The conclusion of a report of a Japanese parliamentary panel issued last week that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster was rooted in government-industry “collusion” and thus was “man-made” is mirrored throughout the world. The “regulatory capture” cited by the panel is the pattern among nuclear agencies right up to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco [Tokyo Electric Power Company, the owner of the six Fukushima plants] and the lack of governance by said parties,” said the 641-page report of The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission released on July 5. “They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made,’” said the report of the panel established by the National Diet or parliament of Japan.
“We believe the root causes were the organizational and regulatory system that supported faulty rationales for decisions and actions,” it went on. “Across the board, the commission found ignorance and arrogance unforgivable for anyone or any organization that deals with nuclear power.” It said nuclear regulators in Japan and Tepco “all failed to correctly develop the most basic safety requirements.”
The chairman of the 10-member panel, Kiyoshi Kurokawa, a medical doctor, declared in the report’s introduction: “It was a profoundly man-made disaster — that could and should have been foreseen and prevented.”
He also placed blame on cultural traits in Japan. “What must be admitted — very painfully,” wrote Dr. Kurokawa, “is that this was a disaster ‘Made in Japan.’ Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture; our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the programme’; our groupism; and our insularity.”
In fact, the nuclear regulatory situation in Japan is the rule globally.
In the United States, for example, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and its predecessor agency, the Atomic Energy Commission, never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime. The NRC has been busy in recent times not only giving the go-ahead to new nuclear power plant construction in the U.S. but extending the operating licenses of most of the 104 existing plants from 40 to 60 years — although they were only designed to run for 40 years. That’s because radioactivity embrittles their metal components and degrades other parts after 40 years, potentially making the plants unsafe to operate. And the NRC is now considering extending their licenses for 80 years.
Moreover, the NRC’s chairman, Gregory Jaczko, recently resigned in the face of an assault on him by the nuclear industry and his four fellow NRC members led by William D. Magwood, IV. Magwood is typical of most NRC and AEC commissioners through the decades — a zealous promoter of nuclear power. He came to the NRC after running Advanced Energy Strategies through which he served as a consultant to various companies involved with nuclear power including many in Japan — among them Tepco, as revealed by Ryan Grim on The Huffington Post.
Before that, Magwood served as director of nuclear energy for the U.S. Department of Energy. He “led the creation,” according to his NRC biography, of DOE programs pushing nuclear power, “Nuclear Power 2010” and “Generation IV.” Prior to that, he worked for the Edison Electric Institute and Westinghouse, a major nuclear power plant manufacturer.
Jaczko, although a supporter of nuclear power, with a Ph.D. in physics, repeatedly called for the NRC to apply “lessons learned” from the Fukushima disaster to its rules and actions — upsetting the industry and the other four NRC commissioners. As Jaczko declared in February as the other four NRC commissioners first approved the construction of new nuclear plants since Fukushima, giving the go-ahead to two plants in Georgia: “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.”
The NRC was set up to be an independent regulator of nuclear power to replace the AEC which was established by Congress under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. The AEC was given the dual missions of promoting and regulating nuclear power — a conflict of interest, Congress realized in 1974, so it eliminated the AEC and created the NRC as regulator and, later, the Department of Energy as promoter of nuclear power. But both the NRC and DOE have ended up pushing nuclear power with revolving doors between them and the government’s national nuclear laboratories — and the nuclear industry.
The International Atomic Energy Agency was established as an international version of the AEC by the United Nations after a speech made at it by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 in which he espoused “Atoms for Peace.” Its dual missions are serving as a monitor of nuclear technology globally while also seeking “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”
Its first director general was Sterling Cole who as a U.S. congressman was a big booster of nuclear power. Later came Hans Blix after he led a move in his native Sweden against an effort to close nuclear plants there. Blix was outspoken in seeking to spread nuclear power internationally calling for “resolute response by government, acting individually or together as in the [IAE] Agency.”
Blix’s long-time IAEA second-in command was Morris Rosen — formerly of the AEC and before that the nuclear division of General Electric (which manufactured the Fukushima plants) — who said after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster: “There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”
Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt followed Blix, and as he told an “International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 21st Century” organized by the IAEA in 2005: “There is clearly a sense of rising expectations for nuclear power.”
The current IAEA director general is Yukiya Amano of Japan. In Vienna at the heaquarters of the IAEA, marking the first anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in March, Amano said: “Nuclear power is now safer than it was a year ago.”
Shuya Nomura, a member of the Japanese investigation commission and a professor at the Chuo Law School, was quoted in the New York Times as saying that the panel’s report tried to “shed light on Japan’s wider structural problems, on the pus that pervades Japanese society.”
Those “wider structural problems” are far wider than Japan — they are global. The “regulatory capture” cited in the Japanese panel’s report has occurred all over the world — with the nuclear industry and those promoting nuclear power in governments making sure that the nuclear foxes are in charge of the nuclear hen houses. The “pus that pervades Japanese society” is international.
With some very important exceptions, people have not adequately taken on the nuclear authorities. And we all must. The nuclear promoters have set up a corrupt system to enable them to get their way with their deadly technology. They have lied, they have connived, they have distorted governments. The nuclear industry is thus allowed to do whatever it wants. The nuclear pushers must be firmly challenged and they and nuclear power must be stopped.
The scandal shaking Rupert Murdoch’s media holdings in Britain could be expected of a global media empire intoxicated with power and lacking any ethical base.
What is unfolding–revelations of bribery and massive phone-hacking–could go down as the greatest press scandal in the English-speaking world. Overarching it is a media machine built by Murdoch that is the most dishonest, unprincipled and corrupt of any media empire in the history of the English-speaking world (against stiff competition). And it is gargantuan, the largest media empire ever.
“If Rupert Murdoch were the Angel Gabriel, you still wouldn’t want him owning the sun, the moon, and the stars. That’s too much real estate for even the pure in heart,” commented Bill Moyers in 2007. “But Rupert Murdoch is no saint. He is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity.”
Murdoch has made a travesty of what journalism is supposed to be about. And he has institutionalised this on a global level. He has taken what was the distinguished paper of record of the English-speaking world, The Times of London, and degraded it–making it not a watchdog of power, what the press should be, but an instrument to aid those in power whom he favors.
He took what had been New York City’s paper-of-the-people, the oldest continuously published daily in the U.S., the New York Post, and with his obsession for titillation and sensation, made it a disgrace. With his Fox News Channel, exactly the opposite of the “fair and balanced” outlet it claims to be, he and Republican political operative Roger Ailes have developed what is no more than an unbridled propaganda organ for the GOP.
An ideal of the press in the United States, and Britain and most English-speaking nations, is to be a check on power. There are checks and balances between branches of government, and a free press that’s supposed to challenge it all.
