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

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#859
4716
15/03/2018
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor
Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weapons proliferation risks, and indigenous peoples

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bataan nuclear plant in the Philippines

Issue #2 reported:

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

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

2) The contract was acquired via political corruption …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear waste

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

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

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

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

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

Other issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear Monitor #2 is online at www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/2/nuclear-monitor-2-july-1978

References:

1. Nuclear Monitor #856, 29 Jan 2018, 'Looking back, looking forward: Nuclear Monitor #1 ‒ May 1978', www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/856/nuclear-monitor-856-29-jan...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Taylor_(New_Mexico)#Mining

3. Corazon Valdez-Fabros, 16 Oct 1998, 'The continuing struggle for a nuclear-free Philippines', https://www.wiseinternational.org/nuclear-monitor/499-500/continuing-str...

4. Jun Endo, 1 March 2018, 'Philippines considers activating long-dormant reactor', https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics-Economy/Policy-Politics/Philippines-con...