Cancer, Coverups and Contamination: The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy


“When the Chernobyl accident happened some of the iodine went around the world several times. In fact, you, I, everyone – we all have a piece of Chernobyl in our body…” ~ Theoretical physicist and author Michio Kaku

Disinformation is a component of any propaganda. The highly paid technocrats and advocates of “peaceful uses of the atom” increasingly use disinformation to repress and control public protest against nuclear pollution and environmental injustice.

As a former employee of two US national nuclear labs*, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory, and after having seen what I have seen, NO, I am NOT an advocate of nuclear power. Unfortunately, most so-called experts on these issues talk in front of a blackboard, but that is not what nuclear materials are; they are not theory and calculations on paper, as most academics around the world seem to think, but destructive beasts that kill people without any discrimination. Let them go and get dressed like astronauts with breathing masks, and experience nuclear accidents, and be contaminated first hand, and see after that if they will still favor nuclear energy.

 nuclear-power-plant

I was trained as a handler of nuclear materials, and I experienced how easy it is for contamination to occur and how difficult it is to clean up. I experienced the brainwashing and deception by the nuclear system advocates. During training, we were told that nuclear radiation is just like the light from sun, but when a “little accident” did occur, my co-workers were brought to the hospital immediately for treatment and then fired from the job within one month. Technical equipment of hundreds of thousands of dollars had to be trashed due to contamination. I witnessed explosions, and virtually all instances were due to human error. I worked side by side with the designers of storage cans for nuclear waste, I did research on the behavior of nuclear waste, and I have published a number of technical reports on MOX (mixed oxide), Uranium and Plutonium. I have worked for hundreds of hours in two nuclear labs and my eyes have seen a lot.

When I realized that within the Lab, environmental or nonproliferation work was but an illusion, I decided to resign. My conscience simply does not allow me to work for the development or maintenance of nuclear weapons, particularly in such a dangerous environment.

A few months after I resigned, I received a letter from LLNL with the title: “Beryllium Medical Surveillance Testing for Former LLNL Employees”. In that letter, I was asked to participate in voluntary blood screening for possible Chronic Beryllium Disease, a disease that causes scarring of the lung tissue after a person inhales dust or fumes of beryllium, a toxic and relatively rare element that is created through nuclear fusion reactions. I was shocked to read that the same letter was sent to 28,000 other former LLNL workers. The reason I was shocked is that one of my friends was trying to win his legal case against the lab for beryllium exposure, but the Department of Energy (which oversees the national laboratories) had refused to accept his medical results, which were positive.

What happened as a result? A court decision was finally made. But that is the overarching ethos of the nuclear industry: contaminate people because of profit, refuse to admit it, and then contest it in court until there is no other choice but to finally admit it.

What Are The Financial Costs of Nuclear Energy?

Although it is touted as a clean and inexpensive form of energy, nuclear energy is a very expensive form of energy, when one considers the financial costs, the impacts to environmental and public health — and the cost of truth, which is routinely and unscientifically sacrificed by biased industry operators and regulators.

An analysis regarding the financial cost of nuclear energy that comes to mind is from Public Citizen. Their analysis shows that U.S. states that use nuclear power to generate electricity have significantly higher electricity rates — on average 25 percent higher — than states that do not, and concluded that the higher a state’s reliance on nuclear power, the higher electricity rates will always be. This is because nuclear plants are more costly — financially speaking — to build, operate and maintain than other forms of power.

“Despite its promise more than 50 years ago of energy “too cheap to meter,” the nuclear power industry continues to be dependent on taxpayer handouts to survive… Even with massive subsidies, nuclear technology is prohibitively expensive. Current cost projections for a new nuclear reactor are over four times as high as the initial “nuclear renaissance” projections.” 

However, since the late 1990s, US government policy and funding decisions have encouraged the development of greater nuclear energy capacity. This policy is directly linked to the US government’s policy of continuing to develop nuclear weapons, as I will soon detail.

In 2011, the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) published the following analysis of the financial cost-benefit models governments use to justify the use of nuclear power generation:

“Cost-benefit analysis is a methodology now favoured by policy-makers… However, there are considerable problems with this method as an aid to policy-making. In the first case it relies on the ability to measure costs and benefits accurately. It is notoriously difficult to measure environmental costs (see e.g. Pearce, 1993; Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1994). As is demonstrated elsewhere in this report, in the case of nuclear power, measurement of the negative health consequences is equally intractable. Similarly, the benefits of any process may often be assessed and given a monetary value in a way which views the process from within an existing paradigm. For example, the value of energy is assessed within a policy framework which plots an inevitable increase in our need for energy, ignoring the possibilities of energy-saving and demand management. Behind the assumption that we will always and inevitably need more energy lies the further assumption that economic growth will continue, an assumption which has long been the subject of fierce debate… Within such a set of assumptions the benefits of extra energy are likely to be overstated.”

