Archive for the ‘legal’ Category

Illegal lobbying by USA nuclear weapons firms

February 1, 2017

Nuclear weapon firms pay to settle illegal lobbying cases http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/12/21/nuclear-weapon-firms-pay-settle-illegal-lobbying-cases/95609254/

Altogether, the three companies making these settlement payments since 2013 are involved in the operation of six of the eight active sites in the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons program. Actions by the Energy Department’s contractors – including any misspending – have substantial impact there, since contract work consumes roughly 90 percent of its total spending.

Although work on energy generation and consumption garners more public attention and President-elect Donald Trump has nominated an oil-state politician – former Texas governor Rick Perry – to become the department’s new top manager, nuclear weapons-related work accounts for nearly two-thirds of all the Energy Department’s activities.

The latest case emerged from a civil lawsuit that accused two companies of both performing substandard work at a nuclear weapons-related waste site and said one of them had improperly spent government funds to lobby for more. The companies declared on Nov. 23 they would settle the allegations by making the payment, mostly to the federal government, for a total of $125 million, a massive amount for alleged Energy Department-related malfeasance.

The settlement involves work by Bechtel National Inc. and its parent Bechtel Corp., and URS Corp. and its subsidiary URS Energy and Construction Inc., which together have been trying to clean up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, Washington. That’s where raw uranium was enriched into fuel for nuclear bombs during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War.

The firms have denied doing anything improper. But the settlement is part of an emerging pattern.

Lockheed Martin Corp., which operates one of three U.S. nuclear weapons laboratories – Sandia, agreed in August 2015 to pay $4.7 million to settle a complaint by the Justice Department that it used federal funds to lobby for a no-bid contract extension, while Fluor Corp. paid $1.1 million in April 2013 to settle accusations that it used federal funds to lobby government agencies for more business at its Hanford training facility.

Worries about the mission being underminedBesides overseeing the Hanford cleanup, Bechtel and URS (now owned by a company called AECOM) help operate the other two U.S. nuclear weapons labs — Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore, which perform the bulk of U.S. nuclear weapons design work. Altogether, the firms that have reached the settlements since 2013 are involved with operations at Los Alamos and Sandia in New Mexico, Livermore in California, the Pantex Plant in Texas, the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee.

The recent settlement “demonstrates that the Justice Department will work to ensure that public funds are used for the important purposes for which they are intended,” Benjamin C. Mizer, principal deputy assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s civil division, said in a written statement released on Nov. 23.

Money allocated by Congress for Hanford  “is intended to fund the Department of Energy’s important mission to clean up the contaminated Hanford nuclear site, and this mission is undermined if funds are wasted on goods or services that are not nuclear compliant or to further lobbying activities,” Mizer said.

Both Bechtel and AECOM in written statements said the settlements were made to avoid messy litigation and keep the waste plant project moving. “We have performed our work…ethically and professionally,” Bechtel National Inc. spokesman Fred deSousa said in a written statement, without going into details.

In its own written statement, AECOM — which acquired URS in 2014 — complained that the Department of Justice joined the whistleblowers’ “unwarranted lawsuit against URS” based on events that preceded AECOM’s acquisition of the company. “We take our responsibilities as a government contractor very seriously and have a demonstrated track record of serving our customers with honesty and integrity,” the company’s statement said.

The Justice Department’s involvement in the case originated in civil allegations of mismanagement and wrongdoing in Hanford’s Waste Treatment and Isolation Plant project, commonly called “WTP.” Under its contract with the Energy Department, Bechtel designed and is constructing machinery to convert nuclear-tainted wastes there into a stable, glassy substance suitable for safe disposal.

Three whistleblowers — Walt Tamosaitis, Donna Busche and Gary Brunson — filed a lawsuit on Feb. 4, 2013, accusing Bechtel and URS bosses of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds over a dozen years that together cost the government more than $1 billion. They also said safety lapses at the site, motivated by a desire to meet Energy Department deadlines and collect financial bonuses, were serious enough to risk a nuclear accident.

The whistleblowers’ complaint triggered an investigation by the Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General, which collected emails sent between Bechtel’s project leaders, the company’s top congressional lobbyist for nuclear projects, and Energy Department employees. The whistleblowers’ attorneys subsequently obtained the emails through the civil discovery process and incorporated them into an amended complaint. The Justice Department, in turn, used the complaint as the basis for its own investigation of Bechtel and URS.

Getting $45 million in new work

In the complaint, the whistleblowers said that when they originally lodged accusations of mismanagement – several years earlier — Bechtel project leaders launched a coordinated lobbying campaign to defend itself and also to collect new revenues for additional work on the waste treatment plant project. It then billed the department for the costs of this lobbying, the complaint said.

In an email sent by one Bechtel manager to another — along with a chart detailing the work that the company could say the additional revenue would finance — the manager said “in reality if we did not receive the additional $50m … most of these activities would still likely happen,” according to the whistleblowers’ complaint. The company subsequently got $45 million added to its contract.

