My dear friend Bill Mitchell died on 25th May: a grievous loss for his family and friends as well as for all those who care about the Earth and about democracy. The story of Bill’s profound impact on my life and on the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research is a story really worth recounting as an example of the immense impact his life and work had on millions, yes millions, for remembering that we are again in the midst of rising nuclear dangers in the name of national security, and, not least, for describing the most extraordinary man he was.
As the Cold War began to thaw in the mid-1980s, Bill had the idea of bringing together democracy and environmental activists concerned about the dangers posed by Hanford (in Washington State), where the plutonium for the 1945 Nagasaki bomb and for much of the U.S. Cold War nuclear arsenal had been produced. Dark secrets lay there: tanks with liquid highly radioactive waste at risk of exploding; plutonium-laden waste dumped in open trenches; a 1949 experimental release of intensely radioactive iodine-131, known as the “Green Run”….Similar risks lurked throughout the country in the nuclear weapons complex owned by the U.S. government and operated with complete immunity from liability by multinational corporations, like DuPont and General Electric, and universities, with the University of California the most prominent among them.
His inspiration was to bring together community leaders from the places most directly affected by nuclear weapons production and testing. The demand for information about what the weapons made in the name of national security were doing to the land, water and people was simple enough. Nuclear weapons are by their nature antithetical to democracy. As (then) Deputy Secretary of Energy, W. Henson Moore, said in 1989, nuclear weapons production had been “a secret operation not subject to laws…no one was to know what was going on….[T]he way we’ve [the government and its contractors] operated these plants in the past…was: This is our business, it’s national security, everybody else butt out.” (as quoted in the Washington Post, 17 June 1989).
The notion that the public should “butt out” of activities that were laying land and water to waste, while endangering the very public the government claimed to protect was offensive to Bill and the core of activists who founded the Nuclear Safety Campaign that went on to become the Military Production Network (MPN), now known as the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, (ANA).
Information about and accountability for the environmental and health impacts of nuclear weapons production and testing was at the center of MPN’s demands. The people who were being harmed in the name of national security had a right to know. A claim of national security was not enough.
Bill Mitchell, Sharon Carlsen, Tim Connor, Lisa Crawford, and others began to expose the chamber of nuclear weapons establishment horrors. It was the U.S. version of the glasnost that was taking hold in the Soviet Union in the Gorbachev era. Through demands for and analyses of environmental impact statements, Freedom of Information requests, and savvy outreach to Congress and the media, the Military Production Network fostered a startling public awareness: the nuclear weapons complex was, first of all, hurting the very people it was supposed to protect. Under cover of national security and the demand that everybody but the government and its contractors “butt out,” the nuclear weapons establishment had been polluting the land and rivers of patriotic stories and songs, while conducting experiments without informed consent on its own people.
But the most remarkable thing about Bill Mitchell and the Military Production Network was this: the microphone was in the hands of the leaders and activists who were from the communities where the nuclear weapons plants were located. Bill Mitchell never put himself out front. He never was the principal speaker at a press conference. He was never the spokesperson quoted in news releases. On the contrary, he was always in the background.
It would have been easy to be otherwise. After all, Bill was the strategic inspiration of the enterprise, its co-founder, and its chief fundraiser. But there was something in his nature that was profoundly democratic. He never thought of it as ceding control. It came naturally that Lisa Crawford, who lived near the Fernald plant in Ohio that processed half a million tons of uranium and who was directly affected through pollution of the well from which she unknowingly used water for years, was one of the people who was front and center. And so were many other community leaders and activists. Bill’s stewardship of the group consisted in the empowerment of the grassroots activists and the groups who were directly affected
Bill was at the center of creating that most unusual of organizations that has had influence in Washington. MPN’s reins were not in the hands of some central, inside-the-Beltway office. They were firmly in the hands of strong community leaders who knew their minds and developed friendship and respect that results in a most remarkable accomplishment.
I was privileged to be a part of this, with IEER providing technical analysis and support as well as technical training workshops for community leaders that become the highlight of my professional year, each year for many years. The work that Bill began was at the center of my professional life for nearly two decades. It continues to inspire me.
By the mid-1990s, under relentless pressure to justify new weapons production when it was clear that there were already too many nuclear bombs, to clean up the mess already made, to explain how human radiation experiments could have happened, to put the estimates of cancers and deaths caused by nuclear testing fallout throughout the country, most of the production facilities in the nuclear weapons complex were shut. That included the plutonium and tritium production reactors, the Hanford plutonium separation plant, the Rocky Flats plant where thousands of plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons were manufactured on an assembly line, the Fernald uranium processing plant, and many others.
The idea of accountability to the people by the nuclear weapons establishment had spread to the former Soviet Union. Grassroots collaborations between U.S. and Russian community activists were established. The Soviet nuclear test site at Semipalatinsk was closed. Nuclear testing was ended by the United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China. The United States, under pressure from ANA, made public a National Cancer Institute study on fallout that estimated that between 11,000 and 212,000 thyroid cancers would be caused by atmospheric testing in Nevada alone; those tests ended in 1962.
Not that the nuclear weapons complex gave up. Even as thousands of weapons were being declared surplus for security requirements in the early 1990s, the U.S. Department of Energy was promoting plans for a spanking new nuclear weapons complex, called Complex 21. MPN/ANA made sure it was not to be.
The legacy of that shutdown of key facilities in the nuclear weapons weapons complex, notably Rocky Flats, is of immense significance today as tensions, including nuclear tensions, rise between Russia and the United States. The Alliance for Nuclear Accountability is among the groups pointing to the folly of the proposed 30-year trillion dollar “upgrade” of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, aka the “Trillion Dollar Trainwreck”.
The work of the community activists and leaders is as important as ever, perhaps more so in the context of the climate crisis, where international cooperation to solve the problem is critical. Bill’s legacy lives on in rising demands worldwide for accountability and democracy; it has expanded to nuclear disarmament and to addressing the climate crisis without resorting to nuclear power plants.
But for me, the most important legacy of Bill’s life and work at least in the arena I know best was the humility, modesty, and fidelity to the principles of democracy with which he conducted himself when he conceived, launched and coordinated the Military Production Network. We need him sorely today. I hope we can take inspiration from the brilliant and principled way in which Bill Mitchell lived, and loved, and gave of himself.
Bob Schaeffer of Public Policy Communications, a long-time adviser to IEER and to MPN/ANA, helped with this remembrance of our mutual friend Bill.
Published on May 31, 2016 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
May 5, 1943 is one of the most important dates, and possibly the least known, in the history of the nuclear age. It was the date when the first atomic bomb targeting decision was made — a full two years before the end of World War II in Europe.
