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Hypersonic Missiles- ‘we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.’

Like a Ball of Fire, London Review of Books, Andrew Cockburn on hypersonic weaponry, Vol. 42 No. 5 · 5 March 2020 “……….   Putin’s bellicose claim – two weeks before the presidential election in which he was running for a fourth term – and the more recent official announcement that Avangard had now entered service, drew alarmed and unquestioning attention in the West. ‘Russia Deploys Hypersonic Weapon, Potentially Renewing Arms Race’ the New York Times blared. ‘The new Russian weapon system flies at superfast speeds and can evade traditional missile defence systems. The United States is trying to catch up.’

Across the military-industrial complex, the money trees were shaken, showering dollars on eager recipients. A complaisant Congress poured money into programmes to develop all-new missile defences against the new threat, as well as programmes to build offensive hypersonic weapons to close the ‘technology gap’. The sums allocated for defensive initiatives alone exceeded $10 billion in the 2020 Pentagon budget, including $108 million in seed money for a ‘Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor’ – an as-yet undesigned array of low-orbit satellites that would detect and track Russia’s weapons.
Last September, Marillyn Hewson, the CEO of Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest arms manufacturer, hefted a golden shovel to break ground in Courtland, Alabama, on new facilities to develop, test and produce a variety of hypersonic weapons. By then Lockheed already had more than $3.5 billion of hypersonic contracts in hand. Excitement was running high. ‘You can’t walk more than ten feet in the Pentagon without hearing the word “hypersonics”,’ one official remarked to an industry sponsored conference. Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defence for research and engineering, a hypersonics enthusiast, has spoken of the need for ‘maybe thousands’ of hypersonic weapons. ‘This takes us back to the Cold War,’ he announced cheerfully, ‘where at one point we had thirty thousand nuclear warheads and missiles to launch them’.
Welcome to the world of strategic analysis, where we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.’ This was what Ivan Selin, a senior Pentagon official, used to tell subordinates in the Defence Department in the 1960s. Such irreverence regarding high-tech modern weaponry is rare: the norm is uncritical acceptance of reality as the arms industry and its uniformed customers choose to define it.
This credulity persists partly because of the secrecy rules deployed to cloak the realities of shoddy performance and unfulfilled promises. More important, complex weapons programmes, however problematic, benefit from a widespread and unquestioning faith – not least among journalists – in the power of technology to challenge the laws of physics.
…….. the funds continue to flow smoothly, accompanied by breathless headlines such as the Washington Post’s declaration that ‘the Pentagon’s newest weapons look like something out of Star Wars.’ …….
in 2014 the Russian programme was nearly cancelled when the designers reported that they couldn’t make the system manoeuvre – the essential selling point for any hypersonic weapon.
Hypersonic endeavours in the US have an even longer history, having originated in the imaginations of German scientists during the Second World War. Walter Dornberger, a favourite of Hitler who oversaw the V2 rocket programme and its extensive slave labour workforce, emigrated to the US after the war and soon found employment in the arms industry. In the 1950s he presented the US air force with a proposal for a ‘boost-glide’ weapon, first conceived by his former colleagues in Germany. …….
the dream never died, lingering on in obscure budgetary allocations over ensuing decades, none of them yielding anything of practical use. Despite the bombast on both sides of what we have to call the New Cold War, current efforts will almost certainly be no more successful than their predecessors – except in improving arms corporations’ balance sheets – for reasons that bear some scrutiny………..
 True to form, the UK Ministry of Defence is still investing heavily in this problematic technology…………
[This article outlines the technical problems in implementing hypersonic missiles]
….  At least $200 billion has been showered on missile defence since Reagan unveiled the Star Wars programme in 1983, and yet as Tom Christie – the Pentagon’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation under George W. Bush – puts it, ‘here we are, almost forty years on, and what have we got to show for it?’ Very little, it seems. As he told me recently, ‘We’ve tested against very rudimentary threats, and even then [the defence systems] haven’t worked with any degree of confidence.’ An apparently insoluble problem is that no defensive system is able to distinguish reliably between incoming warheads and decoys, such as balloon reflectors that mimic missiles on radar and can be deployed by the hundred at little cost. ‘There’s a very simple technical reason there’s essentially no chance – and, I mean, really essentially, no chance – that these missile defences will work,’ Ted Postol of MIT, a long-term critic of Star Wars, told me……….
 the US is lavishing large amounts of money on anti-hypersonic programmes. Given the gross deficiencies of both hypersonics and current missile defence systems, this indicates that the US and Russia have both taken Selin’s axiom a step further: they mean to deploy a weapon that doesn’t work against a threat that doesn’t exist that was in turn developed to counter an equally non-existent threat.
The notion that the Cold War was a nuclear ‘arms race’ with each side developing systems to counter the other’s increasingly deadly initiatives is generally taken as a given. Today, hypersonic weapons are depicted as products of a similar competitive impulse. But when you look more closely at the history of the Cold War and its post-Soviet resurgence, you see that a very different process is at work, in which the arms lobby on each side has self-interestedly sought capital and bureaucratic advantage while enlisting its counterpart on the other side as a justification for its own ambition.   In other words, they enjoy a mutually profitable partnership. …..

The ease with which the chimerical menace of hypersonic weapons has been launched into the budgetary stratosphere by the arms lobby suggests that their luck will hold for a long time yet. https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n05/andrew-cockburn/like-a-ball-of-fire

December 1, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, weapons and war | 1 Comment

Serious technical problems for the much hyped molten salt nuclear reactor

November 24, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, technology | Leave a comment

The intractible problem of San Onofre’s, and indeed, America’s, nuclear waste

Mosko: Public Safety at Stake in Debate Over Nuclear Waste Storage at San Onofre,  https://voiceofoc.org/2020/11/mosko-public-safety-at-stake-in-debate-over-nuclear-waste-storage-at-san-onofre/by SARAH MOSKO  18 Nov 20 SoCal Edison’s spokesperson, John Dobken, authored an Oct. 20 editorial touting the dry nuclear waste storage system Edison chose when a radiation leak from steam generator malfunction forced permanent closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in 2013. Ignoring for the moment the numerous obfuscations and omissions of critical facts, the essence of Dobken’s article is this: Edison wants to divert public attention away from the inadequacies of its dry canister storage system while promising that a deep geological national repository, as mandated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, will magically materialize before their storage canisters fail.

There’s plenty Dobken did not say that the public needs to know.

First off, we are nearly four decades past passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and there is no tangible progress toward creation of a national repository operated by the Department of Energy. The cold hard reality is that no state wants it and, worse still, there is no feasible technology currently available to make a geological repository workable, according to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Plans for a geological repository at Yucca Mountain were rejected by Nevada, and subsequent proposals for “interim” storage sites in Texas and New Mexico are opposed by those states too.

Thus, the dream of a national repository remains in limbo for the foreseeable future, and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. Also misleading is Dobken’s suggestion that, if needed, a failing canister could be transported to “a centralized Department of Energy facility” for repackaging in the future, as no such facility exits anywhere in the United States for this purpose.

