Beyond Nuclear International

US atomic bombs back in Britain?

Move puts UK on front line in a NATO/Russia war

By Kate Hudson

News that US nuclear weapons may already be back in Britain, at RAF/USAF Lakenheath in East Anglia, makes Britain once again a forward nuclear base for the US in Europe.

110 US/NATO free-fall B61 nuclear bombs were removed from Lakenheath in 2008, following sustained protest at the base by CND and the Lakenheath Action Group. US nuclear bombs had been located there since 1954. 

Their return – assigned to NATO – will increase global tensions and put Britain on the front line in a NATO/Russia war. B61s have continued to be sited in five other countries across Europe – Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey – in spite of strong opposition within some of the ‘host’ countries.

Now the UK has been added to the US’s list of European sites in line for infrastructure investment for storing ‘special weapons within secure sites and facilities’. Special weapons mean nuclear weapons and this is happening in the context of increasing tension with Russia and the current escalating war.

110 US/NATO free-fall B61 nuclear bombs were removed from Lakenheath in 2008, following sustained protests at the base, including by future Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn (with bicycle). Photo: The Dissilent/Wikimedia Commons)

Since the weapons were removed in 2008, the empty storage vaults for the weapons have been on ‘caretaker’ status, but reports of nuclear exercises at Lakenheath increase the likelihood that nuclear weapons are back, or on their way; the base currently hosts F-15E fighter-bombers with nuclear capability but these are being replaced by the new nuclear- capable F-35A Lightning. The first of these new fighter- bombers arrived in December 2021.

Within the next year US/NATO nuclear bases in Europe will also receive the new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb which is entering full-scale production in the US.

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New nuclear won’t make the cut in Washington State

By Roger Lippman

It was 108 degrees in the shade in Seattle last June; the climate emergency now has the attention of the usually temperate Puget Sound area. The following December’s cold snap may also have to do with climate-related disruptions that climatologists tell us are weakening the polar vortex. As the crisis grows, it attracts the nuclear industry’s purveyors of false solutions, with a barrage of calls for further investment in nuclear power.

As I write, nuclear promoters are trying to sell a group of small municipal utilities, the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS), on a “new, improved” nuclear technology, known as small modular nuclear reactors. 

Supposedly the reactors will be mass produced, but first they must be proven in the field, at high startup cost. Who will want to be the first to put up money that can never be recovered in electricity sales? Predictably, the project has already struggled with delays, design changes, and escalating cost projections.

Of the initial subscribers, about 10 have reduced their commitments or pulled out altogether in the past year and a half. That just leaves the rubes, who have signed up for only a quarter of the project’s electrical output.

An effective approach to climate change requires the quickest and cheapest choices to reduce carbon emissions. Nuclear power, the slowest and most expensive, takes time and resources away from the available solutions, namely energy efficiency, solar, and wind power. 

The extreme heat experienced in Seattle last summer won’t be mitigated by the false promises of new nuclear power plants. (Photo by Phil Snyder/Creative Commons)

Furthermore, with rising sea levels and the wildfires that have already been a threat to the Hanford nuclear reservation in Eastern Washington, the climate crisis poses a threat to nuclear power itself.

Climate conditions simply do not lend themselves to slow, dangerous and expensive new nuclear technology, and yet the drumbeat goes on, and at our expense.

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In the dock

Holtec slammed over 1 million gallon radioactive water dump scheme

By Linda Pentz Gunter

At the conclusion of a close to four-hour public  “field hearing” held in the community of Plymouth, MA on May 6, 2022, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts pulled no punches. 

The Senate hearing invited a number of witnesses to testify on “Issues Facing Communities with Decommissioning Nuclear Plants”, with this session specifically focused on the nearby Pilgrim nuclear reactor, which closed in 2019.

As part of the decommissioning process, Holtec International, the company that purchased the Pilgrim nuclear reactor in Massachusetts from previous owner, Entergy, is preparing to dump a million gallons of radioactive water from the site into Cape Cod Bay as part of its decommissioning activities.

As the hearing drew to a close, Markey questioned Holtec’s competency and the leniency of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the federal regulator ostensibly tasked with protecting public health and safety.

“It’s possible these problems may be more a reflection of its inexperience, and not arrogance,” Markey said of Holtec. “That they don’t know what they are doing.”

A proposed NRC rulemaking is in the works that would “update” (read “weaken”) federal decommissioning regulations for the nuclear industry.

“The commission’s proposed decommissioning rule shows it to be a captive agency,” said Markey, one that “shows no interest in engaging the public, which would provide even a semblance of accountability.”

Referring to NRC’s failure to stop Holtec from looting its own taxpayer-funded decommissioning funds for company profit, Markey added that “without a stronger regulator, I fear that the only thing that will be emptier than the decommissioning trust fund will be the public’s trust in our government.”

Markey serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is chair of its Subcommittee on Clean Air, Climate and Nuclear Safety. 

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Pulling (radioactive) mussels from a shell?

Holtec’s “harmless” claims are baseless

For background on the planned radioactive water dump by Holtec at the Pilgrim nuclear power plant referred to in this article, please see the article “In the dock” on this website.

By Theodore Bosen

Holtec argued that their planned nuclear dump into the bay will have a negligible environmental impact because past aqueous releases did no harm over several decades of Pilgrim’s operation. Not so!

In the mid-80s, I consumed bushels of mussels from Warren Cove, around the corner from Pilgrim. Sometime later, on behalf of the Pilgrim Alliance, I helped bring renowned physicist Ernest Sternglass of the University of Pittsburgh, to Plymouth to speak on his research into cancers surrounding nuclear plants. When I told him of my shellfish consumption, tears welled up in his eyes as he said, “Son, I’m sorry, but you are going to get thyroid cancer in 20 years, if not worse.”

