Working in Nuclear while Muslim

Working in Nuclear while Muslim

Since the inception of nuclear energy, anti-nuclear critics have been warning about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to sabotage. Recent events indicate that we are moving closer to a period of global instability in which state governments cannot protect against non-state actors who will deliberately or unintentionally create a nuclear disaster.
This week a group of Tatar radicals attacked electricity transmission lines in Ukraine which deliver power to Crimea. The government of Ukraine has a well-known dispute with Russia over its claim to Crimea, but it likely had no intention of committing such a war crime that would endanger the lives of millions of civilians and create further tensions with Russia. The narrow-minded attackers were apparently unaware of the effect their assault would have on Ukrainian nuclear power plants, but nonetheless two of them were cut off from the electrical grid and had to use backup power. A report in Russia Today quoted a Ukrainian energy company official about the seriousness of the situation:

The apparent act of sabotage in Ukraine’s Kherson region forced an emergency power unloading at several Ukrainian nuclear power plants, which can be extremely dangerous, according to the first deputy director of Ukraine’s energy company Ukrenergo, Yuriy Katich. [1]

It was backup power that was famously lost at Fukushima-Daiichi, leading to the meltdown of three reactor cores and a melting of spent fuel in the Reactor 4 building. Thus these plants in Ukraine are just one step away from meltdown, but it is likely in this case that backup power can be maintained until the transmission towers are repaired. Yet the incident highlights how things will go worse in the future when a similar event occurs in a failing state where fuel for backup generators can't be supplied in time and the main transmission lines can't be repaired.
Social instability is also a factor now in France. The attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 highlighted the inability of security agencies to identify and break up groups of French citizens who are intent on committing acts of mass violence. If they couldn't be found in the suburbs of Paris, how can we be sure that they will be found among people who work at nuclear power plants? This issue came to light in a report published in Le Journal du Dimanche on November 22, 2015 (translated below). It was reported that French security agencies have been using religious affiliation as a reason to deny access to nuclear power plants.
Everyone would like to keep NPPs safe from deliberate acts of destruction, but there are serious problems involved in trying to eliminate all risks. The security agencies are using affiliations as the basis of exclusion, without any official charge of criminal intent or conspiracy. Thus if an enterprise is so dangerous that large segments of society have to be denied the right to work in it, in the vain hope that doing so will prevent sabotage, it is worth asking whether this enterprise should exist at all. Is there a safer way to boil water or to produce electricity without boiling water?

translation of:
Le Journal du Dimanche (Sunday Journal)
by Matthieu Pechberty
November 22, 2015

Radicalization has affected nuclear power plants operated by EDF (Électricité de France). Authorities have already withdrawn access for dozens of employees since the beginning of the year.

Since the attacks [November 13, 2015], state authorities are on the lookout as they face a rise in Islamic radicalization at EDF sites. During a meeting of the High Commission for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Security (HCTISN), the high commissioner for defense of nuclear security, Christophe Quintin, acknowledged, without being more precise, that employees are being refused access to nuclear power plants notably for reasons related to Islamic radicalization. Michel Lallier, representative of the CGT [labor union] (Confédération Général de Travail) confirmed, "He certainly spoke of radicalization, even if his response was evasive. We'll never know exactly what the security concern was."

At this meeting, Mr. Quintin's assistant, Colonel Riac, emphasized the justification for the lack of transparency of the authorities. A Greenpeace representative who was at the meeting, Yannick Rousselet, said, "He clearly said he would not state the reasons for the denial of access to an employee. It could be because he frequented a radical milieu. He even acknowledged that these people have not committed any offense and the judgment process is somewhat arbitrary." The two officials were contacted, but did not return calls.

An employee at Flamanville targeted by DGSI

On November 4th, Christophe Quintin made an important announcement. At a lunch conference devoted to information on nuclear sites, one of the attendees reported that Mr. Quintin told the invited group that he estimated "the services eject one person per week for the phenomenon of radicalization." He explained that this surveillance applied to French workers but less so to foreign workers and workers subcontracted by EDF. Each year, the services of the state make 100,000 administrative inquiries for 73,000 workers (of which 23,000 are contractors)
In Flamanville, an employee of EDF told his story. Clément Reynaud, chemical engineer for ten years, converted to Islam in 2010 and requested site management in 2012 to provide a place for him to pray. After lengthy examination, EDF, which knew of no similar cases, gave its approval. However, the security forces at the site alerted the local offices of information services, which then became involved in the case. Eighteen months later, Mr. Reynaud became the secretary of the association that manages the mosque at Cherbourg. A police officer in Normandy explained, "His file was taken to the national level by the DGSI (Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure). The case was judged to be serious." On December 1st, Clément Reynaud took a one-year leave of absence in order to create his own personal coaching business for Muslims. He explained, "I want to help them organize their lives to make time for the five daily prayers and for reading the Koran."
In August 2014, a Muslim engineer employed by an EDF subcontractor was denied access to the nuclear power plant at Nogent-sur-Seine. There again, the prefecture did not explain its motives for the decision, but religion was at the heart of it. One year ago, Belgian authorities discovered that a person who left to fight in Syria had spent several years working as an engineer at the Doel NPP with access to the reactor. The plant is operated by the French company Engie (formerly GDF Suez).
* The headline in the original article used the term dérives, which has a softer connotation than radicals, but it is difficult to find a similar term that is in common usage in English. Dérive implies one who has gone off the correct path, drifted, or become misguided. These terms perhaps should be used in English to describe those who commit violence in the name of religion, but instead the terms radical and extremist are more common.


More Ringo, Less John: Nuclear Disarmament Don't Come Easy

More Ringo, Less John: Nuclear Disarmament Don't Come Easy

Peace, remember peace is how we make it,
Here within your reach
If you're big enough to take it.
I don't ask for much, I only want your trust,
And you know it don't come easy.