The Military Policy Committee, the ultra-secret Manhattan Project’s de facto executive committee met that day to review progress. It also made the first decision regarding the use of the bomb: it should be used so it would land in water if it turned out to be a dud. And Germany would not be targeted; it would be the Japanese, who it was felt “would not be so apt to secure knowledge from it as would the Germans” (quote from a summary of the May 5 meeting). [After all, one of the world’s greatest physicists, Werner Heisenberg, was living in Nazi Germany.] So the Japanese fleet at the Pacific island of Truk was selected as the first target of the bomb; it met the criteria.
Later, in the fall of 1944, when scientists were certain that the uranium bomb would work, planning began for the use of the bomb on Japan. It was helped by the fact that Saipan had been conquered by July 9, 1944; Japan could be directly bombed from there using B-29 bombers. As Groves stated when he briefed the newly installed President Truman in April 1945, “The target is and was always expected to be Japan.”
Many of Manhattan Project’s scientists were European Jews motivated by a fear of a Nazi atomic monopoly. Ironically, they were completely unaware that Germany had been ruled out as a target two years before the war in Europe ended.
When the US atomic spy mission, called Alsos, confirmed in early December 1944 that Germany had no viable bomb project, the project was not stopped; rather it was accelerated. Joseph Rotblat was the only Project scientist who left at that time; he was to win a Nobel Peace Prize for that and later efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Decades later, the great physicist, Richard Feynmann, wondered why he had continued work and not thought about the fact that the purpose of the Project had been accomplished when the war in Europe ended.
A very real and reasonable fear of a Nazi nuclear monopoly had been central to Einstein’s recommendation that President Roosevelt initiate an atomic bomb project. Apparently no one thought to ask what might occur if the United States wound up with the atomic monopoly. The answer came, of course, on August 6 and August 9, 1945 when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were obliterated.
Like many I have concluded that the bombings were unjustified, though that is an opinion far from universally held. But some of my reasons may surprise you. I explained them in a talk I gave in Santa Fe in 2012, entitled From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima.
Published on May 04, 2016 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
A 31-page accord on climate, the Paris Agreement, was adopted on 12 December 2015, and endorsed by acclamation by 195 countries, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at their 21st meeting (COP21). The achievement of universality was remarkable and historic because, for the first time, developing countries also committed to taking action to prevent climate disaster. The rich countries reaffirmed that there are differential responsibilities — code for their far greater contribution to the problem of climate disruption.
Another truly remarkable thing was the skill with which the small island states, like the Marshall Islands, and their supporters navigated the waters where the Exxons and Saudi Arabias of the world sail. They led COP21 to an accord that seeks to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change” (Article 2). The slogan was “one-point-five to survive.” Anything more would mean their destruction by rising oceans — along with so many other coastal communities and lands from Bangladesh to Shanghai to Miami and Mumbai. Hundreds of millions would be displaced at 2°C, the previous average temperature rise limit agreed to in climate negotiations. Take a look at the excellent The New York Times illustration of Chinese cities now, with 2°C temperature rise, and with a 4°C rise.
The 1.5°C limit implies an end to the large scale destruction of forests; Article 5 begins to address the issue. It would require leaving most oil and gas and coal in the ground: fossil fuels would become like stones after the Stone Age — obsolete. While essential for Mother Nature and people generally, millions of workers would lose their jobs. A just transition for them and the communities they live in was an option in Article 2 of the draft going into COP21; it was relegated to the preamble in the final document, as were “obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity…” (p. 21). But the words are still there, inviting action. In addition, there was acknowledgement of the need for “gender balance” and that the knowledge of indigenous people would be valuable in adaptation.
Critically, the substance of the commitments, if they can be called that, are not remotely up to the task of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C. Indeed, there are no legally binding targets at all. Instead there are highly inadequate, voluntary “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) imply roughly a 3°C rise, double the 1.5°C target. Remember: damage would rise far faster than average temperature.
To keep temperature rise to less than 2°C, the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), in its Mitigation Report, estimated that CO2-equivalent (CO2eq) concentrations would have to be limited to 450 parts per million (ppm) by the year 2100 (pp. 8-10). It means emissions 40 to 70 percent below 2010 by 2050 and “near or below zero” in 2100 (pp. 10, 12; italics added). That would make it likely that the temperature rise would be less than 2°C; the chance that it would suffice for 1.5°C? Just 16 percent with a likely overshoot above that in mid-century (Figure 6-13, p. 439). The IPCC also noted in its summary explicitly addressed to policy makers that “Only a limited number of studies have explored scenarios that are more likely than not to bring temperature change back to below 1.5°C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels; these scenarios bring atmospheric concentrations to below 430 ppm CO2eq by 2100.” (p. 16, emphasis in the original) Below 430 ppm! The world was already at 430 ppm CO2eq (including all greenhouse gases) in 2011; we are at more than that now.
The breathtaking scale of this task is not evident in the Paris Agreement, though it does express “serious concern” about “the significant gap” between the INDCs and the ambition. Only it’s not just a significant gap; it’s a Himalayan crevasse. It seems reasonably clear that for a reasonable chance of limiting the temperature to 1.5°C, global emissions would have to go to zero well before 2100. Considering differentiated responsibilities, rich countries would have to get to essentially zero emissions by about 2050 or before.
The Paris Agreement has provisions for countries to strengthen their commitments to reduce emissions and for five year reviews. The first review will be in 2018 (“facilitative dialogue…to take stock”, p. 4). A high priority task, if we are serious about 1.5°C, would be to get zero emissions in the energy sector for rich countries by 2050 (at the latest) on the agenda for that dialogue. Global justice requires at least that. Energy justice within countries will need to be addressed too. For the United States, I suggest that the energy burdens of low-income households be capped at 6 percent, considered an affordable level. We’ve done a study detailing that for Maryland, it also explores how to provide universal solar energy access. They are more essential now both for economic justice and climate goals.
Presumably, the $100 billion a year that the rich countries promise to provide by 2020 and thereafter (pp. 16-17) would partly make up for the constraining the carbon space of those who did not contribute much to creating the problem. In fact, while recognizing that countries and peoples are already experiencing “loss and damage”, the Paris Agreement flatly states that the article covering such losses “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” (p. 8) The accord lacks a vital tool: teeth.
There is one bad element, a carryover from the Kyoto Protocol. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement would allow international offsets (“cooperative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards nationally determined contributions”). This means that some countries (likely rich ones) could continue to pollute while claiming that others are doing more than their share or storing carbon in some way, for instance in soil or trees (likely poor ones). It is a giant loophole with potential for serious corruption as well.
