Beyond Nuclear International

Goodbye Moon

Fly me to the moon, but don’t put reactors there

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Not content to desecrate our terrestrial landscape with hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear waste — much piled up with nowhere to go, the rest released to contaminate our air, water and soil — humankind, in all its folly, now plans to do the same to the Moon. And, eventually to Mars.

While our species’ insatiable scientific curiosity has undoubtedly led to some beneficial inventions, it has also drawn us inexorably towards our own downfall. Our zeal to create the atomic bomb ignored logic, ethics, consequences and the fundamentals of human rights. 

The bomb brought us so-called civil nuclear power reactors, the ugly and irresponsible spawn of a weapon that leaves us perched perpetually on the precipice of extinction. But there is nothing “civil” about nuclear power.

At the dawn of the nuclear energy age, not a thought was given to the legacy of deadly radioactive waste it would produce. That can was kicked summarily down the road. Now we are far down that road and no solution has been arrived at, while we ignore the one obvious one: stop making more of it!

So now comes the news that the US wants to put nuclear power reactors on the Moon. 

Should the Moon be for magic, or become our newest nuclear wasteland? (Image: Alice Popkorn/Creative Commons)

In the news stories that followed the announcement, replete with the usual excitement about space exploration (never mind the cost and bellicose implications) there was not one single mention of the radioactive waste these reactors would produce. 

The problem, like the waste itself, will simply be kicked into some invisible crater on the dark side of the Moon.

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Celebrating Sister Ardeth Platte

Anti-nuclear activist and ‘peacemaker in a hostile world’

To Sister Ardeth Platte, who died on Sept. 30 at 84, antinuclear activism was a form of public worship.

Explaining to a federal judge in 2002 how she – alongside protest companions Sister Carol Gilbert and Sister Jackie Hudson – entered a Colorado nuclear base, tapped on a silo with a hammer and used their own blood to smear a cross on a 100-ton missile lid, Platte said: “Every movement of our body was a liturgy.”

It didn’t stop the court from sending her to prison for obstructing national defense and damaging government property. But Platte wasn’t traumatized by her 41-month sentence or any other she had served. By 2017 she and Gilbert estimated they had spent more than 15 years total behind bars and been arrested about 40 times, by their own tally.

“I was in long enough to see so many deaths, suicides. One woman guard went home from work, put a gun to her head and killed herself. Another man committed suicide by hanging right on the prison grounds,” Platte said in our unpublished 2017 interview. I came to know Platte and Gilbert while living with Sacred Heart sisters they knew at Anne Montgomery House in Washington, D.C.

Sister Ardeth Platte especially enjoyed talking to young people. (Photo: Robert Croonquist)
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No emergency planning zones for SMRs?

NRC commissioner warns against “flimsy” rule that could extend to current reactor fleet

By Jeff Baran

Note: Beyond Nuclear is hosting a webinar on SMRs with leading experts: M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament and Global Security, University of British Columbia; Kerrie Blaise, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA); Ed Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists. The webinar is co-hosted by the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick and CELA and will include contributions from Gordon Edwards and David Lowry. The webinar takes place on October 21 at 2pm Eastern time. Click here to register. A recording of the webinar will be available on YouTube. More information on SMRs can also be found in the Beyond Nuclear pamphlet.

In a 3-1 vote by NRC Commissioners on December 17, 2019, Proposed Rule: Emergency Preparedness for Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies (SECY-18-0103) was accepted. The Rule would eliminate the need for Emergency Planning Zones and dedicated offsite emergency planning for Small Modular Reactors. The lone dissenting vote came from NRC Commissioner Jeff Baran. These are his comments.

For the last 40 years, NRC has required emergency planning zones, or EPZs, (Emergency Planning Zones) around nuclear power plants “to assure that prompt and effective actions can be taken to protect the public in the event of an accident.” Every one of the 96* operating large light-water reactors in the country has a plume exposure pathway EPZ that extends about 10 miles around the site with dedicated offsite radiological emergency plans and protective actions in place to avoid or reduce radiation dose to the public during an accident. An ingestion exposure pathway EPZ with a radius of 50 miles around each of these sites is designed to avoid or reduce dose from consuming food and water contaminated by a radiological release. 

The EPZs and dedicated radiological emergency plans are meant to provide multiple layers of protection – or defense-in-depth – against potential radiological exposure. Other NRC requirements are focused on preventing or mitigating a radioactive release. The emergency planning regulations are there to provide another layer of defense in case a release occurs despite those safety requirements. 

In other words, EPZs and radiological emergency planning are designed to address low-probability, high-consequence events. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assesses the adequacy of the offsite emergency plans, and NRC regulations require licensees to hold offsite emergency preparedness drills at each plant at least once every 2 years to practice implementing the plans.

Baran 2015 NRC
NRC Commissioner, Jeff Baran, says new rule does not take into account multiple SMR failures at one site and could open the door to smaller EPZs for existing reactors. (Photo: NRC)

Under this proposed rule, emergency planning for small modular reactors (SMRs) and non-light-water reactors would be flimsy by comparison. Instead of a 10-mile plume exposure pathway EPZ, these reactors would have EPZs that encompass only areas where the projected dose from “credible” accidents could exceed 1 rem. An EPZ extending only to the site boundary is explicitly permitted under this methodology. 

