Karl Grossman - Investigative Reporter and Professor of Journalism


The Times of Israel

Obama, the Iran Deal and Plutonium

July 16, 2015

By Karl Grossman

Karl GrossmanPresident Barack Obama insisted at his press conference yesterday, in which he defended his nuclear deal with Iran, that with it Iran “is cut off from plutonium”—the preferred fuel for atomic bombs. Meanwhile, he has also said it is OK for Iran to have a “peaceful” nuclear power program. As he stated in his Cairo speech in 2009, “any nation—including Iran—should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power.”

This ignores a central issue about nuclear technology: there’s no “peaceful nuclear power.” Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are two sides of the same coin.

As physicist Amory Lovins and attorney L. Hunter Lovins wrote in their seminal book, Energy/War: Breaking the Nuclear Link: “All nuclear fission technologies both use and produce fissionable materials that are or can be concentrated. Unavoidably latent in those technologies, therefore, is a potential for nuclear violence and coercion which may be exploited by governments, factions…Little strategic material is needed to make a weapon of mass destruction. A Nagasaki-yield bomb can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium, a piece the size of a tennis ball.”

“A large power reactor,” they noted, “annually produces…hundreds of kilograms of plutonium.” Civilian nuclear power technology, they concluded, provides the way to make nuclear weapons, furnishing the material and the trained personnel.

Indeed, that’s how India got The Bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a nuclear reactor to be used for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons.

As the late oceanographer Jacques Cousteau emphasized: “Human society is too diverse, national passion too strong, human aggressiveness too deep-seated for the peaceful and warlike atom to stay divorced for long. We cannot embrace one while abhorring the other; we must learn, if we want to live at all, to live without both.”

It was the U.S. with its “Atoms for Peace” program in the 1950s that encouraged Iran to develop nuclear power. Since the rupture of relations between the countries with the Iranian revolution of 1979, Russia has stepped in. Russia completed what is Iran’s first nuclear power plant, Bushehr I, started in 1975 by German companies that stopped work after the Iranian revolution.

Russia agreed to complete the nuclear power plant, which opened in 2011, on the condition that the “spent” fuel from it—from which plutonium for weapons could be extracted—would be sent back to Russia for “reprocessing.”

(In a nuclear power plant, 97 percent of the uranium fuel is Uranium-238 which does not fission or split. Only 3 percent is Uranium-235 which does fission or split and it is from this reaction that comes the heat used to boil water, turn a turbine and generate electricity. However, much of the Uranium-238 will, in proximity to fission, absorb a neutron and change to another element, Plutonium-239. Plutonium-239 is highly radioactive and has a half-life of 24,100 years, thus it’s radioactive for 240,000 years. Plutonium is a manmade element. Plutonium-239 was first produced in the 1940s during the World War II Manhattan Project, the crash program to make atomic bombs, as an alternative to highly-enriched uranium as a fuel in atomic weapons. The bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima was fueled with highly-enriched uranium (90 percent U-235).The bomb dropped on Nagasaki utilized Plutonium 239—as have virtually all atomic bombs since.)

The plan now is for Bushehr I to be followed by more nuclear power plants in Iran. Russia and Iran last year signed a deal under which Russia would construct two more nuclear power plants on the Bushehr site “with a possibility of six more after that,” the New York Times reported in opening its article on that deal.

In the new deal, spent fuel from the Arak nuclear reactor—believed to be a plutonium production reactor although Iran has claimed it built for research and also production of isotopes for medical and industrial use—would also be shipped out of Iran for reprocessing.

Obama insisted at yesterday’s press conference: “With this deal we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program”—and he then corrected himself and said—”a nuclear weapons program.”

Still, even with arrangements to send out of Iran spent nuclear fuel from which Plutonium-239 could be obtained for atomic bombs, there’s the matter of the time it would take for any shipment out of Iran to happen.

The Arms Control Association in an article on the original Iran-Russia deal to ship spent fuel from Bushehr to Russia raised the “question” of “how long it will need to remain in cooling pools located in Iran before being sent to Russia.” It cited “a Russian official’s estimate” that “the fuel needs two years to cool. However, other Russian officials have told their U.S. counterparts that the fuel must stay in Iran between three and five years, a Department of State official told Arms Control Today.”

Having spent nuclear fuel remain in Iran for years could provide plenty of time to separate some of the Plutonium-239 out of it and thus serve as a “pathway” to “a nuclear weapons program.” Moreover,  because, as the Lovins wrote, “a few kilograms of plutonium” is all that’s needed for a “Nagasaki-yield bomb,” the hundreds of kilograms of Plutonium-239 routinely produced each year as a byproduct in a nuclear power plant provides a large amount of material to draw from.

Obama at the press conference yesterday also placed great faith in a key U.S. negotiator of the deal, Ernest Moniz, who he appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy in 2013. He described Moniz at the press conference as a “nuclear expert from MIT.”

Moniz is also a great booster of nuclear power. In a 2011 essay in Foreign Affairs magazine, titled “Why We Still Need Nuclear Power,” he wrote: “In the years following the major accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, nuclear power fell out of favor, and some countries applied the brakes to their nuclear programs. In the last decade, however, it began experiencing something of a renaissance.”  He went on that “the movement lost momentum” with the Fukushima nuclear power disaster in Japan earlier that year with it causing “widespread public doubts about the safety of nuclear power to resurface. Germany announced an accelerated shutdown of its nuclear reactors, with broad public support.”

But, Moniz insisted: “It would be a mistake…to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits…Nuclear power’s track record of providing clean and reliable electricity compares favorably with other energy sources.” He added that “the public needs to be convinced that nuclear power is safe.”

With Moniz, a nuclear power cheerleader, integral at the negotiation table, how much concern would be focused on the proliferation of atomic weaponry from “peaceful” nuclear power?

Obama at the press conference also placed great faith in the monitoring for compliance with the deal by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The establishment of that agency was a direct result of the U.S. “Atoms for Peace” effort. President Dwight Eisenhower’s in speech declaring “Atoms for Peace” made at the UN in 1953 proposed an international agency to promote civilian atomic energy and, at the same time, to control the use of nuclear material — a dual role paralleling that of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. But in 1974, the AEC was abolished after the U.S. Congress concluded its two roles were a conflict of interest.

Still, the IAEA, set up in the AEC’s image and riddled with the same conflict of interest, continues to operate.  With its stated mission “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy,” it unabashedly promotes nuclear power—at the same time trying to police that same power.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy and in charge of construction of America’s first nuclear power plant, Shippingport in Pennsylvania, opened in 1957, saw the light regarding nuclear power decades later—and voiced his completely changed position.

In a “farewell address” in 1982, to a committee of the U.S. Congress, Rickover bluntly declared that the world must “outlaw nuclear reactors.”

He said it had been “impossible to have any life on earth: that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. Gradually, about 2 billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some for some form of life to begin.”

“Now,” he continued, “when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible.… Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”

As for atomic weaponry, Rickover said the “lesson of history” is that nations in war “will use whatever weaponry they have.”

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The Mad Science of Nuclear Airplanes

July 10, 2015

By Karl Grossman

Consider getting on to an airplane with nuclear-powered engines.

Consider the consequences if an atomic airplane crashes.

The Boeing Company last week received approval from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for an airplane engine that combines the use of lasers and nuclear power.

“Boeing’s newly-patented engine provides thrust in a very different and rather novel manner,” heralded Business Insider.

It’s a leap into mad science—and backwards to a 1950s notion of nuclear-powered aircraft.

The patent approval to America’s biggest airplane manufacturer comes as solar power and green fuels are being shown to be feasible energy sources for flight—as they are for uses on earth.

Last week an airplane using only solar power, Solar Impulse 2, landed in Hawaii after flying across the Pacific. It’s to go on flying around the world. Also last week, in an expansion of the use of biofuels for aviation, United Airlines announced the start of flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco of jets using fuel derived from farm waste. United further said it will invest $30 million in one of the major producers of jet bio-fuels, Fulcrum BioEnergy.

The Boeing scheme would have lasers in an airplane engine bombard deuterium or tritium causing a nuclear explosion with its force providing thrust.

Business Insider features a video on its website page with its article on the Boeing patent that features, Deepak Gupta, founder of PatentYogi, a YouTube channel. Gupta declares: “This is another cool invention from Boeing. Boeing has patented nuclear power aircrafts. The engines of these aircrafts include a unique propulsion system.”

As Gupta explains the process:

“A stream of pellets containing nuclear material such as deuterium or tritium is fed into a hot-spot within a thruster of the aircraft. Then multiple high powered laser beams are all focused onto the hot spot. The pellet is instantly vaporized and the high temperature causes a nuclear fusion reaction. In effect, it causes a tiny nuclear explosion that scatters atoms and high energy neutrons in all directions. This flow of material is concentrated to exit out of the thruster thus propelling the aircraft forward with great force.”