The Paris Agreement is a good start, especially in that it sets forth a temperature goal and commits all parties to act, with differentiated responsibilities for the rich. Most of the needed words are there; however, they are, for the most part, weak. To give them effect and keep most fossil fuels in the ground will take the global equivalent of the movement that stopped the Keystone Pipeline. Yet, the agreement could be a solid beginning: it has created immense organizing energy. The work of keeping fossil fuels in the ground has already begun, among others by 350.org, the group that led the huge and diverse Keystone struggle.
We will also need national and local roadmaps for efficiency and renewable energy, transportation, and sustainable agriculture (a large source of greenhouse gas emissions). That vision will need to be broad. For instance, it will need include the cooking energy needs of hundreds of millions of families who now cook with wood, cow-dung, and crop residues. Women and children die in the millions each year of respiratory diseases; and black-carbon (soot) emissions contribute to global warming.
The world already has more than one billion petroleum fueled cars — it is headed to 2 billion by 2030. That is incompatible with the Paris Agreement. Transportation will need to be revolutionized — and electrified — with electrified public transport much more in the center of things and all types of transportation running on renewable energy. Paris should be an inspiration for a walkable city with wonderful public transport.
We will need roadmaps, created with public input, for productively investing and spending the $100 billion-a-year, and intense pressure to ensure at least that much money is forthcoming and that it is well spent and that it creates good jobs for workers in the fossil fuel sectors now.
At bottom, 1.5°C is about reshaping a world created by imperialist-drawn borders, often with oil at the center, and a hundred years of wars — still going on — into one that is ecologically sane, peaceful, and economically just. Remember Syria and Iraq (among others) were essentially created by Britain and France after World War I. Actually achieving a limit of 1.5°C will mean taking the tiger out of Exxon’s tank and putting it into the Paris Agreement. It may well be a perilous exercise in itself. But it is one that is essential — it is the one-point-five imperative.
Published on December 13, 2015 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
Walter Hooke, Nagasaki veteran, civil rights, democracy, and labor activist
29 June 2001
Makhijani: I am writing a book that will inquire about democracy and openness and science in the nuclear weapons complex. It is about the quality of the science on the bomb making side compared or contrasted to that on the health and environmental side. What are the reasons for the difference? The book will go into the question of democracy and harm without informed consent to some extent – the issue that you wrote me about. You are the first veteran I am interviewing for my book. Tell me a little about yourself before World War II.
Hooke: I was 29 when I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I was in Class III-A, which was exempt because I was the sole support of my mother. My father died in 1936. My brothers and sisters were married. I didn’t have to get involved but I got carried away about the Nazis and all and so I enlisted. I was doing labor relations for SH Kress. They had variety stores up and own the East Coast and on the West Coast and they had union and I handled their labor relations. I enlisted in 1942 in December. I was sent to boot camp in Parris Island. Then I went to Quantico to work in the office and I requested a transfer to the fourth division and on August 1, 1943 I went to North Carolina to join the 4th Division. I was with them until about April of 1944 when I was sent back to go to officer’s school and went to Quantico and officers training. After that I was assigned to Camp Pendleton as an instructor and the fact that I had been overseas they assumed I knew everything. I was a replacement in the Fifth Division after Iwo Jima. I was out there in the Pacific with the Fourth Division and the Fifth Division. Because I was older I had supervisory jobs of loading ships and jobs like that. I was in the Pacific twice.
I was with outfits that saw action but I personally didn’t. The Fifth Division was part of the planned invasion of Kyushu and for the occupation they took the units in training for that invasion, which was to have been in November of 1945, and made them temporary occupation forces after the Japanese surrender. We landed in Kyushu at the end of Sept 1945. I was an S4 officer for the battalion during the occupation. An S4 officer is in charge of supplies and getting the equipment to move people, trains etc. I got some kind of commendation, a kind of nice letter from the general.
We moved around Kyushu. The job was taking Japanese military equipment as part of the surrender. Towards the end of October I was sent over to Nagasaki to work over there. I was there until the first of February.
Makhijani: What was the state of Nagasaki at the time?
Hooke: The first troops that went in the occupation went in on 22 September and it was a lot worse then than in October. But in October there were still people walking around with their skin hanging. But we did not run into the terrible odors and everything. It was just an awful mess.
I had met the bishop of Nagasaki as we had a joint service of the Japanese Priests and Marine Chaplains. His church was blown up. It is famous in pictures that were taken after the bombing. They [the Japanese authorities during the war] took all the Christian ministers — if they were young they made them coal miners, and the old, they made them administrators. Bishop Paul Yamaguchi was not in Nagasaki but his mother and sister died in the bombing. I spent a lot of time with him. I met Dr.Takashi Nagai who wrote The Bells of Nagasaki. He had a hospital right near the bomb area and treated hundreds of casualties. He himself died from injuries and cancer in 1951. I drove the Bishop to visit him in a USMC Jeep on one occasion.
I got quite involved with the whole thing. Veterans were quite pleased with the bombing because they didn’t have to invade. I was with the unit that was to be part of the invasion so we were glad but when you got there it was different. The invasion was to be in November. But the war may have been over by then.
At the time everyone was relieved that the war was over. But once you saw what happened you wondered how you could do something like that. Incidentally the bishop thought that Japan was largely responsible. The bishop said that he and people of his caliber said once Saipan fell they knew they would lose the war. That would have been early 1945.
Makhijani: Has that view persisted? Over the years it seems to have become a more one-sided idea that the U.S. was solely responsible for the bombing.
Hooke: Yes that’s so. More and more people seem to think that.
Makhijani: Why is that so? There were, after all, Japanese generals who did not want to surrender after two bombs.
Hooke: That’s so. But we don’t know what would have happened. I’ve read the whole story. But once they agreed to maintain the emperor things calmed down. Once we got there we had no trouble with the Japanese. Once they got the word from the emperor or however it went thought their chain of command that was it. Turning over the weapons was just routine. We had more trouble with the Korean laborers. There is so much speculation. Everyone I knew was thrilled the minute the war ended. We even had the transports available. They had everything lined up for the November invasion.
Makhijani: Were there a lot of people who started having second thoughts after they saw Nagasaki?
Hooke: I don’t think so. Most of them were anxious to get home.
Makhijani: Did you advocate disarmament as a result of your experience?
Hooke: I would say from the early 1950s. I was interested in the United Nations Association. Early on I was involved in the UN and the need for it. The futility of the whole thing that we had been through. There had to be a better way. I was into reading the social doctrines of the Catholic Church. I was interested before I went in on the labor encyclicals. So I picked up that when I got out.
Makhijani: Was that why you were a labor representative?
Hooke: In 1935 I was part of labor’s nonpartisan league. It was part of the 1936 campaign for Roosevelt. Growing up in NYC in the depression and seeing everything it was sort of natural to become interested in workers, and to this day I still am and keep in touch with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union and in 1936 I was involved in trying to bring democracy to the waterfront unions. When it spilled over into the other I don’t know.
