)

The NAS committee, however, was mainly interested in a choice between a “nuclear thermal propulsion” (NTP) or “nuclear electric propulsion” (NEP) for rocket propulsion…….

“Advanced nuclear propulsion systems (along or in combination with chemical propulsion systems) have the potential to substantially reduce trip time” to Mars “compared to fully non-nuclear approaches,” says the report.

An issue: radioactivity from either of the systems affecting human beings on the rockets with nuclear reactors propelling them. Back after World War II with the Cold War beginning, the U.S. began working on bombers propelled by onboard nuclear reactors—even built one. The idea was that such bombers could stay aloft for days ready to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union. No crews would need to be scrambled and bombers then sent aloft.

But, as The Atlantic magazine noted in a 2019 article titled, “Why There Are No Nuclear Airplanes”:

“The problem of shielding pilots from the reactor’s radiation proved even more difficult. What good would a plane be that killed its own pilots? To protect the crew from radioactivity, the reactor needed thick and heavy layers of shielding. But to take off, the plane needed to be as light as possible. Adequate shielding seemed incompatible with flight. Still, engineers theorized that the weight saved from needing no fuel might be enough to offset the reactor and its shielding. The United States spent 16 years tinkering with the idea, to no avail”

The Eisenhower administration concluded that the program was unnecessary, dangerous, and too expensive. On March 28, 1961, the newly inaugurated President John F. Kennedy canceled the program. Proposals for nuclear-powered airplanes have popped up since then, but the fear of radiation and the lack of funding have kept all such ideas down.”……

The “synergies” in space nuclear activities between NASA and the U.S. military advanced in the NAS report mark a change in public acknowledgement. The agency was supposed to have a distinctly civilian orientation, encouraging peaceful applications in space science.

However, throughout the decades there have been numerous reports on its close relationship with the U.S. military—notably during the period of NASA Space Shuttle flights. As a 2018 piece in Smithsonian Magazine noted, “During the heyday of the space shuttle, NASA would routinely ferry classified payloads into orbit for the Department of Deense among other projects the agencies have collaborated on.”

With the formation of a U.S. Space Force by the Trump administration in 2019, the NASA-Pentagon link would appear to be coming out of the shadows, as indicated by the NAS report. The Biden administration is not intending to eliminate the Space Force, despite the landmark Outer Space Treaty of 1967 put together by the U.S., the then Soviet Union and the U.K, setting aside space for peaceful purposes. It is giving the new sixth branch of U.S. armed forces “full support,” according to his spokesperson Jen Psaki.

The NAS report says, “Areas of common interest include (1) fundamental questions about the development and testing of materials (such as reactor fuels and moderators) that can survive NTP conditions and (2) advancing modeling and simulation capabilities that are relevant to NTP.” And, “Additionally, a NASA NTP system could potentially use a scaled-up version of a DoD reactor, depending on the design.”

It declares: “Threats to U.S. space assets are increasing. They include anti-satellite weapons and counter-space activities. Crossing vast distances of space rapidly with a reasonably sized vehicle in response to these threats requires a propulsion system with high Isp [Specific Impulse] and thrust. This could be especially important in a high-tempo military conflict.”

Moreover, on December 19, just before he was to leave office, Trump signed Space Policy Directive-6, titled “National Strategy for Space Nuclear Propulsion.” Its provisions include: “DoD [Department of Defense] and NASA, in cooperation with DOE [Department of Energy}, and with other agencies and private-sector partners, as appropriate, should evaluate technology options and associated key technical challenges for an NTP [Nuclear Thermal Propulsion] system, including reactor designs, power conversion, and thermal management. DoD and NASA should work with their partners to evaluate and use opportunities for commonality with other SNPP [Space Nuclear Power and Propulsion] needs, terrestrial power needs, and reactor demonstration projects planned by agencies and the private sector.”

It continues: “DoD, in coordination with DOE and other agencies, and with private sector partners, as appropriate, should develop reactor and propulsion system technologies that will resolve the key technical challenges in areas such as reactor design and production, propulsion system and spacecraft design, and SNPP system integration.”

It’s going to take enormous grassroots action—and efforts by those in public office who understand the error of the space direction being taken—to stop it.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet, and the Beyond Nuclear handbook, The U.S. Space Force and the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear war in space. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. more https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/02/16/nuclear-rockets-to-mars/

February 18, 2021 Posted by | investigative journalism, politics, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, space travel, USA | Leave a comment

”Small Modular Reactors”’- governments are being sucked in by the ”billionaires’ nuclear club” 

SNC-Lavalin   Scandal-ridden SNC-Lavalin is playing a major role in the push for SMRs.

Terrestrial Energy…..  Terrestrial Energy’s advisory board includes Dr. Ernest Moniz, the former US Secretary of the Dept. of Energy (2013-2017) who provided more than $12 billion in loan guarantees to the nuclear industry. Moniz has been a key advisor to the Biden-Harris transition team, which has come out in favour of SMRs.

The “billionaires’ nuclear club”  …“As long as Bill Gates is wasting his own money or that of other billionaires, it is not so much of an issue. The problem is that he is lobbying hard for government investment.”

Going after the public purse

Bill Gates was apparently very busy during the 2015 Paris climate talks. He also went on stage during the talks to announce a collaboration among 24 countries and the EU on something called Mission Innovation – an attempt to “accelerate global clean energy innovation” and “increase government support” for the technologies.

Gates’ PR tactic is effective: provide a bit of capital to create an SMR “bandwagon,” with governments fearing their economies would be left behind unless they massively fund such innovations.

governments “are being suckers. Because if Wall Street and the banks will not finance this, why should it be the role of the government to engage in venture capitalism of this kind?”

It will take a Herculean effort from the public to defeat this NICE Future, but along with the Assembly of First Nations, three political parties – the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Green Party – have now come out against SMRs.

January 16, 2021 Posted by | Canada, investigative journalism, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, spinbuster | Leave a comment

How the marketing of American weapons determines U.S. foreign policy on China

Key Pentagon Official Turned China Policy Over to Arms Industry & Taiwan Supporters  October 28, 2020,  The triumph of corporate and foreign interests over one of the most consequential decisions regarding China is likely to bedevil U.S. foreign policy for years to come, writes Gareth Porter. https://consortiumnews.com/2020/10/28/key-pentagon-official-turned-china-policy-over-to-arms-industry-taiwan-supporters/   By Gareth Porter
The Grayzone   

When the United States finalized a set of seven arms sales packages to Taiwan in August, including 66 upgraded F-16 fighter planes and longer-range air-to-ground missiles that could hit sensitive targets on mainland China, it shifted U.S. policy sharply toward a much more aggressive stance on the geo-strategic island at the heart of military tensions between the United States and China.

Branded “Fortress Taiwan” by the Pentagon, the ambitious arms deal was engineered by Randall Schriver, a veteran pro-Taiwan activist and anti-China hardliner whose think tank had been financed by America’s biggest arms contractors and by the Taiwan government itself.  

Since assuming the post of assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs in early 2018, Schriver has focused primarily on granting his major arms company patrons the vaunted arms deals they had sought for years.

The arms sales Schriver has overseen represent the most dangerous U.S. escalation against China in years. The weapons systems will give Taiwan the capability to strike Chinese military and civilian targets far inland, thus emboldening those determined to push for independence from China.

Although no U.S. administration has committed to defending Taiwan since Washington normalized relations with China, the Pentagon is developing the weapons systems and military strategy it would need for a full-scale war. If a conflict breaks out, Taiwan is likely to be at its center.

