We’ll be right back after a word from our friendly neighborhood pro-nuclear propagandists!

Just as engineers at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima nuclear plant get ready to move 1,524 fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool, CNN aired a 2013 “documentary” called Pandora’s Promise by Robert Stone. Before I get into the film, however, I did a double take when I saw that the very first commercial was for the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Planet WavesThe premise of the film is how alleged ecological activists have thought about it for a while and have come to the conclusion that nuclear power is good for the environment.

Its takeoff point is that we have to do something about global warming — and that something is to build a lot of nuclear power plants, so that we can power up every place from New Jersey to Namibia (spreading the gospel of cheap electricity to the developing world).

The “documentary” had so many problems (or rather, innovative design features) I am having trouble deciding where to begin analyzing them. I think, however, that the most serious was the point of view of its director, stated in a panel discussion hosted by Anderson Cooper, that as a result of nuclear power, “Nobody has died, nobody has gotten sick and according to the best science in the world, nobody ever will.”

Nobody? Ever? Right. He tried to make the case that everyone who responded to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is fine (well, except for a few who are not, who don’t matter that much), and everyone who responded to Fukushima are all doing great. The American nuclear industry has an impeccably perfect record.

To put it politely, everything in this movie is a lie or delusion told by people who are seduced by the seemingly supernatural power of nuclear technology and who have succumbed to the dark side. Physicists explain how it’s fantastic in theory, skipping over what can go wrong.

Like the rest of the nuclear industry, the documentary does not address any worst-case scenarios, which must be ignored if the agenda is to persist. For example, what happens if there is a power grid outage with the plants shut down, and there’s no electricity to run the cooling systems?

Planet Waves
Three Mile Island, near Harrisburg, PA, became the visual symbol for all that was wrong with nuclear power. Unit One to the left is still operating; Unit 2 melted down and has not been used since the accident. Photo: Atomic Archive.

Nuclear power plants make energy when they’re on and draw power when they’re off. An energy ejection from the Sun could knock out a huge swath of the power grid. Then what? Not discussed; not mentioned.

What about a meltdown near a big city? You cannot evacuate Tokyo or the metro New York area; there are no plans to do so. Not mentioned.

The idea that the potential for a low-probability but catastrophic event has to be ignored is a central argument of my nuclear power mentor Karl Grossman, who documents how the atomic bomb and nuclear power are the same thing — a fact that the film went to some length to dismiss.

Among those featured were Stewart Brand, devoted pro-nuclear founder of the Whole Earth Catalog; Mark Lynas (a British climate change author and activist), Richard Rhodes (journalist and historian, and author of the Pulitzer-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb) and Michael Shellenberger (alleged environmental policy expert), all of whom came to the conclusion that nuclear power is the only thing that can save us from global warming.

Helen Caldicott, a doctor and anti-nuclear activist, makes a cameo. Actual environmental advocates were portrayed as fear mongers who are the real problem. This is the ‘blame the messenger’ / An Enemy of the People argument that is getting so old I am surprised anyone falls for it, but hey, we’re talking about humans.

Planet Waves
What could possibly go wrong? Aftermath of 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine.

Anderson Cooper’s panel, aired several times through the night, included Ralph Nader, whom Shellenberger accused of being the problem. He said that frantic ’60s- and ’70s-styled Earth Day-types — not radiation — were to blame for unfair public perception of the industry as dangerous. That, in turn, shut down development of new nuclear plants after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident (therefore, the industry could not be given a fair chance).

Watching Pandora’s Poison reminded me of my teenage conversations with my father, who was on the public relations team that tried to clean up after the Three Mile Island accident. Prof. Coppolino went on to be a nuclear power industry communications consultant. What I learned from my father is that the nuclear industry believes that its product is absolutely, perfectly, unquestionably safe.

“We don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste,” I once said.

“I’ll give you that,” he replied. Turns out that was extremely generous of him.

Pandora’s Promise would not go that far — they argued that the problem of nuclear waste was solved perfectly by above-ground, dry cask storage. All the waste generated by all the nuclear power plants in the U.S. so far would merely cover a football field. And hey, it’ll be perfect after a few millennia — except of course for the plutonium, which takes a little longer. Unless the fuel in some storage facility reaches criticality and an uncontrolled fire starts. Or unless someone bombs the place, or if there is a quake and the casks break or…

— Eric Francis


To unsubscribe, click here

e Wiki | Friends | Editors | Contact Us

Copyright © 2013 by Planet Waves, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Other copyrights may apply.
Some images used under Fair Use or Share Alike attribution.


