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Covid-19: The pandemic of nuclear weapons

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ray Acheson ‒ Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

It's 2020, we're in the midst of a global pandemic, we are facing unprecedented challenges ahead from the climate crisis, there are vast inequalities and suffering in the world, and … oh yeah. We still have nuclear weapons. In fact, the United States has more nuclear warheads than it does hospitals!1

In each of the nuclear-armed states, the money spent on nuclear weapons has directly impacted the resources available to deal with COVID-19. In 2019, the nine nuclear-armed states (China, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, United Kingdom, and United States) spent nearly US$73 billion on their nuclear weapon systems.2 This comes to $138,699 spent on nuclear weapons per minute.

While this is a fraction of the $1.9 trillion3 spent in 2019 on all aspects of militarism, the money wasted on nuclear weapons is still a substantial amount that could have gone towards, say, health care and equipment that is vital during a global pandemic. Research by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) shows, for example, that France, which spends approximately €4.5 billion a year right now on its nuclear weapon programme, could redirect those funds to pay for 100,000 hospital beds for intensive care units, 10,000 ventilators, and the salaries of 20,000 nurses and 10,000 doctors.4

Yet even now we are witnessing the nuclear-armed states continue to invest in not just the maintenance but also the "modernisation" ‒ the upgrading, updating, and life-extending ‒ of nuclear weapons.

These political and economic choices are absurd, dangerous, and immoral. But it's just not just the wasted money that is concerning. The much bigger problem is the threat that nuclear weapons pose as tangible objects designed and constructed to incinerate human bodies and buildings. Nuclear weapons are not magical tools of security. They are monstrous weapons meant to melt and burn human flesh one city at a time.

Fortunately, there is something we can do to get rid of the threat of nuclear weapons and release the funds we desperately need to deal with real, rather than imagined, crises of security, safety, and stability: we can divest, demilitarise, and disarm.5 We can start this process by shaking off the rhetoric about nuclear weapons that we have been force-fed for generations and remembering the terrifying reality that these bombs impose upon us all.

"Nuclear deterrence," aka a masterclass in gaslighting

The nuclear age began nearly seventy-five years ago when a bunch of scientists working for the US government detonated an atomic bomb in the middle of a New Mexican desert in July 1945. A few weeks later, a US president sitting in Washington, DC, decided to drop two nuclear weapons on the people of Japan ‒ one on the city of Hiroshima, the other on Nagasaki. Since then, the world has been plagued by the construction of multiple "doomsday machines" programmed for global conflagration.6

For seventy-five years, the world has lived under the threat of radioactive blast and firestorm, the effects of which are immediately devastating and punishingly intergenerational.7 For seventy-five years, from production to testing, and use to storage of radioactive waste, nuclear weapon activities have contaminated land and water ‒ and will continue to do so for thousands of years more.8 For seventy-five years, corporations like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bechtel have reaped incredible profits from government contracts for bombs and bombers.9 Certain academics, politicians, and bureaucrats have risen through the ranks of think tanks or government administrations in positions bankrolled by the nuclear profiteers, spinning theories of "nuclear deterrence" and "strategic stability" to justify this massive, unconscionable investment in technologies of massive violence.

For seventy-five years, we have been told that these weapons are absolutely necessary for (some, a select few) governments to possess, in order to ensure "international security" or "strategic stability". Eliminating nuclear weapons, we are told, will lead directly to another global conflict. As if the globe is not embroiled, right now, in conflicts of mass slaughter and destruction. We are told that without these weapons we would be subjected the whims of the "irrational" Others who will seize our moment of vulnerability to strike at the heart of the "free world" … blagh blagh blagh.

This is nuclearism ‒ the faith that nuclear weapons are necessary and essential for security, and the investments in both building the weapons and bolstering this culture. Nuclearism is an epic feat of gaslighting10 that insists that weapons that can kill everyone on the planet many times over are the only things keeping us safe.

Preparing for major apocalypse in the midst of a "minor" one

But we are far from safe. Right now, we are in the midst of a global pandemic for which no governments were sufficiently prepared. We do not have enough basic equipment like ventilators and protection for health care workers. Capitalist economies are tanking as the majority of workers have been ordered to stay at home to prevent the virus from spreading even more rampantly than it has already. Millions of people have lost or will lose their jobs. Hundreds of thousands will lose their lives.

But don't worry: the nuclear-armed states can still use their nuclear weapons! US Strategic Command has said that the coronavirus has had "no impact" on the ability of the United States to launch its nuclear weapons.11 "Right now across the command, we are working to make sure that our ICBMs remain on alert and our critical command and control capabilities stay viable," say those in charge of the US doomsday machine.12

While nuclear weapon forces in all nuclear-armed states are likely to be affected13 by the pandemic and may have to delay or reduce active deployments or other activities, the fact is that there are still approximately 13,410 nuclear weapons in the world.14 While this is significantly less than the 70,000+ kicking around in the 1980s, it is still more than enough to destroy our planet many, many times over. While we can celebrate the 80 per cent decrease in stockpiles, we also have to recognise that reductions of nuclear weapons tapered off in the 1990s, only to be replaced, as a recent joint activist statement has noted, "by a lavishly-funded new race to develop novel and diversified abilities to unleash nuclear violence."15 (A forthcoming report from WILPF's Disarmament Programme Reaching Critical Will16Assuring Destruction Forever, will highlight each of the nine nuclear-armed states programmes for nuclear modernisation.)

The US government has been quick to reassure that the coronavirus pandemic will not affect its nuclear weapon investments.17 The current US president's latest budget proposal, released earlier this year, called for an increase of nearly 20 per cent in spending on nuclear weapons while cutting funds for the Center for Disease Control, World Health Organisation, and other public health agencies.18 BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and all other major weapons producers have all indicated they are "open for business".19 While many have instituted work-from-home policies for certain employees, they have all assured the Pentagon that they will continue to operate throughout the crisis.

In the United Kingdom, the government has so far indicated it is also full-steam-ahead with its nuclear weapon modernisation programme. Estimated to cost about £205 billion, the efforts to replace the UK's Trident nuclear weapon system has already suffered from cost overruns.20 Furthermore, as the chapter on the United Kingdom in Reaching Critical Will's forthcoming publication notes, when it comes to accounting for other potential costs, "[e]nvironmental considerations and risks become externalities that are neither considered nor identified, with no analysis of remediation requirements or responses to climate change impact, accidents, or the protection of civilian populations."21

Other costs of nuclearism

Even without the detonation of a nuclear bomb, accidentally or on purpose, these weapons are costing lives.

Past nuclear weapon activities have direct impact on populations now facing the pandemic. Survivors of exposure to radiation from nuclear weapon use, testing, production, and waste are at greater risk from COVID-19. Exposed populations are disproportionately from Indigenous communities, communities of colour, low-income, and rural communities, all of which typically face barriers to receiving adequate health care.22 Land, water, and animals have been contaminated by radioactivity around the world from nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.23

Nuclear weapons also cost our imagination. They trap us in a construct of the most violent forms of masculinity24 and patriarchy25, of might makes right, where weapons equal security and thus nuclear weapons equal The Most Security.26 We can ‒ we must ‒ imagine more for ourselves as a species. We must imagine new conceptions of security27 and solidarity.28

The imperatives of divestment and disarmament

This is why since the beginning of the pandemic, activists have been demanding an end to nuclear weapon modernisation and a redirection of resources.29 Former Navy Commanders, members of parliament, academics, and activists have urged the UK government to redirect the billions of pounds spent on the operation and modernisation of the Trident nuclear weapon system towards responding to the pandemic instead.30 US advocates have called for the government to reduce its "bloated nuclear arsenal and invest in more urgent security priorities" such as "preventing or mitigating any future mass outbreak of disease."31 US activists have also demanded that stimulus packages include equitable health care access for communities harmed by nuclear weapon activities.32

But it is not just during the COVID-19 pandemic that we need to be concerned with nuclear weapon maintenance, modernisation, and use. This is a pandemic we live with every day, to the point where it has become completely normal for the vast majority of people in the world. Out of sight, out of mind. Missile tests don't even make the news. Nuclear weapon tests, such as those most recently by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), grab the headlines for a moment ‒ but the fact that those most vocally condemning the DPRK's actions possess far larger nuclear arsenals themselves is virtually never discussed outside of antinuclear activist circles.

We cannot wait until a nuclear weapon is used again before we pay attention and act to end the threat of nuclear war. We don't have to.

From prohibition to elimination

In 2017, the majority of the world's countries negotiated and adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.33 It outlaws the possession, use, threat of use, and development of nuclear weapons. It closes existing legal gaps in international law, provides for nuclear disarmament, and categorically rejects the idea that nuclear weapons provide security or stability.

Among other things, this treaty precludes nuclear weapon modernisation, and bans any assistance ‒ material or otherwise ‒ with such programmes. This follows the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)34, which obligates nuclear-armed states both to achieve nuclear disarmament and to cease the nuclear arms race. None of the nuclear-armed governments are in compliance with either treaty.

It is here, on the basis of international law and all of the commitments and actions to which these governments have voluntarily subscribed over the past fifty years, that we can demand an end to nuclear weapons.

It is also on the basis of public health, environmental protection, and of morality and human rights35, that we can demand nuclear weapon divestment and disarmament.36 It is past time to unleash the funds and the forces of human ingenuity to more productive, positive, progressive ends: towards a Green New Deal37 and a Red Deal.38 Towards health care, housing, education, food, decarceration and prison abolition, migration, and more. Towards international relations and transnational cooperation based on peace, equity, justice, and solidarity, instead of weapons and war.

Actions for abolition

In our current world, with so many converging crises, it can be difficult to figure out what to focus our attention on, what to spend energy on. But it is clear that throughout history, social pressure is what leads to change. While the single-issue antinuclear organising of the past may not be possible, the time is riper than ever for activism based on the fundamental redirection of security concepts and funding priorities, of which nuclear weapons issues are an important aspect.

The threat of nuclear war, the waste of resources on nuclear weapon modernisation, maintenance, and deployment, the risks to health and environment of nuclear weapon production, are all very real, tangible costs of the atomic bomb that need to be considered within social movements looking to change how we can achieve safety, solidarity, and security as well as peace and justice. To address these concerns, it is imperative to incorporate feminist, racial and Indigenous justice, and environmental perspectives in the actions we undertake.

Right now, there are several opportunities to help promote nuclear abolition:

  • Encourage your government to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons39;
  • Fight against nuclear weapon modernisation projects;
  • Protest and raise awareness of other nuclear weapon activities ‒ such as the nuclear weapon convoys in the United Kingdom or nuclear sharing in several NATO countries;
  • Divest your money from nuclear weapon producers and encourage your financial institutions to do the same40;
  • Get your city or municipal council to join the ICAN Cities Appeal41;
  • Write op-eds about the amount of money being spent on nuclear weapons in the midst of COVID-19.

These are all important actions we can take from our homes during this crisis. But it is also imperative to recognise how these actions can support other initiatives for social change, what the connections are between issues of local, national, and global concern, and how we can work together to mount a formidable, meaningful challenge to the nuclear-industrial complex but also to militarism and the other systems of our violent political economy.

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UN nuclear weapons ban treaty spurs research on impact of nuclear testing

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Matthew Bolton ‒ International Disarmament Institute, Pace University (

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2017 "for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition" of nuclear weapons. But the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted at the UN by 122 governments earlier that year, is not only a ban treaty.

During the negotiations, a small team of ICAN campaigners also worked to ensure that the Treaty included "positive obligations" that address the ongoing humanitarian, human rights and environmental harms of nuclear weapons use and testing.

After the negotiations, ICAN's "PosObs" team, as we called ourselves, realized that ensuring implementation of the TPNW's provisions on victim assistance, environmental remediation and international cooperation and assistance required considerable further work.

As a result, under the auspices of Pace University's International Disarmament Institute, where I work, we have started doing research on how nuclear weapons use and testing have affected people and environments, focusing particularly on the Pacific region.

In January 2018, I travelled to Kiritimati (Christmas) Island where, along with nearby Malden Island, the UK and USA conducted 33 atmospheric nuclear tests between 1957 and 1962. British, Fijian, New Zealand and American veterans of the testing program and i-Kiribati civilians who lived on Kiritimati claim their health (as well as their descendants' health) was adversely affected by exposure to ionizing radiation. Their concerns are supported by independent medical research.

The UK and US testing program at Kiritimati relied on racist discourses that framed it, as a British military magazine put it, as a "lonely island … boasting little more than a few coconut palms." But about 100 i-Kiribati civilians lived on Kiribati, employed by a copra plantation and the military base. The number increased to almost 500 i-Kiribati civilians by the end of the tests.

I spoke with Teeua Tetua, President of the Kiritimati Association of Cancer Patients Affected by the British and American Bomb Tests, who was a child at the time of the UK tests. "We felt uncomfortable every day," she said, describing the persistent anxiety caused by living on an island bombarded by nuclear detonations.

Teeua Tetua remembers gathering on the tennis courts in the village, in the middle of the night before a test. She said "the people were really afraid." She describes the blast as very hot and so loud that "people tried to put their fingers in their ears."

The Association has identified 48 survivors who experienced the tests first hand, as well as 800 descendants. Members of the Association report numerous health problems which they attribute to the testing, including blindness, hearing problems, cancers, heart disease and reproductive difficulties. They also report that their children and grandchildren have suffered similar illnesses. Survivors are "worried about the disease in their bodies," said Teeua Tetua.

In two reports we published in May ‒ one on Kiritimati and one on Fijian test veterans1,2 ‒ I outlined how the TPNW's positive obligations could offer a way to assist the people who are suffering from the impact of the nuclear tests in Kiritimati. While the British, US, Fijian and New Zealand governments have, to greater and lesser extents, responded to demands from test veterans for recognition and assistance, i-Kiribati survivors have had little help or acknowledgement.

While the debate about helping civilian victims and test veterans has often been framed only in terms of compensation from the testing state, the TPNW frames assistance broadly, including "medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support, as well as … social and economic inclusion" (Article 6[1]).

This means we do not need to wait for the nuclear-armed states to have a change of heart to help those people they harmed. Teeua Tetua said the desire for compensation was "not about money, but about doctors and medicine" ‒ they need help addressing their health problems.

We can also think of more broadly remedial and restorative measures. For instance, we have learned from our research that many survivors want recognition of what happened to them. "It should be known by the world, the cruel things that have been done," Teeua Tetua told me. She says that there are few systems in Kiritimati for archiving and disseminating information about the impact of the nuclear tests and the potential health risks for those who may have been exposed to radiation. Association members have called for a monument in Kiritimati memorializing the suffering caused by the nuclear testing.

Recently, we have expanded our work beyond Fiji and Kiribati to research the impact of nuclear testing elsewhere in the Pacific. We are finding similar neglect of the needs of both civilian and military survivors and disregard for the rights of Indigenous peoples. But we also see the efficacy of the TPNW's holistic approach, rooted in humanitarian, human rights and environmental norms.

For example, in October, we published a report on Australia, authored by Dimity Hawkins of Swinburne University. She outlined the complex, overlapping histories of harm caused by the UK nuclear weapons program in Australia, from the detonations themselves, to uranium mining, displacement of Aboriginal communities and lands contaminated by fallout.3

Unlike Kiribati and Fiji, which have both signed the TPNW, Australia boycotted the negotiations and on 1 November was the only state subjected to nuclear testing by another other state to vote against a UN resolution calling for the TPNW's universalization.4

However, the framework offered by the TPNW's positive obligations offers a way for affected communities in Australia to seek solidarity from others around the world. I like to tell skeptics that the TPNW's provision on victim assistance has already had a normative effect, because it has made people at a university in New York pay attention to the impact of nuclear weapons on communities on the opposite side of the world.


1. Matthew Bolton. (2018) Addressing Humanitarian and Environmental Harm from Nuclear Weapons: Kiritimati (Christmas Island) and Malden Islands, Republic of Kiribati. New York, International Disarmament Institute.

2. Bolton, M. (2018) Addressing Humanitarian and Environmental Harm from Nuclear Weapons: Kirisimasi (Christmas and Malden Island) Veterans, Republic of Fiji. New York, International Disarmament Institute.

3. Dimity Hawkins. (2018) Monte Bello, Emu Field and Maralinga Test Sites. New York, International Disarmament Institute.

4. ICAN. (2 November 2018) "122 states reaffirm their support for the Nuclear Ban Treaty."

ICAN Nobel Peace Prize Ride: On the road to a future free of nuclear weapons

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Gem Romuld ‒ Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons pose a threat to everything we hold dear. Yet nine nations cling to 14,500 nuclear weapons, enough to annihilate our planet many times over. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists recently shifted the hands of the Doomsday Clock to two minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1953, signaling grave concern that we are entering a new nuclear arms race.

The risk is real and growing. Driven by deep concern for the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, a global majority of nations are taking action. Chemical and biological weapons have long been outlawed by international treaty. Last year, 122 nations united to put nuclear weapons in the same legal category. In July 2017, they voted to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the United Nations.

The Australian-founded International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for our role in helping to achieve this treaty. Regrettably, Australia hasn't yet signed on to the ban. Our Liberal / National Party government is a proud signatory to the treaties prohibiting landmines, cluster munitions, biological and chemical weapons, but is resisting signing the nuclear weapon ban treaty. This must change, to reflect the will of the vast majority of Australians who do not want weapons of mass destruction used in their name.

A diverse group of ICAN supporters recently participated in a Peace Ride, cycling 900 kms from Melbourne to Canberra, the nation's capital, taking with us the Nobel Peace Prize medal and a giant copy of the nuclear weapon ban treaty. We slept in church halls, shared potluck dinners with locals and hosted events in regional towns Benalla, Albury and Gundagai.

Our journey culminated in Canberra on September 20, the first anniversary of the nuclear weapon ban treaty opening for signature at the United Nations. Our cyclists were joined by local supporters for the final "glory lap", before we marched our message up to Parliament House with a giant banner reading calling for Australia to join the ban. While the Government refused to meet with us, many of our supporters within Parliament welcomed the cyclists and spoke up about the ban treaty inside and outside the chambers. The ACT Government passed a resolution calling on Australia to sign and ratify the treaty, while 32 giant ICAN flags flew proudly on Commonwealth Avenue.

ICAN Ambassador and Kokatha Aboriginal elder Aunty Sue Coleman-Haseldine stood outside Parliament and spoke up about the legacy of nuclear testing that her community has suffered:

"Aboriginal people … at that time knew nothing about the effects of radiation and the future poisonous outcomes. There's so many deaths in a region of various cancers. There has been no long-term assessment of health impacts in the region. What we urgently need to change is Australia's position on the nuclear ban treaty.

"I'm really proud to be here to ask the government to change their minds about the treaty and to sign on so that we can look forward to a nuclear free future. To all the policy and change makers here today, you can make this happen."

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons currently has 69 signatories and 19 state parties, as of 28 September. The treaty is setting a record pace for ratifications compared to other WMD treaties, and the UN has announced its expectation of an early entry into force.

Momentum is growing for Australia to sign and ratify the ban, with 76% of Labor Party members having pledged their support, along with a number of government, Greens, Centre Alliance and independent parliamentarians. While Australia initially resisted signing on to the treaty prohibiting landmines, it now boasts of being a proud state party. One day Australia will boast of being a state party to the nuclear weapon ban treaty as well. This treaty provides the path we desperately need, to reach a world free of nuclear weapons.

