• PARALLEL ATOMIC UNIVERSES
• Energy We Can Live With
• Nuclear Weapons, War and the Media
• Nuclear Engineering, Ethics and Public Health
Professor, State University of New York/College at Old Westbury
PARALLEL ATOMIC UNIVERSES
Russian-American Women’s Leadership And Nuclear Safety Activism
Exchange of the Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia
Tomsk, Siberia May 24, 2002
We—the people of the United States and you, the people of Russia—live in parallel atomic universes. Our nuclear establishments rose from similar roots: the development of atomic bombs.
They continued and expanded for the same reason: to perpetuate themselves mainly. In the United States an additional interest was greed, money to be made through capitalism. In the former Soviet Union, an additional motive was communism’s worshipful commitment to technology.
As the 1958 book Atom For Peace of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences stated: “Atomic energy is a powerful tool of technical progress. The speediest and fullest utilization of this new source of power is thus in the interests of humanity.”
“Atomics, like science and technology in general, finds its natural home in socialism, which alone makes possible social planning, and, therefore, the use of productive forces for the benefit of the people,” declared the Marxist analyis Atomic Energy and Society published by International Publishers.
But whether atomic technology was developed under U.S.-style capitalism or Soviet communism, the end result was the same: nuclear pollution destroying life and contaminating the environment in both our nations.
In the United States, atomic technology began with a letter to our president in 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt, from Albert Einstein—written in Peconic on Long Island, New York. (I live 15 kilometers away.)
In late 1938 fission was accomplished in Nazi Germany. Physicists Leo Szilard and Edward Teller, like Einstein refugees from the Nazis, fearing Hitler might develop a bomb based on the energy unleashed by fission, with others asked Einstein to write the letter. Einstein wrote to the president about information that “leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future,” how “it may be possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium” and of “this new phenomenon” leading “to the construction of bombs…extremely powerful bombs of a new type.”
Out of that letter came the Manhattan Project run by the U.S. Army. Scientists and engineers were gathered and put to work at facilities secretly built at locations across the U.S. The biggest were laboratories and manufacturing plants in Los Alamos, New Mexico; Hanford, Washington; Argonne, Illinois; and Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Large corporations and universities were retained to manage the facilities. Indeed, Einstein’s letter had suggested that “government departments” join with “university laboratories” and “industrial laboratories” for this crash program to beat the Nazis to nuclear weapons.
General Electric and Westinghouse—which were to become the Coke and Pepsi in the U.S. manufacture of nuclear power plants—got their start in atomic technology as Manhattan Project contractors.
By 1945 four atomic bombs had been built, one used for a test and two dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Also by 1945, 600,000 people had become part of a program on which two billion dollars, in 1940’s dollars, had been spent. The Manhattan Project had become a major part of the U.S. economy.
With the war’s end there was anxiety among many of those involved in the Manhattan Project. Many of the scientists and government officials didn’t want to see the endeavor and their jobs over; corporations didn’t want to see their contracts ended.
As James Kunetka writes in his book City of Fire about Los Alamos Laboratory, with the war over there were now problems of “job placement, work continuity…more free time than work…hardly enough to keep everyone busy…without a crash program underway.”
Some of the people and corporations could continue building nuclear weapons, and they did. And they built even bigger bombs—the “super,” the hydrogen bomb, Teller’s project. Nuclear weapons do not lend themselves to commercial spinoff. What else could be done with atomic technology to perpetuate the nuclear establishment that rose with the Manhattan Project? In the first nuclear reactors, built at Hanford to turn uranium-238 into plutonium-239, fissionable atomic bomb fuel, lay a clue for commercial use of atomic technology: use the heat caused by fission to boil water to turn a turbine and generate electricity.
There were other schemes: using nuclear devices as substitutes for TNT to blast huge holes in the ground. Indeed, the U.S. in the 1950s planned to string 250 nuclear devices across the isthmus of Panama to create a new canal—dubbed the Panatomic Canal. If would, though, rain radioactive debris on a large section of Central America. Finally, what the Manhattan Project became in 1946, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, withdrew the project because of “prospective host country opposition to nuclear-canal excavation.”
There was even a scheme to close the Straits of Gibraltar with nuclear devices. The Mediterranean would then rise and desalinate so its waters could be used to irrigate the Sahara Desert. Atomic scientist Glenn Seaborg who went on to become AEC chairman acknowledged that “of course, the advances of a verdant Sahara would have to be weighed against the loss of Venice and other sea level cities.”
There were plans, too, to use nuclear technology to radiation-expose food to extend shelf life, to build nuclear-powered airplanes and nuclear-powered rockets.
The nuclear establishments in my country and here pushed on and on and on…
In the U.S.S.R., it was a letter sent by physicist Georgii Flerov to Joseph Stalin in 1942 that, as the book Red Atom: Russia’s Nuclear Power Program from Stalin to Today relates, began your atomic program. “In the same way Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin Roosevelt gave impetus to the Manhattan project, Flerov’s letter convinced Stalin to pursue an atomic bomb,” notes Paul R. Josephson.
Out of that letter came your nuclear establishment. You know better than I of its devastating costs, costs that parallel the price we in America have paid in lives lost, parts of our nation left horribly polluted.
As Josephson states in Red Atom: “The physicists desired energy ‘too cheap to meter’ through power-generating reactors. They sought new ways to produce nuclear fuel—plutonium—cheaply through liquid metal fast breeder reactors…They built small nuclear engines intended to power locomotives, rockets, airplanes, and portable power plants…They sterilized various food products with low-level gamma radiation to prevent spoilage and increase shelf life. They pioneered the so-called tokamak reactor in pursuit of fusion power. And they used ‘peaceful nuclear explosions’ for various mining, excavation, and construction purposes. Nuclear technology was at the center of visions of a radiant communist future.”
He continues, “whether nuclear reactors or food irradiation programs, small nuclear engines or factories spitting out…liquid sodium or isotope separation equipment, each of these technologies developed significant momentum. As if divorced from human control, the programs expanded.” Just like in the U.S.
In 1954, in a race with the United States, the first Soviet reactor to produce electricity, Obninsk, started up—despite what Josephson says were problems causing the reactor to be “unstable and in need of constant attention.”
