Beyond Nuclear International

Vasily Arkhipov ha salvato il mondo

Sessanta anni fa scoppiò la crisi dei missili a Cuba, e si sfiorò la guerra nucleare

Angelo Baracca

Il 14 ottobre del 1962 un aereo spia U-2 statunitense (vecchi tempi, altro che satelliti!) che sorvolava Cuba rivela che l’Unione Sovietica stava costruendo rampe per l’istallazione di missili con testata nucleare. Il presidente Kennedy ordina immediatamente il blocco navale a Cuba. Ha inizio la più grave crisi dall’inizio della Guerra Fredda: per tredici lunghi giorni Urss e Usa si fronteggiano, arrivando a un passo dalla guerra. Il mondo intero sta con il fiato sospeso. E in effetti non viene solo sfiorata la Terza Guerra Mondiale, ma l’Armageddon nucleare! E a sventarlo fu il sangue freddo di un capitano sovietico, Vassili Arkhipov (e “forse” anche, in modo del tutto indipendente, di un suo omologo statunitense, William Bassett, ma abbiamo una sola testimonianza postuma).

Questa vicenda l’ho già raccontata in modo molto dettagliato quattro anni fa, ma oggi forse è opportuno sintetizzare gli aspetti principali. Infatti, dopo lo scoppio della guerra in Ucraina da molte parti è stato fatto un accostamento con quella crisi di 60 anni fa: e in effetti non pochi sono i punti comuni, ma molti i punti di differenza, per cui mi sembra opportuno tornare brevemente su quella vicenda. Userò il tempo presente per accentuare l’attualità odierna di quelle vicende.

A quel tempo, 15 anni dopo la fine della Seconda Guerra Mondiale (e delle bombe su Hiroshima e Nagasaki), non vi è nessun accordo internazionale per il controllo degli armamenti, tanto meno sugli arsenali nucleari che stanno diventando il fulcro del confronto militare fra i due blocchi. Verso il 1960 gli USA hanno circa 30.000 testate nucleari, l’URSS circa 5.000, sufficienti per la devastazione totale: i missili intercontinentali sono all’inizio, e l’URSS ne ha solo una ventina in grado di raggiungere il territorio statunitense. La Gran Bretagna ha realizzato la bomba nel 1952; la Francia nel 1960 (ma in collaborazione con Israele, che quindi si presume che pure l’abbia); la Cina vi arriverà solo nel 1964.

Fra l’altro, il Doomsday Clock istituito nel 1947, aveva toccato i 2 minuti dalla Mezzanotte (la metafora della fine del mondo) nel 1953 con la Guerra di Corea (quando effettivamente McArthur avrebbe voluto sganciare sul Nord bombe nucleari), ma nel 1960 era stato riportato a 7 minuti, e nel 1963 a 12 minuti, quindi non registra la minaccia nel 1962, che in effetti si seppe soli molti anni dopo: ecco una prima differenza rispetto alla situazione attuale.

Sempre a quel tempo, nel 1959 gli Stati Uniti hanno in gran segreto schierato missili con testata nucleare capaci di colpire l’Unione Sovietica in Italia, a Gioia del Colle, e in Turchia. Ovviamente Mosca lo sospetta, si può affermare che lo sa, ma appunto non ci sono ancora i satelliti spia, e solo gli Stati Uniti hanno gli aerei spia U-2 che sorvolano ad alta quota i paesi avversari. Si può pertanto sostenere (non certo giustificare) che la decisione di Kruscěv nel 1962 di schierare, segretamente, missili nucleari a Cuba sia un atto di difesa, ancorché estremamente rischioso: e qui c’è a mio avviso un’analogia col presente, l’allagamento della NATO (che è un’alleanza nucleare) verso Est, fino ai confini della Russia, che Mosca ha percepito come una minaccia.

Comunque ci si potrebbe chiedere come si sarebbe sviluppata la situazione della Guerra Fredda qualora l’esistenza dei missili sovietici a Cuba fosse stata scoperta solo a cosa fatta, e la minaccia nucleare fosse stata bilanciata, fra i missili degli USA in Italia e Turchia, e quelli dell’URSS a Cuba: anche se è una domanda retorica, la storia non si fa con i “se”. “Forse” sarebbe avvenuta molto prima la spinta, obbligata, ad accordi di disarmo nucleare.

