The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 2018, HR 3053, known as the Shimkus Bill, passed the House last month on its way to the Senate.
It calls for restarting the failed Yucca Mountain Project in Nevada, and establishing a system of Consolidated Interim Storage (CIS) sites for radioactive waste around the country until Yucca is operational.
First on the list of possible ‘temporary’ CIS dumps is a site proposed by Holtec International and the local Eddy-Lea Alliance just outside Hobbs, New Mexico.
Its just over the border from Andrews, Co., Texas – where another high level nuke waste dump is also proposed.
"The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history.” Forbes Magazine, February 11, 1985
“The Age of Nuclear Power is winding down, but the Age of Nuclear Waste is just beginning.” – Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., President, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
A Planet is a Terrible Thing to (Radioactively) Waste
Lost in the fog of roadside distractions that assault us daily – White House chaos, a pornographic POTUS, Russia-gate, Kushner-gate, Saudi-gate, Torture-gate, Mueller-gate, School Shooting-gate(s), Tariff-gate, Stormy-gate, Facebook-gate, Cambridge Analytica-gate, Bolton-gate, Comey-gate, Syria-gate, Cohen-gate, etc. – its no surprise that the most existentially lethal, long-lived scandal to ever confront humanity is nowhere in the public consciousness.
Call it Radioactive Waste-gate.
High-Level radioactive waste (HLRW) from nuclear energy and weapons production contains uranium and plutonium and other toxic isotopes, which are well known to cause genetic damage, impaired immune systems, cancers and often, agonizing death in all living things – including humans.
An assembly of spent nuclear fuel, (SNF) can contain 10 to over 200 fuel rods – stacks of uranium pellets about the thickness of a finger, held together by zirconium cladding, a thin metal wrapping the thickness of heavy duty aluminum foil.
Benign sounding ’spent nuclear fuel’ (SNF) from nuclear reactors is incredibly radioactively and thermally hot. It has to be removed because after fissioning for months in the reactor to produce heat for electricity generation, it becomes too radioactive to efficiently cause chain reactions. So therefore, when it becomes “spent” and considered “waste” after being used, it is thousands of times more radioactive and more thermally hot than when it goes into the reactor.
High burnup fuel (HBF) is fuel that has burned about twice as long in a nuclear reactor as lower burnup fuel.
The longer the fuel bundles have been ‘burned’ to produce electricity in the reactor, the ‘hotter’ the rods become both in temperature and in radioactivity.
This increased burnup, although profitable to the nuclear industry, causes fuel cladding to become so brittle it can shatter like glass. It can also increase gas buildup, increasing potential for explosions at lower temperatures. Yet the NRC doesn’t think extra precaution with this fuel is necessary to handle, transport or store it.
Many of the human-made poisons in these fuel rods remain deadly for longer than humans have yet existed.
Once exposed to radioactive contamination substances like wood, metal, soil and water can never really be completely ‘cleaned up.’
Nobody really knows for sure the total amount of nuclear waste accumulated worldwide since the birth of the Atomic Age in the 1940s. The agency most likely to know, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) admits its estimates “are characterized by unavoidable uncertainty.”
After decades of producing the stuff, we still can’t accurately know how much we’ve got. That speaks volumes about the character of the international technocratic nuclear establishment.
A sampling of just 10 nuclear energy countries in 2007 estimated over 173,100 metric tons. A metric ton is about 2,200 pounds, so, in English, that translates to thirty-eight million, eight hundred and twenty thousand pounds of radioactive materials in just those nations.
By conservative estimate, millions of metric tons of high-level radioactive waste from seventy-plus years of nuclear weapons and energy production have now accumulated around the world.
According to World Mapper, around 8910 tonnes of heavy metal nuclear waste are generated each year. This waste mainly comes from nuclear power stations. Three territories produce over 1000 tonnes a year: the United States, Canada and France. Canada also produces the most waste per person living there, although Sweden is not far behind.
In the U.S. alone, the Department of Energy (DOE) currently ‘manages’ more than 250 types of highly radioactive so-called ‘spent nuclear fuel (SNF)’ totaling about 2,500 metric tons, most of which is stored at four locations: the Hanford Site in Washington State, the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina and the Fort St. Vrain Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation in Colorado.
