Decrepit Reactors 4/19/17

Nuclear Power Bums, Bailouts and Bankruptcy – by John LaForge

John LaForge

You have to hand it to the nuclear industry for socializing costs and privatizing profits. Last year, lobbyists for operators of dirty, deadbeat old reactors won massive public subsidies — bailouts — in New York and Illinois that will keep decrepit, retirement-age reactors from shutting down.

Instead of turning off the rattle traps — and investing public funds in renewables – state-sponsored electric ratepayer handouts in the two states will total $10 billion over 12 years. Remember Reagan’s mythical “welfare queens”? These utilities are welfare gods, propping up decrepit reactors by buying entire state legislatures that in turn legalize monthly electric bill increases.

In New York, the FitzPatrick reactor (Entergy Corp) and Nine Mile Point station (Exelon Corp) join the Ginna reactor in foisting rate hikes on customers, giveaways that will keep the failed reactors spewing “allowable” radioactive emissions to the air and water indefinitely.

Tim Knauss, reporting for the Syracuse Post-Standard wrote, “The once money-losing nuclear plants are now expected to add millions to the profits of parent company Exelon Corp.” The windfall for the dividend-earning class is considerable. A single large power reactor can draw $1 million in profit every month for the owners and shareholders.

In Illinois, the Clinton and Quad Cities reactors will be saved from the axe by a similar bailout engineered by Exelon Corp last December. Like clockwork, Exelon told it investors in February that “cash flow and profit outlook have improved thanks to the New York nuclear subsidies and a similar program adopted in Illinois,” Knauss reported. Dave Kraft, director of Chicago-based Nuclear Energy Information Service, explained the downside in an email: “Mortgaging our energy future by bailing out the energy past deliberately stifles the real energy and climate solutions we need: more energy efficiency, and aggressive use of renewables. The utilities that rationalize ‘bailout’ have no real concern for either climate change relief or consumers’ pocketbooks — only their own corporate bottom line. Legislators who think otherwise are either naïve and ignorant or bought-and-paid-for — or both.”

It gets worse. According to Prof. Karl Grossman, the nuclear “industry hopes that if New York succeeds, it could pressure other states to adopt similar subsides.” One Reuters headline was: “New York could show the way to rescue US nuclear plants.” Case in point: in Ohio Apr. 26, Sen. John Eklund (R) put up Senate Bill 128 which, if enacted, will add a hefty tax to electric bills and bail out FirstEnergy, saving its otherwise bankrupt Davis-Besse and Perry reactors from closure. Ohio citizens’ groups and others are fighting this corporate welfare. AARP Ohio said the give-away would raise electric bills “almost $60 a year for up to 16 years — a real burden for people on fixed incomes.” The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, the American Petroleum Institute-Ohio, the Alliance for Energy Choice, and the Electric Power Supply Association all argue that the bill only pads FirstEnergy’s bank account while other states –including Wisconsin, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Nebraska — have opted to let insolvent reactors close for good.

To postpone nuclear power’s inevitable demise, the failed industry needs to take the subsidies nationwide, according to Tim Judson, Director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in Maryland. Judson warned April 4 that, “The price would be outrageous. If reactor subsidies go nationwide, it could cost $130-$280 billion by 2030.” 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.

Buddy Can You Spare a Billion Dollars?

At the other end of current nuclear biz, reactor construction delays and cost overruns have now bankrupted Toshiba’s Westinghouse Electric. Westinghouse, as the New York Times said, is “a once-proud name that, in years past, symbolized … supremacy in nuclear power.” That was then; before David Shipley, writing for Bloomberg, reported that the March 29 “bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Co. is yet more evidence, if anyone needed any, that the economics of nuclear power are not good… nuclear energy can’t compete against cheap natural gas and ever-cheaper renewables.”

Toshiba/Westinghouse has lost over $6 billion trying to build four new reactors in the United States, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina, which may now be abandoned. The Vogtle project in Waynesboro, Georgia was first projected to cost $14 billion: no bargain at all considering the plummeting cost of solar, and wind, and the “negawatts” produced by conservation and efficiency. Now three years behind schedule and with Westinghouse buried under a mountain of law suits, one utility expert testified the actual cost will be over $21 billion. “Too cheap to meter” was always too pricey to fathom. On March 30, Toshiba said Westinghouse had total debt of $9.8 billion.

As Judson at NIRS says, “It’s imperative that environmental, consumer, and clean energy advocates get active — both to stop these bailouts from coming to more states and to make sure [Trump] doesn’t rubber-stamp a massive national reactor bailout, like state utility commissions did in the 1990s. … We can’t afford to let that happen again.”

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Irrational & Self Destructive 1/4/17

Tweeting while the world comes to its senses – by John LaForge

John LaForge

When Donald Trump Tweeted something about nuclear weapons Dec. 23, I thought he must be deliberately trivializing the Bomb to make it appear small, the way he makes light of sexual assault, punching critics, deporting millions, torturing suspects, and assassinating women and children. About the Bomb, the world’s most famous Tweeter offered, “The US must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The Tweeter in Chief is unaware that the world actually is coming to its senses regarding nukes. Mr. Trump either knows next to nothing about nuclear weapons — and isn’t afraid to teach nonsense, even contradicting his Secretary of Defense nominee — or he wants to direct attention away from current progress being made toward their abolition.

On December 23, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a historic resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 on a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The vote follows an Oct. 27 decision by the UNGA First Committee to begin work on the new treaty, a resolution opposed by the US and several other nuclear-armed states.

The latest resolution passed 113 to 35, with 13 abstaining. Putting the lie to President Barak Obama’s lip-service about pursuing “a world without nuclear weapons,” US delegate Samantha Power voted against the resolution. So did nuclear-armed England, France, Russia, and Israel. Yet not every nuclear power parroted US obstructionism. US partners India and Pakistan abstained, as did China. North Korea (with perhaps 10 nuclear weapons) and Iran (with zero nukes) voted in favor. Saudi Arabia blew off its principal arms supplier and voted Yes, as did Italy despite being both a NATO partner and home to about 80 US H-bombs still deployed at two of its air force bases.

The US knows a treaty ban will demolish the US-manufactured perception that nuclear weapons are legitimate — while landmines, gas, poison, biological and cluster munitions are not. An international ban would also make it politically embarrassing and legally suspect for the US and NATO to continue their nuclear war planning.

The UN treaty talks will proceed in two sessions: March 27 to 31, and June 15 to July 7. During a UN budget committee meeting in December, the US fought against a funding request for the planned four weeks of negotiations. But under pressure, ban proponents Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa, the US withdrew its opposition and the funding was okayed.

In a leaked document sent to NATO members in October, before the UN First Committee decision, the US urge opposition to the resolution and a boycott of the negotiations. US marching orders were disobeyed by allies including The Netherlands, India, and Pakistan which all abstained (and by Italy which voted Yes).

The “capability” of the US nuclear arsenal is already redundant, according to Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the Pentagon. In January 2015, Gen. James Mattis ridiculed our 450 land-based missiles, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee, “You should ask: ‘Is it time to reduce the triad … removing the land-based missiles?’” Gen. Mattis is friends with former Defense Secretary William Perry who earlier called for eliminating the same missiles. They should be scrapped, Perry says, because “They’re not needed.” The same position is advocated by Gen. James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of US nuclear forces, and by former Republican Senator and former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

To “greatly strengthen and expand” the explosive, incendiary, and cancerous power of H-bombs is militarily irrational, economically bankrupting, and environmentally self-destructive. The Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility, which has studied the subject for four decades, reported in 2014 that just 100 nuclear warheads — if detonated — could plunge the Earth into a smoke-clouded darkness long enough to destroy agriculture and starve billions of people to death. The US has 7000 warheads, 70 times the “strength” to do ourselves in. But then, Mr. Trump and his supporters would have to read something to know this.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Forget “Never Again” 12/28/16

John LaForge

What Part of “Never Again” Does Mr. Trump Not Understand? – by John LaForge

Asked last year whether he would require American Muslims to register in a database Donald Trump said he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.” During a Nov. 16 appearance on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show, former Trump spokesman Carl Higbie said a registry of Muslims would be “legal” and that “We did it during World War II with the Japanese.”

