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Looking back, looking forward: Nuclear Monitor #2 ‒ July 1978

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

We looked back at the first ever issue of Nuclear Monitor in issue #856.1 The second issue, dated July 1978, covers lots of ground but the threat to civil and political liberties is a recurring theme. Issue #2 begins:

"Look at what is happening in Australia, usually counted as a 'democratic' country. The Australian government has forced through legislation forbidding free speech about nuclear issues, and imposing severe penalties for any protest action or boycott, including trade union action, against any aspects of the nuclear industry. Information to the general public about the industry is subject to official secrecy.

"Legislation that turns Australia into a police state, as far as opposition to the nuclear industry is concerned, was forced through in June by the Fraser government. A package of six bills … restrict civil liberties, impose secrecy regulations, and erode the land rights of the Aborigines, on whose land most uranium is located. … Uranium mining has now been brought under an amended Atomic Energy Act 1953, which is a piece of repressive defence legislation dating from the Cold War period. It means that trade unionists or environmentalists will be liable to 12 months in prison or fines of 10,000 Australian dollars for demonstrating or even speaking against the Ranger mining project. …

"The Northern Lands Council, which represents Aboriginal interests, is forbidden to diffuse information about the uranium mining industry affecting the Aboriginal people. One of the bills concerns the planned Kakadu national park, the boundaries of which have been established not to protect Aboriginal lands but to serve commercial and mining interests. The new legislation will enable mining to take place without the consent of the Aboriginal land-owners through the Northern Land Council."

"The reason is clear. Australia has 70% of the uranium resources available on the world market. Ordinary citizens and workers, aware of the threat to world peace from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, had begun to oppose the mining and export of Australia's uranium. But Australia's clients must be supplied: not just western European countries, but Iran, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines. Democracy counts for little when uranium supplies are at stake. So do the rights of native peoples in Australia, Canada and the USA.

"The expansion of uranium mining in Australia, Canada and elsewhere has coincide with pressure to develop uranium enrichment capacity … URENCO, the Dutch-German-British company enriching at Capenhurst and Almelo, is a key link in the chain. In Holland, where there is a broad popular movement against expanding Almelo, and parliamentary pressure for watertight anti-weapon guarantees on enriched uranium for Brazil, the government has come under irresistible international pressure to export virtually without guarantees.

"Right through the cycle, the pattern is the same: the more vital a link is to the nuclear industry, the greater the disrespect for democratic rights. Thus fast breeder are seen as a way of avoiding dependence on uranium suppliers: hence the brutal repression at Malville, the display of police force at Kalkar.

"Reprocessing is needed to produce the plutonium for the fast breeders ‒ and as a 'solution' to the waste problem, without which there will be growing pressure to block all reactor development. Hence the limitations on the right to strike at La Hague and Windscale, and the police-state pattern of repression around the Gorleben site.

"But the world-wide complexity of the nuclear monster is also its greatest weakness. It is vulnerable at every stage of the fuel cycle. And because the industry's only basic motivation is profits (though for governments, prestige or a justification for repression may count), anything that sends costs up is a major blow. An effective boycott of Australian uranium exports (in Australia or at ports everywhere) would send uranium prices rocketing. Delays to enrichment plans can play havoc with operating costs. Every successful move against a reactor project (by direct action of legal tactics) undermines profit margins on investment."

Weapons proliferation risks, and indigenous peoples

The risk of civilian nuclear programs was front and center of nuclear debates in 1978. Issue #2 of Nuclear Monitor notes that Australia and Japan were considering developing an enrichment plant in Australia, possibly with the help of URENCO. What wasn't publicly known in 1978 was that Australia's interest in weapons was clearly linked to weapons. In the mid-1960s, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission began secret enrichment R&D in the basement of one of its buildings. In any case, plans for enrichment in Australia floundered.

Issue #2 reports on limitations of the IAEA safeguards system: "Effective control over what happens in plants handling large quantities of nuclear material (enrichment or re-processing) is not possible without permanent on the spot inspectors. Controls are inadequate in Magnox and CANDU reactor types where the fuel is replenished. Control of stored fissionable material can be impossible when inspectors cannot enter the facilities. All this in a secret report from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), the world control and inspection agency, to its own board of governors. The report has been leaked in the Netherlands (where enriched uranium it to be delivered to Brazil on the basis of international controls!) by the National Energy Committee."

In the US, the Mobilization for Survival group was campaigning against both the civilian nuclear industry and nuclear weapons. Issue #2 reported: "Mobilization for Survival's dual campaign against nuclear weaponry and civil atomic power is gathering momentum in the United States. At Rocky Flats on April 29, 6,000 demonstrated against the 'nuclear triggers' plant, the heart of the weapons complex, and 75 were arrested. Since then, rail tracks into the plant have bene picketed non-stop. At Hollywood (California) on May 21, 12,000 attended an anti-arms anti-nukes rally. On May 27 there were 4,000 demonstrators against the Trident missile base at Seattle and 300 arrested, and 20,000 at a rally for nuclear disarmament and against 'peaceful' nukes in New York. On June 12, 400 people demonstrated outside the US mission to the United Nations, in connection with the UN disarmament conference."

