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Stuck in the past – America’s nuclear weapons policy


US nuclear policy remains dangerously stuck in the past http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-text-relevantblog/defense/292299-us-nuclear-policy-remains-dangerously-stuck-in-the-past
 By Diana Ohlbaum,August 23, 2016, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been ridiculed for asking “Why can’t we use nuclear weapons?” and castigated for his cavalier attitude toward their use. But he is only restating, albeit less artfully, what is, in fact, the standard orthodoxy: that the United States needs nuclear weapons not only as a deterrent to aggression, but as a plausible option for achieving strategic aims.

Those who grew up in the era of the “Doomsday Clock” and “duck and cover” might assume that the days of mutual assured destruction andlaunch under attack were swept away with the Soviet Union. They would be wrong. America’s nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, and the commander in chief has not ruled out being the first to use them.

Statue of Liberty Gun

For all his talk about a “nuclear free world,” President Obama has proposed a $1 trillionmodernization of the nuclear arsenal. Republicans, having engineered the demise of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, are intent on ramping up U.S. nuclear defenses. The nuclear “football” still follows the president everywhere, enabling a cataclysmic strike to be launched on a moment’s notice.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, U.S. policy remains stuck on the same horrifying premise: that U.S. national security depends on its willingness to use nuclear weapons.

The problem is, who but a madman would ever do so?

First, the danger of escalation is simply too great. Whether the United States used nuclear weapons preemptively, or simply responded in kind, could it count on a nuclear power such as Russia or China to stand down and give in? There is no scenario more unimaginable than the United States taking the chance of setting off a chain reaction that ends in total annihilation.

Second, the humanitarian and environmental risks are unacceptable. Seventy-one years after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan,, residents are still developing cancerous tumors that can be linked to radiation exposure. New evidence suggests that a nuclear exchange would produce far more serious harm to public health than previously imagined. The United States has made drones its “weapon of choice” in the war on terror in large part because of its obligation under international law to take “all feasible precautions” to avoid and minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure.

Third, the world is in a different place than it was when U.S. nuclear doctrine was conceived. Globalization — for better or worse — has interlocked America’s economic fate with that of its former adversaries. Over the past quarter-century, ideological differences have receded, U.S. trade relations with Russia and China have become normalized, and profound cultural, educational, scientific and human ties have been forged. Climate change, mass migration and pandemic disease have brought wide recognition of the interdependence of the planet. And disastrous U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have plainly demonstrated the limits of what can be achieved with military power, no matter how shocking or awesome it may be.

Envisioning Donald Trump’s finger on the nuclear button helps us to understand how poorly the country is served by its absurd nuclear procedures, which allow a single individual, acting alone and instantaneously, without the benefit of full information or consultation, to order a nuclear attack that could end life as we know it. President Obama has a moral obligation to his country, and the world, to dismantle the “use it or lose it” system designed for a bygone era, and to declare that the United States will never be the first to use nuclear weapons.   Ohlbaum is an independent consultant and a board member of the Center for International Policy.

August 24, 2016 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

USA President’s deadly nuclear “football”

Codes President's nuclearFlag-USAThe ‘nuclear football’ – the deadly briefcase that never leaves the text-relevantpresident’s side
Donald Trump’s views on nukes may be the scariest thing about his candidacy. But how does Potus launch an attack at a moment’s notice? And what happens when you send the codes to the dry cleaners by mistake…
Guardian,   , 22 Aug 16 “……..As for the nuclear football, it comes into active service when the president leaves the White House. It is the nickname for a large leather, aluminium-framed briefcase weighing 20kg which is hefted by a military aide who shadows the US commander in chief.

It is, as former Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs calls it, “the ultimate power accessory, a doomsday machine that could destroy the entire world”. The late Bill Gulley, a former director of the White House Military Office, described what’s inside the nuclear football in his 1980 memoir Breaking Cover. “There are four things in the football. The Black Book containing the retaliatory options, a book listing classified site locations, a manila folder with eight or 10 pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Broadcast System, and a three-by-five inch card with authentication codes.”

The nuclear football has an antenna protruding from it, likely indicating that inside there is a communication system with which the president can maintain contact the Pentagon’s National Military Command Centre which monitors worldwide nuclear threats and can order an instant nuclear response. “The football,” says Dobbs, “also provides the commander-in-chief with a simplified menu of nuclear strike options – allowing him to decide, for example, whether to destroy all of America’s enemies in one fell swoop or to limit himself to obliterating only Moscow or Pyongyang or Beijing.”…….

Why is the briefcase nicknamed the nuclear football? According to former US secretary of defence Robert McNamara, it was so-named because it was part of an early nuclear war plan code-named Operation Drop Kick.

In Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 nuclear black comedy Dr Strangelove, there is also an Operation Drop Kick. It denoted a nuclear exercise that goes wrong when the unhinged US general played by Sterling Hayden orders a first strike on the Soviet Union. All the president’s men strive to recall the bombers to prevent nuclear politics……..

