Nuclear Power Is Not The Answer
by Helen Caldicott
New Press, 2006, paperback
The current administration [George W. Bush] clearly believes that
if it lies frequently and with conviction, the general public
will be lulled into believing their oft-repeated dictums. As this
book will show, no part of "efficiently, safely, and with
no discharge of greenhouse gases or emissions" is true. Nuclear
energy creates significant greenhouse gases and pollution today,
and is on a trajectory to produce as much as conventional sources
of energy within the next one or two decades. It requires massive
infusions of government (read taxpayer) subsidies, relying on
universities and the weapons industry for its research and development,
and being considered far too risky for private investors. It is
also doubtful that the 8,358 individuals diagnosed between 1986
and 2001 with thyroid cancer in Belarus, downwind of Chernobyl,
would choose the adjective "safe" to describe nuclear
Nuclear power is not "clean and green,"
as the industry claims, because large amounts of traditional fossil
fuels are required to mine and refine the uranium needed to run
nuclear power reactors, to construct the massive concrete reactor
buildings, and to transport and store the toxic radioactive waste
created by the nuclear process. Burning of this fossil fuel emits
significant quantities of carbon dioxide (C02)-the primary "greenhouse
gas"-into the atmosphere. In addition, large amounts of the
now-banned chlorofluorocarbon gas (CFC) are emitted during the
enrichment of uranium. CFC gas is not only 10,000 to 20,000 times
more efficient as an atmospheric heat trapper ("greenhouse
gas") than CO 2' but it is a classic "pollutant"
and a potent destroyer of the ozone layer.
While currently the creation of nuclear
electricity produces only one-third the amount of CO2 emitted
from a similar-sized, conventional gas generator, this is a transitory
statistic. Over several decades, as the concentration of available
uranium ore declines, more fossil fuels will be required to extract
the ore from less concentrated ore veins. Within ten to twenty
years, nuclear reactors will produce no net energy because of
the massive amounts of fossil fuel that will be necessary to mine
and to enrich the remaining poor grades of uranium. (The nuclear
power industry contends that large quantities of uranium can be
obtained by reprocessing radioactive spent fuel. However, this
process is extremely expensive, medically dangerous for nuclear
workers, and releases large amounts of radioactive material into
the air and water; it is therefore not a pragmatic consideration.)
By extension, the operation of nuclear power plants will then
produce exactly the same amounts of greenhouse gases and air pollution
as standard power plants.
Contrary to the nuclear industry claims,
smoothly running nuclear power plants are also not emission free.
Government regulations allow nuclear plants "routinely"
to emit hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive gases and
other radioactive elements into the environment every year. Thousands
of tons of solid radioactive waste are presently accumulating
in the cooling pools beside the 103 operating nuclear plants in
the United States and hundreds of others throughout the world.
This waste contains extremely toxic elements that will inevitably
pollute the environment and human food chains, a legacy that will
lead to epidemics of cancer, leukemia, and genetic disease in
populations living near nuclear power plants or radioactive waste
facilities for many generations to come.
Nuclear power is exorbitantly expensive,
and notoriously unreliable. Wall Street is deeply reluctant to
re-involve itself in any nuclear investment, despite the fact
that in the 2005 Energy Bill the US. Congress allocated $13 billion
in subsidies to revive a moribund nuclear power industry. To compound
this problem, the global supplies of usable uranium fuel are finite.
If the entire world's electricity production were replaced today
by nuclear energy, there would be less than nine more years of
accessible uranium. But even if certain corporate interests are
convinced that nuclear power at the moment might be a beneficial
investment, one major accident at a nuclear reactor that induces
a meltdown would destroy all such investments and signal the end
of nuclear power forever.
In this day and age, nuclear power plants
are also obvious targets for terrorists, inviting assault by plane,
truck bombs, armed attack, or covert intrusion into the reactor's
control room. The subsequent meltdown could induce the death of
hundreds of thousands of people in heavily populated areas, and
they would expire slowly and painfully, some over days and others
over years from acute radiation illness, cancer, leukemia, congenital
deformities, or genetic disease. Such an attack at the Indian
Point reactors, thirty-five miles from Manhattan, for instance,
would effectively incapacitate the world's main financial center
for the rest of time. An attack on one of the thirteen reactors
2 surrounding Chicago would wreak similar catastrophic medical
consequences. Amazingly, security at U.S. nuclear power plants
remains at virtually the same lax levels as prior to the 9/11
Adding to the danger, nuclear power plants
are essentially atomic bomb factories. A 1,000 megawatt nuclear
reactor manufactures 500 pounds of plutonium a year; normally
ten pounds of plutonium is fuel for an atomic bomb.
When nuclear proponents say that nuclear power can be used reduce
the United State's insatiable reliance on foreign oil, they are
simply wrong. Oil and its by-product gasoline are used to fuel
the internal combustion engines in automobiles and trucks. Oil
is also used to heat buildings. But oil does not power the electric
grid. The grid, which is used to power electric lights, computers,
VCRs, fans, hair dryers, stoves, refrigerators, air conditioners,
and for industrial needs, is powered primarily through the burning
of coal, other fossil fuels, and, currently, through nuclear power.
(Oil does generate an infinitesimal amount of electricity-2% in
the United States.)
