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US: Senate plan could make Illinois ‘bullseye’ for nuclear waste

By Kari Lydersen – MIDWEST ENERGY NEWS – 05/08/2013

A proposal in the U.S. Senate has advocates concerned that Illinois could become a leading contender for storing nuclear waste from around the nation.

The discussion draft of a Senate bill released April 25 and open for public comment until May 24 launches a process to create a “centralized interim storage” site (CIS) for nuclear waste that is currently stored at reactors nationwide.

And a June 2012 study [PDF] by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory using spatial modeling suggests that northern Illinois would be among the top possibilities.

Many nuclear energy critics oppose the concept of centralized interim storage, saying that the long-distance transport of nuclear waste to such sites would pose serious risks, and that interim storage sites could become financial and safety burdens especially if a long-term waste repository is never created.

“It would be a radioactive waste shell game on roads, rails and waterways,” said Kevin Kamps of the Maryland-based watchdog group Beyond Nuclear, talking by teleconference with anti-nuclear activists in Chicago gathered at the Nuclear Energy Information Service office last week. “We could have de facto permanent parking lot dumps.”

The draft bill, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013, is meant to carry out the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future [PDF], convened by the Department of Energy in 2010. Sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the bill deals with various nuclear waste issues including, centralized interim storage.

Public comments are also being accepted on additions proposed by Feinstein and Alexander specifically regarding centralized interim storage.

“There is no question that Illinois generally and Chicago specifically would see a high volume of [nuclear waste] traffic if the nation opts for centralized interim storage facilities,” said Dave Kraft, executive director of the Nuclear Energy Information Service in Chicago.  “We’re not merely at risk, we’re the bullseye.”

A ‘flawed plan’?

Currently most nuclear waste is stored on-site at plants, in the form of rods housed either in dry casks or pools. Critics say the pools pose serious potential danger in the case of a natural disaster, terrorist attack or accident, including a loss of electric power.

Kamps and other nuclear watchdogs advocate improving waste storage at the site of nuclear plants, including removing fuel rods from pools and storing them in dry casks.

“Waste needs to stay as close to the point of origin as possible, as safely as possible,” said Kamps. “There is no easy answer.”

Eventually, Kamps and other activists want to see a long-term storage site created in a geologically and geographically appropriate place. That was the idea behind the proposed long-term repository at Yucca Mountain, but that plan collapsed in the face of political opposition and complaints that it was not a suitable location.

Many industry critics see the interim storage plan pushed forth in the draft bill as a distraction, rather than a step in the process of finding a satisfactory long-term repository.

In a statement about the draft bill, the national watchdog group Public Citizen stated it “does little to correct the fundamental flaws in our country’s approach to nuclear waste management…Consolidated interim storage is an old plan that didn’t work when it was first introduced 30 years ago, or any of the myriad times it’s been proposed, because it does nothing to address broader storage and disposal issues.”

But Feinstein, in a statement released by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the bill “establishes a desperately needed nuclear waste policy, employing a consent-based approach that will expedite waste removal from at-risk locations and decommissioned plants.”

Who pays?

While Yucca Mountain appears to be off the table, government and industry actors have long been exploring the idea of long-term storage at the Department of Energy’s Savannah River, South Carolina site or at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico, where defense industry radioactive waste is currently stored.

The push for centralized interim storage is driven in part by the risks and public concerns posed by waste stored onsite at reactors. Sen. Wyden’s constituents are particularly concerned about risk from nuclear plants along the Columbia River, including the closed-down Hanford site upstream in Washington.

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s January 2012 report proposed legislative changes which are enshrined in the proposed act. The commission noted that under current law one interim storage facility can be built, and only after a long-term repository is licensed. A similar provision was included in the 2012 Nuclear Waste Administration Act, which did not pass. The current proposal calls for multiple interim sites to potentially be built, and does not require a long-term repository be in the pipeline.

