Archive for the ‘TECHNOLOGY’ Category

Energy Hogs: Can World’s Huge Data Centers Be Made More Efficient?

June 2, 2018

Energy Hogs: Can World’s Huge Data Centers Be Made More Efficient?
The gigantic data centers that power the internet consume vast amounts of electricity and emit 3 percent of global CO2 emissions. To change that, data companies need to turn to clean energy sources and dramatically improve energy efficiency.
 Yale  Environment 360   

The cloud is coming back to Earth with a bump. That ethereal place where we store our data, stream our movies, and email the world has a physical presence – in hundreds of giant data centers that are taking a growing toll on the planet.

Data centers are the factories of the digital age. These mostly windowless, featureless boxes are scattered across the globe – from Las Vegas to Bangalore, and Des Moines to Reykjavik. They run the planet’s digital services. Their construction alone costs around $20 billion a year worldwide.

The biggest, covering a million square feet or more, consume as much power as a city of a million people. In total, they eat up more than 2 percent of the world’s electricity and produce 3 percent of CO2 emissions, as much as the airline industry. And with global data traffic more than doubling every four years, they are growing fast.

Yet if there is a data center near you, the chances are you don’t know about it. And you still have no way of knowing which center delivers your Netflix download, nor whether it runs on renewable energy using processors cooled by Arctic air, or runs on coal power and sits in desert heat, cooled by gigantically inefficient banks of refrigerators.

We are often told that the world’s economy is dematerializing – that physical analog stuff is being replaced by digital data, and that this data has minimal ecological footprint. But not so fast. If the global IT industry were a country, only China and the United States would contribute more to climate change, according to a Greenpeace report investigating “the race to build a green internet,” published last year.

Storing, moving, processing, and analyzing data all require energy. Lots of it. The processors in the biggest data centers hum with as much energy as can be delivered by a large power station, 1,000 megawatts or more. And it can take as much energy again to keep the servers and surrounding buildings from overheating.

Almost every keystroke adds to this. Google estimates that a typical searchusing its services requires as much energy as illuminating a 60-watt light bulb for 17 seconds and typically is responsible for emitting 0.2 grams of CO2. Which doesn’t sound a lot until you begin to think about how many searches you might make in a year.

And these days, Google is data-lite. Streaming video through the internet is what really racks up the data count. IT company Cisco, which tracks these things, reckons video will make up 82 percent of internet traffic by 2021, up from 73 percent in 2016. Around a third of internet traffic in North America is already dedicated to streaming Netflix services alone.

Two things matter if we are to tame these runaway beasts: One is making them use renewable or other low-carbon energy sources; the other is ramping up their energy efficiency. On both fronts, there is some good news to report. Even Greenpeace says so. “We are seeing a significant increase in the prioritization of renewables among some of the largest internet companies,” last year’s report concluded.

More and more IT companies are boasting of their commitment to achieving 100 percent reliance on renewable energy. To fulfil such pledges, some of the biggest are building their own energy campuses. In February, cloud giant Switch, which runs three of the world’s top 10 data centers, announced plansfor a solar-powered hub in central Nevada that will be the largest anywhere outside China.

More often, the data titans sign contracts to receive dedicated supply from existing wind and solar farms. In the U.S., those can still be hard to come by. The availability of renewable energy is one reason Google and Microsoft have recently built hubs in Finland, and Facebook in Denmark and Sweden. Google last year also signed a deal to buy all the energy from the Netherlands’ largest solar energy park, to power one of its four European data centers.

Of the mainstream data crunchers for consumers, Greenpeace singled out Netflix for criticism. It does not have its own data centers. Instead, it uses contractors such as Amazon Web Services, the world’s largest cloud-computing company, which Greenpeace charged with being “almost completely non-transparent about the energy footprint of its massive operations.” Amazon Web Services contested

this. A spokesperson told Yale Environment 360 that the company had a “long-term commitment to 100 percent renewable energy” and had launched a series of wind and solar farm projects now able to deliver around 40 percent of its energy. Netflix did not respond to requests for comment.

Amazon Web Services has some of its largest operations in Northern Virginia, an area just over the Potomac River from Washington D.C. that has the largest concentration of data centers in the world. Virginia gets less than 3 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, plus 33 percent from nuclear, according to Greenpeace.

Some industry insiders detect an element of smoke and mirrors in the green claims of the internet giants. “When most data center companies talk about renewable energy, they are referring to renewable energy certificates,” Phillip Sandino, vice-president of data centers at RagingWire, which has centers in Virginia, California, and Texas, claimed in an online trade journal recently. In the U.S. and some other countries, renewable energy certificates are issued to companies generating renewable energy for a grid, according to the amount generated. The certificates can then be traded and used by purchasers to claim their electricity is from a renewable source, regardless of exactly where their electricity comes from. “In fact,” Sandino said, “the energy [the data centers] buy from the power utility is not renewable.”

Others, including Microsoft, help sustain their claims to carbon neutrality through carbon offsetting projects, such as investing in forests to soak up the CO2 from their continued emissions.

