A New ‘Screw Nevada’ Bill Passes the House
James Heddle – EON
On Thursday, May 10, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 2018 – HR 3053 – by a vote of 206 to 179, with 94 Democrats and 85 Republicans voting ‘Nay.’
Now, what some Nevadans have dubbed, ‘The Screw Nevada Bill 2.0,’ will go to the Senate, perhaps in this Session.
According to the Las Vegas Sun, just as with the first attempt to push it as the national high-level radioactive waste repository, opposition in Nevada continues to be strong.
In a letter to House leaders, the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce made the quite logical point that,
Nevada is ranked by the U.S. Geological Survey as the fourth most active seismic area in the United States. The potential for seismic activity in the region raises serious questions about the logic and prudence of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. Seismic activity in the region is another reason why Yucca Mountain is not a feasible or practical site for the storage of nuclear waste.
And in their own letter to the House, Las Vegas business owners made it clear that,
We stand with the many concerned citizens, small-business operators and bipartisan members of the Nevada delegation in staunch opposition to any attempt to restart the repository licensing process and will work tirelessly to ensure that radioactive waste is never stored anywhere near the world’s entertainment capital in Las Vegas.
The Shimkus Bill
Named for its author, Illinois Rep. Congressman John Shimkus, the legislation seeks to renew the licensing and funding process to re-open Yucca Mt., and authorize a so-called Centralized Interim Storage (CIS) program that would trigger massive, on-going shipments of high-level radioactive wastes on the country’s poorly-maintained network of highways, bridges and rail lines, through major population centers, for many years to come.
Grassroots nuclear safety advocacy groups have variously dubbed the plan ‘Mobil Chernobyl’ and ‘the Fukushima Freeway.’ Each of the 10,000 plus shipments would contain roughly the same amount of radioactive Cesium as was released by Chernobyl, and as much plutonium as was in the Hiroshima bomb.
To some, it may seem ironic that, as China moves ahead on its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, known as the ‘New Silk Road’ – a trade and transport network across Eurasia, Africa and beyond – forces in the U.S. are hard at work to establish a network of ’new nuke roads’ all across America.
Revisiting the Sad, Silly Saga of Yucca Mountain
In Nevada, just across the California border, sits a volcanic formation called Yucca Mountain. It’s in a region of ongoing volcanic and earthquake activity, on land long held sacred – and still claimed as tribal land according to the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley – the Western Shoshone and the Southern Paiute. Largely composed of a porous material called volcanic tuff, the mountain is permeable to water penetration and sits in close proximity to an aquifer extensively used by regional inhabitants – both native American and white – for their drinking and agricultural water supplies.
Yucca is located about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in what’s called the Great Basin, south of the Nevada Test and Training Range in the Nevada National Security Site, where over a hundred atmospheric and underground nuclear bomb tests were carried out for decades. It is, in large part, already a national nuclear ‘sacrifice area.’
In the government’s search for permanent deep geological repositories in which to bury the country’s energy and weapons waste that it pledged to take possession of and responsibility for, the government’s original goal was to identify and ‘scientifically characterize’ at least two sites, one east, one west of the Great Divide.
As the process played out over the years, however, it came to be more one of politics than of science. Of the nation’s 99 licensed, operating reactors, less than a dozen are West of the Mississippi. The so-called ‘NIMBY’ or ‘Not In My Backyard’ syndrome kicked in big time. Eventually just three potential sites were identified, all in the west: in Texas, Washington and Nevada – with the latter being at the time the state with the least political clout.
Thus, in 1987, came to be passed the first, now infamous “Screw Nevada” bill.
Though Nevada has no nuclear power plants of its own, its Yucca Mountain site became the sole target for waste from all the nation’s nuclear energy and weapons-producing states. Millions of dollars were spent in an attempt to justify ‘scientifically’ a site that had actually been chosen politically.
But then, for a while at least, the political balance of power changed. Enter Nevada Senator Harry Reid.
As an erstwhile Democratic power broker, Reid secured a pre-election promise from then-candidate Obama to shutter the Yucca project in return for electoral support. Once in the White House, President Obama actually kept his promise. In 2009, the project was effectively terminated: its staff scattered to other employment, its equipment sold off, its infrastructure allowed to sink into desuetude, the site effectively abandoned. Just a big, expensive hole in the volcanic tuff, a monument to the nation’s on-going nuclear follies.
Then the political balance of power picture changed again with Senator Reid’s retirement and the GOP/Trump ascendancy.
Back in 2014 the unashamedly ‘captive regulatory agency,’ the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), had set the stage for a potential Yucca revival by releasing a long-delayed report concluding that the Department of Energy had “demonstrated compliance with NRC regulatory requirements” that would limit leakage from the repository for the long-term.
A New York Times headline of the day trumpeted, “Calls to use Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste site, now deemed safe.” Rep. Congressman John Shimkus – from the nation’s most densely nuclearized state, Illinois – exulted, “Today’s report confirms what we’ve expected all along: Nuclear waste stored under that mountain, in that desert, surrounded by federal land, will be safe and secure for at least a million years.”
The Distinguished Gentleman from Illinois then introduced H.R 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2018, which passed the House today.
Close analysis of the Shimkus Bill reveals that, if passed in its present form, it will:
– Preempt or jeopardize existing federal, state and local water and air rights, and rights to oversight, input, transparency, and other rights, including congressional oversight.
– Remove storage and transport safety requirements needed to prevent radioactive leaks.
– Provide inadequate funding to transport and store nuclear fuel waste.
– Make federal reimbursement for nuclear waste storage discretionary instead of mandatory.
– Allow ownership of nuclear fuel waste to be transferred to the Department of Energy (DOE) at existing nuclear utility sites, making them vulnerable to insufficient funding for nuclear waste storage. Current DOE nuclear waste sites have repeatedly leaked radiation into groundwater and air partly because of this. https://sanonofresafety.org/
Once upon some indefinite future date, when Yucca is deemed ready to take all that waste from ‘interim’ sites, it is slated to be moved again, for ‘permanent isolation’ in the site’s volcanic tuff.
There are many problems with this rosy scenario, of which more below. But chief among them, according to many critics – including former NRC Commissioner Victor Gilinsky – is that “The NRC staff did not explain, and no one in the media seems to have caught on, that its favorable conclusion reflected the Energy Department’s pie-in-the-sky design for Yucca Mountain—not the repository as it is likely to be configured.
In his 2014 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, ‘Yucca Mountain redux,’ Gilinsky explains,
The [actual] likely repository configuration doesn’t come close to meeting NRC requirements. The key design element in question is something the Energy Department calls a “drip shield.” This is a kind of massive, corrosion-resistant titanium alloy mailbox that is supposed to sit over each of the thousands of waste canisters in Yucca Mountain’s underground tunnels. In NRC’s definition, it is designed “to prevent seepage water from directly dripping onto the waste package outer surface.”
The name drip shield itself is a giveaway that there is a water problem at Yucca Mountain. There is indeed a lot more water, and it is flowing faster, than the Energy Department imagined when it picked the site, which is why it added the drip shield to the original design. Without the titanium shields, dripping water would corrode the waste canisters placed in the repository and release radioactive waste, and the moving underground water would carry it to the nearby environment.
Using the corrosion data in the Energy Department’s license application, one can calculate that this corrosion would take not the “million years” cited by Mr. Shimkus, but about 1,000 years.
Nonetheless, the NRC-approved DOE plan – in an apparent attempt to make up-front costs more palatable to Congress – does not call for the installation of the ‘drip shields’ until a hundred years have passed.
Gilinsky concludes, “If you look more closely into the situation, you can’t escape the conclusion that it is highly implausible that the drip shields will ever be installed. In fact, as a practical matter, it may not even be physically possible to install them.”
Will the DOE, or the US government even exist in a hundred years? Will the know-how, institutional memory, technology, manufacturing base and funding still be available at that distant date to build the necessary infrastructure to allow robots to enter the highly radioactive, probably geologically degraded and possibly collapsed repository tunnels to perform the intricate operations required to install hypothetical ‘drip shields’ that have not as yet even been designed or fabricated?
And what deadly, irremediable leakage into the environment will by then have occurred?
Ian Zabarte, spokesperson for the Western Shoshone, calls this environmental racism.
Meanwhile, the bureaucratic, technological, budgetary and political impediments to actually restarting the project are legion, and sure to delay any real progress for years, if not decades.
Based on its record, there’s no use expecting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to act in the interest of public safety. Gilinsky points out that,
A truly independent regulatory agency—one truly representing the public interest—would not have been silent on the low likelihood that drip shields will ever be installed and would have insisted on getting the Energy Department’s calculations on what happens if the drip shields don’t get installed. What it comes down to is this: The NRC is going along with a shell game to advance the political fortunes of the Yucca Mountain project.