The discussion draft of the bill lays out a process for choosing a site, including creating evaluation criteria for sites, holding public hearings and “solicit[ing] states and communities to volunteer sites,” as noted in a Department of Energy summary. Sen. Alexander called for additions to the draft including a requirement the government issue a request for proposals for pilot storage sites within 180 days.

The Oak Ridge study includes various maps with proposed storage locations based on different factors including population along routes and transportation distance. In every scenario, northern Illinois is a likely contender.

The bill notes that consent from local officials, communities and Native American tribes is mandatory; and that any plan must be approved by Congress. Kamps said, however, that the definition of consent is vague, and the industry is known to have much influence with Congress.

“At least there’s some talk of consent,” he said. “But nuclear power is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.”

The bill would also create a new federal agency, the Nuclear Waste Administration, that would take responsibility for the waste. Utilities with nuclear plants would continue paying into a capital fund meant to finance nuclear waste storage. Currently, about $765 million annually is paid into the fund, according to the Nuclear Energy Information Service.

However, if no long-term repository is identified by 2025, utilities could be released from the capital fund obligation.

In Kamps’ words, this means that “[utility] ratepayers and taxpayers, otherwise known as the American people,” will be paying for the waste storage for many years to come.

“The nuclear industry has a few lawyers on its team,” Kamps said. “If they can get out of paying into the capital fund, I think they will.”

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nuclear Cult

Zealots of the Atom

By KARL GROSSMAN | CounterPunch | June 18, 2012

Nuclear scientists and engineers embrace nuclear power like a religion. The term “nuclear priesthood” was coined by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, long director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the laboratory’s website proudly notes this.  It’s not unusual for scientists at Oak Ridge and other U.S. national nuclear laboratories to refer to themselves as “nukies.” The Oak Ridge website describes Weinberg as a “prophet” of “nuclear energy.”

This religious, cultish element is integral to a report done for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1984 by Battelle Memorial Institute about how the location of nuclear waste sites can be communicated over the ages. An “atomic priesthood,” it recommends, could impart the locations in a “legend-and-ritual…retold year-by-year.” Titled “Communications Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia,” the taxpayer-funded report says: “Membership in this ‘priesthood’ would be self-selective over time.”

Currently, Allison Macfarlane, nominated to be the new head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says she is an “agnostic” on nuclear power—as if support or opposition to atomic energy falls on a religious spectrum.  Meanwhile, Gregory Jaczko, the outgoing NRC chairman, with a Ph.D. in physics, was politically crucified because he repeatedly raised safety concerns, thus not revering nuclear power enough.

Years ago, while I was working on a book about toxic chemicals, the publisher asked that I find someone who worked for a chemical company and get his or her rationale. I found someone who had been at American Cyanamid, the pesticide manufacturer, who said he worked there to better support his growing family financially.

But when it comes to nuclear power, it’s more than that—it’s a religious adherence. Why?  Does it have to do with nuclear scientists and engineers being in such close proximity to  power, literally?  Is it about the process through which they are trained—in the U.S., many in the nuclear navy and/or in the insular culture of the government’s national nuclear laboratories? These laboratories, originally under the Atomic Energy Commission and now the Department of Energy and managed by corporations, universities and scientific entities including Battelle Memorial Institute, grew out of the World War II Manhattan Project crash program to build atomic bombs. After the war, the laboratories expanded to pursue the development of all things nuclear. And is it about nuclear physics programs at universities serving as echo chambers?

Whatever the causes, the outcome is nuclear worship.

And this is despite the Chernobyl or Fukushima Daiichi catastrophes. It’s despite the radioactive messes exposed at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility and at Los Alamos and other national nuclear laboratories most of which have been declared high-pollution Superfund sites where cancer on-site and in adjoining areas is widespread. It’s despite the  continuing threat of nuclear war and the horrific loss of life it would bring and nuclear proliferation spreading the potential for atomic weapons globally. Still, they press on with religious fervor.