Makhijani: Democracy seems to be the constant theme in your life.
Hooke: Yeah. I even gave up a couple of good jobs. I gave up a job at Sears even though I had a young family because of some unfair things they did. I was at UPS, which began using me as a consultant. They needed to get in conformance with the Civil Rights Act and I was deeply involved in the civil rights stuff, NAACP, even though I was doing management work. I set up a whole program for UPS, how they would hire a diverse work force, minorities and women. They still have one of the programs I set up [which involved] sending managers to poor areas. They’ve made a documentary about it. My main interest has always been labor and civil rights. I have never been really involved with peaceniks. I tried to get involved but I found they were the most hostile groups — they always seemed to fight each other. I got involved with the atomic veterans in 1972 or 1973.
When I got out of the Marines I was offered a commission in the reserves, but I refused it. But I stayed in touch with my unit. I got something in the mail [in the 1970s] about Marines from Nagasaki bulldozer operators and they felt they got their cancers over there and I got involved with them. When I retired in 1978, I met Dorothy Legaretta through the Catholic Worker and the farm workers. Dorothy had worked at Livermore. She invited me to a NAAV [National Association of Atomic Veterans] meeting in Las Vegas. She got thyroid cancer as a result of her exposure as a young woman. That’s how she got involved in it.
Makhijani: You said the subversion of democracy became routine after World War II. How do you think that happened?
Hooke: It was just a hunch. I guess it became a way of life [for the U.S. government], starting with the atomic bomb and the CIA. We had really deep science and really deep secrets combined. I read a lot about it, people like John Gofman, and about the groups of scientists who opposed the atomic bomb.
I was always upset by the way they [the U.S. government] treated the [American] troops in Nagasaki. They sent really young kids who were on the front line. I was not on the front line, but I knew a lot of them. I always felt they were good enough to go to Tarawa, Saipan, and Iwo Jima and then they were sent to Nagasaki and not a word was said to them about anything. They’d change tires and put their hands in their mouths. We had an atomic ball game they played it at ground zero. John Gofman said it was probably the safest place since it had the least fallout! They drank water from the Nagasaki reservoir. Young guys were invited to homes and ate the local food.
I also had quite a hassle in another area. The group I was involved with was a kind of monastic-like [group], several of them were Catholics. We were very upset when MacArthur issued an order opening the houses of prostitution. I got into trouble for sending a letter to Forestall. I collected signatures but our chaplain wouldn’t sign it. I couldn’t figure out why at the time, but I think he wanted to stay in the Navy. He retired after 30 years in the Navy. It was things like that I always seemed to get involved in.
Makhijani: So you were a troublemaker.
Hooke: No, not really. But I cared. We were supposed to be a Christian nation. And we were allowing patronage by our troops of houses of prostitution.
Makhijani: He issued an order to open it?
Hooke: Yes, in October 1945. It was signed by MacArthur as Supreme Commander. You were not supposed to go to local homes because they were short of food and the geisha houses were closed. You were not supposed have contact since they did not have food. Then there was this written order opening up the geisha houses. I did not retain that correspondence and order.
Carole [Gallagher] and others have scolded me many times – I never keep anything. I might have some reference to it. It was quite an issue and we were very upset about it. It was okay for the troops to go to then [after the order].
Makhijani: What did you know about radiation at the time?
Hooke: Nothing. Not one thing. No warning, no word, nothing. I crawled all over that cathedral to salvage things. The bishop gave me a wooden cross and I sent it home to my mother. She was afraid of it and she’d read about radiation and she put it in the closet.
Makhijani: So your mother was the first one in your family to be aware of radiation?
Hooke: Yes. That cross is now in Wilmington Ohio now at the Quaker College there which has a Hiroshima-Nagasaki peace museum located in the Pyle Center.
Makhijani: World War II was supposed to be about freedom and so on. Where did it go wrong?
Hooke: I believed that. I even thought World War II was about workers so they could express their freedom. I don’t know. To me a lot of it takes off from the Manhattan Project. And the secrecy. From there the attitude seems to be “Washington knows best” and “we’ll decide and tell you.” The attitude is that people can’t handle the information. Did they think if they told those Marines to be careful they would have refused to serve? They showed no confidence in the people. My real concern is about working people. They’ve destroyed unions. Reagan did it starting with the air controllers and they’re now destroying democracy in so many ways.
Makhijani: So what do you think World War II was about?
Hooke: I believed at the time it was absolutely necessary to stop Hitler and Mussolini. Then you start reading all this stuff about trapping the Japanese to attack us. Once they get power it goes off the track. I’ve written several letters about the CIA but never sent them. If you read the things they’ve done in Central and South America, they’re way out of control.
I’ve got a 73-year-old niece who was in jail for protesting the School of the Americas. She’s a nun living in Africa. She came home to help look after my sister, her mother, and while she was back she got working in the Bronx with the homeless and ran into the Maryknolls and the nuns who had been killed in El Salvador and got involved at Fort Benning [Georgia]. Every year they have a commemoration of when the six Jesuits got killed. Some years back they had 10,000 people there. The first time they crossed the line, the military told them not to come back. The second time she was given six-month in jail and she did it again a third time with Martin Sheen and got another six months. After my sister died, my niece went back to Africa. [Walter is 89]
It’s amazing some of those nuns are so militant. Phil Berrigan is a friend of mine. I still write to him and he is back in jail for a year for violating probation. He is very much involved about this depleted uranium and dropping the bombs over on Iraq. I believe in protest but I don’t believe in pouring blood on things and damaging them. Neither did my sister. That’s a long way of answering you about the CIA. At one point [Senator Patrick] Moynihan felt it should be abolished. They probably need some kind of intelligence but I don’t think we need all this Ollie North hiring airplanes and stuff. We’re probably doing that in Columbia. I have a hang up about that too. If some country wants to have some form of government, like Nicaragua, they ought to be able to do that.
Makhijani: Could the feeling on the part of the nuclear weapons makers be that what they’re doing is illegitimate?
Hooke: Yes. They were afraid of lawsuits. I know that that seemed to a factor in the Nevada testing. I know they were afraid of lawsuits not only from the public but also the military. I feel more and more that Washington is more about perception and not about truth.
Makhijani: Was it ever about truth?
Hooke: Well I like to think it hasn’t always been this bad. I think when you grew up in the World War I period and in the 1920s, it seemed like there was a feeling of patriotism and belief in your government — at least that’s the way I felt. I think General Groves is a real bad guy in the sense that he was the master in that he could control what the scientists could say. Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of that. It’s gotten progressively worse with the nuclear business.
Makhijani: What should we do to restore democracy?
