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The Real Nuclear Triad: Energy, Weapons and Waste

Photo by Maxwell Hamilton | Public Domain


Clear and Present Danger

Never before has the unbreakable connection between nuclear energy, weapons and waste been so blatantly obvious to the public eye…yet, with so little notice.

Although President Trump has threatened to obliterate North Korea and its 25 million people ‘with fire and fury the like of which the world has never seen,’ the NYT is reporting that America’s Asian allies doubt Washington’s ‘resolve’ to defend them with nuclear weapons and they want their own – an idea recently also floated by Trump himself.

In a new twist on the last century’s discredited ‘Atoms for Peace’ meme, the new nuclear delusion seems to be that the more countries that have nuclear weapons (Iran and North Korea excepted), the more ‘secure’ the world will become.

Speaking recently at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, Trump’s VP Mike Pence, a self-declared devout Christian who ‘gave my life to Jesus,’ declared “… there’s no greater force for peace in the world than the United States nuclear arsenal.”

Implication: every country should feel safer if they have a nuclear arsenal of their own. That seems precisely Kim Jong-Un’s own calculus, given his country’s previous horrific carpet-bombing experience with the US – “we… eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” Gen. Curtis LeMay told Congress – not to mention the recent history of Iraq, Libya and Syria.

Nuclear Circular Firing Squad

As agitation reportedly builds in South Korea and Japan for building their own nuclear arsenals, the Times reveals that, as a result of the radioactive waste output of their already existing nuclear energy reactor fleets, each of these tiny countries has accumulated enough weapons-grade plutonium to produce – respectively – 4,600 and 6,000 nuclear bombs.

How about that? Nations without their own ‘commercial power’ nukes must certainly take note.

Never mind the fact that such a triangle of nuclear-armed, mutually hostile, neighboring states would be like, say, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut each having their own nuclear arsenals, all pointing at each other.  Talk about a circular firing squad.  It’s the very definition of an ‘everybody loses’ situation.

Nuclear Triplets Joined at the Hip

But, while this is clearly an illustration of a new epidemic of nuclear crackpot madness spreading around the world, it is also the latest of several clear illustrations – and blatant, though veiled, public admissions – that the DNA-destroying nuclear triplets of energy, weapons and radioactive waste are inseparably joined-at-the-hip.

In the UK:

“Military Nuclear Industry to be Supported by Payments from Electricity Consumers”

In Britian, reports the Guardian, “The government is using the “extremely expensive” Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to cross-subsidize Britain’s nuclear weapon arsenal, according to senior scientists.”

The Guardian story continues,

In evidence submitted to the influential public accounts committee (PAC), which is currently investigating the nuclear plant deal, scientists from Sussex University state that the costs of the Trident programme could be “unsupportable” without “an effective subsidy from electricity consumers to military nuclear infrastructure.”

Prof Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone from the Science Policy Research Unit at the university write that the £19.6bn Hinkley Point project will “maintain a large-scale national base of nuclear-specific skills” without which there is concern “that the costs of UK nuclear submarine capabilities could be insupportable.”

Their evidence suggests that changes in the government’s policy on nuclear power in recent years will effectively allow Britain’s military nuclear industry to be supported by payments from electricity consumers.

Last June, MPs passed a motion in favour of replacing four submarines carrying Trident missiles at a cost of £40bn.

“What our research suggests is that British low-carbon energy strategies are more expensive than they need to be, in order to maintain UK military nuclear infrastructures,” said Stirling.

“And without assuming the continuation of an extremely expensive UK civil nuclear industry, it is likely that the costs of Trident would be significantly greater.”

The Hinkley Point project has been criticised for its huge cost.

… Johnstone said the decision-making process behind Hinkley raised questions about transparency and accountability, saying: “In this ever more networked world, both civil and military nuclear technologies are increasingly recognized as obsolete. Yet it seems UK policymaking is quietly trying to further entrench the two – in ways that have been escaping democratic accountability.”

“Hidden Subsidy” for Nuclear Weapons

In their report, entitled Some Queries over Neglected Strategic Factors in Public Accounting for UK Nuclear Power: evidence to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee Inquiry on Hinkley Point C (HPC)Stirling and Johnstone state that their “evidence submits that an undetermined part of the full costs of this expensive, controversial – but officially highly-prioritized – military infrastructure are in effect (without clear public acknowledgement or justification), being loaded into electricity prices. With costs of alternative large-scale domestic low-carbon energy resources like offshore wind power confirmed as significantly more favorable than HPC, it seems a hidden subsidy is being imposed on electricity consumers.”

They point out that, “If UK pursuit of uncompetitive nuclear power is partly justified as a means to sustain these shared civil-military specialized nuclear capacities, then availability of lower cost domestic low-carbon power means electricity prices are higher than would otherwise be the case…. It is this that would amount to an effective subsidy from electricity consumers to military nuclear infrastructures.”