“Most of them are not educated about radiation biology or genetics, so they are fundamentally ignorant,” says Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility whose books include Nuclear Madness. “They are ‘brought up’ in an environment where they are conditioned to support the concept of all things nuclear.” Further, “nuclear power evokes enormous forces of the universe, and as Henry Kissinger said, ‘Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” And “they practice denial because I think many of them in their heart really know that what they are doing is evil but they will defend it assiduously, unless they themselves or their child is diagnosed with cancer. Then many of them recant.”

Linking the “nuclear priesthood” to the Manhattan Project is Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “The scientists involved weren’t really sure what they were unleashing, and had to have a certain amount of faith that it would work and it would not destroy the world in the process. After they saw the destructive power of the bomb, they were both proud and horrified at what they had done, and believed they had to use this technology for ‘good.’ Thus nuclear power was born,” says Mariotte. “The problem is when you have this messianic vision that you are creating good out of evil, it is very difficult to turn around and realize that the ‘good’ you have created is, in fact, also evil.”

Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste watchdog at Beyond Nuclear, says ever since the first test of an atomic device, “the diabolically-named ‘Trinity’ atomic blast, when Manhattan Project scientists placed bets on whether or not it would ignite the Earth’s atmosphere, it’s been clear something pathological afflicts many in the ‘nuclear priesthood.’ Perhaps it’s a form of ‘Faustian fission’—splitting the atom gave the U.S. superpower status with the Bomb and then over a 100 commercial atomic reactors, so the ‘downsides’ have been entirely downplayed to the point of downright denial. Perhaps the power, prestige and greed swirling around the ‘nuclear enterprise’ explains why so many in industry, government, the military, and even apologists in academia and mainstream media, engage in Orwellian ‘Nukespeak’ and monumental cover ups….The ‘cult of the atom’ has caused untold numbers of deaths and disease downstream, downwind, up the food chain, and down the generations from ‘our friend the atom’ gone bad.”

A parallel situation exists in Russia, the other nuclear superpower. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, a biologist, member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and environmental advisor to Presidents Yeltsin and Gorbachev, says the nuclear scientists there refer to themselves as “atomschiky” or “nuclearists” and “think and act as a separate, isolated caste.” From the beginning of nuclear technology in the Soviet Union, they “were enthusiastic about the great, the fantastic discoveries of splitting the atom and developing enormous power. This ‘secret knowledge’ was magnified by state secrecy and a deep belief—in the Soviet Union as in the United States—of atomic energy ‘saving the globe’… There is a remarkable similarity in the argumentation of these groups here and in the United States. Step-by-step, they turned to an atomic religion, closed societies, a ‘state inside a state.’”

Dr. Heidi Huttner, who teaches sustainability at Stony Brook University, explains:

“As in so many parts of our industrialized and mechanized culture, there is no thought of consequences, or connections to the larger web of science, health, and human and nonhuman life… The nuclear culture becomes absolutely caught up in its own language and story. This self-enclosure feeds, validates and perpetuates itself. Without an outside critique or ‘objective’ third eye, any such culture loses the ability to self-regulate and self-monitor.  This is where things become dangerous.”

Russell Ace Hoffman, author of The Code Killers, Why DNA and Ionizing Radiation Are a Dangerous Mix, says: “It is a cult. It fits all the classic definitions of a cult. It’s an elitist, war-mongering, closed society of inbred, inwardly-thinking, aggressively xenophobic, arrogant pseudo-nerds stuck in ideas that are at least half a century out of date… Another cult-like behavior is they don’t care about the suffering of their victims.  Not one bit.”

Dr. Barbara Rose Johnston, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Center for Political Ecology in Santa Cruz, recounts spending three days at a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored conference for people involved in the atmospheric monitoring program at the nuclear weapons test site in Nevada. “Many of the scientists and technicians in attendance were from southern Utah and St. Georges County area where the heaviest atomic fallout from the Nevada test site occurred… I did not find a single man who saw a connection between fallout and cancer rates, despite the fact that most had suffered. My initial reaction was that these folks truly ‘drank the Kool-Aid’—true believers through and through.”

