Nuclear power

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Secrecy and democracy& Nuclear power05 Sep 2012 05:28 pm

by Jackie Cabasso

On August 27, the Oakland Police Department issued a community notice to make the public and media aware of an aerial survey that would be taking place over portions of San Francisco, Pacifica and Oakland through September 1, ostensibly to measure “naturally-occurring background radiation.” According to the notice, the flyovers are part of a joint research project between the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and the National Nuclear Security Administration. The only explanation offered: “The background data will be used by DNDO and NNSA to improve aerial radiation measurement capabilities used by local, state and federal entities.” The Oakland Police notice refers its readers to the DNDO and NNSA Public Affairs offices for additional information.

On August 30, annoyed by the low-flying helicopter buzzing around our office in downtown Oakland, I followed the Oakland Police Department’s advice and wrote to DNDO and NNSA. After pointing out the fallacious characterization of current radiation levels being “naturally-occurring” (noting that prior to July 16, 1945 it would have been possible to measure naturally occurring levels of background radiation, but this has not been the case for 67 years), I posed the following questions, and requested a reply:

1) What is the significance of the timing of this data collection?

2) What criteria was used in selecting the areas for the flyovers?

3) What will the data be used for?

4) Will a report on the findings be released to the public? If so, when?

5) Are additional flyovers planned for the future? Is so, when and where?

Based on the letters, I also submitted an op-ed to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times. Both the Chronicle and the Times had published “news” stories recycling the NNSA press release. As of this writing, I have not heard back from the DNDO, the NNSA. Nor have I heard back from either of the newspapers regarding the op eds. I’ll let you know when I do. In the meantime, I’ve posted my op-ed below. (more…)

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Nuclear power& Social movements and protest05 Oct 2011 07:17 am

by Andrew Lichterman

I’m here in Washington D.C. with my Western States Legal Foundation colleague Jackie Cabasso for a number of events, all potential strands in a movement bringing together those working for peace, for a more equitable and ecologically sustainable economy, and for a political system in which every person genuinely has an equal voice.

We spent the weekend at the New Priorities Network planning meeting. That network focuses on bringing together coalitions at the local and regional level to raise awareness of the impacts of war and military spending and inequitable economic policies on the ability of state and local governments to provide for the basic human needs of their residents. Those attending represented local and national organizations throughout the country, and there was a general feeling that the frozen politics of the past two decades is beginning to thaw–from the bottom up.

Thursday we will be joining what likely will be thousands of others at the peaceful occupation of Freedom Plaza here in the District of Columbia. Although we must return to California at the week’s end, we hope that occupation will build on the momentum generated by the Wall Street occupations and those that already are following from it.

We have prepared a short piece on the place of nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the context of the broader global political, economic, and ecological crisis; a pdf version can be obtained by clicking the link: Nuclear Connections: Weapons and Power in the Age of Corporate Globalization.

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Nuclear power27 Jul 2011 03:20 pm

By Andrew Lichterman

The Fukushima disaster reminded us of the dangers reliance on nuclear energy implies. On May 14, I spoke at the Alameda Public Affairs Forum in Alameda, California. about the broader implications of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear crisis, ranging from the relationships between the immense organizations that deploy and sustain the world’s nuclear weapons and nuclear power complexes to the ways information about their activities and effects are produced and controlled.

For an MP3 recording of the talk, click here.

Disarmament& Secrecy and democracy& Nuclear power16 Mar 2011 07:43 am

John Burroughs

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is catalyzing a reassessment of the risks of reliance on nuclear power for energy generation, as illustrated by this IPS story about the United States. The results will be increased regulatory oversight and higher costs, as investors shy away. The already oversold ‘nuclear renaissance’ is definitely over.

What understandably is not currently receiving attention is the close link between production of electricity by means of nuclear reactors and the capability to produce nuclear weapons. Every nuclear reactor produces spent fuel containing plutonium, which with chemical processing can be used in weapons. And with some adjustment, as the world has learned in monitoring the Iran situation, the same facilities used to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for power reactors can produce high-enriched uranium suitable for use in nuclear weapons.

