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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Five Alarming Facts About The State Of Nuclear Weapons In Today’s World

Foreign Policy In Focus | Russ Wellen | May 27, 2014


Fat Man nuclear bomb

In a piece titled Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT? in the May issue of Arms Control Today, Hans Kristensen reports that “all of the world’s nuclear-weapon states are busy modernizing their arsenals and continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons.”

Bear in mind that it’s been 46 years since the five nuclear-weapons states that signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with states without nuclear weapons, agreed to work towards nuclear disarmament.

Kristensen writes that “none of [the nuclear-armed states] appears willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.”

In the course of his piece, Kristensen reports on a number of characteristics of nuclear weapons of which most are not aware — facts that should alarm for reasons other than the potential humanitarian consequences of a future nuclear strike.

1. “…although the numerical nuclear arms race between East and West is over, a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

Due to treaties such as New START, the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the two major nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, is declining. However, those weapons still in existence are being reconfigured for use in perpetuity.

2. “All told, over the next decade, according to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States plans to spend $355 billion on the maintenance and modernization of its nuclear enterprise, an increase of $142 billion from the $213 billion the Obama administration projected in 2011.”

To many American policy planners, money is no object for a deterrent that ostensibly guarantees that another world war will never start. But is there no limit to the cost we’ll bear? One of Kristensen’s least fun facts:

3. “According to available information, it appears that the nuclear enterprise will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 30 years.”

That is a lot of money for sophisticated technology that basically just sits on a shelf.

But what if these weapons were actually used? In that case, it becomes even more pricey for a weapons system that, when actually used by a state, potentially guarantees the destruction of that state as well as the state it’s attacking.

Or, best case scenario, the state that initiates the first strike survives, but is stuck with the bill for trying to rebuild itself and provide aid to those citizens left alive in the wake of a nuclear exchange.

4. While these “sums are enormous by any standard, and some programs may be curtailed by fiscal realities. … [n]evertheless, they indicate a commitment to a scale of nuclear modernization that appears to be at odds with … [an] administration [that] entered office with a strong arms control and disarmament agenda [and which] may ironically end up being remembered more for its commitment to prolonging and modernizing the traditional nuclear arsenal.”       

And last:

5. “This modernization plan is broader and more expensive than the Bush administration’s plan and appears to prioritize nuclear capabilities over conventional ones.”

Editorial: Storage plan for N-waste is one big boondoggle

The Spokesman-Review | May 21, 2014 in Opinion

The U.S. Department of Energy last week finally conceded the obvious: The United States has no plan for the permanent storage of spent fuel from the nation’s 100 civilian nuclear generating plants.

The department had maintained the fiction there would be one despite a 2010 decision to abandon the proposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted on blocking a repository in his home state. Meanwhile, the department was on the losing end of lawsuits filed by utilities demanding storage promised 30 years ago be made available so they could remove their waste material from vulnerable reactor sites.

And the customers of utilities receiving electricity from those plants, including the Columbia Generating Station at Hanford, continued to pay one-tenth of a cent per kilowatt-hour for a service they have never received and will not receive for the foreseeable future.

Those consumers are out of pocket for more than $42 billion: $30 billion-plus sitting in a fund reserved for nuclear storage and $12 billion spent at Yucca Mountain, which has been all but abandoned.

Gamblers on The Strip get more for their money.

Although the fee goes away as a result of the Energy Department’s change of heart – welcome news for consumers – the decision leaves unaddressed the fundamental issues: Where will the waste go, and what will it cost to put it there?

The estimated prices for a repository start at around $100 billion, but if the effort to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is any indication, you can take that with a grain of plutonium.

That multibillion-dollar boondoggle is years behind schedule, must overcome a jumble of technical problems and remains just below critical mass for renewed state litigation. Gov. Jay Inslee says the Energy Department work plan is inadequate; Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says the state plan ignores the technical challenges.

The Obama administration has requested $2.1 billion for Hanford in its 2016 budget. The Energy Department’s on-site work group estimates $3.6 billion will be needed. With 4th Congressional District Rep. Richard “Doc” Hastings retiring at the end of the year, Hanford will lose a veteran and well-placed champion in the House of Representatives, which will make securing money for the cleanup more difficult.

The administration, in its effort to steer the nation away from dependence on fossil fuels, has also dedicated $8 billion in loan guarantees toward a proposed nuclear plant in Georgia, the first in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Northwest residents old enough to remember the Washington Public Power Supply System debacle of the 1980s will recognize the potential danger.

If the region learned anything from its nuclear energy experience, it’s that there are no guarantees.

An Asia Peace Pivot

A Pivot on the Peace Island

The Nuclear Resister | May 24, 2014

by Kathy Kelly

[Followed by an article by Dr. Hakim]

May 24, 2014

Jeju Island, South Korea – For the past two weeks, I’ve been in the Republic of Korea (ROK), as a guest of peace activists living in Gangjeong Village on ROK’s Jeju Island. Gangjeong is one of the ROK’s smallest villages, yet activists here, in their struggle against the construction of a massive naval base, have inspired people around the world.

Since 2007, activists have risked arrests, imprisonment, heavy fines and wildly excessive use of police force to resist the desecration caused as mega-corporations like Samsung and Daelim build a base to accommodate U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines for their missions throughout Asia. The base fits the regional needs of the U.S. for a maritime military outpost that would enable it to continue developing its Asia Pivot strategy, gradually building towards and in the process provoking superpower conflict with China.

“We don’t need this base,” says Bishop Kang, a Catholic prelate who vigorously supports the opposition. He worries that if the base is completed, Jeju Island will become a focal point for Far Eastern military struggle, and that this would occur amid accelerating military tensions. “The strongest group in the whole world, the military, takes advantage of National Security ideology,” he continues. “Many people make money. Many governments are controlled by this militarism. The military generals, in their minds, may think they are doing this to protect their country, but in fact they’re controlled by the corporations.”

Jeju Islanders cannot ignore or forget that at least 30,000 of their grandparents and great grandparents were slaughtered by a U.S.-supported Korean government intent on crushing a tenacious democracy movement. The height of the assault in 1948 is referred to as the April 3 massacre, although the persecution and murderous suppression lasted many years. The national government now asking sacrifices of them has rarely been their friend.