Returning Favors

Schriver is a longtime advocate of massive, highly provocative arms sales to Taiwan who has advanced the demand that the territory be treated more like a sovereign, independent state. His lobbying has been propelled by financial support from major arms contractors and Taiwan through two institutional bases: a consulting business and a “think tank” that also led the charge for arms sales to U.S. allies in East Asia.

The first of these outfits was a consulting firm called Armitage International, which Schriver founded in 2005 with Richard Armitage, a senior Pentagon and State Department official in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations.

Schriver had served as Armitage’s chief of staff in the State Department and then as deputy sssistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. (Armitage, a lifelong Republican, recently released a video endorsement of Joseph Biden for president).

As a partner in Armitage International, Schriver was paid consulting fees by two major arms contractors — Boeing and Raytheon — both of which hoped to obtain arms sales to Taiwan and other East Asian allies to compensate for declining profits from Pentagon contracts.

Schriver started a second national-security venture in 2008 as president and CEO of a new lobbying front called The Project 2049 Institute, where Armitage served as chairman of the board. The name of the new institution referred to the date by which some anti-China hawks believed China intended to achieve global domination.

From its inception, The Project 2049 Institute focused primarily on U.S. military cooperation with Northeast Asian allies — and Taiwan in particular — with an emphasis on selling them more and better U.S. arms.

Schriver, known as the Taiwan government’s main ally in Washington, became the key interlocutor for major U.S. arms makers looking to cash in potential markets in Taiwan. He was able to solicit financial support for the institute from Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, BAE and Raytheon, according to Project 2049’s internet site, which provides no figures on the amounts given by each prior to 2017.

Equally important, however, is The Project 2049 Institute’s heavy dependence on grants from the government of Taiwan. The most recent annual report of the institute shows that more than a third of its funding in 2017 came either directly from the Taiwan government or a quasi-official organization representing its national security institutions.

Project 2049 received a total of $280,000 from the Taiwan Ministry of Defense and Taiwan’s unofficial diplomatic office in Washington (TECRO) as well as $60,000 from the “Prospect Foundation,” whose officers are all former top national-security officials of Taiwan.  In 2017, another $252,000 in support for Schriver’s institute came from the State Department, at a time when it was taking an especially aggressive public anti-China line.

By creating a non-profit “think tank,” Schriver and Armitage had found a way to skirt rules aimed at minimizing conflicts of interest in the executive branch.

The Executive Order 13770 issued by President Donald Trump in early 2017 that was supposed to tighten restrictions on conflicts of interest barred Schriver from participation for a period of two years “in any particular matter that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients….”

 

However, the financial support for Project 2049 from Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, General Atomics, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon, and from Taiwanese official and quasi-official bodies were considered as outside that prohibition, because they were not technically “clients.”

Big Wins for Supporters

Brought into the Pentagon at the beginning 2018 to push China policy toward a more confrontational stance, Schriver spent 2018 and the first half of 2019 moving proposals for several major arms sales to Taiwan — including the new F-16s and the air-to-ground missiles capable of hitting sensitive targets in China — through inter-agency consultations.

He secured White House approval for the arms packages and Congress was informally notified in August 2019, however, Congress was not notified of the decision until August 2020. That was because Trump was engaged in serious trade negotiations with China and wanted to avoid unnecessary provocation to Beijing.

Lockheed Martin was the biggest corporate winner in the huge and expensive suite of arms sales to Taiwan. It reaped the largest single package of the series: a 10-year, $8 billion deal for which it was the “principal contractor” to provide 66 of its own F-16 fighters to Taiwan, along with the accompanying engines, radars and other electronic warfare equipment.

The seven major arms sales packages included big wins for other corporate supporters as well: Boeing’s AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM), which could be fired by the F-16s and hit sensitive military and even economic targets in China’s Nanjing region, and sea-surveillance drones from General Atomics.

In February 2020, shortly after Schriver left the Pentagon, the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen received the lobbyist in her office in Taipei and publicly thanked him for having “facilitated the sale of F-16V fighter jets to Taiwan and attached great importance to the role and status of Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region.” It was an extraordinary expression of a foreign government’s gratitude for a U.S. official’s service to its interests.

Having delivered the goods for the big military contractors and the Taiwan government, Schriver returned to The Project 2049 Institute, replacing Armitage as chairman of the board.

Neocon Vision

The arms sales to Taiwan represented a signal victory for those who still hoping to reverse the official U.S. acceptance the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of all of China.

Ever since the 1982 U.S.-China Joint Communique, in which the United States vowed that it had “no intention of interfering in China’s internal affairs or pursuing a policy of “two China’s” or “one China, one Taiwan,” anti-China hardliners who opposed that concession have insisted on making the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which called for the United States to sell Taiwan such arms “as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” as keystone of U.S. Taiwan policy.

The neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) led by William Kristol and Robert Kagan wanted to go even further; it pushed for the United States to restore its early Cold War commitment to defend Taiwan from any Chinese military assault.

Thus a 1999 PNAC statement called on the United States to “declare unambiguously that it will come to Taiwan’s defense in the event of an attack or a blockade against Taiwan, including against the offshore islands of Matsu and Kinmen.”

After leaving the World Bank in 2008 amidst a scandal involving his girlfriend, Paul Wolfowitz – the author of that 1999 statement on East Asia – turned his attention to protecting Taiwan.

Despite the absence of any business interest he was known to have in Taiwan, Wolfowitz was chairman of the board of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council from 2008 to 2018. The Project 2049 Institute was a key member of the council, along with all the major arms companies hoping to make sales to Taiwan.

During the first days of Wolfowitz’s chairmanship, the U.S.-China Business Council published a lengthy study warning of a deteriorating air power balance between China and Taiwan.  The study was obviously written under the auspices of one or more of the major arms companies who were members, but it was attributed only to “the Council’s membership” and to “several outside experts” whom it did not name.

The study criticized both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations for refusing to provide the latest F-16 models to Taiwan, warning that U.S. forces would be forced to defend the island directly if the jets were not immediately supplied.  It also called for providing Taiwan with land-attack cruise missiles capable of hitting some of the most sensitive military and civilian targets in the Nanjing province that lay opposite Taiwan.

The delicacy of the political-diplomatic situation regarding Taiwan’s status, and the reality of China’s ability to reunify the country if it chooses to do so has deterred every administration since George H.W. Bush sold 150 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. That was, until Shriver’s provocative “Fortress Taiwan” sale went through.

The triumph of corporate and foreign interests in determining one of the most consequential U.S. decisions regarding China is likely to bedevil U.S. policy for years to come.  At a moment when the Pentagon is pushing a rearmament program based mainly on preparation for war with China, an influential former official backed by arms industry and Taiwanese money has helped set the stage for a potentially catastrophic confrontation.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist who has covered national security policy since 2005 and was the recipient of Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2012.  His most recent book is The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis, co-authored with John Kiriakou, just published in February.

This article is from The Grayzone

December 29, 2020 Posted by | investigative journalism, marketing of nuclear, politics, politics international, Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | 4 Comments

In USA’s economic and health crisis – nuclear weapons spending is booming

Roughly 50,000 Americans are now involved in making nuclear warheads at eight principal sites stretching from California to South Carolina. And the three principal U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories — located in Los Alamos and Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif. — have said they are adding thousands of new workers at a time when the overall federal workforce is shrinking.

“the insane idea that after a pandemic and dealing with climate change and in an economic crisis in which people are struggling with massive inequality that we are going to spend this much money modernizing every last piece of our nuclear infrastructure — that would be a failure, a failure of policy and a failure of imagination.”