After many years of restrictions on who could do publishing–more than a century of various forms of licensing and needing royal permission in Britain–in the modern era anyone can do it. That’s if they have the money. Then they can own a press and publish a newspaper or magazine, or own a TV station or network or book-publishing company or movie studio or other media institution.
Murdoch, born to wealth, seeking through the press to project his political views, acquired media institution after institution beginning in his native Australia.
This now includes 150 newspapers in Australia including The Australian, the nation’s biggest paper. In Britain, The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun (and until the scandal forced him to close it, he owned The News of the World with its 2.7 million circulation). In the U.S., he owns the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal and the rest of Dow Jones & Company holdings.
He has been seeking to use The Wall Street Journal to take on what has been the U.S. paper of record, The New York Times, and become the new premier American newspaper. He owns the giant book-publishing company, HarperCollins. He owns the 20th Century Fox movie studio. He owns 20th Century Fox Television and the Fox Broadcasting Company. He has been trying in Britain to turn what started as his satellite TV network, Sky Television, into a merged company, BSkyB, a scheme now threatened by the scandal. His cable TV assets in the U.S. include Fox News Channel, Fox Movie Channel and Fox Business Network. Murdoch’s media holdings also extend to Asia, western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.
In 1985 he became a U.S. citizen because the Federal Communications Commission requires U.S. citizenship for holding a majority interest in a U.S. TV station and Murdoch was aiming to center his media empire in the U.S., he became a U.S. citizen. (His News Corp. now owns 27 U.S. TV stations.)
No matter the country in which he has operated, Murdoch has been deeply involved in aggressively manipulating government officials. As Moyers notes, “Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract of the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash…The ambitious can’t resist his blandishments, nor his power to get or keep them in office where they can return his favors.”
It has been a “cozy relationship that Rupert Murdoch long enjoyed with the British power structure,” began an Associated Press article this week.
Investigative reporter Carl Bernstein writes in this week’s Newsweek of how under Murdoch “gossip, sensationalism, and manufactured controversy…substitutes” for the “best traditions and values of real reporting and responsible journalism…this journalistic ideal.” Meanwhile, “It’s hard to think of any other individual who has had a greater impact on American political and media culture in the past half century. But now the empire is shaking, and there’s no telling when it will stop.”
As Los Angeles Times journalist Tim Rutten wrote this week: “The seeds of Murdoch’s British newspapers’ abuse of trust and power were sown in a media culture whose essentials–salacious celebrity coverage, gossip, overt partisanship–have infiltrated our own under his influence. The meltdown in London ought to be a wake-up call.”
There have been disreputable media barons through the years. William Randolph Hearst’s outrageous activities are the subject of what has long been considered America’s finest film, Citizen Kane. But the scale on which Rupert Murdoch has operated, his reach through a wide variety of media, his ceaseless crusade for his political agenda, exceeds these moguls of the past. As British journalist William Shawcross wrote in his 1992 biography, Murdoch, Murdoch positioned himself to be “an international Citizen Kane, with influence beyond imagining.”
Will the scandal–and especially the criminal investigations and governmental (at long last) inquiries–bring Murdoch and his management circle down and lead to a break-up of his media empire? That would be a great outcome towards the goal of a free and independent media serving the public interest.
This week marks the 280th anniversary of a landmark event in the history of a free press: the trial of John Peter Zenger in New York. Zenger, publisher of the New-York Weekly Journal, was found not guilty of seditious libel by a 12-member jury at a two-day trial that began on August 4, 1735.
The charge was brought by a tyrannical colonial governor of New York, William Cosby, who accused Zenger of printing “false, scandalous, malicious and seditious” articles. The New York-Weekly Journal had been going after the governor, exposing his shady machinations.
Zenger, who had been jailed for nine months, was represented by Andrew Hamilton, considered the foremost lawyer in the colonies. Hamilton took the case pro bono, riding to the rescue from Pennsylvania where he had been former attorney-general.
Hamilton confounded the prosecution by admitting that Zenger had published the offending material, but he took the position that what was involved was the truth. Chief Justice James Delancey, a Cosby henchman, didn’t agree with the defense of truth.
But Hamilton’s response was that: “Leaving it to judgement of the court whether the words are libelous or not in effect renders juries useless.”
On August 5, Hamilton addressed the jury in an eloquent, brilliant summation–parts of which as a journalism professor I read to my students every semester.
Hamilton spoke about how it was “my duty, if required, to go to the utmost part of the land where my services could be of any use in assisting to quench the flames of prosecutions upon informations set on foot by the government, to deprive a people of the right of remonstrating and complaining, too, of the arbitrary attempts of men in power.”
He said: “Men who injure and oppress the people under their administration provoke them to cry out and complain, and then make that very complaint the foundation for new oppressions and prosecutions.”
Hamilton declared: “The question before the court and you, gentlemen of the jury, is not of small or private concern. It is not the cause of one poor printer, nor of New York alone, which you are now trying. No! It may in its consequence affect every free man that lives under a British government on the main of America.”
“It is the best cause. It is the cause of liberty,” Hamilton continued. “And I make no doubt but your upright conduct this day will not only entitle you to the love and esteem of your fellow citizens, but every man who prefers freedom to a life of slavery will bless and honor you as men who have baffled the attempt of tyranny, and by an impartial and uncorrupt verdict have laid a noble foundation for securing to ourselves, our posterity, and our neighbors, that to which nature and the laws of our country have given us a right to liberty of both exposing and opposing arbitrary power, in these parts of the world at least, by speaking and writing truth.”
The jury, after a short deliberation returned, and jury foreman Thomas Hunt, asked by the court clerk for its verdict, declared: “Not guilty.”
There were cheers in the courtroom. Judge Delancey, frustrated and angry, threatened the delighted spectators. The jubilant crowd headed to Black Horse Tavern to celebrate. On his return to Philadelphia, Hamilton was also happily welcomed with a cannon salute.
Author Gail Jarrow in her account of The Trial of John Petr Zenger states that after the Zenger “jury’s verdict, British governors were reluctant to charge American printers with seditious libel. They realized that colonial juries would likely refuse to convict anyone for publishing criticisms of royal officials. Because of this, the colonial press became more open and free. During the years leading up to the American Revolution, printers published attacks on British authority as well as calls for independence.”
She adds “It was fitting that the Bill of Rights was adopted by Congress in the same building where Zenger had been jailed and tried more than fifty years before.” (What’s now Federal Hall National Memorial at 26 Wall Street. Tours are given by the National Park Service)
As the New York Times editorialized 30 years ago, on the 250th anniversary of the Zenger trial, it “turned common law on its head and established the freedom of our press.”
