Beyond Nuclear International

Signs of madness?

Decisions on nuclear future are guided by myths

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Last month I rushed through the august halls of the British parliament in Westminster, on my way to a briefing on small modular reactors for Members of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee.

Running late though I was, it was tempting to slow down and take in all the historic portraits and portals as I hurried down flagstoned hallways, through heavy oak doors and finally into the richly carpeted committee room. But the albeit fleeting impression all of this left was of a world completely isolated from the reality of the daily struggles most of us endure. The rarified air was almost suffocating.

This became even more apparent as, unwillingly gagged, I listened to testimony from executives representing Westinghouse, Bechtel and Rolls Royce. One unsubstantiated sound bite after another tumbled from the mouths of these corporate executives, all serving their rich agenda of vested interests (read shareholders and profits).

But the questions they faced, at least from the Conservative nuclear cheerleaders present, were mainly mild softballs. Give us the soundbite, they urged. What do we need to tell the government to do to make all this happen?

The Tory Party MP for Anglesey, Virginia Crosbie, is more than willing to gamble on new nuclear power. (Photo: Stacey Mutkin/Wikimedia Commons)

Even Labour MP, Beth Winter, while challenging them on the obvious detriments of small modular, or any, reactors — time and cost — given, as she pointed out, climate change is very much here now, politely did not expose their utter hypocrisy. It was, after all, not a room in which arguing was on the agenda. 

The Rolls Royce response was to trot out the “we need to do everything” mantra, which is what nuclear companies have to say in order for their technology to stand any chance at all. In reality, it is clear that choosing nuclear cancels out renewables. Meanwhile, Rolls Royce has pocketed — and presumably invested — £250 million (around $302 million US) with which it has done precisely nothing. But that’s the government’s fault, the company says. We just need to get in a room and get things done.

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Nuclear too expensive and not needed

Energy scientists show obsolescence of nuclear power in an all-renewable future

From Claverton Energy Group

Sizewell C is much more expensive and slower to build than proven and reliable alternative low carbon solutions says an energy think tank that examined nuclear projects in the United Kingdom. Even the unfinished twin reactors at Hinkley C can’t compete with renewables.

Baseload generators such as nuclear power plants are not needed in an all-renewable future and their use will almost certainly increase overall costs to consumers says an elite Claverton Energy Group of experts. Professor Mark Barrett, from University College London (UCL), who has modeled the comparative costs of nuclear and renewable power, using hour-by-hour wind and solar data with 35 years of weather data,  said:

“Nuclear power is more expensive and slower to build than renewables, particularly offshore wind. 7 GW of wind will generate about 40% more electricity than Hinkley at about 30-50% of the cost per kWh and will be built in half the time. Neither wind nor nuclear plants operate all the time, so both will need backup. Modeling shows the total cost of renewable generation to be less than nuclear and to be just as able to provide continuous power even with wind and solar droughts.”   

Nuclear power is more expensive and slower to build than renewables, particularly offshore wind. (Photo: Nicholas Doherty/Unsplash)
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Twin threats to the Marshallese

Youth activists paint pictures of their forgotten history and perilous present

From Reverse The Trend and the Marshallese Educational Initiative

Last summer, Reverse The Trend and Marshallese Educational Initiative showcased a series of paintings by Marshallese youth that reflect the twin existential threats of nuclear testing and climate change as part of the Amnesia Atómica Exhibit in New York City’s Times Square. 

The paintings expose the trauma experienced by youth living in diaspora in the United States who are learning about the ongoing biological, ecological, and cultural consequences of US nuclear testing on their homelands — a history not taught in US schools. 

Joining other youth from affected communities and using art as activism, Marshallese youth are reversing the trend and engaging leaders and their communities to act on these twin threats.

The Amnesia Atómica exposition centered around artist Pedro Reyes’s ZERO NUKES, a 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture serving as a beacon to bring experts, political leaders, and engaged citizens together to address the nuclear threat. 

Pedro Reyes’s ZERO NUKES, a 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture in Times Square. (Photo: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

It was commissioned by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which focuses on three main areas—nuclear risk, climate change, and disruptive technologies—and equips the public, policymakers, and scientists with the information needed to reduce man-made threats to our existence.

The sculpture was designed to serve as a central platform for a series of public programs and events to spotlight the voices of activists, artists, scientists, and community organizations in the anti-nuclear field, and drive conversations around non-proliferation and disarmament. 

Amnesia Atómica was curated by Pedro Alonzo, who specializes in ambitious artworks in public spaces.

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Clear and present danger

Ukraine’s reactors remain at risk as one-year anniversary of war looms

By Linda Pentz Gunter

A year ago, even before Russia invaded Ukraine, we ran our first article about the very real dangers of commercial nuclear power plants being caught up in a war.

A year later, we can thank only luck that what we predicted could happen, hasn’t.  And the pinnacle — or, more accurately, nadir — of that “could” would be a catastrophic attack resulting in a major radioactive release.