-Ringo Starr (April 1971)
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
-John Lennon (October 1971)

It has become impossible to talk about a world free of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants without facing the urgent problems that stand in the way. The grim meat-hook realities [1] of conventional war, environmental degradation and inequality lie in wait for anyone who wishes for a world free of nuclear technology. Earlier this year the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, a proponent of the elimination of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants, pointed out that American military spending is the greatest obstacle to a nuclear free world. [2] Smaller nations will not even think about reducing their arsenals while one nation maintains its stockpile of thousands of nuclear warheads and has higher military expenditures than all others combined.

If we could imagine a future time when the global network of American military bases was rolled back to the homeland, and American military power shrank to a size sufficient to defend only itself, then other nations might be ready to reduce their arsenals as long as America and Russia agreed to reduce theirs to hundreds of weapons rather than thousands. At this level they would be at parity with other nations, so all nuclear-armed states could start talking seriously about the path to zero. But this is a long, long way off. In spite of Vladimir Putin's recent rebuke telling America to "look at what you have done," [3] the American political establishment has no interest in reading Chomsky and taking that long, hard look in the mirror to see the role it has played in the world over the last century.

Even if we could get to serious talks about nuclear arms reduction, the present framework promotes nuclear energy and promises that all nations that give up nuclear weapons will still have access to the "peaceful" uses of the atom. This path became entrenched in the 1950s during the first serious moves to slow the arms race. At that time even the most dissenting scientists had faith that peaceful applications of nuclear energy could be developed. They had to keep this faith because otherwise the bombs they had made would weigh too heavily on their conscience. Thus no one was motivated to ask the necessary questions about accidents, internal radionuclide contamination, and waste disposal. Nuclear fission was understood 15 years before the structure of DNA was discovered, so no one was thinking much about what a beta particle could do to a strand of DNA. In the 1950s there had been no commercial nuclear reactor meltdowns, the toxic operations and accidents of uranium mining and nuclear fuel facilities were poorly understood, and environmental awareness was yet to be a political force.

The first signs of an anti-nuclear energy movement emerged in 1957 in California with the successful protests to cancel the proposed Bodega Bay power plant. [4] Later, scientists like Alice Stewart, Ernest Sternglass and John Gofman broke away from the nuclear science establishment when their research findings convinced them that nuclear power posed unacceptable risks to the public. Gofman was notable for being against nuclear power but in favor of nuclear deterrence and underground testing. [5]

Several nuclear reactor and fuel facility accidents occurred during the 1950s and 1960s, but the public knew little or nothing about them. Then the big catastrophes happened at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. These all had an impact on the political and financial viability of nuclear energy, but they didn't lead the international community to call for a ban on nuclear power. The attitude all along among governments and the United Nations seems to have been that eliminating nuclear weapons is the priority: we will work on that first then maybe talk about nuclear power later—which, at the current pace, means never.

Even though nuclear power plant catastrophes continued to happen every one or two decades while nuclear disarmament talks proceeded, their obvious danger never registered in the official consciousness. No nuclear bombs had been used in war since 1945 and none had been accidentally detonated, but in contrast there were three nuclear power plant catastrophes, all of which came very close to being exponentially worse. With these nightmares staring them in the face, the only lesson the so-called global community seemed to draw from them was that they were miniature demonstrations of how bad a nuclear war would be: look at that exploding nuclear power plant over there, doesn't that remind you of the need to eliminate nuclear weapons?

So this is how far we have to go to get to a nuclear free world, but first there is that problem brought up by Mr. Gorbachev, the same problem that Russel and Einstein emphasized in 1957: Peace first, then get rid of the bombs. [6] The dreadful news out of Syria, Yemen, Turkey, Lebanon and France in recent weeks is a grim reminder of how far humanity is drifting from these goals. Every drone and suicide bomb delays the elimination of nuclear bombs.

The transcript below is a translation of an interview with the former prime minister of France (2005-2007), Dominique de Villepin, one which was aired on television in 2014, before the Charlie Hebdo murders and the attacks of November 13, 2015. Monsieur de Villepin was also famous for being the foreign minister at the time when France refused to go along with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. One could easily find some of the same views expressed in other intelligent commentary on world affairs, but this interview is striking for the fact that these are the views of a political conservative. The reasoned approach that is expressed here is no longer found in either of the mainstream political parties in America, and even that radical socialist Bernie Sanders prefers to say as little as possible about foreign policy.

Obviously, it is easy for ex-prime ministers to be critics. If M. de Villepin were in power now, I doubt that he would do anything differently than President Hollande is doing because the situation created by the invasion of Iraq in 2003 has forced Russia, France and others to take drastic measures to reverse the descent into further chaos.

Some Africans, Tutsis in particular, [7] might beg to differ with M. de Villepin's view that "we are peacemakers, interested in dialog, we are mediators." The use of a modal verb (are should be peacemakers…) might have expressed the ideal and aspiration more accurately, but nonetheless, his understanding of the present situation passes as the height of reason in the present political climate. If Monsieur de Villepin is wrong on the historical interpretation, he is right on the ideals. France should stick to its Enlightenment values because after all else is put aside, these are what need defending from extremists on both sides of the conflict.

Former Prime Minister of France (2005-2007), Dominique de Villepin, spoke about Syria and terrorism during a television interview held on September 29, 2014
translation by Dennis Riches
English version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBbSfODzHoI (with English and French subtitles)
French version: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x26sp1d_de-villepin-a-propos-de-l-etat-islamique-6-minutes-d-intelligence-et-de-lucidite_webcam (original source, no subtitles)

Dominique de Villepin, you think this war is a mistake, another mistake, so could you tell us why?

Military interventions, when they are circumscribed, with a targeted and limited objective, can be effective. They are one of the tools that all democracies should be able to use in certain circumstances with reason and in the most restrained way possible, but in the present case, we are engaged—and the head of state has stated it very clearly, and the Americans have told us in the clearest way—we are engaged in a war against terrorism. The war against terrorism cannot be won. There is not even a chance of winning. Failure is guaranteed from the outset. Why? Because terrorism is an invisible hand, mutating, changing opportunistic. We don't know how to fight an invisible hand with the weapons of war.

