Archive for the ‘1 NUCLEAR ISSUES’ Category

Damning refutation of Australian Government plan to join the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems

May 18, 2017

Today, I am taking the unusual step of publishing an entire submission. That’s because it is so good.  The nuclear lobby pulled a swifty on Australians, by having government and media very quietly do what is sure to be a “rubber stamp” job on Australia joining up to the Framework Agreement for Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems.

They allowed a very short time for submissions to the Parliamentary Inquiry. The nuke lobby must have been in the know, as they put in 11, whereas there were only 3, (one mine) critical of the plan.

Fortunately the critical ones contain compelling information. So, here, in full, is the:

Submission from Friends of the Earth Australia and the Australian Conservation Foundation .


• Jim Green (Friends of the Earth, Australia), 0417 318 368

• Dave Sweeney (Australian Conservation Foundation), 0408 317 812


1. Introduction and Response to National Interest Analysis

2. Generation IV Reactor Concepts ‒ Introduction

3. Decades Away

4. Purported Benefits

5. French Government’s IRSN Report

6. US Government Accountability Office Report

7. The Slow Death of Fast Reactors

8. Integral Fast Reactors

9. Thorium 10. Small Modular Reactors 11. Fusion Scientist Debunks Fusion (more…)

Camecco’s uranium deposits in Western Australia

May 18, 2017

The Global Uranium Industry & Cameco’s Troubled History May 2017 Jim Green − Friends of the Earth, Australia

“…….. Kintyre (70% Cameco / 30% Mitsubishi) The Martu Aboriginal people have fought against this proposed uranium mine since the 1980s. The deposit sits between two branches of a creek called Yantikutji which is connected to a complex network of surface and groundwater systems. It is also in an area that was cut out of the Karlamilyi National Park, WA’s biggest National Park. Kintyre is home to 28 rare, endangered and threatened species. The project would include an open pit 1.5 km long, 1.5 km wide, it would use 3.5 million litres of water a day and leave behind 7.2 million tonnes of radioactive mine waste over the life of the project.

In June 2016, Martu Traditional Owners led a 140 km, week-long walk to protest against Cameco’s proposed uranium mine at Kintyre. Aboriginal Traditional Owners are concerned the project will affect their water supplies as well as 28 threatened species in the Karlamilyi National Park.

Joining the protest walk was Anohni, the Academy Award-nominated musician from Antony and the Johnsons. She said: “It’s a huge landscape – it’s a really majestic place. It’s really hard to put a finger on it but there’s a sense of presence and integrity and patience, dignity and perseverance and intense intuitive wisdom that this particular community of people have. There is almost an unbroken connection to the land – they haven’t been radically disrupted. They are very impressive people – it’s humbling to be around these women. In many regards, I think the guys who run Cameco are desolate souls, desolate souls with no home, with no connection to land, with no connection to country.”

Yeelirrie (100% Cameco) Yeelirrie in the local Wongutha Aboriginal language means ‘place of death’. The local community has fought against mining at Yeelirrie for over 40 years. There was a trial mine in the 1970s which was poorly managed: the site was abandoned, unfenced and unsigned with a shallow open pit and tailings left behind. The project would include a 9 km long, 1 km wide open pit, it would use 8.7 million litres of water a day and leave behind 36 million tonnes of radioactive mine waste over the life of the mine. There are many cultural heritage sites under threat from this proposal. The project was rejected by the Western Australian Environmental Protection Agency in 2016 because of the threat that 11 species of underground microfauna would become extinct. The WA Environment Minister ignored the EPA advice and approved the project anyway.

Australian Prime Minister Menzies let Britain exploit Australia

May 18, 2017

Australian tolerance of the British and their obsessive secrecy may be explained by the deference and loyalty to the ‘motherland’. Prime Minister Menzies identified so strongly with Britain that he considered British national interest as Australia’s national interest.

Another factor which underlay Australian deference during the course of the testing program was the role of Sir Ernest Titterton.

The full legal and political implications of the testing program would take decades to emerge. The secrecy which surrounded the British testing program and the remoteness of the tests from major population centres meant that public opposition to the tests and awareness of the risks involved grew very slowly.

Wayward governance : illegality and its control in the public sector / P N Grabosky
Canberra : Australian Institute of Criminology, 1989 

“…..Admittedly, in the 1950s knowledge of radiation hazards was not as advanced as it is today. At the time it was not generally recognised that small doses of low level radiation might increase the risk of cancer years later. But even in the light of knowledge of the time, the information on which Menzies based his decisions was seriously deficient.

There seems little doubt that the secrecy in which the entire testing program was cloaked served British rather than Australian interests.From the outset, the British were under pressure to demonstrate to the Americans that they were able to keep secrets at all. Full disclosure of the hazards and potential costs to Australia entailed in the testing program were out of the question. Information passed to Australian officials was kept to the minimum necessary to facilitate their assistance in the conduct of the testing program. The use of plutonium in the minor trials was not disclosed.

Australian tolerance of the British and their obsessive secrecy may be explained by the deference and loyalty to the ‘motherland’. Prime Minister Menzies identified so strongly with Britain that he considered British national interest as Australia’s national interest. Although he was later to seek assurances that hazards inherent in the testing program would be minimal and that appropriate safeguards would protect the Australian public, his enduring faith in the British was to blunt his critical faculties.

It is perhaps illustrative that on the occasions chosen by Australian authorities to assert themselves on matters of policy, the issues of concern were purely symbolic. The Antler series of tests was renamed, after Australians objected to the proposed name ‘Volcano’ (Milliken 1986, p. 226). On another occasion, a detonation scheduled for a Sunday was postponed in deference to Australian sensibilities (Australia 1985, p. 287).

Another factor which underlay Australian deference during the course of the testing program was the role of Sir Ernest Titterton. A British physicist, Titterton had worked in the United States on the Manhattan Project, which developed the first nuclear weapon.

After the war, he held a position at the British Atomic Energy Research Establishment, and in 1950 he was appointed to the Chair of Nuclear Physics at the Australian National University. Among Titterton’s earliest tasks in Australia was that of an adviser to the British scientific team at the first Monte Bello tests. In 1956, the Australian government established an Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee (AWTSC) responsible for monitoring the British testing program to ensure that the safety of the Australian environment and population were not jeopardised. To this end, it was to review British test proposals, provide expert advice to the Australian government, and to monitor the outcome of tests. Titterton was a foundation member of the Committee and later, its Chairman.

While Menzies had envisaged that the Committee would act as an independent, objective body, evidence suggests that it was more sensitive to the needs of the British testing program than to its Australian constituents.