“And this is where Boeing has done something extremely clever,” Gupta continues. “The inner walls of the thruster are coated with…Uranium-238 that undergoes a nuclear fission reaction upon being struck by high energy neutrons. This releases enormous energy in the form of heat. A coolant is circulated along the inner walls to pick up this heat and power a turbine which in turn generates huge amounts of electric power. And guess what this electric power is used for? To power the same lasers that created the electric power.”

“Soon,” says Gupta, “tiny nuclear bombs exploding inside a plane may be business as usual.” He adds: “I would love to use these non-polluting aircraft.”

Is the Boeing scheme really the basis for mon-polluting aircraft?

No way, says Jim Riccio, nuclear analyst for Greenpeace. “Since the supposed ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ [the effort to build more nuclear power plants] is dead in the west, there are some who are stretching to find applications for nuclear power—and this is a very long stretch.”

“Imagine getting into an airplane that has minor nuclear explosions for propulsion,” said Riccio. And “what about the implications of such an aircraft going down? We just saw an F-16 come down over South Carolina, its jet engine landing in someone’s backyard.”

“Meanwhile, we have breakthroughs in solar energy—to the extent of that solar plane showing solar’s potential,” said Riccio. “Solar energy is being used to accomplish things that nuclear couldn’t, as we watch solar costs plummet and nuclear go through the roof. The future is solar, not nuclear, despite Boeing’s attempt.”

Garry Morgan, long experienced in radiation issues including as a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare specialist in the U.S. Army, notes that “this is not the first time atomic engines for aircraft have been tried.”

In the 1950s the U.S. military developed nuclear-powered aircraft but ran into the huge problem of requiring “heavy shielding” to protect pilots and crew from radioactivity, noted Morgan. He is now director of community radiation and health monitoring for the Bellafonte Efficiency & Sustainability Team—Mothers Against Tennessee River Radiation, initiatives of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

In the military’s Nuclear Energy for Propulsion of Aircraft project of the 50s, ground tests were conducted of atomic airplane engines. A B-36 bomber was renamed an NB-36—NB for Nuclear Bomber—and made numerous test flights with an onboard reactor operating although not used to power engines.

Regarding the Boeing scheme, the result of the Uranium-238 being struck by neutrons would be some it being transformed into Plutonium-239, said Morgan. Plutonium has long been described as the most toxic radioactive substance, and Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,100 years, thus once created it remains radioactive for 240,000 years.

“I don’t understand how they are going to overcome the emissions problems and how the shielding issue would be handled,” said Morgan.

As to a crash of an airplane with atomic engines, “It would be a real mess. You’d have lethal material spread all over the place.”

The patent lists Boeing, based in Chicago, as “applicant” and the “inventors” of the proposed engine as: Frank O. Chandler, director of Advanced Vehicle Subsystems and Technologies at Boeing’s The Phantom Works; Boeing engineer James S. Herzberg; and Robert J. Budica, who has been Boeing’s director of strategic technologies.

“As of now,” says Business Insider, “the engine lives only in patent documents. The technology is so-out-there that it’s unclear if anyone will ever use it.”

In a 1960 book, Nuclear Flight: The United States Air Force Program for Atomic Jets, Missiles, and Rockets, edited by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth F. Glantz, then Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Development, Lt. General Roscoe C. Wilson, spoke of nuclear bombers with “unlimited range” being on “missions of several days duration.”

Nukespeak: the Selling of Nuclear Technology in the US by Stephen Hilgartner, Richard C. Bell and Rory O’Connor, published in 1983 with a new e-book edition in 2011, relates:

“Atomic-powered airplanes would make long-distance bombing easier, since the planes were expected to be able to circle the globe without refueling.” As late as 1959, it notes, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were assuring Congress of the military potential of nuclear-powered aircraft and urging that they be built. But nixing the program in 1961—after more than $1 billion in 1950s dollars had been spent—was then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who told Congress that an atomic airplane would “expel some fraction of radioactive fission products into the atmosphere, creating an important public relations problem if not an actual physical hazard.”

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The Perils of Nuclear-Powered Space Flights

June 29, 2015

By Karl Grossman

NASA has released a study claiming there is a need for continued use of plutonium-energized power systems for future space flights. It also says the use of actual nuclear reactors in space “has promise” but “currently” there is no need for them.

The space plutonium systems—called radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGS)—use the heat from the decay of plutonium to generate electricity in contrast to nuclear reactors, usually using uranium, in which fission or atom-splitting takes place.

The “Nuclear Power Assessment Study” describes itself as being done as a “collaboration” involving “NASA centers,” among them Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “the Department of Energy and its laboratories including Los Alamos National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories,” and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

The study, released this month, comes as major breakthroughs have been happening in the use of solar and other benign sources of power in space. The situation parallels that on Earth as solar and wind power and other clean, safe technologies compete with nuclear, oil, coal and other problematic energy sources and the interests behind them.

Examples of the use of benign power in space include the successful flight in May of a solar-powered spacecraft named LightSail in a mission funded by members of the Planetary Society. Astronomer Carl Sagan, a founder of the society, was among those who have postulating having a spacecraft with a sail propelled through the vacuum of space by the pressure of photons emitted by the sun. LightSail demonstrates his vision.

Yet, meanwhile, NASA cancelled its own solar sail mission scheduled for this year. It was to involve the largest solar sail ever flown. In 2010, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency made the first solar sail flight with a spacecraft it named Ikaros. Before the NASA solar flight cancellation, NASA last year declared on its website: “The concept of a huge, ultra-thin sail unfurling in space, using the pressure of sunlight to provide propellant-free transport, hovering and exploration capabilities, may seem like the stuff of science fiction. Now a NASA team developing the ‘In-Space Demonstration of a Mission-Capable Solar Sail’—or Solar Sail Demonstrator for short—intend[s] to prove the viability and value of the technology in the years to come.” NASA said the mission, also called Sunjammer, was cancelled by NASA because of problems” with the project’s contractor, L’Garde of California.

And also, meanwhile, demonstrating that solar power can be harvested far out in space, the Rosetta space probe of the European Space Agency (ESA), energized with solar power, successfully rendezvoused last year with a comet 375 million miles from the sun. ESA at the start of this mission explained that it did not have the plutonium power systems that NASA had, so instead it developed high-efficiency solar photovoltaic panels for use in space. And they worked enabling Rosetta to meet up with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and send a lander to its surface. Rosetta continues flying alongside the comet.

NASA, too, has a space probe energized with high-efficiency solar photovoltaic panels it developed now on its way to Jupiter in a mission it has named Juno. For decades, NASA insisted that solar power could not be harvested beyond the orbit of Mars and thus plutonium power systems were necessary. This was NASA’s central argument in federal court in 1989 to rebut opponents of its plutonium-energized Galileo mission to Jupiter. Now it has shown it was mistaken. Juno using solar power instead of plutonium RTGs is to reach Jupiter next year.

The Wrong StuffNASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and Marine Corps major general, remains a big booster of using nuclear-propelled rockets to get to Mars. Work on such a rocket has been going on at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA on its website says that a nuclear-powered rocket “could propel human explorers to Mars more efficiently than conventional spacecraft.”

Through the years, NASA has worked closely with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and after the commission was disbanded its successor, the Department of Energy, on space nuclear programs. And there’s a program at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop a “robust fission reactor prototype that could be used as a power system for space travel,” according to Technews World.

This is occurring despite Russia now abandoning its development of nuclear-propelled rockets for missions to Mars, a project it had earlier much-heralded. Reported TASS in April:

“Russia’s space agency Roscosmos is planning to shut down works on developing a megawatt-class nuclear propulsion system for long-range manned spacecraft.”

But the DOE has resumed production for NASA of the isotope of plutonium—Plutonium-238—used in RTGs. It is a form of plutonium 280 times more radioactive than the plutonium used as a fuel in atomic bombs, Plutonium-239. Reported the journal Nature:

“NASA will be relieved to get this 238 Pu [Plutonium] because it is increasingly anxious about running out. The isotosope is not found in nature, so it has to be made in nuclear reactors…NASA now has just 35 kilograms of plutonium product—a small supply that may not match the demands to send missions to Mars, the moons of Jupiter and beyond.” The restart of Plutonium-238 production involves the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. 1

“We’ve known for years that the nuclear industry has taken control of the seats at the NASA and DOE planning committees that decide whether solar or nuclear power should be used on space missions,” said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. “The nuclear industry views space as a new market for their deadly product. Nuclear generators on space missions, nuclear powered mining colonies on Mars and other planetary bodies and even nuclear reactors on rockets to Mars are being sought. Thus there are many opportunities for things to go wrong.”