“You’re not suggesting that we go back to Japanese internment camps are you?” Kelly asked. “I’m not proposing that at all,” Higbie said, “But I’m just saying there is precedent for it.” To this Kelly declared: “You can’t be citing Japanese internment camps as precedent for anything the president-elect is going to do.”

But of course he could, because Mr. Trump appears to win support by boastfully saying and doing anything that produces a roar from the mob — crowing about sexual assault, torture, shooting people in the face, bombing civilians, deporting millions — no matter how unlawful, bigoted, sexist, hateful or dishonest it sounds.

The so-called “precedent” includes the bitter irony that many imprisoned Japanese-Americans had sons in the military fighting against fascism in Germany and Italy. Muslim-Americans likewise have thousands of children in the US armed forces. Yet Khizr and Ghazala Kahn, the parents of Humayun Khan–an Army Captain who died in a car bombing in Iraq in 2004–were viciously belittled by Trump, using the same bigotry with which he attacked Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, absurdly calling him “Mexican.”

News coverage of Higbie’s Muslim registry “precedent” balloon neglected to mention that arresting 3-11 million undocumented immigrants (Trump calls this whole class “Mexicans”) would also require a mass police-state internment program like the WWII crimes visited upon Japanese-Americans. The media also ignored the fact that the US government has officially memorialized an apology for the WWII mass arrests and detentions, and has erected a monumental promise never to do any such a thing again.

“The Lessons Learned Must Remain As A Grave Reminder Of What We Must Not Allow To Happen Again To Any Group.”

The National Japanese American Memorial, in Washington, DC, pledges never to repeat this overtly racist chapter of American history. The national media’s ignorance or omission of this national monument is partly understandable. It’s not noted on any of the DC tour maps I consulted. The memorial is a permanent reminder of the shameful arrest and imprisonment-without-cause of more than 120,000 Japanese-American civilians. What’s more, for a city like Washington, which is crowded with mostly self-congratulatory monuments, the internment memorial is a vanishingly rare, direct and unambiguous admission of wrongdoing by the government.

Inscribed in the memorial’s elegant marble pedestals are President Reagan’s words: “Here We Admit A Wrong. Here We Affirm Our Commitment As A Nation To Equal Justice Under The Law.” Also carved in stone is this pledge from the late Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii: “The Lessons Learned Must Remain As A Grave Reminder Of What We Must Not Allow To Happen Again To Any Group.” In 1988, Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act which apologizes on behalf of the government and declares that the mass arrests were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.” This sounds familiar.

In The Underside of American History, historian Roger Daniels writes about early 1942 that: “Racist feelings were intensified by wild rumors of sabotage and espionage, and a variety of groups demanded the expulsion of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.” The US Army and the War Relocation Authority forces then used house raids to detain and ship 120,313 Japanese-Americans to hastily-built, barbed wire-circled prison camps — many built in the desert.

Today’s advocates of Trump’s “database of Muslim residents” should consult the 1983 federal commission on the mass detentions of World War II. It found there was “no military necessity for the mass imprisonment of the Japanese Americans and that a grave injustice had been done.”

The US started down this road immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, when more than 2,000 people in the country were arrested in secret. The Justice Department refused then to issue a list of names or the number of those incarcerated, arguing that “national security interest” outweighed the public’s right to know. During these secret arrests, US Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., visited the Krome detention center near Miami and found it astonishing that “…the Immigration and Naturalization Service is fixated on detaining and rounding up countless Arab-Americans without any justification.”

But Trump would rather we forget US history, ignore Reagan’s apology, and break Senator Inouye’s promise. Today’s wartime hysteria, fueled by Trump’s baseless accusations against immigrants, helps some ignore our history, especially if it is ugly, and consider repeating it even if we’ve promised “never again.”

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Famous Outspoken Judge 12/21/16

John LaForge

In Sentencing Radical Pacifists, Judge Miles Lord Assailed “Worship of the Bomb”

By John LaForge

Federal District Judge Miles Lord, who died Dec. 10 at age 97, could have given me 10 years once. Instead, the famously outspoken judge, who was well known for protecting ordinary people from corporate crime and pollution, used the anti-nuclear case a group of us argued before him to deliver a remarkably scornful condemnation of nuclear weapons and of the corruption that protects them.

On August 10, 1984, Barb Katt and I did more than $36,000 damage to launch-control computers being built for Trident missile-firing submarines by Sperry Univac (now Unysis) in Eagan, Minnesota. It was the 9th in a series of 100 so-called Plowshares actions, one we’d planned for two years. After walking into the Sperry plant dressed in business suits, we used household hammers to smash two of the company’s missile-guidance computers then under construction. We “named” the wreckage by pouring blood over it because, as the philosopher Simone Weil said, “Nuclear weapons kill without being used by forcing people to starve.” We didn’t run away but waited for the authorities, explaining to workers in the room that we’d disarmed part of the government’s first-strike nuclear war machinery. One worker said later as a trial witness, “I’ve heard the word ‘Trident’ but I don’t know what it means.”

We were charged with felony “depredation” and were convicted by a jury after a three-day trial. Facing a maximum of 10 years in prison at a Nov. 8 sentencing, Barb and I urged Judge Lord to boldly denounce US nuclear war preparations that were then common knowledge. Judge Lord then did exactly that.

With the federal government today proceeding with a 1-trillion-dollar nuclear weapons modernization program, much like the one Ronald Reagan was overseeing in 1984, Judge Lord’s stunning critique of criminal corporate militarism is as relevant as ever. These are the judge’s sentencing remarks from the bench, as reported in the official transcript:

It is the allegation of these young people that they committed the acts here complained of as a desperate plea to the American people and its government to stop the military madness which they sincerely believe will destroy us all, friend and enemy alike.

They have made a plausible argument that international law prohibits what our country is doing by way of manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.

As I ponder over the punishment to be meted out to these two people who were attempting to unbuild weapons of mass destruction, we must ask ourselves: Can it be that those of us who build weapons to kill are engaged in a more sanctified endeavor than those who would by their acts attempt to counsel moderation and mediation as an alternative method of settling international disputes?

Why are we so fascinated by a power so great that we cannot comprehend its magnitude? What is so sacred about a bomb, so romantic about a missile? Why do we condemn and hang individual killers while extolling the virtues of warmongers? What is that fatal fascination which attracts us to the thought of mass destruction of our brethren in another country? Why can we even entertain the thought that all people on one side of an imaginary line must die and, if we be so ungodly cynical as to countenance that thought, have we given thought to the fact that in executing that decree we will also die? Who draws these lines and who has so decreed?

How many of the people in this democracy have seriously contemplated the futility of committing national suicide in order to punish our adversaries? Have we so little faith in our system of free enterprise, our capitalism and the fundamental concepts that are taught us in our constitutions and in our several bibles that we must, in order to protect ourselves from the spread of foreign ideologies, be prepared to die at our own hands? Such thinking indicates a great deal of lack of faith in our democracy, our body politic, our people and our institutions.

There are those in high places that believe Armageddon is soon to be upon us, that Christ will soon come to earth and take us all back with him to heaven. It would appear that much of our national effort is being devoted to helping with the process. It may even be a celebration of sorts. When the bombs go off, Christ won’t have to come to earth. We will all, believers and nonbelievers alike, meet him halfway.

The anomaly of this situation is that I am here called upon to punish two individuals who were charged with having caused damage to the property of a corporation in the amount of $36,000. It is this self-same corporation which only a few months ago was before me accused of having wrongfully embezzled from the U.S. government the sum of $3.6 million. The employees of this company succeeded in boosting the corporate profits by wrongfully and feloniously juggling the books. Since these individuals were all employees of a corporation, it appears that it did not occur to anyone in the office of the Attorney General of the United States that the actions of these men constituted a criminal conspiracy for which they might be punished. The government demanded only that Sperry pay back a mere 10 percent of the amount by which the corporation had been unlawfully enriched. Could it be that these corporate men who were working to build weapons of mass destruction received special treatment because of the nature of their work?

