Archive for November, 2020

Legacy of Maralinga bomb tests -a reminder of need for safety in matters nuclear

November 28, 2020
Sixty years on, the Maralinga bomb tests remind us not to put security over safety, The Conversation    Liz Tynan, Senior Lecturer and Co-ordinator Research Student Academic Support, James Cook University September 26, 2016   It is September 27, 1956. At a dusty site called One Tree, in the northern reaches of the 3,200-square-kilometre Maralinga atomic weapons test range in outback South Australia, the winds have finally died down and the countdown begins……….
And so, at 5pm, Operation Buffalo begins. The 15-kilotonne atomic device, the same explosive strength as the weapon dropped on Hiroshima 11 years earlier (although totally different in design), is bolted to a 30-metre steel tower. The device is a plutonium warhead that will test Britain’s “Red Beard” tactical nuclear weapon.

The count reaches its finale – three… two… one… FLASH! – and all present turn their backs. When given the order to turn back again, they see an awesome, rising fireball. Then Maralinga’s first mushroom cloud begins to bloom over the plain – by October the following year, there will have been six more.

RAF and RAAF aircraft prepare to fly through the billowing cloud to gather samples. The cloud rises much higher than predicted and, despite the delay, the winds are still unsuitable for atmospheric nuclear testing. The radioactive cloud heads due east, towards populated areas on Australia’s east coast.

Power struggle

So began the most damaging chapter in the history of British nuclear weapons testing in Australia. The UK had carried out atomic tests in 1952 and 1956 at the Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia, and in 1953 at Emu Field north of Maralinga.
The British had requested and were granted a huge chunk of South Australia to create a “permanent” atomic weapons test site, after finding the conditions at Monte Bello and Emu Field too remote and unworkable. Australia’s then prime minister, Robert Menzies, was all too happy to oblige. Back in September 1950 in a phone call with his British counterpart, Clement Attlee, he had said yes to nuclear testing without even referring the issue to his cabinet……….
He was also exploring ways to power civilian Australia with atomic energy and – whisper it – even to buy an atomic bomb with an Australian flag on it (for more background, see here). While Australia had not been involved in developing either atomic weaponry or nuclear energy, she wanted in now. Menzies’ ambitions were such that he authorised offering more to the British than they requested.

While Australia was preparing to sign the Maralinga agreement, the supply minister, Howard Beale, wrote in a top-secret 1954 cabinet document:

Although [the] UK had intimated that she was prepared to meet the full costs, Australia proposed that the principles of apportioning the expenses of the trial should be agreed whereby the cost of Australian personnel engaged on the preparation of the site, and of materials and equipment which could be recovered after the tests, should fall to Australia’s account..…..
Britain’s nuclear and military elite trashed a swathe of Australia’s landscape and then, in the mid-1960s, promptly left. Britain carried out a total of 12 major weapons tests in Australia: three at Monte Bello, two at Emu Field and seven at Maralinga. The British also conducted hundreds of so-called “minor trials”, including the highly damaging Vixen B radiological experiments, which scattered long-lived plutonium over a large area at Maralinga.

The British carried out two clean-up operations – Operation Hercules in 1964 and Operation Brumby in 1967 – both of which made the contamination problems worse.

Legacy of damage

The damage done to Indigenous people in the vicinity of all three test sites is immeasurable and included displacement, injury and death. Service personnel from several countries, but particularly Britain and Australia, also suffered – not least because of their continuing fight for the slightest recognition of the dangers they faced. Many of the injuries and deaths allegedly caused by the British tests have not been formally linked to the operation, a source of ongoing distress for those involved.

The cost of the clean-up exceeded A$100 million in the late 1990s. Britain paid less than half, and only after protracted pressure and negotiations.

Decades later, we still don’t know the full extent of the effects suffered by service personnel and local communities. Despite years of legal wrangling, those communities’ suffering has never been properly recognised or compensated.

Why did Australia allow it to happen? The answer is that Britain asserted its nuclear colonialism just as an anglophile prime minister took power in Australia, and after the United States made nuclear weapons research collaboration with other nations illegal, barring further joint weapons development with the UK. …..Six decades later, those atomic weapons tests still cast their shadow across Australia’s landscape. They stand as testament to the dangers of government decisions made without close scrutiny, and as a reminder – at a time when leaders are once again preoccupied with international security – not to let it happen again.

Australia was the guinea pig population for Britain’s nuclear weapons tests radiation fallout

November 28, 2020
Paul Langley  Facebook , 5 July 20
It was Operation Buffalo’s series final tonight, on the ABC, so Im interrupting my thread on Fuk ( a crime which, were I just, would see me ban myself from this page) and I want to point out , yea, the British were the spies, and we were the guinea pigs and we did what they said or else.
As late as the 80s the Poms were threatening us with jail in our own land for speaking out it. And yea, the false fallout maps that were published and the real ones hidden, and readings which were under valued by 50%. Here’s the nine maps publically released by the Royal Commission.
Once, years ago, I printed each one onto its own sheet of transparent plastic sheet. There were 12 bombs, but only 9 fallout maps.
But laying those 9 transparent maps on top of one another results in the final combined map, which proves how cunning the British spies were who used us, On Her Majesty’s Service, as guinea pigs. Whereas had the Soviets done the deeds, the nuclear veterans would have been elevated as heroes, instead of traitors for trying to speak. For at least 2 of the bombs, the Poms put a few ton of coal at the base of the bomb towers. The coal vapourised when the bomb went off, and when it condensed again it formed a black sticky goo in small droplets, containing speckles of fission product throughout it. That is what made the Black Mist of 1953 so sticky. Yep, pretty war like and cunning, the British. I am ashamed to say. I wonder why they spared Perth.

