US-South Korean Militaries Rehearse Pre-emptive Nuclear Strikes on North Korea

north-korea-usa-flag

Massive joint US-South Korean military exercises began yesterday under conditions of high tension on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January and rocket launch last month. Under pressure from Washington, the UN Security Council last week imposed the most far-reaching sanctions to date on Pyongyang that will limit its mineral exports and compound the economic crisis wracking the unstable regime.  Continue reading

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U.S. to America: Be Afraid! “The North Koreans are Coming”

 

National Paranoia is the Irrational Fear that You’re Being Threatened  Which is the more paranoid statement?1.  AMERICAN MEDIA:  “North Korea is threatening to attack us with nuclear weapons,”or:

 

2.  NORTH KOREAN MEDIA:  “The United States is threatening to attack us with nuclear weapons.”

Taking recent events in the U.S. and the Korean peninsula as evidence, while mostly ignoring historical context, the drift toward another American war in Asia can be seen as clearly as the ambiguous moves and countermoves of countries with no obvious motive for war might allow, producing headlines like [1]this[1] in the New York Times of April 4:

            “North Korea Moves Missile to Coast, but Little Threat is Seen” 

According to the Times, “North Korea has been issuing a blistering series of similar threats in recent weeks, citing as targets the American military installations in the Pacific islands of Hawaii and Guam, as well as the United States mainland.”

One reason such threats are not always seen as threatening is that North Korea has no missile that can reach the U.S. mainland, [2]and[2] quite likely not even Alaska, Hawaii, or Guam, never mind whether they have any long range missile that can hit anything with any accuracy.

North Koreans Move Missile Closer to U.S.! 

The South Korean defense chief reported April 4 that the North Koreans had moved one longish-range missile to its east coast, maybe 200 miles closer to the U.S., but that missile was still not close enough to come close to the U.S. west coast.  Nevertheless, American bases in South Korea and Japan are still presumably reachable targets, as are Korean and Japanese civilians.  Most of China and eastern Russia are also within range.  [Later reports said the North Koreans had movedtwo mobile missiles to the coast.]

The U.S. recently deployed a land-based anti-missile missile system to Guam, which is beyond the range of North Korea’s operational missiles. The U.S. has also moved at least two Aegis-class missile-cruisers to patrol waters close to North Korea.   While the Aegis system [3]has[3] the capability of attacking targets on land, in the air, and under water, its most notable exploit to date was the 1988 downing of an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians.

On March 29, CNN reported somewhat breathlessly that “North Korea has entered a ‘state of war’ with neighboring South Korea,” which ignores the reality that the state of war between the two countries has existed since 1950, although an armistice [4]was[4] agreed to in 1953.  Fitful efforts to negotiate a formal peace treaty have continued for 60 years, leaving the United Nations Command in place to the present.  North Korea has previously rejected the armistice at least five other times, in 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, and 2009.

 Americans Should Be Afraid of Missiles that Can’t Reach America

Exaggerating the CNN story, the Newsweek/Daily Beast editors gave [5]it[5] this scary headline —“North Korea Prepares Strike on U.S.’  – that had no meaningful basis in reality.  Amplifying the fear the next day, NBC News [6]ran[6] a disappointingly low-key story under the ramped-up headline:

North Korea puts rockets on standby asUS official warns regime is no ‘paper tiger’ 

 Peter Hart of FAIR [7]has[7] explored the one-sidedness of American media coverage and its reality-distorting effect in detail.

One reason the North Koreans moved their missile was in response to the March 28 U.S. fly-bys along the South Korean border with B-2 bombers quite capable of carrying enough nuclear weapons to obliterate North Korea and set off nuclear winter around the world.   Just because these fly-bys with B-2s, B-52s and other potentially nuclear-armed aircraft were part of military exercises the U.S. and South Koreans put on every year (sometimes using a pretend scenario of invading the North), the U.S. maintains the North shouldn’t think of them as in the least provocative.  The B-2s flew from a base in Missouri.

Another North Korean reason for moving their missile might have been the American plans to conduct missile defense drills with Japan and South Korea on an on-going basis.  This plan follows the “signal” sent earlier in the winter when the U.S. announced plans to increase its anti-missile missile deployment in Alaska and along the Pacific west coast.

China Votes for Sanctions, but Remains Wild Card

On March 7, the United Nations Security Council unanimously (15-0) approved a resolution brokered by the U.S. and Chine, imposing new economic sanctions on North Korea as punishment for its announcement on February 12, confirming [8]its[8] third nuclear weapons test.  While many nations detected seismic activity that they interpreted to be an underground nuclear explosion, and while the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty monitors said the tremor had “clear explosionlike characteristics,” there was no detection of radiation sufficient to confirm that the explosion was nuclear.

North Korea’s admission that it had used a “miniaturized nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously” was seen by some as defiance of Chinese advice against such a test.  The Chinese had promised that North Korea would “pay a heavy price” if it went ahead with the test.   That price apparently includes China’s cooperation with the U.S. on setting sanctions.

Complicating the response to the test announcement, there are few sanctions left to apply to North Korea, perhaps the world’s second most-sanctioned country after Israel [the U.N. has voted 66 sanctions against Israel, all or most of which Israel ignores with little consequence].  The new North Korea sanctions [9]bar[9] all nations from selling the North expensive jewelry, yachts, luxury automobiles, and racing cars.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said that, “taken together, these sanctions will bite, and bite hard.”

That will depend on China, which has previously helped North Korea get around sanctions, seeming to have less concern for the country across the border having nuclear weapons than having it devolve into instability and chaos.  So the current round of sanctions, like earlier ones, will have limited impact unless China should decide to limit its oil shipments, banking services, and other ongoing aid to North Korea.

Anyone Ready for an Act of War, like a Naval Blockade?

Another factor limiting the effectiveness of sanctions has been the unwillingness of the U.S. and other nations to enforce sanctions with a naval blockade, which would be an act of war.   And it would be an act of war against a Chinese ally, enforced in the waters off the Chinese mainland.

The announced nuclear test in February came a few weeks after the Security Council had voted unanimously for a resolution in favor of tightening sanctions on North Korea for launching a three-stage rocket in December.