Members tended to be drawn from the nuclear weapons fraternity, as was Titterton; from the Defence establishment, from the Commonwealth Department of Supply, from the Commonwealth X-Ray and Radium Laboratory, and from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. Although the expertise of these individuals is beyond dispute, one wonders if they may have been too closely identified with the ‘atomic establishment’ to provide independent critical advice. The nuclear weapons fraternity have often been criticised as a rather cavalier lot; no less a person than General Leslie Groves, who headed the Manhattan Project which developed the first atomic bomb, has been quoted as having said ‘Radiation death is a very pleasant way to die’ (Ball 1986, p. 8). In retrospect, the Australian safety committee suffered from the absence of biologists and environmental scientists in its ranks.

The plight of Aborigines in the vicinity of the prohibited zone was in many respects a reflection of their status in Australia at the time. In a revealing statement to the Royal Commission, Sir Ernest Titterton was quoted as having said that if Aboriginal people objected to the tests they could vote the government out (Australia 1985, p. 121). It is naive to suggest that such a small disadvantaged minority might wield electoral influence; doubly so since Aboriginal people were denied full voting rights at the time of the tests, and indeed, were even excluded from census enumeration until 1967. There is no dearth of evidence of the low regard in which Aborigines were held at the time. The chief scientist of the Department of Supply, a British expatriate, criticised an officer whom he regarded as overly concerned with Aboriginal welfare for ‘placing the affairs of a handful of natives above those of the British Commonwealth of Nations’ (Australia 1985, p. 309).

Because of their unique lifestyle, and often their lack of clothing, footwear and permanent shelter, Aboriginal residents in remote parts of Australia were particularly vulnerable to radiation. Although this was recognised and acted upon later in the testing program, the AWTSC was initially ignorant of or unconcerned with these risks.

Disinformation, whether deliberate or unintentional, was all too common during the testing programs. In order to provide accurate meteorological data for the weapons tests, a small weather station was constructed across the Western Australian border from Maralinga. The Australian Minister of Supply at the time, Howard Beale, quite falsely claimed that it was sited very carefully away from Aboriginal watering places (Australia 1985, p. 373). In fact, the site was chosen without seeking the advice of the native patrol officer. Moreover, the roads which were built to provide access to the weather station contradicted the assurances made by the government in 1947 that no roads would encroach upon the Aboriginal reserve.

In the aftermath of the second Monte Bello tests in 1956, the AWTSC filed a reassuring report which failed to refer to complications with the tests and to levels of fallout on the mainland which were higher than expected (Australia 1985, pp. 257-9).

In 1960, the British advised the AWTSC that ‘long lived fissile elements’ and ‘a toxic material’ would be used in the ‘Vixen B’ tests. Titterton requested that the materials be named, and later announced ‘They have answered everything we asked.’ The substances in question were not disclosed (Australia 1985, p. 414). In recommending that the Australian government agree to the tests, he appears to have been either insufficiently informed of the hazards at hand, or to have failed to communicate those hazards to the Safety Committee, and through it, to the Australian government. Earlier, before the Totem tests, he had reassured the Australian Prime Minister that

the time of firing will be chosen so that any risk to health due to radioactive contamination in our cities, or in fact to any human beings, is impossible. . . . [N]o habitations or living beings will suffer injury to health from the effects of the atomic explosions proposed for the trials (quoted in Australia 1985, p. 467).

There were other examples of Titterton’s role in filtering information to the Australian authorities, a role which has been described as ‘pivotal’ (Australia 1985, p. 513). He proposed that he be advised informally of certain details of proposed experiments. In one instance, he advised the British that ‘It would perhaps be wise to make it quite clear that the fission yield in all cases is zero’, knowing that this would be a misrepresentation of fact (Australia 1985, p. 519). Years later, the Royal Commission suggested that Titterton may have been more a de facto member of the British Atomic Weapons Research Establishment than a custodian of the Australian public interest.

The Royal Commission’s indictment of Titterton would be damning:

Titterton played a political as well as a safety role in the testing program, especially in the minor trials. He was prepared to conceal information from the Australian Government and his fellow Committee members if he believed to do so would suit the interests of the United Kingdom Government and the testing program (Australia 1985, p. 526).

British secretiveness and imperfect review of test proposals and consequences by Australian officials notwithstanding, the degree to which Australian authorities went in limiting debate and discussion of the testing program and its effects cannot be ignored.

Such media coverage of the tests as was permitted by British and Australian authorities tended to be trivial and generally celebratory (Woodward 1984). Restrictions were onerous, in some occasions to the point of absurdity. D-notices were applied in such a manner that Australian journalists were forbidden from reporting items which had already been published freely in the United Kingdom.

Dissent or criticism by Australian personnel involved in the testing program was not tolerated. One patrol officer who objected that the development of testing sites was proceeding without due regard for the protection and welfare of local Aborigines was ‘reminded of his obligations as a Commonwealth Officer’ (Australia 1985, p. 304), and warned against speaking to the press.

Occasionally, when Aborigines were sighted in restricted areas, reports of these sightings were disbelieved, or less than subtly discouraged. One officer who reported sighting Aborigines in the prohibited zone was asked if he realised ‘what sort of damage [he] would be doing by finding Aboriginals where Aboriginals could not be’ (Australia 1985, p. 319).

After the Milpuddie family was found in the restricted area at Maralinga, the Range Commander invoked the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952 (Cwlth) to prevent disclosure of the incident by any personnel on the scene.

The flow of information within government departments was at times impeded, with adverse consequences. According to one account, incomplete information about plutonium contaminations at Maralinga was given to Vic Garland, a Minister in the McMahon government, causing him to mislead Parliament in 1972 (Toohey 1978).

The full legal and political implications of the testing program would take decades to emerge. The secrecy which surrounded the British testing program and the remoteness of the tests from major population centres meant that public opposition to the tests and awareness of the risks involved grew very slowly.

But as the ban-the-bomb movement gathered momentum in Western societies throughout the 1950s, so too did opposition to the British tests in Australia. An opinion poll taken in 1957 showed 49 per cent of the Australian public opposed to the tests and only 39 per cent in favour.

Evatt and Calwell, Leader and Deputy Leader of the Federal Opposition, called for an end to the tests. Following the conclusion of the Antler series in October 1957, the British conducted their large thermonuclear tests at Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean; only the so-called ‘minor’ trials continued at Maralinga.

By the early 1960s, the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain signed an agreement to cease atmospheric nuclear tests. The British, having finally gained the confidence of the United States, were invited to conduct underground tests at United States facilities in Nevada. It was thus decided to close the Maralinga facility……..

British nuclear weapons testing – the toxic price paid by Australia

May 18, 2017

Australia’s hospitality, largesse and loyalty to Britain were not without their costs. Moreover, the sacrifices made by Australians on behalf of the ‘motherland’ were not equally borne. Whilst low population density and remoteness from major population centres were among the criteria for the selection of the testing sites, the Emu and Maralinga sites in particular were not uninhabited. Indeed, they had been familiar to generations of Aboriginal Australians for thousands of years and had a great spiritual significance for the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people.