Reality bats last-Small Nuclear Reactors just not economic for Australia (or anywhere else)

November 28, 2020
Small modular reactor rhetoric hits a hurdle    Jim Green, 23 June 2020, The promotion of ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs) in Australia has been disrupted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). The latest GenCost report produced by the two agencies estimates a hopelessly uneconomic construction cost of A$16,304 per kilowatt (kW) for SMRs. But it throws the nuclear lobby a bone by hypothesising a drastic reduction in costs over the next decade. The A$16,304 estimate has been furiously attacked by, amongst others, conservative politicians involved in a federal nuclear inquiry last year, and the Bright New World (BNW) nuclear lobby group. The estimate has its origins in a commissioned report written by engineering company GHD. GHD provides the estimate without clearly explaining its origins or basis. And the latest CSIRO/AEMO report does no better than to state that the origins of the estimate are “unclear”. Thus nuclear lobbyists have leapt on that muddle-headedness and filled the void with their own lowball estimates of SMR costs.
Real-world data
Obviously, the starting point for any serious discussion about SMR costs would be the cost of operational SMRs – ignored by CSIRO/AEMO and by lobbyists such as BNW. There is just one operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant. Its estimated cost is US$740 million for a 70 MW plant. That equates to A$15,200 per kW – similar to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate of A$16,304 per kW. Over the course of construction, the cost quadrupled and a 2016 OECD Nuclear Energy Agency report said that electricity produced by the Russian floating plant is expected to cost about US$200 (A$288) per megawatt-hour (MWh) with the high cost due to large staffing requirements, high fuel costs, and resources required to maintain the barge and coastal infrastructure. Figures on costs of SMRs under construction should also be considered – they are far more useful than the estimates of vendors and lobbyists, which invariably prove to be highly optimistic. The World Nuclear Association states that the cost of China’s high-temperature gas-cooled SMR (HTGR) is US$6,000 (A$8,600) per kW. Costs are reported to have nearly doubled, with increases arising from higher material and component costs, increases in labour costs, and increased costs associated with project delays. The CAREM SMR under construction in Argentina illustrates the gap between SMR rhetoric and reality. In 2004, when the reactor was in the planning stage, Argentina’s Bariloche Atomic Center estimated an overnight cost of USS$1,000 per kW for an integrated 300-MW plant (while acknowledging that to achieve such a cost would be a “very difficult task”). When construction began in 2014, the cost estimate was US$15,400 per kW (US$446 million / 29 MW). By April 2017, the cost estimate had increased US$21,900 (A$31,500) per kW (US$700 million / 32 MW). To the best of my knowledge, no other figures on SMR construction costs are publicly available. So the figures are: A$15,200 per kW for Russia’s light-water floating SMR A$8,600 per kW for China’s HTGR A$31,500 per kW for Argentina’s light-water SMR The average of those figures is A$18,400 per kW, which is higher than the CSIRO/AEMO figure of A$16,304 per kW and double BNW’s estimate of A$9,132 per kW. The CSIRO/AEMO report says that while there are SMRs under construction or nearing completion, “public cost data has not emerged from these early stage developments.” That simply isn’t true.
BNW’s imaginary reactor
BNW objects to CSIRO/AEMO basing their SMR cost estimate on a “hypothetical reactor”. But BNW does exactly the same, ignoring real-world cost estimates for SMRs under construction or in operation. BNW starts with the estimate of US company NuScale Power, which hopes to build SMRs but hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype. BNW adds a 50% ‘loading’ in recognition of past examples of nuclear reactor cost overruns. Thus BNW’s estimate for SMR construction costs is A$9,132 per kW. Two big problems: NuScale’s cost estimate is bollocks, and BNW’s proposed 50% loading doesn’t fit the recent pattern of nuclear costs increasing by far greater amounts. NuScale’s construction cost estimate of US$4,200 per kW is implausible. It is far lower than Lazard’s latest estimate of US$6,900-12,200 per kW for large reactors and far lower than the lowest estimate (US$12,300 per kW) of the cost of the two Vogtle AP1000 reactors under construction in Georgia (the only reactors under construction in the US). NuScale’s estimate (per kW) is just one-third of the cost of the Vogtle plant – despite the unavoidable diseconomies of scale with SMRs and despite the fact that independent assessmentsconclude that SMRs will be more expensive to build (per kW) than large reactors. Further, modular factory-line production techniques were trialled with the twin AP1000 Westinghouse reactor project in South Carolina – a project that was abandoned in 2017 after the expenditure of at least US$9 billion, bankrupting Westinghouse. Lazard estimates a levelised cost of US$118-192 per MWh for electricity from large nuclear plants. NuScale estimates a cost of US$65 per MWh for power from its first plant. Thus NuScale claims that its electricity will be 2-3 times cheaper than that from large nuclear plants, which is implausible. And even if NuScale achieved its cost estimate, it would still be higher than Lazard’s figures for wind power (US$28-54) and utility-scale solar (US$32-44). BNW claims that the CSIRO/AEMO levelised cost estimate of A$258-338 per MWh for SMRs is an “extreme overestimate”. But an analysis by WSP / Parsons Brinckerhoff, prepared for the SA Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, estimated a cost of A$225 per MWh for a reactor based on the NuScale design, which is far closer to the CSIRO/AEMO estimate than it is to BNW’s estimate of A$123-128 per MWh with the potential to fall as low as A$60.
Cost overruns
BNW proposes adding a 50% ‘loading’ to NuScale’s cost estimate in recognition of past examples of reactor cost overruns, and claims that it is basing its calculations on “a first-of-a-kind vendor estimate [NuScale’s] with the maximum uncertainly associated with the Class of the estimate.” Huh? The general pattern is that early vendor estimates underestimate true costs by an order of magnitude, while estimates around the time of initial construction underestimate true costs by a factor of 2-4. Here are some recent examples of vastly greater cost increases than BNW allows for: * The estimated cost of the HTGR under construction in China has nearly doubled. The cost of Russia’s floating SMR quadrupled. * The estimated cost of Argentina’s SMR has increased 22-fold above early, speculative estimates and the cost increased by 66% from 2014, when construction began, to 2017. * The cost estimate for the Vogtle project in US state of Georgia (two AP1000 reactors) has doubled to more than US$13.5 billion per reactor and will increase further. In 2006, Westinghouse said it could build an AP1000 reactor for as little as US1.4 billion – 10 times lower than the current estimate for Vogtle. * The estimated combined cost of the two EPR reactors under construction in the UK, including finance costs, is £26.7 billion (the EU’s 2014 estimate of £24.5 billion plus a £2.2 billion increase announced in July 2017). In the mid-2000s, the estimated construction cost for one EPR reactor in the UK was £2 billion, almost seven times lower than the current estimate. * The estimated cost of about €12.4 billion for the only reactor under construction in France is 3.8 times greater than the original €3.3 billion estimate. * The estimated cost of about €11 billion for the only reactor under construction in Finland is 3.7 times greater than the original €3 billion estimate.