The full emails detailing these actions have not been publicly released, by either the government or the plaintiffs, because the messages are part of an investigation that remains “open and ongoing,” according to Felicia Jones, spokeswoman for the Energy Department Office of Inspector General. She declined to say whether her colleagues consider the whistleblowers’ description of the emails accurate.

The Justice Department’s statement affirmed that it had “alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities.” But Justice Department spokeswoman Nicole Nava declined to comment about the whistleblower’s account of specific emails.

Lobbying Congress for new work isn’t against the law. But billing the government for lobbying is, according to the federal Byrd Amendment, approved by Congress in 1989. Court records state that Bechtel will pay $67.5 million of the settlement, and AECOM will pay $57.5 million; the amount of money that will go to the whistleblowers – who are entitled to a portion of any funds they help the government recover — has not been determined yet.

Charles Curtis, who oversaw the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons work from 1994 to 1997 while serving as undersecretary and then deputy secretary, said he was not aware of any improperly-funded lobbying during his tenure. But he expressed surprise that multiple contractors within the past three years have been caught doing it. “These are for-profit enterprises. They can use their shareholders’ money for lobbying, but to use congressionally appropriated money [is] a diversion of funds,” Curtis said. “It’s not only unethical … it’s illegal.”

 Three years ago, it was the Fluor Corporation and its subsidiary Fluor Hanford Inc., which at the time held the contract to manage the Hanford site, that agreed to pay $1.1 million to settle a separate complaint that its officials lobbied with government money from 2005 to 2010 to drum up business for a federally funded training facility there.   Loydene Rambo, a Fluor employee, triggered the settlement by filing her own whistleblower suit, based on what she described as records of the lobbyists being paid with federal funds. She received a $200,000 reward, and Fluor denied any wrongdoing.

The Justice Department’s August 2015 settlement with Lockheed Martin Corporation, which runs Sandia, similarly followed improper billing of the government for a more complex and elaborate lobbying effort to extend its management contract, according to a special investigation report released by the Energy Department Office of Inspector General. Lockheed agreed to pay $4.7 million in 2015 to settle the Justice Department’s complaint about the billing. Like Fluor before it and Bechtel and URS since, Lockheed Martin in a written statement denied it had done anything wrong.

Asked by the Center about how the lobbying settlements have affected the department’s relationship with its nuclear weapons contractors, Energy Department spokeswoman Bridget Bartol said in an email that “the Department has taken and will continue to take vigorous action against any contractor who spends federal funds on improper lobbying activities.”

Bechtel remains the primary contractor on the WTP project, and Lockheed Martin still holds the contract to operate Sandia National Laboratories.

Cleanup of the Hanford site was authorized 25 years ago, and as of 2000 it was expected to cost $4.3 billion and be completed in 2011. The Department now estimates it may not be fully operational until 2037, according to pleadings filed in federal court by government lawyers defending the Energy Department in a lawsuit brought by the state of Washington to force an acceleration of the cleanup. If the job is funded at its current level of about $690 million a year until 2037, the cost would exceed $15 billion.

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is mindful of the project’s problems and growing price tag. A recent memo to top Energy Department officials from the transition team he appointed asked them to describe “your alternatives to the ever increasing WTP cost and schedule, whether technical or programmatic.”

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, investigative newsroom in Washington, D.C. More of its national security reporting can be found here.

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Nuclear contractors settle with USA Justice Dept over allegations of improper billing.

February 1, 2017

United States Settles Lawsuit Against Energy Department Contractors for Knowingly Mischarging Costs on Contract at Nuclear Waste Treatment Plant https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/united-states-settles-lawsuit-against-energy-department-contractors-knowingly-mischarging, 24 Nov 16, 

The Justice Department announced today that Bechtel National Inc., Bechtel Corp., URS Corp. (predecessor in interest to AECOM Global II LLC) and URS Energy and Construction Inc. (now known as AECOM Energy and Construction Inc.) have agreed to pay $125 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that they made false statements and claims to the Department of Energy (DOE) by charging DOE for deficient nuclear quality materials, services, and testing that was provided at the Waste Treatment Plant (WTP) at DOE’s Hanford Site near Richland, Washington.  The settlement also resolves allegations that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly used federal contract funds to pay for a comprehensive, multi-year lobbying campaign of Congress and other federal officials for continued funding at the WTP.  Bechtel Corp. and Bechtel National Inc. are Nevada corporations.  URS Corp. is headquartered in California, and URS Energy & Construction Inc. is headquartered in Colorado.

“The money allocated by Congress for the Waste Treatment Plant is intended to fund the Department of Energy’s important mission to clean up the contaminated Hanford nuclear site, and this mission is undermined if funds are wasted on goods or services that are not nuclear compliant or to further lobbying activities,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “This settlement demonstrates that the Justice Department will work to ensure that public funds are used for the important purposes for which they are intended.”

“The environmental clean-up and restoration of the land that comprises the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is one of the single most important projects in this region,” said U.S. Attorney Michael C. Ormsby of the Eastern District of Washington. “It is imperative that funds allocated for this project be used appropriately and judiciously – the public expects nothing less.  This office and our DOJ and DOE counterparts take allegations of contractor abuse seriously and place a priority on investigating and pursuing enforcement when those allegations could impact the safety and security of our citizens.”

