Nu­clear In­san­ity Costs Amer­ica Dearly

Trillions - - In This Issue -

The on­go­ing dis­as­ter at the Han­ford Site in Wash­ing­ton state is some­thing most Amer­i­cans are not aware of. For those few who are aware, it is hard to fathom the full depth of the prob­lem be­cause it is so mas­sive and so un­man­age­able. Most of those who are fa­mil­iar with the is­sue don't want to think about it. But they re­ally should, since they are pay­ing for it and their chil­dren and their chil­dren's chil­dren will keep on pay­ing for it with their taxes and health.

The Han­ford site holds two-thirds of Amer­ica's high-level ra­dioac­tive waste by vol­ume and is by far the most con­tam­i­nated nu­clear site in the United States and per­haps the most con­tam­i­nated plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity in the world. The level of con­tam­i­na­tion and po­ten­tial tox­i­c­ity is stag­ger­ing.

It is the coun­try's largest, most dan­ger­ous and most ur­gent en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup, and un­elected Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wants to slash its fund­ing at the most crit­i­cal time.

The Han­ford Site was started in 1943 as part of the Man­hat­tan Project to pro­duce plu­to­nium for atomic weapons. It started with one re­ac­tor and in the Cold War was ex­panded to nine nu­clear re­ac­tors and five large plu­to­nium pro­cess­ing plants. It pro­duced most of the plu­to­nium used in Amer­ica's more than 60,000 nu­clear weapons. The plant was shut down in 1987.

Mak­ing plu­to­nium can be a very messy busi­ness and Han­ford has been leak­ing harm­ful ra­di­a­tion into the air, ground and nearby Columbia River for the last 73 years. Amer­ica's high can­cer rate is due in part to the ra­di­a­tion re­leased from Han­ford since 1944.

Decades of plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion and the in­com­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion in­her­ent in such op­er­a­tions left be­hind 56 mil­lion gal­lons (200,626,824 liters) of high-level ra­dioac­tive waste in 177 leaky stor­age tanks, an ad­di­tional 25 mil­lion cu­bic feet (710,000 m3) of solid ra­dioac­tive waste and more than 500 mil­lion gal­lons of con­tam­i­nated ground­wa­ter un­der 200 square miles (520 km2) of land.

Be­cause the con­tam­i­na­tion was so se­vere and mas­sive no one re­ally knew how to clean it up. So clean-up op­er­a­tions were put on hold while the ra­di­a­tion con­tin­ued to be re­leased into the air and con­tam­i­nated ground­wa­ter kept flow­ing into the Columbia River.

A five-year EPA review of cleanup mea­sures re­cently con­cluded the ob­vi­ous, “con­tam­i­nated in-area ground­wa­ter is still flow­ing freely into the Columbia.” Of course it is and it will con­tinue to do so for long into the fu­ture.

In the late 1990's, nu­clear physi­cist Dr. Gil­bert Jor­dan and cold-fu­sion ex­pert Hal Fox pre­sented to the DOE at Han­ford with proven tech­nol­ogy that could trans­mute the nu­clear waste into other el­e­ments — in­clud­ing gold, at very low cost. Their tech­nol­ogy and sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy was re­jected out of hand along with all other bet­ter and vi­able so­lu­tions.

Both of the pro­po­nents of the trans­mu­ta­tion tech­nol­ogy were se­ri­ous, in­tel­li­gent ex­perts who knew what they were talk­ing about. Dr. Jor­dan de­signed many of Amer­ica's nu­clear weapons and was one of the en­gi­neers in­volved in the Plow­shares project in­tended to de­velop peace­ful ap­pli­ca­tions for nu­clear bombs.

Jor­dan led en­vi­ron­men­tal cleanup op­er­a­tions at Area 51 in Ne­vada and was more re­cently a con­sul­tant for the dis­posal of old un­ser­vice­able Rus­sian nu­clear war­heads that Obama took re­spon­si­bil­ity for. Hal Fox was an en­gi­neer for Hughes and Sperry, an ex­pert in cold-fu­sion and di­rec­tor of the first re­search lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of Utah Re­search Park.

In 2000, know­ing that there were bet­ter, cheaper and safer op­tions, the cor­rupt Depart­ment of En­ergy (DOE), which man­ages the site, gave a lu­cra­tive con­tract for the cleanup to its best buddy, the Bech­tel Cor­po­ra­tion — a very sin­is­ter pri­vately held crim­i­nal cor­po­ra­tion with close ties to the CIA and Amer­ica's oli­garchs. Bech­tel builds flawed nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties, gets paid to clean up their own messes and to clean up other nu­clear messes — at grossly in­flated costs to tax­pay­ers. It is an im­mensely prof­itable racket for them and the DOE and Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion (NRC) of­ten func­tion as an ex­ten­sion of Bech­tel.