“Over the years, inside the DOE labs, hundreds of workers have been contaminated while fabricating space nuclear devices. It is not just some theoretical chance of a space launch accident that we are concerned about. We oppose the entire space nuclear power production process,” he said. “It’s all dangerous!”

“Just like here on Earth there is a tug-of-war going on between those who wish to promote life-giving solar power and those who want nukes,” said Gagnon. “That same battle for nuclear domination is being taken into the heavens by an industry that wants more profit—no matter the consequences. The Global Network will continue to organize around the space nuclear power issue by building a global constituency opposed to the risky and unnecessary nukes in space program.” The Global Network is based in Maine.

The new “Nuclear Power Assessment Study” opens by stating: “Human missions to deep-space locations such as extended missions on the lunar and Martian surfaces have always been recognized as requiring some form of nuclear power.” As of now, “nuclear power systems are expected to be required well into the 2030s at the least.”

It says using actual reactors in space “could potentially enable higher power,” but it suggests they be pursued “only if the future need arises and sufficient new funds to develop an FPS [fission power system] flight unit are provided.” It goes on, “Perhaps the largest uncertainty is the cost and schedule for developing a compact FPS for space flight. Only one U.S. reactor has been flown—the SNAP-10A reactor” which powered a satellite launched in 1965. That satellite, with its nuclear reactor onboard, remains1,000 miles overhead in what the study calls a “‘nuclear-safe’ orbit, although debris-shedding events of some level may have occurred.”

The study notes that the “United States has spent billions of dollars on space reactor programs, which have resulted in only one flight” and it says “examinations” of the many “terminated” space nuclear power “efforts have revealed that materials issues and technology challenges produced common pitfalls.”

Still, the study is high in praise of the U.S. space nuclear power program. “Nuclear systems have enabled tremendous strides in our country’s exploration and use of space since 1961.” It speaks of nuclear power being used “to support 31 missions that range from navigational, meteorological, communications and experimental satellites.”

“The launch and use of space nuclear power systems presents unique safety challenges,” it continues. “These safety challenges, or issues, must be recognized and addressed in the design of each space nuclear power system, including consideration of potential accident conditions.”

“Launch and safe flight involve risk of failures or accidents” and “the most critical periods include launch, ascent, and orbital or trajectory insertion.”

“Three accidents involving U.S. space nuclear power systems have occurred [and] all three involved the launch vehicle or transfer stage, and were unrelated to the power system,” the study says. “In each case, the nuclear systems responded as designed and there were no hazardous consequences.”

That claim of no hazardous consequences is not true, as the late Dr. John Gofman, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, long maintained. Of the three U.S. space nuclear accidents, the most serious was the fall back to Earth in 1964 of a satellite with a SNAP-9A plutonium system onboard. The satellite and plutonium system disintegrated in the fall, the plutonium was dispersed worldwide and caused, in Dr. Gofman’s estimation, an increase in the global lung cancer rate. Dr. Gofman, an M.D. and Ph.D., co-discoverer of several radioisotopes, and was a pioneer in the earliest experiments with plutonium.

A 10 percent failure rate in space nuclear power missions has also been the case for Russia and, before it, the Soviet Union. The worst Soviet space nuclear accident occurred in the fall in 1978 of Cosmos satellite 954, with an atomic reactor onboard, which disintegrated as it plummeted to Earth, spreading nuclear debris for hundreds of miles across the Northwest Territories of Canada.

Despite the study’s rosy history of space nuclear power, it also says “it may be prudent to build in more time in the development of schedule for the first launch of a new space reactor. Public interest would likely be large, and it is possible that opposition could be substantial.”


The explosion after launch Sunday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a mission to deliver supplies to the International Space Station was an event again underlining the danger of using nuclear power on spacecraft.

Officials were warning people that “potentially hazardous debris could wash ashore.”

Consider if a radioisotope thermoelectric generator was onboard and plutonium was also dispersed. Consider if there were a nuclear reactor onboard or an atomic propulsion system and an array of radioactive poisons contained in the debris.

U.S. Representative Donna Edwards of Maryland, a member of the House Science, Space & Technology Committee, announced that “the launch failure this morning shows us once again that space is difficult—it requires near perfection.”

Inserting nuclear poisons into a danger-prone equation that “requires near perfection”—especially when it is unnecessary—is reckless, the consequences potentially devastating.

Estimates in NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement, for instance, of the cost of plutonium decontamination if there were an accident when the Curiosity rover was launched in 2011 to Mars were put at $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.” It was powered with a plutonium-energized RTG, although previously NASA Mars rovers were able to function well with solar power.

When the Cassini space probe was sent off to Saturn in 1997—with three RTGs containing 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238, the most plutonium ever used on a spacecraft—NASA in its Final Environmental Impact Statement said that if an “inadvertent reentry” of Cassini occurred causing it to disintegrate and release its plutonium, “5 billion…of the world’s population…could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.”

Noting that “technology frequently goes wrong,” Gagnon of the Global Network Against

Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, says: “When you consider adding nuclear power into the mix it becomes an explosive combination. We’ve long been sounding the alarm that nuclear

power in space is not something the public nor the planet can afford to take a chance on.”

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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Our Nuke is Burning!

May 12, 2015

By Karl Grossman

In 1976, Robert Pollard, a rarity among U.S. government nuclear officials—honest and safety-committed—said of the Indian Point nuclear power station that it was “an accident waiting to happen.”

Pollard had been project manager at Indian Point for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from which he resigned at that time charging the NRC “suppresses the existence of unresolved safety questions and fails to resolve these problems.” He joined the Union of Concerned Scientists.

An explosion and fire at a transformer at Indian Point 3 on Saturday is but one of the many accidents that have occurred at the Indian Point facility through the years—none catastrophic as have been the disasters at the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants.

But Indian Point 2 has been in operation for 41 years, although when nuclear power was first advanced in the United States, plants were never seen as running for more than 40 years because of radioactivity embrittling metal parts and otherwise causing safety problems. So licenses were limited to 40 years.

Indian Point 2 is thus now running without an operating license while the NRC considers an application before it from the plant’s owner, Entergy, to allow it to run another 20 years—for 60 years.

Indian Point 3, where the transformer explosion and fire occurred, has been operational for 39 years and its license expires this year. (Indian Point l was shut down early because of mechanical deficiencies.) Entergy also is seeking to have Indian Point 3’s operating license extended to 60 years.

These old, long problem-plagued nuclear plants, 26 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, are now disasters waiting to happen in a very heavily populated area. Some 22 million people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point site.

This plant is the nuclear plant that is closest to the most densely populated area on the globe,” declared New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at the Indian Point site on Sunday. Cuomo, who has been pushing to have the Indian Point nuclear plants closed, noted that this was “not the first transformer fire” at them. And the concern is that “one situation is going to trigger another.”

Entergy PR people in recent days have stressed that the transformer explosion and fire occurred in the “non-nuclear part” of Indian Point 3. However, as Pollard noted in a television documentary, “Three Mile Island Revisited,” that I wrote and narrated on that accident, “there is no non-nuclear part of a nuclear plant.”

What could be the extent of a major accident at Indian Point?

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1982 issued a report titled “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences” or CRAC-2. The research for the report was done at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

CRAC-2—you can read the full report online at http://www.ccnr.org/crac.html —projects that in the event of a loss-of-coolant accident with breach of containment at Indian Point 2, there could be 46,000 “peak early fatalities,” 141,000 “peak early injuries,” 13,000 “cancer deaths” and a cost in property damages (in 1980 dollars) of $274 billion (which in today’s dollars would be $1 trillion)

For an accident at Indian Point 3 in which the transformer explosion and fire happened, because it is a somewhat bigger reactor (generating 1,025 megawatts compared to Indian Point 2’s 1,020) the impacts would be greater, said CRAC-2

For Indian Point 3, in the event of a meltdown with breach of containment, CRAC-2 estimates 50,000 “peak early fatalities,” 167,000 “peak early injuries,” 14,000 “cancer deaths” and a cost in property damage at $314 billion.

Compounding the problem of the Indian Point plants being old—consider driving a 60 year-old car on a high-speed Interstate—they are at the intersection of the Ramapo and Stamford earthquake faults. As a 2008 study by seismologists at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory found: “Indian Point is situated at the intersection of the two most striking linear features marking the seismicity and also in the midst of a large population that is at risk in case of an accident. This is clearly one of the least favorable sites in our study area from an earthquake hazard and risk perspective.”

