Garrison Society?

On 9/11 the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission posted a chilling notice, announcing that subject to a formal rulemaking it would allow nuclear plant operators to “apply for permission for their security personnel to possess and use certain ‘enhanced weapons.’ These weapons are machineguns, short-barreled shotguns or short-barreled rifles….Previously, with limited exceptions, only federal, state or local law enforcement could lawfully possess machineguns.”

If ever there was to be a national, industry-wide exemption from the rules governing who gets to carry machine guns in the United States, it is no surprise that it turned out to be for nuclear plant operators, particularly given the failure of the NRC and its licensees to achieve anything like real security at nuclear reactor sites. (For example, there was the 1993 intruder at TMI who crashed through security gates and took four hours to find and, more recently, the snoozing guards at Pennsylvania’s Peach Bottom plant, caught on video and subsequently televised.)

But what of the larger meaning of this decision? Isn’t the NRC effectively telling us that in exchange for a certain amount of electricity we must tolerate military-style nuclear encampments in our midst?

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solveclimate debate

An outpouring of comments for and against nuclear energy followed an article of mine posted this week on solveclimate’s website. I welcome such energetic debate and take the space here to make a few more general points. As I said in a brief reply on the solveclimate site, I did not set out to suggest ways to solve the climate crisis but rather to point out the pitfalls of thinking that nuclear energy would do the trick. Similarly, my aim in writing the book was to tackle not global warming but more broadly than I could in the article our relationship with the atom and what a friend of mine describes as the “greatest mythological event in human history” – the realization that we had developed the capability to destroy ourselves.

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Australian Conundrum

In Mortal Hands made its Australian debut in June with a paperback edition from Black Inc. Australians have a mixed attitude toward nuclear energy. They decided against building reactors when much of the rest of the industrialized world was building them; yet they also became one of the world’s largest producers of uranium. Uranium mining leaves its own footprint on the environment – and whether producers like it or not, they ultimately have little control over its ultimate disposition. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Peter Cave tackled that topic with me during an interview for the World Today program on July 29.

a sibilant intake of breath…

From Canada, a bright young blogger named Milan Ilnyckyj (a pronunciation guide is on his site) makes a number of interesting and positive points about my book. His review correctly points out that In Mortal Hands downplays the technical aspects of nuclear energy in the interests of lay readers who might otherwise get discouraged and put the book down. More critically, he says the book “does not provide a sufficiently broad minded basis for reaching a final judgment on nuclear energy.” My aim was to tell the story behind the failure of nuclear energy — why it came to a virtual standstill — rather than to debate the pros Read more

Slip of the Tongue?

An Iranian diplomat strayed into dangerous territory with an apparent slip of the tongue yesterday. “The whole Iranian nation are united… on (the) inalienable right of (having a) nuclear weapon,” said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s representative to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.  He quickly corrected himself with the standard declaration of his nation’s right to ‘peaceful’ nuclear energy (see article). But his slip-up underscores the incontrovertible link between the two sides of nuclear energy — and the risks of pusuing nuclear commerce, especially in volatile regions, in the belief that ‘safeguards’ agreements will be honored.

In the Shadows of Nuclear Proliferation

“In Mortal Hands” was recently reviewed by Jim Miles in the Palestine Chronicle and other websites with which he is affiliated such as the Irish Sun Times, Scoop, and Op Ed, and of course I am pleased by his enthusiastic reaction to my book.  For the record I did not say that “the industry’s central purpose is to create fissile material for weapons production.” Rather I argued that the civil function has historically provided convenient cover for the military and still does in the so-called problem states. My thanks to Jim for his coverage.  To read the full review, click here.

In today’s Danger Room, Nathan Hodge (co-author of A Nuclear Family Vacation) asks penetrating questions about how my book came about, who/how I knew when/ where — and asks me to guide us on a quick tour of the danger spots. Read here.

DOE’s Dismantlement Backlog

Here’s a story in today’s front page of  USA Today about the Energy Department’s problems of eliminating nuclear weapons; it was sent to me by Robert Alvarez of the Institute of Policy Studies. “As the article strongly implies,  under the status quo, we are looking at a 30-40 year time-line before President Obama’s goal can actually be realized,” says Alvarez. “The longer we wait to restructure the DOE weapons complex to eliminate nuclear weapons, he adds, the less likely these warheads and the fuel to make them will be gone.” Here is the link.

KERA Radio Interview

jackey_thumbnailKrys Boyd of KERA in Dallas is a sharp interviewer tackling a range of topics – from the science of nuclear energy to its dangers.  It lasts about an hour.

KERA Radio (NPR), “Think” with Krys Boyd

Rebooting the DOE

Robert Alvarez writes about an organization high on the GAO’s “list of high-risk federal agencies vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse” in this article from the March 27 edition of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. It expands on a theme he first wrote on in January, also in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, explaining in detail why the Department of Energy is not set up to carry out Obama’s energy vision.