Beyond Nuclear International

Nuclear reactors make climate change worse

Being carbon-free does not establish climate-effectiveness

By Amory B. Lovins

Most U.S. nuclear power plants cost more to run than they earn. Globally, the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 documents the nuclear enterprise’s slow-motion commercial collapse—dying of an incurable attack of market forces. 

Yet in America, strong views are held across the political spectrum on whether nuclear power is essential or merely helpful in protecting the Earth’s climate—and both those views are wrong. 

In fact, building new reactors, or operating most existing ones, makes climate change worse compared with spending the same money on more-climate-effective ways to deliver the same energy services. Those who state as fact that rejecting (more precisely, declining to bail out) nuclear energy would make carbon reduction much harder are in good company, but are mistaken.

If you haven’t heard this view before, it’s not because it wasn’t published in reputable venues over several decades, but rather because the nuclear industry, which holds the microphone, is eager that you not hear it. 

Many otherwise sensible analysts and journalists have not properly reported this issue. Few political leaders understand it either. 

But by the end of this article, I hope you will. For the details and documentation behind this summary, please see pp. 228–256 of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019. A supporting paper provides simple worked examples of how to compare the “climate-effectiveness” of different ways to decarbonize the electricity system.

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Will we ever be nuclear-free?

The 2020 winners of the Nuclear Free Future Award dedicate their lives to ensure it

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The recent fate of Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, provides a sharp reminder about the risks also taken by those who oppose Russia’s state-run nuclear power industry.

Like Navalny, these courageous folk have been followed, surveilled, beaten up, their computers seized, and occasionally even homes ransacked. Most of those at the forefront of Russia’s anti-nuclear movement have been tagged as “extremists” or categorized as a “foreign agent.” A few have been forced to flee overseas, choosing exile to protect their personal safety.

We have published two stories on Beyond Nuclear International so far about Russian resistance to Rosatom and the powerful nuclear industrial complex. Most recently it was Standing up to Rosatom, which described the nuclear sector in all its facets and the efforts by citizens to shut down its various components.

Earlier, we ran an article by Oleg Bodrov, himself a victim of violence and persecution brought about by his resolute opposition to nuclear development in Russia (and now, through his Baltic alliance, Finland as well).

In These Russians aren’t going away, Oleg wrote about Fedor Maryasov (above left), “a pioneering journalist”, and Andrey Talevlin (above right), “a campaigning lawyer”. He observed: “anyone who has seen the fate of those who oppose the regime in Russia, knows just what kind of risks both men take to commit to their conscience.”

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Hiroshima Fallout

The atomic bombing cover-up and the reporter who revealed it to the world

The following is a review of Lesely M.M. Blume’s new book about John Hersey, author of “Hiroshima”.

By John Loretz

In 1946, John Hersey wrote a magazine article that changed the world. On the 75thanniversary of the events he described so vividly in Hiroshima, (Hersey 1946) journalist Lesley M. M. Blume has given us Fallout, a timely reminder that Hersey’s courageous and influential reporting is as important today as it was when the facts about nuclear weapons were still shrouded in secrecy.

Blume depicts a diligent and resourceful wartime reporter struggling to uncover suppressed facts and disclose essential truths. She takes us into the musty offices of The New Yorker, at the time an upstart humour and society magazine, as Hersey and his editors plot to outmanoeuvre the postwar military censors who, under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, had closed off media access to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to all but the most cooperative journalists.

Through a combination of careful preparation, his reputation for integrity, fortunate timing, and a certain amount of luck, Hersey himself had little trouble getting permission to enter Hiroshima, moved about freely, and was able to leave without interference, unlike colleagues who had their notes and film confiscated. (Hersey, Blume tells us, actually took no notes during his interviews as a means of evading the censors, and did not begin writing until he got home. Remarkably, he retained everything his subjects told him, and quoted them at length, with uncanny accuracy and respect for their stories.) Getting the story past the censors and into print once he had written it was a more daunting challenge, which Blume recounts with enthusiasm.

In an age when our news arrives electronically almost as it happens, it’s charming to learn that every copy of the magazine, comprising solely this one 31,000-word article, sold out on newsstands in a matter of hours, and that people descended upon the offices of The New Yorker begging for copies.

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A peace ambassador passes

Blind and wheelchair-bound, Pat Loveless never stopped fighting for peace and justice

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Takoma Park, Maryland, the US city where Beyond Nuclear is headquartered, was one of the first nuclear-free cities in the country. It is known for its individuality, its progressive politics, and a few eccentricities as well.

Takoma Park is a Sanctuary City. All residents can vote in city elections, regardless of their immigration status. Local youngsters successfully lowered the city voting age to 16. It once had a socialist mayor after whom the city hall is named.

On the quirkier side, it also had a motorcycle riding cat, replete with leather helmet, a man walking around with a dead fox in a trap to protest that cruelty (he also ran the local tool-lending library), and a wandering rooster, Roscoe, who is immortalized in bronze in the town center.

Utne Reader named Takoma Park “the Leftiest burb in America” — satisfying those eager to one-up Berkeley, CA.