“The Zenger case planted the seeds that flowered a half-century later in the First Amendment,” noted The Times. “It destroyed the pernicious doctrine that criticism of government is seditious even if true. And it showed how juries, backed by public opinion, can enlarge the spirit of the law.”
The Times went on: “Across the ages, then, an added toast: to the Zenger jury, for registering the public’s understanding of a vital yet always difficult American idea–that the freedom of the press to challenge authority and convey complaints of the citizenry is indispensable in a free society.”
Professor Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law has written that “no case in American history stands as a greater landmark on the road to protection for freedom of the press than the trial of a German immigrant printer named John Peter Zenger.”
Press freedom, unfortunately, is not the way of the world, far from it. I point my students to the superb journal Index on Censorship which since 1972 has battled for free speech. With its home in Great Britain, Index on Censorship emphasizes how “we fight for free speech around the world, challenging censorship whenever and wherever it occurs. Index uses a unique combination of journalism, campaigning and advocacy to defend freedom of expression for those facing censorship and repression, including journalists, writers, social media users, bloggers, artists, politicians, scientists, academics, activists and citizens. Index believes that free expression is the foundation of a free society and endorses Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”
And Index on Censorship provides a rundown of actions around the globe limiting free expression–and in so many countries totally suppressing it. Its informative website is here.
Ever since Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press nearly 600 years ago now, there have been many in power threatened by people able to communicate freely, and they have worked hard to prevent that. The Zenger trial was a very bright event on a continually difficult journey.
As Thanksgiving 2010 arrives, thanks should be given for something that never happened decades ago: the use (as planned) of bases built all over the United States armed with BOMARC and Nike Hercules nuclear-tipped missiles.
It was the 1950s and 60s, and the U.S. feared Soviet bombers might strike major American cities and various strategic targets. So a scheme was hatched to deploy nuclear-tipped missiles. These were early anti-aircraft missiles and seen as unable to score direct hits. Thus the plan was to have the nuclear warheads on the BOMARC and Nike Hercules missiles detonate when the missiles reached a formation of Soviet bombers, blowing the formation apart — although also raining radioactivity down below.
The nuclear warheads on the BOMARC and Nike Hercules missiles had massive power. The tips on the BOMARCs had the equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the power of 13 kilotons. The Nike Hercules warheads ranged up to 30 kilotons.
How much radioactive fall-out would have descended on the coastal areas where BOMARC and Nike Hercules bases were located depended on the winds and where the detonations of the nuclear warheads occurred. For bases sited inland, and BOMARC and Nike Hercules bases ringed several inland cities including Chicago, the nuclear warheads would definitely have exploded over populated regions of America. The BOMARC had a range of 250 miles, the Nike Hercules 100 miles.
I had the eerie experience recently of walking around two former nuclear-tipped missile sites — a BOMARC base in Westhampton and a Nike Hercules base in Rocky Point, both on Long Island, New York. (The BOMARC program was run by the Air Force and named for its developers–BO for Boeing and MARC for Michigan Aerospace Research Center. The Nike program was run by the Army and named for the Greek goddess of victory, although in this scheme it would have been a potentially suicidal victory.)
I was making a TV documentary on the BOMARC and Nike bases set up on Long Island and elsewhere in the New York Metropolitan Area with Soviet bombers headed for New York City as the major concern.
The documentary, which I did as chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV in New York, has been broadcast in recent weeks, and WVVH has also put it up on YouTube.
Each of the 56 BOMARC missiles in Westhampton had its own building. The missiles were positioned on the floors of the buildings and their roofs would open when they were to be fired. The buildings remain, and they and the machinery in them to open the roofs are very solid. Large amounts of money were spent on this scheme.
With the shift by the Soviets (and the U.S.) to ICBMs, the BOMARC and Nike bases were closed in the 70s. The nuclear-tipped missiles are now all gone, but many of the bases remain — frightening reminders of a dangerous period.
The Westhampton BOMARC base was given to Suffolk County, which utilizes some of the buildings for storage. The site is also used as a police shooting range. Fittingly, gunfire was in the background as we filmed.
The three-missile Nike Hercules base in Rocky Point is now the site of an Army Reserve Center. The Nike missiles were positioned underground in silos. I stood on one of the welded-shut tops of a silo to explain what had been below.
The words that came to me in visiting the nuclear-tipped missile sites were: by the skin of our teeth. Only by the skin of our teeth, I thought, had we avoided nuclear destruction. So the program is titled, “Avoiding Nuclear Destruction: By The Skin Of Our Teeth.”
A book has just been published, “Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era: Nuclear Antiaircraft Arms and the Cold War” by Christopher J. Bright. He writes about the “effort to facilitate popular acceptance of these weapons… The arms were touted in news releases, featured in films and television episodes… The need for atomic antiaircraft weapons was readily accepted by most Americans, and few objected to their existence or ubiquity.”
Nuclear technology is still being heavily promoted. The U.S. as well as the French and Russian governments are pushing for the building of many more nuclear plants — and inevitably there will be more accidents as bad as or worse than the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. Though ostensibly for civilian use, the reactors would also provide the fuel and give their technicians the expertise for making nuclear weapons — this is how India got the atomic bomb. The Pentagon, meanwhile, still holds nuclear war to be quite feasible. And U.S. Senator John Kyl, an Arizona Republican, is right now seeking to block ratification of a new nuclear arms pact between the U.S. and Russia, a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The treaty has done a good job in limiting the nuclear weapons stockpiles of both countries and providing transparency. Will Kyl and his followers kill that?
This, too, is a highly dangerous period.
In front of a BOMARC building, I ended the documentary asking: how long will we be able to survive by the skin of our teeth? We should give thanks this week that somehow we got through the Cold War atomic nightmare. Now we must roll back the new crazy atomic push.
The World Health Organization projects that this year cancer will become the world’s leading cause of death. Why the epidemic of cancer? Death certificates in the United States show cancer as being the eighth leading cause of death in 1900.
Why has it skyrocketed to now surpass heart disease as number one?
Is it because people live longer and have to die of something? That’s a factor, but not the prime reason as reflected by the jump in age-adjusted cancer being far above what could be expected from increased longevity. And it certainly doesn’t explain the steep hike in childhood cancers. Is it lifestyle, diet and genetics, as we have often been told? They are factors, but not key reasons.
The cause of the cancer epidemic, as numerous studies have now documented, is largely environmental — the result of toxic substances in the water we drink, the food we eat, the consumer products we use, the air we breathe. (Some of the pollution is voluntarily caused — by smoking. But most is involuntary.)
As the President’s Cancer Panel declared in May, in a 240-page report titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” “The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.” It said: “With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.”