Aides who carry the nuclear football have extensive psychological evaluations to assess whether they’re up to the task. Metzger discloses that he underwent extensive vetting by the Defense Department, the secret service and the FBI before he was given the job. The incoming president, whether it is Trump or Clinton, will undergo no such checks as to their mental stability. There is, though, one consoling thought. Even if Trump did nuke Europe, he’d probably spare part of Aberdeenshire – he wouldn’t want to destroy his golf resort. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/22/nuclear-football-donald-trump

August 24, 2016 Posted by | Reference, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

3.7 million documents now pubicly available on Yucca nuclear waste dump plan

paperwork nuclear dumpYucca Mountain Documents Now Publicly Available – In a New Online Library, USA Nuclear Regulatory Commission August 19, 2016 David McIntyre Public Affairs Officer

The NRC is flipping the switch today on its new LSN Library — making nearly 3.7 million documents related to the adjudicatory hearing on the proposed Yucca Mountain repository available to the public…….The library is significant for three reasons. First, it meets federal records requirements. Second, the library again provides public access to the previously-disclosed discovery materials should the Yucca Mountain adjudicatory hearing resume. Third, should the Yucca Mountain hearing not resume, the library will provide an important source of technical information for any future high-level waste repository licensing proceeding. https://public-blog.nrc-gateway.gov/2016/08/19/yucca-mountain-documents-now-publicly-available-in-a-new-online-library/

August 24, 2016 Posted by | Reference, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

USA govt censoring severity of WIPP nuclear waste problem, $2 Billion Cleanup

“There is no question the Energy Department has downplayed the significance of the accident,” said Don Hancock, who monitors the dump for the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.

 a federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the dump.

Nuclear Accident In New Mexico Is Still Being Censored, $2 Billion Cleanup

Nuclear accident in New Mexico ranks among the costliest in U.S. history,  http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-new-mexico-nuclear-dump-20160819-snap-story.html Ralph Vartabedian, 23 Aug 16 When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations.

The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste.

But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term  cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.

Washington state officials were recently forced to accept delays in moving the equivalent of 24,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford site to the New Mexico dump. The deal has further antagonized the relationship between the state and federal regulators.

“The federal government has an obligation to clean up the nuclear waste at Hanford,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “I will continue to press them to honor their commitments to protect Washingtonians’ public health and our natural resources.”

Other states are no less insistent. The Energy Department has agreed to move the equivalent of nearly 200,000 drums from Idaho National Laboratory by 2018.

“Our expectation is that they will continue to meet the settlement agreement,” said Susan Burke, an oversight coordinator at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The dump, officially known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production since World War II into ancient salt beds, which engineers say will collapse around the waste and permanently seal it. The equivalent of 277,000 drums of radioactive waste is headed to the dump, according to federal documents.

The dump was dug much like a conventional mine, with vertical shafts and a maze of horizontal drifts. It had operated problem-free for 15 years and was touted by the Energy Department as a major success until the explosion, which involved a drum of of plutonium and americium waste that had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The problem was traced to material — actual kitty litter — used to blot up liquids in sealed drums. Lab officials had decided to substitute an organic material for a mineral one. But the new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35% of the underground area.

“There is no question the Energy Department has downplayed the significance of the accident,” said Don Hancock, who monitors the dump for the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.

Though the error at the Los Alamos lab caused the accident, a federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the dump. The dump’s filtration system was supposed to prevent any radioactive releases, but it malfunctioned.

Twenty-one workers on the surface received low doses of radiation that federal officials said were well within safety limits. No workers were in the mine when the drum blew.

Energy Department officials declined to be interviewed about the incident but agreed to respond to written questions. The dump is operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership, which is led by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM. The company declined to comment.

Federal officials have set an ambitious goal to reopen the site for at least limited waste processing by the end of this year, but full operations can not resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

In addition, the federal government faces expenses — known as “hotel costs” — to temporarily store the waste before it is shipped to New Mexico, said Ellis Eberlein of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

The Hanford site stores the equivalent of 24,000 drums of waste that must be inspected every week. “You have to make sure nothing  leaks,” he said.

The cleanup of the Three Mile Island plant took 12 years and was estimated to cost $1 billion by 1993, or $1.7 billion adjusted for inflation today. The estimate did not include the cost of replacing the power the shut-down plant was no longer generating.

Other radioactive contamination at nuclear weapons sites is costing tens of billions of dollars to clean up, but it is generally the result of deliberate practices such as dumping radioactive waste into the ground.

For now, workers entering contaminated areas must wear protective gear, including respirators, the Energy Department spokesperson said. She noted that the size of the restricted area had been significantly reduced earlier this year.

Hancock suggested that the dump might never resume full operations.

“The facility was never designed to operate in a contaminated state,” he said. “It was supposed to open clean and stay clean, but now it will have to operate dirty. Nobody at the Energy Department wants to consider the potential that it isn’t fixable.”

Giving up on the New Mexico dump would have huge environmental, legal and political ramifications. This year the Energy Department decided to dilute 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium in South Carolina and send it to the dump, potentially setting a precedent for disposing of bomb-grade materials. The U.S. has agreements with Russia on mutual reductions of plutonium.

The decision means operations at the dump must resume, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“They have no choice,” he said. “No matter what it costs.”

ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com  Twitter: @RVartabedian

August 24, 2016 Posted by | USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Allison MacFarlane on Glacial Pace of New Nuclear development

Macfarlane, AllisonA View from Allison Macfarlane, Nuclear’s Glacial Pace  There’s a reason it takes so long to approve a new reactor design.MIT Technology Review ,August 23, 2016  “……. a number of startups are promising cheap, safe, proliferation-­resistant nuclear energy in the next decade … Can these startups fulfill their promises? Outside of China, nuclear power is expanding nowhere. China has 21 new reactors under construction; Russia has nine, India six. The U.S. is bringing five new plants online, but since 2012, five other reactors have been retired, with seven more to be shuttered by 2019. California’s Diablo Canyon plant recently announced it will close by 2025. With other plants closing in Japan, Germany, and the U.K., more reactors may be decommissioned than built in the near future.