The problems with Japan's plutonium: What are they and how do we deal with them?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Caitlin Stronell ‒ Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, Japan

The Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) recently organized a seminar with guest speaker Prof. Frank von Hippel, a nuclear physicist from Princeton University's Program on Science and Global Security, presenting alternative ways to dispose of spent fuel instead of reprocessing, as well as options for disposal of separated plutonium. After this presentation of technical solutions, a panel discussion took place. Prof. Eiji Oguma, a historical sociologist from Keio University's Faculty of Policy Management and a well-known commentator on the post-Fukushima anti-nuclear movement in Japan, pointed out the political barriers that must be overcome if any of these technical solutions were to be actually implemented, no matter how much more reasonable they may seem from economic and safety perspectives. CNIC's General Secretary, Hajime Matsukubo was also on the panel and brought into the discussion the international implications of Japan's plutonium policy including the US-Japan Nuclear Agreement.

Prof. von Hippel explained that plutonium disposal is a global problem, with more than half of the existent separated plutonium being produced as a result of civilian reprocessing, the rest produced for military purposes. Disposing of the plutonium that had been produced for weapons during the cold war has been a huge headache for the United States with planned disposal by burning it as MOX fuel in commercial reactors proving hugely expensive.

America has all but abandoned its half-built MOX plant and is now looking towards the 'dilute and dispose' option. This process would use glove boxes to mix 300 grams of plutonium oxide into a can of 'star dust' (a secret ingredient from which plutonium would be difficult to separate again). This can would then be placed in a plastic bag and another 'outer blend can.'

Another way of immobilizing plutonium is the Hot Isostatic Pressing method, which is being developed in the UK and utilizes radiation-resistant, low-solubility ceramic. After plutonium has been immobilized, it is safer to bury it underground than keep it on the surface and Prof. von Hippel mentioned the deep borehole disposal method which uses techniques developed for drilling oil and geothermal wells that can bore five kilometers into the earth. In the US, however, plans for a demonstration project of this method of radioactive waste disposal were rejected by local governments.

Prof. von Hippel stressed that the main lesson for Japan is that separated plutonium is extremely difficult to dispose of and that it is definitely better not to separate any more than is already stockpiled. Instead of sending spent fuel from the nation's nuclear power plants to Rokkasho for reprocessing, it would be safer and much cheaper and more efficient to set up dry cask storage for the spent fuel onsite at the plant. Prof. von Hippel showed us successful examples of this method in the US and suggested that there were moves in this direction in Japan as well.

Prof. von Hippel's detailed technical solutions were very convincing. Yet despite the dangers of holding such a large plutonium stockpile (47 metric tons, enough for approximately 6,000 nuclear weapons), despite the massive costs involved and despite having no concrete viable plans as to how to actually use the separated plutonium, official Japanese government policy is to continue to separate even more plutonium at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which is currently due to commence operations in 2021.

In the panel discussion which followed Prof. von Hippel's presentation, Prof. Oguma agreed that reprocessing was most certainly problematic, but, he pointed out, it will be extremely difficult to just put up onsite storage of spent fuel, no matter how reasonable a technical solution it is. Political consent must be gained from the people in communities, which will not just be hosting the nuclear power plant, but will be asked to store its radioactive waste as well. As Prof. Oguma pointed out, especially post-Fukushima Daiichi, no one trusts the Japanese Government's nuclear policy and the likelihood that they will agree to yet another imposition that can be perceived to be long-term and dangerous, is very low.

Much of the Japanese public also believes that onsite storage is merely an excuse for the nuclear industry to keep afloat. If spent fuel pools fill up, utilities will not be able to operate their plants. For many activists this is one way of closing them down, which is their main aim. Prof. Oguma argued that a minimum requirement for any form of political consent to onsite storage would be a clear commitment by the government to phase out all nuclear power by a fixed date, so that the final amount of waste can be determined and will not just keep growing, along with the burden on local people. 

This is a significant difference in perspective. Prof. von Hippel's main aim is to stop reprocessing and reduce stocks of separated plutonium, even if nuclear power generation continues, but Prof. Oguma claims that without an overall reassessment of the entire nuclear power policy it will be impossible to gain political consent for Prof. von Hippel's proposed onsite storage.

The economics is not as straightforward as it sounds either. While it is undoubtedly cheaper, in a purely mathematical sense, to simply dispose of spent fuel as waste, instead of reprocessing it and fabricating MOX fuel, the accounting systems of utilities make the more efficient alternative of direct disposal very difficult. At the moment, spent fuel is counted as an asset on utility balance sheets under the premise that it will become MOX fuel. If reprocessing is officially abandoned, all of the spent fuel 'assets' will become 'liabilities' and many utilities will be facing possible bankruptcy.

Prof. Oguma suggested that the only way to overcome all these political and economic barriers is for the government to disclose all information on nuclear power and reprocessing and to conduct an open public debate on how to proceed. If a public consensus is reached, based on all the scientific, technical and economic data available, then reprocessing should be stopped.

CNIC's Hajime Matsukubo pointed out that the Japanese government's accountability crisis was not just domestic, but international. Building up such large stocks of plutonium at huge cost and with no credible purpose inevitably makes neighboring countries suspect Japan's intentions. Indeed documents recently revealed show that the present Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has long been an advocate of Japan becoming a nuclear weapons state. Japan's opposition to President Obama's proposal that the US adopt a no first-use of nuclear weapons policy, was reported in the Japanese media. Thus Japan's credibility as a strong advocator of non-proliferation is already failing and the plan to separate even more plutonium at Rokkasho could easily provoke a regional nuclear arms race, destabilizing the region, just as hopes rise that the situation in North Korea may improve.

Mr. Matsukubo also pointed out that Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state that is permitted to separate plutonium under the US-Japan Nuclear Cooperation (123) Agreement. This creates double standards which weaken the entire global non-proliferation regime. For example, Saudi Arabia is negotiating a 123 Agreement with the US and demands that it also be allowed to reprocess spent fuel 'like Japan.'

For all of the above safety, economic and non-proliferation reasons, it would seem that there is plenty of ammunition for the movement against reprocessing. Indeed, Mr. Matsukubo said that in many ways it should be easier to stop reprocessing than stop nuclear power generation. Why hasn't this happened? As well as the difficulties mentioned by Prof. Oguma, there is also the factor that the movement against reprocessing in Japan has not been as strong as the movement against nuclear power. Reprocessing seems like a more convoluted, more removed issue, perhaps difficult for people to grasp and focus on.

All speakers agreed that the movement against reprocessing must be strengthened. The first thing that must be done to achieve this is to raise awareness and understanding regarding this issue within the broader anti-nuclear movement (both power generation and weapons) and the general public. Providing accurate information on the nuclear fuel cycle in a format that people can understand is the vital first step. As many people as possible must be informed about the costs, the dangers and the alternatives. The movement must be strong enough to demand that governments and utilities disclose all data, engage in an open debate and commit to implementing the consensus which emerges.

Prof. Oguma said that he and many other activists in Japan were committed to conveying the messages of Fukushima to the larger world, and to contributing to international solidarity on ending nuclear power. This also includes understanding how other countries see Japan. The plutonium issue is one that has particularly strong international impacts and implications and by pursuing this present policy the Japanese government is only damaging Japan's international credibility, especially regarding non-proliferation.

The seminar concluded that, whether on an international level or a domestic one, the Japanese government must restore accountability and democracy, it must formulate a responsible nuclear policy that is demonstrably safe, economic and realistic and which has the consent of the people. Viable technical alternatives to reprocessing spent fuel are available but can only be implemented through raising awareness and a change in political will, which as a movement, we must focus on with added strength.

Originally published in Citizens Nuclear Information Center, Nuke Info Tokyo, No. 184, May/June 2018,

Reactor-grade plutonium and nuclear weapons: exploding the myths

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Many Nuclear Monitor readers will have heard the argument before: reactor-grade plutonium (RGPu) produced in the normal course of operation of a reactor cannot be used for weapons production and thus claims about the connections between peaceful and military nuclear programs amount to anti-nuclear scuttlebutt.

The premise is false − RGPu can be used in weapons, and has been used in weapons ‒ and in any case the connections between peaceful and military nuclear programs are manifold.

The debate over the weapons-usability of RGPu has been going on for decades and has been covered in Nuclear Monitor (e.g. #787, 6 June 2014). It has essentially been solved: there is no doubt that RGPu can be used in weapons ‒ yet some nuclear industry insiders and lobbyists persist with the fiction that it cannot.

Gregory S. Jones has written a 170-page on the book on the topic, published by the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and available online at no cost. Jones is a defense policy analyst with 44 years experience. He was part of the research team whose findings prompted the US government in 1976 to reveal, for the first time, the weapons-usability of RGPu.

Jones' book ought to be the last word on the matter; but of course the nuclear lobby will keep lying. For example, Jones' detective work proved beyond any reasonable doubt that a much-debated 1962 US weapon test did indeed use RGPu. That research was published in 2013 yet it has been largely ignored and many still claim the 1962 test used weapon-grade or fuel-grade plutonium.

Likewise, one prominent advocate of the nuclear industry's line of argument claims that a British weapon test in South Australia in 1953 used RGPu and it must have been unsuccessful (or at least underwhelming) since the UK subsequently used weapon grade plutonium in its bombs. But in fact there is compelling evidence that weapon grade plutonium was used in the 1953 test.

The book covers the technical debates in detail, and Jones explains the issues in simple terms. Take for example the most glaringly stupid aspect of the pro-nuclear position ‒ even if we accepted the fiction that RGPu cannot be used in weapons, reactors can nonetheless produce weapon-grade or near-weapon-grade plutonium simply by shortening the irradiation time. Jones writes:

"In late 2012, Iran abruptly discharged all of the fuel from its Bushehr PWR. After some months the fuel was reinserted, but the reason for this discharge was never explained. As I have written elsewhere, Iran (or any country with a LWR) has the option of producing near weapon-grade plutonium by simply discharging the fuel in the outermost part of the reactor core after just one irradiation cycle instead of the normal three. The country could cite safety concerns as the reason for the early discharge. Since countries such as Iran plan to produce their own reactor fuel, it would not be hard for them to deliberately introduce flaws into the fuel that they produce so that early discharge would be required.

"It is sometimes said that to use a power reactor in this manner would be uneconomical but there is no prohibition against operating a nuclear power reactor in an uneconomical fashion. After all, it is universally acknowledged that the use of plutonium containing fuels in LWRs (mixed oxide fuel, MOX) is uneconomic but the practice continues in countries such as France and Japan. Therefore, even if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were to detect the production of low burnup fuel at a nuclear power reactor, it would have no basis for taking any action to prevent it."

The list of chapters gives some indication of the breadth of the book:

1. Why Countries Might Choose Reactor-Grade Plutonium for Their First Weapon

2. A Short History of Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Why the Nuclear Industry Is Wrong to Downplay Its Dangers

3. The Different Kinds of Plutonium

4. Predetonation and Reactor-Grade Plutonium: No Impediment to Powerful, Reliable Nuclear Weapons

5. Heat from Reactor-Grade Plutonium: An Outdated Worry

6. Radiation and Critical Mass: No Barriers to Reactor-Grade Plutonium Use in Nuclear Weapons

7. How Sweden and Pakistan Planned and India May Be Planning to Use Reactor-Grade Plutonium to Make Weapons

8. Did the U.S. and the British Test Reactor-Grade Plutonium in Nuclear Weapons?

9. Conclusions

Appendix: How Much Pu-240 Has the U.S. Used in Nuclear Weapons: A History

Jones' book concludes:

"All things being equal, weapon-grade plutonium is preferred over reactor-grade plutonium for the production of nuclear weapons. However, today, unlike the 1940s and 1950s, all things are not equal. A non-nuclear weapon state would find it difficult to build a plutonium production reactor without being subjected to enormous international pressure and, as Syria found out in 2007, the reactor could be bombed before it even began operation. In contrast, nuclear power reactors are readily available and, as part of the continuing legacy of the myth of denatured plutonium, half a dozen non-nuclear weapon states have large quantities of separated plutonium. Japan currently has several metric tons of plutonium in the form of pure plutonium nitrate solution or pure plutonium dioxide. In 13 years, after the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action expires, Iran will be permitted to reprocess spent fuel to obtain pure plutonium nitrate.

"For countries today, the choice is not between weapon-grade plutonium and reactor-grade plutonium for nuclear weapons but rather between reactor-grade plutonium and no nuclear weapons at all. In the past, both Sweden and Pakistan at one time based their nuclear weapon programs on reactor-grade plutonium when weapon-grade plutonium was unavailable. That neither country would eventually produce reactor-grade based nuclear weapons does not change these facts. In the case of Pakistan, its failure to produce nuclear weapons using reactor-grade plutonium had nothing to do with the properties of such weapons. Rather, the United States recognized the dangers of reactor-grade plutonium and applied pressure to France to block the sale of the reprocessing plant needed to produce separated reactor-grade plutonium. Today, India may have deployed nuclear weapons using reactor-grade plutonium.

"It has been claimed that nuclear weapons manufactured using reactor-grade plutonium would be "unreliable," "unpredictable," "bulky," and "hazardous to bomb makers." None of this is true. The entire 270 metric ton current world stockpile of separated plutonium can be used to produce nuclear weapons by simply using a reduced amount of plutonium that is only 60% of a critical mass and coating the core with a half a centimeter of uranium. Employing early 1950s U.S. unboosted implosion technology and modern high explosives, these weapons would have the same predetonation probability as that of the same type of weapon using weapon-grade plutonium and a near critical core. The weapons would be the same exact size and weight as ones using weapon-grade plutonium, and they would require no special cooling. The gamma radiation from the core would be significantly less than that of an unshielded weapon-grade plutonium core. The only difference would be that while the weapon-grade plutonium weapon would produce a yield of 20 kilotons, the reactor-grade plutonium weapon would produce a yield of only 5 kilotons, though its destructive area would still be about 40% that of the 20 kiloton weapon. Further, boosting technology appears to be becoming more readily available to early nuclear weapon states. Boosted weapons produce the same yield regardless of whether weapon-grade or reactor-grade plutonium is used.

"Many claims about so-called denatured plutonium relate to reactor-grade plutonium produced by spiking reactor fuel with either neptunium or americium. However, this spiking has not been done nor is it likely to ever be done since this would greatly increase the costs and technical difficulty of using plutonium as nuclear reactor fuel. Even then, the plutonium could be used to produce nuclear weapons though in this case some special effort would be needed to cool the core by expanding the size of the core to improve heat dissipation and using thermal bridges to conduct the heat away from the core.

"The obvious solution to the nuclear weapon dangers posed by reactor-grade plutonium is to deny non-nuclear weapons states easy access to this material by banning all reprocessing and plutonium recycling, including unirradiated MOX fuel, from such countries. This was the conclusion of the analysis that I participated in at Pan Heuristics over 40 years ago. Our conclusion led to the Carter Administration to end commercial reprocessing in the United States and to try to prevent it in non-nuclear weapon states as well. The intervening years have only reinforced the wisdom of this recommendation. In the 1970s, those in the nuclear industry objected that such a policy would retard the growth of nuclear power which they believed was destined to be a major if not the main source of electricity generation. The nuclear industry expected that uranium resources would be insufficient to support such a large nuclear industry and only plutonium fuel in breeder reactors could power the large number of reactors that they expected.

"Today there are no commercial breeder reactors and none are in sight. Nuclear power did not grow to become anywhere as important as was predicted and uranium resources have proven to be no constraint on nuclear power. The use of plutonium based reactor fuels is universally acknowledged to be uneconomic. Nuclear energy faces stiff competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources.

"Though plutonium reprocessing in nuclear weapon states poses little proliferation risk, it is clearly uneconomic and unnecessary given the 270 metric ton stockpile of separated plutonium that already exists. Reprocessing should be ended in these countries as well to prevent this unnecessary plutonium stockpile from growing even larger."

Gregory S. Jones, April 2018, 'Reactor-Grade Plutonium and Nuclear Weapons: Exploding the Myths', Nonproliferation Policy Education Center,

Full book (PDF):

(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)

A journey to the heart of the anti-nuclear resistance in Australia: Rad Tour 2018

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ray Acheson ‒ Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

Looking at a map of South Australia's nuclear landscape, the land is scarred. Uranium mines and weapon test sites, coupled with indications of where the government is currently proposing to site nuclear waste dumps, leave their marks across the desert. But amidst the devastation these poisonous activities have left on the land and its people, there is fierce resistance and boundless hope.

Friends of the Earth Australia has been running Radioactive Exposure Tours for the past thirty years. Designed to bring people from around Australia to meet local activists at various nuclear sites, the Rad Tour provides a unique opportunity to learn about the land, the people, and the nuclear industry in the most up-front and personal way.

This year's tour featured visits to uranium mines, bomb test legacy sites, and proposed radioactive waste dumps on Arabunna, Adnyamathanha, and Kokatha land in South Australia, and introduced urban-based activists to those directly confronting the nuclear industry out in country. It brought together about 30 people including campaigners from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Reaching Critical Will, environmental activists with Friends of the Earth Australia and other organisations, and interested students and others looking to learn about the land, the people, and the industries operating out in the desert.

The journey of ten days takes us to many places and introduces us to many people, but can be loosely grouped into three tragic themes: bombing, mining, and dumping. Each of these aspects of the nuclear chain is stained with racism, militarism, and capitalism. Each represents a piece of a dirty, dangerous, but ultimately dying nuclear industry. And each has been and continues to be met with fierce resistance from local communities, including Traditional Owners of the land.

Testing the bomb

The first two days of the trip are spent driving from Melbourne to Adelaide to Port Augusta. We pick up activists along the way, before finally heading out to the desert. Our first big stop on the Tour is a confrontation with the atomic bomb.

The UK government conducted twelve nuclear weapon tests in Australia.1 Nine took place in South Australia, at Emu Field and Maralinga. All of the tests used plutonium ‒ some of which may have been produced from uranium mined at Radium Hill in South Australia. The UK and Australia also conducted hundreds of so-called 'minor trials' to test the effects of fire and non-nuclear explosions on atomic bombs, which spread plutonium far and wide.

One of the tests at Emu Field in 1953 resulted in a radioactive cloud spreading over 250 kilometres northwest of the test site. This "Black Mist" is held responsible for a sudden outbreak of sickness and death amongst Aboriginal communities.2 A Royal Commission in 1983–1984 found that the test had been conducted under wind conditions known to produce "unacceptable levels" of fallout and did not take into account the existence of people down wind of the test site. The Commission reported that regard for Aboriginal safety was characterised by "ignorance, incompetence and cynicism".3

The government has so far conducted four "clean ups" of Maralinga over the years.4 Each one finds that the previous effort was insufficient. The latest "clean up" in the mid-1990s found plutonium buried in shallow, unlined pits ‒ and much of that plutonium remains in that condition today. Nuclear engineer and whistleblower Alan Parkinson told the ABC: "What was done at Maralinga was a cheap and nasty solution that wouldn't be adopted on white-fellas land."5

While our Tour didn't take us to the Emu Field or Maralinga sites this time, we did visit people and lands affected by the testing in Woomera, a small town about 450 km north of Adelaide. Established as a base for a missile and rocket testing program, it is full of the ghosts of both people and weapons.

On our first night at Woomera we were joined by Avon Hudson, a nuclear weapon test whistleblower who as a Royal Australian Air Force serviceperson was assigned to work at Maralinga during the time of the 'minor trials'.