But even the way radioactive waste is measured – ‘Metric Tons Heavy Metal’ or MTHM – is deceptive, intentionally or not. A DOE footnote reveals that not all radioactive elements are included in the total count:
Metric ton of heavy metal [MTHM] is a commonly used measure of the mass of nuclear fuel. Heavy metal refers to elements with an atomic number greater than 89 (e.g., thorium, uranium, and plutonium) in the fuel. The masses of other constituents of the fuel, such as cladding, alloy materials, and structural materials (and fission products in spent nuclear fuel), are not included in this measure….
How well these materials are ‘managed’ is indicated by the fact that 3 of the locations listed above are included among the 1322 Superfund sites on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Priorities List in the United States that are yet to be ‘cleaned up.’
Remembering that (even without the ‘other constituents’) a metric ton is about 2,200 pounds, that really means much more than a mind-numbing five million, five hundred thousand pounds of radwaste – that will remain lethal to all living things for longer that human civilization has yet existed – are scattered around the country with no known way of (maybe) isolating them from the environment for more than a few decades…at most.
And then, according to the EPA, there is also “more than a hundred million gallons of hazardous liquid waste’ from nuclear weapons production, and counting.
Tip of the Nuclear Waste ‘Iceberg’
But that’s not all. Thousands of additional metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel are currently in ‘temporary storage’ at nuclear energy reactor sites around the country in 35 states. According to the U.S. Energy Administration (EIA), “241,468 fuel assemblies, with an initial loading weight of about 70,000 metric tons of uranium (MTU), were discharged from and stored at 118 commercial nuclear reactors operating in the United States from 1968 through June 2013.”
The EIA reports, “There are 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 U.S. states…. Of these nuclear plants, 36 have two or more reactors.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), “A typical nuclear power plant in a year generates 20 metric tons [ or forty-four thousands pounds, minus ‘other constituents’ ] of used nuclear fuel. The nuclear industry generates a total of about 2,300 metric tons [ or four million, two hundred and ninety pounds – minus ‘other constituents’ ] of used fuel per year.”
The NEI estimates that if all U.S. used fuel assemblies were stacked end-to-end and side-by-side, they would cover a football field twenty-one feet deep. This seems like a very ‘conservative’ assessment.
In just the last five years, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), eighteen aging, embrittled reactors at fourteen nuclear power plants have either been shut down or scheduled for shuttering this decade. That means that even more radioactive fuel assemblies will eventually have to be stored at each existing reactor site for an indefinite period.
That's because, in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government agreed to take possession and responsibility for all nuclear energy reactor waste by the mid-1990s. That hasn’t happened, because no ‘permanent deep geological repository’ has been established. So the accumulating radwaste is what the industry calls ‘stranded’ at the nation’s reactor sites, and the boiling mad electric utilities are successfully suing the federal government – i.e. us taxpayers – for failing to comply with its promises.
That, in a nutshell, is the ‘nuclear constipation conundrum.’ Is there a radiological proctologist in the house?
Joined at the Hip From Birth – The Nuclear Weapons-Energy-Waste Nexus
“Perhaps today was the most exciting and thrilling day I have experienced. Our microchemists isolated pure element 94 (plutonium) for the first time…It is the first time that element 94 has been beheld by the eye of man.” – Glenn Seaborg
In 1939, alarmed that Hitler’s scientists were nearing success in developing an atomic bomb, a group of scientists including Albert Einstein (who, like others, later regretted it) and Edward Teller signed on to a letter to President Roosevelt advocating that the U.S. start its own nuclear bomb program.
On December 14, 1940, Dr. Glenn T. Seaborg and three colleagues created plutonium for the first time by means of deuteron bombardment of uranium in a 60-inch cyclotron at the University of California in Berkeley. Soon after, it was discovered that an isotope of the new element, plutonium-239, could undergo fission and be used as fuel for an atomic bomb.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Plutonium Project was started at the University of Chicago. Its goal was to learn how to create a chain reaction using plutonium-239 and make a bomb. Taken over by the Army the next year, it became the Manhattan Project and the rest is history.