Bech­tel's bril­liant cleanup plan is to mix the waste with sand, heat it up and put the waste into stain­less steel casks and hide them in some un­der­ground fa­cil­ity that does not yet ex­ist but might be built and run by Bech­tel far into the fu­ture. Pro­long­ing the dis­as­ter in­def­i­nitely is vastly more prof­itable than a real so­lu­tion.

In 2011, the US Depart­ment of En­ergy (DOE), emp­tied some of the leak­ing sin­gle-wall tanks by pump­ing the liq­uid waste into 28 newer dou­ble-wall tanks. The new tanks started leak­ing not long after be­ing filled, due to con­struc­tion flaws al­lowed through the usual in­com­pe­tence and cor­rup­tion that has long plagued the DOE, Han­ford and Bech­tel.

The project is al­ready more than a decade be­hind sched­ule and will cost at least four times the orig­i­nal es­ti­mate.

Last year, con­struc­tion of the treat­ment plant was 78% com­plete but work was sus­pended after a review found hun­dreds of de­sign, con­struc­tion and ma­te­rial flaws. This fol­lowed a sim­i­lar shut-down in 2013 after a whis­tle-blower warned about a po­ten­tial for ex­plo­sion from ac­cu­mu­lated hy­dro­gen gas in the treat­ment plant process.

In Novem­ber of 2016, the Jus­tice Dept. set­tled a False Claims Act suit against Bech­tel Corp. and its sub­con­trac­tor, AE­COM. To max­i­mize prof­its, they had know­ingly pro­ceeded with a flawed de­sign and shoddy ma­te­ri­als that en­gi­neers had long brought to their at­ten­tion. The two com­pa­nies paid $125 mil­lion in da­m­ages, a por­tion of which will be given to the en­gi­neers who kept blow­ing the whis­tle.

The cur­rent op­ti­mistic es­ti­mate is that the treat­ment plant won't be fully op­er­a­tional un­til maybe 2036, only twenty years be­hind sched­ule. That gives Bech­tel plenty more time for cost over-runs, con­tract ex­ten­sions and slap-on-the-wrist fines to give the ap­pear­ance of due-dili­gence on the part of the govern­ment.

Even if Han­ford is some­how cleaned up, the waste will re­main ra­dioac­tive and ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for tens of thou­sands of years. Fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will have to con­tinue to store and mon­i­tor the waste un­til some­one is will­ing to con­vert the waste to some­thing less dan­ger­ous.

The cleanup of the plant is cur­rently es­ti­mated to cost tax­pay­ers more than $115 bil­lion, but it will likely end up be­ing sub­stan­tially more, es­pe­cially if Trump cuts the crit­i­cal fund­ing and EPA over­sight in the near fu­ture and de­rails the flawed but only cleanup ef­forts.

The Han­ford Site is just one legacy of Amer­ica's nu­clear mad­ness. Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory (LANL) in New Mex­ico is an­other on­go­ing boon­dog­gle in a long list of ex­pen­sive nu­clear fail­ures.

Los Alamos has the na­tion’s only fa­cil­ity for mak­ing and test­ing a key nu­clear bomb part and it was shut down in 2013 when it was dis­cov­ered that the plant was not op­er­at­ing safely.

The act­ing head of the Depart­ment of En­ergy's Na­tional Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion dis­cov­ered that Los Alamos didn’t have enough per­son­nel who knew how to han­dle plu­to­nium so that it didn’t ac­ci­den­tally go “crit­i­cal” and start an un­con­trolled chain re­ac­tion. The lab was shut down and is still not yet fully op­er­a­tional but is now fi­nally do­ing dry-runs and test­ing sys­tems. In the mean­time, Amer­ica's nu­clear arsenal is not be­ing tested as needed, which is prob­a­bly OK.

In ad­di­tion to the train­ing is­sue, LANL sits on top of an ac­tive fault zone and a siz­able earth­quake could col­lapse the roof of the build­ing where plu­to­nium is pro­cessed and start a chain re­ac­tion that would spew ra­dioac­tive par­ti­cles into the air. A fire at the same time, which is likely, could carry the can­cer caus­ing ra­di­a­tion up into the at­mos­phere and spread it over a wide area.

Due to the on­go­ing safety con­cerns at LANL, the De­fense Nu­clear Fa­cil­i­ties Safety Board held a pub­lic hear­ing on June 7th re­gard­ing the Plu­to­nium Fa­cil­ity at Los Alamos Na­tional Lab­o­ra­tory and is ac­cept­ing pub­lic com­ments till July 7th.