BNW notes that timelines for deployment and construction are “extremely material” in terms of the application of learning rates to capital expenditure. BNW objected to the previous CSIRO/AEMO estimate of five years for construction of an SMR and proposed a “more probable” three-year estimate as well as an assumption that NuScale’s first reactor will begin generating power in 2026 even though construction has not yet begun. For reasons unexplained, CSIRO/AEMO also assume a three-year construction period in their latest report, and for reasons unexplained the operating life of an SMR is halved from 60 years to 30 years. None of the real-world evidence supports the arguments about construction timelines: * The construction period for the only operational SMR, Russia’s floating plant, was 12.5 years. * Argentina’s CAREM SMR was conceived in the 1980s, construction began in 2014, the 2017 start-up date was missed and subsequent start-up dates were missed. If the current schedule for a 2023 start-up is met it will be a nine-year construction project rather than the three years proposed by CSIRO/AEMO and BNW for construction of an SMR. Last year, work on the CAREM SMR was suspended, with Techint Engineering & Construction asking Argentina’s National Atomic Energy Commission to take urgent measures to mitigate the project’s serious financial breakdown. In April 2020, Argentina’s energy minister announced that work on CAREM would resume. * Construction of China’s HTGR SMR began in 2012, the 2017 start-up date was missed, and if the targeted late-2020 start-up is met it will be an eight-year construction project. * NuScale Power has been trying to progress its SMR ambitions for over a decade and hasn’t yet begun construction of a single prototype reactor. * The two large reactors under construction in the US are 5.5 years behind schedule and those under construction in France and Finland are 10 years behind schedule. * In 2007, EDF boasted that Britons would be using electricity from an EPR reactor at Hinkley Point to cook their Christmas turkeys in December 2017 – but construction didn’t even begin until December 2018.
Learning rates
In response to relentless attacks from far-right politicians and lobby groups such as BNW, the latest CSIRO/AEMO GenCost report makes the heroic assumption that SMR costs will fall from A$16,304 per kW to as little as A$7,140 per kW in 2030, with the levelised cost anywhere between A$129 and A$336 per MWh. The report states that SMRs were assigned a “higher learning rate (more consistent with an emerging technology) rather than being included in a broad nuclear category, with a low learning rate consistent with more mature large scale nuclear.” But there’s no empirical basis, nor any logical basis, for the learning rate assumed in the report. The cost reduction assumes that large numbers of SMRs will be built, and that costs will come down as efficiencies are found, production capacity is scaled up, etc. Large numbers of SMRs being built? Not according to expert opinion. A 2017 Lloyd’s Register report was based on the insights of almost 600 professionals and experts from utilities, distributors, operators and equipment manufacturers, who predicted that SMRs have a “low likelihood of eventual take-up, and will have a minimal impact when they do arrive”. A 2014 report produced by Nuclear Energy Insider, drawing on interviews with more than 50 “leading specialists and decision makers”, noted a “pervasive sense of pessimism” about the future of SMRs. Last year, the North American Project Director for Nuclear Energy Insider said that there “is unprecedented growth in companies proposing design alternatives for the future of nuclear, but precious little progress in terms of market-ready solutions.” Will costs come down in the unlikely event that SMRs are built in significant numbers? For large nuclear reactors, the experience has been either a very slow learning rate with modest cost decreases, or a negative learning rate. If everything went astonishingly well for SMRs, it would take several rounds of learning to drastically cut costs to A$7,140 per kW. Several rounds of SMR construction by 2030, as assumed in the most optimistic scenario in the CSIRO/AEMO report? Obviously not. The report notes that it would take many years to achieve economies, but then ignores its own advice: “Constructing first-of-a-kind plant includes additional unforeseen costs associated with lack of experience in completing such projects on budget. SMR will not only be subject to first-of-a-kind costs in Australia but also the general engineering principle that building plant smaller leads to higher costs. SMRs may be able to overcome the scale problem by keeping the design of reactors constant and producing them in a series. This potential to modularise the technology is likely another source of lower cost estimates. However, even in the scenario where the industry reaches a scale where small modular reactors can be produced in series, this will take many years to achieve and therefore is not relevant to estimates of current costs (using our definition).” Even with heroic assumptions resulting in CSIRO/AEMO’s low-cost estimate of A$129 per MWh for SMRs in 2030, the cost is still far higher than the low-cost estimates for wind with two hours of battery storage (A$64), wind with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$86), solar PV with two hours of battery storage (A$52) or solar PV with six hours of pumped hydro storage (A$84). And the CSIRO/AEMO high-cost estimate for SMRs in 2030 ($336 per MWh) is more than double the high estimates for solar PV or wind with 2-6 hours of storage (A$90-151).
Reality bats last
The economic claims of SMR enthusiasts are sharply contradicted by real-world data. And their propaganda campaign simply isn’t working – government funding and private-sector funding is pitiful when measured against the investments required to build SMR prototypes let alone fleets of SMRs and the infrastructure that would allow for mass production of SMR components. Wherever you look, there’s nothing to justify the hype of SMR enthusiasts. Argentina’s stalled SMR program is a joke. Plans for 18 additional HTGRs at the same site as the demonstration plant in China have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association. Russia planned to have seven floating nuclear power plants by 2015, but only recently began operation of its first plant. South Korea won’t build any of its domestically-designed SMART SMRs in South Korea – “this is not practical or economic” according to the World Nuclear Association – and plans to establish an export market for SMART SMRs depend on a wing and a prayer … and on Saudi oil money which is currently in short supply. ‘Reality bats last’, nuclear advocate Barry Brook used to say a decade ago when a nuclear ‘renaissance’ was in full-swing. The reality is that the renaissance was short-lived, and global nuclear capacity fell by 0.6 gigawatts last year while renewable capacity increased by a record 201 gigawatts. Dr. Jim Green is the national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia and editor of the Nuclear Monitor newsletter.