I am also called upon to determine the amount of restitution that is to be required by the two individuals who have done damage to the property of Sperry. The financial information obtained by the probation office indicated that neither of the defendants owes any money to anyone. While Ms. Katt has no assets, Mr. LaForge is comparatively well endowed. He owns a 1968 Volkswagen, a guitar, a sleeping bag, and $200 in cash.

The inexorable pressure which generates from those who are engaged in making a living and a profit from building military equipment, and the pork barreling that goes on in the halls of Congress to obtain more such contracts for the individual state, will in the ultimate consume itself in an atomic holocaust. These same factors exert a powerful pressure upon a federal judge in my position to go along with the theory that there is something sacred about a bomb and that those who raise their voices or their hands against it should be struck down as enemies of the people, no matter that in their hearts they feel and know that they are friends of the people.

Now conduct of this sort cannot be condoned under the guise of free speech. Neither should it be totally condemned as being subversive, traitorous, or treasonous in the category of espionage or some other bad things. I would here in this instance take the sting out of the Bomb, attempt in some way to force the government to remove the halo with which it seems to embrace any device which can kill and to place thereon a shroud, the shroud of death, destruction, mutilation, disease and debilitation.

If there be an adverse reaction to this sentence, I will anxiously await the protestations of those who complain of my attempts to correct the imbalance that now exists in a system that operates in such a manner as to provide one type of justice for the rich and a lesser type for the poor, one standard for the mighty and another for the meek, and a system which finds its humanness and objectivity is sublimated to military madness and the worship of the Bomb.

A judge sitting here as I do is not called upon to do that which is politically expedient or popular but is called upon to exercise calm and deliberate judgment in a manner best suited to accomplish, and accommodate, and vindicate the rights of the people acting through its government and the rights of those people who are the subject matter of such actions. The most popular thing to do at this particular time would be to sentence [Katt and LaForge] to a 10-year period of imprisonment, and some judges might be disposed to do just that.

[Thereupon, the sentences were imposed: six months imprisonment, suspended, with six months unsupervised probation.]

I am also aware of the thrust of the argument, which would say this would encourage others to do likewise. If others do likewise, they must be dealt with at that time. I am also impressed with the argument that this might in some way constitute a disparity of sentence, that [Katt and LaForge] have not been properly punished because some others might not be deterred from doing [what they did]. I really wonder about the constitutionality of sentencing one person for a crime that may be committed by another person at another time and place.

It is also difficult for me to equate the sentence I here give you — for destroying $36,000 worth of property, because you have been charged — with those who stole $3.6 million worth of property and were not charged, demoted, or in any way punished. My conscience is clear. We will adjourn the Court.

Miles Lord, ‘pivotal’ federal judge who helped shape MN and U.S. policies, dies at 97

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Scrap the College 11/23/16

John LaForge

John LaForge

How to Scrap the Electoral College – by John LaForge

Sixteen years ago, as the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida transfixed the nation, the newly elected Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke directly to the likelihood that Al Gore would win the popular vote and still lose the election:

“I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people,” Mrs. Clinton said, “and to me that means it’s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president,” the New York Times reported.

If Mrs. Clinton had worked as hard over the last 16 years to abolish the EC as she worked to win the Democratic nomination, she would be moving back into the White House in January. Five times in US history and twice this century the popular vote winner has “lost” the presidential election because of the slavery-tainted Electoral College. (Counting enslaved people as almost-persons increased the official populations of slavery states — and in-turn boosted their Electoral College clout.)

Sec. Clinton, by winning more votes than Donald Trump — between 1 and 1.5 million more, Politifact says 800,000 more — would in any other country in the world be the President-elect. But because of the Electoral College’s absurd winner-take-all rules, Trump snaps up every electoral vote in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (giving him his EC margin of victory), even though he won by a mere 1 percentage point in all three states.

Ralph Nader called again Nov. 10 for elimination of the Electoral College. “Hillary Clinton won the election,” Nader said. “We’ve gotta get rid of the electoral college,” he said, because it “makes the US a mockery of the world” — the same way America’s handgun violence, climate change denial, death penalty, and astronomical healthcare costs do. “Nowhere else on Earth can someone can win the popular vote and lose the election,” he said.

“The two major parties don’t own all the votes” Nader said, referring to the fact that “electors” in the “college” are nothing but officials from the two major parties, elected office holders, or funders with vested interests who always vote blindly for their party’s nominee based only on their single state’s final tally — regardless of the will of the nationwide majority.

The National Popular Vote bill

One answer to this anti-democratic election rigging is the National Popular Vote bill. The law would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes nationwide. The bill has already been passed into law in 11 states; states that control a total of 165 electoral votes. The law will take effect nationally when it is enacted by states with a total of 105 more electoral votes. Most recently, the bill was passed 40-to-16 in the Republican-controlled Arizona House; 28-to-18 in the Republican-controlled Oklahoma Senate; 57-to-4 in the Republican-controlled New York Senate; and 37-to-21 in the Democratic-controlled Oregon House.

The Electoral College is based on state law, so when enough additional states pass the National Popular Vote bill — enough to add up to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House — then the “electors” would be legally bound to vote for the popular vote winner and never again steal an election from the top vote getter.

Even Trump himself has criticized the Electoral College. Just before the 2012 election, in a Twitter post that looks astonishingly factual today, he called the EC “a disaster for a democracy.” For months this year he railed against the “rigged election.” But like all Democrats and all Republicans before him, rigged elections are only a problem when they lose.

For more details about how to abolish the Electoral College, check out http://www.nationalpopularvote.com

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

No First Use 5/18/16

John LaForge

John LaForge

North Korea, Following China and India, Pledges No-First-Use of Nuclear Weapons. So Could Obama – by John LaForge

North Korea’s May 7 declaration that it would not be first to use nuclear weapons was met with official derision instead of relief and applause. Not one report of the announcement I could find noted that the United States has never made such a no-first-use pledge. None of three dozen news accounts even mentioned that North Korea hasn’t got one usable nuclear warhead. The New York Times did admit, “US and South Korean officials doubted that North Korea has developed a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile that would deliver a nuclear payload to the continental United States.”

Nuclear “first use” means either a nuclear sneak attack or the escalation from conventional mass destruction to the use of nuclear warheads, and presidents have threatened it as many as 15 times. In the build-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf bombing, US officials including then Def. Sec. Dick Cheney and Sec. of State James Baker publicly and repeatedly hinted that the US might use nuclear weapons. In the midst of the bombardment, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., and syndicated columnist Cal Thomas both explicitly promoted nuclear war on Iraq.

In April 1996, President Bill Clinton’s deputy Defense Secretary Herald Smith publicly threatened to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear Libya — which was a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — for allegedly building a secret weapons plant. When Clinton’s Defense Secretary William J. Perry was questioned about this threat he repeated it, saying, “[W]e would not forswear that possibility.” (The Nonproliferation Treaty forbids a nuclear attack on other state parties.)

In “Presidential Policy Directive 60” (PD 60) of Nov. 1997, Clinton made public the nuclear first use intentions of his war planners. US H-bombs were now being aimed at nations identified by the State Department to be “rogues.” PD 60 alarmingly lowered the threshold against nuclear attack possibilities. The Clinton doctrine “would allow the US to launch nuclear weapons in response to the use of chemical or biological weapons,” the Los Angeles and New York Times reported. (Arguing that we need H-bombs to deter chemical attacks is like saying we need nuclear reactors to boil water.) Throwing deterrence policy under the bus, Clinton then “ordered that the military … reserve the right to use nuclear arms first, even before the detonation of an enemy warhead.”