But for the construction, Gangjeong seems a truly idyllic place to live. Lanes curving through the village are bordered by gardens and attractive small homes. Villagers prize hard work and honesty, in a town with apparently no need to lock up anything, where well-cultivated orange trees fill the eye with beauty and the air with inexpressible fragrance. Peaks rise in the distance, it’s a quick walk to the shore, and residents seem eager to guide their guests to nearby spots designated as especially sacred in the local religion as indicated by the quiet beauty to be found there.

One of these sacred sites, Gureombi Rock, is a single, massive 1.2 km lava rock which was home to a fresh water coastal wetland, pure fresh water springs and hundreds of plants and animal species. Now, it can only be accessed through the memories of villagers because the Gureombi Rock is the exact site chosen for construction of the naval base. My new friend, Tilcote, explained to me, through tears, that Gureombi has captured her heart and that now her heart aches for Gureombi.

Last night we gathered to watch and discuss a film by our activist film-maker and friend Cho Sung-Bong. Activists recalled living in a tent camp on Gureombi, successful for a time in blocking the construction companies. “Gureombi was our bed, our dinner table, our stage, and our prayer site,” said Jonghwan, who now works every day as a chef at the community kitchen. “Every morning we would wake and hear the waves and the birds.”

The film, set for release later this year, is called “Gureombi, the Wind is Blowing“. Cho, who had arrived in Gangjeong for a 2011 visit at the height of vigorous blockades aimed at halting construction, decided to stay and film what he saw. We see villagers use their bodies to defend Gureombi. They lie down beneath construction vehicles, challenge barges with kayaks, organize human chains, occupy cranes, and, bearing no arms, surround heavily armed riot police. The police use extreme force, the protesters regroup and repeat. Since 2007, over 700 arrests have been made with more than 26 people imprisoned, and hundreds of thousands in fines imposed on ordinary villagers. Gangjeong village now has the highest “crime” rate in South Korea!

Opposing the real crime of the base against such odds, the people here have managed to create all the “props” for a thriving community. The community kitchen serves food free of charge, 24 hours a day. The local peace center is also open most of the day and evening, as well as the Peaceful Café. Books abound, for lending, many of them donated by Korean authors who admire the villagers’ determination to resist the base construction. Food, and much wisdom, are available but so much more is needed.

After seven years of struggle many of the villagers simply can’t afford to incur additional fines, neglecting farms, and languishing, as too many have done, in prison. A creative holding pattern of resistance has developed which relies on community members from abroad and throughout the ROK to block the gate every morning in the context of a lengthy Catholic liturgy.

Priests and nuns, whose right to pray and celebrate the liturgy is protected by the Korean constitution, form a line in front of the gate. They sit in plastic chairs, for morning mass followed by recitation of the rosary. Police dutifully remove the priests, nuns and other activists about ten times over the course of the liturgy, allowing trucks to go through. The action slows down the construction process and sends a symbolic, daily message of resistance.

Returning to the U.S., I’ll carry memories not only of tenacious, creative, selfless struggle but also of the earnest questions posed by young Jeju Island students who themselves now face prospects of compulsory military service. Should they experiment with conscientious objection and face the harsh punishments imposed on those who oppose militarization by refusing military service?

Their questions help me pivot towards a clearer focus on how peace activists, worldwide, can oppose the U.S. pivot toward increasing militarization in Asia, increasing conflict with its global rivals, and a spread of weapons that it is everyone’s task to hinder as best they can.

Certainly one step is to consider the strength of Gangjeong Village, and to draw seriousness of purpose from their brave commitment and from the knowledge of what is at stake for them and for their region. It’s crucial to learn about their determination to be an island of peace. As we find ways to demand constructive cooperation between societies rather than relentless bullying and competition, their struggle should become ours.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)


From Jeju and Afghanistan, an Asia Peace Pivot

May 26, 2014

by Dr. Hakim


“Don’t you touch me!” declared Mi Ryang.

South Korean police were clamping down on a villager who was resisting the construction of a Korean/U.S. naval base at her village. Mi Ryang managed to turn the police away by taking off her blouse and, clad in her bra, walking toward them with her clear warning. Hands off! Mi Ryang is fondly referred to as “Gangjeong’s daughter” by villagers who highly regard her as the feisty descendant of legendary women sea divers. Her mother and grandmother were Haenyo divers who supported their families every day by diving for shellfish.

Since 2007, every day without fail, Mi Ryang has stood up to militarists destroying her land.

In doing so, she confronts giants: the Korean military, Korean police authority, the U.S. military, and huge corporations, such as Samsung, allied with these armed forces.

Mi Ryang and her fellow protesters rely on love and on relationships which help them to continue seeking self-determination, freedom and dignity.

Jeju Island is the first place in the world to receive all three UNESCO natural science designations (Biosphere Reserve in 2002, World Natural Heritage in 2007 and Global Geopark in 2010). The military industrial complex, having no interest in securing the Island’s natural wonders, instead serves the U.S. government’s national interest in countering China’s rising economic influence.

The U.S. doesn’t want to be number two. The consequences of the U.S. government’s blueprint for “total spectrum dominance” globally are violent and frightening.

I recently attended a conference held at Jeju University, where young Korean men told participants about why they chose prison instead of enlisting for the two-year compulsory Korean military service.

“I admire these conscientious objectors for their brave and responsible decisions,” I said, “and I confess that I’m worried. I fear that Jeju Island will become like Afghanistan, where I have worked as a humanitarian and social enterprise worker for the past 10 years.”

“Jeju Island will be a pawn harboring a U.S. naval base, just as Afghanistan will be a pad for at least nine U.S. military bases when the next Afghan President signs the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement.”

When the Korean authorities collaborated with the U.S. military in 1947, at least 30,000 Jeju Islanders were massacred.

How many more ordinary people and soldiers will suffer, be utilized or be killed due to U.S. geopolitical interests to pivot against China?

As many as 20% of all tourists to Jeju Island are Chinese nationals. Clearly, ordinary Jeju citizens and ordinary Chinese can get along, just like ordinary Afghans and citizens from the U.S./NATO countries can get along. But when U.S. military bases are built outside the U.S., the next Osama Bin Ladens will have excuses to plan other September 11ths!

A few nights ago, I spoke with Dr. Song, a Korean activist who used to swim every day to Gureombi Rock, a sacred, volcanic rock formation along Gangjeong’s coastline which was destroyed by the naval base construction. At one point, coast guard officials jailed him for trying to reach Gureombi by swimming. Dr. Song just returned from Okinawa, where he met with Japanese who have resisted the U.S. military base in Okinawa for decades.