I stopped eating those mussels and went to the office of the Massachusetts Radiation Control Unit to check their records on local radiological testing. They had told our community at a public hearing in 1986 that they were testing fish and shellfish around the plant at least twice a year. That turned out to be false.

After eating bushels of mussels in the 1980s pulled from waters near the Pilgrim nuclear power plant, the author, Theodore Bosen (pictured from his Facebook page) eventually developed thyroid cancer.

Their records showed only one or two fish from somewhere in the bay, and no more recently than three years prior, plus no mollusks whatsoever. I then asked them to test the mussels around Pilgrim. They agreed, asking me to bring them two quarts of mussel meat from around the plant, fresh-frozen, which I did two days later. Their analysis identified six radionuclides which they said were consistent with fission products from the plant. An independent lab verified that.

I sent the report to Pilgrim’s operator, Boston Edison, but they disagreed. They stated it was background radiation from Chinese atmospheric tests. How I know that was a lie is that the last ever atmospheric test by the Chinese was on Oct. 16, 1980, and a couple of the isotopes in the sample had short half-lives that precluded them from being that old. I learned that day that the nuclear industry doesn’t take low-level radiation seriously and will lie.

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Three myths about renewable energy and the grid, debunked

The expansion of renewables and new methods of energy management and storage can lead to a grid that is reliable and clean.

By Amory B. Lovins and M.V. Ramana

This story was originally published in Yale Environment 360.

As wind and solar power have become dramatically cheaper, and their share of electricity generation grows, skeptics of these technologies are propagating several myths about renewable energy and the electrical grid. The myths boil down to this: Relying on renewable sources of energy will make the electricity supply undependable.

Last summer, some commentators argued that blackouts in California were due to the “intermittency” of renewable energy sources, when in fact the chief causes were a combination of an extreme heat wave probably induced by climate change, faulty planning, and the lack of flexible generation sources and sufficient electricity storage. During a brutal Texas cold snap last winter, Gov. Greg Abbott wrongly blamed wind and solar power for the state’s massive grid failure, which was vastly larger than California’s. In fact, renewables outperformed the grid operator’s forecast during 90 percent of the blackout, and in the rest, fell short by at most one-fifteenth as much as gas plants. Instead, other causes — such as inadequately weatherized power plants and natural gas shutting down because of frozen equipment — led to most of the state’s electricity shortages.

Blackouts and brownouts have been wrongly blamed on renewables and “intermittency” when in reality other factors were responsible. (Photo: cobalt123/CreativeCommons)

In Europe, the usual target is Germany, in part because of its Energiewende (energy transformation) policies shifting from fossil fuels and nuclear energy to efficient use and renewables. The newly elected German government plans to accelerate the former and complete the latter, but some critics have warned that Germany is running “up against the limits of renewables.”

In reality, it is entirely possible to sustain a reliable electricity system based on renewable energy sources plus a combination of other means, including improved methods of energy management and storage. A clearer understanding of how to dependably manage electricity supply is vital because climate threats require a rapid shift to renewable sources like solar and wind power. This transition has been sped by plummeting costs —Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that solar and wind are the cheapest source for 91 percent of the world’s electricity — but is being held back by misinformation and myths.

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Wrong turn

The establishment’s obsession with nuclear power just won’t die

By Jonathon Porritt

This is absolutely the right time for a new Energy Strategy. Unfortunately, we’ve got absolutely the wrong politicians in charge of it. In the UK, the combination of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak all but guarantees that the new Energy Security Strategy will fail on most counts.

– In Boris Johnson, we have a careless showman, drawn unerringly to ‘big ticket’ announcements, groomed by a nuclear industry that knows exactly how to play to these personality defects.

– In Rishi Sunak, we have a man so detached from the reality of most people’s lives that the prospect of five million UK citizens finding themselves in fuel poverty by the end of the year means literally nothing.

Careless Johnson and callous Sunak is a devastating double-act – with the inconsequential figure of Kwasi Kwarteng (UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) lurking around to pick up the pieces.

There will, of course, be some welcome commitments in the new UK Strategy, particularly on solar and offshore wind, with a hugely encouraging pipeline of new developments in both now underpinning the UK’s decarbonisation strategy. Onshore wind may well get more encouragement than in the past, but the aesthetic sensibilities of Tory Nimbies will still matter more to Johnson and Sunak than the opportunity to ramp up the single most cost-effective source of renewable electricity – coming in at an astonishing 20% of the cost of new nuclear! Yet again, those ‘hard-working families’ Johnson constantly refers to will pay the price for this appalling policy failure.

Careless Boris Johnson (left) and callous Rishi Sunak are a devastating double-act with absolutely the wrong energy strategy. (Photo: No.10/Creative Commons)

The UK establishment’s obsession with nuclear power just won’t die. Boris Johnson is heading off down a well-worn path. Margaret Thatcher promised to build a nuclear reactor every year for ten years at the start of her time in office. In 2006, Tony Blair vowed to bring back nuclear power ‘with a vengeance’. David Cameron’s Government identified opportunities for a massive expansion of nuclear.

However, apart from Sizewell B (which came online in 1995) and EDF’s grotesquely expensive monster emerging at Hinkley Point C, there’s nothing to show for all that overblown nuclear enthusiasm. The industry blames this 40-year failure on everyone else – including a generation of anti-nuclear campaigners. In truth, the blame lies entirely with the industry itself, mendaciously promoting outdated, dangerous, increasingly expensive technologies.

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