At this point, no one is claiming that North Korea actually has any nuclear warheads, or any actual capacity to deliver one anywhere.

But North Korean [DPRK] bristling continued on April 4, as an unnamed army official suggested [10]that[10]:

“…the moment of explosion is approaching fast.  No one can say a war will break out in Korea or not and whether it will break out today or tomorrow….  The responsibility for this grave situation entirely rests with the U.S. administration and military warmongers keen to encroach upon the DPRK’s sovereignty and bring down its dignified social system with brigandish logic.” 

Anonymous U.S. Official Wonders About U.S. Over-reacting

The same day, at the Pentagon, an unnamed Defense Department official, took a look in the mirror and referred to U.S. bellicosity about its own military actions, saying:

“We accused the North Koreans of amping things up, now we are worried we did the same thing…. We are trying to turn the volume down.  We are absolutely trying to ratchet back the rhetoric.  We become part of the cycle. We allowed that to happen.”

In South Korea, which would likely suffer most from an outbreak of hostilities, one observer there considered the North Korea news reporting “all hype.”  Adam Hogue graduated from Keene State College in New Hampshire in 2011 and has been living and working in South Korea ever since.  On April 2, [11]he[11] wrote:

There is a need to create a culture of panic in the United States and, arguably, everywhere else where the major media conglomerates have established news outlets…. 

 “As I have heard from my mother, father, sister, friends, the New York Times, CNN and NPR, North Korea is suddenly big news. They are now something to fear. They are something threatening, mysterious and suddenly worthy of all the news headlines in the western-world. There is an urgent message being told that now is a time to panic and react…. 

 “But, that message is not coming from my co-workers at school or from the Korean news or from my neighbors; it is a message from the media.” 

American Paranoid Policy Heightened since 9-11

So it seems, in answer to the paranoia question at the beginning of this piece: the U.S. appears to have a comfortable lead in maintaining delusions of being threatened.

While the threats to North Korea are real and existential, that doesn’t preclude some paranoia at the same time:  consider the suggestion [13]that[13] the 2010 torpedo-sinking of a South Korean ship – blamed on North Korea and raising war fears – was actually a false flag operation by the Israeli navy using a state-of-the-art German submarine [Israel [12]has[12] a small fleet, armed with nuclear-warhead missiles].

On January 29, 2002, in his first State of the Union address, President George Bush declared that North Korea was part of  “an axis of evil” along with Iraq and Iran – nations that, while not an axis in the usual sense, got grouped by President Bush’s belief that they were all developing weapons of mass destruction with which “to threaten the peace of the world.”

Still searching for those weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. has [14]now[14] offered to sell South Korea 60 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter stealth bombers at a discount price of $180 million per plane.  If the North Koreans are paying attention, they will not feel immediately threatened by this possible sale of a plane that is at least five years from being operational and still struggling in its test phase.

The F-35 may be more of an economic threat to South Korea.

Notes

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/world/asia/north-korean-missile-moved-to-coast.html?hp&_r=1&

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/04/04/map-this-is-how-far-those-north-korean-missiles-can-actually-reach/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aegis_Combat_System

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Armistice_Agreement

[5] http://www.thedailybeast.com/cheats/2013/03/29/north-korea-prepares-strike-on-u-s.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=cheatsheet_morning&cid=newsletter%3Bemail%3Bcheatsheet_morning&utm_term=Cheat Sheet

[6] http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/29/17513218-north-korea-puts-rockets-on-standby-as-us-official-warns-regime-is-no-paper-tiger?lite

[7] http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/16789-north-korea-rattles-sabres-us-pretends-to-drop-nuclear-bombs-on-them-

[8]http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2013/03/07/north_korea_vows_preemptive_nuclear_strike_against_us_ahead_of_un_vote.html

[9] http://www.globalpolicy.org/security-council/index-of-countries-on-the-security-council-agenda/north-korea.html

[10] http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/04/politics/koreas-u-s-/index.html

[11] http://www.policymic.com/articles/32263/north-korea-news-is-all-hype

[12] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/israel-deploys-nuclear-weapons-on-german-built-submarines-a-836784.html

[13] http://abundanthope.net/pages/Political_Information_43/ISRAEL-S-SECRET-WAR-AGAINST-NORTH-KOREA.shtml

[14] http://www.defenseworld.net/news/8160/U_S_Offers_Korea_F_35_Aircraft_At_Subsidized_Rates – .UV8FwavwLB8

 

 

 

 

http://www.globalresearch.ca/u-s-to-america-be-afraid-the-north-koreans-are-coming/5330817

Atlantic Alliance “Goes Global”: Head of NATO Dispatched to South Korea

nato3NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been dispatched to Seoul for high level consultations.

The official disclaimer is that this has nothing to do with the ongoing US-DPRK confrontation. “The trip was long-planned and not connected with North Korean threats of nuclear war”.

Rasmussen is slated to meet the newly-elected President Park Geun-hye, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and Defence Minister Kim Kwan Jin.

Although unconfirmed, Rasmussen will likely also meet up with military brass of the South Korea-US Combined Forces Command.

When asked if the trip was in any way linked with rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, a NATO official candidly responded that

“Rather than the current crisis, it would instead cover Afghanistan where non-member South Korea has contributed some 350 troops to NATO-led forces fighting the Taliban”  (NATO official statement quoted by AFP, April 9, 2013)

It is worth noting that  Rasmussen’s presence in Seoul coincides with the visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

What is at stake are high level discussions.

The presence of Rasmussen also confirms that NATO has taken on a global military mandate well beyond the confines of the so-called “Atlantic region”.

It also points to the possible military involvement at some future date of NATO member states in  the Korean Peninsula.

 

 

http://www.globalresearch.ca/head-of-nato-dispatched-to-south-korea/5330767

Will US, North Korea crises ever end?