Hooke: I don’t know. I’ve been telling people that [President George W.] Bush is going to get re-elected and shock them into getting involved. But we all must vote and be involved. When we quit the struggle for justice we cease to live.
Makhijani: Is it as simple as that?
Hooke: I don’t know if it is that simple. Look at what happened in the last election. I’ve had quite a bit of correspondence with the president of Notre Dame [University] for inviting Bush to give a speech. I’ve got a copy — it’s the worst thing. He [Bush] said that Dorothy Day was so concerned about the poor, just like he is. I know he’s trying to win over the Catholic vote and the labor vote. And he’s trying to appeal to labor though building nuclear power plants and the Alaska pipeline and oil exploration.
Makhijani: What did the president of Notre Dame say? [Walter sent Arjun a copy of the letter.]
Hooke: He wrote me back and said he did it because of the office. I don’t think he realized what he said. He said they award degrees on the basis of accomplishments. So I said: “What are his accomplishments? Love of the death penalty?”
I think you are on a very important subject. I don’t know what you’re going to say about it. I think people really need to discuss this deep science and deep secrecy.
Makhijani: This conversation is the first time I have heard it said like that.
Hooke: [With me] everything goes back to early concerns picked up from my parents about treatment of people and social justice. I grew up in Bronxville in NY. They sold the house and moved to New York City, where I went to a Jesuit school.
Makhijani: I went to Jesuit school too.
Hooke: Something of that education stuck with me too like the encyclicals on labor and social justice. I still write letters to archbishops and bishops in protest.
Makhijani: Well, you are inspiration.
Hooke: I don’t know about that, but I am concerned. There are quite a few wishes that I have got. I have catalogs going back 15 years with all white models and I’d write them to ask if they sold to people of color. I guess with the name Hooke they probably think I’m black. We have long way to go. I think your subject matter is something that really is buried and it needs the light of day shone on it. I was so thrilled to see it in your article [on a global truth commission on nuclear weapons].
Makhijani: Thanks so much.
Published on August 09, 2015 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
With the publication of the final Clean Power Plan, the United States can finally claim some leadership in curbing CO2 emissions at the federal level. The final rule is, on balance, technically, economically and environmentally coherent. The actual goal is short of what it needs to be, but it is better than in the draft plan. And the direction is right, which is the most important thing. Thanks to all of you who worked with us and supported us in the process, especially Scott Denman, Diane Curran, Lisa Heinzerling, Elena Krieger, and my co-author, M.V. Ramana..
We asked for many things in our comments on the draft EPA Clean Power Plan. The EPA agreed not only with the substance, but more important, the reasoning underlying our policy positions in the final Clean Power Plan (CPP) rule.
Most of all we asked for a coherent, technology-neutral rule that would be more protective of climate. Here are some of the big picture items:
Existing nuclear plants and license extensions will not be subsidized by the CPP: We asked that both existing nuclear power plants and existing renewable energy be removed from the calculation of emission targets because they do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions. We asked that they be treated consistently. (Neither have significant onsite emissions of CO2 and both have some offsite lifecycle emissions that are much less than natural gas per unit of generation). Existing generation should not be part of the “Best System of Emission Reduction” (BSER) because we want to reduce CO2 emissions from where they are now (or in 2012, the baseline year). The EPA agreed. Both are gone from the final rule. Further, in its draft rule, the EPA implicitly assumed (in its modelling of the electricity sector) that licenses of existing plants would be extended. The relicensing issue has been removed from the CPP since existing generation is not in the calculation of emission reductions. It is simply the baseline generation, as is clear from page 345 of the final plan (italics added):
…we believe it is inappropriate to base the BSER on elements that will not reduce CO2 emissions from affected EGUs below current levels. Existing nuclear generation helps make existing CO2 emissions lower than they would otherwise be, but will not further lower CO2 emissions below current levels. Accordingly,…the EPA is not finalizing preservation of generation from existing nuclear capacity as a component of the BSER.
The same reasoning was applied to license extensions. Only uprates (increases in licensed capacity of existing plants) would be allowed to be counted. This is consistent and technology neutral (in the same way that increasing the capacity of a wind farm would be counted). The rule does not seek to “preserve” existing power plants. Or to shut them down. That will happen on the merits without an EPA hand on the scale in favor of nuclear.
New and under-construction nuclear reactors are not part of the best system of emission reduction; renewable energy is: We pointed out that new nuclear plants are very expensive; even the State of Georgia, whose ratepayers are forced to subsidize two nuclear units through their electricity bills, noted that in its comments. Since the “Best System of Emission Reduction” (BSER) has a cost criterion, new nuclear should be excluded from the BSER. (We also cited other reasons for that.) The EPA excluded new nuclear from BSER but included new renewable energy (p. 345, italics added):
Investments in new nuclear capacity are very large capital-intensive investments that require substantial lead times. By comparison, investments in new RE generating capacity are individually smaller and require shorter lead times. Also, important recent trends evidenced in RE development, such as rapidly growing investment and rapidly decreasing costs, are not as clearly evidenced in nuclear generation. We view these factors as distinguishing the under-construction nuclear units from RE generating capacity, indicating that the new nuclear capacity is likely of higher cost and therefore less appropriate for inclusion in the BSER.
This is a critically important statement. We don’t have a shortage of low CO2 sources. We have a shortage of time and money to reduce CO2 emissions. The EPA recognized (very delicately!) that renewable energy is better on both counts. As a result, one or more the four new reactors under construction at Vogtle and Summer can proceed or stop on the financial merits, rather than these units being pushed into existence with the Clean Power Plan playing the role of midwife.
The EPA also “seeks to drive the widespread development and deployment of wind and solar, as these broad categories of renewable technology are essential to longer term climate strategies” (p. 874). This is an excellent goal. The EPA recognized that costs of solar and wind are declining.
New natural gas plants are not part of the best system of emission reductions: This is perhaps the best and most solid indication that the Obama administration takes long-term reductions seriously. New natural gas combined cycle plants, even though they have lower CO2 emissions per megawatt-hour (using EPA leak rates and global warming potential for methane), will not be part of the BSER even though they meet the cost test and emission rate test. The reason: they will be emitting CO2 for decades (p. 346, italics added):
However, our determination not to include new construction and operation of new NGCC capacity in the BSER in this final rule rests primarily on the achievable magnitude of emission reductions rather than costs. Unlike emission reductions achieved through the use of any of the building blocks, emission reductions achieved through the use of new NGCC capacity require the construction of additional CO2-emitting generating capacity, a consequence that is inconsistent with the long-term need to continue reducing CO2 emissions beyond the reductions that will be achieved through this rule. New generating assets are planned and built for long lifetimes –- frequently 40 years or more –-that are likely longer than the expected remaining lifetimes of the steam EGUs whose CO2 emissions would initially be displaced be the generation from the new NGCC units. The new capacity is likely to continue to emit CO2 throughout these longer lifetimes….
