The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Cyber intrusion at USA multiple nuclear power generation sites this year

Nuclear breach opens new chapter in cyber struggle, Blake Sobczak and Peter Behr, E&E News reporters Energywire: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 U.S. authorities are investigating a cyber intrusion affecting multiple nuclear power generation sites this year, E&E News has learned.

There is no evidence that the nuclear energy industry’s highly regulated safety systems were compromised. But any cybersecurity breach — targeted or not — at closely guarded U.S. nuclear reactors marks an escalation of hackers’ probes into U.S. critical infrastructure.

Electricity-sector officials confirmed yesterday that they are working to unpack the significance of the secretive cyber event, code named “Nuclear 17.”

Asked about the case, a representative from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) said the nonprofit grid overseer “is aware of an incident” and has shared information with its members through a secure portal.

U.S. energy utilities pass around information on the latest hacking threats and vulnerabilities through NERC’s Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center. That organization “is working closely with the government to better understand any implications this incident might have for the electricity industry,” NERC spokeswoman Kimberly Mielcarek said in an emailed statement.

E&E News has reached out to nearly two dozen owners and operators of nuclear power plants for comment. None of the companies that replied by last night shared additional information on the incident, the details of which may be classified…….

Nuclear 17 and recent threats

An incident of this kind would almost certainly attract the attention of the Department of Homeland Security and the broader intelligence community, though a DHS spokesman did not confirm whether the agency was involved yesterday. If the threat rises to a certain level, members of Congress with intelligence oversight would also be looped in. Senate staff members would not confirm if they’re looking into the nuclear breach when asked for comment yesterday afternoon.

Even relatively routine cyber intrusions at sensitive facilities can trigger a high-level response from government and industry, given the potential stakes involved. In another recent nuclear breach, a South Korean state-owned utility reported losing potentially sensitive data to hackers in 2014 and 2015, though the attackers didn’t get into operational systems (Energywire, July 14, 2015).

Earlier this month, however, back-to-back cybersecurity warnings from U.S. officials put grid operators on high alert.

The twin threats came from Hidden Cobra, the U.S. government’s nickname for North Korean government-sponsored hackers, and Electrum, a separate group that cybersecurity firm Dragos Inc. has linked to a first-of-its-kind hacking tool designed to disrupt power grids.

NERC posted its first public alert of the year this month about that grid-focused malware, which Dragos calls “CrashOverride.” Experts claim it was used last December to briefly knock out power to part of Ukraine in an attack tentatively linked to Russia-based hackers. DHS issued its own alert about CrashOverride, then followed up with a separate report on a far-reaching campaign of North Korean cyber activity hitting “critical infrastructure sectors” in the United States and globally.

It’s not clear where Nuclear 17 fits into that timeline of recent cyber events. But even if it never jeopardized nuclear processes or grid reliability, a successful breach of non-safety systems at a nuclear power plant is troubling, said David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“If they are able to introduce mayhem there, what else could they do?” he said.

Nuclear plants had an extra margin of safety in their legacy controls that were “old tech” and thus harder for outsiders to penetrate. “As more and more systems are converted to digital controls, there could be more and more opportunities for problems to crop up, deliberate or inadvertent,” Lochbaum said.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry are not unaware of that threat,” he added. Even if safety systems were not apparently affected as part of Nuclear 17, malicious actions directed against comparatively less critical equipment could still have knock-on effects if hackers managed to unexpectedly disconnect a nuclear plant from the grid, experts say.

Such a sudden disruption would send a pressure “pulse” back to the reactor and turbine, which would still be generating electricity with no place to send it. The reactor would immediately “trip,” setting in motion a series of planned actions designed to bring the reactor to a safe shutdown condition……

June 28, 2017 Posted by | secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment

Safety mishaps imperilledscientists at Nevada and New Mexico nuclear sites

Nuclear Weapons Site Alarms Shut Off, Scientists Inhale Uranium, Most scientists were not told of risks for months after 2014 incident; investigation shows more mishaps at Nevada and New Mexico nuclear sites, Scientific American  By Patrick MalonePeter CaryR. Jeffrey SmithThe Center for Public Integrity on June 27, 2017 

At the nation’s top nuclear weapons labs and plants, safety mishaps have imperiled life and limb, and hindered national security operations.  This Scientific American story is part of a one-year investigation by reporters at the Center for Public Integrity that reveals many problems and little accountability. In addition to the Nevada accidents, a near-fission calamity in 2011 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico led to an exodus of nuclear safety engineers and a four-year shutdown of operations crucial to the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Yet penalties for these incidents were relatively light, and many of the firms that run these facilities were awarded tens of millions of dollars in profits—or even new contracts—after major safety lapses occurred.