The first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., Shippingport in Pennsyvlania, started up in 1957. It was built by the U.S. government under the direction of Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father” of our nuclear navy. The private utilities in the U.S. were reluctant to build atomic power plants, fearing their exposure, their liability in the event of an accident. With the opening of Shippingport, Lewis Straus, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, declared that “it is the commission’s policy to give industry the first opportunity to undertake the construction of power reactors. However, if industry does not, within a reasonable time, undertake to build types of reactors which are considered promising, the commission will take steps to build the reactors on its own initiative.”
This was the stick to compel the U.S. utility industry to build nuclear plants. The carrot was the Price-Anderson Act, a law passed in 1957, supposedly as a temporary measure to encourage a nuclear industry to start, which severely limited liability in the event of a catastrophic accident. But the Price-Anderson Act continues to this day, indeed the U.S. Congress recently voted to extend it another 15 years. Meanwhile, also in 1957, the first U.S. report on the consequences of a nuclear accident was released. The AEC’s WASH-740 report projected the potential impacts as 3,400 killed, 43,000 injured and $7 billion in property damage.
That, however, was based on a nuclear plant with a fifth the power of those that actually were built in the 1960s and 70s. In 1982, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the successor agency of the AEC, issued a report reflecting the increased power. This analysis, Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences, projected consequences such as, for the Indian Point 2 and 3 nuclear plants 28 miles north of New York City—over which, might I note, one of the jets that crashed into the World Trade Center September 11 flew—46,000 “early fatalities” if Indian Point 2 underwent a meltdown with breach of containment; 50,000 “early fatalities” from a meltdown at Indian Point 3. Peak “early injuries” from 2: 141,000. From 3, 167,000. Cancer deaths, 13,000 from 2; 14,000 from 3. And as to property damage, the study estimated $274 billion—in 1980 dollars—as a result of a meltdown at 2; $314 billion as a result of a meltdown at 3.
Another important U.S. government admission, on the “likelihood of a severe core melt” accident, came in 1985: “In a population of 100 reactors operating over a period of 20 years, the crude cumulative probability of such an accident would be 45%,” said the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Your nuclear whistle-blower Lydia Popova has written how “the Soviet nuclear industry began with the creation of deadly weapons in secret cities and secret laboratories.” Your counterpart to our governmental nuclear regulatory agencies, the Ministry of Atomic Power, as Popova states, “acquired the privileges of the [nuclear] weapons program—including its secrecy and total financial dependence on the taxpayer. Its commitment was to serve the interests of the industry and a select group of nuclear specialists at the expense of ordinary people.”
We had our Three Mile Island accident about which our nuclear establishment is still in denial. A TV documentary I’ve done is called Three Mile Island Revisited in which it is revealed that despite the claim of our nuclear establishment that “no one died” as a result of the TMI accident, the owner of the plant has quietly been giving cash settlements to people who suffered impacts including the loss of loved ones.
Here Chernobyl brought horrific devastation and as Popova has written, your nuclear establishment is also "unrepentant," seeking to have Chernobyl "forgotten."
And both Russian and U.S. governments are now pushing for a "revival" of nuclear power -- many more nuclear power plants in both nations. As one official in the U.S. process, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, has said: "If you set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear power really is good." Really..
Your government would establish Russia as a repository for much of the world's nuclear waste. My government is now moving to dump U.S. nuclear wastes in Yucca Mountain which is on or near 32 earthquake faults and is 100 miles from Las Vegas. Speaking of a big gamble.
In their 1992 book Ecocide in the USSR, Murray Feshback and Alfred Friendly, Jr. wrote: “When historians finally conduct an autopsy on the Soviet Union and Soviet Communism, they may reach the verdict of death by ecocide…No other great industrial civilization so systematically and so long poisoned its land, air, water and people. None so loudly proclaiming its efforts to improve public health and protect nature so degraded both. And no advanced society faced such a bleak political and economic reckoning with so few resources to invest toward recovery.”
They write about how the Soviet Union endangered “the health of its population—especially its children and its labor force—the productivity of its soil and the purity of its air and water.
Ten years later, the people of Russia are examining alternative systems. There are those in my country who would sell you on our system. Capitalism, they say, is the answer.
Life, I say, is the answer. To life, to the preservation of life—that is what a nation should aspire.
In my country, cancer is now epidemic. Nearly one in every two Americans is expected to get cancer. And analysis after analysis has attributed a majority of cancer cases to environmental pollution: the toxic soup of air pollution, water pollution, the impacts of dangerous chemicals and radiation.
As a Presidential Toxic Substances Strategy Committee reported: “Environmental factors…are significant in the great majority of cancer cases seen.”
As the First Annual Report to Congress by the Task Force on Environmental Cancer and Heart and Lung Disease stated: “The environment we have created may now be a major cause of death in the United States.’
Rachel Carson whose 1962 book Silent Spring sparked the modern environmental movement in the U.S. spoke of a “barrage” of toxics “hurled against the fabric of life” and causing widespread death. That barrage continues.
The government is of little use in protecting its citizens.
That’s the way it has always been.
Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a physician known as the “father” in the U.S. of pure food regulation (there’s even a U.S. postage stamp bearing his likeness), came to Washington, D.C. in 1883 to become chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The U.S. was changing—from a rural to an industrial society—and dangerous chemicals had begun to be put into processed food. These chemicals, Dr. Wiley determined, were “real threats to health.” So he formed Dr. Wiley’s “Poison Squad,” a group of Department of Agriculture volunteers who under the gaze of the press ate doses of chemicals being used to color and preserve and otherwise treat food, to show their negative effects on human beings.
The populace became alerted and alarmed by Dr. Wiley’s campaign and the publication of the book, The Jungle, by crusading writer Upton Sinclair, about the filthy, unhealthy way meat was beginning to be processed in the U.S. And there was citizen action led by an early consumer group, the National Consumer League.
This led to the passage of the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906. It could be regarded as the first environmental law in the U.S.
But passage of laws and their implementation are two different things.