Wenonah Hauter, former director of Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, agrees:

“The administration is living in a dream world if it thinks that nuclear energy will be a panacea to our current and future energy woes… Nuclear power is not the energy of the future… Increasing our reliance on it will only worsen conditions for consumers in years to come.”

Those worsening conditions will not only be financial, but also environmental and biological.

What Are The Public Health and Environmental Impacts of Radiation Exposure?

Another important factor in the equation of the cost of nuclear power is public health. This factor is downplayed if not completely ignored in most cost analyses so, while the corporations continue to benefit, the risks of nuclear power generation are passed onto the unaware public. However, informed citizens know that cancer is devastating their families and ask why. Let’s look at some facts about breast cancer, among so many other kinds.

Breast cancer kills 46,000 women in the U.S. alone, each year. It is well known that cancer rates depend on the degree of exposure to carcinogens. But what are the carcinogens that cause cancer?

Cancer, Coverups and Contamination - The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy - Chernobyl Victims After Thyroid Cancer Surgery

Physician, author and activist Dr. Janette D. Sherman MD is a practicing physician who specializes in internal medicine and toxicology with an emphasis on chemicals and nuclear radiation that cause illnesses, including cancer and birth defects. In her fully-documented book “Life’s Delicate Balance: The Causes and Prevntion of Breast Cancer” (New York and London: Taylor and Francis, 2000), Dr. Sherman explains an established cause of breast and other cancers: ionizing radiation from x-rays and from nuclear power plant emissions and the radioactive fallout from atomic bomb tests. Dr. Sherman also asks a simple question, which medical and nuclear insiders are otherwise unable to answer;

“How [else] can one explain the doubling, since 1940, of a woman’s likelihood of developing breast cancer, and also increasing in tandem with prostate and childhood cancers?”

How is it known that ionizing radiation in our environment – that is, in air, water, soil and food – plays an important role in causing breast cancer? Because when women from their non-industrial homelands move to nuclear and industrial countries, their breast cancer rate inevitably goes up. In 1984, a study of Mormon families in Utah downwind from the nuclear tests in Nevada reported elevated numbers of breast cancers. Girls who survived the bombing of Hiroshima are also now dying in excessive numbers from breast cancer. There are also a number of ecological studies showing that women living near nuclear power plants suffer from elevated rates of breast cancers.

It is not a secret that all nuclear power plants leak radioactivity routinely into local air and water, and that any exposure to ionizing radiation increases a woman’s danger of breast cancer. Clearly there is an epidemic of cancer that is sweeping the western world, and the only way to prevent the nuclear industry from further contributing to this problem is to end nuclear power permanently. This is also the conclusion of the ECRR 2010 recommendations report

“The Committee concludes that the present cancer epidemic is a consequence of exposures to global atmospheric weapons fallout in the period 1959-63 and that more recent releases of radioisotopes to the environment from the operation of the nuclear fuel cycle will result in significant increases in cancer and other types of ill health.”

But is breast cancer from nuclear power plants the only cost of nuclear power to public health? How about dozens of other illnesses? Studies have clearly linked radiation exposure to increased rates of childhood cancers, thyroid damage, skin complaints, endocrine disruption, pregnancy issues (such as miscarriage) and emotional trauma, which itself negatively impacts the body.

“In 2007, the latest of a long series of childhood leukemia studies was published: this one from the German Childhood Cancer Registry, showing a statistically significant effect on child cancer in those living within 5km of nuclear plants (KiKK 2007). The size of this study, and the affiliation of the authors, made it impossible to conclude that this was anything but proof of a causal relationship between childhood cancer and nuclear plant exposures to radioactive releases…

“The Committee has examined the considerable weight of evidence relating to the existence of childhood cancer clusters near nuclear sites, including evidence from aggregations of nuclear sites in the UK and Germany and has concluded that it is exposure to internal radiation from discharges from the sites which is the cause of the illness.”

Uranium mining has also cost many lives and great suffering, not just on the workers but on all the communities around these mines. These problems, and the lack of a solution or accountability from the nuclear industry, is described in detail in the ECRR report:

“In response to a challenge to the ethical foundation of civilian nuclear power and the cancers caused by licensed emissions, nuclear industry apologists have offered comparisons between the number of miners killed as part of the lifecycle of energy production in coal-fired power stations with the number of citizens killed by cancers consequent on nuclear releases. However, this is an ethically flawed position. The miners are well informed about the risky nature of their employment and accept it in return for direct pecuniary gain. Their situation is not the same as that of the adult or child who breathes in radioactive particles released from Sellafield without knowing they are in the air, or without benefiting directly from their production. Such people are in effect bystanders and thus have a morally distinct status from those who are engaged in producing the pollutants…

“If the nuclear industry and the military are to continue within a sound ethical framework serious questions need to be addressed and those who will suffer its health consequences need to be informed and consulted to a far greater extent than they ever have been… while children will inevitably die from leukemia as a result of radioactive discharges, causality will be denied and… [their numbers deemed] not worthy of consideration. The moral bankruptcy of such a justification is intuitively apparent…

“The Committee concludes that releases of radioactivity without consent can not be justified ethically since [even] the smallest dose has a finite, if small, probability of fatal harm.”