“The nuclear industry requires buying into an orthodoxy,” explains nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson. “I know, as I was in it as a senior VP.” He tells of how, after he voiced concerns and criticism, an industry lawyer “told me, ‘Arnie, in this industry, you are either for us or against us, and you just crossed the line.’ The same thing happened to [outgoing NRC Chairman] Jaczko  I know of one nuclear engineer with 40 years of experience who committed suicide five days after Fukushima because he simply could not accept that his life’s work was based on erroneous assumptions.  He had worked on the Mark 1 design [the GE design of the Fukushima Daicchi plants].”

Alice Slater, New York representative of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, says the “nuclear scientists are out of touch with reality. They talk about ‘risk assessment’—as though the dreadful, disastrous events at Chernobyl and Fukushima are capable of being weighed on a scale of ‘risks and benefits.’ They’re constantly refining their nuclear weapons—Congress has budgeted $84 billion for over the next 10 years to maintain the … ’reliability of the nuclear arsenal,’ and $100 billion for new ‘delivery systems’—missiles, submarines and airplanes. After the horrendous effects on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, everyone knows these catastrophic weapons are unusable and yet we’re pouring all this money into perpetuating the national nuclear weapons laboratories. They’re not including the Earth in their calculations and the enormous damage they are doing. They’re involved in the worst possible inventions with lethal consequences that last for eternity. Still, they continue on. They’re holding our planet hostage while they tinker in their labs without regard to the risks they are creating for the very future of life on Earth.”

Dr. Chris Busby of the Health and Life Sciences faculty at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and author of Wings of Death, Nuclear Pollution and Human Health, says:

“What we are seeing with nuclear scientists is a desperate need to control their environment and their lives and the forces that may affect their lives by creating a virtual universe which they can deal with by mathematics and by drawing straight lines on paper.”

It’s the “cult of the nuclearists,” says Busby. And this construct of the nuclear scientists seeking to “control nature with mathematical equations that make them feel safe” sets up a “collision with reality”—and a “way we are going to destroy ourselves.”  The belief in nuclear power is “far beyond anything scientific or rational,” says Busby, who has a Ph.D. in chemical physics.

Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, says the “religious passion for nuclear technology” started with the “guilt” of those in the Manhattan Project. “Those in the ‘nuclear priesthood’ knew that these horrible bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and they wanted to make up for that… They developed atomic energy for warfare and then thought it had other uses—and they would do anything to make that work.” But the civilian nuclear technology they devised was also deadly, and this realization was too “devastating to be accepted” by the “nuclear originators” or those who followed who “spend their days with their buddies, their colleagues, all thinking the same way.”

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, in his 1955 book The Open Mind, wrote: “The physicists felt a peculiarly intimate responsibility for suggesting, for supporting, and in the end, in large measure, for achieving the realization of atomic weapons…. In some sort of crude sense…the physicists have known sin.”

Whether out of indoctrination, misguided belief, an obsession to “control nature,” the lure of the cult, closeness to power, job security, or their seeking to perpetuate a vested interest, the “nuclearists” have a religious allegiance to their technology. On a moral level, they have indeed sinned—and continue to do so. On a political level, they have corrupted and distorted energy policy in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. On an economic level, they are wasting a gargantuan portion of our tax dollars.

Choices of energy technology should be based on the technology being safe, clean, economic and in harmony with life. Instead, we are up against nuclear scientists and engineers pushing their deadly technology in the manner of religious zealots.

