The drums of war are beating once again as we read of preparations and rehearsals for a US or Israeli military strike against Iran to “take out” its nascent bomb making capability, as Iran asserts its legal right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium from its nuclear reactors for “peaceful” nuclear power. The planned transformation of the imperial US military into a “global strike force”, seeking “full spectrum dominance”, its targeted assassination program, now in eight countries, waged by the US Chair Force, impersonally raining down deadly drone attacks from their computers on unwary “terrorists” and innocent civilians as well, without benefit of trial, evidence, charges—even the Nazis got a trial at Nuremberg—the abhorrent willingness to wage illegal preemptive wars– we are reaping the grim whirlwind of these policies. Iran is relying on the Faustian bargain of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which enables it to develop what is ostensibly described as “peaceful” nuclear technology which gives them the capacity and materials they need to build bombs of their own as a deterrent against US threats.
The NPT, signed in 1970 contained a promise by the then five nuclear weapons states—the US, Russia, UK, France and China—to give up their nuclear weapons in return for a promise received from all the other nations in the world not to acquire nuclear weapons. To sweeten the deal, the treaty promised all nations an “inalienable right” to so-called “peaceful” nuclear power. Only India, Pakistan and Israel refused to sign and they used the technology and materials created through the use of their “peaceful” nuclear power to acquire nuclear arsenals, together with North Korea which had signed and them left the treaty to develop its own nuclear bombs. Now Iran has begun to legally enrich its uranium which could easily enable it to produce bomb-grade material if it steps up its enrichment process.
Under the guise of “peaceful nuclear power”, other countries, such as South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and Libya were also well on their way to developing nuclear bombs, which they later abandoned. Former IAEA Director, Mohammed ElBaradei remarked, “We just cannot continue business as usual that every country can build its own factories for separating plutonium or enriching uranium. Then we are really talking about 30, 40 countries sitting on the fence with a nuclear weapons capability that could be converted into a nuclear weapon in a matter of months.” (1)
Fukishima was the greatest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind. The massive tsunami crippled the cooling systems of the reactor complex, with three exposed nuclear reactors and four fuel storage pools all in desperate need of being cooled, as to this day they continue to spew their poisons into the ground, air and water, in an unprecedented meltdown of three nuclear reactors and the exposure of four storage building with irradiated nuclear fuel pools—much graver than the accident at Chernobyl which involved only one nuclear reactor. But even without a catastrophic meltdown like Fukushima, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island, nuclear energy produces toxic environmental devastation at every step along the way in the nuclear fuel chain– from the lethal radioactive legacy produced by mining uranium ore, mostly on indigenous lands, to the polluted aftermath from the processing of uranium ore into fuel for what must be the most expensive method ever derived for boiling water to make electricity, to the vast tons of irradiated waste, despoiling our planet in every community where nuclear reactors are located–leaching their poisons into the air, water, and soil—and added to all this is perhaps the most terrifying consequences produced by nuclear power.
Every nuclear reactor is a bomb factory, producing the deadly material needed to make nuclear weapons. That is how all the current nuclear weapons states developed their bombs. And that is how the nuclear wannabes, like Iran and Japan keep their options open by mastering the technology to manufacture nuclear weapons material. Meanwhile, more than 30 countries, eager to join the old boys advanced technology club are trying to acquire nuclear power including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Guinea, Vietnam and Bangladesh. (2)
There are now 440 “peaceful” reactors in 31 countries (3) — all producing deadly bomb materials with 272 research reactors in 56 countries, some producing highly enriched uranium.(4) The signers of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) were well aware that by having a nuclear reactor, a nation had been given the keys to a bomb factory and would need to be included in any effort to ban nuclear tests, regardless of whether they proclaimed any intention to develop weapons. And US CIA Director, George Tenet, said, “The difference between producing low-enriched uranium and weapons-capable high-enriched uranium is only a matter of time and intent, not technology.” (5) The current flurry of negotiations and initiatives to try to control the production of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle in one central place simply will not fly. It would be just another discriminatory aspect of the NPT, creating yet another class of haves and have-nots under the treaty, as was done with those permitted to have nuclear weapons and those who are not.