And how about many other locations, beside power plants, where radiation pollution exists? How about the hundreds of thousands of people that have died and suffered from the whole nuclear cycle? How about future generations who will similarly suffer from long-term contamination?

Cancer, Coverups and Contamination - The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy - Tons of Nuclear Waste Storage

Nuclear power plants are just one point of the nuclear waste cycle. To this day, the disposal and storage of high-level nuclear waste remains a major unresolved issue. Now 15 years later, only 70 years into a million-year long waste cycle, we are no closer to solving the problem of mounting nuclear waste generated by these continuing programs. The populations in regions where radioactive waste is stored, such as Savannah River and Yucca Mountain (at which millions of gallons of high-level nuclear waste is stored in 49 leaking tanks), are equally as susceptible to disease as those communities near active power plants.

Furthermore, in 2000, the National Academy of Sciences released a report commissioned by the Department of Energy that states that most of the sites where the US federal government built nuclear bombs will never be cleaned up enough to allow public access to the land. The report also noted that the plan for guarding sites that are permanently contaminated is inadequate:

“Nearly 150 sites around the country are contaminated, a nagging reminder of the nuclear arms race. DOE has concluded that even after planned remediation activities are completed — or found to be infeasible — at these so-called “legacy” waste sites, 109 of them will never be clean enough for unrestricted use… [These sites] are located in 27 states, Puerto Rico, and territorial islands in the Pacific…

“There is no convincing evidence that institutional controls — such as surveillance of radioactive and other hazardous wastes left at sites, security fences, and deeds restricting land use — will prove reliable over the long run…

“Because the long-term behavior of contaminants in the environment is unpredictable and physical barriers may break down at some point, the committee urged DOE to develop its stewardship plans under the assumption that contaminant isolation eventually will fail… Today’s scientific knowledge and institutional capabilities do not provide much confidence that containment of sites with residual risks will function as expected indefinitely.”

And how about the places where nuclear material is processed into forms of nuclear fuel?From “nuclear rocks” into nuclear fuel, thousands of people die in agonizing death, families are destroyed, deformed children are born, and many others are born dead. These are very well established facts around the world, in every place that nuclear material is present in one form or another. In fact a 2003 review by the ECRR, headed by an adviser to the British Government, examined research results and concluded that that pollution from nuclear energy and weapons programs will account for as many as 65 million deaths, also asserting that previously accepted figures massively underestimated the nuclear industry’s impact on human life.

And what about those people who work in nuclear weapons testing? They are regularly affected by radiation exposure, explains the ECRR:

“It has been increasingly clear that the internal exposures to fission product fallout and to Uranium from atmospheric weapons tests has been the principle cause of the current cancer epidemic, a matter which was presented in ECRR2003. Legal cases and test veteran tribunals are now routinely won on [this] basis.”

And what about nuclear accidents? In Fukushima Japan, a 2012 Fukushima Prefecture Health Management Report stated that “nearly 36 per cent of children in the nuclear disaster-affected Fukushima Prefecture had abnormal thyroid growths.” And if we recall the Chernobyl accident and are willing to read the detailed personal stories, we will be horrified. The long term affects, now 30 years on, are still being felt.

In  1990, Dr. Keith F. Baverstock who was then the Head of the Department for Radiation and Health at the European office of the World Health Organization, visited the Gomel Region of Belarus, an area that was significantly affected by nuclear fall-out from the Chernobyl disaster. Dr. Baverstock noted the dramatic increase in disease, especially in young children.

“Children exposed to Chernobyl fallout were experiencing chronic adult diseases of the respiratory and blood systems, gastritis, nervous system diseases, cardiovascular diseases and other diseases of internal organs. In general, in 1991, the level of serious illness in children was about 6 to 7 times above normal.”

The ECRR provides further detail:

“In 2009, in an update of the study reported in ECRR2003, a meta-analysis of data on the epidemiology of infant leukemia after Chernobyl, showed a statistically significant 43% excess in those children who were in utero at the time of the Chernobyl fallout..

“It must [also] be emphasised that genetic damage entering the human gene pool remains there until it is lost by the death of the carrier prior to reproduction. Thus heritable damage will always be expressed either in the exposed individual or a descendant until it is lost through death of the individual without issue.”