Government inspectors did not enter food processing plants—unless allowed to do so by plant management. Penalties were light. Pesticides, including those containing poisons like arsenic, had come into use, but attempts to deal with pesticides under the law were beaten back by industry. In 1912, as a matter of conscience, Dr. Wiley resigned from U.S. government service. He decided he would be able to more effectively fight against poisons in food outside of government.
He wrote a book: The History of a Crime Against the Food Law. In it, he stated: “There is a distinct tendency to put regulation and rules for the enforcement of the law into the hands of industries engaged in food and drug activities. I consider this one of the most pernicious threats to pure food and drugs. Business is making rapid strides in the control of all our affairs….It is never advisable to surrender entirely food and drug control to business interests.” The Pure Food and Drugs Act had been “perverted,” Dr. Wiley declared.
This conflict, this dialectic—between efforts to protect the health of people from poison put into the environment and the power of those who do the poisoning—continues in my country. The big difference is that in recent decades the poisoning, the pollution has become far more severe. And the toll in illness and death, especially from cancer, has become more and more intense in the U.S.
As for U.S. government regulation of atomic power, forget it. Neither the Atomic Energy Commission or Nuclear Regulatory Commission ever denied an application to construct or operate a nuclear power plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S. Our regulatory agencies have been lapdogs not watchdogs.
One thing I have learned clearly in being an environmental journalist for more than 35 years is that virtually all polluting processes and products are unneeded. They can be replaced—indeed, many have been and are—by clean, unpolluting, safe, sustainable processes and products. The threat to peoples’ lives, the environmental destruction is unnecessary.
A classic example: PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls. The U.S. company Monsanto started churning out PCBs in 1929 producing 85 million pounds of the stuff by the 1960s, after it had become obvious that PCBs impact on health, were carcinogenic.
PCBs main use: insulating fluid in electric components such as capacitors and transformers. Insisted Monsanto in a press release in 1970 as it tried to prevent the U.S. from following Japan which in 1968 banned PCBs after rice oil became contaminated with PCBs and poisoned a thousand people, several fatally: “There are no substitutes available.” Monsanto insisted that PCBs have an “irreplaceable role” for industrial society.
Well production of PCBs in the U.S. was banned the following year. Industrial society in the U.S. has continued. What has been the major substitute for PCBs? Not an exotic substance at all but mineral oil.
In fact, whether it is production of electricity with cancer-causing, lethally dangerous nuclear power—for which solar, wind, geothermal, appropriate hydropower and a host of sustainable, safe alternatives can substitute—to agriculture with toxic, synthetic chemicals which increasingly is being shown to be counter-productive and highly expensive compared to organic farming, to the replacement of ozone-damaging chloroflourocarbons in spray cans, safe alternatives, substitutes in harmony with nature are here today. The central problem: the vested interests that gain from polluting processes and products.
Those on the left in my country like to point to big business, giant corporations as the cause of environmental destruction. Under capitalism, they say, the bottom line is profit. So what if people die and pieces of the planet are destroyed in the process? And the left is not incorrect.
On the other hand, look at the mess at virtually all the U.S. government-owned national nuclear laboratories in the U.S.—including Los Alamos and Oak Ridge.
No matter what the system—and we all have our preferences—whether it be the “market economy”/capitalism or socialism or communism (or nudism), foremost is that we must be ecocentric. Life first.
Life, and not to be anthropomorphic, all life, must come first!
What’s to be done? Democracy; transparency; independent, honest science; independent, honest epidemiology—desperately needed. In the U.S., we must end the current system of accommodating pollution. We must say “no” to death by contamination. We must eliminate bad environmental actors—and substitute processes and products in harmony with nature, with life. We must prosecute criminally those who cause injury and death by pollution. In the words of an American singer, U. Utah Phillips: “The earth is not dying, it is being killed. And those who are killing her have names and addresses.”
Fundamental change is needed.
Citizen activism is critical. We must engage politically. We must organize, agitate and creatively litigate.
We must prohibit media ownership by corporate environmental wrongdoers. Nuclear plant manufacturer and corporate outlaw General Electric today owns the NBC, MSNBC and CNBC TV networks. GE should be watchdogged by the press, not own the press. A media that challenges power, that honestly and properly informs the public, is crucial. Conveying the information through the educational system, too, is vital.
Above all: democracy! Let an informed public make the decisions. They are far too important to be left to corporate executives and scientists and government bureaucrats.
Admiral Hyman Rickover, in the end, regretted what he had done. In a farewell address before a committee of the U.S. Congress in 1982 he said: “I’ll be philosophical. Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth; that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin…Now when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Everytime you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliiminate it. I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation.” The man who built America’s first commercial nuclear power plant, recommended that “we outlaw nuclear reactors.”
Indeed, we must shut down every nuclear plant.
This is my fourth visit to Russia in four years. I have been working with the Center for Russian Environmental Policy and its leaders, Alexey Yablokov and Vladimir Zakharov. I have been impressed by the Center’s calls for the adoption of the precautionary principle here, the “greening of the economy,” establishing “an integrated system to assess human health and environmental health,” the stress on the paramount importance of health and development of clean, safe alternative energy sources.
I attended the Second Annual All-Russia Congress on Nature Conservation. There I heard Dr. Tamara Zltonikova of the State Duma declare: “To protect the environment is to protect life on Earth.” And I heard speaker after speaker—from all walks of life—espouse the kind of wisdom for which people here are known.
Sixty years ago, we of the United States of America and you of Russia were allies in the Great Patriotic War, what we call World War II, against forces that would destroy life. As during the Great Patriotic War, we and you again face the same enemies—forces that would destroy life.
Some of our experiences in the U.S. —our environmental successes (we do have a wonderful national park system) and our failures—might be helpful to you. We and you are again pitted against a common foe. We much achieve victory, both of us, to survive—for life to survive. There is a way: a wise, life-affirming, eco-centric, green way.
Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York who for more than 35 years has pioneered the combining of investigative reporting and environmental journalism in a variety of media. He coordinates the Media & Communications Program at the State University of New York’s College at Old Westbury. A special concentration is nuclear technology. Among the six books he has authored are: Power Crazy; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet; and Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power.