Consequently, the plan throughout the country is to leave highly radioactive nuclear waste onsite indefinitely. The relevant 2014 report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) openly states that a repository might never become available. Like all other nuclear plant operators in the United States, Edison is saddled with a storage task never originally intended.

For dry storage, Edison chose thin-walled (just 5/8 inch thick), welded-shut stainless steel canisters which contrast sharply with the 10-19 inch thick-walled and bolted-shut casks many nuclear waste safety advocates in Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties are advocating for. Unlike the thick casks, SONGS’s canisters are vulnerable to stress corrosion cracking from numerous conditions, such as a salty marine environment like San Onofre. A 2019 Department of Energy report assigned “#1 Priority” to the risk of through-wall cracking in welded, stainless steel canisters in a moist salty environment.

The 73 Holtec canisters at SONGS are warranted for only 25 years, covering only manufacturing defects. This means the warranty excludes environmental conditions like earthquakes, salt air, water intrusion, seagull droppings, and any other corrosive damage to the canisters. Edison has not divulged what the warranty covers on the 51 older Areva canisters, which are already up to 17 years old. Dobken’s statement that the nuclear waste will become less radioactive in 100 years is meaningless in the timescale of the hundreds of thousands of years the waste will remain deadly to humans.

Dobken argues that the fact SONGS’s canisters are welded shut and can never be opened is a plus. This completely ignores the crucial safety requirement in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that spent nuclear fuel storage containers be designed to be monitored inside and out and the contents retrievable from the containers. Edison purposely chose welded shut canisters, making it impossible to monitor or retrieve the fuel assemblies, which means the canisters can’t lawfully be accepted by the Department of Energy (DOE) for either an interim or permanent storage site.

In listing six other nations that also use welded-shut canisters (Brazil, Mexico, Slovenia, South Africa, Ukraine, United Kingdom), Dobken hopes readers won’t notice these are not countries the United States typically aims to emulate technologically. From that standpoint, a partial list of countries using thick-walled casks is more formidable: Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Switzerland. And, thick casks are used in the United States too, though thin-walled canisters are unfortunately most common.

In arguing that robotic camera technology – which Edison applied to the exterior of a sample of eight of 123 total canisters in 2019 – can be relied upon to detect defects like cracking, Dobken hides the fact that Edison has admitted that this methodology does not meet American standards for an inspection. This is because nuclear storage containers are pressure vessels, thus subject to standards set by the American Association of Mechanical Engineers for safe storage and transport of nuclear pressure vessels which explicitly require use of either magnetic particle or dye penetrant methodology to inspect for defects like cracking (ASME N3).

Edison used neither ASME-approved method simply because they can’t be applied to their canisters which are both too hot, too radioactive and inaccessible in their concrete storage overpacks. Furthermore, a robotic camera can never access the bottoms or inside walls of canisters to look for cracks originating there. Nor can it characterize cracking that might start on the exterior but proceeds laterally rather than straight through the canister wall.

As regards the metal spray technology which Edison promises can repair a partially cracked canister and thus makes the cooling pools unnecessary, Dobken claims it is proven technology. Yet, in his article he fails to mention that it has never been used on a canister filled with radioactive spent fuel. That it has been used in various other applications (oil and gas, shipping, etc.) is irrelevant. NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that Edison hasn’t applied to the NRC to approve this technology and, furthermore, that no canister repair technology has NRC approval.

Consequently, many nuclear safety advocates are arguing strenuously for retention of the cooling pools until a specialized dry fuel handling facility (aka “hot cell”) can be constructed onsite. This is because the only means to repackage the radioactive contents of a defective canister into another container is to perform the transfer within a cooling pool or hot cell.

Dobken correctly points out that NRC is nevertheless allowing decommissioned nuclear plants to destroy the cooling pools. This highlights a troublesome relationship between NRC and Edison which the public needs to understand. NRC has granted safety exemptions and waivers in dry storage systems nationwide which has allowed Edison to proceed with a canister system that is unsafe and cannot legally be accepted by DOE into either an interim storage site or permanent repository. Consequently, there is no plan to prevent or stop radioactive releases.

This liaison between NRC and Edison played out during the July 2020 meeting of the California Coastal Commission when NRC representative, Andrea Kock, remained mute as Edison cited the unapproved canister repair technology as justification for destroying the cooling pools. Though community nuclear waste safety advocates ardently cited factual objections, Kock’s silence no doubt helped shape the unanimous vote of the nine commissioners to grant Edison’s request. However, that two commissioners literally uttered “boos” despite casting “yes” votes speaks to doubts about Edison’s plan among the commission’s ranks.

Lastly, Dobken offers no defense for the fact that San Onofre had by far the worst safety record of any nuclear plant in the country during its pre-2012 operation, yet he cries foul any suggestion this should undermine public confidence in how Edison is currently handling dry storage. What’s not mentioned is that, in 2018, it took a conscience-driven whistleblower to expose a near-drop incident where a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive waste was poised to plummet 18 feet while it was being lowered into its storage overpack. NRC’s subsequent investigation attributed the event to both design flaws and human error and cited Edison with the single most serious violation ever imposed on a spent fuel licensee.

Moreover, it was only because of this incident that Edison bothered to look at the canisters with the contrived robotic camera technology, revealing that essentially all the canisters get scraped/gouged during downloading into storage overpacks.

Dobken makes one point with which everyone agrees: “The public deserves the facts about spent nuclear fuel and its storage.” As the public listens to this debate over safe nuclear waste storage, both sides should be held accountable for underlying motivations. In asking Edison to opt for bolted-shut thick-walled casks with safety features lacking in thin-walled canisters, community safety advocates are seeking safety for their families and communities. Edison, on the other hand, will save untold $millions should the public be swayed to trust in Edison’s promises that their canister system won’t fail and that a national repository will materialize in time to save the day.

Sarah (Steve) Mosko is a local freelance journalist focused on solutions to environmental problems and social injustices.

November 19, 2020 Posted by | Reference, USA, wastes | Leave a comment

Uranprojekt -The Nazi Nuclear Program

November 19, 2020 Posted by | Germany, history, Reference | Leave a comment

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, the nuclear industry’s latest pipe dream.

Ramana and Schacherl: Why the Liberals’ nuclear power plan is a pipe dream   https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/ramana-and-schacherl-why-the-liberals-nuclear-power-plan-is-a-pipe-dream?fbclid=IwAR0GnxYt-JgXg7NVEyccBYt4r0SSbfAHm3Y-b_AvzgMIjxpOotUTBIvAcaI

Not only is this form of power expensive compared to the alternatives, we still haven’t resolved issues around radioactive contamination and hazardous waste streams.

M.V. Ramana, Eva Schacherl, Nov 16, 2020   On Nov. 18, Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan will announce the federal government’s action plan for small modular nuclear reactors, the nuclear industry’s latest pipe dream.

At least a dozen corporations around the world are hoping for taxpayer funding to further develop their SMR designs, all of which are still on the drawing board. Last month, the federal government handed out $20 million to Terrestrial Energy. Other expectant entities include SNC-Lavalin, which bought Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s CANDU division and is developing a CANDU SMR; United Kingdom-based Moltex Energy; and Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation.