Avon gave testimony to the Royal Commission investigating UK nuclear weapon testing in the 1980s after disclosing classified information to the media starting in the 1970s. His stories, told to us around the campfire and while visiting various sites in Woomera, were full of pain. He described how those serving in the Australian military were not given information or protection against the nuclear tests, how the radioactive fallout affected Aboriginal and other local communities, and how the radioactive racism by the government continues to leave a lasting mark on current and future generations.

We visited the Woomera Cemetery, where a disturbing number of babies and children are buried. Journalist Bryan Littlely notes that the cemetery "contains 23 graves for stillborn babies born in the hospital between December 1953 and September 1968, and a further 46 graves for other children who died around that period."6 While there has not yet been enough research to definitely prove a causal link between the weapons testing and the high numbers of stillbirths and early childhood deaths in the region, more than 100 South Australians joined a class action lawsuit against the British Ministry of Defense in 2010, demanding answers to the cause of death of their babies.7 However, "the case was not allowed to proceed8 because it was deemed impossible to prove radiation caused their illness."9

While it has so far escaped having to answer for the deaths in Woomera, the UK government did pay A$13.5 million in compensation to the Maralinga Tjarutja Traditional Owners in 1995. But other known victims of British testing, including members of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, have not been compensated.

Responding to the UK court's decision against the survivors, then Greens Senator Scott Ludlam wrote in a letter to the UK parliament in 2013: "Of the British and Australian veterans who were involved in the testing, and the Aboriginal people in the area at the time of the blasts, only 29 Aboriginal people have ever received compensation from the Australian Government and veterans continue to struggle to obtain the medical support they need despite experiencing unusually high rates of cancer and other ill effects associated with exposure to radiation."9

One of those who never received compensation or an apology was Yami Lester, Yunkunytjatjara elder and activist, who was blinded by the Emu Field nuclear weapon test in 1953 when he was ten years old. He was a key player in the Royal Commission, and went on to be a powerful advocate for land rights and against nuclear waste dumps. We didn't get to meet Yami on this Tour, because he passed away in July 2017, just two weeks after the United Nations adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.10

Yami's daughters Karina and Rose Lester played an important role in raising support for the Treaty in Australia and participating in its negotiation in New York. Working with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Karina delivered a statement on behalf of more than 30 indigenous groups from around the world at the negotiations, successfully advocating for provisions on victim assistance and environmental remediation, as well as a recognition of the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on indigenous populations.

Several of us from ICAN, the civil society coalition that advocated for years for the nuclear ban treaty, were on this year's Rad Tour. We joined to connect with and learn from those resisting other pieces of the chain of nuclear violence, and to sit on country that has been so harmed time and again.

Digging up the poison

After two days of learning about the effects of British atomic testing and visiting disturbing sites in Woomera, we headed further into the radioactive nightmare to visit a quintessential site related to the starting point of the nuclear violence chain: the Olympic Dam uranium mine near Roxby Downs.11

As of April 2018, two uranium mines are operating in South Australia: Olympic Dam and Beverley Four Mile. These mines produced and exported 5,493 tonnes of uranium oxide in 2016 ‒ 63% of Australia's total production that year.12 The only other operating uranium mine in Australia is Ranger in the Northern Territory, where mining has ceased but stockpiled ore is being processed until the mine's final closure a few years from now.

After days spent camping on the red earth of this region, it was devastating to see the massive Olympic Dam mine displacing the ground, burrowing into it with machines and metal, bringing poison up from the depths. We went on a tour conducted by BHP, the mine's operator. We were not allowed to take photos, or leave the vehicle we were on.

In addition to the uranium ore, Olympic Dam has generated over 150 million tonnes of uranium tailings ‒ radioactive sludge that is left over after extracting the uranium-bearing minerals from the ore. Friends of the Earth describes it as a "toxic, acidic soup of radionuclides and heavy metals."13 The tailings, and the processes used in extraction, risk the safety of workers and local communities. In the mid-1990s it was revealed that about three billion litres had seeped from the tailings dams over two years.14 Between 2003 and 2012, BHP reported 31 radiation leaks at the mine. On our tour, we were not permitted to see the tailings dams.

The mine is also a drain on natural resources. It uses around 37 million litres of water from the Great Artesian Basin every single day. This is the largest and deepest artesian basin ‒ a confined aquifer containing groundwater ‒ in the world. It provides the only source of fresh water through much of inland Australia. The government and various industries use it, but Olympic Dam has been increasing its use since its founding. While the BHP tour guides showing us around the mine assure us that they are responsibly using the water and that it can continue to rely on the basin for at least the next 85 years of the mine's anticipated lifespan, environmental activists have serious and legitimate questions about the sustainability of this level of water usage.15

After our trip to the mine, we visited the Mound Springs near Lake Eyre, in Arabunna country. These are natural springs sustained by the underlying Great Artesian Basin. We were accompanied by Kokatha Traditional Owner Glen Wingfield, who, while not Arabunna, has spent his life visiting the springs. He lamented the depletion of the springs, explaining that it gets sadder to visit each time because the water levels are down more and more each and every time. Studies have shown that the pressure in the Great Artesian Basin has declined due to increased extraction.16 As the water table drops, springs have started drying up across South Australia as well as Queensland.

Uranium mining companies, and federal and state governments, typically ignore the concerns of Traditional Owners, use divide-and-rule tactics to split local communities, provide false or misleading information, and even use legal threats ‒ all to ensure that the uranium industry gets its way. When it comes to Olympic Dam, this racism is enshrined in legislation. WMC Resources Limited, which started the uranium mine, was granted legal privileges under the South Australian Roxby Downs Indenture Act. This legislation overrides the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Environment Protect Act, the Water Resources Act, and the Freedom of Information Act.17 The current mine owner, BHP, has refused to relinquish these legal privileges.

The problems of uranium mining, however, are not just local. Australia's uranium is exported around the world. It was in the Fukushima reactors that suffered a meltdown in 2011. It is converted into high-level nuclear waste in power reactors across the globe. Australia's uranium exports have produced over 176 tonnes of plutonium ‒ enough to build over 17,600 nuclear weapons.

On the tour of Olympic Dam, it wasn't clear the BHP guides knew where their uranium was going. "Europe," said one. "I think maybe China," said another. It's a sad fact that BHP's customers include nuclear weapons states as well as countries refusing to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

Aboriginal communities and environmental activists have long resisted the mine, from before it was even constructed. The night after we visited Olympic Dam, Glen Wingfield told us about his family's consistent activism against the mine ‒ as well as his brief time spent working there. Conditions at the mine were awful for workers, he argues, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. The Traditional Owners were not consulted before the mine's construction, and have fiercely opposed it. They have been joined by others concerned about the mine's environmental impacts. In 2016, the Desert Liberation Front organised a "party at the gates of hell," following a protest in 2012 that saw hundreds travel from around the country to shut down the main road into the mine for four hours.18 Protests have also been held outside BHP's Melbourne headquarters, and resource and environment ministers' offices.19

While BHP anticipates the mine will operate for another 85 years, opposition to its operation will continue. And while that opposition has not yet seen the closure of the mine, it likely did play a role in BHP's decision not to go ahead with its planned mega-expansion of the mine in 2012. For now, at least, the gates of hell have not been enlarged.

Dumping radioactive waste

From the gates of hell we travelled to what might be described as the gates of paradise. For now.

The federal government of Australia wants to build a facility to store and dispose of radioactive waste in South Australia, either at Wallerberdina Station near Hawker or on farming land in Kimba.20 Wallerberdina Station is located in the Flinders Ranges, the largest mountain range in South Australia, 540 million years old. Approaching from the north on our drive down from Lake Eyre can only be described as breathtaking. The red dirt, the brown and green bush, and the ever-changing purples, blues, and reds of the mountains themselves are some of the most complex and stunning scenes one can likely see in the world.

Most people might find it shocking that the federal government would want to put a nuclear waste dump smack in the middle of this landscape. But after visiting other sites on the Rad Tour, it was only yet another disappointment ‒ and another point of resistance.

What is known is that the Wallerberdina site is of great cultural, historical, and spiritual significance to the Adnyamathanha people.21 It borders the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area, which is a crucial location for biodiversity in the Flinders Ranges. Its unique ecosystem provides a refuge for many native species of flora and fauna, contains many archaeological sites as well as the first registered Aboriginal Songline of its type in Australia, and is home to Pungka Pudanha, a natural spring and sacred woman's site.

In case that isn't enough, the area is a known floodplain. Our travels around the proposed site contained ample evidence of previous floods that sent massive trees rushing down the plain, smashing into each other and into various bridges and other built objects. The last big flood occurred in 2006.

The Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners were not consulted before their land was nominated for consideration by the government for the waste dump. "Through this area are registered cultural heritage sites and places of huge importance to our family, our history and our future," wrote Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners in a 2015 statement.22 "We don't want a nuclear waste dump here on our country and worry that if the waste comes here it will harm our environment and muda (our lore, our creation, our everything)."

We met Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners Vivianne and Regina McKenzie, and Tony Clark, at the proposed site. They invited us into the Yappala Indigenous Protected Area to view the floodplains and swim in the beautiful Pungka Pudanha. We'd just been camping at Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges National Park only a few kilometres away. It is impossible to understand the government's rationale for wanting to build a toxic waste dump on this land so cherished by its Traditional Owners, local communities, and tourists alike.

The McKenzies have been working tirelessly to prevent the proposed dump from being established, as have other local activists. Fortunately, they have some serious recent successes to inspire them.

In 2015, the federal government announced a plan to import 138,000 tonnes of high-level nuclear waste from around the world to South Australia as a commercial enterprise. But Traditional Owners began protesting immediately, arguing that the so-called consultations were not accessible and that misinformation was rife.23 In 2016, a Citizen's Jury, established by then Premier Jay Weatherill and made up of 350 people, deliberated over evidence and information. In November that year, two-thirds of the Jury rejected "under any circumstances" the plan to import or store high-level waste.24 They cited lack of Aboriginal consent, unsubstantiated economic assumptions and projections, and lack of confidence in the governmental proposal's validity.

Other battles against proposed nuclear waste dumps have been fought and won in South Australia. From 1998 to 2004, the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a council of senior Aboriginal women from northern South Australia, successfully campaigned against a proposed national nuclear waste dump near Woomera.25 In an open letter in 2004, the Kungkas wrote: "People said that you can't win against the Government. Just a few women. We just kept talking and telling them to get their ears out of their pockets and listen. We never said we were going to give up. Government has big money to buy their way out but we never gave up."26

Connected communities

The attempts by the Australian government and the nuclear industry to impose a waste dump in the Flinders Ranges, just like their attempts to impose waste dumps and uranium mines elsewhere in the country, or their refusal to compensate victims and survivors of nuclear testing, are all mired with racism. They are rooted in a fundamental dismissal and devaluation of the lives and experiences of indigenous Australians, and of communities they consider "remote" ‒ both in their proximity to cities but more importantly, to power.

The industry and government's motivations for imposing nuclear violence on these people and this land are militarism and capitalism. Profit over people. Weapons over wellbeing. Their capacity for compassion and duty of care has been constrained by chronic short-termism ‒ a total failure to protect future generations. The poison they pull out of the earth, process, sell, allow others to make bombs with, and bury back in the earth, wounds us all now and into the future.

But nuclear weapons are now prohibited under international law. New actors are challenging the possession of nuclear weapons in new ways, and nuclear-armed states are facing a challenge like never before. The nuclear energy industry ‒ and thus the demand for uranium ‒ is declining. Power plants are being shuttered; corporations are facing financial troubles. Dirty and dangerous, the nuclear industry is dying.

This is in no small part due to the relentless resistance against it.

This resistance was fierce throughout all of the country we visited, from Woomera up to Lake Eyre, from Roxby Downs to the Flinders Ranges. We listened to stories of those living on this land, we heard their histories, witnessed their actions, and supported their plans.

And, we were able to share something special with many of them: ICAN's Nobel Peace Prize.

Awarded in 2017, the Prize recognizes ICAN's efforts to highlight the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons and to work with governments to negotiate and adopt the nuclear weapon ban treaty. But the Prize is not just for those advocates directly involved in that aspect of the campaign's work. It's a recognition of all the efforts of anti-nuclear activists through the long history of the atomic age, activists who have put their bodies on the line in defence of the earth and human health, in protection of our planet, in opposition to governments that pull poison out of the ground and drop it on human beings and animals around the world.

Sharing the Nobel Prize with the resisters in South Australia was a deep joy. It seemed to bring inspiration and invigoration to many who have fought for so long against impossible odds in difficult places against powerful corporations and governments. It was a humbling reminder of the collective effort of all our advocacy and activism across time and space. We're all connected, and we cannot do this alone. Movements are made of people, reaching out across borders, across struggles, to cultivate solidarity and strength in one another. Resistance is fertile.

Information on previous Rad Tours is posted at




























'Pro-nuclear environmentalists' in denial about power/weapons connections

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

It takes a moment to tell a lie but it can take much longer to deconstruct one. So it is with this deconstruction of claims by pro-nuclear propagandists that "nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons" and that "peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power".

As discussed in Nuclear Monitor #850, nuclear industry bodies (such as the US Nuclear Energy Institute) and supporters (such as former US energy secretary Ernest Moniz) are openly acknowledging the connections between nuclear power and weapons ‒ connections they have denied for decades.1 Those connections are evident in almost all of the weapons states, in numerous countries that have pursued but not built weapons, and in potential future weapons states such as Saudi Arabia.2

Ideally, acknowledgement of power/weapons connections would lead to redoubled efforts to build a firewall between civilian and military nuclear programs ‒ strengthened safeguards, curbs on enrichment and reprocessing, and so on. But that's not how this debate in playing out. Industry insiders and supporters drawing attention to the connections are quite comfortable about them ‒ they just want increased subsidies and support for their domestic civilian nuclear industry lest 'national security' and 'national defense' be undermined.

Some continue to deny the power/weapons connections even though the connections are plain for all to see and are now being acknowledged by a growing number of nuclear insiders and supporters. The silliest of the deniers are those who self-describe as 'pro-nuclear environmentalists'. One such person is Ben Heard ‒ a paid nuclear lobbyist in Australia whose so-called environment group 'Bright New World' accepts secret corporate donations.3,4

An article by Heard attacks the Australian Conservation Foundation for its failure to acknowledge the "obvious distinction" between nuclear power and weapons and for "co-opting disarmament … toward their ideological campaigns against peaceful science and technology".5

The Australian Conservation Foundation has actively supported the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons since ICAN was formed in Australia in 2007. ACF's nuclear-free campaigner Dave Sweeney was involved in the foundation of ICAN and has been on the ICAN Australia Board from 2007 to the present.

Heard's response is to note that the Nobel Committee "is well aware of the role of technology in driving peace" and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. But the Nobel Committee's 2005 citation says nothing about nuclear power "driving peace" ‒ whatever that means ‒ and it doesn't endorse or criticize nuclear power.6

The citation singled out then IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei ‒ the Peace Prize was awarded "in two equal parts" to the IAEA and ElBaradei. The citation noted that ElBaradei "has stood out as an unafraid advocate of new measures to strengthen" the non-proliferation regime. During his tenure as IAEA Director General, ElBaradei was strikingly honest about the limitations of the so-called safeguards system. He noted that the IAEA's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited", that the safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities" and "clearly needs reinforcement", that efforts to improve the system have been "half-hearted", and that the safeguards system operates on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to that of a local police department ".7

In his Nobel Lecture, ElBaradei said: "We must ... strengthen the verification system. IAEA inspections are the heart and soul of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. To be effective, it is essential that we are provided with the necessary authority, information, advanced technology, and resources. And our inspections must be backed by the UN Security Council, to be called on in cases of non-compliance."6

There's nothing about the limitations of safeguards in Heard's article. He has never said anything about the limitations let alone made the slightest contribution towards resolving them.

Far from endorsing Heard's claim about the "obvious" distinctions between nuclear power and weapons, ElBaradei noted in his Nobel Lecture that under the current system, any country has the right to develop operations for producing nuclear materials for civilian uses "but in doing so, it also masters the most difficult steps in making a nuclear bomb."8

Consumption and production of fissile material

Heard says the anti-nuclear movement "simply ignore that the US nuclear power sector was integral in the destruction of no less than 16,000 former Soviet nuclear warheads under a program known as 'Megatons to Megawatts'."5 That's another lie ‒ the anti-nuclear movement hasn't ignored the program.

Heard ignores the production of fissile material in civilian nuclear programs:

  • The amount of civilian plutonium (almost all of it produced in power reactors) grows at a rate of about 70 tonnes per year.9 That amount of reactor-grade, weapons-usable plutonium10 would suffice to build about 7,000 weapons.
  • As of January 2017, the global stockpile of separated civilian plutonium (i.e. separated from spent fuel by reprocessing) was about 290 tonnes (enough for about 29,000 weapons).11
  • A May 2015 report written for the International Panel on Fissile Materials found that as of the end of 2013, civilian stockpiles of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium amounted to over 50,000 weapons-equivalents.12 The weapons-equivalents figure jumps dramatically (to several hundred thousand) if plutonium in spent fuel is included.13

Nuclear power promotes peace?

Heard claims that nuclear power promotes peace and uses the two Koreas to illustrate his argument: "The South is a user and exporter of nuclear power, signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and possesses zero nuclear warheads. The North has zero nuclear power reactors, is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and is developing and testing nuclear weapons."5

Likewise, Michael Shellenberger from the pro-nuclear lobby group 'Environmental Progress' claims that: "One of FOE-Greenpeace's biggest lies about nuclear energy is that it leads to weapons. Korea demonstrates that the opposite is true: North Korea has a nuclear bomb and no nuclear energy, while South Korea has nuclear energy and no bomb."14

Heard and Shellenberger ignore the fact that North Korea uses what is calls an 'experimental power reactor' (based on the UK Magnox power reactor design) to produce plutonium for weapons.15 They ignore the fact that North Korea acquired enrichment technology from Pakistan's A.Q. Khan network, who stole the blueprints from URENCO, the consortium that provides enrichment services for the nuclear power industry.15 They ignore the fact that North Korea's reprocessing plant is based on the design of the Eurochemic plant in Belgium, which provided reprocessing services for the nuclear power industry.15

Heard and Shellenberger also ignore South Korea's history of covertly pursuing nuclear weapons, a history entwined with the country's development of nuclear power. For example, the nuclear power program provided (and still provides) a rationale for South Korea's pursuit of reprocessing technology.16

Nicholas Miller's article in International Security

Echoing Shellenberger's claim that "nuclear energy prevents the spread of nuclear weapons"17, Heard writes: "Peace is furthered when a nation embraces nuclear power, because it makes that nation empirically less likely to embark on a nuclear weapons program. That is the finding of a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Security."5 That's a lie twice over. Firstly, it isn't true. Secondly, Heard's assertion isn't supported by the International Security journal article, written by Nicholas Miller from Dartmouth College.18

Miller's article does however downplay the power/weapons connections. He writes: "In contrast to the conventional wisdom, this article argues that the link between nuclear energy programs and proliferation is overstated. Although such programs increase the technical capacity of a state to build nuclear weapons, they also have important countervailing political effects that limit the odds of proliferation. Specifically, nuclear energy programs (1) increase the likelihood that a parallel nuclear weapons program is detected and attracts outside non-proliferation pressures, and (2) increase the costliness of nonproliferation sanctions."