~

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

June 18, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Nuclear Cult

Nukes in the Sky

The Folly of Nuclear Drones and Other Mad Schemes

By KARL GROSSMAN | CounterPunch | April 11, 2012

The crash last week of a U.S. drone on the Seychelles Islands—the second crash of a U.S. drone on Seychelles in four months—underlines the deadly folly of a plan of U.S. national laboratory scientists and the Northrop Grumman Corp. for nuclear-powered drones.

The drone that “bounced a few times on the runway” at Seychelles International Airport on April 4 “before ending” up in the sea, according to a statement from the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, was conventionally powered. So was the drone which had a similar accident on Seychelles in December. From the Indian Ocean island nation the U.S. flies drones over Somalia and over waters off East Africa looking for pirates.

But the use of nuclear power on U.S. drones was “favorably assessed by scientists at Sandia National Laboratories and the Northrop Grumman Corp.,” revealed Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists.

Their report said that “technology and systems designs evaluated… have previously never been applied to unmanned air vehicles” and “use of these technologies” could provide “system performance unparalleled by existing technologies.”  It acknowledged, however, that “current political conditions will not allow use of the results.” Thus “it is doubtful that they will be used in the near-term or mid-term future.”

Just consider if the two drones which crashed on the Seychelles used nuclear power—and the impacts if the radioactive fuel they contained was released. […] Drones, not too incidentally, have a record of frequently crashing.

The nuclear-powered drone scheme is ostensibly not going anywhere now—because of “current political considerations.” But other schemes to use nuclear power overhead—which  also threaten nuclear disaster—are on the planning table and some are moving ahead.

These include:

  •  A new U.S. Air Force plan which supports “nuclear powered flight.”  Titled Energy Horizons, issued in January, it states that “nuclear energy has been demonstrated on several satellite systems” and “this source provides consistent power…at a much higher energy and power density than current technologies.” It does admit that “the implementation of such a technology should be weighed heavily against potential catastrophic outcomes.”  Indeed, the worst accident involving a U.S. space nuclear system occurred with the fall to Earth in 1964 of a satellite powered by an RTG, the SNAP-9A. It failed to achieve orbit and fell to Earth, disintegrating upon hitting the atmosphere causing its Plutonium-238 fuel to be dispersed as dust widely over the Earth. Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California, Berkeley, long linked the SNAP-9A accident to a global rise in lung cancer. The Air Force report sees nuclear power as an energy source that would assist it in taking the “ultimate high ground” which would provide it with “access to every part of the globe including denied areas.”
  • “A ground-breaking Russian nuclear space travel propulsion system will be ready by 2017 and will power a ship capable of long-haul interplanetary missions by 2025,” the Russian state news agency, Ria Novosti, reported last week. The April 3 article, headlined “Plutonium to Pluto: Russian nuclear space travel breakthrough,” said, “The megawatt-class nuclear drive will function for up to three years and produce 100-150 kilowatts of energy at normal capacity.” It is “under development at Skolkovo, Russia’s technology innovation hub, where nuclear cluster head Dennis Kovalevich confirmed the breakthrough.” It said, “Scientists expect to start putting the new engine through its paces in operational tests as early as 2014.” Earlier, Ria Novosti reported that the director of Roscosmos , the Russian space agency, believes the “development of megawatt-class nuclear power systems for manned spacecraft was crucial if Russia wanted to maintain a competitive edge in the space race, including the exploration of the moon and Mars.” It also said the Russian rocket company, Energia, is “ready to design a space-based nuclear power station with a service life of 10-to-15 years, to be initially placed on the moon or Mars.” The worst accident involving a Soviet or Russian nuclear space system was the fall from orbit in 1978 of the Cosmos 954 satellite powered by a nuclear reactor. It also broke up in the atmosphere spreading radioactive debris which scattered over 77,000 square miles of the Northwest Territories of Canada.
  • The U.S. is moving again to produce Plutonium-238 for space use. In recent years, the U.S. stopped making Plutonium-238. It is 270 times more radioactive than the more commonly known Plutonium-239, used as fuel in atomic bombs, and thus its manufacture has resulted in significant radioactive pollution.  Instead, it obtained Plutonium-238 from Russia. RTGs powered by Plutonium-238 had been used by the U.S. as a source of electricity on satellites—as the Energy Horizons report noted. But that was until the SNAP-9A accident which caused a turn to generating electricity with solar photovoltaic panels. Now all satellites are powered by solar panels, as is the International Space Station. But RTGs using Plutonium-238 have remained a source of on board electricity for space probes such as Cassini which NASA launched to Saturn in 1999. The Department of Energy plans to produce Plutonium-238 at both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory. “Over the next two years, Oak Ridge National Laboratory will carry out a $20 million pilot project to demonstrate the lab’s ability to produce and process Plutonium-238 for use in the space program,” reported the Knoxville News Sentinel last month.
  • The U.S. is also developing nuclear-powered rockets. NASA Director Charles Bolden, a former astronaut and U.S. Marine Corps major general, is a booster of a  design of a Houston-based company, Ad Astra, of which another former astronaut, Franklin Chang-Diaz, is president and chief executive officer. “He launched Ad Astra after he retired from NASA in 2005, but the company continues a close association with the U.S. space agency,” the U.S. government’s Voice of America  noted in its article on the project last year.   The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket or VASMIR could be energized by solar power but, the article relates, “Chang-Diaz says replacing solar panels with a nuclear reactor would provide the necessary power to VASMIR for a much faster trip.” It quotes him as saying “we could do a mission to Mars that would take about 39 days, one way.” And, although “such a mission is still many years away, Chang-Diaz says his rocket could be used much sooner for missions to the International Space Station or to retrieve or position satellites in Earth orbit.”