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Renewables need minerals

Can their pollution and public health challenges be overcome?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

We are now both on the path to — and amidst the crisis of — resolving our past greed and irresponsibility in the energy and transport sector. But few, if any, human industries are without a carbon footprint. This has made the climb out of our carbon-intensive paradigm all the harder. 

Consequently, our first imperative — in order to do as little current or future environmental harm as possible — is to focus on solutions that have the lowest carbon footprint and environmental and human impact. This puts conservation at the pinnacle of our priorities, followed by energy efficiency. 

Particularly in developed countries — where we bear almost the entire responsibility for the mess we have made of our planet — we can, and must, consume less, become more energy efficient, live in smaller homes, use public transport routinely, walk and bicycle more and drive and fly less.

Using fossil fuels has to stop. Completely. And ideally now, but, realistically, as soon as possible. Replacement power will still be needed. But nuclear power, which creates long-lived lethal radioactive waste from the beginning to the end of its fuel cycle, and, as a large thermo-electric generator, relies on huge quantities of what will become increasingly scarce water supplies, is not the substitute for fossil fuels. Nuclear power cannot be an environmentally clean and just energy solution. And it has no answers for the transport sector, either.

Yet, as we decry the extraction of uranium — and all its attendant poisoning of the environment and ourselves along with human rights violations — we are met with the legitimate argument that increasing the use of renewables (and electric cars) in order to decarbonize, brings with it the same extractive environmental impacts.

The dispersal of radioactive elements from uranium tailings at mine sites and into the surrounding air, soil, and water, makes cleanup challenging and expensive, a cost the nuclear industry would rather avoid. (Photo: IAEA Imagebank)

But are they really the same? If we dig deeper, to use an unwelcome metaphor, we find parallels but not necessarily equity between the impacts of renewables and nuclear. This does not excuse or justify worker abuse, human rights violations or extractive contamination in any sector. But it’s an important distinction. 

First and foremost, we must look to carbon emissions. It makes sense, even if all the other downsides were equal — which they clearly are not — to at least focus on the lowest carbon emitters. And those are unquestionably renewables. Therefore, our responsibility now is to put things right in the renewable energy industry, even as we must point out, criticize and urge change in those areas that need improvement, including recycling, sustainable sourcing and human rights.

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The great ratepayer robbery

How new nuclear rips off its customers

By Linda Clare Rogers

A recent BBC documentary called Big Oil versus the World exposed the excellent job by oil companies in fending off what could have been an existential threat to their future, at the cost of one for the rest of us. The program revealed how the oil industry brought us near to catastrophe while knowingly lying about the role of fossil fuels in creating global warming. 

There are vital lessons to be learned from this about the nuclear power industry. As with the oil industry, the nuclear industry continues to mislead us about the need for nuclear power to save the planet, in order to preserve itself. And, like the oil industry, it contributes to the catastrophe of global warming.

Nuclear power stations take too long to build to help mitigate the effects of global warming, and divert money from renewable power and other more immediate means of doing so.

To add insult to injury, we, as taxpayers, are now being asked to contribute to this catastrophe by paying for the building of yet more destructive nuclear power stations. The astronomical cost of nuclear power means that the industry itself can’t and won’t take on the economic risk. 

There are better paths for Wales and all of the UK than gouging struggling ratepayers for unneeded new nuclear power plants. (Photo: CND Cymru)

Instead, money taken from our earnings and our benefits (in the U.K, low-income people on Universal Credit are not to be exempted), to set up new nuclear build, is meant to encourage other investors to take the risk in the future. This is before the plants are actually built.

The name of the UK government scheme , or, more accurately, scam, is the Regulated Asset Base model, known as RAB. (Editor’s note: In the U.S., a similar fleecing of ratepayers exists in some states, known as Construction Work In Progress or CWIP.)

In the introduction to RAB — the Ministerial Foreword to the Statement on Procedure and Criteria for Designation — we are told that the government will be taking one nuclear project to Final Investment Decision this parliament and two projects to Final investment Decision in the next parliament, including small modular reactors. The push for this scenario is undermining safety, fleecing the taxpayers at a time of economic crisis, and disregarding the real problems increasingly associated with nuclear power. 