So why is this happening? Because it’s expensive and time-consuming to design and build a new nuclear plant, and there are cheaper, easier alternatives.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been waiting since 2014 for applications for design certification licenses for small modular reactors—smaller versions of the large and extra-large operating light-water reactors, with additional safety features. …….. Other designs are on the horizon, including molten-salt reactors, which are promising but won’t be ready for decades.

In 2015, the General Accountability Office reported that it takes 20 to 25 years to develop a new reactor in the United States—10 years for the design phase, 3.5 years for a design certification license from the NRC, four years for a combined operating license, and another four years for construction. And that’s only in an ideal world where no unexpected problems occur.

The GAO also found that it’s not cheap to bring a design to fruition: just to reach the design certification point costs somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion, and only about $75 million of that is NRC fees. There’s a reason it takes so long and costs so much: manufacturers need to confirm that the design is safe and secure.

Some people blame the regulators for holding up the plants. Yet the NRC hasn’t been presented with any applications for new reactors and probably won’t be for years. Data from prototype plants would be helpful, but then many of the “new” designs are not so new at all. Sodium-cooled fast reactors have been built by countries including the U.S., Japan, Russia, Germany, France, and India since the 1950s, but no country has been able to make a plant cheap and reliable enough to even come close to being a viable energy source…….Allison Macfarlane was the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 2012 to 2014. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602155/nuclears-glacial-pace/

August 24, 2016 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

USA’s National Nuclear Security Administration approves controversial B61-12 nuclear bomb

bomb B61-12Controversial New U.S. Nuclear Bomb Moves Closer to Full-Scale Production http://inewsnetwork.org/2016/08/23/controversial-new-u-s-nuclear-bomb-moves-closer-to-full-scale-production/ By:  The most controversial nuclear bomb ever text-relevantplanned for the U.S. arsenal – some say the most dangerous, too – has received the go ahead from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

The agency announced on Aug. 1 that the B61-12 – the nation’s first guided, or “smart,” nuclear bomb – had completed a four-year development and testing phase and is now in production engineering, the final phase before full-scale production slated for 2020.

This announcement comes in the face of repeated warnings from civilian experts and some former high-ranking military officers that the bomb, which will be carried by fighter jets, could tempt use during a conflict because of its precision. The bomb pairs high accuracy with explosive force that can be regulated.

President Barack Obama has consistently pledged to reduce nuclear weapons and forgo weapons with new military capabilities. Yet the B61-12 program has thrived on the political and economic clout of defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin Corp., as documented in a Reveal investigation last year.

The B61-12 – at $11 billion for about 400 bombs the most expensive U.S. nuclear bomb ever – illustrates the extraordinary power of the atomic wing of what President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex,” which has now rebranded itself the“nuclear enterprise.” The bomb lies at the heart of an ongoing modernization of America’s nuclear arms, projected to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years.

Virtually everyone agrees that as long as nuclear weapons exist, some modernization of U.S. forces is needed to deter other countries from escalating to nuclear weapons during a conflict. But critics challenge the extravagance and scope of current modernization plans.

In late July, 10 senators wrote Obama a letter urging that he use his remaining months in office to “restrain U.S. nuclear weapons spending and reduce the risk of nuclear war” by, among other things, “scaling back excessive nuclear modernization plans.” They specifically urged the president to cancel a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile, for which the Air Force is now soliciting proposals from defense contractors.

While some new weapons programs are farther down the road, the B61-12 bomb is particularly imminent and worrisome given recent events such as the attempted coup in Turkey. That’s because this guided nuclear bomb is likely to replace 180 older B61 bombs stockpiled in five European countries, including Turkey, which has an estimated 50 B61s stored at Incirlik Air Base. The potential vulnerability of the site has raised questions about U.S. policy regarding storing nuclear weapons abroad.

But more questions focus on the increased accuracy of the B61-12. Unlike the free-fall gravity bombs it will replace, the B61-12 will be a guided nuclear bomb. Its new Boeing Co. tail kit assembly enables the bomb to hit targets precisely. Using dial-a-yield technology, the bomb’s explosive force can be adjusted before flight from an estimated high of 50,000 tons of TNT equivalent force to a low of 300 tons. The bomb can be carried on stealth fighter jets.

“If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons? Absolutely,” Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said in the earlier Reveal coverage.

And General James Cartwright, the retired commander of the U.S. Strategic Command told PBS NewsHour last November that the new capabilities of the B61-12 could tempt its use.

“If I can drive down the yield, drive down, therefore, the likelihood of fallout, etc., does that make it more usable in the eyes of some – some president or national security decision-making process? And the answer is, it likely could be more usable.”

__

Ackland can be reached at lenackland@gmail.com. He wrote this story for Reveal,  from the Center for Investigative Reporting.  

August 24, 2016 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Indigenous Americans still paying the health price of uranium mining, long after mines shut

Years after mining stops, uranium’s legacy lingers on Native land  http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/2016/tribal-series/crow-series/years-after-mining-stops-uraniums-legacy-lingers-on-native-land  August 22, 2016 By Brian Bienkowski
Editor’s Note: This story is part of “Sacred Water,” EHN’s ongoing investigation into Native American struggles—and successes—to protect culturally significant water sources on and off the reservation.

nuke-indigenous

CROW AGENCY, Mont.—The Crow are not alone in their struggle with uranium. The toxic metal is irrefutably intertwined with Native Americans, long a notorious national environmental injustice. Some 15,000 abandoned uranium mines with uranium contamination pocket 14 Western states. Of those, 75 percent are on federal and tribal lands, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Contamination is especially concentrated across the Colorado Plateau near the Four Corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, leaving a lasting impact on tribes such as Navajos, Utes, Hopi and Zuni.