“The DOE Office of Inspector General is committed to ensuring the integrity of Departmental contracts and financial expenditures,” said Acting Inspector General Rickey R. Hass. “We will continue to steadfastly investigate allegations of fraudulent diversion of tax dollars throughout DOE programs and appreciate the support of DOJ attorneys in these matters.”

Between 2002 and the present, DOE has paid billions of dollars to the defendants to design and build the WTP, which will be used to treat dangerous radioactive wastes that are currently stored at DOE’s Hanford Site.  The contract required materials, testing and services to meet certain nuclear quality standards.  The United States alleged that the defendants violated the False Claims Act by charging the government the cost of complying with these standards when they failed to do so.  In particular, the United States alleged that the defendants improperly billed the government for materials and services from vendors that did not meet quality control requirements, for piping and waste vessels that did not meet quality standards and for testing from vendors who did not have compliant quality programs.  The United States also alleged that Bechtel National Inc. and Bechtel Corp. improperly claimed and received government funding for lobbying activities in violation of the Byrd Amendment, and applicable contractual and regulatory requirements, all of which prohibit the use of federal funds for lobbying activities.

The allegations resolved by this settlement were initially brought in a lawsuit filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act by Gary Brunson, Donna Busche, and Walter Tamosaitis, who worked on the WTP project.  The False Claims Act permits private parties to sue on behalf of the United States when they believe that a party has submitted false claims for government funds, and to receive a share of any recovery.  The Act also permits the government to intervene in such a lawsuit, as it did in part in this case.  The whistleblowers’ reward has not yet been determined.

This matter was handled by the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Washington, the DOE Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.

The claims asserted against defendants are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.  The case is United States ex rel. Brunson, Busche, and Tamosaitis v. Bechtel National, Inc., Bechtel Corp., URS Corp., and URS Energy & Construction, Inc., Case No. 2:13-cv-05013-EFS (E.D. Wash.).

Legal and other serious flaws in South Australia’s Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission’s plan

September 13, 2016

SA NUCLEAR BRIEFING Nigel Carney, June 16, 2016   “…… the issue South Australians are currently facing in the low level waste site selection process has always been a state and federal alliance, no mere coincidence of need…….

The Commission has been criticized widely as being a political stunt, not an independent Commission but rather a rubber stamp. The findings of the Commission released in May 2016 tend to support this view. The report itself presents evidence against its own findings. We are reminded that the Radium Hill mine and Port Pirie treatment plant remain as unresolved radioactive sites. The Commission finds:

‘The failure to consider the environment in the planning, operating and decommissioning of these facilities has resulted in ongoing management challenges….Although subsequent assessments of both sites show they do not pose a serious radiological risk to the health of visitors to the sites the state government is required to continue to monitor and manage potential environmental contamination’  (Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Findings May 2016)

Why then, the public may ask, would a Commission which acknowledges the failure of government to manage the legacy of the nuclear fuel cycle suggest the state has the capability of managing the world’s nuclear waste?

In Australian Atomic Confessions (Kathy Aigner 2005) and Silent Storm (Film Australia) we learn that this very ‘industry’ conducted human guinea pig experiments upon the Australian population during the 1950s and 60s Marshall Island, Emu Field and Maralinga Nuclear tests. The toxic legacy of the nuclear weaponry and fuel cycle upon indigenous and general populations was apparently deemed not worthy of discussion in the report. Yet these documentaries and many more reveal horrific and inhumane attitudes of the governments and corporations peddling their nuclear products.

Again, when thorough, horrific documentation reveals an ‘industry’ that treats people like lab rats, why would any sane person place trust in any aspect of the ‘industry’ or any proponents of it?

So why, you may ask, would a government go to so much effort and expense to produce such a rubber stamp report?

A glance at the unique South Australian Royal Commission Act 1917 may reveal some clues as to why the government has chosen the mechanism of a Royal Commission to lead the way for such risk inherent proposals.

The Act appears to be a black hole into which any further government responsibility conveniently disappears. A Law Reform Commission submission points to the inclusion of ‘privative clauses’, arguably unconstitutional but not High Court tested. The key result is that no comeback exists to challenge the Commission findings, creating what could be viewed as a negligence free zone in which such hasty and experimental decisions can be made.

The reader may not have the inclination to read this antique piece of legislation so I will reveal the controversial clauses which make Royal Commissions in South Australia such a clever tool of government when any sensitive issues arise.

Section 7 – Commission not to be bound by rules as to procedure or evidence.

Section 9 – Acts and proceedings of the commission not liable to be reviewed orrestrained. ‘No decision, determination, certificate, or other act or proceeding of thecommission, or anything done or the omission of anything, or anything proposed to be done or omitted to be done, by the commissioner, shall, in any manner whatsoever, be questioned, or reviewed, or be restrained or removed by prohibition, injunction, certiorari, or otherwise howsoever.’  