The Okinawan and Korean activists understand the global challenge we face. The 99% must link to form a strong, united 99%. By acting together, we can build a better world, instead of burning out as tiny communities of change. The 1% is way too wealthy and well-resourced in an entrenched system to be stopped by any one village or group.

“We are many, they are few” applies more effectively when we stand together. Socially and emotionally, we need one another more than ever, as our existence is threatened by human-engineered climate change, nuclear annihilation and gross socioeconomic inequalities.

The governments of South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and even my home country Singapore, have dangerously partnered with the U.S. against China, in Obama’s Asia pivot, dividing human beings by using the threat of armed force, for profit.

The nonviolent examples of the people of Gangjeong Village should lead people worldwide to make friendships, create conversations, build alternative education systems, promote communally beneficial, sustainable economies, and create peace parks where people can celebrate their art, music, and dancing. Visit Gangjeong Village and you’ll see how residents have created joyful ways to turn the Asia War Pivot into an Asia Peace Pivot, as you can watch in this video.

Alternatively, people can choose the “helpless bystander” role and become passive spectators as oppressive global militarism and corporate greed destroy us. People can stand still and watch destruction of beautiful coral reefs and marine life in Jeju, Australia and other seas; watch livelihoods, like those of Gangjeong and Gaza fishermen, disappear; and watch, mutely, as fellow human beings like Americans, Afghans, Syrians, Libyans, Egyptians, Palestinians. Israelis, Ukranians, Nigerians, Malians, Mexicans, indigenous peoples and many others are killed.

Or, we can be Like Mi Ryang. As free and equal human beings we can lay aside our individual concerns and lobbies to unite, cooperatively, making our struggles more attractive and less lonely. Together, we’re more than capable of persuading the world to seek genuine security and liberation.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers have begun playing their tiny part in promoting nonviolence and serving fellow Afghans in Kabul. As they connect the dots of inequality, global warming and wars, they long to build relationships across all borders, under the same blue sky, in order to save themselves, the earth and humanity.

Through their Borderfree effort to build socioeconomic equality, take care of our blue planet, and abolish war, they wear their Borderfree Blue Scarves and say, together with Mi Ryang and the resilient villagers of Gangjeong Village, “Don’t touch me!”

“Don’t touch us!”

Hakim (Dr. Teck Young Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building nonviolent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.

Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) updates

Latest developments on WIPP, Carlsbad, New Mexico, United States

Nuclear-waste facility on high alert over risk of new explosions, Nature News – 27 May 2014
Hundreds of Nuclear-Waste Drums May Face Danger of Bursting, NTI’s Global Security Newswire – May 21, 2014
New Mexico orders nuclear waste dump to hasten safety measures, Reuters – May 21, 2014
U.S. nuclear waste threat ‘substantial’, Japan Times – 20 May 2014
State: WIPP must permanently close underground panels, Carlsbad Current-Argus – May 20, 2014
How Safe is Nuclear Waste? Outside Online – May 16, 2014

Nuclear-waste facility on high alert over risk of new explosions

US repository scrambles to seal off barrels containing cat-litter buffer thought to be responsible for February accident.

Nature | News | Declan Butler | 27 May 2014


Recovery teams at a New Mexico nuclear waste facility made multiple trips into the underground storage halls in April to assess damage from a ruptured drum.

Time bombs may be ticking at the United States’ only deep geological repository for nuclear waste. US authorities concluded last week that at least 368 drums of waste at the site could be susceptible to the chemical reaction suspected to have caused a drum to rupture there in February. That accident caused radioactive material to spill into the repository and leak into the environment above ground.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is mined out of a salt bed 655 metres underground, and stores low- and medium-level military nuclear waste, containing long-lived, man-made radioactive elements such as plutonium and americium. The suspect drums contain nitrates and cellulose, which are thought to have reacted to cause the explosion in February, and are located in two of the repository’s eight vast storage rooms — 313 in panel 6, which has already been filled, and 55 in the partly filled panel 7, where the February accident occurred.

To mitigate the threat of further exploding drums, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) in Santa Fe issued an order on 20 May giving the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Waste Partnership — the contractor that operates the WIPP site — until 30 May to come up with a plan to “expedite” the sealing of panel 6 and part of panel 7. It is not yet clear when the panels will be sealed, as that will depend on how long it takes to ensure that the sealing is done safely, says Jim Winchester, a spokesman for the NMED.


An explosive chemical reaction inside this drum, photographed on 22 May, was probably what caused it to become unsealed and to release radioactivity.

The order was issued after an inspection team found evidence on 16 May of heat and physical damage to a waste drum in panel 7. The drum was one of a batch from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico that contained a mix of nitrate salts — generated, for example, in the recovery of plutonium from metal and other scrap during waste processing — and cellulose in the form of a wheat-based commercial cat litter used to absorb liquid waste.

The DOE believes a reaction between the nitrates and cellulose blew the lid off of the container. But this explanation has yet to be proven, Winchester cautions. “It is not yet known how, or if, the reaction created the rupture in the drum(s),” he says.

The LANL last year switched the processing of some of its waste to the wheat-based litter from an inorganic, clay-based absorbent. Winchester says that such changes need to first be assessed for safety, but the NMED was not informed of the change and so did not approve it. The WIPP has come under fire since the accident for progressively watering down safety standards and allowing a lax security culture to develop (see ‘Call for better oversight of nuclear-waste storage‘).

In addition to the drums at the WIPP, another 57 containing the suspect mix are still in temporary storage at the LANL. On 19 May, the NMED told the DOE and the LANL that they had two days to present a plan to secure the drums. In their response on 21 May, the LANL and the DOE said that the drums were being transferred to a tent fitted with fire-control and high-efficiency particulate air filtration to contain any radioactive particles in the event of an accident. They added that air radiation levels and the temperature of the drums were being monitored, and that the drums were being inspected hourly for signs of rupture.

The WIPP has been closed since the February accident and will reopen only “when it is safe to do so”, according to a 22 May statement from the DOE. The accident is still under investigation, and parts of the underground repository are still contaminated with radioactivity. The DOE added that current assumptions and precautions about the hazards of operating the WIPP are being “evaluated and revised”

Hundreds of Nuclear-Waste Drums May Face Danger of Bursting

NTI’s Global Security Newswire | May 21, 2014


A truck transports transuranic nuclear waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico in 2011. The state on Tuesday ordered actions at the underground storage facility to permanently seal off containers potentially at risk of rupturing. (U.S. Los Alamos National Laboratory photo)

New Mexico is urgently pushing to plug subterranean halls with over 300 nuclear-waste drums potentially at risk of bursting, the Associated Press reports.