All this matters because the differences in carbon emissions between data centers with different energy sources can be dramatic, says Geoff Fox, innovation chief at DigiPlex, which builds and operates centers in Scandinavia. Using data compiled by Swedish state-owned energy giant Vattenfall, he claims that in Norway, where most of the energy comes from hydroelectricity, generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity emits only 3 grams of CO2. By comparison, in France it is 100 grams, in California 300 grams, in Virginia almost 600 grams, in New Mexico more than 800 grams.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern about the carbon footprint of centers being built for Asian internet giants such as Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba in China; Naver in South Korea; and Tulip Telecom in India. Asia is where the fastest global growth in data traffic is now taking place. These corporations have been tight-lipped about their energy performance, claims Greenpeace. But with most of the region’s energy coming from coal-fired power stations, their carbon footprint cannot be anything but large.

Vattenfall estimates the carbon emissions in Bangalore, home of Tulip’s giant Indian data center, at 900 grams per kilowatt-hour. Even more troubling, the world’s largest center is currently the Range International Information Hub, a cloud-data store at Langfang near the megacity of Tianjin in northeast China, where it takes more than 1,000 grams of CO2 for every kilowatt-hour.

Almost as important as switching data centers to low-carbon energy sources is improving their energy efficiency. Much of this comes down to the energy needed to keep the processors cool. Insanely, most of the world’s largest centers are in hot or temperate climates, where vast amounts of energy are used to keep them from overheating. Of the world’s 10 largest, two are in the desert heat of Nevada, and others are in Georgia, Virginia, and Bangalore.

Most would dramatically reduce their energy requirements if they relocated to a cool climate like Scandinavia or Iceland. One fast-emerging data hub is Iceland, where Verne Global, a London company, set up its main operation.

…….. Greenpeace says the very size of the internet business, and its exposure to criticism for its contribution to climate change, has the potential to turn it from being part of the problem to part of the solution. Data centers have the resources to change rapidly. And pressure is growing for them to do so.The hope is that they will bring many other giant corporations with them. “The leadership by major internet companies has been an important catalyst among a much broader range of corporations to adopt 100 percent renewable goals,” says Gary Cook, the lead author of the Greenpeace report. “Their actions send an important market signal.”

But the biggest signal, says Fox, will come from us, the digital consumers. Increasingly, he says, “they understand that every cloud lives inside a data center. And each has a different footprint.” We will, he believes, soon all demand to know the carbon footprint of our video streams and internet searches. The more far-sighted of the big data companies are gearing up for that day. “I fully expect we may see green labelling for digital sources as routine within five years.”


David Noonan’s Submissions to Australian Senate regarding Reprocessing Nuclear Fuel and Safety of Intermediate Level Wastes

April 2, 2018

two David Noonan Submissions to current Federal Parliamentary Inquiry by Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCT) Reprocessing Nuclear fuel – France (to report by 19 June) have been made public,

An ARPANSA Submission (23 Feb, 2 pages) “regarding the safety of intermediate level waste” has also been made public, at:

See below url’s & extracts for DN sub’s & JSCT Inquiry homepage at:

D Noonan Submission (14 Feb): “Public Interest Questions, Scenarios and Consequences of ‘Reprocessing Nuclear fuel – France’ treaty actions & associated nuclear actions”

ANSTO is without a Plan B to address key public interest scenarios which demand answers:

·         Reprocessing in France will not prove to be available throughout the OPAL reactor Operating License to 2057. At most, this treaty covers the first 2 of 5 decades of OPAL fuel wastes;

 ·         AND the proposed above ground Store in SA for ANSTO’s nuclear waste will damage and divide community and fall over and fail just as prior attempts have in SA and in NT.

If the OPAL reactor is to continue to operate ANSTO must address required contingencies:

·         Extended Storage of OPAL nuclear fuel waste on-site at Lucas Heights in secure cask storage. Lucas Height operates a Store for HIFAR nuclear fuel wastes with capacity to do so until availability of a final disposal option and can now set up to do so for OPAL fuel wastes;

 ·         AND to have to manage ANSTO nuclear fuel wastes entirely with-in Australia through to final disposal. Sending OPAL nuclear fuel waste overseas for reprocessing is used as an excuse to produce a burden of further nuclear waste without capacity or answers for its disposal. …

my Supplementary Submission (28 Feb) provides further evidence on three key aspects:

1. Reprocessing is not International Best Practice, is in decline, and may leave ANSTO stranded

… A key Reprocessing review for consideration by JSCT is: ‘Plutonium Separation in Nuclear Power Programs. Status, Problems, and Prospects of Civilian Reprocessing around the World‘ (IPFM, July 2015), see:

France is currently the only country in the world that operates a commercial-scale spent fuel reprocessing plant.”  (IPFM Report, Country Studies Chapter 3 France p.30)

 … ANSTO should disclose the additional cost in Reprocessing compared to dry-cask storage

