Beyond Nuclear International

The love of three lemons

Poland picks nuclear power that energy agency says is “stagnating or in decline”

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Congratulations must go to Poland — and to US vice president, Kamala Harris, and US energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm for brokering the deal — for its commitment to purchase a triad of American nuclear lemons.

With breathtaking myopia, the Polish government has signed a deal to partner with the US company, Westinghouse, in the construction of three nuclear reactors in Poland.

Apparently, everyone concerned is happy to ignore the fact that Westinghouse was bankrupted by its disastrous nuclear projects in South Carolina and Georgia. The former was canceled mid-construction and the latter, at Plant Vogtle, is now years behind schedule and well beyond its originally predicted 2016 start-up date, with ever-ballooning cost over-runs that have now topped $30 billion.

Also overlooked was that former Westinghouse Electric Company Senior Vice President, Jeffrey A. Benjamin, was charged with 16 felony counts including conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud, and causing a publicly-traded company to keep a false record, over the company’s handling of its now canceled V.C. Summer 2-reactor project in South Carolina.

Polish president, Andrzej Duda, aspires to (3) nuclear power plants from Westinghouse and US nuclear weapons stationed on Polish soil. (Photo: Grzegorz Jakubowski/Wikimedia Commons)

The official reason that long-shelved plans to build nuclear reactors were suddenly revived is that the war in Ukraine has caused energy shortages in heavily fossil fuel-dependent Poland. But, tellingly, another reason given was Poland’s “lack of immediate renewable substitutes”.

Like France with its nuclear power monopoly, Poland’s reliance on coal and gas stifled renewable energy development. Now there is nowhere else to turn. France is similarly stranded and is importing fossil fuel energy and even reopening closed coal plants. 

The backward turn by France in climate mitigation was effectively caused by prioritizing nuclear power for so many decades. Added to that, its aging nuclear reactor fleet is now breaking down with remarkable alacrity — at various times recently more than half of all French reactors have been out of operation. It’s a perfect demonstration of why the nuclear choice is a rash and unreliable one, even without addressing all the inherent dangers and waste issues.

Read More

Uranium addiction

Europe can’t cut economic ties with Russia unless it cuts nuclear power use as well

By Hannes Czerulla, Posteo

Editor’s note: The Uranium Atlas is available in English, here:

The new edition of the Uranium Atlas makes it clear that Europe will not be able to detach itself economically from Russia as long as the states continue to use electricity from nuclear power. After all, both Germany and other European states obtain a large part of the uranium needed for this purpose from mines in Russia and Kazakhstan.

The recently updated version of the Uranium Atlas (in German), is published by the Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) together with the Nuclear Free Future Foundation, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Greenpeace and “.ausgestrahlt”. According to the report, around 40 per cent of European uranium imports come from Russia and Kazakhstan. Thus, in addition to fossil energy imports, European countries are significantly dependent on Russia.

If Europe really wants to become independent of Russia in the energy sector, “it must also stop its cooperation with Russia in the nuclear sector as soon as possible,” emphasised Uwe Witt, Senior Advisor for Climate Protection and Structural Change at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

The Uranium Atlas highlights the regions of the world where uranium is mined, utilised or disposed of. The history of the uranium industry is mostly marked by exploitation and environmental destruction. In Africa, for example, foreign companies still control the mining of radioactive ore and leave behind contaminated land and a population with impaired health. In Canada and the USA, too, indigenous inhabitants are suffering from the uranium-related contamination of entire regions. Meanwhile, Central Europe is struggling with the legacy of uranium mining.

Read More

The annual goldmine

World Nuclear Industry Status Report delivers all the empirical data we need to know about nuclear power’s decline

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The annual goldmine of empirical data on nuclear power that is the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) was duly rolled out on October 5th, this year in Berlin. The 2022 edition is available for download here and is an indispensable reference source, updated each year. 

While delivering an in-depth overview, as its title suggests, of the status of nuclear power worldwide, the report also provides sections focused on particular areas of the technology or on certain countries or regions of the world.

As its principal author, Mycle Schneider, pointed out during the rollout, the report’s authors are big fans of empirical data. Indeed, many of the findings in the report are taken from the nuclear industry itself. Facts and physics are pretty much immutable when it comes to nuclear power, and neither favor the industry very well.  No amount of nuclear industry aspirational rhetoric can hide the truth about a waning and outdated technology.

The over-riding finding of the 2022 edition of the report is that nuclear power’s share of global commercial gross electricity generation in 2021 dropped to below 10 percent for the first time ever, sinking to its lowest in four decades.

As in past years, if you take China out of the picture — a country with 21 new reactors under construction as of mid-2022 — the decline of nuclear power worldwide is even more dramatic. 

At close to 400 pages, the WNISR is a tome, but it is packed full of essential detail on every important topic related to nuclear power and its declining place in the world. Whether you are interested in new builds or closure, decommissioning or small modular reactors, or a specific country, there is something in the report that will flesh out the details.

Read More

A lesson from the TPNW

A Fossil-Fuel Non-ProliferationTreaty will save lives

By Ira Helfand and Marjaneh Moini

We can almost always tell how sick a patient may be before seeing them just by looking at their address. Every day we treat patients who are desperately ill with a number of medical conditions all with the same root cause: environmental racism. Historical discriminatory housing policies have trapped non-white and low income communities in overpolluted neighborhoods. Neighborhoods in previously redlined zones have nearly twice as many oil wellsbreathe dirtier air and have much less green space.