CIS – A Nuclear Shell Game – Fighting ‘Fukushima Freeway’
So just imagine, if you dare, the following proposed harebrained scenario known as ‘Consolidated Interim Storage’ or CIS:
For decades to come, ultra-heavy shipments of thousands of metric tons of high-level radioactive waste will become a common daily occurrence on America’s already rickety roads, railways and collapsing bridges, headed for the Southwest.
They will pass un-announced – but probably easily identified by those who know what to look for – through our nation’s towns and densely populated urban areas, vulnerable to human error, accidents and terrorist attacks.
Their deadly radiation fields – extending for a yard in every direction – will shower train passengers and motorists, unlucky enough to share those routes and be close enough, with DNA and immune system damage.
The shipment carriers will pull into gas stations, truck stops and roadside rest areas, exposing the luckless families, children and pregnant women nearby using those same facilities.
Then, if they do manage to reach their temporary, ‘interim’ waste consolidation sites without catastrophe, they will eventually hit the road again, on their way to the mythical Yucca repository.
Eighty percent of Nevada residents and elected officials strongly oppose this Yucca reboot plan. As before, their legal and technical opposition will prevent the plan from going forward for many years. Additionally, a new railroad line would need to be built through several mountain ranges at great expense. Will Congress provide the funding?
But, what might be more immediately enabled, are two proposed ‘interim storage facilities’ currently seeking NRC license approval on either side of the New Mexico-Texas border. A few politicians are promoting these sites as ‘good for the local economy,’ but public opposition is strong among those who know about the plan – including the region’s growers, dairy ranchers and especially oil men for whom the region is a fracking and drilling cash cow.
Both proposed sites are in what locals call ‘Nuclear Alley,’ just down the road from the Urenco uranium enrichment plant and the infamous Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIIP), site of the recent nuclear ‘cat litter’ explosion.
If approved as part of the Shimkus Bill’s Consolidated Interim Storage provision, these ‘parking lot’ dumps could well become the nation’s de facto permanent radioactive waste depository, in the very likely event that Yucca never gets built.
More on that in future articles, except to note that the dire implications of CIS and its ‘Fukuishima Freeway’ failed to be acknowledged in the House’s approval of HR 3053.
For more, check out the Nuclear Information and Resource Service’s Don’t Waste America page.
James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan. Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production. He can be reached at email@example.com
Why the combination of Fear, Uncertainty, and Humanitarian Idealism may destroy most life on earth…unless We the People say ‘NO,’ and make it stick.
By James Heddle – EON. [ An earlier version of this article is on Counterpunch.org. ]
I want to say – and this is very important – in the end, we lucked out! It was luck that prevented nuclear war. Khrushchev was rational. Kennedy was rational. Castro was rational. [Holding up his thumb and forefinger slightly apart.] Rational individuals came that close to total devastation of their societies…and that danger exists today.
Former U.S. Sec. of Defense Robert McNamara – talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis – in ‘The Fog of War,” a documentary film by Errol Morris
“Today we still have over 20 thousand real world nuclear weapons. Enough to blow up everybody on the planet several times over. Those weapons pose the immediate problem of a danger of terrorism, the immediate problem of the possibility of nuclear war.… I believe we are on the brink of a new nuclear arms race. It breaks my heart. Today, the danger of a nuclear catastrophe is actually higher than it was during the cold war. Let me say that again…”
Former U.S. Sec. of Defense, William J. Perry, January, 2016
A nuclear war anywhere will disrupt—and possibly destroy—civilized life everywhere.
The Cuban Missile Crisis at 55 – James G. Blight and Janet M. Lang
There is such a thing as being too late…. We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation… Now let us begin… let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. April 4, 1967
[ Editor's'note: As this version goes to post, the Trump people have just issued a super-hawkish revised Nuclear Posture Review advocating 'usable' tactical nuclear weapons, and are considering a 'tactical, Bloody Nose' nuclear attack on North Korea.]
Present Threat Level: ‘High’
The current Silicon Valley meme is that Artificial Intelligence, or AI, may – someday – pose a danger to human existence. But plain old human intelligence already does pose that threat. And it has for some time.
Some critic reportedly quipped that “NATO exists to deal with problems created by its own existence.”
Whether or not you agree with that assessment of NATO, it’s hard to deny that this dictum accurately applies to the long much-celebrated geo-strategic system of so-called ‘nuclear deterrence.’
The creation of ‘command & control’ structures by nuclear weapons states – purportedly designed to reduce the threat of nuclear war – are more than likely to produce precisely the outcome they are allegedly created to prevent.
That’s the sobering wake-up call message of Daniel Ellsberg’s important new book THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE – Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner.
Still at it, after all these years
At eighty-six years of age, Ellsberg – perhaps the world’s most celebrated whistleblower for his Viet Nam era Pentagon Papers revelations – is still going strong, and now working urgently to share even more crucial information, long kept secret from the American public and the world.
He is a man who walks his talk. I last saw him on a hot day last August, lying on the tarmac with about a hundred other protestors at the gate of Livermore Laboratory, California’s nuclear weapons design shop, which bills itself as ‘The Smartest Place on Earth.’ Their bodies were outlined in chalk, commemorating the Atomic Shadows left by the vaporized victims of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Virtually every weapon in the U.S. Doomsday Machine’s arsenal has been at least partially designed at Livermore, under the aegis of the University of California, Berkeley. For many years, a rally, march and ‘die-in’ [ video ] has been organized there every year on Hiroshima Day by a coalition of groups headed by TriValleyCARES and its Indefatigable Director, Marylia Kelly. Ellsberg has been a long-time rally speaker and protest participant. [ video ] On this occasion, he was lying there, chatting with his old friend Fr. Louis Vitale, as they waited to get arrested – the umpteenth time for both of them.
Evolution of a Nuclear War Planner – Into the ‘realm of madness’
It started in Detroit, Michigan, where his engineer father was a designer of the long, moving assembly lines then being initiated, first for motor cars, then – as WWII geared up – for war planes. As a high school student at the up-scale Cranbrook boarding school, he was one of the first of his generation to learn about the then new concept of ‘cultural lag.’ Introduced by sociologist William Ogburn, the term drew attention to the fact that technological innovations advance faster than the cultural, moral and political systems needed to manage them. It was a concept to be epitomized in spades in the coming Atomic Age.
Later, as a Harvard graduate economist with a focus on the then hot topics of ‘decision theory’ and ‘game theory,’ as well as a former Marine officer with combat experience in Viet Nam, Ellsberg, in his late twenties, was recognized by those who notice such things as having a great set of qualification for a war planner.
Moving from an Honors Fellowship at Harvard to a consultant job at the RAND corporation, in an office with an ocean view in Santa Monica, and colleagues like the famous (or infamous) Herman Kahn, was a natural transition.
This was in the early days of the now wide-spread practice of ‘contracting’ out government functions to private corporations. RAND was one of the first of such firms, the number of which is now legion.
The young Ellsberg’s quickly demonstrated abilities soon put him into circulation as a trusted private consultant in the highest circles of the Washington national security establishment with eventually some of the highest ‘clearances’ and a unique breadth of access to information known only to a few.
What he discovered horrified him. With youthful idealism (and perhaps more than a dash of youthful hubris), he set out to change it.
This book tells the story of some of his impressive successes. But it’s also the story – as the sub-title ‘confessions’ indicates – of some of the ways he now believes his efforts may have inadvertently helped to make things worse.
“RAND analysts, of whom I was one,” he writes, “sought to bring about less insane planning for nuclear war. We failed.” As he now sees it, the institutional systems in which they were embedded, “still held us prisoners within the realm of madness.”
His purpose now is to contribute to wide public knowledge beyond the myths, deceptions and cover-ups, which we have long been fed.
“We need,” he says, “a new understanding of the real history of the nuclear age.”
Eventually moving from RAND to the Defense Department, Ellsberg once briefed presidents and high officials, and – were he to do so again today – he says the item at the top of his list would be what is, in effect, Washington’s historically consistent first-strike policy:
The basic elements of American readiness for nuclear war remain today what they were almost sixty years ago. Thousands of nuclear weapons remain on hair-trigger alert, aimed mainly at Russian military targets including command and control, many in or near cities. The declared official rationale for such a system has always been primarily the supposed need to deter – or if necessary respond to – an aggressive Russian nuclear first strike against the United States. That widely believed public rationale is a deliberate deception….