There are nearly 200 million kilograms of reactor wastes in the world—with only 5 kilograms needed to make one nuclear bomb. The US has just funded Georgia with $8 billion to build two new reactors, the first new ones in the US since the Three Mile Island catastrophe, and China is planning to build 30 new reactors with 32 more under construction around the planet–to churn out more toxic poisons; on tap for bomb-making, with no known solution to safely containing the tons of nuclear waste that will be generated over the unimaginable 250,000 years it will continue to threaten life on earth. (6) New projects are underway to mine uranium on every continent (7), mostly on indigenous lands, where first peoples have suffered inordinately from radiation poisoning.(8)
Even without a tragic accident like Fukushima, numerous studies show that in communities with nuclear reactors operating “normally” there are higher incidences of cancer, leukemias and birth defects. How could this be allowed to happen? There is a huge amount of misinformation and lack of information deliberately propagated by industry and industry dominated institutions. The World Health Organization has a collusive agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which, while it performs a useful service in verifying nuclear disarmament measures, was also established through the UN in 1957 “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy”.
The IAEA has been instrumental in covering up the disastrous health effects of the Chernobyl tragedy, understating the number of deaths by attributing only 50 deaths directly to the accident. This was a whitewash of health studies performed by Russia and the Ukraine. Those studies have been reported in 2011, in a NY Academy of Sciences Report estimating that nearly 1 million people died as a result of the Chernobyl catastrophe.(9) This cover-up was no doubt due to the highly unethical agreement between the IAEA and the World Health Organization, which provides that if either of the organizations initiates any program or activity in which the other has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult with the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement. Thus our scientists and researchers at the WHO are required to have their work vetted by the industry’s champion for “peaceful” nuclear technology, the IAEA.
For example, WHO abandoned its original 1961 agenda for research on the basic human health implications of food irradiation. It ceded to the IAEA, the ultimate power of researching the safety of irradiated foods. The IAEA is leading a global campaign to further the legalization, commercialization and consumer acceptance of irradiated foods. “We must confer with experts in the various fields of advertising and psychology to put the public at ease,” one IAEA report states, also recommending that the process “should not be required on the label.” (10)
Now there is a Fukushima cover-up. We read numerous stories in the press about the lack of information or the actual misinformation that is being fed to the Japanese people. Further, there is a global radiation monitoring network, established by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) to detect any radiation from nations that might be doing nuclear tests clandestinely. The CTBTO has released that data to governments, scientists, and various UN agencies such as the UNDP, UNODA, and to the countries who are members of the treaty. We know the Fukushima radiation is traveling around the planet, and has even entered the southern hemisphere now, but there are no public reports available to the public as to where the radiation is falling. In the US, we read from time to time of radiation affecting food in various hot spots all over the continent, but astonishingly, our Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will stop reporting on the radiation emitting from the Fukushima catastrophe. (11) The LCNP is bringing a FOIA action to pry the data out from our government and make it public.
The Good News
In light of the tragedy of Fukushima, the world has taken a time-out on going full speed ahead with nuclear power. Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Japan have announced their intention to phase out nuclear power. Japan, laboring under the catastrophic consequences shut down all but one of its 56 nuclear reactors has yet to experience a black out as the people have been fiercely conserving energy and developing substitutes to avoid power outages.
• Kuwait pulled out of a contract to build 4 reactors.
• Venezuelan -froze all nuclear development projects .
• Mexico-dropped plans to build 10 reactors. (12)
Every 30 minutes, enough of the sun’s energy reaches the earth’s surface to meet global energy demand for an entire year. Wind can satisfy the world’s electricity needs 40 times over, and meet all global energy demands five times over. The geothermal energy stored in the top six miles of the earth’s crust contains 50,000 times the energy of the world’s known oil and gas resources. Tidal, wave and small hydropower, can also provide vast stores of energy everywhere on earth, abundant and free for every person on our planet, rich and poor alike. From water, broken down by solar or wind-powered electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen, we can make and store hydrogen fuel in cells to be used when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. When hydrogen fuel is burned, it recombines with oxygen and produces water vapor, pure enough to drink, with no contamination added to the planet. Iceland plans to be completely sustainable by 2050, using hydrogen in its vehicles, trains, busses and ships, made from geothermal and marine energy.(13)
New research and reports are affirming the possibilities for shifting the global energy paradigm. Scientific American reported a plan in 2009 to power 100% of the planet by 2030 with only solar, wind and water renewables, calling for millions of wind turbines, water machines and solar installations to accomplish that task. The authors assert that “the scale is not an insurmountable hurdle; society has achieved massive transformations before”, reminding us that “[d]uring World War II, the U.S retooled automobile factories to produce 300,000 aircraft and other countries produced 486,000 more”. Their scenario for 2030 contemplates, in part, building 3.8 million windmills to provide 51% of the world’s energy demand which would take up less than 50 square kilometers (smaller than Manhattan). They reassure us that even though the number seems enormous, the world manufactures 73 million cars and lights trucks every year.
The authors review the policies that would need to be in place to make the energy transition, such as taxes on fossil fuels, or at least the elimination of existing subsidies for fossil and nuclear energy to level the playing field, and an intelligently expanded grid to ensure rapid deployment of clean energy sources.(14)
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) also issued a Report in 2010, 100% Renewable Energy, which outlined a scenario for relying on sustainable energy that, unlike the Scientific American plan, included biofuels as renewable energy. The WWF Director for Global Energy Policy, Stephan Singer, took issue with another report issued this year from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which predicted that the world could meet 80% of its energy needs from renewables by 2050. Singer cited the WWF study that looked at a scenario for going to 100% renewables by 2050.(15)
The Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century(REN), released their Renewables Global Status Report in July, 2011.(16) Despite countervailing factors like the continuing economic recession, incentive cuts for implementing sustainable energy measures, and low natural-gas prices, there was much encouraging news to report for 2010:
• Existing solar water and space heating capacity increased by 16%
• Global solar photovoltaic (PV) production and markets doubled from 2009.
• Germany installed more PV than the entire world in 2009; PV markets in Japan and the US doubled
• At least 119 countries had enacted renewable national policies, compared to 55 countries in 2005
• Investment was $211 billion in renewables, compared to $160 billion in 2009, five times that in 2005
• Investments in developing countries surpassed developed nations for the first time
In 2009 the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) was launched and now has 187 member states.(17) Previously, the world had only the International Atomic Energy Agency to address issues of nuclear power, and the 28 member International Energy Agency, established during the 1973 oil crisis to address the disruptions of the global oil supply. IRENA’s mission is to empower developing countries with the ability to access the free energy of the sun, wind, marine, and geothermal source. Since Irene is the Greek word for peace, this new institution is especially well named.
We already have the technology to harness the bounty of the earth. It is clearly not beyond our financial means, as argued by the corporate supporters of toxic fuel industries working against the momentum to move to a green energy economy. Industry has been able to influence government policy to continue to subsidize polluting fossil, nuclear, and industrial biomass industries at much higher levels than funds made available to clean safe, sun, wind, geothermal and hydropower. The International Energy Agency estimates indicate that fossil-fuel consumption subsidies worldwide amounted to $409 billion in 2010, up from $300 billion in 2009 which was six times more than the annual subsidies for biofuels, wind power and solar energy. And the IEA figure doesn’t include the $50 billion a year dollar estimated costs for military infrastructure and naval operations operating during peacetime, on guard duty for the oil tankers plying the seas with their noxious cargo.(18) A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, The Gift That Keeps on Taking, estimates that the US nuclear industry has received hundreds of billions of dollars over the past 50 years from taxpayers for every aspect of the nuclear chain, including liability insurance to cover catastrophic losses without which industry would never have even built a single nuclear power plant.(19)
Yet despite these encouraging reports and facts on the ground, the corporate dominated media is still beating the drums for continued reliance on fossil, nuclear and industrial biomass fuels. It is obvious that they will do all they can to block the development of green energy because they will lose their cash cows. Once the infrastructure is in, they can’t sell the sun, or the wind or the tides the way they can peddle coal, gas, oil, uranium, and biomass. We mustn’t buy into the propaganda that clean safe energy is decades away or too costly. We need to be vigilant in providing the ample evidence in its favor to counter the corporate forces arguing that it’s not ready, it’s years away, its’ too expensive—arguments made by companies in the business of producing dirty fuel. Here’s what Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to say about similar forces in 1936:
We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.(20)
While it is inspiring to know of the many initiatives, both private and public, that have the capacity to reorder our energy economy in a safer new millennium, there are enormous forces we must overcome. We are at a time which the eco-philosopher Joanna Macy, describes as”the great turning”. In shifting the energy paradigm we would essentially be turning away from “the industrial growth society to a life-sustaining civilization”, foregoing a failed economic model which “ measures its performance in terms of ever-increasing corporate profits–in other words by how fast materials can be extracted from Earth and turned into consumer products, weapons, and waste.”(21) Relying on the inexhaustible abundance of the sun, wind, tides, and heat of the earth for our energy needs, freely available to all, will diminish the competitive, industrial, consumer society that is threatening our planetary survival. By ending our dependence on the old structures, beginning with the compelling urgency to transform the way we meet our energy needs, we may finally be able to put an end to war as well.
1. Agence France Press, Feb. 23, 2005
13. See generally, A Sustainable Energy Future is Possible Now, www.abolition2000.org
18. Winning the Oil Endgame Fact Sheet, Rocky Mountain Institute.