And we had our own Peace Delegate. Pat Loveless, a familiar figure, blind and in a wheelchair, carrying a giant peace sign, died on March 20 at age 64. A cause was not given. He was an unmissable presence in Takoma Park for 24 years. And he was indeed the official Takoma Park Peace Delegate, declared so in a May 17, 2010 city council resolution.

Pat’s last name could not have been less appropriate — everyone who knew Pat loved him, even as he challenged us all to do better and to do more. And everyone knew him, at least by sight, with his ubiquitous peace symbol. He went to almost every city council meeting for 17 straight years. Often he spoke, too. Former Takoma Park City Councilman, Ruben Snipper, remembered how Loveless “used to come every session and give his take on current events and the agenda. Always supported and encouraged the best in Takoma Park. His heart was in the right place.”

“We should stand up for what’s just,” Loveless often admonished the council. (The video below is one example of many issues he championed.)

As current Takoma Park mayor, Kate Stewart, observed, “Council meetings and our City will not be the same.”

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The most useless of arsenals

Nuclear nations have handled COVID-19 the worst

By Tilman Ruff

The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that massive arsenals are useless in a pandemic. The countries that have spent obscene sums on nuclear weapons have failed to provide the most basic of protective equipment against the coronavirus, putting their citizens in danger every day.

New pathogens will continue to evolve, spread and disrupt our world. Indeed as we deplete habitats for other species, wreak climate havoc, and grow food industrially, we can expect new infectious diseases more often.

COVID-19 is just the latest; it will certainly not be the last. Bad enough it is, but far from the worst we could expect.

Exposing vulnerability

COVID-19 has caught even the wealthiest nations unprepared; their massive armaments useless against a small, mindless aggregation of single stranded RNA, a few proteins and a thin lipid envelope about 120 nm across.

Nations investing obscene sums in nuclear weapons that must never be used have been unable to provide the most basic of protective equipment – gowns, gloves, and facemasks for their frontline health professionals putting themselves in danger every day.

Image by HFCM Communicatie/Wikimedia Commons.

The best funded public health organization in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States, went from recommending N95 respirators for doctors and nurses at risk to recommending improvised bandanas in the face of severe shortages of the most basic protection costing a fraction of a dollar.

The US government rejected international assistance with test kits and was then left with woefully inadequate numbers of its own faulty kits.

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It’s been 75 years

Why are we still planning for the ultimate planet-ending act?

By Ray Acheson

Reaching Critical Will, a program of the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, has released its new report — Assuring Destruction Forever: 2020 edition. This is its introduction, (edited here for publication timing), a powerful reminder of the lessons humanity has yet to learn, 75 years after the US dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It’s August 2020. Seventy-five years since a US president sitting in Washington, DC decided to drop two atomic bombs on the people of Japan—one on the city of Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. Thus began the nuclear age, marked with the construction of multiple “doomsday machines” programmed for unwinnable wars and global conflagration; astonishing wastes of human and financial resources; bullish, masculinised conflicts among states that deploy violence here and there while dancing around their potential for planet-ending acts; and the relentless peddling of all this as completely, totally, and undeniably rational.

Seventy-five years of apocalyptic potential

But it is not rational. And the continued investment by certain governments in not just the maintenance but also the “modernisation”—the upgrading, updating, and life- extending—of nuclear weapons is absurd, dangerous, and immoral. Fortunately, during the COVID-19 crisis, people are starting to take notice of where all of the money—in many cases, taxpayers’ money—has gone; of why their governments cannot provide basic protective equipment and medical supplies and services during a global pandemic. And even more fortunately, there is something we can do to get rid of the threat of nuclear weapons and release trillions of dollars to deal with real, rather than imagined, crises of security, safety, and stability: we can divest, and we can disarm.

For seventy-five years, the world has lived under the threat of radioactive blast and firestorm, the effects of which are immediately devastating and punishingly intergenerational. For seventy five years, from production to testing and use to storage of radioactive waste, nuclear weapon activities have contaminated land and water—and will continue to do so for thousands of years more. For seventy-five years, a very few governments—nine, at current count—have decided to invest trillions of dollars into these instruments of death and destruction. For seventy-five years, corporations like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bechtel have reaped incredible profits from government contracts for bombs and bombers. Certain academics, politicians, and bureaucrats have risen through the ranks of think tanks or government administrations in positions bankrolled by the nuclear profiteers, spinning theories of “nuclear deterrence” and “strategic stability” to justify this massive, unconscionable investment in technologies of massive violence.

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial, now marking 75 years since the dropping of the US atomic bomb. (Photo: Jepster/Creative Commons)

It’s been seventy-five years. Will we reach one hundred if we continue on like this? Can we survive a century with nuclear weapons? Can we survive a century of wasted money and ingenuity; a century of tensions between human beings armed to the death with the capacity to destroy entire cities, countries, the world, in moments; a century of living with this existential threat while another, that of climate change, promises even more damage and uncertainty ahead?

The question of can we, though, is not as relevant as should we. Should we just keep going, the way the nuclear war mongers want? They say we’ll be fine. Better than if we were to disarm, they argue. Eliminating nuclear weapons will “destabilise” international relations, they assert. It will mean another global conflict, invasions and occupations, “dogs and cats living together.”

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