Challenging what is going on is the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.  Bruce Gagnon, coordinator of the group, comments:

“Who can deny that the nuclear power industry isn’t working overtime to spread its deadly product onto every possible military application? The recent disclosure that the Pentagon has been strongly considering sticking nuclear engines on-board drones is dangerously ‘more of the same.’”

“Nuclear-powered devices flying around on drones or on-board rockets that frequently blow up on launch is pure insanity,” says Gagnon. “The people need to push back hard.”

What is happening has deep roots. A key rationale by Sandia and Northrop Grumman for nuclear-powered drones was, as the British newspaper, The Guardian, reported last week, long—very long—flight times. “American scientists have drawn up plans for a new generation of nuclear-powered drones capable of flying over remote regions of the world for months on end without refueling,” it reported.    The same rationale, noted Gagnon, was behind the U.S. development in the 1940s and 50s of nuclear-propelled bombers.

The strategy was for these nuclear-powered bombers to stay up in the air for extensive periods of time. There would thus be no need to scramble crews and have bombers take off to drop nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union—they’d already be airborne waiting for the command.  The Nuclear Energy for the Propulsion of Aircraft or NEPA project was begun in 1946 and involved the conversion of two B-36 bombers for nuclear propulsion.  The first operation of an aircraft engine using nuclear power occurred in 1956. The U.S. national laboratories—a string of facilities that got their start in the crash program to build atomic weapons, the Manhattan Project—were integral to the scheme. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, then run by the since disbanded U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, did much of the research work.  Much of the testing was done at what is now Idaho National Laboratory where today two nuclear aircraft engines are on public display and there is also still remaining a gargantuan hangar built for nuclear aircraft. General Electric was a major contractor.

The plan for nuclear-powered bombers was finally scuttled because of the problem of providing heavy lead shielding to protect the crew from radiation and, as then U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress in 1961, an atomic airplane would “expel some fraction of radioactive fission products into the atmosphere, creating an important public relations problem if not an actual physical hazard.”

A subsequent program linking nuclear power and weapons was the Star Wars program under President Ronald Reagan. It was “predicated,” as Gagnon notes, “on nuclear power in space.” Reactors and also a “Super RTG” to be built by General Electric were to provide the energy on orbiting battle platforms for lasers, hypervelocity guns and particle beam weapons.