Serious technical problems for the much hyped molten salt nuclear reactor

November 28, 2020

The intractible problem of San Onofre’s, and indeed, America’s, nuclear waste

November 28, 2020

Mosko: Public Safety at Stake in Debate Over Nuclear Waste Storage at San Onofre, SARAH MOSKO  18 Nov 20 SoCal Edison’s

spokesperson, John Dobken, authored an Oct. 20 editorial touting the dry nuclear waste storage system Edison chose when a radiation leak from steam generator malfunction forced permanent closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in 2013. Ignoring for the moment the numerous obfuscations and omissions of critical facts, the essence of Dobken’s article is this: Edison wants to divert public attention away from the inadequacies of its dry canister storage system while promising that a deep geological national repository, as mandated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, will magically materialize before their storage canisters fail.

There’s plenty Dobken did not say that the public needs to know.

First off, we are nearly four decades past passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and there is no tangible progress toward creation of a national repository operated by the Department of Energy. The cold hard reality is that no state wants it and, worse still, there is no feasible technology currently available to make a geological repository workable, according to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Plans for a geological repository at Yucca Mountain were rejected by Nevada, and subsequent proposals for “interim” storage sites in Texas and New Mexico are opposed by those states too.

Thus, the dream of a national repository remains in limbo for the foreseeable future, and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. Also misleading is Dobken’s suggestion that, if needed, a failing canister could be transported to “a centralized Department of Energy facility” for repackaging in the future, as no such facility exits anywhere in the United States for this purpose.

Consequently, the plan throughout the country is to leave highly radioactive nuclear waste onsite indefinitely. The relevant 2014 report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) openly states that a repository might never become available. Like all other nuclear plant operators in the United States, Edison is saddled with a storage task never originally intended.

For dry storage, Edison chose thin-walled (just 5/8 inch thick), welded-shut stainless steel canisters which contrast sharply with the 10-19 inch thick-walled and bolted-shut casks many nuclear waste safety advocates in Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties are advocating for. Unlike the thick casks, SONGS’s canisters are vulnerable to stress corrosion cracking from numerous conditions, such as a salty marine environment like San Onofre. A 2019 Department of Energy report assigned “#1 Priority” to the risk of through-wall cracking in welded, stainless steel canisters in a moist salty environment.

The 73 Holtec canisters at SONGS are warranted for only 25 years, covering only manufacturing defects. This means the warranty excludes environmental conditions like earthquakes, salt air, water intrusion, seagull droppings, and any other corrosive damage to the canisters. Edison has not divulged what the warranty covers on the 51 older Areva canisters, which are already up to 17 years old. Dobken’s statement that the nuclear waste will become less radioactive in 100 years is meaningless in the timescale of the hundreds of thousands of years the waste will remain deadly to humans.

Dobken argues that the fact SONGS’s canisters are welded shut and can never be opened is a plus. This completely ignores the crucial safety requirement in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that spent nuclear fuel storage containers be designed to be monitored inside and out and the contents retrievable from the containers. Edison purposely chose welded shut canisters, making it impossible to monitor or retrieve the fuel assemblies, which means the canisters can’t lawfully be accepted by the Department of Energy (DOE) for either an interim or permanent storage site.

In listing six other nations that also use welded-shut canisters (Brazil, Mexico, Slovenia, South Africa, Ukraine, United Kingdom), Dobken hopes readers won’t notice these are not countries the United States typically aims to emulate technologically. From that standpoint, a partial list of countries using thick-walled casks is more formidable: Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Switzerland. And, thick casks are used in the United States too, though thin-walled canisters are unfortunately most common.

In arguing that robotic camera technology – which Edison applied to the exterior of a sample of eight of 123 total canisters in 2019 – can be relied upon to detect defects like cracking, Dobken hides the fact that Edison has admitted that this methodology does not meet American standards for an inspection. This is because nuclear storage containers are pressure vessels, thus subject to standards set by the American Association of Mechanical Engineers for safe storage and transport of nuclear pressure vessels which explicitly require use of either magnetic particle or dye penetrant methodology to inspect for defects like cracking (ASME N3).

Edison used neither ASME-approved method simply because they can’t be applied to their canisters which are both too hot, too radioactive and inaccessible in their concrete storage overpacks. Furthermore, a robotic camera can never access the bottoms or inside walls of canisters to look for cracks originating there. Nor can it characterize cracking that might start on the exterior but proceeds laterally rather than straight through the canister wall.

As regards the metal spray technology which Edison promises can repair a partially cracked canister and thus makes the cooling pools unnecessary, Dobken claims it is proven technology. Yet, in his article he fails to mention that it has never been used on a canister filled with radioactive spent fuel. That it has been used in various other applications (oil and gas, shipping, etc.) is irrelevant. NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that Edison hasn’t applied to the NRC to approve this technology and, furthermore, that no canister repair technology has NRC approval.

Consequently, many nuclear safety advocates are arguing strenuously for retention of the cooling pools until a specialized dry fuel handling facility (aka “hot cell”) can be constructed onsite. This is because the only means to repackage the radioactive contents of a defective canister into another container is to perform the transfer within a cooling pool or hot cell.

Dobken correctly points out that NRC is nevertheless allowing decommissioned nuclear plants to destroy the cooling pools. This highlights a troublesome relationship between NRC and Edison which the public needs to understand. NRC has granted safety exemptions and waivers in dry storage systems nationwide which has allowed Edison to proceed with a canister system that is unsafe and cannot legally be accepted by DOE into either an interim storage site or permanent repository. Consequently, there is no plan to prevent or stop radioactive releases.

This liaison between NRC and Edison played out during the July 2020 meeting of the California Coastal Commission when NRC representative, Andrea Kock, remained mute as Edison cited the unapproved canister repair technology as justification for destroying the cooling pools. Though community nuclear waste safety advocates ardently cited factual objections, Kock’s silence no doubt helped shape the unanimous vote of the nine commissioners to grant Edison’s request. However, that two commissioners literally uttered “boos” despite casting “yes” votes speaks to doubts about Edison’s plan among the commission’s ranks.

Lastly, Dobken offers no defense for the fact that San Onofre had by far the worst safety record of any nuclear plant in the country during its pre-2012 operation, yet he cries foul any suggestion this should undermine public confidence in how Edison is currently handling dry storage. What’s not mentioned is that, in 2018, it took a conscience-driven whistleblower to expose a near-drop incident where a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive waste was poised to plummet 18 feet while it was being lowered into its storage overpack. NRC’s subsequent investigation attributed the event to both design flaws and human error and cited Edison with the single most serious violation ever imposed on a spent fuel licensee.

Moreover, it was only because of this incident that Edison bothered to look at the canisters with the contrived robotic camera technology, revealing that essentially all the canisters get scraped/gouged during downloading into storage overpacks.

Dobken makes one point with which everyone agrees: “The public deserves the facts about spent nuclear fuel and its storage.” As the public listens to this debate over safe nuclear waste storage, both sides should be held accountable for underlying motivations. In asking Edison to opt for bolted-shut thick-walled casks with safety features lacking in thin-walled canisters, community safety advocates are seeking safety for their families and communities. Edison, on the other hand, will save untold $millions should the public be swayed to trust in Edison’s promises that their canister system won’t fail and that a national repository will materialize in time to save the day.