The Liberal government says it supports small modular reactors to help Canada mitigate climate change. The government is simply barking up the wrong tree, for several reasons: cost, cost and cost, as well as renewables, safety and radioactive waste.

Nuclear power is very expensive compared to other low-carbon options, and the difference keeps growing because the cost of renewables and energy storage is going down rapidly. Peter Bradford, a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official, likened the use of nuclear power to mitigate climate change to fighting world hunger “with caviar.”

The high price tag for nuclear power plants has led to a near freeze on new ones around the world. Canada’s last nuclear plant came online in 1994, and Ontarians will remember when plans for two reactors at Darlington were shelved in 2009 after a $26-billion bid – three times the expected budget. Nuclear projects also have a long history of cost and time overruns. The cost estimate of NuScale, the most advanced SMR project in the U.S., has gone up from $4.2 billion to $6.1 billion. That works out to almost 10 times the cost per kilowatt of building wind power in Alberta. There is no way SMRs can be cost-competitive with wind or solar energy.

O’Regan has said he doesn’t know any way to get to net zero-carbon emissions by 2050 without nuclear power, but this is refuted by many studies. Ontario can meet its electricity demand using only renewables and hydro power backed up by storage technologies. A recent study using data from 123 countries shows that renewable energy outperforms nuclear power in reducing emissions. It concludes that nuclear investments just get in the way of building up renewable energy.

Advocates claim that we need nuclear energy to back up solar and wind power when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. However, nuclear reactors cannot be powered up and down rapidly and safely. If they are, their cost of generating electricity increases further. Nor do nuclear plants run reliably all the time. In France, which generates 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, each reactor was shut down for an average of 96.2 days in 2019.

The federal government sees small reactors playing a role in remote off-grid communities and mines that now rely on diesel. But together they require less than 0.5 per cent of Canada‘s electricity generation capacity. Power from SMRs could be 10 times more expensive for those communities than adding wind and solar energy. There is also strong opposition to SMRs from First Nations communities, who say these represent an unacceptable risk.

The risk from nuclear power comes in multiple forms. There is the potential for accidents leading to widespread radioactive contamination. Because reactors involve parts that interact rapidly in complex ways, no nuclear reactor is immune to accidents. And they all produce radioactive nuclear waste streams that remain hazardous for up to one million years. Dealing with these is a major challenge, and there is no demonstrated solution to date.

Canada has a big challenge ahead: to decarbonize by 2050. Let’s get on with it, in the quickest and most cost-effective way: by improving the efficiency of our energy use, and building out solar, wind and storage technologies. The federal Green Party is correct in stating that nuclear reactors “have no place in any plan to mitigate climate change when cleaner and cheaper alternatives exist.” Let’s forget the dirty, dangerous distraction of small nuclear reactors.

M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia. Eva Schacherl is an advocate for protecting the Ottawa River and for environmental and social justice.

November 17, 2020 Posted by | Canada, Reference, Small Modular Nuclear Reactors | Leave a comment

Correcting 5 wrong opinions about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

FIVE COMMON MISTAKES ON THE TREATY ON THE PROHIBITION OF NUCLEARWEAPONS https://warontherocks.com/2020/11/five-common-mistakes-on-the-treaty-on-the-prohibition-of-nuclear-weapons/

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE, 16 Nov 20,  In late January 2021, something big is happening to influence international politics. And no, I’m not talking about the inauguration of the new U.S. president.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first international ban on nuclear weapons, will take full legal effect on Jan. 22, 2021. It joins the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention as a treaty prohibiting weapons of mass destruction and follows the roadmap of the Mine Ban Treaty (known as the Ottawa Treaty) and Cluster Munitions Convention to bring together a coalition of civil society and diplomats to prohibit and eliminate weapons based on their humanitarian harm. The treaty has widespread support in the international community — 122 countries voted for its adoption in 2017, and these countries have continued to express their support for the treaty in subsequent statements to the U.N. General Assembly, in spite of resistance from nuclear-armed states and some of their allies, who have not joined the treaty.

This treaty is a big deal. And yet, political scientists and nuclear policy experts, largely from nuclear-armed states, repeatedly make mistakes in their analysis and interpretation of this treaty and international law. At a gathering of roughly 800 nuclear policy experts in Washington, D.C. in 2019, experts overwhelmingly and incorrectly predicted the treaty would not enter into force by March 2021. A French academic even misread the actual treaty text — a clear error that was not flagged by any of the article’s expert reviewers, and was only corrected after publication.

I work at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to negotiate the ban treaty. Its work is informed by international lawyers, academics, technical experts, diplomats, survivors of nuclear weapon use and testing, and advocates with regional expertise. This diverse and rich foundation of knowledge and experience informs our work to this day. But some academics and nuclear policy experts that haven’t worked as closely on the treaty often make five key mistakes when analyzing this treaty and international law: that the treaty may be just symbolic, that NATO countries cannot join, that the treaty doesn’t address compliance, that it won’t have any impact on nuclear-armed and NATO states, and that the treaty will only affect democracies.

Mistake One: The Treaty Is Purely Symbolic

The legal impact of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is clear: Once it enters into force, all states parties will need to comply with the treaty’s prohibitions and implement its obligations. While some treaty articles reinforce existing obligations under other treaties, states parties do actually take on new legal obligations, contrary to what some have claimed. Even without any other states joining the treaty, from a strictly legal perspective, the treaty is not merely “symbolic.”

The treaty prohibits states parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using (or threatening to use) nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits states parties from assisting, encouraging, or inducing states to engage in any of these prohibited activities. Some of these prohibitions are already enshrined in nuclear weapon-free zone treaties, but not all prohibition treaty states parties are members of these treaties. Given that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty unfortunately has yet to enter into force, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will be the only agreement in force banning nuclear testing internationally.

In addition to adhering to prohibitions, states parties must implement positive obligations, some of which echo previous agreements, but many of which are new to this treaty.

There are some technical requirements. For example, states parties must submit a declaration with the U.N. secretary-general on their nuclear weapon status. They must also bring into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency on inspecting their peaceful nuclear program, or maintain a more intrusive inspections regime (an “additional protocol”) if they have one in force already.

But the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons also includes ground-breaking provisions on providing assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and remediating contaminated environments. This is the first time that international law has mandated that countries address the humanitarian devastation caused by decades of nuclear weapons testing and the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. It is a critical step forward to address the racist, colonialist, and unjust legacy left by these uniquely horrible weapons of mass destruction. Analysis of this treaty would do well not to ignore these historic articles.

Specifically, Article 6  of the treaty requires states to “provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, without discrimination, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support,” for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing “as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion.” States must also “take necessary and appropriate measures” towards the remediation of contaminated environments. States with affected communities and contaminated environments under their jurisdiction are primarily responsible to structure and implement these obligations in order to respect these states’ sovereignty and follow the legal precedent for victim assistance in other treaties. However, Article 7, which requires that all countries cooperate to implement the treaty’s provisions, specifically calls on all states “in a position to do so” to provide assistance to other states as they carry out these initiatives. Such assistance can take many forms, including technical, financial, and material, so every state should be in a position to contribute.