We have to be capable of using all our mental faculties, statecraft, and peaceful means to break up the solidarity which is forming around these terrorist forces. So we need a political strategy, a political vision, a capacity to think of actions far beyond the use of bombs and military action in the strictest sense. All we know—and there is no counter-example—all we know of this type of war that has been waged for decades, in particular in Afghanistan, is that it leads to failure. There is no example today—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya—that has not led to more war and more chaos. So we are favoring a situation in which, by war, we hope to do better than in the previous war that we waged, while being aware that this Islamic State has been let loose. We ourselves played a large part in feeding it from one war to the next, from 2003 to 2011, in the support of Syrian rebel groups. We are trapped in a vicious circle.

And it is not only ineffective. It's also dangerous because beyond the Middle East region we have to consider the whole Arab-Muslim world where there are many crises, injuries, and scars. It is in a profound crisis of modernization which has at its heart a violent social crisis which hits the most disadvantaged, and even the middle classes because of corruption and the fall of oil prices. The region has deep inequalities.

Many of the jihadis come from the middle classes. So we are feeding the cycle of escalation. We want to believe that the images of horror that we see here, unfortunately, are decreasing the appeal of jihad, but this is also a phenomenon with magnetic appeal for certain people. They don't see the same images on the other side of the Mediterranean. They don't see the same spectacle. They don't interpret them in the same way because their identities are wounded. What is true over there, is also, unfortunately, true here in France. The escalation helps in recruiting jihadis over there, and there are consequences here too.

We strike in Syria and Iraq, and we hit a terrorist enemy. What is the result? The horror when we found out our compatriot Herve Gourdel was cowardly assassinated. Where? In the mountains of Algeria. This means that tomorrow all these minorities who, brandishing the banner of Islam, acting in the name of Islam, aren't actually doing so. Islam is not the problem. It is the flag of Islam that is brandished. And these minorities exist in Myanmar, in Malaysia, in Thailand and Indonesia, in all of the Arab world and also in Maghreb (North Africa) and throughout Africa. In all these places these minorities can find common cause. This means that we are helping in this war against terrorism to bring about a crystallization of these diverse groups who are finding ways to link up and escalate the violence to a level that is the most cruel, the most murderous and the most violent because this is the way to attract fighters and financial support. Behind all this there is a race toward death, a race to recruit more jihadis, which is utterly horrifying.

I would like to finish by saying I would like to be able to boast this evening. I would like to be able to say that we are ready. I would like to be able to say that we are not afraid, but this would be a lie because the French are a democratic society that has not engaged in security as other democratic societies have, like the Americans. Overseas communities of Americans are bunkerized and barricaded, in a way no others come close to, and so the risk is much less for them than for us. Israel has chosen the same path. Israeli society has chosen the policy of the security state. But the situation is different in France. We are exposed to the four winds, particularly in Maghreb, in the Middle East, in Asia, and so we are in a vulnerable situation. And what is true there is true in France as well.

So, as a fundamental understanding of this complexity, I would like us to take the lead in a crusade, but I want us to take account of the risks and know that this crusade can't win anything. Right now we are feeding a process of destruction. We are feeding a process of hate. And this is not because there is not anything else to do. There is obviously a lot that we can do, moving in a completely different direction—with a political strategy, accompanied by military strategy, highlighting who should be taking the lead: the countries of the region themselves. There are about 500-600 fighter aircraft in the region that belong to the Gulf countries. They are perfectly capable of leading the response.

But we follow the Americans, who, as always, look for enemies all over the world, and they are engaged in a sort of universal messianic quest. France does not play this role. It is not our vocation. We are peacemakers, interested in dialog. We are mediators. Now we are being used against this objective, led down a path that has no logical end because this war against terrorism has no end. It is a perpetual war. We know that it cannot stop. Hatred leads to more hatred. War leads to more war.


[1] The phrase originated with Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971).

[2] "Gorbachev calls US military might 'insurmountableobstacle to a nuclear-free world,'" Russia Today, August 6, 2015, http://www.rt.com/news/311796-gorbachev-nuclear-free-world/.

[3] Luciana Bohne, "A Game of Dice With Russia: 'Do YouRealize What You Have Done?'" Counterpunch, October 1, 2015, http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/01/a-game-of-dice-with-russia-do-you-realize-what-you-have-done/

[4] Paula Garb, "Review of Critical Masses: Oppositionto Nuclear Power in California, 1958-1978, by Thomas Raymond Wellock." Journal of Political Ecology: Case Studies in History and Society, 6 (1999), http://jpe.library.arizona.edu/volume_6/wellockvol6.htm 

[5] Pat Stone, "John Gofman: Nuclear and Anti-NuclearScientist," Mother Earth News, March–April 1981, http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/john-gofman-anti-nuclear-zmaz81mazraw.aspx

[6] "The Russell Einstein Manifesto," Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, July 9, 1955, http://pugwash.org/1955/07/09/statement-manifesto/.

[7] Chris McGreal, "France's Shame," The Guardian, January 11, 2007, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/jan/11/rwanda.insideafrica


Pugwash 2015: Remember your humanity, but forget about a nuclear free world for now

Pugwash 2015: Remember your humanity, but forget about a nuclear free world for now

"The person who prays for peace must not hide even a needle, for a person who possesses weapons is not qualified to pray for peace."
-Takashi Nagai, Towers of Peace [1]

Remember your humanity, but forget about a nuclear free world for now. That may not be the official line, but it was the take-away message from the Pugwash Conference sessions in Nagasaki on November 1, 2015. Diplomatic niceties and patience were emphasized at this time when "mutual trust and confidence" have declined amid alarming new regional conflicts and refugee crises. The imbalances of economic and military power make nuclear deterrence, with only slow, incremental disarmament, the only safe way to proceed.
Maiden of Peace, Nagasaki Peace Park
One might think that because the Pugwash Conference espouses such high ideals that it has always called for the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons, but it never actually made such a radical demand. The website of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs includes the following description of the founding of the organization:

During the darkest days of the Cold War, the founders of Pugwash understood the dangers of nuclear weapons. In their efforts to change dangerous policies they became pioneers of a new kind of transnational, "track 2" dialogue. [2]

The conference was founded two years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell had released their famous 1955 manifesto, signed by nine other distinguished scientists [3]. It is notable that the manifesto did not stress the abolition of nuclear weapons but rather the abolition of war. It stated, "Although an agreement to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments would not afford an ultimate solution, it would serve certain important purposes." A footnote called for this to be a "concomitant balanced reduction of all armaments." The manifesto seemed to assume that nuclear weapons were here to stay and would inevitably be used in war, so the more urgent issue was for nations to accept "distasteful limitations of national sovereignty" and "find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them." Thus one shouldn't expect the Pugwash Conference to be a militant organization that cannot tolerate the existence of nuclear arsenals. Pugwash and its co-founder were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 in recognition of their mission to "diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms." [emphasis added] [4]
Other organizations have emerged over the years that have much less patience for elimination "in the long run," so the Pugwash Conferences seem complacent by comparison. At the Pugwash Conference public session in Nagasaki on November 1, 2015, most of the speakers, aware that they were facing an audience of divided opinions, chose to stick to factual reports and to refrain from expressing their personal conclusions. Government officials preached pragmatism and patience.
There was no opportunity for the audience to challenge the ideas presented or have a dialogue with the speakers. The Q and A sessions were too short, and only the Pugwash members in the front rows were offered chances to ask questions, and most of them were inarticulate and long-winded commentaries. Some of them showed by their questions that they hadn't even been following current events like Fukushima and didn't know some of the basic science and history of the nuclear era, but they have been deliberately asking naïve questions just to make a point.
Meanwhile, the general public and media representatives in the back rows were supposed to only listen and learn. It was ironic to hear the speakers saying repeatedly that the public is woefully ignorant about the issues and needs to be educated, while here members of the public had made the effort to attend yet their questions and comments were not wanted. Why should the public get educated if they are not going to have any influence even at a small conference such as this?
This structure revealed what seems like a serious problem with the Pugwash organization. Perhaps back in 1957 when the US and USSR were playing with hydrogen bombs like they were firecrackers, there really was an urgent need for scientists from both countries to get together in a remote place for private meetings so that they could go back and hopefully influence leadership in their respective countries, but this no longer seems necessary. This sage-on-the-stage approach is out of date now when scientists are even more sidelined from power than they were then. The mass media would flock to a press conference concerning the latest iPhone release, but there is no equal to Russell or Einstein today who could assemble the media to take note of an "important announcement."
What is needed now are truly participatory events that are connected with critical voices, citizen groups and contrarians who can break through the polite diplomatic niceties and stale frameworks in order to truly debate the issues—at the risk of offending the dignitaries present. These problems can't be solved if leaders are not going to really make the effort to educate themselves while they educate others, get out of their elite bubbles, then listen and do the hard work of leading by obeying.
Statue of Mother and Child at the Hypocenter, Nagasaki
What follows is a discussion of the session that was held on the afternoon of November 1, 2015. For anyone who has been following the anti-nuclear movement on the street or in the free-for-all of alternative media, blogs, twitter and facebook groups, the stilted and constrained parameters of discussion will come as a shock. All discussions were limited by the realities that have been laid down by the United Nations and the signatories of the Non-Proliferation, Strategic Arms Limitation and Nuclear Test Ban Treaties. The experts who know the history of these treaties can extemporaneously list all the dates, treaty numbers, signatories, conditions and exceptions, with the effect that the listener is left in a state of utter confusion and intimidation. Once one becomes an expert in this subject, one is in that world and can no longer think about lofty ideals and principles. The possible is restricted by what the treaty history has carved out. So this process is very slow at nuclear disarmament, but it is very effective at disarming anti-nuclear activists who would like to see rapid change.
From the start the anti-nuclear activist is already out of the picture because the basis of all the Non-Proliferation Treaties is that all states which agree to forego the development of nuclear weapons are guaranteed the freedom to develop nuclear energy. This idea became entrenched before the first nuclear catastrophes, and it is always presumed the IAEA will be eternally omnipotent and capable of spotting any attempt to convert plutonium from a civilian waste product to a product that is militarily useful.
Thus the entire framework of global disarmament has no problem with the legacy of Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi, and the risk of other future catastrophes is not a concern. The treaties have nothing to say about unsecured uranium mine tailing ponds, depleted uranium weapons, and the seventy-year-old unresolved question of what to do with nuclear waste. Ecological, social and human health impacts are of no concern.
Spent nuclear fuel facilities could be considered as a radiological weapons which nations stupidly build as if they wanted to do a favor for any future aggressors they might have. They spare enemies the need to have a nuclear weapon because all they require is a conventional missile to launch at a nuclear facility. Or it could be that nuclear facilities are supposed to be a kind of a deterrent. Who would want to pillage or occupy a country after it has been turned into a nuclear wasteland? Unfortunately, disarmament treaties pay no attention to this hazard.
One of the first people on the stage was Hitoshi Kikawada, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, who repeated the usual government platitudes: the only country ever attacked by nuclear weapons, deeply committed to a world free of nuclear weapons, and so on…
If the Japanese government were serious and it really wanted to change the behavior of the nuclear states, it would break off ties, impose sanctions, and employ any means available to alter the behavior it wanted changed. This is where Japan's hypocrisy becomes obvious. It is hardly "deeply committed" to a nuclear free world at all. It may want a nuclear free world, but it is not a high priority. If Japan were serious, it would come out from the US nuclear umbrella, and, as long as the US insisted on having nuclear weapons, it would not host US military bases on its soil. In interpersonal relations, we call this having the courage of one's convictions. Or it's just the use of simple strategies, like those of a housewife who has various ways of withdrawing affection and cooperation to deal with a wayward husband. But governments seem to have trouble resorting to strategies that are just common sense within personal relations.
States like Japan which live under a nuclear umbrella have been called the "weasel states" [5] of global disarmament talks, and along with the truly non-nuclear states they have always overlooked their power to shun, exclude and sanction the nuclear powers as a strategy for forcing them to change their ways. Perhaps the time has come for them to employ this strategy, but so far they have been divided and ruled, or other considerations force them to stay in their alliances.
At this time of "heightened tension" and "degraded trust" (people at the conference hesitated to say "Syria" or "Ukraine" explicitly), it was interesting to see two officials from the US and Russia sitting side by side, sticking to their talking points while diplomatically only alluding to the mutual grievances that were on full display at the UN just weeks earlier. [6] But at least they showed up in this forum to respond to an organization that has for 61 years urged the superpowers to seek peaceful solutions and pursue disarmament. In the roster of speakers, the absence of representation from North Korea, Pakistan, Israel and France was notable, and no one from Germany was there to discuss the recent exit from nuclear energy or its diplomacy on the front lines between East and West.
