HERE IS THE US GOVERNMENT’S 2018 NUCLEAR WEAPONS POLICY and LANGUAGE ON USING NUCLEAR WEAPONS KNOWN AS THE “NUCLEAR POSTURE REVIEW”
HERE IS THE US GOVERNMENT’S 2018 NUCLEAR WEAPONS POLICY and LANGUAGE ON USING NUCLEAR WEAPONS KNOWN AS THE “NUCLEAR POSTURE REVIEW”
On January 22, FirstEnergy Corporation announced that its faulty and nearly-self-destructed Davis-Besse power reactor east of Toledo, Ohio, will be closed well before its license expires. However, the shutdown is not because the reactor represents reckless endangerment of public health and safety and should have been closed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. FirstEnergy was fine with spinning the loaded gun. No, the old rattle trap can’t cover its costs any more, not with the electricity market dominated by cheaper natural gas, wind, and solar.
Davis-Besse’s shutdown date has not been announced, but CFO James Pearson of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., the corporate division in charge of the wreck, said it will close if lawmakers don’t approve a taxpayer bailout.
FirstEnergy had said the financial sky was falling in March 2017. Chief nuclear officer Sam Belcher [his real name] told the Toldeo Blade then — as the firm was floating the bailout measure (SB 128) through the Ohio legislature — “In the absence of something happening, [taxpayer-funded handout to the private, investor-owned firm] we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.” So far, state lawmakers have refused to save the decrepit reactor with state taxes. They cite old-fashioned market competition, and the failure of previous subsidies to save the mature, well-established reactor industry once led by the now bankrupt Westinghouse.
Serious accidents at David-Besse in 1977, 1985, 1998, and 2002 endangered its neighbors. The most hair-raising was the discovery in 2002 that corrosion had eaten through more than 6-inches of the reactor head’s carbon steel. The corrosion went undetected by federal and company inspectors for decades. Having gouged a hole in the reactor cover the size of a football, the corrosion left only 3⁄8 inch of steel holding back the high-pressure coolant. A break would have caused a massive loss-of-coolant accident and out-of-control overheating, resulting in catastrophic uranium fuel melting (known as a “meltdown”) and massive radiation releases.
Repairs took two years and cost $600 million, during which the Department of Justice penalized FirstEnergy over operating and reporting violations. FirstEnergy paid $28 million in fines. Yet the NRC allowed the company to restart David-Besse in 2004, and then to run the rust bucket for 40 reckless years, even after the company tacked on another $600 million in repairs in 2014.
With combined debt estimated at $3.5 billion and losses mounting daily, CFO Pearson said FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. will file for bankruptcy. Not just Davis-Besse, but the firm’s Perry reactor northwest of Cleveland, and Beaver Valley reactors 1 & 2, northwest of Pittsburg, will also likely be closed.
Reactors Shuttered by Bankruptcy or Accident Risk from Calif. to New Jersey
Elsewhere in nuclear power’s long “goodbye,” California utility regulators decided this January 11 not to save Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) from cheap gas, solar and wind, but to close the company’s two reactors at Diablo Canyon as early as 2020. Unlike the bribe-happy legislatures in New York and Illinois, nuclear power defenders were unable to convince California state law makers to fund a bail out of PG&E.
In 2013, Southern Calif. Edison, owners of the San Onofre reactors north of San Diego, abruptly decided to close them. Reactors 2 and 3 have been churning out high-level radioactive waste since 1983 and 1984 respectively. The hulks ran into trouble when massive repairs and upgrades failed inspections. In May that year, US Sen. Barbara Boxer said that the reactors were “unsafe and posed a danger to the 8 million people living within 50 miles. Boxer even called for a criminal investigation into Edison’s installation of faulty replacement steam generators.