Not a clue.

The government scientists didn’t know they were breathing in radioactive uranium at the time it was happening. In fact, most didn’t learn about their exposure for months, long after they returned home from the nuclear weapons research center where they had inhaled it.

The entire event was characterized by sloppiness, according to a quiet federal investigation, with multiple warnings issued and ignored in advance, and new episodes of contamination allowed to occur afterward. All of this transpired without public notice by the center.

Here’s how it happened: In April and May 2014, an elite group of 97 nuclear researchers from as far away as the U.K. gathered in a remote corner of Nye County, Nev., at the historic site where the U.S. had exploded hundreds of its nuclear weapons. With nuclear bomb testing ended, the scientists were using a device they called Godiva at the National Criticality Experiments Research Center to test nuclear pulses on a smaller and supposedly safe scale.

But as the technicians prepared for their experiments that spring—under significant pressure to clear a major backlog of work and to operate the machine at what a report called Godiva’s “upper energy range”—they committed several grievous errors, according to government reports.

The machine had been moved to Nevada nine years earlier from Los Alamos, N.M. But a shroud, descriptively called Top Hat, which should have covered the machine and prevented the escape of any loose radioactive particles, was not reinstalled when it was reassembled in 2012.

Also, because Godiva’s bursts tended to set off multiple radiation alarms in the center, the experimenters decided to switch the alarm system off. But because the alarms were connected to the ventilation and air filter system for the room, those were shut off as well. The only ventilation remaining was a small exhaust fan that vented into an adjacent anteroom where researchers gathered before and after experiments.

On June 16, 2014, a month after the experiments were completed, technicians doing routine tests made an alarming discovery—radioactive particles were in the anteroom. They then checked the room holding Godiva, and found radiation 20 times more intense there. The Nevada site’s managers, who work for a group of private, profit-making contractors—like most U.S. nuclear weapons personnel—ordered the rooms decontaminated. But they didn’t immediately check exposures among the scientists and researchers who had gathered for the tests, many of whom had already gone back to their own labs.

None had any clue about the mishap until two months after the experiments, on July 17, when one of them—a researcher from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory nuclear weapons lab in California—got the results from his routine radiation monitoring. His urine tested positive for exposure to enriched uranium particles.

National Security Technologies,, LLC (NSTec), the lead contractor that runs the Nevada site, subsequently collected urine specimens from its own workers who’d been in the room with Godiva during the experiments. It discovered three of its technicians also had inhaled highly-enriched uranium.

News of trouble spread–but only among the scientists and their bosses, who were accustomed to a shroud of official secrecy covering their work. No public announcement was made. According to an initial U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) investigative report dated April 28, 2015, calls eventually went out to test the 97 people present for the Godiva experiments. But for reasons that remain unclear the testing went very slowly, and not until 2016 did the DoE state that 31 were discovered to have inhaled uranium.

In a letter last summer to the Los Alamos and Nevada lab directors, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Frank Klotz suggested that the employees’ radiation doses were not large—at the high end, they were roughly equivalent to 13 chest x-rays. But once inhaled, uranium particles can keep emitting radiation for years, and so they pose an added cancer risk. Klotz’s letter deemed the exposures “safety-significant and preventable.” It could have been even worse, of course, given the absence of any timely warning.


The four key national facilities involved in the underlying experimentation—Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore, the Nevada Test Site and Sandia National Laboratory—are among the U.S.’s premier scientific labs. They collectively employ more than 26,000 people engaged in cutting-edge and often dangerous work, governed by myriad nuclear safety regulations, with two major contract enforcement mechanisms meant to inflict financial pain when needed on the private corporations that operate them.

