U.S. Nuclear Sites
FIVE years ago, four titans of American foreign policy — the former secretaries of state George P. Shultz and Henry A. Kissinger, the former defense secretary William J. Perry and the former senator Sam Nunn — called for “a world free of nuclear weapons,” giving new momentum to an idea that had moved from the sidelines of pacifist idealism to the center of foreign policy debate.
America’s 76 million baby boomers grew up during the cold war, when a deep fear of nuclear weapons permeated American life, from duck-and-cover school drills to backyard fallout shelters. Then, in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan’s leadership, combined with immense anti-nuclear demonstrations, led to negotiations with the Soviet Union that drastically reduced the size of the two superpowers’ nuclear arsenals.
Sadly, the abolition movement seems stalled. Part of the reason is fear of nuclear weapons in the hands of others: President George W. Bush exploited anxieties over nuclear weapons to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq; most Republican presidential candidates last year said they would fight a war with Iran rather than allow it to get the bomb.
There is also a small group of people who still believe fervently in nuclear weapons. President Obama had to buy passage of the New START treaty with Russia, in 2010, with a promise to spend $185 billion to modernize warheads and delivery systems over 10 years — revealing that while support for nuclear weapons may not be broad, it runs deep. That support endures because of five widely held myths.
The first is the myth that nuclear weapons altered the course of World War II. Leaving aside the morality of America’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, new research by the historian Tsuyoshi Hasegawa and other scholars shows that Japan surrendered not because of the atom bomb but because the Soviets renounced neutrality and joined the war. Sixty-six Japanese cities had already been destroyed by conventional weapons — two more did not make the difference. Attributing surrender to the bomb was also convenient for Japan’s leaders, allowing them to blame defeat on a “miracle” weapon.
Second is the myth of “decisive destruction.” Mass destruction doesn’t win wars; killing soldiers does. No war has ever been won simply by killing civilians. The 1941-44 siege of Leningrad didn’t deter Soviet leaders from pressing the fight against Hitler. Nor did the 1945 firebombing of Dresden force Germany to submit. As long as an army has a fighting chance at victory, wars continue. Building ever more destructive weapons simply increases the horror of war, not the certainty of ending it.
Third is the myth of reliable nuclear deterrence. Numerous leaders have taken risks and acted aggressively during nuclear crises. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy and his advisers knew that blockading Cuba risked nuclear war; they mentioned the possibility 60 times while debating their options. Yet they went ahead. Nuclear proponents might argue that no cold war crisis ever erupted into nuclear war, so deterrence must work. But they’re moving the goal posts.
Originally it was claimed that nuclear weapons would assure success in negotiations, prevent any sort of attack — conventional or nuclear — and allow countries to protect their friends with a nuclear umbrella. When the Russians weren’t intimidated during talks after World War II, the claim about negotiations was dropped. When the Yom Kippur War and the Falkland Islands War showed that fighting against nuclear-armed countries was possible, the prevention of conventional war claim was dropped. The nuclear umbrella claim ought to have been dropped at the same time, but there was too much American foreign policy riding on it for anyone to make this argument. After all, if Britain couldn’t deter an attack on its own far-flung islands, how could deterrence prevent attacks on other countries?
Fourth is the myth of the long peace: the argument that the absence of nuclear war since 1945 means nuclear weapons have “kept the peace.” But we don’t accept proof by absence in any circumstance where there is real risk. We wouldn’t fly an airline that claimed to have invented a device that prevented metal fatigue, proved it by equipping 100 planes with the devices for one year without a single crash, and then suddenly ceased all metal-fatigue inspections and repairs, and decided instead to rely solely on these new devices.
The last and most stubborn myth is that of irreversibility. Whenever idealists say that they want to abolish nuclear weapons, so-called realists shake their heads and say, in tones of patient condescension. “You can’t stuff the nuclear genie back in the bottle.”