The required U.S. strategic capabilities have always been for a first-strike force: not, under any president, for a U.S. surprise attack, unprovoked or ‘a bolt out of the blue,’ but not, either, with an aim of striking ‘second’ under any circumstances, if that can be avoided by preemption. Though officially denied, preemptive ‘launch on warning (LOW) – either on tactical warning of an incoming attack or strategic warning that nuclear escalation is probably impending – has always been at the heart of our strategic alert. [Emphasis added.]
But it gets worse.
As an advisor to Kennedy, Ellsberg had the opportunity to query the Joint Chiefs of Staff (over the President’s signature) if they had done estimates of how many human beings would be killed if U.S. nuclear war plans were carried out against the then Sino-Soviet Bloc. He was stunned by the answers.
“The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs,” he was told, “from a U.S. first strike aimed at the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact satellites, and China, would be roughly six hundred million dead. A hundred Holocausts.
“From that day,” he writes, “I have had one overriding life purpose: to prevent the execution of any such plan.”
A Global Machine with no ‘Off’ Switch
As part of his unusual ‘go anywhere, ask anything, see everything’ mandate, Ellsberg was told of the existence of a plan that the military kept secret from the President, the Secretary of Defense and all other civilian authorities. It was called JSCAP ( pronounced J-SCAP) for Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan. Out of it had developed, by 1960, the Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP), the single strategic plan governing the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal including all Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers, land-based ICBMs and all the Navy’s submarine based nuclear missiles.
In 1961, SAC alone had around seventeen hundred bombers, each carrying thermonuclear – i.e., hydrogen, bombs – many of them between five and twenty-five megatons in explosive power, or ‘yield.’
Each twenty-five megaton bomb – with 1,250 times the yield of the fission bomb that destroyed Nagasaki – was the equivalent of twenty-five million tons of TNT, or over twelve times the total bomb tonnage we dropped in World War II. Within the arsenal there were some five hundred bombs with an explosive power of twenty five megatons. Each of these warheads had more firepower than all the bombs and shells exploded in all the wars of human history. [His italics. ]
In the event of a so-called ‘general war’ with the Soviet Union, the SIOP called for the simultaneous launch of all those world-wide systems. The pre-determined targets, he learned, would not only include every major city in the Soviet Union and all its satellite allies, but all the cities in China and all its allies
Oh, and Then There’s Nuclear Winter
Two decades later, in 1983, it was discovered what none of them – Ellsberg, his RAND colleagues, the Joint Chiefs, the President, or his science advisors – had known about in the ‘60s: the phenomenon of ‘nuclear winter.’
In retrospect he realized,
It is the smoke, after all (not the fallout, which would remain mostly limited to the northern hemisphere), that would do it worldwide: smoke and soot lofted by the fierce firestorms in hundreds of burning cities into the stratosphere, where it would not rain out and would remain for a decade or more, enveloping the globe and blocking most sunlight, lowering annual global temperatures to the level of the last Ice Age, and killing all harvests worldwide, causing near-universal starvation within a year or two…. Which meant that a large nuclear war of the kind we prepared for then or later would kill nearly every human on earth (along with most other large species.)
But there was more.
The SIOP included no way to separate blanket attacks on both Russia and China once the ‘Go’ order has been given…and there was no desire to do so.
Ellsberg quotes a report from the memoir of colleague John Rubel about his experience at a 1960 briefing at SAC headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska. It was attended by Defense Department officials, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military commanders from around the world, and presided over by SAC Commander General Thomas Power. On a huge screen in the darkened command center, successive overlays portrayed the cumulative bombing of all the SIOP’s targets. In conclusion, a briefer reported that fallout alone would eventually kill half the population of China, in addition to those killed in the initial blasts.
A voice out of the gloom from somewhere behind me interrupted, saying, “May I ask a question?” General Power turned…in his front-row seat, stared into the darkness and said, “Yeah, what is it?” in a tone not likely to encourage the timid. “What if this isn’t China’s war?” the voice asked. “What if this is just a war with the Soviets? Can you change the plan?”
“Well, yeah,” said General Power resignedly, “we can, but I hope nobody thinks of it, because it would really screw up the plan.”
Ellsberg tells of leaving the Pentagon one afternoon with a colleague to do ‘operational research’ at a showing of the then just-released, now classic, Stanley Kubrick film ‘Dr. Strangelove.’ They were surprised at how accurately the film portrayed the impossibility of reversing the order, once the system has been triggered by a single, rogue commander.
Rewriting the War Plan
Ellsberg had set his sights on changing that plan, and, to some extent, he succeeded.
Under Kennedy and McNamara, he was assigned to redraft the general war section of the BSNP or Basic National Security Policy, civilian guidance for war planning.
In the late afternoon of April 7, 1961, he finished his first draft and realized it was his thirtieth birthday. “I remember thinking: for the rest of my life, I won’t have done anything more important than this.”
Among many other significant changes, the re-draft he wrote called for
- elimination of the SIOP as the single, automatic response
- elimination of the automatic inclusion of China and Soviet Satellite states
- creation of a command and control system for issuing reliable ‘stop’ or ‘recall’ orders.
A final version was sent to the Joint Chiefs on May 5, 1961. He reports,
“My” revised guidance became the basis for the operational war plans under Kennedy – reviewed by me for Deputy Secretary Gilpatric in 1962, 1963, and again in the Johnson administration in 1964. It has been reported by insiders and scholars to have been a critical influence on U.S. strategic war planning ever since.
[ For texts of related memos and drafts, see ellsberg.net/BNSP. ]
But, after all, it was still a nuclear war plan. He notes, “In years to come, the memory of this accomplishment did not bring me the same satisfaction it brought when I was thirty.”
Delegation or Decapitation? – That is the question
Given POTUS Trump’s growing reputation as a ‘malignant narcissist’ running rogue in the Oval Office, there has been much media and Congressional concern expressed of late about the presumption that just one man, – whether rational or crazed – is the only one with access to the ‘nuclear football,’ its launch codes and ‘having his finger on The Button.’
Harvard Professor Elaine Scary has written a fascinating, in depth, scholarly analysis of this notion in her impressive THERMONUCLEAR MONARCHY – Choosing Between Democracy and Doom.
But it turns out, according to another alarming revelation in Ellsberg’s book, that, from the very beginning of U.S. nuclear war planning, One-Finger-on-The-Button has by no means been the case.
According to Ellsberg, “… the hand authorized to pull the trigger on U.S. nuclear forces has never been exclusively that of the president, nor even his highest military officials.” [His emphasis.]
The operative policy, from Eisenhower and Kennedy on down, has been to delegate ‘Execute’ authority to subordinate commanders, – even, depending on circumstances, far down the chain of command – to avoid ‘decapitation’ – elimination of centralized authority.
“This delegation has been one of our highest national secrets,” writes Ellsberg. “The same was true for the Soviet Union, now Russia.”
And, one can assume, to this day, for all other nuclear weapons powers.
Ellsberg writes from three complementary perspectives:
— as an ‘insider’ with top level security clearances working to discover and mitigate what he sees as ill-conceived, omnicidal policies;
— as an analyst/historian striving to understand how such a system has come into being;
— and as a whistleblowing reformer working to alert and mobilize an informed public to dis-assemble the very system he spent much of his professional life helping create.
His is a rich and complex narrative. Here are some of its key points.
Inside the Cuban Missile Crisis – ‘The most dangerous moment in recorded history’
Ellsberg, the insider, throws new light on the myths and misinformation surrounding this pivotal historical event. It's too complex a story – as Ellsberg’s narrative shows in depth – to do more than summarize here. [ See: Ellsberg.net/Doomsday/cubanmissilecrisis for his files. ] It happened in 1962, but it’s take-home lesson is as current as today’s headlines.
The essence of it is this: none of the participants at the time had a full and accurate picture of what was really going on.
It wasn’t until decades later that the full facts came into focus. McNamara’s thumb and forefinger, held barely apart, tell the story. Global nuclear Armageddon had been avoided by “that much.”
In retrospect, it was a tragi-comedy of errors, projections, and miscalculations on all sides – a microcosm of the Doomsday Machine Dilemma.
Yet, the fate of the earth hung in the balance…just as it does in the several nuclear confrontations emerging today.
On Monday, October 22, 1962 President Kennedy went on national TV to announce the discovery that Soviet ballistic missiles were being shipped to Cuba, and that, in response, he was imposing a naval ‘quarantine’ around the island nation. He said that the launch of any missile from Cuba “against any nation in the Western Hemisphere” would trigger “a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
Watching Kennedy’s speech from his Malibu home, and knowing full well what “a full retaliatory response’ would mean, Ellsberg headed for Washington.