The Energy Department and a contract firm face a May 30 deadline to explain how they will irreversibly close two chambers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant containing the 368 barrels, according to a Tuesday order from New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn. One of the two storage halls was filled to capacity and awaiting final closure in February, when radioactive contaminants spread through the facility’s underground corridors and forced normal operations at the site to cease.

The targeted barrels — as well as dozens more held above ground — include an absorbent cat-litter tied to a rupture in one container inside the facility near Carlsbad.

Environment personnel said over 100 similarly packed barrels are at a holding location in Andrews, Texas, and 57 more of the problematic waste containers are in storage at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The Texas facility’s private operator on Tuesday said the containers in its custody were under continuous video surveillance, AP reported separately.

“If there is anything that is off normal we would be know about it immediately,” said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for the firm Waste Control Specialists.

Meanwhile, one New Mexico lawmaker said officials in his state lack the authority to call for portions of the underground complex to be shuttered, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

“[Flynn] did not call our office or let us know in any way” about the imminent demand, Representative Steve Pearce (R) said. “I don’t think we’re at the point to say we should shut it down. I don’t think the state has the expertise (to be making the decision).”

New Mexico orders nuclear waste dump to hasten safety measures

Reuters | Laura Zuckerman | May 21, 2014

(Reuters) – A nuclear waste repository in New Mexico was ordered by the state on Tuesday to craft a plan to hasten the sealing off of underground vaults where drums of toxic, plutonium-tainted refuse from Los Alamos National Laboratory may have caused a radiation release.

The directive by state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the drums, buried half a mile below ground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near the town of Carlsbad, “may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to health or the environment”.

The repository, the only facility of its kind in the United States, has been shut since Feb. 14, when unsafe radiation levels were detected there.

The leak of radiation, a small amount of which escaped to the surface and exposed 22 workers at the plant, ranks as the facility’s worst accident and one of the few blemishes on its safety record since it opened in 1999.

Flynn ordered managers of the U.S. Energy Department facility to submit schedules by May 30 for the “expedited” closure of two disposal chambers that collectively contain 368 containers of improperly packaged waste from Los Alamos.

Plant operators believe nitrate salts and organic kitty litter used to absorb liquids in drums of hazardous debris from Los Alamos caused a chemical reaction that breached the waste containers and released radiation from them.

Flynn on Monday ordered Los Alamos, 300 miles across the state northwest of Santa Fe, to submit a plan by Wednesday afternoon spelling out how it would isolate 57 similar drums still at the lab complex to lessen safety hazards there.

Los Alamos has placed drums with the same mix of nitrate salts and kitty litter in a special protective dome and is monitoring them for any rise in temperature after subjecting them to additional packaging, lab officials said in an email to Reuters on Tuesday.

Another 25 drums with the same materials were shipped between April 1 and May 1 to a commercial nuclear waste facility in Texas for temporary storage.

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman from Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Steve Gorman and Richard Borsuk)

U.S. nuclear waste threat ‘substantial’

Japan Times | AP | 20 May, 2014

Los Alamos National Laboratory packed 57 barrels of nuclear waste with a type of kitty litter believed to have caused a radiation leak at the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste dump, posing a potentially “imminent” and “substantial” threat to public health and the environment, New Mexico officials said Monday.

State Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn issued a formal order giving the lab two days to submit a plan for securing the waste containers, many of which are likely stored outdoors at the lab’s northern New Mexico campus or at a temporary site in west Texas.

The order says 57 barrels of waste were packed with nitrate salts and organic kitty litter, a combination thought to have caused a heat reaction and radiation release that contaminated 22 workers with low levels of radiation at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad in February.

The kitty litter soaks up any liquid before drums of waste are sealed and shipped. Officials are investigating whether a switch from nonorganic to organic litter is to blame for the leak.

State: WIPP must permanently close underground panels

Carlsbad Current-Argus | Zack Ponce | May 20, 2014

CARLSBAD — The state of New Mexico will force WIPP to close some of its underground nuclear waste storage areas much sooner than anticipated.

NM Environment Department Sec. Ryan Flynn issued an order on Tuesday that requires the Department of Energy to speed up the process to permanently seal off some rooms used to store transuranic nuclear waste in drums like the one suspected of causing February’s radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad.

The DOE must submit a plan detailing the process for an expedited closure of Panel 6 and Panel 7, Room 7 at WIPP within 10 days so the containers don’t “pose a threat to human health or the environment,” according to the order issued by Flynn. The state agency clarified the order does not mean a permanent shutdown of the whole WIPP facility.

Congressman Steve Pearce, however, said he believes the state is acting beyond its authority.

“The first thing is the secretary did not call our office or let us know in any way,” said Congressman Steve Pearce, R-Hobbs. “I don’t think we’re at the point to say we should shut it down. I don’t think the state has the expertise (to be making the decision) so I don’t think there could be a good outcome.” According to the state order, the waste is subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a federal environmental law, and the Environmental Protection Agency has granted the state of New Mexico authority to enforce the law at federal sites within the state.

The request follows a separate administrative order by Flynn on Monday requiring Los Alamos National Laboratory to submit a plan to secure waste containers destined for WIPP. State officials announced this week that the DOE was analyzing 57 drums of waste containing a mixture of kitty litter and nitrate salts suspected of causing a reaction that led to the radiation leak.

Investigators are still considering a number of theories for the incident, but the DOE announced last week that photographs taken underground showed a waste container with a cracked lid and heat damage, providing further evidence of a “significant heat event in WIPP’s Room 7 of Panel 7.” The 57 barrels of waste originated from Los Alamos and Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina.

The drums in question are scattered across the state at Los Alamos, WIPP and Waste Control Specialists, a private nuclear waste disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas, straddling the Texas-New Mexico border. The number of drums stored at each site is unclear, but a spokesman for WCS said the DOE and Los Alamos officials notified the company which drums were in question, and the company has since segregated those drums from the rest of the waste WCS is temporarily holding for WIPP.

