Posts Tagged ‘nuclear power’

concord 11-9-13 016

It was classic Caldicott in Concord last night at the NH Peace Action dinner: part biology lesson, part moral outrage, and part call to action.  The long-term impact of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe, the longer-term impacts of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the still unfolding disaster at the Fukushima reactors in Japan have provided the Australian pediatrician with more than enough data to underline her call for nuclear plants to be shut down and nuclear weapons to be abolished.

Part of the problem, Dr. Caldicott told the audience at Concord’s City Auditorium, is an “unholy alliance” between the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose purpose includes promoting nuclear power.  And the IAEA still bases its health assessments on outdated analysis of the health impacts of the atomic bombings of Japan.  Different types of cancer have varying incubation periods, she said, and even now people in Japan areconcord 11-9-13 046 getting sick from the use of nuclear weapons 68 years ago.  Children in the Chernobyl vicinity are still being coming into the world with high rates of birth defects, she noted.

Another problem, she charged, is that physicists, not doctors, still dominate the discussion of radiation effects.  “I’ll be damned if I’m going to let those bastards get away with it,” she said, with passion in her voice and a twinkle in her eye.

“Large areas of the world are becoming contaminated by long-lived nuclear elements secondary to catastrophic meltdowns: 40 percent of Europe from Chernobyl, and much of Japan” Dr. Caldicott wrote in a recent NY Times op-ed, reprinted on her web site

As a doctor treating children with leukemia in Boston in the 1970s, Dr. Caldicott was a key figure that animated the No Nukes movement in New England and then re-awakened the nuclear disarmament movement of the early 1980s.  She served as President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, started the Women’s Party for Survival (which became Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament and lives on as Women’s Action for New Directions), and in 2001 formed the Nuclear Policy Research Institute, now known as Beyond Nuclear.  Through books, films, and lectures like the one last night, she has reached millions across the world with an alarming analysis of the dangers we face from nuclear power and concord 11-9-13 034 weapons.

Alarm is an appropriate state to be in.

High on Dr. Caldicott’s list of concerns right now is the need to remove damaged nuclear fuel rods form the melted-down reactors at Fukushima, where she said “they’re running out of workers”  and mistakes could be deadly. [see comment]

When Dr. Caldicott turned to her slide presentation, she began with a list of radioactive isotopes, then showed slides of birds and insects with genetic mutations associated with radiation spewed from Chernobyl 27 years ago. 

The nuclear industry is carcinogenic, she said, “and it’s going to kill people.  These people should be tried like Nazi war criminals.” 

Dr. Caldicott wound up her presentation with a shorter warning about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the influence weapons builders have over US military policy.  “Who runs the Pentagon?,” she asked.  “Lockheed Martin,” she answered.

There are still 20,000 H-bombs in the world, and the US and Russia control most of them.  “How dare America have enough weapons to destroy life on earth?  How dare the Russians?”

Dr. Caldicott’s pleas would have been strengthened by references to efforts by Beyond Nuclear and SAPL to concord 11-9-13 001 block a 20-year license extension for Seabrook Station and to the fact that Vermont Yankee (which she mentioned several times) is actually going to be closed after decades of No Nukes campaigning.  But at least she did follow Will Hopkins and Sandra Yarne, who talked about NH Peace Action’s current projects, including efforts to place “Move the Money” resolutions on New Hampshire Town Meeting warrants and city council agendas.  

One thing we’ve learned over the years: the best way to deal with the realistic dread that comes from living in the nuclear age is to work for a nuclear-free world.  

You can find out more about Dr. Helen Caldicott on her web site, http://www.helencaldicott.com/





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canterbury 8-3-13 002 

I was at the kitchen table stewing over a pro-nuclear op-ed in the Concord Monitor when Judy said it was time to leave for Beth and Ruth’s solar open house on the other side of town. 

Beth and Ruth have an impressive homestead with a big garden, a healthy looking flock of chickens, and two solar arrays on their rooftop.  Yesterday’s open house was put on by the NH Sustainable Energy Association and ReVision Energycanterbury 8-3-13 007

ReVision’s ambition is to “transition away from fossil fuels and get solar on every rooftop,” said Heather Fournier, who explained how Beth and Ruth meet all their year-round hot water and electric power needs from the sun.  

Kate Epsen, Executive Director for the Sustainable Energy Association, used to work at the Public Utilities Commission, where she became familiar with incentives for solar.  Those include rebates from the state and tax credits from the Feds.  