Burning fossil fuels is the major driver of climate change, but also the leading source of air pollution. Worldwide, more than seven million people die prematurely every year from air pollution. Over 130 million people in the US, more than forty percent of our population, breathe unhealthy air. Fossil fuels put people’s health at risk at every stage of their operations from extraction to transport, to processing and finally to burning. Nearly 18 million U.S. residents live within a mile of an active oil or gas well putting them at risk of asthma and other breathing problems, cancerpoor brain development and functiondementia and much more. Living near an oil or gas well affects our children’s health even before they are born. Non-white and low income communities who already bear the burden of dirty fossil fuels are also most affected by the climate crisis.

Non-white communities bear a disproportionate burden of fossil fuel pollution. (Photo: Frank J. (Frank John) Aleksandrowicz/National Archives/Wikimedia Commons)

The climate crisis is a public health crisis. It affects our food, our shelter and every organ in our body. It is much worse than the COVID-19 pandemic. We can’t hide in our homes. Our forests are burning now, our neighborhoods are next. And poor people, and in particular poor people of color, are getting hit the hardest.

That is why the World Health Organization, over 1,400 health professionals and over 200 health organizations are asking for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, inspired by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In fact, the climate crisis is an existential threat to our society similar to a nuclear war. (Editor’s note: On October 20, subsequent to the original publication of this article, the European Parliament passed a motion calling on EU nation states to begin developing a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.)

Read More

Noisy support for an obvious failure

Why do media and governments insist on nuclear for climate?

By Andrew Stirling and Phil Johnstone

At Edinburgh’s Haymarket station, on the route used by COP26 delegates hopping across to Glasgow last November, a large poster displayed a vista from the head of Loch Shiel. In the foreground, a monument to the Jacobite rebellion towers from the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his standard. From there, the water sweeps back to a rugged line of hills.

This is one of Scotland’s most iconic views, famous for both its history and its role in the Harry Potter films.

On the poster, written in the sky above the loch are the words: “Keep nature natural: more nuclear power means more wild spaces like these.” At the bottom is a hashtag – #NetZeroNeedsNuclear – with no further mention of who might be behind this advert.

But it’s not hard to find a website for this group, which claims to be run by “a team of young, international volunteers made up of engineers, scientists and communicators”, all with the engagingly smiley profile pictures to be expected from citizen activists.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in the business of promoting nuclear power (and still, evidently a fan of the incandescent light bulb), is listened to by the media as an authority on the benefits of nuclear power. (Photo: IAEA Imagebank/Creative Commons)

Only when you scroll to the end do you see these activities are ‘sponsored’ by nuclear companies EDF and Urenco. At the bottom, it is explained that Nuclear Needs Net Zero is part of the Young Generation Network (YGN) – “young members of the Nuclear Institute (NI), which is the professional body and learned society for the UK nuclear sector”. The website asserts that the Nuclear4Climate campaign – described as “grassroots” both on the site and in a presentation to an International Atomic Agency conference in 2019 – is in fact “coordinated via regional and national nuclear associations and technical societies”.

During COP26, Nuclear Needs Net Zero laid on a pro-nuclear flash mob in central Glasgow, complete with young dancers wearing ‘we need to talk about nuclear’ T-shirts. Such is the ostensibly fresh, youthful face of today’s nuclear lobby.

Of course, all this is par for the course in the creative world of PR. But there are more substantive grounds why nuclear advocates might wish to avoid too much public scrutiny at the moment. One reality, which can be agreed on from all sides, is that this is by far the worst period in the 70-year history of this ageing industry. So how come it is benefitting from growing and noisy support in mainstream and social media? Why are easily refuted arguments still being deployed to justify new nuclear power alongside renewables in the energy supply mix? And why has the media seized so enthusiastically on a few prominent converts to the nuclear cause?

Read More

Edging toward Armageddon?

Would the use of a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine lead to all-out nuclear war?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

As we mark 60 years since the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s truly horrifying to realize that our present times are considered to be the closest to nuclear war we have been since those 13 terrifying days in 1962.

What saved us then was cooler heads prevailing, as our stories last week described. But can we be assured that those with the power to press the proverbial button — whether at the pinnacle of leadership or lower down the chain of command — will act with similar sense and restraint?

With Kennedy and Khrushchev in command, there was a willingness on both sides to pull back from the brink, not only rhetorically, but through meaningful actions. Khrushchev removed his nuclear missiles from Cuba while the US publicly declared it would not invade the island. Privately, the US also agreed to dismantle its ballistic missiles stationed in Turkey.

And, as we have seen over the years — and in last week’s article by Angelo Baracca — sometimes it takes a person of more humble position to restore rationality and act with restraint. These near-misses ought to have put the halt on nuclear weapons development many decades ago.

Instead, that most obvious of lessons was never learned: that nuclear weapons serve only one purpose; the mutual destruction of all of us. Instead, the nuclear arms race escalated to obscene heights and there are still at least 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world, leaving us perpetually on the edge of Armageddon.

And it was that word, “Armageddon,” that current US President Joe Biden used recently when he said at a Democratic gathering, “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” 

A tactical nuclear weapon on display in a museum — the only place they should be. (Photo of Tactical nuclear air-to-air rocket Douglas AIR-2A Genie in the South Dakota Air and Space Museum, by Boevaya mashina/Wikimedia Commons)

Kennedy had met Khrushchev prior to the 1962 standoff and Biden described Russian president, Vladimir Putin, as “a guy I know fairly well”. But so far, that familiarity hasn’t relieved the current atomic tensions around Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Instead, the news is full of alarm bells, warning that yes, Putin might just be mad enough to push the nuclear button and take us all down with him.

Pundits have cautioned that we are “not there yet,” which should not be taken as comfort. It should be taken as an opportunity to ensure that we never, ever get there. And it’s certainly not encouraging that Russia’s new top commander of the war in Ukraine. General Sergei Surovikin, is nicknamed “General Armageddon” for his command of Russia’s Syria bombardments. But, in the meantime, when we talk about Russia “using” nuclear weapons, what could happen?

Read More