Friday, 25 January 2019

Nuclear nuanced policy from Trump

Letter sent to The Guardian:

 Your  leader (“With Donald Trump in charge, it is harder to  hold back the arms race clock,” Guardian, 21 January 2019; is absolutely correct to point out that John Bolton, the  national security advisor President Trump appointed is known for his visceral opposition to any  kind of  constraint on US [nuclear weapons] capabilities.”

But Trump himself has a personal history of having  much more nuclear nuanced position that is rarely recognized.

He asserted in an interview on 15 December 2015, for instance: “The biggest problem we have is nuclear—nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. That's in my opinion that is the single biggest problem that our country faces right now.”

On 23 November 2016 Trump opined : “I would be somebody that would be amazingly calm under pressure.” On 27 April 2107 he tried to reassure worried doubters, asserting:  “To me, always the No. 1 security threat to the United States is nuclear… and we have to be unbelievably careful.”

So where else can we look? An article published in US news web site, Slate, provides an extraordinary insight. ("Trump’s Nuclear Experience: In 1987, he set out to solve the world’s biggest problem,"

Written by senior Slate writer, Ron Rosenbaum the article resurrects an interview originally given to the author  nearly three decades ago for the now defunct magazine, Manhattan Inc.
 Rosenbaum recalled: Trump is not new to nuclear matters. He has been thinking about how he’d handle nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation for more than a quarter-century, at least since 1987, when he claimed to me that he was “dealing at a very high level” with people in the White House (that would have been the Reagan White House) on doomsday questions. Trump wanted to begin a crusade to find a way to halt a national security policy based on nuclear mutually assured destruction (MAD) “before a wild-card nuke deals death to millions.”

Trump foresaw a situation soon when “hair-trigger” heads of state would have their hands on multiple nuclear triggers. And, Rosembaum observed, it drove him crazy that nobody in the White House sensed the danger.

The "Doomsday Clock"  remains perilously close to disaster ("Nuclear arms threat keeps Doomsday clock  close to midnight," 25 January 2019; President Trump is now in a position to do something about it himself.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Nuclear and fracking have no role in a sustainable energy strategy

This is a response to an article in the Shropshire Star, a regional English daily newspaper:

Mark Andrews’ interesting article on the direction of future UK energy policy (“Britain's nuclear power puzzle: How do we stop the lights going out?,” Shropshire Star, 22 January; included several inaccurate assertions, including two very important errors by local MP Owen Patterson.

The article asserts that with Japanese power generator Hitachi suspending (read cancelling) building work on a giant nuclear reactor at Wylfa power station in Anglesey, “it has blown a major hole in the Government's energy strategy.”

This is misleading, as is the assertion that “last year, nuclear power provided just under a fifth of Britain's energy needs.” This conflates energy with electricity.

Nuclear provides around 20% of electricity supply, which is only 7% of total energy (including for heat, transport etc). Wylfa would have provided 2% of national energy demand, hardly a big hole as electricity demand has dropped every year for a decade.

The article also reports that world's first nuclear power station opened at Calder Hall, near Sellafield in Cumbria, in 1956. This nuclear plant was opened that year, by a young HM Queen Elizabeth, but it was not a power plant, but a plutonium production  factory for nuclear explosive materials for atomic warheads, with very expensive electricity  generated as a spin off.

In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning in October 1956.  Mr Jay wrote:

“Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."

Owen Paterson is right to call for a rethink of energy policy, moving away from the giant power plants of the past But his choice of gas-fired plants using fracked natural shale gas from UK wells, and small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)is highly misguided, especially worrying as he isa former  Environment Secretary in the Cabinet.

Mr Patterson is reported as claiming “small nuclear plants have been running successfully around the UK for the past 30 years, with nine working on and off without incident.” This is completely untrue. There have been no SMRs operating in the UK ever. (although  small reactors are used in nuclear submarines for propulsion).

To learn more about the UK SME r research programme, your readers may access a 70 page critical analysis  ( including dangerous terrorist  risks) I presented the European Nuclear Energy forum in Bratislava in Slovakia in June last year, on behalf of the Brussels-based Nuclear Transparency Watch Group at this web  site URL:

Mr Patterson also asserts "I'm very much in favour of exploring the possibility of shale gas [which is] far cleaner than all the old fossil-fuel power stations."  

It is true  fracked gas is cleaner in terms of greenhouse  gas emissions than burning coal, but there are still ‘fugitive emissions ‘ of  shale gas, which is a much more potent  greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide from coal combustion.