There’s a few ways to hook up a solar electric system.  You can go totally off-the-canterbury 8-3-13 023 grid, like our friend Fred.  But he needs batteries to store electricity and a generator for back-up.  If you don’t want to go that route, you can hook up to your local utility, with a meter that runs in both directions.  If you generate more than you use, you can either sell it back to the power company or use the grid, in effect, like a storage battery.  That’s what Beth and Ruth do.

Beth said she was looking forward to watching their meter run backwards, but because it’s electronic it doesn’t really work that way.  This time of year, she said, they generate more electricity than they use, and currently have 2 1/2 months of power in the bank.   (In other words, if the sun stopped shining tomorrow, they could go for 2 1/2 months without paying a dime to the electric company.)  

ReVision is in business to design and install solar hot water and electric systems.  Heather Fournier said they can also help consumers figure out the state and federal incentive systems.

The Sustainable Energy Association, on the other hand, is an educational organization that also also pays close attention to public policy.  Kate Epsen said this year the Association supported HB 306, a bill this year to develop a state energy strategy.  The study will be under the direction of the NH Office of Enecanterbury 8-3-13 020 rgy and Planning. 

Knowing that neighbors are getting most of their energy from the sun made it easier for me to return home and write a letter to the editor in response to the pro-nuke op-ed.  The column’s writer, who happens to be Concord’s mayor, has signed up as a member of a self-described “grassroots” group funded entirely by the nuclear industry and promoting nuclear power as the answer to problems associated with fossil fuels. 

But even if the nukesters had a solution for the waste problem (they don’t), and even if they could be trusted to keep reactors from spewing radiation (they can’t), nukes are not the way to deal with climate change.  As my friend Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear said, they’ve gone from being perceived as “too cheap to meter” to being too expensive to matter.  Meanwhile, solar is becoming increasingly competitive.  That’s where the future lies. 


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You Have Nothing to Lose but the Nukes, and a Solar Future to Gain!

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Stephen Comley addresses the Clams on the World Fellowship lawn.

Ever heard of the “bathtub curve?” It’s a principle of reliability engineering that illustrates the failure rates for technology. When a form of technology is new, it has a high failure rate. As the bugs get worked out, failure rates decline. But as the productbathtub curves age, failure rates rise again.

Paul Gunter says the bathtub curve is useful for understanding nuclear reactors. Disasters at Three  Mile Island and Chernobyl represented catastrophic failures of relatively new reactors. Fukushima would be an example of failure for an aging reactor. The aging of the US reactor “fleet” means “this is the most dangerous time,” Gunter said.

With backing from the Cheney and Obama administrations, the industry promised a 21st century nuclear renaissance and promoted itself as a replacement for fossil fuels. Former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford says “the renaissance story line was hard to resist.”

“By early 2009,” he writes, “applications for 31 new reactors were pending at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The promises came garnished with tales of remorseful changes of heart from oft-obscure nuclear converts. With few exceptions, the news media – especially television with its thirst for the short and the simple – fell for the renaissance story line.”

In a foreword to The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013, Bradford writes of the supposed renaissance, “It is all in ruins now. The 31 proposed reactors are down to four actually being built and a few others lingering on in search of a license, which is good for 20 years. Those four are hopelessly uneconomic but proceed because their state legislatures have committed to finish them as long as a dollar remains to be taken from any electric customer’s pocket. Operating reactors are being closed as uneconomic for the first time in fifteen years.”

Or as Paul Gunter put it, industry has gone from the “too cheap to meter” line of the 1950s and ‘60s to the reality of “too expensive to matter.”

Gunter, a Clamshell founder who is now co-director of Beyond Nuclear, was one of several speakers at last weekend’s Clamshell Alliance Reunion, held at PAUL40world fellowship july 2013 285World Fellowship in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The annual event is part social, part educational, part planning and plotting for a community of activists who met in the No Nukes days of the 1970s and 80s.

Other speakers included Doug Bogen, who’s been promoting the potential of offshore windpower from floating turbines in the Gulf of Maine; Naoto Inoue, a solar entrepreneur from Arundel, Maine; and Stephen Comley, who woke up to the dangers of nuclear power when an NRC official told him to stock upon potassium iodide pills for the the residents of his Rowley, MA nursing home, 12 miles from the Seabrook reactor.