The Australian Law Reform Commission (May 19, 2009) commenting on the inclusion of privative clauses in legislation notes: ‘Judicial review cannot be excluded under the Commonwealth Constitution, and the usefulness of conventional privative clauses in limiting the scope for review of decisions under Commonwealth legislation now appears to be debatable at best. Therefore it is unclear what use a privative clause, such as that included in the Royal Commission Act 1917 (SA), would serve, other than to further confuse matters and to encourage arid jurisdictional debate.’…….

within the mechanism of a Royal Commission in South Australia, lies a very clever means to launder and process political skullduggery, neatly and apparently according to the untested Act, legally.

The Citizens’ Jury, the invention of newDemocracy foundation is in continuance of this theme as is the Nu-Clear Public Relations campaign designed to normalize the public to the findings of the Commission and the ‘which colour nuclear’ options embedded in the scheme. The campaign suggests that the results of the independent Commission are clear, now it’s time for the public to become clear and then the government can proceed.

What remains unclarified by this advertising is the implicit government denial of any responsibility for the hazards and risks obviously associated with such an undertaking.

This is apparent within the Premier’s own press statement following the release of the report and apparent in the assumptive approach of the Nu-Clear campaign underway.

‘No international partner will want to be part of entering what is a long term andextraordinary set of investments if they don’t think the community is going to be able todeliver on them. And so the community needs to accept this’ (SA Nuclear dump debate to go before citizens’ juries, ABC, May 10, 2016)

A chilling approach to community engagement but exactly the program now underway and being funded by taxpayers who apparently don’t have a say but rather ‘need to accept this’. ……..https://cooberpedyregionaltimes.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/opinion-sa-nuclear-briefing/#more-9229

Legal action against transport of nuclear wastes

September 13, 2016

Greens Sue to Stop Nuclear Waste Transport http://www.courthousenews.com/2016/08/15/greens-sue-to-stop-
nuclear-waste-transport.htm
   By BRITAIN EAKIN WASHINGTON (CN)– The U.S. Energy Department’s unprecedented proposed transfer of “a toxic liquid stew” containing nuclear waste between Canada and the U.S violates federal law, seven environmental groups claim in court.

     The proposed $60 million deal would see more than 6,000 gallons of the liquid waste transported more than 1,100 miles from the Fissile Solutions Storage Tank at Chalk River in Ontario, Canada to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to a 47-page lawsuit filed Friday in Washington, D.C., Federal Court.
“The radioactive waste byproducts resulting from processing the HEU targets at Chalk River are acknowledged to be among the most radioactively hazardous materials on Earth,” the complaint states, abbreviating highly enriched uranium. “They would be more easily dispersed into the environment in liquid form than in solid form, in the event of a breach of containment during transport.”
The material in question, highly enriched uranyl nitrate liquid, or HEUNL, comes from Canadian production of medical radioisotopes with highly enriched uranium provided by the Energy Department.
“The targets are irradiated in a nuclear reactor and then dissolved in nitric acid so that certain useful medical isotopes can be chemically extracted from the liquid solution,” the complaint states, which environmental groups say results in a highly radioactive liquid waste that contains dangerous radioactive byproducts of nuclear fission.
According to the complaint, which names the Energy Department as the primary defendant, the transport will take several years and will require 150 separate trips.
   The lawsuit alleges that the Energy Department wrongly designated the liquid waste, which contains dozens of radioactive compounds often present in irradiated nuclear fuel. The liquid also contains small amounts of highly enriched uranium, “which is nuclear weapons usable material,” the environmental groups claim.
“Thus the material to be shipped is functionally equivalent to liquid high-level radioactive waste that results from dissolving spent nuclear fuel in nitric acid for the purpose of reprocessing,” the complaint states.
The conservationists say the liquid waste is similar to that being stored at Washington state’s Hanford Nuclear Reservation, which has never been transported in liquid form over public roads.
The complaint calls the public and environmental health dangers of the liquid waste “significant and in some cases even legendary.” Some of it could easily enter the food chain and be absorbed into muscle and organ tissues, the groups say.
Additionally, the lawsuit warns that the liquid waste requires careful monitoring and constant mixing to prevent the highly enriched uranium from becoming more concentrated, which in a worst case scenario could rupture the tank and release the material into the environment.
   “The import and transport of highly radioactive liquid waste is being justified under a U.S.-Canada agreement to return highly enriched uranium to the United States. However, shipping of high-level radioactive waste in liquid form over public roads has never occurred in the 75-year history of U.S. nuclear power, research, medical isotope production, and weapons programs,” the complaint states.
The environmental groups argue that other alternatives exist. The liquid waste can be solidified and stored at Chalk River, or it can be converted or “down-blended” so that it contains low-enriched, non-weapons grade uranium, which the Energy Department has said is a viable option, according to the complaint.
The groups that filed the lawsuit – Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Savannah River Site Watch, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Lone Tree Council, Sierra Club and Environmentalists Inc. – are asking the Energy Department to thoroughly analyze down-blending as an option for dealing with the waste.
According to the lawsuit, the agency has not compiled an environmental impact statement on the proposed shipments, which federal law requires it to do.
Instead, the agency published and adopted as policy its own analysis of the risks, which it determined are similar to transporting other nuclear material, the complaint says, thereby circumventing public notification and comment requirements.
“The agency found that there would be no significant environmental impacts from the proposed project and provided no meaningful discussion of the potential risks from accident, terrorism, sabotage and the associated possible breach of the transport container,” the lawsuit states.
The environmental groups seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions against the transport plan until the Energy Department compiles an environmental impact statement and complies with the National Environment Policy Act, the Atomic Energy Act and the Department of Energy Organization Act.
The Energy Department declined to comment.
Terry J. Lodge, attorney for the environmental groups, did not respond Monday to an emailed request for comment.