The linkage has been known from the beginning of the nuclear age. In 1946, the Acheson-Lilienthal report stated that “the development of atomic energy for peaceful purposes and the development of atomic energy for bombs are in much of their course interchangeable and interdependent.” The weapons-nuclear power connection must be part of the reassessment of nuclear power. In the view of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, while the global elimination of nuclear weapons must not be made dependent on a prior ending of reliance on nuclear power, a nuclear weapons-free world will be best sustained by the phase-out of nuclear power.

The nuclear disaster also should cause reflection on the hazards of reliance on advanced technology. US and Russian nuclear forces still are configured for quick launch, within minutes of an order to do so, in large, society-destroying, numbers. It should not be assumed that such a risky posture will forever not be subject to human error, technical malfunction, or sabotage.

Undoubtedly the disaster will give rise to renewed demands for truth-telling by the nuclear power industry and its regulators. That same demand should be extended to nuclear weapons establishments in the nine countries that possess nuclear arsenals and the many countries in nuclear-weapon alliances.

In the 1970s and 1980s, opposition to nuclear power was a generation’s entry point into opposing nuclear weapons. The same spillover effect can be expected now.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear power19 Oct 2009 01:54 pm

Andrew Lichterman

Together with M.V. Ramana, I have written a short retrospective on the U.S.-India nuclear deal, drawing in part in commentary that appeared previously here. A pdf of the piece is available at the link below.

The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal: Violating Norms, Terminating Futures

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear weapons--U.S.& Nuclear power26 Jul 2009 05:51 pm

By Andrew Lichterman

This spring, powerful politicians joined U.S. Department of Energy officials and nuclear scientists to celebrate the dedication of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s most powerful laser. The dedication was part of a well-orchestrated PR campaign aimed at sustaining support in hard economic times for the huge laser fusion project. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger hailed the multi-billion dollar project as having “the potential to revolutionize our energy future,” opening the way to new nuclear plants that can “generate an endless amount of megawatts of carbon-free power.” Thomas Friedman of the New York Times flacked the NIF in a column headlined “The next really cool thing,” describing it as a possible “holy cow game-changer.”

Despite the hoopla over this century’s version of “energy too cheap to meter,” the NIF is located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — a nuclear weapons design lab. NIF’s main purpose is to conduct nuclear weapons-related experiments. A 2000 Government Accountability Office study estimated that 85 percent of NIF’s experiments would be for nuclear weapons physics. NIF’s role in weapons work is controversial, with many independent experts believing it to have little relevance for maintaining the well-understood designs of weapons in a nuclear arsenal that the United States is legally obligated to eliminate under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. NIF’s advocates mainly are those who believe that the United States will need to keep nuclear weapons for decades to come.

Viewed as an energy project, NIF is a monument to a vision of the future that is firmly rooted in the past. It conjures images from science-fiction magazine covers of the 1950’s, of monolithic nuclear plants dominating a rectilinear landscape of factory-farmed fields, with transmission lines marching off to high-rise cities built without regard to the costs or effects of the energy they consume. But wait — that future looks a lot like our present — and it isn’t working. The pursuit of unlimited growth powered by unlimited energy has resulted in a society that is ecologically unsustainable, armed to the teeth, and that has levels of economic inequality that resemble those of 19th century robber-baron-style capitalism. Fission nuclear energy has proved far more technologically challenging, risky, and expensive than anticipated, and remains linked to the capacity to make nuclear weapons. Fusion too was viewed optimistically in the 1950’s, with some leading scientists then predicting controlled fusion energy within two decades. But the physics, engineering, and economic challenges of fusion energy dwarf those posed by fission power.

A half century later, fusion power remains a distant, and very expensive, dream. Even if it proves workable, commercial deployment is at best many decades away, and hence unlikely to provide a significant contribution to solving problems posed by diminishing fossil fuel supplies and climate change caused by burning them. And despite being sold as a more “proliferation resistant” nuclear energy technology because it does not require uranium or plutonium fuel, any country that is capable of building and operating inertial confinement fusion-based power facilities likely will have the know-how to build and deploy hydrogen bombs. By any stretch of the imagination, it will be a capital-intensive, high-risk energy path, requiring as well extensive — and expensive — environmental controls and security throughout its fuel, power, and waste cycle.

