Friday, 29 June 2018

Naked nuclear hypocrisy

Letter to The Guardian:
Your diplomatic editor rightly exposes the faux concern expressed by various British politicians, over the White House announcement on 28 June of US President Trump’s forthcoming summit meeting with Russia’s President Putin. (“Britain stands nervously by waiting for surprises,” 29 June;

 On the very same day as this announcement, foreign secretary Boris Johnson jointly with his US and Russian counterparts, Mike Pompeo and Sergei Lavrov, signed a declaration marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the world’s most comprehensive nuclear disarmament agreement, the nuclear nonproliferation treaty (NPT), on 1st July 1968, with these three nuclear weapons states as its depositary  powers.
Inter alia, the statement asserts: “The NPT has provided the essential foundation for international efforts to stem the looming threat – then and now – that nuclear weapons would proliferate across the globe… and has limited the risk that the vast devastation of nuclear war would be unleashed…the NPT continues to help create conditions that would be essential for further progress on nuclear disarmament. We remain committed to the ultimate goal of the elimination of nuclear weapons, as set forth in the NPT, and are committed to working together to make the international environment more conducive to such progress.”
(Joint Statement by the Foreign Ministers of the Depositary Governments for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Washington DC

Article I of the NPT starts with the following commitment on Russia, the US and UK: “Each nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly” ( my emphasis)

Extraordinarily, just two days earlier in Washington, the US hosted a bilateral meeting with the UK to  celebrate the 60th anniversary – from July 3, 1958 -  of a hugely significant nuclear defence agreement (commonly called the US–UK Mutual Defense Agreement,(MDA) with defence spelled with an ‘s’ even in the official UK version, hinting at the origin of its drafting).


The US department of energy issued a media release on the MDA, in that declares it “provides for the exchange of defense information relevant to nuclear weapons, naval nuclear propulsion, and nuclear threat reduction.”


Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Stephen Lovegrove said, “the special relationship between Britain and the US is one built on shared values and years of cooperation.”

Julian Kelly, MOD director general nuclear added “Not only does the agreement allow us to work closely together, sharing skills and knowledge, it also allows us to ensure our nations, and our allies, remain ready for any eventuality we may face.”


US National Nuclear Security Administration director Lisa Gordon-Hagerty noted that “the MDA is a cornerstone of our nuclear deterrent.”


In fact, the MDA has allowed the UK to test nuclear warheads in Nevada, and to use blueprints of US warhead designs from Los Alamos to develop British versions for Trident at Aldermaston.
Any normal use of language would say that this activity across several decades is minimally an indirect transfer of a nuclear weapon, and thus in contravention of the very first article of a treaty for which the UK and US are depositary nations, ie supposed to  protect and uphold its integrity!

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

You cannot fuel nuclear proliferation from a tidal lagoon

Letter submitted to The Guardian:
The question asked in your first leader: “Hinkley Point C got the go-ahead despite its cost. So why not Swansea Bay?” (Guardian, 27 June;

Firstly, you cannot warheads for nuclear weapons of mass destruction form any by-products of a tidal lagoon as you can from Hinkley C’s plutonium. Indeed, when Hinkley A was being developed in the late the Ministry of Defence issued clear statement on: “the production of  plutonium suitable for weapons in the new [nuclear ] power stations programme as an insurance against  future defence needs…” (17 June 1958)

A week later in Parliament, the then responsible minister, Paymaster General Reginald Maudling explained to MPs:

“At the request of the Government, the Central Electricity Generating Board has agreed to a small modification in the design of Hinkley Point and of the next two stations in its programme so as to enable plutonium suitable for military purposes to be extracted should the need arise.

The Government made this request in order to provide the country, at comparatively small cost, with a most valuable insurance against possible future defence requirements. The cost of providing such insurance by any other means would be extremely heavy.” (Hansard, 24 June 1958 vol 590 cc246-8;

The second reason is the skill set of those building and operating a tidal lagoon generation plant cannot easily be swapped with those involved in developing  reactors for British nuclear submarines; but those working on Hinkley C can do so.