However, much of the information in Miller's article undermines his argument. In Miller's own words, "more countries pursued nuclear weapons in the presence of a nuclear energy program than without one", "the annual probability of starting a weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with nuclear energy programs, if one defines an energy program as having an operating power reactor or one under construction", and countries that pursued nuclear weapons while they had a nuclear energy program were "marginally more likely" to acquire nuclear weapons (almost twice as likely if North Korea is considered to have had a nuclear energy program while it pursued weapons).

Miller notes that France, South Africa, India, and Pakistan all acquired nuclear weapons while their energy programs were ongoing, and he notes that Argentina, Brazil, India, Iran and Pakistan began pursuing nuclear weapons after a nuclear energy program had already been initiated.

Miller cites recent studies that find that "states are more likely to pursue or acquire nuclear weapons when they have greater numbers of peaceful nuclear cooperation agreements with other states (including agreements related to nuclear energy production), receive sensitive nuclear assistance, are recipients of technical aid on the fuel cycle from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), or have greater latent nuclear capacity (e.g., uranium deposits, nuclear scientists, and chemical engineers)."

Leaving aside some of Miller's questionable arguments, his article is a reasonable primer on the manifold and repeatedly-demonstrated connections between nuclear power and weapons.

Miller's focus is on the pursuit of nuclear weapons so he is silent about the ongoing connections between power and weapons in existing weapons states ‒ connections such as those loudly trumpeted by nuclear advocates in the US and the UK in their recent efforts to secure further support for ailing civilian nuclear industries1; or India's refusal to put much of its 'civilian' nuclear industry under IAEA safeguards.

Miller also has little to say about research reactor programs and their connections to both nuclear power and weapons.19 Yet that is an important part of the story. To give one example: India's first nuclear weapon test used plutonium produced in the CIRUS (Canada‒India-Reactor-United-States) research reactor and that plutonium was ostensibly separated for India's fast breeder power program.20

Downplaying the connections

Miller's article includes a reasonable account of the troubling connections between nuclear power and weapons ‒ so how does he downplay the connections? He conducts a quantitative analysis concerning nuclear energy programs (reactors under construction or operating) and the pursuit of weapons. In so doing, much relevant information is cast overboard, such as real or feigned interest in nuclear power facilitating the pursuit of weapons even if construction of power reactors never began.

Even so, much of his data contradicts his conclusions. His simple count of countries pursuing weapons with or without a nuclear energy program from 1954 to the present yields these results:

  • Nuclear energy program during pursuit of weapons: 10 countries (59%)
  • No nuclear energy program during pursuit of weapons: 7 countries (41%)

As discussed below, at least two countries listed in Miller's 'no nuclear energy program' category ‒ Australia and Iraq ‒ could be included in the other category in which case the 59:41 ratio becomes 71:29, a ratio of more than 2:1.

Another difficulty with Miller's quantitative analysis is that it yields contradictory and inexplicable results such as these:

1. The annual probability of starting a weapons program is more than twice as high in countries with an operating power reactor or one under construction (a statistically-significant finding).

2. The annual probability of starting a weapons program is somewhat lower in countries with operating power reactors compared to countries without them (a statistically non-significant finding).

So why does Miller conclude that "nuclear energy programs do not significantly increase the likelihood of proliferation"? Why does he privilege the second of those findings when only the first is statistically significant? Why privilege the finding that excludes countries with power reactors under construction (but not in operation) when the inclusion of such countries provides a fuller, more accurate assessment of the power/weapons connections? It seems he bases his conclusions on the findings he likes and downplays those he dislikes.

Miller produces a series of 'logistic regression models' to map the raw data against potentially confounding variables such as economic and industrial capacity. He concludes that "although statistical power may be an issue, the data at hand do not make a strong case for a large, positive effect of nuclear energy programs, as the conventional wisdom would predict." But within the findings, conventional wisdom can be found. The only statistically-significant finding arising from the models is a positive link between nuclear energy programs and the pursuit of weapons ‒ a problem Miller circumvents by momentarily adopting a stricter definition of statistical significance!

Countries that have built nuclear weapons

Miller finds that among 17 countries that pursued nuclear weapons from 1954 to the present (others put the number higher21), they were more likely to actually build weapons if they had a nuclear energy program (defined as a power reactor in operation or under construction). For countries with a nuclear energy program, 44% developed weapons (4 out of 9 countries); for countries without a nuclear energy program, 37.5% developed weapons (3 out of 8 countries).

Once again, there is a disconnect between Miller's findings and his conclusions. And the disconnect is greater if North Korea is considered to have had a nuclear energy program while it pursued weapons. Miller writes: "If one instead codes North Korea as pursuing nuclear weapons with an energy program, the acquisition rate for countries with energy programs would be 50 percent, versus 28.5 percent for countries without energy programs. This is a substantial difference in success rate, and it is in line with the conventional wisdom."

The Dartmouth College media release announcing the publication of Miller's article asserts that "countries that pursued nuclear weapons under the cover of an energy program have not been significantly more likely to acquire nuclear weapons, when compared to countries that seek nuclear weapons without an energy program."22 Yet Miller's own count finds an increase, rising to a near-doubling if North Korea is considered to have had a nuclear energy program. Once again it seems he is basing his conclusions on the findings he likes and downplaying those he doesn't.

Miller goes on to note that using different codings (country categorizations) "there is little support for the conventional wisdom" and he states that "the evidence that a nuclear energy program is associated with a higher success rate is inconsistent and sensitive at best."

All the logistic regression models in the world don't alter the fact that nuclear power/weapons connections are multifaceted, repeatedly demonstrated, disturbing and dangerous:23

  • Nuclear power programs facilitated the successful pursuit of weapons in four countries (France, India, Pakistan, South Africa) according to Miller (and North Korea could be added to that list) and have provided many other countries with a latent weapons capability.
  • Power programs have provided ongoing support for weapons programs to a greater or lesser degree in seven of the nine current weapons states (the exceptions being Israel and North Korea).
  • The direct use of power reactors to produce plutonium for weapons in all or all-but-one of the declared weapons states (and possibly other countries, e.g. India and Pakistan).
  • The use of power reactors to produce tritium for weapons in the US (and possibly other countries, e.g. India).
  • Power programs (or real or feigned interest in nuclear power) legitimizing enrichment and reprocessing programs that have fed proliferation.
  • Power programs (or real or feigned interest in nuclear power) legitimizing research (reactor) programs which can lead (and have led) to weapons proliferation.
  • And last but not least, the training of experts for nuclear power programs whose expertise can be (and has been) used in weapons programs.

As a counterfactual, how would nuclear weapons proliferation have unfolded if nuclear power had never existed? There would be far less fissile material in existence (several hundred thousand weapons-equivalents). Far fewer nuclear experts. The three pathways to weapons (power, research, or secret programs) would be reduced to two (and the remaining two pathways would be more difficult to pursue). There would be far fewer latent nuclear weapons states. There would be fewer nuclear weapons states. There would be fewer nuclear weapons.

Conversely, let's imagine a significant expansion of nuclear power. Former US Vice President Al Gore said during a 2006 interview: "For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal … then we'd have to put them in so many places we'd run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale. And we'd run short of uranium, unless they went to a breeder cycle or something like it, which would increase the risk of weapons-grade material being available."24

Errors and omissions

Miller's downplaying of the power/weapons connections is weaker still when his errors are corrected. He claims that Australia had no nuclear energy program while it pursued nuclear weapons. In fact, Australia's pursuit of weapons was intimately linked to the pursuit of nuclear power.25 For example, Prime Minister John Gorton pushed for a power reactor in the late 1960s and early '70s and later said: "We were interested in this thing because it could provide electricity to everybody and it could, if you decided later on, it could make an atomic bomb."26

If forced to put Iraq's weapons program into just one category, it would undoubtedly be classified as a secret program rather than one pursued under the cover of nuclear power or research. But therein lies a serious problem with Miller's quantitative analysis: numerous weapons programs defy a simple, singular classification. At various stages Iraq pursued all three pathways to weapons: a research reactor program (disrupted by repeated military strikes on its research reactors to prevent weapons proliferation), real or feigned interest in nuclear power, and a secret weapons program.27

Real or feigned interest in nuclear power provided the rationale to send hundreds of Iraqi scientists overseas for training and many of those scientists were put to work in the weapons program.27 According to Khidhir Hamza, a nuclear scientist involved in Iraq's weapons program: "Acquiring nuclear technology within the IAEA safeguards system was the first step in establishing the infrastructure necessary to develop nuclear weapons. In 1973, we decided to acquire a 40-megawatt research reactor, a fuel manufacturing plant, and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, all under cover of acquiring the expertise needed to eventually build and operate nuclear power plants and produce and recycle nuclear fuel."27 (emphasis added)

Miller says Japan has not actively pursued nuclear weapons ‒ but Japan's reprocessing program suggests it has actively pursued (and achieved) a latent weapons capability. The reprocessing program provides Japan with separated, weapons-usable plutonium, and stockpiles could skyrocket if Rokkasho proceeds to operation. Rokkasho will also produce recycled uranium that could soften the blow in the event of Japan pursuing weapons and having uranium imports disrupted.

Miller says "there is strong reason to believe … that Japan's nuclear energy program has served as an additional brake on a nuclear weapons program" because the power program would likely be severely disrupted by nuclear trade sanctions in the event of Japan pursuing weapons. But he is silent about the implications of the US-India deal: based on that precedent, countries such as Japan and South Korea (i.e. US allies) might reasonably expect that sanctions resulting from the pursuit and acquisition of weapons would be manageable and short-lived.

One of the three 'policy implications' discussed in the conclusion to Miller's article is that "the United States should seek to revive its role as a nuclear supplier, because doing so would provide greater leverage over countries with nuclear energy programs that can be used to enforce nonproliferation". But the US has done nothing to curb Japan's reprocessing program and its stockpiling of separated plutonium. And the US-India deal has legitimized India's weapons program, worsened the South Asian nuclear arms race, legitimized nuclear trade with other non-NPT states (e.g. China's support for Pakistan's nuclear program), and created a precedent that could encourage other countries to pursue weapons.

Miller argues that the US should not insist that nuclear customer countries forego enrichment or reprocessing because that "gold standard" potentially reduces US leverage over other countries' nuclear programs. And why would the US want leverage? To stop countries pursuing enrichment or reprocessing, primarily. At worst, Miller's arguments are as silly and circular as those of Heard and Shellenberger.

More information: Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, 'The myth of the peaceful atom',


1. Nuclear Monitor #850, 7 Sept 2017, 'Nuclear power, weapons and 'national security'',

2. Nuclear Monitor #854, 4 Dec 2017, 'Is Saudi Arabia going nuclear?',

3. Friends of the Earth, 'Ben Heard and the fake environment group 'Bright New World' that accepts secret corporate donations',


5. Ben Heard, 12 Dec 2017, 'Australian Conservation Foundation leverages peace prize against peaceful technology',

6. IAEA, 2005, '2005 Nobel Peace Prize',

7. The relevant articles and transcripts are no longer posted on the IAEA website but are available from

8. Mohamed ElBaradei, 10 Dec 2005, 'Nobel Lecture',

9. David Albright and Kimberly Kramer, 2005, 'Plutonium Watch: Tracking Plutonium Inventories',


11. International Panel on Fissile Materials, 'Fissile material stocks',

12. Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser, 2015, 'Global Fissile Material Report 2015: Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production', International Panel on Fissile Materials,

13. Institute for Science and International Security, 1 Jan 2005, 'Global Stocks of Nuclear Explosive Material – End 2003 (Updated 2005)', Chapters I and II,

14. Michael Shellenberger, 16 Oct 2017, 'Enemies of the Earth: Unmasking the Dirty War Against Clean Energy in South Korea by Friends of the Earth (FOE) and Greenpeace',

15. David Lowry, 26 July 2016, 'What Theresa May forgot: North Korea used British technology to build its nuclear bombs',

16. Nuclear Threat Initiative, 'South Korea',

17. Michael Shellenberger, 30 Oct 2017, 'Saving Power in Danger: Michael Shellenberger Keynote Address to IAEA',

18. Nicholas L. Miller, 2017, 'Why Nuclear Energy Programs Rarely Lead to Proliferation', International Security 42, No. 2, pp.40-77,

19. 'Research Reactors & Nuclear Weapons', 2002, Paper prepared for Medical Association for the Prevention of War',

20. International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, 'Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status',

21. Institute for Science and International Security, 'Nuclear Weapons Programs Worldwide: An Historical Overview', accessed 26 May 2015,

22. Dartmouth College, 6 Nov 2017, 'Nuclear energy programs do not increase likelihood of proliferation, Dartmouth study finds',

23. For references to literature on power/weapons connections, see and

24. David Roberts 10 May 2006, 'An interview with accidental movie star Al Gore',

25. Friends of the Earth Australia, 'The push for nuclear weapons in Australia 1950s-1970s',

26. Pilita Clark, 1 Jan 1999, "PM's Story: Very much alive… and unfazed", Sydney Morning Herald.

27. Khidhir Hamza, Sep/Oct 1998, 'Inside Saddam's Secret Nuclear Program', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 5,

My people are still suffering from Australia's secret nuclear testing

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Sue Coleman-Haseldine

This is an extract of Sue Coleman-Haseldine's speech in Oslo marking the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. Sue is an indigenous Kokatha woman who lives in Ceduna, South Australia, and a member of the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance (

My name is Sue Coleman-Haseldine. I was born into poverty on the margins of Australian society on the Aboriginal mission of Koonibba in 1951. At this time my people were not allowed to vote and we had very few means to be understood, let alone be heard.

I was born into one of the oldest living cultures known on Earth and into a place that I love – a dusty, arid paradise on the edge of a rugged coastline. Our land and waters are central to our outlook and religion and provide the basis for my people's health and happiness.

And I was born just before the desert lands to our north were bombed by the deadliest weapons on Earth in an extensive, secretive and devastating manner by the Australian and British governments.

In the 1950s, areas known as Emu Fields and Maralinga were used to test nine full-scale atomic bombs and for 600 other nuclear tests, leaving the land highly radioactive. We weren't on ground zero, but the dust didn't stay in one place. The winds brought the poison to us and many others.

Aboriginal people, indeed many people at that time, knew nothing about the effects of radiation. We didn't know the invisible killer was falling amongst us. Six decades on, my small town of Ceduna is being called the Cancer Capital of Australia. There are so many deaths in our region of various cancers. My grand-daughter and I have had our thyroids removed, and there are many others in our area with thyroid problems. Fertility issues appear common.

But there has been no long-term assessment of the health impacts in the region and even those involved in the botched clean-ups of the test sites have no recourse because they cannot prove their illness is linked with exposure to nuclear weapons testing.

The impact of the Maralinga and Emu Fields testing has had far-reaching consequences that are still being felt today. Ask a young person from my area, "What do you think you will die from?" The answer is, "Cancer, everyone else is".

I have lived my life learning about the bomb tests and also learning that the voice of my people and others won't always be understood or heard. But I learnt from old people now gone that speaking up is important and by joining with others from many different places and backgrounds that our voices can be amplified.

Through these steps I found the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), or perhaps ICAN found me. ICAN – as an organisation, as a collective of passionate, educated people working for a clear goal – has been so important to me. To know that my story and my voice helps bring recognition to the past and can shape the future of nuclear prohibition has strengthened my resolve.

Being involved in ICAN has been a double-edged sword. On one hand and for the first time in my life, I no longer feel alone or isolated. I have met others from many parts of the globe who have similar stories and experiences and who are passionate advocates for a nuclear-free future.

But the flip side of this is my understanding of just how widespread and just how devastating the nuclear weapons legacy is across the globe. To learn that so many weapons still exist sends fear to my heart. ICAN is a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize – in a short time we have gathered support for a treaty to finally outlaw nuclear weapons and help eliminate the nuclear threat.

The vision was reached in part with so many nations adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July 2017. And we should celebrate this win and the opportunity to work together to stop the suffering and assist countries to make amends to nuclear weapons victims by acknowledging the permanent damage done to land, health and culture.

Unfortunately, the Australian government, along with other first world nations, didn't even participate in the treaty negotiations, and they haven't signed the treaty yet, but over time we feel confident they will.

A lot has changed since I was born. Aboriginal people now have the right to vote in Australia, but still we battle for understanding about our culture and the Australian nuclear weapons legacy. My home is still remote and most of my people still poor. But we are also no longer alone. We have the means and the will to participate – to share and to learn and to bring about lasting change.

ICAN's work is not done, our work is not done. We will continue to work together. A world without nuclear weapons is a world we need and are creating. I stand here in hope and gratitude for the opportunity to participate. I stand here with pride and I stand here for our future and the generations to come.

ICAN's Nobel Peace Prize born in Australia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dr Margaret Beavis ‒ president of the Medical Association for Prevention of War and a board member of ICAN Australia.

Australians can be very proud. The winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), started in Melbourne. It began when the Medical Association for the Prevention of War (MAPW) recognised that nuclear weapons, the very worst of the weapons of mass destruction, were still "legitimate". This contrasted with chemical weapons, biological weapons, cluster munitions, land mines – even dumdum bullets, which all have been made illegal by UN treaty, with impressive results.

The late Dr Bill Williams, a key member of the founding group, wrote: "After the energetically anti-nuke eighties and the end of the Cold War, nuclear holocaust – always unthinkable – became almost unmentionable. A mass self-censorship, a mental no-fly zone, a cone of silence descended. Little wonder: no sane person wants to contaminate their dreams with this ultimate horror. But to finish this journey of survival – to abolition – we need to penetrate the fog of fear and denial, informing ourselves and our neighbours without inducing psychological paralysis."

In 2006 he was part of the founding group of MAPW members, along with Tilman Ruff, Dimity Hawkins, Sue Wareham and others. The highly successful landmines campaign was taken as a model. For MAPW this was a bit like giving birth to a gorilla; ICAN very successfully brought together existing humanitarian organisations, clearly identifying nuclear weapons as a humanitarian issue, not a political one.

ICAN now has 468 partner organisations in 101 countries. It was pivotal to the UN adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on July 7 this year. In 2007, IPPNW (the 1985 Nobel Prize-winning group the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War) adopted ICAN as a core campaign. Locally the Poola Foundation helped ICAN get established, and later a major contribution came from the Norwegian government.

ICAN and its many partners worked tirelessly, educating governments about the urgent need for action. In 2013 and 2014, Norway, Mexico and Vienna hosted intergovernmental conferences, attended by more than 150 countries.

Throughout the campaign graphic stories from the "Hibakusha", the survivors of the bombs in World War 2 and survivors of nuclear weapons testing, brought home the appalling personal costs of these weapons. The Red Cross emphasised the only possible option is prevention, given all doctors, ambulances and hospitals are destroyed in a nuclear blast. Any meaningful response is impossible.

The longer term impacts of a limited nuclear exchange are also devastating. So much atmospheric dust would be created that a "nuclear winter" would follow, reducing crop yields for more than a decade and causing a famine putting two billion lives at risk.

It is horrifying that North Korea now has nuclear weapons. But also horrifying are the existing 15,000 weapons, with 1800 ready to launch. There have been numerous very close calls, where human and technical errors have brought us perilously close to nuclear war.

After nearly 50 years the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has stalled, with the entrenched need for consensus blocking effective action. South Africa likened the situation to apartheid; with the nine nuclear weapons states having a different set of rules for themselves compared to the rest of the world – effectively holding the rest of the world to ransom.