“The cost of spent-fuel reprocessing also is about ten times the cost of the alternative option for managing spent fuel, dry-cask spent-fuel storage.” (IPFM, Intro p.11)

 2. Extended Storage of ANSTO nuclear fuel waste at Lucas Heights is a viable option

& Contingency to return OPAL reactor Reprocessed fuel waste to Storage at LHs

3. ANSTO failure to provide a disposal strategy for OPAL nuclear fuel wastes flouts best practice

MIT’s $millions plan for small nuclear fusion station

April 2, 2018

MIT Receives Millions to Build Fusion Power Plant Within 15 Years   Ryan F. Mandelbaum 10 Mar 18 Nuclear fusion is like a way-more-efficient version of solar power—except instead of harnessing energy from the rays of a distant sun, scientists create miniature suns in power plants here on Earth. It would be vastly more efficient, and more importantly, much cleaner, than current methods of energy production. The main issue is that actually realizing fusion power has been really difficult.

Some, like the folks at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, still worry that the excess neutrons produced in fusion could lead to radioactive waste or contaminants, as well as high costs.

Nature points out that there are plenty others are in the fusion-with-high-temperature-superconductors game, too. Princeton has its own tokamak, and there’s a British company called Tokamak Energy using a similar device to produce fusion energy. But all of the cash towards the MIT effort is significant.

“If MIT can do what they are saying—and I have no reason to think that they can’t — this is a major step forward,” Stephen Dean, head of Fusion Power Associates, in Maryland, told Nature.  Perhaps all fusion power needed to become reality was, well, a lot of money. Mumgaard said that CFS’ collaboration with MIT will “provide the speed to take what’s happening in the lab and bring it to the market.”

Thorium ‒ a better fuel for nuclear technology? 

April 2, 2018

  Thorium ‒ a better fuel for nuclear technology? Nuclear Monitor,   by Dr. Rainer Moormann  1 March 2018 An important, detailed critique of thorium by Dr. Rainer Moormann, translated from the original German by Jan Haverkamp. Dr. Moormann concludes:

The use of technology based on thorium would not be able to solve any of the known problems of current nuclear techniques, but it would require an enormous development effort and wide introduction of breeder and reprocessing technology. For those reasons, thorium technology is a dead end.”

Author: Dr. Rainer Moormann, Aachen (r.moormann@gmx.deThorium is currently described by several nuclear proponents as a better alternative to uranium fuel.

Thorium itself is, however, not a fissile material. It can only be transformed into fissile uranium-233 using breeder and reprocessing technology. It is 3 to 4 times more abundant than uranium.

Concerning safety and waste disposal there are no convincing arguments in comparison to uranium fuel. A severe disadvantage is that uranium-233 bred from thorium can be used by terror organisations for the construction of simple but high-impact nuclear explosives. Thus development of a thorium fuel cycle without effective denaturation of bredfissile materials is irresponsible.


Thorium Introduction 

Thorium (Th) is a heavy metal of atomic number 90

(uranium has 92). It belongs to the group of actinides, is

around 3 to 4 times more abundant than uranium and is

radioactive (half-life of Th-232 as starter of the thorium

decay-chain is 14 billion years with alpha-decay). There

are currently hardly any technical applications. Distinctive

is the highly penetrating gamma radiation from its decaychain

(thallium-208 (Tl-208): 2.6 MeV; compared to

gamma radiation from Cs-137: 0.66 MeV). Over the past

decade, a group of globally active nuclear proponents is

recommending thorium as fuel for a safe and affordable

nuclear power technology without larger waste and

proliferation problems. These claims should be submitted

to a scientific fact check. For that reason, we examine

here the claims of thorium proponents.

Dispelling Claim 1: The use of thorium expands the

availability of nuclear fuel by a factor 400  

Thorium ‒ a better fuel for nuclear technology? Nuclear Monitor,   by Dr. Rainer Moormann  1 March 2018

Thorium itself is not a fissile material. It can, however, be

transformed in breeder reactors into fissile uranium-233

(U-233), just like non-fissile U-238 (99.3% of natural

uranium) can be transformed in a breeder reactor to fissile

plutonium. (A breeder reactor is a reactor in which more

fissile material can be harvested from spent nuclear fuel

than present in the original fresh fuel elements. It may be

sometimes confusing that in the nuclear vocabulary every

conventional reactor breeds, but less than it uses (and

therefore it is not called a breeder reactor).)

For that reason, the use of thorium presupposes the use

of breeder and reprocessing technology. Because these

technologies have almost globally fallen into disrepute, it

cannot be excluded that the more neutral term thorium is

currently also used to disguise an intended reintroduction

of these problematic techniques.

The claimed factor 400: A factor of 100 is due to the

breeder technology. It is also achievable in the uraniumplutonium

cycle. Only a factor of 3 to 4 is specific to

thorium, just because it is more abundant than uranium

by this factor…….