Anita Friedt, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, Department of State (USA), claimed that arms reductions are continuing, and went over the progress of the 1990s. She said the expensive upgrades to the arsenal consist of no expansion of capability. Knowing that President Obama has been ridiculed for his Nobel Peace Prize, she insisted that his commitment to a world without nuclear weapons hasn't diminished. She just blamed Russia for not picking up the offer to begin talking about reductions.
She said all this apparently oblivious to Russia's reasons for not being ready for such a step. She would be a rather incompetent official if she didn't know that Russia is displeased with eastward expansion of NATO, overseas "democracy promotion" propaganda in Eastern Europe and even within Russia, [7] the recent decade of illegal wars and drone targeting against sovereign nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, drone in Yemen and Pakistan), and America's enormous expenditures on conventional weapons—including advanced weapons projects that aim to eliminate strategic parity. [8] It's hard to know if she is incompetent or if she was deliberately trying to portray this false image of American innocence. Vladimir Putin has spoken very clearly on these points at recent press conferences, so the Russian point of view is hardly a state secret. [9]
Mikhail Ulyanov, Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia, hinted at these grievances but didn't state them explicitly. This was a shame because the audience may not have grasped exactly what he was referring to, and in any case, a good raging argument would have made things interesting. It was mid-afternoon by this time and everyone was getting drowsy. I had to wonder if this is the reason we now have this lamentable state of "degraded trust" over "situations" that couldn't be described. If speakers at such gatherings didn't use such passive-aggressive and evasive language, perhaps they could really talk and work out their differences right there. Every couple knows bad things happen later if one goes to bed angry.
Mr. Ulyanov stressed the important point that one cannot talk of nuclear disarmament without talking about imbalances in conventional weapons. He could have expanded this point by adding that conflicts are ultimately driven by financial interests and financial crises. Russia knows well that the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria involve struggles over energy resources and efforts to bring those countries, and surrounding regions, into Western economic spheres.
Mr. Ulyanov, like his counterpart, also tried to pass off some nonsense as pearls of wisdom. He claimed that we just have to accept that disarmament will proceed slowly because the rapid loss of deterrence could be extremely destabilizing. As evidence he said that deterrence with conventional weapons failed in WWII, and the USSR lost 27 million lives in that war. He said Russia cannot accept ever risking that situation again. However, he left out some crucial details such as the fact that Stalin had purged his military of effective leadership by the time the Nazis invaded. They had no effective conventional deterrence at the time. Also, the harsh conditions imposed on Germany after WWI created the resentment which in turn led to Nazism and militarization. All nations in Europe ignored the build-up and made no attempt to create conventional forces that would deter Germany. The "deterrence failed" argument is very weak. War can be avoided in numerous ways without a nuclear arsenal, and in fact, the existence of a nuclear arsenal can make nations extremely complacent about building the foundations of lasting peace.
Furthermore, if we assume that nuclear deterrence succeeded after WWII, that is only the selfish viewpoint of the superpowers counting the lives of their own citizens. The Third World countries that were devastated by Cold War conflicts might have a different view. We also have to take account of the opportunity costs, and the ecological and human toll of uranium mining and the manufacturing and testing of nuclear weapons, both inside and outside the territories of the US and the USSR. The nuclearization of nations also transformed them into paranoid security states, and the harm to the political and social fabric was carried over to the "war on terror." Finally, while one is busy nuclear deterring, one is running the constant risk of unleashing all the consequences that would follow from the accidental detonation of a nuclear weapon. The logic of deterrence doesn't hold up, but if Russia still wants to insist they need deterrence, then logically it makes sense for all nations—and so the weaker ones need it all the more.
Mr. Kim Won-soo, UN Under Secretary-General and Acting High Representative of Disarmament Affairs (Republic of Korea) was next and spoke of being "deeply disappointed" by the recent failure of NPT Conference (May 2015). [10] For this author it was "deeply disappointing" that he couldn't specifically talk about some of the reasons for the failure. The hesitation to name names and describe specific disagreements amounts to a shrug in which global leadership just seems to wistfully say "stuff happens."
Professor Hiromichi Umebayashi, of the University of Nagasaki, discussed his group's proposal for working toward a nuclear free Northeast Asia. This plan seemed fatally flawed. It is hard to understand how they could seriously believe that North Korea would ever consider this plan. It depends on the building of mutual trust among North Korea, South Korea and Japan, with China, Russia and the US promising (scouts honor) to never resort to the use of nuclear weapons in a dispute in this region. One flaw in the plan is the fact that the US is called a "neighboring nation" when its territory is nowhere near Northeast Asia. More importantly, North Korea would never consider this proposal while Japan stays under the US nuclear umbrella and hosts US military bases. Even if the US promised not to use nuclear weapons, its nuclear-armed submarines would still be patrolling the ocean in the region, and the US would be capable of hitting North Korea from afar by other means even if the subs were removed.
Furthermore, North Korea distrusts Japan for all the same reasons as China and South Korea. There is no common agreement about what happened in the region in the early 20th century, and this problem provides a rather weak foundation for building the trust needed for a nuclear weapons-free zone. A nuclear free Northeast Asia seems to require a nuclear free world, so the first step would be for South Korea and Japan to each unilaterally break with the American alliance. This would be the only change that North Korea could believe in. But even then there would be that little problem of Japan's plutonium stockpile in Rokkasho. What, exactly, are their intentions?
The final speaker was Ambassador Akylbek Kamaldinov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan to Japan, who was honored by Pugwash for his nation's bold decision to give up the nuclear weapons it had on its territory at the breakup of the USSR. Kazakhstan has recently announced that it wants to lead a movement that will see the world free of nuclear weapons by 2045. They stole my idea, but that's OK. They only seem to have the half of it that pertains to nuclear weapons. They take the high ground in speaking about nuclear weapons, but speak little of the widespread contamination throughout the country caused by seven decades of uranium mining. Kazakhstan is a leading producer of uranium, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was recently there concluding deals for the future development of nuclear energy. [11]
Progress in nuclear disarmament is impossible if two aspects of the accepted reality continue to go unchallenged. Firstly, nuclear energy is incompatible with a world free of nuclear weapons. Secondly, few countries will want to give up their nuclear deterrence as long as one superpower maintains a global network of military bases and outspends all others combined on conventional military forces. [12] I got the impression that the resolution statement of this year's Pugwash Conference will have little to say about these two obstacles.
It may seem unrealistic to call for such drastic "unrealistic" changes, but history shows that the unchangeable reality can unravel very fast. No one in 1980 predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union by the end of the decade. It is entirely foreseeable that nuclear energy and the American empire will soon have a confrontation with reality. The evident costs and dangers of both are catching up with them.


