When I got the idea to propose July 15, 2045 as a goal for ending the nuclear age, I wasn’t aware that anyone else was thinking that far ahead and seeing it in the same way as a powerful and symbolic target that would bring the world together in a common cause. Recently, I noticed that General Lee Butler, former commander of U.S. nuclear forces between 1991 and 1994, is also suggesting that 2045 become a goal for the elimination of nuclear weapons from the world. I’m not sure where he got the idea, but now that it’s only 30 years away, it’s an idea that has become obvious as the anniversary appears over the horizon.
Since I launched this blog, I’ve been told, mostly by people who don’t want the nuclear era to ever end, that 2045 would be impossible, even if we wanted to start shutting down nuclear facilities tomorrow. I'm a quixotic dreamer. Then there have been others who simply say shut it all down now! Someone else said that in 2045 what’s left of the human race will be dealing with mass extinctions and the collapse of civilization, and the uncontrolled collapse of the nuclear industry will just be part of this scenario. As they say in politics, if everyone hates your policy, then you've probably found the most pragmatic way to move forward.
Of course, the pessimists are right. The situation is dire. Even if all bombs and nuclear power plants were decommissioned by the time of the 100th anniversary of the first atom bomb test, the nuclear age would still be around for a long, long time. All the nuclear waste created in this century will have to be safely rounded up and contained for hundreds of thousands of years into the future. The positive steps that can be taken are rather limited, but the only humane thing to do is to take those steps—dismantle the bombs and stop adding to the pile of accumulated nuclear waste.
In the interview with Lee Butler published by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, the general advised that reaching the goal depends on capturing the attention of the vast majority of people, “the unaware, who have simply never thought about these matters. It’s just never gotten on their radar screen… The challenge… is to frame a message that captures their attention and gets them to think.”
On the same day this was published, the video Remove cat before flight went viral on Youtube. It had 15 million views within its first week. One would think that people around the world would be shocked by the fact that there are also hundreds of nuclear bombs hitching rides on planes and submarines throughout the world every hour of every day, hidden from our awareness just like the little kitten in that ultralight wing. It should be even more alarming when we know that this is what lies behind the recent "sabre rattling" being done by NATO and Russia over the conflict in Ukraine. But for some reason this danger never gets on the radar screen. Not even matters of existential importance can bring cats down from their perch at the top of Youtube rankings. I suppose I should feel like I’ve accomplished something by getting a mere 120 thousand page views over four years of blogging, but what I really need to do now is "frame a message that captures people’s attention." I need to make a video of a kitten comically stuck for a few moments in a nuclear missile silo.
By Robert Kazel, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
June 21, 2013
If you are an optimist, with respect to the future of mankind, you have to believe that more opportunities will come, like Sisyphus moving that ball up the hill. Sometime, you’re going to get to the top and it’s going to roll down the other side, and the era of nuclear weapons will be over.
If you wanted me to pick a date for that, I would say a possible prospect, and a happy one, would be July of 2045—the 100th anniversary of the first test of an atom bomb in the deserts of New Mexico… It’s possible. It has significance. It’ll be a hundred years in the Atomic Age. It’s far enough out, that enough things could happen serendipitously to make that possible.
Total nuclear disarmament by all nations by then?
Yes. What that requires, however, is for people to continue to stay focused, work very hard at it, keep advising sensible and acceptable alternatives that can be embraced by increasing numbers of people as opportunities present themselves—and they will… Your principal purpose is to understand who is your target audience. Political and military leaders are not your target audience. Their minds are made up, and they are not going to be changed. Your target audience is publics. I mean worldwide… [Among the public] there is one group that is simply not interested in the subject, and will not be. There’s a second group that is already interested and committed, and you would be wasting your time preaching to the choir. It’s a third group, the unaware, who have simply never thought about these matters. It’s just never gotten on their radar screen. That’s the vast majority of the people in the world. The challenge for [anti-nuclear groups] is to frame a message that captures their attention and gets them to think.
See Part I of the interview:
By Robert Kazel, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
May 27, 2015
On June 4, 2015, on Russia Today’s Worlds Apart program, the journalist Oksana Boyko interviewed the director general of the World Nuclear Association (WNA), Agneta Rising. Throughout the interview, Ms. Boyko attempted to portray her questions as tough and challenging, but she also made statements that indicated that she was sympathetic to the nuclear industry’s claim that nuclear energy is a viable way to offset the effects of burning fossil fuels. This overly friendly interview could lead the viewer to wonder if Russia Today really is a propaganda tool for the Russian government, as some American politicians like to say. While the French, German, American and Japanese nuclear giants have declined, the Russian state-owned nuclear giant, Rosatom, has been very aggressive and successful in recent years in closing deals in developing countries. Nonetheless, there have been other reports on Russia Today that provided comprehensive and critical coverage of the nuclear industry. But then again, one has to wonder if that was just to give Rosatom a competitive advantage. There is no critical reporting on RT about the Russian nuclear industry.
The only challenging questions were focused on weapons proliferation and the risk of terrorism, and Ms. Rising’s answers were not probed deeply at all. There were no questions about nuclear waste management, the impacts of uranium mining, and the severe financial crisis within the nuclear industry. Because Ms. Boyko was poorly informed about these issues, or perhaps complicit in wishing not to mention them, the interview fell fall short of being hard-hitting and comprehensive.
Ms. Boyko began by restating Ms. Rising’s previous assertion that the reaction to the radiation from Fukushima was more dangerous than the radiation itself. Ms. Rising accepted that statement as accurate and added that it was “first a very big earthquake and tsunami who killed a lot a lot of people,” [sic] but “around the world people think it is the nuclear accident” not the tsunami and earthquake that caused these deaths.