They conclude, “Remarkably, this civil-military link is well documented in defense debates, but entirely neglected in energy policy discussion.” (emphasis added.)

In the US:

Chasing Nuclear Market Share

In a recent piece in Foreign Affairs, entitled Will the West Let Russia Dominate the Nuclear Market? – What the Westinghouse Bankruptcy Means for the Future, born-again ‘new environmentalists’ and new nukes enthusiasts Nick Gallucci and Michael Shellenberger argue that US taxpayers should bail out the once-powerful, now bankrupt and Japanese-owned nuclear giant Westinghouse, or risk losing both global commercial and military nuclear primacy.

In the face of documented world-wide nuclear industry collapse, these guys want to revive what they call Eisenhower’s ‘humanitarian dream’ of Atoms for Peace (which spread deadly US nuclear technology around the world in the first place ) in order to, as Ike promised,  “provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world.”

Now, according to nuclear true-believers Nick and Mike, with the added benefit of saving civilization from climate change with new, ‘clean’ nuclear energy will be run on what they call ‘accident tolerant fuels’ – still a completely untested ‘nukes-for-ever’ concept.

The core element in their misguided pitch is that the decline of the civilian nuclear industry in the USA “would significantly undermine U.S. and Western national security interests.”

This, despite statistics showing that global investments in non-hydro renewables are now greater than the global investments in nuclear, hydro and fossil fuels combined.

Nuclear Policy Group-Think Adrift in a Sea of Delusion

Elsewhere in the news, a report by the pro-nuclear Energy Innovation Reform Project  on the future costs of new nuclear in the USA notes that: “A sustained decline in the commercial industry could also have a negative impact on the U.S. nuclear naval program.

A 2017 report entitled The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler by the Energy Futures Initiative – another pro-nuke shop established by former Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz – clearly highlights the risks posed by US civilian nuclear decline to US naval supply chains.

Nukes on the Dole – Radioactive Welfare Queens

All of which may help to explain some strange recent developments.

Nuclear utilities are in trouble, fighting for life against – as Amory Lovins once predicted – ‘a massive overdose of market forces’ and the surging economics of renewables.

But wait. Whatever happened to ‘”the wisdom of the ‘free market’?”  Around the country, as aging reactors reach the end of their operational and economic lives, some states like Wisconsin, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Nebraska are letting them die a dignified natural death. But other states, like New York and Illinois are putting their moribund reactors on life support at public expense.  Projections suggest that state-sponsored electric ratepayer handouts in the two states could total as much as $10 billion over 12 years.

Tim Judson, Director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), warns that if other states follow New York and Illinois, “The price would be outrageous. If reactor subsidies go nationwide, it could cost $130-$280 billion by 2030.”

Earlier this year NukeWatch.org  Directpr John LaForge reported on CounterPunch,

Bailout legislation for dilapidated reactors is now pending: in Connecticut, for Millstone 2 & 3; in New Jersey, for Salem 1 & 2 and Hope Creek; in Texas, for South Texas 1 & 2 and Comanche Peak 1 & 2; in Maryland, for Calvert Cliffs 1 & 2; and for nine reactors in Pennsylvania including Beaver Valley 1 & 2, Three Mile Island 1, Susquehanna 1 & 2, Limerick 1 & 2, and Peach Bottom 2 & 3.

Meanwhile America’s Trillion dollar nuclear arsenal upgrade goes forward, even as an overwhelming majority of United Nations states sign on to a treaty declaring the possession, use or threatened use of nuclear weapons illegal under international law.

In the face of the spreading renewed nuclear crackpotism noted above, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has been the driving force behind the UN Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. ICAN will receive the Nobel Peace Prize Dec 10.

Atoms for Peace War

All of which suggests, you can’t advocate for nuclear reactors without indirectly advocating for nuclear weapons and radioactive waste.  That’s because nuclear reactors are producers of both weapons material and radioactive waste. Ike was a nuclear conman. ‘Atoms for Peace’ have always been Atoms for War.

And, as Bennett Ramberg showed conclusively in his prescient, but tragically ignored, 1984 book Nuclear Power Plants as Weapons for the Enemy: An Unrecognized Military Peril, its also because every nuclear reactor and radioactive waste storage site in the world are themselves nuclear-weapons-in-place for any enterprising terrorist.

Concluded Ramberg, “Because nuclear energy facilities contain such large inventories of biologically threatening radionuclides, they can make potentially useful radiological weapons when manipulated for strategic purposes.”

More articles by:

James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan.  Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection Pt. ! – The Case of San Onofre is now in post-production.  He can be reached at jamesmheddle@gmail.com

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