The global context was this:
In April, 1961, a CIA sponsored invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs had failed.
In August, 1961, the long-standing Berlin Crisis had ended with the partition of that German city between Soviet and Allied forces, and the erection of the Berlin Wall.
U.S. and Soviet forces were arrayed against each other across Europe, with American nuclear missiles stationed in Turkey.
The U.S. Joint Chiefs had long been itching to invade Cuba on any pretext. Remembering the Bay of Pigs, both Cuban President Castro and Soviet Premiere Khrushchev knew this and took the threat very seriously. Khrushchev had sent the missiles to prevent such an invasion. U.S. intelligence thought there were thirty-eight.
On arrival in DC, Ellsberg was tasked to “Write a memo on what thirty-eight missiles could do to our strike-back ability.” The conclusion was, given the balance of American and Soviet nuclear forces, not much. The Soviet Union would still be turned into a large smoking hole from the U.S. ‘full retaliatory response.’
Throughout the next thirteen tension-filled days, Ellsberg and most of those around him believed that Khrushchev knew he was way out-gunned and would ultimately ‘blink,’ ‘back down’ and remove the missiles. On October 27, 1962, he did.
It was the day afterward that Ellsberg discovered that Defense Secretary McNamara and others around Kennedy had put the chance of Armageddon happening much higher, like maybe 1 in 10. Later, McNamara revealed, “the Saturday before the Sunday in which Khrushchev announced withdrawal of the missiles… and a U-2 [U.S. spy plane ] was shot down…I remember leaving the White House at the end of that Saturday. It was a beautiful fall day. And thinking that might well be the last sunset I saw. You couldn’t tell what was going to follow.”
Ellsberg was appalled. “One in ten?! Nuclear war…And we were doing what we were doing?!”
‘What they had been doing’ included:
- the blockade itself, at the risk of armed conflict with Soviet warships;
- forcing Soviet submarines to surface with depth grenades
- a large-scale airborne bomber alert with significant risk of accidents involving nuclear weapons;
- continuing reconnaissance, even after several spy planes were fired on over Cuba and one shot down on Saturday; and
- full preparations(“if they were wholly a bluff,” he says, “they fooled us”) for invasion and airstrike
He thought, “Who were these people I was working for? Were they all insane?
Subsequent research by Ellsberg and others has now revealed that the real situation was much worse than any U.S. officials knew at the time.
In fact, there had been 162 Soviet missiles already in Cuba, not 38. Some of them were tactical, short-range nuclear missiles to be aimed at invading U.S. forces and the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay. Soviet submarines being bombarded with U.S. grenades were – unknown to Washington – equipped with nuclear torpedoes.
Neither Kennedy nor Khrushchev had any intention of triggering a nuclear war. They were both bluffing, hoping to get a better deal. No invasion of Cuba was planned. But none of their subordinates knew that. Castro, believing a U.S. invasion to be inevitable and that Cuba would be made to ‘disappear,’ had written to Khrushchev urging a full Soviet nuclear response on the U.S. once the expected invasion was underway.
Finally, when Khrushchev and Kennedy both realized that their brinksmanship was spiraling out of their control, they worked urgently together to defuse it. Contrary to popular myth, neither country ‘won’ or ‘lost.’
Global nuclear destruction had been averted by just ‘that much.’
A tiny country, previously attacked by the United States, believes another attack is imminent and contemplates ‘the nuclear suicide option.’ Sound familiar?
The Fire Every Time – Incinerating Civilians
Ellsberg, the historian, traces the growth of the omnicidal nuclear mindset from British and American bombing strategy evolved in WW II.
When the war began on September 1, 1939, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, President Roosevelt issued an appeal to all of the states involved, to avoid the ‘human barbarism’ of targeting civilians, who he described as “innocent human beings who have no responsibility for, and who are not even remotely participating in, the hostilities that have now broken out….”
With then recent historical atrocities in mind, no doubt like the one immortalized in Picasso’s famous painting ‘Guernica,’ he went on,
I am therefore directing this urgent appeal to every Government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities, upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents. I request an immediate reply.
Britain, then Germany, quickly agreed. In fact, none of the countries involved saw this an unusual request, for Roosevelt was simply affirming what was then considered an accepted international norm of warfare: avoid harming non-combatants.
By war’s end, this supposed norm, violated first by Britain, then the U.S., had not only been abandoned, but completely reversed.
Militarists had come to regard war from the air as the one sure path to victory, and civilian officials had come to see cities – that is, civilians – as legitimate targets.
But that was not all.
It had been discovered that – given the right atmospheric and wind conditions – saturation bombing of a city could create ‘firestorms ’ – in effect altering local weather as what would come to be called a ‘force multiplier’ – incinerating entire urban populations and destroying all existing structures.
One such event, was the firebombing of the German city of Dresden, later portrayed by an American prisoner of war survivor, Kurt Vonnegut in his novel, Slaughterhouse Five. But there were many others. More than half a million German civilians were killed. Creating intentional urban firestorms had become the principle objective of aerial warfare, under the rationale that ‘terror bombing’ would destroy moral and end hostilities sooner, thus ‘saving lives’ in the long run.
With the German defeat, U.S. attention shifted to Japan and ‘scientific’ firebombing of cities was honed to a fine art under General Curtis LeMay. Using his new approach, reports Ellsberg, “It would be possible, LeMay thought, ‘to knock out all of Japan’s major industrial cities during the next ten nights.’ And he set out to burn the next most populous seventeen cities in succession. After that, the next fifty.”
Creating firestorms, like the one that destroyed Tokyo, with ‘conventional’ explosives required many planes. With atomic weapons like those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you could do the job with just one bomber per city. But, aside from subsequent deaths caused by exposure to radioactive fallout, the deadly results were basically the same.
Later, LeMay would boast, “we scorched and boiled and baked to death more people in Tokyo on that night of March 9-10 than went up in vapor at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.”
Firebombing and mass murder from the air – with or without nukes – had become the American way of war.
In the early 1950s, in the Korean war, LeMay recalled in a 1988 interview, "We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea…."
The legendary Gen. Douglas MacArthur – no stranger to mass slaughter – testified in a 1951 Congressional hearing, “The war in Korea has already almost destroyed that nation of 20,000,000 people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there. After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children and everything, I vomited.”
Taking Bets on Atmospheric Ignition
The high risk attitude of what might be called – with a nod to C. Wright Mills – ‘crackpot nuclearism,’ was born in the New Mexico desert with the July 16, 1945 Trinity Test, the world first atomic bomb. It has dominated nuclear policy ever since.
Some of the Manhattan Project scientists were doing calculations aimed at predicting whether or not the planned test would ignite the planet’s entire atmosphere thus ending life on earth. There were arguments and conflicting conclusions. Nobody was quite sure either way.
On the eve of the test, Enrico Fermi offered to take bets on if atmospheric ignition would occur. “I am now in a position,” he said, “to make book on one of two contingencies: 1) that the explosion will burn New Mexico; 2) that it will ignite the whole world.”
The odds Fermi offered are not recorded, nor if anyone took his bet. The consensus apparently was that both outcomes were unlikely…but possible. The test went ahead anyway.
The Threat of Use is Use – a Terrorist Threat
The gun in the hand of the robber aimed at the victim’s head – whether or not the trigger is pulled – is being ‘used.’ The same is true of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
One often hears that The Bomb was only ‘used’ twice, by President Truman on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But, as Ellsberg documents, every president since – right down to the current occupant of the Oval Office – has used the Doomsday Machine in the same way the robber uses the gun, as a credible threat to impose his will.
Even one tactical nuclear weapon attacking a heavily populated area could kill hundreds of thousands of non-combatants. “Thus,” Ellsberg concludes, “virtually any threat of first use of a nuclear weapon is a terrorist threat. Any nation making such threats is a terrorist nation. That means the United States and all its allies, including Israel, along with Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea.”
Dissent as a Family Trait
Ellsberg discloses many institutional secrets discovered in the course of his career. But there is a personal one he saves until almost last. As noted above, his father had been a distinguished engineer and factory designer involved in the war effort. During the whistleblower days, when Kissinger had labeled him ‘the most dangerous man in America,’ Ellsberg says he had little contact with his father. Much later the two had a conversation in which the son learned that the father, too, had not only had many of the same top security clearances, and had worked on building the A-bomb, but had also been a dissenter.
At the top of his career, the elder Ellsberg had been engaged to design a plant that would produce material for an H-bomb, the hydrogen bomb. It was to be a thousand times more powerful than the A-bombs used on Japan. In fact, the A-bomb is now simply used as the detonation trigger for the H-bomb.