In my book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet,” and TV documentary, Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens, I noted the 1988 declaration of Lt. General James Abramson, first head of the Strategic Defense Initiative, that “without reactors in orbit [there is] going to be a long, long light cord that goes down to the surface of Earth” bringing up power. He stated: “Failure to develop nuclear power in space could cripple efforts to deploy anti-missile sensors and weapons in orbit.”

As to nuclear-propelled rockets, the U.S. has a long history of seeking to build them from the 1950s onward. There was a program called Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application or NERVA followed by Projects Pluto, Rover and Poodle. And in the 1980s, the Timberwind nuclear-powered rocket was developed to loft heavy Star Wars equipment into space and also for trips to Mars. Most recently, the Project Prometheus program to build nuclear-powered rockets was begun by NASA in 2003. Through the years there have been major concerns over a nuclear rocket blowing up on launch or crashing back to Earth.

The Soviet Union, Russia, conducted a parallel space nuclear program—including nuclear-powered satellites, development of a nuclear bomber and nuclear-powered rockets.

Now, meanwhile, nuclear power above our heads has been shown as unnecessary.

NASA has persisted in using Plutonium-238-powered RTGs on space probes claiming there was no choice. But last year it launched the Juno space probe which is now on its way to Jupiter—getting all its on-board electricity only from solar photovoltaic panels. It’s to arrive in 2016 and make 32 orbits around Jupiter and perform a variety of scientific missions. As NASA stated last week on its website for Juno: “As of April 4, Juno was approximately209 million miles from Earth… The Juno spacecraft is in excellent health.”  This is despite NASA claiming for decades that only nuclear power could provide on-board power in deep space.

Likewise, the European Space Agency in 2004 launched a space probe it calls Rosetta, also using solar energy rather than nuclear power for on-board electricity. It is to rendezvous in 2014 with a comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and send out a lander which will investigate the comet’s surface. At that point it will be 500 million miles from the Sun, a small ball in the sky at that distance, yet Rosetta will still be harvesting solar energy.

As to propulsion in space, a highly promising energy source are the ionized particles in space that can be utilized in the frictionless environment with what are being called solar sails.

In May 2010, the Japan Exploration Agency launched an experimental spacecraft, Ikaros, that seven months later reached Venus—propelled only by its solar sail.   The Planetary Society is readying a similar mission using a spacecraft named LightSail-1 powered by solar sails and planning for two more ambitious solar sail flights of LightSail-2 and LightSail-3.

These missions do not present threats to life on Earth—as does the use of nuclear power overhead. And the threats of nuclear power overhead can be enormous.  For example, consider the projection in NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission about the impacts if there were an “inadvertent reentry” of Cassini into Earth’s atmosphere during one of its two “flybys”—whips around the Earth but a few hundred miles high to increase its velocity so it could get to Saturn. If it fell to Earth, broke up in the atmosphere and its 72.3 pounds of Plutonium-238 were released, “5 billion… of the world population… could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure,” projected NASA.

Moreover, the production of nuclear fuel on Earth for use in space—or in the atmosphere for drones—constitutes danger, too. Facilities that had been used earlier by the U.S. to produce Plutonium-238, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Mound Laboratory, ended up as hotspots for worker contamination and radioactive pollution.

James Powell, executive director of the organization Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, which has been opposing the restart of Plutonium-238 production at nearby Idaho National Laboratory, comments: “Aside from the looming danger of nuclear powered craft above Earth, we should also realize that the nuclear material is to be produced in our backyards with 1960′s era nuclear reactors and then transported back and forth from [Oak Ridge National Laboratory in] Tennessee to Idaho.  Every single part of this process deeply concerns us.”

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet (Common Courage Press) and wrote and presented the TV program Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (www.envirovideo.com). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Militarism, Nuclear Power, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , | 1 Comment