In Canada, the Saskatchewan provincial government decided to put profits ahead of peace: "Uranium is to be allowed in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan 'at a planned and measured pace'. This decision was announced by the provincial prime minister within days of the publication of the Cluff Lake Enquiry report, 1050 pages long, which took 18 months. The Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation has said that the enquiry board "astonishingly not only gave carte blanche to uranium development but also announced that the 'morality' of the issue was of no concern to them because the province has no nuclear reactors, and because our contribution to the nuclear stockpile is insignificant in world affairs"!"

Issue #2 goes on to note that in October 1977, chiefs of Indian tribes in northern Saskatchewan unanimously decided to boycott the Cluff Lake Enquiry, saying it was not asking whether mining should be expanded, but how.

Nuclear Monitor #2 also noted that companies in the US were profiting from uranium mining on indigenous peoples' lands in New Mexico and elsewhere. That included drilling into Mount Taylor, regarded as a sacred place by Navajos and certain Pueblo tribes. The Dalton chapter of the Navajo reservation had recently voted against mining in the area. Nonetheless, Mount Taylor was mined from 1979‒90. In June 2008, the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee voted in favor of a one-year emergency listing of more than 422,000 acres (171,000 ha) surrounding the mountain's summit on the state Register of Cultural Properties. The Navajo Nation, the Acoma, Laguna and Zuni pueblos, and the Hopi tribe of Arizona asked the state to approve the listing for a mountain they consider sacred to protect it from an anticipated uranium mining boom.2

The Bataan nuclear plant in the Philippines

Issue #2 reported:

"At Morong, in Bataan Province, Philippines, Westinghouse is building a 620 MWe nuclear power plant that is a model of how to sell nukes to the third world:

1) It is unrelated to local needs: the electricity will go to a nearby 'free trade industrial zone' for export industry, 70% of it foreign-owned, with repatriation of all profits allowed;

2) The contract was acquired via political corruption …

3) Of the $1.1 billion cost, $644 million is met by loans from and guarantees from the Exim-Bank. Westinghouse and Marcos are totally cynical about safety. …

4) There are no facilities, or plans, for disposal of radio-active waste.

5) Reactor building work has reduced the fish catch by 95%, farmers have been expelled, and others had land flooded."

"The Morong plant fits into the world nuclear pattern. Enriched uranium for it is due to come from South Africa (where all publications about nuclear energy are prohibited) and probably Australia (where opposition has now been gagged). In the Bataan province, 25,000 people signed a petition against the plant, but martial law under the Marcos dictatorship prevents effective opposition.

"On April 27 1978 there was an international day of protest against the Philippine reactor, with demos in San Francisco, New York, Tokyo, and in the Netherlands."

Corazon Valdez-Fabros from the Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition reported on the subsequent history in Nuclear Monitor #499.3 Construction of the Bataan plant was immediately stopped after the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 ‒ and never restarted. An inquiry on the plant's safety revealed 4,000 defects. "Today, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant stands as a monument to man's folly, to pride and refusal to admit a mistake ‒ a grim memorial of the betrayal of the Filipino people."

In 1995, President Ramos signed Executive Order 243, "Comprehensive Nuclear Power Program for the Philippines 2000".3 The order envisaged about 25,000 MW of nuclear capacity by 2020. Nothing came of those plans. Nikkei Asian Review recently reported that Rosatom claims the Bataan plant can be made operational with an investment of US$3‒4 billion.4

Nuclear waste

The provincial government of Ontario in Canada approved a joint nuclear waste management program with the national government. Work was to begin in 1979 locating a site for deep burial of vitrified waste. The aim was to dispose of 100,000 metric tons of waste by the year 2000. "Opposition is not lacking", issue #2 reported, with 15,000 people in north-west Ontario calling for open public hearings. Forty years later, the search for a disposal site continues.

Issue #2 reported on the infamous Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in the US state of New Mexico. State residents were 74% opposed to the deep underground dump for military-origin long-lived nuclear waste. The dump opened in 1999, and was closed for three years after a chemical explosion in one of the waste barrels in February 2014.

In June 1978, Dutch groups got inside information that a shipment of radioactive waste from various European countries was to be loaded at the port of Ijmuiden near Amsterdam, for disposal in the Atlantic. A protest march attracted 400-500 people but the ship was loaded under police and army protection. When police failed to dislodge 50 protesters occupying the lock-gates in order to stop the ship leaving, the gates were opened at risk to human life. Barrels from Switzerland, supposed to withstand pressure of 4,500 meters, had started to leak at sea-level pressure on the train to Amsterdam. Dutch waste was found to have a surface radiation level five times the permitted maximum.

In Germany, Lower Saxony's prime minister appeared to be looking for a way out of the Gorleben waste disposal and reprocessing complex. He appointed a commission of enquiry and included on it such "persuasive sceptics" as Amory Lovins, Walt Patterson and Dean Abramson.

Farmers owning 80% of the planned Gorleben nuclear waste site were refusing to sell and faced compulsory land acquisition. The local citizen action group called for decentralized protest action when test drilling began, and a protest camp was planned for July 1978. Four hundred police were to be stationed permanently in the area. (From the mid-1990s onwards, annual Castor shipments to Gorleben were disrupted by tens of thousands of protesters and protected by tens of thousands of police.)

