Tag Archives: Nuclear power

Nuclear power is a regrets industry – Some facts

by Caroline Hurley

1. Esteemed international climate solutions organisation Project Drawdown cautions against relying on nuclear power compared to other solutions because “At Project Drawdown, we consider Nuclear Power a “regrets” solution. It has potential to avoid emissions, but carries many concerns as well” – https://drawdown.org/solutions/nuclear-power

The five hundred odd nuclear power plants currently producing about 10 per cent of the world’s energy should be wound down for the serious and enduring liabilities they represent.

In 2023, the first nuclear power project in the U.S. featuring a small modular reactor was cancelled after a 53% surge in costs – https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Pioneering-Nuclear-Project-Gets-Canceled-After-Costs-Surge.html

The cost of Hinkley Point C, Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in decades, was originally priced at £16 billion. That made it the most expensive building in the world, and that was before costs began to spiral upwards. The latest estimate is that it will cost £32 billion. Promising lower bills with nuclear power makes no sense. Nuclear energy is the only type of energy whose production costs have been steadily soaring year after year.

2. Plant operations routinely release by-products: long-lived fission elements including radioactive plutonium-239, isotopes of iodine, caesium, radon and selenium, mixed in with minor actinides like curium and americium. Huge volumes of water are depleted. Safe nuclear waste storage methods have not yet been invented. Vitrification comes closest, where chemicals are extracted from high-level waste, folded into glass rods, put in sealed steel containers and then buried, in salt preferably, to delay melting, with fingers crossed. Deep geological disposal is proposed for long-term management but remains controversial, having to withstand up to millions of years of half-live releases, and entailing transport and other hazards. Lower-level waste is sealed in cement or recycled. This dooms future generations. If any kind of nuclear reactors had been constructed as part of the Stonehenge or Newgrange complexes, 21st century people would still have to manage the radioactive waste. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, about the size of County Kerry, will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of years, maybe more. It has expanded in recent years.

3. In a country where neutrality is still cherished, Ireland should oppose civilian nuclear facilities which elsewhere are repeatedly adopted for military purposes. Anything from 15,000 to 25,000 nuclear weapons and counting now burden the planet, from a cumulative production tally of about 130,000 bombs, most made in either America or Russia, and smaller numbers in up to thirty other countries. The US alone ran over a thousand nuclear bomb tests between 1945 and 1992, each more lethal than the last. Another thousand were carried out elsewhere. At least two hundred nuclear reactor accidents occurred, many non-reported, as Soviet authorities had hoped for Chernobyl. A 2019 Sellafield leak did not make the news.

4. Some sources directly attribute over two million human deaths to atmospheric nuclear testing. Negligence during tests in the 1950s, when milk was contaminated, earned the US government a guilty verdict by a judge in 1984. Record volumes of radiation released raised health risks for millions of people. The United Nations announced in 2000 that nuclear radioactivity has spread across the entire earth. Nature everywhere now bears the tattoo. The Anthropocene was born with detonation of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico Desert on July 16th, 1945, copper-fastening the Great Acceleration, of human progress and associated earth degradation. The revised standard to minimise dangerous releases is zero yield from sub-critical tests.

5. Joshua Frank, author of Atomic Days (2022), recalls the single largest anti-nuclear protest ever, which took place in New York City in September 1979 when an estimated 200,000 people rallied in Battery Park, calling for an immediate shut-down of Three Mile Island and an end to nuclear power proliferation globally. The global environmental movement sprang in large part from this era, which involved a very lively Irish element (Carnsore Point).

These invigorating actions, along with the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, put a halt to the construction of new nuclear plants in the United States. Since the accident, up to eighty per cent of Belarus children present with somatic pathologies, including deformities, cellular irregularities and age-inappropriate conditions like stroke, cardiac arrest, and neonatal cardiac cavities known as Chernobyl heart. Countless bodies of workers and patients absorbed isotopes sufficiently to classify them as walking radioactive waste. Plans for dozens of plants were shelved. By the mid-1980s the remarkably successful anti-nuclear power movement shifted its focus, joining the rapidly growing nuclear freeze movement, which was working to put the brakes on the global nuclear arms race.