Increased capacity factor of existing natural gas plants is BSER: The EPA is still allowing increased capacity factor of existing natural gas combined cycle power plants to displace coal. This is the result of its estimate of methane leak rates and global warming potential. So long as new central station natural gas plants are not encouraged, the rate of use of existing plants is a problem that can be sorted out in the coming years. It would have been very difficult to argue only on the grounds of the BSER rules and existing methane leaks estimates that increasing capacity factor of existing natural gas combined cycle units to displace coal is not BSER. The job now is to get the EPA to recognize a wider array of methane leaks rates (that have ample empirical support) and to use both a 20-year and 100-year warming potential screen in the design of its CO2 reduction programs. The recent report from the IPCC uses a global warming potential of 28-34, including feedback effects. It would be entirely appropriate for the EPA to adopt a similar evaluation metric. The 20-year warming potential, which is about three times higher would be even more appropriate given that the climate crisis is developing more rapidly than previously anticipated.
The EPA has incentivized early investment in low-income efficiency programs (p. 864 onward): This is a very important feature of the CPP. States that want to make very sure that low-income households are not adversely impacted by the rule will take advantage of the additional emission reduction credits the EPA is offering for early action. This also promises to provide other benefits such as reduction of the cost of energy assistance programs and lower adverse health impacts due to inability to pay for health care or medicines.
The cap-and-trade provision is OK in the electricity context, though with reservations: Carbon permits from new generation can be traded. For instance, existing nuclear plants cannot generate tradeable CO2 credits (unless they are from a licensed uprate). I am not a fan of expansive cap-and-trade but the EPA formulation in the CPP makes sense to me. It is the same as if emission limits were set for a group of states or at the grid level, such as the PJM grid in the mid-Atlantic region but extending inland to Ohio and beyond, or the MISO grid in the upper Midwest. The EPA seeks not to impose a model of reductions; only to get to a certain level of reductions. In the cap-and-trade system permitted by the EPA, the CO2 reduction could happen in one state or in another, but it will have to happen. One of my reservations is that the EPA also allows the trading of energy efficiency credits across state lines. It is difficult enough to account for program-induced efficiency improvements within a state and distinguish them from say, the effects of federal appliance standards. Bundling these efficiency gains into tradeable credits is not a good idea. Another issue is that the method of calculating the reduction in emission rate is not the best as applied to efficiency. We had asked for a more global and comprehensive approach to CO2 accounting, but did not succeed on this point.
Conclusion – The CPP is a real tour de force; it gives me hope. Of course, there is much work to do now that the final CPP has been published (besides making it stick). We need to advocate for states to mandate GHG reduction targets of 40 to 50 percent by 2030 from all sources; we need to accelerate electrification of transportation and restructuring of the grid….But the CPP is a great springboard from which to make these leaps.
Published on August 05, 2015 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
Every anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two schools of thought square off. One says, the bombings were not necessary to end the war; the Japanese were close to surrender anyway. The other says remember Pearl Harbor, the Japanese militarists’ determination to fight to the end. But many questions remain unasked in this framework. Why was the U.S. Pacific fleet moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940? Why did Japan bomb it? When were Japanese forces first targeted, rather than Germany? The answers may surprise you. They are in a talk I gave at Santa Fe in 2012: see the video of it below. It’s about an hour. Links to some historical documents and additional information are provided below.
Pearl Harbor was not a “sneak attack” in the sense that it was a total surprise to the United States. The Pacific fleet had been moved there in June 1940 to assert U.S. power in the Pacific. Admiral Kimmel, in charge of the fleet, noted in February 1941, nearly ten months before the attack that he felt that “a surprise attack (submarine, air, or combined) on Pearl harbor is a possibility.” So the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was not a surprise in any military sense. The fleet’s vulnerability had been anticipated.
Japan depended on the U.S. for 80 percent of its oil imports in 1940, making it very vulnerable to the oil embargo which began on August 1, 1941. It had to decide — pursue empire and get to Indonesian oil or give up its attempt to conquer China and other areas of Asia.
In 1944, as a senator, Harry Truman had been frustrated and upset that he had not been allowed to send a personal military representative to the Hanford Site to determine whether the large expenditures there were wasteful or not. He gave in for the moment and agreed not to investigate, but warned Secretary Stimson in March 1944 that “[t]he responsibility … for any waste or improper action which might otherwise be avoided resists squarely upon the War Department.” Truman did not know about the Manhattan Project until after he became President in April 1945, upon the death of President Roosevelt.
James Brynes, as director of the Office of War Mobilization, advised President Roosevelt in a March 3, 1945 memorandum that there should be an independent scientific investigation “to justify continuance of the project.’’ He warned that “if the project proves a failure, it will then be subjected to relentless investigation and criticism.”
The concept that half-a-million lives may be saved by an early end to the war was mentioned in a note to Henry Stimson by an “economist” friend (my guess is that it was his cousin, Alfred Loomis, a wealthy Wall Street banker and amateur physicist) as an argument in favor of a conditional surrender policy. The main purpose of the suggestion of conditional surrender was to end the war before the Soviets entered, and thereby keep markets in Asia other than Formosa and Korea for the British and the Americans. Formosa and Korea were proposed to be ceded to Japan as part of the early end to the war.
Stimson forwarded the letter to General Marshall for evaluation by his staff, which the general sent him on June 7, 1945. The General Staff considered the proposal “acceptable from the military standpoint, but its implementation on the terms suggested is considered doubtful.” Overall, the staff analysis leaned in the direction of terms that appear to add up to unconditional surrender. It rejected out of hand the suggestion that the invasion of Japan would cost half-a-million American lives. It stated that the estimate “under our present plan of campaign, is considered entirely too high” (underlining in the original; italics and bold added). General Marshall’s cover note to Stimson stated that he “general agreement” with the analysis.
The war plan itself had three scenarios. Estimated deaths were in the range 25,000 to 46,000; injuries were in the range of 105,000 to 170,000 plus 2,500 to 4,000 missing in action. A few days later, on June 18, 1945, General MacArthur clarified that the “estimate was derived from the casualty rates in Normandy and Okinawa, the highest our forces have sustained….The estimate is purely academic and routine and was made for planning alone. I do not anticipate such a high rate of loss.”
(Aerial view Sellafield, Cumbria. Photo credit Simon Ledingham)
So, as a practical matter, most of the $100 billion must be chalked up as the cost of Britain’s nuclear bombs, since that was the only (arguably) “useful” output. That is roughly $600 million dollars per operational bomb in Sellafield clean up costs alone. Then add remediation of all the other bomb-related sites and the costs of setting up and running the nuclear bomb complex.