The area became saturated with the dangerous metal from the heavy mining fueled by Cold War-era anxieties in the 1940s and ’60s, and the lax cleanup of the 1980s.

Most of the mines were on federal land—managed by the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. But tribes, namely the Navajo, were swept into the uranium-mining boom for both their labor and land and are still dealing with the mess it left.

More than 521 abandoned uranium mines pocket Navajo land alone. Some 90 percent of uranium milling in the United States took place on or just outside the boundaries of Native American reservations, according to a 2015 study.  This left a legacy of dirty water, leftover toxic waste and health problems such as lung cancer and developmental delays for children in many Western tribes.

Such pollution becomes a force multiplier for Native Americans—on the Crow reservation it adds to economic, health and historical burdens, and further complicates the ability to cultivate and sustain their culture.

In the body, most—but not all—uranium is excreted. What remains settles mostly in the kidneys and bones. Excess uranium has been linked to increased cancer risk, liver damage, weakened bone growth, developmental and reproductive problems.

Even at low levels uranium may play a role in some cancers and fertility problems. Studies have shown it acts as an endocrine disruptor, mimicking the hormone estrogen. Hormones are crucial for proper development, and such altering can lead to some cancers and fertility and reproductive problems.

For the Navajo Nation, many men worked in mining or milling, unaware of the risks, and later dealt with various cancers and failing kidneys. In 2000 researchers reported that from 1969 to 1993 Navajo uranium miners had a lung-cancer rate about 29 times that of non-mining Navajos, according to the study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Most of the mining tunnels, pits and waste piles remain on the reservation today near Navajo families. Water, already scarce, remains tainted with uranium and other metals. In one report, researchers found elevated uranium levels in the urine of 27 percent of almost 600 Navajo tribal members tested. The U.S. population as a whole is closer to 5 percent.

The uranium-mining legacy also left contaminated groundwater on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, home to the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Indians. In Washington state, two mines were shuttered in the 1980s, but more than 30 million tons of radioactive rock and ore remain at the site. Today it is a federal Superfund site. Researchers are now tracking cancer rates on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

“We see a high percentage of wells contaminated with trace elements like uranium in the double digits all over the U.S, but they are certainly more prevalent in Western, more arid areas.”
– Joe Ayotte, USGSThis toxic trail spreads throughout the West. Some uranium mining took place near the Crow Reservation, but naturally occurring levels can infiltrate drinking water wells too. And private wells don’t have the same safeguards of testing and treatment that public water does.

“We see a high percentage of wells contaminated with trace elements like uranium in the double digits all over the U.S, but they are certainly more prevalent in Western, more arid areas,” says Joe Ayotte, chief of groundwater quality studies section for the U.S. Geological Survey.

The USGS reported 20 percent of untreated water samples from public, private and monitoring wells nationwide contained concentrations of at least one trace element, such as uranium, arsenic and manganese.  Manganese and uranium were found at levels at or above human health standards in 12 percent and 4 percent of wells nationwide, respectively, according to the study.

Like the rest of the country, Montana home wells have historically not been tested for elements such as uranium and manganese, so it’s unclear if Crow is an outlier or the norm for the state.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality does not have regulatory authority over private wells on tribal lands, says Lisa Peterson, an agency spokesperson, adding that they haven’t received any information about contamination on the Crow Reservation.
For questions or feedback about this piece, contact Brian Bienkowski at bbienkowski@ehn.org.

August 24, 2016 Posted by | health, indigenous issues, Uranium, USA | Leave a comment

Barack Obama’s climate change achievements

Obama solarObama’s science legacy: climate (policy) hots up President sidesteps Congress to curb US greenhouse-gas emissions. http://www.nature.com/news/obama-s-science-legacy-climate-policy-hots-up-1.20468 Jeff Tollefson 23 August 2016 Global warming was one of Barack Obama’s top priorities — and one of the most difficult to address, given strong opposition from Republicans in Congress. Yet he managed to help broker a global climate accord and push through regulations to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from cars, trucks and power plants.

“Obama has established a terrific climate legacy,” says David Doniger, who directs the climate and clean-air programme at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group in New York.

The president’s earliest actions capitalized on the global financial crisis. In February 2009, Obama signed economic-stimulus legislation that included nearly $37 billion for clean-energy research and development (R&D) at the Department of Energy. Four months later, with failing car companies seeking a federal bailout, the Obama administration proposed higher fuel-efficiency requirements and the first greenhouse-gas standards for passenger vehicles. Theregulations, which took effect in 2012, will nearly double the average fuel efficiency of vehicles by 2025, to around 23 kilometres per litre.

And after his campaign for a comprehensive climate bill failed in 2010, an emboldened Obamaused existing laws to issue regulations that curbed greenhouse-gas emissions, bolstered energy-efficiency standards and expanded energy R&D programmes.

But the president’s big push on climate came in advance of the United Nations climate summit in Paris in 2015. He committed the United States to reduce emissions by at least 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, and negotiated directly with countries such as China to build support for a global climate agreement. The final version, adopted on 12 December, aims to hold average global temperatures to 1.5–2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

“Paris is a major achievement for the world,” says Robert Socolow, a climate scientist at Princeton University in New Jersey. “I don’t think it would have happened without Obama.”

Yet Obama’s domestic achievements could be undone by legal challenges. In February, the US Supreme Court temporarily blocked a federal regulation to reduce emissions from existing power plants. The fate of that rule— the cornerstone of Obama’s plan to reduce emissions — could depend on the election in November. The Supreme Court is down one member and the next president will choose a replacement, who could decide whether the climate rule stands.

