Subsidized Nuclear Poison
Every facet of the nuclear industry poisons our planet. The nuclear business is wildly profitable, yet it collects billions in taxpayer subsidies.
Nuclear subsides go beyond mere money. The biosphere and creatures who depend on a living planet pay the largest subsidy through illness and premature death.
Nuclear weapons manufacturing and testing has poisoned millions, but secrecy has keep us misinformed. Secrecy has blocked accurate measures of how much radiation we have been exposed to. Misinformation has allowed downwinders, uranium miners, defense workers and the subjects of secret tests to suffer and die without medical attention or compensation. The lack of medical care given to nuclear victims has impeded scientific study of the long-term effects of weapons development and testing.
In spite of this neglect, scientists do know that exposure to the fallout from nuclear weapons testing causes cancers, tumors, genetic damage, infertility, birth defects and death.
Plutonium is so poisonous that one inhaled microscopic particle can cause lung cancer.
A few reap billions in profits, while we, the 99%, have diminished futures. There is always money for more bombs and new wars, but we’re told there isn’t enough for healthcare, education, housing, pensions. Sustainable-energy projects languish. We live with the nightmare of nuclear war.
It’s time. We must make this end.
The Bomb: a threat to morality, life and civilization
My considered opinion is that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal in any circumstances whatsoever. It violates the fundamental principles of international law, and represents the very negation of the humanitarian concerns which underlie the structure of humanitarian law. … It contradicts the fundamental principle of the dignity and worth of the human person on which all law depends. It endangers the human environment in a manner which threatens the entirety of life on the planet. — Judge Christopher Weeramantry, former Vice Present of the International Court of Justice in The Hague
A major nuclear war — between the US and Russia —would leave Earth virtually uninhabitable. A regional war — limited to India and Pakistan would cause a global famine that would kill one billion people, according to Alan Robock and Brian Toon, two of the foremost experts on the climatic impact of nuclear war.
Misinformation has created an impression that the theory of nuclear winter is flawed. But recent research only confirms the theory. If anything, early estimates of suffering caused by a nuclear winter were too rosy. In numerous articles Robock and Toon have shown that just 0.05% of the explosive power of current global arsenals would produce climate change unprecedented in human history. Specifically, the smoke layer from urban firestorms would heat the upper atmosphere, and cause massive destruction of stratospheric ozone, while blocking sunlight.
Eight nations — China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, have about 22,000 nuclear warheads (Russia and the US together have more than 90% of total nuclear weapons). Around 8,000 warheads are deployed and 2,500 are on high alert (ready to be launched within 20 minutes).
The Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union Crumbled. The Cold War ended. Yet 20 years later, we continue to spend over $50 billion a year on the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This makes no sense. These funds are a drain on our budget and a disservice to the next generation of Americans. We are robbing the future to pay for the unneeded weapons of the past. Now is the time to stop fighting last century’s war. Now is the time to reset our priorities. Now is the time to invest in the people and the programs to get America back on track. — from a letter by Rep. Ed Markey to the members of the Super Committee
Los Alamos National Laboratory
The small town of Los Alamos produced the first atomic bombs. In 1945 these bombs, named Fat Man and Little Boy, destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than four decades after the signing of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the US has 5100 thermonuclear bombs, and the Los Alamos National Laboratory is still in the business of extending their service lives for decades.
Before 2006, LANL was managed by the University of California as a nonprofit. Since 2006, the for-profit Los Alamos National Security (LANS) has managed the lab. LANS is a limited liability company formed by Bechtel, the University of California, Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services and URS Energy and Construction.
All nations with nuclear arsenals have poisoned their own citizens during the manufacture and testing of those weapons. In New Mexico, plutonium from LANL has been detected in the Rio Grande, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people. Native American communities are closest and receive the most contamination. Radioactive releases threaten our air, water, and food.
Huge forest fires regularly threaten the lab, including one last year and one in 2000 that came within a thousand yards of 42,000 barrels of radioactive waste stored under canvas canopies.
There is no starker example of economic disparity created by the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex than Los Alamos County. Of our nation’s more than three thousand counties, Los Alamos County is among the very richest in the nation, and is tied for the lowest unemployment. Yet Los Alamos is surrounded by some of the poorest communities in the US. LANL’s “contribution” to our economy has not kept New Mexico from having the highest child poverty rate in the country.
Much like Wall Street banks, the limited liability company that manages LANL makes huge profits in spite of poor performance.
The National Security Administration awarded LANL $83.7 million in profit for 2011 — a 13% increase from the year before. Under the Freedom of Information Act, Nuclear Watch NM obtained the Performance Evaluation Reports that authorized those profits. The report stated that LANL was deficient in its management of the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility. That project was so grossly over budget, the Obama Administration put it on hold for 5 years. Yet lab management was awarded the largest profit in its history.
Nuclear Energy: neither safe nor cost effective
In the 1950s, the nuclear energy industry promised a future in which electricity would be ”too cheap to meter.” In 1957, Congress passed the Price-Anderson Nuclear Indemnity Act, which caps liability for claims arising from nuclear accidents. Price-Anderson is one of many subsidies that hide the true costs of nuclear energy. It has saved the industry billions of dollars in insurance costs, and it has created an environment of moral hazard in which US taxpayers pay for industry mistakes.
The federal government provides the nuclear industry with research and subsidizes the “disposal” of waste. There is no safe way to store the long-lived and extremely radioactive and toxic waste reactors produce. Proposed storage schemes are not scientifically credible, and they will require additional subsidies. Trust funds utilities set aside for decommissioning reactors are inadequate. Once our nation comes to its senses and decommissions its reactors, we the taxpayers will pay most cleanup costs.
Because cost overruns and delays at new plants are routine, the federal government offers loan guarantees. Without loan guarantees, private investors would flee the nuclear industry.
Some states allow utilities to pass the added costs of nuclear reactors to rate payers, and some localities have given utilities tax incentives. Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that ratepayers and taxpayers have given more than $500 billion in subsidies to the nuclear industry over the past 50 years.
The US has 23 General Electric Mark I boiling water reactors with designs almost identical to those at Fukushima Daiichi. These reactors were marketed by GE during the 1960s. The Mark I’s containment is one-sixth the volume of Pressurized Water Reactor containment structures. Yet, in spite of concerns about the reactors’ safety, the NRC had been rubber stamping 20-year license extensions for 40-year-old Mark I reactors.
The industry has lobbied against federal studies into cancer clusters around nuclear power plants. Nuclear reactors release low-level radiation into air and water. It has been proven that low-level radiation damages tissues, cells, DNA and other vital molecules. Low-level radiation can also cause cell death, genetic mutations, cancers, leukemia, birth defects, and reproductive, immune and endocrine system disorders.
Reactors discharge heated water into lakes, rivers and oceans. Nuclear power plants are among the largest users of water in the nation. The US Government has set “permissible” levels for radioactive water released into the environment. Nuclear plants self-report higher than permissible releases. An accurate accounting of all radioactive wastes released into the air, water, and soil from the nuclear fuel cycle is simply not available.
Radioactive fallout from the triple meltdown at Fukushima has spread across the US. In Japan, tens of thousands have lost their homes, and the economy has taken a hit that will likely reach $600 billion.
In April, Yukio Edano, Japan’s energy minister, said he would like to shutter all nuclear reactors. “I’d like to see the reliance on nuclear cut to zero. I’d like to have a society work without nuclear as early as possible,” he said at a news conference on energy policy.
Of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors only one is online as of April 2012. Public pressure is keeping those reactors shut, but some within the government and industry will soon hold talks about bringing reactors back online.
No industry that relies on uranium can claim to be clean. There is no clean way to get uranium out of the earth. The history of uranium mining in the US is shameful, with for example seriously inadequate ventilation of uranium decay products in mines. The worst abuses have taken place on Native American lands.
In 1941, the US Government was searching for the kind of high-grade uranium it needed for the first nuclear bombs. It found it on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo, who call themselves the Diné, agreed to allow mining on their lands. The government agents never told the Diné that the private companies setting up operations on Navajo land were mining uranium, nor did they tell the tribe about the dangers associated with the mining.
Those dangers were already well understood, but the companies took few measures to protect the Diné. Veins of uranium were not wet down before blasting, so dust clouds swept through villages. Diné miners didn’t wear face masks, so they inhaled uranium daily. They ate their lunches underground. They drank the cool water that seeped from the rocks they were cutting. They weren’t provided with showers to wash after their shift. They wore their work clothes home.
Mine tailings poisoned streams and seeps the Diné used for drinking water. Their animals and crops were poisoned. Tailing piles remained on the reservation long after the mines closed. Tribal members mixed the tailings with cement when they built new houses.
In 1979, the Diné community of Church Rock experienced the largest nuclear disaster in US history when a tailings dam broke spilling 93 million gallons of radioactive liquid into the Rio Puerco, which runs through the town. Cleanup of the Rio Puerco, like most nuclear remediation work on Navajo ancestral lands, has been slow and inadequate.
Today the Diné live with 520 abandoned uranium mines and three Superfund sites. The tribe is fighting to prevent Hydro Resources, Inc. from extracting uranium from four sites in the Diné communities of Church Rock and Crownpoint in northwestern New Mexico. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and US courts have sided with the mining company. After the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit refused to hear the Eastern Navajo Diné’s appeal, the tribe petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Diné are demanding that their lands be cleaned. They are asserting their rights to remain in this last portion of their ancestral home without being exposed to radioactive air, soil and water.
New uranium mining technologies seem downright reckless. In Church Rock and Crownpoint the mining company plans to inject water and chemicals through the ore to dissolve uranium so it flows through the aquifer. Most of the uranium would be stripped from the water, then the “cleaned” water would be returned to the aquifer.
In 1951, when it conducted the first nuclear bomb tests within the United States, the Atomic Energy Commission understood that fallout would harm humans and animals. The commission lied about the dangers, and patriotic Westerners believed the government’s assurances. Even after the 1953 test nicknamed Dirty Harry, most Westerners felt safe.
In March and April of 1953, thousands of sheep in the Cedar City lambing yards were exposed to radioactive fallout. The sheep’s faces and lips blistered from eating radioactive grass. Ewes miscarried in unprecedented numbers. Wool sloughed off adult sheep. Lambs were stillborn; some had grotesque deformities.
By the mid-1950s, ranchers began suing the government. AEC withheld medical studies and produced witnesses who perjured themselves. The ranchers were unable to prove that radiation had decimated their herds.
By the time Congressional oversight hearings uncovered AEC’s deception in 1979, people were sickening, dying, and having unprecedented numbers of miscarriages. Within 3 to 5 years after testing began, cases of leukemia and other radiation-caused cancers skyrocketed. But even so, Congress ruled that a cause-and-effect link couldn’t be made between low-level radiation and cancer. Victim compensation could only come through legislation.
For more than a decade, test-site workers, Diné uranium miners, servicemen who had been forced to watch the tests, and other downwinders tried to sue, but they all lost. Under the Reagan Administration, the government even argued that officials at the Nevada Test Site had no duty to warn the public of the dangers of atomic tests. In 1984 a few victims won damages, but the government appealed. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and the government’s appeal held.
Congress finally passed the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act in 1990. Even though weapons detonated at the test site sent clouds of radioactive fallout across the US, the law only covers victims in 21 counties in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada.
In 2012, six Senate sponsors have introduced legislation that would update the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act by offering restitution to downwinders and uranium workers in seven states.
Most depleted uranium is a by-product of the production of enriched uranium. In other words, it’s a waste product of the nuclear energy and nuclear weapons industries. Although it is less radioactive than natural uranium, it is radioactive. It is also chemically toxic. The US has hundreds of thousands of tons of DU in storage.
Because DU is denser than lead, it is incorporated into tank armor. But the bulk of DU on 21st-century battlefields is in ordnance. The nose of a DU projectile fractures in such a way that it retains its sharpness. On impact DU releases tremendous heat then disintegrates into dust and fire.
Exposure to DU can damage cells, kidneys and DNA. It causes cancer — especially lung cancer. A Department of Defense briefing prepared by Col. J. Edgar Wakayama lists a few of the ways in which local populations will become exposed: children playing in impact sights can ingest heavily-contaminated soil, DU can leach into local water supplies, and local populations can be poisoned by eating contaminated plants and animals.
Since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when DU weapons were first used, both the US and the UK have increased their reliance on this toxic technology. But how often and where DU weapons are used is shrouded in secrecy.
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution that would give affected nations the right to know where DU weapons have been used. One hundred forty eight nations supported the resolution. The UK, US, Israel and France were the only nations to vote no, but because France, the UK and the US are permanent members of the Security Council, the resolution was defeated.
For the most part, the US media hasn’t reported on this secrecy. Our media has ignored warnings that depleted uranium weapons are poisoning entire civilian populations and our own troops.
Since the 2004 battle for Falluja, the international press has reported excessive cancers, childhood leukemia and horrific birth defects in the city. At least two scientific studies have documented alarming elevated birth defects in Falluja (more than ten times the world average). In April 2012, the World Health organization and Iraqi Ministry of Health will begin an assessment of congenital birth defects in six Iraqi localities.
Many veterans believe DU is a major cause of Gulf War Syndrome.