ICAN offered a new way forward, aiming for a UN General Assembly based process. Thus the nuclear possessing states could no longer block the wishes of the majority of nations. This treaty deliberately harmonises with the NPT, both working towards a common goal.

Shamefully, Australia's government has worked to undermine this process. The Australian delegation at the UN working group last year was described in the press as "Weasels", much to their chagrin. A key strategy of the ICAN campaign has been "humour, horror and hope", so typically ICAN provided photogenic sign-carrying "weasels", helpfully greeting Australian politicians as they continued their anti-ban treaty arguments.

On July 7 the TPNW was resoundingly adopted: 122 countries in favour, one against (the Netherlands), and one abstention (Singapore). Finally nuclear weapons will be clearly on the same footing as biological and chemical weapons.

This will not be a fast process. It will take a couple of decades to steadily and verifiably reduce stockpiles. But the TPNW has been recognised by the Nobel Prize Committee as critical in making the world a much safer place.

Australia's government is refusing to sign the treaty, but both the Australian Labor Party and the Greens support a nuclear weapons ban. Australians strongly support it too. Both Labor and Liberal voters are more than 70 per cent in favour in a poll taken last month. Given the appalling and indiscriminate impacts of these weapons, denial is not acceptable. Australia needs to show leadership and sign this treaty.

Does the US need a strong nuclear industry to prevent proliferation abroad?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

The argument that a strong civil nuclear industry is needed to maintain the US weapons program is exaggerated and problematic, as is another argument being put forward to bolster the case for expanded government support for the nuclear industry. This is the argument that the US must be heavily involved in the global nuclear industry to prevent weapons proliferation and to shore up other geopolitical interests.

Historically, the US has variously supported other countries' weapons programs, or turned a blind eye to them, or attempted to prevent those programs with varying success. The US 'Atoms for Peace' program spread dual-use facilities and materials (such as 25 tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU)1) across the globe and there are unfinished efforts to undo that damage by transfering fissile material to the US, converting HEU-fuelled reactors to low-enriched uranium fuel, etc.

The administration of George W. Bush invested considerable resources and political capital into opening up civil nuclear trade with India. In so doing it took a sledgehammer to the global non-proliferation architecture, in particular the prohibition on nuclear trade with non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). To add insult to injury, the efforts of US firms to build reactors in India have come to nothing ‒ Russia is the only foreign country building reactors in India.

In recent years, the US has done all it can to undermine the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by the UN in early July 2017, and the US boycotted the negotiations. Just in the past week, reports have surfaced that the US warned Sweden that if it signs the UN treaty, bilateral defence cooperation will be hampered and it would jeopardize the possibility of military support from the US in a crisis situation.2

Michael E. Webber, an academic who receives funding from the US government and the power industry, argues that the "loss of expertise from a declining domestic nuclear workforce makes it hard for Americans to conduct the inspections that help keep the world safe from nuclear weapons."3 Webber notes that around 2,500 people, including 200 US citizens, work at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)4 ‒ but he fails to note that only 385 of the IAEA's staff members are safeguards inspectors, and that inspectors come from around 80 countries.5 His argument might carry a little more weight in relation to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a US agency concerned with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

Geopolitical interests

Mark Hibbs from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has written an article6 which has been enthusiastically endorsed by the World Nuclear Association7, the Nuclear Energy Institute8 and other nuclear advocates.9

Hibbs argues that US nuclear firms are at a competitive disadvantage compared to Russian and Chinese state-owned enterprises. That argument dovetails neatly with industry calls for direct state funding to build nuclear power plants since private firms can't or won't cover the capital costs. Commenting on Hibbs' article, Ted Jones from the Nuclear Energy Institute said: "The US nuclear industry has been competing not just against foreign companies but also against their governments ‒ which seek the unique strategic benefits of a nuclear energy supplier. For our nation, much more is at stake than billions in US nuclear exports and tens of thousands of American jobs."7

Hibbs says nothing about the interlinkages between civil and military nuclear programs in the US or the possibility that the weapons program will be adversely affected by a sustained downturn in nuclear power. He argues that US capacity to constrain weapons proliferation will be adversely impacted by the domestic downturn of nuclear power and by the waning prospects for US nuclear exports (greatly diminished by Westinghouse's bankruptcy filing).

Hibbs also argues that historically the US nuclear export program has facilitated "strategic trade penetration". He states that the Atoms for Peace program "was designed to expand U.S. influence during the Cold War, and it succeeded" ‒ but he fails to note that the Atoms for Peace program also spread dual-use nuclear facilities and materials across the globe.

Hibbs makes the exaggerated claim that the nuclear export programs of Russia and China give them "access to strategic decisionmaking" in dozens of countries "concerning technology, energy, and foreign policy for decades to come".

Hibbs states that the US and other established nuclear-technology-owning countries "made the rules for nuclear exporting, nonproliferation, nuclear security, and business transparency" and problems loom if that leadership is ceded to Russia and China. He cites allegations of Russian cyberattacks against nuclear power targets and alleged Chinese economic espionage against Westinghouse.

Hibbs questions whether Russia and China have strictly adhered to the Nuclear Suppliers Group's guidelines concerning their exports to India and Pakistan, respectively. But he doesn't mention that the US took an axe to the global non-proliferation architecture with the US‒India deal. And he doesn't mention that the US is now trying to undermine the Nuclear Suppliers Group by pressuring it to include India despite India's expansive program to expand its nuclear weapons and missile arsenal and its dodgy record in relation to nuclear exports.10

Hibbs notes that China's support for international efforts to rein in North Korea's "dangerous" nuclear weapons program has been limited and conditional upon other Chinese strategic interests. But the same could be said of US approaches to other countries' nuclear weapons programs (those of India and Israel, for example). And are we to believe that the only "dangerous" nuclear weapons program is North Korea's?

Although Hibbs' article says everything the US nuclear industry wants to hear ‒ and nothing it doesn't want to hear ‒ he is short on suggestions. Other than proposing "better use of the U.S. Export-Import Bank", all he proposes is a "structured conversation" between government and industry about steps that could be taken to enhance US nuclear exports and encourage a "level international playing field" for exporting nuclear technology.

Hibbs' article is dangerous, irresponsible propaganda and it undermines the credibility of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


1. Jessica Varnum, 23 Jan 2014, '60 Years of Atoms for Peace',

2. The Local (Sweden), 30 Aug 2017, 'US Defence Secretary Mattis warned Sweden not to sign anti-nuclear weapons treaty: report',

3. Michael E. Webber, 11 Aug 2017, 'Why the withering nuclear power industry threatens US national security',


5. IAEA, 27 July 2016, 'A Day in the Life of a Safeguards Inspector',

6. Mark Hibbs, 10 Aug 2017, 'Does the U.S. Nuclear Industry Have a Future?',

7. World Nuclear News, 15 Aug 2017, 'Call for government to revitalise US nuclear industry',

8. Nuclear Energy Institute, 10 Aug 2017, 'Russia, China Threaten US Leadership in Commercial Nuclear Trade',,-China-Threaten-US...

9. Dan Yurman, 12 Aug 2017, 'Does the U.S. Nuclear Industry Have a Future?',

10. See pp.9-10 in EnergyScience Coalition Briefing Paper No. 18 (revised), Oct 2010, 'Uranium, India and the Fracturing Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime',

Nuclear power, weapons and 'national security'

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

The nuclear industry promotes a complex, interlinked set of lies and half-truths to obscure its connections to weapons proliferation. We untangled that industry propaganda in Nuclear Monitor #840.1

Discussion about the military potential of 'peaceful' nuclear technologies and programs focuses on the efforts of non-weapons states to acquire weapons. For advanced weapons states, such as the US, we noted in Nuclear Monitor #840 that "incremental growth of nuclear power in the US ... is of no proliferation significance."1

The same could be said in reverse: incremental decline of nuclear power in the US (or comparable weapons states) is of no proliferation significance. But what about a precipitous decline of nuclear power ‒ might that have adverse consequences for the US nuclear weapons program? The answer is 'yes' according to a growing number of nuclear advocates ‒ and that is being put forward as an argument for expanded government support for the troubled US nuclear power industry.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, for example, has been trying to convince politicians in Washington that if the AP1000 reactor construction projects in South Carolina and Georgia aren't completed, it would stunt development of the nation's nuclear weapons complex because the engineering expertise on the energy side helps the weapons side.2

A different argument ‒ that a strong civil nuclear industry provides the experts and expertise to drive international non-proliferation efforts and other geopolitical interests ‒ is common enough (see the following article in this issue of Nuclear Monitor). The 'Environmental Progress' group, for example, issues ominous warnings of "global nuclear domination by Russia" and argues the case for massive, multifaceted taxpayer subsidies for the nuclear industry and for a taxpayer-funded bailout of bankrupt Westinghouse.3

A new report by the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) makes the same argument and arrives at the same conclusions, arguing for massive additional subsidies for the civil nuclear industry in the US including credit support, tax incentives and federal siting and/or purchase power agreements.4 The EFI report also advocates establishing a broad-based consortium of nuclear supply chain companies, power-generating companies, financing institutions and "other appropriate entities" to share the risk and benefits of further new-build projects both in the US and internationally.

But there are a couple of major differences between Environmental Progress and the EFI. Environmental Progress is a fake environment group led by paid pro-nuclear lobbyists, whereas the EFI carries far greater weight ‒ it is a creation of Ernest Moniz, who served as energy secretary under president Barack Obama.

And while the EFI paper runs the argument that effective international engagement on nuclear issues depends on a strong domestic nuclear industry, it also argues that a strong domestic industry is necessary to directly support the US nuclear weapons program. The report states that the US nuclear energy sector "helps the U.S military meet specific defense priorities, supports the implementation of U.S. nonproliferation policy, and is essential to the global projection of U.S. military capability. The flip side is that an eroding nuclear enterprise will compromise important nuclear security capabilities or make them more costly."4

There are profound contradictions between Moniz's role at the EFI and his role as co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. The contradictions between the positions of the two organizations would fill a book. To give just a couple of examples, the Nuclear Threat Initiative argues the case for the elimination of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) in the civil nuclear sector5; but the EFI is having none of that ‒ it wants a civil enrichment industry to underpin military production of HEU. The Nuclear Threat Initiative warns that the US and Russia keep nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons on high alert, leaving both countries vulnerable to nuclear launch by accident, miscalculation or cyber-attack6; whereas the EFI report states that the existence of the Russian nuclear weapons arsenal underscores the importance of US nuclear weapons to "global strategic stability and deterrence".

The Navy's nuclear needs

On the US Navy's alleged need for a civil nuclear industry, the EFI report states:4

"The Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is comprised of military and civilian personnel who design, build, operate, maintain and manage the nearly one hundred reactors that power US aircraft carriers and submarines and provide training and research services.

"The program is operated jointly by the Department of Energy and the US Navy. Nuclear reactors provide the Navy with the mobility, flexibility and endurance required to carry out its global mission. More powerful reactors are beginning to be employed on the new Ford class aircraft carriers and will enable the new Columbia class of submarines in the next decades.

"A strong domestic supply chain is needed to provide for nuclear Navy requirements.

"This supply chain has an inherent and very strong overlap with the commercial nuclear energy sector.

"This supply chain for meeting the critical national security need for design and operation of Navy reactors includes a workforce trained in science and engineering, comprised of US citizens who qualify for security clearances.

"The Navy will (also) eventually need additional highly enriched uranium (HEU) to fuel its reactors for long intervals between refueling. Because of the national security use and the sensitivity of HEU production, the entire supply chain from uranium feed to the enrichment technology must be of United States origin.

"There is currently no such domestic capability in the supply chain. The relatively lengthy time period required to stand up such a capability raises serious, near-term concerns about the US capacity to meet this critical national security need."

The EFI report also states that the companies that supply the shrinking civil nuclear reactor program are the same firms providing components and enriched uranium to keep the Navy's nuclear-propelled vessels operating. And the report raises concerns about the workforce: "A shrinking commercial enterprise will have long term spillover effects on the Navy supply chain, including by lessened enthusiasm among American citizens to pursue nuclear technology careers."

Broader connections

The EFI report also discusses civil/military connections beyond the Navy's requirements. For example it states:4

"The nuclear weapons stockpile requires a constant source of tritium (half life about 12.5 years), provided by irradiating special fuel rods in one or two commercial power reactors. As with the Navy HEU requirements, the tritium must be supplied from US-origin reactors using domestically produced LEU reactor fuel.

"Once again, we do not have the long-term capability to meet this need because of the absence of an enrichment facility using US-origin technology. This is a glaring hole in the domestic nuclear supply chain, since the only enrichment facility in the United States today uses Urenco (European) technology to supply power reactor fuel."

The report also broadens the workforce argument beyond the Navy, stating that the number people pursuing higher education in nuclear sciences is becoming too small to sustain the nuclear industry and that a nuclear career path will be still less attractive if only military careers were available.

The EFI report concludes that "a stabilized existing reactor fleet and new builds" will be needed to rebuild a supply chain that will underpin national security "success".

Do the arguments withstand scrutiny?

A growing number of nuclear advocates are arguing that a strong civil nuclear industry is required to support the US weapons program ‒ but do their arguments stack up? The short answer is that a strong civil industry helps the weapons program but it isn't essential.

If tritium isn't produced in one particular power reactor, it can be produced in another power reactor, or a research reactor, or a small military reactor could be built or restarted to produce tritium for weapons. As for low-enriched uranium to fuel reactors used to produce tritium, the European consortium Urenco has reportedly approved the use of its enriched uranium to fuel reactors in the US used to produce tritium.7

If HEU isn't produced in a dual-use domestic enrichment plant, a dedicated military enrichment plant will do the job (and could be built with or without the support of a civil enrichment industry), or HEU can be sourced elsewhere (e.g. from dismantled weapons).

It helps the weapons program to have a pool of trained personnel in the civil sector to draw from ‒ but it isn't essential.

Of course, this discussion assumes that maintaining the US nuclear weapons program is a good thing ‒ which is a strongly contested assumption. If the aim is to comply with the nation's obligation under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to seriously pursue disarmament, the decline of the civil nuclear industry would dovetail neatly with the NPT obligation to pursue disarmament.

And of course, this refreshing honesty about the connections between the peaceful nuclear industry and Weapons of Mass Destruction might backfire. Opponents of nuclear power in the US (and comparable countries) might redouble their efforts, secure in the knowledge that anti-nuclear power campaigning also serves to undermine the WMD program to a greater or lesser extent.


Perhaps some of those arguing that a strong civil nuclear industry is needed to maintain the US weapons program don't really believe the argument stacks up, or they don't care one way or another ‒ for them the test is whether the argument might be accepted by people with power and influence within the Trump administration.

Trump is certainly an advocate of expanding the nuclear weapons program. But his comments linking civil and military nuclear programs have been so convoluted that it would take an oracle (or a Fox or a Breitbart) to decipher them. He famously said in February 2017: "You know what uranium is, right? It's a thing called nuclear weapons and other things. Like lots of things are done with uranium, including some bad things."8 And in the same month he said: "I am the first one that would like to see everybody nobody have nukes, but we're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack."9

At the Future of Energy summit in April 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry joined the dots more clearly: "As we have not built nuclear plants over a 30-year time, the intellectual capability, the manufacturing capability, I will not say has been completely lost, but has been impacted in a major way. In doing so, the development of our weapons side has been impacted."10

Perry continued: "There is a conversation, there is a discussion ‒ some of it obviously very classified ‒ that will be occurring as we going forward to make sure that we have the decisions, made by Congress in a lot of these cases, to protect the security interests of America ..."10

The Trump administration is probably sympathetic to the argument that the civil nuclear industry needs extra support in order to prop up the weapons programs. The administration might, in time, give the industry what it wants ‒ but it has done little to date. A request for a non-repayable handout of US$1‒3 billion to help keep the VC Summer reactor project in South Carolina alive was rejected and the project was abandoned shortly thereafter.11 The administration has proposed cutting nuclear power R&D funding and killing off the loan guarantee program (which would jeopardize the only nuclear new-build program in the US ‒ the Vogtle project in Georgia).12 In June, the administration barred 27 Department of Energy scientists from attending an IAEA conference in Russia on fast neutron reactors.13 One scientist offered to pay his own way and was still barred from attending.

The Trump administration might be more receptive to libertarian conservatives such as those arguing that favoring nuclear power with heavy subsidies "increases costs to electricity users, and discourages the development of new energy technologies" and that nuclear subsidies "reward poor management and bad judgment and would cost homeowners and businesses billions."14

Matt Kempner, a journalist with Atlanta Journal-Constitution, wrote on August 28:15

"There's a mad scramble underway to come up with new reasons for why Georgians should continue to pay billions of dollars to expand nuclear power in the state. National security! Push back against Russia and China! ... Seriously? ... It seemed like only yesterday when Georgia Power convinced politicians on the Georgia Public Service Commission that a primary reason for expanding Plant Vogtle was because it was the cheapest way to cool our homes, charge our iPhones and keep industry chugging. Proponents can no longer say that without twitching. ...

"You might wonder why Georgia ratepayers should pay the bulk of supposedly preserving national security rather than having the federal government do so. Well, there hasn't been a Washington groundswell to write a blank check that takes most of the nuclear burden off our backs. Maybe they aren't fully convinced by the "national security" argument. ...

"Bobby Baker, a former PSC commissioner, says he doesn't remember the national security argument or fear of Russian or Chinese dominance being raised as issues when PSC commissioners were asked to approve the Vogtle expansion back in the day, when U.S. utilities were already decades into a deep freeze on nuclear construction. Baker called it a "creative" argument."

Kempner also questions Georgia Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols' claim that the lack of a commercial nuclear industry to provide employment and training would have an adverse impact on the Navy:15

"Actually, a lot of the time it's the other way around: Utilities often hire Navy-trained nuclear personnel. I asked the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program about how crucial the commercial nuclear industry is for the Navy. "The direct relationship between civilian and naval nuclear reactors is small," public affairs director Lee Smith emailed me. But some components are supplied by the same companies, "providing some economy of scale for the manufacturer and reduced costs for the Navy.""

UK debates

The UK's nuclear power industry is closer to extinction than the US industry. The US has 99 operable power reactors, a large majority of them 30+ years old. The UK has 15 power reactors, most of them 30+ years old.

The power/weapons arguments are also starting to surface in the UK. Paul Brown wrote in Climate News Network on August 23:16

"Britain decided in 2002 after an objective inquiry17 by the government's Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) that nuclear was becoming too expensive and renewables were a better alternative for generating electricity.

"However, quite unexpectedly, in 2005, after a secretive review under the premiership of Tony Blair, the policy was reversed and the UK government announced a revival of the nuclear industry.18

"Corresponding with this unprecedented U-turn on civil nuclear power was an equally unprecedented intensification in efforts to preserve nuclear skills for the military sector. Many millions of pounds have been given in government grants since that time to set up nuclear training programmes.

"The Oxford Research Group (ORG), a UK think tank, published a two-part report, entitled Sustainable Security.19,20 Both parts examined the prospects of the UK's Trident nuclear programme influencing its energy policy. 

"The ORG concluded that the government realised it could not sustain its own nuclear weapons programme, or more particularly its nuclear-propelled submarine fleet, without a large and complementary civilian nuclear industry.