[1] This quotation is on display in the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. For information about Takashi Nagai see: Shohei Okada, "Film tells story of Nagasaki scientist who cared for A-bomb survivors," Asahi Shimbun, February 15, 2014, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201402150015.


French Scientist Bernard Laponche: The reactor produces the means of its own destruction.

French physicist Bernard Laponche speaks about France's nuclear obstinacy, EPR, ITER, and the Energy Transition

Since the Fukushima Dai-ichi catastrophe put the anti-nuclear movement back into public consciousness there has been a surfeit of research and opinionating about nuclear energy and nuclear disarmament. It has become difficult to think of anything original to add to the discourse. But I continue here to add to similar previous posts that highlight voices of physicists and physicians, some of them former nuclear industry insiders, who have spoken out about the way nuclear technologies, both civilian and military, have recklessly endangered life on earth.
These are people who could have had more comfortable and lucrative careers by looking away and working on other matters, but they believed that their privileged position and their knowledge gave them a responsibility to speak out.
The post that follows is a translation that can inform the English-reading world about an insider of the French nuclear industry, Bernard Laponche, who has worked tirelessly for decades to raise the alarm about France's blind commitment to nuclear energy. Every nuclearized country seems to have a few heroes like Monsieur Laponche. They all have a similar message, but they all deserve to be recognized and listened to by a global audience.
In this interview from 2011, he made some predictions which have come true, and others that may be only half right. He said France would pay dearly for the mistake of building the EPR reactor, and on this point he was right on the mark. The costly delays, cancelled projects, disastrous construction flaws, and the resulting bankruptcy of Areva all show that he was right. However, when he said we could count on the Socialist Party to support an enlightened energy transition, he was overly optimistic. The past four years have shown that the attempt to scale back nuclear energy and develop renewables has been very timid so far.
Read on to see what else this French energy expert had to say in June 2011…   
Vincent Remy, "Bernard Laponche : "There is a strong possibility of a major nuclear accident in Europe," Telerama.fr. Published June 18, 2011, updated August 11, 2014.

Bernard Laponche, nuclear physicist, graduate of the Ecole polytechnique, is absolutely certain: France is in error. With le nucléaire, France obstinately privileges a form of energy that is not only dangerous but also obsolete. Meanwhile, other solutions exist, ones which Germany has already started to develop for its energy transition.

He is theirs. He was one of theirs. Bernard Laponche worked at the heart of the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique, where plans for the first French nuclear power plants were taking shape. He was shocked when he noticed the working conditions of the rank and file at la Hague [France's major nuclear fuel processing facility]. He became aware of the danger of the atom and judged it morally unacceptable. From the 1908s, he was active within the CFDT [the trade union Confédération française démocratique du travail], advocating for research in energy consumption and the development of renewable energy sources. He was vindicated in the following decades. But he says France, the only country in the world to have chosen the all-nuclear option, persisted in its errors and blinded itself. It stuck with an energy form of the past, one in which innovation is impossible. Nuclear represents not only a terrifying threat, for us and the generations that will follow, but it also condemns the country to missing the boat on the indispensable energy revolution.


Nuclear energy is always presented as a very sophisticated technology. You say that it is just a matter of it being "the most dangerous way to boil water." Is this view controversial?

Not really… A nuclear reactor is just a heater. It produces heat. But whereas the heat in thermal power stations comes from the combustion of coal or gas, in a nuclear power plant it comes from splitting uranium atoms. This heat is used to produce steam. The steam spins a turbine which produces electricity. So nuclear energy is not a miraculous way of creating electricity from the reactor. It's not as if electricity just arises spontaneously from the reactor.

Why has this image of sophistication been promoted?

The promoters of nuclear don't want to emphasize the primary source, which is uranium. Doing so would associate it with the origins of nuclear energy which were military and strategic applications. Moreover, when they let people think that electricity is produced directly, they give the impression that there is something magical about it, and this makes it seem three times more powerful than it really is. This is because two thirds of the heat is lost. This heat is lost in cooling the reactors and transferring the heat to rivers and oceans.

Tell us about the fuel.

It is thin rods of uranium, lightly enriched with the isotope U235, in the case of French reactors. Fission was recently discovered in 1938. A neutron strikes a uranium nucleus, which explodes, releasing fragments, energy, and neutrons. These neutrons strike other uranium nuclei and a chain reaction starts. These multiplying fissions produce heat. The fission fragments are also new radioactive products which emit alpha, beta and gamma radiation. So inside a reactor you produce heat, which is the benefit, and also radioactive substances, notably plutonium—the most dangerous element you can imagine that existed previously in nature only in trace amounts. We should have asked in the beginning, "Is this way of boiling water really acceptable?"