Rather than gambling on a future powered by unknown physics and unproven technologies, we should be investing in what we already know about physics and technology. It will cost tens of billions of dollars to find out if fusion electricity generation will work, and hundreds of billions more to deploy it in significant quantities. Our energy dilemmas can be solved more quickly and safely by reducing the work that energy does — moving people and things less far, less frequently, in larger capacity vehicles, designing our buildings so they can be heated and cooled more easily, and growing our food closer to where it is eaten, in ways that stay within nature’s energy cycles rather than depending on industrial inputs from afar. At the same time, we can pursue renewable energy technologies like wind and solar power that can be deployed in smaller increments, crafted to fit this less fragile and more sustainable development path.

Ultimately, our goal must be to end the endless pursuit of more, to build a society where we no longer chase bigger homes stuffed with more toys, but instead value a life lived in balance with the world we all share. Doing so is the only path to fairly sharing the risks of the difficult energy and economic transitions humanity now faces. With global tensions driven by economic inequality and resource competition on the rise, it also is central to the task of ridding ourselves of the world-destroying weapons that both NIF and the pursuit of endless power help sustain.

Disarmament& Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear power22 Sep 2008 02:25 pm

Andrew Lichterman

With the collapse of the Nehruvian paradigm, consisting of democracy, secularism, non-alignment and “socialism,” the top ten to fifteen percent of Indians, the upper-crust of society, have set their face against the rest, especially the poor. Culturally, economically, and politically, they are closer to Northern elites and their own kin in North America and Europe. Strongly influenced by social-Darwinist ideas, they see the poor as a drag on “their” India. They want a shortcut to high global stature. What better route than the military one? Greatness here is defined purely in terms of power untempered by civilized conduct or compassion. Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, New Nukes: India, Pakistan, and Global Nuclear Disarmament (New York: Interlink Books, 2000), p.136.

Last summer, the Bush Administration completed an agreement with India, initially negotiated in 2005, that would allow expanded trade in nuclear fuel and technology. It is now before Congress. If approved, the deal could allow India to expand its nuclear arsenal more easily by using scarce domestic uranium for weapons production while buying fuel for its power reactors on the international market. It will also undermine an already shaky Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty(NPT) regime by giving a country that developed nuclear weapons outside the Treaty the benefits of international nuclear trade. In general, the deal reinforces the legitimacy of nuclear weapons and weakens global rule of law, as the United States, the world’s leading military power and a country that ignores its own NPT obligations to negotiate for the elimination of its nuclear arsenal, also claims the right to choose which countries are sufficiently “responsible” to have both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

In addition, the U.S.-India nuclear deal is an effort by elites in both countries to bolster nuclear energy programs that long have been unable to fulfill the promises made by their advocates of cheap, reliable nuclear-generated electricity. The risks posed by nuclear accidents and long-term storage of highly radioactive spent fuel remain unsolved. Expanded energy production and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions can be accomplished more flexibly and in a way that serves a broader spectrum of India’s population via the development of a variety of decentralized renewable energy technologies. Trade and investment in such technologies also would benefit the United States, helping to accelerate the development and use of renewable energy here as well.

Neither the press nor most U.S. arms control analysts have paid much attention to the broader changes in the U.S.-India relationship that elites in both countries are seeking, each with an eye to maximizing their own wealth and power. The 2006 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review declared that “India is emerging as a great power and a key strategic partner.” U.S. Military planners envision India as a possible forward base for operations from South Asia to the Middle East, and perhaps as a junior partner in those operations as well. Arms makers see huge potential profit from increased arms sales, with India being one of the world’s largest importers of high-tech weapons. U.S.-based multinationals are gearing up for expansion into India, hoping to use the enhanced “security” partnership as a wedge to further open India to foreign investment and sales, not only in nuclear technology and services but in everything from banking to food and agriculture to big box retail stores.