Other issues

Women fighting nuclear energy: "We live in a society where the basis of government and capital power is oppression. On this strength the nuclear industry proceeds, completely ignoring the demands of the people. But for women, as for gay people, ethnic minorities and children this oppression is too often built into the anti-nuclear movement. Awareness of this is growing: in Australia this year a motion was passed requesting all groups to eliminate attitudes and actions which are oppressive. Many women choose to work in feminist anti-nuclear groups, fighting for a non-nuclear society, and one in which they will not be oppressed. These groups publish, hold workshops and conferences and work in the movements from a feminist perspective."

Recent discoveries of uranium in Kvanefjeld, Greenland "have whetted appetites in Brussels", issue #2 reported. "Greenland has to decide soon whether to remain inside the EEC (it joined when dependent on Denmark). … It is denied in Brussels that EEC wants to keep Greenland because of its uranium!" Forty years later, 'test work' is proceeding at Kvanefjeld and mining is some way off … perhaps another 40 years.

Issue #2 reported on an early example of astroturfing: "A European 'nuclear action group' was established in Gorleben (of all places), with its headquarters in Denmark (!!) and an office in Brussels. It claims 32,000 members (already!) and will seek to 'counter one-sided information given to the public by anti-nuclear groups'. Draw your own conclusions!"

The regional authority of the Essomes area, near Paris, agreed to the construction of a prototype 'Thermos' mini-reactor, to be used for urban heating in towns of around 30,000 people. "There was no debate about such problems as low-level radiation, dangers from fuel transport, possible proliferation of such reactors." The project seems to have sunk without trace. Meanwhile, the Agence de Presse Ecologie released a "full (and frightening) analysis of the background and techniques of the 'Thermos' mini-reactor and its implications, not least foe military proliferation".

Work on the Seabrook nuclear power plant in the US state of New Hampshire was halted on 21 July 1978 by a 2-1 vote of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Building can be resumed only after an Environmental Protection Agency review of the proposed cooling system. The ruling followed a 15,000 strong protest, and another protest (with arrests) outside the NRC.

In Japan, 200 opponents of the proposed Kashiwazaki plant stormed into hearings while local residents due to speak boycotted the hearing. Authorities had allowed on 70 opponents into the hearings, and of the 3,000 people who submitted statements, only 43 were asked to speak.

A district court in Japan rejected a law-suit filed by local opponents against the building licence for the Ikata power plant. With the weight of evidence against the plant, the state intervened in March 1977, replacing the presiding judge with a notorious "anti-eco reactionary".

Plans for four power reactors at Cattenom, France were being opposed by citizens in France and neighboring Germany and Luxembourg. A three-country coordinating committee was leading the fight. About 4,000 people attended the first protest demo at the site on 4 June 1978.

Plans for a nuclear power plant in Luxembourg were definitively dropped in June 1978. The reasons for dropping the proposal involved 'electoral tactics', and the energy minister admitted that Luxembourg did not have the police resources to cope with foreseeable protests.

Nuclear Monitor #2 is online at


1. Nuclear Monitor #856, 29 Jan 2018, 'Looking back, looking forward: Nuclear Monitor #1 ‒ May 1978',


3. Corazon Valdez-Fabros, 16 Oct 1998, 'The continuing struggle for a nuclear-free Philippines',

4. Jun Endo, 1 March 2018, 'Philippines considers activating long-dormant reactor',

Looking back, looking forward: Nuclear Monitor #1 ‒ May 1978

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

Nuclear Monitor and the two organizations that produce it ‒ the Amsterdam-based World Information Service on Energy (WISE) and the US-based Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS) ‒ are all celebrating our 40th birthday this year.

Over the course of the year we'll be looking back at early issues of the Monitor. On the European side, it was known as the WISE News Communiqué until WISE and NIRS joined forces to produce the Monitor in the year 2000. Early NIRS publications included Groundswell and the Nuclear Monitor (see box).

The very first issue of the WISE News Communiqué (actually it was called the WISE newspaper) was produced in May 1978. It was published in English, French and German (then as now, we couldn't decide whether to use English English or American English). Design and printing technology was pretty basic. Communication technology was pretty basic in general ‒ apart from snail-mail and phones, the WISE network communicated via 'telex' machines, precursors to fax machines.

Sales of merchandise with the Smiling Sun emblem part-funded some of the early work of WISE including the establishment of the WISE newspaper. Issue #1 talks about the origins (in 1975) of the Smiling Sun logo. Issue #1 also discusses the origins of WISE and the founding meeting in Amsterdam in February 1978, attended by around 200 people.

The 'Declaration of Intent' in issue #1 begins: "Opposition to nuclear energy is becoming a world-wide trans-national movement. It is the most advanced manifestation so far of a broad movement of opinion against a technocratic, centralised, authoritarian, undemocratic form of society." It goes on to note that the forces driving the nuclear industry operate at an international level and it "is therefore high time for the movement to organise a flow of information and experience that can enable its action to be more effective and better coordinated."

The front cover has a photo of a protest at the Seabrook nuclear plant in the US state of New Hampshire. Construction of Seabrook fell 10 years behind schedule, and the cost (US$7 billion) bankrupted Seabrook's major utility owner, the Public Service Company of New Hampshire. Public opposition and protests delayed construction and drove up the cost.