It pointed to chemicals and radiation as major causes of cancer and stated: “Cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from the cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing…The burgeoning number and complexity of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compel us to act to protect public health.”
The panel urged President Obama “most strongly to use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water, and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives.”
In 1980, another presidential panel, the Presidential Toxic Substances Strategy Committee, came to the same conclusion. It declared:
“Of the hazards to human health arising from toxic substances, cancer is a leading cause of concern. Cancer is the only major cause of death that has continued to rise since 1900. It is now second only to heart disease as a cause of death… Some of the increase in cancer mortality since 1900 is a function of the greater average age of the U.S. population and the medical progress made against infectious disease. But even after correcting for age, both mortality (death) rates and incidence (new cases) of cancer are increasing. Many now believe that environmental (nongenetic) factors — life style and work and environmental exposures — are significant in the great majority of cancer cases seen.”
Meanwhile, through the years solid science done by independent researchers — not those taking money from the chemical or nuclear industries — has extensively documented this cancer/environment connection.
“The evidence is there that the majority of cancer cases are environmentally caused,” says Dr. David Carpenter, founding dean of the University of Albany School of Public Health and now director of the Institute for Health and the Environment there. Among the research he points to is a 2000 study involving examining health records of 44,788 pairs of twins in Sweden, Denmark and Finland. If genetics were the main cause of cancer, if one twin developed cancer the other probably would, too. This was not found. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that “inherited genetic factors make a minor contribution” in most cancers. “This finding indicates that the environment has the principle role in causing sporadic cancer.”
Dr. Samuel Epstein, professor emeritus of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, in his book The Politics of Cancer concludes that cancer is a preventable disease “caused mainly by exposure to chemical or physical agents in the environment.” The huge problem, he said, is how “a combination of powerful and well-focused pressures by special industrialized interests, together with public inattention and the indifference of the scientific community” has warped public policy and thwarted “meaningful attempts to prevent the carnage.” Dr. Epstein now chairs the Cancer Prevention Coalition committed to eliminating those toxins that are causing the cancer epidemic (Source).
The initiative, Prevention is The Cure, was founded by breast cancer survivor Karen Joy Miller and on its website declares that four decades have passed, “and the wake-up call put forth by Rachel Carson” in her book Silent Spring “and other activists has been blocked by powerful political interests that profit from pollution.”
These powerful interests have long had allies in government. The late James Sibbison, who went from being a reporter for the Associated Press to press officer at the Environmental Protection Agency, would tell the story of how immediately after Ronald Reagan became president, orders were given to the EPA press office “never to use the words cancer-causing in front of the word chemical.” Now the number of chemicals in commercial use in the U.S. totals 80,000. The EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 has been required to assess all of them. In over 30 years it has gotten around to examining 200.
The poisoning–and consequent cancer — is not necessary. The report by the President’s Cancer Panel emphasize how “the requite knowledge and technologies exist” to provide safe “alternatives” to cancer-causing agents.
But this doesn’t suit those doing the polluting — who have such a hold on government.
With the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster this week, with North Korea having just threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” against the United States and a U.S. senator saying this would result in “suicide” for North Korea, with Iran suspected of moving to build nuclear weapons, with the continuing spread of nuclear technology globally, the future looks precarious as to humankind and the atom.
Can humanity at this rate make it through the 21st Century?
We were only able to get through the 20th Century without a major nuclear weapons exchange, without atomic doomsday, by the skin of our teeth.
With more nations having the ability to construct nuclear weapons, and any country with a nuclear power facility having the materiel and trained personnel to make nuclear weapons, the likelihood of this luck running out is high.
The only realistic way to secure a future for the world without nuclear war is for the entire planet to become a nuclear-free zone. No nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.
Radical? Yes, but consider the even more radical alternative: a world where many nations will be able to construct nuclear weaponry because they possess nuclear power technology. The only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout the world is to abolish nuclear weaponry and eliminate nuclear power. Consider the alternative: trying to keep using carrots and sticks, juggling on the road to inevitable nuclear catastrophe.
There are major regions of the Earth—the entireties of Africa and South America, the South Pacific and others—that are Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones because of regional treaties recognized by the United Nations. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution defining a Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone as an area with the “total absence of nuclear weapons” and establishing “an international system of verification and control…to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from [this] statute.”
But if we are truly to have a world free of the horrific threat of nuclear weapons, the goal needs to be more than zones without them. A world free of the other side of the nuclear coin — nuclear power — is also necessary.
Any nuclear power facility can serve as a nuclear bomb factory.
That’s how India got the atomic bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a reactor for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons.
Some will say putting the atomic genie back into the bottle is impossible. However, anything people have done other people can undo, especially if the reason is good. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.
There’s a precedent in the outlawing of poison gas after World War I when its terrible impacts were tragically demonstrated. Chlorine gas, mustard gas, phosphene gas killed thousands on both sides of the conflict.
The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemicals Weapons Convention of 1933 outlawed chemical warfare and to a large degree the prohibition has held.
As for the connection between purportedly “peaceful” atomic energy and nuclear weapons, physicist Amory Lovins and attorney Hunter Lovins spell it out well in their 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,” they write.
“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,” they note. A large nuclear power plant “annually produces hundreds of kilograms of plutonium; a large fast breeder reactor would contain thousands of kilograms; a large reprocessing plant may separate tens of thousands.”
Civilian nuclear power technology, they emphasize, provides the way to make nuclear weapons, furnishing the materiel and personnel. Nuclear weapons non-proliferation, they say, requires “civil denuclearization.”
As to claims of the energy generated by nuclear power plans being necessary, that’s not true. Safe, clean, renewable energyled by solar and wind energy technologiesis available to provide all the power the world needs.
Among entities focusing on this is the organization Go 100% which on its website says: “Across the globein regions, cities, communities, businesses, and individual livespeople are proving that 100% renewable energy is not a fantasy for someday, but a reality today….The conventional fossil and nuclear energy system has led to multiple convergent existential crises, including climate change, air and water pollution, destruction of the oceans, the threat of mass extinction, water and food shortages, poverty, nuclear radiation problems, nuclear weapons proliferation, fuel depletion, and geopolitical problems.” Go 100% provides details on the abundant research determining that the world can fully power itself with safe, clean, renewable energy, and what’s happening in nations, particularly Germany, now moving toward that goal.
The dangers of nuclear power, in addition to permitting the development of nuclear weapons by any nation that has it, are immense.
As he retired from the Navy in 1982, Admiral Hyman Rickover, considered the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy who was also in charge of building the first U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, told a Congressional committee that inherent in nuclear power is radioactivity which made life impossible on Earth. Until a few billion years ago, Rickover told the panel, “it was 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.” Then, gradually, “the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin.”