We know from Whitehall discussions of the special ‘nuclear industry sector deal’(NISD), this is exactly what the business and energy department (Beis)  finds so attractive in new nuclear plants, despite their astronomical financial cost. eg the Nuclear Industry Council framework document on the NISD states at paragraph 6.11:

To support this industry-led initiative, Government should bring nuclear developers and owners together, including the NDA and Ministry of Defence.”

Moreover, Stephen Lovegrove, MOD permanent secretary (previously at Beis) explicitly told the public accounts committee last October:

 We are completing the build of the nuclear submarines which carry conventional weaponry. We have at some point to renew the warheads, so there is very definitely an opportunity here for the nation to grasp in terms of building up its nuclear skills. I do not think that that is going to happen by accident; it is going to require concerted Government action to make it happen. We are speaking to colleagues at BEIS fairly repeatedly about it…”


But don’t expect MPs to be provided any details in advance for scrutiny. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was told by energy minister Richard Harrington in a written answer on 25 June:”

“the Government will ensure that appropriate value for money assessments are completed before any final deal on a new nuclear project is signed and will consider releasing future publications at the appropriate time.”

​He added “the Government published a value for money assessment for Hinkley Point C at the time of the deal being signed.” ie after MPS had any chance to question it.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Nuclear's negative learning curve

Letter to The Daily Telegraph:
Your energy editor Jillian Ambrose writes (“Rolling the dice for a nuclear renaissance,” Daily Telegraph, June 11; that Humphrey Cadoux –Hudson, the UK head of the subsidiary of French  power generation utility, √Člectricit√© de France (EDF), believes that “The secret to nuclear is that you need to make a series [of identical reactors)…” to make nuclear cheaper.


This sounds plausible, and is for every industry, except nuclear developed in France, which has a unique ‘negative learning curve.’


This fact was spelled out in a path-breaking article - ‘The costs of the French nuclear scale-up: A case of negative learning by doing’ – published in the international journal, Energy Policy  in September 2010 (pages 5174-5188),


The study by Professor Arnulf Grubler, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, based in Laxenburg, Austria, ( joint editor of Energy Technology Innovation: Learning from Historical Successes and Failures (Cambridge University Press, 2014.), reviews the history and the economics of the French PWR programme, the most extensive nuclear-scale up experience in an industrialized country.


Its most significant finding is that even this most successful nuclear scale-up was characterized by a substantial escalation of real-term construction costs, according to Prof. Grubler, who concludes “The French nuclear case illustrates the perils of the assumption of robust learning effects resulting in lowered costs over time in the scale-up of large-scale, complex new energy supply technologies.”

The two French designed and built reactors, of the same design planned for Hinkley C in Somerset by EDF Energy, one at Olkiluoto in Finland and the second at Flamanville in France, developed since this study are both catastrophically  over cost and very late being completed.


Will EDF never learn that nuclear doesn’t  pay? ( unless the British taxpayer does in substantial multi-billion pound subsidies).

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Trumping past Presidents in dealing with Korea? Donald Trump answers a final question while departing a press conference following his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12, 2018, in Singapore. Trump described his meeting with Kim as “better than anyone could have expected.” Win McNamee/Getty Images

A few hours after Presidents Trump and Kim completed five hours of unprecedented high-level diplomatic negotiations over security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula at the Capella hotel resort on Santosa Island in Singapore,  President Trump held a lengthy (83 minutes) press conference detailing his discussions

Amongst the many matters he stressed in a barrage of questioning from the US and international media, was that dealing with nuclear weapons were his highest presidential problem and priority.

He observed:“ “I had an uncle who was a great professor for 40 years at MIT.I used to discuss nuke with him all the time. He was a great expert. A great brilliant genius. Dr. John Trump. MIT sent me a book on my uncle. We used to talk about nuclear. You talk about a complex subject. It is not just get rid of the — rid of the nukes. When you hit a certain point, you cannot go back.

New York Times reporter David Sanger asked Trump: “I wonder if you could give us some sense of chairman Kim told you how many nuclear weapons he believes he has made and whether he is willing to turn those over first and then whether in your mind you need to do more than done in the Iran deal for actually dismantling the uranium and plutonium processes and if you had a sense if Chairman Kim understood what that involves and a timetable in his mind of shutting that?