And what about other nuclear programs, beside energy and weapons? It is important to note that the history of nuclear accidents does not end with the failure of nuclear plants. In April 1964, a satellite with a plutonium-238 powered device burned-up during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Shortly before the satellite burned up, an Atomic Energy Commission official had said that the chances of such an occurrence were “a million to one” or less. Around 3 percent of the world’s plutonium fallout is attributed to that burn-up. Four years later, in 1968, another nuclear powered satellite failed during an aborted launch and the satellite’s power source fell into the Santa Barbara Channel off the Californian coast. And again, in 1970, another nuclear satellite was successfully launched but was lost upon re-entry. It sank to the bottom of the Tonga Trench in the South Pacific Ocean, and was never recovered. [source]

Cancer, Coverups and Contamination - The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy - Initial Explosion at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster

Can Nuclear Plants Actually Operate Safely?

If we assume that more nuclear power plants are constructed around the world, can anyone guarantee that the nuclear accidents will disappear? No, that is impossible. Not only will the risks not disappear, but logic dictates they will also increase if there are more plants in operation, as will the volume of unmanageable radioactive waste. And let us not forget the unpredictability of earthquakes. Nuclear accidents will always happen just like any other accidents do, which may affect both power plants and waste storage facitilities.

Reliance on nuclear energy not only results in building new nuclear power plants but also relicensing existing ones. The peril of tragic accidents within the industry will inevitably be higher, especially while maintaining plants that are decades old — as we have already witnessed with the ongoing disaster at Fukushima, as well as the overheated reactor at Miami’s Turkey Point facility in 2014. Other nuclear power plant disasters include:

  • 1952 Chalk River, near Ottawa, Canada: a partial meltdown of the reactor’s uranium fuel core resulted after the accidental removal of four control rods.
  • 1957 Windscale Pile No. 1, north of Liverpool, England: fire in a graphite-cooled reactor spewed radiation over the countryside, contaminating a 200-sq-mile area.
  • 1957 South Ural Mountains, Soviet Union: an explosion of radioactive wastes at a Soviet nuclear weapons factory 12 miles from the city of Kyshtym forced the evacuation of over 10,000 people from a contaminated area.
  • 1959, Santa Susana, USA: A reactor at the Atomics International field laboratory in the Santa Susana Mountains, California, experienced a power surge and subsequently spewed radioactive gases into the atmosphere. According to a 2009 report from the Los Angeles Times, residents blame the facility for their health issues and say the site remains contaminated.
  • 1976, near Greifswald, East Germany: the radioactive core of a reactor in the Lubmin nuclear power plant nearly narrowly avoided meltdown following the failure of safety systems during a fire.
  • 1979, Three-Mile Island, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Following a combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems and worker error, one of two reactors lost its coolant which caused overheating and partial meltdown of its uranium core, releasing radioactive water and gases.
  • 1986, Chernobyl, near Kiev, Ukraine: an explosion and fire in the graphite core of one of four reactors released radioactive material that spread over parts of the Soviet Union, Europe and Scandinavia.
  • 1987, Rocky Flats Plant, near Denver, Colorado, USA: Following insider reports of unsafe conditions, investigation found numerous violations of federal anti-pollution laws, including discharging of pollutants, hazardous materials and radioactive matter into nearby creeks and water supplies. A subsequent grand jury report criticized the Department of Energy and Rocky Flats contractors for “engaging in a continuing campaign of distraction, deception and dishonesty”.
  • 1999, Tokaimura, Japan: An uncontrolled chain reaction in a uranium-processing nuclear fuel plant spewed high levels of radioactive gas into the air, exposing 69 people, killing one worker, and seriously injuring two others.
  • 2011, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan: The troubled Fukishima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has experienced a number of ‘incidents’ since its construction in 1971, culminating in total reactor  failure when the plant was hit by a tsunami following an earthquake. At the time of the disaster, the plant began releasing substantial amounts of  radioactive materials and, more than four years after the incident, the plant is still leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.

The extent of this recent disaster at Fukushima should not be taken lightly. The water leaking from the ailing plant contains plutonium 239 and its release into the world’s ocean system has global repercussions. Explains chemist :

“Certain isotopes of radioactive plutonium are known as some of the deadliest poisons on the face of the Earth. A mere microgram (a speck of darkness on a pinhead) of Plutonium-239, if inhaled, can cause death, and if ingested… can be harmful, causing leukemia and other bone cancers.

“In the days following the 2011 earthquake and nuclear plant explosions, seawater meant to cool the nuclear power plants instead carried radioactive elements back to the Pacific ocean. Radioactive Plutonium was one of the elements streamed back to sea.”

As history has shown us, assurances on safety from nuclear operators and regulators are nothing but preposterous. That is something that the public understands — because it is common sense. No matter how much uncaring, financially invested scientists will try to convince the public of the safety of the nuclear industry, the public does not have a salary from working on nuclear business and so, unlike those working on behalf of the industry, can maintain integrity and common sense.