18 thoughts on “We’ll be right back after a word from our friendly neighborhood pro-nuclear propagandists!”

  1. The most difficult thing about this situation is that it is just too big for individual minds to grasp. It shows us our impotence, our vulnerability to the incompetence of elites who have no interests other than parochial at best. This clearly is a matter that requires collective/global good will and co-operation. Yet things remain business-as-usual as apocalyptic scenarios are trotted out through all media. The conspiracy nuts are having a field day and the ostriches (with heads in sand) like David Cameron have recently commissioned a new reactor to be built on UK soil.

    Meanwhile, whenever I post Fukushima updates on my Facebook page, virtually nobody offers comment or contributes or shares.

    The result of too much armchair reading is gloom and despair; the alternative appears to be denial. People talk about radiation in the Pacific but you get limited info on the Atlantic (all oceans are connected). I do not see how people can contribute in a productive way or get on with their lives when they are supposed to feel at the mercy of some critical operation thousands of miles away that could ‘threaten global survival’. The situation is ridiculous and the reporting truly irresponsible in my view. The message from all quarters seems to be “you are at all times vulnerable to the lunacy/malice of corporate psychopaths – you are always just one step away from annihilation”.

    Pathetic me drew a tarot card about this and got Nine of Swords – from which I derived a little comfort. Maybe it is time to place the meaning back into the phrase “In God we trust”..

  2. No such event can overtake us here
    We’re much too wise

    Bruce Cockburn, “Radium Rain” from Big Circumstance (1988)

    “I arrived in Germany three days after Chernobyl happened. I had wrestled with myself to some degree before I left, thinking “Oh, I don’t know. I wonder about going to Europe at this moment.” But it seemed like it wouldn’t matter where you were anyway, that stuff’s gonna come down on you sooner or later so I might as well go and see what it looked like. And I did and it was very interesting experience, and, uh, quite frightening in some respects and funny in others. The extremes that people went to. The extremes that governments went to to try to sort of suppress peoples anxiety about the whole thing and it became ridiculous at a certain point, you know. At first they’re saying, and I’m sure it was true of all the governments involved, they were saying Oh, there’s no problem, you know, those stupid Russians just made a mistake, but we’ve got it together, don’t worry about it”. And, you know, the next day they’d be saying “Well there’s a little bit of a problem, don’t let you kids play in the dirt”, you know. And the next, the next day, or week later they’d be saying “Well, you know, if you’re a mechanic, you should avoid changing the air filters of cars, unless you’re wearing protective clothing, and, you know, if you’re a pedestrian, hold your breath when cars go by, cuz of the dust”, you know. And I mean it’s absurd. How can you possibly not breath when the cars are going by on the street? And it just went from the horrific to the ridiculous.”
    – Bruce Cockburn, from “Interview and Segments” a CD released in 1990 by True North/Epic.

  3. Removing the spent fuel rods from the Fukushima Reactor is a dangerous but necessary move


    “Look, there’s no low-risk solution to this problem. Leaving it there is a significant risk, and removing it also involves significant risks. The spent fuel may be difficult to dislodge because it’s no longer in its proper original position. The fuel rods may break, and the fuel may wind up at the bottom of the reactor in the spent fuel pool. There may be an accident of criticality. I haven’t examined their plans in detail, but I do think it is very essential to remove this spent fuel, because in my judgment, the bigger danger is leaving it there and waiting for the earthquake to happen.

    “It’s unfortunate that TEPCO has not been a very good manager, has mismanaged this accident. And I wish there had been more oversight, including international oversight, before this step was taken. I personally do not know how good or adequate or inadequate these plans may be and how well they’ve understood exactly what they’re doing. TEPCO doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, that’s for sure.

    “…we’ve never had a situation where, for instance, the entire fuel-handling structure of the reactor has been destroyed in an accident. That’s what happened in March 2011. These pools are sitting high up in the building, and above them there are cranes that move above the spent fuel pools and reactors that transfer fresh fuel into the reactor and used fuel out of the reactor into a pool. So these are pretty heavy pieces of equipment. And those frames were destroyed, along, you know, with the building infrastructure on which they were constructed. So they’ve had to build a whole new basically impromptu infrastructure to handle this spent fuel that–one hopes that is as precise as the other one, but it’s doubtful whether it can replicate the precision of the old, original crane, which could go back and forth above the pool. But it is–you know, they have actually built some kind of a structure, protective structure, not like the original containment. And they also have built a new crane and remote handling for the fuel. So they have done a fair amount of work preparing to go up to tomorrow. So I don’t think that one can say that they have been, you know, completely not on the job, because in my opinion this is a job that absolutely must be done, along with the removal of the molten fuel at the bottom of the three reactors.