Trump retorted: “I can tell you he understands. He understands it so well. He understands it better than the people that were doing the work for him. That is an easy one. As far as what he has, it is substantial. The timing will go quickly…. It is a substantial arsenal. I used to say maybe it is all talk and no action. We have pretty good intelligence into that, although probably less than any other country. You probably understand that. We have enough intelligence to know what they have is substantial.”

In a positive, almost lyrical passage, unusually sensitive for the usually brash US President, Trump said

“Chairman Kim has an opportunity like no other. To be remembered as the leader who ushered in a glorious new era of security and prosperity for his people. Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement which he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

We also agreed to vigorous negotiations to implement the agreement as soon as possible. He wants to do that. This is not the past. This is not another administration that never got it started. And therefore never got it done. Chairman Kim says North Korea is also destroying a major missile engine testing site. That’s not in your signed document. We agreed to that after the agreement was signed. That’s a big thing. The missiles they were testing. The site will be destroyed very soon.

We dream of a future where all Koreans can live together in harmony and where families are reunited and hopes are reborn and where the light of peace chases away the darkness of war. This bright future is within and this is what is happening. It is right there. It is within our reach. It’s going to be there. It will happen. People thought this could never take place. It is now taking place. It is a very great day.”

Another US Presidential press conference on Korea, almost 70 years earlier, on November 30, 1950 contained much different  revelations.
On  Nov.30 in 1950, President Harry S. Truman declined to rule out using nuclear weapons to prevent South Korea from being overrun by Chinese troops.

President Harry S. Truman declined to rule out using nuclear weapons to prevent South Korea from being overrun by Chinese communist troops. At the time, China had recently joined North Korea in a fierce counterattack on United Nations military forces, most of them from the United States.

During a news conference, Truman accused the Soviet Union of orchestrating the Chinese incursion over the Yalu River into North Korea in a bid to spread communism throughout East Asia. The president pledged to “increase our defenses to a point where we can talk — as we should always talk — with authority.”

A reporter asked Truman what he would do if the Chinese nationalists on Taiwan became involved in the Korean conflict. The president declined to respond. Instead, he asserted that the United States would take “whatever steps were necessary” to stop the Communist onslaught.

Another reporter then asked, “Will that include the atomic bomb?”

“That includes every weapon that we have,” Truman replied. The president, however, went on to say that he wanted to see the bomb never used again, saying “it is a terrible weapon, and it should not be used on innocent men, women and children.”

Before leaving office in 1953, with the war mired in a stalemate, Truman told Congress, “we are being hurried forward, in our mastery of the atom … toward yet unforeseeable peaks of destructive power [when humans could] destroy the very structure of a civilization. … Such a war is not a possible policy for rational men.”

Korea was run by a US Military Government from 1945 to 1948, a situation that inevitably deeply shaped post-war Korean history . Historian Bruce Cummings of the University of Chicago stresses the importance  of  the atrocious massacres of war on the peninsula, and the American incendiary bombing campaigns.

The Korean War, which officially began in 1950, ended with a tense armistice in 1953, and saw as many as 327,000 US troops were engaged there. Today, with Korea still partitioned into a democratic south and a communist north, 37,500 U.S. troops remain in South Korea, most of them stationed near the demilitarized zone that divides the two countries.

According to Professor Cumings, the United States became mired in a civil war between the North, whose leader Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong-un,  had gallantly fought against the Japanese in Manchuria starting in 1932, and the South, whose leadership consisted largely of collaborators with the Japanese occupation. According to Cumings, the North Koreans “essentially saw the war in 1950 as a way to settle the hash of the top command of the South Korean Army, nearly all of whom had served the Japanese.”

(‘The 38th Parallel,  book review, New York Times, September 8, 2010;

A New York Times review of  Cumings’s book demonstrates that the Korean War was a civil war with long, tangled historical roots, one in which the US had little business meddling. He notes how “appallingly dirty” the war was. In terms of civilian slaughter, he declares, “our ostensibly democratic ally was the worst offender, contrary to the American image of the North Koreans as fiendish terrorists.”

