Beyond Nuclear International

Why preserving the INF Treaty matters

US decision to abandon treaty makes nuclear war more likely

On Saturday, February 2 the United States is expected to formally withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The implications of this are extremely serious. The Basel Peace Office, Mayors for Peace Europe, Mayors for Peace North America, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and World Future Council explain why it’s important to preserve the treaty.

Mayors, parliamentarians, policy experts and civil society representatives from forty countries – mostly Europe and North America – have sent an open letter, the Basel Appeal for Disarmament and Sustainable Security, to Presidents Putin and Trump and to the leaders of the Russian and US legislatures, calling on them to preserve the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, prevent a new nuclear arms race in Europe and undertake measures to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict and support global nuclear disarmament. (Appeal also available in French, German, Russian and Spanish).

The INF Treaty is an historic agreement reached in 1987 between the United States and the Soviet Union to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers, and to utilize extensive on-site inspections for verification of the agreement.

Following President Trump’s 20 October, 2018 announcement of his intent to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty, the State Department has signaled that the US will suspend implementation of the treaty beginning 2 February 2019 and commence the six-month withdrawal process. If the Treaty is dissolved it would further stimulate the current nuclear arms race. In particular, it would open the door for intermediate-range, ground-based nuclear-armed missiles returning to Europe and for US deployment of such missiles in Asia.

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Discrimination under the radioactive plume

Potassium iodide distributed in Canada is denied Americans

By Keith Gunter

In the wake of the still ongoing March 2011 Fukushima disaster, governments in Europe and Canada began implementing more pro-active radiological disaster plans — including pre-distribution of potassium iodide (KI) in reactor emergency planning zones (EPZs). Potassium iodide is now directly delivered in advance to populations around nuclear plants throughout Europe, including Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland. However, no such program exists in the United States.


Image: US government

KI is a safe, stable form of iodine and is commonly used to iodize table salt. If ingested in prescribed doses in time when a nuclear accident occurs, it saturates the thyroid and blocks the absorption of radioactive iodine-131. Exposure to iodine-131 has been definitively linked to increased rates of thyroid cancer, most demonstrably after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Ukraine, and the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan.

However, KI works only to block absorption by the thyroid of radioactive iodine-131, a rapidly mobile radioactive gas released during a nuclear accident and one of the first hazards to arrive.  KI is by no means a “cure” or “preventive” for the biological damage caused by other radioactive gases and longer-lived particulate fallout like radioactive cesium. However, KI is being recognized as an essential adjunct to prompt evacuation or temporary sheltering in place. In particular, infants, young children and pregnant women are identified as the most critical population that would need to receive the KI prophylactic protection.

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Dead but still nailed to the perch

The nuclear power industry refuses to believe it is bereft of life

By Jonathon Porritt

Were it not for blanket Brexit, smothering every other news item, I suspect there would have been a lot more coverage of the recent collapse of Hitachi’s nuclear pretensions here in the UK. And a lot more questioning about what the hell happens next – in terms of UK energy and climate policy.

On January 17, Hitachi announced that it was ‘freezing’ (something of a euphemism for abandoning) its £16bn plan to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa on Anglesey. It would also be axing its involvement in the Oldbury plant on the River Severn. In so doing, Hitachi acknowledged that it would have to take a £2bn hit on its balance sheet. Despite which, its share price improved significantly.

Following hot on the heels of last year’s decision by Toshiba to axe its involvement in the Moorside nuclear plant near Sellafield, this moment marked the definitive collapse of dreams of a nuclear renaissance first conjured up by Tony Blair back in 2004, pre-Fukushima, and subsequently endorsed (with even greater and more naïve enthusiasm, post-Fukushima) by the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition Government in 2013.