“That was it for me,” his father recalled at the age of 89. “I went back to my office and I said to my deputy, ‘These guys are crazy.’”
“There was another thing about it I couldn’t stand,” his father continued. “Building these things generated a lot of radioactive waste…. That stuff was deadly for ever.”
Ellsberg recalls there were tears in his father’s eyes as he went on huskily, “I couldn’t stand the thought that I was working on a project that was poisoning parts of my country for forever, that might make parts of it uninhabitable for thousands of years.”
His father – unlike the many others engaged to make the H-bomb – resigned rather than participating in the project.
Asked what had made him feel so strongly, his father responded, “You did.”
Turns out that back in 1946 the young Ellsberg had come home crying, carrying a copy of John Hersey’s just-published book Hiroshima, a report on the horrors of atomic warfare. Recalled his father, “You said, ‘Dad, you’ve got to read this. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever read.’ So I read it, and you were right.”
Non-Violent Co-existence or Violent Co-annihilation – That Is Still the Question
Being a nuclear war planner and risk analyst means developing the capacity of imagining the unthinkable. It's a great skill set to have. Especially if, like Ellsberg (and others), you have awakened to the omnicidal danger of the doomsday machine you have participated in creating.
Now, when many despairing pessimists are concluding that the Doomsday Machine Syndrome has taken on an autonomous life of its own, and that it’s political, economic, and military institutionalization on a global level has made deconstructing it ‘realistically unthinkable,’ Ellsberg’s informed conviction that deconstruction IS not only possible, but doable within a year’s time, is invigorating to the soul. Human ingenuity has created multiple doomsday machines; human ingenuity can take them down.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s erstwhile ‘brain,’ infamously described the prime agenda item of the Trump/GOP wrecking crew as ‘deconstruction of the administrative state.’ In fact, they’re doing it as we watch. Proving precisely that, what humans have put together, humans can pull asunder.
Ellsberg’s bold, ‘unthinkable,’ essentially revolutionary agenda is nothing less than the deconstruction of the Doomsday Machine itself.
According to his vision, Truman’s proverbial ‘buck’ both stops and starts here, in America, the birthplace of the Doomsday Machinery, the only country to have not only actually dropped The Bomb, but to have ‘used’ The Bomb for the last seventy-plus years, in over two dozen credible international threats (which he documents), as a gun to the heads of other nations of the world.
He addresses the common argument that ‘You can’t uninvent nuclear weapons.’
That has been a widespread and effective argument against a total unilateral abolition over the past seventy years. True, you can’t eradicate the knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons and delivery systems. But you can dismantle a Doomsday Machine. And that, at minimum, is what we must hasten to do. There is no need or justification for us to wait for the Russians to do it to theirs first or in step with us, though that global imperative applies just well to them.
Here’s his Six-Step Program:
- A U.S, no-first-use policy
- Probing investigative hearings on our war plans in the light of nuclear winter
- Eliminating our ICBMs
- Forgoing the delusion of preemptive damage-limiting by our first-strike forces
- Giving up the profits, jobs, and alliance hegemony based on maintaining that pretense
- Otherwise dismantling the American Doomsday Machine.
Being a realist, he observes that, “Both parties as currently constituted oppose every one of these measures.” Further, he admits, “the news is equally bad when it comes to the prospects of reversing American energy policy in time and on a scale to avert catastrophic climate change.” He concludes,
The steps I have indicated are only a beginning toward the ultimate delegitimation of nuclear weapons and nuclear threats. But none of the necessary changes can occur without an informed public, suitably alarmed by a situation that properly evokes horror, fear, revulsion, and incredulity, accompanied, hopefully by the determination of the highest order and urgency to eliminate it.
The White House as Madhouse
At the time Ellsberg worked at RAND, U.S. war planners had long been obsessed by belief in a series of ‘gaps:’ a ‘bomber gap;’ a ‘missile gap;’ a ‘deterrent gap.’ Kennedy himself had campaigned and been elected on the fiction of a ‘missile gap,’ with the Soviet Union being erroneously claimed to possess ‘strategic superiority.’
Ellsberg found that none of these supposed ‘gaps’ had actually existed. They were really claims cooked up by competing branches of the military aimed at securing a bigger share of the defense budget, and a more important role in the ‘Big Game.’ RAND’s whole program had been based on delusion.
He writes, “To recognize that was to face the conclusion that RAND had, in all good faith, been working obsessively and with a sense of frantic urgency on a wrong set of problems, an irrelevant pursuit in respect to national security.” Yet RAND’s program continued for years after the gap concepts had been debunked.
Donald (My-Button-is-Bigger-than-Your-Button) Trump is not only continuing the trillion dollar nuclear weapons upgrade begun under Obama, but calling for 10 times as many thermonuclear devices as are already in the US arsenal.
In 2017, American Special Forces boots were on the ground in 146 countries. A new study by the Costs of War Project maps 76 countries in which the U.S. is currently at war. That’s a lot of flash points, any one of which could potentially trigger a nuclear exchange.
One wonders what delusional ‘risk assessments’ are currently being used by today’s generation of war planners to rationalize this level of institutionalized insanity.
Toward A New Nuclear Consciousness and Abolition Movement
The five ‘original’ nuclear powers – the US, UK, France, Russia and China – have since been joined by Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea. So now there are nine known national Doomsday Machines – one for every nuclear weapons state – all on hair trigger alert for some future wargasm, maybe just around the corner.
And then there are the other – presently operating – DNA-destroying radioactive, electro-magnetic and chemical pollution doomsday machines, as well as the carbonization-of-the-atmosphere doomsday machine already causing catastrophic climate change…not to mention the on-going Sixth Great Extinction.
I chose to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day immersed in Ellsberg’s book. It may not have been the most pleasant holiday season I’ve experienced, but it was definitely the most informative and enlightening.
It’s my bad habit, with a read I like, to underline sentences, star paragraphs, and dog-ear pages that seem especially important. I found myself doing that on almost every page.
Ellsberg’s website contains massive documentation supporting his book’s disclosures.
has joined former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Henry Kissinger and Senator Sam Nunn to write a groundbreaking Wall Street Journal op-ed series
on the issues. They have also co-founded the Nuclear Security Project.
Toward the end of their lives, both McNamara and Castro also became ardent nuclear abolitionists.
These are good signs. Crackpot nuclearism may yet be overcome.
The Doomsday Machine – my nominee for ‘the most important book of 2017’ – is at once an empowering, and a cautionary tale about the ‘power of one’ to catalyze change in a labyrinthine, entrenched, corporate/government bureaucracy … AND, about how the many paths to doomsday can be paved with good intentions.
Get it. Read it. And don’t mourn, organize and pass the word! Spread awareness of both the risks and the mitigating possibilities. Informed, concerted public action has made a huge difference throughout the Atomic Age, and it can again.
As the UN’s recent historic vote by more than 120 nations to ban the possession, use, or threatened use of nuclear weapons, and the Nobel Peace Prize award to ICAN make clear, the once powerful no nukes abolition movement is again resurgent.
Maybe, just maybe – as Reverend King was warning way back in 1967 – it’s still not too late…
These Jan. 14, 2018 weekend headlinies show the urgency:
His first Nuclear Posture Review: more nukes, more posturing.
By Ashley Feinberg – Huffpost
Group Warns Implementation of Trump’s Plan Makes Nuclear War More Likely
Nuclear deterrence continues to dominate international relations. Yet there is no proof it ever worked, nor that it ever will
by David P Barash – Guardian
Jen Heyden – Daily Kos
James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan. Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Reporting by James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan – EON – the Ecological Options Network
Literal Nuclear Cliff Hangers
Both California’s seaside nuclear plants San Onofre (shutdown in 2013) and Diablo Canyon (scheduled for shutdown in 2025) are located over active earthquake faults in tsunami zones, just like Fukushima. The sites also border the ocean’s rapidly rising sea level. Any questions?
For the foreseeable future, both will be de facto repositories for tons of forever deadly radioactive so-called ‘spent nuclear fuel’ accumulated over their times of operation. That’s because last century’s optimistic plans for the federal government to take possession of all commercially generated nuclear waste and move it to a central deep geological repository have not materialized, despite many decades and billions of dollars of trying.
Although pressure is building in Congress to resuscitate the failed Yucca Mountain project in Nevada, and establish so-called ‘Centralized Interim Storage’ sites in ‘consenting communities’ around the country, nothing of the sort is likely to happen any time soon, even if the current very flawed attempt, HR 3053 passes.