Ms. Rising is not a native speaker of English, so her grammatical errors perhaps need to be forgiven, but it is curious that she used the relative pronoun “who” with the grammatical subject “earthquake and tsunami.” Nuclear proponents have always spoken in a way that diminishes human responsibility when things go wrong, describing crimes of gross negligence as “accidents.” It is common to hear statements like “it was once in millennium” or “no one could have seen this coming” or “it was a freak, one-off event that could never happen here.” In this instance, instead of removing human agency from the crimes that led up to the Fukushima catastrophe, Ms. Rising adds human agency to an event in which there was none.
She goes on to assert without evidence that people around the world think all the deaths were caused by the nuclear accident. This was the first of many absurd, distracting, evasive and irrelevant points she made during this thirty-minute interview. No serious critic of the Fukushima catastrophe is confused about the deaths caused by the earthquake and tsunami. If we tend to focus on the nuclear disaster, that is only because we understand that human actions and inactions were not a cause of the earthquake and tsunami. Ms. Rising’s logic seems to suggest that the anti-nuclear movement should transform itself into an anti-tsunami campaign and go looking for a force of nature “who” could be blamed and sued for damages.
Later in the interview she said about the Fukushima evacuation “that of course was necessary.” Here she admits that the uncertainty of that time and the existence of short-lived radioisotopes (Iodine 131) were reasons to evacuate, but she suggested that the remaining contamination should not be a concern and people should have moved back quickly. She emphasized that Fukushima was primarily a disaster of economic consequences, and she spoke of it in the past tense, as if it wasn’t an ongoing radioactive nightmare that has no end in sight for next several decades at least—a fact which even TEPCO no longer tries to deny with such delusional thinking.
While many experts have called Fukushima Dai-ichi one of the greatest industrial accidents in history, perhaps the greatest, Ms. Rising said it was “not one of the biggest industrial accidents… not even as big as what happens every year.” She didn’t explain what she was alluding to as happening every year, but she was likely referring to the health impacts of burning fossil fuel. Again, this is a failure of logic, if this was the point she wanted to make. The regular operations of the fossil fuel industry are deliberate. They can’t be classified as industrial accidents.
Ms. Boyko showed her agreement with her guest stating, “… not only Japanese people reacted in a somewhat irrational manner.” Throughout the interview, both women focused on the “emotional reaction” and constructed a false dichotomy between emotion and reason. This has been a constant point of confusion and ignorance displayed by people who earn their living in the nuclear industry. They dismiss their opponents’ reactions as “emotional” while never acknowledging their own emotional attachments to their paychecks. The Age of Reason created a legacy of confusion about the relation between emotions and reason. Those who put too much faith in rationality fail to see that emotion is the basis of all reasoning. Whatever we judge to be reasonable and sensible is based on emotional values that have been shaped by biological and cultural evolution. The rational choice to eat arises from a feeling that one wants to live. The “irrational” decision to continue living in a world where everyone dies eventually stems from an emotional attachment to life.
Ms. Rising went on to exhibit great confidence in new Japanese nuclear regulators and upgrades to existing facilities. She seems to have missed the news that the new regulatory agency has already been purged of the experts who were slowing down the process of getting some nuclear reactors back on line. Her confidence is purely a matter of faith, as it remains to be proven whether the new nuclear establishment can prevent another catastrophe when the next large earthquake or volcano strikes.
She added several comments about the crucial importance of public acceptance, as if the public anywhere was ever honestly and fully informed and allowed to have final say in a decision to build a nuclear power plant. She said, “…it’s important to have good support in the general public,” “good transparency” and “possibilities for the public to have an opinion and be involved in the process.” She also said there is “lots of construction going on in the third world,” so she apparently believes this public support and transparency exists there in abundance.
The interviewer shouldn’t have let these statements go unchallenged because there is plenty of evidence in all nuclear nations that the process has never been transparent or concerned with anything more than lip service to public opinion. In countries where some appearance of a democratic process is required, “public debates” are held as a formality, but there is no real possibility of rejecting the plan by this stage. In France, when the public debates were held in Penly regarding a new EPR power plant, President Sarkozy had already formally authorized the launch of the project. Nonetheless, the French nuclear authorities define these debates as essential public involvement.   I leave it to the reader’s imagination to wonder how this process unfolds in India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
As for public acceptance in Japan, Ms. Rising says, “… the whole system was questioned, so it’s hard to get someone to trust… it will take some time to build trust again.” The obvious question remains: why bother with all the work of building the trust when we could more conveniently decide to never see this betrayer again? This is the way it tends to go in human relations where it is very rare to see an injured party interested in building trust after it has been lost.
When Ms. Rising spoke of nuclear energy’s capacity to bring “energy independence” to various countries, it was a perfect opportunity for the interviewer to call out a ridiculous and easily disproven assertion. She cited France as an example, but it is well-known that France gets most of its uranium from its former colonies in Africa (which it refers to possessively as France-afrique). The statement was either a bold lie or a tacit admission that the WNA regards France’s longstanding neocolonialist policy as legitimate de facto recolonization. France has energy independence only if these countries are considered to be French possessions.
Other deliberate deceptions were on display when Ms. Rising stated, laughably, that the UK is “taking the lead in new construction in Europe.” She was referring to the EPR project that is currently stalled due the bankruptcy of the maker, French nuclear giant Areva, and the billion-euro engineering gaffs that have halted, and probably doomed, construction of the EPR project in Flamanville, France. As far as the UK is concerned, their lead in new construction is on an indefinite pause. These were just some of the many inconvenient details that Ms. Rising chose not to talk about, and Ms. Royko went along with the omissions, either out of ignorance or complicity.