It took just six kilograms of fissionable plutonium to fuel the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki less than five years later.
Nobel Laureate physicist Niels Bohr was asked if sufficient uranium-235 and -238 could be separated to produce nuclear bombs. “It can never be done,” he replied, “unless you turn the United States into one huge factory.” Years later he would say to Edward Teller, “You have done just that.”
In his article, “The Plutonium Problem” in Helen Caldicott’s recent anthology Sleepwalking to Armageddon, Bob Alverez points out that,
Nuclear power involves dual-use technologies that can be used to develop nuclear weapons. In fact, the first major U.S. generator of nuclear-power electricity in the 1960s was a dual-purpose reactor operating at the Hanford site producing plutonium for the U.S. nuclear weapons program.
One out of five power reactors in operation throughout the world currently is based on original designs to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. In 2015 the International Atomic Energy Agency estimated that nuclear power plants generated 380,500 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel, which contain roughly 3,800 tons of plutonium. (pp 42-43)
The “Atoms for Peace” Propaganda Ploy
As Arjun Makhijani and Scott Saleska show in their 1999 book, Nuclear Power Deception, “Cold War propaganda rather than economic reasoning was a driving force behind the rush to build a commercial nuclear power plant in the United States.”
Having come out of World War II as global Top Dog, U.S. military planners wanted to keep it that way. They saw nuclear weapons superiority as their path to what they have now come to call global ‘full spectrum dominance’ of land, sea, air and space. But, what if the Soviets got their first? Not wanting to be seen as the nukemongers they were, they came up with a cover story: ‘Atoms for Peace.’
The ‘Nuclear Power Deception‘ authors note that Atomic Energy Commissioner Thomas Murray stated in 1953 that peaceful applications of the power to the atom ‘increases the propaganda capital of the U.S. relative to the Soviet Union. [NPD p3 ]
But, corporations and utilities were at first reluctant to undertake the technical and financial risks of building a privately owned nuclear power industry. Their reticence was overcome by huge government (i.e. tax payer) subsidies and indemnification. It came in the form of tax-breaks and the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, which limited the industry’s financial liability. Any overages were to be covered by the public purse. But even that was limited to far below what is now known to be the likely financial cost of a major disaster on the scale of Chernobyl or Fukushima.
Parenthetically, it is telling that, even today, more than half a century later, the nuclear power industry is still dependent on government subsidies for its continued existence. Utilities like those in New York and Illinois are currently seeking – and receiving – ‘bailouts’ from state governments and ratepayers to keep their ageing, embrittled, dangerous, obsolete, uneconomical power reactors running. This, in a capitalist, so-called ‘free market economy’ supposedly based on survival-of-the-fittest ‘competition.’
One of the conclusions of the Makhijani and Saleska study is that
Nuclear power became established in the market place at a low price in the 1960s as a result of government subsidies, lack of adequate attention to safety systems, and an early decision by manufacturers to take heavy losses on initial orders. Costs increased when these advantages were reduced.
Even then, the leading competitors G.E. and Westinghouse decided to enter the market at a loss, fearing other developing generation approaches – including solar – would make nuclear power obsolete. A General Electric vice-president of the time explained,
If we couldn’t get orders out of the utility industry, with every tick of the clock it became progressively more likely that some competing technology would be developed that would supersede the economic viability of our own. Our people understood this was a game of massive stakes and that if we didn’t force the utility industry to put those stations on line, we’d end up with nothing.
So, from the very beginning – even for many insiders in what was to become known as ‘the Nuclear Priesthood’ and ‘the Cult of the Atom’ – the push to deploy a national fleet of large energy reactors seemed like a cockamamie idea.
Makhijani and Saleska cite a 1948 Atomic Energy Commission Report authored by leading nuclear scientists of the time, including Enrico Fermi, Glenn Seaborg, and J.R. Oppenheimer that warned against ‘unwarranted optimism,’ pointing out the ‘many technical difficulties’ that would have to be overcome.
Chief among those, they knew, was the unsolved and perhaps insolvable problem of what to do with the radioactive waste.