Spurred to action, Comley organized 80% of town residents to sign a petition for Seabrook to be shut down. As a long-time Republican activist, he even delivered the petitions in person to President Ronald Reagan. He is still talking about nuclear dangers, especially his allegation that counterfeit, substandard parts were installed at 72 reactors, a fact revealed to him years ago by an industry insider. Comley started a group, “We the People,” to collect such stories and try to get action from people in high places. At this time he’s trying to communicate with Michelle Obama in hopes that she can get through to her husband.naoto04world fellowship july 2013 276

Paul Gunter said “climate change needs to motivate all of us.” That’s why it was great to hear from Naoto Inoue, who heads Talmage Solar Engineering in  Arundel, Maine. From installing photovoltaic (PV) systems at homes on the coast of Maine, Inoue has taken the plunge into large-scale solar generation with a 2.2 megawatt PV installation in Sharon, Vermont. With support from Vermont’s pilot “feed-in tariff” program, the solar array can economically provide enough electricity for the entire town.

Doug Bogen says offshore wind is another viable alternative. The state of Maine has a commitmDOUG03world fellowship july 2013 138ent to support 5000 megawatts of capacity in the next 20 years, by coincidence the date the Seabrook reactor’s license is due to expire. We can’t rely on wind for 100% of our energy needs, he said, but the potential is  there to replace New England’s aging nuclear plants and phase out fossil fuel plants as well. Bogen is promoting the idea that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, a massive industrial facility sited on a deep water port, would be the perfect place for the massive wind turbines to be manufactured.

The Clams also heard some words of wisdom from Peter Kellman. peter17world fellowship july 2013 321Whatever struggle you’re in, says the veteran organizer, never forget “the big picture.”

I was also grateful to spend some time with Sukie Rice, a former American Friends Service Committee staff member who conducted nonviolence training workshops for early Clamshell demonstrations at Seabrook.  She recalled meetings in the spring of 1976 at which Clamshell organizers agreed to adopt nonviolence as a guiding principle for direct action.  “If what they wanted was for New Hampshire residents to see them as legitimate, they would have to act in the manner of nonviolence,” she recalled.  It was Elizabeth Boardman, she said, who introduced the Quaker principle of consensus decision-making.  The use of affinity groups and “spokes” meetings came from the experience of the Cambridge-based Nonviolent Direct Action Group, an anti-war project of the early ‘70s.  From early on, she said, “I knew it was the start of something big.” 

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stop now brattleboro march 22

Hundreds arrested at Entergy offices in VT, LA, NY

One difference between a person and a corporation is that a corporate person can be in many places at once.  To occupy space in, say, three states, it takes at least three natural persons.  There were many times that protesting today outside the offices of Entergy Corporation, the rogue corporation that operates the Vermont Yankee nuclear station in Vernon, Vermont.

Had the plant’s operators been obeying state law, the plant would have ceased operation today.

Upwards of 1000 people took that message to the company’s Brattleboro officebrattleboro march 22 028 this afternoon.  More than 100 of them were arrested and charged with unlawful trespass for attempting to deliver their message directly to the company.

Meanwhile, seven activists with roots in the New England anti-nuclear movement were arrested for criminal trespass inside Entergy’s corporate headquarters in New Orleans.  They were Renny Cushing, Lynn Chong, Ben Chichester, Kendra Ulrich, Jeff Brummer, Nelia Sargent, and Paul Gunter.  They were released after six hours.

Five others were arrested at Energy’s office in White Plains, NY, near the aging Indian Point reactor.

The demonstration outside the Entergy Brattleboro office, organized by the SAGE brattleboro march 22 018 Alliance, followed a rally on the Brattleboro Common and a 3.5 mile march up Putney Road and Old Ferry Road .  Organizers made a deliberate decision to demonstrate there, rather than at the reactor, to keep the attention on the Entergy Corporation.

“We come peacefully to Entergy Headquarters today with this message: your time is up,” began the SAGE Alliance’s statement about the demonstration. 

Those who participated in civil disobedience were organized into affinity groups.  SAGE also asked everyone to abide by a “nonviolent code of conduct” that articulated the discipline they intended for the action, for example, “we will not harm anyone, and we will not retaliate in reaction to violence.”

Spirits were high throughout the Brattleboro action, and the potential of solar energy was much in evidence.  

New Phase of Resistance

Entergy’s 40-year license expired yesterday.  Although it received a 20-year extension (the day after the Fukushima meltdown began) from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the State of Vermont insists the New Orleans corporation also needs a Certificate of Public Good from the state and permission of the legislature in order to keep operating.  The dispute is ongoing in federal court.

No Nukes activists, who call attention to VT Yankee’s history of radiation leaks and tfrances brattleboro march 22 echnical failures, aren’t waiting for the court.  Frances Crowe, a 93-year old activist who was among the first arrested (and the first to be released) told a reporter, “As I was walking down, all I could think of was Fukushima and the suffering of all the people, and I don’t want that to happen to New England.”

Vermont’s Governor, Peter Shumlin, was quoted saying, “I am very supportive of the peaceful protesters gathered today in Brattleboro to express their — and my — frustration that this aging plant remains open after its agreed-upon license has expired.”

The day’s actions represent the beginning of a new phase of resistance to VT Yankee and defense of democracy.  Visit the SAGE Alliance web page for information about upcoming actions.

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seabrook 8-21-11 better actve Speaking of Vermont Yankee and Seabrook, where disaster is always a few unforeseen events away, the Japanese government is about to declare a permanent evacuation of the area near the melted Fukushima reactors.

Today’s New York Times reports,

“Broad areas around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant could soon be declared uninhabitable, perhaps for decades, after a government survey found radioactive contamination that far exceeded safe levels, several major media outlets said Monday.”

As the sign says, better active today than radioactive tomorrow.

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The announced plans by Entergy, the owner of the decrepit Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, to reload the reactor this fall with $60 million worth of fresh nuclear fuel is sure to set off a showdown with local activists determined that the plant’s life should end when its license expires next March.clamshell reunion 2011 030

The company has already received a 20-year license extension from federal regulators, but the state of Vermont insists continued operation cannot go forward without state authority.  And given the radiation and lies that have spewed from the reactor for years, the state is determined to see the plant shut down. 

The New Orleans-based company’s announcement comes a week after a federal judge turned down its bid for an injunction to push aside the state’s objections, meaning a trial will go forward in mid-September to test the company’s claim that federal law pre-empts any state authority.  The case is likely to end up in the US Supreme Court.

clamshell reunion 2011 050 Given a history of court and regulatory deference to nuclear plant operators going back decades, activists are not putting their faith in federal judges.   That’s why the annual Clamshell Alliance Reunion last weekend spent most of its time discussing education and action to make sure the will of the people is respected and the plant shuts down on schedule.

The Clamshell Alliance is known for leadership of small and massive nonviolent demonstrations against construction of the Seabrook nuclear plant and for creative grassroots public education throughout New England.  In its heyday in the late ‘70s, dozens of Clamshell affiliated groups were active throughout the northeast.  With the 35th anniversary of the first Clamshell civil disobedience coming up Aug. 1, the Alliance continues its life through lifetime friendships and social networking that crosses over from No Nukes activism into feminist, labor, peace, anti-death penalty, and other movements.

With background from leaders of groups such as Beyond Nuclear, Safe & Green, and the Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, and more than a thousand person-years of anti-nuclear experience among them, the Clams didn’t waste time arguing about the clamshell reunion 2011 027 dangers of radioactive poisons or the extent to which “corporate subversion of democracy” has poisoned our political system as well.  Nor did they need to argue about the power of active nonviolence, especially given the uprisings taking place around the world. 

Instead, time was spent discussing how to use “Into Eternity,” a film about nuclear waste, to arouse public opinion; plans for a tour of German environmentalists to spread the word about how that country plans to shut down its nukes and generate enough electricity from safe alternative sources; and how to make sure old and new activist networks are taking advantage of social media to communicate with each other.

Discussion turned of course to plans for nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, though no specific scenarios have yet been developed.  But it’s reasonable to assume that if Entergy insists of flouting the will of the people of Vermont, nonviolence training programs and formation of affinity groups will start up soon.  

Here are some photos from Clamshell Reunion

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The Associated Press “ignored abundant evidence of the [nuclear power] industry’s strong safety record and outstanding operating performance,” writes Tony Pietrangelo of the Nuclear Energy Institute in a letter to the editor sent to the Concord Monitor and presumably other papers that ran the AP’s two stories, June 20 and 21. 

Over the past decade, he says, federal safety reports on “abnormal occurrences” and “accident sequence precursors” show that the nation’s 104 nukes have had only VT Yankee 3-20-11 006 one “significant event,” and “even that did not result in the release of radiation.” 

Mr. Petrangelo is only doing his job, as a P/R guy for the nuclear industry, but did he even read the two articles?

The first reported that the reason the nation’s aging reactors have good-looking safety records is that officials at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have a pattern of weakening their standards when the power plants fall below regulatory thresholds. 

The second revealed that three-quarters of the reactors have leaked radioactive tritium into the environment.   “Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard – sometimes at hundreds of times the limit,” the report said. 

The only conclusion I can draw is that the release of radiation is a normal occurrence, not an abnormal one.  And if the nuclear regulators don’t see that as “significant,” that only demonstrates that their standards are inadequate.

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