Issue #1 has an article on plans for the fourth occupation of the Seabrook site, scheduled for June 1978. Protesters planned to occupy the site, plant gardens, and set up safe alternative energy exhibits ... but none of that meant the attempted occupation "would be a garden party". An earlier (April 1977) occupation involved about 2,500 protesters ‒ over 1,400 were arrested and many were locked up for two weeks after refusing to pay fines. Their bravery and defiance "sparked the organization of similar direct action alliances around the United States".

The second of the two Westinghouse reactors proposed for Seabrook was canceled in 1978 when 22% complete ‒ echoes of the 2017 cancelation of two partially-built Westinghouse reactors in South Carolina.

The front cover of issue #1 also has a photo of an anti-uranium protest organized by the Movement Against Uranium Mining in Australia. The Australian government was negotiating uranium sales with the Shah of Iran ‒ a year before the revolution that deposed him.

Issue #1 also has a cover photo of the Tihange nuclear plant in Belgium, as well as an article on a January 1978 reactor scram at Tihange and a valve failure that led to 80 people being exposed to iodine-131. Tihange would return to the pages of Nuclear Monitor many times over the years ‒ last year alone, we reported on the 50,000-strong 'human chain' protest in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium demanding the closure of Tihange 2 and Doel 3 (NM #846); the decision of the German city of Aachen to start issuing free iodine tablets to half a million people because of the risks posed by the Tihange plant (NM #850); and a report about a protest against the German government's willingness to allow the Lingen nuclear fuel plant in Germany to supply Tihange even as the German government calls for the closure of Tihange (NM #848).

Promoting 'soft' or 'safe' energy (renewables) was an important part of the movement's activities, as reflected in the WISE newspaper, and the movement self-described as an 'anti-nuclear and safe energy movement'. Up to 35 million US citizens were expected to take part in the pro-solar 'Sun Day' in May 1978, along with people in many other countries.

Mass actions

The late 1970s was a period of mass anti-nuclear action, with countless actions, plans and proposals discussed in the WISE newspaper. A protest in the Netherlands (with a great deal of support from German campaigners) against a Urenco enrichment plant attracted around 50,000 people. (The design blueprints from Urenco's enrichment plant in the Netherlands were stolen by the notorious Pakistani proliferator A.Q. Khan. This was not public knowledge at the time but the proliferation risks associated with enrichment are discussed in issue #1.) The WISE newspaper mentions the 'deal of the century' ‒ Germany's plans to provide Brazil with reactors along with enrichment and reprocessing technology, despite Brazil's obvious interest in pursuing nuclear weapons.

Over 150,000 people ‒ "probably a record for single anti-nuke demo" ‒ protested on 12 March 1978 against a nuclear power plant under construction at Lemoniz, Basque country, northern Spain. Five days later, the militant Basque independence movement ETA claimed responsibility for a dynamite explosion that damaged the plant. "Because the authorities ignored precise advance warnings about the explosion," an article in issue #1 states, "two workers were killed and several wounded." A protester was shot during a December 1977 demonstration; a protester was killed in 1979; ETA planted a bomb inside the plant in 1979, killing one worker; in 1981, ETA kidnapped the chief engineer of the Lemoniz plant and later killed him; and in 1983, construction of the Lemoniz plant was abandoned after a change of government.

Issue #1 discusses plans for a mass anti-nuclear rally in Torness, Scotland on 6‒7 May 1978, and a 'no nukes week' across Britain with numerous demonstrations including one against reprocessing at Windscale (Sellafield). The planned actions would be "the first massive citizen action against an atomic power plant in the country which was the first to build them". Reprocessing and fast breeder reactors seem to have stirred public sentiment against the industry. According to Wikipedia, the May 6‒7 protest at Torness involved 4,000 people marching from Dunbar to occupy the Torness site. Many signed a declaration to "take all nonviolent steps necessary to prevent the construction of a nuclear power station at Torness" ... but the plant was completed a decade later.

Issue #1 reports on a successful legal action against the Zwentendorf nuclear power plant in Austria. The plant was completed but never operated due to a national referendum in November 1978 which narrowly supported a resolution to stop Zwentendorf as well as the construction of two other nuclear plants. The Zwentendorf site is now used for various activities such as festivals.

Issue #1 reports on the Irish government's decision to build a nuclear power plant at Carnsore Point in County Wexford, and notes that "an opposition front is already forming". Opposition prevailed and the plant was never built.

In Switzerland, over 500 people took part in a hunger strike over the Easter period, 1978. The fast gave anti-nuclear campaigners "a chance to discuss basic issues, like the role of women in the movement, defence against repression and to plan future action". On 1 April 1978, Swiss anti-nuclear groups met at Kaisersaugst to celebrate the third anniversary of the day they brought work on a reactor to a stop by occupying the site.

In July 1977, 60,000 people protested at Creys-Malville in France against the Super-Phenix fast breeder reactor. One protester was killed by police and two were "seriously mutilated". By May 1978, morale amongst campaigners was low after two years of intense campaigning. The WISE newspaper reported: "The local population are largely resigned to the plant's being built, or have a material interest in it. Those who say they are against are not prepared to act. The systematic police intimidation ‒ house searches, police at all meetings, personal check-ups ‒ has scared off lukewarm opponents. Faced with the French government's tough treatment of peaceful protest, there is a growing mood of violence among militant opponents."