The Nuclear Energy Financing Act 2022 implements the nuclear RAB model and is meant to facilitate investment in the design, construction, commissioning and operation of new nuclear energy generation projects. 

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Climate pragmatism or Faustian bargain?

What the new US climate law does—and where it fails

By Liane Schalatek, Heinrich Böll Stiftung

Analysis: U.S. climate policy is currently putting observers through a roller coaster of emotions: just a few weeks ago, the Supreme Court limited the authority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue far-reaching climate regulations. Now, after decades of unsuccessful legislative attempts, the U.S. Congress has passed the most comprehensive American climate legislation ever by a razor-thin majority. The $369 billion package is now law with President Biden’s recent signature. The legislation is intended to lead to drastic emissions reductions over the next decade and transform the U.S. energy sector and the U.S. economy. What some see as an expression of goal-oriented climate pragmatism, in which the perfect must not become the enemy of the good, others see as a Faustian bargain that tightens rather than loosens the fossil fuel industry’s stranglehold on the U.S. economy. So what exactly is in the package?

The sweeping climate package, embedded alongside health care and tax reforms in the surprise passage of the more than 700-page Inflation Reduction Act, represents the largest U.S. funding boost to date to reduce greenhouse gases and promote climate-friendly “green” technologies. It is roughly four times what was authorized for climate action under President Biden’s Democratic predecessor Obama in 2009 in what was then the American Recovery and Reinvestment ActThis spending is in addition to the more than $200 billion in clean energy and climate action investments that a majority Democratic Congress already approved last year in a massive infrastructure funding bill. 

The hodgepodge Inflation Reduction Act, here being jubilantly signed into law, is all that remains of the far stronger Green New Deal. (Photo: Department of Energy/Jennifer Granholm/Wikimedia Commons)

Passage of the bill is a much-needed win for the Biden administration, whose approval ratings are extremely low given the impact of inflation on American households. It comes just months before the November midterm elections, in which Republicans are expected to win.

Carrots instead of sticks: financial incentives instead of bans

The law includes neither a carbon price nor a CO2 cap under a federal emissions trading system. It also fails to radically address the main cause of climate change, namely the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Thus, the measure clearly relies on carrots rather than sticks, in part because previous attempts to push a climate bill through Congress that relies on carbon taxation have repeatedly failed over the past several decades. Then-Vice President Al Gore’s push in 1993 failed to gain traction, as did the Markey-Waxman emissions trading plan of 2010.

So instead of punitive measures and restrictions, the package prioritizes financial support as an incentive and emphasizes how much the investments will support the American economy, create jobs and benefit consumers. This also secured the almost euphoric support of the U.S. business sector for the proposed legislation, with letters of support from more than 1,000 companies, investors and trade groups, including major oil companies, as well as labor unions. The Biden administration has purposefully pursued this approach, which justifies climate protection with green jobs and economic growth, since the beginning of his term in office as part of his reconstruction strategy to Build Back Better after the pandemic-related economic crisis.

Accordingly, the White House stressed that the Inflation Reduction Act “secures America’s position as a world leader in domestic manufacturing and clean energy supply chains,” creates and sustains “good-paying union jobs in construction and manufacturing, including in rural communities,” and lowers annual energy costs for Americans by an average of up to $1840, according to expert estimates.

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Don’t nuke the future

As we strike for climate, we must strike nuclear power from our energy plans

By David Kraft, NEIS

The Fridays for the Future Climate Strike on September 23 called out tens of thousands of people worldwide – over 300 in downtown Chicago — to protest the inadequate governmental response to the Climate Code Red, and identify the many corporate criminals who are responsible for the bulk of the crisis.

While it is necessary to identify and hold accountable those who are the source of the problem, if the Planet is to survive the predicted catastrophic temperature rise and resulting environmental impacts, it is equally important to identify real and viable solutions to the crisis, given the limited amount of time left to act.

On that note it cannot be stressed more emphatically that nuclear power is not a viable climate solution.