He has given speeches on nuclear technology and other energy and environmental issues around the world. He gave presentations at the Center for Russian Environmental Policy’s International Conference on “Toward a Sustainable Russia: Environmental Policy” in Voronezh in 1998, at the Second All-Russia Congress on Protection of Nature in Saratov in 1999, and in 2000 at the conference on “Health of the Environment” at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
He has long been active in television and is program director and vice president of EnviroVideo, a New York-based TV company that produces environmental documentaries and interview and news programs. He narrated and wrote EnviroVideo’s award-winning documentaries The Push To Revive Nuclear Power; Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and Three Mile Island Revisited. He is now in the process of putting together an EnviroVideo (www.envirovideo.com) documentary on the great strides in safe, clean, renewable energy technologies and how they are ready to be implemented. His EnviroVideo TV programs are aired across the U.S. on cable TV and via communications satellite by Free Speech TV.
His magazine and newspaper articles have appeared in numerous publications. He is a member of the board of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service-WISE Amsterdam. He is secretary of the board of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. He is a charter member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the International Association of University Presidents and the United Nations. He can be reached by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His home address is: Box 1680, Sag Harbor, New York, USA, 11963.
Energy We Can Live With
Professor SUNY College at Old Westbury
Presentation at SUNY College at New Paltz
October 21, 2010
Energy we can live with. Yes. It’s here, it can sustain us, it can allow us to thrive—without life-threatening power.
But getting from here to there will not be easy. It will take individual and group action because the energy deck is stacked—from pressure especially from the oil, coal and nuclear industries.
Let me make some remarks—and then let’s have a discussion with you saying what you think we can do to implement safe, renewable energy technologies.
They are here today. As this magazine, the respect British journal New Scientist declared in a special issue not long ago, “The UN says the renewable energy that can already be harnessed economically would supply the world’s electricity needs 15 times over.” Clean renewable power technologies can be employed to “achieve a colossal environmental win…It’s time we…got on with making it a reality.”
New Scientist goes on to present details on solar power, wind energy, tide-power, geothermal energy and other technologies that are here today.
It declares: “A world run on renewables is no longer a hippy’s fuzzy green dream. “ It’s time, it says, we “make it a reality.”
But we don’t live in the fairest of energy worlds.
Take oil. Do you remember—just two years ago—when the price of gasoline was skyrocketing: to $4 and $4.25 and $4.50 a gallon and more.
The oil companies were claiming the fault was China and India going car-crazy and guzzling up gas, problems in the Middle East, then it was refinery capacity, and all along—if the ban on drilling in areas on the continental shelf offshore was only lifted, everything would be different.
Meanwhile, filling up a car, at 40 or 50 bucks a shot, was hurting people badly, impacting an already bad economy. And the oil companies were raking in record profits—billions upon billions of dollars.
People were getting angrier and angrier thinking some kind of price-rigging was going on. You think?
Then, suddenly, the price of gas went down. And ever since it’s been down to about $3 a gallon. That’s the price I just paid on the Thruway coming here. The price of a barrel of crude has dived—from a high of $145 two years back to half that.
Yet people are still car-crazy in China and India, problems continue in the Middle East, no new refineries have been built, and after the mammoth oil spill in Gulf of Mexico, restrictions on offshore oil drilling have been expanded.
Do you think the oil industry is manipulating the market, grabbing our money to make windfall profits when it can, and is deep in deception?
I’ve thought so for years.
Let me tell a story—of how decades ago I broke the story of the oil industry exploring in the Atlantic—and received my first lesson in oil industry honesty, an oxymoron.
I was a reporter for the daily Long Island Press and got a tip from a fisherman out of Montauk who said he had seen the same sort of vessel as the boats he observed searching for oil when he was a shrimper in the 1940s in the Gulf of Mexico. I spent the day telephoning oil company after oil company. Public relations people for each said, no, we’re not involved in looking for oil in the Atlantic. In the Atlantic? they scoffed.
I was leaving the office when there was a call that a PR guy from Gulf was on the phone. He said he checked and, yes, Gulf was involved in searching for oil in the Atlantic—in a “consortium” of 32 oil companies. These included the companies that all day issued flat denials.
As to oil spillage at offshore rig, I worked the Atlantic offshore oil drilling story for years which included visiting the first rig set up—off Nova Scotia. Offshore drilling is dangerous in the Atlantic or the Gulf or anywhere. My article began: “The rescue boat goes round and round…as the man from Shell concedes, ‘We treat every foot of hole like a potential disaster.’” On the rig were capsules to eject crew members in an accident. I wrote, “Workers may all be kept in one piece, but erupting oil won’t, the man from Shell admits.” He acknowledges that “booms and other devices the oil industry flashes in its advertising ‘just don’t work in over five-foot seas.’” So, he says, there are “stockpiles of clean-up material on shore. Not straw as in the States,” he says. “Here we have peat moss.”
I found spills in offshore drilling and consequent damage to fisheries and other life as chronic—although we’re not supposed to know that. We’re to believe the Gulf disaster was an isolated incident. In fact, it’s drill, baby, spill.
Might I recommend a very well-researched recent book, The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry—and What We Must To Do Stop It” by Antonia Juhasz.
She writes: “The masters of the oil industry, the companies known as ‘Big Oil,’ exercise their influence…through rapidly and ever-increasing oil and gasoline prices, a lack of viable alternatives, the erosion of democracy, environmental destruction, global warming, violence, and war.”
She cites a Gallup poll on “public perceptions of U.S. industry” and reports the oil industry “earned the lowest rating of any industry.” Americans are on to the oil industry—and they need to do a lot about it! And it’s not just Big Oil.
When it comes to energy, it’s Big Oil and Big Coal and Big Nuclear which manipulate U.S. policy, says S. David Freeman, and he should know.
Freedman headed the New York Power Authority and also the Tennessee Valley Authority and authored the book Winning Our Energy Independence: An Energy Insider Shows How.
Freeman calls oil, coal and nuclear “The Three Poisons.” And he stresses that we don’t need any of these poisons.
He declares that the solar power that could be harnessed on 1 percent of the land in the U.S. “could generate electricity that, if converted to hydrogen, could completely replace gasoline,” that “our vast solar and wind potential…could meet all our energy needs, from driving our motor vehicles to heating our homes and other uses now being supplied by coal, nuclear, oil…We would have our renewable energy when, where, and however we liked it.”