The ambitions of elites in the two countries to strengthen an array of military and economic ties is reflected in the set of initiatives announced by U.S. President Bush And India’s Prime Minister Singh in July 2005 together with the agreement in principle on nuclear trade and cooperation. A few weeks earlier, the two countries had agreed to a “New Framework for the U.S.–India Defense Relationship.” The “New Framework” called for increased military cooperation across a wide range of activities, from joint exercises and intelligence exchanges to increased weapons trade to collaboration in missile defense development. The July 2005 agreements also established a “CEO Forum” to “harness private sector energy and ideas to deepen the bilateral economic relationship,” an agreement for closer cooperation in space technology and commercial space activities and a “Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture.” The U.S. private sector members of the Agricultural Knowledge Initiative governing board are Archer Daniels Midland, a diversified giant that takes agricultural products from the world over and turns them into commodities ranging from processed foods to biofuels and industrial chemicals, Biotech giant Monsanto, and Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer.

A significant part of the CEO Forum’s agenda is to greatly expand the degree to which foreign banking and financial services companies can do business in India. This position was duly echoed by the U.S. government, with a Treasury Department fact sheet stating that

the development of the financial sector and trade in financial services will play a key role in promoting private-sector led growth and economic stability in India. Opening the financial sector to foreign participation would make additional long-term financing available for infrastructure development.

In light of the spiraling collapse of the U.S. financial sector, the notion that opening India to its particular brand of radically deregulated, short-term profit-driven “financial services” will promote “economic stability” is dubious at best.

The socioeconomic impact of these proposed new arrangements–how they will affect the mass of the populations in India, the United States, and world-wide–remain almost entirely outside the ambit of U.S. discussion of the nuclear deal, although they have not escaped the notice of commentators in South Asia. The effect of the U.S.-India deal–or deals–will be to bind India to a development path favorable to particular elements in the U.S. political and economic elite, and to their Indian counterparts. In this future, India’s development will center on production of goods and services that serve global supply chains controlled by multi-national corporations. In addition to consumer goods and export crops that are mass commodities available to many in a few wealthy countries, but are luxury items available only to a fraction of the world’s population as a whole, there will be further expansion of “service industries” such as back-office corporate operations ranging from call centers to billing and information technology support. Also part of this global circuit of trade and investment are armaments and the capital goods, and engineering and construction services necessary to build new infrastructure to sustain components of these global production chains in “underdeveloped” regions. Increased U.S.-India trade and cooperation in high tech weapons, space, and nuclear technology will reinforce this pattern, producing few jobs for those below the top 20% of either country in income and little development that benefits the majority of the population in either country, further increasing wealth disparities, and consolidating the power of narrow elites in both states.

Nuclear technology is a prototypic element of this global system–and in the future envisioned by the elites of many countries is poised to become more important as supplies of fossil fuels are depleted. Producing energy in large, expensive centralized facilities, nuclear power is most useful for serving the emerging production and service centers of the global corporate capitalist metropole. It has far less promise, however, for improving living conditions among the many hundreds of millions of rural poor in India and world wide who neither can afford to buy much that global corporations have to offer nor are likely to be served by centrally-generated electricity anytime soon.

Only the nuclear cooperation deal itself is before Congress this week. But its purpose and likely effects need to be reevaluated in light of the mounting evidence that the dominant neoliberal global development model–which the set of U.S. India deals reached in recent years largely are designed to promote and enforce–is a disaster, leading to a global economic typhoon that capsizes all but the sturdiest boats rather than raising them.

The Bush administration is trying to push approval of this complex and important matter through Congress in the few days left before its session ends on September 26 (although the Congressional session could be extended). Unfortunately, the Democratic Party congressional leadership seems inclined to rubber stamp the deal, despite the lack of time for study or debate in the closing days of a session dominated by a financial crisis of historic proportions. This is a bad deal for most people in the U.S. and India, and likely for the rest of the world as well. At the very least, it deserves extensive, well publicized discussion before going forward.

For more information on the U.S.-India nuclear deal and the broader energy and security context, see

Rushing into the Wrong Future: The U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Energy and Security, by Andrew Lichterman of the Western States Legal Foundation, Oakland, California, and M.V. Ramana of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Environment and Development, Bangalore, India.

For more detail on the nuclear weapons proliferation impacts of the agreement, see the commentary and resources provided by the Arms Control Association.