But major defense contractors and their employees — including many of those making nuclear weapons or running the national laboratories where they are designed — have long influenced budget choices by helping to finance elections of the members of Congress who approve spending for that work. The industry’s donations in the current election cycle to members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees alone had reached $9.4 million as of mid-October; of that amount, the two chairmen took in a total of at least $802,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group. These tallies don’t include separate donations by lawyers or lobbyists.

December 24, 2020 Posted by | employment, investigative journalism, politics, Reference, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

USA government resists paying compensation to nuclear workers made ill by ionising radiation

the labor department ignored overwhelming evidence that her husband became sick from working at SRS

the system has become hard to navigate, with the government often fighting tooth-and-nail against the workers they were supposed to help

More than 2,200 workers had spent five years or more going through the exhaustive claims process, according to McClatchy’s 2015 “Irradiated’’ series. Some workers who filed for benefits died while awaiting decisions from the government, McClatchy found.

Death and despair. How the feds refused to help a nuclear worker’s family in SC, The State, BY SAMMY FRETWELL, December18, 2020 Every time Jerry Bolen came home from a construction job at the local nuclear weapons complex, he took off his dusty coveralls before stepping into the house he shared with his wife and children.

It was a precaution against tracking hazardous, radioactive materials into the family’s home in rural Barnwell County, says his widow, recalling how she would gingerly place the contaminated garment into the washing machine.

But while the effort protected the couple’s three kids, Jerry Bolen suffered. The long days he spent working at the Savannah River Site, exposed to chemicals and radiation, eventually killed him, his widow says.

Now, an exasperated Carolyn Bolen has sued the U.S. Department of Labor following a 13-year battle with the government over whether the family should receive compensation for the cancer that took Jerry Bolen’s life in 2006.

Her story is a familiar one. Many people who worked at SRS have complained for years that a federal compensation program for sick workers and their families is a bureaucratic morass that takes too long to maneuver and often doesn’t provide the benefits they were promised.

In Carolyn Bolen’s case, however, she was turned down so many times for benefits through the federal program that she exhausted all her appeals, prompting the federal lawsuit, she and her lawyers say.

The Nov. 20 suit against the labor department is among a handful of cases in South Carolina by ex-SRS workers and their families who were denied benefits in recent years through the federal compensation program, said Bolen’s lawyers, who specialize in helping sick workers.

Bolen’s attorneys said the labor department ignored overwhelming evidence that her husband became sick from working at SRS. They are seeking $275,000, the maximum she can get under the program. Other suits are expected as more workers or their loved ones are turned down by the government, said attorneys Warren Johnson and Josh Fester.

The federal government launched the compensation program two decades ago after conceding that employment at nuclear weapons sites likely made some of the workers ill. It was designed to help former employees who got sick working in U.S. nuclear sites during the Cold War.

To receive compensation, workers or their families must show that radiation on the site was as likely as not to have caused cancer or a handful of other ailments. Or, in some cases, they must show that people worked on the site during times when records of exposure are difficult to find.

The nuclear compensation program provides benefits to sick workers, but in some cases, covers their families after the person has passed away, such as with Bolen.

Unfortunately, the system has become hard to navigate, with the government often fighting tooth-and-nail against the workers they were supposed to help, Johnson said. Taking legal action to force federal compensation shouldn’t be necessary, said Johnson and Fester, whose law practice has represented sick SRS workers for years.

“This was supposed to be a way to make up for, or show our gratitude to these patriotic workers,’’ Johnson said of the compensation program. “They gave their health for our sake for the Cold War. We can at least offset the burden, by giving financial security, knowing they aren’t leaving a burden on their wives and children.’’………..

In 2015, the labor department told The State and the McClatchy Co. the program had approved more than 40 percent of the claims made by nuclear workers and their families, far more than the 25 percent the government anticipated when the program launched in 2001. The labor department said Friday the approval rate nationally is now more than 50 percent.

Even so, many claims don’t get approved and the wait for answers can be time-consuming. More than 2,200 workers had spent five years or more going through the exhaustive claims process, according to McClatchy’s 2015 “Irradiated’’ series. Some workers who filed for benefits died while awaiting decisions from the government, McClatchy found.

Earlier this month, a federal panel considered a proposal, advocated by Johnson, that could make it easier for thousands of workers and their families to receive benefits. But the board put off a decision until next year…………

he never complained about the long hours or said much about hazardous conditions at the site. That was important to the federal government because, during the Cold War, much of the work on the Savannah River Site needed to be kept confidential, family members say.

Tim Bolen, his son, said he never knew his father worked at SRS until just a few weeks before his death. But Carolyn Bolen did.

She remembers the days her husband came home with his coveralls coated in “white stuff’’ that she says came from the Savannah River Site. Bolen never knew what the material was, but she was always wary of the potential danger. And her husband occasionally offered clues that the white material came from SRS, she said……….

The site, a 310-square-mile complex, contains an array of nuclear production areas with some of the most toxic substances in the world.

Among them is a tank farm, which houses nuclear waste deadly enough to rapidly kill a person directly exposed to it. Carolyn Bolen’s lawsuit says her husband worked for a while in the tank farm area and another section where radioactive material is used.

The Savannah River Site, located near the Georgia border outside Aiken, was part of the national effort to produce atomic weapons between World War II and the early 1990s. Nationally, the effort employed some 600,000 people, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office……

After working periodically at SRS through the years, Jerry Bolen began to feel an uncomfortable sensation in the late 1990s that he couldn’t shake.

Something was wrong with his bladder. During trips to the bathroom, bloody urine flowed into the toilet and a sharp sting caused him to gasp. The pain was so bad, at times, that Carolyn Bolen could hear her husband’s cries throughout the house.

“He just screamed for mercy,’’ she said.

The discomfort sent him to a doctor, where the family learned the man who had faithfully kept a roof over their heads and food on the table was gravely ill. He had bladder and prostate cancer…….

In August 2006, Jerry “Little Mac’’ Bolen died at the age of 60, leaving his wife and family wondering how the once robust man could slip from their world. It didn’t seem right that a man so young and energetic had become so sick, family members say. …….

MISSING RECORDS

Jerry Bolen’s time at SRS, and his devotion to his family, haven’t impressed federal officials who have considered whether his family is eligible for benefits through the labor department’s sick worker compensation program. They’re skeptical an award to his widow is warranted, saying they need more evidence.

An obstacle some workers face is gaining access to records that could show there is at least a 50 percent chance radiation caused cancer they developed after working at the Savannah River Site, a complex developed in the early 1950s.

Many records either can’t be located, are inaccurate or don’t exist, meaning workers can’t prove how many days they worked on site, or the amount of radioactive material they might have been exposed to.

That’s a particular concern for subcontractors like Bolen, who did not work directly for the government or for the major contractors hired by the U.S. Department of Energy to run the site. Subcontractors often were local construction companies brought in to do specific jobs.

Johnson and Fester said records of subcontractors often are harder to find than those for energy department workers.

In Bolen’s case, the labor department turned down the family’s claim for benefits because “the submitted documentation does not establish covered SRS employment for the employee,’’ according to the federal lawsuit Carolyn Bolen filed. In declining comment on the Bolen case, a Department of Labor spokeswoman said Friday that claims can be turned down for a variety of reasons…..

Bolen’s lawsuit, however, said the labor department simply dismissed credible evidence that would prove the case. Jerry Bolen, for instance, worked with acquaintances or for his brothers’ construction businesses in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, according to five affidavits filed in Carolyn Bolen’s federal lawsuit last month.

Those affidavits, provided by family and friends who worked with Jerry Bolen, were combined with SRS identification badges issued in his name, and records of radiation doses the family ran across in his belongings. Some material was unearthed and provided to the government after the labor department had initially denied requests for compensation.