These provisions will be at the center of the first meeting of states parties to the treaty, to take place within one year of the treaty’s entry into force. Austria has already offered to host this meeting in Vienna. At this meeting, states will discuss routine logistics of international treaty meetings, such as costs and establishing the rules of procedure. Observer states, including signatory states, and some non-signatory states, including at least Sweden and Switzerland, will also attend and share the cost of the meeting. The extent of their participation will be determined by the rules of procedure. Civil society will also likely play an active role.

Mistake Two: NATO Countries Cannot Join the Treaty

One academic recently argued that membership in NATO and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be “mutually exclusive.” While fully compliant membership in both treaties would require a few policy adjustments, it is certainly possible. There is no prohibition in the treaty for a member to be involved in military alliances or exercises with nuclear-armed states, as long as there is not a significant nuclear dimension to those alliances. NATO itself states, “NATO is committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, it will remain a nuclear alliance.” However, legal experts explain that if a NATO state would like to join the treaty, they may certainly do so and remain in the alliance as long as that state renounces participation in the nuclear dimension of the alliance and indicates that it does not support activities prohibited by the treaty. There is a precedent of NATO members “footnoting” alliance documents to signal disagreement with certain policies. A NATO state could thus announce its change in policy and adjust its behavior accordingly to be in compliance with the treaty’s provisions. Exactly how the NATO state would need to adjust its behavior to be in compliance with the treaty varies by country and could be determined in consultation with states parties.

Historically, different members of NATO can take different positions on controversial weapons without obliterating the alliance. Indeed, there are already divergent policies within NATO on the extent of participation in the nuclear aspect of the alliance: Some NATO countries go so far as to host U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil while others do not allow deployment on their territory under any circumstances. Opposition within NATO to banning landmines and cluster munitions did not stop those prohibitions from moving forward, even as the United States pressured countries to not even participate in the process to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions, and certainly did not destroy the alliance. Dozens of former leaders from NATO states, including two former NATO secretaries-general, recently called on their countries to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and certainly did not suggest that such a move would involve leaving NATO or that it would fracture the alliance. NATO’s status as a nuclear alliance has evolved over time, and it could continue to adapt to shifting international norms.

Mistake Three: There Is No Mechanism to Address Compliance Concerns in the Treaty

If there are any concerns about compliance with the terms of the treaty, the treaty explains clearly what states should do in Article 11. When a state party has a concern about another state party’s implementation of the accord, the two states may resolve the dispute amongst themselves or bring the matter to a meeting of states parties to discuss.

Concerns about compliance with an international treaty would certainly not be unique to this treaty and do not indicate that it is any less legitimate or valuable than other treaties with compliance disputes. States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regularly raise concerns about nuclear weapon-state compliance with their obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament under Article VI during meetings of states parties of that treaty. Likewise, states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention condemn Syrian and Russian violations. These examples demonstrate the value of international treaties to reinforce norms and provide a forum to discuss and condemn violations of international standards for peace and security. Of course, given that the treaty has not yet entered into force, no state can currently be judged to be in non-compliance with the accord.

Mistake Four: The Treaty Will Only Impact Countries That Have Joined It

States parties’ implementation of their obligation to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing will also have lasting impact beyond those countries themselves. There is currently no international standard for adequate victim assistance for those who have been impacted by nuclear weapons use and testing and no standard for how to judge that a nuclear-contaminated site has been adequately remediated. States parties’ work on these provisions in the treaty will help to provide research and experience in these fields that can be applicable and useful even beyond countries that have joined the treaty.

Countries that are not part of the treaty can still contribute to these important measures. The United States, for example, is one of the largest donors to Mine Action, which facilitates mine clearance, despite not joining the Mine Ban Treaty. Mounir Satouri, a French member of the European Parliament, has expressed interest in encouraging European Union countries, including NATO members, to contribute to victim assistance and environmental remediation measures under the treaty, even if they have not yet joined as states parties.

The treaty will continue to grow and integrate into the international system well beyond its entry into force in January and first meeting of states parties. The norm established by previous weapons prohibitions impacted banks, companies, and government policies in countries that had not joined the treaty, and the same can be expected for the nuclear prohibition norm. The treaty’s adoption has already caused a major Dutch pension fund to divest from companies involved in nuclear weapons, and more divestment can be anticipated once the treaty takes full legal effect.

Mistake Five: The Treaty Only Impacts Democracies

Countries that have not yet expressed support for the treaty are also expected to join in time. In many countries that do not officially support the treaty, polls show that domestic opinion is behind the ban and capitals in nuclear-armed and NATO states have adopted resolutions calling on their governments to join. Critics claim that domestic support may push Western democracies – in particular France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and NATO allies — to join the treaty, while more autocratic states — without a strong civil society to demand they adhere — remain unfazed by the new international law and norm.

That’s not how international law works. International law applies to all countries, regardless of their governance structure, and all countries are influenced by the new norms advanced by international treaties. Pressure to join the treaty does not just come from an active civil society, but from other states, international organizations, and the changing norm established by the treaty itself. Article 12 of the treaty legally requires that all states parties urge other countries to join. This can be done in the form of public statements in international fora, like the United Nations, or privately in bilateral meetings. Pressure to adhere can even come from international figures like the U.N. secretary-general, the Dalai Lama, and the Pope who have all welcomed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

So far, the record shows that Western democracies are not necessarily more susceptible to pressure to support the treaty or to join it. While the United States and some NATO allies held a press conference outside the negotiations of the treaty in protest, China merely abstained on the resolution to start negotiations. When the treaty reached 50 states parties, a U.S. official Twitter account called the treaty “counterproductive,” while the Chinese UN Mission on Twitter claimed its objectives were “in line with purposes of the TPNW.” Of the states that have already joined the treaty, many have done so not because of civil society pressure, but due to their desire to adhere to international laws and norms against nuclear weapons.

Conclusion

In January, the treaty will take its rightful place among the other international treaties regulating nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as an implementing instrument of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Article VI and complement to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Most countries support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an important achievement for peace and security and towards a world free of nuclear weapons. As the risk of nuclear weapons use increases alarmingly, nuclear disarmament measures like this treaty are urgently needed.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will impact the norm against nuclear weapons and in the meantime will provide concrete assistance for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and contribute to remediating radiologically contaminated areas. It is a powerful tool: important enough for leaders to ratify even in the midst of a global pandemic and influential enough that the United States actually called on countries to withdraw their instrument of ratification or accession. Analytical attempts to belittle or undermine the significance of this treaty may appease the minority of countries that cling to these weapons of mass destruction for now, but make no mistake — the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a game-changer. And it is not going anywhere.