Vermonters take sides as board debates state’s nuclear future – WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-
WILLISTON, Vt. -The Public Service Board once again grapples with the continued operation of Vermont Yankee. Monday night, they heard from residents.From Bennington to the Northeast Kingdom, about 80 Vermonters from all over the state packed into 13 conference rooms to discuss the nuclear plant’s future. They made their case to members of the Vermont Public Service Board – who regulate utilities in the state.”I see absolutely no public good in its license extension and operation going forward and instead see a wide range of serious problems that will most likely harm the good citizens of Vermont,” said Huntington resident Wally Jenkins.”I support the issue of issuing a certificate of public good to Vermont Yankee,” said Bret Powell of Williston, “the opposition to Vermont Yankee can only be described as unsupported by history and facts.”Proponents of continued operation say the plant means jobs, stable power, and a low carbon footprint. “Vermont Yankee provides not only inexpensive power, it generates $100 million a year in economic benefits to the state,” said Powell.Opponents disagree about how green such a plant is, worry about its safety, and the trustworthiness of Vermont Yankee’s operators. “Time and time again, this corporation has shown little regard for the truth and has lied and broken promises with the state,” said Jenkins.The plant’s old license expired last March but federal regulators gave it the green light. Vermont challenged, and lost, in court. The state still has a say but can’t base its decision on safety, forcing the Public Service Board to start over.Public Service Board members say they hope to reach a decision by next fall. Should they decide not to issue a ‘Certificate of Public Good’ to Vermont Yankee, Entergy – the Louisiana based operators – could appeal to the state supreme court.
PLYMOUTH, Mass. (AP) — Massachusetts activists have announced plans to sue the owners of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station for what they say is the continuous pollution of Cape Cod Bay over the last 16 years.
The three activists, represented by Ecolaw, notified the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday of their intent to sue the plant’s owner, New Orleans-based Entergy Corp. They say the Plymouth plant damaged the local ecology by discharging chemical pollution and water heated far above allowed standards.
The activists say Pilgrim has more than 33,000 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1996 and charge that the company could be liable for $831 million in penalties, at $25,000 per violation.
In a separate letter Friday, Ecolaw also told the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection it intends to sue the agency for allegedly allowing Entergy to damage the environment.
Pine duBois, one of the three residents who signed the notification to the EPA, said regulators have a duty to enforce anti-pollution laws. “Our ocean is not Entergy’s dump,” she said in a news release. “Cape Cod Bay belongs to all of us.”
The Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday it had just received the letter.
“We are currently reviewing each allegation contained in it,” the agency said in a statement.
Messages were left for Entergy and the EPA.
Pilgrim was relicensed earlier this year after 6 1/2 years of review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The relicensing means the commission has certified that the plant, built in 1972, can operate safely for another 20 years.
NRC officials have noted its staff devoted approximately 14,600 hours to the review, which was the longest of any renewal application in the agency’s history.
Ecolaw said it notified state and federal agencies of its intent to sue under laws that allow citizens to act if the government fails to enforce the law.
The group told the EPA it’s able to sue Entergy if the agency doesn’t act within 60 days of the notification. And it says under Massachusetts law it can sue the Department of Environmental Protection if the state does not act with 21 days of its Friday notification to that agency.
LOS ANGELES — Environmentalists accused federal regulators Tuesday of conducting a bogus review of a proposal to restart the damaged San Onofre nuclear power plant on the California coast.Just days after Southern California Edison asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to repair and start the Unit 2 reactor, then run it at reduced power, the agency is facing pressure from groups critical of the nuclear power industry to initiate a review that could take months or even years to complete.The NRC is “denying the public any meaningful voice” in the review to restart the plant, which has been shuttered since January, Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Committee to Bridge the Gap said in a joint statement.The NRC has promised a transparent, thorough review of the proposal, which focuses on how the utility will fix faulty steam generators installed during a $670 million overhaul.”We don’t experiment with safety,” NRC Regional Administrator Elmo Collins told reporters Monday.The environmental groups are pushing the federal agency to require Edison to seek an amendment to its operating license to restart the plant, a process that could take up to two years.In a March letter, federal regulators outlined a series of benchmarks Edison must reach to restart the plant, including determining the cause of vibration and friction that damaged scores of steam generator tubes, how it would be fixed and then monitored during operation.Those requirements, however, did not involve amending the plant’s operating license.”This significant change rises to the level of a license amendment proceeding in which, by law, the public is entitled to participate,” the groups said.Collins said Monday it’s an “open question” if the agency will require a license amendment.Anti-nuclear activists have argued for months that restarting the plant, located between San Diego and Los Angeles, would invite catastrophe. About 7.4 million Californians live within 50 miles of San Onofre’s twin domes.Tests found some tubes were so badly corroded that they could fail and possibly release radiation, a stunning finding inside the nearly new equipment.