What are the Concerns over Nuclear Science and Industry Regulation?

I was taught that “Science without virtue is immoral” (Plato). Should we talk about science before we even think about what our science is for? That is precisely what we are doing.

But the individuals who profit from nuclear business have lost the capacity to even be human. They cannot even consider their own benefit or their children’s benefit. Profit has blinded them and has made them less than human. It is not an exaggeration to say this. Unfortunately, even some Nobel Prize winners are supporting this nuclear insanity. The public must resist with all its strength to abolish nuclear power from the face of the earth.

It is easy for biased advocates of nuclear power to confuse the public using scientific rhetoric. It is this powerful and immoral tool that the advocates (high paid technocrats) of the peaceful atom have been using all these years, and as a result, the public knows virtually nothing about the science of radiation and nuclear materials. But the public maintains common sense, which most of the time is absent from the “experts.” Despite decades of evidence that proves the damage of nuclear radiation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has continued to downplay both the emitted levels and health effects of radiation exposure on public health.

Dr. Janette Sherman recently elaborated on this problem:

“Despite scientific findings linking low-level radiation exposure and cancer that go back as far as Madam Marie Curie in the 1930s, the nuclear power industry in the U.S. has evaded rigorous examination of the risks its plants pose to their neighbors and downwinders…

“To appreciate how flawed the [regulatory] process has been… despite known releases of radiation from these reactors into the environment and a connection between radiation exposure and cancer that is now widely accepted among medical researchers, federal officials spent decades declaring no risk of developing cancer to anyone living near a reactor — without conducting any studies to support their claims…

“[The 2009] NRC-sponsored study of cancer risks near the reactors it regulates is a blatant conflict of interest. Approximately 90 percent of NRC funding comes from licensing fees paid by companies that own the nuclear plants that the commission regulates. Bad news about cancer and nuclear plants means bad news for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission… The current study of cancer rates near nuclear plants is now nearly six years old, and will take at least five more years, maybe more, to complete. The planning is being shaped by regulators closely aligned with an industry that stands to lose if nuclear energy plants are linked to cancer.”

Cancer, Coverups and Contamination - The Real Cost of Nuclear Energy - Sister Megan Rice, Sentenced to 35 Months in Prison for Anti-Nuclear Protest

The ECRR report offers further context:

“The gap between exposure and clinical expression of cancer and leukemia, the lag period, has been consistently given by current risk models as greater than 5 years. This has enabled governments and risk agencies to deny causality in many situations where leukemia and lymphoma seemed to develop almost immediately after exposures (ABomb Test Veterans, Uranium-exposed veterans of the Gulf War and Balkans)… [However] the early Japanese reports show that leukemia cases began developing in the first year after the bombing (the first case 3 months after exposure) and also developed in those who were not present at the time of the bomb but entered later (see: Kusano 1953). Non-cancer data released by the RERF (e.g. epilation, skin burns) have been recently analysed by Sawada to show that there were significant health effects on populations who were too far from the epicentre to have received doses from the prompt radiation [believed to be] capable of causing these conditions.”

In other words, the affects of ill-health from radiation exposure are both more immediate and longer-lasting, as well as geographically further-reaching than the advocates of the nuclear industry claim.

Despite this, many nuclear industry advocates actually maintain that low-dose nuclear radiation is in fact beneficial to human health. Their theory, known as the “Hormesis Effect”, is deliberate industry propaganda. The human body perceives radiation as a threat to its existence, which results in an intense immune response. The short term result of this immune activity can be a short-term improvement of other existing ailments, however the immune system cannot work permanently in such a state of stress, and as environmental exposure continues, human health inevitably deteriorates. This is also the conclusion of the ECRR which concludes that…

“… hormesis may exist, but if it does exist its long-term effects are likely to be harmful… [When exposed to radiation] immune system surveillance is being potentiated in the short term … [however] the existence of radiation-inducible repair means that the repair systems themselves may be open to attack, also by radiation… If cells were induced into a state of high sensitivity for repair replication, then the cell line would undergo a greater rate of replication throughout the period of stress, and… the consequence of the short-term advantage conferred by hormesis is… accumulated DNA damage caused by high numbers of replication-copying processes.”

Over fifty years ago, questions on radiation and toxicity hazards were raised by at least three groups – the the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP), and the Federal Radiation Council (FRC). The first two were NGO’s, founded in 1928 in 1964 respectively, while the FRC was created in 1959 to “protect” the public from radiation exposure by setting the so-called official guidelines, based on little experience and on not-well-developed statistical data. FRC was also created for another reason — to offset public concern about the fallout from weapons testing. These actions did not answer the concerns of the public, nor did the scientists. Their role was simply propaganda.