A variety of factors underlay the harm to public health, Aboriginal culture and the natural environment which the British tests entailed. Perhaps most significant was the secrecy surrounding the testing program.

During the entire course of the testing program, public debate on the costs and risks borne by the Australian public was discouraged through official secrecy, censorship, misinformation, and attempts to denigrate critics

Wayward governance : illegality and its control in the public sector / P N Grabosky
Canberra : Australian Institute of Criminology, 1989 “…….
In 1950, Labor Prime Minister Clement Atlee sent a top secret personal message to Australian Prime Minister Menzies asking if the Australian government might agree to the testing of a British nuclear weapon at the Monte Bello Islands off Western Australia. Menzies agreed in principle, immediately; there is no record of his having consulted any of his Cabinet colleagues on the matter.

The Monte Bello site was deemed suitable by British authorities, and in a message to Menzies dated 26 March 1951 Atlee sought formal agreement to conduct the test. Atlee’s letter did not discuss the nature of the proposed test in minute detail. He did, however, see fit to mention the risk of radiation hazards:

6. There is one further aspect which I should mention. The effect of exploding an atomic weapon in the Monte Bello Islands will be to contaminate with radio activity the north-east group and this contamination may spread to others of the islands. The area is not likely to be entirely free from contamination for about three years and we would hope for continuing Australian help in investigating the decay of contamination. During this time the area will be unsafe for human occupation or even for visits by e.g. pearl fishermen who, we understand, at present go there from time to time and suitable measures will need to be taken to keep them away. We should not like the Australian Government to take a decision on the matter without having this aspect of it in their minds (quoted in Australia 1985, p. 13).

Menzies was only too pleased to assist the ‘motherland’, but deferred a response until after the 195 1 federal elections. With the return of his government, preparations for the test, code-named ‘Hurricane’, proceeded. Yet it was not until 19 February 1952 that the Australian public was informed that atomic weapons were to be tested on Australian soil. On 3 October 1952 the British successfully detonated a nuclear device of about 25 kilotons in the Monte Bello Islands.

The newest member of the nuclear club was by no means content to rest on the laurels of one successful test, however. Indeed, even before the Monte Bello detonation, British officials had visited sites in a remote area of South Australia with an eye to conducting future tests.

In December 1952, the new British Prime Minister, Churchill, asked Menzies for agreement in principle to a series of tests at Emu Field, some 1,200 km northwest of Adelaide in the Great Victoria Desert. Menzies replied promptly, in the affirmative. On 15 October 1953, Totem 1, a device with a yield of approximately 10 kilotons was detonated; two days later, Totem 11 was exploded with an approximate yield of 8 kilotons.

By this time, the British government had become firmly committed to a continuing nuclear weapons program. Three days after the conclusion of the Totem trials, the Australian government was formally advised of British desires to establish a permanent testing site in Australia. In August 1954, the Australian Cabinet agreed to the establishment of a permanent testing ground at a site that became named Maralinga, north of the transcontinental railway line in southwestern South Australia.

Following the ‘Mosaic’ tests in mid-1956, which involved the detonation of two weapons at the Monte Bello site, the British testing program in Australia was confined to the mainland. Four ‘Buffalo’ tests were conducted at Maralinga in September and October 1956, and three ‘Antler’ explosions were detonated there the following year.

Each of these explosions generated considerable radioactivity, by means of the initial nuclear reaction and the through dispersion of radioactive particulate colloquially known as ‘fallout’. In addition to British scientific and military personnel, thousands of Australians were exposed to radiation produced by the tests. These included not only those involved in supporting the British testing program, but also Aboriginal people living downwind of the test sites, and other Australians more distant who came into contact with airborne radioactivity.

A series of British hydrogen bomb tests was conducted in the Pacific Ocean during 1957 and 1958 without Australian involvement. In addition to the major weapons testing programs, the British undertook a number of minor trials at Emu and at Maralinga during the period 1953-1963. The ‘Kittens’, ‘Tims’ and ‘Rats’ series of experiments tested individual components or sub-assemblies of nuclear devices. Subsequent series, called ‘Vixen A’ and ‘Vixen B’ sought to investigate the effects of accidental fires and explosions on nuclear weapons.

While less spectacular than the major detonations, the minor trials were more numerous. They also contributed to the lasting contamination of the Maralinga area. As a result of the nearly 600 minor trials, some 830 tons of debris contaminated by about 20 kg of plutonium were deposited in pits which graced the South Australian landscape. An additional 2 kg of plutonium was dispersed over the area. Such an outcome was unfortunate indeed, as plutonium is one of the most toxic substances known; it dissipates more slowly than most radioactive elements. The half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. At this rate of decay, the Maralinga lands would be contaminated for the next half-million years.

Thus, Australia’s hospitality, largesse and loyalty to Britain were not without their costs. Moreover, the sacrifices made by Australians on behalf of the ‘motherland’ were not equally borne. Whilst low population density and remoteness from major population centres were among the criteria for the selection of the testing sites, the Emu and Maralinga sites in particular were not uninhabited. Indeed, they had been familiar to generations of Aboriginal Australians for thousands of years and had a great spiritual significance for the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara people.

In the interests of the testing program, it was decided to curtail the movements of those Aboriginal people traversing the Maralinga area. In addition, a number were taken to a reserve which had recently been established at Yalata, some distance to the south, across the transcontinental railway line. The removal of Aboriginal people from their traditional homelands was more than an inconvenience. The Maralinga lands contained mythological sites of spiritual significance for their inhabitants, a significance which was at best only vaguely appreciated by white officials. Indeed, this lack of sensitivity was illustrated by the consideration given by authorities to identifying sacred objects and ‘removing’ them to areas of resettlement (Australia 1985, pp. 300-1). During the 1950s, hundreds of former inhabitants of the Maralinga lands sought to reaffirm their threatened culture by travelling considerable distances from the Yalata area in order to attend ceremonial functions and to visit other Aboriginal groups. These movements extended as far west as Cundalee, Western Australia, and as far east as Coober Pedy and Mabel Creek.

Some Aboriginal people were even less fortunate. Security patrols in and around the Maralinga area were intermittently effective, and from time to time some Aboriginal people were evicted from the area. Years later, Aboriginal people from Western Australia would recall how they were directed away from Maralinga along a road which diverged from their standard water hole routes, and how some of their party died from lack of access to water.

For those who survived, there seems little doubt that for the Western Desert (Maralinga) people the alien settlement of Yalata and lack of access to their desert homelands contributed significantly to the social disintegration which characterises the community to this day. Petrol sniffing, juvenile crime, alcoholism and chronic friction between residents and the South Australian police have become facts of life (Brady & Morice 1982).