Of course, the main point of the whole interview, supported apparently by the interviewer herself, was to make viewers believe that nuclear energy is carbon free. This point was made with such statements as “France decarbonized in the 1980s.” When faced with a knowledgeable audience, nuclear advocates concede that nuclear energy has a significant carbon footprint (how much is a topic of hot debate), but when faced with an audience that seems deceivable, they choose to lie and say it has no footprint.
Another false assertion was made repeatedly in the claim that nuclear is “reliable 24/7.” This also is not true because nuclear plants need to be stopped for refueling and maintenance, and they are often shut down during storms and other emergencies. When a bad accident happens, every reactor in the country might have to be shut down because of the need for safety reviews, or just because of a shift in public opinion—as was the case in Japan. This lie is also a deceptive distraction from the progress being made in energy storage. Renewables are likely to provide a baseload supply of electricity in the near future.
|Photos by C.A.N. Coalition Against Nukes|
It is impossible to put a monetary value on energy when no one can predict the technologies and the level of supply and demand that will exist in the future, but Ms. Rising was ready to say that in spite of the enormous costs, nuclear is a “very long-term low-price energy source, very competitive.” It would be better to say nothing because it’s impossible to know the future cost of energy, but because she’s the director general of the WNA, we are supposed to just take her word for it. She may be right inasmuch as the costs of the nuclear waste legacy will never be kept in the accounts of private corporations. The eternal cost of nuclear waste management will be a burden to future generations long after such entities as Rosatom and GE-Hitachi have ceased to exist.
The interview descended into absurdity when Ms. Rising claimed that nuclear is presently being “hurt by subsidies in other systems.” She speaks as if the nuclear industry never got an assist from the government investment in the weapons industry, or never got any other form of government assistance. It is well known that nuclear corporations won’t build a reactor in a country until they get a guarantee that the government will cover the liabilities for accidents (Such assurance was recently given in India. The most famous example is the Price Anderson Act in the United States).
These complaints about unfair subsidies point to the fact that it is actually impossible now to see a clear line between public and private investment. If the nuclear industry now cries foul because renewables are gathering more investment, public or private, all we can say is: Sorry, times have changed. This is what people want. You didn’t complain in the old days when it was your turn at the public trough.
More strange assertions came when Ms. Rising said about Japan’s nuclear restarts, “they are not going to destroy their country!” Perhaps she hasn’t heard of Easter Island, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Pearl Harbor, or Fukushima for that matter. History tells us that nations have an astounding capacity for marching like zombies toward disaster. The Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns very well could have set off a cascade of disasters at other power plants along the coast, and that scenario would have meant the destruction of the country. Japan sleepwalked straight into it and was saved only by sheer luck and the courageous actions of a few. What if the tsunami had hit at night when few personnel were on site to deal with it? So, actually, yes, they would destroy their country.
Toward the end of the interview, Ms. Royko managed to ask a few somewhat tough questions about the wisdom of building reactors in politically unstable countries, but Ms. Rising simply denied that this was happening. She said, “nuclear reactors are very safe,” oblivious to the fact that this word “safe” has no scientific validity. It’s like saying fire is safe, or fire is dangerous. Either statement is meaningless.
Ms. Royko managed to push a little on the question of political unrest, but Ms. Rising reiterated with her next meaningless statement: “We don’t put it in a region where there is war or unrest.” The war between Yemen and Saudi Arabia was raging as she spoke, yet Russia is going ahead with a deal to build a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia. Not only is she oblivious to the present state of the world, the WNA apparently has a crystal ball that tells them where there will be war or unrest during the 40-60 year operating duration of a nuclear reactor, not to mention during the longer lasting existence of nuclear waste. Don’t worry. Just repeat the mantra “nuclear energy is safe.”
Ms. Royko kept pushing on questions about security and political stability, but Ms. Rising wouldn’t give an inch. She denied that the international regulatory framework wasn’t up to the task. She expressed faith in such vague concepts as “international involvement,” which I suppose means the IAEA and the governments that are supposed to follow its unenforceable recommendations. We can keep in mind how the IAEA did such a bang-up job getting Japan to listen to its guidance in the years before 2011.
Toward the end of the interview, the subject came back to Fukushima, which Ms. Rising described as an “economical catastrophe… [it] has not killed anyone… [and it] will not have any discernable effects for anyone in the future, either.” Once again, the nuclear industry gets to repeat its favorite lie that nuclear catastrophes have had no effect on public health.
The most interesting and telling statement came toward the end of the interview when Ms. Royko reminded her guest that she once said, “nuclear energy must remain free of politics.” I was expecting her to deny that she ever said such a ridiculous thing, but she admitted it and elaborated further. The statement reveals that it was fitting for Ms. Rising to appear on a program called Worlds Apart, for the technocrats of our era really do live in their own reality. Any person who has a developed political consciousness knows that wishing for a technology to be free of politics is like wishing for it to be free from the constraints of reality itself. The sociologist Jacques Ellul once wrote, “When these technocrats talk about democracy, ecology, culture, the Third World, or politics, they are touchingly simplistic or annoyingly ignorant.”
Sometimes when an organization is in its dying days, the leader who is pushed to the top is someone who never would have been a contender during better days. The guilty and the powerful want to get out while the getting is good, so they set up a fall guy (or girl) to be at the helm when the ship goes down. I can’t help but wonder if this is the case now that Ms. Rising has been put in charge of the WNA.