By the late 1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), established in 1952, started a series of studies. The people of the AEC hoped that the chosen researchers would tell them what they wanted to hear; that the public faced no risk from nuclear power generation and weapons testing programs. Unfortunately for the AEC — but fortunately for humanity — the chosen researchers, John W. Gofman (Ph.D and M.D) and Arthur R. Tamplin (Ph.D) spoke the truth before a nuclear science symposium in October 1969. They plainly stated that radiation was a far more serious hazard than previously suspected, that twenty times more deaths would occur from radiation-induced cancer and leukemia than had been previously estimated, and that genetic damage from radiation exposure had been underestimated even more seriously.

Following the nuclear science symposium, both scientists experienced such professional condemnation from within the industry that they both left their positions at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory. In their book Poisoned Power, which was reissued in 1979 following the Three Mile Island disaster, Drs. Gofman and Ramplin stated:

“The entire nuclear industry had been developing under a set of totally false illusions of safety and economy. Not only was there a total lack of appreciation of the hazards of radiation for man, but there was a total absence of candor concerning the hazard of serious accidents…

“Nuclear power is not the only enterprise imposing on your health, but if allowed to proceed unchecked, it surely will lead ultimately to setting back public health by hundreds of years. And the public health disaster will then be irreversible because once the radioactive poisons are let loose into the environment, there is no way of bringing them back under control…

“It is now clear to most Americans that the nuclear emperor is wearing no clothes.”

After publication of Gofman’s and Tamplin’s findings in 1969, eminent scientists who joined the ranks of nuclear’s learned critics included Nobel laureates James Watson and Harold Urey, chemist at the University of California; Linus Pauling, chemist and biochemist at Stanford, as well as peace activist, author and educator; and George Wald, biologist at Harvard University. Facing this renewed academic pressure to abandon nuclear programs, the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 assembled the Advisory Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (the BEIR Committee) in hopes of stemming the tide against nuclear energy. However the subsequent BEIR report in fact vindicated Gofman and Tamplin’s assertions.

Dr. John Gofman has since reviewed 22 separate studies confirming unequivocally that exposure to ionizing radiation causes breast cancer.

Can Nuclear Power Be Used for Peaceful Purposes?

Recently, the advocates of nuclear energy have been presenting to the people a deceiving choice between nuclear power and global warming. It is basically a form of extortion by the nuclear establishment towards the people and it is in its highest form, especially in the United States today. The alternatives of solar power, wind power, geo-thermal power and conservation are just a few of the safe, non-polluting answers to our energy problem but they are methodologically ignored or undermined. Their development and finally their application will simply not contribute profits to the nuclear empire and those who control it.

Countries like the US and other economically strong countries do not need nuclear energy, like some people advocate. Forward thinking nations such as Denmark are already generating 140% of their electricity needs from wind power alone. So why is the US government still advocating for nuclear energy?

While the nuclear power plant is producing nuclear energy, it is also producing new nuclear waste materials which can be used after some work to manufacture nuclear weapons. In other words, when nuclear reactors produce electricity, they also produce plutonium at the same time, which can be used to make nuclear bombs. That is very important for people to realize. In the United States, the Department of Energy finances and manages the nuclear weapons programs. In reality the Department of Energy is basically the Department of Weapons. The nuclear weapons programs need nuclear materials to make the bombs. Who provides them? The Department of Energy does. The building of nuclear power plants in the U.S. began in 1943 to produce atomic bombs — it was not until 1957 that plants began to produce electricity, providing a continuous supply of plutonium to the nuclear weapons programs.

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, official production of nuclear materials solely for weapons use ceased in the United States, however US government policy and funding decisions since that time have actively encouraged the development of greater nuclear energy capacity which, of course, produces more plutonium waste for nuclear weapons development.

In the U.S. today, 70 years since the US atomic bombing of Japan, nuclear weapons development is still on the rise. Currently President Barack Obama is planning to invest a further trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayers’ money into the military industry to develop and build more nuclear weaponry, despite the fact that the U.S. is already the most heavily armed nuclear nation in the world.

If someone looks honestly at all of the facts, it is obvious that nuclear power fuels the nuclear bomb, which in turn fuels world domination. It is the weapon of the strong to subdue the weak. The citizens of every country need to closely examine the information that the advocates of the nuclear power are providing to them. They only care for material progress, therefore they close their ears and eyes to anything that has to do with public health. They misinform and disinform the people. The examples are numerous.

Do we want to see another Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Do we want to see only one country dominating the oil rich parts of the world by using nuclear extortion?