The security measures taken to restrict access to the testing site were not without flaws. One morning in May 1957, four Aboriginal people, the Milpuddie family, were found by range authorities near the crater formed by the ‘Buffalo 2’ explosion the previous October. ‘Me man, woman, two children and two dogs had set out on foot from the Everard Ranges in the northwest of South Australia, and were unaware that the Aboriginal inhabitants of the Maralinga area had been removed. When authorities discovered them, the family was immediately taken to a decontamination centre at the site, and were required to shower. After this experience, which must have been frightening enough, the family was driven to Yalata.

As one of the site personnel described the experience:

It was a shocking trip down as they had never ridden in a vehicle before and vomited everywhere (Australia 1985, p. 320).

On instructions from the Secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Supply, the dogs were shot. ‘ne woman was pregnant at the time the family was taken into custody; subsequently, her baby was born dead. Australian authorities went to great lengths to keep the incident secret, but they appear to have been less concerned with the family’s subsequent health. Commenting upon the fact that no-one appears to have taken the time to explain the experience to which the hapless Aborigines were subjected, a team of anthropologists was to comment:

[T]he three remaining members of the family have been subjected to a high degree of stress and unhappiness about the events of twenty-eight years ago (Australia 1985, p. 323).

Knowledge of the hazards of radioactivity has accumulated only gradually over the past century. Some of the dangers posed by radiation become apparent soon after the discovery of X-rays in 1895. It was recognised early on that exposure to sufficient doses of radiation could cause injuries to internal organs, as well as to the skin and the eyes. Only after a number of years did scientists become aware of the risk of genetic damage, and of carcinogenic effects as well, at low levels of exposure. Degrees of exposure regarded as tolerable in the 1950s are now internationally recognised as unsafe.

The amount of radioactivity generated by a nuclear explosion can vary considerably depending upon a number of factors. These include the size of the weapon, and the location of the burst – an explosion at ground level may be expected to generate more dust and other radioactive particulate matters than an air burst. The dispersion of radioactive material is also dependent upon weather conditions.

The heritable and carcinogenic effects of radiation often do not manifest themselves for considerable periods. Moreover, both effects may result from other causes, unrelated to radiation, or may even occur spontaneously. Thus, any determination of the health consequences of nuclear weapons testing in Australia would require very detailed records identifying those citizens who were exposed to radiation, and the degree of radiation to which they were exposed.

Although most of the British and Australian personnel involved in the testing program were equipped with film badges and dosimeters to record the extent of their exposure to radiation, some did not. Moreover, those measuring devices which were provided did not record exposure with perfect accuracy.

Nor could the risk to the general public be assessed with any real rigour. Despite the fact that airborne radiation from the Monte Bello tests was detected as far away as Townsville and Rockhampton, official fallout measurements were not compiled, and available data was insufficient to estimate collective exposure. Whilst it is probable that some cases of cancer and genetic damage were caused by radiation generated by the nuclear tests, a realistic estimate of their extent is not possible.

A variety of factors underlay the harm to public health, Aboriginal culture and the natural environment which the British tests entailed. Perhaps most significant was the secrecy surrounding the testing program. The decision to make the Monte Bello Islands available to the British for their first nuclear test appears to have been made by the Prime Minister alone, without reference to Cabinet, much less Parliament or the Australian public. During the entire course of the testing program, public debate on the costs and risks borne by the Australian public was discouraged through official secrecy, censorship, misinformation, and attempts to denigrate critics……Read

Australia’s undemocratic nuclear waste law disempowers indigenous landowners

May 18, 2017

13 March 2017, Friends of the Earth Australia is today releasing a detailed report on the National Radioactive Waste Management Act 2012 (NRWMA). The report ‒ written by Monash University fifth-year law student Amanda Ngo ‒ comes against the backdrop of the federal government’s targeting of a site near Hawker in SA’s Flinders Ranges for a national radioactive waste store and repository.

The NRWMA is heavy-handed, undemocratic legislation that gives the federal government the power to extinguish rights and interests in land targeted for a radioactive waste facility. In so doing the Minister must “take into account any relevant comments by persons with a right or interest in the land” but there is no requirement to secure consent. Traditional Owners, local communities, pastoralists, business owners, local councils and State/Territory Governments are all disadvantaged and disempowered by the NRWMA.

The NRWMA disempowers Traditional Owners ‒ in this case Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners ‒ in multiple ways, including:

  • The nomination of a site for a radioactive waste facility is valid even if Aboriginal owners were not consulted and did not give consent.
  • The NRWMA has sections which nullify State or Territory laws that protect the archaeological or heritage values of land or objects, including those which relate to Indigenous traditions.
  • The NRWMA curtails the application of Commonwealth laws including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Native Title Act 1993 in the important site-selection stage.
  • The Native Title Act 1993 is expressly overridden in relation to land acquisition for a radioactive waste facility.

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owners have been clear in their opposition to the planned radioactive waste facility in the Flinders Ranges. “I call upon the Federal and State Governments to put an end to this volatile position that the Adnyamathanha people are facing,” said Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Enice Marsh. “Native Title and the Aboriginal Heritage Act are not protecting our land. This needs a complete review or a Royal Commission. The Barndioota site in the Flinders Ranges must be struck off as a potential radioactive waste dump site and the National Radioactive Waste Management Act needs to be amended to give us the right to say ‘no’.”

Adnyamathanha Traditional Owner Regina McKenzie, who lives on Yappala Station near the proposed dump site, said: “The NRWMA is a political attack on Adnyamathanha women’s spiritual beliefs. The destruction of our culture and significant woman’s sites is a form of assimilation and thus breaches Article 8.1 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The NRWMA also breaches Article 25 of the UN Declaration which refers to our spiritual relationship with the land and the right to maintain and strengthen our culture. This is a breach of our Aboriginal human rights and our people and amounts to cultural genocide.”

The NRWMA has been criticised in both Senate Inquiries and a Federal Court challenge to an earlier federal government attempt to impose a national radioactive waste facility at Muckaty in the Northern Territory.

The NRWMA also puts the federal government’s radioactive waste agenda above environmental protection as it seeks to curtail the application of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Dr Jim Green, national nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth Australia, said: “A senior government official claims the NRWMA is based on ‘world’s best practice’. In fact, the legislation systematically disempowers local communities and Traditional Owners and weakens environmental protections. It needs to be radically amended or replaced with legislation that protects the environment and gives local communities and Traditional Owners the right to say no to nuclear waste dumps.”

 Amanda Ngo’s paper, ‘National Radioactive Waste Management  Act 2012′, is posted at

Hanford nuclear safety problems ignored for 30 years

May 18, 2017

Thousands of workers were forced to shelter after a roof collapsed at a waste site created in the 1950s and mostly ignored since then, Center for Public Integrity, By Peter CaryPatrick Malone, May 13, 2017 
A series of warnings by state and federal experts, stretching back more than thirty years, preceded this week’s cave-in of a tunnel in Hanford, Washington, that holds lethally radioactive debris from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, according to government documents.