US aid to Israel is illegal under the Foreign Aid Act – lawsuit clims

September 13, 2016

Lawsuit claims US aid to Israel violates nuclear pact Institute for Research: highly-recommendedMiddle Eastern Policy says atomic powers who don’t sign NPT aren’t legally eligible for American money, Times of Israel, BY JTA August 12, 2016   A  lawsuit filed in a US district court claims that American aid to Israel is illegal under a law passed in the 1970s that prohibits aid to nuclear powers who don’t sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, who filed the lawsuit Monday with a Washington DC court, said the United States has given Israel an estimated $234 billion in foreign aid since Congress in 1976 passed the International Security Assistance and Arms Export Control Act, with its stipulation regarding countries that did not sign the NPT, according to Courthouse News.

Discussing his August 8 lawsuit in an interview to Court House News, Smith said the litigation has been 10 years in the making.

Though Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Smith noted that it is a known nuclear power and recipient of US aid. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied possession of nuclear weapons but is widely believed to possess dozens if not hundreds of nuclear warheads.

The US has had a long-standing policy of keeping mum on the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, an open secret that successive US administrations since Gerald Ford have refused to publicly acknowledge.

Smith’s lawsuit comes on the eve of an aid deal that would boost US assistance to the country by between $1 billion and $2 billion per year over a decade. Israel already gets $3 billion a year in US aid.

In addition to the United States and President Barack Obama, the complaint names as defendants Secretary of State John Kerry, CIA Director John Brennan, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and the secretaries of the Treasury, Energy and Commerce Departments.

“Defendants have collectively engaged in a violation of administrative procedure and the Take Care Clause by unlawful failure to act upon facts long in their possession while prohibiting the release of official government information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, particularly ongoing illicit transfers of nuclear weapons material and technology from the US to Israel,” the 33-page lawsuit states.

To sustain a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” on Israel’s weapons program, Smith says the government uses improper classification and threatens federal employees and researchers with prosecution, fines and imprisonment.

The gag is driven, according to the complaint, by a Department of Energy directive known as WNP-136, Foreign Nuclear Capabilities. Smith says his digging under the Freedom of Information Act brought a version of the document to light that was “nearly 90 percent redacted.”

“This is an Energy Department directive that demands imprisonment for any federal official or contractor who even mentions that Israel might have a nuclear weapons program,” Smith said in an interview.

In the lawsuit, Smith says foreign aid to Israel violates two amendments of the 1961 Foreign Aid Act, known as the Symington and Glenn amendments, which ban aid to clandestine nuclear powers……..http://www.timesofisrael.com/lawsuit-claims-us-aid-to-israel-violates-atomic-pact/

The legal case for thorium affected nuclear workers

September 13, 2016

Once secret documents helping lawyers argue for sick nuclear workers at South Carolina complex Unlike many lawyers, Bob Warren agreed to represent sick workers at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The pay has been low, but Warren has for 13 years handled their cases in hopes of gaining compensation from the federal government. He’s done so, despite battling Parkinson’s disease and financial difficulties.Today, he continues to press their cases from a tiny law office in Black Mountain, N.C.  BY SAMMY FRETWELL sfretwell@thestate.com COLUMBIA, SC , 11 Aug 16, 

Lawyers are using once-classified government documents to argue that potentially thousands of sick nuclear weapons workers and their families should be eligible for federal benefits.

The documents, released late last year, provide evidence that some workers at the Savannah River Site were exposed to thorium after 1972 even though the government said the South Carolina plant no longer had significant quantities of the radioactive material, said Bob Warren, an attorney representing ex-SRS employees.

Warren said the federal records show that SRS had ample amounts of thorium, a metal used in nuclear reactions that can cause cancer. Warren obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act from the U.S. Department of Energy after a three-year wait.

“Without this information, we would not be able to go forward,’’ Warren said in an interview with The State. “These documents are pivotal in making the case.’’

In a letter to a government radiation advisory board, Warren asks that more people employed at SRS be compensated for illnesses they contracted while working there.

Warren’s request, to be discussed by the advisory board Wednesday, seeks to expand a federal compensation program by making it easier for people who worked at SRS from 1973-2007 to gain benefits for cancer the site caused.

The federal government has already made it easier for many sick workers employed before 1973 at SRS to receive compensation because of likely exposure to thorium at the site.