Some environmental experts say that Obama should have pushed harder for a comprehensive climate bill, rather than settling for piecemeal regulations. “All of these things are actually small bites at the apple that won’t achieve meaningful emissions reductions over time,” says Catrina Rorke, director of energy policy at the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington DC.

Others criticize Obama for encouraging a vast expansion of domestic oil and gas development, even as he sought to wean the country off coal and curb its greenhouse-gas emissions. “The administration is still trying to have it both ways,” says Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, an advocacy group in Washington DC.

Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried oil from the Canadian tar sands to US refineries, and has said that some fossil fuels should be kept “in the ground”. But his administration continues to push an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy that leads to higher production of domestic fossil fuels, Kretzmann says.

Nonetheless, Obama has helped to change the conversation about global warming at home and abroad, says Doniger. “The next president needs to do more,” he says, “but did the Obama administration move the ball forward? They sure did.”

August 24, 2016 Posted by | climate change, politics, USA | Leave a comment

Entergy and Exelon ask New York regulators to approve sale of FitzPatrick nuclear plantby Nov 18

Companies ask regulators to approve sale of FitzPatrick nuclear plant , syracuse.com, 23 Aug 16  By Tim Knauss | tknauss@syracuse.com  Email the author | Follow on Twitter SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The companies involved in the $110 million sale of FitzPatrick nuclear plant have asked New York regulators to approve the transaction by Nov. 18, saying the deal could fall apart without prompt regulatory approval.

Entergy Corp., the current owner, and Exelon Corp., the buyer, filed a petition Monday asking the state Public Service Commission to approve the sale. They also will seek approvals soon from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the IRS and other agencies.

The sale will be automatically canceled, unless Entergy and Exelon mutually agree to move ahead, if PSC approval and other conditions are not met by Nov. 18, according to a copy of the sales agreement provided to state regulators.

Exelon wants state regulators to approve the sale before investing “tens of millions of dollars” in a planned refueling outage in January that would extend FitzPatrick’s operating life, according to the petition…..

Exelon and Entergy could face other obstacles to completing the deal, including court challenges.

Several parties, including the owners of non-nuclear power plants, warned the PSC that nuclear subsidy payments might violate federal rules over wholesale energy markets……..

Before they approve the sale of FitzPatrick, New York regulators will examine whether the transaction would give Exelon the ability to manipulate the wholesale market by giving it control over too many power plants…..http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2016/08/companies_ask_regulators_to_approve_sale_of_fitzpatrick_nuclear_plant.html

August 24, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, USA | Leave a comment

safety-symbol-SmFlag-USAInadvertent’ Nuke Risks Still Not Tracked Eight Years After Warning http://dailycaller.com/2016/08/23/inadvertent-nuke-risks-still-not-tracked-eight-years-after-warning/  

ETHAN BARTON A Department of Energy contractor still has problems with a nuclear weapons safety program eight years after a federal watchdog pointed out issues, the agency’s inspector general (IG) reported Monday.

Sandia National Laboratories’ system designed to track how problems with the nuclear weapons safety program were addressed was never completed, according to the IG report. The watchdog warned the contractor that such a system was necessary in 2008.

The safety program is intended to “minimize the possibility of accidental or inadvertent nuclear explosive detonation,” the report said. (RELATED: US Nuclear Weapons Could Die Thanks To $20 Million Of Neglect)

“[T]he project that Sandia established in 2011 to improve the formal tracking system has languished for several years without a defined scope or firm completion date,” the IG wrote. “Sandia officials postponed any updates to the tracking system.”

The contractor started a tracking system in 2008, but stopped updating it in 2011 when it launched an improvement project.

“As a result, the information that is needed to make informed decisions about safety improvements in future weapon refurbishment programs may not be readily accessible,” the watchdog continued. “[F]uture engineers may have difficulty finding the latest information on soft spots if Sandia does not maintain its tracking system.”

Employee turnover could also decrease the amount of knowledge surrounding the gaps in the nuclear weapons safety program, the IG noted. A system that tracks problems with nuclear weapons safety would reduce the knowledge lost from such turnover.

Sandia “identified 23 high priority nuclear weapons safety issues” in 2008, “for which there were either no plans to resolve the issues or plans were incomplete,” but wasn’t tracking how the contractor tracked corrections for those problems, the IG wrote.

August 24, 2016 Posted by | safety, USA | Leave a comment

The national security case against Trans Pacific Partnership

texy-TPPThe national security case against TPP, By John Adams, BG USA (Ret), The Hill, 17 Aug 16  “……..Our military is now shockingly vulnerable to major disruptions in the supply chain, including from substandard manufacturing practices, natural disasters, and price gouging by foreign nations. Poor manufacturing practices in offshore factories lead to problem-plagued products, and foreign producers—acting on the basis of their own military or economic interests—can sharply raise prices or reduce or stop sales to the United States.