A more competent and honest leader would be able to see that the argument made in the Worlds Apart interview makes the WNA look ridiculous. It is illogical, and laughably evasive and in-denial of the unpleasant truths facing the nuclear industry. It begs for subsidies because no one wants to invest in nuclear energy anymore. It is being overtaken by progress in renewables. It was a 70-year experiment, and now the results are in. Honest leadership in the nuclear industry would admit that the game is up. The industry can survive a little longer by selling to gullible populations and corruptible governments in the developing world, but soon they too will wise up. It’s time for the pro-nuclear and anti-nuclear forces to recognize that they have an obvious emerging common interest. There is an opportunity for reconciliation here if a face-saving exit can be taken, and if each side can have a way to portray the truce as a victory to their base of support.
As hundreds of nuclear power plants will soon be simultaneously in need of decommissioning (a process that takes decades for each one), people with technical expertise are going to be needed to manage nuclear plant decommissioning and nuclear waste management. When the public realizes the scale of the problem, there will be plenty of jobs to go around for displaced nuclear workers. The opportunities, like nuclear waste itself, have no end in sight.
 For insight into the nuclear industry’s “back office,” (which it studiously avoids talking about) see the articles on uranium mining at Dianuke.org: “Rampant corruption in the uranium company in Jadugoda has further worsened the safety situation…,” Dianuke.org, June 15, 2015. http://www.dianuke.org/rampant-corruption-in-the-uranium-company-in-jadugoda-has-further-worsened-the-safety-situation-joar-statement-on-the-ucil-scam/
 Contrary to what the WNA asserts, this news indicates that there is reason to believe that the new Japanese regulator has reverted to the ways of its predecessor. Industry and political pressure led to the ouster of a seismologist who was holding up approval of nuclear restarts. “Pro-nuclear expert replacing NRA commissioner who raised flag on quake risk,” Asahi Shimbun, May 28, 2014, http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/politics/AJ201405280023
 To see just one of many examples of the way transparency and public involvement plays out in the developing world, see: Soo-hyeok Park, “Voices growing in Gangwon Province against slated nuclear reactors,” Hankyoreh Media Company, June 18, 2015, http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/696544.html
 See also this viewpoint on the plan to build a nuclear plant in Malaysia: Anas Alam Faizli (Anak Malaysia Anti Nuklear – Aman) & Ron McCoy (Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility), “MPSR Nuclear power plants: No safe method of disposing radioactive waste, say NGOs,” Aliran, June 16, 2015, http://aliran.com/civil-society-voices/2015-civil-society-voices/nuclear-power-plants-no-safe-method-of-disposing-radioactive-waste-say-ngos/
 The playwright Nicolas Lambert did extensive research on the public debates conducted in France for his play Avenir Radieux. See information in English here: A Radiant Future: A Stage Play about France's Nuclear History, January 16, 2015, http://nf2045.blogspot.jp/2015/01/a-radiant-future-stage-play-about.html
 For more on the way the UK is “taking the lead” on new nuclear construction, see: Paul Flynn (Member of British Parliament), “Civil servants must speak out: ‘the time has gone for nuclear power,’” The Ecologist, June, 18, 2015, http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2913665/civil_servants_must_speak_out_the_time_has_gone_for_nuclear_power.html
 Michael Mariotte, “New EIA analysis shows nukes don’t help reduce carbon emissions under EPA’s Clean Power Plan,” Greenworld, June 3, 2015, http://safeenergy.org/2015/06/03/new-eia-analysis-shows-nukes/
 For information on the health effects of radiation, listen to some of the excellent interviews done by Libbe Halevy on her podcast:
Nuclear Hotseat #153: WHO/IAEA Unholy Alliance with Independent WHO’s Alison Katz, http://www.nuclearhotseat.com/1951/
Nuclear Hotseat #198 Dr. Ian Fairlie: Childhood Leukemia Near Nuclear Reactors, April 7, 2015, http://www.nuclearhotseat.com/2518/
Nuclear Hotseat #180 Dr. Chris Busby on Internal/External Radiation Doses, December 2, 2014, http://www.nuclearhotseat.com/2273/
 Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), p. 29.
 “Generational Transfer of Risk,” Fairewinds Energy Education, June 18, 2015 http://www.fairewinds.org/nuclear-energy-education/generational-transfer-of-risk
 For an explanation of the problems with the burial of high-level nuclear waste, see: “L'état, c'est MOX,” February 20, 2014, (includes a translation of an interview with a leading scientist on the French language edition of Russia Today) http://nf2045.blogspot.jp/2014/02/letat-cest-mox.html
The serial drama The Americans appeared in 2013 and quickly won critical praise for its portrayal of the Cold War tensions of the early 1980s, as told through the lives of a fictional couple, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings. They live in suburban Washington, DC as deep undercover Soviet agents, speaking perfect, idiomatic, unaccented American English. They blend in perfectly, fooling even their FBI agent neighbor.
The story takes place during the first years of the Reagan presidency when relations between the Americans and Soviets quickly deteriorated to their most paranoid and panicked level since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The aged Soviet leader Brezhnev died, succeeded by two more elderly leaders who each died shortly after taking the helm. Ronald Reagan declared the USSR an “evil empire” and launched a massive military spending program to build a space-based system for destroying incoming Soviet missiles. The Soviets panicked, knowing that the Americans were ahead in technology and able to outspend them on defense. It is in this context that the Jennings are pressured intensely by their handlers to carry out various risky missions to handicap the American advantage.
The creators do as much as they possibly can to make viewers aware of the historical context, but a work of fiction like this can’t offer a full history lesson without disrupting the flow of the story, and people who are too young to remember the 1980s certainly need to be filled in on the details. Ideally, the story should come with footnotes, but lacking those, you’ll have to settle for the timeline I’ve created below.