Clinton’s order was an imperious rebuke to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) — the nation’s highest scientific advisory group — which recommended six months earlier, on June 18, 1997, that the US, “declare that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in war or crisis.” In April 1998, Clinton’s US Embassy reps in Moscow coldly refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Iraq, saying, “…we do not rule out in advance any capability available to us.”

Again, in January and February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer declined to explicitly exclude nuclear weapons as an option in a war on Iraq, saying US policy was not to rule anything out, Wade Boese of the Arms Control Association reported. Additionally, Def. Sec. Donald Rumsfeld said at a Feb. 13 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that official policy dictated that the US, “…not foreclose the possible use of nuclear weapons if attacked.”

Putting an end to these ultimate bomb scares would bring US action in line with Presidential speechifying which has regularly denounced “nuclear terrorism.” An international agreement on “non-nuclear immunity,” adopted by five nuclear-armed states May 11, 1995, has not quelled charges of hypocrisy made against them. The pact is full of exceptions – e.g., PD 60 — and is nonbinding. Only China has made this unequivocal pledge: “At no time and under no circumstances will China be the first to use nuclear weapons and [China] undertakes unconditionally not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries and nuclear-free zones.” India has made a similar no-first-use promise.

A formal US renunciation of first use would let cooler heads prevail by ending the debate over so-called “threshold” use of the Bomb. It would also end the blatant public duplicity of proclaiming that nuclear weapons are only for deterrence while preparing for attacks “before the detonation of an enemy warhead.”

Pledging “no first use” would save billions of dollars in research, development and production, as well as the cost of maintaining first-strike systems: B61 H-bombs, Trident submarine warheads, Cruise and land-based missile warheads.

Significantly, nuclear war planners who have used their first-strike “master card” believe they were successful — the way a robber can get a bag of cash using a loaded gun but without pulling the trigger. They want to keep their ghastly “ace” up their sleeve, and they have manufactured a heavy stigma against formally renouncing nuclear first use, since to do so might further call into question the official “winning” reasons for having tested radiation bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The US should embrace China’s unambiguous language and promise never to use nuclear weapons first or against non-nuclear states. If President Obama wants to ease world tensions without apologizing for Hiroshima when he visits the iconic city, he could replace Clinton’s presidential directive with his own, declaring that the US will never again be the first to go nuclear.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Daniel J. Berrigan, 1921 – 2016

Dan Berrigan, 1921 – 2016: “We haven’t lost, because we haven’t given up.”

by John LaForge

Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan

About the death of renowned anti-war activist, poet and writer Fr. Dan Berrigan at the age of 94, the Rev. John Dear wrote, in part, that Dan: “inspired religious opposition to the Vietnam war and later the U.S. nuclear weapons industry.”

But the phrase “religious opposition” minimizes the depth and breadth of the inspiration that Dan Berrigan gave to anti-war activism all over the world. Dan’s razor-sharp wit and devastating clear-headed prose inspired non-religious and religious activists alike. Fr. Dan’s poetry, self-sacrifice, and nonviolent risk-taking encouraged, motivated, validated, challenged, and inspired millions of people in all walks of life.

The Catholic Church, beloved by Berrigan, could also feel his sting. When he observed occasions of church opulence he quipped, “If this is the vow of poverty, bring on the chastity!”

Dan gave a lot of credit for the shocking and crystal clear symbolism of some of his anti-war actions to his brother Philip Berrigan, the Josephite Priest who died in 2002. Phil was the instigator behind the May 1968 Catonsville Nine action, in which they burned draft board records — instead of people — using homemade napalm. It may have been Phil, again, who was the main force behind the 1980 Plowshares Eight action, where the eight hammered and poured blood on a Mark-12A (unarmed) nuclear warhead being manufactured by General Electric. (The same warheads are still atop Minuteman missiles in North Dakota, Mont., Wyo., Colo. and Nebr.)

The Catonsville Nine and Plowshares Eight actions inspired dozens of like-minded acts of civil resistance. The Milwaukee 14, the Washington Nine, the New York Eight, the Minnesota Seven, the Camden 28 (!) and many more all burned or otherwise ruined draft records, never harming a single person. More than 100 “Plowshares” actions have been taken against nuclear weapons systems, in part because of the universality and irrefutable logic of hands-on disarmament: Disarm our genocidal weapons before they commit genocide. Some so-called “property,” like contraband, Dan insisted, has no right to exist.

After Catonsville, when US carpet bombing, secret wars in Laos and Cambodia, cluster bombs, and napalm all continued their mass destruction in Southeast Asia, Dan wrote, “We have chosen to be powerless criminals in a time of criminal power. We have chosen to be branded as peace criminals by war criminals.” He was arrested in protests more times than he could remember, “but not enough” he quipped, was hunted once by the FBI for four months, and he was jailed again and again for acts of anti-war civil resistance.

But it was Dan Berrigan’s mastery of the written word, his particular genius, in peacefully fighting “American military imperialism” as he called it, that probably had as much to do with inspiring peace activism as his lifelong commitment to stand with first victims of militarism — the poor — on the street, in the ghetto, in jail, and in prison.

I can’t forget the devastating speech he presented face-to-face to the trial judge in the Plowshares Eight case. He calmly thundered about nuclear weapons: “They are hammers of hell. They will clang the end of the world.” His condemnation is true even if you don’t believe in Biblical descriptions of hell, because the detonation of nuclear weapons produces its manmade version — at one million degrees — blinding people 50 miles away, and setting fire to everything inside 50 square miles.

In “Conscience, the Law, and Civil Disobedience,” Dan warned eloquently of the price to be paid for preventative anti-war actions that would damage the Sacred Cow of government property: “Let us grant from the beginning the serious nature of this subject. Indeed, it is so serious that on its behalf many good [people] have been driven against a wall — to death by violence, to prison in resistance to violence. Their blood and tears forbid us the luxury of an abstract debate.”

In our modern age where news reports focus on brothers teaming up in suicide bombing attacks, we can learn from Dan and Phil Berrigan how sometimes brothers have given their lives working against the self-defeating lunacy of bombing. After visiting with IRA regulars and hearing their pleas for justifiable homicide, Dan wrote: “…as surely as the hand takes up a bomb or a gun, the mind takes up a lie.”

And decades before US specialization in long-range, satellite-guided, push-button, drone war assassination, Dan wrote, “We put at a distance the question of violence, and therefore the question of nonviolence; neither question quite arrives on our doorstep. It is always guns in principle, guns as legitimate option, talk of guns, dream of guns, tactical guns. The guns are supremely useful tools. … They are, in fact, as are the nuclear weapons, both lethal and abstract; eminently fitted, hand-in-glove, to the culture, which seldom is obliged to look on its victims, and so remains at peace with murder.”

“Our ethic, our vision, our tradition, are essentially as odds with the ethic, vision, political presumptions of the war-making state,” he wrote in Ten Commandments for the Long Haul. “We simply stand on other ground.” Ultimately, Dan shrugged and lamented the movement’s failure to successfully weaken the war system. “Things are worse now than ever,” he told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman in 2007.

Years earlier he’d written, “The war continued, the warlike spirit prevailed. And we went on to prison in our turn…” But later he had to admit: “We haven’t lost, because we haven’t given up.”

John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Part of the Problem 4/27/16

Voices of Reason Vs the Doomsday Lobby    by John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge

In 2010, three high-ranking military officials including Air Force Colonel B. Chance Saltzman, Chief of the US Air Force’s Strategic Plans and Policy Division who had worked directly for the Secretary of the Air Force, published a major policy paper suggesting that the US should unilaterally cut its nuclear arsenal by more than 90 percent. The paper argued, “…the United States could address military utility concerns with only 311 nuclear weapons in its nuclear force structure….” With about 1,300 warheads on Trident submarines, another 500 or so on heavy bombers like B-52s or B2s, 180 on fighter-bombers in Europe and the last 450 on top of the Minuteman rockets, cutting to 311 would clearly mean the ICBMs would go the way of the Berlin Wall (since the favored war-fighting nukes are on submarines which can be kept secret from the American public and everybody else).

An even more direct dismissal of land-based missiles came in 2012, when Gen. James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, chaired a large study group which concluded that US ICBMs are not useful. The committee’s report was signed by then Senator Chuck Hagel who would later become the Secretary of Defense. At a Senate committee hearing that year, Gen. Cartwright defended his findings in formal testimony. Gen. Cartwright’s study said: “No sensible argument has been put forward for using nuclear weapons to solve any of the major 21st century problems we face …. In fact, nuclear weapons have on balance arguably become more a part of the problem than any solution.”

Then, as a sort of exclamation point for our Revised Edition, on December 3, 2014, former Secretary of Defense William Perry declared, “ICBMS aren’t necessary … they’re not needed.” Speaking to a group of military affairs writers, Sec. Perry called for the complete elimination the last Minuteman IIIs, saying, “Any reasonable definition of deterrence will not require [the ICBMs].” Perry warns that ICBMs, “are simply too easy to launch on bad information and would be the most likely source of an accidental nuclear war. He referred to the ICBM force as “‘destabilizing’ in that it invites an attack from another power.” On the former secretary’s web site, the “William J. Perry Project,” he declares emphatically, “Nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security, they endanger it.”

ICBM Coalition Learned to Love the Bomb

These voices of reason — and earlier ones — have been drowned out by the powerful self-styled “ICBM Coalition” – a group of 10 U.S. Senators with large Air Force Bases in their states. The mixed group of Democrats and Republicans are from Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Louisiana. (Utah has Hill Air Force Base where Minuteman IIIs are tested and refurbished; Louisiana has Barksdale Air Base, headquarters of Global Strike Command (its real name) which controls Air Force bombings across the Middle East and Africa.)

The 10 senators would evidently rather take their chances with accidental nuclear war, as long as billions keep pouring into their home states and into the bank accounts of weapons contractors that support their election campaigns. They are John Hoeven (R) and Heidi Heitkamp (D) (earlier Kent Conrad) of N. Dakota; Mike Enzi (R) and John Barrasso (R) from Wyo.; Jon Tester (D) and Steve Daines (R) of Mont.; Orrin Hatch (R) and Mike Lee (R), from Utah; and finally Bill Cassidy (R), and Dave Vitter (R) of Louisiana.

Sometimes called the “Doomsday Lobby,” the ICBM Coalition works to stop further reductions in the nuclear arsenal “to protect jobs” (ie. votes) in their districts, and large military contracts upgrading and maintaining the rockets in their ready-for-launch alert status. The 10 lead moves in Congress to spend several hundred billion dollars to replace rather than retire the land-based arsenal.

In 2012, a Russian proposal to cut 1,950 active warheads now on various launchers down to 1,550 was halted by Montana’s Jon Tester and (then) Max Baucus. The senators didn’t say the cut would weaken the force. They warned the move would mean closing a missile base — probably their beloved Malmstrom AFB in Montana. Bill Hartung with the Center for Responsive Politics reported the same year that the 10 senators over their careers had gotten $513,000 from the military’s four largest missile contractors: GE, Northrup-Grumman, Boeing, and United Technologies.

Taking the generals and Pentagon chiefs at their word, it’s not just the missiles that endanger our security, but the Senators from Missileville.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

We’re called “sponges.” 4/20/16

John LaForge

John LaForge

Chernobyl, and Cesium, at 30    by John LaForge

April 26 is the 30th anniversary of the reactor meltdown and radiation disaster at Chernobyl in Ukraine, which brings to mind cesium. Thirty years is how long it takes for half a given amount of cesium-137 — dispersed in huge quantities from Chernobyl (and Fukushima) — to decay into radioactive barium. This 30-year “half-life” means half of Chernobyl’s jettisoned cesium-137 is still around — over four million billion “Becquerels” in Europe alone, according to TORCH: The Other Report on Chernobyl. This cesium will persist in decreasing amounts in soil, water, and food for another 270 years.

Chernobyl’s two massive explosions and 40-day-long fire spewed thousands of tons of radioactive dust around the world. Maureen Hatch, writing in Oxford Journals March 30, 2005, reported that “contamination of the ground was found to some extent in every country in the Northern Hemisphere.” Yet it is not unusual for young people to know almost nothing about Chernobyl. Infants at the time may have ingested the dispersed poisons. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported May 17, 1986 that “since radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident began floating over Minnesota last week, low levels of radiation have been discovered in … the raw milk from a Minnesota dairy.”

The UN classifies Chernobyl and Fukushima as the worst environmental catastrophes in history; they are the only Level Seven radiation disasters ever to hit the top of its 0-to-7 scale. Like H-bomb tests of an earlier era, the four meltdowns are acts of unlimited, multi-generational ecological warfare: serial killers altogether hydrological, biological, psychological, economic, genetic, and agricultural. The number of illnesses, cancers and fatalities these radiation gushers have caused is unknown, but the plague of cancer ravaging the general population is obvious.

Ukraine’s abandonment standard better than Japan’s

Chernobyl saw the permanent evacuation of 350,000 from an 18-mile “exclusion zone” around the wreckage, and from hotspots in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Japan is limiting its evacuation to 200,000 from within a 12-mile radius of Fukushima, even though cesium-137 was found 25 miles from the three meltdowns in amounts over twice the evacuation standard used at Chernobyl. Japanese surveyors found up to 3.7 million Becquerels-per-square-meter in the populated area. The abandonment standard used at Chernobyl was 1.48 million Bq/m2, according to the New York Times. The nuclear industry gets off lightly because hundreds of millions of hospital patients around the world cannot prove their illnesses came from a particular radiation exposure.

The most often-repeated fatality estimate is from the UN’s 2006 Chernobyl Forum, which reported “9,000 excess deaths for the most affected areas.” The study is regularly misreported as having identified “4,000 Chernobyl deaths,” and it’s been criticized for investigating only those fatalities expected in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine — although the majority of radioactive fallout was deposited outside those former Soviet republics.

Author Alexey Yablokov says, “There is no reasonable explanation for the fact that the [Chernobyl Forum] completely neglected the consequences of radioactive contamination in other countries, which received more than 50% of the Chernobyl radionuclides….” Yablokov’s book, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, estimates 985,000 Chernobyl deaths.

Alternately, Ukraine’s Minister of Health Andrei Serkyuk declared in 1995 that 125,000 Ukrainians had died from the effects of Chernobyl. Serkyuk said a large share of casualties were among children, pregnant women and rescue workers or “liquidators.” Liquidators were the soldiers, farmers, miners and factory workers conscripted to work removing and burying radioactive topsoil, debris and equipment from near the smashed reactor using inadequate protective gear or none at all. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1998 that “Russian officials estimated 10,000 Russian ‘liquidators’ died” and quoted health officers who said “close to 3,600 Ukrainians who took part in the cleanup effort have died of radiation exposure.” However, Ukrainian authorities said in 2009 that over 25,000 liquidators died getting the accident under control and constructing a concrete shield over the wreckage.

Everyone in the global north is subject to uninvited, unwelcome, dangerous radiation exposures caused by Chernobyl, Fukushima and routine reactor emissions. The industry treats everybody like liquidators, but has a snappier name for us. We’re called “sponges.”

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States.

Foolproof Arsenal 2/3/16

John LaForge

John LaForge

If Only the Nuclear Arsenal Were Fool Proof

By John LaForge

In his book Atomic Accidents (Pegasus, 2014), James Mahaffey reports that the US has lost, destroyed or damaged nuclear weapons 65 times between 1945 and 1989. Jan. 24 was the anniversary of a B-52 crash in N. Carolina where two 6,500-lb hydrogen bombs fell from the plane and nearly detonated when the bomber broke up in the air. Two recent accidents highlight the dangers today’s weapons still pose to the people who pay for them.

Trident submarine runs aground, Capt. sacked

On Nov. 25, 2015 the nuclear-powered Trident submarine USS Georgia ran aground in Kings Bay, Georgia. The Navy is still investigating the crash, the sub’s Capt. David Adams was fired Jan. 4, and the service estimated the cost of repairs would be at least $1 million.

Imagine being among the terrified 160-member crew, thrown about your cramped quarters — along with anything else not tied down — not knowing the cause of blaring alarms. If fire suppressors spring on when the 560-foot, 18,000-ton sub bashed the shoreline, it was a rainy night in Georgia.

Capt. Adams told the press he would “miss sailing …again to stand against our nation’s enemies.” But who needs enemies with friends like Adams literally running $2 billion weapon systems into the ground?

Minuteman III missile damaged, launch crew fired

Meanwhile, in the nuclear heartland, three Minuteman III missile launch officers were fired after a recently disclosed accident that left one missile with at least $1.8 million in damages. [The missile is named “Damned if you do” in Nukewatch’s new Revised Edition of “Nuclear Heartland: A guide to the 450 land-based missiles of the United States,” which features maps of all three of the US’s active missile fields.]

The damaged, single-warhead rocket was in its underground silo near Peetz, Colorado, where Warren Air Force Base operates 150 of the missiles. The rocket, which has a 300-to-335-kiloton thermonuclear warhead, was shipped to Hill Air Force Base in Utah for repairs.

The Air Force’s Accident Investigation Board of the mishap report is being kept secret in spite of standing USAF policy. The Associated Press noted that under the Air Force’s own regulations such reports “are supposed to be made public.” Robert Burns reports that the AP’s request for a copy, under the Freedom of Information Act, was denied. A brief summary of the AIB report issued Jan. 22 says the accident “posed no risk to public safety,” a claim made unverifiable because no details of the damage were disclosed.

Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, interviewed by Burns Jan. 23, said, “By keeping the details of the accident secret and providing only vague responses, the Air Force behaves as if it has something to hide and undermines public confidence in the safety of the ICBM mission.”

The pubic summary says the weapon “became non-operational” during a test on May 16, 2014 and that the next day, the chief of a “mishap crew” violated “technical guidance” during the team’s checkup “subsequently damaging the missile.”

Blunder kept secret from higher-ups

Although the accident happened 20 months ago, it was first revealed this month. In fact, commanders at Warren AFB kept it secret from their military and civilian superiors in the Pentagon. At the time, the Minuteman missile system, its launch control staff in particular, was under investigation for narcotics trafficking, mass cheating on exams, performance failures, and misconduct by command authorities. On orders from Sec. of Defense Chuck Hagel, nuclear-weapons experts conducted a three-month investigation of the missile “wings” at Air Bases in Great Falls, Mont., Cheyenne, Wyo., and Minot, North Dakota.

Asked if the May 17 accident was reported to the high-level investigators, Lt. Col. John Sheets, spokesman for the Air Force Global Strike Command in Omaha, which controls the ballistic missile force, said, “No” and referred further questions to the Pentagon.

It bears repeating that nuclear weapons accidents have the potential for catastrophic radiation releases with long-term health and environmental consequences. These two accidents amplify the seriousness of recent high-level calls for the elimination of the missiles.

Former Pentagon Chief William Perry said last Dec. 3, “Nuclear weapons no longer provide for our security, they endanger it.” He pointed specifically to the land-based missiles, saying ICBMs “aren’t necessary,” are “destabilizing,” and “are simply too easy to launch on bad information and would be the most likely source of an accidental nuclear war.”

In an essay titled “A Threat Mostly to Ourselves,” Paul Nitz, a personal advisor to Ronald Reagan, wrote, “I see no compelling reason why we should not unilaterally get rid of our nuclear weapons. To maintain them is costly and adds nothing to our security.” Gen. James Cartwright, a retired four-star general of the Marine Corps, issued a report in 2012 signed by Sen. Chuck Hagel (later Sec. of Defense) that recommended getting rid of the land-based missiles.

Perhaps Gen. James Kowalski, a retired three-star general and Deputy Commander of StratCom which oversees the ICBMs, said it best. Recalling a string of scandals, accidents and staff firings in Dec. 2014, Gen. Kowalski said, “The greatest threat to my force is an accident. The greatest risk to my force is doing something stupid.”

Scores of accidents documented by Mahaffey and by Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, beg the question: What is the government waiting for? Is a self-inflicted nuclear weapon disaster the only way to force the military to turn the nuclear pistols away from our heads and put the safety on?

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

Exploding Nuclear Waste 11//15

John LaForge

John LaForge

Exploding radioactive waste warning: Keep it above ground

By John LaForge

Early on Sunday Oct. 25, an underground fire caused an explosion in a low-level nuclear waste site in the desert 10 miles from Beatty, Nevada, and 115 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The explosion and fire followed flash flooding that shut down Beatty’s escape routes: US 95 and State Highway 373. The 80-acre dumping ground, closed since 1992, is run by — get this — “US Ecology.” The private dump consists of 22 trenches up to 800 feet long and 50 feet deep, and its older trenches have radioactive waste within three feet of the surface, the Las Vegas Sun reported.

Certain types of radioactive material are known to catch fire when in contact with water, so the flooding that struck prior to the explosion may have been its cause. Unfortunately authorities don’t know what sorts of radioactive isotopes are buried in the trenches there. Nor does anyone know either how the fire started or how much radioactive waste burned.

Rusty Harris-Bishop, spokesman for the US EPA’s Region 9 office in San Francisco said in a prepared statement, “No gamma radiation has been detected at this time.” This nuanced remark does not indicate that gamma radiation wasn’t detected. It also artfully dodges questions about alpha and beta radiation.

With the EPA, the Nevada National Guard, Nye County officials and Energy Department all involved, highly nuanced public safety assurances are guaranteed. “Radiation wasn’t immediately detected during fly-overs of a burned trench … state and federal officials said Monday,” Oct. 26. But radiation monitoring was initiated well after the plume of smoke and debris from the blast and fire had dispersed. Then, “The Nevada Department of Public Safety said tests of the area around the fire site near Beatty returned negative readings for radiation,” KVVU TV reported. Well, sure. But were any positive readings returned?

Buried Waste Theoretically and Literally Explosive

In February 2014, at a deep underground dump in New Mexico where the Pentagon is burying plutonium-contaminated wastes, at least one barrel “burst after it arrived at the dump, releasing radioactive uranium, plutonium and americium throughout the underground facility,” according to NPR. NPR’s March 26, 2015 update concerned the Energy Department’s 277-page report about the explosion. The report said in part, “Experiments showed that various combinations of nitrate salt, Swheat Scoop® [cat litter], nitric acid, and oxalate self-heat at temperatures below 100°C.” The DOE’s term-of-art for this “self-heat” explosion was “thermal runaway.” This runaway explosion contaminated 22 workers internally, and it has shut down the operation, possibly forever.

In May 1996, a welding spark caused a waste cask explosion at Wisconsin’s Point Beach reactor on Lake Michigan. The blast of hydrogen gas was “powerful enough to up-end the three-ton lid while it was atop a storage cask filled with high-level waste.” The reactor’s owner called that accident merely a “gaseous ignition event,” but was later fined $325,000.

Only 20 miles away from the Beatty Nevada explosion is the now-cancelled Yucca Mountain high-level dump project, where such waste explosions were forecast by expert investigators 20 years ago.

In 1995, government physicists Charles Bowman and Francesco Venneri at Los Alamos National Laboratory predicted that wastes might erupt in a nuclear explosion and scatter radioactivity to the winds or into groundwater, or both. (Washington Post, Dec. 15, 1998; New York Times, Mar. 5, 1995.) Bowman and Venneri found that the explosion dangers will arise thousands of years from now — after steel waste containers dissolve and plutonium begins to disperse into surrounding rock. Former Energy Dept. geologist Jerry Szymanski said, “You’re talking about an unimaginable catastrophe. Chernobyl would be small potatoes.” (Joby Warrick, “At Nevada Nuclear Waste Site: The Issue is One of Liquidity,” Washington Post, Dec. 15, 1998)

In expert hearings held in southern Ontario in Sept. 2014, Dr. Frank Greening made identical warnings about the potential explosiveness of Canadian radioactive waste if they were to be buried next to Lake Huron under plans made by Ontario Power Generation.

October’s waste explosion and fire shows we don’t have to wait thousands of years for disaster to strike. Nevada’s “self-heating” radioactive “thermal runaway” is just the latest warning not to bury radioactive waste. Putting the deadly stuff out-of-sight and out-of-mind won’t keep us (or the water) safe. For radioactive waste, only above-ground, monitored, hardened, retrievable storage can come close to that goal. Ceasing nuclear waste production is the only path to potential sustainable solutions.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

Cheney Still Spews 10/28/15

Still Torture After All These Years

By John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge

Thomas Buergenthal, 81, was a judge for the International Criminal Court (ICC) for 10 years. Last July he said the architects of systematic torture in the G.W. Bush Administration, Dick Cheney in particular, will eventually be prosecuted. Last year, President Obama also stated, “we tortured some folks,” which is an admission to both a federal crime under the Federal Torture Act and a violation of the UN Convention against Torture.

Judge Buergenthal told Newsweek, “Some of us have long thought that Cheney, and a number of CIA agents who did what they did in those so-called black [sites], should appear before the ICC.” As if to taunt the Fates, Cheney has said, “I’d do it again in a minute” when asked about the use of torture.

Additionally, according to two Senate reports, one in 2009 from the Armed Services Committee and one in 2014 from the Intelligence Committee, the America Psychological Association (APA) acted in the Bush/Cheney torture program as enablers. Singled out by name were psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who designed U.S. military and CIA torture methods and “were instrumental in persuading the CIA to adopt stress positions, temperature and dietary manipulation, sleep deprivation and waterboarding in interrogations,” the Guardian reports.

The APA asked U.S. attorney David Hoffman to investigate complaints by some of its members over “collusion with the Bush administration to promote, support or facilitate” torture. The APA’s strict code of conduct forbids its members from aiding in the torture, although the rules permit involvement with military interrogations. In July, Hoffman completed his report and the APA’s ethics chief Stephen Behnke – who stifled internal dissent over the collusion, suppressed ethics complaints, and manipulated membership resolutions and voting – quickly resigned.

The U.S. government knows who committed the crimes – and who destroyed videotape evidence – but Obama refuses to prosecute and his administration stands accused of actively hampering investigations into secret CIA torture sites. In fact, the only CIA officer ever prosecuted in this ongoing scandal was John Kiriakou. In 2007, he was imprisoned for two years for divulging the truth about the CIA torture. The agents breaking the laws remain free.

Both Kiriakou and Jihad Ahmed Mujstafa Diyab are owed official pardons by Obama. Diyab is a Syrian who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. He was cleared for release – without being accused of a crime – in 2009 but remains imprisoned. Diyab is being brutalized by the “force-feeding” because of his long-lasting hunger strike. Steven Miles, a University of Minnesota Professor of Medicine, told the New York Times that being strapped into a restraint chair and having a tube pushed into your nose and down to your stomach is painful to endure. Dr. Miles says the prison has turned force-feeding into “a penal strategy dressed up to look a medical procedure.” A lawyer for Diyab, Eric Lewis, told a federal court last October that the force-feeding constitutes torture because it inflicts “additional and gratuitous suffering” in order to compel prisoners to stop nonviolent protesting.

The UN Human Rights Committee has called for further investigations into the “unlawful killings and the use of torture in overseas operations” used by the U.S. The UN Committee against Torture has raised concerns over current interrogation rules used by the U.S., its failure to fully investigate allegations of torture, and the “draconian system of secrecy” and indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantanamo Bay.

A full accounting and criminal investigation of the torture regime must be made, including disclosure of videotapes of CIA interrogations under Bush and of force-feeding under Obama. There is no other way to demonstrate that law binds U.S. presidents, to ensure that such crimes are not repeated, to recover the right to condemn torture by other states, and to reduce the chances that captured U.S. soldiers will not be tortured using the same sickening rationale that Cheney still spews on Sunday talk shows.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

Radiation with Seafood 10/14/15

Fukushima Radiation in Pacific Reaches West Coast

By John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge

“[W]e should be carefully monitoring the oceans after what is certainly the largest accidental release of radioactive contaminants to the oceans in history,” marine chemist Ken Buesseler said last spring.

Instead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency halted its emergency radiation monitoring of Fukushima’s radioactive plume in May 2011, three months after the disaster began. Japan isn’t even monitoring seawater near Fukushima, according to a Sept. 28 story in “The Ecologist.”

The amount of cesium in seawater that Buesseler’s researchers found off Vancouver Island is nearly six times the concentration recorded since cesium was first introduced into the oceans by nuclear bomb tests (halted in 1963). This stunning increase in Pacific cesium shows an ongoing increase. The International Business Times (IBT) reported last Nov. 12 that Dr. Buesseler found the amount of cesium-134 in the same waters was then about twice the concentration left in long-standing bomb test remains.

Dr. Buesseler, at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, announced his assessment after his team found that cesium drift from Fukushima’s three reactor meltdowns had reached North America. Attempting to reassure the public, Buesseler said, “[E]ven if they were twice as high and I was to swim there every day for an entire year, the dose I would be exposed to is a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray.”

This comparison conflates the important difference between external radiation exposure (from X-rays or swimming in radioactively contaminated seawater), and internal contamination from ingesting radioactive isotopes, say with seafood.

Dr. Chris Busby of the Low Level Radiation Campaign in the UK explains the distinction this way: Think of the difference between merely sitting before a warm wood fire on one hand, and popping a burning hot coal into your mouth on the other. Internal contamination can be 1,000 times more likely to cause cancer than the same exposure if it were external, especially for women and children. And, because cesium-137 stays in the ecosphere for 300 years, long-term bio-accumulation and bio-concentration of cesium isotopes in the food chain – in this case the ocean food chain – is the perpetually worsening consequence of what has spilled and is still pouring from Fukushima.

The nuclear weapons production complex is the only other industry that has a record of deliberate whole-Earth poisoning. Hundreds of tons of radioactive fallout were aerosolized and spread to the world’s watery commons and landmasses by nuclear bomb testing. The same people then brought us commercial nuclear power reactors. Dirty war spawns dirty business, where lying comes easy. Just as the weapons makers lied about bomb test fallout dangers, nuclear power proponents claimed the cesium spewed from Fukushima would be diluted to infinity after the plume dispersed across 4,000 miles of Pacific Ocean.

Today, globalized radioactive contamination of the commons by private corporations has become the financial, political and health care cost of operating nuclear power reactors. The Nov. 2014 IBT article noted that “The planet’s oceans already contain vast amounts of radiation, as the world’s 435 nuclear power plants routinely pump radioactive water into Earth’s oceans, albeit less dangerous isotopes than cesium.”

Fifty million Becquerels of cesium per-cubic-meter were measured off Fukushima soon after the March 2011 start of the three meltdowns. Cesium-contaminated Albacore and Bluefin tuna were caught off the West Coast a mere four months later; 300 tons of cesium-laced effluent has been pouring into the Pacific every day for the 4 1/2 years since; the Japanese government on Sept. 14 openly dumped 850 tons of partially-filtered but tritium-contaminated water into the Pacific. This latest dumping portends what it will try to do with thousands of tons more now held in shabby storage tanks at the devastated reactor complex.

Officials from Fukushima’s owners, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., have said leaks from Fukushima disaster with “at least” two trillion Becquerels of radioactivity entered the Pacific between August 2013 and May 2014 — and this 9-month period isn’t even the half of it.