Nonetheless, local campaigners were planning an action at the Super-Phenix reactor site in mid-1978 and a Europe-wide week of solidarity action. The reactor operated intermittently from December 1986 to December 1996 ‒ the first commercial fast reactor was a massive flop and a massive waste of money.

Issue #1 reports on R&D into a gas-cooled, thorium-fueled, high-temperature reactor with "bullet-shaped fuel elements". Researchers had been working on the concept for a decade already, and they considered sodium-cooled breeders such as Super-Phenix to be an "out-of-date concept". Forty years later, proponents of new reactor types are still promising much, delivering little, and slagging off at competing new-reactor concepts.

Issue #1 has an article on state repression of the anti-nuclear movement. In Australia, the planned Environment Protection (Nuclear Codes) Act would give the federal government power to fine anti-uranium activists or unionists up to A$50,000 for breaching regulations, or to jail them for up to five years. In Germany, Gerd Schulz was given a 22-month jail sentence for his participation in an anti-nuclear occupation ‒ he was one of 15,000 protesters who tried to occupy the Grohnde reactor site on 19 March 1977. Schulz was one of 14 protesters arbitrarily chosen for arrest and one of 11 finally brought to trial.

In the UK, a debate was unfolding over the restrictions on civil liberties that would be necessary to control terrorism if the country moved towards a 'plutonium economy' based on reprocessing and fast reactors. The WISE newspaper noted: "Britain's Atomic Energy Constabulary, 400 strong, carry arms at all times, and have far-reaching powers of pursuit, entry, and arrest on suspicion, granted in 1976."


An article in issue #1 talks about many protests in Australia, including a national Stop Uranium Action Day that around 25,000 people participated in. Australian campaigners and unionists tried, sometimes successfully, to stop uranium being shipped out of the country.

The 8-member WISE Council (elected at the founding meeting in February 1978) decided to prioritize the struggle against uranium mining. As WISE explained in issue #1:

  • uranium mining is vital to the nuclear industry;
  • it is organised world-wide, and run by the multinationals; because of the military and economic implications, the governments work with them;
  • the opposition is geographically dispersed: mining is going on or planned world-wide ...;
  • in Australia, the trade unions are playing a leading role in the struggle; they will need the support of unions (especially dock-workers) the world over, if boycotts are to be successful.

Issue #1 had an article on unions and the nuclear industry, which began: "In several countries workers have started questioning the energy-growth jobs link. They are beginning to realize that they are effectively terrorized by governments and energy monopolies with threats of mass unemployment unless atomic plants get built. The nuclear lobby may find this sort of blackmail less and less effective in the future. In some cases, links are starting to be established between the trade unions and the environmental and antinuke movement (previously regarded with suspicion), in an effort to find out the real relationship of energy to jobs."

Reprocessing and waste management

A report to the US government by a nuclear waste management task-force noted that the earliest date for an operating permanent high-level waste repository had been pushed back from 1980 to 1985 (!). The task-force was "reasonably certain" that a repository could be established between 1988 and 1993.

The Swedish anti-nuclear movement was planning a critical experts' conference on nuclear waste management to be held in June 1978 to discuss issues such as reprocessing, glassification, plutonium control, intermediate storage and storage in bedrock. The Swedish government had made further nuclear development contingent upon a satisfactory solution to waste management and storage, and decisions were looming as two applications to run nuclear power plants had been submitted. An Anti-Nuclear Parade was also being organized in Stockholm, as well as an activists' camp after the parade.

Issue #1 has long articles on reprocessing ‒ the state of play, divided opinions among nuclear nations (with the US opposing reprocessing after the debacle of India's Smiling Buddha 'peaceful nuclear explosion' in 1974), the connections between reprocessing and fast-breeder fantasies, the weapons proliferation risks, and so on. The WISE newspaper reported: "The German authorities cleverly call re-processing Entsorgung (literally, removing worries!) and the planned Gorleben complex, with re-processing, intermediate waste storage and "final" waste disposal underground, a "worry removal area" (Entsorgungspark)!!"

France, Britain and the German Federal Republic, according to issue #1, argued "that proliferation will happen anyway, so why should they accept empty sacrifices for the sake of Jimmy Carter's Puritan conscience."

A WISE commentary in issue #1 concluded: "Re-processing and waste disposal are the weakest link in the atomic establishment's defences. Dangerous waste is piling up (100 tonnes a month in the US alone), and it has to be either re-processed (which produces more waste anyway, plus stock-piles of plutonium!) or disposed of. There is no third possibility. And as a report to the Californian government has just rammed home, in neither case are the techniques ready, or even within sight of being ready. Ordinary citizens may still be sceptical about the dangers from atomic reactors (at least until one is planned where they live!), but there is a widespread fear both of nuclear waste (one word the technocrats forgot to neutralize!) and of plutonium. Not only the coming demos against re-processing, but this year's world-wide mobilisation against the nuclear danger, will help bring home the facts. For the foreseeable future, we face a world-wide build-up of dangerous waste. To get us to accept this, we are being offered a "choice" between theoretically safe disposal, and "re-processing" that will usher in the plutonium era."