Despite the evidence, the Department of Labor ruled against the Bolen family’s request for reconsideration this past summer. Her case had been turned down at least three times before 2020.

“The department simply ignored additional evidence that Mr. Bolen was present at the site before 1968 and after Jan. 24, 1969,’’ the lawsuit said. “Mrs. Bolen’s request for reconsideration further asserts the department misapplied the law in determining covered employment by holding Mrs. Bolen to an impossible burden of proof.’’

While the Bolens have been turned down repeatedly in seeking compensation, Johnson and Fester are hoping the lawsuit will succeed. Fester said one of the five other cases the firm has filed resulted in a verdict that would have required payment to a sick worker. But the worker died before benefits were dispersed.

In the meantime, Fester and Johnson are pushing the federal government to approve a proposal that could open up benefits to thousands of people who worked at the Savannah River Site.

Under federal law, the government can acknowledge that it is too difficult to find records during certain years that would prove a person’s case for compensation for radiation-related cancer. As a result, the government can declare periods of years free of the need to provide records showing that a person likely got cancer from working at SRS.

The government already has done that for the time from 1953 to fall 1972. Some ex-workers at SRS, who were employed there for at least 250 days between these times, are eligible for benefits without producing extensive documentation about exposure to radioactive materials.

Now, a federal advisory board is considering whether to extend that to cover up to 1990 for some types of workers at SRS. It’s clear that Jerry Bolen worked well above 250 days between 1972 and 1990 at the site, so it’s possible his family could gain compensation if the time period is expanded to 1990, Johnson and Fester said.

A decision, under consideration for years, could be rendered as early as February if the federal advisory board recommends expanding the period. Such a decision ultimately would be made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the labor department said Friday.

Carolyn Bolen said a favorable decision — and her lawsuit — would mean a lot to many people who need help after they or their loved ones got sick at SRS.

“There are a lot of poor people in this world, and they don’t have the money like the president or the people in the White House,’’ she said. “I ain’t just talking about myself. There are people with needs.’’

This story has been updated with information provided Friday Dec. 18, 2020 by the U.S. Department of Labor.  https://www.thestate.com/news/local/environment/article247828620.html

 

December 19, 2020 Posted by | employment, health, investigative journalism, Legal, Reference, USA | 1 Comment

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.)………………….https://grist.org/justice/tva-kingston-coal-ash-spill-nuclear/

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

While Canadian authorities fall for “New Small Nuclear” spin, U.S. consortium rips off Canada’s nuclear waste disaster

U.S. corporations profiting from major Canadian nuclear liability,  https://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/views-expressed/2020/10/us-corporations-profiting-major-canadian-nuclear-liability Ole Hendrickson, October 30, 2020

The nearly 70-year history of the federal crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has left a $16 billion toxic legacy of shuttered reactors, polluted lakes and groundwater, contaminated soils, and hundreds of thousands of cubic metres of radioactive waste.

AECL’s 2018 annual report estimates its undiscounted waste and decommissioning liability at $15.9 billion as of March 31, 2018. Table 5.7 in Canada’s 2019 public accounts estimates AECL’s environmental liabilities at $1.05 billion and “asset retirement obligations” at $6.6 billion.

This $7.7 billion estimate of AECL’s total nuclear liability is heavily discounted. The accounting firm Deloitte does not recommend discounting for environmental liabilities and asset retirement obligations unless the amount of the liability and the amount and timing of cash payments are “reliably determinable.” As explained in a detailed report, neither is true for AECL’s liability.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper thought that the private sector might do a better job of addressing this massive liability than AECL itself. Just before losing power to the Liberals in the 2015 election, his government contracted an American-controlled consortium (creatively called the “Canadian National Energy Alliance”) to manage federal nuclear facilities and reduce the waste liability quickly and cheaply.

According to the main estimates, AECL’s expenditures grew from $326 million in 2014-15 (before the consortium assumed control) to $491 million in 2015-16$784 million in 2016-17$827 million in 2017-18 and $829 million in 2018-19. The 2020-21 main estimates for AECL are $1.2 billion.

AECL hands most of this money over to the consortium, whose current members are Texas-based Fluor and Jacobs, and SNC-Lavalin. AECL retains ownership of the waste. A 2017 special examination report of the Auditor General of Canada to AECL’s board of directors says that “approximately $866 million for contractual expenses was paid or payable by the Corporation in the 2016-17 fiscal year.”

Is this “Government-owned, contractor-operated” (GoCo) arrangement providing value for money?

The GoCo contract was supposed to have been reviewed after an initial six-year period. However, AECL — whose president is an American with past ties to consortium members — extended it to a full 10-year period in April 2020, 18 months before its September 2021 renewal date.

The centrepiece of the consortium’s approach — a million-cubic–metre radioactive waste mound on a hillside draining into the Ottawa River – was revealed in May 2016, shortly after the ink dried on the contract. Neither the public, nor Algonquin peoples on whose unceded territory this facility would be built, were consulted.

Technical problems and public opposition have put the “near surface disposal facility” — to be built at AECL’s Chalk River laboratories — years behind schedule. AECL waste management experts who left when the consortium took over have been highly critical, pointing out that an above-ground mound would not contain and isolate the types of radioactive waste that the consortium planned to put in it.

Chalk River, the focal point of Canadian nuclear research since the late 1940s, is where most of AECL’s radioactive waste legacy is found. But AECL also built reactors at four other sites in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. All have been shut down for decades — radioactive hulks, yet to be fully decommissioned.

AECL and its American-led consortium have announced quick and cheap plans for Manitoba and Ontario reactors: fill them up with blast furnace slag and concrete, and abandon them in place. Critics say these proposals are seriously flawed, noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says that “entombment” should only be considered in the event of a serious reactor accident.

Critics say that these sub-standard schemes would pollute major Canadian waterways and could expose workers and future generations to dangerous radiation levels.

The consortium is trying to salvage its Chalk River mound proposal with a promise to reduce the amount of radiation in the wastes it would house. Less radiation would leak into the Ottawa River.

However, management practices during Chalk River’s early years were poor, accidents were frequent and records were lost in a fire. Trying to separate out lower-activity from higher-activity wastes would involve considerable expense and high worker radiation exposures. And if strict limits on the mound’s radioactivity were adhered to, much of the federal waste liability would likely remain unaddressed.

Management of Canada’s radioactive waste by for-profit corporations, combined with a lack of government oversight, creates risks of delays, excessive radiation exposures to workers and the public, and squandering of tax dollars. Critics of AECL’s GoCo contract are asking the federal government to establish a publicly acceptable strategy for addressing its nuclear liability.

In a mission to Canada in late 2019, IAEA reviewers found virtually “no evidence … of a governmental policy or strategy related to radioactive waste management.” The government agreed to their recommendation that this gap be filled, assigning the task to Natural Resources Canada.

But Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan seems preoccupied with promotion of a new generation of mass-produced, “modular” nuclear reactors. Two consortium members — Fluor and SNC-Lavalin — are heavily invested in their own reactor designs. There are plans to build three new demonstration reactors at Chalk River, and talk of building as many as eight. One proposal has already reached the environmental assessment stage.

If the Liberal government caves into industry pressure to fund the building of these new reactors — instead of dealing responsibly with its existing waste liability — AECL’s $16 billion radioactive burden on Canadian taxpayers — and risks to workers and the public — will just keep growing.

Ole Hendrickson is a retired forest ecologist and a founding member of the Ottawa River Institute, a non-profit charitable organization based in the Ottawa Valley.