6. How shameful that in the name of climate action, some are trying to undo this monumental success by prescribing nukes as a remedy? Of many reasons to oppose nuclear power. seven stand out: nuclear energy is not carbon neutral, huge mining impacts, nuclear power’s ties to atomic weapons, extreme waste issues, risks of accidents, and costs. See https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/09/09/the-case-against-nuclear-power-a-primer/

Numerous individuals and organisations have emerged in Ireland advocating for nuclear power as a major climate fix for a clean energy transition, particularly since, after a very close vote by lawmakers in July 2022, the European Parliament approved amended EU taxonomy rules labelling investments in gas and nuclear power plants as climate-friendly. Some regard this as hijacking the EU’s key instrument of green policy, “openly accomplished through a campaign of misinformation conducted by the nuclear lobby.” – https://www.euronews.com/2023/08/25/sustainability-has-lost-its-meaning-as-the-nuclear-lobby-triumphs

Groups already participating in environmental projects around the country are being especially targeted to become poster-child converts to nuclear energy by industry influencers and Key Opinion Leaders, whose PR profiles are designed to project authority and trustworthiness. Lazarsfield’s milestone 1950s marketing study showed that driving consumer demand involves coaching “the effectiveness of interpersonal relations at each stage of the diffusion process”. It’s about capturing hearts and minds, even perhaps reassuring with convenient untruths, such as the claims made about reliable affordable small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), touted as solutions since the 1950s. The only one under construction in America was cancelled in 2023 due to unaffordability and, not counting just two prototypes under test, one in Russia and one in China, no other SMRs are in commercial use yet in the world.

However, if governments can be persuaded to take a risk on these boondoggles, whose record of breakdown and incidents contradict reliability claims, massive transfers of taxpayers’ money beckon. Governments also fall for other trade tricks, for example in France, the state had to buy electricity from a malfunctioning over-centralised energy sector, and run point heaters in summertime to destroy surplus electricity (for a fee) though produced and purchased, it could not be used anywhere. Intercountry grids will hardly address such warped bloats and glitches.

7. In their book, The Menace of Atomic Energy, published 50 years ago, Ralph Nader and John Abbotts revealed to readers that the person most responsible for developing American nuclear reactors, Dr Alvin Weinberg, admitted he would prefer solar energy if its cost could be brought down to less than 2.5 times the cost of nuclear energy. Solar panels can be installed quickly, with minimal disruption to nature. Methods to reduce the embodied energy used up in panels and improve end-of-life disposal progress steadily.

In 2020, the International Energy Agency (IEA) declared solar electricity the cheapest in history: at least four times cheaper than nuclear. Rare mention of nuclear energy being the most expensive signals the lobbying power of this massive miasmic industry.

In Germany, plans to open a nuclear reprocessing plant at Wackersdorf in Bavaria were discontinued in 1989 because of major public protests. The experience converted former lead nuclear exponent Dr Franz Alt to the benefits of renewable energy (RE). Alt coined the phrase, “solar panels for peace”, echoing President Eisenhower’s 1950s slogan, “atoms for peace”, referring to using fissile nuclear material for civilian electricity production not weapons. The monstrous consequences of accidents or conflict prove nuclear production poses a persistent security threat.

8. Decentralised energy independence based on 100% clean renewables is the eco alternative because, beyond its attraction as a target in the event of invasion, centralised electricity generation makes the grid unstable, and an unstable grid makes power supply unstable. Ireland with its already very centralised supply has a very high System Average Interruption Duration Index (the indicator of supply reliability), much higher than countries with a decentralised supply like Denmark or Germany. Local photovoltaic power generation means independence from burdensome or mistaken government and market forces.

Chronic above-average prices are predicted in the UK due to its large nuclear power plants and a lack of onshore Renewable Energy power plants. Power monopolies reinforcing their own dominance pose major threats to economies. Since Ireland’s electricity supply is linked to the UK grid, power price increases there are felt here.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) warned that crises such as the Ukraine war “makes it positively clear that we must invest in a secure, reliable, resilient, decentralized, democratic, and 100% clean and renewable energy system. Energy independence and climate change are both issues of national security”. Ending this dependency is urgent both on environmental and peace-and-justice grounds.