Season three of the series ends in March 1983, with the Soviets falling farther behind and growing panicked about the apparent Cold War dinosaur occupying the White House. This feeling of losing ground comes across in the story as the Jennings’ oldest child, Paige, has learned their secret and is in the process of betraying her parents. As Elizabeth Jennings watches Ronald Reagan recite his “evil empire” speech on TV, her daughter is on the phone telling her pastor the family’s dark secret.
It will be interesting to see where The Americans goes with this storyline. Our morbid interest in the sordid plotlines comes from the knowledge we have that the Jennings and their American counterparts were murdering innocents and destroying their own personal lives for nothing. It was all for the ideological war that melted into the warm smiles and handshakes of the Reagan-Gorbachev summits of the late 1980s. The best serial dramas finish within four or five years before they lose their magic, so I find myself wishing the story could skip ahead three years when season four begins to show us how the Jennings adjust to the beginning of the end—the Geneva summit, glasnost (openness), perestroika (restructuring) and Chernobyl. While the story is unique in the way it makes Americans take the point of view of “the Americans” hiding among them, it will ultimately be about the Jennings downfall and loss of faith. It remains to be seen whether the writers can pull this off but still avoid the ugly triumphalism of those who believe America "won" the Cold War.
A Primer for Watching The Americans
The Soviet Union begins its military engagement in Afghanistan. America soon enters into a decade of covert operations opposing popular anti-American uprisings in Central and South America.
American boycott of the Olympics in Moscow to protest the Afghan War. America funds the “good guys” in Afghanistan--Osama bin Laden and other freedom fighters from Saudi Arabia.
January 20, 1981
Inauguration of President Ronald Reagan.
June 12, 1982
1 million people rally for nuclear disarmament in Central Park, New York.
November 10, 1982
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev dies, replaced by Yuri Andropov.
March 8, 1983
Ronald Reagan delivers his famous “evil empire” speech, pledging to work toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons but warning Americans not to be naïve about the ambition of the USSR to lie and sweet talk its way into subjugating the world in “totalitarian darkness.”
March 10, 1983
Barack Obama writes “Breaking the War Mentality” for a Columbia University student newspaper called Sundial.
March 23, 1983
Reagan announces the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, nicknamed later as Star Wars), a space-based missile defense system intended to protect the United States from attack by ballistic nuclear weapons.
September 26, 1983
During a moment of extremely high tensions, a false alarm indicates to a Soviet early warning center that five American nuclear missiles have been launched toward the Soviet Union. According to protocol, officer Stanislav Petrov should report the incident so that the Soviet side can launch retaliatory strikes, but he goes with his feeling that it must be an error because the detection system is new and flawed, and he knows a first strike would involve more than just five missiles.
During a NATO exercise called Able Archer, “the Soviets interpreted the simulation as a ruse to conceal a first strike and readied their nukes. At this period in history, and especially during the exercise, a single false alarm or miscalculation could have brought Armageddon.”
November 20, 1983
The television movie The Day After, about the aftermath of a nuclear exchange, is broadcast to an American audience of 100 million. Reagan claimed in his diaries that it spurred him to work toward disarmament and to ignore advisers who wanted to plan for a winnable nuclear war.
February 9, 1984
Soviet leader Yuri Andropov dies, replaced by Konstantin Chernenko.
March 10, 1985
Konstantin Chernenko dies, replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev. Soon after taking power, Gorbachev introduces a broad reform program consisting of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring).
Geneva Summit, first meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev.
April 26, 1986
Chernobyl catastrophe. Gorbachev would later say that the catastrophe was the event that aggravated all existing weaknesses and doomed the USSR to collapse five years later.
The first international conference assessing Chernobyl takes place behind closed doors. The IAEA and Western experts find the Soviet estimate of 40,000 deaths from the disaster far too pessimistic. The conference concludes that the figure will be no more than 4,000.
World oil prices fall from $27 to $10 a barrel, depriving the USSR of vital export revenue when it is reeling from the costs of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the war in Afghanistan, and the arms race.
Reykjavik Summit. Leaders on both sides express a heightened awareness of the need to negotiate in earnest to reduce nuclear stockpiles. As if Chernobyl were a nuclear missile silo rather than a nuclear power plant, conventional wisdom in the East and the West claims the catastrophe underscored the danger of nuclear weapons. Gorbachev was the only high-level figure involved to advocate later for the abolishment of both nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.
Moscow Summit. It has become apparent that SDI is becoming too costly, too opposed in the Democrat Congress and world opinion, and too unfeasible for any sort of meaningful deployment in the foreseeable future. SDI is no longer the major issue in negotiations that it once was. Reagan declares that he no longer believes the Soviet Union is an “evil empire.”
Reagan-Gorbachev meeting on Governor’s Island, New York, attended also by president-elect George HW Bush.
January 20, 1989
Inauguration of George HW Bush.
Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Birth of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk anti-nuclear movement. In solidarity with victims of nuclear testing in Nevada, author Olzhas Suleimenov leads the protest movement against the nuclear weapons testing endured by the people of Kazakhstan since 1949.
Fall of the Berlin Wall, ongoing collapse of communist bloc in Eastern Europe.
October 3, 1990
July 31, 1991
President Bush and Gorbachev sign START (strategic arms reduction treaty). The treaty is heralded, along with the collapse of the USSR, as the “end of the Cold War," but the outcome falls far short of being a result that the human race could feel proud of. Qualifying and quantifying the degree of reduction is complex, but what is known for sure is that each side is still left with thousands of strategic nuclear warheads. Other nations possessing nuclear weapons make no commitments to reduce their stockpiles.
August 19, 1991
Gorbachev is ousted in a coup. Gennady Yannayev is declared leader.