November 2, 2020 Posted by | business and costs, Canada, investigative journalism, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, wastes | 1 Comment

Relicensing Turkey Point nuclear station – a striking example of a dangerous action in climate change times

Even more bizarre, under current regulations, nuclear operators can take up to 60 years to decommission a closed plant. Decommissioning is the process by which a nuclear reactor is dismantled to the point that it no longer requires radiation protection measures. In the case of Turkey Point, if the reactors stay online beyond 2050, decommissioning could extend into the next century, when sea level rise due to climate change is predicted to inundate southern Florida.
Nuclear plants and climate change don’t mix. While proponents of nuclear energy often argue that nuclear power is a necessary tool against the climate crisis, nuclear power itself is at risk from climate change.
In this process, major safety and environmental issues have been declared off limits by a regulatory sleight of hand known as the Generic Environmental Impact Statement. In 1996, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission drafted a generic analysis of those environmental impacts it deemed would be the same for every nuclear reactor license renewal. Because the commission determined that this statement addresses a set of designated “generic” impacts, and put the result of that analysis in law, individual applicants for renewed nuclear reactor licenses are not required to address those safety and environmental issues. Rather, applicants only need to supplement that generic impact statement with an analysis of issues categorically designated “site-specific.”  
With climate change, aging nuclear plants need closer scrutiny. Turkey Point shows why. https://thebulletin.org/2020/09/with-climate-change-aging-nuclear-plants-need-closer-scrutiny-turkey-point-shows-why/ By   Caroline Reiser , September 14, 2020

Last December, two nuclear reactors at Florida’s Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station, located 25 miles south of Miami, became the first reactors in the world to receive regulatory approval to remain operational for up to 80 years, meaning reactors that first came online in the 1970s could keep running beyond 2050.

The ages of the Turkey Point reactors are not unusual; of the 95 reactors currently licensed to operate in the United States, only five are less than 30 years old, while more than half are 40 or more years old. The Turkey Point reactors are a bellwether, just the first of possibly many aging nuclear reactors that will seek permission to stay online well into the middle of the century. Not long after the December decision, in March 2020, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted two more reactors, located in Pennsylvania, the same extensions that it gave Turkey Point.

In pursing these extensions, the US commercial nuclear industry and its supporters collide with the realities of the aging US nuclear fleet and climate science projections. Existing safety and environmental requirements fail to provide the oversight necessary to ensure communities and the environment are protected. As nuclear reactors receive permission to operate for twice as long as originally envisaged, and in a world that, because of climate change, is drastically different from the one they were built for, the insufficiency of the existing regulatory framework is daunting.

A 40-year lifespan? At the beginning of its commercial nuclear power program, the United States designed and licensed reactors with a 40-year projected lifetime. Once the 40-year license is set to expire, regulations require the reactor owner to apply for a renewed license in order to continue operating for an additional 20 years. What the regulations don’t make clear, however, is the number of times a reactor license can be renewed. What Turkey Point received last year was not its first, but its second extension—what regulators call a subsequent renewed license. Continue reading

September 15, 2020 Posted by | climate change, investigative journalism, Reference, safety, USA | 4 Comments

Paducah, Kentucky – its nuclear waste tragedy is compounded by climate change

I never said a bad thing about the plant the whole time I was growing up,” Lamb said. “It made the economy good. But then we got sick.”  

“People who were not highly educated could make really good money working in these industries

“Not only that but the government was saying, this is your patriotic duty. We need this. So everybody just went along because the compensation was pretty good.”

GAO report released in November showed that 60 percent of U.S. Superfund sites are at risk from the impacts of climate change.

Instead of focusing on cleanup plans, some state lawmakers and federal agencies are loosening regulations on hazardous sites…… Last year, the DOE also moved to relax restrictions on the disposal and abandonment of radioactive waste

December 5, 2019 Posted by | climate change, investigative journalism, Reference, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Studies on Chernobyl nuclear disaster show that it’s relevant today, and for the future

DOES CHERNOBYL STILL MATTER? https://www.publicbooks.org/does-chernobyl-still-matter/ 11.22.2019 BY GABRIELLE HECHT  Since it first announced electricity “too cheap to meter,” in the 1950s, the nuclear industry has promised bountiful futures powered by a peaceful—and safe—atom. Design principles, the industry claims, limit the chances of core damage to one incident every 50,000 reactor-years of operation. History, however, has delivered a different verdict: together, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the three Fukushima reactors represent five meltdowns in only 100 reactor-years. What lessons do these accidents hold for the future of nuclear power?

Each meltdown has impelled design, operational, and regulatory changes, increasing the cost of nuclear power. Today, says the industry, the technology is safer and more vital than ever. No other source of electricity can offer so much baseload power with so few carbon emissions. But who can make money when a single US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection costs $360,000?

For the current US administration, the remedy for waning profits lies in cutting inspection hours. In a July 2019 proposal, which drew heavily on nuclear industry recommendations, the NRC also suggested crediting utility self-assessments as “inspections” and discontinuing press releases about problems of “low to moderate safety or security significance.” Translation: fewer inspections, less transparency, and weaker environmental and health oversight at the nation’s nuclear power plants.

The cause, costs, and consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl accident loom large in these battles. Was Chernobyl a fluke, the result of faulty technology and a corrupt political system? Or did it signal a fundamentally flawed technological system, one that would never live up to expectations?

Even simple questions are subject to debate. How long did the disaster last? Who were the victims, and how many were there? What did they experience? Which branches of science help us understand the damage? Whom should we trust? Such questions are tackled, with markedly different results, in Serhii Plokhy’s Chernobyl, Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl, Kate Brown’s Manual for Survival, and HBO’s Chernobyl (created by Craig Mazin).

Serhii Plokhy’s book and Craig Mazin’s miniseries, both entitled Chernobyl, focus primarily on the accident and its immediate aftermath. Both build on the standard plotline embraced by nuclear advocates.

In this narrative, Soviet love of monumental grandeur—or “gigantomania”—led to the selection and construction of Chernobyl’s RBMK1 design: an enormous 1000-megawatt reactor, powered by low-enriched uranium fuel, moderated by graphite, and cooled by water. The utterly unique RBMK had fundamental design flaws, hidden by corrupt state apparatchiks obsessed with secrecy, prestige, and productivism. Operators made inexcusable errors. The accident was inevitable. But the inevitability, Plokhy and Mazin affirm, was purely Soviet.

Plokhy gives more backstory. The enormous scale of Soviet industrialization put huge strains on supply chains, resulting in shoddy construction. Some of the men in charge had no nuclear background. The pressure to meet production quotas—and the dire consequences of failure—led bureaucrats and engineers to cut corners.

For both Plokhy and Mazin, these conditions at Chernobyl came to a head during a long-delayed safety test.   When the moment to launch the test finally arrived, shortly before midnight on April 25, 1986, there was confusion about how to proceed. The plant’s deputy chief engineer, Anatolii Diatlov, who did have extensive nuclear experience, believed he knew better than the woefully incomplete manuals. He pushed operators to violate the poorly written test protocol. (Disappointingly, Mazin’s miniseries portrays Diatlov more as a deranged bully than as someone with meaningful operational knowledge.)

The reactor did not cooperate: its power plummeted, then shot back up. Operators tried to reinsert the control rods. The manual didn’t mention that the RBMK could behave counterintuitively: in other reactor models, inserting control rods would slow down the fission reaction, but in the RBMK—especially under that night’s operating conditions—inserting the rods actually increased the reactivity. Steam pressure and temperature skyrocketed. The reactor exploded, shearing off its 2000-ton lid. Uranium, graphite, and a suite of radionuclides flew out of the core and splattered around the site. The remaining graphite in the core caught fire.