9. In her 2019 book, Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, Kate Brown shows that the US and other countries censored and destroyed evidence of radiation’s long-term biological toxicity, especially following low to moderate doses, which delay symptoms, meaning millions of impaired people are excluded from casualty counts. She hardly needed to mention the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) ignominious but still extant 1959 agreement to desist from investigating and reporting the human health risks of nuclear radiation, made with US-sponsored nuclear advocate, the extremely powerful interest group, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Those who tried to probe atomic poisoning could find themselves fired, arrested or worse. The 2023 film La Syndicaliste gives a feel for what inquirers are up against. Such obstacles stymie the demand for proper wide-ranging studies into the actual consequences of massive lasting contamination of living beings. Brown’s retrieval of scattered reports by citizens, public servants and independent scientists whose perspectives clash with authority’s accounts of limited harm, sets the record straight. https://drb.ie/articles/were-all-hot-now/

In mid-sixties America, Dr John Gofman, cholesterol pioneer and inventor of the Linear Non-Threshold model, wondered about radiation’s impact on the human body, and initiated large-scale research. He and his colleague Dr Tamplin reviewed data from Japan’s Life-Span Study of atomic bomb victims. Observing how cancer and genetic injury so often succeeded radiation poisoning, Gofman and Tamplin concluded in1969 that safety guidelines for low-level exposure were way too high and recommended their reduction by ninety per cent. The US Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) disputed the findings, and General Leslie Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, promptly ordered confiscation of the exhaustive medical documentation used, depriving humanity of this unique trove.

As Brown recounts, result reports were destroyed in 1973, and another independent researcher, Thomas Mancuso, fired in 1977. In the 1990s, Joseph Lyon encountered insider obstruction when gathering statistics for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) on elevated sickness after Nevada tests: a further example of the high-level sabotage Brown repeatedly detected. Experts finally agreed in 1996 they were wrong, some might say criminally, to doubt the severity and prevalence of radioactive diseases in Chernobyl. Rather than safety guidelines being lowered, however, the trend is to raise them farther after each big nuclear event affecting populations and their homes, foods and workplaces, as if the logistics of sane response otherwise is too overwhelming. 2023 research confirms the disproportionately high and cumulative persistence of radioactive contamination – https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.est.3c03565#

Acknowledging Gofman’s work, the National Academy of Science carried out an enormous study on the biological effects of ionising radiation, or BEIR, for short. Findings confirmed warnings sounded by Gofman, yet even his advice to at least locate nuclear plants away from built-up areas was ignored.

10. The radiation that can cause severe burns, systemic sickness and death makes up fifteen per cent of a nuclear bomb’s output. Just fifty of today’s bombs could kill two hundred million people. In 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences invented the Doomsday Clock. Sixty years later, in 2007, the minute hand moved forward two minutes, from seven to five minutes to midnight. Ten years later, in 2017, it advanced another two and a half minutes due to extra risks from nuclear terrorism, rogue state arms acceleration and general nuclear renewal. Since 2023, it’s closer again, at 90 seconds to midnight. The taxonomy listing nuclear energy as green is emboldening for greenwashing companies. Who wouldn’t love a hazard-free clean energy? It’s like magic – until a closer look is taken. State services should ensure adequate and independent expertise is in place to compel transparency, corporate governance, and public awareness and safety. Instead, opinion formers flourish as they exhort people to be optimistic about a future presented as high-tech, nature-blind, urban and ever more prosperous. Realistically though, since the nuclear industry inhabits the same business spaces as fossil fuel companies, simply choose nuclear to increase humanity’s chance of soonest going broke, economically, environmentally and morally, on the way to midnight and extinction.

Finally, an important reference is the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2023

https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/-World-Nuclear-Industry-Status-Report-2023-.html

Billy King: Rites Again, 307

Billy King shares his monthly thoughts

Hell o again, writing that reminds me of the story about the church bulletin which mentioned that a meeting would be gin with a prayer. Anyway, on with the show.

They haven’t gone away (unfortunately)

The attempted killing of a senior PSNI detective in Omagh, and the very serious, critical, injuries he received, are an unpleasant reminder that paramilitaries have not left the stage in Northern Ireland, they are still waiting in the wings. This was presumably a very targeted murder attempt in that he had probably been the senior officer investigating some of the comrades of those who attempted the killing. He was not only an easy target – putting footballs away after being involved in regular training of young lads in football – but it was an attack on someone who was involved in youth work and sports training in his spare time.

Republican paramilitaries who reject the Good Friday Agreement may be small but they still have some capacity to hit hard, and if they had had ‘more luck’ in other operations then the injury or death count could be larger. Loyalist paramilitaries however have a larger ‘on the ground’ presence in some Protestant working class areas, and a larger involvement in illegal activities such as drug supply and dealing. Twenty-five years after the GFA they are still a feature of life.