The list of old age reactors shut down or closing soon keeps growing. Kewaunee in Wisconsin was shut in 2013, Vermont Yankee in 2014, and Fort Calhoun in Nebraska in 2016. Oyster Creek* in New Jersey will close at the end of this year, and Pilgrim* in Massachusetts will close in 2019 or sooner. Indian Point’s 1 and 2 near New York City will be shuttered by 2021. Exelon Corp’s FitzPatrick* near Oswego, New York, FE Ginna in Ontario, NY and its nearby Nine Mile Point* were all set to close in 2017, before the state legislature agreed to a $7.6 billion bailout. (This bailout law is being challenged in court by Nuclear Information and Resource Service whose lawsuit has survived its first motion to dismiss.) Exelon’s Clinton and Quad Cities* reactors in Illinois, might have shut down last year too, except for a state taxpayer bailout worth $3.5 billion adopted in 2016.
New reactor construction is being thwarted by similarly exorbitant costs. In 2016, two unfinished Bellefonte reactors in northern Alabama were cancelled. The two V.C. Summer reactors that were almost 40% complete in South Carolina were cancelled last July by its owners after the industry-shocking bankruptcy of the projects’ lead contractor Westinghouse Electric.
Next among dozens of shaky reactors on the chopping block, Xcel Energy’s 43-year-old Monticello* unit on the Mississippi River in Minnesota looks vulnerable, especially in view of a string of notorious accidents.
* These units are elderly clones of the General Electric “Mark I” reactors that caused a triple melt-down at Fukushima in Japan which began in March 2011 and continues to spread radiation to the atmosphere and to the Pacific Ocean. — John LaForge
Trying to trivialize nuclear weapons the way he makes light of sexual assault, beating up critics, deporting millions, shooting someone in the street, bombing civilians, or torturing suspects, Donald Trump blithely “tweeted” about the US arsenal in December 2016. The Chief Twit typed, “The US must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Mr. Trump’s handlers were trying to steal thunder that day—Dec. 23rd—from the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) where most of the world literally was coming to its senses regarding nuclear weapons, voting overwhelming in favor of a resolution to begin negotiating a treaty banning them. The remarkable Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons or Ban Treaty was then adopted by the UNGA on July 7, 2017 (voting 122 to 1), and will take affect when it’s ratified by 50 states. Then, last Oct. 6, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons was declared the Nobel Peace Prize winner for its successful effort to see the UN adopt the Ban Treaty. But the US government was having none of it.
The Obama and Trump administrations didn’t just publicly oppose and obstruct progress on the ban treaty, but last October the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported on the colossal price tag of the two presidents’ mutual pro-nuclear stampede in the opposite direction. The CBO’s report (“Approaches for Managing the Costs of US Nuclear Forces, 2017 to 2046”) projects that the government’s plan to rebuild the entire US nuclear arsenal from top to bottom, including new warhead production facilities, would cost $1.2 trillion between 2017 and 2046.
As I noted last week, this staggering sum involves contested plans to produce: · new nuclear-armed long-range bombers, land-based missiles, missile-firing submarines, and their propulsion reactors ($772 billion); · new nuclear cruise missiles; · the first guided or “smart” gravity H-bomb, and jet fighters to carry them ($25 billion); · a rebuilt complex of laboratories and production facilities, in Tennessee, New Mexico and Missouri ($261 billion); and · replacement command and control systems that enable the ongoing threat to use the weapons ($184 billion). Allocating the $1.2 trillion by department, the CBO estimates that $890 billion will go to the Pentagon, and $352 billion to the Department of Energy (DOE) and its bomb-building wing known as the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).
While the CBO’s cost estimate is flabbergasting, the agency “lowballed” its estimate by at least $541 billion according to Robert Alvarez, a former DOE senior policy advisor. Writing in the Washington Spectator, Alvarez notes that by excluding the costs of environmental restoration and waste management in the 70-year-old nuclear weapons complex, the CBO “hides” or downplays more than half-a-trillion dollars. The $541 billion “comes from the same congressional spending account” as the $1.2 trillion weapons complex upgrade, Alvarez notes, raising the actual inflation-adjusted total estimate to $1.74 trillion. Clean-up costs were perhaps left out to reduce the hair-raising sticker shock usually prompted by trillions in new federal spending.
Ignoring or belittling the toxic and radioactive legacy of decades of US nuclear weapons production is a longtime practice among weapons proponents. One Livermore National Lab design engineer told me 30 years ago over the phone, “We like to cook. We don’t like to do the dishes.” Ditto the Republican Congress which is weakening clean-up requirements at the plutonium-poisoned bomb plants around the country.