Vain hopes for Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs) – expensive and there are no customers anyway

April 2, 2018

Small Modular Reactors for Nuclear Power: Hope or Mirage?   by M.V. Ramana 

Supporters of nuclear power hope that small nuclear reactors, unlike large  plants, will be able to compete economically with other sources of electricity. But according to M.V. Ramana, a Professor at the University of British Columbia, this is likely to be a vain hope. In fact, according to Ramana, in the absence of a mass market, they may be even more expensive than large plants.

In October 2017, just after Puerto Rico was battered by Hurricane Maria, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry asked the audience at a conference on clean energy
in Washington, D.C.: “Wouldn’t it make abundant good sense if we had small modular reactors that literally you could put in the back of a C-17, transport to an area like Puerto Rico, push it out the back end, crank it up and plug it in? … It could serve hundreds of thousands”.

As exemplified by Secretary Perry’s remarks, small modular reactors (SMRs) have been suggested as a way to supply electricity for communities that inhabit islands or in other remote locations.

In the past decade, wind and solar energy have become significantly cheaper than nuclear power

More generally, many nuclear advocates have suggested that SMRs can deal with all the problems confronting nuclear power, including unfavorable economics, risk of severe accidents, disposing of radioactive waste and the linkage with weapons proliferation. Of these, the key problem responsible for the present status of nuclear energy has been its inability to compete economically with other sources of electricity. As a result, the share of global electricity generated by nuclear power has dropped from 17.5% in 1996 to 10.5% in 2016 and is expected to continue falling.

Still expensive

The inability of nuclear power to compete economically results from two related problems. The first problem is that building a nuclear reactor requires high levels of capital, well beyond the financial capacity of a typical electricity utility, or a small country. This is less difficult for state- owned entities in large countries like China and India, but it does limit how much nuclear power even they can install.

The second problem is that, largely because of high construction costs, nuclear energy is expensive. Electricity from fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, has been cheaper historically ‒ especially when costs of natural gas have been low, and no price is imposed on carbon. But, in the past decade, wind and solar energy, which do not emit carbon dioxide either, have become significantly cheaper than nuclear power. As a result, installed renewables have grown tremendously, in drastic contrast to nuclear energy.

How are SMRs supposed to change this picture? As
the name suggests, SMRs produce smaller amounts of electricity compared to currently common nuclear power reactors. A smaller reactor is expected to cost less to
build. This allows, in principle, smaller private utilities and countries with smaller GDPs to invest in nuclear power. While this may help deal with the first problem, it actually worsens the second problem because small reactors lose out on economies of scale. Larger reactors are cheaper
on a per megawatt basis because their material and work requirements do not scale linearly with generation capacity.

“The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment ‒ it’s that there’s no customers”

SMR proponents argue that they can make up for the lost economies of scale by savings through mass manufacture in factories and resultant learning. But, to achieve such savings, these reactors have to be manufactured by the thousands, even under very optimistic assumptions about rates of learning. Rates of learning in nuclear power plant manufacturing have been extremely low; indeed, in both the United States and France, the two countries with the highest number of nuclear plants, costs rose with construction experience.

Ahead of the market

For high learning rates to be achieved, there must 
be a standardized reactor built in large quantities. Currently dozens of SMR designs are at various stages of development; it is very unlikely that one, or even a few designs, will be chosen by different countries and private entities, discarding the vast majority of designs that are currently being invested in. All of these unlikely occurrences must materialize if small reactors are to become competitive with large nuclear power plants, which are themselves not competitive.

There is a further hurdle to be overcome before these large numbers of SMRs can be built. For a company to invest
in a factory to manufacture reactors, it would have to be confident that there is a market for them. This has not been the case and hence no company has invested large sums of its own money to commercialize SMRs.

An example is the Westinghouse Electric Company, which worked on two SMR designs, and tried to get funding from the US Department of Energy (DOE). When it failed in that effort, Westinghouse stopped working on SMRs and decided to focus its efforts on marketing the AP1000 reactor and the decommissioning business. Explaining this decision, Danny Roderick, then president and CEO of Westinghouse, announced: “The problem I have with SMRs is not the technology, it’s not the deployment ‒ it’s that there’s no customers. … The worst thing to do is get ahead of the market”.

Delayed commercialization

Given this state of affairs, it should not be surprising that
 no SMR has been commercialized. Timelines have been routinely set back. In 2001, for example, a DOE report on prevalent SMR designs concluded that “the most technically mature small modular reactor (SMR) designs and concepts have the potential to be economical and could be made available for deployment before the end of the decade provided that certain technical and licensing issues are addressed”. Nothing of that sort happened; there is no SMR design available for deployment in the United States so far.

There are simply not enough remote communities, with adequate purchasing capacity, to be able to make it financially viable to manufacture SMRs by the thousands

Similar delays have been experienced in other countries too. In Russia, the first SMR that is expected to be deployed is the KLT-40S, which is based on the design of reactors used in the small fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers that Russia has operated for decades. This programme, too, has been delayed by more than a decade and the estimated costs have ballooned.