While various programmes have tried to help paramilitaries move on, and most have, the reality is that paramilitarism is still a feature in Northern Ireland, and the return of paramilitarism on a greater scale an even bigger threat if the wind blew the wrong way. It strikes me that part of what provides self justification for them is the way that past violence on ‘their’ side (republican, loyalist and state) is justified. But another reason is the lack of understanding of the possibilities of nonviolent struggle – which is where us peace activists come in. However it is uphill all the way when so much effort is put into inculcating violence and the military on a larger scale – e.g. Queen Elizabeth’s funeral was basically one massive military event.

It is not just in Northern Ireland, obviously, that this applies. And the small voice of the advocates of nonviolent change and struggle is usually drowned out by a myriad of other voices which are both more numerous, better placed and better funded. But we will keep trying to have our spake even if there is a gale force wind taking our voices away from those who matter.

Twenty years after the Iraq war

Doesn’t time fly when you are having fun-damental questions about the nature of western society, anyway it is now two decades since the USA and Britain invaded Iraq, and two decades since a considerable part of the world, in the big demos of February 2003, told them not to do it. So is peace protest a lost cause? Not necessarily. Protests did put down a marker, raise consciousness about the illegitimacy of the war, and hopefully make our great leaders think twice about doing it again. Of course the whole debacle of the war itself, and aftermath, also emphasised its ill judged nature and it ruined what reputation Tony Blair had (he decided to back the USA, no questions asked)..

However the margin between ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in stopping a war can be very small. Milan Rai, who is editor of Peace News in Britain,, has an easily accessible article in the February-March 2023 issue of Peace News, available at https://peacenews.info/node/10508/how-we-nearly-stopped-war He has also written books about the Iraq war – before and after, including Regime Unchanged (Pluto, 2003) which discusses the issues in the article in greater detail.

In this article he details the wobbliness of the British government coming up to the war, and the fact that parliament was given a vote only because of the public pressure through demonstrations and the like. Had UN weapons inspectors been allowed to do their job (as opposed to being ordered out by the USA when going to war) this might have held up the whole affair and shown conclusively that Iraq did not have Weapons of Mass Destruction (the Weapons of Mass Distraction on the other hand included a ‘dodgy dossier’ from the British government claiming the unclaimable on this matter). The work of the weapons inspectors might have taken a few months – but the USA wanted war and it was not going to wait.

Milan Rai goes on to contrast the lobbying which went on of Turkish parliamentarians against the war, successfully, compared to the lack of lobbying of Labour MPs in Britain, most of whom voted for the war. “In the run-up to the British parliamentary vote on 18 March, the British anti-war movement did not mount the same kind of national lobbying effort as had taken place in Turkey. Neither the Stop the War Coalition, dominated by the Socialist Workers Party, nor the direct action wing of the anti-war movement, largely anarchist, believed in lobbying, and no other anti-war body took the lead. Stop the War concentrated on conventional marches and rallies. Much of the direct action movement was focused on protests at military bases; some of the rest focused on ‘Day X’, what to do when the war started. All of these were valuable activities. What was missing was a push to have a parliamentary vote on the war, and then to lobby MPs intensively. As it was, a majority of Labour MPs voted for war.”

Had Britain not jumped on the war bandwagon the USA’s position would have been much more difficult in terms of perceived legitimacy (I say ‘perceived’ because the war had no legitimacy at legal or strategic levels). But the above contrast between Turkey and Britain also leads us to the conclusion that no nonviolent tactics should ever be excluded from the panoply of what we might use. Lobbying, if done in sufficient numbers and with sufficient strength, can work.

Wars are relatively easy to get into and very difficult to get out of. This, tragically, applies to Russia and Ukraine today.

What springs to mind

Spring isn’t quite sprung yet but our snowdrops are nearly over, daffodils/narcissae are coming into flower or in full flower, and the days are noticeably longer. The spring is a great season anywhere but in Ireland April, coming up soon, is on average the driest month so a really great time to be out and about and ‘doing things’ in the great outdoors – mind you February has been a lot drier than usual too.

During Covid there has been a rediscovery of aspects of our own backyards, literally and metaphorically. Ireland doesn’t have the summer sun and heat of many countries to the east and south but if you are moving (walking, running, hiking, cycling, swimming etc) once you get going, if you are suitably equipped, then that should not interfere with your enjoyment. Ireland is green for a reason and that reason drops out of the sky in the shape of rain.