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A bridge to nowhere

New Brunswick must reject small modular reactors

By Gordon Edwards and Susan O’Donnell

Note: Beyond Nuclear is hosting a webinar on SMRs with leading experts: M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament and Global Security, University of British Columbia; Kerrie Blaise, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA); Ed Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists. The webinar is co-hosted by the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick and CELA and will include contributions from Gordon Edwards and David Lowry. The webinar takes place on October 21 at 2pm Eastern time. Click here to register. A recording of the webinar will be available on YouTube. More information on SMRs can also be found in the Beyond Nuclear pamphlet.

On June 26, the Canadian federal government ended the Environmental Assessment of a proposed radioactive waste storage facility beside Lake Huron, after Ontario Power Generation (OPG) withdrew its proposal to build it. OPG decided to terminate the project after the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, on whose unceded territory the facility would be located, voted on January 31 not to support the project, which had been under consideration for 15 years.

What to do with radioactive waste remains a significant challenge for all nuclear reactor operators, including the two new nuclear projects currently supported by NB Power and the New Brunswick government. Recently, more than 100 groups across Canada, including nine in New Brunswick, signed a letter to the federal minister of Natural Resources asking to suspend all decisions about radioactive waste disposal until Canada has a sufficient radioactive waste policy in place.

Satellite image of the NB Power Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station with inset showing nuclear waste storage silos. Google Maps.

Nuclear energy produces dangerous irradiated nuclear fuel and a host of other radioactive waste materials requiring safe storage for hundreds of thousands of years. Globally, no facility for permanent safe storage of irradiated fuel has been licensed to operate, and several facilities for storing non-fuel radioactive wastes have experienced setbacks costing billions of dollars to rectify.

In New Brunswick, the proposed new reactors (so-called “small modular nuclear reactors” or SMNRs) will create irradiated fuel even more intensely radioactive per kilogram than waste currently stored at NB Power’s Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. The non-fuel radioactive wastes will remain the responsibility of the government of New Brunswick, likely requiring the siting of a permanent radioactive waste repository somewhere in the province.

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Promises, promises

Nuclear power is failing. So why does news coverage suggest the opposite?

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Sometimes it’s “Promises promises”. On other days it’s “Another one bites the dust”.

If, like me, you are a fellow sufferer of a condition known as involuntary musical imagery (having a song stuck constantly in your head), lately you might have found yourself humming one or other of those catchy songs. Over and over again.

They are effectively the theme songs for nuclear power right now. Because if it’s not the false promise of climate-saving jobs, then it’s another premature shutdown, or new nuclear project canceled, the chimera of small mythical reactors, or a reactor failing to deal with the ever more prevalent weather extremes of climate change.

With the withdrawal of Hitachi, Wylfa-B is the latest new reactor project to bite the dust, for now. (Photo: Rhysllwyd.com/CreativeCommons)

That’s the unavoidable story, no matter what myths the pro-nuclear propagandists try to spin. Reality has an annoying habit of grabbing the headlines. And right now, those read:

“Fresh delays at EDF’s Flamanville 3”

“Scottish nuclear power station to shut down early after reactor problems”

“Hitachi ‘withdraws’ from £20bn Wylfa project”

“Olkiluoto-3 nuclear power plant 11 months behind latest schedule”

“Nuclear reactor in France shut down over drought”

“Exelon vows to shut down Byron, Dresden nuclear plants”

And so on.

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Sleepwalking into a crisis

Former world leaders urge those now in power to support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

The following is an open letter signed by 56 former world leaders and government ministers from 20 NATO countries, plus Japan and South Korea, urging the world’s current leaders to support and join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The coronavirus pandemic has starkly demonstrated the urgent need for greater international cooperation to address all major threats to the health and welfare of humankind. Paramount among them is the threat of nuclear war. The risk of a nuclear weapon detonation today — whether by accident, miscalculation or design — appears to be increasing, with the recent deployment of new types of nuclear weapons, the abandonment of longstanding arms control agreements, and the very real danger of cyber-attacks on nuclear infrastructure. Let us heed the warnings of scientists, doctors and other experts. We must not sleepwalk into a crisis of even greater proportions than the one we have experienced this year.

It is not difficult to foresee how the bellicose rhetoric and poor judgment of leaders in nuclear-armed nations might result in a calamity affecting all nations and peoples. As past leaders, foreign ministers and defence ministers of Albania, Belgium, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain and Turkey — all countries that claim protection from an ally’s nuclear weapons — we appeal to current leaders to advance disarmament before it is too late. An obvious starting point for the leaders of our own countries would be to declare without qualification that nuclear weapons serve no legitimate military or strategic purpose in light of the catastrophic human and environmental consequences of their use. In other words, our countries should reject any role for nuclear weapons in our defence.

Former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is one of the signatories to the world leaders’ letter. (Photo of BAN at  “Apocalypse Now? Climate and Security” by Kuhlmann / MSC/WikimediaCommons)

By claiming protection from nuclear weapons, we are promoting the dangerous and misguided belief that nuclear weapons enhance security. Rather than enabling progress towards a world free of nuclear weapons, we are impeding it and perpetuating nuclear dangers — all for fear of upsetting our allies who cling to these weapons of mass destruction. But friends can and must speak up when friends engage in reckless behavior that puts their lives and ours in peril.

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