Un­der Trump, the Pen­tagon has started mak­ing its nu­clear safety record much more se­cret.

Some may ques­tion whether or not the United States ever needed nu­clear weapons in the first place. We now know that drop­ping the atom bomb on Ja­pan did not end WW II. Ja­pan was al­ready ask­ing to sur­ren­der be­fore the bomb was dropped be­cause Rus­sia had en­tered the war against Ja­pan and the Ja­panese knew they were fac­ing cer­tain de­feat. They could not fight the U.S. and Rus­sia at the same time. The only con­di­tion that Ja­pan was ask­ing for was to keep its Em­peror, while the U.S. wanted an un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der. The U.S. re­jected Ja­pan's of­fers to sur­ren­der and dropped two atomic bombs on densely pop­u­lated civil­ian ar­eas.

Be­cause the United States had nu­clear weapons and was will­ing to use them, other coun­tries had to have them as well and the U.S. was more than will­ing to help some de­velop their own nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Is­rael was given Amer­i­can nu­clear tech­nol­ogy while the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion sim­ply looked the other way when Pak­istan de­vel­oped its nu­clear weapons pro­gram with Amer­i­can, Euro­pean and Chi­nese as­sis­tance.

Rea­gan was be­ing disin­gen­u­ous when he hold told Con­gress, "There is no diminu­tion in the pres­i­dent's com­mit­ment to re­strain­ing the spread of nu­clear weapons in the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent or else­where."

Don­ald Trump says that it might not be so bad if Saudi Ara­bia (the great­est source of Is­lamic ter­ror­ism and one of the ar­chi­tects of the at­tacks of 9/11) had nukes.

In to­day's world of Ji­had, cy­ber at­tacks, weather mod­i­fi­ca­tion, eco­nomic war­fare and ex­otic weapons, nu­clear weapons can no longer be pre­sumed to pro­tect the U.S. from grave harm.

The delu­sion of a great com­mu­nist threat ended long ago and no one be­lieves that Rus­sia would in­vade Amer­ica. China may pose a threat but nu­clear weapons won't de­ter it from its 100 year marathon to dom­i­nate the globe. Amer­i­can stu­pid­ity is a much greater threat than China.

Even though nu­clear weapons are ob­so­lete and serve lit­tle or no pur­pose, Obama au­tho­rized a nu­clear mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram that will cost tax­pay­ers an­other $1 tril­lion. The U.S. al­ready has enough func­tional nukes to com­pletely de­stroy all life on Earth many times over and the mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram is just more loot­ing of tax­pay­ers money to keep the oli­garchs rich.

For­tu­nately, the rest of the world is not as in­sane or cor­rupt as Amer­ica and most coun­tries are try­ing hard to abol­ish nu­clear weapons al­to­gether.

On De­cem­ber 23, 2016, the UN passed res­o­lu­tion 71/258 to con­duct ne­go­ti­a­tions to ban nu­clear weapons world­wide.

On May 22nd, the first draft of a UN treaty to abol­ish nukes was com­pleted. Fi­nal ne­go­ti­a­tions have been un­der­way since June 15th and are sched­uled to fin­ish on July 7th.

The first draft of the treaty was sup­ported by 132 coun­tries. The United States boy­cotted the ne­go­ti­a­tions and me­dia in coun­tries with nu­clear weapons have largely ig­nored the whole vi­tally im­por­tant is­sue.

Once the treaty is com­pleted and signed by other na­tions the hard part will of course be in en­forc­ing it. No nu­clear power will want to give up their own nukes as long as the U.S. has them.

And then there is the fact that the UN it­self can't re­ally be trusted. It has its own is­sues of cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence. Some of its agen­cies, such as the Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights and the Se­cu­rity Council, have no cred­i­bil­ity. But, it is still our best op­tion.

The U.S. alone spends more than $25 bil­lion each year on its nu­clear weapons and that amount will rise dra­mat­i­cally in the near fu­ture.

Com­bined, all known nu­clear pow­ers spend more than $100 bil­lion each year on nu­clear weapons.

Imag­ine if that money was in­stead spent on ed­u­ca­tion, fam­ily plan­ning, jobs and cli­mate change adap­ta­tion.

Even though hu­man­ity ex­pends a great deal of its re­sources and many of its best people on killing each other and de­vel­op­ing new and more ef­fec­tive ways to kill each other, we can be bet­ter than this. It doesn't have to be this way.

The first step to last­ing peace is to re­al­ize that the war in­dus­try and in­ter­na­tional bankers who profit from war are ac­tu­ally be­hind much of the con­flict that plagues hu­man­ity. They are the real en­emy and need to be ex­posed as such.

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