At first, plant managers didn’t believe that the core had actually exploded. In the USSR—as elsewhere—the impossibility of a reactor explosion underwrote visions of atomic bounty. Nor did managers believe the initial radiation readings, which exceeded their dosimeters’ detection limits. Their disbelief exacerbated and prolonged the harm, exposing many more people to much more radiation than they might have otherwise received. Firefighters lacked protection against radiation; the evacuation of the neighboring town of Pripyat was dangerously delayed; May Day parades proceeded as planned. Anxious to blame human operators—instead of faulty technology or (Lenin forbid!) a broken political system—the state put the plant’s three top managers on trial, in June 1987, their guilt predetermined.

Mazin’s miniseries follows a few central characters. Most really existed, though the script takes considerable liberties. The actions of the one made-up character, a Belarusian nuclear physicist, completely defy credibility. But hey, it’s TV. Dramatic convention dictates that viewers must care about the characters to care about the story. Familiar Cold War tropes are on full display: defective design, craven bureaucrats, and a corrupt, secrecy-obsessed political system. A few anonymous heroes also appear: firefighters, divers, miners, and others who risked their lives to limit the damage.

Nuclear advocates—many of whom believe that Chernobyl was a fluke, one whose lessons actually improved the industry’s long-term viability—object to the unrealistically gory hospital scenes portraying acute radiation sickness. But these advocates should feel appeased by the closing frames, which ignore the long-term damage caused by the accident.

Instead, the miniseries skates over post-1987 events in a few quick captions. The managers went to prison, a scientist committed suicide, people were evacuated. Yes, controversy persists over the number of casualties (31? That was the official Soviet number. How about 4,000? That’s the number issued by the Chernobyl Forum, an entity that includes representatives from the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other international organizations. As for the 41,000 cancers suggested by a study published in the International Journal of Cancer—that number isn’t even mentioned). But all is under control now, thanks to the new confinement structure that will keep the area “safe” for a hundred years. Mazin himself insists that the show isn’t antinuclear.

Instead, the miniseries skates over post-1987 events in a few quick captions. The managers went to prison, a scientist committed suicide, people were evacuated. Yes, controversy persists over the number of casualties (31? That was the official Soviet number. How about 4,000? That’s the number issued by the Chernobyl Forum, an entity that includes representatives from the World Health Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and other international organizations. As for the 41,000 cancers suggested by a study published in the International Journal of Cancer—that number isn’t even mentioned). But all is under control now, thanks to the new confinement structure that will keep the area “safe” for a hundred years. Mazin himself insists that the show isn’t antinuclear.

Plokhy also addresses the accident’s role in the breakup of the USSR. In 2006, Mikhail Gorbachev famously speculated that “the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, even more than my launch of perestroika, was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union.” Plokhy delivers details. Ukrainian dissidents trained their writerly gaze on Chernobyl, vividly describing the damage. Street demonstrations depicted the accident and its coverup as “embodiments of Moscow’s eco-imperialism.” This vision spread and morphed, animating protests in Belarus—also severely contaminated by the accident—and elsewhere. Chernobyl served as Exhibit A for why the republics should shed the Soviet yoke.

If you’re hoping for clear technical explanations, however, you’ll be disappointed. A stunning error mars the first few pages: Plokhy declares that each RBMK produced 1 million megawatts of electricity. This is off by a factor of 1,000. Typo? No, because he doubles down in the next sentence, affirming that the station produced 29 billion megawatts of electricity in 1985. He gets the orders of magnitude right later on, but these early missteps undermine reader confidence. Muddled technical descriptions and uninformative diagrams add to the confusion.

Readers seeking to understand the technology should turn instead to journalist Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl. He uses global nuclear history to illuminate Soviet efforts to manage the Chernobyl crisis. By comparing the crisis to reactor accidents elsewhere, Higginbotham shows that deep vulnerabilities are widespread. Plokhy’s engineers and managers seem bumbling, verging on incompetent. Higginbotham’s more nuanced portrayal reflects how complex engineering projects of all types necessitate informed improvisation. The three-dimensional world doesn’t faithfully obey manuals. Adjustments are always required.

Higginbotham and Plokhy differ most starkly in their treatment of Soviet reactor choice. In the1960s, technocrats weighed the RBMK design against the VVER,2 the Soviet version of a pressurized light water reactor similar to those sold by Westinghouse and used in the United States. For Plokhy, it’s simple. The VVER was “safe.” The RBMK was not, but its size and cost appealed to Soviet productivism.

Higginbotham, however, wisely relies on Sonja Schmid’s pathbreaking Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry (2015) to show that reactor safety isn’t a yes-no proposition. Plutonium-producing reactors similar to the Soviet RBMK (albeit half its size) existed in North America and Western Europe. Like nine of its French cousins, the RBMK could be refueled while continuing to operate. This presented significant advantages: light water reactors had to shut down for refueling, which entailed several weeks of outage. Even the risks presented by RBMK design vulnerabilities seemed manageable. “Nuclear experts elsewhere considered the RBMK design neither technologically novel nor particularly worrisome,” Schmid writes, noting that “what we consider good and safe always depends on context.” In the Soviet context, “selecting the RBMK made very good sense.”

Neither Schmid nor Higginbotham absolves the Soviet technopolitical system. The specific circumstances that led to Chernobyl’s explosions might not recur. But, as sociologist Charles Perrow has been arguing since his 1983 book Normal Accidents, highly complex technological systems create unpredictable situations, which inevitably lead to system failures. The question is not whether an accident of Chernobyl’s gravity can happen elsewhere, but how to prepare for the consequences when it does. 

That’s one of the questions Kate Brown considers in Manual for Survival. Offering a wealth of new information and analysis, Brown speeds past the reactor explosion. Instead, she focuses on dozens of previously untold stories about how people coped with their newly radioactive lives.

Brown’s protagonists include women who worked at a wool factory fed by contaminated sheep and butchers ordered to grade meat according to radioactivity. Ukraine, we learn, kept serving as the Soviet breadbasket, despite food radiation levels that exceeded norms. The concentrations of radionuclides were biomagnified by receptive organisms and ecologies, such as mushrooms, wild boar, and the Pripyat Marshes. Defying expectations, some foods, over time, have even become more contaminated.

Brown’s descriptions add historical flesh to arguments first developed by Olga Kuchinskaya, in her 2014 book on Belarus’s Chernobyl experience, The Politics of Invisibility: Public Knowledge about Radiation Health Effects after Chernobyl.

Since the first studies of bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, science on the biological effects of radiation exposure has been subject to controversy. Like all scientific work, these early survivor studies had limitations. Exposure estimates were unreliable.

The largest study began data collection five years after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts, so it didn’t include people who died or moved between 1945 and 1950. Another problem lies in the applicability of these studies. Bomb exposures, such as those in Japan, mostly consist of high, external doses from one big blast. Yet postwar exposures have mainly consisted of low doses, delivered steadily over a long period. They often involve internal exposures—such as inhalation of radioactive particles or consumption of irradiated food—which can be deadlier.

Irrespective of their limitations, however, the findings of these survivor studies have served as the basis for establishing regulatory limits for all types of radiation exposures. Critics argue that extrapolating from the Japan data underestimates low-dose effects: If you’ve already decided that the only possible health effects are the ones you’ve already found, surely you’re missing something? Among other limitations, studies of external gamma radiation exposures cannot illuminate the long-term health effects of inhaling radioactive alpha particles.