Those eligible for benefits could get up to $400,000 each under the federal compensation program. The program, available to sick workers at federal weapons complexes across the country, has been criticized as a bureaucratic maze of rules so tough that many deserving people have been denied benefits. Some ex-workers have died before receiving compensation, according to a McClatchy newspapers investigation last year.

“There is no reason not to expand,’’ Warren’s written comments said, noting that approving his request would make “many more workers and their survivors eligible for benefits from the … program before they die.’’

Warren said if he is successful, several thousand people who worked at SRS from 1973 to 2007 could receive benefits.

SRS is a 310-square mile federal atomic weapons site near Aiken along the Georgia border. It was a cornerstone of the nation’s Cold War nuclear weapons production effort, at times employing more than 10,000 people. Many who worked there were exposed to radiation, and some now say the exposure made them sick.

Federal officials charged with recommending whether to expand the program are expected to challenge Warren’s arguments at Wednesday’s meeting of the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health. But Warren said it’s hard to dispute what he has found in more than 1,300 pages of records that the government released.

The documents, many of which were previously classified, contradict past federal justification for not expanding the compensation program, he said. The records indicate that thorium existed in notable quantities for years at SRS after 1972 – despite government arguments that it did not.

Among the documents are:

▪  Handwritten records from SRS officials showing that more than 8 tons of thorium were stored at the site in 1998.

▪ A 1982 memo from a ranking SRS official showing that thorium was among the radioactive materials the government wanted to discard.

▪  A 1976 inventory report showing about 7 tons of thorium on the site.

In addition, Warren’s comment letter to the advisory board uses the deposition of a top site official to show that the government had no bioassay medical screening program for thorium exposure before 2000.

Thorium is used in the aerospace industry and in nuclear reactions. Breathing thorium dust may cause an increased chance of lung disease as well as lung and pancreatic cancer years after being exposed, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Thorium, which is odorless and tasteless, also has been linked to bone cancer, the agency reports.

The 1,300 pages released by the government now “definitely show thorium shipments to, and in some cases from, SRS after 1972,’’ Warren’s letter says. In the past, federal health officials charged with giving the advisory board information have not provided documentation that would have helped the board recommend expanding the program to cover more recent years, he said.

The Department of Energy had no immediate comment on the thorium issue. It could be months before Warren’s request is resolved……….

Under the federal compensation program, employees sickened by numerous types of cancer at SRS and other federal weapons sites must show that the radiation they received was a significant cause of their illnesses. But the government also can declare entire classes of workers as eligible without requiring each worker to document his or her doses. The class designation can occur when individual dosage records are unavailable to workers.

Bioassy records are unavailable for individual workers to show exposure to thorium, Warren said. So Warren argues that all workers from 1973-2007 should be eligible for compensation. In 2011, he was successful in persuading the government to make workers prior to 1973 eligible for compensation because of thorium exposure.

Warren’s petition is part of a 14-year-effort to obtain compensation for people who say they were sickened by radiation at SRS. An attorney in Black Mountain, N.C., Warren is one of the few lawyers who took on SRS compensation cases, which do not pay attorneys well. He plans to retire soon because of health problems but he works with South Carolina lawyers Warren Johnson and Joshua Fester, who will continue the work.

Nationally, the government has paid more than $12 billion to sick ex-nuclear workers and their families, including those from SRS, McClatchy newspapers reported last year. The energy employees compensation program began in 2001. http://www.thestate.com/news/local/article94448307.html

Illegal to use Trident nuclear missiles

September 12, 2016

Using Trident would be illegal, so let’s phase it out https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/15/trident-illegal-nuclear-britain-arsenal Geoffrey Robertson, 15 July 16 
Nuclear doom is nearer than most of us believe, experts warn. Britain must set a moral lead by becoming the first of the ‘big five’ powers to reduce its arsenal 
  The most portentous decision for every new prime minister is what to write in the secret “letter of last resort” to Trident submarine commanders telling them what to do with their nuclear missiles if the British government is wiped out. In Monday’s debate on the renewal of Trident, Theresa May should tell parliament what life-or-death decision she has made in her letters of last resort.

It is said that Margaret Thatcher ordered our nukes, trained on Moscow, to be fired so as to cause maximum destruction to the enemy – ie to its civilians. That order, even for a nuclear “second strike”, would today be illegal.

It is ironic that although Chilcot produced so much condemnation of Blair for joining an unlawful war, MPs are now being asked to vote for a weapons system that cannot be used without committing a crime against humanity. This was defined in 1998 by the Rome Statute, which set up the international criminal court, as “a systematic attack directed against a civilian population, resulting in extermination or torture, or an inhumane act intentionally causing great suffering”.

The same statute additionally makes it a war crime to intentionally launch an attack in the knowledge that it would cause incidental loss of civilian life or severe damage to the natural environment, out of proportion to military advantage.