It was once theorized by power-brokers that nuclear power plants would deter any major revolution from taking place, because it would be too dangerous to jeopardize a nuclear power plants’ operations. While this theory was proven wrong by the revolution in the former U.S.S.R., this idea is similar to the political schematic that the whole world has lived under for decades; that of Mutually Assured Destruction, which assumes the counter-balance that prevents nuclear war is the threat of nuclear war itself. Although governments claim that the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction protects nations with nuclear arms, in the case of war, nuclear or otherwise, it is an illusion to think that nuclear power plants are not going to be targets. In time of war, nuclear power plants will certainly be hit and the outcome will be a hell-on-earth scenario that will last virtually forever. If we do not abolish policies and economies of perpetual war, nuclear power plants will be blasted during future wars, just as fossil power plants have been blasted during recent wars. They are military targets just waiting to happen.

The fact is, nuclear war can start at any moment, even by mistake. Thousands of nuclear weapons are on hair trigger alert. Someone could say that these nuclear governments are the greatest terrorists and it would not be easy to argue against such a statement. Every day we are getting closer and closer to doomsday but the nuclear powers are holding on to their nuclear arsenals as never before. They do not plan to abolish them. They have been talking about it for fifty years now. Nuclear weapons will be used and they will be used soon unless the people of the earth demand their destruction by civil resistance, for example by global strikes that would have to last not for days but for weeks and perhaps for months. There is no other way for humanity to survive.

Governments which posses weapons of mass destruction are worse than the terrorists. They forcefully extract taxes from their citizens to build them and then they use them to threaten weaker nations in order to exploit them. In other words, they are legal terrorists, because we know them. The ones we do not know, we call illegal terrorists. But they both are terrorists. In fact, at the same time they threaten to enforce their absurd standards, they are making more weapons of mass destruction.

Imagine that there are countries which have thousands of weapons of mass destruction, and they go around the world telling other countries that they cannot have such weapons. Sometimes they even bomb them if they just think that they are making them. And the world asks: Why can Israel have hundreds of nuclear weapons but Iraq and  North Korea cannot? Why does Turkey still occupy the northern part of Cyprus and why does Israel still occupy Palestine? Why is it a crime for Iraq, North Korea or any other nation to even think of making weapons of mass destruction when other nations have thousands in their arsenals?

It is very unfortunate for the humans and all kinds of life on earth that nuclear energy is used at all. It is immoral; that’s the least we can say. It is not “illegal” terrorists that pose the greatest threat to world peace, nor foreign powers, nor religious extremists — it is our own governments. If the citizens of the world do not nonviolently force nuclear nations – including their own – to abolish their weapons of mass destruction, those countries will soon bring the end of the world.

We still have time to change our world. For those who can hear the voice of their conscience, the time to act is now. Nuclear power cannot be part of life; it is a way of death. And if we continue to develop nuclear energy and weapons, have we really left a future for our children?

HARVESTING USABLE FUEL FROM NUCLEAR WASTE – AND DEALING WITH THE LAST CHEMICAL TROUBLEMAKERS


Nuclear energy provides about 11% of the world’s total electricity today. This power source produces no carbon dioxide during plant operation, meaning it doesn’t contribute to climate change via greenhouse gas emissions. It can provide bulk power to industry and households around the clock, giving it a leg up on the intermittent nature of solar and wind.

It also receives widespread contempt for a variety of reasons – many purely emotional and with little or no scientific grounding. The most pressing legitimate issue is the management of used nuclear fuel, the waste by-product that needs to be removed from the reactor and replaced with fresh fuel to sustain power generation.

Ongoing research is tackling this problem by attempting to figure out how to transform much of what is currently waste into usable fuel.

The nuclear fuel cycle.

How do reactors generate nuclear waste?

The reaction that produces energy in a nuclear reactor takes place in the nuclei of atoms – hence the name. One atom of uranium-235 (which contains 92 protons and 143 neutrons) absorbs a neutron and splits into two new atoms. This process releases large amounts of energy and, on average, 2.5 new neutrons that can be absorbed by other uranium-235 atoms, propagating a chain reaction. This process is called fission. The two new atoms are called fission products. They contribute to most of the short- to medium-term radioactivity of the fuel upon discharge from the reactor.

Replacing some of the core and replacing with fresh fuel.

Fission is most likely to take place in heavy atoms. Nuclear engineers and nuclear chemists focus on the heaviest elements – that is, the actinides, located at the very bottom of the periodic table. The fission process continues, consuming fuel, until the amount of burnable (fissile) atoms is no longer economical to keep using. Then the reactor is temporarily shut down for refueling. A third of the core is removed and replaced with fresh fuel. The remaining two-thirds of the core is shuffled around to optimize the power production. The leftover material, the used fuel, is highly radioactive and physically hot, and must therefore be cooled and shielded for safety reasons.

In a commercial power reactor, brand new unused fuel consists of 3%-5% uranium-235, with the balance being uranium-238. The heavier uranium-238 isotope will not fission but can transform to an even heavier isotope, uranium-239, via a process called neutron capture. Continued neutron capture eventually produces a suite of elements heavier than uranium (so called trans-uranics), some of which will fission and produce power, but some of which will not.