But fracking has both health hazards and  under-reported radiation risks, both overlooked by  Mr Patterson

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 over five  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;

This would mean families in kitchens across the land could be under threat of radiation poisoning if gas hobs and ovens are used. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Minister all in a muddle over explaining nuclear agreements to MPs

While all eyes at Parliament in Westminster last week for focused on the interminable political debate over Brexit, some MPs were dealing with the micro-management of secondary legislation being scrutinised in a series of so-called Delegated Legislation Committee (DLC) meetings.

So, on 14 January 2019, the Third  DLC met to examine the Draft Nuclear Safeguards (Fissionable Material and Relevant International Agreements) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 (

Fourteen MPs of 16 on the committee attended (with former Labour foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, and Labour MPs Stephen Hepburn and Ellie Reeves absent) to hear BEIS energy minister Richard Harrington present the arguments for the Government, under the chairmanship of Virendra Sharma MP

Harrington argued by emphasizing that the two sets of regulations are “essential to establishing our domestic regime, whether we leave the EU with a deal or not—their effect will be exactly the same in either outcome.“

He laid out how “The powers to make this secondary legislation are found in the 2013 Act, which we amended with the 2018 Act. The territorial extent and application of the regulations is to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.”

“Nuclear safeguards are accounting, reporting and verification processes designed to assure and demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted unlawfully into military or weapons programmes,” he explained to MPs, stressing “ hat is not to do with nuclear safety and nuclear security.”

He also, questionably, asserted the UK “have a very good record as a responsible nuclear state” and accurately stated the UK were a founding member of the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1957. He then went on  to inaccurately characterise  the role of the IAEA claiming  it “ensures that states honour their international legal nuclear safeguards obligations in connection with the non-proliferation treaty, and basically stops civil nuclear being used for military purposes.”

It does not! It deters by the threat of detection through mandatory, intrusive verification. Bu tit does not stop diversion to military misuse

The minister then  falsely asserted “We have always voluntarily accepted two safeguards agreements with the IAEA” These agreements were very reluctantly agreed by the UK in 1977- twenty years after the UK  joined the I AEA – very much involuntary  voluntary offer agreements.

He then referred to plans to  replace the trilateral ​safeguards agreements between the UK, the IAEA and Euratom that have been in place since 1978 in order to “enable the continuity of civil nuclear trade with our international trading partners.”


Under the new so-called “voluntary safeguards agreement (VOA) signed on 7 June  2018 between the UK and the UN international  watchdog,  the IAEA, to replace the existing trilateral agreements between UK-IAEA and the EU  nuclear watchdog  body, Euratom, under Brexit arrangements, it includes in its very first article, the following exclusion:


“The United Kingdom shall accept the application of safeguards, in accordance with the terms of this Agreement, on all source or special fissionable material in facilities or parts thereof within the United Kingdom, subject to exclusions for national security reasons only, with a view to enabling the Agency to verify that such material is not, except as provided for in this Agreement, withdrawn from civil activities.” (emphasis added)

Lest anyone thinks this is simply an enabling option, very unlikely to be implemented, we know from Parliamentary answers and annual publications by the UK nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, under the predecessor trilateral agreement (in force from September 1978), which this new treaty replaces, there have been several hundred occasions when nuclear materials, including plutonium, has been withdrawn from safeguards cover.


A written answer to Green Party MP Caroline Lucas  on 17 December 2018 (200104) by foreign office minister, Sir Alan Duncan, withdrawals year by year since 1999 were as follows: in 2000 there were 6; in 2001, 18; in 2002, 11; in 2003, 20; in 2004 19; in 2005, 17; in 2006, 16; in 2007, 31; in 2008, 19; in 2009, 15; in 2010, 14; in 2011, 17; in 2012, 19; in 2013, 34; in 2014, 18, in 2015, 29; in 2016, 44 and in 2017  35 withdrawals.

We also know, by combining these to annual totals with those included in  a paper put into the House of Commons Library by ministers in July 2000, that in total withdrawal of nuclear materials form “safeguards” in the UK have taken place on more then 600 occasions.

Minister Harrington also asserted “the Government have prioritised putting agreements in place with key countries—Australia, Canada, Japan and the US—that require nuclear co-operation agreements, unlike others,” explaining that “ NCAs are legally binding treaties that allow states to formally recognise their willingness to co-operate with each other on civil nuclear matters. We have now concluded—and Parliament has now approved—the ratification of replacement bilateral NCAs with Australia, Canada and the US. We already have a bilateral NCA with Japan.”

