Category Archives: Military

Our children await a radioactive legacy

We are leaving our children a radioactive legacy, the lethal waste that current governments still cannot make safe.

LONDON, 26 November, 2019 − After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years. − Climate News Network

We are leaving our children a radioactive legacy, the lethal waste that current governments still cannot make safe.

LONDON, 26 November, 2019 − After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years. − Climate News Network

Nuclear war could ruin Earth and leave only losers

As the potential for nuclear war in Asia hots up, scientists have chilling news for those far from the battleground: we will all suffer.

LONDON, 3 October, 2019 − Nobody can emerge from a nuclear war as a winner, says a US team of scientists, and the planet they inherit may be ravaged by mass starvation.

Their scenario is stark. The year is 2025, they suggest. A dangerous tension has grown more dangerous with the years and suddenly India and Pakistan begin a nuclear exchange. The outcome? More people will die almost immediately than were killed in the entire Second World War.

And the global climate inevitably will feel the heat of the exchange. Up to 36 million tonnes of smoke and soot from subcontinental cities incinerated by even modest nuclear warheads will be blasted high into the upper atmosphere, spread around the globe and darken the skies.

Planetary average temperatures will drop by at least 2°C and by as much as 5°C, and for the next 10 years regional temperatures could plummet to levels characteristic of the last Ice Age. Rainfall will diminish by 15% to 30%, and so will the productivity of the oceans, terrestrial forests, grasslands and croplands.

Rapid build-up

This would be enough to trigger mass starvation around the rest of the globe, according to the scientists’ study, published in the journal Science Advances.

“Nine countries have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India are the only ones rapidly increasing their arsenals,” said Alan Robock, of Rutgers University in the US. “Because of the continuing unrest between these two nuclear-armed countries, particularly over Kashmir, it is important to understand the consequences of nuclear war.”

The world’s nuclear arsenal totals around 13,900 weapons: nine-tenths of them held by Russia and the United States. But Britain, France, China, Israel, India and Pakistan are thought to have between 100 and 300 each, and none of these states is bound by treaties that require them to reveal the number of launchers or the number of warheads carried by missiles.

Of these states, Pakistan and India have a long history of military tension – including four conventional wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and a long history of claim and counter-claim to the territory of Kashmir.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders. The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them”

Professor Robock and nine other scientists, led by Owen Brian Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder, consulted military and policy experts to develop a simple scenario of how a nuclear war might happen, and then made estimates of the likely yield of 250 weapons that might be used by both nations in the first week of conflict.

India has 400 cities with more than 100,000 people, and by 2025 Pakistan could have an arsenal big enough to attack two-thirds of them; Pakistan has about 60 such dense conurbations and India could react and hit all of them with two weapons each. The expected almost-immediate death toll would be between 50 million and 125 million.

The scientists examined accounts of the only time nuclear weapons were used in anger – over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 – and made calculations of the impact of nuclear weaponry on brick and steel, cement and stone, pitch and tile, concluding that between 16 and 36 million tonnes of black carbon would rise into the upper atmosphere, spread around the planet and screen the sunlight, for up to a decade, to set up the conditions for poor harvests or no harvests, and severe food shortages.

“An India-Pakistan war could double the normal death rate in the world,” Professor Toon said. “This is a war that would have no precedent in human experience.”

Lesson from wildfires

This is not the first such study: in 2017 a group of scientists revived concerns about a potential “nuclear autumn” with deadly consequences that would follow a nuclear exchange.

In August this year Professor Robock and colleagues looked at the smoke from devastating Canadian wildfires in 2017 and used these as a lesson for the conflagration and clouds of smoke that would follow thermonuclear strikes on cities, with, once again, deadly consequences for parts of the world far from the conflict zone.

And Professor Toon was part of the team of scientists that – in 1983, around the most tense months of the Cold War – first developed the theory of “nuclear winter” that might follow all-out global thermonuclear war, to propose that there could be no winners, and no safe neutral zones, in such a conflict.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders,” Professor Robock said. “The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them.” − Climate News Network

As the potential for nuclear war in Asia hots up, scientists have chilling news for those far from the battleground: we will all suffer.

LONDON, 3 October, 2019 − Nobody can emerge from a nuclear war as a winner, says a US team of scientists, and the planet they inherit may be ravaged by mass starvation.

Their scenario is stark. The year is 2025, they suggest. A dangerous tension has grown more dangerous with the years and suddenly India and Pakistan begin a nuclear exchange. The outcome? More people will die almost immediately than were killed in the entire Second World War.

And the global climate inevitably will feel the heat of the exchange. Up to 36 million tonnes of smoke and soot from subcontinental cities incinerated by even modest nuclear warheads will be blasted high into the upper atmosphere, spread around the globe and darken the skies.