The link between TPP and this kind of offshoring has been well-established.  The proposed deal would not only repeat but magnify the mistakes of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), offering extraordinary privileges to companies that move operations overseas.  Just this spring, an official U.S. government study by the International Trade Commission noted that the pact would further gut the U.S. manufacturing sector.  This, following the loss of 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, is a perilous proposition.
Foreign policy and national security have long been the arguments of last resort for backers of controversial trade deals.  A quarter century ago, we were warned that, unless NAFTA and deals with eight Latin American nations were enacted, China would come to dominate trade in the hemisphere.  NAFTA passed, but America’s share of goods imported by Mexico fell, while China’s share rose by a staggering 2,600 percent. Today, following the implementation of several additional major trade deals, we’re still waiting for China to comply with its WTO commitments, and we’re still waiting for progress in dealing with our astronomical trade deficit.
While the TPP’s backers present our choice as one of trade versus protectionism, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  We already have free trade agreements with the six TPP countries that account for more than 80 percent of the promised trade. Because all TPP nations are currently members of the World Trade Organization, their tariffs have already been cut to minimal levels.
Of TPP’s 30 chapters, only six deal with traditional trade issues. The rest deal primarily with special privileges for multinational corporations and investors—like establishing the rights of companies to sue governments for cash compensation over the impacts of health and safety regulations.  These dominant features of the TPP would vastly expand the rights of multinational firms that do not necessarily represent America’s national interests.
Critics of the TPP come from both parties in Congress—and from the business, labor, environmental, consumer, human rights, and defense communities.  These diverse players are not opposed to trade.  Rather, most simply want a different trade model that facilitates the worthy goal of global engagement without shortchanging American workers, policymaking prerogatives, and national security capacities.
While the Obama Administration has been wise to shift our defense and diplomatic attention towards the Asia-Pacific region, it’s now time for a “pivot” in our approach to trade. http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/291725-the-national-security-case-against-tpp

August 24, 2016 Posted by | politics international, USA | Leave a comment

The case for ending the policy of Pre-emptive Nuclear Strike

apocalypseEnd the First-Use Policy for Nuclear Weapons http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/15/opinion/end-the-text-relevantfirst-use-policy-for-nuclear-weapons.html By JAMES E. CARTWRIGHT and BRUCE G. BLAIRAUG. 14, 2016 Throughout the nuclear age, presidents have allowed their senior commanders to plan for the first use of nuclear weapons. Contingency plans were drawn to initiate first strikes to repel an invasion of Europe by the Soviet Union, defeat China and North Korea, take out chemical and biological weapons and conduct other missions.

After the end of the Cold War, which coincided with revolutionary advances in our nonnuclear military capacities, the range of these missions steadily narrowed to the point where nuclear weapons today no longer serve any purpose beyond deterring the first use of such weapons by our adversaries. Our nonnuclear strength, including economic and diplomatic power, our alliances, our conventional and cyber weaponry and our technological advantages, constitute a global military juggernaut unmatched in history. The United States simply does not need nuclear weapons to defend its own and its allies’ vital interests, as long as our adversaries refrain from their use.

Using nuclear weapons first against Russia and China would endanger our and our allies’ very survival by encouraging full-scale retaliation. Any first use against lesser threats, such as countries or terrorist groups with chemical and biological weapons, would be gratuitous; there are alternative means of countering those threats. Such use against North Korea would be likely to result in the blanketing of Japan and possibly South Korea with deadly radioactive fallout.

But beyond reducing those dangers, ruling out first use would also bring myriad benefits. To start, it would reduce the risk of a first strike against us during global crises. Leaders of other countries would be calmed by the knowledge that the United States viewed its own weapons as deterrents to nuclear warfare, not as tools of aggression.

The policy would also reduce costs by gutting the rationale for retaining the large arsenal of land-based strategic missiles in silos across the Midwest and the tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe. Those missiles are mainly for first-use; they are a risky option for second-use because they are highly vulnerable to enemy attack. Eliminating these weapons entirely would be the best option.

Phasing out land-based missiles and shifting to a reliance on submarines and bombers would save about $100 billion over the next three decades. The elimination of smaller, tactical nuclear weapons would save billions more. President Obama could begin the phaseout of land-based missiles before he left office by instructing the Department of Defense to remove 550 weapons from the operationally deployed category and transfer them to long-term storage, thereby reducing the operationally deployed inventory to about 1,000 strategic warheads. These missiles are surplus weapons no longer needed for deterrence.A no-first-use policy would also reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons. By scrapping the vulnerable land-based missile force, any need for launching on warning disappears. Strategic bombers can be sent aloft on warning of an apparent incoming attack, which may or may not be a false alarm, and stay up until the situation clarifies. Strategic submarines are extremely survivable and exert no pressure on decision-makers to fire them quickly. They can patrol for months waiting for instructions. Both bombers and submarines are also less vulnerable to cyberwarfare than the strategic missiles on land.

Finally, no-first-use would help ensure that democratically elected officials maintained control over nuclear weapons. Savings from reducing the nuclear force could be invested in fortifying command centers and communications networks, which would better protect the president and ensure the continuity of government during a crisis. This would not only fortify deterrence but also reduce the current possibility of a president’s losing control over nuclear operations at an early stage of conflict.Beyond those benefits, we believe a no-first-use policy could catalyze multilateral negotiations to reduce nuclear arms, discourage nonnuclear states from developing them and reinforce the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Although a no-first-use policy would limit the president’s discretion by imposing procedural and physical constraints on his or her ability to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, we believe such checks on the commander in chief would serve the national interest.

President Obama has an opportunity to further delegitimize nuclear weapons by adopting no-first-use as a core principle of United States security policy on the grounds that first-use is unnecessary and a threat to national survival and humanity itself. We could still maintain a robust nuclear umbrella to protect ourselves and our allies.

China and India adopted this policy long ago, and the American people overwhelmingly support it, according to a recent survey. In that poll, two-thirds say the United States should use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack or not at all, while just 18 percent think that first-use may be justified sometimes.

President Obama would be wise to follow China’s example. As commander in chief, he can adopt no-first-use overnight and lead the way in establishing it as a global norm among all of the nine countries with nuclear weapons. The next president ought to stay that course. Our nation, our allies and indeed the world will be better and safer for it.

James E. Cartwright, the chairman of the Global Zero Commission on Nuclear Risk Reduction, is a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the United States Strategic Command. Bruce G. Blair is a research scholar at Princeton, a founder of Global Zero and a former Minuteman launch officer.

August 21, 2016 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | 2 Comments

Exelon readies for legal fight to keep New York nuclear subsidies

legal costsExelon girds for challenges to Cuomo’s N.Y. nuclear subsidy, Jeffrey Tomich and Saqib Rahim, E&E reporters EnergyWire: Friday, August 19, 2016 Even before the first counterpunch to New York’s plan to subsidize a trio of upstate nuclear power plants in the name of fighting climate change, the beneficiary of almost $500 million in annual payments is airing its legal defenses.

Chicago-based Exelon Corp., owner of the R.E. Ginna and Nine Mile Point plants and the soon-to-be-owner of a third plant, James A. FitzPatrick, said it has vetted all of the potential arguments its opponents could raise and its defense is airtight.

“Given the importance to the company, we’ve gone through these legal theories in great detail and each of the potential challenges,” William Von Hoene, Exelon’s senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer, said in a recent presentation. “And we will have the challenges.”

Exelon is on the same page as New York’s Public Service Commission, which designed the policy to avoid specific legal tripwires. Experts say there’s likely to be a court challenge anyway, if only because of the money at stake and the precedent it could establish. If it survives, the plan could be a blueprint for other states to achieve the same policy goals, even after similar efforts have been blocked by judges and regulators.

This year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Maryland incentive program for new gas-fired generation because it strayed too far into federal jurisdiction over wholesale electricity markets (Greenwire, April 19). And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission blocked a plan approved by Ohio regulators to subsidize utility-owned coal and nuclear plants because it clashed with affiliate transaction rules (EnergyWire, April 28).

The New York PSC approved its clean energy standard (CES) on Aug. 1, formalizing the state’s goal of getting half its power from renewable energy by 2030. Toward that end, the CES will subsidize three nuclear power plants, giving more time for wind and solar power to develop in New York…..

Opponents said the process moved too fast given the high stakes. They’ve said it’s dubious to peg the subsidy to the social cost of carbon, and that it will lead to burdensome costs for large energy users, like manufacturers. And some environmentalists have objected to any support for nuclear power in a policy meant to advance renewable energy…….

Regulators moved quickly to finalize the clean energy standard. Entergy Corp., the owner of FitzPatrick, planned to shut the plant in January. Exelon was willing to buy it and add to its nuclear fleet, but it wanted clarity about what their economics would be……

On July 8, the state Department of Public Service proposed its plan to rescue the nuclear plants with ZECs. The plan contemplated nearly $1 billion in subsidies for the first two years. It said the $4 billion net benefit, largely from cutting carbon, was worth it.

Regulators took public comments for two weeks and issued a final order on Aug. 1.

Opponents said the process moved too fast given the high stakes. They’ve said it’s dubious to peg the subsidy to the social cost of carbon, and that it will lead to burdensome costs for large energy users, like manufacturers. And some environmentalists have objected to any support for nuclear power in a policy meant to advance renewable energy.

Legal fight on the horizon?

What remains unclear: Will any of the objections lead to a formal legal challenge?…….

Parties have 30 days to petition the PSC for a rehearing, said Jon Sorensen, a spokesman for the Department of Public Service. They have four months to challenge a decision at the New York Supreme Court.

At FERC, parties could lodge a complaint at any time, asserted Tyson Slocum, energy program director at Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog.

What might be the substance of such a challenge? “We do expect opponents to challenge the order both on administrative process as well as the merits,” said Fox of ClearView.

That opens many angles of attack, though not all of them are equally likely. Some parties question how regulators set the amount of the nuclear subsidy. At first, it was based on the cost of running the reactors. They ultimately decided to use the social cost of carbon.

Whether the recent appellate court ruling validates the social cost of carbon metric, some critics say the PSC staff didn’t allow enough time for parties to vet the formula.

“Two business weeks is a wholly inadequate amount of time for parties to review, evaluate and comment on a proposal that is projected to result in billions of dollars in costs and with a newly-created methodology for calculating ZEC prices,” the National Energy Marketers Association said in a filing last month.

The PSC’s timetable violated the state’s Administrative Procedure Act, NEMA said. It declined to comment on a possible challenge to the CES.

Exelon is also bracing for challenges that claim the PSC strayed too far into FERC’s jurisdiction……http://www.eenews.net/stories/1060041817

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Legal, USA | Leave a comment

While Louisiana drowns, sociopaths sabotage action on climate change

Koch-brothersThe Path of the Sociopath They did it while Louisiana drownedhttp://washingtonmonthly.com/2016/08/20/the-path-of-the-sociopath/#.V7jF_CUlnoY.twitter  by D.R. Tucker August 20, 2016

They didn’t give a damn about how many people had lost their lives, or how many people will lose their lives if we don’t transition as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels. They couldn’t care less about the health impacts of carbon pollution, and the fact that it is inherently unfair to deprive innocent people of a stable climate and clean air. Their arrogance has reached new heights–in fact, the level of their arrogance is as high as the sea levels will be in a few decades.

As DeSmogBlog’s Sharon Kelly reports:

A long-awaited campaign to rebrand fossil fuels called Fueling U.S. Forward made its public debut at the Red State Gathering 2016 [in Denver, Colorado last] Saturday, where the organization’s President and CEO Charles Drevna gave attendees the inside scoop on the effort, and confirmed that the campaign is backed financially by Koch Industries. 