He then reiterated the Government’s commitment to establishing, by December 2020, a regime that is “equivalent in effectiveness and coverage to that currently provided by Euratom, and that will exceed the commitments that the international community expects us to meet.”

He added “ I am confident that the fissionable regulations and nuclear safeguards regulations do that. We want to establish a regime that will operate in a similar way to the existing arrangements, taking account of best practice in our regulation making and considering the need to minimise disruption to industry, which were undertakings I gave during the passage of the Nuclear Safeguards Bill”.

Turning to the nuclear regulator, the ONR, Mr Harrington then revealed  the significant progress has made in the set-up of the domestic regime” since Parliament was updated Parliament in October, and explaine dhow “From this month—in the past couple of weeks—our domestic regime has commenced parallel running alongside Euratom, processing and checking reports received from industry through our IT system—the safeguards information management and reporting system—and producing the declarations required to enable the UK to meet its international obligations.”

 We have been running the scheme in parallel so that we have time in the next few weeks, if we need it before the end of March, to see whether any adjustments need to be made, he added

He also reported to MPs that the “ONR’s recruitment target for the first phase has been met: 16 safeguards officers are in place, which is seven more than the minimum of nine required to deliver the regime at the end of March; and four nuclear material accountants have been appointed, so 20 are in post.”

Between July and September last year, BEIS held a consultation on the content of these draft regulations and the nuclear safeguards regulations. In total, 28 formal responses were received. At the end of November we published our response. No major changes to these regulations were suggested.

This statement is totally untrue. I proposed in my personal; response  that the  clause that permits proliferation by withdrawing nuclear explosive materials from safeguards scrutiny  - as I explained above- be dropped. It was retained, to permit futur eUK proliferation from its civil nuclear material stockpile!

Responding for Labour, shadow energy minister Dr Alan Whitehead,  said inter alia:

“We had some discussion during the passage of the Bill about relevant international agreements and what had to be done. As the Minister has outlined, a number of treaties were made with third party countries and the IAEA through Euratom, of which we were a member, on our behalf. Therefore, if we leave Euratom and we are still dealing with what was treated in the Bill as a contingency, but which we are now close to, we will no longer be covered by those international treaties and we will effectively have to negotiate them anew.”

What is missing, however, is a possible treaty with Japan, he stressed, which he found  “puzzling”  because during the passage of the Bill, the Harrington had  told him:

“The Government have the power to conclude international treaties under their prerogative powers. Of course, that cannot automatically change domestic law or rights and cannot make major changes to the UK’s constitutional arrangements without parliamentary authority. That remains the case for international agreements relating to safeguards that are currently under negotiation—for example, the nuclear co-operation agreements currently being negotiated with the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, and the new safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Parliament will therefore have the opportunity to consider those agreements before they come into force.[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 2 November 2017; column 56.]

 “Good progress has also been made in discussions with Canada and Japan…The UK has had”— I emphasise the tense— “a bilateral NCA in place with Japan since 1998. The UK and Japan have had detailed discussions on this, and have now commenced negotiations formally to put in place arrangements to ensure that this NCA remains operable following the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. Given this progress, we are confident that all priority NCA arrangements will be in place to enable international cooperation in the civil nuclear sector.”

Although there appears to have been an NCA in place with Japan, it is clear, both from what the Minister said at the time of the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018 and from what has been said in the progress document, that there are negotiations and that those negotiations are intended to end in arrangements being in place so that this NCA remains operable. There may be a very good reason why the NCA that was originally in place, but has been a subject of negotiations, is not before us now and has not gone through the process that, as I just mentioned, has now been completed for those other agreements, but it is certainly the case that there is no ​new treaty with Japan in place at the time of this SI discussion.”

In response, Richard Harrington said about the Japan agreement mystery: “A bilateral NCA between the UK and Japan is already in place. It is not like the other one. I confirm that it will remain in place following the UK’s departure from the EU. It is not necessary to conclude a new NCA with Japan. We are having detailed discussions with the Japanese on this issue and negotiations to make sure that if any adjustments are needed, they will be made. Without doubt, that the agreements remain operable after our exit from Euratom is very important, but I really am not concerned about that.