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

The human impact of ”Trinity” and a thousand other nuuclear bomb tests on American soil

November 16, 2020 Posted by | health, PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

The USA devised an apocalyptic nuclear weapon – the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM

PROJECT PLUTO: THE CRAZIEST NUCLEAR WEAPON IN HISTORY  SOFREP, by Sandboxx  15 Nov 20,  “…………. Although the destructive force of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been so monstrous that they changed the geopolitical landscape of the world forever, both the U.S. and Soviet Union immediately set about developing newer, even more powerful thermonuclear weapons. Other programs sought new and dynamic delivery methods for these powerful nukes, ranging from ballistic missiles to unguided bombs.Project Pluto and the SLAM Missile

One such effort under the supervision of the U.S. Air Force was a weapon dubbed the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM (not to be mistaken for the later AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile). The SLAM missile program was to utilize a ramjet nuclear propulsion system being developed under the name Project Pluto. Today, Russia is developing the 9M730 Burevestnik, or Skyfall missile, to leverage the same nuclear propulsion concept.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin recently pointed out, nuclear propulsion offers practically endless range, and estimates at the time suggested the American SLAM Missile would likely fly for 113,000 miles or more before its fuel was expended. Based on those figures, the missile could fly around the entire globe at the equator at least four and a half times without breaking a sweat.

The unshielded nuclear reactor powering the missile would practically rain radiation onto the ground as it flew, offering the first of at least three separate means of destruction the SLAM missile provided. In order to more effectively leverage the unending range of the nuclear ramjet, the SLAM missile was designed to literally drop hydrogen bombs on targets as it flew. Finally, with its bevy of bombs expended, the SLAM missile would fly itself into one final target, detonating its own thermonuclear warhead as it did. That final strike could feasibly be days or even weeks after the missile was first launched.

Over time, the SLAM missile came to be known as Pluto to many who worked on it, due to the missile’s development through the project with the same name.

The onboard nuclear reactor produced more than 500-megawatts of power and operated at a scorching 2,500 degrees — hot enough to compromise the structural integrity of metal alloys designed specifically to withstand high amounts of heat. Ultimately, the decision was made to forgo metal internal parts in favor of specially developed ceramics sourced from the Coors Porcelain Company, based in Colorado.

The downside to ramjet propulsion is that it can only function when traveling at high speeds. In order to reach those speeds, the SLAM would be carried aloft and accelerated by rocket boosters until the missile was moving fast enough for the nuclear ramjet to engage. Once the nuclear ramjet system was operating, the missile could remain aloft practically indefinitely, which would allow it to engage multiple targets and even avoid intercept.

The nuclear-powered ramjet was so loud that the missile’s designers theorized that the shock wave of the missile flying overhead on its own would likely kill anyone in its path, and if not, the gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor sputtering fission fragments out the back probably would. While this effectively made the missile’s engine a weapon in its own right, it also made flying the SLAM over friendly territory impossible.

While the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has since made the launch of just one nuclear weapon the start of a cascade that could feasibly end life on Earth as we know it, Project Pluto’s SLAM Missile was practically apocalyptic in its own right. The nuclear powerplant that would grant the missile effectively unlimited range would also potentially kill anyone it passed over, but the real destructive power of the SLAM missile came from its payload.

Unlike most cruise missiles, which are designed with a propulsion system meant to carry a warhead to its target, Project Pluto’s SLAM carried not only a nuclear warhead, but 16 additional hydrogen bombs that it could drop along its path to the final target. Some even suggested flying the missile in a zig-zagging course across the Soviet Union, irradiating massive swaths of territory and delivering it’s 16 hydrogen bombs to different targets around the country.

Doing so would not only offer the ability to engage multiple targets, but would almost certainly also leave the Soviet populace in a state of terror. A low-flying missile spewing radiation as it passed over towns, shattering windows and deafening bystanders as it delivered nuclear hellfire to targets spanning the massive Soviet Union, would likely have far-reaching effects on morale.

How Do You Test an Apocalyptic Weapon?

Project Pluto’s nuclear propulsion system made testing the platform a difficult enterprise. Once the nuclear reactor onboard was engaged, it would continue to function until it hit its target or expended all of its fuel. Any territory the weapon passed over during flight would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, limiting the ways and the places in which the weapon’s engine could even be tested.

On May 14, 1961, engineers powered up the Project Pluto propulsion system on a train car for just a few seconds, and a week later a second test saw the system run for a full five minutes. The engine produced 513 megawatts of power, which equated to around 35,000 pounds of thrust — 6,000 pounds more than an F-16’s Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 afterburning turbofan engine with its afterburner engaged.

However, those engine tests were the only large scale tests Project Pluto would ultimately see, in part, because a fully assembled SLAM missile would irradiate so much territory that it was difficult to imagine any safe way of actually testing it.

A weapon That’s Too Destructive to Use

Ultimately, Project Pluto and its SLAM missile were canceled before ever leaving the ground. The cancellation came for a litany of reasons, including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the introduction of global strike heavy payload bombers like the B-52 Stratofortress. There were, however, some other considerations that led to the program’s downfall.

Because the SLAM would irradiate, destroy, or deafen anyone and anything it flew over, the missile could not be launched from U.S. soil or be allowed to fly over any territory other than its target nation. That meant the missile could really only be used from just over the Soviet border, whereas ICBMs could be launched from the American midwest and reach their targets in the Soviet Union without trouble.

There was also a pressing concern that developing such a terrible weapon would likely motivate the Soviet Union to respond in kind. Each time the United States unveiled a new weapon or strategic capability, the Soviet Union saw to it that they could match and deter that development. As a result, it stood to reason that America’s nuclear-spewing apocalypse missile would prompt the Soviets to build their own if one entered into service.

Project Pluto and its SLAM missile program were canceled on July 1, 1964 https://sofrep.com/news/project-pluto-the-craziest-nuclear-weapon-in-history/

November 16, 2020 Posted by | history, Reference, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Hibakusha renew their push for the abolition of nuclear weapons

Atomic bomb survivors’ renewed push for the abolition of nuclear weapons,   https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/1370/   Kita Yusuke
NHK World Correspondent, Yoshida Mayu, NHK World Correspondent, 13 Nov 20,
Today is a big, memorable day for us.”

Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Abe Shizuko was reacting to the October 24 ratification of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The accord will take effect in January – although none of the world’s nuclear powers are members.

Nevertheless, hibakusha, which is what the atomic bomb survivors are called in Japan, see the treaty as a victory for their cause. “I take pride in the fact that the decision is a result of the united little voices of individual hibakusha,” says 93-year-old Abe.

On August 6th, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb for the first time in human history. Its target was Hiroshima, where 18-year-old Abe was helping to dismantle buildings to prevent the spread of fires caused by air raids during World War Two. Abe was working just 1.5 kilometers away from ground zero. She suffered severe burns on the right side of her body and face, and has been through 18 surgeries.

“The operations were very painful and difficult. There wasn’t enough anesthetic back in those days, so doctors could not give me supplemental relief even if I started feeling pain. I tolerated the pain through a strong hope to restore my body,” Abe recalls.

The bomb left keloid scars on her face and the right side of her body. In photographs from when she was younger, Abe always looks down, or shows only her left side.

A-bomb survivors call the 10-year period following the world’s first atomic bombing “the blank decade.” That is because people who were injured had little to no medical or financial support. At the same time, they were exposed to severe prejudice and discrimination.