The $1.7 trillion weapons complex “rebuild” was originally proposed by President Obama who reportedly agreed to it as a quid pro quo for Senate Ratification of the New Start Treaty with Russia. The nearly $2,000-billion weapons bonanza appears to be a zero-sum tribute to inflation, since it won’t increase the size of the nuclear arsenal. Another couple of trillion will have to be diverted however, if, as reported by NBS News last Oct. 11, President Trump’s summertime demand for a ten-fold increase of the arsenal size is enacted. It’s only a partial relief that no one takes Trump seriously, and that Secretary of State left the July meeting calling him a “F___ing moron.”
Senate Finance Committee Chair: “We don’t have money anymore”
While debating the Republican’s recent $1.5 trillion tax cut, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, spoke about the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which needed its appropriation renewed after expiring last Oct. 1. CHIP subsidizes health exams, doctor visits, prescriptions and other medical care for children in 9 million low-income families. Mr. Hatch actually said on the record: “[T]he reason CHIP is having trouble is because we don’t have money anymore.” Mr. Hatch had just given away CHIP’s budget times 100 over in a single tax cut gifting industrialists and the super-rich. With proposed austerity budget cuts like the Republicans’ Oct. 2017 budget gouging $1 trillion from Medicaid and nearly $500 billion from Medicare—and over half of federal discretionary funds lavished on the Pentagon—Mr. Hatch must have meant we don’t have money any more except for weapons and war. — John LaForge
On Jan. 11, the Huffington Post posted a leaked draft of the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, the government’s most detailed unclassified nuclear weapons and war planning and preparation document, the first since April 2010.
The NPR is used to provide smart-sounding euphemism and theoretical distraction to reporters and scholars who sometimes write about nuclear weapons. Since such weapons can only produce firestorms and massacres that neither medics nor hospitals can begin to respond to, the government uses cool, technical terminology to sell the “need” and “usefulness” of the devices to tax payers.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico* in Santa Fe keeps a critical eye on programs and problems at the state’s two nuclear weapons design and production laboratories, Los Alamos and Sandia. In the following, Nuclear Watch NM provides expert analysis of the latest official gibberish.
The new Review begins with “[m]any hoped conditions had been set for deep reductions in global nuclear arsenals, and, perhaps, for their elimination. These aspirations have not been realized. America’s strategic competitors have not followed our example. The world is more dangerous, not less.” The Review then points to Russia and China’s ongoing nuclear weapons modernization programs and North Korea’s “nuclear provocations.” It concludes, “We must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it be.”
If the US government were to really “look reality in the eye and see the world as it is,” it would recognize that it is failing miserably to lead the world toward the abolition of the only class of weapons that is a true existential threat to our country. As an obvious historic matter, the US is the first and only country to use nuclear weapons. Since WWII the US has threatened to use nuclear weapons in the Korean and Viet Nam wars, and on many other occasions.
Further, it is hypocritical to point to Russia and China’s “modernization” programs as if they are taking place in a vacuum. The US has been upgrading its nuclear arsenal all along. In the last few years our country has embarked on a $1.7 trillion modernization program to completely rebuild its nuclear weapons production complex and all weapons based on land, in the air and at sea.
Moreover, Russia and China’s modernization programs are driven in large part by their perceived need to preserve strategic stability and deterrence by having the ability to overwhelm the US’s growing ballistic missile defenses. Ronald Reagan’s pursuit of “Star Wars” (fed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s false promises of success) blocked a nuclear weapons abolition agreement in 1988 with the former Soviet Union. In 2002, George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew the US from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which has been a source of constant friction with the Russian government ever since.
More recently, at Israel’s request, the US blocked the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the UN from agreeing to a conference on a nuclear weapon-free zone in the Middle East (Israel has never signed the treaty). As an overarching matter, the US and other nuclear-armed treaty signatories have never honored the Treaty’s Article VI mandate “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament…,” in effect since 1970. As a consequence, last year more than 120 countries at the UN passed a nuclear weapons ban treaty which the US vehemently denounced, despite the fact that there have long been ban treaties on chemical and biological weapons which the US has not only supported but also sought to enforce.