He concluded by  saying “we have a series of meetings not just with the devolved Assemblies and Governments but with all interested stakeholders. That continues on a regular basis.”


Let us hope ministers and departmental officials are more accurate – and more challenged - than Harington was before MPs last week.

NGO Forum 24 January 2018

Euratom Exit Written Update


The UK is well prepared for our departure from Euratom and we are confident that we will have all necessary measures in place to ensure that the civil nuclear sector can continue to operate safely, securely and in line with our international commitments on nuclear non-proliferation, with or without a deal with the EU. The Government’s strategy is twofold: through negotiations with the European Commission we will seek a close association with Euratom and to include Euratom in any implementation period negotiated as part of our wider exit discussions; and at the same time, to put in place all the necessary measures to ensure that the UK could operate as an independent and responsible nuclear state from day one.


As part of BEIS’ ongoing commitment to proactively engage with our stakeholders and to share key government messages on the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, we would like to update you on recent developments.


International Agreements

To ensure that the UK continues to meet its commitments to the international community, new international nuclear safeguards agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  are needed to replace the current trilateral agreements that include Euratom. These agreements, a Voluntary Offer Agreement and an Additional Protocol, set out the UK’s voluntary international safeguards, and nuclear non-proliferation, obligations. These new agreements were signed with the IAEA on 7 June 2018.


Additionally, to ensure uninterrupted cooperation and trade in the civil nuclear sector following our departure from Euratom, the United Kingdom needed to put in place new nuclear cooperation agreements (NCAs) with Australia, Canada and the United States. These new agreements were signed with the US on 4 May, Australia on 21 August and Canada on 2 November. The UK has had a bilateral NCA in place with Japan since 1998, which will remain in force following UK’s withdrawal from Euratom.


On 19 December 2018, the UK Parliament approved the ratification of all the new international agreements that are required:



It is the UK’s intention that these new agreements will come into force at the end of the implementation period. If, however, there is no agreement with the EU and no Implementation Period, these agreements would be brought into force on 29 March 2019, the day on which the UK leaves the EU.



Nuclear Safeguards Regime

In addition to these new international agreements, the UK has been putting in place a number of measures to ensure that the civil nuclear sector can continue to operate with certainty in any scenario, including no deal. This includes the set up of a domestic nuclear safeguards regime, to be run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), to enable us to meet the UK’s international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation commitments as set out in our new bilateral safeguards agreements with the IAEA.


The Nuclear Safeguards Act 2018, which gives the Government the power to establish a new nuclear safeguards regime, was passed in June 2018 and the underpinning nuclear safeguards regulations were laid in Parliament for approval in November 2018, after a public consultation running from 9 July to 14 September 2018. Responses voiced broad acceptance of the government proposals and provided valuable insights that have allowed us to make some changes to the regulations. The draft Nuclear Safeguards Regulations set out a new framework for the UK to deliver the Government’s objective to put in place safeguards arrangements that will offer coverage and effectiveness equivalent to the Euratom regime. A teleconference on this was held with NGO Forum members on 17 April 2018. As part of the Government response to the consultation, issued on 29 November 2018, Government has committed to fund the costs associated with setting up the new nuclear safeguards regime through to 2020.


Work of the Office for Nuclear Regulation

ONR is working to ensure it will have in place by 29 March 2019 the IT systems and safeguards inspectors needed to operate this new regime, meet international standards and to build, over time, to equivalent effectiveness and coverage to Euratom.


ONR estimates that it will require a minimum of 9 safeguards inspectors and 15 safeguards officers are currently in place and undergoing training to become warranted inspectors.


From January 2019, the SSAC commenced parallel running alongside Euratom, processing and checking reports received from industry through the Safeguards Information Management and Reporting System (SIMRS) IT system and producing the declarations required to enable the UK to meet its international obligations. Based on current progress, ONR will be in a position to deliver safeguards arrangements that meet international safeguards standards by 29 March 2019.


No Deal Planning

Government has also published a technical notice to stakeholders on measures that may need to be put in place in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The Government is well advanced in its work to address the issues that may affect the civil nuclear sector if there is no Brexit deal, and is confident that all necessary measures will be in place to ensure that the civil nuclear sector can continue to operate, with or without a deal. Government has laid, or will lay shortly in Parliament, a number of statutory instruments that address our departure from Euratom. These are:



Further ‘no deal’ guidance will be published shortly on aspects such as import licensing arrangements and the shipment of nuclear waste, spent fuel and radioactive substances.