Abe says she was once nicknamed “Red Ogre” because of her scars. “My wound did not heal. My body weakened. I was in poverty. Many people stared at me only just to satisfy their curiosity, because they wanted to know what a hibakusha looked like. They did not feel sympathy for me. They bullied me. The suffering that I went through, and the emotional wound, will never go away.”

In 1956, Abe joined other atomic bomb survivors to form a delegation. They traveled to Tokyo to appeal to the then prime minister and government officials to offer relief for victims, and support their call for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Those efforts led to the establishment of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organization.

As the Cold War progressed, the hibakusha became disheartened. Even though they were speaking out about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, the world was not listening. Nuclear experiments were being carried out repeatedly, and the arms race took off.

“It was really a difficult time for our campaign,” Abe remembers. “We felt as if we were yelling out while trying to survive in rough waves on a dark night.”

Abe carried a grudge against the US, but started to feel a change of heart almost 20 years after the bombing. In 1964, she went to the US and Europe for what was known as the Peace Pilgrimage. It was an opportunity for A-bomb survivors to speak about their personal experiences in front of audiences. Abe stayed at a private home with local hosts in the US, and she was deeply touched by their tender-heartedness.

“They listened attentively to my stories and said to me, ‘It must have been very hard for you. You’ve been through a lot. We’re so sorry for you,'” Abe recalls. “I realized we should never let anyone fall victim to nuclear weapons, regardless of what nationality you are. Americans or anybody.”

The voices of the hibakusha spread to all corners of the world, slowly but steadily.

These days, the average age of hibakusha is more than 83 years old, and there are fewer chances to hear their direct accounts. Some of them, like Taniguchi Sumiteru, played a direct role in the recent ratification of the UN treaty that bans nuclear weapons.

Taniguchi died three years ago, but he put the wheels in motion with a campaign that collected signatures to demand an international convention to ban nuclear weapons. He worked on that until the last moment of his life.

Taniguchi was 16 when he was exposed to the second atomic bomb that the US dropped on Japan. He was working as a postman in Nagasaki. A picture that shows the red burned flesh on his back shocked the world.

He delivered an impassioned speech at the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN’s New York headquarters: “Please don’t turn your eyes away from me. Please look at me again. I have survived miraculously, but for me, to ‘live’ was to ‘endure the agony’. Bearing the cursed scars of the atomic bomb all over our bodies, we the hibakusha continue to live in pain.”

“For humans to live as humans, not even one nuclear weapon should be allowed to exist on earth. I cannot die in peace until I witness the last nuclear warhead eliminated from this world,” said Taniguchi.

Hibakusha and their supporters gathered at Nagasaki Peace Park shortly after last month’s treaty ratification to share their joy. Among them was Okuma Yuka, a member of an activist group that calls itself “Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Messengers”.

Okuma took part in the signature-collecting campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons after being deeply shocked by the image of a young Taniguchi in the aftermath of the atomic bombing. Her great-grandmother was a hibakusha but didn’t talk much about her experience. The photograph of Taniguchi brought it home to Okuma that suffering had occurred in her own family.

“I believe the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is definitely an important step forward,” Okuma says. “I expect that this will become a good opportunity for us to move toward a world that is completely free of nuclear weapons.”

November 14, 2020 Posted by | Japan, PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Chernobyl’s bumblebees still affected by radiation

This new data shows effects on bumblebees are happening at dose rates previously thought safe for insects, and the current international recommendations will need to be re-evaluated.

November 5, 2020 Posted by | environment, radiation, Reference, Ukraine | Leave a comment

The nuclear launch authorizer’s guide to staying calm at election times

November 4, 2020 Posted by | PERSONAL STORIES, Reference, weapons and war | Leave a comment

315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific

315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific, https://theconversation.com/315-nuclear-bombs-and-ongoing-suffering-the-shameful-history-of-nuclear-testing-in-australia-and-the-pacific-148909, Tilman Ruff, Associate Professor, Education and Learning Unit, Nossal Institute for Global Health, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Dimity Hawkins, PhD Candidate, Swinburne University of Technology
November 3, 2020
     The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received its 50th ratification on October 24, and will therefore come into force in January 2021. A historic development, this new international law will ban the possession, development, testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.Unfortunately the nuclear powers — the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — haven’t signed on to the treaty. As such, they are not immediately obliged to help victims and remediate contaminated environments, but others party to the treaty do have these obligations. The shifting norms around this will hopefully put ongoing pressure on nuclear testing countries to open records and to cooperate with accountability measures.

For the people of the Pacific region, particularly those who bore the brunt of nuclear weapons testing during the 20th century, it will bring a new opportunity for their voices to be heard on the long-term costs of nuclear violence. The treaty is the first to enshrine enduring commitments to addressing their needs.

From 1946, around 315 nuclear tests were carried out in the Pacific by the US, Britain and France. These nations’ largest ever nuclear tests took place on colonised lands and oceans, from Australia to the Marshall Islands, Kiribati to French Polynesia.

The impacts of these tests are still being felt today.

All nuclear tests cause harm

Studies of nuclear test workers and exposed nearby communities around the world consistently show adverse health effects, especially increased risks of cancer.

The total number of global cancer deaths as a result of atmospheric nuclear test explosions has been estimated at between 2 million and 2.4 million, even though these studies used radiation risk estimates that are now dated and likely underestimated the risk.

The number of additional non-fatal cancer cases caused by test explosions is similar. As confirmed in a large recent study of nuclear industry workers in France, the UK and US, the numbers of radiation-related deaths due to other diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, is also likely to be similar.

Britain conducted 12 nuclear test explosions in Australia between 1952 and 1957, and hundreds of minor trials of radioactive and toxic materials for bomb development up to 1963. These caused untold health problems for local Aboriginal people who were at the highest risk of radiation. Many of them were not properly evacuated, and some were not informed at all.

We may never know the full impact of these explosions because in many cases, as the Royal Commission report on British Nuclear Tests in Australia found in 1985: “the resources allocated for Aboriginal welfare and safety were ludicrous, amounting to nothing more than a token gesture”. But we can listen to the survivors.

The late Yami Lester directly experienced the impacts of nuclear weapons. A Yankunytjatjara elder from South Australia, Yami was a child when the British tested at Emu Field in October 1953. He recalled the “Black Mist” after the bomb blast:

It wasn’t long after that a black smoke came through. A strange black smoke, it was shiny and oily. A few hours later we all got crook, every one of us. We were all vomiting; we had diarrhoea, skin rashes and sore eyes. I had really sore eyes. They were so sore I couldn’t open them for two or three weeks. Some of the older people, they died. They were too weak to survive all the sickness. The closest clinic was 400 miles away.

His daughter, Karina Lester, is an ambassador for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in Australia, and continues to be driven by her family’s experience. She writes:

For decades now my family have campaigned and spoken up against the harms of nuclear weapons because of their firsthand experience of the British nuclear tests […] Many Aboriginal people suffered from the British nuclear tests that took place in the 1950s and 1960s and many are still suffering from the impacts today.