“This aging dilapidated facility has endless problems leaking radioactive chemicals, oil and PCB’s into the Hudson River. It’s unconscionable to permit the continued operation of Indian Point,” said Susan Hito-Shapiro, an environmental attorney and member of the leadership council of the Indian point Safe Energy Coalition.

Further, she pointed out this week, Indian Point has been described as “the most attractive terrorist target” in the U.S. because of its proximity to New York City and it also being seven miles from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Indeed, there was consideration by the 9/11 terrorists of crashing into Indian Point. Both captured jets flew over the Indian Point nuclear station before striking the World Trade Center minutes later.

And she described it as “outrageous” that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved an evacuation plan for Indian Point “although it would never work” in the event of an major accident at the plants considering the millions of people who stand to be affected.

The key to New York State’s strategy to shut down Indian Point is the denial by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to give Entergy a “water use permit” to let it continue to send many hundreds of millions of gallons of water a day from the nuclear plants into the Hudson River.

“We need to make sure DEC stays strong,” says Hito-Shapiro.

In light of the historic, reckless, scandalous weakness of the federal government when it comes to Indian Point—and the nuclear power plants of other utilities—strong state action is most necessary.

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion 

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Oil Wars: Fracking, Manipulation, and the Future of Our Energy System

May 03, 2015

By Karl Grossman

Oil Wars
(Photo: miracc/cc/flickr)

Manipulation of the petroleum market is not new. John D. Rockefeller with his Standard Oil Trust mastered it between the end of the 19th and start of the 20th Century. Rockefeller and his trust succeeded in controlling virtually all the oil industry in the United States and also dominating the international market. The Standard Oil Trust fixed prices, set production quotas and ruthlessly forced out competitors.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1911, in the wake of muckraker Ida Tarbell’s investigative articles and book on the Standard Oil Trust, utilized the Sherman Antitrust Act to break the trust up into 34 pieces. “For the safety of the Republic,” the court declared, “we now decree that this dangerous conspiracy must be ended.”

The most prominent corporate offshoots of Standard Oil today are ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips. The 34 were supposed to operate independently but, critics have long held, there’s been continued collusion: that the U.S.-dominated oil industry went from being a monopoly to a cartel.

With discoveries of oil in the Middle East in the 1930s and with Standard Oil offshoots deeply involved, the Arabian American Oil Company—Aramco—was created in Saudi Arabia in 1944. In the 1970s, the Saudi government began acquiring more and more of a stake in Aramco, taking over full control in 1980 of what is now called Saudi Aramco.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries—OPEC—was formed in 1960 to “coordinate and unify the petroleum policies of its Member Countries and ensure the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital for those investing in the petroleum industry.” (Source)

The senior partner in OPEC, now a 12-nation organization, is Saudi Arabia. This figures considering it has the world’s largest proven crude oil reserves at more than 260 billion barrels.

OPEC sets production targets for its member countries. An early and major flexing of OPEC petroleum power, its system of control, came in 1973 with the “oil embargo” or “oil shock” of that year. It was an OPEC effort to punish the U.S. for its support of Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Other OPEC-induced “oil shocks” have followed.

This historical background brings us to why the price of a barrel of oil has plummeted in half, from a high of $115 a barrel last June—and why you, as a result, are paying less for a gallon of gasoline at the pump.

The key reason is hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—and OPEC’s move to discourage competition to it from fracking.

In recent years there’s been a revolution in petroleum extraction made possible by a new technique of splitting underground shale formations through hydraulic fracking. This has vastly expanded the gas and oil output of the fracking process.

Fracking is a messy and polluting process. Massive amounts of water and 600 chemicals are shot into the ground under high pressure to release the gas and oil. Especially problematic is the leakage of gas from fracking wells into underground water causing not only serious contamination but the phenomenon of what comes out of a water faucet bursting into flames when touched with a match. The 2010 film Gasland, nominated for an Academy Award, and the subsequent Gasland Part II, both written and directed by Josh Fox, documented this fiery aspect of fracking along with the many instances of water pollution and impact on people’s health caused by the contamination of water. There is also a major problem of fracking causing earthquakes.

Horizontal fracking in shale formations was first developed with federal government support in the United States starting in the 1980s. It has enabled the U.S. to again become a global giant in petroleum production.

The International Energy Agency last year projected that in 2015, because of fracking, the U.S. would displace Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer.

Fracking, however, is a relatively expensive process—about ten times more costly than the $5 to $6 per barrel cost of drilling oil from conventional wells in Saudi Arabia.

By letting the price of oil drop the Saudi-led move has applied substantial financial pressure—so far—on the fracking industry. With the current price per barrel cost at less than $60 a barrel, fracking has become a problematic undertaking economically. And consequently there have been reductions in and cancellations of numerous fracking operations.

As Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve between 1987 and 2006, put it recently: “At the root of the price collapse was the development in the U.S. of technologies for extracting tight oil, mostly from shale deposits, by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This reversed the decline in U.S. oil production.”

“After the oil embargo of the 1970s,” he said, “OPEC wrested oil pricing power from the U.S.” But now, there’s been a “shale technology breakthrough.”

“As a result, the gap between global production and consumption has widened, precipitating a rise in U.S. and world inventories, and a fall in prices. Saudi Arabia, confronted with an oil supply glut but not wishing to lose market share, abandoned its leadership role as global swing producer and refused to cut production to support prices.”

Explains Jamie Webster, an oil market analyst at HIS Energy in Washington, D.C.: “The faster you bring the price down, the quicker you will have a response from U.S. [fracking] production—that is the expectation and the hope. I cannot recall a time when several [OPEC] members were actively pushing the price down in both word and deed.”

There are other factors, too. 

The plunging price of oil has impacted severely on Russia causing some analysts to see collusion between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to hurt the Putin regime in Russia—and some have extended this to seeing such a conspiracy as also being aimed at major oil producers Iran and Venezuela, too.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has raised this prospect declaring in December: “We all see the lowering of the oil price. There’s lots of talk about what’s causing it. Could it be the agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could.”

A few days later, Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro charged: “Did you know there’s an oil war. And the war has an objective: to destroy Russia. It’s a strategically planned war…also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse.”

In the U.S., Martin Katusa, chief energy investment strategist at Casey Research in Vermont, believes, “It’s a three-way oil war between OPEC, Russia and North American shale.”

Is a Saudi Arabian assault on the clean-energy movement a factor, too?

“Now energy experts are seeing evidence that the oil bust is helping Saudi Arabia achieve another long-term goal: undermining global efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels,” wrote Joby Warrick, environmental reporter for The Washington Post recently.

Among those seeing this is Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) in Washington. “If a period of low prices gets consumers hooked on cheap gas and inefficient cars, that sustains their market,” he said.

In fact, with the sharp decrease in the price of gasoline, sales of SUVs and other low-efficiency vehicles has been rising.  This past November was the best month for SUV sales since 2001, according to Autodata.

Still, Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington told me: “We have not seen any direct link between the price of oil and the development of solar projects nationwide, which remains quite strong.”

Meanwhile, there’s the question of how low the price of a barrel of oil can get and frackers still making it economically with the price a barrel below what’s been their “break-even” price of $70.

Dan K. Eberhart, CEO of Canary, a Colorado-based drilling services company, says “U.S. producers are getting better and more economical” and the price to frack is falling, and this is “going to help U.S. producers stay competitive in the worldwide oil market.”

Katusa of Casey Research says “the versatility and survivability of a lot of these shale producers will surprise people. I don’t see that the shale sector is going to collapse overnight.”

The fracking industry nevertheless is being hurt badly. “The shale oil revolution is in danger,” was the headline in Fortune.

“The recent drop in oil prices poses a major challenge to the frackers. But oil producers, Wall Street analysts, and most industry experts claim the setback will be brief and minor. Don’t believe them,” the article continued. “The basic economies of fracking—what it costs to drill versus what oil now sells for—spells big trouble for the shale boom.”

As the Daily Kos headlined its piece on the matter: “97% of fracking now operating at loss at current oil prices.”

Then there’s the issue of how long the U.S. shale boom can last. Fracked wells don’t last long. The International Energy Agency in its 2014 World Energy Outlook projects that as a result, fracking-dominated petroleum production in the U.S. “levels off in the early 2020s and its total production eventually starts to fall back.”

Further, “proved reserves” for petroleum from shale is about 10 billion barrels, according to the U.S. Department Energy, a small fraction of the reserves in the Middle East.

Then there’s the big question of whether oil—from fracking or conventional drilling in the Middle East—can compete with the windfall in renewable energy technologies.