The fourth quarterly update to Parliament of the government’s progress on the UK’s exit from the Euratom Treaty will also be published shortly.


Saturday, 19 January 2019

Wylfa nuclear plant's secret weapons link

Letter submitted to the Morning Star:
Peter Lazenby’s report on the decision by Japanese nuclear company Hitachi to pull out of building a new nuclear plant on Anglesey was given a ludicrously misleading headline in “Lights ’could go out across Britain’ as Wylfa plan collapse." (M.Star, 18 January)

Had this failed plant been given the go ahead, it would have provided less than 7 % of national electricity supply, which is less than 2 % of delivered energy.
Nuclear supporters such as the trades union leaders from Prospect and the GMB quoted should not line-up  with the Tory  Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, and massively over-inflate the  contribution to energy security in the UK of foreign-designed, foreign-funded nuclear power.

Clark’s Labour Shadow, Rebecca Long-Bailey should wean herself off cheerleading for new nuclear power, and read some of the excellent articles on real sustainable energy policies written by Labour energy advisor, former Labour left MP Alan Simpson, encouragingly published regularly in the Morning Star.

The cancellation of Wylfa Newydd means the secret story of the original Wylfa nuclear plant will now not be repeated


In an interview I conducted on 19 January 1983 with the late Lord Hinton, the first chairman of the CEGB, (barely five months before his death, at which point he was still advising the electricity industry) he said to me “Wylfa is a long and sad story. It ought not have been built at all, but when I suggested this to the Permanent Secretary [at what is now the Department  of Energy and Climate Change]  he said you have got to build it in order to meet the government programme.”


The programme to which Lord Hinton referred was not electricity generation but plutonium production, as became clear in the Sizewell B nuclear plant public inquiry  which had just begun when I interviewed Lord Hinton, and ran for 333 days.


During that inquiry, Professor Keith Barnham , who with myself  gave expert evidence for the CND Sizewell Working Group, produced technical evidence demonstrating  around 630 kilogrammes (+ or – 80 kgs) of plutonium produced in UK magnox reactors had been exported to the US for military use ( a nuclear warhead c typically uses 5-10 kilos). This research was published in detail in the prestigious international science weekly  journal, Nature, on 19 September 1985.


A decade later, in October 1995, former Labour peer, the late Lord Hugh Jenkins of Putney, a life-long CND supporter, asked the Government in a written Parliamentary question (headed, Wylfa Power Station: Plutonium Creation109WA) ‘how much plutonium Wylfa nuclear power station has created since it began operation in 1971, where it has gone and where it is now, and what relationship there is at the plant between plutonium production and the generation of electricity.


Lord Fraser of Carmyllie,  answering for the Conservative Government said: “Since 1986/87, estimates of the plutonium contained in the reactor discharges at Wylfa power station have been published as part of the annual plutonium figures. I cannot answer for previous Administrations. Amounts arising from Wylfa continue to contribute to the United Kingdom's civil holdings under international safeguards…Irradiated fuel from Britain's various civil Magnox reactors is reprocessed together and therefore the plutonium arising, whether in store or exported, is not linked to the specific power station in which it was created.”  [House of Lords 23 October 1995, column 109WA 109WA]


The give-away is the minister’s admission that nuclear fuel from all Magnox reactors was “processed together” (at Sellafield)   and hence the recovered plutonium  loses  it identity.


The export of UK plutonium to the US took place under a controversial 1958  bilateral  UK-US deal, called the Mutual Defense Agreement on Atomic energy matters ( as amended in 1959) The word defence is spelled with an ‘s’ even in the British edition, giving away the origin of its drafters in the US!)


When this draft agreement was discussed in the US Congress on 4 February 1958 (it was never debate in the British Parliament at all before coming into force) Lewis Stauss,  chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission, let slip the following nuclear nugget of information on the aim of the deal with the UK “This is primarily to supply plutonium to us for our unrestricted use, which is to say , at present, our  military use.”


This UK-US MDA was  renewed in October 2014,( ) and despite being challenged by the then Labour back bench MP Jeremy Corbyn, in a Parliamentary debate on 6 November 2014 ( , remains in force.


So when Wylfa’s final discharge of spent nuclear fuel is finally reprocessed at Sellafield, the plutonium could still end up in US nuclear warheads


The agreement required the US Atomic Energy Commission, which took title to the plutonium, to put it solely to military use.