A report in 1980 for the Energy Department, which oversees safety and cleanup work at the site, said that wooden beams holding up the tunnel had lost a third of their strength by then. A contractor for the department pointed to the issue again in 1991, warning that by the year 2001, the beams would be further degraded.

A group of academic experts, working under contract to the department, said more alarmingly in a 1,969-page report in August 2015 that the roof of the tunnel in question had been seriously weakened and that a “partial or complete failure” could expose individuals even 380 feet away to dangerous levels of radiation.

No action was taken by the department in response, and earlier this month — the precise date remains uncertain because conditions at the site were not closely monitored — a portion of the roof collapsed at the tunnel, creating a 20-foot square hole. Afterward, the managers of the Hanford site were forced on May 9 to order 3,000 workers to shelter indoors. But instead of shoring up the beams inside the tunnel in question, they poured in 54 new truckloads of dirt.

The tunnel was one of two at the Energy Department’s Hanford reservation used as dumping grounds from 1960 to 2000 for radioactive machine parts, vessels, and other equipment. It was, in short, a tangible expression of the department’s policy of covering over some of its nuclear bomb-making detritus and effectively pretending it isn’t there.

The neglect followed a blunt warning 26 years ago from the State of Washington — cited in a 1991 Energy Department contractor’s report — that the tunnels were not a safe repository and that the wastes should be moved elsewhere.

Under an agreement overseen by a federal court in eastern Washington, the department was supposed to start crafting a way to deal with the tunnel’s lethal dangers by September 2015, but it missed the deadline and promised to do it later this year as part of an overall agreement with the state and the Environmental Protection Agency to push back completion of the site’s overall cleanup from 2024 to 2042. (Hanford remains the most toxic site in America and the government’s most costly environmental cleanup task.)…….

In the 1991 report, by Los Alamos Technical Associates, Inc., the authors made clear after conducting an internal inspection of the tunnel that the DOE knew the timbers holding up the roof had been substantially weakened as early as 1980. It predicted that by 2001, they would be at 60 percent of their original strength and recommended another evaluation in 2001. But records indicate that it never happened.

A Department of Ecology inspection in 2015 noted that because the tunnels were closed up, “no permanent emergency equipment, communications equipment, warning systems, personal protective equipment, or spill control and containment supplies” were located inside — deficiencies that could complicate emergency efforts in the case of a tunnel fire or other safety incident.

A Government Accountability Office estimate in 2016 placed the total cost of cleaning up the toxic legacy of the U.S. nuclear weapon program at more than $250 billion.

Russia’s secret nuclear weapons build-up, and waste dumps, close to Norway

May 18, 2017

The satellite images, however, only reveal what is visible on the surface. Most of the actual warheads are underground.  

What now takes place in regard to submarine-launched ballistic missiles’ facilities hasn’t been seen at the naval bases on Kola since the large-scale infrastructure construction to support the Typhoon submarines at the Nerpichya base in Zapadnaya Lista happened in the 1980s.

Norway pays for nuclear safety While nuclear weapons are stored inside the mountain on the east side of the Litsa fjord, huge amounts of nuclear waste are stored just two kilometers away, across the fjord in the infamous Andreeva Bay. Thousands of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste and nearly 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements from submarine reactors are stored here. Neighbouring Norway, along with other donor countries, have spent hundres of millions kroner (tens of millions euros), on nuclear safety projects aimed at upgrading the infrastructure in Andreeva Bay.

Satellite images show expansion of nuclear weapons sites on Kola, Barents Observer [excellent pictures]  By Thomas Nilsen, May 08, 2017 The reverse gear seems to hang up for continuing disarmament of nuclear weapons in the Arctic. Barents Observer has made a comprehensive review of satellite images from naval base-level storage facilities that confirms heavy construction works.

The New START Treaty says USA and Russia must limit the numbers of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 by February 5, 2018. Over the last two years, Russia has increased the number of deployed warheads and is now 215 over the max limit to be reached.

There are extensive construction work at two of the Northern Fleet’s facilities for storage of warheads and ballistic missiles for submarines (SLBM) on the coast of to the Barents Sea. The Barents Observer has studied satellite images of the Kola Peninsula open available via Google Earth, combined with open-source data on numbers of nuclear warheads in Russia. The results are frightening.

Expansion of the two base-level storages in Okolnaya Bay near Severomorsk and Yagelnaya Bay in Gadzhiyevo are clearly visible. At both locations, new reinforced bunkers, auxiliary buildings and infrastructure partly finished and partly still under construction can be seen.

The satellite images, however, only reveal what is visible on the surface. Most of the actual warheads are underground.

What now takes place in regard to submarine-launched ballistic missiles’ facilities hasn’t been seen at the naval bases on Kola since the large-scale infrastructure construction to support the Typhoon submarines at the Nerpichya base in Zapadnaya Lista happened in the 1980s.

There are four storages for nuclear weapons on Kola. From satellite images, these storages are not too difficult to find. All are surrounded by double or triple layer barrier of barbed wire fences with extraordinary security at the single entry-exit checkpoints. Also inside the outer fences, the different sections of the facilities are separated with similar security fence barriers. Comparing satellite images with photos posted on internet by naval officers or their family members makes it possible to get a pretty good impression of the current situation.

Several of the storage locations are visible on photos, although mainly in distance, available by searching Yandex, Russia’s own search engine.  Also, Wikimapia, an online editable map where people can mark and describe places, has been a good source to information when writing this article.

Zaozersk is the nuclear weapons storage nearest to Norway in a distance of 65 kilometers to the border in Grense Jakobselv. The Norwegian town of Kirkenes is 94 kilometers away. Distance to Finland is 120 kilometers. All four storage sites on Kola are within a radius of 190 kilometers from Norway and 180 kilometers from the Finnish border………..

Today, Kristian Åtland estimates that around 60 percent of Russia’s more than 700 sea-based strategic nuclear warheads are concentrated on the Kola Peninsula, whereas the remaining 40 percent is based with the Pacific Fleet at Kamchatka.

«The numerical increase in Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal, including the part of it that is based on submarines operating from the Kola Peninsula, is neither dramatic nor unexpected. The increase is to be understood in the context of Russia’s long-standing and still on-going defense modernization. The modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces has been a key priority in the State Armaments Program for the period up to 2020 (“GPV-2020”), which was launched in 2010. In addition, the general deterioration of Russia’s relationship with the West, particularly since 2014, seems to have led to a renewed focus on the issue of nuclear deterrence, in Russia as well as in the United States,» Åtland elaborates.

Gorbachev called for nuclear-free zone

2017 marks the 30-years anniversary since Michael Gorbachev’s famous Murmansk-speech on October 1st 1987 where he called for a nuclear-free zone in Northern Europe. Since then, the numbers of nuclear warheads based on the Kola Peninsula saw a continuing decrease until 2015, five years after Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the New START Treaty in Prague. In July 2015, Russia reportedly had less deployed strategic nuclear warheads than the United States, 1,582 versus 1,597, the Bureau of Arms Control with the U.S. Departement of State reported.