A report recently done for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi by the University of Cambridge and Price WaterhouseCoopers, titled “Financing the Future of Energy,” declares: “The energy system of the past will not be the same as the energy system of the future. It is clear that renewables will be an established and significant part of the future energy mix, in the region and globally.”

“The sharp fall in the oil price in 2014 has raised the question of whether the trend towards a more integrated energy mix and the growth of renewables will continue, or be stalled by more affordable oil and gas,” says the report. “There are strong reasons to believe it will continue.”

Solar photovoltaic power and wind energy have “already a track record of successful deployment. Prices have fallen dramatically in the past few years: solar PV falling by 80 per cent in six years, and on-shore wind by 40 per cent. The speed of this shift towards grid parity with fossil fuels means that, in many instances, perceptions of the role of renewables in the energy mix have not caught up with reality.”

The report notes the bid of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority in December 2014 to build a 200 megawatt solar photovoltaic facility in Dubai “set a new world benchmark for utility scale solar PV costs, showing that photovoltaic technologies are competitive today with oil at US$10/barrel.”

The report goes on that “solar is on track to achieve grid parity in 80 percent of countries within the next two years, so cost is no longer a reason not to proceed with renewables.”

There have been numerous reports in recent years mirroring this analysis.

How will the oil industry respond? As it has through its history—with market manipulation.  Indeed, as the secretary-general of OPEC, Abdulla al-Badri said recently: “Now that prices are around $45-$55 [a barrel], I think maybe they [have] reached the bottom and we [will] see some rebound very soon.” Badri went on that oil prices might get to “more than $200” a barrel, although he wouldn’t give a time frame.

Karl Grossman

Karl ThumbnailKarl Grossman has been a professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury for 32 years. He is a specialist in investigative reporting. He is the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. He is the host of the nationally aired TV program, Enviro Close-Up.

(Article Source)

The Times of Israel

Judaism and the Pope’s Encyclical on the Environment

June 22, 2015

By Karl Grossman

Karl Grossman“Critics say the pope should stick to religion,” reported the anchor on WCBS “all-news” radio in New York last week about the reaction of some Republican candidates for U.S. president to the encyclical on the environment just issued by Pope Francis.

In fact, the encyclical is rooted in religion with many of its 183 pages devoted to—and this is nice news for Jews—“principles drawn from the Judeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent,” as the pope wrote. Through the centuries, most popes have not exactly given much credit to the teachings of Judaism.

Francis addressed in the encyclical the linkage between Judaism and the environment as has Jewish scholarship in this area.

The press has described the encyclical as being about climate change, and it is. But it’s more extensive—dealing with the environmental crisis of our time and its causes.

Titled on “Encyclical Letter…On Care For Our Common Home,” it’s a significant contribution to understanding the environmental crossroads which we’re at.

A key problem in comprehending the approach of Judaism on the environment, which continued to Christianity, has involved a dubious translation of one word. It’s in the passage in Genesis relating how God said: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air.”

Although dominion has been the common English translation of the Hebrew word yirdu, it’s a poor translation, Jewish scholars have said.

Rutgers University Professor of Biology David Ehrenfeld and Rabbi Philip J. Bentley wrote about the “inadequacy” of the translation in their essay “Judaism and the Practice of Stewardship.” They note the words of Rashi: “’The Hebrew [yirdu] connotes both ‘dominion’ (derived from radah) and ‘descent’ (derived from yarad); when man is worthy, he has dominion over the animal kingdom, when he is not, he descends below their level and the animals rule over him.’ Here is the whole dimension of meaning which cannot be conveyed by an English translation.”

Further, they cite a lack of context. They speak of “no evidence…that these verses of Genesis were ever interpreted by the rabbis as a license for environmental exploitation.” They say “such an interpretation runs contrary to their teachings and to the whole spirit” of Jewish law and cite numerous passages in the Bible “that stress God as creator and owner, and humankind caretaker or steward of the earth.”

“There are, in Judaism, a number of specific rules—together constituting a kind of ‘Steward’s Manual’—setting forth humanity’s particular responsibilities for its behavior toward natural resources, animals, and other parts of nature,” they continue. “First among these rules is the commandment of bal tashhit” They note the Bible stating that “when thou shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shall not destroy” the fruit trees. “From this source is derived the notion of bal tashhit (do not destroy), an ancient and sweeping series of Jewish environmental regulations that embrace not only the limited case in question but have been rabbinically extended to a great range of transgressions including the cutting off of water supplies to trees, the over-grazing of the countryside, the unjustified killing of animals or feeding them harmful foods, the hunting of animals for sport, species extinction and destruction of cultivated plant varieties, pollution of air and water, over-consumption of anything, and the waste of mineral and other resources.”

“It is also the Sabbath alone,” they write, “that can reconcile the Jewish attitude towards nature.” It’s a time that “we create nothing, we destroy nothing, and we enjoy the bounty of the earth. In this way the Sabbath becomes a celebration of our tenancy and stewardship in the world.”

Then there is the Sabbatical year—as we have this year on the Jewish calendar—in which Jews are to have land lie fallow to restore itself. And every 50 years, the Jubilee, when in ancient Jewish tradition land is to revert to its original owners without compensation, underlining God’s declaration in Leviticus that the land is the Lord’s, people are just its stewards. “Judaism,” they conclude, “was one of the first great environmental religions.”

Rabbi Norman Lamm, longtime president of Yeshiva University, in his book Faith and Doubt, in a chapter “Ecology in Jewish Law and Theology,” writes about the Genesis “passage that, it is asserted, is the sanction for the excesses of science and technology, the new ecological villains.” It’s been “proclaimed” as “the source of man’s insensitivity and brutality to the subhuman world” and “equated with the right to foul the air.”

He says: “It does not take much scholarship to recognize the emptiness of this charge against the Bible, particularly as it is interpreted in the Jewish tradition.”  Judaism on many levels, concludes Lamm, “possesses the values on which an ecological morality may be grounded.”

The pope in a chapter of his encyclical on “The Gospel of Creation” writes: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man ‘dominion’ over the earth, has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.”

“The biblical texts are to be read in their context,” emphasizes the pope.

He speaks of Genesis telling “us to ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world. ‘Tilling’ refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while ‘keeping’ means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for substinence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”

He cites the admonition in a Psalm of David that “the earth is the Lord’s” and “to him belongs ‘the earth with all that is within it’….Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership,” he writes. And he cites the words of Leviticus: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me.”

The pope goes on about the Bible “respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature” in “the Law of the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath. Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land when sowing was forbidden and one reaped only what was necessary to live on and to feed one’s household. Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated…”

The pope at the start of his encyclical writes, “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

“The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges,” he writes. “Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem, indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.”

“Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeking the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”

He addresses pollution produced by “dangerous waste…Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

“These problems,” he continues, “are closely linked to a throwaway culture….We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.”

“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades, this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.”

“The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system,” he goes on. “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political…It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

He says: “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” And “economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.”

“The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings.”

“Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster,” he writes. “Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.”

This Jesuit from Argentina “who has witnessed the decimation of the Amazon rain forests seems destined to remake the papacy into a modern and relevant institution,” the Long Island newspaper Newsday editorialized.

And in doing so, he is, remarkably, acknowledging his faith’s environmental underpinnings in Judaism.

He is calling for an “ecological conversion,” an environmental variant of, as we Jews say, tikkun olam, repairing the world.

Indian Point the nuclear bombshell in New York City’s backyard

The Times of Israel

Obama’s Nuclear Reverse

March 30, 2015

By Karl Grossman

Karl Grossman

Barack Obama’s embrace of a weak nuclear deal with Iran follows an overall reverse by him on nuclear technology.

Before taking office, candidate Obama was negative about atomic energy and indicated a clear knowledge of its safety and waste problems, expense, and threat to life from accidents.

“I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal and so I am not a nuclear energy proponent,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa on December 30, 2007. “My general view is that until we can make certain that nuclear power plants are safe, that they have solved the storage problem…and the whole nuclear industry can show that they can produce clean, safe energy without enormous subsidies from the U.S. government, I don’t think that’s the best option. I am much more interested in solar and wind and bio-diesel and strategies [for] alternative fuels.”

As he told the editorial board of the Keene Sentinel newspaper in New Hampshire on November 25, 2007: “I don’t think there’s anything that we inevitably dislike about nuclear power. We just dislike the fact that it might blow up…and irradiate us…and kill us. That’s the problem.”

As he stated at a Londonderry, New Hampshire town meeting on October 7, 2007: “Nuclear power has a host of problems that have not been solved. We haven’t solved the storage situation effectively. We have not dealt with all of the security aspects of our nuclear plants and nuclear power is very expensive.”