That means that both San Onofre and Diablo will be storing their radioactive waste for some time to come using container systems designed decades ago, before the now-known risks of storing so-called ‘high burn-up fuel’ in thin stainless steel canisters subject to ‘chloride-induced stress corrosion through-wall cracking’ in a marine environment had been discovered. (See previous post). Now local citizens in both regions around San Onofre and Diablo are awakening to the dangers they face into the indefinite future. Southern Californians are demanding a revision of their radwaste storage plans.
No Place for Waste –
Public Watchdogs takes bold action – files lawsuit to block seaside storage at San Onofre
Southern California Edison, operator of San Onofre, has scheduled beginning its storage of the intensely radioactive fuel rods into a concrete pad 108 feet from the ocean and inches above the water table next month, December 2017. In response to realistic fears it would become a permanent nuclear waste dump, southern California grassroots organization Public Watchdogs has recently boldly moved to block that planned movement of the deadly, long-lived radioactive fuel.
Public Watchdogs announced that it is suing the United States Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric on the grounds that the defendants lack the legal authority to bury nuclear waste on the beach at San Onofre State Beach Park.
Seeking Court Injunction
Public Watchdogs’ Charles Langley explains that the lawsuit, which was filed by environmental lawyer Cory Briggs of the Briggs Law Corporation, “seeks a court injunction to prevent Southern California Edison’s December, 2017 burial of millions of pounds of deadly high- level nuclear waste. Edison intends to bury the lethal waste 108 feet from one of America’s most cherished surfing and swimming beaches. The waste is deadly for millions of years, but under the current plan, it will be stored in a system that is only warranted to last ten years.”
Warranty is here. Public Watchdogs Complaint is here.
“Once completed,” Langley’s Press Release says, “the San Onofre Beachfront Nuclear Waste Dump will be the largest privately operated high-level waste dump in the United States. Edison’s new dump is located in a tsunami inundation zone, on top of an earthquake fault line, and in the center of one of the most densely populated regions in the USA. Its proximity to the LOSSAN rail corridor, the second busiest in the country, and Interstate 5 also poses unprecedented regional economic risk.”
Full Press Release is here.
San Diego Union Tribune article:
Group files suit to block storing nuclear waste at San Onofre
In another last minute attempt to forestall Edison’s planned Dec. nuclear waste move
Citizens Oversight has announced it will file a petition to the NRC, demanding a national moratorium on the use of thin, single-wall nuclear waste canisters, together with a White Paper outlining an alternate approach to on-site storage at nuclear plants like San Onofre.
Citizens Oversight’s announcement says that its “’HELLMSS-MELO Proposal’ will be submitted as a component of its petition to the NRC. Lutz has coined a new term – HELLMSS-MELO by which he means Hardened, Extended-Life, Local Monitored Surface Storage. He proposes using a Monitored Extended-Life Overcask, which is an additional layer to be added over the “thin” canisters in use today, which were never intended for long-term use.
Citizens Oversight founder Ray Lutz explains, “The thin cans being used today to store nuclear spent fuel are far from adequate, with only a 20 year license and 60 year design life. These containers were not designed for long-term “indefinite” storage they have now approved. Stress corrosion cracking was not considered an issue when these were first adopted, but today, it is recognized as a major problem.”
To see the plan: http://copswiki.org/Common/HelmsProposal
The Devil is in the Details – Diablo Canyon Shutdown Deal in Doubt?
Meanwhile, a proposed decision by California Public Utilities Commission administrative law judge Peter V. Allen on Pacific Gas and Electric proposed shutdown plan for its Diablo Canyon nuclear plant has raised doubts that the plan will go forward. A Forbes article entitled Could Judge’s Ruling Cause PG&E To Rethink Closing Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant? concludes that “A deal that looked good to most of the decision makers when it appeared to deliver $1.76 billion of ratepayer funds to pay for implementation may not look as good to those same decision makers when it delivers just $190 million.” A PG&E spokesperson has stated, “We will continue to strongly advocate for the application as submitted.”
The “Settlement” as originally submitted is here.
The CPUC ALJ’s proposed decision will not become law until and unless it is approved by the the full Commission Members, which could happen as early as next month. The utility’s response to the proposed ruling is here.
The Forbes article explains,
On the other hand….
The outcome of the unfolding Diablo saga remains uncertain and will be conditioned by a number of factors. One is the political ambitions of current California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Controller Betty Yee, both of whom now sit on the pivotal California State Lands Commission, a key state agency with authority over future plans for Diablo Canyon.
Another is the outcome of a suit brought by the Santa Barbara-based World Business Academy aimed at stopping the agreement, a suit which was struck down by the court, but is now on appeal.
PG&E faces other costly and time consuming considerations if they intend to apply to relicence Diablo. San Luis Obispo-based Mothers for Peace spokeswoman explains, “PG&E MUST do a complete Environmental Impact Study, EIS, for the entire plant by 2024 as per the NRC if they decide to renew the license application. Also, a State Environmental Impact Report, EIR, has to be done for the once-through cooling system.” Compliance with these requirements are major expenses and could take years.
Once-through cooling (OTC) – the system currently in use at Diablo – has been banned at all power plants in California, and Diablo’s exemption expires in 2024. Compliance with the ban would require new construction and additional expenditures which PG&E would likely be reluctant to make.
And what about the unions? ALJ Allen notes in his proposed decision, “…it appears that PG&E (with the participation of at least some of its unions) has already executed retention agreements with its employees, presumably incorporating the terms proposed by PG&E in this proceeding….PG&E should not be making promises (even implied ones) to its employees that it does not know it can keep. PG&E is not authorized to recover in rates the cost of the existing agreements.”
The Judge comments, “Overall, the amount and allocation of payments appears to have more to do with PG&E’s litigation needs than the economic needs of the community.”
All these actors and factors swirling in California’s nuclear drama will unfold in the next weeks and months.
Watch this space for updates.
By James Heddle – EON, the Ecological Options Network
Clear and Present Danger
Back in Presidential Debate days, candidate Trump revealed that he didn’t know that the term ‘Nuclear Triad’ refers to America’s three-legged nuclear arsenal of land-, sea- and air-launched nuclear missiles – of which he is now ominously in charge. But there is another, original ’nuclear triad’ now clearly in evidence.
Never before has the unbreakable connection between nuclear energy, weapons and waste been so blatantly obvious to the public eye…yet, with so little notice.
Although President Trump has threatened to obliterate North Korea and its 25 million people ‘with fire and fury the like of which the world has never seen,’ the NYT is reporting that America’s Asian allies doubt Washington’s ‘resolve’ to defend them with nuclear weapons and they want their own – an idea recently also floated by Trump himself.
In a new twist on the last century’s discredited ‘Atoms for Peace’ meme, the new nuclear delusion seems to be that the more countries that have nuclear weapons (Iran and North Korea excepted), the more ‘secure’ the world will become.
Speaking recently at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Trump’s VP Mike Pence, a self-declared devout Christian who ‘gave my life to Jesus,’ declared “… there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.”
Implication: every country should feel safer if they have a nuclear arsenal of their own. That seems precisely Kim Jong-Un’s own calculus, given his country’s previous horrific carpet-bombing experience with the US – “we… eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” Gen. Curtis LeMay told Congress – not to mention the recent history of Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Nuclear Circular Firing Squad
As agitation reportedly builds in South Korea and Japan for building their own nuclear arsenals, the Times reveals that, as a result of the radioactive waste output of their already existing nuclear energy reactor fleets, each of these tiny countries has accumulated enough weapons-grade plutonium to produce – respectively – 4,600 and 6,000 nuclear bombs.
How about that? Nations without their own ‘commercial power’ nukes must certainly take note.
Never mind the fact that such a triangle of nuclear-armed, mutually hostile, neighboring states would be like, say, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut each having their own nuclear arsenals, all pointing at each other. Talk about a circular firing squad. It’s the very definition of an ‘everybody loses’ situation.
Nuclear Triplets Joined at the Hip
But, while this is clearly an illustration of a new epidemic of nuclear crackpot madness spreading around the world, it is also the latest of several clear illustrations – and blatant, though veiled, public admissions – that the DNA-destroying nuclear triplets of energy, weapons and radioactive waste are inseparably joined-at-the-hip.
In the UK:
“Military Nuclear Industry to be Supported by Payments from Electricity Consumers”
In Britian, reports the Guardian, “The government is using the “extremely expensive” Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to cross-subsidize Britain’s nuclear weapon arsenal, according to senior scientists.”
The Guardian story continues,
In evidence submitted to the influential public accounts committee (PAC), which is currently investigating the nuclear plant deal, scientists from Sussex University state that the costs of the Trident programme could be “unsupportable” without “an effective subsidy from electricity consumers to military nuclear infrastructure.”