215 over New START Treaty limit

Latest exchange and verification numbers from the same bureau dated April 1, 2017 shows that Russia now has 1,765 versus the United State’s 1,411. In other words; Russia has 215 warheads more than the maximum set to be achieved nine months ahead. The questions is whether Moscow is likely to dismantle over 200 warheads in less than a year.

Katarzyna Zysk, Associate Professor with the Norwegian Defense University College, says to the Barents Observer that Russia has a vested interest in maintaining the New START agreement. «Russia has a vested interest in maintaining the New START given that it keeps the development of the US strategic nuclear capabilities under control, provides Russia transparency measures and valued insight into to the US nuclear forces, thus increasing predictability,» she says, but underscore that the numbers must down.

«In order to meet the New START Treaty limits when it enters into effect in February 2018, Russia will have to decrease the numbers. However, Russia has been moving toward meeting the obligations as the number of Russia’s deployed strategic warheads has been decreasing compared with 2016. The US is now below the treaty limit and is in fact increasing the number of strategic deployed warheads,» Zysk explains.

Åtland agrees and underscores that today’s numbers do not constitute a treaty violation.

«The fact that Russia is now above the maximum warhead limits of the new START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, does not in itself constitute a treaty violation. The treaty does not mandate any particular schedule for reductions other than that the agreed-upon limits must be met by February 2018, which is in nine months from now. Reductions in the number of deployed warheads are fairly easy to achieve once the political will is there, either by phasing out old delivery platforms or by removing deployed warheads to central storage. Thus, the identified “peak” may be temporary,» Åtland says. He hopes both the United States and Russia will work towards an extension of the Treaty.

«Hopefully, Russia will stand by its commitments under the current START Treaty regime. In any event, it is important that Russia and the U.S. continue to exchange data about the status of their nuclear arsenals and that they provide for mutual inspections and other transparency measures outlined in the START Treaty and other documents. The parties should also work towards an extension or replacement of the Treaty when it expires in February 2021.»…………..

Norway pays for nuclear safety

While nuclear weapons are stored inside the mountain on the east side of the Litsa fjord, huge amounts of nuclear waste are stored just two kilometers away, across the fjord in the infamous Andreeva Bay. Thousands of cubic meters of solid radioactive waste and nearly 22,000 spent nuclear fuel elements from submarine reactors are stored here. Neighbouring Norway, along with other donor countries, have spent hundres of millions kroner (tens of millions euros), on nuclear safety projects aimed at upgrading the infrastructure in Andreeva Bay.

On June 27, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, travels to Andreeva Bay to mark the first shipping of spent nuclear fuel out of the area, a job that is likely to continue for more than five years. Meanwhile, Russia continues to spend huge amounts of money on new nuclear weapons in the border areas. ………..

Bolshoye Ramozero – the most secret

The most secret of all secret nuclear weapons storages on the Kola Peninsula is located some 20 kilometers to the northeast of the mining town Olenegorsk, on a side road towards Lovozero. The location, diffcult to find referances to on the internet, has several names; Katalya is one, Bolshoye Ramozero is another (the nearby lake). Like other secret towns in the Soviet Union, also this one had a post-code name; Olenegorsk-2. The nickname is Tsar City, allegedly because of the priviliges the inhabitants had. The town is also simply known as Military Unit 62834 or Object 956.

While it is easy to find selfies and blogposts from most Russian military garrisons and bases, few can be found from this town. Not too strange; the town is under full supervison of the 12th Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. This directorate is responsible for all of Russia’s nuclear weapons, including storages, technical maintenance and transportation.

The 12th Chief Directorate is probably the most secretive organization in the Russian Armed Forces, even more than the foreign military intelligence agency GRU and the strategic missile forces, according to Wikipedia.

Bolshoye Ramozero serves a national-level nuclear weapons facility, one of 12 such storages across Russia, according to a recent report written by Pavel Podvig and Javier Serrat. The report, focusing on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, is published by the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).

It is believed that all non-strategic nuclear warheads possible aimed for naval, air force and army weapons for the Kola area, and maybe even more, are stored at the central national level storage in Bolshaya Ramozero. According to the UNIDIR report, the 12th Chief Directorate is responsible for providing the nuclear warheads to the different military units “when deemed necessary.” If a threatening situation occurs, warheads can be transported by trucks from this site to the different military units on the Kola Peninsula which holds weapons systems that could be armed with tactical nuclear weapons, like naval cruise missiles or torpedoes, or cruise missiles carried by aircrafts.

The nearest airbase to the central storage on Kola is Olenogorsk where Tu-22 bombers are stationed.

Inside the underground storage bunkers in Bolshaya Ramozero are only the warheads stored.

Satellite images show that there are two storage areas just north of the town. The first area has three internal sites, of which only two seems to be actively used. The second area is located another kilometer further north.

Cameco uranium company: a litany of its accidents and controversies

May 18, 2017

Unviable economics of nuclear power catches up with Cameco, Independent Australia, Jim Green 9 May 2017  CAMECO’S INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS: 1981‒2016

This table lists many of Cameco’s accidents and controversies since 1981 — leaks and spills, the promotion of dangerous radiation junk science (in WA and elsewhere) appalling treatment of Indigenous people, systemic and sometimes deliberate safety failures and so on.

Date and Location Description of Incident

Saskatchewan, Canada

153 spills occurred at three uranium mines in Saskatchewan from 1981 to 1989. Cameco was fined C$10,000 for negligence in relation to a 1989 spill of two million litres of radium- and arsenic-contaminated water from the Rabbit Lake mine.
1990, May 13:

Blind River Uranium Refinery

Leak shuts down the Canadian refinery. Approximately 178 kg of radioactive uranium dust leaked into the air over a 30-hour period.


Inter-Church Uranium Committee from Saskatchewan reveals export of at least 500 tons of depleted uranium to the US military by Cameco, despite several Canadian treaties to export uranium only for “peaceful purposes”.


A truck en route to a Cameco gold main spills 2 tons of cyanide into the Barskoon River, a local drinking water and agricultural water source. 2,600 people treated and more than 1,000 hospitalized.



A 2003 report by the Sierra Club of Canada provides details of 20 major safety-related incidents and unresolved safety concerns at the Bruce nuclear power plant.


Fatality at Cameco’s Kumtor Gold Mine. Death of a Kyrgyz national, buried in the collapse of a 200 meter-high pit wall.
2003, April:

McArthur River, Saskatchewan

Cave-in and flood of radioactive water at the McArthur River mine. A consultant’s report found that Cameco had been repeatedly warned about the water hazards right up until the accident happened.