There’s a windfall at hand of safe, renewable, clean energy—if only it would be fully pursued. But there are industrial interests working with their partners in the U.S. government, who fight that.
These renewable energy technologies—are energy that we can live with, energy that can unhook us from oil, coal and nuclear. But those industries don’t like that possibility.
Consider hot dry rock geothermal energy. It turns out that below half the earth, two to six miles down, it’s extremely hot. When naturally flowing water hits those hot rocks and has a place to come up, you get geysers like in California or Iceland. But also water can be sent down an injection pipe to hit the hot dry rock below and rise up second production pipe as super-heated water that can turn a turbine and generate electricity or furnish heat.
Scientists from Los Alamos National Laboratory built a model hot dry rock facility at Fenton Hill and showed that the technology can work.
Here’s a television piece I did: (A THREE-MINUTE ENVIROVIDEO TV NEWS PIECE ON HOT DRY ROCK GEOTHERMAL IS SHOWN.)
That was some statement from Dave Duchane, a respected, careful scientist, that “hot dry rock is has an almost unlimited potential to supply all the energy needs of the United States and all the world.”
The New York Times said about hot dry rock geothermal: “The estimated energy potential of hot dry rock nationwide is 10 million quads…more energy than this country uses in thousands of years.”
So what happened?
A request for proposal—an RFP—was prepared by Los Alamos inviting industry to take over the Fenton Hill facility that you just saw and “produce and market energy” from it. But on its way to Washington, the RFP was cancelled by the Department of Energy under pressure, I’ve been told, by conventional energy industries. And the Fenton Hill facility has been decommissioned. And now there are claims being made that hot dry rock geothermal might be great but the initial drilling could cause earth tremors. The hot dry rock scientists say if that happens the tremors cease pretty quickly. But the technology is to a large degree stalled.
What do we do?
Some things can be done individually. The sun shines on where I live on Long Island, and up here and all over New York State, indeed throughout the U.S. and the world. As Sharp, a major manufacturer of solar panels, says: the sun is the answer.
Last year, my wife and I had solar photovoltaic panels installed on the roof of our house. And now, most of the time, our electric meter spins backwards. The panels on the roof are not only supplying all the electricity we use but excess is sent back into the grid, for which we are paid. Our electric bill is now $5 a month, the minimum charge for the meter reader to come.
Meanwhile, the price of solar photovoltaic panels has been dropping fast and their efficiencies rising. SunPower Corp. of California this year announced new panels with a remarkable 24.2 percent efficiency—the rating NASA’s solar panels have in converting sunlight to electricity.
Also, we not only now have solar panels to generate electricity but thermal panels to heat water. And it is just amazing to see, in the middle of last winter, a cold winter, the water coming down from the roof at 100 and 120 days—on frigid days.
Technology can be very good.
Solar is also a key to generating an optimum fuel—hydrogen—for locomotion . As Lester Brown, founder of Worldwatch Institute says in his book, EcoEconomy: Building an Economy for the Earth, “In the eco-economy, hydrogen will be the dominant fuel…Since hydrogen can be stored and used as needed, it provides perfect support for an energy economy with wind and solar power as the main pillars.”
There’s a very, very good U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. It’s a beacon for a sustainable energy future. At NREL, they’re working on using solar to produce hydrogen from water. Here’s my interview with John Turner, senior scientist, at NREL. (AN ENVIROVIDEO TV INTERVIEW WITH TURNER IS PLAYED.)
Here’s Dr. Turner, a respected, careful scientist speaking of “sunlight to hydrogen—basically an inexhaustible fuel…the forever fuel.”
The hydrogen-through-solar-energy approach of NREL is the way Volkswagen envisions a hydrogen infrastructure. It has opened a solar hydrogen filling station in Germany, built in collaboration with the German solar energy company Solvis. You drive up and see a large solar array which, through electrolysis, produces hydrogen from water. And you fill’er-up—with hydrogen.
That combination of endless hydrogen from water and endless solar from the sun to produce it is being called green hydrogen.
But, again, those vested interests would get into the act. A scheme started under the administration of President George W. Bush—with its cronies in the oil, coal and nuclear industries—involves construction of a nuclear power plant at Idaho National Laboratory to make hydrogen.
To get clean hydrogen there’s this push to use atomic power with all its dangers: the potential for catastrophic accidents, routine radioactive emissions, the production of nuclear waste that somehow must be safeguarded for millennia, problems of nuclear proliferation, and so forth.
Talking about screwing up a great idea.
There’s a coalition—the Green Hydrogen Coalition—which includes Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and other groups—fighting for the hydrogen/solar economy, not the hydrogen/nuclear scheme.
What I’ve been most impressed in visiting the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is that whatever division I went to there, the vision is of boundless safe, clean, renewable energy energy.
Not only by using solar to generate hydrogen but through a new amazing solar energy technology called “thin film photovoltaic.” Developed at NREL, rather than conventional rigid solar panels, it involves flexible membranes impregnated with high-efficiency solar collectors.
These sheets of solar-collecting membranes can be applied over glass buildings. Skyscrapers that rise in Manhattan or buildings here on the New Paltz campus can serve as electricity generators. “Thin film photovoltaic” is now being widely used in Europe.
Scientists at NREL’s Solar Energy Research Facility say that through solar we could get all the energy we’d ever need.
But then you go to NREL’s National Wind Technology Center where the scientists speak about wind providing all the energy we’d ever need.
They were pioneers in the great advances in wind energy in recent years—especially the development of turbines with highly-efficient blades and wind turbines that can be…and are...being placed on land and increasingly, in Europe, offshore.
Bluewater Wind is getting set to build the first offshore wind farm off Delaware. It would be this country’s first.
Wind is now the fastest growing energy technology. It has been expanding 25 percent a year and that kind of future annual growth is predicted. Wind energy costs a fifth of what it did in the 1980s—and is now fully competitive with other energy technologies—and a continuing downward cost trend is anticipated.
And at NREL’s National Bioenergy Center, the scientists say biomass could fulfill a huge portion of the world energy needs—and we’re not talking here about using food stocks, corn, but switchgrass and poplar trees and other, again, non-food energy crops.