August 21, 1991
Gorbachev is restored to power.
December 25, 1991
The end of the Soviet era. Today there is raging debate as to whether the American government made verbal, written or implicit promises in the 1989-91 period to not expand NATO eastward toward Russia’s borders. In 2015, Gorbachev, while also being a critic of some Russian policies, has stated that Western powers betrayed the promises made in 1990-91, created an unnecessary conflict in Ukraine, and brought American-Russian relations to a low and dangerous point that was inconceivable amid the friendly and optimistic mood of the early 1990s. This is the situation we find ourselves in while the young man who wrote “Breaking the War Mentality” has become the president of the United States and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
 Barack Obama, “Breaking the War Mentality,” Sundial, March 10, 1983.
 Robert Beckhusen, “New Documents Reveal How a 1980s Nuclear War Scare Became a Full-Blown Crisis,” Wired, May 16, 2013. http://www.wired.com/2013/05/able-archer-scare/
 Mark Joseph Stern, “Did Chernobyl Cause the Soviet Union To Explode?” Slate, January 25, 2013. http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/nuclear_power/2013/01/chernobyl_and_the_fall_of_the_soviet_union_gorbachev_s_glasnost_allowed.single.html
 Thomas Johnson (director), “The Battle of Chernobyl,” Icarus Films, 2006.
 “28th of February--Day of anti-nuclear movement ‘Nevada-Semipalatinsk,’" Kazinform International News Agency, February 28, 2013, http://www.inform.kz/eng/article/2538774
 “Gorbachev: It’s up to Europe to prevent new Cold War between US and Russia,” Russia Today, December 1, 2014. http://rt.com/news/210463-gorbachev-us-russia-europe/
 Uwe Klußmann, Matthias Schepp and Klaus Wiegrefe. “Did the West Break Its Promise to Moscow?” Spiegel Online, November 26, 2009, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nato-s-eastward-expansion-did-the-west-break-its-promise-to-moscow-a-663315-druck.html
Nuclear Safety: It Takes too Much Time
Le Canard enchaîné 2015/05/27
Struck by a record deficit of 5 billion euros and bogged down in the EPR construction site in Flamanville, Areva is also accumulating troubles and losses at another nuclear project, one which is little-known by the general public, the experimental Jules Horowitz Reactor. The reactor is under construction in Cadarache (Bouches-du-Rhône) on behalf of the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA). But almost nothing is going well for this technological plaything dedicated to research and the production of medical isotopes.
It was scheduled for completion in 2014, but the date has now been pushed back to 2020, which will be thirteen years after the shovels first hit the dirt. During this time, technicians recalled that the building was going up in a zone with high seismic risks, so they had to revise their plans. After a few years, the costs were mounting. The original cost estimate was 500 million euros, but it climbed to 1.5 billion, according to Les Echos (13/5). This cost overrun is to be shared by the lead contractors, Areva and DCNS [a French industrial group], the former arsenal of the State.
Sewn up with a white cable
For its part, the Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN, the nuclear regulator) had to admit that the project exhibited a certain couldn’t-give-a-shit attitude which was liable to weaken the security of the site, particularly with regard to certain sub-contractors.
In a letter addressed to the CEA, dated September 30, 2014, which went unjustly ignored, the ASN was upset with the way contract E01 had been fulfilled, at a cost of 60 million euros, by the company Spie et d’Eiffage. The work concerned electrical installations in the reactor and those called “command control.” This refers to the equipment that enables control of the chain reaction, including the ability to stop the chain reaction in an emergency.
Everything should be doubled, for extra security, and the two lines should be laid down along different paths. In a document discovered by ASN inspectors, it was found that electricians for Spie et d’Eiffage had judged the stipulation about doubling the cables to be “too constraining.” They then decided unilaterally that this requirement “would not be retained.”
On this matter, Areva and DCNS did not wait to be warned by the ASN before they reacted. They declared that the liberties taken by the subcontractor were “unacceptable.”But as long as the ground doesn’t tremble too much…
This week’s post is an update on the struggle of several non-governmental groups in France to shut down the government’s plan to bury nuclear waste under the village of Bure. There have always been plenty of good reasons to object to this project, but the discovery of a geothermic energy source directly under the proposed waste depository added what, one would think, would surely be a fatal blow. However, the legal case brought by the NGOs has not been proceeding well. This post puts the most recent news first, then republishes some previous posts on the topic in reverse chronological order.
À Bure, les antinucléaires se battent toujours, L’Essentiel (Luxembourg), 2015/05/20
Antinuclear groups fighting against the nuclear waste burial project in Bure have filed an appeal after having lost a case against ANDRA (Agence Nationale Pour La Gestion des Déchets Radioactifs).
The case brought by the antinuclear groups was dismissed at the end of March. Their lawyer said they had accused ANDRA of “lies… concerning the controversial project to store highly toxic nuclear waste in the Meuse region.” She announced on Wednesday that they have filed an appeal. Sortir du Nucléaire, and five other local organizations had accused ANDRA of “wrongful act” (faute in French legal terminology), but on March 26, 2015, the High Court in Nanterrre judged that these groups did not have a stake in the issue, thus they had no right to this legal action.
The lawyer, Etienne Ambroselli, said, “This decision is not what we expected. We have registered our appeal in the court of appeals in Versailles.”
The antinuclear groups have targeted a project that is unique in France: CIGEO is to bury, for thousands of years, the most highly radioactive waste in the country 500 meters below the small village of Bure. The groups allege that ANDRA lied in deliberately underestimating the extent of warm water aquifers under the site. This was done, allegedly, to facilitate the continuation of the project in this rural area of Haute-Marne.