“Now,” he went on, by utilizing nuclear power, “we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Every time you produce radiation,” a “horrible force” is unleashed, “in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself.”
Having seen the light after decades of being deeply involved in nuclear technology, Rickover said: “I’m talking about humanity, the most important thing we could do is to start in having an international meeting where we first outlaw nuclear weapons to start off with, then we outlaw nuclear reactors, too.”
As for nuclear weapons, he said: “The lesson of history is when a war starts, every nation will ultimately use whatever weapon has been available. That is the lesson learned time and again. Therefore, we must expect, if another war, a serious war breaks out, we will use nuclear energy in some form” and “we will probably destroy ourselves.”
Planet Earth must be a nuclear-free zone without nuclear weapons and without nuclear power if the human race and other life forms are to survive.
With the nomination of Ernest Moniz to be the next U.S. secretary of Energy, President Barack Obama has selected a man who is not only a booster of nuclear power but a big proponent of fracking, too. What happened to Obama’s call for “clean” energy in his 2013 State of the Union address?
Moniz, a physicist and director of the MIT Energy Initiative, heavily financed by energy industry giants including BP and Chevron, has long advocated nuclear power. He has continued arguing for it despite the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex, maintaining that the disaster in Japan should not cause a stop in nuclear power development.
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. Germany announced an accelerated shutdown of its nuclear reactors, with broad public support.” But, insisted 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.” Foreign Affairs is the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, which regards itself an elite grouping of government officials, industry executives, scientists and media figures. Moniz is a member.
He also said in the essay that “the public needs to be convinced that nuclear power is safe.” As U.S. energy secretary, this will likely be a main thrust of Moniz. He would endeavor to lead the 16,000-employee Department of Energy with a budget of $27 billion for 2013 in trying to get the American public to believe in what decades ago the U.S. government promoted as “Citizen Atom.”
Likewise, when it comes to hydraulic fracturing or fracking—the process that uses hundreds of toxic chemicals and massive amounts of waste under high pressure to fracture shale formations to release gas captured in them—Moniz told the Senate Energy Committee in 2011 that the water and air pollution risks associated with fracking were “challenging but manageable” with appropriate regulation and oversight.
Fracking also can also lead to radioactive contamination. Many shale formations contain Radium-226 and other radioactive poisons unleashed in the fracking process.
Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, declared after Obama’s nomination of Moniz on Monday, that the group “has grave concerns about Mr. Moniz’s history of support for both nuclear power and fracking.” Pica described Moniz’s support of nuclear power despite “the unfolding catastrophe” of Fukushima as “frightening.” On Moniz being “a big booster of fracking,” Pica said this has been “seemingly without due regard for the environmental and public health risks and impacts.”
Nevertheless, in Washington Monday, Obama, describing Moniz as a “brilliant scientist,” said: “Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate. And so I could not be more pleased to have Ernie join us.”
It’s not as if Obama wasn’t warned about Moniz.
For weeks, as reports spread that Moniz would be replacing Obama’s first energy secretary, the also staunchly pro-nuclear power Steven Chu, former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the organization Food & Water Watch circulated an online petition for people to send to Obama. It stated: “This is not the person we need as our country’s Energy Secretary at this critical moment. We need a visionary leader who can enact policies that move us away from intensive fossil fuel extraction, such as fracking, and toward a renewable energy future.” Other groups circulated similar petitions.
And it’s not as if Moniz was unfamiliar to Obama, or Washington. He has been a member of both Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. And he was an undersecretary in the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration.
Obama’s stance as president on nuclear power has been a change from his position as candidate Obama. “I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal and so I am not a nuclear energy proponent,” Obama said campaigning in Iowa on 2007. He went on that unless the “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 in New Hampshire that year: “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.”
Nevertheless, in his first State of the Union speech he spoke about “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country” and kept repeating that pitch. But in recent times, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Obama has increasingly avoided using the words nuclear power—he didn’t refer to it at all in his State of the Union address this January. Instead he has let Chu, and will let, if he is confirmed, Moniz, do the talking about nuclear power and pushing it as an energy source for the United States.
As to fracking, in his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama said “the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”
From seemingly out of nowhere, the Internet has become the greatest global platform for free expression the world has ever seen.
But will this last?
An international conference was held in December that pitted nations seeking greater governmental control over the Internet — led by Russia and China — against countries advocating a hands-off approach. These included the United States, Canada, Israel, and nations of Western Europe including Great Britain.
The U.S. ambassador to World Conference on International Telecommunications, Terry Kramer, declared: “The Internet has thrived because it has been left in an open environment, and all the commercial opportunities that accrued, and the rights to free speech and democracy, are because it’s been left alone.”
Kramer, in the telecommunications field for 25 years, was appointed by President Barack Obama to head the U.S. delegation to the 12-day conference held in Dubai. Some 2,000 people from 193 nations participated.
“An attempt to establish global oversight of the Internet has collapsed after many Western countries said a compromise plan gave too much power to United Nations and other officials,” reported RTE News, a website out of Ireland, about the conference. It added: “While other countries will sign the treaty, the absence of so many of the largest economies means that the document, already watered down to suit much of the West, will have little practical force.”
But the struggle is far from over.
The resolution agreed upon — although not by the nations opposed — resolved that the UN secretary-general “continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet.”
ITU is the acronym for the International Telecommunications Union which hosted the conference. Although now an agency of the UN, it predates the world body by more than 75 years having been founded in 1865 to help coordinate international standards for telegraph signals. After the Titanic sank in 1912 — a disaster compounded by problems involving reception of signals from the ill-fated ship, ITU’s role greatly increased.
Comparing this “landmark” Titanic-based event with what has been happening with the ITU and the Internet, Professor Patrick S. Ryan wrote an article in the Stanford Technology Law Review last year entitled, “The ITU and the Internet’s Titanic Moment.”
Ryan, a professor in the University of Colorado at Boulder Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program as well as a “policy counsel” for Open Internet at Google, Inc. wrote: “While the ITU isn’t exactly a household name, it nonetheless may end up making critical–and potentially harmful–decisions that have a profound effect on Internet users around the globe.” He said the December ITU conference “together with policy consultations in 2013…may significantly change how the Internet is governed.”
Ryan is highly critical of the ITU. “Perhaps the greatest problem with the ITU,” he states, “is its lack of transparency. Most democratic governments and processes have some fundamental right to public information and to the system for creating it. Yet the ITU is closed, opaque, and obfuscated in terms of its legislative treaty-making processes and in its standard-setting processes.” It is a “large, closed, bureaucratic organization that uses scare tactics in an attempt to reinforce the need for its regulatory involvement.”
But the situation involves far more than the ITU.