“We know the containers in question and they’re being monitored,” said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for WCS. “From the outset of this process, WCS has treated this waste with the utmost caution and we are taking all conceivable safety measures. They are under video surveillance 24 hours a day, so if there was anything unusual, we would take action immediately.”

How Safe is Nuclear Waste?

Recent nuclear power plant leaks haven’t been as extreme as, say, Chernobyl, but they’re still scary. So when should you keep calm and when should you run for the hills?

Outside Online | Nick Davidson | May 16, 2014

High doses of radiation can wreak havoc on plant and animal life, as evidenced by swaths of killed pine forests near Chernobyl and countless children born with physical maladies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But most man-made radiation lies less catastrophically in nuclear wastes stored near reactors or in underground repositories such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico. In February, WIPP briefly leaked plutonium radiation that contaminated 21 workers. In the 15-year-old facility’s first leak, exhaust systems automatically forced the radioactive plume through High Efficiency Particulate Air Filters to contain it, but not before a small amount escaped. Are we safe?

“Safety is a charged term,” says Gary Lanthrum, principal engineer for Radioactive Material Transportation and Storage Consulting. “Risks from radiation are lower than other industrial risks,” due in part to stringent regulations placed on radioactive materials.

Transuranic wastes like the plutonium and americium deposited at WIPP, for example, ship in Type B containers that can withstand 80-mph locomotive impacts without leakage. These isotopes emit low-energy radiation in alpha particles that can’t even penetrate paper. In that sense they’re fairly benign. But because they have incredibly long half-lives—plutonium-239 takes 24,000 years to halve its radioactivity—they require secure storage for eons before stabilizing.

Scientists have deemed geologic disposal the best and safest method for the job. The storage rooms at WIPP sit 2,150 feet underground amid two-million-year-old salt deposits. Over time, that salt encapsulates the waste, “virtually entombing it for eons,” says Russell Hardy, director of the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center.

High-level radioactive waste, which emits intense gamma particles that can penetrate lead, is a bigger problem. Some 270,000 metric tons of it—the size of a football field with a ten-yard depth—wait in temporary storage. “Right now we have no disposal program for the spent nuclear fuel from power plants, and all of it is just sitting on the surface,” Lanthrum says. This includes thermally hot and highly radioactive uranium-235 in ceramic pellets inside alloy fuel rods. These are kept cool in open steel-lined concrete pools. “Terribly dangerous,” says Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, which seeks nuclear disarmament and enhanced environmental protection. Dry casks lined with thick steel and concrete are safer. The already-low radiation levels near these casks decrease exponentially even a couple inches away, and under both storage methods the intense radiation drastically declines after five years.

So how much of this radiation are you exposed to? Unless you work at a nuclear plant or waste repository, very little. The average person in the U.S. receives an annual radiation dose of 600 millirems just from being alive, from such sources as the earth’s natural radon gas or cosmic radiation that penetrates the atmosphere. According to Lanthrum, WIPP violated its goal of zero release but not its licensed release rate. Workers at WIPP are allowed 5,000 millirems per year, and even those 21 workers exposed to February’s leak absorbed only 100 millirems. The surrounding population likely received up to one millirem—a dose equivalent to eating ten bananas, which contain radioactive potassium.

Though cataclysmic leaks are unlikely, nuclear waste poses an inherent danger that can be exacerbated by human error. “Imagine a matrix of possibilities consisting of types of waste arrayed along one axis and various situations along another axis with a third dimension of time,” says Mello. “Some of the cells in that table will be Pretty Darn Safe, some will be Safer Than Alternatives, some will be Iffy, and some will be Pretty Bad Ideas.”

U.S. anti-nuclear weapons activists

Anti-nuclear weapons activists stage tea party at West Coast nuke base; 8 arrested

by Leonard Eiger, Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action

The Nuclear Resister |


Silverdale, Washington, May 10, 2014: Activists from Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, in Poulsbo, Washington staged a tea party at the main gate of Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, the West Coast home port for the U.S. nuclear ballistic missile submarine fleet.

Protesters walked onto the roadway in successive waves, briefly blocking the entrance, and offered tea and cookies to the Washington State Patrol officers standing in the median. Officers escorted them from the roadway and cited them for walking on the roadway where prohibited.

Those cited were Rose Betz-Zall, Seattle, WA; Victor Edward Digilio, Seattle, WA; Anne Hall, Lopez Island, WA; David Hall, Lopez Island, WA; Norm Keegel, Bainbridge Island, WA; Tom Rogers, Keyport, WA; Michael Siptroth, Belfair, WA; and Christine Warmedahl, Port Orchard, WA.

Four of the protestors previously cited re-entered the roadway pulling along a long banner reading, “THE EARTH IS OUR MOTHER — TREAT HER WITH RESPECT”. State Patrol officers arrested Victor Edward Digilio, Anne Hall, David Hall and Michael Siptroth. All four were taken to the Kitsap County Jail where they were booked for obstruction and released.

The actions at the Bangor gate were part of a day-long event by Ground Zero to bring attention to Bangor’s nuclear arsenal. Bangor, 20 miles west of Seattle, represents the largest concentration of operational nuclear weapons in the US arsenal. Each of the eight Trident submarines based at Bangor carries up to 24 Trident II (D-5) missiles, each capable of being armed with as many as eight independently targetable thermonuclear warheads. Each nuclear warhead has an explosive force of between 100 and 475 kilotons (up to 30 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb).

Ground Zero Center’s annual Mother’s Day weekend event honored Julia Ward Howe’s work to establish a Mother’s Day for Peace. Participants read Howe’s 1870 Mother’s Day Proclamation in which she declared that ” We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”

Participants also engaged in nonviolence training and learned about the current state of nuclear weapons from Dr. David Hall, past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Members of the Seattle Raging Grannies provided musical entertainment. The Raging Grannies’ promote global peace, justice, and social and economic equality by raising public awareness through song and humor.

Ground Zero continues its legal effort to stop the Navy’s construction of a $715 million Second Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor. The group is also working on plans to defund the Navy’s program to build a successor to its existing Trident fleet, which was created as a strategic nuclear deterrent to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to build 12 new subs at nearly $100 billion.

For over thirty-six years Ground Zero has engaged in education, training in nonviolence, community building, resistance against Trident and action toward a world without nuclear weapons.