Sarah (Steve) Mosko is a local freelance journalist focused on solutions to environmental problems and social injustices.

Uranprojekt -The Nazi Nuclear Program

November 28, 2020

Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, the nuclear industry’s latest pipe dream.

November 28, 2020

Ramana and Schacherl: Why the Liberals’ nuclear power plan is a pipe dream

Not only is this form of power expensive compared to the alternatives, we still haven’t resolved issues around radioactive contamination and hazardous waste streams.

M.V. Ramana, Eva Schacherl, Nov 16, 2020   On Nov. 18, Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan will announce the federal government’s action plan for small modular nuclear reactors, the nuclear industry’s latest pipe dream.

At least a dozen corporations around the world are hoping for taxpayer funding to further develop their SMR designs, all of which are still on the drawing board. Last month, the federal government handed out $20 million to Terrestrial Energy. Other expectant entities include SNC-Lavalin, which bought Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s CANDU division and is developing a CANDU SMR; United Kingdom-based Moltex Energy; and Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation.

The Liberal government says it supports small modular reactors to help Canada mitigate climate change. The government is simply barking up the wrong tree, for several reasons: cost, cost and cost, as well as renewables, safety and radioactive waste.

Nuclear power is very expensive compared to other low-carbon options, and the difference keeps growing because the cost of renewables and energy storage is going down rapidly. Peter Bradford, a former U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission official, likened the use of nuclear power to mitigate climate change to fighting world hunger “with caviar.”

The high price tag for nuclear power plants has led to a near freeze on new ones around the world. Canada’s last nuclear plant came online in 1994, and Ontarians will remember when plans for two reactors at Darlington were shelved in 2009 after a $26-billion bid – three times the expected budget. Nuclear projects also have a long history of cost and time overruns. The cost estimate of NuScale, the most advanced SMR project in the U.S., has gone up from $4.2 billion to $6.1 billion. That works out to almost 10 times the cost per kilowatt of building wind power in Alberta. There is no way SMRs can be cost-competitive with wind or solar energy.

O’Regan has said he doesn’t know any way to get to net zero-carbon emissions by 2050 without nuclear power, but this is refuted by many studies. Ontario can meet its electricity demand using only renewables and hydro power backed up by storage technologies. A recent study using data from 123 countries shows that renewable energy outperforms nuclear power in reducing emissions. It concludes that nuclear investments just get in the way of building up renewable energy.

Advocates claim that we need nuclear energy to back up solar and wind power when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow. However, nuclear reactors cannot be powered up and down rapidly and safely. If they are, their cost of generating electricity increases further. Nor do nuclear plants run reliably all the time. In France, which generates 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, each reactor was shut down for an average of 96.2 days in 2019.

The federal government sees small reactors playing a role in remote off-grid communities and mines that now rely on diesel. But together they require less than 0.5 per cent of Canada‘s electricity generation capacity. Power from SMRs could be 10 times more expensive for those communities than adding wind and solar energy. There is also strong opposition to SMRs from First Nations communities, who say these represent an unacceptable risk.

The risk from nuclear power comes in multiple forms. There is the potential for accidents leading to widespread radioactive contamination. Because reactors involve parts that interact rapidly in complex ways, no nuclear reactor is immune to accidents. And they all produce radioactive nuclear waste streams that remain hazardous for up to one million years. Dealing with these is a major challenge, and there is no demonstrated solution to date.

Canada has a big challenge ahead: to decarbonize by 2050. Let’s get on with it, in the quickest and most cost-effective way: by improving the efficiency of our energy use, and building out solar, wind and storage technologies. The federal Green Party is correct in stating that nuclear reactors “have no place in any plan to mitigate climate change when cleaner and cheaper alternatives exist.” Let’s forget the dirty, dangerous distraction of small nuclear reactors.

M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security and Director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia. Eva Schacherl is an advocate for protecting the Ottawa River and for environmental and social justice.

Correcting 5 wrong opinions about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

November 28, 2020


ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE, 16 Nov 20,  In late January 2021, something big is happening to influence international politics. And no, I’m not talking about the inauguration of the new U.S. president.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the first international ban on nuclear weapons, will take full legal effect on Jan. 22, 2021. It joins the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological Weapons Convention as a treaty prohibiting weapons of mass destruction and follows the roadmap of the Mine Ban Treaty (known as the Ottawa Treaty) and Cluster Munitions Convention to bring together a coalition of civil society and diplomats to prohibit and eliminate weapons based on their humanitarian harm. The treaty has widespread support in the international community — 122 countries voted for its adoption in 2017, and these countries have continued to express their support for the treaty in subsequent statements to the U.N. General Assembly, in spite of resistance from nuclear-armed states and some of their allies, who have not joined the treaty.

This treaty is a big deal. And yet, political scientists and nuclear policy experts, largely from nuclear-armed states, repeatedly make mistakes in their analysis and interpretation of this treaty and international law. At a gathering of roughly 800 nuclear policy experts in Washington, D.C. in 2019, experts overwhelmingly and incorrectly predicted the treaty would not enter into force by March 2021. A French academic even misread the actual treaty text — a clear error that was not flagged by any of the article’s expert reviewers, and was only corrected after publication.

I work at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to negotiate the ban treaty. Its work is informed by international lawyers, academics, technical experts, diplomats, survivors of nuclear weapon use and testing, and advocates with regional expertise. This diverse and rich foundation of knowledge and experience informs our work to this day. But some academics and nuclear policy experts that haven’t worked as closely on the treaty often make five key mistakes when analyzing this treaty and international law: that the treaty may be just symbolic, that NATO countries cannot join, that the treaty doesn’t address compliance, that it won’t have any impact on nuclear-armed and NATO states, and that the treaty will only affect democracies.

Mistake One: The Treaty Is Purely Symbolic

The legal impact of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is clear: Once it enters into force, all states parties will need to comply with the treaty’s prohibitions and implement its obligations. While some treaty articles reinforce existing obligations under other treaties, states parties do actually take on new legal obligations, contrary to what some have claimed. Even without any other states joining the treaty, from a strictly legal perspective, the treaty is not merely “symbolic.”