At its center is the clash between people expressing themselves freely and those in power threatened by this — a conflict as old as the printing press.
Indeed, every semester in my classes in Investigative Reporting at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, I give a lecture on this conflict between free expression and power — a battle that’s been never-ending.
In the Internet collision now, the ITU would be a tool used by those in power frightened by the Internet — and because it’s a global medium, their need for an international lid put on this pot of free expression.
Russia’s scheme at the conference, according to the Associated Press, was to get a resolution passed with language requiring “member states to ensure the public has unrestricted access and use of international telecommunication services ‘except in cases where international communications services are used for the purpose of interfering in the internal affairs or undermining the sovereignty, national security, territorial integrity and public safety of other states, or to divulge information of a sensitive nature.’… The wording of this provision could allow a country to repress political opposition while citing a UN treaty as the basis for doing so.”
In my lecture, I go back to the oldest of “old” mass media — the newspaper — and its slow growth after Johann Gutenberg invented his printing press around 1440. It took more than a century for newspapers to then come about, and I cite the literature that explains how this first occurred in places with weak or tolerant governance. I quote Edwin Emery from his book The Press and America: An Interpretative History of the Mass Media that: “It is significant that the newspaper first flourished in areas where authority was weak, as in Germany, at that time divided into a patchwork of small principalities, or where rulers were most tolerant as in the low countries.”
I discuss the tyrannical control of the press by monarch after monarch in America’s mother country, England, and how they kept a tight lid on the press by requiring licensing, and punishing those expressing the slightest dissent.
I quote from that great plea for a free press in England, by poet John Milton, in his Aeropagitica in 1844, in which he said “we do injuriously by licensing and prohibiting.” There need be free expression, said Milton, and with it would come truth and falsehood, too, but “in a free and open encounter” truth would triumph.”
It was under the powerful monarchs of England that a press system began termed “authoritarian” by three communications professors in their 1956 book Four Theories of the Press, a seminal media analysis.
Under the authoritarian press system, they write, the “chief purpose” of the press is “to support and advance the policies of the government in power; and to service the state.” Forbidden is “criticism of political machinery and officials in power.”
This, unfortunately, is still the media system in many nations of the world today.
Arriving subsequently was what they term the “libertarian” press system. Under it, the function of the press, they relate, is “to inform, entertain, sell — but chiefly to help discover truth, and to check on government.”
The conflict when it comes to the Internet has been going on for some time. “Worldwide Battle for Control of the Internet” was the headline in 2009 of an article in the British magazine, New Scientist.
“When thousands of protesters took to the streets in Iran following this year’s disputed presidential election, Twitter messages sent by activists let the world know about the brutal policing that followed,” the article started. “A few months earlier, campaigners in Moldova used Facebook to organize protests against the country’s communist government, and elsewhere too the Internet is playing an increasing role in political dissent. Now governments are trying to regain control. By reinforcing their efforts to monitor activity online, they hope to deprive dissenters of information and the ability to communicate.”
It went on to outline the “Internet clampdown” by “governments across the globe.” It cited the work of organizations that have sprung up to keep the Internet free, including the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, a representative of which was quoted in the piece as saying, “Political filtering is the common denominator.”
Other organizations include, notably, OpenNet Initative (in which the Berkman Center is one of three participant institutions). The website of OpenNet Initiative chronicles situation after situation of nations censoring the Internet.
China has developed a comprehensive program of rigid Internet censorship
As the New York Times reported in an article in December: “Internet censorship in China is among the most stringent in the world. The government blocks Web sites that discuss the Dalai Lama, the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters, Palun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, and other Internet sites. As revolts began to ricochet through the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, and homegrown efforts to organize protests began to circulate on the Internet, the Chinese government tightened its grip on electronic communications, and appeared to be more determined than ever to police cellphone calls, electronic messages, e-mail and access to the Internet in order to smother any hint of antigovernment sentiment.”
“The government’s computers intercept incoming data and compare it against an ever-changing list of banned keywords or Web sites,” the Times article continued, “screening out even more information. The motive is often obvious: Since late 2010, the censors have prevented Google searches of the English word ‘freedom.’”
Russia’s rulers, too, regard the Internet as threatening. In November, a law was passed in Russia “blacklisting websites that the government determines have illegal content,” Forbes reported. This article quoted a statement about the situation in Russia from Reporters Without Borders: “The Russian state is characterized by a lack of political pluralism and widespread corruption… The Internet, a space where independent voices still find expression, is now being targeted by the authorities, who are trying to develop online filtering and surveillance. Bloggers are the victims of lawsuits and prosecutions.”
The pattern of Internet suppression seen in China and Russia is also being pursued by many other nations — as is presented clearly by the OpenNet Initiative’s website and Wikipedia’s website “Internet censorship by country.”
A key problem involving the “libertarian” press system over the years has been: who can afford to own a press? Yes, the press is ostensibly free, but there’s been the question: who has the money to own a newspaper, magazine, TV or radio station or publish books? As the American press critic A.J. Liebling wrote in The New Yorker magazine in 1960: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
But now, with a computer and an Internet connection, anybody can “own a press” and be an active participant in media. That is very scary to the rulers of Russia and China and the other nations that stood with them at the ITU conference which included Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Sudan, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates.
They didn’t get what they wanted. But this was just one attempt in what will be an ongoing effort to undermine the Internet globally.
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced his resignation last week after four years of pushing nuclear power, although he promoted energy efficiency and safe, renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind, too.
But nuclear power remained a major focus of Dr. Chu, a physicist out of the U.S. national nuclear laboratory system. In his letter to Department of Energy employees announcing his departure, Chu listed as among “tangible signs of success” during his tenure the go-ahead for the building of “the first nuclear power plants in the last three decades” in the U.S.
His position on energy as energy secretary was similar to the stand he took in his previous role as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. There he also promoted energy efficiency and renewables, but nuclear power was a main thrust of his energy stance.
“Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio,” declared Chu, as laboratory director, at an “economic summit” in California in 2008 sponsored by Stanford University. He said in his speech: “The fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into this. Coal is very, very bad.”
As energy secretary, speaking at the Vogtle nuclear plant site in Georgia last year, where two of the new plants he cited in his letter are supposed to be built, he said:
“The resurgence of America’s nuclear industry starts here in Georgia, where you just got approval for the first time in three decades to build new reactors. The Obama administration is committed to doing our part to help jumpstart America’s nuclear industry. The Energy Department is supporting this project with more than $8 billion in conditional loan guarantees. And we have partnered with industry to support the certification and licensing of the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design.”
Describing nuclear power as a “clean” energy technology, Chu said, “What you are doing here at Vogtle will help us compete in the global clean energy race and provide domestic, clean power to U.S. homes.”