South Korea even licensed an SMR for construction in
2012 but no utility has been interested in constructing one, most likely because of the realization that the reactor is too expensive on a per-unit generating-capacity basis. Even the World Nuclear Association stated: “KAERI planned to build a 90 MWe demonstration plant to operate from 2017, but this is not practical or economic in South Korea” (my emphasis).

Likewise, China is building one twin-reactor high- temperature demonstration SMR and some SMR feasibility studies are underway, but plans for 18 additional SMRs have been “dropped” according to the World Nuclear Association, in part because the estimated cost of generating electricity is significantly higher than the generation cost at standard-sized light-water reactors.

No real market demand

On the demand side, many developing countries claim to be interested in SMRs but few seem to be willing to invest in the construction of one. Although many agreements and memoranda of understanding have been signed, there are still no plans for actual construction. Good examples are the cases of Jordan, Ghana and Indonesia, all of which have been touted as promising markets for SMRs, but none of which are buying one.

Neither nuclear reactor companies, 
nor any governments that back nuclear power, are willing to spend the hundreds of millions, if not a few billions, of dollars to set up SMRs just so that these small and remote communities will have nuclear electricity

Another potential market that is often proffered as a reason for developing SMRs is small and remote communities. There again, the problem is one of numbers. There are simply not enough remote communities, with adequate purchasing capacity, to be able to make it financially viable to manufacture SMRs by the thousands so as to make them competitive with large reactors, let alone other sources of power. Neither nuclear reactor companies, 
nor any governments that back nuclear power, are willing to spend the hundreds of millions, if not a few billions, of dollars to set up SMRs just so that these small and remote communities will have nuclear electricity.

Meanwhile, other sources of electricity supply, in particular combinations of renewables and storage technologies such as batteries, are fast becoming cheaper. It is likely that they will become cheap enough to produce reliable and affordable electricity, even for these remote and small communities ‒ never mind larger, grid- connected areas ‒ well before SMRs are deployable, let alone economically competitive.

Editor’s note:

Prof. M. V. Ramana is Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, as part of the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.  This article was first published in National University of Singapore Energy Studies Institute Bulletin, Vol.10, Issue 6, Dec. 2017, and is republished here with permission.

Some of the problems with thorium nuclear reactors

April 2, 2018

Disadvantages of thorium reactors:  High start-up costs: Huge investments are needed for thorium nuclear power reactor, as it requires significant amount of testing, analysis and licensing work. Also, there is uncertainty over returns on the investments in these reactors. For utilities, this factor can weigh on the decisions to go ahead with plans to deploy the reactors. The reactors also involve high fuel fabrication and reprocessing costs.

High melting point of thorium oxide: As melting point of thorium oxide is much higher compared to that of uranium oxide, high temperatures are needed to make high density ThO2 and ThO2–based mixed oxide fuels. The fuel in nuclear fission reactors is usually based on the metal oxide.

Emission of gamma rays: Presence of Uranium-232 in irradiated thorium or thorium based fuels in large amounts is one of the major disadvantages of thorium nuclear power reactors. It can result in significant emissions of gamma rays.

What is  Sellafield?

April 2, 2018

Cumbria Trust 10th Feb 2018, Andrew Blowers OBE is Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at The Open
University and is presently Co-Chair of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy/NGO Nuclear Forum. This is one of a series of articles drawn on his latest book, “The Legacy of Nuclear Power” (Earthscan from Routledge, 2017). The views expressed are personal.

What is  Sellafield? Fundamentally, these days, it is the UK’s primary nuclear waste-processing, management and clean-up facility. Concentrated on a compact site of 1.5 square miles is a jumble of buildings, pipes, roads, railways and waterways, randomly assembled over more than half a dozen decades, which together manage around two-thirds by radioactivity of all the radioactive wastes in the UK.

The Sellafield radioactive waste component includes all the high-level wastes (less than 1% by volume, over half the radioactivity) held in liquid form or stored in vitrified blocks, and half the volume of intermediate-level wastes (the other half being heldat various sites around the country). The nation’s radioactive waste is mainly held at Sellafield and there it must remain, at least until the programme of management and clean-up is concluded.

New production facilities such as for MOX or reprocessing are exceedingly improbable, the proposed new reactors at nearby Moorside are doubtful, and although a GDF, if one is ever developed, might yet be located in West Cumbria, Sellafield will for long be caretaker of the nation’s wastes. Where and when the undertaker will come to bury them remains unclear, and may remain so for the foreseeable future.

Trump’s NASA Space Plans – Potential for a Nuclear Catastrophe

April 2, 2018

Trump’s NASA Plans Are a Nuclear Disaster Waiting to Happen December 29, 2017By Linda Pentz Gunter,   Earlier this month, President Trump announced that he wants the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to “lead an innovative space exploration program to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars.” But while couched in patriotic sound bites and pioneering rhetoric that “Florida and America will lead the way into the stars,” the risks such ventures would entail — and the hidden agenda they conceal — have scarcely been touched upon.