The scientists at NREL might not be right on any single energy source—but all together these and other renewable energy sources, can, in a mix, provide all the energy we need. And energy we can live with.
As NREL declares on its website: “There’s no shortage of renewable energy resources.”
And there’s so many more:
Consider: wave power. In Portugal, a wave power project has just begun. Pelamis Wave Power, a Scottish company, has engineered it—a line of machines will be tapping nature’s constant ocean power.
And tidal energy. The government of Nova Scotia is moving ahead with tapping the enormous power of the 40 and 50 foot tides that twice a day rush in and out of the Bay of Fundy—driven by the moon.
And energy from algae.
And micro or distributed power, smart grids, cutting energy loss from transmitting electricity over long distances.
And throughout, we must remember efficiency, a key across the board.
Here’s my interview with energy analyst Amory Lovins. (ENVIROVIDEO TV INTERVIEW WITH LOVINS TAPE IS SHOWN)
Renewables Are Ready was the title of a book written by two Union of Concerned Scientists staffers in 1995. They’re more than ready now. But there’s much work to do challenging the manipulation and, yes, tyranny of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Nuclear to make that possible.
Now, let’s have a discussion on what you think we should and can do to bring on safe, renewable energy technologies.
Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury. Among the six books he has authored are: Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power and Power Crazy. He has given presentations on energy and environmental issues around the world.
He hosts the nationally-aired Enviro Close-Up produced by EnviroVideo, a New York-based TV company. He narrated and wrote EnviroVideo’s award-winning documentaries The Push To Revive Nuclear Power; Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens and Three Mile Island Revisited.
He is the chief investigative reporter of WVVH-TV on Long Island.
His articles have appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Miami Herald, The Village Voice, Extra!, E, The Environmental Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Nation, The Progressive, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Newsday, The Christian Science Monitor, The Crisis, Mother Jones and The Ecologist. His column appears weekly in newspapers of The Southampton Press Group and other newspapers on Long Island.
Honors he has received for journalism include the George Polk, James Aronson and John Peter Zenger Awards.
He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com. His home address is: Box 1680, Sag Harbor, New York, USA, 11963.
Nuclear Weapons, War and the Media
Beyond the Bomb Conference
New York City
November 4, 2006
Professor, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury
In examining the interplay between nuclear weapons, war and the media, it is instructive to examine how The New York Times, the paper of record in the United States, gave direction to press coverage in this country as the so-called “nuclear age” opened.
It’s a shocking story. As Beverly Deepe Keever, a reporter for Newsweek, The New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor before becoming a professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii, details in her important book, News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb, “from the dawn of the atomic-bomb age, [William L.] Laurence and The Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created.”
Who was William L. Laurence? He was the granddaddy of embedded reporters—plus. A science reporter for The Times, he was hired by the Manhattan Project, the World War II crash program to build an atomic bomb and, while working for the government remained on The Times payroll, his Times weekly salary going to his wife while he also was paid by the government.
The arrangement was made by the Manhattan Project’s head, General Leslie Groves, with the publisher and editor of The Times. Keever writes: “To sell the bomb, the U.S. government needed The Times...and The Times willingly obliged.”
At the Manhattan Project, Laurence participated in “the government’s cover-up of the super-secret Trinity shot.” Held a month before the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the Trinity test a nuclear device was exploded for the first time. Laurence prepared a press release to “disguise the detonation and resulting radiation.” The “fake news” claimed there had been a “jumbo detonation of an ammunition magazine filled with high explosives at the 2000-square mile Alamogordo Air Base.”
The Timesman didn’t stop with this deception.
He prepared a 10-part series at the Manhattan Project glorifying its making of atomic weapons—and all but ignoring the dangers of radioactivity. And after the bombs fell on Japan, The Times itself ran the series and “on behalf of the government” distributed it free “to the press nationwide.”
Laurence’s avid pro-nuclear writings continued when he returned to The Times this becoming an institutional stance of the publication. The Times, writes Keever, “became little more than a propaganda outlet for the U.S. government in its drive to cover up the dangers of immediate radiation and future radioactivity emanating from the use and testing of nuclear weapons.”
The Times, she writes, “tolerated or aided the U.S. government’s Cold War cover-up that resulted in minimizing or denying the health and environmental effects arising from the use in Japan and later testing of the most destructive weaponry in U.S. history in Pacific Islands once called paradise….The Times aided the U.S. government in keeping in the dark thousands of U.S. servicemen, production workers and miners, even civil defense officials, Pacific Islanders and others worldwide about the dangers of radiation.”
Other Times writers who participated in the pro-nuclear spin included its military editor, Hanson Baldwin. Writes Keever: “In editorials and articles, The Times clearly favored Operation Crossroads,” a major nuclear test in the Pacific, and when President Truman “postponed the first scheduled dates for the test, Baldwin complained that ‘well-meaning but muddled persons, in and out of Congress, are proposing the permanent cancellation of the tests.’”
The atomic dysfunction at The Times went on and on. The nuclear testing-caused tragedy “from 1947 to 1991 unfolding in the faraway Marshall Islands,” for instance, was “largely untold by The Times.”
And the dysfunction continues today as The New York Times leads U.S. media in pushing for a “revival” of nuclear power.
Notes Keever, “A huge outcry followed the revelation of a breach of reporting ethics by a single individual when the Times in mid-2003 exposed the plagiarism and fraud committed…yet the issues raised” by her research “are far more pervasive and more importantly condoned and institutionalized as part of media management policies and practices. This investigation serves as a wake-up call for journalists of today and tomorrow.”
It’s more than a wake-up call for journalists today.
It could be a critical to the lives and survival of millions.
I helped Keever with her book sharing with her the work of Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, the author of Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, and Kenneth Libo, author and curator.
Beyond Belief is about how much was known about the Holocaust—as hundreds of thousands and then millions of Jews were being killed in the 1930s and 1940s—and this was intensely covered by the Jewish press. Yet The Times, Lipstadt writes in Beyond Belief, downplayed the horrible news coming out of Europe. Lipstadt writes that if The Times had done solid journalism about the situation, “it is possible that other American papers would have followed suit”—and what was happening could have been widely exposed—and efforts made to stop it.