Yet, as president, he was calling in his State of the Union speech on January 27, 2010 for “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”  And he repeated that declaration.

Moreover, despite his earlier criticism of government subsidies for nuclear power, he has been pushing throughout his presidency for multi-billion dollar loan guarantees for nuclear plant construction, what with Wall Street reluctant to invest money in the technology.

What’s been behind the Obama nuclear flip?

Factors include his top White House aides, pressure from nuclear interests and the ardently pro-nuclear figures he selected as his two successive secretaries of the U.S. Department of Energy and thus his top advisors on energy—one of whom, Ernest Moniz, is deeply involved in the deal-making with Iran.

At The White House in his first term, Obama’s chief of staff was Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago mayor but earlier a member of the U.S. Congress and an investment banker central in creating a utility called Exelon that now operates more nuclear power plants than any other in the United States. It was an $8.2 billion deal Emanuel worked on in 1999 which merged Unicom, the parent company of Commonwealth Edison of Chicago, and Peco Energy.

David Axelrod, a senior political advisor to Obama during his first term and before that his chief campaign strategist, as a PR man served as an Exelon consultant.

Obama has received sizeable campaign contributions from Exelon executives including from John Rowe, its president and chief executive officer who in 2007 also became chairman of the Nuclear Energy Institute, the U.S. nuclear industry’s main lobbying group.

Forbes magazine, in its January 18, 2010 issue, in an article on Rowe and how he has “focused the company on nuclear,” displayed a sidebar headlined, “The President’s Utility.”  It read: “Ties are tight between Exelon and the Obama administration,” noting Exelon political contributions and featuring Emanuel and Axelrod with photos and descriptions of their Exelon connections.

“’We are proud to be the President’s utility,’ says Elizabeth Moler, Exelon’s chief lobbyist,” the article said. “’It’s nice for John to be able to go to the White House and they know his name.’”

Exelon’s website boasts of its operating “the largest nuclear fleet in the nation. The fleet consists of 23 reactors at 14 locations in Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.”

As his first Department of Energy secretary, Obama chose Steven Chu, a product of the string of U.S. government national nuclear laboratories which ever since World War II’s Manhattan Project to build atomic weapons has been promoting nuclear technology for military and subsequently civilian uses. Chu before becoming DOE secretary was director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

As David Lilienthal, first chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, wrote in his  1963 book Change, Hope, and the Bomb: “The classic picture of the scientist as a creative individual, a man obsessed, working alone through the night, a man in a laboratory pushing an idea—this has changed. Now scientists are ranked in platoons. They are organization men. In many cases the independent and humble search for new truths about nature has been confused with the bureaucratic impulse to justify expenditure and see that next year’s budget is bigger than last’s.” He wrote of the “elaborate and even luxurious” U.S. national nuclear laboratories and the push from them to use nuclear devices for “blowing out harbors, making explosions underground to produce steam, and so on” which show “how far scientists and administrators will go to try to establish a nonmilitary use” for nuclear technology.

Chu, like many of the national nuclear laboratory scientists and administrators, has minimized the dangers of radioactivity. And as energy secretary, as he declared in one presentation in 2011: “We are aggressively pursuing nuclear energy. We are, as we have repeatedly said, working hard to restart the American nuclear power industry.”

Chu was succeeded by Moniz in 2013. Moniz was director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Energy Initiative, heavily financed by energy industry corporations, and has long advocated nuclear power.

In a 2011 essay in Foreign Affairs magazine titled “Why We Still Need Nuclear Power,” Moniz wrote: “In the years following the major accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, nuclear power fell out of favor, and some countries applied the brakes to their nuclear programs. In the last decade, however, it began experiencing something of a renaissance….But the movement lost momentum in March, when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the massive tsunami it triggered devastated Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant…The event caused widespread public doubts about the safety of nuclear power to resurface. But, said, Moniz, “It would be a mistake…to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits.”

Moniz went on: “Nuclear power’s track record of providing clean and reliable electricity compares favorably with other energy sources.”

In nominating Moniz to be his second energy secretary, Obama said, “Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy.”

Obama’s nuclear reverse has sparked years of strong complaints.

Speaking of being “deeply disturbed” by Obama’s push for government subsidies for nuclear power has been Peter Wilk, M.D., former executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, now a board member, who has also held leadership positions with International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.  “Not only does this put taxpayers on the hook for billions, it prioritizes a dirty, dangerous, and expensive technology over public health.  From the beginning to the end of the nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear reactors remain a serious threat to public health and safety. From uranium mining waste to operating reactors leaking radioactivity to the lack of radioactive waste solutions, nuclear power continues to pose serious public health threats.”

Jim Riccio, nuclear policy analyst for Greenpeace USA., has said that “the president knows better. Just because radiation is invisible doesn’t mean it’s clean.”

Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project of the organization Beyond Nuclear, has spoken of a “widening of a divide as the administration steps back from its promise for a change in energy policy and those of us who are committed to a change.”

“From a health perspective, the proposal of the Obama administration to increase federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors poses a serious risk to Americans,” Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, has said. “Adding new reactors will raise the chance for a catastrophic meltdown. It will also increase the amount of radioactive chemicals routinely emitted from reactors into the environment—and human bodies. New reactors will raise rates of cancer—which are already unacceptably high—especially to infants and children. Public policies affecting America’s energy future should reduce, rather than raise, hazards to our citizens.”

But Obama as U.S. president has gone soft on nuclear power and accepting of nuclear technology—as he has on a nuclear weapons deal with Iran.

(Article Source)


Locavore Movement Overlooks Farmworkers

Sierra Club – Atlantic Chapter

Portside Date: February 1, 2015

Author: Karl Grossman

Date of Source: Friday, January 16, 2015

(Article Source 1)

FarmworkersLocally-grown food from small farms, an alternative to food from “factory farms,” has become, thankfully, popular across the U.S, including the area covered by the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. On Long Island, where I live, Suffolk County remains the top agricultural county in terms of value of annual produce in New York.

But there’s an issue, charges a Long Island professor, not being addressed: the situation of farmworkers at these farms.

“Food movement advocates and consumers, driven to forge alternatives to industrial agribusiness, have neglected the labor economy that underpins ‘local’ food production,” writes Margaret Gray in her just-published book, Labor and the Locavore (University of California Press).

Thus, the call “to ‘buy local’ promotes public health at the expense of protecting the well-being of the farmworkers who grow and harvest the much-coveted produce on regional farms.”

When it comes to factory farms, the public hasn’t “been reluctant to recognize the exploitation” of workers. But now being “overlooked” is “the role of hired labor in smallerscale agrifood production.”

“Small farms,” she writes in her book, “like their factory farm counterparts, are largely staffed by noncitizens, immigrant workers.” But “the prevailing mentality within the alternative food movement has not absorbed this reality.”

“Food advocates and their organizations display a tendency,” she goes on, “to conflate local, alternative, sustainable, and fair as a compendium of virtues against the factory farm that they so vigorously demonize. Yet this equation discourages close scrutiny of the labor dynamics by which small farms maintain their operations.”

Dr. Gray is a professor of political science at Adelphi University in Garden City on Long Island.

Locavore Movement
From WWII through the early 1970s, New York’s agricultural labor pool was made up of predominantly African Americans from the South. During the 1980s, that market profile shifted to Latinos.

The situation for farmworkers has long been a scandal in the U.S. The great journalist, Edward R. Murrow, did one of his most important TV documentaries, “Harvest of Shame,” about the plight of migrant farmworkers. Pointedly broadcast on Thanksgiving Day, 1961, it exposed the conditions for, as Murrow said, the  “humans who harvest the food for the best-fed people in the world.” Paid outrageously small sums, exploited by crew leaders who recruited them, housed in awful dwellings, they constituted “workers in the sweat shops of the soil.” And critically, he stressed, laws that protected other workers specifically excluded farmworkers.

Migrant camps in New Jersey, in Suffolk County and in upstate New York were among those that featured prominently in “Harvest of Shame.” Back then, most of the farmworkers in the New York portion of the Atlantic Coast “migrant stream” were black. “From World War II through the early 1970s, the vast majority…were African Americans from the South,” writes Dr. Gray.

“This was a labor market profile…uniformly evident, whether on Long Island potato fields, Hudson Valley fruit and vegetable farms, Wayne County’s apple orchards, Western New York’s bean fields, North Country dairies, or the Finger Lakes vineyards.” Then, in the 1980s, “Latinos came to dominate the regional agricultural labor market.”

Dr. Gray’s book focuses especially on the Hudson Valley of New York.