(‘The Korean War: A History’, by Bruce Cumings; New York Times, July 21, 2010;

President Trump’s team still has much delicate fence mending to do

Bruce Cumings is a historian at the University of Chicago; the author of several books, including a doorstop two-volume history entitled “The Origins of the Korean War”; and a gifted controversialist. He distills his work in his primer, “The Korean War,”

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Presidential Pre-delegation to use nuclear weapons goes back 60 years

The letter you'd get if Eisenhower decided it was OK for you to have permission to use nukes under some circumstances ("predelegation" of nuclear use authority, started in 1956). 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Nuclear errors historically concentrated the mind!

From Twitter feed of excellent nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein @wellerstein            
A discussion from 1969 about false alarms. The BMEWS radar system produced 40-50 false nuclear attack alerts per year — that's around one per week

Israel's hypocrisy over perceived Iranian nuclear threats

Your diplomatic editor’s report (“Netanyahu lobbies May to pull out of Iran nuclear, “ 7 June; of Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s European capitals visit to discuss the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme with Mrs May, the French foreign minister and German chancellor  makes no mention of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal of at least 200 nuclear warheads. (“Last Secret’ of 1967 War: Israel’s Doomsday Plan for Nuclear Display, “ New York Times, 3 June 2017;

Interestingly, on April 19th  this year the United States Government issued a working  paper to the preparatory  committee for the  Review Conference of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) currently ongoing in Geneva,  entitled “Establishing regional conditions conducive to a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems,”


This seven page paper asserts: “Over the course of recent decades, a number of regional States, including Iraq, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic, have all pursued undeclared weapons of mass destruction -related programs and activities, in violation of arms control obligation.”


It also omits to make mention of Israel, the only nation in the region possessing nuclear weapons, and which refuses to join the NPT. The Trump Administration argues that a regional WMD-free zone would best be  achieved outside the auspices of the NPT.


Just such an initiative was floated nearly ten years ago in a now nearly forgotten Paris Summit of Mediterranean countries, held on 13  July 2008, under the co-presidency of the French Republic and the Arab Republic of Egypt and in the presence of Israel, which was represented by its then Premier Ehud Olmer.


Signed by the then Israeli premier, it concluded supporting "regional security by acting in favour of nuclear, chemical and biological non-proliferation through adherence to and compliance with a combination of international and regional nonproliferation regimes and arms control and disarmament agreements.." and added "The parties shall pursue a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems.” (

This is surely an agreement all parties, Iran included, could build upon constructively, instead of Mr Netanyahu's Janus-like belligerency

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Fracked off!