Iran-Pakistan relations

Iran-Pakistan Relations: A Different View – Analysis

Eurasia Review | Iran Review | Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi | May 28, 2014

A recent two-day visit by Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, the new prime minister of Pakistan and leader of Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN) to the Islamic Republic of Iran earlier this month and his subsequent negotiations with various senior Iranian officials have drawn a lot of attention worldwide. Whether or not his visit could meet the expectations that had been already brought up by the Iranian press is quite a different issue. However, his trip to Iran can be considered very important from certain angles as it shows that these two important Muslim and neighboring countries enjoy high potentials for the development of political, trade, cultural, military and security cooperation. During his trip to Iran, two expectations that Iran has from Sharif’s government gained more prominence in the Iranian media:

1. Military and security cooperation along the common border; and

2. Making a final decision on the fate of Iran-Pakistan natural gas pipeline, which is also known as the Peace Pipeline.

As for the first topic, many issues should be discussed because many of those issues have not been understood correctly in Iran. As a result, certain expectations mentioned by the Iranian media in this regard are basically outside the power of Nawaz Sharif’s party-based government of Pakistan. This means that he is not actually able to make and implement decisions with regard to this issue on his own. The presence of Abdul Malik Baloch, the chief minister of Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, among the entourage of Nawaz Sharif during his trip to Tehran, was meant to convey a clear message to the Iranian side. In fact, the government of Nawaz Sharif intended to indirectly remind the Iranian counterpart that the main party to be dealt with in regard to what goes on in Balochistan Province is the local government, not the central government.

But is this all the truth? The realities on the ground prove otherwise. In reality, both the central government and the local government in Balochistan Province of Pakistan have limited power to influence the process of border developments along the common frontier between Iran and Pakistan. In practice, however, it is the Pakistani army which can act, or not act, firmly, and can control, or not control, the border. This reality should be taken in correctly and due attention should be also paid to limitations with which the provincial and central governments in Pakistan are currently faced. To put into force any decision or agreement which pertains to security along the borders will be conditional on the performance of the Pakistani army and secret services present in the country’s Balochistan Province. As a result, the degree of accountability of the local government with regard to border security is similar to the accountability of the central government and even this amount of accountability is dubious at best. However, there are special reasons why the Pakistani army and the country’s efficient border guards – who are present across Balochistan Province and are also known as the Frontier Corps (FC) – are not taking firm actions to control the border with Iran. Two most prominent of those reasons are:

1. Pakistan’s border with Iran is not a security priority for the Pakistani army, because the army’s foremost security concern is the country’s border with India; and

2. Ideological radical forces present in Balochistan Province are supported by the Pakistani army because the army uses them to keep ethnic forces at bay.

It is generally believed that both the above issues are well known to the Iranian side, but the importance of maintaining security along the Iranian border has been mostly underestimated. In reality, however, the Pakistani army and FC forces, which are stationed in Balochistan Province of Pakistan, are currently faced with unfulfilled demands of ethnic Baloch people in that province. As a result, lack of timely and proper response to demands of the Baloch people has fueled people’s tendency to engage in armed struggle against the central government with the final goal of getting separated from Pakistan. Now, the Pakistani army considers itself duty-bound to control this separatist current through military means in order to protect the country’s territorial integrity. On the other hand, however, the Pakistani army is employing radical Islamist and jihadist forces, especially in its ideological sense, in order to undermine ethnic elements in Balochistan Province and control the situation in that region while paying the lowest price in political and military terms. This policy is not very much different from the traditional jihadist policy of Pakistani army which has been so far applied to India, the main strategic rival of Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Therefore, we must not expect the Pakistani army to act differently. According to this policy, the ideological and radical elements are employed with ethnic motivations in order to protect the strategic interests of Pakistan and it doesn’t make a difference to the Pakistani army where to implement this policy. This is the main reality which has not been understood correctly in Iran as a result of which this problem has been treated in a simplistic way.

Therefore, if the issue of security along the Iranian border is looked upon from the viewpoint of Pakistani army generals, it would be clear that it is not as important to Pakistani army as the Iranian side expects. The main concern of Pakistani army is to know what radical and ideological force is acting where, but as long as that force is at the service of the general jihadist strategy of Pakistani army, the consequences of its actions for other countries is not a main concern for the armed forces of Pakistan. Another important reality is that the “nationality,” as an element to be reckoned with, is meaningless to the radical and ideological Islamic groups. The location of their fight is determined by environmental conditions as Islamist radicals enter the war for a bigger goal which transcends the limits of nations and nationalities. It is exactly for this reason that their potential for mobility and change of geographical location is high. Therefore, wherever conditions are deemed suitable, they start to act with no regard for the official borders of countries. Of course, radical Islamist groups usually choose a name in every country and every geographical region that they act, which is frequently chosen according to environmental conditions under which they act. However, it would be a total mistake to believe that ethnic motivations are the main thing which makes them tick.

The ethnic demands that are usually put forth by these mainly transnational and transregional groups, is just a tactic to facilitate their activities and pave the road for them to achieve their goals more easily. Within this framework, the security of regions located along the common border between Iran and Pakistan should be considered within the framework of a bigger strategy, which is actually of a jihadist quality and has the capacity to easily go beyond any internationally recognized border. This viewpoint is not basically different from the viewpoint that Pakistani army holds in this regard. Of course, the government of Pakistan, as an official power institution, cannot wish for insecurity along its border with Iran because insecurity would be basically not to Islamabad’s benefit, nor it would strengthen the position of Pakistani government in the rivalry-based domestic power balance between the political and military sections of Pakistan’s political system.

The issue regarding the construction of the Peace Pipeline is not much different from the issue of border security. Even with regard to this gas pipeline, the priority is not actually determined by the government of Nawaz Sharif. Therefore, his government cannot be expected to abide by all the obligations and the content of contracts that have been signed between previous presidents of the Islamic Republic and Pakistan. It is true that Pakistan is badly in need of suitable and economically viable fuel supply from the Islamic Republic of Iran and there is not the least speck of doubt about this reality. However, the country’s urgent need to get fuel should not be necessarily taken to mean that Pakistan has no other options available to it. A Pakistan which in some seasons can even tolerate up to 18 hours of power cut in its main cities without breaking a sweat will be also able to put up with many other problems and difficulties. Whether this approach to the country’s problems is correct or not, is quite a different issue. On the surface, the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is in charge of making a decision about implementing or not implementing the natural gas pipeline project, but in reality this is not the case. The foreign factor, especially pressure from the United States, which has a lot of leverage to pressure the government in Islamabad, should not be underestimated. The most commonly accepted assumption in this regard is that the hands of the Pakistani government are tied with regard to implementation of the Peace Pipeline and excuses offered by Islamabad such as the lack of necessary facilities to implement the project as well as limitations faced for funding the project, should not be taken seriously. Even if Iran accepted to fund the entire project, Pakistan would still be unable to go on with it under the present circumstances. It would be only able to continue with the project when all the existing conditions change and foreign pressure, as a determining factor, is reduced to a minimum, or at least to a level that would be tolerable for the government of Nawaz Sharif.