Key Lake uranium mill, Canada

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission approves Key Lake license renewal, despite continuing pit sidewall sloughing into the tailings disposed in the Deilmann pit. One million cubic meters of sand had already slumped into the tailings.
2004, April:

Port Hope, Ontario

Gamma radiation discovered in a school playground during testing in advance of playground upgrades. Although the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and AECL tried to dismiss the findings, the material under the school had to be removed when it was converted to low-cost housing in 2011. The contaminated material came from the uranium processing facility in Port Hope, now owned by Cameco.
2006, April:

Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan

A water inflow began at the bottom of the 6-meter wide shaft, 392 meters below the surface. All the workers left the area and removed equipment. According to a miner, “the mine’s radiation alarm kept going off, but the radiation technician merely re-set the alarm, assuring us that everything was fine.”
2006, Oct.: Cigar Lake, Saskatchewan Cameco said its “deficient” development of the Cigar Lake mine contributed to a flood that delayed the mine project by three years and would double construction costs.

Port Hope, Ontario

Substantial leakage of radioactive and chemical pollutants into the soil under the uranium conversion facility ‒ leakage not detected by monitoring wells.


Uranium mines owned by Cameco in Nebraska, Wyoming, and Canada have all had spills and leaks. Cameco made a settlement payment of $1.4 million to Wyoming for license violations, and $50,000 to Nebraska for license violations.
2008, January:

Rabbit Lake mill

Seepage underneath the mill discovered after a contract worker noticed a pool of uranium-tainted ice at an outdoor worksite.
2008, May:

Port Hope, Ontario

It was discovered during soil decontamination at the suspended Port Hope uranium processing facility that egress from degraded holding floors had contaminated the harbour surrounding the facility, which flows into Lake Ontario.
2008, June:

Key Lake

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission intends to approve the license renewal for Cameco’s Key Lake mill although CNSC staff assigned ‘C’ ratings (“below requirements”) in four out of 10 program areas assessed, including waste management, fire protection, environmental protection, and training.

Rabbit Lake

Uranium discharges from Rabbit Lake (highest by far in Canada) showed increase rather than the predicted decrease in 2010.
2011: Ship from Vancouver to China A number of sea containers holding drums of uranium concentrate are damaged and loose uranium is found in the hold.
2012, August:

Port Hope, Ontario

Spill of uranium dioxide powder resulted in one worker being exposed to uranium and three other workers potentially exposed during clean-up.

Northern Saskatchewan

Draft agreement between Cameco, Areva and the Aboriginal community of Pinehouse includes extraordinary clauses such as this: “Pinehouse promises to: … Not make statements or say things in public or to any government, business or agency that opposes Cameco/Areva’s mining operations; Make reasonable efforts to ensure Pinehouse members do not say or do anything that interferes with or delays Cameco/Areva’s mining, or do or say anything that is not consistent with Pinehouse’s promises under the Collaboration Agreement.”
2012, June 23: Blind River refinery, Ontario Three workers exposed to airborne uranium dust after a worker loosened a ring clamp on a drum of uranium oxide, the lid blew off and about 26 kg of the material were ejected into the air.
2013‒ongoing: Canada Cameco is battling it out in tax court with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Up to US$1.6 billion in corporate taxes allegedly went unpaid. Cameco also involved in tax dispute with the US IRS. According to Cameco, the IRS is seeking an additional $32 million in taxes, plus interest, and may also seek penalties.
2013: English River First Nation, Canada English River First Nation sign deal with Cameco and Areva, agreeing to support Millennium uranium mine and drop a lawsuit over land near the proposed mine. Some English River First Nation band members reacted strongly to the agreement. Cheryl Maurice said. “I am speaking for a group of people who weren’t aware that this agreement was being negotiated because there was no consultation process.”
2013, June: Saskatchewan Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde says the provincial government should not issue any new permits for potash, uranium or other resource development until First Nations concerns are addressed. Bellegarde said the province’s lack of a revenue-sharing deal with First Nations stemmed from “economic racism.” “Do not issue a licence to Cameco or Areva or BHP until indigenous issues are addressed,” he said.
2013, August:

Troy, Ohio, USA

A fire occurred on a truck carrying uranium hexafluoride which originated from Cameco’s refinery in Port Hope, Ontario. Nuclear regulators in Canada – where the cargo originated – and in the US were not informed of the incident.
2013, Sept.:

Northern Saskatchewan

Sierra Club Canada produces a detailed report on Cameco’s uranium operations in Northern Saskatchewan. It details systemic corporate failure by Cameco as well as systemic regulatory failure.
2014, Jan.:

Port Hope

About 450 Port Hope homeowners have had their soil sampled and properties tested in the first phase of the biggest radioactive clean-up in Canadian history. Some 1.2 million cubic metres of contaminated soil will be entombed in a storage facility. More than 5,000 private and public properties will undergo testing to identify places which need remediation. Port Hope is riddled with low-level radioactive waste, a product of radium and uranium refining at the Eldorado / Cameco refinery. The clean-up will cost an estimated US$1.3 billion.
2014, March A statement endorsed by 39 medical doctors calls on Cameco to stop promoting dangerous radiation junk science. The statement reads in part: “Cameco has consistently promoted the fringe scientific view that exposure to low-level radiation is harmless. Those views are at odds with mainstream scientific evidence.”
2015 A uranium supply contract was signed by Cameco and India’s Department of Atomic Energy on April 15, 2015. Nuclear arms control expert Crispin Rovere said: “As with the proposed Australia–India nuclear agreement, the text of the Canadian deal likewise abrogates the widely accepted principle that the nuclear recipient is accountable to the supplier. This is ironic given it was nuclear material diverted from a Canadian-supplied reactor that led to the India’s break-out in the first place. It would be like the citizens of Hiroshima deciding it would be a good idea to host American nuclear weapons within the city – the absurdity is quite astonishing.”
2015: Saskatchewan Cameco’s uranium operations in Saskatchewan are facing opposition from the Clearwater Dene First Nation. A group called Holding the Line Northern Trappers Alliance has been camping in the area to block companies from further exploratory drilling in their territory. The group set up camp in November 2014 and plans to remain until mining companies leave. Concerns include Cameco’s uranium deal with India and the health effects of Cameco’s operations on the Indigenous people of northern Saskatchewan.

Key Lake mill, Canada

Cameco personnel identify the presence of calcined uranium oxide within a building. Five workers receive doses exceeding the weekly action level of 1 mSv.
2016: Smith Ranch ISL uranium mine, Wyoming, USA The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission finds that a supervisor from Cameco subsidiary Power Resources deliberately failed to maintain complete and accurate records of workers’ exposure to radiation. The NRC issues a Notice of Violation to Cameco.
2016: Smith Ranch ISL uranium mine, Wyoming, USA


The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a Confirmatory Action Letter to Cameco subsidiary Power Resources documenting actions that the company has agreed to take before resuming shipments of radioactive sludge to a Utah facility. The letter followed two incidents in which containers of radioactive barium sulfate sludge, a byproduct of uranium ore processing, arrived at their destination with external contamination from leakage during transport.