The treaty prohibits states parties from developing, testing, producing, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using (or threatening to use) nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on their territory. It also prohibits states parties from assisting, encouraging, or inducing states to engage in any of these prohibited activities. Some of these prohibitions are already enshrined in nuclear weapon-free zone treaties, but not all prohibition treaty states parties are members of these treaties. Given that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty unfortunately has yet to enter into force, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will be the only agreement in force banning nuclear testing internationally.

In addition to adhering to prohibitions, states parties must implement positive obligations, some of which echo previous agreements, but many of which are new to this treaty.

There are some technical requirements. For example, states parties must submit a declaration with the U.N. secretary-general on their nuclear weapon status. They must also bring into force a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency on inspecting their peaceful nuclear program, or maintain a more intrusive inspections regime (an “additional protocol”) if they have one in force already.

But the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons also includes ground-breaking provisions on providing assistance to victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and remediating contaminated environments. This is the first time that international law has mandated that countries address the humanitarian devastation caused by decades of nuclear weapons testing and the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago. It is a critical step forward to address the racist, colonialist, and unjust legacy left by these uniquely horrible weapons of mass destruction. Analysis of this treaty would do well not to ignore these historic articles.

Specifically, Article 6  of the treaty requires states to “provide age- and gender-sensitive assistance, without discrimination, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support,” for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing “as well as provide for their social and economic inclusion.” States must also “take necessary and appropriate measures” towards the remediation of contaminated environments. States with affected communities and contaminated environments under their jurisdiction are primarily responsible to structure and implement these obligations in order to respect these states’ sovereignty and follow the legal precedent for victim assistance in other treaties. However, Article 7, which requires that all countries cooperate to implement the treaty’s provisions, specifically calls on all states “in a position to do so” to provide assistance to other states as they carry out these initiatives. Such assistance can take many forms, including technical, financial, and material, so every state should be in a position to contribute.

These provisions will be at the center of the first meeting of states parties to the treaty, to take place within one year of the treaty’s entry into force. Austria has already offered to host this meeting in Vienna. At this meeting, states will discuss routine logistics of international treaty meetings, such as costs and establishing the rules of procedure. Observer states, including signatory states, and some non-signatory states, including at least Sweden and Switzerland, will also attend and share the cost of the meeting. The extent of their participation will be determined by the rules of procedure. Civil society will also likely play an active role.

Mistake Two: NATO Countries Cannot Join the Treaty

One academic recently argued that membership in NATO and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be “mutually exclusive.” While fully compliant membership in both treaties would require a few policy adjustments, it is certainly possible. There is no prohibition in the treaty for a member to be involved in military alliances or exercises with nuclear-armed states, as long as there is not a significant nuclear dimension to those alliances. NATO itself states, “NATO is committed to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, it will remain a nuclear alliance.” However, legal experts explain that if a NATO state would like to join the treaty, they may certainly do so and remain in the alliance as long as that state renounces participation in the nuclear dimension of the alliance and indicates that it does not support activities prohibited by the treaty. There is a precedent of NATO members “footnoting” alliance documents to signal disagreement with certain policies. A NATO state could thus announce its change in policy and adjust its behavior accordingly to be in compliance with the treaty’s provisions. Exactly how the NATO state would need to adjust its behavior to be in compliance with the treaty varies by country and could be determined in consultation with states parties.

Historically, different members of NATO can take different positions on controversial weapons without obliterating the alliance. Indeed, there are already divergent policies within NATO on the extent of participation in the nuclear aspect of the alliance: Some NATO countries go so far as to host U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil while others do not allow deployment on their territory under any circumstances. Opposition within NATO to banning landmines and cluster munitions did not stop those prohibitions from moving forward, even as the United States pressured countries to not even participate in the process to negotiate a treaty banning cluster munitions, and certainly did not destroy the alliance. Dozens of former leaders from NATO states, including two former NATO secretaries-general, recently called on their countries to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and certainly did not suggest that such a move would involve leaving NATO or that it would fracture the alliance. NATO’s status as a nuclear alliance has evolved over time, and it could continue to adapt to shifting international norms.

Mistake Three: There Is No Mechanism to Address Compliance Concerns in the Treaty

If there are any concerns about compliance with the terms of the treaty, the treaty explains clearly what states should do in Article 11. When a state party has a concern about another state party’s implementation of the accord, the two states may resolve the dispute amongst themselves or bring the matter to a meeting of states parties to discuss.

Concerns about compliance with an international treaty would certainly not be unique to this treaty and do not indicate that it is any less legitimate or valuable than other treaties with compliance disputes. States parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regularly raise concerns about nuclear weapon-state compliance with their obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament under Article VI during meetings of states parties of that treaty. Likewise, states parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention condemn Syrian and Russian violations. These examples demonstrate the value of international treaties to reinforce norms and provide a forum to discuss and condemn violations of international standards for peace and security. Of course, given that the treaty has not yet entered into force, no state can currently be judged to be in non-compliance with the accord.

Mistake Four: The Treaty Will Only Impact Countries That Have Joined It

States parties’ implementation of their obligation to assist victims of nuclear weapons use and testing will also have lasting impact beyond those countries themselves. There is currently no international standard for adequate victim assistance for those who have been impacted by nuclear weapons use and testing and no standard for how to judge that a nuclear-contaminated site has been adequately remediated. States parties’ work on these provisions in the treaty will help to provide research and experience in these fields that can be applicable and useful even beyond countries that have joined the treaty.

Countries that are not part of the treaty can still contribute to these important measures. The United States, for example, is one of the largest donors to Mine Action, which facilitates mine clearance, despite not joining the Mine Ban Treaty. Mounir Satouri, a French member of the European Parliament, has expressed interest in encouraging European Union countries, including NATO members, to contribute to victim assistance and environmental remediation measures under the treaty, even if they have not yet joined as states parties.

The treaty will continue to grow and integrate into the international system well beyond its entry into force in January and first meeting of states parties. The norm established by previous weapons prohibitions impacted banks, companies, and government policies in countries that had not joined the treaty, and the same can be expected for the nuclear prohibition norm. The treaty’s adoption has already caused a major Dutch pension fund to divest from companies involved in nuclear weapons, and more divestment can be anticipated once the treaty takes full legal effect.

Mistake Five: The Treaty Only Impacts Democracies

Countries that have not yet expressed support for the treaty are also expected to join in time. In many countries that do not officially support the treaty, polls show that domestic opinion is behind the ban and capitals in nuclear-armed and NATO states have adopted resolutions calling on their governments to join. Critics claim that domestic support may push Western democracies – in particular France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and NATO allies — to join the treaty, while more autocratic states — without a strong civil society to demand they adhere — remain unfazed by the new international law and norm.

