Nuclear Power

A New Relationship with Iran

DEALING WITH IRAN is complex for many reasons. This is not a made-up country whose borders were dictated by politicians in the last century; it is Persia—the great empire that fought with Greece before the beginning of the Christian era, the Asiatic power that imperial Rome was never totally able to subdue. From that long history emerged a people with a deep sense of proud history and a realization of national sovereignty that helps guide the destiny of the nation and its peoples.

I recall a conversation years ago with then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami about nuclear power. He was not in favor of creating weapons of mass destruction, but he clearly promoted Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. To deny this right is an affront to national sovereignty, he argued.

After the unfortunate history of the past government, once again Iran is governed by a president and a cabinet that call for peaceful nuclear development and for a new and more open relationship with the West. This is the fact that has emerged into a clear interim agreement between the so-called P5+1—the members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany—and Iran. As reported, the goal of ongoing negotiations is to open the door to a 24/7 inspection of nuclear facilities and other guarantees to ensure that Iran will not make nuclear weapons.

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Danger: Nuke Crossing

On May 31, a train left Wisconsin headed for the Department of Energy site near Barnwell, South Carolina, carrying a 310-ton decommissioned nuclear reactor core. Its route was a highly guarded secret.

The reactor core came from the La Crosse Boiling Water Reactor, which was shut down in April 1987. The owner of the nuclear power plant, the Dairyland Power Cooperative, is in the process of dismantling the facility and in May removed and readied the obsolete reactor core for shipment.

To the utility company and to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the process was little more than an engineering problem. A wide vertical hole was cut in the containment structure for removal of the 10-foot by 40-foot core. A contractor specially designed the crane equipment used to lift the reactor vessel, move it out horizontally on a conveyor, lower it into a huge steel "garbage can," weld it shut, and eventually lower the core onto a flatbed, 20-axle rail car, anchor it down, and even paint the cask before sending it from Wisconsin to South Carolina. Workers climbing on the packaged core most likely received elevated doses of radiation.

The entire rail route used by the train was inspected beforehand to ensure safe passage. In this case, chances of an accident involving radioactive release were minimal, since the entire vessel had been filled with concrete while still inside the containment building. But the U.S. government estimates that there are 1 million shipments of radioactive material on the roads every year—the vast majority of them done without public knowledge.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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Is Nuclear Power the Answer?

At the dawn of the nuclear age a half century ago, the fledgling nuclear industry promised "energy too cheap to meter" from "our friend the atom." The 21st-century version of that promise offers not only freedom from dependence on foreign oil but also the antidote to global warming.

Is nuclear power the "alternative" energy of the future, the way out of our destructive reliance on fossil fuels?

Some environmentalists think so. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace in the early 1970s, argues that "Every responsible environmentalist should support a move" away from coal-generated electricity and toward nuclear plants. "This would go a long way," Moore maintains, "toward cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions." That's a bit different than Moore's assessment in a 1976 Greenpeace report, in which he called nuclear power plants—next to nuclear warheads—"the most dangerous devices that man [sic] has ever created. Their construction and proliferation is the most irresponsible, in fact the most criminal, act ever to have taken place on this planet."

What has changed? Is it the technology, or is it Moore? Some of his former associates think it's the latter. Paul Watson, another co-founder of Greenpeace, charged Moore with being a "corporate whore ... an eco-Judas ... who has grown rich from sacrificing environmentalist principles for plain old money." Moore is currently paid by the nuclear industry to serve as co-chair of the "Clean and Safe Energy Coalition," an industry front that promotes increased use of nuclear energy, according to The Washington Post. He previously had stints as a hired spokesperson for the timber industry (for whom he proclaimed that "clear-cuts are temporary meadows") and for purveyors of PVC products (the "Vinyl Institute").

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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News Bites

  • Legal Aid. Dionisio Díaz García, a Christian labor lawyer for the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras, was assassinated in December on his way to court. He was providing legal defense for the labor rights of hundreds of security guards employed by mostly unregulated private security companies.

  • Good News. Provoke Radio, the Baltimore-based Catholic social justice radio talk show hosted by Jesuit priest Stephen Spahn, has been picked up by SIRIUS Satellite Radio's Catholic Channel. It will air twice weekly on Channel 159.

  • Nuclear Sin. One year ago, Scotland's eight Catholic bishops responded to the government's renewing of the Trident nuclear missile system, saying, "The use of weapons of mass destruction would be a crime against God and against humanity." Last November, Catholic bishops from England and Wales joined them, calling on the government to decommission all nuclear weapons.