Prof Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone from the Science Policy Research Unit at the university write that the £19.6bn Hinkley Point project will “maintain a large-scale national base of nuclear-specific skills” without which there is concern “that the costs of UK nuclear submarine capabilities could be insupportable.”
Their evidence suggests that changes in the government’s policy on nuclear power in recent years will effectively allow Britain’s military nuclear industry to be supported by payments from electricity consumers.
Last June, MPs passed a motion in favour of replacing four submarines carrying Trident missiles at a cost of £40bn.
“What our research suggests is that British low-carbon energy strategies are more expensive than they need to be, in order to maintain UK military nuclear infrastructures,” said Stirling.
“And without assuming the continuation of an extremely expensive UK civil nuclear industry, it is likely that the costs of Trident would be significantly greater.”
The Hinkley Point project has been criticised for its huge cost.
… Johnstone said the decision-making process behind Hinkley raised questions about transparency and accountability, saying: “In this ever more networked world, both civil and military nuclear technologies are increasingly recognized as obsolete. Yet it seems UK policymaking is quietly trying to further entrench the two – in ways that have been escaping democratic accountability.”
In their report, entitled Some Queries over Neglected Strategic Factors in Public Accounting for UK Nuclear Power: evidence to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Inquiry on Hinkley Point C (HPC), Stirling and Johnstone state that their “evidence submits that an undetermined part of the full costs of this expensive, controversial – but officially highly-prioritized – military infrastructure are in effect (without clear public acknowledgement or justification), being loaded into electricity prices. With costs of alternative large-scale domestic low-carbon energy resources like offshore wind power confirmed as significantly more favorable than HPC, it seems a hidden subsidy is being imposed on electricity consumers.”
They point out that, “If UK pursuit of uncompetitive nuclear power is partly justified as a means to sustain these shared civil-military specialized nuclear capacities, then availability of lower cost domestic low-carbon power means electricity prices are higher than would otherwise be the case…. It is this that would amount to an effective subsidy from electricity consumers to military nuclear infrastructures.”
They conclude, “Remarkably, this civil-military link is well documented in defense debates, but entirely neglected in energy policy discussion.” (emphasis added.)
In the US:
Chasing Nuclear Market Share
In a recent piece in Foreign Affairs, entitled Will the West Let Russia Dominate the Nuclear Market? – What the Westinghouse Bankruptcy Means for the Future, born-again ‘new environmentalists’ and new nukes enthusiasts Nick Gallucci and Michael Shellenberger argue that US taxpayers should bail out the once-powerful, now bankrupt and Japanese-owned nuclear giant Westinghouse, or risk losing both global commercial and military nuclear primacy.
In the face of documented world-wide nuclear industry collapse, these guys want to revive what they call Eisenhower’s ‘humanitarian dream’ of Atoms for Peace (which spread deadly US nuclear technology around the world in the first place ) in order to, as Ike promised, “provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.”
Now, according to nuclear true-believers Nick and Mike, with the added benefit of saving civilization from climate change with new, ‘clean’ nuclear energy will be run on what they call ‘accident tolerant fuels’ – still a completely untested ‘nukes-for-ever’ concept.
The core element in their misguided pitch is that the decline of the civilian nuclear industry in the USA “would significantly undermine U.S. and Western national security interests.”
This, despite statistics showing that global investments in non-hydro renewables are now greater than the global investments in nuclear, hydro and fossil fuels combined.
Nuclear Policy Group-Think Adrift in a Sea of Delusion
Elsewhere in the news, a report by the pro-nuclear Energy Innovation Reform Project on the future costs of new nuclear in the USA notes that: “A sustained decline in the commercial industry could also have a negative impact on the U.S. nuclear naval program.”
A 2017 report entitled The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler by the Energy Futures Initiative – another pro-nuke shop established by former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz – clearly highlights the risks posed by US civilian nuclear decline to US naval supply chains.
Nukes on the Dole – Radioactive Welfare Queens
All of which may help to explain some strange recent developments.
Nuclear utilities are in trouble, fighting for life against – as Amory Lovins once predicted – ‘a massive overdose of market forces’ and the surging economics of renewables.
But wait. Whatever happened to ‘”the wisdom of the ‘free market’?” Around the country, as aging reactors reach the end of their operational and economic lives, some states like Wisconsin, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Nebraska are letting them die a dignified natural death. But other states, like New York and Illinois are putting their moribund reactors on life support at public expense. Projections suggest that state-sponsored electric ratepayer handouts in the two states could total as much as $10 billion over 12 years.
Tim Judson, Director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS),
warns that if other states follow New York and Illinois, “The price would be outrageous. If reactor subsidies go nationwide, it could cost $130-$280 billion by 2030.”
Earlier this year NukeWatch.org Directpr John LaForge reported on Counterpunch, https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/14/nuclear-power-bums-bailouts-and-bankruptcy/
“Bailout legislation for dilapidated reactors is now pending: in Connecticut, for Millstone 2 & 3; in New Jersey, for Salem 1 & 2 and Hope Creek; in Texas, for South Texas 1 & 2 and Comanche Peak 1 & 2; in Maryland, for Calvert Cliffs 1 & 2; and for nine reactors in Pennsylvania including Beaver Valley 1 & 2, Three Mile Island 1, Susquehanna 1 & 2, Limerick 1 & 2, and Peach Bottom 2 & 3.
Meanwhile America’s Trillion dollar nuclear arsenal upgrade goes forward, even as an overwhelming majority of United Nations states sign on to a treaty declaring the possession, use or threatened use of nuclear weapons illegal under international law.
In the face of the spreading renewed nuclear crackpotism noted above, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has been the driving force behind the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. ICAN will receive the Nobel Peace Prize Dec 10.
Atoms for Peace War
All of which suggests, you can’t advocate for nuclear reactors without indirectly advocating for nuclear weapons and radioactive waste. That’s because nuclear reactors are producers of both weapons material and radioactive waste. Ike was a nuclear conman. ‘Atoms for Peace’ have always been Atoms for War.
And, as Bennett Ramberg showed conclusively in his prescient, but tragically ignored, 1984 book Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril, its also because every nuclear reactor and radioactive waste storage site in the world are themselves nuclear-weapons-in-place for any enterprising terrorist.
Concluded Ramberg, “Because nuclear energy facilities contain such large inventories of biologically threatening radionuclides, they can make potentially useful radiological weapons when manipulated for strategic purposes.”
James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan, who contributed ideas for this article. Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production. He can be reached at email@example.com
“I would like to offer a disclosure. Twenty years ago I served as a federal administrative judge sitting on a licensing board [that] approved the dry cask storage system here at Diablo Canyon. At that time the chloride stress induced corrosion cracking was not known to the licensee, PG&E, was not known to the Licensing Board, was not known to Holtec [the manufacturer], so this is an evolving entirely new development.” – Dr. Peter Lam, Member of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee
San Onofre, nuclear power plant north of San Diego, and operated by Southern California Edison, was permanently shut down due to major engineering faults and mismanagement in 2013. Now over 1,600 tons of lethal highly irradiated ‘spent’ fuel is about to be partially buried near the beautiful San Clemente beach about a hundred feet from the Pacific surf and inches above the rising water level in this type of canister.
By James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan
Serious Corrosion Cracks and 20/20 Hindsight
Oops! Turns out tensile stress (like nuclear waste thin-wall storage canisters) and a corrosive environment (and a corrosive environment like moist salt-laden sea air) can cause through-wall cracks in thin stainless steel in 20 years (plus or minus a few years, but who’s counting?)
That’s what the canisters designed to contain the tons of lethal radioactive waste to be stored for who-knows-how-long at California’s Diablo Canyon and San Onofre seaside reactor sites are made of – only five-eighths inch stainless steel at San Onofre and one-half inch at Diablo Canyon – about the thickness of an average human’s little finger.
Diablo Canyon, nuclear power plant north of Santa Barbara and run by PG&E (of San Bruno gas explosion fame), is scheduled for shutdown in 2025.
Every year of operation Diablo produces
Actually, according to San Onofre operator, Edison’s Decommissioning and Chief Nuclear Director Tom Palmisano, all other nuclear utility reactor sites in the U.S. use this same type of canister. A few use better thick-wall storage casks, but the decision was made decades ago to choose cost over safety.
Is dry cask storage really safer than pools?
According to a report by Mothers for Peace, “As of November 2013, there were 2,848 waste units, called “spent fuel assemblies” (SFA), stored at Diablo…. Diablo’s spent fuel pools contained 1,920 assemblies. In addition, another 928 assemblies are stored in dry casks, generally considered a safer means of storing high level nuclear waste for prolonged periods of time.”