Why is this the case?  With eight years left before the IPCC’s 2030 deadline to literally reinvent and implement a climate friendly energy infrastructure, nuclear power serves as a drag and barrier to reaching that target.  It is too costly; to slow to build out to the levels needed; displaces less atmospheric carbon per dollar spent than cheaper and quicker alternatives; and not only fails to solve its current list of unsolved problems (for example, nuclear waste disposal), but adds to this list the threat of increased nuclear proliferation and accidents, especially in war zones like Ukraine, and potentially elsewhere (India/Pakistan; China Taiwan; Iran/Saudi Arabia, etc.).

Members of NEIS joined the Fridays for the Future Climate Strike in Chicago on September 23, 2022. (Photo: NEIS)

Worse, money spent on bailing out the economically failed nuclear power plants we have is money not available to be spent on real climate solutions we already know  work: more renewable energy, more energy efficiency, improved transmission/distribution systems, and energy storage.

Who says so?  Only:  two former CHAIRPERSONS of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission; former public utilities chairs and utility CEOs from the states of California, New York, and Maine; energy experts and scientists like Amory Lovins and Mark Jacobson of Stanford University, and Dr. Andy Stirling of University of Sussex. 

Cost analysts at Lazards demonstrate that nuclear (both the present old generation, and the proposed “next generation” of so-called small modular nuclear reactors) is too expensive compared to renewables and other alternatives; while those at Moody’s point out that reactors will be at severe risk of operating safely in a climate disrupted world without extraordinary added expense to enhance safety – again, money that won’t be available for real alternatives.

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Interview: Nuclear tests in Polynesia

Hinamoeura Cross wants to “educate and to denuclearize memories”

By Jean-Tenahe FAATAU, outremers 360°

Now in her thirties, Hinamoeura Cross is battling leukemia. It’s an illness she has endured, and which has been part of her life, since she was 25. The leukemia diagnosis served as an electric shock, spurring the Polynesian into activism, and she has not hesitated to speak up ever since at international tribunals to denounce the thirty years of atomic tests and their consequences suffered by her country since 1966. Most recently, Hinamoeura Cross went to Vienna for the meeting on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons organized by ICAN. And during the period when, on July 2, Polynesia commemorates the first of the 193 tests that tore open its sky and lagoons, she describes her commitment, her illness and her fight to “educate and to denuclearize Polynesian memories”.

Outremers 360: You participated in Vienna in a meeting on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Can you describe the goal of that meeting?

Hinamoeura Cross: I was invited by ICAN, an international organization that brings together a number of other organizations and which supports the abolition of nuclear weapons. More exactly, I was invited by ICAN France, represented by Jean-Marie Collin, and in fact it was his idea to have someone who could represent French Polynesia, because French Polynesia was the site of the atomic tests between 1966 and 1996.

But when we talk about the abolition of nuclear weapons we should note that the treaty includes two articles (numbers 6 and 7) which require that all territories affected by nuclear testing must have appropriate medical support. And it is in this sense that, for me, it was interesting to go there as a Polynesian and say that France, even though it has not ratified the treaty, does not respect articles 6 and 7, since we do not have medical support appropriate to what we have suffered for 30 years.

Hinamoeura Cross at the ICAN conference, Vienna, June 2022. (Photo: Marlene Koenig for ICAN)

Indeed, we have one hospital and two clinics on the island of Tahiti. But still today, thousands of Polynesians have to seek treatment in France, specifically in Paris. And hundreds of children with leukemia are treated there. I know a young person from here who has been getting treatment in Paris with her mother for almost four years. I find it scandalous that we don’t have a hospital worthy of the name, given the 193 nuclear tests that have taken place in Polynesia. I think everyone with radiation-induced diseases should be treated in Polynesia.

I also went to Vienna to say that France does not recognize transgenerational diseases. As far as France is concerned, all the children who became sick after December 31, 1998 were not affected by exposure to radioactivity, whereas in other countries it is seen as obvious. Personally, I subscribe to the transgenerational evidence since my grandmother, my mother and my aunt all had thyroid cancer. My aunt had breast cancer as well. I had nothing until I was 24; then I discovered I have leukemia, something I am still fighting today. So I signed up to this fight as a witness, and as a Polynesian, but also as a victim of the French nuclear tests because my illness is a radiation-induced disease.

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