Planetary average temperatures will drop by at least 2°C and by as much as 5°C, and for the next 10 years regional temperatures could plummet to levels characteristic of the last Ice Age. Rainfall will diminish by 15% to 30%, and so will the productivity of the oceans, terrestrial forests, grasslands and croplands.

Rapid build-up

This would be enough to trigger mass starvation around the rest of the globe, according to the scientists’ study, published in the journal Science Advances.

“Nine countries have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India are the only ones rapidly increasing their arsenals,” said Alan Robock, of Rutgers University in the US. “Because of the continuing unrest between these two nuclear-armed countries, particularly over Kashmir, it is important to understand the consequences of nuclear war.”

The world’s nuclear arsenal totals around 13,900 weapons: nine-tenths of them held by Russia and the United States. But Britain, France, China, Israel, India and Pakistan are thought to have between 100 and 300 each, and none of these states is bound by treaties that require them to reveal the number of launchers or the number of warheads carried by missiles.

Of these states, Pakistan and India have a long history of military tension – including four conventional wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and a long history of claim and counter-claim to the territory of Kashmir.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders. The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them”

Professor Robock and nine other scientists, led by Owen Brian Toon of the University of Colorado at Boulder, consulted military and policy experts to develop a simple scenario of how a nuclear war might happen, and then made estimates of the likely yield of 250 weapons that might be used by both nations in the first week of conflict.

India has 400 cities with more than 100,000 people, and by 2025 Pakistan could have an arsenal big enough to attack two-thirds of them; Pakistan has about 60 such dense conurbations and India could react and hit all of them with two weapons each. The expected almost-immediate death toll would be between 50 million and 125 million.

The scientists examined accounts of the only time nuclear weapons were used in anger – over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 – and made calculations of the impact of nuclear weaponry on brick and steel, cement and stone, pitch and tile, concluding that between 16 and 36 million tonnes of black carbon would rise into the upper atmosphere, spread around the planet and screen the sunlight, for up to a decade, to set up the conditions for poor harvests or no harvests, and severe food shortages.

“An India-Pakistan war could double the normal death rate in the world,” Professor Toon said. “This is a war that would have no precedent in human experience.”

Lesson from wildfires

This is not the first such study: in 2017 a group of scientists revived concerns about a potential “nuclear autumn” with deadly consequences that would follow a nuclear exchange.

In August this year Professor Robock and colleagues looked at the smoke from devastating Canadian wildfires in 2017 and used these as a lesson for the conflagration and clouds of smoke that would follow thermonuclear strikes on cities, with, once again, deadly consequences for parts of the world far from the conflict zone.

And Professor Toon was part of the team of scientists that – in 1983, around the most tense months of the Cold War – first developed the theory of “nuclear winter” that might follow all-out global thermonuclear war, to propose that there could be no winners, and no safe neutral zones, in such a conflict.

“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders,” Professor Robock said. “The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them.” − Climate News Network

‘Small’ nuclear war could bring global cooling

Smoke from Canadian forest fires was so vast it bore comparison with a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud – and the global cooling that might unleash.

LONDON, 21 August, 2019 − If a nuclear war should ever break out, any survivors could have to cope not just with the immediate effects of blast and radioactivity, but with climate mayhem as well: global cooling with unknowable consequences.

The wildfires in the Canadian province of British Columbia in the summer of 2017 were the worst the region had ever seen. They were so bad that the smoke from the sustained blaze rose 23 kms into the upper stratosphere and stayed there for eight months.

And that has given US scientists the chance once again to model the consequences of a nuclear winter after thermonuclear war.

“This process of injecting soot into the stratosphere and seeing it extend its lifetime by self-lofting was previously modelled as a consequence of nuclear winter in the case of an all-out war between the United States and Russia, in which smoke from burning cities would change the global climate,” said Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University.

“Even a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause climate change unprecedented in recorded human history, and global food crises.”

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war”

Professor Robock and colleagues report in the journal Science that they used computer simulations and satellite observations to test an old worry: what happens when black carbon or other obstructions get into the stratosphere. Sulphate aerosols discharged to stratospheric heights from volcanoes have been observed to lower global average temperatures.

The eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 blasted 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere and lowered global temperatures by around 0.5°C, and the same observations have prompted scientists to propose an untested and potentially dangerous solution to runaway global heating, by spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

The unprecedented fires in British Columbia that began in July 2017 provided them with experimental evidence: the devastation was so bad that 40,000 people were evacuated from their homes and the provincial government declared a state of emergency that lasted 10 weeks. Altogether the fires destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and caused $564m worth of damage.