But this chain reaction can be stopped at any time, can't it?

During normal functioning they lower the control rods into the core of the reactor. These are made of material that absorbs neutrons, so the reaction stops. But they have to continue to cool the reactors after this because the radioactive materials continue to produce heat. So by its very nature this technology involves multiple risks. If the control rod insertion fails, there is a runaway chain reaction, which can cause a nuclear explosion. If there is a crack in the cooling circuit, then there is a loss of cooling, and the extreme heat destroys the fuel rod lining. Radioactive substances escape and hydrogen gas accumulates, which can explode. Right from the start it involves the creation of large quantities of radioactive materials. Catastrophe is intrinsic in the technology. The reactor produces the means of its own destruction.

But there are multiple safety systems...

No matter how much you multiply the safety systems, there are still situations in which they would not suffice. A case in point is Chernobyl. There was a fault in the reactor design and an error in operation. In Fukushima, the flooding was caused by the tsunami. In Blayais, in Geronde, France, the power plant was flooded and we came very close to a major accident. No one had imagined the force of the storm in 1999. There have been accidents that didn't involve tsunamis or flooding, like at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979. We could also imagine in many countries an armed conflict, or sabotage. To start with nuclear energy involves the production of large quantities of radioactive materials. The reactor produces the means of its own destruction.

Have there been any innovations in nuclear technology?

There have been none since the debut of nuclear science in the 1940s and 1950s. The French reactors are really just larger versions of what was on nuclear-powered American submarines in the 1950s. Reactors, and uranium enrichment and reprocessing were all developed during WWII. They just increased the power and added safety features. But because the systems have become more complex, they don't always guarantee safety.

It's hard to believe there hasn't been any major innovation…

Yes, but there was actually the fast breeder reactor! With Superphénix, they changed the concept of the reactor. Fortunately, it was shut down in 1998 because it was based on the use of plutonium. How could they have imagined making such a dangerous material the basis for a reactor technology to be exported all over the world?

Nicolas Sarkozy declared that if we refuse nuclear, we'll have to go back to using candles. What do you think about this statement?

It's annoying to hear leaders who understand nothing continue to say whatever they please. But Nicolas Sarkozy is actually right. One day, and it may come this summer even, French people will need to light their homes with candles because we are the only country that has chosen to produce 80% of its electricity from a single source, nuclear, and even a single type of reactor, the pressurized water reactor. If we were forced to stop all these reactors, we would indeed have to use candles. The blackout wouldn't have to be caused by a catastrophe. It could just be small generic problem, a drought, or a heat wave. There would be no water to cool the reactors. In contrast, if we decided to get out of nuclear in twenty years, we could advance our innovations in energy production and thus avoid having to use candles.

The proponents of nuclear say that in France, with our new EPR reactor, now under construction in Flamanville, risk has been reduced to zero…

Every country promises that its reactors are better than others. Before Fukushima the Japanese said the same thing as the French. We've already seen three reactors destroyed (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and three in Fukushima), out of 450 that exist in the world, which caused hundreds of square kilometers to become uninhabitable. According to experts, the theoretical probability of accidents had been calculated to be one in 100,000 "reactor-years" [one reactor-year means one reactor functioning for one year], and one in a million for an accident as bad as Chernobyl. What actually happened shows that the odds are 300 times higher than what was calculated by the experts. So there is a high possibility of a major nuclear accident in Europe.

Could a major innovation make you change your mind?

I don't see a solution in the present circumstances, not in engineering nor in scientific knowledge. I don't say that in the future some genius won't find a new, clever way to exploit the energy locked up in the nucleus—in a way that doesn't produce mountains of radioactive waste—but for the moment, there isn't anything conceivable.

Why are you opposed to ITER, the center in Cadarache for developing fusion energy, under the guidance of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)?

Fusion is the opposite of fission. It's the combining of two nuclei, two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium (a proton and an neutron) and tritium (a proton and two neutrons). This fusion releases energy, but we have to find a way to fuse these two nuclei. In the sun they fuse due to the force of gravity. On earth, we can use an atomic bomb. That works quite well. The fission explosion induces the fusion of nuclei, which produces a much stronger second explosion. That's the hydrogen bomb, or the H bomb. To get fusion without a bomb, we have to create colossal magnetic fields in order to attain a temperature of a hundred million degrees. ITER began from a Soviet project, and it's a laboratory experiment of pharaonic scale. Very powerful neutrons bombard the steel walls of a reactor. These materials become radioactive and they have to be replaced very often. I'm not a fusion specialist, but I recall that our two recent physics Nobel Prize winners in France, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes and Georges Charpak, have said that ITER was not a good idea. They favored doing fundamental research before building this enormous facility. No one followed their advice, and our politicians leaned on arguments that were pure public relations—we're making the energy of the sun—to ensure that ITER would be built in France.


Because France wants to be the nuclear leader of the world. The Japanese wanted ITER, but their Nobel Prize physicist, Masatoshi Koshiba, said, "No way," because of the seismic risk. I think that the project will be halted because its price is rising at an exceptional rate. And no one ever asked, "What if it doesn't work? What would a fusion reactor be like?" The group negaWatt has asked, "Why would we want to recreate the energy of the sun when it already lands on us in such large quantities?"

How do you respond to those who think that because of global warming, and the necessity of reducing CO2 emissions, we have to develop more nuclear energy?

First of all, we can't make the reduction of CO2 emissions the only criteria in our choices for how we make electricity. Is it necessary to accept that, for the sake of the climate, every five or ten years we'll have an accident like Fukushima somewhere in the world? In addition, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has shown that if we want to meet our CO2 reduction targets, half of the effort needs to be in energy efficiency. For the other half, resort to renewables is essential. Nuclear represents only 6%. So we have to put the advantage of nuclear in this perspective.

You began your career at the CEA and you participated in the early development of nuclear. What happened?