With tensions on the Korean peninsula soaring to include threats of nuclear war, frustration is mounting at what US policy experts see as the failure of all efforts to rein in North Korea.
Decades of threats have waxed and waned despite myriad attempts to reach out for talks or punish the regime, as seen recently in the tightening of UN sanctions.
North Korea watchers see a familiar pattern in which the communist state ramps up threats or takes actions such as missile launches or nuclear tests in a bid to show anger and force concessions from the United States.
Observers saw parallels between the latest crisis and 1994 when Pyongyang took on a bellicose tone as it faced pressure over its nuclear program at a time of political transitions in both North and South Korea.
The 1994 crisis ended when former US president Jimmy Carter flew to Pyongyang, setting the stage for a joint energy project that has been the inspiration for several initiatives since.
“I still don’t find any of the latest North Korean rhetoric that shocking. It’s perfectly predictable,” said Joel Wit, a former State Department official who was in charge of implementing the 1994 energy agreement.
“The difference this time is that they have nuclear weapons,” said Wit, now a scholar at Columbia University.
North Korea has threatened to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, although experts doubt it is able to. The United States, in turn, carried out runs by its nuclear-capable B-2 bomber as part of exercises with South Korea.
Other new factors in the latest crisis include question marks over North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-Un and growing unhappiness from China over its smaller ally’s insolence.
Bruce Cumings, chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago and the author of several books on North Korea, said the 24-hour news environment had also changed the dynamics behind Pyongyang’s threats.
“You get instant attention on the World Wide Web which is so different than when I used to read their Central News Agency reports in the early ‘90s that would come a week late through Tokyo and you never knew if anyone would pay attention,” he said.
But Cumings said that North Korea’s tactics followed a pattern dating to even before the 1950-53 Korean War, when the communist leadership would threaten to destroy the South’s army.
“It is always the case with North Korea that when its back is put to the wall, it lashes out and it creates problems. It says: ‘If you want to sanction us, this is what you’re going to get’,” he said.
Cumings warned that tensions “are inevitable as long as the United States and South Korea are not willing to engage with North Korea.” “The North Koreans go about things in the worst way — they are their own worst enemy — but they keep saying that they want to talk to the United States in particular,” he said. But President Barack Obama’s administration has ruled out what is widely considered North Korea’s main aim — its symbolic recognition as a nuclear weapons state, seen by the regime as critical to ensure its survival.
The Obama administration, after long hesitation, last year sealed an aid-for-disarmament agreement with North Korea that fell apart in a matter of weeks after Pyongyang attempted to test a rocket.
The previous administration of George W. Bush similarly swung widely in its approach to North Korea. Bush famously grouped North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” and under his watch Pyongyang tested its first nuclear device.
But Bush, like Bill Clinton before him, tried late in his term to seal a historic far-reaching agreement with North Korea.
Some US conservatives criticized the Bush outreach and have called for an entirely new approach. Representative Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has called on the United States to avoid any future deals with North Korea and instead aim at toppling the regime.

 

http://www.thefrontierpost.com/article/4912/

Iraqi Birth Defects Are Much Worse Than Hiroshima

iraqi birth defects
(warning: graphic images)
The United States may be finished dropping bombs on Iraq, but Iraqi bodies will be dealing with the consequences for generations to come in the form of birth defects, mysterious illnesses and skyrocketing cancer rates.

Continue reading

We don’t intend to build nukes, Israel told US in 1975

Prime minister Yitzhak Rabin accompanied by Henry Kissinger on their way to a meeting with president Ford at the White House, June 1975. (photo credit: Yaakov Saar/GPO)

Newly published documents also shed light on Rabin, Peres visits to Tehran in 1976 and Dayan plan to give citizenship to Palestinians in Ramallah and Bethlehem

(Times of Israel) Israel’s leaders, in private exchanges with senior US officials in 1975, flatly denied that Israel possessed nuclear weapons, and foreign minister Yigal Allon also claimed Israel had no intention to build such weapons, according to diplomatic cables published this week by whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.

This despite the fact that, according to foreign reports, Israel is now believed to have begun full-scale production of nuclear weapons soon after the 1967 war, and to have stockpiled a number of nuclear weapons by the early 1970s.

The cables are part of a trove of more than 1.7 million US diplomatic cables sent between 1973 and 1976. Among the 5,000-plus documents that deal with Israel are messages that shine light on the development of Israel’s nuclear program, as well as on Israel’s relationship with pre-revolutionary Iran and a 1973 plan by then-defense minister Moshe Dayan to extend Israeli citizenship to Palestinian residents of Ramallah and Bethlehem.

In May 1975, senator Howard Baker asked prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and defense minister (today President) Shimon Peres about speculation that Israel had acquired nuclear weapons.

“Rabin told senator Baker that GOI [the government of Israel] had made a commitment not to be the first state to introduce nuclear weapons into the area. Israel had kept its word,” states the document, which was quietly declassified in 2006 but only published now by WikiLeaks.

In the document, which the US Embassy in Tel Aviv sent to the embassy in Turkey, Peres is quoted as saying that Israel’s introduction of nuclear weapons into the Middle East would lead to a conflict with Washington and would encourage the Soviet Union to give similar devices to the Arab nations in the region, which “would bring [the] Middle East to [the] point of no return.

“Peres, in reply to [a] direct question, states that Israel has not constructed a military nuclear device,” the document continued. Baker asked whether that meant Jerusalem had not constructed an explosive device, and Peres answered affirmatively.

Israel has always pursued a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither denying nor confirming the possession of atomic weapons. Yet the existence of an Israeli nuclear-weapons program has been widely reported in the foreign media, and it is widely believed that Jerusalem has had such devices since at least 1973.

Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin (photo credit: courtesy GPO)

In one of the cables from the summer of 1975, Rabin said that Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty “because it regarded this as part of [an] arms race issue in [the] area and of an eventual overall political settlement” of the Middle East conflict.

The Israeli prime minister also commented on repeated American requests to inspect the nuclear facilities in Dimona, telling Baker that Jerusalem and Washington had in 1969 — “and rightly so” — agreed that such visits had been “terminated.”

“The Dimona facility was not open for inspection,” the document states.

A few months earlier, in January 1975, a cable that the US Embassy in Tel Aviv sent to Washington quotes US senator Charles Mathias asking foreign minister Yigal Allon about Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

“Allon replied that Israel had the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons. However, he said that [the government of Israel] did not currently possess nuclear weapons, nor did it intend to manufacture them.”

The senator then remarked that the secrecy surrounding the Dimona reactor and Jerusalem’s refusal to allow inspection “were a public relations problem for Israel in the US.” Allon agreed in principle, but offered no immediate remedies.

In November 1976, a dozen American senators visited Israel, with “one of their principal interests” being an inspection of the Dimona nuclear reactor, according to another US Embassy cable. Jerusalem denied the senators’ requests. “When asked regarding the reason for this decision,” the document states, “we were simply told that adequate attention would be given to Israel’s energy situation in briefings and a visit to Dimona would not be considered useful.”

The US Government suspected Israel of having nuclear weapons since 1970 and, according to foreign media reports, Israel assembled more than a dozen nuclear warheads during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In 1986, former Dimona nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu gave detailed information about the country’s “secret nuclear arsenal” to the London Sunday Times. In 2008, former US president Jimmy Carter saidthat Israel had at least 150 nuclear weapons.

The diplomatic documents, which WikiLeaks dubbed the “Kissinger Cables,” also reveal that, in the 1970s, military legend Dayan — serving as defense minister — planned to grant Israeli citizenship to Palestinian residents of Bethlehem and Ramallah, while retaining full control over the West Bank.

cable from May 1973 quotes former minister Gad Yaacobi, who was a close ally of Dayan, saying that Dayan was preparing to expand the degree of autonomy for Arab municipalities in the West Bank, which Israel had captured in the Six-Day War.

Yaacobi said Dayan encouraged Israeli settlements everywhere in the West Bank except in “Arab metropolitan areas.” The two exceptions to that rule were Ramallah and Bethlehem, which Dayan considered parts of the “greater Jerusalem area.”

“As for Dayan’s thinking on [an] ultimate peace settlement with Jordan, Yaacobi said Dayan would only return one or two small enclaves of the West Bank,” the cable states. “But Dayan, according to Yaacobi, envisages [the] rest of [the] West Bank population though living under Israeli sovereignty as being full-fledged Jordanian citizens, with [the] exception [of] inhabitants of Ramallah and Bethlehem, who would become Israeli citizens.”

‘What the Iranians and Israelis are specifically cooking up in the arms field remains to be ascertained, but the Shah has a complex game going’

The Kissinger Cables, named after former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, also shed light on Israel’s close military ties with Iran prior to the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which turned the two countries into bitter enemies.

In 1976, several top Israeli government officials, including Rabin, Peres and Allon, secretly visited the Shah in Tehran, writes then-US ambassador to Iran and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency Richard Helms in acable.

Rabin’s visit, in July of that year, was clouded in particular secrecy, Helms writes. It was followed by a trip to Israel by Iranian vice minister of war Hassan Toufanian, ostensibly to discuss several joint military projects, such as the 1977 Project Flower.

“What the Iranians and Israelis are specifically cooking up in the arms field remains to be ascertained, but the Shah has a complex game going with both the Israelis and the Egyptians, the obvious purpose of which is to exchange or at least have available certain kinds of ammunition and weapons which are not subject to US Congressional control or veto,” Helms writes.

In a separate cable, Helms reports to the State Department in Washington that the Shah complained to Peres during a visit to Tehran about Jerusalem’s efforts to dissuade the US from selling arms to Iran.

In a third cable, Helms says that Toufanian told him that his trip to Israel and Peres’s visit to Tehran “were basically get-acquainted sessions.” The Iranian official said that “ways will be explored to expand military cooperation between the two countries, but that it is important [for] the prime personalities to get to know each other first and to come to understand each other’s particular problems.”

Kissinger: The Iran Nuclear Situation Will Come To A Head In The ‘Very Foreseeable Future’

(Business Insider) Henry Kissinger recently gave an ominous forecast on the future of Iran’s nuclear program: that it will be taken care of one way or another very soon.

attached imageSpeaking at the World Economic Forum at a Swiss ski resort in Davos, Kissinger said, “People who have advanced their view will have to come to a determination about how to react or about the consequences of non-reaction,” he said.

“I believe this point will be reached within a very foreseeable future.”

Also at Davos, Agence France Presse reports that President Shimon Peres said, “There will be more attempts to try and negotiate, but there will always be in the horizon a military option, because if the Iranians think it’s only economic and political, they won’t pay attention.”

Kissinger, Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak all seem to think that the Iran nuclear situation will come to close in some way in the next few months.

However, exactly how that will happen remains a subject of debate — where some see military threat and possible strikes as integral, , others report that sanctions have crippled the country, opening up critical lanes for upcoming nuclear talks with the U.N. Security Council.

One recent Haaratz report said that Iran’s income from oil had plummeted 50% in recent months, and the country has been unable to find the space to store its excess oil. Iran’s oil represents 80 percent of its income, and the U.S. has almost unilaterally banned the import of that oil. On the other side, Iran’s major importers are Asian countries (though China is exempt, it still represents an ally) — countries likely to, and more importantly, able to, put pressure on the U.S. to drop sanctions.

While Iran may try to delay and quibble over locations for the negotiation, it looks like economic sanctions may well cause their hand to fold, and soon.

Seventy Years of Nuclear Fission, Thousands of Centuries of Nuclear Waste

(Truth-Out.org) On December 2, 1942, a small group of physicists under the direction of Enrico Fermi gathered on an old squash court beneath Alonzo Stagg Stadium on the Campus of the University of Chicago to make and witness history. Uranium pellets and graphite blocks had been stacked around cadmium-coated rods as part of an experiment crucial to the Manhattan Project – the program tasked with building an atom bomb for the allied forces in World War II. The experiment was successful, and for 28 minutes, the scientists and dignitaries present witnessed the world’s first manmade, self-sustaining nuclear fission reaction. They called it an atomic pile – Chicago Pile 1 (CP-1), to be exact- but what Fermi and his team had actually done was build the world’s first nuclear reactor.

The Manhattan Project’s goal was a bomb, but soon after the end of the war, scientists, politicians, the military and private industry looked for ways to harness the power of the atom for civilian use, or, perhaps more to the point, for commercial profit. Fifteen years to the day after CP-1 achieved criticality, President Dwight Eisenhower threw a ceremonial switch to start the reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, which was billed as the first full-scale nuclear power plant built expressly for civilian electrical generation.

Shippingport was, in reality, little more than a submarine engine on blocks, but the nuclear industry and its acolytes will say that it was the beginning of billions of kilowatts of power, promoted (without a hint of irony) as “clean, safe and too cheap to meter.” It was also, however, the beginning of what is now a weightier legacy: 72,000 tons of nuclear waste.

Atoms for Peace, Problems Forever

News of Fermi’s initial success was communicated by physicist Arthur Compton to the head of the National Defense Research Committee, James Conant, with artistically coded flair:

Compton: The Italian navigator has landed in the New World.

Conant: How were the natives?

Compton: Very friendly.

But soon after that initial success, CP-1 was disassembled and reassembled a short drive away, in Red Gate Woods. The optimism of the physicists notwithstanding, it was thought best to continue the experiments with better radiation shielding – and slightly removed from the center of a heavily populated campus. The move was perhaps the first necessitated by the uneasy relationship between fissile material and the health and safety of those around it, but if it was understood as a broader cautionary tale, no one let that get in the way of “progress.”

By the time the Shippingport reactor went critical, North America already had a nuclear waste problem. The detritus from manufacturing atomic weapons was poisoning surrounding communities at several sites around the continent (not that most civilians knew it at the time). Meltdowns at Chalk River in Canada and the Experimental Breeder Reactor in Idaho had required fevered cleanups, the former of which included the help of a young Navy officer named Jimmy Carter. And the dangers of errant radioisotopes were increasing with the acceleration of above-ground atomic weapons testing. But as President Eisenhower extolled “Atoms for Peace,” and the US Atomic Energy Commission promoted civilian nuclear power at home and abroad, a plan to deal with the spent fuel (as used nuclear fuel rods are termed) and other highly radioactive leftovers was not part of the program (beyond, of course, extracting some of the plutonium produced by the fission reaction for bomb production, and the promise that the waste generated by US-built reactors overseas could at some point be marked “return to sender” and repatriated to the United States for disposal).

Attempts at what was called reprocessing – the re-refining of used uranium into new reactor fuel – quickly proved expensive, inefficient and dangerous, and created as much radioactive waste as they hoped to reuse. Reprocessing also provided an obvious avenue for nuclear weapons proliferation because of the resulting production of plutonium. The threat of proliferation (made flesh by India’s test of an atomic bomb in 1976) led President Jimmy Carter to cancel the US reprocessing program in 1977. Attempts by the Department of Energy (DOE) to push mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication (combining uranium and plutonium) over the last dozen years has not produced any results, either, despite over $5 billion in government investments.

In fact, there was no official federal policy for the management of used but still highly radioactive nuclear fuel until passage of The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982(NWPA). And while that law acknowledged the problem of thousands of tons of spent fuel accumulating at US nuclear plants, it didn’t exactly solve it. Instead, the NWPA started a generation of political horse-trading, with goals and standards defined more by market exigencies than by science, that leaves America today with what amounts to over five dozen nominally temporary repositories for high-level radioactive waste – and no defined plan to change that situation anytime soon.

Lack of Permanent Spent Fuel Storage Looms Large

When a US Court of Appeals ruled in June that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) acted improperly when it failed to consider all the risks of storing spent radioactive fuel onsite at the nation’s nuclear power facilities, it made specific reference to the lack of any real answers to the generations-old question of waste storage:

[The Nuclear Regulatory Commission] apparently has no long-term plan other than hoping for a geologic repository…. If the government continues to fail in its quest to establish one, then SNF (spent nuclear fuel) will seemingly be stored on site at nuclear plants on a permanent basis. The Commission can and must assess the potential environmental effects of such a failure.

The court concluded the current situation – in which spent fuel is stored across the country in what were supposed to be temporary configurations-“poses a dangerous long-term health and environmental risk.”

The decision also harshly criticized regulators for evaluating plant relicensing with the assumption that spent nuclear fuel would be moved to a central long-term waste repository.

A Mountain of Risks

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act set in motion an elaborate process that was supposed to give the US a number of possible waste sites, but, in the end, the only option seriously explored was the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada. After years of preliminary construction and tens of millions of dollars spent, Yucca was determined to be a bad choice for the waste. As I wrote in April of last year: “[Yucca Mountain’s] volcanic formation is more porous and less isolated than originally believed – there is evidence that water can seep in, there are seismic concerns, worries about the possibility of new volcanic activity, and a disturbing proximity to underground aquifers. In addition, Yucca mountain has deep spiritual significance for the Shoshone and Paiute peoples.”

Every major Nevada politician on both sides of the aisle has opposed the Yucca repository since its inception. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has worked most of his political life to block the facility. And with the previous NRC head, Gregory Jaczko, (and now his replacement, Allison Macfarlane, as well) recommending against it, the Obama administration’s DOE moved to end the project.

Even if it were an active option, Yucca Mountain would still be many years and maybe as much as $100 million away from completion. And yet, the nuclear industry (through recipients of its largesse in Congress) has challenged the administration to spend any remaining money in a desperate attempt to keep alive the fantasy of a solution to their waste crisis.

Such fevered dreams, however, do not qualify as an actual plan, according to the courts.

The judges also chastised the NRC for its generic assessment of spent fuel pools, currently packed well beyond their projected capacity at nuclear plants across the United States. Rather than examine each facility and the potential risks specific to its particular storage situation, the NRC had only evaluated the safety risks of onsite storage by looking at a composite of past events. The court ruled that the NRC must appraise each plant individually and account for potential future dangers. Those dangers include leaks, loss of coolant, and failures in the cooling systems, any of which might result in contamination of surrounding areas, overheating and melting of stored rods, and the potential of burning radioactive fuel – risks heightened by the large amounts of fuel now densely packed in the storage pools and underscored by the ongoing disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Indeed, plants were neither designed nor built to house nuclear waste long-term. The design life of most reactors in the United States was originally 40 years. Discussions of the spent fuel pools usually gave them a 60-year lifespan. That limit seemed to double almost magically as nuclear operators fought to postpone the expense of moving cooler fuel to dry casks and of the final decommissioning of retired reactors.

Everyone Out of the Pool

As disasters as far afield as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and last October’s Hurricane Sandy have demonstrated, the storage of spent nuclear fuel in pools requires steady supplies of power and cool water. Any problem that prevents the active circulation of liquid through the spent fuel pools – be it a loss of electricity, the failure of a back-up pump, the clogging of a valve or a leak in the system – means the temperature in the pools will start to rise. If the cooling circuit is out long enough, the water in the pools will start to boil. If the water level dips (due to boiling or a leak) enough to expose hot fuel rods to the air, the metal cladding on the rods will start to burn, in turn heating the fuel even more, resulting in plumes of smoke carrying radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere.

And because these spent fuel pools are so full – containing as much as five times more fuel than they were originally designed to hold, and at densities that come close to those in reactor cores – they both heat stagnant water more quickly and reach volatile temperatures faster when exposed to air.

After spent uranium has been in a pool for at least five years (considerably longer than most fuel is productive as an energy source inside the reactor), fuel rods are deemed cool enough to be moved to dry casks. Dry casks are sealed steel cylinders filled with spent fuel and inert gas, which are themselves encased in another layer of steel and concrete. These massive fuel “coffins” are then placed outside and spaced on concrete pads so that air can circulate and continue to disperse heat.

While the long-term safety of dry casks is still in question, the fact that they require no active cooling system gives them an advantage, in the eyes of many experts, over pool storage. As if to highlight that difference, spent fuel pools at Fukushima Daiichi have posed some of the greatest challenges since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, whereas, to date, no quake or flood-related problems have been reported with any of Japan’s dry casks. The disparity was so obvious that the NRC’s own staff review actually added a proposal to the post-Fukushima taskforce report, recommending that US plants take more fuel out of spent fuel pools and move it to dry casks. (A year and a half later, however, there is still no regulation – or even a draft – requiring such a move.)

But current dry cask storage poses its own set of problems. Moving fuel rods from pools to casks is slow and costly – about $1.5 million per cask, or roughly $7 billion to move all of the nation’s spent fuel (a process, it is estimated, that would take no less than five to ten years). That is expensive enough to have many nuclear plant operators lobbying overtime to avoid doing it.

Further, though not as seemingly vulnerable as fuel pools, dry casks are not impervious to natural disaster. In 2011, a moderate earthquake centered about 20 miles from the North Anna, Virginia, nuclear plant caused most of its vertical dry casks – each weighing 115 tons – to shift, some by more than four inches. The facility’s horizontal casks didn’t move, but some showed what was termed “cosmetic damage.”

Dry casks at Michigan’s Palisades plant sit on a pad atop a sand dune just 100 yards from Lake Michigan. An earthquake there could plunge the casks into the water. And the casks at Palisades are so poorly designed and maintained, submersion could result in water contacting the fuel, contaminating the lake and possibly triggering a nuclear chain reaction.

And though each cask contains far less fissile material than one spent fuel pool, casks are still considered possible targets for terrorism. A TOW anti-tank missile would breach even the best dry cask [PDF], and with 25 percent of the nation’s spent fuel now stored in hundreds of casks across the country, all above ground, it provides a rich target environment.

Confidence Game

Two months after the Appeals Court found fault with the NRC’s imaginary waste mitigation scenario, the agency announced it would suspend the issuing of new reactor operating licenses, license renewals and construction licenses until the agency could craft a new plan for dealing with the nation’s growing spent nuclear fuel crisis. In drafting its new nuclear “Waste Confidence Decision” (NWCD) – the methodology used to assess the hazards of nuclear waste storage – the Commission said it would evaluate all possible options for resolving the issue.

At first, the NRC said this could include both generic and site-specific actions (remember, the court criticized the NRC’s generic appraisals of pool safety), but as the prescribed process now progresses, it appears any new rule will be designed to give the agency, and so, the industry, as much wiggle room as possible. At a public hearing in November 2012, and later at a pair of web conferences in early December, the regulator’s Waste Confidence Directorate (yes, that’s what it is called) outlined three scenarios [PDF] for any future rulemaking:

  • Storage until a repository becomes available at the middle of the century
  • Storage until a repository becomes available at the end of the century
  • Continued storage in the event a repository is not available.

And while, given the current state of affairs, the first option seems optimistic, the fact that their best scenario now projects a repository to be ready by about 2050 is a story in itself.

When the NWPA was signed into law by President Reagan early in 1983, it was expected the process it set in motion would present at least one (and preferably another) long-term repository by the late 1990s. But by the time the “Screw Nevada Bill” (as it is affectionately known in the Silver State) locked in Yucca Mountain as the only option for permanent nuclear waste storage, the projected opening was pushed back to 2007.

But Yucca encountered problems from its earliest days, so a mid-90s revision of the timeline postponed the official start, this time to 2010. By 2006, the DOE was pegging Yucca’s opening at 2017. And, when the NWPA was again revised in 2010 – after Yucca was deemed a non-option – it conveniently avoided setting a date for the opening of a national long-term waste repository altogether.

It was that 2010 revision that was thrown out by the courts in June.

“Interim Storage” and “Likely Reactors”

So, the waste panel now has three scenarios – but what are the underlying assumptions for those scenarios? Not, obviously, any particular site for a centralized, permanent home for the nation’s nuclear garbage – no new site has been chosen, and it can’t even be said there is an active process at work that will choose one.

There are the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) convened by the president after Yucca Mountain was off the table. Most notable there was arecommendation for interim waste storage, consolidated at a handful of locations across the country. But consolidated intermediate waste storage has its own difficulties, not the least of which is that no sites have yet been chosen for any such endeavor. (In fact, plans for the Skull Valley repository, thought to be the interim facility closest to approval, were abandoned by its sponsors just days before Christmas 2012.)

Just-retired Democratic senator from New Mexico Jeff Bingaman, the last chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, tried to turn the BRC recommendations into law. When he introduced his bill in August, however, he had to do so without any cosponsors. Hearings on the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2012 were held in September, but the gavel came down on the 112th Congress without any further action.

In spite of the underdeveloped state of intermediate storage, however, when the waste confidence panel was questioned on the possibility, interim waste repositories seemed to emerge, almost on the fly, as an integral part of any revised waste policy rule.