Generally considered a safer means,” maybe, until Dr. Lam’s disclosure (quoted above) at the Oct. 19, 2017 meeting of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee (DCISC) in San Luis Obispo, a disclosure which seems to throw into serious question the validity of the design basis of all planned and existing nuclear waste storage systems in California and elsewhere.
Both these reactor sites – soon both to be in decommissioning mode – sit on the Pacific coast over earthquake faults, in tsunami zones and in marine salt air environments – now known to be the optimal conditions for causing the ‘chloride stress induced corrosion cracking’ that Dr. Lam referred to in the meeting.
This is a quote from the Nov. 14, 2012 NRC Information Notice:
DESCRIPTION OF CIRCUMSTANCES
[ Video excerpts of the Oct. 19, 2017 DCISC meeting follow below, or may be viewed on EON’s YouTube Channel. ]
Credit Where Credit is Due
Prior to his disclosure, Dr. Lam, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission Administrative Judge Emeritus, made a point of expressing his appreciation for the work of San Clemente-based systems analyst Donna Gilmore, author of SanOnofreSafety.org, in bringing emerging research findings to official and public attention. “Ms. Gilmore’s research,” Lam said, “was one of the earliest efforts identifying and focusing on this important phenomenon of stress induced corrosion cracking. Thanks to Donna Gilmore’s efforts, public awareness of this important issue has increased substantially in the past several years,” Dr. Lam said.
DCISC member Dr. Per Peterson of UC Berkeley’s Nuclear Engineering Department, explained that America’s thin-walled canisters – unlike more robust, thicker-walled casks used elsewhere in the world – were originally designed not to be stored indefinitely at reactor sites, but for permanent burial in the planned deep geological repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which, for myriad scientific and political reasons, has not materialized, despite decades and billions of dollars of research.
Donna Gilmore’s research, however, found that utilities chose thin-wall canisters because they were less expensive, assuming they would only need to last 20 years. The nuclear industry is now trying to retrofit this inferior technology to function as part of a permanent repository, but that does not appear to be based on scientific evidence.
Cracking canisters containing forever deadly radioactivity on our streets, railways and waters?
As reported in our previous NoNukesCA post, A National Nuclear Waste Shell Game? – Yucca Mtn. Redux, HR 3053 – the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017 the so-called Shimkus Bill – after its author Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois – is now being hustled through the House of Representatives by California’s Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others. The Bill seeks to revive the defunct Yucca Mountain project and establish a network of Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) sites across the country in ‘consenting communities.’ These sites would accept radioactive waste from reactors like Diablo Canyon and San Onofre until the Yucca site or some other deep geological repository is ready to receive it at some unknown time in the future.
If this bill is passed, thousands of shipments of deadly radioactive waste would be moving on barges and on poorly-maintained railways and highways throughout our country almost daily for decades. Major disasters would seem unavoidable, with each canister of waste containing about the amount of radioactivity of a Chernobyl disaster just in the cesium alone. The American Society of Civil Engineers just gave U.S. infrastructure a D plus score in 2017. Climate change is rapidly eroding the already seriously degraded transportation systems through climate extremes, flooding, erosion, heat, freezing, etc.
All these dangers are exacerbated by the fact that no nuclear authorities have factored in the problem of potentially cracking canisters!!
These canisters, vulnerable to leaking from cracks in about 20 years, possibly sooner, must completely contain radioisotopes that remain deadly for thousands of years.
Scroll down for urgent actions against allowing thousands of Chernobyls on wheels, railways and barges!
Extreme Environmental Injustice
History shows that targeted ‘consenting communities’ would be, as usual, poor, minority, rural locations with little political clout, and with populations desperate for ‘jobs, jobs, jobs.’
Who, then, are the adults in the room on behalf of future generations?Which raises the question, how are these radioactively hot questions ultimately to be decided? What body DOES have ‘the remit?’ Who are the ‘adults in the room’ to responsibly finally decide these questions on behalf of all future generations?
A grassroots example of the ‘adults in the room:’
Linda Seeley is a spokesperson for Mothers for Peace, an organization insisting on safety at Diablo Canyon for over forty years. Linda eloquently spoke for those who may not have the power to resist being forced to take the deadly waste. She also pointed out that the various options for moving the waste will be decades in the making; and since transporting the waste has enormous risks, it should not be moved twice. So for the period of time that it will remain on the Diablo Canyon site, it should be put into the most robust available storage system that is able to be monitored to prevent leaks, is retrievable and transportable, and in a hardened building as close as possible to its present location. She furthered explained that rather than this long-lived deadly waste be put into a remote area and then forgotten, those in this region where the waste was generated must consciously oversee its storage until it can be safely moved to a permanent repository.
Donna Gilmore’s suggestions for the official agencies that should be the ‘adults in the room:’
The California Coastal Commission could deny Coastal permits based on the fact these thin-wall canisters cannot be transported with even partial cracks and San Onofre plans to destroy the spent fuel pool — the only on-site approved method to replace failing canisters.
The California Public Utilities Commission, CPUC can reject giving them funds to buy more of these canisters since they will need to be replaced prematurely and there is no funding in the Decommissioning Funds to do that. The thick-wall casks have a longer lifespan and can be inspected, maintained, repaired and monitored to prevent leaks — and they don’t have the cracking problems.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NRC can raise their minimum standards and enforce their regulations to require containers that can be inspected inside and out, maintained, repaired and monitored to prevent leaks. And enforce a requirement for transportability without cracks and mandate a plan in place to prevent and recover from leaks.
Congress can vote for a bill that mandates the DOE will not assume liability for containers that do not meet the above requirements. Instead, many appear to be voting for a bill that removes those requirements from the current Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
The media and entertainment industry can spread the word on these issues in a way grassroots activists cannot.
Nuke Free Movement Milestone
This meeting was not the first, but a significant milestone in the joining of citizens from both California’s remaining reactor communities in cooperatively addressing these issues from their respective points of view.
California’s regional activist communities at Diablo and San Onofre are now split between those pushing to get the waste ‘outa here’ by any means necessary to anywhere possible, ASAP; and those advocating for using the most robust storage system and locations currently achievable with minimal movement since the tons of radioactive waste must remain on-site for the foreseeble future. Even if HR 3053 were to pass, the temporary storage sites are still in design phase, lawsuits against it may take years to unravel and there are older reactor sites already in line for moving their radioactive waste.
These following video excerpts of the recent Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee meeting, edited by EON as a public service from archival coverage by SLO-Span.org, illustrate the urgency of these questions.
Dry Cask Risks Not Known When Design Approved by NRC
Make Diablo a Model of Responsible Radwaste Storage – Linda Seeley
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Waste Unsafely Stored – Donna Gilmore
PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Radwaste Storage Plans – Jearl Strickland
Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) official Jearl Strickland gives a slide presentation on his company’s plans for storing tons of lethally radioactive nuclear ’spent fuel’ at its Diablo Canyon reactor site for an unknown period.https://youtu.be/aieWYO_6E7w
Thanks to Diane D’Arrigo of NIRS for the info below:
WE REALLY NEED EVERYONE TO CALL THEIR US REPS and ASK THEM TO VOTE NO on HR 3053 NOW!!!
Please CALL 202-224-3121
Click for NIRS Alert:
The bill could come to the house floor any day or any week, most likely before Dec 8th, when the continuing budget resolution expires and new funding must be approved.RESOURCES and BACKGROUND:
San Onofre Safety posted documents that allow you to actually read the proposal (much of HR 3053 simply says “change section xyz” in the existing law to “new text abc”. Donna Gilmore has marked up the existing law with the changes that would be made by the Shimkus bill HR 3053. Worth taking a few minutes to review.
Color annotations https://sanonofresafety.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/nwpa1982withhr3053notescolor-dg.pdf (can take a few minutes to load)
Black and White annotations https://sanonofresafety.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/nwpa1982withhr3035notesbw-dg.pdf
Find other HR3053 related documents, including a version of the bill incorporating the approved amendments, at https://sanonofresafety.org/
NEIS in Chicago: Two reports from experts make great underpinning for talking to your US REP / their key staffers on nuclear transport. Mobile Chernobyl remains the biggest impact of either Consolidated I Storage or Yucca Mt. Shimkus (HR 3053) unleashes the biggest nuclear waste transport campaign possible.
Link # 1 ties impact of CLIMATE on transport / infrastructure in the Midwest. https://midwestepi.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/mepi-infrastructure-and-climate-change-final.pdf
Link #2 is an INFRASTRUCTURE REPORT CARD from Civil Engineers. March 9, 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/