I even wrote a thesis on plutonium, and I never questioned anything. Everything is very compartmentalized at the CEA. I made calculations for the EDF3 plant in Chinon, and I had no idea about the risks of accidents or the problem of the waste. I worked with brilliant people. Then I got active in the CFDT (trade union), after 1968, and one of the issues was the conditions of the workers at la Hague. I realized that I, as an engineer in my office, knew nothing about their working conditions. And I didn't know that the people of la Hague had no idea what a nuclear reactor was. So in 1975, we collectively wrote a best-seller called L'Electronucléaire en France, and the head of the CEA at the time recognized it for its quality. To write that book, I worked for six months on American documents because in France we had nothing. The CFDT then took a position against the nuclear program. I started working on alternatives to nuclear, and, in 1982, I joined the l'Agence française pour la maîtrise de l'énergie (ADEME).

That was thirty years ago. What were you interested in then?

The same things as now: energy efficiency, renewable energy! The principles of photovoltaics, and thus solar panels, had already been worked out. Today we only speak about electricity, but what we should be installing everywhere is solar water heaters. Nothing could be simpler: a liquid heat conductor circulates through tubes under glass, and you get 60C water. Germany, getting less sunshine than France, has ten times as many solar water heaters. In Midi (south of France) there are almost none.

That doesn't require much innovation…

Innovation is about, above all else, lower costs. Wind power has already been proven competitive with nuclear. In photovoltaics, Germany anticipates a cost decrease of 5% every year. There is a lot of research to be done on marine energy, currents, waves, and the heat of the earth called geothermic energy. Renewable energy sources, the collective term for all these, are each very different, and they could cover, little by little, all energy needs. Germany estimates they'll cover 80% of energy needs by 2050. This is possible, as long as we continue to increase energy efficiency.

We produce electricity from nuclear at a modest price, but we don't account for the cost of dismantling and long-term management of the radioactive waste. Has this penalized renewable energies?

Yes, and since we've built too many nuclear power plants, there is always pressure to consume more electricity, particularly for its most idiotic use—heating, for which France is the champion in Europe. We build mediocre housing, we install radiators, which cost nothing, and this creates a global electric power problem: in Europe one half of the difference between average consumption and the winter peak consumption is caused by France. As a result, in the winter we have to buy electricity from Germany, which produces the needed electricity from carbon fuels. Aside from heating, the French consume 25% more electricity than Germans. In addition to having homes that are better insulated, Germans also have more efficient appliances, and they consume more carefully because electricity is a bit more expensive there.

What are the big energy innovations that will come next?

Smart grids, intelligent networks! Thanks to computing, we can optimize the production and distribution of electricity. At the scale of a village or a region, we can coordinate consumption. For example, we could see to it that refrigerators would not all start at the same time. Nuclear advocates always say that renewable energies fluctuate. The wind doesn't always blow. The sun doesn't always shine. They say that if we don't have nuclear, we'll need millions of wind turbines, but this is not the case when we think in terms of combinations. Germany is studying networks that combine biomass, hydro, wind and solar. And they fit with demand: at night demand is low, so they use wind energy to pump water to a reservoir behind a dam which will produce energy during the day. This is the big innovation of the energy transition, and it is the opposite of a centralized system like nuclear. So what does the future look like? A territory with intelligent meters which make a perfect junction between consumption and local production. Small is beautiful. Germans are succeeding with this transition right now because they made the decision to go this route. That's the key: we have to make the decision. That requires a real awareness of the situation.

How do you explain the lack of awareness in France?

On one part it is the arrogance of the Corps des ingénieurs des Mines, on the other it is the servility of politics. A small techno-bureaucracy has decided energy policy for a long time. They made the decisions on how to exploit coal, then oil, and then nuclear. They always went to extremes and then imposed on politics their single-minded vision for electricity generation.

Did that happen because of the centralization of power?

Completely! In the 1970s, a Swedish researcher did research that found nuclear was adopted in some countries and not in others. It concluded that an authoritarian, centralized politico-administrative structure enabled the development of nuclear energy. This was the case in the USSR and France where nuclear was built for false reasons such as energy independence and national prestige and power. A link was maintained between civilian and military applications. The CEA had a military branch, and Areva supplies plutonium to the army. This military-state-industrial complex now considers [German chancellor] Angela Merkel to be crazy. Instead of noticing that the Germans are doing things differently and we should look at their approach seriously, we just decide that they must be fools. Our leaders chant that our reactors are the safest, that nuclear is the future, and we are going to sell our technology everywhere. This is the argument they have always made, but France has barely sold nine reactors in the last fifty years, aside from the two that are under construction in China. This is not the way it was supposed to be. In ten years, Germany has created 400,000 jobs in renewable energy.

Aside from environmentalists, no one, not even the Left, wants to renounce nuclear…

Things are evolving fast. Fukushima has shaken up some of the more reasonable nuclear advocates. I hope the German decision [to quickly phase out nuclear power] will have an influence, not on our actual leaders, but on industry and on financing. They should be saying to themselves: can we keep investing in such a thing? There used to be an Areva-Siemens alliance backing EPR reactors, but Siemens got out years ago. We could always carry on saying the Germans are wrong, but it is difficult to look at the performance of their industries over recent decades and say that they are falling behind.

Can environmentalists depend on the Socialist Party?

Definitely. Already, in 2000, everything was ready for the EPR, but Dominique Voynet, Minister of the Environment, said to Lionel Jospin, "If you go ahead with the EPR, I'll resign." It was the only time she put her resignation up as a bargaining chip, and the EPR was not advanced at the time. I worked with her as an advisor on these issues, and I produced 350 reports for her. There was a daily struggle between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Industry, which made a mockery of safety. Unfortunately, the EPR was relaunched when Chirac came to power in 2002. And it is going to cost us very dearly. For half a century we have wasted energy, under whatever pretense. It is now urgent that we become a civilization that uses energy in a way that doesn't endanger life.

Vincent Remy, "Bernard Laponche : "There is a strong possibility of a major nuclear accident in Europe," Telerama.fr. Published June 18, 2011, updated August 11, 2014