  • Food, Not Bombs. Catholic Dominican Sisters Carol Gilbert, 59, Jackie Hudson, 72, and Ardeth Platte, 70—who were jailed for their 2002 protest at a nuclear missile silo—paid their $3,082 restitution to the U.S. Air Force in canned goods to support military families on public assistance. The Air Force refused the food.

  • Air Kiss. The Global Good Neighbor Initiative launched five radio public service announcements across the country in November promoting the "golden rule" in U.S. foreign policy. In a recent poll, 79 percent of Americans said that "the U.S. should think in terms of being a good neighbor with other countries because cooperative relationships are ultimately in the best interests of the United States."

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    Sojourners Magazine March 2007
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    Safe Nuclear Power?

    Helen Caldicott has gotten her facts mixed up and relies on invalid assumptions in her commentary (“Our Friend the Atom?” July 2006). A better estimate of the amount of greenhouse gases associated with the nuclear fuel cycle is less than one-hundredth of that relative to plants using fossil fuel to produce the same amount of electricity, in contrast to the one-third she conjectures. Utilization of other alternative energy sources also are accompanied by the release of significant amounts of greenhouse gases—from the aluminum, steel, and plastics used for their construction materials.

    Even as Caldicott discusses the medical effects of radioactive noble gas emissions, she misstates that these isotopes are gamma emitters instead of the less hazardous beta emissions. Radiation from nuclear power plants is a concern of hers, but data around Minnesota nuclear power plants show nothing above background. She neglects to also state that a coal plant emits more radiation into the environment through the fly ash than any normally operating nuclear power plant. Nuclear power generation has not resulted in any reported deaths in this country and several reputable studies have not shown any health effects. Energy policy needs to be debated, but it should be based upon facts, not conjectures.

    Wayne C. Wolsey
    St. Paul, Minnesota

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    Sojourners Magazine September/October 2006
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    Our Friend the Atom?

    The Bush administration and the nuclear industry are embarking on an ill-conceived “renaissance” of nuclear power, deploying the spurious message that it is emissions-free, green, safe, and will save the world from the effects of global warming. Wrong, on all counts!

    Carbon dioxide gas—the increase of which is tied to global warming—is released at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle: uranium mining and milling, uranium enrichment, construction of huge concrete reactors, and the transportation and long-term storage of intensely radioactive waste. Nuclear power plants currently generate “only” one-third as much carbon dioxide as a similar-sized energy plant fired by natural gas. But because the supply of highly concentrated uranium ore is limited, the energy eventually required to mine and enrich uranium will greatly increase. If global electricity production were converted to nuclear power, there only would be a three-year supply of accessible uranium to fuel the reactors.

    Nuclear reactors routinely emit radioactive materials, including the fat-soluble noble gases xenon, krypton, and argon. Although not chemically reacting with biological compounds, they are inhaled by populations near reactors, absorbed into the blood, and concentrated in the fat pads of the abdomen and upper thighs, which exposes ovaries and testicles to mutagenic gamma radiation.

    Tritium, a form of radioactive hydrogen, is also regularly discharged by reactors. Combining with oxygen to form tritiated water, it absorbs readily through skin, lungs, and gut. Tritium is a dangerous carcinogen that produces congenital malformations and genetic deformities in low doses in animals and, by extrapolation, in humans.

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    Sojourners Magazine July 2006
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    'No Danger'

    Chernobyl's radioactive cloud had not yet reached the shores of the Pacific when official U.S. government pronouncements began assuring citizens that there was no danger to the public health. The same message had already been delivered by governments of other countries to their citizens as the radioactive cloud passed overhead.

    Socialist and capitalist countries alike could agree that the radioactive release was safe for everyone living outside the immediate area of the Chernobyl plant. Radiation levels increased by more than 500 percent in some areas hundreds of miles away from the accident, but citizens were still assured this was safe. And in what can only be viewed as political double talk, some governments actually told their citizens the air was perfectly safe to breathe, while the fruit and vegetables in the same places might be unsafe to eat.

    The Chernobyl reactor meltdown was predictable. The location and time were unknown, of course, but a nuclear disaster of this magnitude was bound to happen once, and unfortunately, it's bound to happen again.

    The response of governments throughout the world has also been predictable. Hasty assurances of public safety were followed with detailed explanations of why a nuclear power disaster could not occur in their countries. And most predictable of all was the nearly unanimous silence about the victims of this accident.

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