These trans-uranic, actinide elements – including neptunium, plutonium, americium and curium – have one thing in common: they contribute to the long-term radioactivity of the used fuel. After the energy-generating fission reaction, the fission products’ radioactivity decreases rapidly. But because of the other trans-uranic elements in the mix, the material needs to be isolated until deemed safe – on the order of millions of years.

At least 23 feet of water covers the fuel assemblies in the spent fuel pool at the Brunswick Nuclear Power Plant in Southport, North Carolina.

Upon discharge from the reactor, the used fuel contains only about 3%-4% fission products. The rest is uranium and trans-uranics that weren’t part of the fission reaction. Most of the material is the original uranium-238, still perfectly suited to use in new fuel, as is the remaining uranium-235 and the plutonium-239 (combined about 1.5% of the used fuel).

Disposing of this material as waste is like taking one small bite of a sandwich and then throwing the rest in the trash. It’s no surprise then that several countries arerecycling nuclear fuel to recover the remaining useful material. Other countries are revisiting these options, at least on a research basis.

Scope of the waste problem

A typical power reactor (1 GWe) produces about 27 metric tons of used fuel each year, in order to generate the electricity needed to power 700,000 homes (assuming an average American home consumes about 11,000 kWh annually and a power plant has an average capacity factor of 85%). For comparison, a coal plant of similar power output will produce 400,000 metric tons of ash.

The world’s nuclear power capacity is on the order of 370 GW, which corresponds to about 10,000 metric tons of used fuel generated each year worldwide. The total amount of used fuel in the world (as of September 2014) is around 270,000 metric tons, of which the US is storing about 70,000 metric tons.

The first round of reprocessing waste

Removing uranium and plutonium from used fuel relies on a chemical process. Reprocessers dissolve the used fuel in acid and treat it with organic solvents to selectively remove the elements of interest and leave the unwanted elements behind. Commercial plants all use more or less the same method, PUREX (Plutonium Uranium Reduction EXtraction).

Originally invented in the US in the late 1940s, over the years PUREX has been adapted slightly to improve its performance. This process doesn’t separate out elements heavier than plutonium. The waste product after the reprocessing still needs to be isolated for what is essentially an eternity.

The benefit, though, is that it can recycle about 97% of the spent fuel, massively decreasing the volume of waste. The bulk of the material can then be made into new reactor fuel containing a mix of uranium and plutonium, so-called mixed oxide or MOX-fuel.

Major reprocessing plants are located in the UK, France and Russia. India has some capacity, and Japan has a reasonably large plant that was recently completed but is currently not used. Global reprocessing capacity of commercial fuel is around 4,000 metric tons per year. To date about 90,000 metric tons of used fuel has been reprocessed, about 30% of the total amount of used fuel produced in commercial reactors.

Some countries that do not have their own reprocessing plants ship material to countries that do, such as France. It’s expensive to invest in reprocessing infrastructure. It can also be a political decision not to do so, as in the US, because the technology can be used to create material for weapons (this was the original use in the 1940s). Of course, all reprocessing plants are under the scrutiny of theInternational Atomic Energy Agency, and must account for all processed material to ensure that nothing is diverted for potential use in weapons.

IAEA inspectors seal the spent fuel pond at Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant in the Czech Republic.

Dealing with that last 3%

But that level of reprocessing doesn’t completely solve the issue of used nuclear fuel. My research at UC Irvine, as well as that of other labs around the world, focuses on new ways to deal with the last few troublemakers in the used nuclear fuel.

We’re working on how to remove the remaining long-lived trans-uranic actinides with an efficiency high enough that the remaining nuclear waste’s isolation time would be decreased to 1,000 years or less. Maybe this still sounds like a long time, but the world is full of structures that have lasted for more than 1,000 years; we should be confident that we can construct something that will last a millennium. We could also, with reasonable confidence, create signs or informational material to mark the storage that people 1,000 years from now could reliably interpret.

While removing uranium and plutonium is readily done (as via PUREX), the next separation step is a grand challenge for various reasons. One is that many of the remaining fission products behave chemically very similar to americium and curium. This requires highly specialized chemicals that are often complex and expensive to synthesize. The radioactive nature of the material provides an additional layer of complexity; the radiation is not only hazardous for people but will also break down the chemicals needed for separation and may speed up corrosion and damage the equipment used in these processes.

The research efforts under way focus on developing new chemical reagents that are more stable with regard to radiation, more selective for the elements we are interested in recovering, and easier to make. Because of this, a lot of effort goes to fundamental studies of the chemical interactions between reagents and elements in used fuel. The problem at hand has been described as a chemists’ playground and an engineers’ challenge.

The bottom line is that none of this is science fiction. Getting to a point at which almost all nuclear waste can be repurposed poses a grand challenge, perhaps comparable to putting a man on the moon, but it is not impossible.