For those of us who watched Ron Howard’s nail-biter of a motion picture, Apollo 13,and for others who remember the real-life drama as it unfolded in April 1970, collective breaths were held that the three-man crew would return safely to Earth. They did.

What hardly anyone remembers now — and certainly few knew at the time — was that the greater catastrophe averted was not just the potential loss of three lives, tragic though that would have been. There was a lethal cargo on board that, if the craft had crashed or broken up, might have cost the lives of thousands and affected generations to come.

It is a piece of history so rarely told that NASA has continued to take the same risk over and over again, as well as before Apollo 13. And that risk is to send rockets into space carrying the deadliest substance ever created by humans: plutonium.

Now, with the race on to send people to Mars, NASA is at it again with its Kilopower project, which would use fission power for deep space. It would be the first fission reactor launched into space since the 1960s. Fission, commonly used in commercial nuclear reactors, is the process of splitting the atom to release energy. A by-product of fission is plutonium.

Small reactors would be used to generate electricity on Mars to power essential projects in the dark. But first, such a reactor has to get to Mars without incident or major accident. And the spacecraft carrying it would also be nuclear-powered, adding monumentally to the already enormous risk. As physicist Michio Kaku points out, “Let’s be real. One percent of the time, rockets fail, they blow up, and people die.” With plutonium on board, the only acceptable accident risk has to be 0 percent.

When Apollo 13 mission astronaut John Swigert told NASA Mission Control “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” it only touched on the most immediate crisis: the damaging of the craft after the explosion of an oxygen tank that forced the crew to abort the planned moon landing.

However, what few knew at the time — and what was entirely omitted from Howard’s 1995 film — was the even bigger crisis of what to do about the SNAP-27 Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) on board. The RTG was carrying plutonium-238. It was supposed to have been left on the moon to power experiments. Now that no moon landing was to occur, what would become of the RTG, especially if Apollo 13 ended up crashing back to Earth in a fireball? Such an outcome could disperse the plutonium as dust, which, if inhaled, would be deadly.

One (and possibly the only) journalist who has been consistently on the “nukes in space” beat for more than 30 years is Karl Grossman. When the Apollo 13 movie came out, he picked up the phone and called the film’s production company, Imagine Entertainment, to ask why they had not included the higher drama of the plutonium problem. “It was surprising to see Hollywood not utilizing an Armageddon theme,” he told Truthout.

Grossman said that Michael Rosenberg, then executive vice president and now co-chairman of Imagine Entertainment, told him that the omission was an “artistic decision.” However, since NASA personnel had served as advisors for the film, Grossman speculated that the agency might have been more than a disinterested party. Far better that the film confine itself to the life-threatening jeopardy of the three astronauts rather than the danger to life on Earth that would have been posed by falling plutonium.

Grossman was already well aware of the Armageddon potential of NASA missions by the time he called Howard’s production company. In 1985, he had learned that two space shuttle missions planned for 1986 would carry plutonium-powered probes to be lofted into space to orbit the Sun and Jupiter. As it turned out, the ill-fated Challenger was one of the shuttles scheduled for the May 1986 plutonium mission, in what would have been its second flight that year.

Grossman said he had been worried at the time about a rocket explosion on launch, a not unprecedented disaster. Or what if a shuttle carrying a plutonium-fueled space probe failed to attain orbit, exploded and crashed back to Earth?

The official NASA and Department of Energy (DOE) documents Grossman eventually obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, “insisted that a catastrophic shuttle accident was a 1-in-100,000 chance,” he said.

But on January 28, 1986, Challenger exploded. (Shortly thereafter, NASA changed the odds of a catastrophic shuttle accident to 1-in-76.) Grossman called The Nation and asked if they knew that Challenger’s next mission would have carried plutonium. The magazine invited Grossman to write an editorial — “The Lethal Shuttle” — which ran on the magazine’s front page.

After The Nation editorial, Grossman was invited over to the offices of “60 Minutes.” He duly appeared with armfuls of documents and alarming “what ifs” but, as he told Truthout, “there was no ignition,” and “60 Minutes” never picked up the story.

Over the years, articles about the use of nuclear power on space devices and military plans for space continued to be ignored. With the mainstream media apparently reluctant to challenge the space program — perhaps out of a misplaced sense of “patriotism” — Grossman continued his solo investigations. In 1997, he penned a book, The Wrong Stuff, which detailed NASA’s blunders with plutonium-fueled missions and its unrealistic calculations about the probability of a major accident.

There had been problems before Challenger. In 1964, an aborted mission carrying an RTG had resulted in a reentry burn-up over Madagascar. Plutonium was found in trace amounts in the area months later. Although the event was downplayed, it had serious consequences, as Grossman found in a report he cited in The Wrong Stuff. The plutonium had spread all over the world.

According to page 21 of the report, “A worldwide soil sampling program carried out in 1970 showed SNAP-9A debris to be present on all continents and at all latitudes.”