However, the court in Nanterre decided that it was up to the “public authorities” to evaluate the validity of the study done by ANDRA on the geothermic potential of Bure because it was they who were responsible for the project.
Buried in impermeable argillite rock, CIGEO will be a hermetically sealed tomb. It will receive only 3% of the volume of radioactive waste that has been produced in France, but this small volume will contain 99% of the radioactivity of all these French wastes. The most toxic materials remain dangerous for more than a million years.
Final authorization is still far from being acquired. ANDRA hopes to have a green light from the government to proceed by 2020, and hopes to begin filling the site by 2025.
Unfortunately, the general public is not thinking too deeply about the proposals in all nuclear powered countries to bury nuclear waste. It seems so intuitively obvious that if you bury something it will be gone and the problem will be solved. The nucleocrats who promote these projects don’t want the public to hear the contrary voices that have raised the obvious questions about nuclear waste burial. For example, the French astrophysicist Jean-Pierre Petit had this to say in an interview in in 2014:
In general, there are two sorts of wastes. There are those that can be called “passive,” like asbestos, and those that can be called “active” that evolve chemically, decompose, and eventually produce flammable gas, and heat. Nuclear wastes obviously belong in the second “active” category. They release heat by their exo-energetic transmutation. So storage sites require powerful ventilation systems that need to be maintained for centuries. Some wastes that are plastic decompose relatively quickly, releasing hydrogen. When the air reaches 4% hydrogen, it becomes explosive.
In the year 2000, they began to store various types of waste, one of which was mercury, underground at a mine in Alsace. In 2002, a fire broke out. They wanted to get everything out, but they realized it could never be recovered… A fire in a mine is more complicated to manage than a fire above ground. It’s like an oven. The heat has no way out. A small fire can quickly result in elevated temperatures at which the containers begin to melt.
In Bure, a fire would be catastrophic. The wastes are vitrified (in a glass-like state), but glass is not really a solid. It’s a very viscuous fluid. At ordinary temperatures, it can do the job for thousands of years. It is not soluble. But the weak point of glass is its low resistance to heat. At 600°C, the glass will flow and liberate its contents. Underground, this temperature could be reached very quickly. In the mine there are also support structures made of metal and reinforced concrete. Concrete melts above 1100°. The clay in Bure is also saturated with water. It couldn’t withstand being heated above 70°. The creators of the CIGEO project have great faith in a material called bentonite with which they hope to seal the caverns. It’s a particular type of clay that can absorb water and dilate, but it has the same problem as clay in terms of heat resistance.
Fire hazards come not only from the concern about hydrogen explosions. The plan at Bure is to deposit some elements treated with bitumen, but bitumen becomes fluid at 60° and flammable at 300°. Any way you look at it, this project is absurd.
The only thing to do now is to leave everything on the surface, even for centuries if necessary, as a way to make them less toxic by transmutation. There is no hurry. But the government and the barons of nuclear are exerting an enormous pressure to begin burial by 2015. They want to hide all signs of the nuisance that has accumulated for half a century and given nuclear energy such a bad image. If the CIGEO project is realized, this will be a precedent for nucelopaths the world over, and they will all follow suit, saying, “après moi, le déluge!”
Note that these comments made no mention of the geothermic energy source under the proposed caverns. If catastrophic fires or leaks happen sometime in the future, the toxic contents will leak down into this valuable water and energy source.
The articles below, about the antinuclear groups’ case against ANDRA, were posted earlier this year (2015):
France's Bure Nuclear Waste Site on Trial
Recently, I posted a translation from France’s other satirical/serious political journal Le Canard enchaîné regarding the inconvenience of a geothermic energy source that was discovered under the planned site of France’s underground nuclear waste storage facility (see the article below). Several citizens’ groups banded together to sue ANDRA, the government agency building the facility, and they had their hearing on January 5, 2015.
Even if they get a favorable ruling in the case, the court is powerless to order ANDRA to halt construction. The most that can be hoped for is a condemnation and increased public awareness of this serious flaw in the plans of the French state to deal with its nuclear waste problem. In normal times, nuclear issues have a hard time getting onto the radar of public discourse, and this tendency was only increased when the horrific murders happened in Paris on January 7th, pushing all other news to the margins. It is unfortunate that this recourse to the courts is the only way to bring attention to what is really a public policy problem—a political issue concerning a looming environmental catastrophe. One might think that the issue would be taken as seriously as freedom of speech, or the importance of defending values that one holds sacred. Fighting the despoiling of the land is an issue that could unify everyone in a divided nation and a divided world, but instead we argue about religion and the right to insult others.
What follows below is a statement about the hearing prepared by the plaintiffs who brought the case to court.
The French National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA) kept lying in court: Summary of the court hearing on January 5th, 2015
Following a lawsuit by six concerned citizen groups (ASODEDRA, BureStop55, Cedra52, Habitants Vigilants de Gondrecourt-le-Château, MIRABEL - Lorraine Nature Environnement, Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire"), on January the 5th, ANDRA was called to the Superior Court of Nanterre [near Paris].
We sued ANDRA for the offense of hiding data on the geothermal resource of the Bure site for more than 15 years. This geothermal energy resource impedes the construction of a nuclear waste disposal site there, as it might lead to people of the future drilling through the wastes. Our lawyer demonstrated that ANDRA willingly failed to execute its duty to honestly inform the public. As a public agency, it is compelled to do so by law. Attorney Etienne Ambroselli said, “We want to stop ANDRA from practicing the art of misinformation. We expect the court to condemn ANDRA for not telling the truth about the difficulties it has encountered in carrying out its mission to manage nuclear wastes over the long term.