Nuclear Monitor (WISE newspaper) #1, May 1978, is online as a PDF at:

Early NIRS publications

The late Michael Mariotte's 31+ year tenure at the Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS) was characterized by dedicated writing. He joined NIRS in February 1985 to write and edit Groundswell, the NIRS publication for the grassroots anti-nuclear movement which provided in-depth reporting and analysis.

NIRS had already established itself as the go-to source for information on reactor operations and capacity factors, which were calculated weekly by staff and published twice a month in The Nuclear Monitor. Prior to the internet, this publication was the only readily available source of good facts on nuclear energy performance, and lack thereof, for the financial and policy worlds.

Michael kept The Nuclear Monitor alive and expanded it when publication of Groundswell ended (circa 1989). By 2000, with a staff of seven, he was far too busy with other aspects of NIRS work to write as he had before. Indeed, hand-off of the publication of The Nuclear Monitor was a key element in NIRS's affiliation with the World Information Service on Energy (WISE) that year. WISE continues regular production of the Nuclear Monitor in conjunction with NIRS.

Haunted by history: nuclear new build in Britain

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
East Midlands Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Part 2 The Force of ‘Legacy’.

In January 2008, Gordon Brown’s cabinet formally decided to permit private businesses to build new nuclear power stations in England and Wales. Politically, there was nothing surprising about the news. Key decisions had been made well before 2008. Tony Blair, as Prime Minster, had declared for new nuclear as early as July 2004.

(This is the second and last part on the history of new build in Britain. Part 1 was printed in Nuclear Monitor 714, 20 August 2010).

New Nuclear and Coalition
The May 2010 election in Britain changed the prospects of building new nuclear power stations significantly. Labour under Blair and Brown favored new nuclear from around 2004-5. This was not shared by the parties that came to form the coalition. The Conservatives changed to conditional support for nuclear only in December 2007. The Liberal Democrats opposed both the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system and nuclear new build and went to the electorate on this basis:

‘More nuclear power will soak up subsidy, centralize energy production and hinder development of Britain’s vast renewable resources. Nuclear has a dirty legacy and increases global security risks. We oppose construction of further nuclear power stations’.

As a result the coalition’s statement on nuclear power seems ambiguous  – in a country where coalitions are unfamiliar. The parties’ positions are recapitulated, the Conservative position being described as ‘allowing the replacement of existing power stations provided they are subject to the normal planning process for major projects … and also provided they receive no public subsidy’. Liberal Democrats agree to allow the government to put a new ‘National Planning Statement’ to Parliament, where one Liberal Democrat MP may speak against, but the rest must abstain from voting. The issue is not ‘a matter of confidence’ that can threaten the coalition and its government.

Liberal Democratic opposition is absorbed in a solution similar to Labour’s. The joint program insists on ‘no public subsidy’ without defining what a subsidy is. It promises to modify Labour’s changes in the planning process, increasing ministerial powers, abolishing Labour’s new quango - the Infrastructure Planning Commission  - and strengthening Parliamentary oversight. It implies only the ‘replacement’ of existing power stations, a retreat from Labour’s embrace of whatever ‘the market’ allows.

The Minister with the new powers is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, a post now held by Christopher Huhne, a Liberal-Democrat, who was previously an opponent of nuclear power. In the latest Commons debate he reaffirmed coalition policy, insisting that

as an economist, I am skeptical about the economics of nuclear power, but I recognize that it is entirely up to investors to make that decision. If there is no public subsidy and if investors think that it is worth taking the risk, as they increasingly do, looking forward to rising oil and gas prices and a rising carbon price, then they will take those decisions.

Asked to explain why Labour’s loan to the Sheffield Forgemasters (to produce large metal vessels for reactors) had been cancelled, he replied that this was a subsidy. Subsidy, he declared, is now impossible for, to quote the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ‘there is no money left’. Generally, the Coalition adopts an anti-Keynesian approach to the crisis in state finance caused by rescuing the banking system. It blames Labour for the deficit and is cutting and privatizing public services. It hopes that the private and the voluntary sectors will fill the gaps in employment and in vital social functions (Cameron’s ‘Big Society’). This has implications too for financing nuclear revival. The coalition’s neoliberal consensus bars open subsidies, it seems, but the underlying instability of the financial system remains and the banks are reluctant to lend.

The companies, however, have been reassured that the government welcomes nuclear power in its energy strategy, although they must submit definite financial and technical programs for the subsequent decommissioning. A new Nuclear National Plan will be submitted ‘in the autumn’, followed by more ‘consultation’, and a proposal to Parliament in Spring 2011. It is to be expected that the industry is already lobbying hard, without enjoying perhaps Labour’s preferential access. According the KPMG, one of the Big Four auditors, all that is currently on offer is to fix the carbon floor price and this is insufficient security for investors. RWE, hoping to build in Britain, argues that nuclear should get the same level of public subsidy as renewables, a position also pushed by the CBI, the national employers’ organization. This demand comes on top of more hidden subsidies that include fixing the carbon price, indemnity for accident and government finance for legacies of waste and decommissioning. Government is therefore faced with dilemmas. Can it depend on a renewables sector, grossly under-supported in the past and lagging by European standards? Can it make an explicit break from ‘no subsidy’? Will nuclear split the coalition? Can government make a secret deal with the industry or can subsidies be further fudged? Will the public stand a hike in energy prices to accommodate nuclear?