Trident’s 200 thermonuclear bombs, each 10 times more powerful than those that struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are illegal because they cannot discriminate between military targets and hospitals, churches and schools; because of their capacity to cause untold human suffering for generations to come; and because their consequences (eg ionising radiation, which tortures victims and lingers for half a century) are beyond the control or knowledge of the attacker, who cannot judge the proportionality of their use.

submarine-missile

As the international court of justice put it, back in 1996: “The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilisation and the entire ecosystem of the planet.”

So why is our law-abiding government spending tens of billions on a weapons system that cannot lawfully be used?

First, because its advisers wrongly think that nuclear weapons are legal in certain circumstances. Back in that 1996 case, the UK argued that it could lawfully drop “a low-yield nuclear weapon against warships on the high seas or troops in sparsely populated areas”.

This scenario has now been shown up as fantastical: “first use” in these circumstances by the UK would trigger a nuclear reprisal with inevitable damage to the atmosphere, the oceans and the “sparsely populated” area (which would henceforth be entirely unpopulated). In any event, Trident’s weapon-bays will not carry “low-yield” bombs, and if they did the result would be better achieved by conventional weapons, making nuclear deployment unnecessary and disproportionate.

The world court ruled that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would “generally” be contrary to war law but might be lawful “in extreme circumstances of self-defence, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake”. This was a time-warped view of war law in 1996 that is not tenable today. The court, to be fair, predicted as much, saying that it expected international law to “develop” towards a total ban on the use of the bomb. It soon did, with the Rome Statute and subsequent development of the principle that a state has no right to preserve itself at the expense of damage to other states and to the rights to life of millions of citizens.

It is absurd to suggest that it would have been lawful for Hitler, his back to the bunker wall, to start a nuclear Götterdämmerung to save the Nazi state (Nuremberg decided it was not lawful for him even to fire doodlebugs). Given what we now know about the uncontrollable and devastating propensities of modern nuclear weapons, it is unlawful to fire them at all.

There is a further legal reason for allowing Trident to wear out. It is Article VI of the nuclear proliferation treaty (NPT), by which parties undertake to proceed in good faith to “general and complete” nuclear disarmament.

The world court’s 1996 ruling decided that this imposed not a “mere” obligation but a binding legal obligation on existing nuclear states to reduce the number of their bombs gradually, to zero. It is contrary to the spirit of article VI to upgrade rather than downgrade the fleet.

A decision to phase out Trident would help Britain recover some of the clout it has lost through Brexit. It would show moral leadership, and shame other nuclear powers that have failed to live up to their NPT obligations (especially the US; President Obama’s Nobel prize was prematurely awarded in part for envisaging “a world without nuclear weapons”).

Moral leadership from a nuclear-weapons state is urgently needed. The latest US defence budget allocates $1tn for future modernisation of its nukes and it has acquired new sites for them, in Poland and Romania. President Putin has promised in return a new generation of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. The American most knowledgeable on the subject – Bill Clinton’s defence secretary William J Perry – has just published a book warning that “nuclear doom” is closer today than it ever was during the cold war.

Although possession of nuclear weapons is not per se unlawful, the UK is under a duty to reduce its arsenal: the vice of refurbishing Trident is that it encourages other states to do the same, and remains a constant stimulus for countries – particularly in the Middle East and Asia – to acquire arsenals of their own.

When negotiating to buy Polaris (Trident’s predecessor), back in 1962, Harold Macmillan confided in his diary that “the whole thing is ridiculous”, but consoled himself with the thought that “countries which have played a great role in history must retain their dignity”.

A half-century later, the best way for Britain to regain its dignity post-Brexit is not to throw vast sums of money away on a weapon that cannot lawfully be used, but rather to appear as the first of the “big five” powers to shoulder its legal obligation to disarm under article VI of the NPT. It will be many years before the mushroom cloud becomes a hallucination, but at least Britain would be able to boast that it had led the way.

India’s Nuclear Liability Law a handicap to the global nuclear salesmen

June 11, 2016
Concern Over India’s Nuclear Liability Law Still Remains: French Firm EDF http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/concern-over-indias-nuclear-liability-law-still-remains-french-firm-edf-1398896

All India | Press Trust of India April 24, 2016  NEW DELHI:  A month after India and France signed an agreement to take forward a deal to supply six nuclear reactors for Jaitapur plant, French firm EDF has said concern over India’s liability law still remains and that it will give a fresh pricing proposal for these units.

The fresh techno-commercial proposal will also take into account India’s concern over high per unit tariff, French government officials said.

 “EDF has raised concerns about the Right to Recourse pertaining to Clause 17 (a), (b) and (c) and Clause 46 of the Civil Liability Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act 2010,” the official said.

“The French feel that there is a lot of ambiguity in Clause 46 and there is fear in the minds of suppliers. We have raised this issue both with NPCIL and the Department of Atomic Energy,” said a French official.

Clause 46 of the CLND Act says, “The provisions of this Act shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, any other law for the time being in force, and nothing contained herein shall exempt the operator from any proceedings which might, apart from this Act, be instituted against such operator.”Last month, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) had signed an agreement for building six European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) as against the earlier proposal of two such reactors.