And yet in this case, and in others like it, not only were the labs’ procedures and responses riddled with errors, but even after attention was called to these incidents, other safety mishaps occurred. And the financial penalties imposed by the government didn’t seem to have a major impact on the labs’ conduct.

review by The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) of more than 60 safety mishaps at 10 nuclear weapons–related federal sites that were flagged in special, internal reports to Washington, along with dozens of interviews of officials and experts, revealed a protective system that is weak, if not truly dysfunctional: Fines are frequently reduced or waived while contractors are awarded large profits. Auditors say labs and production plants are overseen by an inadequately staffed NNSA and DoE, which as a result largely rely on the contractors to police themselves.

The CPI probe, partly based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals a system in which extra profit is awarded under a rating profile that persistently places higher priority on the nuclear weapons labs’ national security “mission” than on worker protections, putting production far ahead of safety. Experts say it is a practice in keeping with a culture of urgent, no-holds-barred work that took root in the nuclear weapons complex during World War II. These production pressures flow down to the highly secured rooms where workers labor with special clearances, routinely handling highly toxic and explosive materials……..




June 28, 2017 Posted by | health, safety, USA | Leave a comment

American government scientists prevented by Trump govt from attending international nuclear meeting

Trump Administration Blocks Government Scientists from Attending International Meeting on Nuclear Power, 2The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) recently sent a comment letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), recommending several actions aimed at helping prevent nuclear plant shutdowns ….NEI urged FERC to make preserving nuclear plants a fundamental guiding principle and not to interfere with legitimate state public policy goals regarding nuclear energy. …

The letter also recommended that FERC direct RTOs and ISOs to develop mechanisms that provide additional revenues in recognition of nuclear’s attributes such as long-term rate stability, system resiliency and fuel diversity.

While comprehensive, enduring reforms are being developed, the commission should ensure that interim measures are in place to prevent further loss of secure and resilient nuclear generation,” NEI said…..

June 28, 2017 Posted by | politics, USA | Leave a comment

Rick Perry wants to ‘make nuclear energy cool again’

Washington Examiner by John Siciliano |  Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday that one of his agency’s goals is to push nuclear energy.

“One of the things we want to do at [the Department of Energy] is to make nuclear energy cool again,” Perry said during a lengthy news conference at the White House Tuesday….”..when I was younger in the ’60s, and a lot of kids wanted to go into the nuclear energy field.”

But that isn’t the case now, he said, “because this industry has been strangled all too often by government regulations.”

He wants the U.S. to begin again to “bring us to that place where nuclear energy is part of a portfolio, and be able to sell it in great truthfulness and honesty about what it can add to America from an environmental standpoint and from a security standpoint.”…..

On the nuclear power side, the U.S. has the largest fleet of nuclear reactors in the world, although it is becoming too expensive to run many of the plants because of increased cost pressures and competition from natural gas.

Perry mentioned that the U.S. will engage with India on nuclear power development as part of a three-part plan to export energy technologies to foreign markets. The first part of new cooperation with India will be exporting liquefied natural gas, the second area will be on clean coal, and the third will be nuclear energy.

June 28, 2017 Posted by | spinbuster, USA | Leave a comment

Troubled SCE&G, Santee Cooper nuclear project could soon be scrapped

SCE&G, Santee Cooper nuclear project could be scrapped within 45 days, BY SAMMY FRETWELL AND CLIF LEBLANC,  27 June 17, South Carolina utilities SCE&G and Santee Cooper expect to decide by this fall, if not sooner, whether to pull the plug on a $14 billion nuclear expansion project that has been plagued by financial troubles, lengthy delays and intense criticism over the amount of money the effort is costing customers.

June 28, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, USA | Leave a comment

Environment groups sound the alarm on Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to develop small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)

Green groups oppose TVA plan to test small nuclear reactors, Utility Dive Robert WaltonJune 27, 2017

Dive Brief:

  • Two environmental groups have petitioned the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to intervene in the agency’s review of Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to develop small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) at a site near Kingston, Tenn.
  • The federal utility has petitioned NRC for an early site permit (ESP) to determine whether the site is suitable for two or more SMRs, with a capacity of up to 800 MW.
  • TVA has been pushing for more than a year to site small reactors at the abandoned Clinch River nuclear development site.

Dive Insight:

Several conservation groups led by the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy are sounding the alarm over TVA’s plans to site small reactors at the Clinch River site, allowing the utility to reduce the size of the emergency planning zone around the proposed reactors.