"Commenting on the release of the American report on the military crisis being caused by the lack of civilian power projects, Andrew Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at the School of Business, University of Sussex, UK, said: 'With renewable costs tumbling and the international nuclear industry in growing crisis, it is becoming ever more difficult to carry on concealing this key underlying military reason for attachment to civil nuclear power.'

"In the last year the UK government has been trying to generate interest in an alternative civilian nuclear programme. It has encouraged a competition to develop small modular reactors.21

"These reactors are supposed to be dotted around the countryside to power small towns. There are a number of designs, but some are remarkably similar to the power generators for nuclear submarines, particularly those that will be needed for the UK's so-called independent nuclear deterrent – the Trident programme.

"It is no coincidence that the frontline developer of both these kinds of reactors is Rolls-Royce, which has a workforce that seamlessly crosses over between military and civilian developments."


1. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, 'The myth of the peaceful atom',

2. Amy Harder, 16 June 2017, 'Nuclear scramble on tax credits',

3. Nick Gallucci and Michael Shellenberger, 3 Aug 2017, 'Are we really going to allow global nuclear domination by Russia?',

4. Energy Futures Initiative, 2017, 'The U.S. Nuclear Energy Enterprise: A Key National Security Enabler',



7. Nuclear Monitor #846, 29 June 2017, 'Urenco enrichment consortium to help US nuclear weapons program',

8. Tom DiChristopher, 16 Feb 2017, 'Donald Trump claims — falsely — that Hillary Clinton gave Russia 20% of US uranium',

9. Steve Holland, 24 Feb 2017, 'Trump wants to make sure U.S. nuclear arsenal at 'top of the pack'',

10. Christian Roselund, 25 April 2017, 'Full speed in reverse: Rick Perry presents his vision for DOE',

11. Amy Harder, 4 Aug 2017, 'Utility made failed plea for billion-dollar nuclear grant',

12. Ari Natter, 15 Aug 2017, 'Nuclear Power's Woes Imperil U.S. National Security, Moniz Says',

13. Elliott Negin, 1 Aug 2017, 'Energy Department Scientists Barred From Attending Nuclear Power Conference',

14. Joe Romm, 25 May 2017, 'Nuclear industry prices itself out of power market, demands taxpayers keep it afloat',

15. Matt Kempner, 28 Aug 2017, 'Kempner: Georgia nuke backers scramble for reasons to keep going', The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,

16. Paul Brown, 23 Aug 2017, 'US nuclear might rests on civil reactors', Climate News Network,






Nuclear News - Nuclear Monitor #838 - 21 February 2017

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Banning nuclear weapons in 2017

In one of its final acts of 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution to begin negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This historic decision heralds an end to two decades of paralysis in multilateral nuclear disarmament efforts. The new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will strengthen the global norms against using and possessing these weapons. It will spur long-overdue progress towards disarmament.

Eliminating the nuclear threat has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. But international efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the build-up and modernisation of their nuclear arsenals. More than 20 years have passed since multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations took place.

Experience shows that the prohibition of a particular type of weapons provides a solid legal and political foundation for advancing its elimination. Weapons that are outlawed are increasingly seen as illegitimate, losing their political status, and, along with it, the resources for their production, modernisation and retention.

The treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons will complement existing bans on other indiscriminate and inhumane weapons, and reinforce existing legal instruments on nuclear weapons, such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, regional nuclear-weapon-free zones, and the treaty banning nuclear test explosions. It will strengthen the global taboo against the use and possession of nuclear weapons.

Negotiations on the treaty will begin on March 27 for one week, continuing for another three weeks in June-July. This breakthrough in nuclear disarmament negotiations has come about in the wake of three conferences on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. A growing global movement of nations are ready to declare nuclear weapons illegal for all. The negotiations are open to all, and blockable by none.

Contact your Foreign Minister and urge your Government to participate constructively in the upcoming negotiations. It’s time to make nuclear weapons illegal.

‒ Gem Romuld

Forest occupation, protests and attacks on the CIGEO nuclear research laboratory in Bure, northeast France

Autonomous Bure Media Collective:

Saturday 18 February ‒ Anti-nuclear protest actions took place today in Bure, northeast France. First a demo in the forest to support its occupation and then at the planned CIGEO nuclear research laboratory. Part of the wall illegally erected in the forest by ANDRA, the French national radioactive waste management agency, was more or less symbolically broken down.

More than 700 people took part in the February 2017 action says in Bure, peaking in the late afternoon today with fierce clashes and massive attacks. For more than a year resistance by the anti-nuclear movement has obstructed CIGEO's dump project. Despite forced evictions, wall construction and juridical attacks and counter-attacks, the occupation is holding and protest against the project is growing, including beyond the region. In recent days there have been manifestations of solidarity in other towns – hundreds of people came to today's action.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays there have been night actions and attacks on the laboratory and its greenwashing department, causing considerable damage to the barriers, which were partly replaced by razor wire. This afternoon a large force of cops prevented an advance right to the buildings. But during a battle lasting several hours, large parts of the remaining fence, reinforcement materials, dead trees and much more were expertly assembled into barricades. Whereas the cops almost incessantly hurled tear-gas and dispersion grenades, for more than two hours many determined protesters attacked the lackeys of nuclear capital. Several people were injured on both sides and there were at least three arrests.

In the coming week and during this spring several decisive court cases are slated. Support the forest squat, dare to come to Bure! Prevent the atomic loo in Bure, break atom firms everywhere!

South Korea: Wolsong NPP lifespan extension cancelled

On February 7, the Seoul Administrative Court cancelled the decision of the Nuclear Safety and Security Commission (NSSC) to extend the lifespan of Wolsong-1, the second oldest reactor in Korea. Wolsong-1 was supposed to be shut down in 2012 when it reached its design life of 30 years. However, NSSC approved a lifespan extension in Feb. 2015 so that it could operate to 2022.

2166 people, including civil society and local people living close to nuclear power plants, filed a petition to have the lifespan extension invalidated. After 12 trials in total, on-the-spot investigation, and witness examination, it has been confirmed that the lifespan extension permit for Wolsong-1 is improper and should be cancelled. The NSSC shortly after announced its plan to appeal the ruling and will keep operating Wolsong-1 during the appeals process.

The delegates of plaintiffs presented diverse evidence that the NSSC didn't submit a comparison chart showing the facilities and parts before and after the change, did not apply the latest technology standard in the safety assessment, and made a decision which involved two members disqualified from the commission.

The Korea Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) demands the suspension of operation of Wolsong-1 and for the resignation of the chair of the NSSC. KFEM executive director Yang Yi Won-young said the Court ruling "clearly shows that the NSSC has arbitrarily applied related law without any consideration for public safety while giving out too many permits to expand lifespan of old nuclear power plants and build new ones with the nuclear industry, that is Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power."

‒ Hye Lyn Kim

EDF and decentralised energy

Les Echos, the French business newspaper, carried an extraordinary article from a Senior Vice President of EDF, the largely state-owned French utility that will build the nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point in England. Mark Boillot contends that 'large nuclear or thermal power plants designed to function as baseload are challenged by the more flexible decentralized model'. He says that the centralised model of power production is dying, to be replaced by local solar and wind, supplemented by batteries and intelligent management of supply and demand. Not only will this be cheaper in the long run but customers are actually prepared to pay more for solar electricity and actively work to reduce usage at times of shortage. His conclusion is that 'the traditional model must adapt to the new realities, thus allowing the utilities to emerge from ... hypercentralized structures in a world that is becoming more and more decentralized'. In most jurisdictions Mr Boillot would have been asked to clear his desk. What will EDF do about one of its most senior people openly forecasting the end of the large power station as it tries to raise the ten billion euros necessary to pay for its share of Hinkley?

‒ Carbon Commentary Newsletter, 19 Feb 2017,

‒ Les Echos article:

The myth of the peaceful atom

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green - Nuclear Monitor editor

The greatest risks associated with the nuclear fuel cycle are weapons proliferation and related risks such as military strikes on nuclear plants. The nuclear industry and its supporters have developed an elaborate set of tactics and myths to trivialize the proliferation risks.

1. Ignore the proliferation problem.

Often, nuclear proponents simply ignore the proliferation problem. For example, academics Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw, writing in the Conservation Biology journal last year, rank power sources according to seven criteria: greenhouse emissions, cost, dispatchability, land use, safety, solid waste, and radiotoxic waste.[1] Nuclear weapons proliferation is excluded from the analysis.

2. Define the problem out of existence.

Academic Andrew O'Neil states: "There is simply no historical evidence to support the proposition that civilian nuclear reactor programs fuel weapons proliferation. ... All nuclear weapons states acquired their arsenals through purpose-built military facilities, not as a by-product of civilian reactors."[2]

Numerous examples illustrating the fallacy of O'Neil's claims are listed below. Suffice it here to note one example:

  • India's first nuclear weapon test used plutonium produced in the CIRUS research reactor;
  • the plutonium produced in CIRUS was ostensibly separated for India's fast breeder nuclear power program[3]; and
  • India refuses to place numerous reactors under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards and there can be only one explanation: India uses (or plans to use) those reactors to produce materials for nuclear weapons.

O'Neil reduces the debate to a reductio ad absurdum: all facilities and materials used in military programs are, by definition, military facilities and materials; and anyone suggesting otherwise is, by definition, indulging in anti-nuclear scuttlebutt. Q.E.D.

3. Trivialize the proliferation problem.

According to Ian Hore-Lacy from the World Nuclear Association: "Happily, proliferation is only a fraction of what had been feared when the NPT was set up ..."[4] The 'nuclearradiophobia' blog states that "37 countries that have the infrastructure and capability to build nuclear weapons if they wanted" but "only nine of these countries have nuclear weapons".[5] There are a "mere nine nuclear weapons states" according to Andrew O'Neil.[6]

However proliferation is a huge problem. The 16,000 (or so) weapons held by weapons states have the potential to kill billions of people. Moreover, even a limited exchange of some dozens of weapons could cause catastrophic climate change.[7] Academic Alan Robock wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: "As recent work ... has shown, we now understand that the atmospheric effects of a nuclear war would last for at least a decade − more than proving the nuclear winter theory of the 1980s correct. By our calculations, a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan using less than 0.3% of the current global arsenal would produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history and global ozone depletion equal in size to the current hole in the ozone, only spread out globally."[8]

The 'modernization' programs of the nuclear weapons states pose major risks (and opportunity costs) and weaken the disarmament/non-proliferation regime.[9]

The number of nuclear weapons-armed states has increased from five to nine since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was established. The eroding disarmament/non-proliferation regime coupled with (slowly) expanding nuclear capacity (from civil nuclear programs) creates the potential for significant horizontal proliferation. The UN Secretary-General's High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change noted in 2004: "We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation."[10]

Nuclear advocate Geoff Russell states that we have been 100% successful at preventing further use of nuclear weapons since World War II and that a "rational person would conclude that preventing nuclear wars and nuclear weapons proliferation is actually pretty easy, otherwise we wouldn't have been so good at it." He further notes that "ladders are more dangerous than nuclear electricity plants, and cars are more dangerous than ladders."[11]

So perhaps ladders and cars should be classified as Weapons of Mass Destruction? Nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive potential − even more destructive than ladders. As former US Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara said: "In conventional war, mistakes cost lives, sometimes thousands of lives. However, if mistakes were to affect decisions relating to the use of nuclear forces, there would be no learning curve. They would result in the destruction of nations."[12]

Russell states: "The proliferation argument isn't actually an argument at all. It's just a trigger word, brilliantly branded to evoke fear and trump rational discussion." One of the rabidly anti-nuclear organisations evoking fear and trumping rational discussion is the US State Department, which noted in a 2008 report that the "rise in nuclear power worldwide … inevitably increases the risks of proliferation".[13] And the anti-nuclear ideologues at the US National Intelligence Council argued in a 2008 report that the "spread of nuclear technologies and expertise is generating concerns about the potential emergence of new nuclear weapon states and the acquisition of nuclear materials by terrorist groups."[14]

An honorary mention for trivializing nuclear weapons goes to French diplomat Jacques Le Blanc, who said, when justifying weapons tests in the Pacific in 1995: "I do not like this word bomb. It is not a bomb; it is a device which is exploding."[15]

And an honorary mention goes to the Indian government, which insisted that its 1974 'Smiling Buddha' bomb test was a 'peaceful nuclear explosive'.

4. Pay lip service to proliferation problems.

Often nuclear proponents pay lip service to the problems of proliferation and the contribution of civil programs to proliferation risks.

For example, US President Obama cautioned at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul: "We simply can't go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we're trying to keep away from terrorists."[16]

So what's being done about the problem of growing stockpiles of separated plutonium? Nothing. All that would need to be done to address the problem of growing stockpiles of separated/unirradiated plutonium would be to slow or suspend reprocessing until the stockpile is drawn down.

The US could (but doesn't) take concrete steps to curb the separation and stockpiling of plutonium − it has the authority to disallow separation and stockpiling of US-obligated plutonium, i.e. plutonium produced from nuclear materials originally mined or processed in the US.

5. Warped priorities.

The April 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington issued a communiqué expressing the resolve of the 47 participating nations to strengthen nuclear security and thus reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism. But there's a caveat in the communiqué. It calls on nations to "support the implementation of strong nuclear security practices that will not infringe upon the rights of States to develop and utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes ..."[17]

The Nuclear Security Summit got it the wrong way around: surely preventing nuclear terrorism comes first and peaceful nuclear development is a subordinate right − assuming it's a right at all.

The NPT has a similar caveat: "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination ..."[18]

Current priorities need to be reversed. Victor Gilinsky, a former member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, states: "Security should come first − not as an afterthought. We should support as much nuclear power as is consistent with international security; not as much security as the spread of nuclear power will allow."[19]

6. Fissile material is scarce?

Academic nincompoops Haydon Manning and Andrew O'Neil state that "the core ingredients of weapons-grade fissile material (i.e. highly enriched uranium and plutonium) are scarce internationally ..."[20]

A May 2015 report written by Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser for the International Panel on Fissile Materials provides details on stockpiles of fissile materials as of the end of 2013:

  • Highly enriched uranium (HEU): 1,345 tons (936 tons military; 290 tons naval; 57 tons 'excess'; 61 tons civilian) − enough for 89,700 weapons (assuming 15 kg HEU/weapon).
  • Plutonium: 498 tons (142 tons military; 89 tons 'excess'; 267 tons civilian) − enough for 129,700 weapons (assuming 3 kg of weapon grade plutonium or 5 kg of reactor grade plutonium per weapon).[21]

Mian and Glaser state that the global stockpile of fissile material contains more than 200,000 weapon-equivalents (219,400 using the above figures). The civilian stockpiles contain 57,070 weapons-equivalents: 61 tons of highly enriched uranium (4,070 weapons), and 267 tons of (separated) plutonium (53,000 weapons).

The figures are greater if plutonium in spent fuel is included. A 2005 report by the Institute for Science and International Security found that nuclear stockpiles contained over 300,000 weapon-equivalents:

  • 1,830 tonnes of plutonium in 35 countries at the end of 2003, enough to make 225,000 nuclear bombs (assuming 8 kg/weapon), with civil plutonium stockpiles increasing by 70 tonnes per year. The figure for power and research reactor programs was 1,570 tonnes or 196,250 weapon-equivalents.
  • 1,900 tonnes highly enriched uranium in more than 50 countries, enough for over 75,000 weapons (assuming 25 kg/weapon).
  • more than 140 tonnes of neptunium-237 and americium in 32 countries, enough for 5,000 weapons.[22]

7. Nuclear power is not a proliferation problem?

Academic 'Research Fellow' Martin Boland states: "Historically, if a country wants to produce a nuclear bomb, they build reactors especially for the job of making plutonium, and ignore civilian power stations."[23]

John Carlson, former head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-proliferation Office, states: "I have pointed out on numerous occasions that nuclear power as such is not a proliferation problem – rather the problem is with the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies ..."[24]

Such arguments are false and disingenuous, for several reasons.

Firstly, power reactors have been used directly in weapons programs:

  • India refuses to place numerous power reactors under safeguards[25] and presumably uses (or plans to use) them for weapons production.
  • The US has long used a power reactor to produce tritium for use in nuclear weapons.[26] And proponents of a 'Safe Modular Underground Reactor' proposed for South Carolina were kindly offering the reactor to produce tritium for weapons.[27]
  • The 1962 test of sub-weapon-grade plutonium by the US may have used plutonium from a power reactor.
  • The US operated at least one dual-use reactor (the Hanford 'N' reactor) to generate power and to produce plutonium for weapons.[28]
  • Russia operated dual-use reactors to generate power and to produce plutonium for weapons.[29]
  • Magnox reactors in the UK were used to generate power and to produce plutonium for weapons.[30]
  • In France, the military and civilian uses of nuclear energy are "intimately linked".[31] France used the Phénix fast neutron power reactor to produce plutonium for weapons[32] and possibly other power reactors for the same purpose.
  • North Korea has tested weapons using plutonium produced in its 'Experimental Power Reactor'.
  • Pakistan may be using power reactor/s in support of its nuclear weapons program.

Secondly, separating enrichment and reprocessing on the one hand, and reactors on the other, misses the point that the purpose of enrichment is to produce fuel for reactors, and reactors are the only source of materials for reprocessing plants. Nuclear power programs provide cover and legitimacy for the acquisition of enrichment and reprocessing technology.

Similarly, one of the main justifications for the development of research and training reactors is, as the name suggests, research and training towards the development of nuclear power. Research reactors have been the plutonium source for weapons in India and Israel. Small amounts of plutonium have been produced in research reactors then separated from irradiated materials in a number of countries suspected of or known to be interested in the development of a nuclear weapons capability − including Iraq, Iran, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, Yugoslavia, and possibly Romania.[33] There is little pretence that Pakistan's unsafeguarded Khushab reactors are anything other than military reactors, but the 50 MWt Khushab reactor has been described as a 'multipurpose' reactor.[34]

Nuclear power programs can facilitate weapons programs even if power reactors are not actually built. Iraq provides a clear illustration of this point. While Iraq's nuclear research program provided much cover for the weapons program from the 1970s until 1991, stated interest in developing nuclear power was also significant. Iraq pursued a 'shop till you drop' program of acquiring dual-use technology, with much of the shopping done openly and justified by nuclear power ambitions.[35]

According to Khidhir Hamza, a senior nuclear scientist involved in Iraq's weapons program: "Acquiring nuclear technology within the IAEA safeguards system was the first step in establishing the infrastructure necessary to develop nuclear weapons. In 1973, we decided to acquire a 40-megawatt research reactor, a fuel manufacturing plant, and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, all under cover of acquiring the expertise needed to eventually build and operate nuclear power plants and produce and recycle nuclear fuel. Our hidden agenda was to clandestinely develop the expertise and infrastructure needed to produce weapon-grade plutonium."[36]

In addition to material contributions for weapons programs, civil nuclear programs can provide the necessary expertise. Ian Jackson discusses the overlap: "The physics of nuclear weapons is really a specialized sub-set of general nuclear physics, and there are many theoretical overlaps between reactor and weapon design. ... Indeed, when I myself changed career from working at Britain's civilian Atomic Energy Research Establishment (Harwell) to inspecting the military AWE Aldermaston nearly a decade later, I was surprised at the technical similarity of energy and bomb research. The career transition was relatively straightforward, perhaps signalling the intellectual difficulty of separating nuclear energy technology from that of nuclear weapons."[37]

Civil nuclear programs can provide political impetus for weapons programs. In Australia, for example, the most influential proponent of the push for nuclear weapons in the 1960s was Philip Baxter, head of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.[38]

Alternatively, the military can co-opt civil nuclear programs. Academic Saleem Ali discusses the case of Pakistan: "Nuclear capability seems to have a seductive appeal towards weaponization in countries that exist in conflict zones. Aspiring nuclear power states should consider this danger of the military co-opting any nuclear agenda, as happened in Pakistan despite the pioneering work of well-intentioned scientists and nuclear energy advocates like Salam."[39]

8. In some weapons states, nuclear power is insignificant or non-existent.

John Carlson, then head of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, claimed that "... in some of the countries having nuclear weapons, nuclear power remains insignificant or non-existent."[40]

This attempt to absolve nuclear power from proliferation problems ignores the direct use of power reactors to produce material for weapons, and the use of power programs to justify development of other facilities used in weapons programs (enrichment and reprocessing plants, and research and training reactors).