Brown injects the work of Dr. Angelina Gus’kova into this story. Gus’kova started treating radiation-induced illnesses in the 1950s, while working at the top-secret Mayak plutonium plant (where the radioactive spills from a 1957 accident continue to contaminate people, land, and water). A neurologist, Gus’kova made observations that extended beyond the narrow cancer focus of most Western practitioners who studied the health effects of radiation exposure. Her patients displayed a wide range of symptoms, which Gus’kova and her colleagues dubbed “chronic radiation syndrome.” Not that they neglected cancer: a 40-year study of 1.5 million people who lived near Mayak found significantly higher cancer and death rates than those reported in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Soviet rubric of “chronic radiation syndrome” did not exist in the West. Yet Gus’kova’s findings did align with those of dissident scientists in the US and the UK. Thomas Mancuso, for example, was pushed out of the US Atomic Energy Commission because he refused to give the Hanford plutonium plant a clean bill of health after finding that workers there sustained high rates of cardiovascular disease, immune system damage, and other illnesses.

Alice Stewart, meanwhile, was shunned by the British establishment after her 1956 research showed that x-raying pregnant women increased the risk of cancer and leukemia in their children by 50 percent. Over the years, these and other scientists whose data challenged the findings of American and European nuclear establishments found themselves sidelined and defunded.

In tandem with perestroika, Chernobyl opened communication between Soviet and Western nuclear experts, engendering what Brown calls an “unholy alliance.” In 1990, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent a mission to Belarus and Ukraine to assess radiation damage. Belarusian scientists reported rising rates of many diseases in contaminated areas. Nevertheless, the IAEA team rejected radiation as a possible cause. Such correlations didn’t appear in Western data.

Instead, the IAEA teams used dose estimates provided by distant Moscow colleagues and ignored local Belarusian and Ukrainian descriptions of people’s actual consumption habits, which included significant amounts of contaminated food and milk. The IAEA assessments neglected the internal exposures resulting from this consumption. Yet these assessments now serve as international reference points. “Underestimating Chernobyl damage,” Brown warns, “has left humans unprepared for the next disaster.”

For some, hope springs eternal. In 2017, Chernobyl’s “New Safe Confinement” finally became operational, after two decades of design and construction. This $1.7 billion structure aims to contain the spread of radioactive rubble while workers inside dismantle the reactor and its crumbling sarcophagus. Ownership was transferred from the builders of the structure to the Ukrainian government in July 2019.

At the transfer ceremony, newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a tourism development plan for the radioactive exclusion zone, including a “green corridor” through which tourists could travel to gawk at the remains of Soviet hubris. “Until now, Chernobyl was a negative part of Ukraine’s brand,” declared Zelensky, who was nine years old when the reactor exploded. “It’s time to change.” (Zelensky further demonstrated his dedication to “branding” two weeks after this ceremony, when he emphasized his recent stay in a Trump hotel during his now-infamous phone conversation with the US president.)

Change also seems possible to Plokhy, who optimistically predicts that new reactor designs will be “cheaper, safer, and ecologically cleaner.” But Allison Macfarlane, who chaired the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission under Obama, recently noted that these “new” options are actually “repackaged designs from 70 years ago.” They still produce significant quantities of highly radioactive, long-lived waste.

Meanwhile, regulators in France—the world’s most nuclear nation—are taking the opposite approach from the United States’ NRC. Rather than rolling back oversight, France is intensifying inspections of their aging reactor fleet. After four decades of operation, many French reactors have begun to leak and crack. Keeping them operational will cost at least $61 billion. Despite the phenomenal cost, there are many who believe such an investment in the nuclear future is worthwhile.

Brown is far less sanguine about our nuclear future. Predictably, she has been denounced for believing marginal scientists and relying too heavily on anecdotal evidence. She does occasionally go overboard in suggesting conspiracy. Cover-ups clearly occurred on many occasions, but sometimes people were just sticking to their beliefs, trapped by their institutional and disciplinary lenses. Brown’s absence of nuance on this point matters, because the banality of ignorance—its complicity in all forms of knowledge production—can be more dangerous than deliberate lies: more systemic, harder to detect and combat.

Overall, though, Brown is on the right track. Many modes of scientific inquiry aren’t equipped to address our most urgent questions. Clear causal chains are a laboratory ideal. The real world brims with confounding variables. Some scientists studying Chernobyl’s “exclusion zone”—the region officially declared uninhabitable due to contamination—are trying new techniques to grapple with this reality. Tim Mousseau and Anders Møller, for example, collect data on the zone in its ecological entirety, rather than focusing on single organisms. Their findings belie romantic tales of wildlife resurgence (such as the one offered up by a 2011 PBS special on the radioactive wolves of Chernobyl). They too have met resistance.

How, then, can we harness the immense power of scientific analysis while also acknowledging its limitations? The nuclear establishment is quick to lump its opponents together with climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. Some may deserve that. But much dissident science is well executed. So how do we, the lay public, tell the difference? How can dissent and uncertainty serve, not as a block to action, but as a call?

One way: we can refuse to see Chernobyl and its kin as discrete events of limited duration. Brown, for example, treats Chernobyl as an acceleration of planetary-scale contamination that began with the atomic arms race.

Let’s be clear: the contamination continues. After the triple meltdown at Fukushima, scientists found highly radioactive, cesium-rich microparticles in Tokyo, 150 miles south of the accident site. When inhaled, such particles remain in human lungs, where their decay continues to release radioactivity for decades. Contaminants from future accidents will, in turn, accrete on the radioactive residues of their predecessors.

And, we might add, on the ocean floor. The Russian state-run firm Rosatom recently announced the inauguration of its first floating reactor, towed across the melting Arctic to serve a community in Siberia: yet another manifestation of how climate change favors nuclear development. Rosatom is currently negotiating contracts for reactors (floating and otherwise) in some 30 countries, from Belarus to Bangladesh, Egypt to South Africa.

Threatened, the US nuclear industry sees Russian expansion as “another reason that the United States should maintain global leadership in nuclear technology exports.” And so we hurtle forward: rolling back oversight, acceleration unchecked.

This article was commissioned by Caitlin Zaloom.

November 26, 2019 Posted by | history, investigative journalism, Reference, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Whistleblowers and the safety problems at Hanford nuclear waste site

October 31, 2019 Posted by | civil liberties, investigative journalism, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear scandals exposed by Julian Assange and Wikileaks

What we know about nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry thanks to WikiLeaks

“The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on 11 October. Why I support the nomination of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.” Open Democracy, Felicity Ruby, 7 October 2019  The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on 11 October. Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have been nominated for the prize again this year, as they have since 2010. As the first staffer of the campaign that won the Peace Prize in 2017, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), I support this nomination for a number of reasons.

The vast majority of governments on this planet want nuclear disarmament negotiations to occur and produce results. ICAN has been mobilising this willingness to push for a new treaty to ban nuclear weapons. From the outset, the campaign deployed accurate information to mobilise public opinion and reeducate a new generation. In facing the truth about nuclear dangers, answers became available and courageous action was taken. Facing the truth about climate change similarly involves the public having accurate information and courageously acting on it.
WikiLeaks and Assange have made a great deal of information available about nuclear weapons and the nuclear industry. A search on the WikiLeaks site for the word ‘nuclear’ brings up 284, 493 results. These documents traverse the nuclear fuel cycle – from uranium mining to nuclear waste – with many thousands exposing nuclear energy industry giants, and nuclear weapon threat assessments, numbers, doctrines and negotiations.
Ten examples

Below are just ten examples of where WikiLeaks exposed wrongdoing on the part of governments and corporations that meant citizens could take action to protect themselves from harm, or governments were held to account:

– Chalk River nuclear reactor shut down – released 11 January 2008 – Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on Chalk River reactor

After the Chalk River nuclear reactor was shut down for routine maintenance on 18 November 2007, inspectors verified the reactor’s cooling systems had not been modified as required by an August 2006 licensing review. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) did not start the reactor but said upgrades could be done as part of maintenance while still operating safely. This impasse lasted a month, with the government intervening to grant an exemption to the reactor to allow its restart. The responsible Minister for Natural Resources, Gary Lunn MP, fired Linda Keen, the President of the Nuclear Safety Commission. Their exchange of letters revealed much about the safety standards and routine practices of the Canadian nuclear regulatory system, and particular problems with the ageing Chalk River reactor previously unknown to the public.