“Will any of your scenarios include interim centralized above-ground storage?” we asked during the last public session. Paul Michalak, who heads the environmental impact statement branch of the Waste Confidence Directorate, first said temporary sites would be considered in the second and third options. Then, after a short pause,Mr. Michalak added [PDF, p40], “First one, too. All right. Right. That’s right. So we’re considering an interim consolidated storage facility [in] all three scenarios.”

The lack of certainty on any site or sites is, however, not the only fuzzy part of the picture. As mentioned earlier, the amount of high-level radioactive waste currently on hand in the United States and in need of a final resting place is upwards of 70,000 tons – already at the amount that was set as the initial top limit for the Yucca Mountain repository. Given that there are still over 100 domestic commercial nuclear reactors more or less in operation, producing something like an additional 2,000 tons of spent fuel every year, what happens to the Waste Confidence Directorate’s scenarios as the years and waste pile up? How much waste were regulators projecting they would have to deal with? How much spent fuel would a waste confidence decision assume the system could confidently handle?

There was initial confusion on what amount of waste – and at what point in time – was informing the process. Pressed for clarification on the last day of hearings, NRC officials finally posited that it was assumed there would be 150,000 metric tons of spent fuel – all deriving from the commercial reactor fleet – by 2050. By the end of the century, the NRC expects to face a mountain of waste weighing 270,000 metric tons [PDF, pp38-41] (though this figure was perplexingly termed both a “conservative number” and an “overestimate”).

How did the panel arrive at these numbers? Were they assuming all 104 (soon to be 103 – Wisconsin’s Kewaunee Power Station will shut down by mid-2013 for reasons its owner, Dominion Resources, says are based “purely on economics”) commercial reactors nominally in operation would continue to function for that entire timeframe – even though many are nearing the end of their design life and none are licensed to continue operation beyond the 2030s? Were they counting reactors like those at San Onofre, which have been offline for almost a year and are not expected to restart anytime soon? Or the troubled reactors at Ft. Calhoun in Nebraska and Florida’s Crystal River? Neither facility has been functional in recent years, and both have many hurdles to overcome if they are ever to produce power again. Were they factoring in the projected AP1000 reactors in the early stages of construction in Georgia, or the ones slated for South Carolina? Did the NRC expect more or fewer reactors generating waste over the course of the next 88 years?

The response: waste estimates include all existing facilities, plus “likely reactors” – but the NRC cannot say exactly how many reactors that is [PDF, p. 41].

Jamming It Through

Answers like those from the Waste Confidence Directorate do not inspire (pardon the expression) confidence for a country looking at a mountain of eternally toxic waste. Just what would the waste confidence decision (and the environmental impact survey that should result from it) actually cover? What would it mandate, and what would change as a result?

In past relicensing hearings – where the public could comment on proposed license extensions on plants already reaching the end of their 40-year design life – objections based on the mounting waste problem and already packed spent fuel pools were waved off by the NRC, which referenced the waste confidence decision as the basis of its rationale. Yet, when discussing the parameters of the process for the latest, court-ordered revision to the NWCD, Dr. Keith McConnell, director of the Waste Confidence Directorate, asserted that waste confidence was not connected to the site-specific licensed life of operations [PDF, p. 42], but only to a period defined as “post-licensed life storage” (which appears, if a chart in the directorate’s presentation [PDF, p. 12] is to be taken literally, to extend from 60 years after the initial creation of waste, to 120 years – at which point a phase labeled “disposal” begins). Issues of spent fuel pool and dry cask safety are the concerns of a specific plant’s relicensing process, said regulators in the latest hearings.

“It’s like dealing with the Mad Hatter,” commented Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist for industry watchdog Beyond Nuclear. “Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today.”

The edict originated with the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, but it is all too appropriate – and no less maddening – when trying to motivate meaningful change at the NRC. The NRC has used the nuclear waste confidence decision in licensing inquiries, but in these latest scoping hearings, we are told the NWCD does not apply to on-site waste storage. The appeals court criticized the lack of site-specificity in the waste storage rules, but the directorate says they are now only working on a generic guideline. The court disapproved of the NRC’s continued relicensing of nuclear facilities based on the assumption of a long-term geologic repository that in reality did not exist – and the NRC said it was suspending licensing pending a new rule – but now regulators say they don’t anticipate the denial or even the delay of any reactor license application while they await the new waste confidence decision [PDF, pp. 49-50].

In fact, the NRC has continued the review process on pending applications, even though there is now no working NWCD – something deemed essential by the courts – against which to evaluate new licenses.

The period for public comment on the scope of the waste confidence decision ended January 2, and no more scoping hearings are planned. There will be other periods for civic involvement – during the environmental impact survey and rulemaking phases – but with each step, the areas open to input diminish. And the current schedule has the entire process greatly accelerated over previous revisions.

On January 3, a coalition of 24 grassroots environmental groups filed documents with the NRC [PDF] protesting “the ‘hurry up’ two-year timeframe” for this assessment, noting the time allotted for environmental review falls far short of the 2019 estimate set by the NRC’s own technical staff. The coalition observed that two years was also not enough time to integrate post-Fukushima recommendations, and that the NRC was narrowing the scope of the decision – ignoring specific instructions from the appeals court – in order to accelerate the drafting of a new waste-storage rule.

Speed might seem a valuable asset if the NRC were shepherding a Manhattan Project-style push for a solution to the ever-growing waste problem – the one that began with the original Manhattan Project – but that is not what is at work here. Instead, the NRC, under court order, is trying to set the rules for determining the risk of all that high-level radioactive waste if there is no new, feasible solution. The NRC is looking for a way to permit the continued operation of the US nuclear fleet – and so, the continued manufacture of nuclear waste – without an answer to the bigger, pressing question.

A Plan Called HOSS

While there is much to debate about what a true permanent solution to the nuclear waste problem might look like, there is little question that the status quo is unacceptable. Spent fuel pools were never intended to be used as they are now used – re-racked and densely packed with over a generation of fuel assemblies. Both the short- and long-term safety and security of the pools has now been questioned by the courts and laid bare by reality. Pools at numerous US facilities have leaked radioactive waste [PDF] into rivers, groundwater and soil. Sudden “drain downs” of water used for cooling have come perilously close to triggering major accidents in plants very near to major population centers. Recent hurricanes have knocked out power to cooling systems and flooded backup generators, and last fall’s superstorm came within inches of overwhelming the coolant intake structure at Oyster Creek in New Jersey.

The crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility was so dangerous, and remains dangerous to this day, in part because of the large amounts of spent fuel stored in pools next to the reactors but outside of containment – a design identical to 35 US nuclear reactors. A number of these GE Mark 1 Boiling Water Reactors – such as Oyster Creek and Vermont Yankee – have more spent fuel packed into their individual pools than all the waste in Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2, 3, and 4 combined.

Dry casks, the obvious next “less-bad” option for high-level radioactive waste, were also not supposed to be a permanent panacea. The design requirements and manufacturing regulations of casks – especially the earliest generations – do not guarantee their reliability anywhere near the 100 to 300 years now being casually tossed around by NRC officials. Some of the nation’s older dry casks (which in this case means 15 to 25 years) have already shown seal failures and structural wear [PDF]. Yet the government does not require direct monitoring of casks for excessive heat or radioactive leaks – only periodic “walkthroughs.”

Add in the reluctance of plant operators to spend money on dry cask transfer and the lack of any workable plan to quickly remove radioactive fuel from failed casks, and dry cask storage also appears to fail to attain any court-ordered level of confidence.

Interim plans, such as regional consolidated above-ground storage, remain just that – plans. There are no sites selected and no designs for such a facility up for public scrutiny. What is readily apparent, though, is that the frequent transport of nuclear waste increases the risk of nuclear accidents. There does not, as of now, exist a transfer container that is wholly leak proof, accident proof and impervious to terrorist attack. Moving high-level radioactive waste across the nation’s highways, rail lines and waterways has raised fears of “Mobile Chernobyls” and “Floating Fukushimas.”

More troubling still, if past (and present) is prologue, is the tendency of options designed as “interim” to morph into a default “permanent.” Can the nation afford to kick the can once more, spending tens (if not hundreds) of millions of dollars on a “solution” that will only add a collection of new challenges to the existing roster of problems? What will the interim facilities become beyond the next problem, the next site for costly mountains of poorly stored, dangerous waste?

If there is an interim option favored by many nuclear experts, engineers and environmentalists [PDF], it is something called HOSS – Hardened On-Site Storage [PDF]. HOSS is a version of dry cask storage that is designed and manufactured to last longer, is better protected against leaks and better shielded from potential attacks. Proposals [PDF] involve steel, concrete and earthen barriers incorporating proper ventilation and direct monitoring for heat and radiation.

But not all reactor sites are good candidates for HOSS. Some are too close to rivers that regularly flood, some are vulnerable to the rising seas and increasingly severe storms brought on by climate change, and others are close to active geologic fault zones. For facilities where hardened on-site storage would be an option, nuclear operators will no doubt fight the requirements because of the increased costs above and beyond the price of standard dry cask storage, which most plant owners already try to avoid or delay.

The First Rule of Holes

In a wooded park just outside Chicago sits a dirt mound, near a bike path, which contains parts of the still-highly-radioactive remains of CP-1, the world’s first atomic pile. Seven decades after that nuclear fuel was first buried, many health experts would not recommend that spot [PDF] for a long, languorous picnic, nor would they recommend drinking from nearby water fountains. To look at it in terms Arthur Compton might favor, when it comes to the products of nuclear chain reactions, the natives are restless … and will remain so for millennia to come.

One can perhaps forgive those working in the pressure cooker of the Manhattan Project and in the middle of a world war for ignoring the forest for the trees – for not considering waste disposal while pursuing a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. Perhaps. But, as the burial mound in Red Gate Woods reminds us, ignoring a problem does not make it go away.

And if that small pile or the mountains of spent fuel precariously stored around the nation are not enough of a prompt, the roughly $960 million that the federal government has had to pay private nuclear operators should be. For every year that the DOE does not provide a permanent waste repository – or at least some option that takes the burden of storing spent nuclear fuel off the hands (and off the books) of power companies – the government is obligated to reimburse the industry for the costs of onsite waste storage. By 2020, it is estimated that $11 billion in public money will have been transferred into the pockets of private nuclear companies. By law, these payments cannot be drawn from the ratepayer-fed fund that is earmarked for a permanent geologic repository, and so, these liabilities must be paid out of the federal budget. Legal fees for defending the DOE against these claims will add another 20 to 30 percent to settlement costs.

The Federal appeals court, too, has sent a clear message that the buck needs to stop somewhere at some point – and that such a time and place should be both explicit and realistic. The nuclear waste confidence scoping process, however, is already giving the impression that the NRC’s next move will be generic and improbable.

The late, great Texas journalist Molly Ivins once remarked, “The first rule of holes” is, “when you’re in one, stop digging.” For high-level radioactive waste, that hole is now a mountain, over 70 years in the making and over 70,000 tons high. If the history of the atomic age is not evidence enough, the implications of the waste confidence decision process put the current crisis in stark relief. There is, right now, no good option for dealing with the nuclear detritus currently on hand, and there is not even a plan to develop a good option in the near future. Without a way to safely store the mountain of waste already created, under what rationale can a responsible government permit the manufacture of so much more?

The federal government spends billions to perpetuate and protect the nuclear industry – and plans to spend billions more to expand the number of commercial reactors. Dozens of facilities are already past, or are fast approaching, the end of their design lives, but the NRC has yet to reject any request for an operating license extension – and it is poised to approve many more, nuclear waste confidence decision notwithstanding. Plant operators continue to balk at any additional regulations that would require better waste management.

The lesson of the first 70 years of fission is that we cannot endure more of the same. The government – from the DOE to the NRC – should reorient its priorities from creating more nuclear waste to safely and securely containing what is now here. Money slated for subsidizing current reactors and building new ones would be better spent on shuttering aging plants, designing better storage options for their waste, modernizing the electrical grid and developing sustainable energy alternatives. (And reducing demand through conservation programs should always be part of the conversation.)

Enrico Fermi might not have foreseen (or cared about) the mountain of waste that began with his first atomic pile, but current scientists, regulators and elected officials have the benefit of hindsight. If the first rule of holes says stop digging, then the dictum here should be that when you’re trying to summit a mountain, you don’t keep shoveling more garbage on top.