... hydropower (which accounts for 7%
of the electricity generated in the United States, the momentum
of falling water is converted into electricity. For most of the
remaining 93%,[l (50%), natural gas (18%), nuclear power (20%),
and oil (2%) are used to produce immense amounts of heat. The
heat boils water, converting it to steam, which then turns a turbine,
generating electricity. So, in essence, a nuclear reactor is just
a very sophisticated and dangerous way to boil water - analogous
to cutting a pound of butter with a chain saw. At the moment,
hydro provides 7%, and unfortunately wind is only 2% of the total
US. mix, while solar is less than 1%. Globally, coal supplies
about 64% of the world's electricity, hydro and nuclear each provide
17%, and renewable sources again make up 2%.
THE COSTS OF NUCLEAR POWER
What exactly is nuclear power? It is a very expensive, sophisticated,
and dangerous way to boil water. Uranium fuel rods are placed
in water in a reactor core, they reach critical mass, and they
produce vast quantities of heat, which boils the water. Steam
is directed through pipes to turn a turbine, which generates electricity.
The scientists who were involved in the Manhattan Project creating
nuclear weapons developed a way to harness nuclear energy to generate
Although a nuclear power plant itself releases no carbon dioxide,
the production of nuclear electricity depends upon a vast, complex,
and hidden industrial infrastructure that is never featured by
the nuclear industry in its propaganda, but that actually releases
a large amount of carbon dioxide as well as other global warming
gases. One is led to believe that the nuclear reactor stands alone,
an autonomous creator of energy. In fact, the vast infrastructure
necessary to create nuclear energy, called the nuclear fuel cycle,
is a prodigious user of fossil fuel and coal.
The production of carbon dioxide (CO 2)
is one measurement that indicates the amount of energy used in
the production of the nuclear fuel cycle. Most of the energy used
to create nuclear energy-to mine uranium ore for fuel, to crush
and mill the ore, to enrich the uranium, to create the concrete
and steel for the reactor, and to store the thermally and radioactively
hot nuclear waste comes from the consumption of fossil fuels,
that is, coal or oil.
One of the best [nuclear energy studies] is a study by Jan Willem
Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith titled "Nuclear Power-the
Energy Balance." ...
To quote the final conclusion of their
lengthy analysis, "The use of nuclear power causes, at the
end of the road and under the most favourable conditions, approximately
one-third as much carbon dioxide (CO 2) emission as gas-fired
electricity production. The rich uranium ores required to achieve
this reduction are, however, so limited that if the entire present
world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power,
these ores would be exhausted within nine years.
The high-grade uranium ores are finite-global high-grade reserves
amount to 3.5 million tons. Given that the current use of uranium
is about 67,000 tons per year, these reserves would supply fifty
more years of nuclear power at current production levels but only
nine years ... if all the world's electricity needs were met by
nuclear energy. the total of all the uranium reserves, including
high and low grade, is estimated to be approximately 14.4 million
tons, but most of these ores would be extremely expensive to mine,
and the ore grades would be too low for electricity production.
Many uranium mines are therefore out of use already.'
The mining and milling of uranium is a
complex process. The rock itself must be excavated by bulldozers
and shovels and then transported by truck to the milling plants.
All these machines use diesel oil. Furthermore, the maintenance
shops that service this equipment consume electricity and hence
fuel oils. The uranium-bearing rock is then ground to a powder
in electrically powered mills; the powder is treated with chemicals,
usually sulphuric acid; then several other chemicals (many of
which are highly corrosive and poisonous) are used to convert
the uranium to a compound called yellow cake. Fuel is also needed
during this process to create steam and heated gases, and all
the chemicals used in the mills must manufactured at other chemical
If the mill tailings that remain after the extraction of the uranium[
were to be subject to remediation, as they should be, massive
quantities of fossil fuel would be required for this process as
well. Millions of tons of radioactive material that is currently
dumped on the ground, often on native Indian tribal land, emitting
radioactive elements to the air and water, need instead to be
buried deeply in the ground where the uranium originally emanated.
This single remediation process, which should be scrupulously
observed, by itself makes the energetic price of nuclear electricity
The energy expenditure for adequate remediation
is estimate to be 4.2 gigajoules per metric ton of tailings, four
times the 1.06 gigajoules per metric ton expended on the original
mining. The remediation process also involves the extensive use
of fossil fuels and the production of more carbon dioxide.
Before uranium can be enriched, it must be converted to uranium
hexafluoride gas, because it is in this form that the fissionable
uranium 235 can be separated from the non-fissionable uranium
238. Uranium hexafluoride is the only uranium compound that is
gaseous at low temperatures and therefore is easy to work with.
The specific energetic requirements for this conversion are 1.478
gigajoules per kilogram of uranium.
Enrichment of uranium 235 from 0.7% to 3% is also a very energy-consuming
process. Specific energy expenditures for enrichment include construction,
operation, and maintenance of the enrichment plant. Uranium can
be enriched using one of two basic methods-gaseous diffusion and
ultracentrifuge-both of which require very large amounts of energy.
The specific energetic costs of enrichment are measured in joules
per separative work unit (SWU). Averaging the current world use
of the two different processes-3O% gaseous diffusion and 70% ultracentrifuge-the
energetic costs are 0.0055 petajoules per 1,000 SWU. (A petajoule
is 1 million billion joules.)
The enriched uranium hexafluoride gas is then made into solid
fuel pellets of uranium dioxide, the size of a cigarette filter.
These uranium pellets are put into zirconium fuel rods which are
twelve feet long and half an inch thick. A typical 1,000 megawatt
reactor contains 50,000 of these fuel rods-about one hundred tons
of uranium. Again fossil fuel is used in the fabrication process,
and the specific energy expenditure is 0.00379 petajoules per
ton of uranium.
All nuclear power plants in the United States were constructed
between the years 1980 to 1985 or before, and no new plants have
been ordered since 1978. The construction of a nuclear power plant
requires an immense aggregate of goods and services. Nuclear technology
is a very high-tech process, requiring an extensive industrial
and economic infrastructure. A huge amount of concrete and steel
is used to build a reactor. Furthermore, construction has become
ever more complex because of increased safety concerns following
the meltdowns at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.
Estimates vary for the energetic costs
of reactor construction from 40 to 120 petajoules. The mean value
of 80 petajoules has been used in the study of Storm van Leeuwen
and Smith. -
When the reactor is finally closed at the end of its working life,
t intensely radioactive products-cobalt 60 and iron 55 formed
inside the reactor vessel from neutron bombardment-must be allowed
to decay considerably before the reactor can even be entered.
(Additional residual contaminating radioactive elements, which
are also very dangerous, include tritium, carbon 14, and calcium
41, among others.") Thus, these huge, intensely radioactive
mausoleums must be guarded and protected from damage or unwarranted
intrusion for a period of ten to hundred years before the actual
process of mantling can begin.
After sufficient time is given for the radioactive decay period,
the reactor must be cut apart into small pieces either by humans
or by remote control, and the still-radioactive pieces must be
packed into containers for transportation and final disposal at
some distant location. There is very limited experience available
on which to base energetic cost estimates for decommissioning
and dismantling, because a large nuclear power plant has never
actually been dismantled completely after a long operational lifetime.
However, based on the scarce available data, the energetic debt
for this exercise is estimated to be in the range of 80-160 petajoules,
the high end of the range being the most probable." Traditional
coal- or gas-fired plants can be dismantled in the conventional
way as any building, because they are not radioactive and therefore
do not pose a risk to the public health and safety. The discarded
materials, rubble, and scrap from conventional buildings can be
reused. For comparison: Construction and dismantling of a gas-fired
plant require about 24 petajoules together. The energy requirements
of construction and dismantling of a nuclear power plant may sum
up to about 240 petajoules.
At the end of its lifetime, the reactor will need to be cleaned
of extensive quantities of accumulated radioactive material called
CRUD (Chalk River Unidentified Deposits, so named because these
materials were first found in the Chalk River reactor). CRUD is
a collection of radioactive elements that come from the reactor
itself-from the cooling system and the highly radioactive fission
and "actinide" elements that have escaped from leaking
and damaged fuel rods. This process, which is separate from decommissioning,
may be energetically very expensive and will need as much energy
debt as 50% of the original energetic construction costs, which
is 20 to 60 petajoules.
The water that cools the reactor core becomes heavily contaminated
with tritium, or radioactive hydrogen, and with carbon 14, the
long-term medical and ecological effects of which are not well
understood and are rarely discussed or addressed by the nuclear
industry or anyone else. The radioactive life of tritium is more
than 200 years, and the radioactive life of carbon 14 is 114,600
years. A sustainable energy system would necessitate a closed
loop for tritium and carbon 14, such that they never enter the
ecosphere. Theoretically this water should be stored, immobilized
into drying agents or into cement, and placed in appropriate long-lived
containers. Instead, it is routinely and blithely discharged into
seas, rivers, or lakes, from which people obtain their drinking
water. Implementing proper disposal techniques would require a
huge number of waste containers and massive energy expenditure.
The fact that there is thus far no adequate
knowledge of the long-term biological dangers and because of the
absolutely immense expense associated with sequestering the tritium
and carbon 14 from nuclear power plants, there is no adequate
estimate of the energetic costs required to prevent the release
of these isotopes. Hence, the true energetic and economic costs
of nuclear power are presently grossly underestimated.
In the United States alone, for the first fifteen years of i1
development, the nuclear sector received thirty times as much
financial support-$15.3 per kilowatt hour (kWh) compared with
a measly $0.46 per kWh for wind energy development . For the same
amount of investment, wind power creates five times as many jobs
and generates 2.3 times as much electricity as nuclear power.
... the actual costs of nuclear energy
are consistently misstated and incomplete. Nuclear power is(also)heavily
subsidized by taxpayers (through programs that benefit the industry,
but are excluded from their cost estimates). Developed countries
ostensibly wedded to the principles of economic rationalism and
the "free market," are inexplicably enthusiastic about
nuclear power, which cannot be sustained without huge government
subsidies and handouts from its very inception. This socialization
of electricity within a capitalist society has never been called
into question, nor has it been critically scrutinized by the general
public and their elected representatives.
... Each regular 1,000 megawatt nuclear
power plant generates 30 tons of extremely potent radioactive
waste annually. And even though nuclear power has been operational
for nearly fifty years, the nuclear industry has yet to determine
how safely to dispose of this deadly material, which remains radioactive
for tens of thousands of years. Most nuclear waste is confined
in huge cooling pools, euphemistically called "swimming pools"
at reactor sites, or in dry storage casks beside the reactor.
But there are many other locations in the United States and other
countries where huge quantities of reprocessed toxic material
and other radioactive waste from nuclear power plants are left
unconfined, leaching, leaking, and seeping through soils into
aquifers, rivers, lakes, and seas, where it enters and concentrates
in the food chains of plants, fish, animals, and humans.
A typical alpha emitter is plutonium,
named after Pluto, the Greek god of hell. Said by its discoverer,
Glen Seaborg, to be the most dangerous substance on earth, it
is so toxic and carcinogenic that less than one-millionth of a
gram if inhaled will cause lung cancer. It is translocated from
the lung by white blood cells and deposited in the lymph glands
in the middle of the chest where it can mutate a regulatory gene
in a white blood cell or lymphocyte causing lymphoma or leukemia.
From there it can be solubilized, and, because plutonium resembles
iron, it is combined with the iron transporting protein, transferrin,
and taken to the bone marrow to be incorporated into the hemoglobin
molecule in the red blood cells. Here the alpha particle irradiates
bone cells to cause bone cancer and white blood cells made in
the bone marrow to cause leukemia. It is stored in the liver where
it causes liver cancer, and it is teratogenic, crossing the placenta
into the developing embryo.
Plutonium is also stored in the testicle
adjacent to the precursor cells, spermatocytes, that form the
sperm. Here it will cause mutations in the reproductive genes
and increase the incidence of genetic disease in future generations.
It also causes testicular cancer. Every male in the Northern Hemisphere
has a tiny amount of plutonium in his testicles from radioactive
fallout that is still falling on the earth from the upper atmosphere,
which was polluted by the atmospheric weapons tests conducted
by the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France, and Britain
in the 1950s and 1960s.
The half-life of plutonium 239 is 24,400
years, so it remains radioactive for half a million years. Therefore,
plutonium lives on to enter and damage reproductive organs for
the rest of time, and the genetic mutations it causes are passed
on successively to future generations for thousands of years.
To give an indication of the length of time involved, it takes
up to twenty generations for recessive mutations to come together
to express themselves as a specific disease entity, such as cystic
Plutonium is so carcinogenic that the
half ton of plutonium released from the Chernobyl meltdown is
theoretically enough to kill everyone on earth with lung cancer
1,100 times if it were to be uniformly distributed into the lung
of every human being."
Though only 10 pounds of plutonium-a lump
the size of a grapefruit-will make an effective atomic bomb, literally
hundreds of tons of plutonium are lying around the world, some
of it relatively unguarded. The design for an atomic bomb can
easily be found on the Internet; some basic materials purchased
at the local hardware shop will complete production. The fact
that plutonium is a by-product of nuclear power explains why any
country that owns a nuclear power plant has access to atomic bomb
fuel. Therefore, nuclear power is integral to the ever-growing
problem of fluproliferation...
Radioactive iodine 131, with a half-life
of eight days, is a very volatile isotope, meaning that it is
usually released from nuclear reactors as a gas, either from routine
or accidental emissions. It is both a beta and a high-energy gamma
emitter, and as such it is very carcinogenic. When humans and
animals are exposed to this pollutant in the air, they inhale
it into their lungs, where it is absorbed through the lining of
the alveoli or air sacs and enters the blood stream. Iodine 131
also deposits onto the soil near nuclear reactors, where it is
taken up by grass and the leaves of plants and concentrated by
orders of magnitude in grass and vegetables.
When cattle eat this radioactive grass,
iodine 131 is concentrated again in their milk. Radioactive iodine
enters the human body in one of two ways-either via the gut when
dairy products from cows eating this grass are consumed or via
the lung when radioactive gases are released routinely or accidentally
into the air from the reactor. Iodine 131 circulates in the human
blood stream and is avidly absorbed by the thyroid gland at the
base of the neck. Children are at special risk from this isotope
because their tiny thyroids avidly absorb iodine from the blood
like a sponge.
Strontium 90 is an isotope released from
reactors in small amounts on a daily basis, mostly in the waste
water but sometimes in air. It is often released in larger quantities
when accidents occur at nuclear power plants. It is a beta and
gamma emitter with a half-life of twenty-eight years-radioactively
dangerous for 600 years. As a calcium analogue, strontium 90 mimics
calcium in the body. After release from a nuclear power plant,
it lands on the soil, where it is taken up and concentrated by
orders of magnitude in grass, concentrated further in cow and
goat milk and in the breasts of lactating women, where it can
induce breast cancer many years later. Babies who drink this contaminated
human breast milk or cows' milk will be exposed to strontium 90,
which enters the gut, is absorbed and carried in the blood stream,
and laid down in teeth and bones, there to induce bone cancer
or leukemia years later.
Cesium 137 is an isotope with a half-life
of thirty years, radioactive for 600 years. As a potassium analogue,
it is present in every cell of the body. Cesium 137 tends to concentrate
in animal muscle and fish, and it deposits in human muscles where
it irradiates muscle cells and other nearby organs. It is a dangerous
beta and high-energy gamma emitter and is very carcinogenic. An
old, dirty reactor at Brookhaven National Labs in the middle of
Long Island in the 1970s and 1980s released large amounts of radiation
for many years, and an epidemic of a very rare form of cancer
called rhabdomyosarcoma appeared in children living near that
reactor in the 1980s. This very malignant muscle cancer could
be caused by exposure to um 137...
Three Mile Island
Before Three Mile Island melted down,
the nuclear industry used to say that the chance of a meltdown
occurring was the same as that of a person being hit by a bolt
of lightning in a parking lot.
Beginning at 4 A.M. on March 28, 1979,
lightning struck. A meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear
power plant in Pennsylvania was triggered when a mechanical failure
and an automatic shutdown of the main feedwater pumps in the secondary
coolant system closed some valves, causing water in the primary
coolant system covering the radioactive core to overheat. This
quickly cascaded into a series of automated events and human misinterpretations,
which caused the reactor core of 100 tons of uranium to overheat
and to melt. Throughout the accident, highly radioactive cooling
water was being pumped through a valve onto the floor of the reactor
and thence into a tank in an adjacent auxiliary building where
large quantities of radioactive gases were vented from a leaking
valve into the external atmosphere.
Warm weather at the time of the leak compounded
the crisis, with low winds and a cold upper air mass preventing
the warm air from rising, producing ideal conditions for trapping
the radioactive emissions.
We know for a fact that large amounts
of radioactivity escaped from the Three Mile Island accident.
On April 26, 1986, when Unit Four of the
Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, however, almost all the
contents of the deadly radioactive fission products were spewed
into the environment. This medical catastrophe will continue to
plague much of Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine, and Europe for the
rest of time.
... These are some of the medical and
ecological consequences of Chernobyl that we know today:
Of the 650,00 people called "liquidators" involved in
the immediate cleanup, 5,000 to 10,000 of them are known to have
o Large areas of the breadbaskets of the
Ukraine and ByeloRussia became heavily contaminated and will remain
so for thousands of years. In all,% of the land area of Belarus,
of the Ukraine, and 0.5% to 1% of Russia-100,000 square miles-were
contaminated. In total, this area is equivalent to the state of
Kentucky or of Scotland and Ireland combined. Five million people
live in these areas, over 1 million of whom are children, who
are inordinately sensitive to radiation. The incidence of cancer
among this population has increased. Many of the genetic abnormalities
and diseases caused by this accident are generations away and
will not be seen by anyone alive today.
o Heavy radioactive fallout occurred over
Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, East and West
Germany, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland,
Turkey, Britain, the Baltic States, and Yugoslavia. Small amounts
also landed on Canada, the United States, and all other countries
in the Northern Hemisphere." Because cesium 137 and other
isotopes such as strontium 90 and plutonium 239 have such long
half-lives, some of the food in Europe will be radioactive for
hundreds of years, depending upon the hot spots that were contaminated
when the radiation fell to the earth as rain.
o In Britain, twenty-eight years post-accident
and 1,500 miles from the crippled reactor, 382 farms containing
226,500 sheep are severely restricted because the levels of cesium
137 in the meat are too high. Before the sheep are sold for meat,
they must be transferred to other less radioactive grazing sites
so that their levels of cesium decrease before sale." Meanwhile,
people in Britain are still eating low levels of cesium in their
o In the south of Germany, very high levels
of cesium in the soil persist; hunters are compensated for catching
contaminated animals, and many mushrooms and wild berries are
still too radioactive to eat.
o The French government initially insisted
that the radioactive fallout stopped exactly at the French border.
Recent documents reveal, however, that the government knew that
radioactivity in France surpassed all safety levels at the time
of the accident. Other European countries ruled that fresh vegetables
and dairy products could not be sold for several months and that
children were not to play outside for a similar short time span,
but the French government denied that France was affected. Only
now do they admit that cesium 137 in some parts of France is as
high as some extremely contaminated areas in Belarus, the Ukraine,
and Russia. A country that loves its food, mushrooms, and wild
boar shows very high levels of contamination, mainly in the form
of cesium 137.89 Perhaps the fact that France has fifty-eight
nuclear reactors and derives 80% of its electricity from nuclear
power is related to the government's cover-up.
The reindeer as far away as Scandinavia
were contaminated with cesium after the Chernobyl meltdown, because
the lichen in the Arctic Circle avidly concentrated the cesium
as it landed on them from the fallout... Signs in Bavarian forests
warn people not to eat the mushrooms-this is because they are
very efficient concentrators of radiation, particularly cesium
In 1994, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human
Affairs made a tragic statement of remembrance, almost like statements
made to memorialize wars:
Eighteen years ago today, nearly 8.4
million people in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia were exposed to
radiation. Some 150,000 square kilometres, an area half the size
of Italy, were contaminated. Agricultural areas covering nearly
52,000 sq km, which is more than the size of Denmark, were ruined.
Nearly 400,000 people were resettled but millions continue to
live in an environment where continued residual exposure created
a range of adverse effects.
Eighteen years after the accident, 70% to 90% of the cesium 137,
40% to 60% of the strontium, and up to 95% of the plutonium and
its alpha-emitting relatives remain in the upper root-inhabiting
layers of the soil in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and parts of f
A BRIEF HISTORY OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS PRODUCTION
The term nuclear weapon encompasses several
varieties of bombs, each of which employs different explosive
mechanisms. An atomic bomb can be fueled by either plutonium or
uranium. An atomic bomb works by either imploding its plutonium
trigger with chemical explosives, which exerts tremendous symmetrical
forces upon the plutonium, or by exerting huge pressures upon
a mass of highly enriched uranium 235. The plutonium or uranium
reaches critical mass, causing an explosion equivalent to the
explosion of thousands of tons of TNT.
A hydrogen bomb is made of three components:
a primary composed of an atomic bomb, which explodes first with
a fission reaction; a secondary composed of deuterium and lithium,
which then produces a fusion reaction similar to the reaction
in the sun; and a tertiary mechanism produced when the uranium
capsule of the bomb undergoes fission and explodes. A hydrogen
bomb is relatively cheap for a country to build compared to deploying
thousands of soldiers on the battleground, and the explosions
can be of megaton range-equivalent to millions of tons of TNT.
Most bombs today are hydrogen bombs.
America made three atomic bombs in 1945.
The first was named Trinity after the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
and was exploded at Alamogordo in New Mexico in July 1945. The
second, a uranium bomb called Little Boy, was exploded over Hiroshima
on August 6, 1945, and the third, a plutonium bomb called Fat
Man, was exploded over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Little Boy
and Fat Man killed over 200,000 people, initiating the age of
The United States continued to make nuclear
weapons after the end of the Second World War. Russia soon discovered
the secret and joined the nuclear club in 1949; then Britain,
France, and China got on board. In 1970, these five nations decided
in theory that nuclear weapons should be abolished in the long-term
and that, in the short term, only they should have the bomb; all
others must be excluded from the nuclear club. To that end they
drafted the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which stated
categorically that the nuclear nations would disarm and that nonnuclear
weapons nations could not develop nuclear weapons. As compensation,
the non-nuclear nations would be given access to "peaceful
nuclear technology"-research reactors, nuclear power plants,
and nuclear technology. The NPT, therefore, essentially gave non-nuclear
countries the capacity to produce their own nuclear weapons, even
as it forbade them to do so.
Under Article VI of the NPT, the nuclear
armed nations also undertook not to enlarge their nuclear arsenals
and to negotiate in good faith to secure their abolition. Since
1970 when the NPT was signed, the nuclear weapons nations have
done the opposite, increasing their arsenals significantly.
The overall state of world nuclear proliferation
today is as follows:
* Eighteen countries now own uranium enrichment
facilities which enable them to produce highly enriched uranium-
( the fuel for nuclear weapons. These countries include Pakistan,
France, the United Kingdom, the United States, South Africa, Canada,
Argentina, Brazil, Australia, China, India, Japan, Kazakhstan,
and Russia." It is not clear what uranium enrichment facilities
Israel or North Korea now possess.
* Under the legal auspices of the NPT,
seventy countries now have small research reactors, most of which
are fuelled with highly enriched uranium, a fuel also suitable
for nuclear weapons production." These small research reactors
also manufacture plutonium, making nuclear bomb materials available
at each end of the research reactor's operation. Civilian nuclear
power plants are mostly fuelled with low enriched uranium, unsuitable
for nuclear weapons, but they manufacture plutonium-over 200 kilograms
per year. And although some say that it is well nigh impossible
to make a nuclear weapon from reactor-grade plutonium, in 1962
the United States tested such a nuclear weapon, and it worked
very well. 14 Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, is extremely worried about this situation
and says that these widely distributed nuclear facilities are
"latent bomb plants."
* Nine countries now possess nuclear weapons,
including the) United States, Britain, France, Russia, India,
Pakistan, Israel, China, and North Korea-an increase from the
original five nuclear nations that signed the NPT.
* ElBaradei estimates that within a decade
as many as forty more countries will have the ability to make
nuclear weapons, and this may be an underestimate."
* The United States has 10,500 nuclear
weapons; Russia has 20,000; Israel has 110 to 190 or more; China
has 400; France has 450; Britain has 185; India has 65; Pakistan
has 30 to 50; North Korea has 2 to 9.
In summary, seventy countries that now have the ability to develop
their own nuclear arsenals are constantly being provoked as they
observe the "nuclear club" refusing to disarm while
the United States constructs even more nuclear weapons. Meanwhile,
the United States and Russia still maintain thousands of nuclear
weapons on hair-trigger alert, 2,500 on the Russian side and over
5,000 on the US. side. This means that hydrogen bombs are constantly
mounted on their missiles, which are maintained in launch mode,
and a command from the president of either country could launch
a nuclear war within minutes.
Joseph Rotblat an original member of the Manhattan Project, August
"If the United States, the mightiest country in the world,
militarily and economically, feels that it needs nuclear weapons
for its security, how do you deny this security to countries that
really feel vulnerable.
Nuclear Power and "Rogue Nations"
If the correct definition of a rogue nation
is a state that possesses nuclear weapons and the ability to vaporize
millions of people within seconds, eight or nine nations currently
qualify: the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, Israel,
India, and Pakistan. North Korea may have two to nine nuclear
Because the United States and Russia possess
the vast majority of nuclear weapons in the world-97% of the total
arsenal of 30,000 bombs-and because these two countries continue
to maintain thousands of these extraordinary weapons on "hair-trigger"
alert, a nuclear exchange between them would kill billions of
people and could induce nuclear winter and the end of most life,
certainly in the northern hemisphere and much also in the southern
hemisphere. Yet we persist in leaving them off the rogue roster.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran referring to the United
"Who do you think you are in the world to say you are suspicious
of our nuclear activities?... What kind of right do you think
you have to say Iran cannot have nuclear technology? It is you
who must be held accountable."