A more detailed, referenced version of this information, written by Mara Bonacci and Jim Green for Friends of the Earth Australia, is posted at wiseinternational.org,10275

“Peaceful” nuclear power was always intended to provide plutonium for weapons

May 18, 2017

The deadly industry – this is a brief section from Nuclear Power and the Collapse of Society 

The story of how nuclear generated power came to be starts in the 1950s. After WWII, the US, UK, France, Russia, and China set out to build arsenals, but required more plutonium than could be furnished by their respective military programs. A US Atomic Energy Commission study concluded that commercial nuclear reactors for power were not economically feasible because of costs and risks. Dr. Charles Thomas, an executive at Monsanto, suggested a solution: A “dual purpose” reactor that would produce plutonium for the military and electric power for commercial use.

Companies profited from these dual markets, while leaving the public to assume responsibility for research, infrastructure, and risk: Privatise the profits, socialise the costs. The real purpose of a “nuclear power” industry was to provide plutonium for weapons and profit for a few corporations.

This deadly industry has now left dead zones and ghost towns around the world. The Hanford nuclear storage site in the US, Acerinox Processing Plant in Spain, The Polygon weapons test site in Kazakhstan, the Zapadnyi uranium mine in Kyrgyzstan, and countless other uranium mines, decommissioned plants, nuclear waste dumps, and catastrophes like Fukushima and Chernobyl.  by Rex Weyler, 5 May 17,

Why a North Korean Nuclear EMP Attack is not a real threat

May 18, 2017

A North Korean Nuclear EMP Attack? … Unlikely, By Jack Liu

05 May 2017, Recent press articles warn about the possibility of the North Koreans launching an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States, and there are even suggestions that the recent missile test failures may represent a thinly veiled EMP threat. However, such an attack from North Korea is unlikely, as it would require the North to have much larger nuclear weapons and the missile capability to deliver them.

EMP Concerns

The Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the US from EMP Attack[1] states:

When a nuclear explosion occurs at high altitude, the EMP signal it produces will cover the wide geographic region within the line of sight of the detonation. This broad band, high amplitude EMP, when coupled into sensitive electronics, has the capability to produce widespread and long lasting disruption and damage to the critical infrastructures that underpin the fabric of U.S. society.

 The effects of the pulse can be transferred directly to sensitive devices or as an electrical surge over power lines.

The generic diagram below [on original] shows an EMP to consist of three phases (E1, E2 and E3) occurring over vastly different time scales.[2] Of these, E1 is the most damaging. The others are 100 times (at minimum) less damaging than the first.

The E1 component of an EMP is a very brief but powerful electromagnetic field that can induce very high voltages in electrical conductors. Damage occurs by causing voltage limits in equipment to be exceeded and happens so fast that ordinary surge protectors cannot effectively protect computers and communications equipment. However, special transient protectors fast enough to suppress this part of an EMP exist and there has been significant progress in hardening critical systems against EMP.

The E1 component is produced when gamma radiation during the first 10 nanoseconds (1 nanosecond = 1 billionth of a second) from the nuclear detonation rips electrons out of the atoms in the atmosphere. The electrons travel at relativistic speeds (more than 90 percent of the speed of light) to illuminate the area beneath the blast. The Earth’s magnetic field acts on these electrons to change the direction of electron flow to a right angle to the geomagnetic field that may cause downward electron flow to produce a very large, but quick, electromagnetic pulse over the affected area.

The E2 component is generated by scattered gamma rays and gamma emissions produced by neutron collisions from the explosion. This component lasts from about one microsecond to one second after the beginning of the electromagnetic pulse and  is similar to the electromagnetic pulse produced by lightning. Because of the similarities to lightning-caused pulses and the widespread use of lightning protection technology, the E2 pulse is generally considered to be the easiest to protect against.[3]

The E3 component of the pulse is a slow pulse, lasting tens to hundreds of seconds. It results from the nuclear detonation distorting the Earth’s magnetic field, followed by its restoration. This component is quite similar to a geomagnetic storm caused by a very severe solar flare. Like a geomagnetic storm, it can induce currents in long electrical conductors, with the potential to damage power line components.

Size Matters

This is an instance where size does matter: the larger the nuclear explosion, the larger the affected area. While technical reports and papers on EMP from nuclear detonations are mostly classified, there is a paper by D. Hafemeister of California Polytechnic Institute that provides sufficient detail to derive a simple rule of thumb on the relationship between affected distance and nuclear device yield. The paper makes some simplifying assumptions:

  • The detonation is spherically symmetric (which may not always be the case);
  • The Earth’s magnetic field is not accounted for;
  • Prompt gamma rays account for 0.3 percent of the total energy of the explosion and are emitted within the first 10 nanoseconds of detonation;
  • About 0.6 percent of the prompt gamma rays produce relativistic electrons that constitute the E1 component of the EMP; and
  • The electric field damage threshold is 15,000 volts/meter or higher in the E1 component.

Plugging in the numbers and presuming these assumptions are appropriate, the rule of thumb is surprisingly simple: D = Y, where D is the maximum damage distance expressed in kilometers and Y is the yield of the blast in kilotons. So, a 20 KT bomb detonated at optimum height would have a maximum EMP damage distance of 20 km; a 1 MT (1,000 KT) bomb would damage out to 1,000 km. The largest North Korean test to date has been estimated to be about 20 KT.


Considering the physics behind EMP and the status of North Korea’s nuclear program to date, doomsday headlines in the press regarding the North’s potential EMP threat are grossly overstated.[4] North Korea’s nuclear tests have not yet demonstrated sufficient yield to cause damage to large areas through EMP. Moreover, with only a limited arsenal, it would not make sense for the North Koreans to conduct nuclear tests simply to develop EMP weapons.

[1] John Foster, et al., Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack—Critical National Infrastructures, April 2008.

[2] Edward Savage, James Gilbert, William Radasky. The Early-Time (E1) High-Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and Its Impact on the U.S. Power Grid, Meta-R-320, Prepared for Oak Ridge National Lab., Jan 2010.

[3] According to the US EMP Commission, “In general, it would not be an issue for critical infrastructure systems since they have existing protective measures for defense against occasional lightning strikes. The most significant risk is synergistic, because the E2 component follows a small fraction of a second after the first component’s insult, which has the ability to impair or destroy many protective and control features. The energy associated with the second component thus may be allowed to pass into and damage systems.”

[4] In the early 1950s, above ground nuclear tests of a size similar to what the North Koreans have demonstrated were conducted at the Nevada Test Site just 65 miles from Las Vegas. There were no reports of power outages. The casinos continued to operate. Nuclear fallout was the bigger issue.