And for more in-depth background:

Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana, “Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India,” Arms Control Today, January/February 2006

Aspects of India’s Economy No.41, ‘Global Power’, Client State: India’s Place in the US Strategic Order

Achin Vanaik, “Post cold war Indian foreign policy,” Seminar web edition #581 January 2008

Nuclear weapons--global& Nuclear power24 Aug 2006 09:25 am

Michael Spies

Eight days before the lapse of Iran’s Security Council imposed deadline to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, Argentina reportedly announced its plans to expand its nuclear power program including a return to uranium enrichment. A the first step in a multistage initiative named the “Argentina Nuclear Plan” intended to reinvigorate its nuclear energy sector, Argentina will spend $3.5 billion to finish construction of the Atucha II reactor, and in 2010 to begin construction of a fourth power reactor. Like an increasing number of states, Argentina is looking toward the exploitation of nuclear energy as a mean toward reining in greenhouse gas emissions.

Like Brazil, Argentina was a late-comer to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, joining in 1995 ahead of the treaty’s indefinite extension. Also like Brazil, its nuclear history is far from unblemished. Predating the Brazilian program by a number of years, the Argentine nuclear program began in the early 1950s. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, between 1978 and 1990 the military junta which seized power in 1976 actively sought to construct a plutonium reprocessing plant for which no legitimate non-military use could be externally ascertained.

The long rivalry between Argentina and Brazil and their developing nuclear programs led to what many commentators described as a nascent nuclear arms race. Following the restoration of civilian rule in both countries after the early 1980s, both states undertook regional confidence-building measures, including a bi-lateral verification regime known as the Argentine-Brazilian Accounting and Control Commission (ABACC) in 1991. In the mid-1990s both countries joined the Treaty of Tlateloco, which establishes a nuclear-weapon-free zone in Latin America.

Argentina presently operates two nuclear power reactors, with a combined installed capacity of nearly one gigawatt. This capacity is similar to both Iran and Brazil. Brazil began operating a small industrial scale enrichment plant this year, intended to provide fuel for its civil nuclear program and for naval reactors. Argentina’s nuclear program is under IAEA safeguards, although neither Argentina nor Brazil have signed Additional Protocols with the IAEA, which would give the Agency the authority to inspect for undeclared and clandestine nuclear activities.


Disarmament& Iran& Nuclear weapons--global& U.S. military& Nuclear power02 Feb 2006 12:09 pm

Jackie Cabasso

After agreeing to comment on the State of the Union Address for the Institute for Public Accuracy (as one of many commentators), I forced myself to watch the Commander in Chief make his annual grand performance, fortified by a martini and surrounded by close friends. Afterwards, I went home and struggled to find words that would convey my outrage, while also attempting to offer some cogent information and analysis. I was nearly overwhelmed, because the speech was long, there was so much provocative rhetoric to react to, it was so Orwellian, and I was on a tight deadline. There was also so much missing, like — in a speech rife with glowing references to growing international “democracy,” “political freedom,” and “peaceful change” — no reference was made to the recent elections in Latin America. On the domestic front, though the Pres declared “… our greatness is not measured in power or luxuries, but by who we are and how we treat one another,” he didn’t even mention Hurricane Katrina. And the speech raised some questions for me, which there was no time to look into. Why were Zimbabwe and Burma added to the “hit list,” along with Syria, North Korea and Iran?

The Institute for Public Accuracy quoted from some of my musings, along with a number of esteemed colleagues, in their February 1 news release, Responses to State of the Union Address, and a related critique for public distribution, A Critical Look: The State of the Union 2006, here’s the rest. I want to stress that these comments by no means represent a comprehensive analysis of the speech — just a few uneven thoughts triggered by specific references in the speech.

Though this year’s State of the Union Address was no where near as over-the-top as last year’s 2005 version of “Manifest Destiny,” two words continue to characterize the Bush Administration’s approach to the world: “arrogance” and “hypocrisy.” Bush began his speech by acknowledging the loss of Coretta Scott King. But, Mrs. King early on recognized the insidious link between U.S. militarism and civil rights, taking a stand against the Vietnam War even before her husband, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, came out against the war. Surely she would not want to be remembered in association the Bush Administration’s “long war” of empire or its unchecked domestic surveillance activities. (more…)