This was published on website of the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Logal government  select committee on 4 June
Written evidence submitted by Dr David Lowry [PGF 214]
I wrote to you via email on Monday morning, May 21st, in advance of the oral testimony session you held with Ministers Perry and Raab this week, including a short memorandum on health hazards and environmental risks persistently overlooked by government ministers and their officials in respect of fracking, with the suggestion you might put the points to the ministers before you.
I have now had the opportunity to read the transcript of the hearing, and find the points I suggested were not in the event put to the ministers.
Minister Perry especially made several sweeping suggestions in praise of the extant planning process and quality of the regulatory advice and action the UK regulators  deliver: for instance:
“there is a genuine belief among the Departments and the industry that we currently have excellent regulatory powers.  We have three superb regulators involved in establishing a very sound basis for this industry.” - Minister Perry (Q.144) 
She also asserted in respect of the UK regulatory regime: “the three regulators, in terms of the regulations, are very much fit for purpose.” (emphasis added)(Q.199)
and later described the existing regulators as :”very highly functioning regulators—HSE and EA, in particular..” (Q.206)
Minister Perry went on to assert:” What we have always set out to do is to have a sober, science-led process of exploration to understand if this resource exists, if it can be extracted safely…” (my emphasis)(Q.154)
and added: “At the moment, we are going through a science-led process of exploration to understand if the shale resources that we know are there in the three main formations can be extracted at a high enough flow rate to make it worthwhile in a way that absolutely respects local communities’ wishes and to make sure that we have regulation fit for purpose.” (my emphasis) (Q.187)
In her concluding remarks, Minister Perry asserted “..There has been an awful lot of misinformation put out in the public domain, often by groups that do not want us to use gas at all.  There is a lot of ideology that is feeding into many of these plans.  We have also arguably not given enough resource and help to local authorities to pick through what can be a very complicated landscape.  Trying to help local decision-makers achieve that balance, make decisions based on the facts…” (Q.258)
There were, therefore, several missed opportunities to further probe Minister Perry when she made these documented assertions in respect of the high quality of the UK environmental regulators and the science-led nature of departmental understanding of risks of fracking.
Therefore I would invite you to publish this letter with the  short memorandum I sent earlier so readers of the Committee’s final report, (included below for convenience) may see that ministerial assertion is not the same as demonstrable fact.
I personally remain unconvinced at the qualitity or objectivity of the advice  that has been provided to British Government ministers on the safety of fracking and would encourage the committee to include a recommendation that ministers and  their departmental advisors  look rather more widely at  peer-reviewed academic studies published in the United States, and indeed at their own heath advisor’s assessment of fracking’s health hazards, issue dover three years ago.
Ministerial advisors seem to have overlooked the importance of the ‘precautionary principle’ in policy formulation, and  apparently have chosen instead to cherry pick information that underpins pre-determined  policy decisions, which almost inevitably leads to  poor policy.
I was really shocked at an article on fracking the energy minister Claire Perry wrote for The Sun published last Friday. In her article she asserted, inter alia:
" Because gas is so important for our economy we know that we will need it for decades to come. It also fits with our world-beating climate goals as it generates less CO2 than oil and coal.
That is why every estimate of our 2050 emissions reductions targets from the independent Climate Change Committee includes gas in our energy mix and why it is right to continue to look for gas that can be safely extracted from the potentially huge reserves hundreds of metres beneath our feet." (my emphasis)
She went on to write :"There are those who argue strongly against shale gas, using the most colourful and scaremongering language they can find and intimidating local communities and decision makers with lots of protestors from out of town..... we committed to support the development of onshore British shale gas and to deliver a clean safe and affordable energy supply for the country." (my emphasis)
NEW rules to speed up planning will be brought in to scupper anti-fracking protesters. The Government says “scaremongers” are delaying a shale gas revolution. Energy Minister Claire Perry said the North Sea had been a great British success story but the country needed to find new supplies of gas ...
I do not know if the minister wrote this article herself, or signed an article written by an advisor or departmental officials. Either way it is disturbing she could state such contentious things as I highlight in red and pass them off as facts, when they are demonstrably inaccurate, even according to  Public Heath England's own report on the safety of fracking. I set out why this is demonstrably the case- not scaremongering as she asserts- in my note below, based on PHE and US academic research.
I would be really grateful if you could  consider putting these points to the ministers when they appear before your committee this afternoon.
Dr David Lowry
Senior research fellow
Institute for Resource and Security Studies
Massachusetts  02139 
[I am based in London].
Fracking's health hazards and environmental risks
A study published by independent academic researchers at the University of Missouri at the end of 2013 found greater hormone- disrupting  (so-called  ‘gender-bender’ chemicals) properties in water located near  fracking than in areas without drilling.
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility. (for full study see:
Other US-based scientists at Yale University have found 55 fracking pollutants linked to cancer, including 20 associated with leukaemia or lymphoma. “These findings support the hypothesis that exposure to unconventional oil and gas development could increase the risk of leukaemia,” the recent study concludes.
The pollutants linked to leukaemia include benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde and several toxic types of hydrocarbons. More than 80 % of the 1,177 water pollutants and 143 air pollutants from the US fracking industry couldn’t be assessed for cancer risk because of a lack of data, the paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, states.
Moreover, research published in the US by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that found levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes – where 42% of readings surpass what the US government considers safe – have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state. (Increased Levels of Radon in Pennsylvania Homes Correspond to Onset of Fracking’, April 9, 2015;
In the UK, the heath watchdog, Public Health England, warned in a report published three years ago If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay … there is therefore the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale.”
(‘Shale gas extraction: review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants,’ 30 October 2013;
Interested parties should also consult the over 200-page  Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking - a fully referenced compilation of the evidence outlining the risks and harms of fracking, produced by the  Physicians for Social Responsibility ( and  the Concerned Health Professionals of New York (
May 2018