That’s not how international law works. International law applies to all countries, regardless of their governance structure, and all countries are influenced by the new norms advanced by international treaties. Pressure to join the treaty does not just come from an active civil society, but from other states, international organizations, and the changing norm established by the treaty itself. Article 12 of the treaty legally requires that all states parties urge other countries to join. This can be done in the form of public statements in international fora, like the United Nations, or privately in bilateral meetings. Pressure to adhere can even come from international figures like the U.N. secretary-general, the Dalai Lama, and the Pope who have all welcomed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

So far, the record shows that Western democracies are not necessarily more susceptible to pressure to support the treaty or to join it. While the United States and some NATO allies held a press conference outside the negotiations of the treaty in protest, China merely abstained on the resolution to start negotiations. When the treaty reached 50 states parties, a U.S. official Twitter account called the treaty “counterproductive,” while the Chinese UN Mission on Twitter claimed its objectives were “in line with purposes of the TPNW.” Of the states that have already joined the treaty, many have done so not because of civil society pressure, but due to their desire to adhere to international laws and norms against nuclear weapons.


In January, the treaty will take its rightful place among the other international treaties regulating nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as an implementing instrument of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Article VI and complement to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Most countries support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as an important achievement for peace and security and towards a world free of nuclear weapons. As the risk of nuclear weapons use increases alarmingly, nuclear disarmament measures like this treaty are urgently needed.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will impact the norm against nuclear weapons and in the meantime will provide concrete assistance for victims of nuclear weapons use and testing and contribute to remediating radiologically contaminated areas. It is a powerful tool: important enough for leaders to ratify even in the midst of a global pandemic and influential enough that the United States actually called on countries to withdraw their instrument of ratification or accession. Analytical attempts to belittle or undermine the significance of this treaty may appease the minority of countries that cling to these weapons of mass destruction for now, but make no mistake — the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a game-changer. And it is not going anywhere.

The human impact of ”Trinity” and a thousand other nuuclear bomb tests on American soil

November 28, 2020

75 Years Later, Victims of Nuclear Bomb Tests on U.S. Soil Still Seek Justice,, BY Satya Vatti, Globetrotter / Independent Media Institute, November 15, 2020   They thought the world was coming to an end,” Genoveva Peralta Purcella explains.

On July 16, 1945, the first-ever nuclear bomb was tested in New Mexico, in the Southwestern United States. The detonation was code-named “Trinity.” It is the day that would seal the fate of many Americans living in the surrounding areas for generations to come.

Seventy miles from what became known as ground zero—the Trinity test site—Genoveva’s family lived on a ranch just outside the village of Capitan in New Mexico. Genoveva was born the year after the blast. Now 74 years old, she solemnly recalls how her family remembers the day that would change their lives forever.

Genoveva’s sisters had come to visit their father and pregnant mother at the ranch. At precisely 5:30 a.m., as dawn broke, the sky suddenly went pitch dark. Having no other point of reference, they mistook the abnormally loud roaring and rumbling in the sky for thunder. The entire house began to shake. Fear-stricken, the family huddled together in a corner.

When the sky cleared, her father stepped outside the house and found himself being showered with a white powder. The powder was everywhere and covered everything around them. Nothing escaped it, not the cows the family had raised, or the vegetables in the garden, or the rainwater they stored in the absence of running water. Like other families who went through this experience, Genoveva’s family also dusted off the powder and consumed their vegetables and the stored water.

The blast produced so much energy that it incinerated everything it touched and formed a fireball that rose to more than 12 kilometers into the atmosphere. The fireball created ash that snowed over the communities surrounding the blast site. The people did not know it then, but this ash that covered thousands of square miles was the radioactive fallout from the explosion.

Dread gripped the communities in Tularosa Basin who either witnessed or experienced the phenomenon they could not make sense of. Meanwhile, the immediate reaction of the staff of the Manhattan Project, which created the bomb, was of “surprise, joy, and relief.”

Paul Pino, Genoveva’s cousin, who was born nine years after the Trinity blast, says that his family, which lived 33 miles from the blast site, was one of many who were unaware of what had transpired on that day. In the days and months leading up to the blast, U.S. government officials did not notify anyone who lived in the region about the imminent nuclear bomb test. Nobody in the Tularosa Basin was evacuated to safety.

In the aftermath of the nuclear test, officials began to cement a false narrative into the consciousness of the nation; the region was remote and uninhabited. Tens of thousands of people, in fact, lived in the Tularosa Basin in 1945. For a long time, the people of the basin believed that the blast was an ammunition explosion. “We were lied to by the government,” said Pino.

It takes 24,000 years for half of the radioactive plutonium used in the Trinity bomb to decay. The people of the region have inhaled and ingested radioactive particles for 75 years because of environmental contamination. Those in power refuse to accept responsibility and take any corrective action. To this day, there have been no cleanup efforts.

Radiation exposure has caused high rates of aggressive cancers, thyroid disease, infant mortality, and other health abnormalities in generations of families in the Tularosa Basin region. The scale of the health impact cannot be determined accurately as long-term epidemiological studies have only been undertaken recently. The findings of the latest research studies by the National Cancer Institute were published in September 2020 in the journal Health Physics.

“There were 10 of us; now only one is surviving,” Genoveva says, speaking of herself. She has lost everyone in her family to cancer.

In a country without universal health care, debt from medical expenses has brought economic ruin to the communities near the Trinity site. “All the pain and suffering we have had to endure, and not a speck of help from the government,” Pino says. “Meanwhile, it has spent trillions on thousands of nuclear weapons.”

Genoveva’s story is not an exceptional one. It is the story of tens of thousands of families in the United States.

More than 1,000 nuclear bomb tests have been conducted in the U.S. between 1945 and 1992. A total of 100 above-ground tests were conducted at the Nevada test site from 1951 to 1962. The winds carried radioactive fallout for thousands of kilometers. Hundreds of millions of people living in the U.S. have been exposed to varying levels of radiation over the years, unknown to them.

New Mexico was downwind of the Nevada test site, and the people living there continued to be exposed to radioactivity for decades after the initial exposure during the Trinity nuclear test.

