Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Fukushima: Two Years After"

A TV program I host, "Fukushima: Two Years After," is now up on youtube at

The VVH-TV News Special Report is pegged on the symposium co-sponsored by Dr. Helen Caldicott’s Caldicott Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility held on March 11-12 at the New York Academy of Medicine.

It is also being broadcast on cable TV by VVH-TV throughout the New York Metropolitan Area as well as over-the-air and on the VVH-TV website

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nuclear Power/Nuclear Weapons -- and A Precarious Future

With the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster this week, with North Korea having just threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” against the United States and a U.S. senator saying this would result in “suicide” for North Korea, with Iran suspected of moving to build nuclear weapons, with the continuing spread of nuclear technology globally, the future looks precarious as to humankind and the atom.

Can humanity at this rate make it through the 21st Century?

We were only able to get through the 20th Century without a major nuclear weapons exchange—without atomic doomsday—by the skin of our teeth.

With more nations having the ability to construct nuclear weapons—and any country with a nuclear power facility has the materiel and trained personnel to make nuclear weapons—the likelihood of this luck running out is high.

The only realistic way to secure a future for the world without nuclear war is for the entire planet to become a nuclear-free zone—no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.

Radical? Yes, but consider the even more radical alternative: a world where many nations will be able to construct nuclear weaponry because they possess nuclear power technology. The only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout the world is to abolish nuclear weaponry and eliminate nuclear power. Consider the alternative: trying to keep using carrots and sticks, juggling on the road to inevitable nuclear catastrophe.

There are major parts of the Earth—the entireties of Africa and South America, the South Pacific and others—that are Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones because of regional treaties recognized by the United Nations. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution defining a Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone as an area with the “total absence of nuclear weapons” and establishing “an international system of verification and control…to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from [this] statute.”

But if we are truly to have a world free of the horrific threat of nuclear weapons, the goal needs to be more than zones without them. A world free of the other side of the nuclear coin—nuclear power—is also necessary.

Any nuclear power facility can serve as a nuclear bomb factory.

That’s how India got The Bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a reactor for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons

Some will say putting the atomic genie back into the bottle is impossible. However, anything people have done other people can undo—especially if the reason is good. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.

There’s a precedent in the outlawing of poison gas after World War I when its terrible impacts were tragically demonstrated. Chlorine gas, mustard gas, phosphene gas killed thousands on both sides of the conflict. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemicals Weapons Convention of 1933 outlawed chemical warfare and to a large degree the prohibition has held.

As for the connection between purportedly “peaceful” atomic energy and nuclear weapons, physicist Amory Lovins and attorney Hunter Lovins spell it out well in their book Energy/War: Breaking the Nuclear Link. “All nuclear fission technologies both use and produce fissionable materials that are or can be concentrated. Unavoidably latent in those technologies, therefore, is a potential for nuclear violence and coercion which may be exploited by governments, factions,” they write.

“Little strategic material is needed to make a weapon of mass destruction. A Nagasaki-yield bomb can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium, a piece the size of a tennis ball,” they note. A large nuclear power plant “annually produces hundreds of kilograms of plutonium; a large fast breeder reactor would contain thousands of kilograms; a large reprocessing plant may separate tens of thousands.”

Civilian nuclear power technology, they emphasize, provides the way to make nuclear weapons, furnishing the materiel and personnel. Nuclear weapons non-proliferation, they say, requires “civil denuclearization.”

As to claims of the energy generated by nuclear power plans being necessary, that’s not true. Safe, clean, renewable energy—led by solar and wind energy technologies—is available to provide all the power the world needs.

Among entities focusing on this is the organization Go 100% which on its website says: “Across the globe—in regions, cities, communities, businesses, and individual lives—people are proving that 100% renewable energy is not a fantasy for someday, but a reality today….The conventional fossil and nuclear energy system has led to multiple convergent existential crises, including climate change, air and water pollution, destruction of the oceans, the threat of mass extinction, water and food shortages, poverty, nuclear radiation problems, nuclear weapons proliferation, fuel depletion, and geopolitical problems.” Go 100% provides details on the abundant research determining that the world can fully power itself with safe, clean, renewable energy, and what’s happening in nations—particularly Germany—now moving toward that goal.

The dangers of nuclear power—in addition to permitting the development of nuclear weapons by any nation that has it—are immense.

As he retired from the navy in 1982, Admiral Hyman Rickover, considered the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy who was also in charge of building the first U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, told a Congressional committee that inherent in nuclear power is radioactivity which made life impossible on Earth, Until a few billion years ago, Rickover told the panel, “it was impossible to have any life on Earth; that is, there was so much radiation on Earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. “ Then, “gradually, “the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin.”

“Now,” he went on, by utilizing nuclear power, “we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Every time you produce radiation,” a “horrible force” is unleashed,“in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself.”

Having seen the light after decades of being deeply involved in nuclear technology, Rickover said: “I’m talking about humanity—the most important thing we could do is to start in having an international meeting where we first outlaw nuclear weapons to start off with, then we outlaw nuclear reactors, too.”

As for nuclear weapons, he said: “The lesson of history is when a war starts, every nation will ultimately use whatever weapon has been available. That is the lesson learned time and again. Therefore, we must expect, if another war—a serious war—breaks out, we will use nuclear energy in some form” and “we will probably destroy ourselves.”

Planet Earth must be a nuclear-free zone—without nuclear weapons, without nuclear power—if the human race and other life forms are to survive.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Ernest Moniz: A Pro-Nuclear, Pro-Fracking U.S. Energy Secretary

With the nomination of Ernest Moniz to be the next U.S. secretary of Energy, President Barack Obama has selected a man who is not only a booster of nuclear power but a big proponent of fracking, too. What happened to Obama’s call for “clean” energy in his 2013 State of the Union address?

Moniz, a physicist and director of the MIT Energy Initiative, heavily financed by energy industry giants including BP and Chevron, has long advocated nuclear power. He has continued arguing for it despite the multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex, maintaining that the disaster in Japan should not cause a stop in nuclear power development.

In a 2011 essay in Foreign Affairs magazine titled “Why We Still Need Nuclear Power,” Moniz wrote: “In the years following the major accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, nuclear power fell out of favor, and some countries applied the brakes to their nuclear programs. In the last decade, however, it began experiencing something of a renaissance….But the movement lost momentum in March, when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the massive tsunami it triggered devastated Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant…The event caused widespread public doubts about the safety of nuclear power to resurface. Germany announced an accelerated shutdown of its nuclear reactors, with broad public support.” But, insisted Moniz, “It would be a mistake…to let Fukushima cause governments to abandon nuclear power and its benefits.”

Moniz went on: “Nuclear power’s track record of providing clean and reliable electricity compares favorably with other energy sources.” Foreign Affairs is the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, which regards itself an elite grouping of government officials, industry executives, scientists and media figures. Moniz is a member.

He also said in the essay that “the public needs to be convinced that nuclear power is safe.” As U.S. energy secretary, this will likely be a main thrust of Moniz. He would endeavor to lead the 16,000-employee Department of Energy with a budget of $27 billion for 2013 in trying to get the American public to believe in what decades ago the U.S. government promoted as “Citizen Atom.”

Likewise, when it comes to hydraulic fracturing or fracking—the process that uses hundreds of toxic chemicals and massive amounts of waster under high pressure to fracture shale formations to release gas captured in them—Moniz told the Senate Energy Committee in 2011 that the water and air pollution risks associated with fracking were "challenging but manageable" with appropriate regulation and oversight.

Fracking also can also lead to radioactive contamination. Many shale formations contain Radium-226 and other radioactive poisons unleashed in the fracking process.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, declared after Obama’s nomination of Moniz on Monday, that the group “has grave concerns about Mr. Moniz’s history of support for both nuclear power and fracking.” Pica described Moniz’s support of nuclear power despite “the unfolding catastrophe” of Fukushima as “frightening.” On Moniz being “a big booster of fracking,” Pica said this has been “seemingly without due regard for the environmental and public health risks and impacts.”

Nevertheless, in Washington Monday, Obama, describing Moniz as a “brilliant scientist,” said: “Most importantly, Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate. And so I could not be more pleased to have Ernie join us.” /

It’s not as if Obama wasn’t warned about Moniz.

For weeks, as reports spread that Moniz would be replacing Obama’s first energy secretary, the also staunchly pro-nuclear power Steven Chu, former director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the organization Food & Water Watch circulated an online petition for people to send to Obama. It stated: “This is not the person we need as our country’s Energy Secretary at this critical moment. We need a visionary leader who can enact policies that move us away from intensive fossil fuel extraction, such as fracking, and toward a renewable energy future.” Other groups circulated similar petitions.

And it’s not as if Moniz was unfamiliar to Obama, or Washington. He has been a member of both Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. And he was an undersecretary in the Department of Energy in the Clinton administration.

Obama’s stance as president on nuclear power has been a change from his position as candidate Obama. “I start off with the premise that nuclear energy is not optimal and so I am not a nuclear energy proponent,” Obama said campaigning in Iowa on 2007. He went on that unless the “nuclear industry can show that they can produce clean, safe energy without enormous subsidies from the U.S. government, I don’t think that’s the best option. I am much more interested in solar and wind and bio-diesel and strategies [for] alternative fuels.” As he told the editorial board of the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire that year: “I don’t think there’s anything that we inevitably dislike about nuclear power. We just dislike the fact that it might blow up and irradiate us and kill us. That’s the problem.”

Nevertheless, in his first State of the Union speech he spoke about “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country” and kept repeating that pitch. But in recent times, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Obama has increasingly avoided using the words nuclear power—he didn’t refer to it at all in his State of the Union address this January. Instead he has let Chu, and will let, if he is confirmed, Moniz, do the talking about nuclear power and pushing it as an energy source for the United States.

As to fracking, in his 2013 State of the Union address, Obama said “the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”