What interested the US scientists was the smoke. It formed a pyrocumulonimbus cloud larger than any ever observed before and rose 12 kilometres. There was hardly enough mass in the plume to cool the planet in any measurable way, but it had bulk enough to provide information on how the cloud dispersed and how it lingered.

The soot in the cloud absorbed solar radiation and the air around each particle became hotter, which made it rise even further. Within two months, it had reached 23kms. The stratosphere is above the rain clouds, so there was nothing to wash the soot down again. The stratosphere is also home to the jet stream, and high winds took the soot around the whole hemisphere.

Future unpredictable

And that gave Professor Robock and his colleagues the chance to test models of what might happen if, instead of forest fires, the smoke had come from cities reduced to ash by a thermonuclear exchange.

The smoke from British Columbia held 300,000 tonnes of soot. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan however could put 15 million tonnes into the upper atmosphere, and a war between the US and Russia could generate 150 million tonnes.

Nobody knows what then might happen. More than 30 years ago, US scientists raised the spectre of nuclear winter: a world in which sunlight was weakened, summers were cancelled, and harvests failed.

The hypothesis was, thankfully, never put to the test, and in any case was challenged by other scientists. The Canadian fires, themselves perhaps made more devastating by global warming, delivered some vital clues. The next step is to apply the evidence from 2017 to see whether, after a nuclear war, the much-feared enduring winter would follow.

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war,” the scientists write. − Climate News Network

Smoke from Canadian forest fires was so vast it bore comparison with a nuclear bomb’s mushroom cloud – and the global cooling that might unleash.

LONDON, 21 August, 2019 − If a nuclear war should ever break out, any survivors could have to cope not just with the immediate effects of blast and radioactivity, but with climate mayhem as well: global cooling with unknowable consequences.

The wildfires in the Canadian province of British Columbia in the summer of 2017 were the worst the region had ever seen. They were so bad that the smoke from the sustained blaze rose 23 kms into the upper stratosphere and stayed there for eight months.

And that has given US scientists the chance once again to model the consequences of a nuclear winter after thermonuclear war.

“This process of injecting soot into the stratosphere and seeing it extend its lifetime by self-lofting was previously modelled as a consequence of nuclear winter in the case of an all-out war between the United States and Russia, in which smoke from burning cities would change the global climate,” said Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University.

“Even a relatively small nuclear war between India and Pakistan could cause climate change unprecedented in recorded human history, and global food crises.”

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war”

Professor Robock and colleagues report in the journal Science that they used computer simulations and satellite observations to test an old worry: what happens when black carbon or other obstructions get into the stratosphere. Sulphate aerosols discharged to stratospheric heights from volcanoes have been observed to lower global average temperatures.

The eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 blasted 20 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere and lowered global temperatures by around 0.5°C, and the same observations have prompted scientists to propose an untested and potentially dangerous solution to runaway global heating, by spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere.

The unprecedented fires in British Columbia that began in July 2017 provided them with experimental evidence: the devastation was so bad that 40,000 people were evacuated from their homes and the provincial government declared a state of emergency that lasted 10 weeks. Altogether the fires destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and caused $564m worth of damage.

What interested the US scientists was the smoke. It formed a pyrocumulonimbus cloud larger than any ever observed before and rose 12 kilometres. There was hardly enough mass in the plume to cool the planet in any measurable way, but it had bulk enough to provide information on how the cloud dispersed and how it lingered.

The soot in the cloud absorbed solar radiation and the air around each particle became hotter, which made it rise even further. Within two months, it had reached 23kms. The stratosphere is above the rain clouds, so there was nothing to wash the soot down again. The stratosphere is also home to the jet stream, and high winds took the soot around the whole hemisphere.

Future unpredictable

And that gave Professor Robock and his colleagues the chance to test models of what might happen if, instead of forest fires, the smoke had come from cities reduced to ash by a thermonuclear exchange.

The smoke from British Columbia held 300,000 tonnes of soot. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan however could put 15 million tonnes into the upper atmosphere, and a war between the US and Russia could generate 150 million tonnes.

Nobody knows what then might happen. More than 30 years ago, US scientists raised the spectre of nuclear winter: a world in which sunlight was weakened, summers were cancelled, and harvests failed.

The hypothesis was, thankfully, never put to the test, and in any case was challenged by other scientists. The Canadian fires, themselves perhaps made more devastating by global warming, delivered some vital clues. The next step is to apply the evidence from 2017 to see whether, after a nuclear war, the much-feared enduring winter would follow.

“The observed rapid plume, latitudinal spread, and photochemical reactions provided new insight into potential global climate impacts from nuclear war,” the scientists write. − Climate News Network