More than 16,000 Australian workers were also exposed. A key government-funded study belatedly followed these veterans over an 18-year period from 1982. Despite the difficulties of conducting a study decades later with incomplete data, it found they had 23% higher rates of cancer and 18% more deaths from cancers than the general population.

An additional health impact in Pacific island countries is the toxic disease “ciguatera”, caused by certain microscopic plankton at the base of the marine food chain, which thrive on damaged coral. Their toxins concentrate up the food chain, especially in fish, and cause illness and occasional deaths in people who eat them. In the Marshall Islands, Kiritimati and French Polynesia, outbreaks of the disease among locals have been associated with coral damage caused by nuclear test explosions and the extensive military and shipping infrastructure supporting them.

Pacific survivors of nuclear testing haven’t been focused solely on addressing their own considerable needs for justice and care; they’ve been powerful advocates that no one should suffer as they have ever again, and have worked tirelessly for the eradication of nuclear weapons. It’s no surprise independent Pacific island nations are strong supporters of the new treaty, accounting for ten of the first 50 ratifications.

Negligence and little accountability

Some nations that have undertaken nuclear tests have provided some care and compensation for their nuclear test workers; only the US has made some provisions for people exposed, though only for mainland US residents downwind of the Nevada Test Site. No testing nation has extended any such arrangement beyond its own shores to the colonised and minority peoples it put in harm’s way. Nor has any testing nation made fully publicly available its records of the history, conduct and effects of its nuclear tests on exposed populations and the environment.

These nations have also been negligent by quickly abandoning former test sites. There has been inadequate clean-up and little or none of the long-term environmental monitoring needed to detect radioactive leakage from underground test sites into groundwater, soil and air. One example among many is the Runit concrete dome in the Marshall Islands, which holds nuclear waste from US testing in the 1940s and 50s. It’s increasingly inundated by rising sea levels, and is leaking radioactive material.

The treaty provides a light in a dark time. It contains the only internationally agreed framework for all nations to verifiably eliminate nuclear weapons.

It’s our fervent hope the treaty will mark the increasingly urgent beginning of the end of nuclear weapons. It is our determined expectation that our country will step up. Australia has not yet ratified the treaty, but the bitter legacy of nuclear testing across our country and region should spur us to join this new global effort.

November 3, 2020 Posted by | environment, health, history, indigenous issues, Reference, wastes | Leave a comment

A USA Senator reflects on the anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis

November 3, 2020 Posted by | history, politics international, Reference, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Now climate change, rising seas, swamping Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, victims of nuclear racism

Losing paradise,  Atomic racism decimated Kiribati and the Marshall Islands; now climate change is sinking them, Beyond Nuclear   https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/72759838/posts/29981415891 Nov 20, This is an extract from the Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland report “Nuclear Weapons, the Climate and Our Environment”.

Kiribati.  In 1954, the government of Winston Churchill decided that the UK needed to develop a hydrogen bomb (a more sophisticated and destructive type of nuclear weapon). The US and Russia had already developed an H-bomb and Churchill argued that the UK “could not expect to maintain our influence as a world power unless we possessed the most up-to-date nuclear weapons”.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand refused to allow a hydrogen bomb test to be conducted on their territories so the British government searched for an alternative site. Kiritimati Island and Malden Island in the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in the central Pacific Ocean (now the Republic of Kiribati) were chosen. Nine nuclear weapons tests – including the first hydrogen bomb tests – were carried out there as part of “Operation Grapple” between 1957 and 1958.

Military personnel from the UK, New Zealand and Fiji (then a British colony) and Gilbertese labourers were brought in to work on the operation. Many of the service personnel were ordered to witness the tests in the open, on beaches or on the decks of ships, and were simply told to turn their backs and shut their eyes when the bombs were detonated. There is evidence that Fijian forces were given more dangerous tasks than their British counterparts, putting them at greater risk from radiation exposure. The local Gilbertese were relocated and evacuated to British naval vessels during some of the tests but many were exposed to fallout, along with naval personnel and soldiers.

After Grapple X, the UK’s first megaton hydrogen bomb test in November 1957, dead fish washed ashore and “birds were observed to have their feathers burnt off, to the extent that they could not fly”. The larger Grapple Y test in 1958 spread fallout over Kiritimati Island and destroyed large areas of vegetation.

Despite evidence that military personnel and local people suffered serious health problems as a result of the tests, including blindness, cancers, leukaemia and reproductive difficulties, the British government has consistently denied that they were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and has resisted claims for compensation.

Like the Marshall Islands, the low-lying Republic of Kiribati is now bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change. Salt water washed in on king tides has contaminated the islands’ scarce freshwater resources. Pits that are used to grow taro plants have been ruined and the healthy subsistence lifestyle of local people is under threat.

It is predicted that rising sea levels will further impact freshwater resources and reduce the amount of agricultural land, while storm damage and erosion will increase. Much of the land will ultimately be submerged. In anticipation of the need to relocate its entire population, the government of Kiribati bought 20km2 of land on Fiji in 2014.

The UK is set to spend £3.4 billion a year on Trident nuclear weapons system between 2019 and 2070. If Trident were scrapped, a portion of the savings could be provide to the Republic of Kiribati in the form of climate finance (see section 1.2.1). Scrapping Trident would also allow money and skills to be redirected towards measures aimed at drastically cutting the UK’s carbon emissions (see section 1.2.2) – action that Pacific island nations are urgently demanding.

The Marshall Islands.  The most devasting incident of radioactive contamination took place 8,000 km from the US mainland during the Castle Bravo test in 1954. The US detonated the largest nuclear weapon in its history at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, causing fallout to spread over an area of more than 11,000km. Residents of nearby atolls, Rongelap and Utirik, were exposed to high levels of radiation, suffering burns, radiation sickness, skin lesions and hair loss as a result.

Castle Bravo was just one of 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the US in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. Forty years after the tests, the cervical cancer mortality rate for women of the Marshall Islands was found to be 60 times greater than the rate for women in the US mainland, while breast and lung cancer rates were five and three times greater respectively. High rates of infant mortality have also been found in the Marshall Islands and a legacy of birth defects and infertility has been documented. Many Marshallese were relocated by the US to make way for the testing.

Some were moved to Rongelap Atoll and relocated yet again after the fallout from Castle Bravo left the area uninhabitable.

Rongelap Atoll was resettled in 1957 after the US government declared that the area was safe. However, many of those who returned developed serious health conditions and the entire population was evacuated by Greenpeace in 1984. An attempt to resettle Bikini Atoll was similarly abandoned in 1978 after it became clear that the area was still unsafe for human habitation.

A 2019 peer-reviewed study found levels of the radioactive isotope caesium-137 in fruits taken from some parts of Bikini and Rongelap to be significantly higher than levels recorded at the sites of the world’s worst nuclear accidents, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Compounding the injustice of nuclear weapons testing, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is now on the frontline of the climate emergency. The government declared a national climate crisis in 2019, citing the nation’s extreme vulnerability to rising sea levels and the “implications for the security, human rights and wellbeing of the Marshallese people”.

At Runit Island, one of 40 islands in the Enewetak Atoll, rising sea levels are threatening to release radioactive materials into an already contaminated lagoon. In the late 1970s, the US army dumped 90,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste, including plutonium, into a nuclear blast crater and covered it with a concrete cap. Radioactive materials are leaking out of the crater and cracks have appeared on the concrete cap. Encroaching salt water caused by rising sea levels could collapse the structure altogether. The Marshallese government has asked the US for help to prevent an environmental catastrophe but the US maintains that the dome is the Marshall Islands’ responsibility. Hilda Heine, then President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said of the dome in 2019: “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”

The Runit Island dome offers a stark illustration of the ways in which the injustices of nuclear weapons testing and climate change overlap. Marshall Islanders were left with the toxic legacy of nuclear weapons testing conducted on their territory by another state. The country is now being forced to deal with the effects of a climate crisis that they did not create, including the erosion of the Runit dome.

The nations that contributed most to the crisis are failing to cut their emissions quickly enough to limit further global heating, leaving the Marshallese at the mercy of droughts, cyclones and rising seas. A recent study found that if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, the Marshall Islands will be flooded with sea water annually from 2050. The resulting damage to infrastructure and contamination of freshwater supplies will render the islands uninhabitable.

If the US scrapped its nuclear weapons programme, it could give a portion of the billions of dollars that would be saved to the Republic of the Marshall Islands to help the country mitigate and adapt to climate disruption (see section 1.2.1 on international climate finance). The US could also use the freed-up funds to invest in its own Just Transition away from a fossil-fuel powered economy.   Read the full report.

November 2, 2020 Posted by | climate change, environment, history, OCEANIA, Reference, wastes, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare

Nailing the Coffin of Civilian Plutonium, Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare, By Frank von Hippel,   Masafumi Takubo, and Jungmin KangSpringer Press, Reviewed by Thomas Countryman, November 2020

Even in the world of speculative investment bubbles, it would be difficult to find a parallel to the business of making plutonium. This “industry” has seen massive investment by private and mostly governmental funds in pursuit of creating the world’s most dangerous material, an investment that has failed to yield a single dollar in returns. Nevertheless, a combination of scientific ambition, bureaucratic inertia, and governmental hubris keeps alive a dream that should have been smothered long ago.

Leave it to three highly experienced specialists to briefly recount the history, clearly explain the physical realities, and precisely pick apart the ever-weakening arguments that have supported reprocessing spent nuclear fuel into a new plutonium-based fuel. Frank von Hippel, Masafumi Takubo, and Jungmin Kang accomplish all of this in Plutonium: How Nuclear Power’s Dream Fuel Became a Nightmare. Its planned translation into Japanese and Korean should help citizens participate in critical upcoming decisions about continuing plutonium projects by governments in Tokyo and Seoul.

The earliest rationale for using plutonium as a nuclear fuel rested on the fact that spent nuclear fuel, the leftover material from civilian nuclear power plants, still contained far more potential energy than had yet been consumed. In the 1970s, uranium was believed to be scarce in the natural environment, and the full utilization of its energy capacity made some engineering, logical, and economic sense. In succeeding decades, the economic rationale has been constantly undermined by the realization that natural uranium is sufficiently plentiful that its price is no longer the primary cost factor in nuclear power generation, by the unanticipated complexity of building advanced reactors optimized to use plutonium as fuel, by the cost of new and necessary safety regulations applicable to all reactors, and most recently by the continued fall in the cost of generating renewable energy.

In the face of these realities, only France, at a substantial economic loss, currently operates a full program for recovering plutonium from spent fuel for use as new nuclear fuel. Russia reprocesses spent fuel and is now testing plutonium in a breeder reactor. Japan has indicated it plans to open one of the world’s largest reprocessing plants in Rokkasho in the next two years, but that two-year time frame has been the boilerplate forecast for each of the past 10 years. India is actively reprocessing civilian spent fuel, and China is constructing a major facility for that purpose. South Korea has announced an end to its nuclear power program, but some officials and experts retain the aspiration to pursue civilian reprocessing.

No other nuclear-powered nation is actively pursuing “closing” the nuclear fuel cycle by reprocessing plutonium for energy generation. The economic and technical realities forced one country after another—Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, then the United States—to end their own efforts.

This weak support highlights the merits of the authors’ arguments. They systematically deconstruct the political and technical arguments in favor of such programs. Crucially, they demonstrate the factual inaccuracy of the primary argument advanced by Japanese and South Korean advocates that reprocessing spent fuel will diminish the volume and danger of nuclear waste that must ultimately be stored in geological repositories. They also knock down convincingly the claim that plutonium that is reactor grade, as opposed to weapons grade, is unusable in an explosive device.

Although it may be the prerogative of sovereign states to spend their own money irrationally, the authors focus also on important externalities, in particular the threat to the world’s security and environment from the continued production of plutonium. A commitment to the closed fuel cycle delays the inevitable decision that must be made by Japan and South Korea concerning permanent safe storage of spent fuels, a decision on which the United States also continues to procrastinate. In addition, it leads to unsafe practices concerning the storage of spent fuel rods destined for reprocessing. The authors describe for the first time how close the world was to a greater disaster in 2011, as overcrowded spent fuel cooling ponds could have led to a much greater radiation release following the accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The authors explain that moving the spent fuel to interim dry cask storage would avert such catastrophic risks.

Of still greater concern is the risk that even a sliver of the massive plutonium stockpiles could be acquired by terrorists to use in a nuclear explosive device or a panic-inducing radiological dispersion device. Since plutonium was first fabricated 80 years ago, nations have created more than 500 tons of what is arguably the world’s most dangerous material. The International Atomic Energy Agency defines a “significant quantity” of plutonium, or enough to make a nuclear weapon, as eight kilograms, although even a Nagasaki-size blast could be generated with significantly less plutonium. Thus, the 300 tons of plutonium designated for civilian use would be sufficient to create more than 35,000 warheads.

Continuing to accumulate plutonium is not only a terrorism risk, but also a source of tension between states. There is concern in Beijing that Japan holds greater stocks of separated plutonium than China and in Seoul that South Korea holds none. The authors note briefly but tellingly the normally unstated security considerations that in part motivate civilian reprocessing programs: an intention to sustain a latent weapons capacity.

The authors make a convincing case for the international community to act together to end further production of separated plutonium. The effort to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty, which would ban production of plutonium for weapons, remains frozen in a glacier at the Conference on Disarmament. Whether or when it moves ahead, there is a separate compelling need to negotiate a ban on civilian separation of plutonium.

Although less than 200 pages, Plutonium is not light reading. Its economic and scientific arguments are compact, thoroughly documented, and clear even to lay people. For policymakers and the public, it provides a clear picture of a dream whose claimed benefits have all evaporated but whose danger remains ominously present.


Thomas Countryman is the chair of the Arms Control Association Board of Directors. He served 35 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, retiring in 2017 as acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

November 2, 2020 Posted by | - plutonium, 2 WORLD, Reference, resources - print | Leave a comment