Despite the above facts and regardless of two major issues of border security and the Peace Pipeline, in reality, Iran and Pakistan enjoy enormous capacities for development of their political, economic and trade cooperation. The latest evidence to this fact was signing of nine memorandums of understanding during the recent trip of Nawaz Sharif to Tehran. Further cooperation between Iran and Pakistan will not only guarantee that common interests of two important and axial countries in the Islamic world will be met in the best possible way, but in a more general approach, it will be to the benefit of the entire Islamic world. All of this, however, is conditional on realism on the part of both countries and focusing on realistic expectations. This is especially true because it seems that the radical Islamic current, which has been so far supported by Pakistan in line with the jihadist strategy of Pakistani army, is now targeting the national security and foreign relations of Pakistan as well. If the new situation is combined with a suitable level of realism, it could be the beginning of a new process through which Pakistan would be able to reap the highest benefits, though other Islamic countries in the region would be also benefited by this process.

Last but not least, those who recently highlighted the possibility of mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia by Nawaz Sharif have certainly ignored the great capacities that abound in Iran and, therefore, such moves should not be taken seriously. The Pakistani government does not have the key to the problem of border security in Balochistan region and a solution to this problem cannot be achieved through military means. Sustainable development as well as fighting poverty and underdevelopment in Balochistan regions of both Pakistan and Iran is the ultimate solution. Therefore, cooperation between the two countries should be directed toward this goal. Otherwise, security agreements are frequently costly and finally of little or no effect.

Pir-Mohammad Mollazehi
Expert on Indian Subcontinent & Middle East Isuues

Iran-Pakistan: Time For Realpolitik Over Riyal Politics – Analysis

Eurasia Review | IPCS | Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy | April 16, 2014

Although the Jaish al-Adl (JA), a terrorist group that primarily operates from Pakistan’s Balochistan and Iran’s Sistan Baluchestan provinces, released four of the five Iranian border guards it had abducted and held captive in Pakistan – there are conflicting reports on the fate of the fifth – questions that need addressing are many.

The abduction of the border guards sparked tensions between Tehran and Islamabad but the leadership in both Iran and Pakistan ensured that the standoff was limited to a diplomatic row, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif taking the case to the UN – with the fate of the border guards then still unclear – and despite Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli’s aggressive stance that Iran will “enter the country’s deep territory to establish security.”

What motivated the JA to free the guards? Did the Iran-Pakistan bilateral relationship play a role? What role did the Pakistan-Saudi Arabia nexus play? Is this standoff fuelled by factors other than the captured border guards?

Border Issue or a Larger Scheme?

Pakistan’s border with Iran is the only section of the country’s western frontier – or any frontier – that is relatively less tense. Iran is relatively stricter on its south-eastern border with Pakistan, and for its part, is intolerant of cross-border arms and drugs smuggling as compared to Pakistan. Iran’s reasons may lie within its own territory in Sistan Baluchestan – a restive Sunni-majority state in a Shia majority nation – but regardless, its records vis-à-vis cross-border issues are comparatively cleaner than Pakistan’s, and Islamabad appreciates it.

To antagonise Tehran will be damaging for Islamabad, for it was with Iranian assistance that the Baloch separatist movement was crushed – a crucial win for Pakistan at that period in history. However, simultaneously, Pakistan does not control all the militant groups running amok in the country, especially the south; and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s inability to control them completely, or do away with sectarian violence meted out to the Shia Muslims in Pakistan have resulted in frustration.

What Motivated the JA to Release the Guards?

Islamabad, for the aforementioned reasons, did what it could in the current circumstances of its internal security problems – especially the dillydallying talks with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). However, Pakistan’s sincerity and perseverance were not the only reasons for the JA to release the guards. The JA likely got their motivation for their action from further west. Here, the curious case of ‘friendly grants’ and ‘unconditional gifts’ from one of the most potent players in Pakistani politics, Saudi Arabia, needs attention. With the allegedly Saudi-funded Jundallah having fallen silent, the relatively new Jaish al-Adl seems to be a replacement.

It is possible that Pakistan successfully managed to negotiate with Saudi Arabia to ensure some form of stability in its southern borders. What Saudi Arabia managed to get in return as its share of the bargain, however, needs some probing; and the likelihood of a further surge in the spread of Wahabi ideology can be expected.

Furthermore, reports that the guards were released in exchange for Iran’s release of eight JA members from Iran’s Zahedan prison hints at the JA’s negotiating powers. If the funders of the group are in Riyadh or elsewhere in that country – which seems likely – the JA is likely to remain undefeated for a while.

Iran-Pakistan Relations: Saudi Spoiler

Islamabad’s cancellation of the Iran-Pakistan ‘Peace Pipeline’ project over dubious reasons, among several others, epitomises the current status of influence the Saudi Riyal has over Pakistan’s foreign policy. The spate of attacks on Pakistan’s Shia and other minority communities can also be attributed to the same factor. Wahabism is on the rise in Pakistan and Islamabad cannot control it; and Rawalpindi will not be too concerned as long as it knows it can handle it.

This coupled with the reports of Pakistan selling small arms and fighter jets to Saudi Arabia – fuelling debate on the potential of Pakistani munitions being used by the rebels in the Syrian civil war – have only soured Iran-Pakistan relations. Already, Pakistani rebels are reported to be participating in the civil war.

Iran-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia

In this backdrop, Nawaz Sharif’s upcoming visit to Tehran is significant: it has the potential to either kick-start a new era of bilateral relations, or to ruin it forever. The Iranian parliament’s approval of a bill on cooperating with Pakistan on security issues signals movement in the positive direction. Though the likelihood of success may be bleak, Pakistan must remember that it shares an approximately 900 km-long border with Iran. Furthermore, it needs a friendly Iran standing guard in the post-2014 Afghanistan.