Of the 10 states that have produced nuclear weapons, eight have power reactors and North Korea has an 'Experimental Power Reactor'. The nine current weapons states account for 59% of the world's 'operable' reactors as of May 2015 (257/437).[41]

9. Weapons first, power later.

Academic 'Research Fellow' Martin Boland claims that "no country has developed indigenous nuclear weapons after deploying civilian nuclear power stations.[42] Likewise, John Carlson says: "If we look to the history of nuclear weapons development, we can see that those countries with nuclear weapons developed them before they developed nuclear power programs."[43]

Those claims are partly true, partly false and partly misleading. In some cases, reactors preceded weapons. India had three power reactors operating before its 1974 weapons test.[44] Pakistan had one power reactor operating before it developed weapons.[45] North Korea's 'Experimental Power Reactor' preceded its weapons program − and has been used to produce plutonium for weapons.

In some other countries, weapons programs did indeed predate the development of nuclear power − but power programs have still contributed to weapons production. Examples include the operation of dual-use power/plutonium reactors in the UK, US, France and Russia (see #7 above).

10. Weapons proliferation is a problem with or without nuclear power.

Academics Brook and Bradshaw state: "Nuclear weapons proliferation is a complex political issue, with or without commercial nuclear power plants ..."[46]

True, but civil nuclear programs are a significant part of the proliferation. Five of the 10 states that have built weapons did so with significant technical and material input and/or political cover from civil programs (or ostensibly civil programs) − South Africa, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea.

The use of civil nuclear facilities and materials for weapons research or weapons programs has been commonplace. It has occurred in the following countries: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, France, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, UK, US, and Yugoslavia.[47]

Overall, civil nuclear facilities and materials have been used for weapons R&D in over one-third of all the countries with a nuclear industry of any significance, i.e. with power and/or research reactors. The Institute for Science and International Security collates information on nuclear programs and concludes that about 30 countries have sought nuclear weapons and 10 succeeded – a similar strike rate of one-in-three.[48]

Former IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei noted: "If a country with a full nuclear fuel cycle decides to break away from its non-proliferation commitments, a nuclear weapon could be only months away. In such cases, we are only as secure as the outbreak of the next major crisis. In today's environment, this margin of security is simply untenable."[49]

11. Climate change is more important than nuclear weapons proliferation?

Even if we accept the proposition that climate change is a graver threat than nuclear weapons proliferation, that's hardly an argument for ignoring weapons proliferation. In any case, both problems are profound. And the problems are linked because of the potential for nuclear warfare to cause catastrophic climate change (see #3 above).

Academic Mark Diesendorf states: "On top of the perennial challenges of global poverty and injustice, the two biggest threats facing human civilisation in the 21st century are climate change and nuclear war. It would be absurd to respond to one by increasing the risks of the other. Yet that is what nuclear power does."[50]

Likewise, former US Vice President Al Gore said: "For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal ... then we'd have to put them in so many places we'd run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale."[51]

A 2010 editorial in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists noted: "As we see it, however, the world is not now safe for a rapid global expansion of nuclear energy. Such an expansion carries with it a high risk of misusing uranium enrichment plants and separated plutonium to create bombs. The use of nuclear devices is still a very dangerous possibility in a world where Russian and U.S. ballistic missiles are on hair trigger and long-standing conflicts between countries and among peoples too often escalate into military actions. As two of our board members have pointed out, 'Nuclear war is a terrible trade for slowing the pace of climate change.'"[52]

12. Nuclear capable countries account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions.

Academics Brook and Bradshaw state that countries with nuclear power reactors account 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the figure rises to over 90% including those nations that are actively planning nuclear deployment or already have research reactors. They conclude: "As a consequence, displacement of fossil fuels by an expanding nuclear-energy sector would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise."[53]

Likewise, Geoff Russell argues: "Over 90 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions come from countries which already have nuclear reactors. So these are the countries where the most reactors are needed. How is having more reactors, particularly electricity reactors, going to make any of these countries more likely to build nuclear weapons? It isn't."[54]

The premise is correct − countries operating reactors account for a large majority of greenhouse emissions. But even by the most expansive estimate − Brook's[55] − less than one-third of all countries have some sort of weapons capability (they possess weapons, are allied to a weapons state, or they operate power and/or research reactors). So Brook and Bradshaw's conclusion − that nuclear power expansion "would not lead to a large increase in the number of countries with access to nuclear resources and expertise" − is nonsense.

There is another thread to the Brook/Bradshaw argument. It is true that the expansion of nuclear power in countries which already operate reactors is of little of no proliferation significance. It is of still less significance in countries with both nuclear power and weapons. Incremental growth of nuclear power in the US, for example, is of no proliferation significance. That said, US civil nuclear policies can (and do) have profound proliferation significance. The US-led push to allow nuclear trade with India has dealt a cruel blow to the global non-proliferation and disarmament architecture and to the NPT in particular. And the US government's willingness to conclude bilateral nuclear trade agreements without prohibitions on the development of enrichment and reprocessing is problematic (and conversely, the agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which does prohibit enrichment and reprocessing in the UAE, is helpful).

13. The weapons genie is out of the bottle.

Some nuclear advocates claim that the weapons 'genie is out of the bottle' and that we therefore need not concern ourselves about the proliferation risks associated with an expansion of nuclear power.[56]

However, of the world's 194 countries, 10 have produced weapons − just under 5%.

About 45 countries (about one-quarter of all nations) have the capacity to produce significant quantities of fissile material for nuclear weapons − they have power reactors, medium- to large-sized research reactors, enrichment and/or reprocessing technology.

The weapons genie is only part way out of the bottle. And a large majority of the countries that have the capacity to produce significant quantities of fissile material have that capacity from their civil programs −  so the 'genie' argument is circular and disingenuous.

14. Reactor grade plutonium can't be used for weapons?

Some nuclear advocates claim that the 'reactor grade' plutonium routinely produced in power reactors cannot be used in weapons. For example Barry Brook claims that "plutonium that comes out of reactors ... is contaminated with different isotopes of plutonium which means that even if you had all of the facilities available to you that the Manhattan bomb designers had, you still wouldn't be able to use it to create a nuclear bomb."[57]

In fact, the 'reactor grade' plutonium produced during routine operation of a power reactor is not ideal for weapons, but can be used nonetheless.[58]

The US government has acknowledged that a successful test using reactor grade plutonium was carried out at the Nevada Test Site in 1962. The exact isotopic composition of the plutonium used in the 1962 test remains classified. It has been suggested that because of changing classification systems, the plutonium may have been fuel grade plutonium using current classifications; in any case it was certainly sub-weapon grade.

India Today reported that one or more of the 1998 tests in India used reactor grade plutonium[59] and the UK and North Korea may have tested bombs using reactor grade or fuel grade plutonium.[60]

The problem is exacerbated by the separation and stockpiling of plutonium produced in power reactors, such that it can be used directly in weapons. Stockpiles of separated civil plutonium amounted to 267 tons as of the end of 2013.[61]

Moreover it is possible to operate power reactors on a short cycle to produce weapon grade plutonium. A typical reactor (1,000 MWe) could produce around 200 kg of weapon grade plutonium annually − enough for 50 weapons.[62]

15. Specious parallels with other dual-use materials.

Nuclear proponents sometimes downplay the significance of the dual-use capabilities of nuclear facilities and materials by noting the dual-use capabilities of many non-nuclear materials. For example, steel has a myriad of military and civil uses, and planes can be used as missiles.

Such arguments overlook the problem that nuclear weapons are unique in their destructive potential.

Such arguments ignore the fact that there are typically a myriad of pathways to the production of conventional, chemical and biological weapons, whereas for nuclear weapons the are just a couple of fundamental choices − pursuit of highly-enriched uranium and/or plutonium, and the choice between a dedicated (sometimes secret) weapons program or the pursuit of weapons under cover of a peaceful program.

There is also a 'straw man' character to the arguments. Banning steel because of its military uses would be impossible, it would result in nothing more than the substitution of other metals (or materials) to replace steel, and overall it would do far more harm than good. Banning planes because of their potential use as missiles would be just as silly.

Another 'straw man' element to the argument is the assumption that nuclear power must either be supported or banned. That assumption ignores the potential to reduce proliferation risks in a myriad of ways (see #16 below).

16. Determined proliferators can't be stopped ... so there's no point trying.

Nuclear weapons proliferation can be stopped or curbed by the following means (among others):

  • Bilateral (e.g. Argentina-Brazil), multilateral (e.g. weapons free zones) and international agreements (e.g. the NPT).
  • The detection of a weapons program (by the IAEA or others) followed by action to stop the program.
  • Preventing the spread of 'sensitive nuclear technologies' (enrichment and reprocessing) and tightening control of existing enrichment and reprocessing plants.
  • Replacing highly enriched uranium fuel or targets with low-enriched uranium in research reactors.
  • Technology choices (e.g. preventing or prohibiting the development of laser enrichment technology).
  • Security assurances.
  • Unilateral pressure (e.g. the US has pressured a number of countries to stop their pursuit of a weapons capability, e.g. Taiwan and South Korea).

Weapons proliferation can also be reversed:

  • South Africa dismantled its nuclear weapons.
  • Three ex-Soviet states gave up their weapons in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union − Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.
  • Many countries have gone some way down the path towards developing a nuclear weapons capability but have abandoned those efforts.[63]

17. Strict safeguards prevent the misuse of the peaceful atom?

Ian Hore-Lacy from the World Nuclear Association states: "The international safeguards regime is perhaps the main success story of UN Agencies ..."[64]

But there are countless problems with the safeguards system.[65] In articles and speeches during his tenure as IAEA Director General from 1997− 2009, Dr. Mohamed El Baradei said that the Agency's basic rights of inspection are "fairly limited", that the safeguards system suffers from "vulnerabilities" and "clearly needs reinforcement", that efforts to improve the system have been "half-hearted", and that the safeguards system operates on a "shoestring budget ... comparable to that of a local police department".

Nuclear advocates sometimes imagine that a robust safeguards system exists and conflate their imagination with reality. Brook and Bradshaw claim that nuclear weapons proliferation "is under strong international oversight".[66] Strangely, they cite a book by Tom Blees in support of that statement.[67] But Blees doesn't argue that the nuclear industry is subject to strong international oversight − he argues that "fissile material should all be subject to rigorous international oversight" (emphasis added).[68] He argues for the establishment of an international strike force on full standby to attend promptly to attempts to misuse or divert nuclear materials, and he argues for radical social engineering to accommodate nuclear power including international control and a ban on private sector involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle.[69]

Imagining a rigorous safeguards system and radical social engineering is one thing; bringing it into existence is quite another.

Problems with safeguards include:

  • Chronic under-resourcing. El Baradei told the IAEA Board of Governors in 2009: "I would be misleading world public opinion to create an impression that we are doing what we are supposed to do, when we know that we don't have the money to do it."[70]
  • Issues relating to national sovereignty and commercial confidentiality adversely impact on safeguards.
  • the inevitability of accounting discrepancies.
  • Incorrect/outdated assumptions about the amount of fissile material required to build a weapon.
  • The fact that, the IAEA has no mandate to prevent the misuse of civil nuclear facilities and materials − at best it can detect misuse/diversion and handball the problem to the UN Security Council. As the IAEA states: "It is clear that no international safeguards system can physically prevent diversion or the setting up of an undeclared or clandestine nuclear programme."[71]
  • The resolution of suspected misuse/diversion is secretive and protracted, and double-standards are evident in responses to suspected breaches;
  • Countries that have breached their safeguards obligations can simply withdraw from the NPT and pursue a weapons program, as North Korea has done;
  • Safeguards are shrouded in secrecy − for example the IAEA used to publish aggregate data on the number of inspections in India, Israel and Pakistan, but even that nearly worthless information is no longer publicly available.

A very different take on the argument comes from Manning and O'Neil.[72] They argue that the NPT is in "terminal decline" and isn't worth preserving. That argument is used to justify further weakening the NPT by opening up nuclear trade with India, a weapons state outside the NPT.

So the safeguards / non-proliferation regime is robust and we should therefore support nuclear power; or the regime is bust and we should therefore support nuclear power. Take your pick.

18. New reactors types are proliferation-proof?

Advocates of every conceivable type of reactor claim that their preferred reactor type is proliferation-proof or proliferation-resistant.

For example, a thorium enthusiast claims that thorium is "thoroughly useless for making nuclear weapons."[73] But the proliferation risks associated with thorium fuel cycles can be as bad as − or worse than − the risks associated with conventional uranium reactor technology.[74]

An enthusiast of integral fast reactors (IFR) claims they "cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material."[75] But IFRs can be used to produce plutonium for weapons.[76] Dr George Stanford, who worked on an IFR R&D program in the US, notes that proliferators "could do [with IFRs] what they could do with any other reactor − operate it on a special cycle to produce good quality weapons material."[77]

Nuclear advocates frequently make statements which are true, but misleading. For example, thorium itself is not a proliferation risk, but the uranium-233 that is produced when thorium is irradiated can be (and has been) used in weapons. And strictly speaking, it is true that IFRs "cannot be used to generate weapons-grade material" − because IFRs don't exist. And neither new or old reactor types can produce weapon grade plutonium or weapons-useable plutonium in the sense that plutonium cannot be used in weapons until it is separated from materials irradiated in a reactor, by reprocessing.

Fusion illustrates how difficult it is to disentangle the peaceful atom from its siamese twin, the military atom. Fusion has yet to generate a single Watt of useful electricity but it has already contributed to proliferation problems. According to Khidhir Hamza, a senior nuclear scientist involved in Iraq's weapons program in the 1980s: "Iraq took full advantage of the IAEA's recommendation in the mid 1980s to start a plasma physics program for "peaceful" fusion research. We thought that buying a plasma focus device ... would provide an excellent cover for buying and learning about fast electronics technology, which could be used to trigger atomic bombs."[78]

All existing and proposed reactor types and nuclear fuel cycles pose proliferation risks. The UK Royal Society notes: "There is no proliferation proof nuclear fuel cycle. The dual use risk of nuclear materials and technology and in civil and military applications cannot be eliminated."[79]

Likewise, John Carlson, former Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, notes that "no presently known nuclear fuel cycle is completely proliferation proof".[80]

Proponents of new reactor types claim that proliferation-resistance is an important driver of technological innovation. There is no evidence to support the claim. Moreover, precious few nuclear industry insiders or nuclear advocates show the slightest concern about proliferation problems such as growing stockpiles of separated civil plutonium, or the inadequate safeguards system, or the troubling implications of opening up civil nuclear trade with non-NPT states such as India.

Climate scientist James Hansen states: "Nuclear reactors can also be made more resistant to weapons proliferation than today's reactors."[81] But are new reactors being made more resistant to weapons proliferation than today's reactors? In a word: No.

Hansen claims that "modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently."[82] That's absolutely true. And it's equally true that modern (Generation IV) technology could worsen proliferation problems. For example, India plans to produce weapons-grade plutonium in fast breeder reactors for use as driver fuel in thorium reactors.[83] Compared to conventional uranium reactors, India's plan is far worse on both proliferation and security grounds.

In a 2013 article, Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen wave away the proliferation problem with the assertion that they have "discussed it in some detail elsewhere".[84] But the paper they cite[85] barely touches upon the proliferation problem and what it does say is mostly rubbish:

  • It falsely claim that thorium-based fuel cycles are "inherently proliferation-resistant".
  • It claims that integral fast reactors "could be inherently free from the risk of proliferation". At best, integral fast reactors could reduce proliferation risks; they could never be "inherently free" from proliferation risks.
  • And it states that if "designed properly", breeder reactors would generate "nothing suitable for weapons". India's Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor will be the next fast neutron reactor to begin operation (scheduled for September 2015). It will be ideal for producing weapon grade plutonium for India's weapons program, and it will likely be used for that purpose since India is refusing to place it under safeguards.[86]

Hansen and his colleagues argue that "modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks".[87] India's Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor is modern − but it will exacerbate, not reduce, proliferation risks.


[1] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, 'Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation', Conservation Biology,

[2] Andrew O'Neil, 18 Sep 2010, 'Nuclear power plants are not bomb factories', The Australian,

[3] International Panel on Fissile Materials, 2010, 'Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status',

[4] Ian Hore-Lacy, 2000, "The Future of Nuclear Energy", paper presented at the Royal College of Physicians Conference, Adelaide, 4 May 2000, available from

[6] Andrew O'Neil, 18 Sep 2010, 'Nuclear power plants are not bomb factories', The Australian,

[8] Alan Robock, 14 Aug 2008, 'We should really worry about nuclear winter', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,

See also: Alan Robock, et al., 2007, 'Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts', Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 7, pp.2003–2012,

[9] John Mecklin, 24 March 2015, 'Disarm and Modernize',

[10] UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, 30 Nov 2004, 'A more secure world: Our shared responsibility. Report to the Secretary-General', p.39,

[11] Geoff Russell, 2014, 'GreenJacked! The misdirection of environmental action on climate change', chapter 14, ISBN: 9-780980-656114

[12] Robert MacNamara, Oct 2009, 'Apocalypse Soon',

[13] Quoted in Sue Wareham, 6 Aug 2009, 'The terror of Hiroshima',

[14] US National Intelligence Council, 2008, "Global Trends 2025 – a Transformed World",

[16] 26 Mar 2012, 'Remarks by President Obama at Hankuk University',

[17] 13 April 2010, 'Communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit',

[19] Victor Gilinsky, 'A call to resist the nuclear revival', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 Jan 2009,

[20] Haydon Manning and Andrew O'Neil, 2007, 'Australia's Nuclear Horizon: Moving Beyond the Drumbeat of Risk Inflation', Australian Journal of Political Science, 42:4, 563-578, or

[21] Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser, 2015, 'Global Fissile Material Report 2015: Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production', International Panel on Fissile Materials,

[22] Institute for Science and International Security, 1 Jan 2005, 'Global Stocks of Nuclear Explosive Material – End 2003 (Updated 2005)', Chapters I and II,

Rob Edwards, 7 Sep 2005, 'Nuclear stockpiles could create 300,000 bombs', New Scientist,

[23] Martin Boland, 30 Dec 2013, 'Debunking myths on nuclear power (it's not for making bombs)',

[24] John Carlson, 27 Nov 2006, supplementary submission 30.2 to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Inquiry into Uranium Sales To China,

[25] John Carlson, 15 April 2015, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia,

[26] US Government Accountability Office, Oct 2010, 'National Nuclear Security Administration Needs to Ensure Continued Availability of Tritium for the Weapons Stockpile',

[27] Thomas Clements, 2012, 'Documents Reveal Time-line and Plans for “Small Modular Reactors” (SMRs) at the Savannah River Site (SRS) Unrealistic and Promise no Funding',

[28] Patrick Marshall, 4 Feb 2014, 'Hanford's N Reactor', Essay 10702,

[29] Mark A. Prelas and Michael Peck, 12 Jan 2005, 'Nonproliferation Issues For Weapons of Mass Destruction', CRC Press, pp.88-89,

[31] Patrice Bouveret, Bruno Barrillot, and Dominique Lalanne, Jan/Feb 2013, 'Nuclear chromosomes: The national security implications of a French nuclear exit', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 69: 11-17,

[32] Mycle Schneider, 2009, 'Fast Breeder Reactors in France', Science and Global Security, 17:36–53,

[33] Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'Research reactors and weapons proliferation',

[34] World Nuclear Association, 'Nuclear Power in Pakistan', Updated April 2015,

[35] David Albright and Mark Hibbs, April 1992, 'Iraq's shop-yill-you-drop nuclear program', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 48, No. 3,

[36] Khidhir Hamza, Sep/Oct 1998, 'Inside Saddam's Secret Nuclear Program', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 5,

[37] Ian Jackson, 2009, 'Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf', International Affairs, 85:6, pp.1157–1172, or

[38] Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'The push for nuclear weapons in Australia 1950s-1970s',

[39] Saleem Ali, 18 May 2015, 'Power and peace: how nations can go nuclear without weapons',

[40] Carlson, John, 2000, "Nuclear Energy and Non-proliferation – Issues and Challenges: An Australian Perspective", Paper prepared for JAIF Symposium on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and Non-Proliferation, Tokyo, 9-10 March 2000.