In the United States cumulative costs to the year 1996 were about $5.5 trillion (1995 dollars), including not only the bombs, but the delivery systems, personnel, etc. incurred until then. It has been increasing by tens of billions each year since. Cleanup will total hundreds of billions of dollars. And, according to current plans, many sites will be left with significant amounts of contamination. (For an accounting of the U.S. program, See Atomic Audit, Brookings Institute, 1998, ed. Stephen Schwartz. I was one of the authors. It’s available from IEER’s website (http://ieer.org/resource/books/atomic-audit/)
In the meantime, Fuksuhima continues to be an emergency without end – vast amounts of radioactivity, including strontium-90 in the groundwater, evidence of leaks into the sea, the prospect of contaminated seafood. Strontium-90, being a calcium analog, bioaccumulates in the food chain. It is likely to be a seaside nightmare for decades. (Listen to Arjun discuss the ongoing radioactivity leaks in an interview with Living on Earth radio: http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=13-P13-00030&segmentID=4)
“The difficulties we face at Fukushima Daiichi are on par with the difficulties we faced in the wake of World War II. Tepco [the Tokyo Electric Power Company] needs more assistance from others in Japan, me included. We cannot force everything on Tepco; that’s probably not going to solve the problem.”
So nuclear power has gone from a promise of “too cheap to meter” to a disaster like the horrific post-war rubble in Japan. And the biggest bang for the buck that was supposed to be the bomb has become endless bucks for the bang. A sad reminder as we approach the anniversaries of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Published on July 29, 2013 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
The last few months have seen some definite signs that commercial nuclear power is not the wave of the future but a way of boiling water that might be seen as a twentieth century folly. Four commercial nuclear reactors have been shut permanently ostensibly for different reasons, but economics underlies them all.
Crystal River in Florida came first, in early February 2013. It had been shut since 2009. Like many other pressurized water reactors, it had to have a premature replacement of its steam generators, the huge heat exchangers were the hot reactor water (“primary water”) heats up water in the secondary circuit to make the steam the drives the turbine-generator set. The outer layer of the containment structure cracked during the replacement. Duke Energy, the owner, determined it was too costly to fix the problem. See Duke’s press release at http://www.duke-energy.com/news/releases/2013020501.asp
The 556-megawatt Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin came next, in early May, unable to compete with cheap natural gas and falling electricity prices. Indeed, electricity consumption in the United States is declining even as the economy recovers from the Great Recession due in part to the increasing efficiency of electricity use. There doesn’t appear to be enough money in the reserve fund for decommissioning at present – see the New York Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/08/business/energy-environment/kewaunee-nuclear-power-plant-shuts-down.html.
San Onofre, with two reactors, came next. Both had been down since early 2012, when excessive wear of steam generator tubes and leaks of primary water were discovered. The steam generators were new, but contrary to the company’s claims, it turned out that the new ones were not copies of the original licensed design. A long, contentious process followed; prospects for a green light to restart faded. The blame game between the supplier of the steam generators, Mitsubishi, and the majority owner, Southern California Edison grew intense (and it continues). Announcing the decision to close the plant, the SCE President Ron Litzinger said: “Looking ahead, we think that our decision to retire the units will eliminate uncertainty and facilitate orderly planning for California’s energy future.” (See the La Times article at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-edison-closing-san-onofre-nuclear-plant-20130607,0,7920425.story).
Nuclear plants were supposed to create certainty, reliability, predictability, 24/7 operation. But in the last few years, this has given way to a new reality. Nuclear reactors are 24/7 until they become 0/365 with little or no notice. The above are just four examples. Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had 54 reactors. Four were irretrievably damaged by the accident. In the 15 months that followed, the other 50 were progressively shut or remained in shut down mode. In the last year, only two have been restarted. It will be a contentious process before any more of them can be restarted. It is possible none will be. Many in Japan assume they won’t be for they are installing solar power at rapid rates – 1.5 gigawatts in the first quarter of 2013 alone – equal to about one-and-a-half reactors in peak power output. About 6 gigawatts would be required to generate an equal amount of electricity to one typical power reactor. Capacity comparable to that will likely be installed in Japan this year.
Finally, Germany prematurely shut eight reactors following Fukushima, consolidating and accelerating the post-Chernobyl process of phasing out nuclear power altogether (the end date is now set for 2022).
But officialdom in the United States still clings to the idea that we need nuclear power. So reliable, so baseload, so twentieth century (oops, wrong century).
Published on June 20, 2013 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News
Statement of Arjun Makhijani for the March 2013 conference commemorating the Fukushima accident To be read by Helen Caldicott
I appreciate that my friend, Helen Caldicott, one of the two people who inspired my book Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free (the other was S. David Freeman) has agreed to read a brief statement from me on this second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. I wanted to share two of the new things I have learned as I have followed the consequences of Fukushima unfold.
First, the Japanese government proposed to allow doses as high as 2 rem (20 millisieverts) per year to school children, claiming that the risk was low or at least tolerable. An exposure at this level over five years – 10 rem in all — to a girl, starting at age five, would create a cancer incidence risk of about 3 percent, using the [age- and gender-specific] risk estimates in the National Academies BEIR VII report.
Now imagine that you are a parent in Japan trying to decide whether to send your daughter to such a school. Roughly thirty of every hundred girls would eventually develop cancer at some point in their lives; just one of those would be attributable to Fukushima school exposure, according to the risk numbers. But no one would know if their daughter’s cancer was attributable to the exposure at school and neither would the Japanese government’s radiation bureaucrats. Why is it difficult to understand that while the risk attributable to school contamination would be one in thirty, the proportion of parents stricken with guilt and doubt would be closer to one in three? Would you ever forgive yourself if you made the decision to send your daughter to that school? Or your son, though the risk attributable to Fukushima exposure would be less than that experienced by girls?
Indeed, due to the long latency period of most cancers, you would be fearful even if no cancer had as yet appeared. The Pentagon understood this when a Joint Chiefs of Staff Task Force evaluated the extensive contamination produced by the July 1946 underwater nuclear bomb test (Test Baker) at Bikini for its usefulness in war. Here is a quote from their 1947 report:
“Of the survivors in the contaminated areas , some would be doomed by radiation sickness in hours some in days, some in years. But, these areas, irregular in size and shape, as wind and topography might form them, would have no visible boundaries. No survivor could be certain he was not among the doomed, and so added to every terror of the moment, thousands would be stricken with a fear of death and the uncertainty of the time of its arrival.”
Compare this for yourself with the aftermath of Fukushima and the plight of the parents.