Libo was responsible for exhibits on this issue including one at the National Museum of American Jewish History which featured enlarged photocopies of small, back-page Times articles on the shipping off of Jews to concentration camps placed alongside the major stories on this which ran in Jewish papers. A sign at the exhibit, Keever notes, quoting an article by me, read: “Setting the tone for coverage in the general press” of the Holocaust was The New York Times which “downplayed” the news.
Keever ends her book stating that “history might have unfolded quite differently if The Times had reported the Holocaust more prominently and vigorously,” and, likewise, “History might also have unfolded quite differently if The Times had given more than News-Zero coverage of the effects” of the “nuclear holocaust” of our time.
What should The Times and other media be reporting? First and foremost, that nuclear weapons and nuclear power are two sides of the same coin—that there is no “peaceful atom.”
Then it should examine the proposition that the only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout this world today is to also put a stop to nuclear technology.
Radical? Yes, but consider the even more radical alternative: a world in which scores of nations will be able to construct nuclear weaponry because they possess nuclear power technology. There are major parts of the Earth—Africa, South America, the South Pacific, and others—that have now been designated nuclear-free zones. If we are really to have a world free of the horrific threat of nuclear weapons, the goal needs to be the designation of this entire planet as a nuclear-free zone—no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.
Radical? Yes, but consider the alternative—trying to keep using carrots and sticks, juggling on the road to inevitable nuclear disaster.
A nuclear-free world is the only way, I believe, through which humanity will be free of the specter of nuclear warfare. Some will say putting the atomic genie back into the bottle is impossible. I say: anything people have done, other people can undo. Especially if the reason is good. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.
As Amory and Hunter Lovins wrote in their book, Energy/War: Breaking the Nuclear Link: “All nuclear fission technologies both use and produce fissionable materials that are or can be concentrated. Unavoidably latent in those technologies, therefore, is a potential for nuclear violence and coercion which may be exploited by governments, factions.”
“Little strategic material is needed to make a weapon of mass destruction. Nagasaki-yield bomb can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium, a piece the size of a tennis ball.”
“A large power reactor,” they noted, “annually produces…hundreds of kilograms of plutonium; a large fast breeder reactor would contain thousands of kilograms; a large reprocessing plant may separate tens of thousands.”
Civilian nuclear power technology, they say, provides the way to make nuclear weapons—furnishing the materiel and trained personnel.
That’s how India got The Bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a reactor for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons.
Where have media been in examining the operations of the International Atomic Energy Agency—the global nuclear-pusher?
The IAEA was formed as a result of President Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech before the UN General Assembly. Eisenhower proposed the creation of an international agency to promote civilian applications of atomic energy and, somehow at the same time, control the use of fissionable material—a dual role paralleling that of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In 1974, the AEC was abolished after the U.S. Congress concluded that, in theory and practice, it was in conflict of interest.
But the IAEA—in the AEC’s image—remains with us. The IAEA’s mandate: “To accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”
From its outset, the IAEA has been run by atomic zealots. Its first director general was Sterling Cole, who, as a U.S. congressman was an original member and then chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, as extreme in its promotion of nuclear technology as the AEC.
Later, Hans Blix became IAEA director general—after, his official IAEA biography stresses, leading a move in his native Sweden against the effort to close nuclear power plants there. Blix was outspoken in insisting nuclear technology be spread throughout the world—calling for “resolute response by government, acting individually or together as in the [IAE] Agency.”
Blix’s long-time IAEA second-in command: Morris Rosen—formerly of the AEC and before that the nuclear division of General Electric. After the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, he rendered this advice: “There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”
As for the current IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, he too, is a great nuclear booster. “There is clearly a sense of rising expectations for nuclear power,” he told a gathering in Paris last year organized by the IAEA entitled “International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 2lst Century.”
The IAEA has been doing everything it can to fuel those expectations—scandalously downplaying the public health consequences of nuclear accidents including the Chernobyl disaster, promoting all sorts of atomic technology and, with its nearly $300 million annual budget, encouraging the spread of nuclear power around the globe.
The War & Peace Foundation has wisely proposed that the IAEA be replaced with a World Sustainable Energy Agency which would promote the use of safe, clean, non-lethal energy technologies.
Meanwhile, true nuclear non-proliferation, as Amory and Hunter Lovins state, requires “civil denuclearization.”
Even Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy and manager of construction of the first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, in the end came to the conclusion that the world must—in his words—“outlaw nuclear reactors.”
Rickover, in a farewell address, told a committee of Congress in 1982: “I’ll be philosophical. Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth: that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some for some form of life to begin.”
“Now,” Rickover went on, “when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”
As for nuclear weaponry, the “lesson of history,” said the retiring admiral, is that in war nations “will use” whatever weaponry they have.
Where have media been on focusing on these realities? In the case of The New York Times and most of mainstream media: in league with a power structure archly pro-nuclear…at News Zero.
Now, positively, the media revolution of our time and what it can mean to get the truth out—in Q&A.
Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and coordinator of its Media & Communications Major. A major concentration for decades has been nuclear technology. Among the six books he has authored are: Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet; Power Crazy; and Weapons in Space. Grossman has given presentations on nuclear issues around the world. He has long also been active on television. He narrated and wrote the award-winning documentaries: The Push To Revive Nuclear Power; Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens; and Three Mile Island Revisited, all produced by EnviroVideo (www.envirovideo.com). For the past 15 years, Grossman has hosted Enviro Close-Up, aired nationally on Free Speech TV, the DISH satellite network (Channel 9415), and on more than 100 cable TV systems and on commercial TV. His magazine and newspaper articles have appeared in numerous publications. He is a charter member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the International Association of University Presidents and the United Nations. He is a member of the boards of directors of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service-World Information Service on Energy and Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, and board of advisors of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 1680, Sag Harbor, NY 11963
Nuclear Engineering, Ethics and Public Health
5th International Conference
Problems and Practice of Engineering Education
Tomsk Polytechnic University Tomsk, Siberia
May 26, 2002
Professor, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury
The Patriarch of Russia, Alexey II, spoke here yesterday afternoon about the importance of combining learning in science and engineering with education in the humanities.