The SMR concept proposes to utilize smaller reactors which can be developed offsite and then constructed quickly. Opponents fear their smaller size may lead to more lax restrictions, and say TVA should be looking to clean energy alternatives.

“The accurate description of what SMRs will actually do for TVA and its customers is squander more resources,” said Sara Barczak, high risk energy choices program director for SACE. “We hope our intervention will prove successful and prevent TVA from making a bad decision that would cost customers and potentially put local communities and the environment at risk.”

SACE and the Tennessee Environmental Council petitioned NRC, contending the federal utility has not shown it has fully reviewed the risks, including the “safety and environmental risks of spent fuel pool fires, which could have far-reaching and catastrophic consequences.”

The groups say TVA wants to reduce the size of the emergency planning zone around the proposed reactors “from the standard ten miles to the site boundary or at most two miles, thereby exempting state and local governments from emergency planning requirements and reducing the level of preparedness for an accident at the reactors.”

“TVA expects the public near the Clinch River site to accept on faith that the fantasy nuclear reactors it wants to build there will be so safe that no evacuation plan is needed, even in the event of a core meltdown or a spent fuel pool fire,” Union of Concerned Scientists’ Edwin Lyman said in a statement.

TVA officials told the Times Free Press that they have not yet decided whether to move forward on the Clinch River SMR plan, but part of its mandate as a federal utility is to work with other agencies on energy development. TVA is working with the Department of Energy on the SMR pilot. ……

June 28, 2017 Posted by | technology, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear Expert Slams Edison’s San Onofre Nuclear Waste Storage Plan, June 27, 2017, By Amita Sharma, Talks continue to find a storage site for radioactive waste away from San Onofre nuclear power plant. Unless there is an agreement, millions of pounds of the toxic material will be partially buried near the shoreline at San Onofre. KPBS Investigative Reporter Amita Sharma recently spoke to Tom English on the beach near San Onofre. He is a one-time advisor to former President Jimmy Carter on high-level nuclear waste disposal.

June 28, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Trump administration weakens protections for workers exposed to beryllium

Trump Administration Delays Protections for Construction and Shipyard Workers, Weakens Beryllium Rule, UCS, KATHLEEN REST, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR | JUNE 26, 2017,   More bad news for workers coming from the Trump administration. Last Friday (June 23), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced its proposal to “modify” (read “weaken”) protections for workers exposed to beryllium in construction and shipyards.

Beryllium is a very dangerous material. It’s a carcinogen and the cause of chronic beryllium disease, a devastating illness. There’s no real rescue from this slow, incurable, and often fatal lung disease.

While it leaves in place the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for beryllium (0.2ug/m3), OSHA now proposes to eliminate the “ancillary provisions” of the rule that would extend certain protections to construction and shipyard workers. Protections like exposure monitoring, a written exposure control plan, personal protective equipment, and medical surveillance. These “ancillary provisions” are actually basic public health protections for workers dealing with a really hazardous material…..

June 28, 2017 Posted by | health, USA | Leave a comment

Shipments of transuranic waste continue, slowly, from Idaho to Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M

WIPP continues to receive shipments,  June 26, 2017, By KEVIN TREVELLYAN,

Shipments of transuranic waste continue to leave Idaho, though not nearly fast enough to meet a looming cleanup milestone.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M., has accepted 17 waste shipments from Idaho since April, U.S. Department of Energy-Idaho Assistant Manager Jim Malmo said Thursday during an Idaho National Laboratory Citizens Advisory Board meeting in Idaho Falls.

The WIPP repository temporarily closed in 2014 after a pair of accidents resulted in a low-level release of radioactive material. The closure put into jeopardy a 1995 Settlement Agreement stipulation that DOE ship 65,000 cubic meters of stored transuranic waste from Idaho before the end of 2018.

Since reopening, WIPP has accepted shipments at a much slower pace because of ongoing facility repairs……..

Most of Idaho’s transuranic waste was generated at the Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver. The waste, buried in Idaho in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, includes plutonium-laced sludges, graphite materials and filters.

If DOE fails to meet the 1995 Settlement Agreement milestone, the state can block INL from receiving shipments of spent fuel for research.

Fuel shipments already have been blocked because of delays in getting the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit operating.

June 28, 2017 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Wind and solar power does not make the U.S. electricity grid less stable

‘Bring on more renewables,’ U.S. regulator says as grid study looms, Reuters,  By Timothy Gardner | WASHINGTON, 26 June 17, 

Wind and solar power does not make the U.S. electricity grid less stable, an outgoing federal regulator said on Tuesday, as the Trump administration readies a study that will examine whether renewable energy has had a harmful effect.

Colette Honorable, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said at a conference that renewables have different attributes than base load power, which includes coal and nuclear energy, and that those difference need to be overcome.

But Honorable stressed that record amounts of wind and solar power had been generated recently without harming the grid.

“Do I recognize we have to be attendant to supporting the different ways in which renewables work? Yes,” said Honorable, who was appointed by former president Barack Obama, a Democrat, and who will step down on Friday.

“I don’t see any problems with reliability, and I say bring on more renewables,” said Honorable, whose remarks generated warm applause at a conference of the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration arm.

President Donald Trump, a Republican, has embarked on a program to dismantle Obama’s clean-energy policies as renewable power generation hits records.

In February, wind briefly powered more than 50 percent of electricity demand in the 14-state Southwest Power Pool, for the first time on any North American grid.

In March, wind and solar accounted for more than 10 percent of U.S. electricity generation for the first time…..

June 28, 2017 Posted by | renewable, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear Energy Institute lobbies USA govt to prop up failing nuclear industry

Nuclear Energy Institute urges FERC to take action to prevent nuclear plant closures June 27, 2017 by Daily Energy Insider Reports The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) recently sent a comment letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), recommending several actions aimed at helping prevent nuclear plant shutdowns….NEI urged FERC to make preserving nuclear plants a fundamental guiding principle and not to interfere with legitimate state public policy goals regarding nuclear energy. …

The letter also recommended that FERC direct RTOs and ISOs to develop mechanisms that provide additional revenues in recognition of nuclear’s attributes such as long-term rate stability, system resiliency and fuel diversity.

While comprehensive, enduring reforms are being developed, the commission should ensure that interim measures are in place to prevent further loss of secure and resilient nuclear generation,” NEI said…..

June 28, 2017 Posted by | business and costs, politics, USA | Leave a comment

Havasupai – “people of the blue-green waters” fighting uranium mining around Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon is our home. Uranium mining has no place here, Guardian, Carletta Tilousi, 26 June 17, The Havasupai resided in and around Grand Canyon for many centuries. This region is sacred – that is why we oppose the pollution of our land and water.

The Havasupai – “people of the blue-green waters” – live in Supai Village, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Today our lives and water are being threatened by international uranium mining companies because the US government and its 1872 mining law permit uranium mining on federal lands that surround the Grand Canyon.

In 1986, the Kaibab national forest authorized a Canadian-based uranium company to open Canyon mine, a uranium mine near the south rim of Grand Canyon national park. The Havasupai tribe challenged the decision but lost in the ninth circuit court of appeals. Miners were just starting to drill Canyon mine’s shaft in 1991 when falling uranium prices caused the company to shut it down for more than two decades.

Havasupai ancestors share stories of the sacredness of the Grand Canyon and all the mountains that surround it. They have instructed us to protect the waters and the mountains from any environmental contamination. That’s why we stand firm against any uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region.…..

In 2012, we celebrated the Obama administration’s order that honored our request to stop thousands of unproven claims from going forward and to close the area to prospecting for uranium. Now, misguided politicians in Arizona’s Mohave County are asking Donald Trump to overturn the decision because they claim they need uranium mining to help grow their economy. We oppose their request because we don’t want them to pollute our blue-green waters.

Once again, our sacred water and lands are being attacked to profit other people. For this reason, the Havasupai people and citizens throughout the region have been gathering at Red Butte over the past two days to conduct prayer ceremonies and workshops, and to gain support and bring awareness to the poisonous legacy of uranium all around the Grand Canyon.

The Havasupai are resilient people. We have resided in and around the Grand Canyon for many centuries. This struggle is not about money to us, it is about human life.

Please stand with us to put an end to mining uranium in our home, which has always been the Grand Canyon.
Carletta Tilousi is a member of the Havasupai tribal council.