John Gofman, professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, and involved in the isolation of plutonium in the early years of the Manhattan Project, connected the SNAP-9A accident to a worldwide spike in lung cancer, as reported on page 12 of Grossman’s The Wrong Stuff.

Similarly, in 1968, a weather satellite was aborted soon after takeoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base. The plutonium from its RTG plunged into 300 feet of water off the California coast. Fortunately, in this instance, it was retrieved. At the time, all satellites were powered by RTGs. But in the wake of these disasters, NASA had already begun to push to develop solar photovoltaic (PV) power for satellites. Today, all satellites are powered by solar PV, as is the International Space Station.

Apollo 13 jettisoned its 3.9 kg of plutonium over the South Pacific, already the setting for scores of atomic weapons tests by the US and France. Contained in a graphite fuel cask, it supposedly came to rest in the deep Tonga Trench. No one will ever bother to retrieve it, even though it is now technically feasible, because of the enormous cost. Whether it has leaked (likely) and how it has affected marine life will now never be known.

Grossman kept on writing about the dangers of nuclear materials in space as well as the possibility for space wars. He found that one of the reasons NASA and the DOE sought to use nuclear power in space was to work in tandem with the Pentagon, which was pushing Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, known colloquially as “Star Wars.” Star Wars was predicated on orbiting battle platforms with nuclear reactors — or “super RTGs” — on board, providing the large amounts of energy for particle beams, hypervelocity guns and laser weapons.

Although seemingly alone on the issue as a journalist, Grossman is not without an important resource in the form of Bruce Gagnon’s Maine-based Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, which has been campaigning on the issue since 1992. Gagnon has watchdogged space weaponry but also US government plans to plunder other planets and moons for minerals, as the Trump administration is hinting it expects to do. Gagnon told Grossman that such plans have never been far from the nuclear industry’s radar and that at nuclear power industry conferences, “Nuclear-powered mining colonies and nuclear-powered rockets to Mars were key themes.”

The topic was also covered by Helen Caldicott and Craig Eisendrath in their 2007 book, War in Heaven. That same year, the Cassini space probe was launched. It carried 72.3 pounds of plutonium fuel, used to generate electricity, not propulsion — 745 watts of it to run the probe’s instruments. As Grossman wrote in a recent article and drew attention to in his documentary — Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens — Cassini “was launched on a Titan IV rocket despite several Titan IV rockets having blown up on launch.”

In 1999, because “Cassini didn’t have the propulsion power to get directly from Earth to Saturn…. NASA had it hurtle back to Earth in a ‘slingshot maneuver’ or ‘flyby’ — to use Earth’s gravity to increase its velocity,” Grossman wrote. A catastrophic failure of that operation could have seen Cassini crash to Earth, dispersing its deadly plutonium load. According to NASA’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Cassini Mission, Section 4-5, the “approximately 7 to 8 billion world population at the time … could receive 99 percent or more of the radiation exposure.” And yet, the agency proceeded to take that chance.

The world had once again dodged a radioactive bullet. In September 2017, having completed its mission, Cassini was deliberately crashed into Saturn, contaminating that planet with plutonium. While less controversial than lethally dumping it on Earth, the event raises at least moral, if not scientific questions about humankind’s willingness to pollute other planets with abandon after already doing so to our current home.

The Trump administration’s planned new missions to the moon and Mars would seem to follow that pattern, with Trump stating ominously, “this time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint.” The US now intends to conduct “long-term exploration and use” on Mars and the moon.

A recent article in Roll Call suggested that while Trump has said little publicly about the militarization of space, behind-the-scenes space satellite warfare is very much on the agenda with serious money set aside to develop “weapons that can be deployed in space.”

A war in space might not involve nuclear weapons — for now. But warring satellites could knock out nuclear weapons early warning systems and set other potential disasters in motion. These cataclysmic risks play strongly into the arguments — enshrined in the recent UN nuclear weapons ban — that we should be disarming on Planet Earth, not arming in space.

The fantasy of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors for outback Australia

April 2, 2018

Volunteers wanted – to house small modular nuclear reactors in Australia,Online Opinion, Noel WAuchope , 11 Dec 17, 

We knew that the Australian government was looking for volunteers in outback South Australia, to take the radioactive trash from Lucas Heights and some other sites, (and not having an easy time of it). But oh dear– we had no idea that the search for hosting new (untested) nuclear reactors was on too!

Well, The Australian newspaper has just revealed this extraordinary news, in its article “Want a nuclear reactor in your backyard? Step this way” (28/11/17). Yes, it turns out that a Sydney-based company, SMR Nuclear Technology, plans to secure volunteers and a definite site within three years. If all goes well, Australia’s Small Modular Reactors will be in operation by 2030.

Only, there are obstacles. Even this enthusiastic article does acknowledge one or two of them. One is the need to get public acceptance of these so far non-existent new nuclear reactors. SMR director Robert Pritchard is quoted as saying that interest in these reactors is widespread. He gives no evidence for this.

The other is that the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant in Australia is prohibited by both commonwealth and state laws.