The delay in the project, which was first signed in 2008, and concern over India’s liability law came in the wake of nuclear firms Areva and EDF merging their reactor businesses into a joint venture controlled by EDF, as part of a broad restructuring last year.

In 2014, the US too had raised similar concerns about Clause 46 in particular.

Following this, just before President Barack Obama’s visit to the country, India announced plans to build a Nuclear Insurance Pool to address the issue.In April last year, Areva had also signed an agreement with NPCIL to expedite the programme.

“Things are unclear over how much insurance cover does supplier have to take. There is still a lot of ambiguity in this,” the French official said.

The French government officials said the liability issue is still “manageable” but pricing still remains a major hurdle.

While the cost of the electricity generated by Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP) Units I and II hovers between Rs. 3 to 3.50 per unit, for JNPP, it is expected to be Rs. 9.14 per unit. India is not ready to go beyond Rs. 6.50 per unit.

The Liability Cap is the only thing that has saved the nuclear power industry

March 20, 2016

After 60 years of nuclear power, the industry survives only on stupendous subsidies, Ecologist, Pete Dolack 4th January 2016 Without ‘liability caps’ the industry would have been dead long ago

The British government, for instance, currently foots more than three-quarters of the bill for radioactive waste management and decommissioning, and for nuclear legacy sites. A report prepared for Parliament estimates that total public liability to date just for this program is around £50 billion, with tens of billions more to come.

Liability caps for accidents are also routine. In the US the Price-Anderson Act, in force since 1957, caps the total liability of nuclear operators in the event of a serious accident or attack to $10.5 billion. If the total is higher, as it surely would be, taxpayers would be on the hook for the rest.

As a further sweetener, the Bush II / Cheney administration, in 2005, signed into law new nuclear subsidies and tax breaks worth $13 billion. The Obama administration, attempting its own nuclear push, has offered an additional $36 billion in federal loan guarantees to underwrite new reactor construction, again putting the risk on taxpayers, not investors.

The Vermont Law School paper aptly sums up this picture with this conclusion: [page 69]

“If the owners and operators of nuclear reactors had to face the full liability of a nuclear accident and meet the alternatives in competition that is unfettered by subsidies, no one would have built a nuclear reactor in the past, no one would build a reactor today, and anyone who owned one would exit the nuclear business as quickly as they could.”

If we had a rational economic system, they surely would.http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2986749/after_60_years_of_nuclear_power_the_industry_survives_only_on_stupendous_subsidies.html

India’s toxic nuclear industry exposed millions to radiation

January 4, 2016
India’s nuclear industry pours its wastes into a river of death and disease  Scientists say nuclear workers, village residents, and children living near mines and factories are falling ill after persistent exposure to unsafe radiation Center For Public Integrity ,  By Adrian Levy  December 14, 2015  Jadugoda, Jharkhand, INDIA
The Subarnarekha River roars out of the Chota Nagpur plateau in eastern India, before emptying 245 miles downstream into the Bay of Bengal, making it a vital source of life, and lately, of death…..
Its link to widespread misfortune is not admitted by the Indian government. But the authorities’ role in the deaths of those who live near it first became clear when professor Dipak Ghosh, a respected Indian physicist and dean of the Faculty of Science at Jadavpur University in Kolkata decided to chase down a rural “myth” among the farmers along its banks. They had long complained that the Subarnarekha was poisoned, and said their communities suffered from tortuous health problems.

When Ghosh’s team seven years ago collected samples from the river and also from adjacent wells, he was alarmed by the results. The water was adulterated with radioactive alpha particles that cannot be absorbed through the skin or clothes, but if ingested cause 1,000 times more damage than other types of radiation. In some places, the levels were 160 percent higher than safe limits set by the World Health Organization.

“It was potentially catastrophic,” Ghosh said in a recent interview. Millions of people along the waterway were potentially exposed.

What the professor’s team uncovered was hard evidence of the toxic footprint cast by the country’s secret nuclear mining and fuel fabrication program. It is now the subject of a potentially powerful legal action, shining an unusual light on India’s nuclear ambitions and placing a cloud over its future reactor operations……..

On August 21, 2014, however, a justice in this state’s court ordered an official inquiry into allegations that the nuclear industry has exposed tens of thousands of workers and villagers to dangerous levels of radiation, heavy metals or other carcinogens, including arsenic, from polluted rivers and underground water supplies that have percolated through the foodchain — from fish swimming in the Subarnarekha River to vegetables washed in its tainted water.

Given the absolute secrecy that surrounds the nuclear sector in India, the case is a closed affair, and all evidence is officially presented to the judge. But the Center for Public Integrity has reviewed hundreds of pages of personal testimony and clinical reports in the case that present a disturbing scenario.

India’s nuclear chiefs have long maintained that ill health in the region is caused by endemic poverty and and the unsanitary conditions of its tribal people, known locally as Adivasi, or first people. But the testimony and reports document how nuclear installations, fabrication plants and mines have repeatedly breached international safety standards for the past 20 years. Doctors and health workers, as well as international radiation experts, say that nuclear chiefs have repeatedly suppressed or rebuffed their warnings. (more…)