June 28, 2017 Posted by | indigenous issues, USA | Leave a comment

Trump adminstration upsetting balance of power in Middle East

Iran’s Nuclear Chief Warns U.S. Against Tilting Power Balance In Middle East, 24 June 17 Iran’s atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who helped forge the 2015 nuclear agreement, warned the United States on June 23 against upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East by siding with arch-rival Saudi Arabia.

Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Salehi said Tehran views a “lavish” deal U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration recently announced to sell Saudi Arabia $110 billion in weapons as “provocative.”

“This is especially the case if the national defense efforts of Iran…are simultaneously opposed and undermined,” he said, alluding to steps the Trump administration has taken to increase U.S. sanctions on Iran for developing ballistic missiles even as it has ramped up arms sales to Riyadh and its allies.

“It would be unrealistic to expect Iran to remain indifferent to the destabilizing impact of such conduct,” said Salehi, an MIT graduate who has also served as Iran’s foreign minister and was a senior negotiator on the nuclear deal.

Salehi stressed that Washington’s strong tilt toward Tehran’s rivals in the Middle East not only risks setting off a regional arms race and “further tension and conflict” in the region, but it imperils the “hard-won” nuclear deal, which took two years to negotiate.

If the nuclear deal is to survive, he said the West must change course. “The moment of truth has arrived.”

Trump and the Saudis frequently blame Iran for wars ranging from Yemen to Syria, as well as for restive minority Shi’ite populations within the borders of the kingdom and other Persian Gulf states ruled by Sunni Muslims.

The Saudis, like Trump, were strongly opposed to the nuclear deal. But while Trump has promised to “dismantle the disastrous deal,” he has not so far taken any concrete steps to do so. His administration has indicated it will adhere to the deal, which requires Iran to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions, as long as Tehran continues to do so.

But Salehi’s article in the Guardian suggested that — what Iran says is — its so-far strict honoring of the deal may come into doubt in the future if the United States continues to disregard Iran’s “genuine security concerns” and “stokes Iranophobia” in the region.

Salehi urged the United States and its Western partners to “save” the nuclear deal with “reciprocal gestures” showing a commitment to engagement with Iran.

Iranian voters recently showed their preference for engagement with the West by re-electing President Hassan Rohani with his pro-Western platform, but “engagement is simply not a one-way street and we cannot go it alone,” Salehi said.

“Unfortunately, as things stand at the moment in the region, reaching a new state of equilibrium might simply be beyond reach for the foreseeable future,” he said.

June 27, 2017 Posted by | MIDDLE EAST, politics international, USA | Leave a comment

Donald Trump leads the world to war against Iran

The Saudi war in Yemen is really directed at…Iran. Donald Trump’s first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel was specifically targeted at… Iran. The Saudi-led isolation of Qatar is actually about… Iran.

The escalation of U.S. military actions against the Syria government is… well, do I really need to spell this out any further?

Donald Trump has identified several number-one enemies to target. Throughout the campaign, he emphasized the importance of throwing the full weight of the Pentagon against the Islamic State. More recently, his secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, identifiedNorth Korea as “the most urgent and dangerous threat to peace and security.”

Other threats that have appeared at one time or another in the administration’s rotation include China, Cuba, the mainstream media, former FBI director James Comey, and Shakespeare (for writing Julius Caesar and then somehow, from the grave, persuadingthe Public Theater to run a scandalous version of it).

Through it all, however, Iran has loomed as the primary bogeyman of the Trump crowd. Fear of Iranian influence has prompted the administration to all but cancel the 2015 nuclear deal, intensify a number of proxy wars, consider pushing for regime change in Tehran, and even intervene in the mother of all battles between the Shia and Sunni variants of Islam.

You’re worried about Trump and the nuclear football? The prospect of blowback from an all-out U.S. assault on the Islamic State keeps you up at night? A preemptive strike against North Korea, which Mattis acknowledges would be disastrous, has you rethinking that upcoming trip to Seoul?

Sure, those are all dystopian possibilities. But if I had to choose a more likely catastrophe, it would be a direct confrontation between the United States and Iran. After all, everything seems to be pointing in that direction.

The Fate of the Deal

The nuclear deal that Iran signed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and the European Union is hanging by a thread. Trump made no bones about his distaste for this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). He promised to tear it up.

He hasn’t done so. It’s not just that he’s gotten pushback from the usual suspects in Washington (diplomats, foreign policy mavens, talking heads, journalists). Even members of his inner circle seem to see value in the agreement. Mattis, who is otherwise hawkish on Iran, has stood by the JCPOA and diplomacy more generally. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has, albeit reluctantly, acknowledged that Iran has lived up to its side of the agreement. Then there are all the American jobs on the line from the Iranian purchase of Boeing jets.

Even though Trump hasn’t torn up the agreement, he has certainly attempted to give it a good crumple. He has directed the Treasury Department to apply additional sanctions on Iran’s missile program. He’s considering the option of declaring the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Congress, meanwhile, is pursuing its own complementary set of sanctions against Iran (though, because it’s bundled with sanctions against Russia, the legislation may not meet Trump’s approval).

None of this violates the terms of the JCPOA. But it challenges the spirit of the accord.

Adding insult to injury, Trump damned Iran with faint condolences after the recent terrorist attacks in Tehran. “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people, who are going through such challenging times,” Trump wrote. “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”

Talk about bad taste. After September 11, Iranians gathered for candlelight vigils to mourn the mostly American victims of the attacks. The Iranian government didn’t say anything about chickens coming home to roost after U.S. military interventions in the Middle East, for that would have been inappropriate (though accurate).

But Iran might yet have to make a statement that echoes Trump’s tone-deaf remark: States that tear up international agreements risk falling victim to the evil they promote.

Proxy Wars

The conflict is escalating in Syria, where Iran backs the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the United States supports a shifting set of anti-regime groups.

Both countries could decide to team up against the Islamic State. And indeed, Iran launched a missile attack against ISIS in Syria this last weekend in retaliation for the terrorist attacks in Tehran. As after September 11, when Tehran and Washington briefly worked together, cooperation against Sunni extremists would seem a no-brainer.

But the would-be caliphate, having lost most of Mosul and now teetering on the verge of conceding its capital in Raqqa, is shrinking at a rapid clip. Which may well explain why the United States has been wading deeper into the Syrian conflict. For the first time since the war in Syria began, U.S. forces shot down a Syrian government plane this last weekend. It’s only the latest in a series of attacks on Assad’s forces, according to The Atlantic:

Three times in the last month, the U.S. military has come into direct conflict with the combined forces of the Assad regime, Iran-supported Shiite militias, Hezbollah, and possibly even Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The clashes have reportedly resulted in the deaths of a small number of pro-regime forces, and are much more strategically important than the much-ballyhooed U.S. air strike on the al-Shayrat airfield back in April in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.

Several administration figures, notably Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey in the National Security Council, are eager to confront Assad and his Iranian backers more aggressively. Mattis, however, has reportedly opposed several of their risky propositions. Regardless of the Pentagon chief’s somewhat more risk-averse behavior, both Iran and the United States are maneuvering to control as much territory as possible in the vacuum created by the collapse of ISIS………

Back in 2013, Trump said,

We will end up going to war with Iran because we have people who don’t know what the hell they are doing. Every single thing that this administration and our president does is a failure.

Who knew that Donald Trump could be so prescient? The president has proven himself high-performing in at least this one regard: self-fulfilling prophecies.

June 27, 2017 Posted by | Iran, politics international, USA, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Opposition toTennessee Valley Authority’s plan for Small Nuclear Reactors (SMRs)

Environmental groups challenge TVA nuclear reactor plan, Miami Herald, 25 June 17 The Associated Press  OAK RIDGE, TENN. 

Environmental groups are challenging the Tennessee Valley Authority’s proposal to use a Tennessee nuclear reactor design site abandoned in the 1970s to develop new small modular reactors.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press , the Southern Alliance for Clean Power, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League have challenged the Oak Ridge project’s site application. They say the reactors remain untested, unsafe and unneeded.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing the application to determine if the site works for two or more reactors generating up to 800 megawatts of nuclear power.

Sara Barczak, the high risk energy choices program director with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, compared the project to the Clinch River Breeder Reactor project that was planned for the site in the 1970s, but was scrapped amid escalating prices for the technology.

“We are very concerned that history is once again repeating itself,” Barczak said. “And we are concerned that billions of dollars could be spent on a technology that is unproven, untested and significantly more expensive than other types of power technology that are available to TVA.”……..

June 26, 2017 Posted by | opposition to nuclear, technology, USA | Leave a comment