I would like to humbly add to that wise man’s counsel with some thoughts.
We have come to a time in my country and yours, indeed in the world as a whole, that education in the humanities—especially in understanding and applying ethics and moral principles—is critical, vital, indeed should be required in science and engineering.
First, I am a professor of journalism and let me say that education in the humanities—in history and culture and values—is also critical for journalists.
And some journalists are, unfortunately, remiss in this central area for their work, too. At my college of the State University in New York, in classes I and others teach for future journalists, we try to educate them in this regard. The problems of ethics and journalism must be the subject of another day. But I do want to make it clear, I am not picking on another profession.
I have written several books and done much investigating into nuclear technology—including the role of nuclear engineers and scientists.
My subject today at this conference on “Problems and Practice of Engineering Education” is, in specific, “Nuclear Engineering, Ethics and Public Health.”
Several weeks after the 1986 catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Morris Rosen, a nuclear engineer from the United States—formerly with our government—who moved on to become long-time director of nuclear safety at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Number 2 man at this agency—said, and I have his statement in my hand:
“There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”
To this day, the nuclear engineers and scientists of the International Atomic Energy Agency—created by the United States to somehow promote and regulate nuclear power at the same time—have sought to minimize, indeed deny, the terrible public health impacts of Chernobyl.
They maintain that but 31 people died, that the main health effect has been psychological.
Chernobyl was not an anomaly, a unique event.
I have in my hand an official analysis by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission projecting the impacts—in “early fatalities,” “early injuries,” “cancer deaths” and property damage—in the event of a meltdown with breach of containment at every nuclear plant in America.
This analysis, “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences,” estimates for the Indian Point 2 and 3 nuclear plants—just north of New York City:
- · 46,000 "early fatalities" from 2 and 50,000 from 3.
- · 141,000 "early injuries" from 2 and 167,000 from 3.
- · 13,000 "cancer deaths" from 2 and 14,000 from 3.
- · And property damage -- $274 billion from 2 and $314 billion from 3 (and these are in 1980 dollars; a trillion each today.
And these are not just numbers. These represent people’s lives.
Before our Three Mile Island accident in 1979, American nuclear engineer Norman Rasmussen, professor of nuclear engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said getting injured or killed in a nuclear plant accident was “like getting hit on the head by a meteor while crossing a street.”
Some meteor. Some street.
Later, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, under pressure of a U.S. Congressional committee, admitted in this statement that the “likelihood of a severe core melt accident” in “a population of 100 reactors operating over a period of 20 years” was 45%—and that this might be off by 5 or 10%. So the chances, it said, are about 50-50.
Nuclear technology—and engineering and science in general—are not value-free. At the end of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. program which first invented the atomic bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer, its scientific director, told Edward Teller, who was pushing on to develop the hydrogen bomb, “We physicists have sinned.”
Today, good engineering and science have revolutionized safe, clean, sustainable, non-nuclear energy technologies. Generating energy from the wind is now far cheaper than nuclear power. Huge strides have been made in solar energy, geothermal power, there is appropriate hydropower, tidal power, wave power, the production of hydrogen fuel by using solar energy to separate hydrogen and oxygen in water—and on and on.
Still, in my country, what has been called the “nuclear establishment,” drives on. Nuclear engineers and scientists working for the government and industry in the U.S. push the technology that gives them money and power—and forget about good science.
Forget about ethics. Forget about morality. Forget about honest, independent epidemiology. Forget about life.
In medicine, all over the world the first principle for all doctors under the Hippocratic Oath is “do no harm.”
This is not the case, I submit, for many nuclear engineers and scientists.
In my country, with many nuclear engineers and scientists involved, there is a push to “revive” nuclear power.
There has not been a nuclear plant sold in America since our Three Mile Island accident.
Fifty new nuclear plants would be built.
The operating years of existing reactors would be extended from 40 to 60 years—inviting catastrophe from machines never viewed as running that long.
Some nuclear waste would be smelted down and incorporated into consumer items like car bodies, pots and spoons and forks. High level waste would be sent to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a place on or near 32 earthquake faults.
The huge terrorist threat against nuclear plants is not being realistically dealt with. One of the jets piloted by terrorists that flew into the World Trade Center minutes before flew over the Indian Point nuclear plants.
But U.S. government agencies and corporations—and engineers and scientists with a vested interest in nuclear technology—continue pushing.
Here in Russia, where your Ministry of Atomic Energy wants to build 10 new reactors and make your wonderful country a garbage dump for large amounts of the world’s nuclear waste, there is a comparable situation.
The brave Lydia Popova, who broke from your Ministry of Atomic Energy, has written about the ministry and “its commitment…to serve the interests of the [nuclear] industry and a select group of nuclear specialists at the expense of the people.”
What’s to be done?
Education—sound, solid education imbuing moral values and broader understanding pioneered here at Tomsk Polytechnic University—for scientists and engineers must occur. Widely and intensely. At the least.
Education and democracy, of course, go hand in hand.
The kind of critical issues I’ve spoke about today are too important to be left to nuclear engineers and scientists—many who would prefer to work in secret.
We need transparency. We need openness. We need full public participation and democratic involvement.
We need to make sure life is put first.
As the environmental plan for Russia advanced by the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, led by your great scientist and my friend, biologist Alexey Yablokov, states: the “environment must be healthy for both long-time successful existence of the living nature and assurance of human health.”
Or as another great Russian scientist of conscience, nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov, has said: “The [long-term] effect of radioactive carbon does not reduce the moral responsibility for future lives. Only an extreme deficiency of imagination can distinguish the suffering of contemporaries [from] that of posterity.”
In respect to the Holy Father’s comments on integrating religion and education, we have in America a principle of separation of church and state. But as an American Jew, there’s nothing wrong, I believe, in considering a passage from the Bible—important to Russian Orthodox and Christians of all kinds, and Jews, who, I mention in all humility, wrote the book.
In Deuteronomy it is written:
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants may live.”
People from around the world, lawyers and plumbers, professors and bus drivers, musicians and engineers and scientists, must choose life—and learn about why.