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela
"It cannot be that some countries that have developed nuclear
energy prohibit those of the third world from developing it. We
are not the ones developing atomic bombs, it's others who do that."
Tony Benn, a former member of the British Parliament, wrote in
"Many years ago when the Shah - who had been put on the
throne by the US. - was in power in Iran, enormous pressure was
put on me, as secretary of state for energy, to agree to sell
nuclear power stations to him. That pressure came from the Atomic
Energy Authority, in conjunction with Westinghouse, who were anxious
to promote their own design of reactor."'
George W. Bush
"This notion that the United States is getting ready to
attack Iran is simply ridiculous .... Having said that, all options
are on the table."
Israel developed its nuclear arsenal using
plutonium manufactured in a heavy water nuclear reactor called
Dimona built in the Negev desert. France provided the bulk of
the assistance to build this reactor, and it went on-line in 1964.
This reactor was specifically a bomb factory, not a power plant.
Israel has a nuclear arsenal variously
estimated between 100 and 400 nuclear weapons, according to many
experts, although it has repeatedly refused to confirm or deny
that it possesses them.
The United States wants to accelerate
India's rise as a global power to act as a regional counterweight
to China. US. business plans intersect with strategic plans for
India. When President Bush signed the joint statement, he said
that, "as a responsible state with advanced nuclear technology
India should acquire the same benefits and advantages as other
such states." These "benefits and advantages" signify
that India would buy $15 billion worth of conventional military
equipment from the United States including anti-submarine patrol
aircraft to spot Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean and Aegis
radars to assist Indian destroyers operating in the strategic
Strait of Malacca to monitor the Chinese military."
Under the agreement, India may also purchase
the Arrow missile system, developed by Israel with American technology,
and the new AP-1000 nuclear power reactors made by Westinghouse.
In this context, Dr. Singh, the Indian president, has also called
for private investment in Indian nuclear power generation-a move
that could open the door for U.S. companies to hawk their Generation
III and IV nuclear reactors to India, with serious repercussions
to India's strategic interests, national security, sovereignty
In summary, the main ingredients of the
U.S.-Indian agreement are:
* The United States legitimized India's
clandestine nuclear weapons program, setting a new and dangerous
precedent that will justify clandestine nuclear programs in countries
that have not signed the NPT or who are involved in the illegal
production of nuclear weapons.
* The United States is imposing upon India
the job of "containing" the Chinese, a move that could
reignite old tensions that continue to simmer between India and
China, and possibly Pakistan.
* The United States is encouraging India
to buy massive quantities of military equipment, although millions
of its people survive at a barely subsistence level.
* The United States is encouraging India
to purchase new nuclear reactors and involving it in the development
of the dangerous Generation IV reactors.
This agreement will seriously undermine
US. and U.N. efforts to confront possible illegal weapons programs
in North Korea and Iran. Will the United States next be offering
nuclear power technology and advanced conventional weapons systems
to countries such as Brazil, South Africa, South Korea, Taiwan,
and others who may also be producing clandestine nuclear weapons?"
This agreement effectively destroys the legitimacy of all international
nuclear safeguard agreements, so carefully negotiated by the international
immunity and the United Nations.
Pakistan has utilized various elements
of its nuclear fuel cycle to create nuclear weapons-in large part
from its uranium enrichment facilities and possibly from plutonium
obtained from its research reactor.
The illegally nuclear-armed nations Pakistan
and India came exceedingly close to nuclear war in 1999 during
fierce fighting over Northern Kashmir. Their nuclear-armed missiles,
which take several minutes to reach their target, remain on hair-trigger
alert and can be launched at any time with the press of a button.
Neither side retains an adequate early warning system.
Their mutual animosity is ancient and
simmers along, despite some moves at reconciliation. Pakistan
began its nuclear weapons program in 1972 under the leadership
of Prime Minister Zulfiqar All Bhutto, but picked up the pace
after India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974. In 1975,
a German-trained metallurgist named Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan returned
to Pakistan from the Netherlands with a knowledge of gas centrifuge
technologies used for enriching uranium, along with some stolen
uranium enrichment technologies from Europe .
Khan was given the mandate to build, equip,
and operate the Kahuta nuclear facility in Pakistan, specifically
designed to enrich uranium. An extensive clandestine network was
established to obtain the necessary materials and technology to
develop Pakistan's uranium enrichment facilities. 46
By 1985, Pakistan was producing weapons-grade
uranium, and by 1986 it had produced enough enriched uranium for
a nuclear weapon. In 1987, it exploded its first atomic bomb,
and by 1998 it had conducted six nuclear weapons tests. These
tests took place
two weeks after India had conducted five
nuclear tests, and after Pakistan warned that it would respond
to India's tests.
The creation of the Pakistani bomb was
aided and abetted by China, which played a major role in the development
of Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure at a time when Western countries
were increasingly stringent on nuclear exports and assistance.
In the 1990s, China supplied Pakistan with the heavy water for
the Khusab research reactor, which produced weapons-grade plutonium,
and the design of one of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. China also
supplied components for Pakistan's high-speed uranium centrifuges,
technical assistance and materials for their Chasma nuclear power
reactor, and assistance to construct the Pakistani reprocessing
facility in the 1990s. The former Soviet Union and Western Europe
also contributed to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program by supplying
dual use nuclear equipment." As a result, Pakistan is now
the proud owner of thirty to fifty nuclear weapons, despite the
fact that it has not signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,
and it maintains a first-use policy.