Second, nuclear power’s conceit was that nuclear power is 24/7 electricity supply. Since Fukushima, over sixty of the world’s light water power reactors have been prematurely shut for a variety of reasons, though just four reactors were stricken by the accident: 52 in Japan, eight in Germany, several in the U.S. Even if some are eventually restarted, nuclear power has shown a unique ability to go from 24/7 power supply to 0/365 essentially overnight for long periods– hardly a convincing claim of reliability.
We can do better than making plutonium just to boil water or polluting the Earth with fossil fuel use. When I finished Carbon-Free Nuclear-Free in 2007, I estimated it would take about forty years to get to an affordable, fully renewable energy system in the United States. Today, I think in can be done in twenty-five to thirty years. Are we up to the challenge? Finally, I truly regret I cannot be there to publicly thank and honor my friend Helen for inspiring Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free, which you can download free from ieer.org, also thanks to her. I wish you a very productive conference.
On February 6, 2013, Dan Stout, who is the Tennessee Valley Authority’s senior manager for its Small Modular Reactor project, gave a colloquium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Much of the talk was just nuclear-boosterism. For instance, he claimed that “nuclear power was tested hard in 2011. It remains safe reliable and affordable.”
There was no mention of the fact that post-Fukushima, about 60 of the world’s light water reactors were closed for one reason or another, mainly in Japan and Germany, taking them from 24/7 power generation to 0/365. He said nothing of the enormous social, economic, and environmental dislocation and loss that has afflicted the Fukushima region and beyond since that time. And there was nothing of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Task Force report of July 2011 that found US regulations seriously lacking in a number of respects (http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML1118/ML111861807.pdf). But there was some refreshing candor about Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) mixed with this sales talk. His talk is archived at http://22.214.171.124/UTK/Viewer/?peid=fa73ded60b7b46698e9adc0732101a76
SMRs are supposed to overcome the loss of economies of scale by using assembly mass-manufacturing techniques such as are used for cars and passenger aircraft. The site set up would be standardized and the set up and commissioning on site would be relatively quick (36 months). So “economics of replication” would replace the “economies of scale” (one of the principal reasons that reactors got larger as time went on).
But there is a chicken and egg problem here, to quote a cliché. You’ve got to have a lot of orders before you can set up your assembly line and produce cheap reactors, but you have to have demonstrated your reactors are certified before you get the nuclear masses lining up to order them, given the risks involved. There are no such orders yet; no assembly line is in sight.
So for now, SMRs would be “cobbled together” in existing facilities. “Does the federal government want to help?” he asked rhetorically. “I don’t know,” he went on. “We’re going to find out. I am not going to make your electric bills all triple because of this project. That’s just …TVA won’t do that.” (Italics added.)
So for the foreseeable future without massive subsidies, nuclear power using SMRs will be the same as nuclear power with the present Atomic Leviathans – expensive and in need of government subsidies. But you have to hand it to Mr. Stout for one thing. Unlike Georgia Power and South Carolina Electric and Gas, two utilities building the new large behemoth variety (the AP1000), he is not willing to saddle TVA ratepayers with the cost of yet another nuclear gamble. TVA has been there and done that, and is still doing it with large reactors. A large part of TVA’s indebtedness is from 1970s and early 1980s was due to the cancellation mid-stream of costly and unneeded reactors. No, prudently for TVA, Mr. Stout wants the taxpayers to take the deal.
And the federal government has obliged by committing up to half of the $452 million proposed for SMRs to Babcock & Wilcox, designer of the mPower, 180 megawatt reactor, and the TVA to advance design and certification.  B&W had spent over $200 million on the project as of the middle of last year. Where will it lead other than the “cobbled together” machine? Specifically, what will it take to get an assembly line? Here is how Mr. Stout explained it:
So the concept is that you gotta to have an assembly line cranking out repeatable parts, achieving a standardized vision of lots of mPower reactors. That creates the nth of a kind plant that has the efficiency in cost. I’m building Unit One. I don’t want to pay for B&W’s factory with automation to crank out repeatable parts. So that creates a contracting challenge… So as you scratch your head and puzzle how does work, remember the math won’t work on one unit. In fact our unit is most likely going to be, I’m going to use the word “cobbled together”, it’s going to be manufactured within existing facilities. But if B&W can get an order backlog of a hundred SMRs and they are going to start delivering them in China and India etc. then they’ll be able to go get the financing and build the building and have new stuff put in place to crank out these parts in a more automated manner. So as long as the design is the same this should all work. The devil is going to be in the details and in the oversight and in the inspections. [italics added]
The end of this decade is the target for the commissioning of the first mPower reactor (the most advanced SMR in planning and design and the only one with substantial federal government support so far). It would take some years after that – well into the 2020s – to fully prove the design and, if needed, debug it. It stretches credulity that China and India, which along with Russia, are the main centers of nuclear power construction today, would put in orders totaling a hundred reactors much before 2020. Indeed, if they were that attracted to SMRs, why would they not pay the license fees and set up the assembly line themselves? Most notably, China, where 28 reactors are under construction (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf63.html), already has a much better supply chain than the United States. So the government subsidy to B&W and TVA would likely pave the way for an assembly line in China! Unless…
The federal government orders a hundred reactors or entices utilities to do so with massive subsidies. We are talking putting tens of billions of taxpayer dollars at risk – at a time when the air is full of talk of furloughs for teachers, air traffic controllers and civilian Pentagon employees, among others, and cutbacks in training of military personnel.
What happens if a common design or manufacturing problem is discovered as it was with the Dreamliner batteries? How is a mass manufacturer of reactors, whose internals become radioactive after commissioning, going to recall them or their major components? No word from Mr. Stout, or that I am aware, from any of the SMR enthusiasts, about this. For safety issues see the testimony of Dr. Ed Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, at http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nuclear_power/lyman-appropriations-subcom-7-14-11.pdf.
IEER and Physicians for Social Responsibility wrote an SMR fact sheet in 2010, outlining such concerns. (http://ieer.org/resource/factsheets/small-modular-reactors-solution/) They have only deepened with time. SMRs are highly unlikely to provide the industry the nuclear renaissance that has so far eluded it. Indeed, by the time the first ones are being commissioned, solar photovoltaics, smart grids, and a host of other disturbed electricity technologies will be more economical. Wind-generated electricity already is. No one has a perfect crystal ball in the energy business, but mine tells me that SMRs will not solve our CO2 woes. They are likely to be economically obsolete before this decade is done – and the end of this decade is the target date for the first mPower reactor to come on line. So why go there, to a time when there are going to be only costs and little prospect of benefits?
This sentence was corrected on April 3, 2013. The original text “And the federal government has obliged by committing $452 million to Babcock & Wilcox, designer of the mPower, 180 megawatt reactor, and the TVA to advance design and certification.” is incorrect. ↩ Return
Published on February 26, 2013 by Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D in News