The fact that Fukushima has contaminated the entirety of the Pacific Ocean must be viewed as cataclysmic. The ongoing introduction of Fukushima’s radioactive runoff may be slow-paced, and the inevitable damage to sea life and human health may take decades to register, but the “canary in the mineshaft,” is the Pacific tuna population, which should now also be perpetually monitored for cesium.

Last November Buesseler warned, “Radioactive cesium from the Fukushima disaster is likely to keep arriving at the North American coast.” Fish eaters may want to stick with the Atlantic catch for 12 generations or so.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

Fukushima Baby Milk 8/5/15

Fukushima Baby Milk Formula Declared Unfit by China
By John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge

Chinese authorities seized more than 881 pounds of baby milk formula that had been imported from Japan because it had been produced in areas known to be heavily contaminated with radioactive material emitted by three damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi complex. China’s Xinhua news agency reported that quarantine officials said that no excessive radioactive material was found in the formula, but the baby food was sent back to Japan because China has had a ban on any imports from the areas around Fukushima.

The July seizure of the Japanese baby formula came just a month after Japan had asked the Chinese to ease restrictions on Japanese food imports. On June 19, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries used a meeting in Beijing to request that the import bans – which still apply to 10 Japanese prefectures – be lifted. According to the South China Morning Post, the Japanese Agricultural Ministry had stressed “the safety of Japanese food.”

The Chinese may have scoffed at the lobbying effort since this is the second time Japanese infant milk formula has been recognized as dangerous by Chinese authorities. In December 2011, traces of cesium-137 was detected in Japanese baby formula. Shortly after, Tokyo-based Meiji Holding Company announced the recall of 400,000 cans of their baby formula as a precaution but said the levels of cesium detected were well below the government’s allowable limits. At the time, in a dubious statement, Meiji officials said, “Babies could still drink the formula every day without any effect on their health.”

Contrary to the clearly uninformed Meiji corporate opinion, many doctors and scientists warn that even the slightest internal radioactive contamination can cause cancer. Dr. John Goffman, Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Dr. Alice Stewart, Dr. Ernest Sternglass, Dr. Jay Gould, Dr. Helen Caldicott, and others, have all promoted the precautionary principle regarding any inhalation or ingestion of radioactive materials.

Scientific evidence indicates that the exposure to radiation suffered by fetuses, infants and children is far more serious than if the same exposure is suffered by adults. Also, the damage done to girls and women by radiation – compared to boys and men – is known to be more severe. The World Health Organization’s 2011 assessment of Fukushima notes that when children are exposed to radiation below the age of five, there is a 70 percent higher risk of cancer for girls than there is for boys.

Feeding radiation-tainted food to the most vulnerable is questionable at best and criminal at worst.

Mary Olson, a senior staff researcher with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service explains, “If the alpha-emitting particles are hitting tissue from inside the body, estimates indicate that internal alpha particle damage is anywhere from seven to 1000 times more damaging to cell structures than is X-ray [external] exposure. Another way of saying this is that when there is no distance from the source of the alpha or beta particle to its target, the doses to the target are very much higher.” When it comes to babies ingesting contaminated baby formula, no level is actually safe and this is known throughout scientific circles.

The principle radioactive poison that is being tested for in Japanese foods is cesium-137. Unfortunately, there are also other deadly poisons that have been spewed in lesser amounts by Fukushima disaster. These include americium-241, plutonium-236, uranium-238, thorium-232 and the extremely dangerous isotope, strontium-90. All of these contaminants may also be found in food from Japan, including in baby formula.

In July 2011, Tokyo officials discovered cesium-137 at levels 6.4 times the national limit in beef sold to restaurants and stores in at least five prefectures; in April 2011, radioactive iodine-131 was found in breast milk of mothers east of Tokyo; radioactive tea from Japan was seized in France in July 2011 when it was found with twice the permitted amount of cesium – not that even a trace can be called harmless. The tea had come from Shizuoka Prefecture, 300 miles south of Fukushima.

John LaForge, syndicated by PeaceVoice, works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin and edits its Quarterly newsletter.

Unequivocal, Unambiguous and Absolute 5/27/15

Nuclear Weapons Proliferation – Made in the USA

By John LaForge

John LaForge

John LaForge

The United States is perhaps the principal nuclear weapons proliferator in the world today, openly flouting binding provisions of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). Article I of the treaty forbids signers from transferring nuclear weapons to other states, and Article II prohibits signers from receiving nuclear weapons from other states.

As the UN Review Conference of the NPT was finishing its month-long deliberations in New York last week, the US delegation distracted attention from its own violations using its standard red herring warnings about Iran and North Korea — the former without a single nuclear weapon, and the latter with 8-to-10 (according to those reliable weapons spotters at the CIA) but with no means of delivering them.

The NPT’s prohibitions and obligations were re-affirmed and clarified by the world’s highest judicial body in its July 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legal status of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The International Court of Justice said in this famous decision that the NPT’s binding promises not to transfer or receive nuclear weapons are unqualified, unequivocal, unambiguous and absolute. For these reasons, US violations are easy to illustrate.

Nuclear Missiles “Leased” to British Navy

The US “leases” submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to Britain for use on its four giant Trident submarines. We’ve done this for two decades. The British subs travel across the Atlantic to pick up the US-made missiles at Kings Bay Naval base in Georgia.

Helping to ensure that US proliferation involves only the most verifiably terrible nuclear weapons, a senior staff engineer at Lockheed Martin in California is currently responsible for planning, coordinating and carrying out development and production of the “UK Trident Mk4A [warhead] Reentry Systems as part of the UK Trident Weapons System ‘Life Extension program.’” This, according to John Ainslie of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which closely watchdogs the British Tridents — all of which are based in Scotland, much to the chagrin of the Scots.

Even the W76 warheads that arm the US-owned missiles leased to England have parts made in United States. The warheads use a Gas Transfer System (GTS) which stores tritium — the radioactive form of hydrogen that puts the “H” in H-bomb — and the GTS injects tritium it into the plutonium warhead or “pit.” All the GTS devices used in Britain’s Trident warheads are manufactured in the United States. They are then either sold to the Royals or given away in exchange for an undisclosed quid pro quo.

David Webb, the current Chair of the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament reported during the NPT Review Conference, and later confirmed in an email to Nukewatch, that the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico announced, in March 2011, that it had conducted “the first W76 United Kingdom trials test” at its Weapons Evaluation and Test Laboratory (WETL) in New Mexico, and that this had “provided qualification data critical to the UK implementation of the W76-1.” The W76 is a 100 kiloton H-bomb designed for the so-called D-4 and D-5 Trident missiles. One of the centrifuges at Sandia’s WETL simulates the ballistic trajectory of the W76 “reentry-vehicle” or warhead. This deep and complex collusion between the US and the UK could be called Proliferation Plus.

The majority of the Royal Navy’s Trident warheads are manufactured at England’s Aldermaston nuclear weapons complex, allowing both the Washington and London to claim they are in compliance with the NPT.

US H-bombs Deployed in Five NATO Countries

An even clearer violation of NPT is the US deployment of between 184 and 200 thermonuclear gravity bombs, called B61, in five European countries — Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Turkey and Germany. “Nuclear sharing agreements” with these equal partners in the NPT — all of whom declare that they are “non-nuclear states” — openly defy both Article I and Article II of the treaty.

The US is the only country in the world that deploys nuclear weapons to other countries, and in the case of the five nuclear sharing partners, the US Air Force even trains Italian, German, Belgian, Turkish and Dutch pilots in the use of the B61s in their own warplanes — should the President ever order such a thing. Still, the US government regularly lectures other states about their international law violations, boundary pushing and destabilizing actions.

With so much a stake, it is intriguing that diplomats at the UN are too polite to confront US defiance of the NPT, even when the extension and enforcement of it is on the table. As Henry Thoreau said, “The broadest and most prevalent error requires the most disinterested virtue to sustain it.”

— John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, edits its Quarterly newsletter, and is syndicated through PeaceVoice.

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