“The Hudson Valley, the fabled agricultural region that lies to the north of New York City, is a particularly opposite setting for examining the absence of worker justice within the alternative food movement, as well as the many obstacles that lie in the path of workers’ inclusion in the new food ethic,” she writes. This area’s “cultural identity trades on the the currency of agrarian values and epitomizes precisely those farming sectors that have benefited most from the economic stimulus promised by the alternative and local food movements…The Hudson Valley is thick with food policy centers and is increasingly cited as a model local food system with sustainable relations to populations and resources.”

Farmworkers remain without “the right to organize” unions—“a very significant exclusion,” said Emma Kreyche, organizing and advocacy coordinator for the Worker Justice Center of New York based in Kingston, at a recent symposium at SUNY/College at Old Westbury. It was titled “Healthy Food, Unsustainable Jobs? Farmworkers Fight for Their Rights.”
As examples of the “basic” laws that cover other American workers, she noted that in New York farmworkers “are not entitled to a day of rest, they have no right to have a day off” and do not get overtime pay. Moreover, many of the laws on the books that do cover farmworkers are “poorly enforced.”

Ms. Kreyche distributed a fact sheet put together by the Worker Justice Center of New York (www.wjcny.org [1]) providing details on a “Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act” that has been considered by the New York State Legislature—but not passed.

It would establish an eight-hour workday for farmworkers, allow them overtime pay after eight hours of work, provide one day of rest each week, require they be paid the minimum wage and “prohibit child farmworkers from being paid a wage lower than the minimum wage,” have “the right to organize and bargain collectively for the purpose of representing and protecting their interests,” ensure their housing “meets basic standards under the Sanitary Code,” be eligible for unemployment compensation “when laid off from work or terminated” and receive disability benefits.

Dr. Gray, who also spoke at the symposium, commented about the notion “that local farms are wholesome and industrial factory farms are evil.” The situation, the said, is that generally in all kinds of agriculture, farmworkers are “marginalized, excluded from labor laws and work in paternalistic settings” and thus are “afraid to complain.”

As her book concludes: “Buy local!” Yes, “support local farms,” she writes, but at the same time “build a food movement that incorporates workers.” People, she says, should nicely explain to farmers “your food ethic and how it demands fair labor standards to be observed.”

Journalist Karl Grossman is a member of the Long Island Group and professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. For nearly 25 years, he has hosted a nationally-aired TV program, Enviro Close-Up.

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The Future of Nuclear Space Flights

November 18, 2014

By Karl Grossman

The recent crash of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and explosion on launch three days earlier of an Antares rocket further underline the dangers of inserting nuclear material in the always perilous space flight equation—as the U.S. and Russia still plan.

“SpaceShipTwo has experienced an in-flight anomaly,” Virgin Galactic tweeted after the spacecraft, on which $500 million has been spent for development, exploded on October 31 after being released by its mother ship.  One pilot was killed, another seriously injured. Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic founder, hoped to begin flying passengers on SpaceShipTwo this spring. Some 800 people, including actor Leonard DiCaprio and physicist Steven Hawking, have signed up for $250,000-a person tickets to take a suborbital ride. SpaceShipTwo debris was spread over the Mojave Desert in California. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/reuters/article-2816452/Bransons-Virgin-Galactic-quest-space-tourism.html

Three days before, on Wallops Island, Virginia, an Antares rocket operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. blew up seconds after launch. It was carrying 5,000 pounds of supplies and experiments to the International Space Station. The cost of the rocket alone was put at $200 million.  NASA, in a statement, said that the rocket “suffered a catastrophic anomaly.”  The word anomaly, defined as something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected, has for years been a space program euphemism for a disastrous accident.

“These two recent space ‘anomalies’ remind us that technology frequently goes wrong,” said Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. www.space4peace.org “When you consider adding nuclear power into the mix it becomes an explosive combination. We’ve long been sounding the alarm that nuclear power in space is not something the public nor the planet can afford to take a chance on.”

But “adding nuclear power into the mix” is exactly what the U.S. and Russia are planning. Both countries have been using nuclear power on space missions for decades—and accidents involving their nuclear-powered space devices have happened with substantial amounts of radioactive particles released on Earth.

Now, a major expansion in space nuclear power activity is planned with the development by both nations of nuclear-powered rockets for trips to Mars.

One big U.S. site for this is NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “NASA Researchers Studying Advanced Nuclear Rocket Technologies,” announced NASA last year. At the center, it said, “The Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion team is tackling a three-year project to demonstrate the viability of nuclear propulsion technologies.” In them, a “nuclear rocket uses a nuclear reactor to heat hydrogen to very high temperatures, which expands through a nozzle to generate thrust. Nuclear rocket engines generate higher thrust and are more than twice as efficient as conventional chemical engines.”

“A first-generation nuclear cryogenic propulsion system could propel human explorers to Mars more efficiently than conventional spacecraft, reducing crew’s exposure to harmful space radiation and other effects of long-term space missions,” NASA went on. “It could also transport heavy cargo and science payloads.”

And out at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the DUFF project—for Demonstrating Using Flattop Fissions—is moving ahead to develop a “robust fission reactor prototype that could be used as a power system for space travel,” according to Technews World. The laboratory’s Advanced Nuclear Technology Division is running the joint Department of Energy-NASA project. “Nuclear Power Could Blast Humans Into Deep Space,” was the headline of Technewsworld’s 2012 article about it. It quoted Dr. Michael Gruntman, professor of aerospace engineering and systems architecture at the University of Southern California, saying,“If we want solar system exploration, we must utilize nuclear technology.” The article declared: “Without the risk, there will be no reward.”

And in Texas, near NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the Ad Astra Rocket Company of former U.S. astronaut Franklin Chang-Diaz is busy working on what it calls the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASMIR. Chang-Diaz began Ad Astra after retiring from NASA in 2005. He’s its president and CEO. The VASMIR system could utilize solar power, related Space News last year, but “using a VASMIR engine to make a superfast Mars run would require incorporating a nuclear reactor that cranks out megawatts of power, Chang-Diaz said, adding that developing this type of powerful reactor should be high on the nation’s to-do list.”   Chang-Diaz told Voice of America that by using a nuclear reactor for power “we could do a mission to Mars that would take about 39 days, one-way.” NASA Director Charles Bolden, also a former astronaut as well as a Marine Corps major general, has been a booster of Ad Asra’s project.

Ad Astra and the Nuclear Cryogenic Propulsion project have said their designs would include nuclear systems only starting up when “out of the atmosphere” to prevent, in the event of an accident, “spreading radiation back to Earth.”

However, this isn’t a fail-safe plan. The Soviet Union followed this practice on the satellites powered by nuclear reactors that it launched between the 1960s and 1980s. This included the Cosmos 954. Its on board reactor was only allowed to go critical after it was in orbit, but it subsequently came crashing back to Earth in 1978, breaking up and spreading radioactive debris on the Northwest Territories of Canada.

As to Russia now, “A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025, giving Russia a head start in the outer-space race,” the Russian news agency RT reported in 2012.  “Nuclear power has generally been considered a valid alternative to fossil fuels to power space craft, as it is the only energy source capable of producing the enormous thrust needed for interplanetary travel….The revolutionary propulsion system falls in line with recently announced plans for Russia to conquer space…Entitled Space Development Strategies up to 2030, Russia aims to send probes to Mars, Jupiter, and Venus, as well as establish a series of bases on the moon.”

This year OSnet Daily, in an article headlined “Russia advances development of nuclear powered Spacecraft,” reported that in 2013 work on the Russian nuclear rocket moved “to the design stage.”

As for space probes, many U.S. and Russian probes have until recently gotten their on board electrical power from systems fueled with plutonium— hotly radioactive from the start.

Also, the U.S. has begun to power Mars rovers with plutonium. After using solar power on Mars rovers, in 2012 NASA launched a Mars rover it named Curiosity fueled with 10.6 pounds of plutonium. NASA plans to launch a Mars rover nearly identical to Curiosity, which it is calling Mars 2020, in 2020.

As devastating in terms of financial damage were last week’s explosions of the Virgin Galactic SpaceshipTwo and Antares rocket, an accident involving a nuclear-powered vehicle or device could be far more costly

The NASA Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Curiosity (then called Mars Science Laboratory) mission states, for example, that the cost of decontamination of areas affected by dispersed plutonium would be $267 million for each square mile of farmland, $478 million for each square mile of forests and $1.5 billion for each square mile of “mixed-use urban areas.”