Early ‘Loud Guffaws’ and Skepticism Were Ignored, but Warranted
“It is safe to say,” then GE Vice President, C.G. Suits opined in 1950, “…that atomic power is not the means by which man will for the first time emancipate himself economically. Loud guffaws could be heard from some of the laboratories working on this problem if anyone should, in an unfortunate moment, refer to the atom as the means for throwing off man’s mantle of toil. It is certainly not that! …This is expensive power, not cheap power as the public has been led to believe.” [NPD p3]
By 1985, Suits prediction had proven correct. Forbes Magazine (no radical rag) would conclude on the basis of copious evidence, "The failure of the U.S. nuclear power program ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history.” Forbes Magazine, February 11, 1985. That observation is born out in spades today by subsequent developments.
The count varies depending on the criteria used, but, combining ‘broken arrow’ weapons accidents and nuclear reactor accidents there have for sure been over 100 serious nuclear accidents since the 1950’s.
The Guardian, working from various sources, has identified 33 serious events at power reactors around the world since 1952.
Nuclear 'events' worldwide.
According to the 2013 World Nuclear Industry Status Report, the 2011 triple-meltdown at Fukushima takes the cake for the worst nuclear power disaster in history. Its total atmospheric releases so far are estimated to be between 5.6 and 8.1 times that of Chernobyl, which formerly held the record. And it continues to pour nuclear pollution into the Pacific Ocean with no end in sight. Despite government and industry assurances, the Fukushima disaster is still out of control, eight years on and counting.
The cumulative effect of all these radioactive releases over the last eight decades is that the biosphere and the gene pool will never be the same.
Fukushima Fallout Continues
By official tally, the US carried out 1054 nuclear tests, and two nuclear attacks between 16 July 1945 and 23 September 1992. There were probably more. According to the Arms Control Association,
Since the first nuclear test explosion on July 16, 1945, at least eight nations have detonated 2,056 nuclear test explosions at dozens of test sites from Lop Nor in China, to the atolls of the Pacific, to Nevada, to Algeria where France conducted its first nuclear device, to western Australia where the U.K. exploded nuclear weapons, the South Atlantic, to Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan, across Russia, and elsewhere.
Most of the test sites are in the lands of indigenous peoples and far from the capitals of the testing governments. A large number of the early tests—528—were detonated in the atmosphere, which spread radioactive materials through the atmosphere. Many underground nuclear blasts have also vented radioactive material into the atmosphere and left radioactive contamination in the soil.
The Pacific was the epicenter of many of the atmospheric bomb tests by France and the US. Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested 67 nuclear weapons on the Marshall Islands. The Marshallese are still suffering devastating health and genetic consequences for which Washington could never adequately compensate them, even if it wanted to. Which it doesn’t.
The traces of those tests still remain in the form of Cesium-137 as well as other heavy fission products. A half-life of 30 years means that C-137 remains dangerous to all living things and to humans for a generation or more. Because it is chemically reactive and highly soluble, it can contaminate large volumes of water, like, say, the Pacific Ocean.
Since Fukushima in 2011, the Pacific has once again become the epicenter of radioactive pollution, with gallons of radioactive water now seeping daily into the ocean eight years after the still-on-going disaster began, and with thousands of tons of tritium-contaminated water accumulating in tanks on-site.
Since the level of C-137 from the atmospheric testing era is known, any rise detected by current measurements is certain to be coming from Fukushima, and measurements are going up.
For several year now, citizens’ groups like Fukushima Response and Mothers for Peace up and down the west coast have been working with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to measure C-137 contamination levels in seawater samples. In a crowd-funded project founded by Woods Hole scientist Dr. Ken Busseler, citizen scientists periodically gather 5-gallon samples and ship them to him for analysis. The results are posted on the project’s website, OurRadioactiveOcean.org.
According to the Project’s March report, “It is important to note that, prior to these events in 2011, there was already measurable amounts of radioactive fallout in the ocean left over from the testing of nuclear weapons that peaked in the 1960’s. For cesium-137, levels in Pacific Ocean surface waters were generally below 2.0 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). We now see cesium-137 levels above this level at locations along coastlines in California, Oregon, Washington, British Colombia ,and Hawaii, as well as higher levels offshore…. This increase, as well as our finding of cesium-134 in these elevated samples, provides clear evidence that Fukushima contamination has reached our shores.”