Back in February, Peter Stone first reported in the Huffington Post that a $10 million-a-year effort was proposed by a Koch Industries board member, James Mahoney, and Mr. Drevna, aiming “to boost petroleum-based transportation fuels and attack government subsidies for electric vehicles.” In early August, the Fueling U.S. Forward website launched, and on Saturday, the first public comments were made about the campaign by Mr. Drevna, and they revealed a lot about how the Koch-backed initiative is working to re-frame fossil fuels…

The top line takeaway from Mr. Drevna’s comments is that the Koch-funded Fueling U.S. Forward is an effort to rebrand fossil fuels, focusing on the “positive” sides of oil, gas and coal.

The new initiative comes at a time when the impacts of climate change are becoming more difficult to ignore. 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year ever recorded, a mid-year climate analysis from NASA reported, and unusual storms, like the torrential rainfall that struck the Gulf Coast over the past few days causing historic flooding, have become more frequent.

Charles and David Koch built this, this monument to malevolence. We always knew they were ruthless…but to do this while Louisiana drowned as a clear result of fossil-fueled climate change is beyond heartless. This is Trumpian in its treachery.

Spare me the nonsense that the Koch family doesn’t like Trump. Yes, Charles and David may scorn Trump in public, but if the bigoted billionaire manages to turn things around and win the White House, both men will be wholly satisfied with Trump’s dirty-energy agenda. (In addition, let’s not forget that another Koch Brother, William “Death to Cape Wind” Koch, has officially boarded the Trump train.)

When Bill McKibben calls for a “war” on climate change, he’s calling for a war on Koch ideology. It’s a war that progressives, moderates and whatever remains of the rational right must be prepared to fight and win. This is an enemy that must be conquered before it conquers us.

The sociopathy of the Kochs shocks the conscience. Looking at a world on fire, they call for the use of more fossil fuels to further increase their profits as they further inflame the planet. If Joseph Welch were alive today, he wouldn’t ask the Kochs if they had any sense of decency; he’d tell them he already knew they had none.

I’ve yet to read Daniel Schulman’s 2014 Koch biography Sons of Wichita, though I imagine that Schulman was thoroughly disgusted by their disregard for their fellow human beings. (Considering their latest actions, I have to say Schulman’s title is incomplete, since obviously Wichita is not the only thing these fossil-fuel fiends are sons of.)

I give Wisconsin talk radio star Charlie Sykes credit for admitting, at long last, that the right-wing media noise machine has created a “monster” comprised of millions of Americans who are resistant to facts and logic. Of course, Janeane Garofalo basically said the same thing seven years ago, and received nothing but scorn from the right for saying so:

Fox News loves to foment this anti-intellectualism because that is their bread and butter.  If you have a cerebral electorate, Fox News goes down the toilet, you know, very, very fast…They‘re been doing this for years.  That‘s why Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch started this venture; it is to disinform and to coarsen and dumb-down a certain segment of the electorate.

Thanks to right-wing radio, Fox and the wingnut blogosphere, we have far too many Americans who scorn science and reject reason…far too many Americans who think the lies of Charles, David and William Koch are the truth…far too many Americans who will suffer as a result of the actions of the fossil fuel industry and its media allies.

They did it while Louisiana drowned.

While Louisiana drowned.

Damn them.

August 21, 2016 Posted by | climate change, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA | Leave a comment

Get used to extreme floods: climate change is becoming urgent

climate SOSExtreme Floods May Be the New Normal Communities should plan defenses and emergency responses based on the climate of the future, not the past, Scientific American By Erika BolstadClimateWire on August 18, 2016 

Over the past year alone, catastrophic rain events characterized as once-in-500-year or even once-in-1,000-year events have flooded West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina and now Louisiana, sweeping in billions of dollars of property damage and deaths along with the high waters.

flood Louisiana 16

These extreme weather events are forcing many communities to confront what could signal a new climate change normal. Now many are asking themselves: Are they doing enough to plan for and to adapt to large rain events that climate scientists predict will become more frequent and more intense as global temperatures continue to rise?

The answer in many communities is no, it’s not enough.

They could be doing much, much more to adapt—not just people and how they respond to climate change, but homes, buildings, roads, and levees and other infrastructure, said Gavin Smith, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence and a research professor at the University of North Carolina’s Department of City and Regional Planning.

One of the first shifts that must happen, many experts in hazard mitigation say, is to stop using the climate of the past to plan for the future.

“One of the great challenges is to recognize that a lot of communities, a lot of cities, a lot of human settlements in general were designed to reflect the climate of the past,” said Smith, who also served as the director of the Mississippi Office of Recovery and Renewal after Hurricane Katrina.

“These issues, they are happening and they’re going to become worse, and the changes are occurring within a context where we’ve designed cities to reflect a previous climate,” he said…….

What climate scientists do know is that the intensity of extreme precipitation events is on the rise. With rising global temperatures, the 2014 National Climate Assessment predicts that many communities will see such extreme precipitation events more frequently.

More frequent events could defy traditional methods of planning for floods, like using 100- and 500-year floodplain maps to plan communities and develop flood insurance rates and who has to have it. It could also radically shift how engineers and architects design buildings. Coupled with sea-level rise in some places, such rain events could also affect how emergency response teams issue storm warnings or prepare people for weather events…….

Climate change could expose vast swaths of U.S. infrastructure to additional natural hazards that are likely to intensify as sea levels rise, temperatures increase and precipitation patterns shift, the report found. Power transmission lines, ports, refineries and wastewater treatment facilities across the country are vulnerable to climate change……http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/extreme-floods-may-be-the-new-normal/

August 19, 2016 Posted by | climate change, USA | Leave a comment

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