People from the impacted communities founded the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium in 2005 to fight for justice for the survivors and their descendants. Tina Cordova, one of the group’s cofounders, was shocked to find out that a few of the impacted states neighboring New Mexico were receiving financial compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act since 1990. The communities in New Mexico, however, were left out of the act.

When asked why, Cordova responds with, “It is the billion-dollar question. I think we are being left out because we are mainly Mexican Hispanics, Natives, and Latinos. We are minorities and we are poor.”

Cordova herself is the fourth generation in her family to have cancer. She has joined with others like her to educate and organize the affected communities, to fight to establish the truth. “In their [the government’s] rush to bomb Japan, we were sacrificed in the process. We were enlisted in the service of our country, unknowing, unwilling, and remain uncompensated.”

The USA devised an apocalyptic nuclear weapon – the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM

November 28, 2020

PROJECT PLUTO: THE CRAZIEST NUCLEAR WEAPON IN HISTORY  SOFREP, by Sandboxx  15 Nov 20,  “…………. Although the destructive force of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been so monstrous that they changed the geopolitical landscape of the world forever, both the U.S. and Soviet Union immediately set about developing newer, even more powerful thermonuclear weapons. Other programs sought new and dynamic delivery methods for these powerful nukes, ranging from ballistic missiles to unguided bombs.Project Pluto and the SLAM Missile

One such effort under the supervision of the U.S. Air Force was a weapon dubbed the Supersonic Low Altitude Missile or SLAM (not to be mistaken for the later AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile). The SLAM missile program was to utilize a ramjet nuclear propulsion system being developed under the name Project Pluto. Today, Russia is developing the 9M730 Burevestnik, or Skyfall missile, to leverage the same nuclear propulsion concept.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin recently pointed out, nuclear propulsion offers practically endless range, and estimates at the time suggested the American SLAM Missile would likely fly for 113,000 miles or more before its fuel was expended. Based on those figures, the missile could fly around the entire globe at the equator at least four and a half times without breaking a sweat.

The unshielded nuclear reactor powering the missile would practically rain radiation onto the ground as it flew, offering the first of at least three separate means of destruction the SLAM missile provided. In order to more effectively leverage the unending range of the nuclear ramjet, the SLAM missile was designed to literally drop hydrogen bombs on targets as it flew. Finally, with its bevy of bombs expended, the SLAM missile would fly itself into one final target, detonating its own thermonuclear warhead as it did. That final strike could feasibly be days or even weeks after the missile was first launched.

Over time, the SLAM missile came to be known as Pluto to many who worked on it, due to the missile’s development through the project with the same name.

The onboard nuclear reactor produced more than 500-megawatts of power and operated at a scorching 2,500 degrees — hot enough to compromise the structural integrity of metal alloys designed specifically to withstand high amounts of heat. Ultimately, the decision was made to forgo metal internal parts in favor of specially developed ceramics sourced from the Coors Porcelain Company, based in Colorado.

The downside to ramjet propulsion is that it can only function when traveling at high speeds. In order to reach those speeds, the SLAM would be carried aloft and accelerated by rocket boosters until the missile was moving fast enough for the nuclear ramjet to engage. Once the nuclear ramjet system was operating, the missile could remain aloft practically indefinitely, which would allow it to engage multiple targets and even avoid intercept.

The nuclear-powered ramjet was so loud that the missile’s designers theorized that the shock wave of the missile flying overhead on its own would likely kill anyone in its path, and if not, the gamma and neutron radiation from the unshielded reactor sputtering fission fragments out the back probably would. While this effectively made the missile’s engine a weapon in its own right, it also made flying the SLAM over friendly territory impossible.

While the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction has since made the launch of just one nuclear weapon the start of a cascade that could feasibly end life on Earth as we know it, Project Pluto’s SLAM Missile was practically apocalyptic in its own right. The nuclear powerplant that would grant the missile effectively unlimited range would also potentially kill anyone it passed over, but the real destructive power of the SLAM missile came from its payload.

Unlike most cruise missiles, which are designed with a propulsion system meant to carry a warhead to its target, Project Pluto’s SLAM carried not only a nuclear warhead, but 16 additional hydrogen bombs that it could drop along its path to the final target. Some even suggested flying the missile in a zig-zagging course across the Soviet Union, irradiating massive swaths of territory and delivering it’s 16 hydrogen bombs to different targets around the country.

Doing so would not only offer the ability to engage multiple targets, but would almost certainly also leave the Soviet populace in a state of terror. A low-flying missile spewing radiation as it passed over towns, shattering windows and deafening bystanders as it delivered nuclear hellfire to targets spanning the massive Soviet Union, would likely have far-reaching effects on morale.

How Do You Test an Apocalyptic Weapon?

Project Pluto’s nuclear propulsion system made testing the platform a difficult enterprise. Once the nuclear reactor onboard was engaged, it would continue to function until it hit its target or expended all of its fuel. Any territory the weapon passed over during flight would be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, limiting the ways and the places in which the weapon’s engine could even be tested.

On May 14, 1961, engineers powered up the Project Pluto propulsion system on a train car for just a few seconds, and a week later a second test saw the system run for a full five minutes. The engine produced 513 megawatts of power, which equated to around 35,000 pounds of thrust — 6,000 pounds more than an F-16’s Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 afterburning turbofan engine with its afterburner engaged.

However, those engine tests were the only large scale tests Project Pluto would ultimately see, in part, because a fully assembled SLAM missile would irradiate so much territory that it was difficult to imagine any safe way of actually testing it.

A weapon That’s Too Destructive to Use

Ultimately, Project Pluto and its SLAM missile were canceled before ever leaving the ground. The cancellation came for a litany of reasons, including the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the introduction of global strike heavy payload bombers like the B-52 Stratofortress. There were, however, some other considerations that led to the program’s downfall.

Because the SLAM would irradiate, destroy, or deafen anyone and anything it flew over, the missile could not be launched from U.S. soil or be allowed to fly over any territory other than its target nation. That meant the missile could really only be used from just over the Soviet border, whereas ICBMs could be launched from the American midwest and reach their targets in the Soviet Union without trouble.

There was also a pressing concern that developing such a terrible weapon would likely motivate the Soviet Union to respond in kind. Each time the United States unveiled a new weapon or strategic capability, the Soviet Union saw to it that they could match and deter that development. As a result, it stood to reason that America’s nuclear-spewing apocalypse missile would prompt the Soviets to build their own if one entered into service.

Project Pluto and its SLAM missile program were canceled on July 1, 1964