And, the year before, in a presentation before the International Atomic Energy Agency, Chu asserted: “Nuclear power will continue to be an important part of our energy mix, both in the United States and around the world.” The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster had occurred just six months before, and he also said: “The tragic events at Fukushima make clear that nuclear energy… also brings significant challenges to our collective safety and security.”
Some news pieces in recent days about Chu’s resignation have mentioned the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project and how — as the Las Vegas Review Journal accurately put it – Chu “carried out the Obama administration’s plan to shut down” the project.
For Chu, as a nuclear laboratory director, was a supporter of the plan to deposit massive amounts of nuclear waste at the site, as noted by CNN in a 2011 piece.
As energy secretary, Chu switched to the stance of President Obama (and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada). The mountain 100 miles from Las Vegas is riddled with earthquake faults.
In his letter to DOE employees, Chu challenged — as he pointed out Obama did in his recent inaugural address — those who deny climate change. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science… The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity has had a significant and likely dominant role in climate change,” Chu wrote.
He went on to promote “clean” energy as an antidote.
The key problem here, however, is that by including nuclear power in the “clean” energy category, Chu refuses to accept that the nuclear “fuel cycle” involved in nuclear power — mining, milling, fuel fabrication, enrichment and so on — is a significant contributor to greenhouse gasses and climate change.
And he refuses to accept that true “clean” energy — safe renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind — can provide all the energy we need and not contribute to climate change at all. “A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables” was a 2009 cover story in Scientific American, about one of several major studies done in recent years coming to the same conclusion.
But Chu titled his 2010 essay, on his personal Facebook page, “Why We Need More Nuclear Power.” He insisted that “we need nuclear power as part of a comprehensive solution.” He asked for comments. One reader, Matthew Cloner, commented on March 12, 2011: “I’m afraid that I cannot agree with you in your position, Dr. Chu. As the recent disaster in Japan unfolds before our eyes, it is very obvious that nuclear power is both extremely dangerous and environmentally unsound as an energy source.”
But it’s hard for Chu and many other scientists out of the national nuclear laboratory system to acknowledge the deadliness of the technology that is the basis for most of their work.
These laboratories connect with the early laboratories set up during the World War II Manhattan Project to build the first atomic bombs. Chu’s former laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley, was then called the Radiation Laboratory. It describes itself as the “oldest” of the national laboratories. It and the other national nuclear laboratories were long run by the Atomic Energy Commission, which the Manhattan Project was turned into after the war. Then, because the AEC was such a zealous advocate of nuclear power, while supposedly a regulator of the technology, the AEC was eliminated by Congress in 1974 and a Nuclear Regulatory Commission and then a Department of Energy were created.
The DOE was given the mission of promoting nuclear power — a mission that Chu pursued as energy secretary. It also replaced the AEC in running the national nuclear laboratories.
Chu’s position — “The fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into this. Coal is very, very bad” — doesn’t acknowledge how radiation-causing nuclear technology as well as coal are both unnecessary, that “100 Percent of the Planet” can he powered by safe, really clean, renewable energy sources.
Who will replace Chu when he leaves the DOE helm at month’s end? Obama’s appointee could be more of the same.
Among the names seen as a possibility is that of Carol Browner. Working out of the White House, she was Obama’s energy “czar” between 2009 and 2011, and administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration. She is a nuclear power booster. Browner stressed at a New Millennium Nuclear Energy Summit in Washington in 2010 that the U.S. was “once at the forefront” of the nuclear industry. “We need to recapture that dominant position, and there’s every reason to think we can,” she declared.
By selecting Browner or another nuclear proponent, Obama would be sending the U.S. in the wrong energy direction — a direction not good for public health nor safely powering society and not good, either, to deal with climate change.
Nuclear scientists and engineers embrace nuclear power like a religion. The term “nuclear priesthood” was coined by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, long director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the laboratory’s website proudly notes this. It’s not unusual for scientists at Oak Ridge and other U.S. national nuclear laboratories to refer to themselves as “nukies.” The Oak Ridge website describes Weinberg as a “prophet” of “nuclear energy.”
This religious, cultish element is integral to a report done for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1984 by Battelle Memorial Institute about how the location of nuclear waste sites can be communicated over the ages. An “atomic priesthood,” it recommends, could impart the locations in a “legend-and-ritual…retold year-by-year.” Titled “Communications Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia,” the taxpayer-funded report says: “Membership in this ‘priesthood’ would be self-selective over time.”
Currently, Allison Macfarlane, nominated to be the new head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says she is an “agnostic” on nuclear power—as if support or opposition to atomic energy falls on a religious spectrum. Meanwhile, Gregory Jaczko, the outgoing NRC chairman, with a Ph.D. in physics, was politically crucified because he repeatedly raised safety concerns, thus not revering nuclear power enough.
Years ago, while I was working on a book about toxic chemicals, the publisher asked that I find someone who worked for a chemical company and get his or her rationale. I found someone who had been at American Cyanamid, the pesticide manufacturer, who said he worked there to better support his growing family financially.
But when it comes to nuclear power, it’s more than that—it’s a religious adherence. Why? Does it have to do with nuclear scientists and engineers being in such close proximity to power, literally? Is it about the process through which they are trained—in the U.S., many in the nuclear navy and/or in the insular culture of the government’s national nuclear laboratories? These laboratories, originally under the Atomic Energy Commission and now the Department of Energy and managed by corporations, universities and scientific entities including Battelle Memorial Institute, grew out of the World War II Manhattan Project crash program to build atomic bombs. After the war, the laboratories expanded to pursue the development of all things nuclear. And is it about nuclear physics programs at universities serving as echo chambers?
Whatever the causes, the outcome is nuclear worship.
And this is despite the Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi catastrophes. It’s despite the radioactive messes exposed at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility and at Los Alamos and other national nuclear laboratories most of which have been declared high-pollution Superfund sites where cancer on-site and in adjoining areas is widespread. It’s despite the continuing threat of nuclear war and the horrific loss of life it would bring and nuclear proliferation spreading the potential for atomic weapons globally. Still, they press on with religious fervor.
“Most of them are not educated about radiation biology or genetics, so they are fundamentally ignorant,” says Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility whose books include Nuclear Madness. “They are ‘brought up’ in an environment where they are conditioned to support the concept of all things nuclear.” Further, “nuclear power evokes enormous forces of the universe, and as Henry Kissinger said, ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And “they practice denial because I think many of them in their heart really know that what they are doing is evil but they will defend it assiduously, unless they themselves or their child is diagnosed with cancer. Then many of them recant.”