Confronting the Nuclear Constipation Conundrum – The Planetarian Perspective
Its a global societal problem, and the definition of insanity is to keep doing what doesn’t work. So, for starters, let’s just stop making more.
As we have seen, the international nuclear establishment has a very big constipation problem, as the current phrase has it, ‘going forward.’ But it has already left a huge collective deposit of radwaste in the planetary biosphere.
Nuclear weapons testing, uranium mine tailings, ‘routine’ reactor emissions and leaking, irremediably polluting radioactive waste sites have already permanently contaminated the planet with plutonium – a literally ‘manmade’ toxin – not to mention all its many naturally-occurring isotopic relations.
There is no known way to reverse or remediate this. But there are known ways of not making it worse.
Hardened On-Site Storage – A Least-Worse Choice for the Time Being
Back in 2002, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), coined the phrase "Hardened On-Site Storage, or HOSS.” the basic concept of which he unveiled at an east coast conference on radioactive waste convened by the prominent advocacy group Citizens Awareness Network (CAN).
CAN commissioned Dr. Gorden Thompson to develop the concept and in 2003, his Institute for Resource and Security Studies published a report entitled “Robust Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel: A Neglected Issue of Homeland Security.”
Thompson’s report noted that, unlike a SNF storage pool which require constant cooling water, electrical power and operator attention, a dry cask ISFSI is passively safer because the modules are convection cooled by air circulation.
“Nevertheless,” the Report continued, “these modules are not designed to resist a determined attack. Moreover, ISFSI modules are comparatively easy to attack, because they are stored in the open air in a closely-spaced array. Thus, nuclear power plants and their spent fuel can be regarded as pre-deployed radiological weapons that await activation by an enemy. The US government acts as if it were unaware of this threat.”
Possible modes of attack listed by the 2003 Report included: commando-style raids; land-vehicle bombs; anti-tank missiles; commercial aircraft; explosive-laden smaller aircraft; and a low-kilotonne nuclear weapon. Since the Report’s publication additional possible modes have emerged including cyber attack, directed energy weapons, and remote-controlled drones, but appropriate security measures at reactor sites still remain woefully inadequate to defend against them.
Basic Hardended On-Site Storage (HOSS) design.
HOSS Concept Refined
BeyondNuclear.org’s Kevin Kamps reports that, in the years since Makhijani’s and Thompson’s early work, the HOSS concept has been collaboratively developed by over 300 nuclear safety advocacy groups from all 50 states into a unanimously approved statement of guiding principals.
Pool Design – Require a low-density, open-frame layout for fuel pools, to provide air-current cooling.
Protect the pools – The pools must be protected to withstand an attack by air, land, or water from a force at least equal in size and coordination to the 9/11 attacks. The security improvements must be approved by a panel of experts independent of the nuclear industry and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. [ Because they depend on outside power for their operation, and so are vulnerable to grid blackouts, as Fukushima showed, pools must have reliable back-up power sources on-site. ]
Harden the ISFSI – Waste moved from fuel pools must be safeguarded in hardened, on-site storage (HOSS) facilities as close as safely as possible to the point of generation.
Above Ground and Bermed, Not Buried – HOSS facilities must not be regarded as a permanent waste solution, and thus should not be constructed underground
Minimize Transport – Moving waste to interim, away-from-reactor storage should not be done unless the reactor site is unsuitable for a HOSS facility and the move increases the safety and security of the waste.
Monitored & Retrievable – Fuel must be able to be retrieved, as well as constantly monitored in real-time for radiation, temperature and pressure, with records easily accessible by the public.
Design criteria: (1) Resistance to severe attacks, such as a direct hit by high-explosive or deeply penetrating weapons and munitions or a direct hit by a large aircraft loaded with fuel or a small aircraft loaded with fuel and/or explosives, without major releases. (2) Placement of individual canisters that will makedetection difficult from outside the site boundary.
Require periodic review of HOSS facilities and fuel pools – An annual report consisting of the review of each HOSS facility and fuel pool should be prepared with meaningful participation from public stakeholders, regulators, and utility managers at each site.