The government’s difficulties are increased by the revival of anti-nuclear campaigning after a period of relative quiet, broken mainly by Greenpeace and the Shut Down Sizewell campaign in Suffolk. The need for carbon reduction, and the (usually exaggerated) claims for nuclear on this score, complicated issues for some green activists, while anti-nuclear movements, especially the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) has focused on weapons.  Latterly, however, issues have been clarified and new local movements have sprung up. These are centred on nuclear waste dumping (e.g. Kings Cliffe Waste Watchers - Northants; Radioactive Landfill No Thanks! - Keekle Head, Cumbria) and new power station sites (e.g. Stop Hinkley; Shut Down Sizewell; BANNG – Bradwell, Essex; Heysham Anti-Nuclear Alliance; Stop Wylfa – Anglesey and a number of movements in Cumbria (Cumbrians Opposed to A Radioactive Environment, Radiation Free Lakeland, Save Kirksanton, Toxic Coast). CND, locally and nationally, increasingly stresses the overlaps between the global proliferation of uranium and plutonium weapons and the civil nuclear cycle and has joined other NGOs in an umbrella group opposing nuclear power. The local movements are also networking through meetings and campaigning and educational websites (e.g. No New Nukes; Energy Fair; Stop Nuclear Power; NuclearSpin). A substantial body of independent expert opinion opposes nuclear new build for health and economic reasons. There are plausible projections of how to meet (reduced) energy needs without nuclear power and convincing arguments for the superior employment impacts of green investment compared with the nuclear industries and the arms trade. 

If the new waste dumps and power stations are finally approved they will face non-violent direct action as well as the citizen strategies already being used. Because opportunities for intervening in formal planning processes have been reduced, local non-violent direct action may grow.

Legacy Lesson I: Subsidy
As we have seen, pro-nuclear governments and industry seek to split the awkward past of civil nuclear power off from its future promise and prospects, repeating an older story about the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ atom. The new stations, it is said, will produce less waste and be safer. This splitting of old from new is discursive, with the ‘Nuclear Renaissance’ presumably contrasting with the Nuclear Dark Ages, but it is also institutional and a matter of balance sheets. The creation of a new public body, the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA) in April 2005, was a crucial institutional move because it allocated ‘legacy waste’ and decommissioning to a public balance sheet. Moreover the NDA wields a complicated system of sponsorship, ‘parent bodies’ and subcontracting that will obscure further subsidies.

Actually the past history of civil nuclear power has effects in the present both as lessons from the past and as material legacies or burdens – as very material ghosts in fact.

The major lesson from the past is that nuclear electricity generation means public subsidy. This arises from the high capital costs of construction and the uncertainty that investors can recoup large loans. The object lesson in the British case was the near insolvency of the monopolistic nuclear energy company British Energy in 2002. This required a major government bail out and led to the creation of the NDA, siphoning off some industry obligations.

The high capital costs arise in large part from the dangers to life on earth from ionizing radiation. Epidemiological research shows that these dangers arise not only from accidents, which can be catastrophic, but also from the routine operation of nuclear installations. For example, the repeated finding of higher rates of childhood leukemia near nuclear installations has been confirmed by the important German KIKK study, large-scale ‘hard science’ in terms of the discipline. (see Nuclear Monitor 703, 29 January 2010). Regulatory agencies argue that radiation from emissions is ‘too low’ to affect health, but developments in cellular biology and genetics show that risk levels need to be revised. The science is complex and contested and needs fuller treatment, but, in sum, policy needs to take due account of the effects of ‘internal emitters’– particles of  radionuclides found inside the body, spread to the environment from nuclear installations or contained in waste. Omnibus categories like ‘low level radiation’ or ‘low level waste’ are unsafe. The way is now open for more adequate explanations of childhood leukemia and other contested findings.

In economic terms, the intense radioactivity of reactor cores demands fortress-like containment and shielding, complex accident prevention measures, close monitoring and protection of workers, rigorous management, well-trained staff and tight regulative surveillance and policing. It is arguable that there should be regular epidemiological checks on surrounding populations. Should accidents or attacks with evil intent occur, damage could be massive, costly, and in many ways irreparable. All this adds to economic risk and pressure on costs. Moreover, especially with privatization, the narrow margin of profitability sets up a dangerous dynamic, a balancing of safety with profit, with companies under pressure to cut costs by reducing safeguards and to campaign for looser safety codes and inspection. Lower tenders may be accepted from less competent subcontractors, with a lowering of knowledge and skill at a time of skill shortages. There is already evidence, in the case of low-level waste, that companies will try to dump on the cheap without adequate engineering. If the new power stations really are safer, they are likely to cost more.

In building power stations, delays, rising costs and reduced ambitions have been commonplace. In the UK this has meant eleven Magnox stations instead of twenty, reduced and slow building of the AGR fleet, one PWR reactor instead of four, one failed fast-breeder reactor only. The last power station built in Britain was the one and only PWR Sizewell B. Costs rose from a budget of £1.69 billion to the eventual cost of £2.5 billion (US$3.8 bn or 3 bn euro); the design was approved in 1987, generation started in 1995. Areva and Siemens’ EPR power station at Olkiluoto, Finland was already more than three years over schedule and 55% over budget in August 2009. In May 2009 the Finnish government’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority threatened to halt construction, because of faulty safety systems, lack of expertise in design and construction and ‘evident errors’ in building. Costs are high or unpredictable where designs are new or when a design approved in one country encounters a new regulatory regime. Public opposition may also cause delays as at Sizewell. Construction in England and Wales of the AP1000 and the EPR risks these delays and neither design has yet been passed by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. 