Linking the “nuclear priesthood” to the Manhattan Project is Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The scientists involved weren’t really sure what they were unleashing, and had to have a certain amount of faith that it would work and it would not destroy the world in the process. After they saw the destructive power of the bomb, they were both proud and horrified at what they had done, and believed they had to use this technology for ‘good.’ Thus nuclear power was born,” says Mariotte. “The problem is when you have this messianic vision that you are creating good out of evil, it is very difficult to turn around and realize that the ‘good’ you have created is, in fact, also evil.”
Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog at Beyond Nuclear, says ever since the first test of an atomic device, “the diabolically-named ‘Trinity’ atomic blast, when Manhattan Project scientists placed bets on whether or not it would ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s been clear something pathological afflicts many in the ‘nuclear priesthood.’ Perhaps it’s a form of ‘Faustian fission’—splitting the atom gave the U.S. superpower status with the Bomb and then over a 100 commercial atomic reactors, so the ‘downsides’ have been entirely downplayed to the point of downright denial. Perhaps the power, prestige and greed swirling around the ‘nuclear enterprise’ explains why so many in industry, government, the military, and even apologists in academia and mainstream media, engage in Orwellian ‘Nukespeak’ and monumental cover ups….The ‘cult of the atom’ has caused untold numbers of deaths and disease downstream, downwind, up the food chain, and down the generations from ‘our friend the atom’ gone bad.”
A parallel situation exists in Russia, the other nuclear superpower. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and environmental advisor to Presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev, says the nuclear scientists there refer to themselves “atomschiky” or “nuclearists” and “think and act as a separate, isolated caste.” From the beginning of nuclear technology in the Soviet Union, they “were enthusiastic about the great, the fantastic discoveries of splitting the atom and developing enormous power. This ‘secret knowledge’ was magnified by state secrecy and a deep belief—in the Soviet Union as in the United States—of atomic energy ‘saving the globe’…There is a remarkable similarity in the argumentation of these groups here and in the United States. Step-by-step, they turned to an atomic religion, closed societies, a ‘state inside a state.’”
Dr. Heidi Huttner, who teaches sustainability at Stony Brook University, explains:
“As in so many parts of our industrialized and mechanized culture, there is no thought of consequences, or connections to the larger web of science, health, and human and nonhuman life…The nuclear culture becomes absolutely caught up in its own language and story. This self-enclosure feeds, validates and perpetuates itself. Without an outside critique or ‘objective’ third eye, any such culture loses the ability to self-regulate and self-monitor. This is where things become dangerous.”
Russell Ace Hoffman, author of The Code Killers, Why DNA and Ionizing Radiation Are a Dangerous Mix, says: “It is a cult. It fits all the classic definitions of a cult. It’s an elitist, war-mongering, closed society of inbred, inwardly-thinking, aggressively xenophobic, arrogant pseudo-nerds stuck in ideas that are at least half a century out of date…Another cult-like behavior is they don’t care about the suffering of their victims. Not one bit.”
Dr. Barbara Rose Johnston, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology in Santa Cruz, recounts spending three days at a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored conference for people involved in the atmospheric monitoring program at the nuclear weapons test site in Nevada. “Many of the scientists and technicians in attendance were from southern Utah and St. Georges County area where the heaviest atomic fallout from the Nevada test site occurred…I did not find a single man who saw a connection between fallout and cancer rates, despite the fact that most had suffered. My initial reaction was that these folks truly ‘drank the Kool-Aid’—true believers through and through.”
“The nuclear industry requires buying into an orthodoxy,” explains nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson. “I know, as I was in it as a senior VP.” He tells of how, after he voiced concerns and criticism, an industry lawyer “told me, ‘Arnie, in this industry, you are either for us or against us, and you just crossed the line.’ The same thing happened to [outgoing NRC Chairman] Jaczko I know of one nuclear engineer with 40 years of experience who committed suicide five days after Fukushima because he simply could not accept that his life’s work was based on erroneous assumptions. He had worked on the Mark 1 design [the GE design of the Fukushima Daicchi plants].”
Alice Slater, New York representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, says the “nuclear scientists are out of touch with reality. They talk about ‘risk assessment’—as though the dreadful, disastrous events at Chernobyl and Fukushima are capable of being weighed on a scale of ‘risks and benefits.’ They’re constantly refining their nuclear weapons—Congress has budgeted $84 billion for over the next 10 years to maintain the …’reliability of the nuclear arsenal,’ and $100 billion for new ‘delivery systems’—missiles, submarines and airplanes. After the horrendous effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, everyone knows these catastrophic weapons are unusable and yet we’re pouring all this money into perpetuating the national nuclear weapons laboratories. They’re not including the Earth in their calculations and the enormous damage they are doing. They’re involved in the worst possible inventions with lethal consequences that last for eternity. Still, they continue on. They’re holding our planet hostage while they tinker in their labs without regard to the risks they are creating for the very future of life on Earth.”
Dr. Chris Busby of the Health and Life Sciences faculty at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and author of Wings of Death, Nuclear Pollution and Human Health, says:
“What we are seeing with nuclear scientists is a desperate need to control their environment and their lives and the forces that may affect their lives by creating a virtual universe which they can deal with by mathematics and by drawing straight lines on paper.”
It’s the “cult of the nuclearists,” says Busby. And this construct of the nuclear scientists seeking to “control nature with mathematical equations that make them feel safe” sets up a “collision with reality”—and a “way we are going to destroy ourselves.” The belief in nuclear power is “far beyond anything scientific or rational,” says Busby, who has a Ph.D. in chemical physics.
Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, says the “religious passion for nuclear technology” started with the “guilt” of those in the Manhattan Project. “Those in the ‘nuclear priesthood’ knew that these horrible bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and they wanted to make up for that…They developed atomic energy for warfare and then thought it had other uses—and they would do anything to make that work.” But the civilian nuclear technology they devised was also deadly, and this realization was too “devastating to be accepted” by the “nuclear originators” or those who followed who “spend their days with their buddies, their colleagues, all thinking the same way.”
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, in his 1955 book The Open Mind, wrote: “The physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons….In some sort of crude sense…the physicists have known sin.”
Whether out of indoctrination, misguided belief, an obsession to “control nature,” the lure of the cult, closeness to power, job security, or their seeking to perpetuate a vested interest, the “nuclearists” have a religious allegiance to their technology. On a moral level, they have indeed sinned—and continue to do so. On a political level, they have corrupted and distorted energy policy in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. On an economic level, they are wasting a gargantuan portion of our tax dollars.
Choices of energy technology should be based on the technology being safe, clean, economic and in harmony with life. Instead, we are up against nuclear scientists and engineers pushing their deadly technology in the manner of religious zealots.
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.