Dedicate Funding to local and state governments to independently monitor the sites: Funding for monitoring the HOSS facilities at each site must be provided to affected local and state governments. The affected public must have the right to fully participate.
Prohibit Reprocessing – The reprocessing of irradiated fuel has not solved the nuclear waste problem in any country, and actually exacerbates it by creating numerous additional waste streams that must be managed. In addition to being expensive and polluting, reprocessing also increases nuclear weapons proliferation threats.
The U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board
In 1987, the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board was established to ”…evaluate the technical and scientific validity of activities [related to managing and disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste] undertaken by the Secretary [of Energy], including
site characterization activities; and
activities relating to the packaging or transportation of high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel."
Made up of 11 Presidential appointees with distinguished records in their fields and no employment ties to the DOE, the Board has robust investigatory powers, and, while it has no decision-making authority, is able to comment on DOE proposed decisions before, not after, they are made.
These are brilliant, presumably well-intentioned people, at the top of their professional games, with a clear mandate to address in a clear-minded, objective, science-based fashion the radwaste challenges that will be facing humankind into the deep future.
In a December, 2017 report, the Board made a series of recommendations based on its recent investigations. Among them was that all storage containers should be moniterable for hydrogen gas pressure build-up, and be able to have such pressure released if found. None of the thousands of existing canisters currently stored at US reactor sites have that capacity.
At a recent day-long meeting, the Board heard power point presentations from an international panel of experts on the problems involved in long-term storage. It was not a pretty picture. In the subsequent Q&A period Board Member Dr. Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, a Hydrology and Earth Surface Processes specialist and Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, posed a pivotal question to the assembled panel. Pointing out that the many remaining technical uncertainties about geological sequestering of radwaste are creating political and institutional delays in moving forward, she asked, “Are the ecological challenges smaller, equal to or bigger than the institutional, social challenges?”
The experts on the panel essentially responded, “‘Hey, you know, the technology is evolving. We can’t stop doing what we’re doing, just because, after more than seventy years, we still don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re all very smart people. If something goes wrong, we’ll study it and come up with something….’ One might say, that’s the story of the Atomic Age.
Ironically, by law the Board will cease to exist the same year the DOE begins loading HLW or SNF into a central repository – just when you’d think their continued oversight would be most needed!
Into the Deep Future – Abandonment vs. Rolling Stewardship
Fortunately, the officially approved ‘experts’ are not the only ones working on these challenges. As they have throughout the Atomic Age, grassroots citizen organizations and their independent scientific advisors are thinking hard about them, too.
At a recent national Radioactive Waste Strategic Planning Conference hosted in Chicago by Illinois-based power industry watchdog group the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS.org), and attended by activists from around North America, Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility ( http://ccnr.org/ ) argued passionately that the radioactive waste conundrum is a trans-generational challenge to the entire global society, which can only be met by clearly established international norms.
Consistent with the HOSS principles, Dr. Edwards has developed the concept of ‘Rolling Stewardship.’ He contrasts it with current approaches, which he characterizes as mere ‘abandonment.’
He lays out his argument like this:
· Abandonment is based on the concept of amnesia: let’ s forget it!
· Rolling Stewardship is based on the persistence of memory: look after it!
· Rolling Stewardship allows timely corrective action to be taken when needed.
· Rolling Stewardship imparts all relevant information to the next generation.
· A 20-year “changing of the guard” transfers responsibility and resources.
· Rolling Stewardship ensures monitoring, robust packaging, and retrievability.
· It implies re-characterization of the wastes and repackaging when necessary
· This is not a solution – it is a responsible waste management scheme.
· Rolling Stewardship is required until a genuine solution can be found.
· A permanent solution might involve destruction or neutralization of the wastes.
· We know how to look after this waste and we must be prepared to do it.