The history between the United States and Pakistan is interesting
and variable. Several times during its nuclear buildup, the US.
imposed trade and military sanctions on Pakistan because of its
clandestine weapons program, but the sanctions were suspended
when the United States needed Pakistan as a strategically important
ally. On the nuclear front, the United States has consistently
failed to come down hard upon Musharraf because he is desperately
needed as an ally.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan
on December 24, 1979, the United States sent weapons, military
training expertise, and intelligence services through Pakistan
to the majahadeen, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden to fight the
Russians. However, after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, America quickly
changed sides and exerted pressure upon Pakistan to fight its
former allies in Afghanistan.
This is a very volatile area of the world,
and although the United States maintains a close alliance and
friendship with President Musharraf, many members of his military
belong to al Qaeda and the Taliban and are dissatisfied with the
current alliance. Should there be a successful coup against Musharraf,
these military people would then gain possession of Paklstan's
nuclear arsenal, which they could rapidly share with the Taliban
and al Qaeda.
Renewable Energy: The Answer
... in the United States, just over 2%
of the electricity is provided from renewables, whereas nuclear
power provides 20%. These figures, however, exclude hydropower
electricity. If this is taken into account, 2004 figures show
9.06% of US. electricity came from renewables, and 18.60% came
from renewables worldwide.'
But American politicians lack the political
will, at least at the federal level, to resist the coal, oil,
and nuclear industries demands to shift their focus from these
tired and dangerous technologies to explore the alternatives.
Vice President Cheney devised the 2005 energy bill behind closed
doors, consulting exclusively with top executives of the coal,
oil, and nuclear industries including Ken Lay from Enron who is
currently under indictment , all of whom had contributed significant
funds not only to the Bush campaign, but also to the campaigns
of most of the important Republican players in the House and Senate.
Thus, American politicians are bought and sold, and global warming
Wind power, already used extensively in
Europe, is rapidly becoming the energy of the future. It is cheap,
fast to produce, and attractive to farmers and U.S. rural communities.
In 2004, wind power globally outpaced nuclear power sixfold in
annual capacity additions and threefold in annual output additions.
Wind power is very attractive because it is benign, its development
has short lead times, its mass production is economically very
efficient, its technological development is rapid, and it is easy
to site windmills on available land. Furthermore, the speedy deployment
and lack of regulatory fuss will always support the growth of
wind power compared to the long lead time and delay-prone, complex,
and contentious technology of nuclear power, which could experience
a meltdown or terrorist attack at any time.
A recent study, which collated more than
8,000 wind records from every continent, found a potential global
wind power resource of 72 terawatts-forty times the amount of
electricity used by all countries in 2000. If just 20% of this
wind energy were to be tapped, all energy needs of the world could
be satisfied (one terawatt of electricity would power 10 billion
100-watt light bulbs)...
The most powerful wind forces in the world
occur in the North Sea in Europe, the Great Lakes of North America,
the northeast and northwest coasts of North America, and the southern
tip of South America." Archer and Jacobson found that, although
wind generation has increased at a remarkable rate of 34% annually
over the last five years, becoming the fastest growing source
of electricity production, wind currently provides a mere half
percent of the world's energy."
Stimulated by the world's oil crisis in
the 1970s, Denmark decided to develop wind energy. In 1988, two
years after the Chernobyl accident, the Danes passed a law forbidding
the construction of nuclear power plants. This country is now
the world's leader in a large, lucrative wind energy technology
and is pursuing the fourth generation of wind turbines.
Other countries such as China, with its hugely growing energy
needs, have also begun to invest in wind power. In Huitengxile,
on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, a 68-megawatt wind farm has
been established, which is expected to grow to 400 megawatts by
2008. Similar wind farms are being developed in many heavily populated
provinces, and the cost per kilowatt of wind electricity is fast
becoming competitive with China's abundant coal industry. Wang
Zhongying, the director of China's Center for Renewable Energy
Development, said that China has huge goals for wind power development,
reaching 4,000 megawatts by 2010 and a staggering 20,000 megawatts
China supports the production of wind
power and other alternatives with tax incentives for developers,
while imposing standardized electricity rates as a subsidy for
wind power, because it is still somewhat more expensive than coal.
China has also ruled that provinces will be required to purchase
electricity from alternative sources even if the cost per kilowatt
hour is more expensive than conventional sources, a move that
supports the suppliers of wind power.
In England, wind farms are now providing
megawatts of electricity to the national grid at a more rapid
rate than those currently being lost as a result of nuclear power
plant shut downs.
Hypothetically 10 trillion to 20 trillion
watts of solar power provided by photovoltaics could take the
place of all conventional energy sources currently in use. Consequently,
it has been estimated that a rather inefficient photovoltaic array
covering half a sunny area measuring 100 square miles could meet
all the annual US. electricity needs. Although this is a vast
amount of electricity, there are probably enough feedstocks-adequate
and appropriate materials-to meet this gigantic challenge.
... Germany which plans to phase out nuclear power by 2025, is
moving rapidly toward alternatives. It now generates over 8% of
its electricity from wind and biomass and is the world's largest
user of photovoltaic cells. Because half its energy requirements
will be generated from renewable sources by 2050, it predicts
that carbon emissions will be reduced to oazne-fifth of its 1990