But there are issues, and other obstacles that are not addressed on this article. A vital question is: does SMR Nuclear Technology intend to actually build the small reactors in Australia, or more likely, merely assemble them from imported modular parts – a sort of nuclear Lego style operation?

If it is to be the latter, there will surely be a delay of probably decades. Development of SMRs is stalled, in USA due to strict safety regulations, and in UK, due to uncertainties, especially the need for public subsidy. That leaves China, where the nuclear industry is government funded, and even there, development of SMRs is still in its infancy.

As to the former, it is highly improbable that an Australian company would have the necessary expertise, resources, and funding, to design and manufacture nuclear reactors of any size. The overseas companies now planning small reactors are basing their whole enterprise on the export market. Indeed, the whole plan for “modular” nuclear reactors is about mass production and mass marketing of SMRs -to be assembled in overseas countries. That is accepted as the only way for the SMR industry to be commercially successful. Australia looks like a desirable customer for the Chinese industry, the only one that looks as if it might go ahead, at present,

If, somehow, the SMR Technologies’ plan is to go ahead, the other obstacles remain.

The critical one is of course economics. …….

Other issues of costs and safety concern the transport of radioactive fuels to the reactors, and of radioactive waste management. The nuclear industry is very fond of proclaiming that wastes from small thorium reactors would need safe disposal and guarding for “only 300 years”. Just the bare 300!

The Australian Senate is currently debating a Bill introduced by Cory Bernardi, to remove Australia’s laws prohibiting nuclear power development. The case put by SMR Technologies, as presented in The Australian newspaper is completely inadequate. The public deserves a better examination of this plan for Small Modular Reactors SMRS. And why do they leave out the operative word “Nuclear” -because it is so on the nose with the public?

From Nuclear Fusion Fraud to Physics Fortune

March 31, 2018

The ITER Power Amplification Myth Oct. 6, 2017 – By Steven B. Krivit –

Short link:

This is the third of three reports about the claims by representatives and proponents of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). “The Selling of ITER” published on Jan. 12, 2017. “Former ITER Spokesman Confirms Accuracy of New Energy Times Story” published on Jan. 19, 2017.

From Fusion Fraud to Physics Fortune
“………..The ITER project, supported by a widespread misunderstanding of its promised results, funded by billions in cash, resources and materials, will not deliver a practical demonstration of fusion power, but merely a scientific demonstration of a sustained fusion reaction. Yet on July 3, 2017, the Chinese Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak reactor already did this, for 101 seconds. When built, ITER will merely do it for four times longer.

Oddly, the quest for practical nuclear fusion on Earth was born out of fraud. The ITER Web site recognizes this, with a page titled “Proyecto Huemul: From Fusion Fraud to Physics Fortune.”

The story began in 1948 in Argentina when Austrian scientist Ronald Richter proposed his idea for a fusion device to President Juan Perón. Perón agreed to fund the concept, and on March 24, 1951, Perón held a press conference at which he announced that his country had achieved practical, controlled nuclear fusion. By 1952, however, after independent investigators reported no evidence to support the claims, the project was shut down. The ITER page calls it “the scientific fraud of the century.”

Yet in 1951, before the Argentinian project was shut down, the project caught the attention of Lyman Spitzer, an astrophysicist at Princeton University. Spitzer, in turn, approached the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and convinced it to fund his own fusion research concept. Thus, the U.S. controlled nuclear fusion era began at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and the worldwide race for fusion energy began.

Since construction on ITER began in 2007, nuclear fusion news stories have been tagged with titillating headlines about unlimited energy. A CNN story headline is typical: “Is Nuclear Fusion About to Change Our World?” Every incremental step forward in temperature, pressure, or plasma confinement time has been a “breakthrough.” Each breakthrough, according to the news stories, has brought the dream of harnessing the power of the sun on Earth one step closer to reality. Rarely have the stories featured any critical assessment or analysis.

One journalist wrote that physicists at the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory had “demonstrated” how a new fusion reactor design could lead to the first commercially viable nuclear fusion power plant. The demonstration was merely on paper. The article featured a photo of a reactor. But it wasn’t the reactor described in the article. That reactor hadn’t been built yet.

As the comics below show, the very same Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory — back in 1975 when the DOE was called the Atomic Energy Commission — told journalists it was a big step closer to virtually limitless pollution-free energy thanks to “breakthroughs” in plasma density and temperature.

Then there’s MIT scientist Earl Marmar, who told journalists this year that the technology exists to have fusion energy in 13 years if only it is funded aggressively enough.

Vision and hope are wonderful and necessary components of the human experience. But false hope and worthless promises — laced with misleading claims — do not represent the science accurately. They do not represent the integrity of all scientists involved in the research.

The false idea that the JET reactor produced 65% of the power it consumed has been deeply planted in the minds of the public and journalists. The same goes for the false idea that the ITER reactor will produce 10 times the power it consumes. These two myths serve to misrepresent the status of fusion energy research and, specifically, the ITER project……