Critics of nuclear power have listed the many forms of indirect subsidy. In Britain, subsidy has also been direct, most clearly since the industry was privatised. From 1990, for example, a nuclear levy was introduced to cover the difference between nuclear and coal-fired generation adding 11% to electricity bills. Intended for a decommissioning fund, the levy was diverted to pay for Sizewell B.

More Ghosts in the Material World: Legacy Waste and Decommissioning
Similar problems arise in waste storage, reprocessing and decommissioning. Since 2005, one public institution, the NDA has inherited these problems. They are also concentrated spatially in a nuclear House of Horrors, the Sellafield site on the Cumbrian coast, home to many ghosts that haunt the nuclear industry today. These include Calder Hall, the first power station built primarily to provide fissile material for nuclear weapons; a plutonium pile at ‘Windscale’ which caused the most serious nuclear accident in Britain in October 1957; the Magnox plant built to reprocess spent fuel for first generation reactors; the Thorp Reprocessing plant closed because of serious incidents for much of its history; the troubled vitrification plants which prepare high-level waste for long-term storage; the Actinide Removal Plant, source of the radioactive pollution of the Irish Sea; the MOX plant which was supposed to use excess plutonium and natural uranium to create reactor fuel; and a large number of radioactive waste stores. The Drigg low-level waste depository is 6km away.

Sellafield’s and the NDA’s problems figure in concerned official reports from 1992 to late 2008. The NDA was in a state of administrative disarray by 2008, the critical year for accepting consortia bids for decommissioning and waste management. By July 2008 42% of budget of the department responsible (then called Business, Environment and Regulative Reform) was going to the NDA, £15 million (US$23 million or 18.1 million euro) of it switched from funding for renewables and some even from the wartime military budget. Sub-contracting companies like AMEC complained of ‘turbulence’, with key NDA executives leaving and staff sent for retraining. Decommissioning started then stopped on key projects, including removing old reactors from sites where new are planned. Several waste projects were also curtailed. Overall, the cost of decommissioning the 19 nuclear plants within NDA’s remit has risen steadily from £61 billion to £73bn (January 2008) to £83bn (July 2008) (US$127.3 bn or 100.4 bn euro), far outstripping any possible earnings.

Apart from military applications, the hope of making money from waste from civil nuclear activity has been disappointed. Vitrification, long-term storage and Thorp’s reprocessing have been dogged by breakdowns, broken contracts and financial losses. There is a long history of expert anxiety about safety at Sellafield, about Magnox ‘swarf’ (which contains plutonium), the 23 separate intermediate-level waste streams, and about contaminated buildings. The storage of large amounts of very radioactive material in liquid form is vulnerable to leakage, earthquakes and sabotage. Clean-up costs at Sellafield are estimated at just over £45.5bn  (US$70 bn or 55 bn euro). The new private managing consortium will surely be back with urgent safety-backed requests for additional public funds.

Meanwhile long-term waste storage is in crisis. Material from decommissioning generations of old plant must go somewhere. For low-level waste, with Drigg almost full, waste disposal companies are looking to ‘go nuclear’ and use their ordinary hazardous waste landfills. Apart from offers from Cumbria County Council to host waste storage at the cost of £75 million (US$ 115m or 90.7m euro) compensation from public funds, little progress is being made with vitrification and the building of deep level storage. Generally public opposition to the dumping of waste is growing.

Pro-nuclear advocates argue that the threat of climate chaos and increases of oil and gas price favour nuclear as part of ‘the energy mix’. An economic nationalist case for ‘energy security’ is also argued, yet, in UK today, nuclear means dependence on French, German, American and Spanish companies who can take capital and skills elsewhere. New nuclear will add further accumulations of radioactive plant and waste. Given the geological time-spans involved, nuclear ‘clean up’ and waste storage maybe problems beyond human capacity to solve. Certainly the technical knowledges, institutional frameworks and longer-term political wisdom do not yet exist. Neoliberal doctrine disallows firm correctives to the short-term competitive interest that rules under capitalist conditions. If new nuclear goes forward, it will add weighty burdens to over-stressed world, while safer green alternatives will be stifled, as nuclear enterprise gobbles up public resources. In the end, the best approach to nuclear electricity generators (or nuclear weapons of course) is simply not to have them.

Sources (in addition to those cited in Part 1 in NM 714): Health and Safety Commission, Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (HMSO 1992); National Audit Office Press Release 30th Jan 2008 (on Decommissioning  and the NDA)  Internal BERR audit of NDA reported Guardian 24 July 2008; Liberal Democrat Policy Briefing  - Climate Change and Energy, May 2010; The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, May 2010;  Sunday Telegraph 17 July 2010, reported in NM 714.
Contact: Richard Johnson, Chair East Midlandss Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. 3, Westhill Road,  Leicester, LE3 6GB, UK.