Dr. Edwards explains how to tell them apart:
The Concept of Abandonment
1. Humans have never permanently disposed of anything.
2. Assumes a permanent solution to waste problem exists.
3. Monitoring the waste ceases after abandonment.
4. Retrieval is difficult or impossible.
5. Containers will inevitably disintegrate.
6. If leakage occurs timely corrective action is not likely.
7. Abondonment will eventually result in amnesia.
8. Difficulty in communicating to unknown future societies.
9. No intention to truly solve the problem of nuclear waste.
The Concept of Rolling Stewardship
1. Human can contain waste securely for decades at a time.
2. Recognizes a solution to the problem does not yet exist.
3. Continual monitoring of waste is essential.
4. Retrieval is anticipated and actively planned for.
5. Periodic repackaging is an integral part of the process.
6. If leakage occurs timely corrective action will be taken.
7. Rolling Stewardship is based on persistence of memory.
8. Information is readily transmitted to the next generation.
9. Ongoing reminder that the problem remains to be solved
Quoth the Radioactive Raven, ‘Forevermore.’
One can always hope, of course, stocasticity happens. It’s conceivable that some future transmutational technology will emerge to morph plutonium and all its deadly relatives into gold, or an elixir of immortality. (The quest for this elixir well be the topic of another article.) But, from what we’ve just reviewed – except in the minds of perpetual nuclear True Believers – there seems little basis for optimism.
What does seem clear, though, is that there will never be a truly ‘post-nuclear future’ or a really ‘nuclear free world.’
Maybe we can get to a nuclear energy and weapons free world, – and we must work for that no matter what the odds – but at this point it looks like there will never again be a radioactive waste free planet. This is heavy karma. No other civilization has both disrupted the global climate and poisoned the planetary gene pool.
The great American philosopher W.C. Fields advised, “There comes a time in human affairs when we must seize the bull by the tail and stare the situation squarely in the face.”
After over seven decades of nuclear denialism, denial is no longer an option.
Its time we took Fields’ advice and seize the radwaste bull by the tail.
It’s our legacy to all future generations and it’s our responsibility to agree on the least-worse, least environmentally and racially un-just way of managing radwaste…forevermore.
If passed by the Senate, the 'Shimkus Bill' would repoot Yucca Mt. and launch a "Fukushima Freeway' on rickety roads and rails across the country. Source: The Waste Control Specialists
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.
DOOMSDAY MACHINE author Daniel Ellsberg addresses a nuclear abolition rally, August, 2017. EON photo
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.
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.
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.
Daniel Ellsberg (center) waits to be arrested at the gate of Livermore Lab, Hiroshima Day protest, 2017. EON. photo
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.
Daniel Ellsberg addresses an abolition rally. EON photo
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.
He is not alone among former nuclear war planners that have become nuclear abolitionists in their later years. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, here and here
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.
TheDoomsday 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:
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.”
_________________________________________________________________________ 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 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,
“PG&E’s plan to close Diablo Canyon was the result of a carefully negotiated agreement that includes an escape clause triggered if the CPUC “fails to adopt” the plan “in its entirety and without modification.” It’s worth a little detour to provide background on what is known about how that agreement came about and who was a party to the agreement.
“On June 21, 2016, the Natural Resources Defense Council issued a press release revealing that it had signed a deal with PG&E, Friends of the Earth (FOE), Environment California, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 (IBEW 1245), Coalition of California Utility Employees (CCUE), and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility (A4NR) that would result in DCNPP closing when its operating licenses expire – unit 1 in 2024 and unit 2 in 2025.
“PG&E would immediately halt its effort to renew the plant operating licenses for an additional 20 years. The other parties agreed that they would support PG&E’s request to the California Lands Commission for an extension of the permit allowing them access to the segment of the coast housing their cooling water system.
“The permit authorizing the structures that supply and receive ocean water to occupy coastal land was expiring in 2018, several years before the plant’s operating licenses.”
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.
Longtime Abalone Alliance activist and archivist Roger Herried has pointed out that “PG&E acknowledged during the State Lands Commission hearings that nearly half of the Diablo’s power is no longer needed – not to mention federal law requires that they are required to maintain an exact amount of very expensive backup power that could also be removed from the grid once DC is gone – so the incentives at this point are large for [PG&E] to get out of SLO [San Luis Obispo] – even though the town had been screaming for its continuation as it brings in such a large amount of local taxes – and way above normal rank and file jobs — One SLO paper said the average income for workers there is over $150K.”
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.”
Stay Tuned… All these actors and factors swirling in California’s nuclear drama will unfold in the next weeks and months.
Watch this space for updates.
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