[42] Martin Boland, 30 Dec 2013, 'Debunking myths on nuclear power (it's not for making bombs)',

[43] John Carlson, 2000, "Nuclear Energy and Non-proliferation – Issues and Challenges: An Australian Perspective", Paper prepared for JAIF Symposium on Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy and Non-Proliferation, Tokyo, 9-10 March 2000.

[46] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, 'Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation', Conservation Biology,

[47] Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'Case Studies: Civil Nuclear Programs and Weapons Proliferation',

[48] Institute for Science and International Security, 'Nuclear Weapons Programs Worldwide: An Historical Overview', accessed 26 May 2015,

[49] Mohamed El Baradei, 6 Dec 2005, 'Reflections on Nuclear Challenges Today',

[50] Mark Diesendorf, 14 Oct 2009, 'Need energy? Forget nuclear and go natural',

[51] Quoted in David Roberts, 9 May 2006, 'An interview with accidental movie star Al Gore',

[52] Editorial − Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 14 Jan 2010, 'It is 6 minutes to midnight',

[53] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, 'Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation', Conservation Biology,

[54] Geoff Russell, 2014, 'GreenJacked! The misdirection of environmental action on climate change', chapter 14, ISBN: 9-780980-656114

[55] Barry Brook, 6 Nov 2009, 'Carbon emissions and nuclear capable countries',

[56] Barry Brook, 6 Nov 2009, 'Carbon emissions and nuclear capable countries',

[57] ABC, 17 May 2010, 'Does Being Green mean Going Nuclear?',

[58] 'Can 'reactor grade' plutonium be used in nuclear weapons?', 6 June 2014, Nuclear Monitor #787,

[59] Anon., October 10, 1998, "The H-Bomb", India Today.

[60] Jackson, Ian, 2009, 'Nuclear energy and proliferation risks: myths and realities in the Persian Gulf', International Affairs 85:6, pp.1157–1172, or

[61] Zia Mian and Alexander Glaser, 2015, 'Global Fissile Material Report 2015: Nuclear Weapon and Fissile Material Stockpiles and Production', International Panel on Fissile Materials,

[62] Victor Gilinsky with Marvin Miller and Harmon Hubbard, 22 Oct 2004, 'A Fresh Examination of the Proliferation Dangers of Light Water Reactors',

See also Zia Mian and M. V. Ramana, Jan/Feb 2006, 'Wrong Ends, Means, and Needs: Behind the U.S. Nuclear Deal With India', Arms Control Today,

[63] Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'Case Studies: Civil Nuclear Programs and Weapons Proliferation',

[64] Ian Hore-Lacy, 2000, "The Future of Nuclear Energy", paper presented at the Royal College of Physicians Conference, Adelaide, 4 May 2000, available from

[65] For information on safeguards see the papers listed at

[66] B. Brook, and C. Bradshaw, 2014, 'Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation', Conservation Biology,

[67] Tom Blees, 'Prescription for the Planet',

[69] Tom Blees, 'Prescription for the Planet',

[70] Mohamed El Baradei, 16 June 2009, 'Director General's Intervention on Budget at IAEA Board of Governors',

[71] IAEA, 1993, Against the Spread of Nuclear Weapons: IAEA Safeguards in the 1990s.

[72] Haydon Manning and Andrew O'Neil, 26 May 2006, 'Smart moves',

[73] Tim Dean, 16 March 2011, 'The greener nuclear alternative',

[74] 'Thor-bores and uro-sceptics: thorium's friendly fire', Nuclear Monitor #801, 9 April 2015, or

[75] Barry Brook, 9 June 2009, 'An inconvenient solution', The Australian,

[76] Friends of the Earth, Australia, 'Nuclear Weapons and 'Generation 4' Reactors',

[77] George Stanford, 18 Sep 2010, 'IFR FaD 7 – Q&A on Integral Fast Reactors',

[78] Khidhir Hamza, Sep/Oct 1998, 'Inside Saddam's Secret Nuclear Program', Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 54, No. 5,

[79] UK Royal Society, 13 Oct 2011, 'Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclear renaissance',

[80] John Carlson, 2009, 'Introduction to the Concept of Proliferation Resistance',

[81] James Hansen, 7 June 2014, 'Scientists can help in planet's carbon cut',

[82] 3 Nov 2013, 'Top climate change scientists' letter to policy influencers',

[83] John Carlson, 2014, submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia,

[84] Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen, March 2013, 'Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power', Environment, Science and Technology,

[85] P. Kharecha et al., 2010, 'Options for near-term phaseout of CO2 emissions from coal use in the United States', Environmental Science & Technology, 44, 4050-4062,

[86] John Carlson, 2015, first supplementary submission to Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Parliament of Australia,

[87] K. Caldeira, K. Emanuel, J. Hansen, and T. Wigley, 3 Nov 2013, 'Top climate change scientists' letter to policy influencers',

A legally-binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ray Acheson − Director of Reaching Critical Will, the disarmament programme of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Five years after the adoption of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Action Plan in 2010, compliance with commitments related to nuclear disarmament lags far behind those related to non-proliferation or the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Yet during the same five years, new evidence and international discussions have emphasised the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks of such use, either by design or accident.

Thus the NPT's full implementation, particularly regarding nuclear disarmament, is as urgent as ever. One of the most effective measures for nuclear disarmament would be the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument prohibiting and establishing a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Not everyone sees it that way.

In fact, ahead of the 2015 Review Conference (scheduled to take place in New York April 27−May 22), the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies have argued that any such negotiations would "undermine" the NPT and that the Action Plan is a long-term roadmap that should be "rolled over" for at least another review cycle.

This is an extremely retrogressive approach to what should be an opportunity for meaningful action. Negotiating an instrument to fulfill article VI of the NPT would hardly undermine the Treaty.

On the contrary, it would finally bring the nuclear-armed states into compliance with the legal obligations.

Those countries that possess or rely on nuclear weapons often highlight the importance of the NPT for preventing proliferation and enhancing security.

Yet these same countries, more than any other states parties, do the most to undermine the Treaty by preventing, avoiding, or delaying concrete actions necessary for disarmament.

It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations − or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Their failure to implement their commitments presents dim prospects for the future of the NPT. The apparent expectation that this non-compliance can continue in perpetuity, allowing not only for continued possession but also modernisation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, is misguided.

The 2015 Review Conference will provide an opportunity for other governments to confront and challenge this behaviour and to demand concerted and immediate action. This is the end of a review cycle; it is time for conclusions to be drawn.

States parties will have to not only undertake a serious assessment of the last five years but will have to determine what actions are necessary to ensure continued survival of the NPT and to achieve all of its goals and objectives, including those on stopping the nuclear arms race, ceasing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, preventing the use of nuclear weapons, and eliminating existing arsenals.

The recent renewed investigation of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is a good place to look for guidance. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed "deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons."

Since then, especially at the series of conferences hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, these consequences have increasingly become a focal point for discussion and proposed action.

Governments are also increasingly raising the issue of humanitarian impacts in traditional forums, with 155 states signing a joint statement at the 2014 session of the UN General Assembly highlighting the unacceptable harm caused by nuclear weapons and calling for action to ensure they are never used again, under any circumstances.

The humanitarian initiative has provided the basis for a new momentum on nuclear disarmament. It has involved new types of actors, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a new generation of civil society campaigners.

The discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be fully supported by all states parties to the NPT.

The humanitarian initiative has also resulted in the Austrian Pledge, which commits its government (and any countries that wish to associate themselves with the Pledge) to "fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons."

As of February 2015, 40 states have endorsed the Pledge. These states are committed to change. They believe that existing international law is inadequate for achieving nuclear disarmament and that a process of change that involves stigmatising, prohibiting, and eliminating nuclear weapons is necessary.

This process requires a legally-binding international instrument that clearly prohibits nuclear weapons based on their unacceptable consequences. Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons on the same footing as the other weapons of mass destruction, which are subject to prohibition through specific treaties.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons would build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments, including the NPT, but it would also close loopholes in the current legal regime that enable states to engage in nuclear weapon activities or to otherwise claim perceived benefit from the continued existence of nuclear weapons while purporting to promote their elimination.

NPT states parties need to ask themselves how long we can wait for disarmament. Several initiatives since the 2010 Review Conference have advanced the ongoing international discussion about nuclear weapons.

States and other actors must now be willing to act to achieve disarmament, by developing a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and establish a framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. This year, the year of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a good place to start.


For more information and updates during the NPT Review Conference, visit the Reaching Critical Will website:


Readers are encouraged to lobby national governments to support the Austrian Pledge to ban nuclear weapons. More than 50 countries have already endorsed the pledge (see the list at
Information is posted at:

You can sign an online petition urging your national government to support the pledge at


Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

UK: Report outlines unreliability of aging nuclear reactors

The UK Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) published a report on December 9 which details the unreliability of the UK's aging nuclear power stations.
The report, written by NFLA Policy Advisor Pete Roche, found that in the three years from 2012−2014, 62 outages were reported, over three-quarters of which were unplanned. These reported outages do not include routine refuelling closures. The list of outages is not comprehensive as EDF Energy does not provide comprehensive data on reactor performance.

At its lowest point, on 20 November 2014, less than half (43%) of UK nuclear power capacity was available due to shutdowns. Seven out of 15 reactors were offline.

Unplanned shutdowns cause serious problems for electricity supply regulation and planning. A major likely reason for poor performance is that most reactors are over 30 years old and past their use-by dates, some by considerable margins. The increasingly decrepit state of UK nuclear power stations also presents a serious safety issue. UK nuclear regulatory agencies are aware of the continual reduction in safety margins resulting from graphite loss and crumbling in the moderators of AGR reactors.

Nuclear Free Local Authorities, 9 Dec 2014, 'NFLA concerns over the reliability of aging nuclear reactors in the UK',


International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons

On December 8−9, over 1000 people flocked into the grand ballroom of Holfsburg Palace, Vienna, to consider the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. Delegations representing 158 nations were present, as well as nuclear survivors, civil society, media, and researchers.

This was the third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Human Weapons − the first was in Norway in 2013, the second in Mexico in February 2014. The latest conference is intended to 'jump-start' the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) deliberations at the UN in May 2015 with a call to proceed with complete disarmament in a global, legally binding form.

The meeting resulted in a vehicle for nations to "sign on" to the Austrian Pledge. This document calls on parties to the NPT to renew their commitments under that treaty and to close any gaps that undermines prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.

The Austrian Pledge contains this remarkable provision: "Austria calls on all nuclear weapons possessor states to take concrete interim measures to reduce the risk of nuclear weapon detonations, including reducing the operational status of nuclear weapons and moving nuclear weapons away from deployment into storage, diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in military doctrines and rapid reductions of all types of nuclear weapons ..."

This provision was all the more remarkable since, for the first time, nuclear weapons states were present: the US and Britain, both of which made statements to the assembly confirming that they were not listening.

Invited to speak during the session on the Medical Consequences of Using Nuclear Weapons, I originally declined since my work has focused on energy and the environment, not the military side of nuclear. The invite was made more precise by Ambassador Alexander Kmentt: please speak on the disproportionate impact of radiation on girls and women. Such a direct invitation offered an opportunity to share information that is under-reported.

The fact that atomic bombs were dropped on two cities in Japan almost 80 years ago is no longer being widely taught. Most people don't know that a long-term study was initiated by the US to count the cancers in the survivors. Among those who were under five years old in 1945, for every boy who got cancer at some point in their lives, two girls got cancer.

The room was full of people, including Hibakusha from Japan, survivors from the US tests in the Marshall Islands, from the British tests in Australia, and from Utah (downwind of the Nevada Test Site). It was a great place to share this information.

Information on Atomic Radiation and Harm to Women is posted at:

− Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (US)


Sweden: Regulator calls for hike in nuclear waste fees

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) has recommended yet another increase in the per kWh-fee on nuclear power to cover predicted costs of decommissioning reactors and the processing and storage of nuclear waste. The proposal raises the fee from an average SEK 0.022/kWh to around 0.040/kWh (US 0.5 c/kWh).

Swedish law requires the industry-owned nuclear waste management company SKB to submit an estimate of projected costs to SSM at three-year intervals. After examining the estimate and consulting other sources, SSM submits its recommendation to the government, which then sets the fee for the next period, in this case 2015−2017.

Over the past couple of terms, SSM's estimates have differed substantially from those of the industry's nuclear waste company. This time, SSM finds that SKB's estimate is short by at least SEK 11 billion (US$1.44, €1.16b). SSM bases its conclusion on a study commissioned from the National Institute of Economic Research (a state body). The conclusion is also seconded by the National Council for Nuclear Waste, an academic reference group, and the National Debt Office, whose comments call for greater transparency as to how SKB arrived at its estimates.

Principal differences concern the estimated future cost of goods and services relating to decommissioning and waste storage, and the cost of necessary reinvestments in existing waste management facilities. SSM states that SKB underestimates cost rises by as much as 12%. Sagging financial returns accruing to the Nuclear Waste Fund – a consequence of the broader economic downturn – also contribute to the gap.

Another discrepancy is that SKB bases its calculations on reactor lifetimes of 50-60 years, yet the Financing Ordinance stipulates that a lifetime of 40 years be used. The advantage from the industry's point of view is obvious: positing a 20−50% longer period of production raises the total sum deposited into the Waste Fund, thereby permitting a lower fee.

The law provides that SSM may, "should circumstances so demand," reject the industry's prognosis and fix an interim fee until satisfactory estimates are on the table. SSM is doing just that. The current recommendation will be for 2015 only, and SKB has been instructed to produce a revised estimate within the next few months.

Shortly after the general election in September 2014, the new government stated as an overall principle that nuclear energy should cover a greater share of its costs to society – which suggests that SSM's proposals would be favourably received.

But there is a catch. The government – a minority coalition – failed to gain parliamentary approval of its budget in December and has announced new elections for March 2015. A change of government before the proposal can be considered is likely, and no one can say what the political constellation after the elections will be.

− Charly Hultén / WISE Sweden


Greenland: Pro-uranium coalition forms government

The Inuit Ataqatigiit party was expected to win Greenland's November 28 election, after which it would call a referendum on the controversial issue of uranium mining.

However the pro-uranium Siumut party narrowly won the most votes and has formed a coalition with two other pro-uranium parties − Atassut and Demokraatic. The three parties hold a combined 17 seats in the new parliament while two anti-uranium parties − Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq − hold 14 seats.

Just before the election, a poll showed that 71% of Greenlanders want a national referendum on whether to reinstate the uranium ban. Inuit Ataqatigiit and Partii Naleraq had called for a referendum.

Before the election, former Prime Minister Aleqa Hammond announced in Parliament that if a mining permit was issued to the Australian mining company Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd. for the Kvanefjeld uranium / rare earths project, a referendum on the project would be held in southern Greenland. That promise might still be kept ... or it might not.

The only uranium project that might be developed in the foreseeable future is the Kvanefjeld project. A feasibility study is due for completion in 2015. It could take 2−3 years before environmental assessment processes are complete.


US blocks international nuclear safety initiatives

The US was exposed at an international meeting of parties to the Convention on Nuclear Safety on December 4.1 A European proposal would have led to greater efforts to prevent accidents and, should they occur, mitigate the effects of radioactive contamination. The proposal would likely have forced upgrades at existing plants.

Russia scaled back its opposition to European proposals, leaving the US as the main dissenter. Russia was prepared to endorse some of the European proposals though it balked at accepting proposals that would require retrofits of old reactors.

Defending their indefensible position, US diplomats said their opposition to the European initiative was driven by concern that an attempt to amend the convention could weaken it, because some governments would be slow to ratify changes.

Former US Nuclear Regulatory Commission member Victor Gilinsky told Bloomberg: "People in the U.S. don't realize that in many ways our nuclear safety standards lag behind those in Europe. The German and French containment structures are generally more formidable than ours and those reactors generally have more protection systems."1

Created in response to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the Convention on Nuclear Safety has struggled to improve safety standards. The group's secrecy has often undermined its objectives. A former French envoy, Jean-Pierre Clausner, said that the opacity of the organisation was "shocking" according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request.2



South Africa and Russia: 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports

Earthlife Africa has commissioned and released four significant reports in the second half of 2014 in a series titled 'Pay More for Nuclear'. The first report is titled 'Nuclear Technology Options for South Africa'. Prof. Steve Thomas writes: "South Africa's call for tenders for nuclear power plants [in 2008] failed because the costs were high and because the requirements to obtain funding were not politically acceptable. The response to this failure seemed to be that pursuing a wider range of technical options and partners would produce a cheaper and more readily financed offer. The new options mooted include reactors from Korea, China and Russia. The perception that these options will be cheaper is likely to be an illusion. In addition, the designs are unproven and raise serious issues of verifying that they meet the required safety standards."

The second report is titled 'Funding Nuclear Decommissioning – Lessons for South Africa'. Thomas writes: "Current policy and practice on funding nuclear power plant decommissioning in South Africa lags far behind international best practice. It risks bequeathing future generations with a hazardous and expensive task that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers."

The third report is titled 'What Does It Take To Finance New Nuclear Power Plants?'. Thomas writes: "Unless the South African government is prepared to require electricity consumers to sign what will effectively be a blank cheque to the developers of a nuclear power the current attempt to order nuclear power plants for South Africa will fail again and several more years will have been wasted pursuing an option, nuclear power, that is not financeable."

The fourth report is titled 'Russian Nuclear Industry Overview'. Report author Vladimir Slivyak covers problems with ageing reactors, planned new reactors, Russia's fast breeder program, its reactor export program, and inadequate nuclear waste and decommissioning programs. Of particular interest is the section on corruption in the Russian nuclear industry, and the role of NGOs Ecodefense and Transparency International in exposing that corruption.

The four 'Pay More for Nuclear' reports are posted at: