Neo-Nuclearism as a Cargo Cult

Forgetting Fukushima, Denying Dai-ichi

By James Heddle

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But everyone is not entitled to their own facts.” – Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynahan

Fallout as Blowback
As the 5-year anniversary rolls around it’s clear to all who care to notice that the Fukushima triple meltdown nuclear disaster is still not ‘under control’ – as Prime Minister Abe claimed to the Olympic Committee in his successful bid to host the coming 2020 Games – but is still on-going, and will be far into the future.

That is to say, radioactive pollution will continue to pour into the oceanic, hemispheric and planetary environment with predictably negative, but unknown, effects on the health and DNA of all life forms in the biosphere.

There’s karmic irony here. The U.S. dropped the first atomic bombs on Japan, then used its political influence and propaganda prowess to sell the country nuclear power. Its corporations supplied the faulty reactors that melted down at Fukushima. Now, it is on the front line of receiving the fallout in the form of ongoing oceanic and atmospheric pollution carried eastward by winds and currents.

Faith-Based Nuclear Policy
Despite the obvious take-home lesson – i.e., that every nuclear facility, wherever its geographic location, constitutes a danger to the entire planet, and should be treated as such by the ‘international community’ – a New Nuclear Weapons race and a New Nuclear Power race are both currently in progress.

He began his presidency with the celebrated April 5, 2009 Prague Speech in which he stated “…clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons….” In practice Obama has embraced an ‘all of the above’ energy policy including heavy investments in new reactor construction and design development.

The recipient of an apparently aspirational Nobel Peace Prize has also committed a projected $1 trillion dollars over the coming decades to upgrading America’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

The program includes new ballistic missiles, a new manned bomber and a fleet of new missile-launching submarines. Termed – with no apparent sense of irony –‘the life-extension program,’ the plans clearly violate U.S. obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In the domain of nuclear weaponry’s Siamese twin nuclear energy, there are those opinion-maker luminaries like James Hansen, James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, Bill Gates and George Monbiot who advocate for nuclear energy as a ‘carbon-free solution to climate change.’ Never mind that – as Stanford scientist Mark Jacobsen and his associates, as well as others, have conclusively shown – the entire nuclear fuel chain from mine to waste dump is more carbon intensive than wind and solar put together. Their work shows a transition to renewables is totally possible…without nuclear energy.

The Atomic Church of the Last Gasp
Last week, alarmed at the failure of their repeated attempts to go through ‘proper channels,’ seven engineers at America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) – which President Obama himself has dubbed in 2007 ‘a moribund agency’ – filed a petition as private citizens. They stated that they have identified a long-undiscovered electrical flaw common to virtually all U.S. nuclear plants that could prevent cooling and allow a meltdown to occur. Their petition asks that the NRC mandate that plant operators either fix the problem or shut down the reactors.

But the New Nuclearists avoid coming to terms with the risks and failures of the existing world fleet of aging, ill-designed reactors. They believe – without operational proof-of-concept – in a pie-in-the-sky, perpetually not-yet-but-soon-to-be-born generation of ‘new, small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs).’ They will consume and eliminate existing nuclear waste and be so ‘inherently safe’ you can bury them in your back yard. Any day now.

The blind faith with which latter-day nuclear advocates approach the issues of human, ecological and economic risk associated with nuclear technologies, reminds one of the Melanesian millenarian movement called ‘cargo cults,’ in which indigenous tribes, following charismatic figures, built wooden aircraft replicas on mountain tops in the vain hopes – despite repeated failures – to lure down the western cargo planes loaded with commodities they saw flying overhead.

Or, if the definition of ‘insanity’ is: ‘persisting in behavior which consistently fails,’ neo-nuclearism is clearly a form of collective insanity – atomic psychosis.

Recovering from Nuclear Delusion
The 20th century ‘nuclear dream’ of global full-spectrum dominance and energy too cheap to meter has become a 21st century nightmare. It is time to wake up. As retired top U.S. energy administrator S. David Freeman puts it in a recent interview, “We have to kill nuclear power before it kills us.” [Video interview here:

The facts of the failure of the nuclear dream are there, for any who are not blinded by ideology or self-interest to see: in addition to its history of totalitarianism, incompetence and global disasters, nuclear energy deployment is plagued by public opposition, investor disinterest, consistently mounting cost and schedule over-runs and dependence on dwindling water supplies. Energy consultant Amory Lovins sees nuclear energy “dying a slow death from an overdose of market forces.” Futurist Jeremy Rifkin agrees, “From a business perspective, its dead.”

Then there’s the energy-weapons-waste connection, the real ‘nuclear triad.’ Not only are nuclear energy and weapons production joined at the hip from birth, but they share a dysfunctional excretory system – of which more below.

Nine Realities of which Nuclear Millenarians Dare Not Speak
Those who advocate for nuclear energy as a response to climate change, or for new nuclear weapons in pursuit of ‘national security,’ must ignore or deny an overwhelming burden of facts from the history and legacy of these nuclear technologies so far.

Here are just a few:

Genocidal Impacts on Indigenous Peoples

• Uranium mining and the deadly radioactive wastes left behind continue to have devastating effects on Native Americans and Aboriginal Australians. In the U.S., thousands of abandoned open pit uranium mines contaminate drinking and irrigation water and the air breathed by tribes across the Great Planes and the Four Corners Area.
• Nuclear weapons testing has done lasting genetic and environmental damage to Pacific Islanders in the Marshall Islands and Polynesia.

Nuclear Disasters
The Guardian lists and ranks 33 serious incidents and accidents at nuclear power stations since the first one was recorded in 1952. Of those, six happened in the US, five in Japan and three apiece in the UK and Russia. That’s an average of nearly 5 per decade.

But a report by Cornell University researchers Spencer Wheatley, Benjamin Sovacool, Didier Sornette entitled Of Disasters and Dragon Kings: A Statistical Analysis of Nuclear Power Incidents & Accidents has a database of 174 accidents worldwide since 1946.

They rate the accidents in 2013 dollars and define an accident as “an unintentional incident or event at a nuclear energy facility that led to either one death (or more) or at least $50,000 in property damage.”

They conclude

In fact, the damage of the largest event (Fukushima; March, 2011) is equal to 60 percent of the total damage of all 174 accidents in our database since 1946. In dollar losses we compute a 50% chance that (i) a Fukushima event (or larger) occurs in the next 50 years, (ii) a Chernobyl event (or larger) occurs in the next 27 years and (iii) a TMI event (or larger) occurs in the next 10 years. [emphasis added]


US Nuclear Meltdowns
There have been 8 nuclear meltdowns so far in the U.S. Contrary to popular belief, the meltdown at Three Mile Island was not the worst. That dubious honor goes to the little-reported July 12, 1959 meltdown at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory located a couple of miles from the city of Simi Valley and only about 30 miles north of Los Angeles. The radioactive contamination of the surrounding communities and environment from that event have yet to be fully acknowledged or dealt with. One of the companies involved was Southern California Edison, the major owner of San Onofre.

Nuclear Weapons Incidents
As part of his research for his book on the nuclear arms race, Command and Control – Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety, Eric Schlosser used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that at least 700 “significant” accidents and incidents involving 1,250 nuclear weapons were recorded between 1950 and 1968 alone. The Business Insider has a useful interactive site based on Rudolph Herzog’s A Short History of Nuclear Folly on which you can track 32 nuclear weapons accidents since 1950.

In its Status of World Nuclear Forces, the Federation of American Scientists reports the existence of

approximately 15,350 warheads as of early-2016. Of these, more than 10,000 are in the military stockpiles (the rest are awaiting dismantlement), of which almost 4,200 warheads are deployed with operational forces, of which nearly 1,800 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.
Approximately 93 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States who each have roughly 4,500-4,700 warheads in their military stockpiles.

Former U.S. Sec. of Defense, William J. Perry says the situation is even worse:

“Today we still have over 20 thousand real world nuclear weapons. Enough to blow up everybody on the planet several times over. Those weapons pose the immediate problem of a danger of terrorism, the immediate problem of the possibility of nuclear war.
“The antagonism between Russia and the United States has reached a point now where I believe we are on the brink of a new nuclear arms race. It breaks my heart.
“Today, the danger of a nuclear catastrophe is actually higher than it was during the cold war. Let me say that again…”

The Documented Human Death Toll From Chernobyl
In 2013, the book Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment was published by the New York Academy of Sciences. Its lead author was the celebrated Russian biologist Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the Russian president.

Based on some 5,000 health data, radiological surveys and scientific reports in several languages, it concludes based on records now available, 985,000 people died, mainly of cancer, as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl accident between when the accident occurred and 2004. It projects that more deaths will continue follow.

It blows away the specious claim by the International Atomic Energy Agency – whose mission is to promote nuclear energy – that the expected death toll from the Chernobyl accident will be 4,000. The book shows that the IAEA is seriously under-estimating, in the extreme, the casualties of Chernobyl – good reason to doubt its pronouncements on Fukushima.

Health Impacts on U.S. Nuclear Workers
Irradiated, a December, 2015 McClatchy investigative report by Bob Hotakainen, Lindsay Wise, Frank Matt and Samantha Ehlinger, reveals that 70 years of U.S. atomic weaponry production has so far left at least 33,480 Americans dead, with more to come.

A recent study by an international team of nine researchers looked at 308,297 workers in the nuclear industry from France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Of 66,632 known deaths by the end of the study, 17,957 were due to solid cancers. The authors report “the risk per unit of radiation dose for cancer among radiation workers was similar to estimates derived from studies of Japanese atomic bomb survivors.” They conclude that their results “suggest a linear increase in the rate of cancer with increasing radiation exposure.” Translation: There is no ‘safe’ dose of nuclear radiation.

Environmental & Biological Impacts of Nuclear Disasters
For years, evolutionary biologist Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, has been studying the impacts of both the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters on animals and plants in the contaminated regions.

Studies published by Mousseau and Anders Møller of the Université Paris-Sud, and their collaborators detail the effects of ionizing radiation on pine trees and birds and small animals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. “When you look for these effects, you find them,” says Mousseau.

He adds that, mirroring Chernobyl results, “A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” Read more at:

DNA and Genetic Damage from DU weapons
U.S. wars in Former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and perhaps in other places as well, have seen the extensive use of so-called ‘depleted uranium’ ammunition -uranium armor penetrators. The super hard metal projectiles, fired from tanks and aircraft, can pierce the armor of tanks and combat vehicles, volatizing into deadly toxic particles that enter the bodies of all combatants and members of the surrounding populations. U.S. and NATO soldiers returning from the wars sicken and contaminate their loved ones. The populations forced to live in permanently contaminated former battle zones suffer chronic health problems and wide-spread genetic deformities that will be passed down through the generations.

Waste Storage From Here to Eternity
An Australian study estimates there are 390,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste in the world, and nearly 10 million cubic meters of intermediate-level waste — all of it produced from nuclear power generation. That amount is growing by approximately 10,000 tons annually.‘global-need’-recommended/7167412

It is produced at every stage of the nuclear fuel chain, from uranium mining and enrichment, to reactor operation and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.
Despite over seven decades of trying, no proven location or method of keeping the waste isolated from the environment has yet been found.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, by the middle of 2015, 30 countries worldwide were operating 438 nuclear reactors for electricity generation and 67 new nuclear plants were under construction in 15 countries.

The inevitable decommissioning of the aging world reactor fleet will create huge amounts of radioactive wastes. Once they are closed down, most of the world’s nuclear sites will require monitoring and protection for centuries. Wherever and however it is eventually stored, most of the waste will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years – longer than civilization has yet existed.

I rest my case.

Neo-Nuclearists are entitled to their own opinions…but not to their own facts.


James Heddle Co-Directs EON – the Ecological Options Network. He is currently at work on a new documentary SHUTDOWN – The California-Fukushima Connection

About James Heddle

James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan administer this blog as well as and Award-winning media producers as well as educators and community organizers, they co-direct EON - the Ecological Options Network . The EON YouTube channel has over 700 posts and over 5,000 subscribers.
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