Odds of an accident were acknowledged as being low. The EIS said a launch accident discharging plutonium had a 1-in-420 chance of happening and could “release material into the regional area defined…within…62 miles of the launch pad” on Cape Canaveral, Florida. The EIS said that “overall” on the mission, the likelihood of plutonium being released was 1-in-220. If there were an accident resulting in plutonium fallout that occurred before the rocket carrying Curiosity broke through Earth’s gravitational field, people could be affected in a broad swath of Earth “anywhere between 28-degrees north and 28-degrees south latitude” on Earth, said the EIS.

Gagnon said at the time: “NASA sadly appears committed to maintaining its dangerous alliance with the nuclear industry…The taxpayers are being asked once again to pay for nuclear missions that could endanger the lives of all the people on the planet. Have we not learned anything from Chernobyl and Fukushima? We don’t need to be launching nukes into space. It’s not a gamble we can afford to take.”
Curiosity made it up, and to Mars.

But in NASA’s history of nuclear power shots, happening since the 1950s, there have been accidents. The worst among the 26 U.S. space nuclear missions listed in the Curiosity EIS occurred in 1964 and involved the SNAP-9A plutonium system aboard a satellite that failed to achieve orbit and dropped to Earth, disintegrating as it fell. Its plutonium fuel dispersed widely That accident spurred NASA to develop solar energy for satellites and now all satellites are solar-powered as is the International Space Station.

And in recent times, solar power has been increasingly shown to be practical even to generate on board electricity for missions far out in space. On its way to Jupiter now is NASA’s Juno space probe, chemically-propelled and with solar photovoltaic panels generating all its on board electricity. When Juno reaches Jupiter in 2016 it will be nearly 500 million miles from the Sun, but the high-efficiency solar cells will still be generating power.

In August, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta space probe, similarly solar-powered, rendezvoused with a comet in deep space, 400 million miles from Earth. http://news.discovery.com/space/asteroids-meteors-meteorites/rosetta-probe-makes-historic-comet-rendezvous-140806.htmb

Advances, too, have been made in propelling spacecraft in the vacuum of space. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2010 launched what it termed a “space yacht” it called Ikaros which successfully got its propulsion power from the pressure on its large sails of ionizing particles emitted by the Sun.

Among other ways of propelling spacecraft, discussed at a Starship Congress last year in Texas was a system using orbiting lasers to direct beams on to a spacecraft. The magazine New Scientist said “beam sails are regarded as the most promising tech for a starship.”

A scientist long-involved in laser space power research is Geoff Landis of the Photovoltaics and Space Environment Branch at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland who, in a 2002 NASA publication, “The Edge of Sunshine,” wrote: “In the long term, solar arrays will not have to rely on the Sun. We’re investigating the concept of using lasers to beam photons to solar arrays. If you make a powerful enough laser and can aim the beam, there’s really isn’t any edge to sunshine—with a big enough lens, we could beam light to a space-probe halfway to alpha-Centauri!”

(Article Source)


Will Diablo Canyon survive the next big earthquake?

August 27, 2014

By Karl Grossman

Diablo CanyonAs aftershocks of the 6.0 Napa earthquake that occurred Sunday in California continued, the Associated Press this week revealed a secret government report pointing to major earthquake vulnerabilities at the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants which are a little more than 200 miles away and sitting amid a webwork of earthquake faults.

It’s apparent to any visitor to the stretch of California where the two Diablo Canyon plants are sited that it is geologically hot. A major tourist feature of the area: hot spas.  “Welcome to the Avila Hot Springs,” declares the website of one, noting how “historic Avila Hot Springs” was “discovered in 1907 by at the time unlucky oil drillers and established” as a “popular visitor-serving natural artesian mineral hot springs.”

Nevertheless, Pacific Gas & Electric had no problem in 1965 picking the area along the California coast, north of Avila Beach, as a location for two nuclear plants.

It was known that the San Andreas Fault was inland 45 miles away. Then, in 1971, with construction underway, oil company geologists discovered another earthquake fault, the Hosgri Fault, just three miles out in the Pacific from the plant site and linked to the San Andreas Fault.

In 2008 yet another fault was discovered, the Shoreline Fault—but 650 yards from the Diablo Canyon plants.

The Shoreline Fault, and concerns about the vulnerability of nuclear plants to earthquakes in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster, are integral to a 42-page report written by Dr. Michael Peck, for five years the lead inspector on-site for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at Diablo Canyon.

Peck’s report was obtained by the Associated Press, which has done excellent journalism in recent years investigating the dangers of nuclear power, and the AP issued a story Monday on the report.

In the report Peck writes: “The new seismic information resulted in a condition outside of the bounds of the existing Diablo Canyon design basis and safety analysis. Continued reactor operation outside the bounds of the NRC approved safety analyses challenges the presumption of nuclear safety.”

He also states: “The Shoreline [Fault] Scenario results in SSC [acronym in the nuclear field for Structures, Systems and Components] seismic stress beyond the plant SSE [Safe Shutdown Earthquake] qualification basis. Exposure to higher levels of stress results in an increase[d] likelihood of a malfunction of SSCs. The change also increases the likelihood of a malfunction of SSCs important to safety…”

Peck notes that the “prevailing” NRC “staff view” is that “potential ground motions from the Shoreline fault are at or below those levels for which the plant was previously evaluated and demonstrated to have a ‘reasonable assurance of safety.’”

He disagrees and says that the NRC staff “also failed to address the Los Osos and San Luis Bay faults,” faults that the Shoreline Fault are seen as potentially interacting with, and that “new seismic information” concludes that “these faults were also capable of producing ground motions”

Also, he says: “The prevailing staff view that ‘operability’ may be demonstrated independent of existing facility design basis and safety analyses requirements establishes a new industry precedent. Power reactor licensees may apply this precedent to other nonconforming and unanalyzed conditions.”

“What’s striking about Peck’s analysis,” says the AP story, “is that it comes from within the NRC itself, and gives a rare look at a dispute within the agency. At issue are whether the plant’s mechanical guts could survive a big jolt, and what yardsticks should be used to measure the ability of the equipment to withstand the potentially strong vibrations that could result.”

The AP story also says, “Environmentalists have long depicted Diablo Canyon—the state’s last nuclear plant after the 2013 closure of the San Onofre reactors in Southern California—as a nuclear catastrophe in waiting. In many ways, the history of the plant, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco…and within 50 miles of 500,000 people, has been a costly fight against nature, involving questions and repairs connected to its design and structural strength.”

Calling the Peck report “explosive,” the environmental group Friends of the Earth this week described it as having been “kept secret for a year.”

Said Damon Moglen, senior strategy advisor at Friends of the Earth: “Inspector Peck is the canary in the coal mine, warning us of a possible catastrophe at Diablo Canyon before it’s too late. We agree with him that Diablo Canyon is vulnerable to earthquakes and must be shut down immediately.”

Moglen said: “Given the overwhelming risk of earthquakes, federal and state authorities would never allow nuclear reactors on this site now. Are PG&E and the NRC putting the industry’s profits before the health and safety of millions of Californians?”

“Rather than the NRC keeping this a secret,” Moglen went on, “there must be a thorough investigation with public hearings to determine whether these reactors can operate safely.”
Peck is still with the NRC, a trainer at its Technical Training Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Michael Mariotte, president of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, commented Monday that in “plain English” what Peck’s report acknowledges is: “The NRC does not know whether Diablo Canyon could survive an earthquake, within the realm of the possible, at any of the faults around Diablo Canyon. And the reactors should shut down until the NRC does know one way or the other. Of course, if the reactors cannot survive a postulated earthquake, the obvious conclusion is that they must close permanently. The question is whether the NRC will ever act on Peck’s recommendation or whether the agency will continue to sit on it until after the next earthquake.”

Mariotte also says: “The irony is that this should have been the big news a year ago; Peck wrote his recommendation—in the form of a formal Differing Professional Opionion—in July 2013. And the NRC still hasn’t taken action or even responded to it.”

In his report Peck also states that the NRC is supposed to be committed to a “standard of safety” and “safety means avoiding undue risk or providing reasonable assurance of adequate protection for the public.”

Meanwhile, PG&E has not only been insisting that its Diablo Canyon plants are safe, despite the earthquake threat, but has filed with the NRC to extend the 40 year licenses given for their operations  another 20 years—to 2044 for Diablo Canyon 1 and to 2045 for Diablo Canyon 2.

An analysis done in 1982 by Sandia National Laboratories for the NRC, titled “Calculations for Reactor Accident Consequences 2,” evaluated the impacts of a meltdown with “breach of containment” at every nuclear plant in the U.S.—what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plants as a result of an earthquake. For the Diablo Canyon nuclear plants, it projected 10,000 “peak early fatalities” for each of the plants and $155 billion in property damages for Diablo Canyon 1 and $158 billion for Diablo Canyon 2—in 1980 dollars.

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