With respect to North Korea’s nuclear provocations, that regime is clearly seeking deterrence against the US. North Korea’s infrastructure was completely destroyed during the Korean War, and its people later witnessed the destruction of the Iraqi and Libyan regimes neither of which had nuclear weapons.
Finally, the NPR purports to be about “deterrence” against hostile threats. However, the US’s true nuclear posture has never been just deterrence, but rather the ability to conduct nuclear attacks, including pre-emptive first strikes. This is why the US (and Russia) keep thousands of nuclear weapons instead of the few hundred the other nuclear powers keep for just deterrence. Keeping and improving the ability to use nuclear weapons is the underlying reason for the $1.7 trillion “modernization” program (another euphemism) that is actually developing new nuclear weapons, instead of maintaining a few hundred, known to be “useful” for 50 years, while pursuing nuclear disarmament.
Beyond preserving and upgrading the enormous land, sea and air-based nuclear arsenal, the new NPR calls for:
1) Near-term development of a low-yield nuclear warhead for existing Trident missiles launched from new submarines.
2) New sub-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles.
3) Keeping the 1.2 megaton B83-1 nuclear gravity bomb “until a suitable replacement is identified.” [Hiroshima times 80]
4) “Provide the enduring capability and capacity to produce plutonium ‘pits’ [warhead cores] at a rate of no fewer than 80 pits per year by 2030.”
5) “Advancing the W78 warhead replacement to FY19… and investigating the feasibility of fielding the nuclear explosives package in a Navy flight vehicle.”
Obvious problems with these five programs are:
1) An adversary won’t know whether a Trident sub-launched nuclear warhead is a new low-yield or an existing high-yield warhead. In any event, any belief in a “limited’ nuclear war is a fallacy that shouldn’t be tested. Once the nuclear threshold is crossed at any level, it is crossed, and lower-yield nuclear weapons are all the more dangerous for being potentially more usable.
2) Sub-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles are inherently destabilizing as the proverbial “bolt out of the blue,” and can be the perfect weapon for a nuclear first-strike. Moreover, this is redundant to nuclear-armed cruise missiles that are already being developed for heavy bombers.
3) The National Nuclear Security Administration largely justified the ongoing program to create the B61-12 (the world’s first “smart” nuclear gravity bomb) by being a replacement for the 1.2 megaton B83-1 bomb. Does this indicate doubts in the $13 billion B61-12 program? And will it lead to a bump up in the number of nuclear weapons in the US’s arsenal?
4) To date, the talk has been up to 80 pits per year, not “no fewer than.” Also, the 2015 Defense Authorization Act required that the capability to produce up to 80 pits per year be demonstrated by 2027. The NPR’s later date of 2030 could be indicative of longstanding plutonium pit production problems at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. That delay and hints of higher than 80 pits per year could also point to the pit production mission being relocated at the Savannah River Site, which is under active consideration. In any event, future plutonium pit production pit production is not needed for the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but is instead for future new-design nuclear weapons.
5) “W78 warhead replacement… in a Navy flight vehicle” is code for so-called Interoperable Warheads, whose planned three versions together could cost around $50 billion. These are arguably huge make work projects for the nuclear weapons labs (particularly Livermore), which ironically the Navy doesn’t even want (Navy memo, Sept. 27, 2012; https://www.nukewatch.org/importantdocs/resources/Navy-Memo-W87W88.pdf). It is also the driving reason for unnecessary future production of more than 80 pits per year.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch’s Executive Director, concludes with a grim prognosis: “The new NPR does not even begin to meet our long-term need to eliminate the one class of weapons of mass destruction that can truly destroy our country. It will instead set back arms control efforts and further hollow out our country by diverting yet more huge sums of money to the usual giant weapons contractors at the expense of public health and education, environmental protection, natural disaster recovery, etc. Under the Trump Administration and this NPR, expect Medicare and social security to be attacked to help pay for a false sense of military superiority.” (*Nuclear Watch New Mexico, 903 W Alameda St #325, Santa Fe, NM 87501) — John LaForge
Click the links below to access articles from our Winter 2017-18 Quarterly Newsletter. Individual articles are also tagged by issue category.
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