The misinformation went on during the legal procedures before the hearing. ANDRA did not produce any new arguments; the weaknesses of these had been emphasized in the citizen groups’ replications before the hearing. Stuck in this awkward position, ANDRA now has to modify its message with further misinformation. While it had declared there was no geothermal potential, it now recognizes there is. Henceforth,to elude the problem of safety, ANDRA now says it would be possible to tap the geothermal brine near the site, but this would not affect the safety of the site. Henceforth, according to ANDRA's attorney, incidentally drilling through the wastes would release only one hundredth the amount of natural radioactivity! It appears that there is nothing to worry about with these high-level long lived wastes, which raises an interesting question: why bury them if they are so inconsequential? As for the Safety Rules [Règle Fondamentale de Sûreté, RFS III.2.f, then, Guide de Sûreté 2008 of the French legislation] they would be meaningless...
When the memory of the waste dump will have faded, people of the future might wish to take advantage of the earth's thermal energy, and drilling operations might contact the wastes (this is quite possible considering the decline of fossil resources). The future generations will be the victims. It would be irresponsible for our leaders to give the go-ahead to such a project.
Without new arguments, ANDRA's attorney could not justify the malfeasance and unacceptable malfunctions which happened during ANDRA’S drilling in the geothermal investigation. He only pretended that such problems (anomalous obstruction of the tool by mud, inability to conduct sufficiently long hydraulic testing, inappropriate sampling and temperature recording...) would be the "usual" problems encountered in such a task.
The judgment will be given March the 27th at 14h. We hope the court will recognize the obvious strengths of the plea brought forward by our concerned-citizens groups.
The Inconvenience of a Geothermic Energy Source Under France's Nuke Waste Dump
The French weekly newspaper Le Canard enchaîné provides aggressive and biting coverage of the nuclear establishment in a way that mainstream media refrain from doing. Le Canard has been in print since 1915, except for a period during the German occupation when it was forced to close. The journal had a moment of international fame in September 2013 when it ran satirical cartoons about Tokyo being awarded the 2020 Olympics in spite of Japan’s troubles containing its nuclear catastrophe.
Unfortunately for readers who would like easy access to its reporting, Le Canard has stuck to its policy of being print-only. There is a Le Canard enchaîné website, but it exists only to introduce the journal, sell subscriptions and occupy the domain name that imitators and detractors would like to possess.
Occasionally, I notice people in my social network sharing photos of pages from Le Canard (a previous one translated to English is here) and today I came across the following report about a fiasco at France’s nuclear waste disposal site in Bure. I’m posting this translation of content from Le Canard, hoping that they won’t mind the publicity and the fact that this sample is made available to English readers throughout the world so that they will be forewarned about how nuclear waste disposal projects always offer a false promise of a final solution for nuclear waste, along with pledges of jobs and economic development for the remote communities that are always exploited for these ventures.
Nuclear Waste on the Aquifer
by Professor Canardeau
translation of Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe
Le Canard enchaîné
A huge pocket of warm water exists beneath what is supposed to be France’s largest nuclear garbage pit, located near the town Bure. This site is destined to store, for at least 100,000 years, the most dangerous high-level waste that has accumulated since France built its first reactor. 125 meters tall, 30 kilometers wide and dozens of kilometers long, this reserve of warm water could sooner or later be used to produce heat or energy. The water is a comfortable 66 degrees, but it is found at a depth of 1,800 meters, while the nuclear waste is to be buried above it at a depth of 500 meters.
On January 5, 2015, the agency for the management of radioactive waste (ANDRA) will find itself on trial in high court in Nanterre for having divulged false information concerning the supposed absence of concern about significant underground water tables at the site in Bure. The citizen groups Sortir du nucléaire and Stop Bure 55, and Mirabel Lorraine Nature Environnement have brought the charges.
Some background: The fundamental rules related to deep geological disposal of nuclear waste, established in 1991 and still in force, clearly state that sites should not involve significant concerns about geothermal sources or build-up of heat. But in 2002, the geophysicist André Mourot (now deceased) was going through the archives at the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research in Nancy, Reims, and he discovered the existence of this aquifer, and he realized its significance as a source of energy. The geologist Antoine Godinot remembers that André Mourot wrote a report and distributed it to all interested groups. Next, they demanded that ANDRA conduct testing to learn fully about the aquifer.
ANDRA made no response until 2008. “What a disaster, this drilling and testing,” laughed the nuclear physicist Monique Sené. “The probe got stuck. They couldn’t even reach the aquifer.”
This fiasco didn’t stop ANDRA from declaring in 2009 that the geothermic source is negligible. Since then it has stuck to this position. To the malcontents it accuses of spreading this information about a geothermic potential, it responds, “The studies done by ANDRA concern whether there is an exceptional geothermic resource.” For ANDRA, as far as Bure is concerned, there is “no geothermic resource of exceptional interest.” Everything hinges on what is understood by “exceptional.”
Tada! At the end of 2013, at the request of the local information committee tracking the Bure laboratory (composed of representatives of the State, local collectives, and civil society groups), a Swiss group called Geowatt, specializing in geothermic energy resources, produced a report that stated, “We are of the opinion that the geothermic resources of the Bure region could at present be developed at an economical cost with the use of appropriate technology.” The nail in the coffin was the additional comment stating, “The burial of nuclear waste prevents access to the geothermic resource.”
The physicist Bernard Laponche points out, “If we build this project at this site, we are going to impose enormous risks on future generations, and for sure one day people will want to exploit this geothermic energy, but they will stumble upon the nuclear waste that is blocking access to it. ”
Perhaps ANDRA will be able to leave their contact information for future generations to get in touch.
translation of Des déchets (nucléaires) sur la nappe
Le Canard enchaîné