Since the war began, the 15 Ukraine reactors situated at four sites, along with the defunct Chornobyl nuclear plant, have been at the center of media attention, once again bringing to light the inherent and extreme dangers of nuclear power plants at any time, let alone during an armed conflict. And, on a few occasions, all of those sites have also been in the crosshairs of actual fighting, most notably the six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest both in Ukraine and all of Europe.

Despite pleadings by the International Atomic Energy Agency and its director, Rafael Grossi, not to engage in combat close to the nuclear plants, no effective deterrent or peaceful protective measure has been found or implemented, even as the IAEA continues to urge the creation of safe zones around the nuclear sites.

Protesters have been warning about the dangers of reactors in Ukraine since long before the Russian invasion. (2010 anti-nuclear protest in Kiev by Christian Ganzer/Wikimedia Commons)

Grossi and others insist that the nuclear plants themselves are not the problem. “It’s very simple, the problem in Ukraine and in Russia is they are at war. The problem is not nuclear energy,” he told the BBC in an interview.

Except that it IS the nuclear plants that are the problem. After all, if Ukraine was powered by renewables and not nuclear plants, this wouldn’t even be an issue. As an Austrian government briefing paper, collected under “Fairy tales by the nuclear lobby,” said: “A ‘successful’ attack on a nuclear power plant in densely populated Europe would have radiological and economic consequences far beyond those experienced after Chernobyl or Fukushima. So far, no terrorist attacks on wind turbines or solar panels have been reported.”

An attack or other precipitating events caused by the war in Ukraine, could still result in such a disaster. Sadly, with the war raging on, nothing has really changed since the February 24, 2022 invasion.

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A reckless response

Ukraine claims new Westinghouse reactors will be fast and cheap. The facts speak otherwise

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Obviously, if your country has been invaded by a foreign power, putting your 15 commercial nuclear reactors at risk of destruction that could lead to a massive radioactive release, rendering your country and others beyond uninhabitable, there is only one clear solution: load up with more new nuclear power plants.

Just this past week, the Ukrainian energy minister, Herman Halushchenko, announced that his country had ordered two new Westinghouse AP1000 reactors for the Khmelnytskyi site in the western part of Ukraine. The two reactors currently there already had to be shut down last November after Russian missile attacks put the plant in peril.

This scheme with Westinghouse, a company that was bankrupted by new nuclear projects in the US, comes on the heels of an earlier US-Ukraine deal announced by Special US Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, during the COP27 summit in Egypt, for a “clean hydrogen” pilot program in Ukraine using small modular reactors.

Ukrainian energy minister, Herman Halushchenko, has announced a two reactor deal with Westinghouse with the absurd claim that they will be ready by 2030-32 and cost $5 billion apiece. (Photo, President of Ukraine/Wikimedia Commons)

Never mind that all four nuclear power plant sites in the Ukraine have at one time or another been embroiled in the war and/or have lost power from the grid — the first step on the way to a potential meltdown. 

Never mind that the International Atomic Energy Agency, despite its mission to promote nuclear power around the world, has called shelling near the plants “out of control” and “playing with fire.”

Never mind that the six-reactor Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the country’s east, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March 4, is the largest in all of Europe and, by all accounts, has lost a considerable amount of its Ukrainian workforce due to the hostile working environment, is a major nuclear catastrophe waiting to happen.

All of this, apparently, leads to only one conclusion in the eyes of the Ukrainian energy authorities. They need even more nuclear power plants.

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Don’t dump on us

Pacific Islanders, marine scientists, urge Japan not to dump Fukushima radioactive water into ocean

By Linda Pentz Gunter

The nuclear power industry has a long history of disproportionately impacting people of color, Indigenous communities and those living in the Global South. As Japan prepares to dump more than 1 million tonnes of radioactive water from its stricken Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant site into the Pacific Ocean some time this year, history is about to repeat itself.

To remind us of that — and to warn against this reckless and entirely unnecessary action (Japan could and should expand the cask storage pad on site and keep storing the radioactive water there) — the leader of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has spoken out.

In a recent column in the UK daily newspaper, The Guardian, Henry Puna wrote that “continuing with ocean discharge plans at this time is simply inconceivable”, given how directly it once again discriminates against — and will likely seriously harm the health of — the peoples of the Pacific. Puna took care to remind readers “that the majority of our Pacific peoples are coastal peoples, and that the ocean continues to be an integral part of their subsistence living.”

Japan is once again declaring its intention to dump the radioactive water stored in tanks at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear site into the Pacific Ocean, against widespread opposition. (Photo: IAEA Imagebank)

Going forward with the dump without further study and serious consideration of viable alternatives, would, Puna said, mean that “the region will once again be headed towards a major nuclear contamination disaster at the hands of others.” Victims of years of atomic testing, Pacific Islanders are rightly not ready to be dumped on yet again.

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