– Footage of the 1995 disaster at the Japanese Monju nuclear reactor – released 25 January 2008
Following the 2008 announcement that the Japanese Monju fast breeder nuclear reactor would be reopened, activists leaked the suppressed video footage of the sodium spill disaster that led to its closure in 1995. Named after the Buddhist divinity of wisdom, Monju, located in Japan’s Fukui prefecture, is Japan’s only fast-breeder reactor. Unlike conventional reactors, fast-breeder reactors, which “breed” plutonium, use sodium rather than water as a coolant. This type of coolant creates a potentially hazardous situation as sodium is highly corrosive and reacts violently with both water and air. On December 8, 1995, 700 kg of molten sodium leaked from the secondary cooling circuit of the Monju reactor, resulting in a fire that did not result in a radiation leak, but the potential for catastrophe was played down the extent of damage at the reactor and denied the existence of a videotape showing the sodium spill. Further complicating the story, the deputy general manager of the general affairs department at the PNC, Shigeo Nishimura, 49, jumped to his death the day after a news conference where he and other officials revealed the extent of the cover-up.

– Serious nuclear accident lay behind Iranian nuke chief’s mystery resignation – released 16 July 2009 WikiLeaks revealed that a source associated with Iran’s nuclear program confidentially told the organisation of a serious, recent, nuclear accident at Natanz. Natanz is the primary location of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program and the site targeted with the Stuxnet worm that contained 4 zero days and was designed to slow down and speed up centrifuges enriching uranium. WikiLeaks had reason to believe the source was credible, however contact with this source was lost. …………..

WikiLeaks and Assange have brought forward many truths that are hard to face, publishing well over 10 million documents since 2006. Often forgotten is that each one was provided by a whistleblower who trusted this platform to publish, and who sought reform of how political, corporate and media power elites operate. Each release has shared genuine official information about how governments, companies, banks, the UN, political parties, jailers, cults, private security firms, war planners and the media actually operate when they think no one is looking.

Assange is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of these many releases of information, used as evidence in court cases, freeing prisoners and exposing scandals, torture, murder and surveillance for which redress is only possible when the wrongdoing is dragged into the light. For publishing this true information, Assange, an Australian based in the UK at the time of publication, is on the health ward of Belmarsh Prison, facing extradition and charges attracting 175 years in a US jail, an effective death sentence….. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/can-europe-make-it/what-we-know-about-nuclear-weapons-and-nuclear-industry-thanks-wikileaks/

October 8, 2019 Posted by | investigative journalism, Wikileaks | 1 Comment

Humboldt Bay – a case study in how not to involve the community in cleanup of a dead nuclear reactor

         
The audience found it noteworthy that no seats had been assigned to tribal representation.
 
the public has known very little about the decommissioning process. No seats on the CAB were given to the media, no one on the CAB thought it was their job to speak with the press, PG&E did not speak with the press, and the NRC has a very hands off approach to the decommissioning process and the utility’s relationship with the CAB. 

Input from the public included a strong sentiment that this was a very poor storage location for the spent fuel. 

Laird went on to say that while there’s already been half a meter of sea level rise, a meter more, which is predicted to occur within 40 years, will fully inundate the generation station, 101 in that area and cause the dry cask storage area to become an island, until it is eroded away.  

Notably, PG&E’s Decommissioning Fund will run out in 2025, a mere 5 years from now, the casks the waste are in only have a shelf life of 40 to 50 years, and the half life of the waste in storage in those casks in PG&E’s custody, is 24,000 years.  

NUCLEAR WASTE BEING STORED 115 FT FROM HUMBOLDT BAY AS SEA LEVEL RISES

Bruce Watson the Branch Chief in charge of Reactor Decommissioning at the NRC led the meeting. He instructed everyone that the sole purpose of the meeting was for him to collect their input on the best practices of the Citizen Advisory Boards. He said, “We are not here to talk about other issues related to decommissioning.” The speakers allowed some of their remarks to drift over to address what should be done about the spent fuel rod still being stored at the King Salmon site.

On January 14th, the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act (NEIMA) was signed into law. According to Jurist Legal News and Research website, NEIMA makes several changes to the licensing process for nuclear reactors. The NEIMA gave the NRC less than a year to “develop and implement a staged licensing process for commercial advanced nuclear reactors.” Continue reading

September 22, 2019 Posted by | investigative journalism, Reference | Leave a comment

Kate Brown’s “Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future” illuminates the truth about radioactive legacy of nuclear industry

[in 1992] Baverstock and his colleagues published a letter on their findings in the scientific journal Nature, in which they concluded, “the consequences to the human thyroid, especially in fetuses and young children, of the carcinogenic effects of radioactive fallout is much greater than previously thought.”

Now, after more than 30 years, U.N.-sponsored researchers have backed away from the 1992 UNSCEAR study by concluding that “studies of clean-up workers/liquidators suggest dose-related increases of thyroid cancer and hematological malignancies in adults,” as well as “increases in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. If confirmed, these would have significant public health and radiation protection implications.” 

The United States’ involvement with the Chernobyl aftermath was shaped largely, and shamefully, by the desire to avoid potential legal liabilities associated with the 166 U.S. open-air nuclear weapons tests in Nevada and the Marshall Islands. At the time of the Chernobyl accident, compensation radiation claims for injuries and deaths from bomb testing were looked upon by the nuclear weapons program as a dagger aimed at the heart of U.S. national security.

September 14, 2019 Posted by | investigative journalism, politics, secrets,lies and civil liberties, Ukraine, USA | Leave a comment

Australian investigative journalist Mark Davis explodes the myths around Julian Assange

CN LIVE! Mark Davis Wikileaks Revelations

While the Internet was meant to democratise the transmission of information we see a few giant technology companies, Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have near total control of what is seen and shared.

The situation is even worse in Australia with two or three media companies and the same technology giants having control. And the Government of Australia has granted them ever wider market access to extend their monopolies.

Slowly, instance by instance, the malicious and deceitful smears of Julian Assange’s character have been exposed for what they are; an effort to destroy trust in a system of anonymous leaking that will educate everyone.

WikiLeaks’ threat to the powerful was recognised and every effort was, and is, being made to criminalise anonymous leaking, which would be akin to criminalising Gutenberg’s printing press, but there is not much chance this criminalisation will succeed.

It’s time to bring Julian Assange home. Torturing and punishing him has never been legitimate and serves absolutely no purpose.

Media dead silent as Wikileaks insider explodes the myths around Julian Assange, Michael West, by Greg Bean — 16 August 2019 – It is the journalists from The Guardian and New York Times who should be in jail, not Julian Assange, said Mark Davis last week. The veteran Australian investigative journalist, who has been intimately involved in the Wikileaks drama, has turned the Assange narrative on its head. The smears are falling away. The mainstream media, which has so ruthlessly made Julian Assange a scapegoat, is silent in response.

 

August 17, 2019 Posted by | civil liberties, investigative journalism, Reference | Leave a comment