Anti-nuclear activists question plan for shipping plutonium from warheads to New Mexico – The Washington Post
LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Nuclear watchdogs are fighting a proposal to ship tons of plutonium to New Mexico, including the cores of nuclear warheads that would be dismantled at an aging and structurally questionable lab atop an earthquake fault zone.
Opponents voiced their opposition at a series of public hearings that opened this week on the best way to dispose of the radioactive material as the federal government works to reduce the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
The Department of Energy is studying alternatives for disposing of plutonium in light of federal budget cuts that have derailed plans for new multi-billion-dollar facilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
The preferred plan under consideration calls for the shipment of 7.1 metric tons of so-called pits — or cores — of an undisclosed number of nuclear warheads now stored at the Pantex plant in West Texas to Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Savannah River Site for disarmament and processing into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.
The plan also calls for another 6 tons of surplus plutonium to be buried at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M. That proposal has raised concerns about whether that waste would take up space needed for disposing of thousands of barrels of low-level radioactive waste that have been sitting for years above ground at a Los Alamos dump.
Potential threats from that waste drew attention when a massive wildfire lapped at lab property in 2011.
During the initial hearing Tuesday night in Los Alamos, activists questioned the safety of bringing more plutonium to the 1970s-era Los Alamos lab known as PF-4. A federal oversight board has said the facility remains structurally unable to safely withstand a major earthquake. The lab was built over fault lines that were later found to have the potential for more severe earthquakes than previously thought.
Additionally, the Defense Nuclear Safety Facilities Board recently said officials had significantly underestimated how much radiation would be released if there were a major earthquake and fire at Los Alamos.
Activist Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, said he couldn’t understand why using the lab was a preferred option “when these very basic problems have not been resolved.”
“We are talking about a very large new mission, a type of mission for which this building was not designed,” he said during the hearing.
Mello said the government should simply look at ways to safely bury the plutonium.
David Clark, a chemist and plutonium expert at the lab, countered that the facility is ideally suited for the project.
“They are disassembling pits today,” he said. “They are doing it right now. It is already part of the mission. … They have the knowledge.”
A panel of experts Thursday set forth a plan for getting rid of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste.
Most of it is spent fuel from nuclear power reactors. It was supposed to go to a repository in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, but the government has abandoned that plan.
Yucca Mountain was largely done in by Nevadans, led by powerful Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who didn’t want their state to be the country’s nuclear waste dump. Some also questioned how geologically secure the underground storage site would be — especially environmental groups.
An underground train emerges from the entrance to the planned Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in 2006. The government has since abandoned the site as a location for the long-term storage of nuclear waste. (more…)
The city of Oak Ridge, Tenn., is anticipating the arrival of nearly 1,000 tons of nuclear waste from Germany. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan in June for an American company to import and burn low-level nuclear waste from Germany.
Radioactive residue left over from the process will be sent back to Germany for disposal, but opponents have voiced concerns that the U.S. will become the world’s radioactive waste processor.
But, very little of that opposition is coming from Oak Ridge.
Located just outside Knoxville, Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942 to help build the atomic bomb. The city is home to a 59,000-acre military area and two giant plants where the bomb was produced.
A post-war newsreel calls Oak Ridge “a city where 75,000 people worked in absolute secrecy on history’s (more…)
Before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear power was being rebranded as a green form of energy. But in the wake of the devastating nuclear accident that is still unfolding in Japan, many Americans are now re-evaluating the potential costs and benefits of nuclear power.
On today’s Fresh Air, New York Times energy reporter Matthew Wald joins Terry Gross for a wide-ranging conversation about the history — and future — of nuclear energy in the United States. Though storage and safety mechanisms are in place, he says, many unknown variables exist that are nearly impossible for regulators to forecast.
“Essentially, when you reach the Fukushima Dai-ichi stage, the question is, ‘Are you prepared for things you haven’t predicted?’ And the answer is, ‘How can you tell?’ ” he says. “We’re certainly prepared for some things we haven’t predicted, but [we're not sure] what it is we’re preparing for.” (more…)
N.M. Salt Beds Could Become Nation’s Nuclear Dump May 13, 2010
Tourists in New Mexico know the art galleries of Santa Fe and the ski slopes of Taos, but not the state’s truly unique attraction: the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, or WIPP, is a series of caverns mined out of underground salt beds. The Department of Energy has been burying “transuranic” waste there for 11 years. The waste includes gloves, equipment and chemicals contaminated — probably with plutonium — during the making of nuclear weapons. It’s dangerous stuff but fairly easily handled.