Riyadh may want to alienate Tehran and Islamabad from each other to meet its own goals, and Pakistan may feel obliged to obey. Iran and Saudi Arabia may not even want to come closer. However, in an event of any form of conflagration between the two, Pakistan will suffer the most casualties. Therefore, practically speaking, Islamabad would benefit from playing mediator between Tehran and Riyadh.

It is time for realpolitik to take precedence over ‘Riyal politics’.

Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy
Research Officer, IPCS
Email: rajeshwari@ipcs.org

Nuclear industry wins short-term victories, but losing long-term battle

Green World | Michael Mariotte | May 27, 2014

Three major decisions, in three different venues, made last week a good week for polluting utilities and thus a bad one for actual people. But the longer-term trends stayed on track, with the nuclear/fossil fuel industry still in growing trouble and facing decline as the transition to a nuclear-free, carbon-free energy future continues on.

The bad news first:

*Under utility pressure, the EPA caved and “watered down” its proposed rule to prevent massive fish kills and other damage to marine life from power plants using once-through cooling systems. Environmentalists had wanted the proposed rule strengthened to require such power plants to close or at least build cooling towers but nuclear and coal plant owners successfully lobbied the agency and won weaker regulations.  

*A U.S. Appeals Court threw out a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rule that encouraged energy efficiency. “Under the rule, electricity users who cut consumption when prices and demand rise were paid the same amount as generators that produce electricity. The practice has been embraced because it can reduce the need to build additional expensive power plants and cut air pollution.” Utilities argued that the rule “would discourage power-plant investment,” which, of course, was the point. Energy efficiency is both cheaper and cleaner than new power plants of any kind.

*The PJM power grid, which covers 61 million customers from the mid-Atlantic to Illinois, held its 2017-18 power auction and procured 167,004 megawatts of capacity resources at a base price of $120, a whopping increase from the $59.37 base it bought at last year’s auction. That’s good news for Exelon and its troubled nuclear reactors and bad news for ratepayers in the region.

Despite those industry victories, that news was offset by the continued and probably unstoppable advance of clean energy:

*Most significantly, the giant international investment house Barclays downgraded the entire U.S. utility industry. Their reasoning: “Over the next few years…we believe that a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo….We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade.” In other words, distributed solar power is growing rapidly and threatens the entire utility model of large, polluting “baseload” power plants.

*Barclay’s may be influenced by the reality in Europe, where the value of the continent’s electric utilities already has dropped by half in the past few years, led by the troubles of Germany’s utilities, which bet heavily on nuclear power now being phased out there, as well as “the sharp decrease in the cost of solar and the rise of renewable generation capacity. This somewhat wonky article argues that European utilities need to reinvent themselves to use “their advanced engineering capability, specialism in energy systems and close historical ties to transmission and distribution system operators and consumers” to “become smart infrastructure solution providers.”

*The Rocky Mountain Institute, which coined the term “grid defection” a few months ago in a paper discussing exactly the issue raised by Barclays, added to the discussion in “Why Owning Your Own Power Plant Might Not Be Crazy” by arguing that for homeowners, the idea of their own power plants (e.g. solar plus storage) could well become simply the next major applicance decision millions will make. This article points out that not that long ago–the 1950s–air conditioning at the residential level was rare and expensive, but when mass production began, prices fell and by the end of the 1960, A/C was standard equipment in most U.S. homes. Similarly, computers not that long ago took up warehouse-sized space and cost large fortunes. Today our smartphones are more capable than those devices–and astronomically cheaper. There is little reason to think the technological and economic advances in solar power, already stratospheric over the past few years, won’t continue as mass production expands and technology improves further.

*The Sun Day Campaign issued a statement noting that for the first time ever, non-hydro renewable energy provided more electricity in the U.S. during the first quarter of the year than conventional hydropower–a major milestone for clean renewables. Non-hydro renewables provided 53.16% of the net U.S. electrical generation from renewable energy sources for the period January 1 – March 31, 2014 while hydropower provided the balance of 46.84%. Ken Bossong of the Sun Day Campaign noted that these numbers actually understate the amount of power supplied by solar because significant levels of solar capacity come from smaller, non-utility-scale applications like rooftop solar PV, and the Energy Information Administration numbers on which the statement is based only include utility-scale solar. Disclosure: the Sun Day Campaign is based in NIRS’ office, but is a separate organization.

*The Spanish solar firm Abengoa said that concentrated solar power plants with storage will be competitive not just with coal, but even natural gas by 2020, and can fulfill the same “baseload” power function as fossil fuel and nuclear plants. “Abengoa last week broke ground on a 110-megawatt molten salt storage plant, which combines solar tower technology with 18 hours of thermal energy storage based on molten salt.” Also last week, Abengoa opened a 206 MW solar plant in California, and has several other large solar projects underway. The combination of growing use of rooftop solar backed by large-scale solar and wind projects (last week, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley vetoed a bill that would have prevented an offshore wind project in the state–that act virtually ensures offshore wind will soon be coming to the mid-Atlantic, which has tremendous wind resources) is the future.

*Denmark added to the growing literature that finds that a 100% renewable future by mid-century is feasible. The difference here is that this report came from the Danish Energy Agency rather than a non-profit organization. Denmark is already one of the most renewable-intense countries in the world and a 100% renewable energy system by mid-century is not just a concept for debate there, it is the government’s goal.

*Finally, this article predicts that the massive changes now underway in New York for the state’s utility system may well herald the future of U.S. utilities across the country. New York, learning from the experiences of Hurricane Sandy and the state’s troubled and mostly unwanted nuclear reactors, has launched major new programs to encourage distributed generation and other steps to make the state more “grid independent.” Consumers, Audrey Zibelman, chair of the New York Department of Public Service, said at a major event on the future of the utility industry, are the “disruptive force that’s going to change things.”

*As for the nuclear power industry, it’s in trouble even in China, where officials fear a fledgling anti-nuclear movement, which already blocked a $6 Billion uranium processing plant, could stymie the countries plans to add more than 50 GW of new nuclear by 2020 (a goal unlikely to be met in any case, since only 28 reactors–about 35 GW worth–currently are under construction). And even that is considerably less than China’s goal for new solar capacity during the same period. According to the U.K.’s Financial Times, “Regulators fear images of riot police crushing protests at a reactor site–like this month’s violent clashes over a planned garbage incinerator–could quickly harden attitudes against nuclear power.”