As it happens, I’ve had significant skin in this game throughout that time. First, as Chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, which invested significant resources in seeking to persuade Tony Blair that his 2005 change of heart on nuclear (Labour’s position before then was to keep the nuclear option ‘in the long grass’), was profoundly ill-judged. And then, together with three other former Directors of Friends of the Earth, in 2012 and 2013, warning David Cameron and his pro-nuclear Lib Dem groupies that his plans for six new plants by 2030 had zero prospect of ever being delivered.

(I really do try to avoid ‘told you so’ grandstanding here, but you might be amused to read the text of the actual letters the four of us sent Cameron at that time – accurate in almost every single particular!)

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The farming family who held out against Wylfa B

With Welsh nuclear plant “on hold”, 300 years of tradition is saved

By Linda Pentz Gunter

There is a crowd of people at the top of the garden path wondering where to go next. They were led up there by Horizon, a subsidiary of Hitachi, which had dangled the promise of local jobs and an economic boom in front of a low income community eager for new opportunities.

That opportunity was supposed to consist of two new Japanese-built advanced boiling water reactors, known as Wylfa B or, in Welsh, Wylfa Newydd. They would have gone up adjacent to the closed two-reactor Wylfa A site on the north coast of Anglesey in Wales. But on January 17, Hitachi got financial cold feet and “froze” the project.

Of course the whole thing was always a chimera. The “local” jobs were arguably scant. Horizon said it would build housing for a workforce of 4,000, indicating the bulk of workers would come from elsewhere. The price for the electricity Wylfa B would generate was never articulated by the company. The local council gave Horizon permission to begin clearing the proposed site even though the company did not yet have the Development Consent Order necessary for the nuclear plant to proceed.

wylfa storm clouds

Storm clouds had been gathering over Wylfa for a while, long before the January 17 announcement to freeze the new nuclear project (Photo: Julian Wynne)

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Jaitapur: A risky and expensive project for India

Six-reactor EPR project moves forward with cost and safety issues unresolved

By Suvrat Raju and M.V. Ramana

In December, the French company Électricité de France (EDF) submitted a “techno-commercial proposal” to the Indian government for the Jaitapur nuclear power project in Maharashtra. The idea of importing six nuclear European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) was initiated by the United Progressive Alliance government more than a decade ago, but the project had made little progress due to concerns about the economics and safety of the EPRs, local opposition, and the collapse of the initial French corporate partner, Areva. Despite these problems, in the past few months, the Modi government has taken several high-level steps towards actuating the project.

In March 2018, EDF and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) signed an “industrial way forward” agreement in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron. Last month, after meeting the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj announced that “both countries are working to start the Jaitapur project as soon as possible”. The urgency is inexplicable as it comes before the techno-commercial offer has been examined and as earlier questions about costs and safety remain unanswered. Moreover, with the Indian power sector facing surplus capacity and a crisis of non-performing assets (NPAs), a large investment in the Jaitapur project is particularly risky.

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Black Mist, Burnt Country

Artists respond to the devastation of British atomic tests at Maralinga

By Linda Pentz Gunter

During the Cold War, more than two thousand atomic tests were carried out by the nuclear weapons powers. They chose to detonate some of these “tests” over the heads of unwilling, and mainly unwitting people, who, having been exposed to the radioactive fallout, were then callously treated as guinea-pigs.

One of the least-known chapters in this disgraceful history is the part played by Great Britain, which tested its atomic bombs in Australia. The tests there took place in the 1950s. There were 12 detonations, mainly at Maralinga and also Emu Field and Monte Bello Islands.

Revelations in a recent book, Maralinga, by Frank Walker showed how British scientists secretly used the affected Australian population to study the long-term effects of radiation exposure, much like the Americans did with Marshall Islanders. Although the scientists involved began by testing animal bones, they soon moved on to humans. A directive was issued by UK scientists to “Bring me the bones of Australian babies, the more the better,” an experimentation that lasted 21 years.

KarenStandke_Road to Maralinga II

Road to Maralinga II by Karen Standke (b. 1973)

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