Spring is the season of new growth and all of us can be a part of that, almost whatever the circumstances. Window boxes and tubs can have a surprising variety of flowers or some salad vegetables growing. You can even grow sprouting seeds, highly nutritious, without any soil or compost. If you have space but don’t want a garden you have to do too much work in then a fruit tree or too can do wonders in terms of an enjoyable crop. And a wild garden may be home to a myriad of creatures and, with a little bit of thought, be another wonder with perhaps just a path (manufactured or cut) to have easy access..

My only plea in all this is to think organic and avoid adding to the chemicals which are far too present around us already. Going organic can on occasions mean more work but it is also more rewarding and nature will thank you. Something called the internet can assist you in finding out more and places like the Organic Centre in the north-west (see news section this issue) is a valuable resource.

A long time ago, like the 1960s and 70s, to ‘dig’ something could be to get it, to appreciate it. It was slang emanating from the USA, possibly coming from even further back, the 1930s and 1940s. ‘Dig’ has several meanings but one theory is that this sense of ‘dig’ comes from the Irish an dtuigeann tú’, and wouldn’t you know that we would get in there somewhere. Whether you are into digging or no digging gardening and horticulture you can cooperate with nature in whatever way you fancy and ‘dig it’. It may even put a spring in your step and it certainly won’t soil your reputation; to have green fingers is always an accolade. [Any more puns like that and I’ll be digging a hole to climb into, or take a dig at you – Ed].

Nukes are puke

Ireland, thankfully, avoided an inappropriate nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point at the end of the 1970s (it wasn’t a ‘sore point’ with activists when Dessie O’Malley’s successor as responsible minister dropped the plans). You can learn more about the anti-nuclear power movement then from an edited version of a thesis by Simon Dalby on the INNATE website at https://innatenonviolence.org/wp/pamphlets/ and on the INNATE photo site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72157607158367565

However every so often there is a letter in the Irish Times, and the issue raised elsewhere, of a small new-tech nuclear plant being The Answer to Ireland’s quest for ‘green energy’ and power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. If things were only as simple as that. Firstly, nuclear power is far from green and there are no known ways to keep waste safe for tens of thousands of years – think of the time from when Jesus was around and take that forward by a large multiple – no one is quite sure how long with the nuclear industry talking about 10,000 years but others clearly saying much much longer. Bequeathing such waste to our descendents seems totally callous and irresponsible. Secondly, while modern plants may be safer than heretofore, the unexpected still happens; think Fukoshima (or even think Chernobyl in the Russia-Ukraine war) – we don’t know what could happen. Thirdly, new nuclear plants are notoriously slow to be built and by the time Ireland would have one coming on stream we would have had to have green energy properly sorted earlier.

But this whole matter was dealt with recently by John Fitzgerald, a very competent but not exactly radical economic analyst in the Irish Times, https://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/2023/02/10/nuclear-power-is-not-the-right-solution-to-irelands-energy-needs/ and the title says it all – “Nuclear power plants are simply too big to be viable in Ireland”. It is a perceptive and analytical piece although lacking mention of ‘the unexpected’, as mentioned above.

Anyway, Fitzgerald states “As the Department of Finance noted 40 years ago, nuclear generators come at a minimum scale, which is huge relative to the size of the Irish electricity market. In order to guard against the risk of a breakdown in such a single large plant, we would need to maintain equivalent generation capacity as a backup, which would be very costly. Nuclear plants are simply too big to be viable in our small electricity market……..Having invested massively in wind power, we need backup that can be readily powered up when the wind doesn’t blow and powered down again. Nuclear generators lack that flexibility – they are always on. So nuclear is a poor fit for Ireland’s energy needs.”

Of course Ireland does need generating capacity not dependent on wind or sun and that can be provided by a variety of sources including different forms of tidal power. These need developed rapidly, along with storage including pumped water and batteries. And we are, to begin with, arguably the best suited location in Europe for wind power to begin with. You would like to think that such an article as that by John Fitzgerald might mean the end of letters advocating nuclear power but some people just love a high tech, ‘simple’ solution, except it isn’t a solution at all.

That’s me for March and I’ll see you again in a month’s time, until then take care of yourself, others and the planet, Billy.