That’s what WIPP was built to take. But the federal government has a lot of other really hot, high-level waste to get rid of — especially spent fuel from reactors.
New Mexico legislator John Heaton says they’ll take it. (more…)
This year commemorates the first National Downwinders Day since the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to institute January 27, 2012 a day of recognition. National Downwinders Day acknowledges and calls attention to the harm the U.S. government inflicted on its own citizens when it conducted nuclear tests during the era of the Cold War.
Until 1963, the United States conducted atmospheric nuclear tests. In the process, they blanketed a wide radius with hazardous levels of nuclear fallout, especially affecting parts of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, where most of the tests took place. Decades later, it became clear that people who were living in those areas had drastically increased rates of cancer. Most severely affected were people who were children at the time and frequently drank milk containing large amounts of radiation. When consumed, the fallout gathers in the thyroid gland and may cause thyroid cancer later in life.
In 1990, Congress passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (more…)
Lawmakers and policy planners must revive the search for safe ways to store used fuel rods from nuclear power reactors. The long-term solution favored by most experts, which we endorse, is to bury the material in geologically stable formations capable of preventing leakage far into the future.
But no politically acceptable site has yet been found, and leaving the used fuel rods at each reactor — more than 62,000 metric tons had accumulated across the country by the end of 2009 — seems increasingly problematic. At least nine states have banned the construction of new reactors until a permanent storage site is found or progress toward finding one is made. The only potential permanent storage site examined so far — at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — has been blocked for more than two decades by technical problems, legal challenges and political opposition from the state. (more…)
The decommissioning of America’s Rocky Flats facility and the disposal of resulting waste was the main factor in a four-tonne reduction in US plutonium stocks over the last 15 years.
From its pioneering nuclear energy research as well as an extensive weapons program, the USA counts over 95 tonnes of plutonium stored in various forms at nine sites across the country. The bulk of this came from Hanford, where nine reactors produced 67.4 tonnes, and from Savannah River, where five reactors made another 36.1 tonnes of plutonium.
The inventory information comes from an update to a landmark report, The United States Plutonium Balance, 1944-1996. Ordered by President Bill Clinton, that publication was aimed at demonstrating transparency. A new version released at the end of last month updated the figures to 2009, and revealed that the total amount of plutonium (more…)
SAN ONOFRE STATE BEACH, Calif. — More than seven million people live within 50 miles of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, which is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. But for decades, residents here largely accepted, if not exactly embraced, the hulking nuclear plant perched on the cliffs above this popular surfing beach as a necessary part of keeping the lights on in a state that uses more electricity than all of Argentina.
All that changed, however, after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown in Japan last year, followed in January by a small leak of radioactive steam here caused by the deterioration of steam tubes that had been damaged by vibration and friction. The twin generators at the San Onofre plant have been off-line for five months, and the plant has subsequently become a point of contention in the fight over nuclear power in the United States.
The leak has galvanized opposition to the nuclear plant among local residents, who are calling for San Onofre to remain shuttered for good. (more…)
LOS ANGELES — US nuclear regulators published an update on California’s troubled San Onofre power plant Thursday, sparking an expert warning that the problem is more serious than first thought.
A reactor at the nuclear power plant near San Diego was shut down in January after a radiation leak, although the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said there was no danger to the public.
Investigations found unexpected erosion on tubes that carry radioactive water, and the entire plant was shut down, forcing Californian authorities to fire up alternative power generation facilities.
On Thursday, an update on the (more…)
BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Published Feb. 11, 1996.
Four decades have passed since the Fernald uranium processing plant transformed 1,050 acres of sleepy farmland 18 miles northwest of Cincinnati into a vital part of America’s nuclear weapons complex.
From construction that began in 1951 to the end of operations in 1989, more than 7,000 workers at Fernald produced the raw material for the atomic bombs that helped win the Cold War. Yet the Fernald legacy also has been tarred by four decades of secrecy, denial, false assurance.
As an Enquirer investigation shows, this web of deceit continues today – even after a history laced with countless government reports, audits and hearings; two historic class-action lawsuit settlements on behalf of neighbors and workers; and a litany of allegations and protests from whistleblowers and community activists.