    – Dr. Arjun Makhijani is a nuclear and electrical engineer, and president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. He has a Ph.D. in engineering (specialization: nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of “Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy” (2007) and he has served as a consultant on energy issues for agencies of the United Nations.

  4. The Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant catastrophe involved all four of the General Electric Corporation designed Boiling Water Reactor units operating on the site. All of these reactors used the GE Mark I containment system, notorious for its design flaws.

    Of the 32 BWR Mark I reactors operating worldwide, 23 are located in the United States.

    Arnold Gundersen holds a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and is a former nuclear industry senior vice president. He coordinated projects at 70 nuclear power plants around the US, but later became an industry whistle-blower, also serving as an expert witness for the investigation into the accident at Three Mile Island. Gundersen is currently the chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates.

    Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! interviewed Gundersen in March 2012. He candidly discussed the long term legacy of Fukushima, the design failures of the Mark I type nuclear reactors used at Fukushima and also in operation elsewhere, and more generally, about how the economics of nuclear energy is distorted. Gundersen said:

    “I’m on record as saying that we should close the 23 reactors with the Mark I design. Just three weeks before Fukushima, my wife and I were talking, and she said, “Where is the next accident going to occur?” I said, “I don’t know where, but I know it’s going to be in a Mark I design.” These containment vents prove to fail three times out of three. And the NRC’s response is, “Well, let’s make those vents better.” Well, if they just failed three times out of three, it’s hard to imagine how to make something like that better.

    “In addition, the fuel is stored on the roof, essentially, in unshielded, unprotected areas. And there’s more nuclear caesium-137 in the fuel pool at the plant in Pilgrim, Massachusetts, than was ever released by every nuclear bomb ever exploded in the atmosphere. So we have an enormous inventory of nuclear material way up on the roofs of these buildings, and I think it’s time to close these Mark 1s down, because of those two design features.”

    Mark I reactor locations in the United States:


    Browns Ferry 1, 32 miles west of Huntsville
    Output: 1065 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Browns Ferry 2, 32 miles west of Huntsville
    Output: 1104 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Browns Ferry 3, 32 miles west of Huntsville
    Output: 1115 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Millstone Unit 1, Waterford
    Output: 660 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I
    Leaking valve forced shutdown, multiple equipment failures detected in 1996
    Permanently ceased operations July1998 but fuel storage pool is full.


    Hope Creek 1, 18 miles southeast of Wilmington
    Output: 1061 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Hatch 1, 20 miles south of Vidalia
    Output: 876 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Hatch 2, 20 miles south of Vidalia
    Output: 883 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Dresden 2, 25 miles southwest of Joliet
    Output: 867 MWe; Type: General Electric Type; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Dresden 3, 25 miles southwest of Joliet
    Output: 867 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 3; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Quad Cities 1, 20 miles northeast of Moline
    Output: 867 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 3; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Quad Cities 2, 20 miles northeast of Moline
    Output: 869 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 3; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Duane Arnold, 8 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids
    Output: 640 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    River Bend 1, 24 miles north northwest of Baton Rouge
    Output: 989 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 6; Containment: Wet, Mark III


    Pilgrim 1, 38 miles southeast of Boston
    Output: 685 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 3; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Fermi 2, half way between Detroit and Toledo, Ohio.
    Output: 1,098 MWe; General Electric Type 4. Containment Type: Wet, Mark I


    Monticello, 35 miles northwest of Minneapolis
    Output: 579 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 3; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Grand Gulf 1, 20 miles south of Vicksburg
    Output: 1297 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 6; Containment: Wet, Mark III


    Cooper, 23 miles south of Nebraska City
    Output: 830 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    New Jersey

    Oyster Creek, 50 miles east of Philadelphia and 75 miles south of New York City
    Output: 619 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 2; Containment: Wet, Mark I
    The oldest operating nuclear power plant in the United States. Originally licensed for 40 years, Oyster Creek’s license was extended for another 20 years by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April 2009.

    New York

    FitzPatrick, 6 miles northeast of Oswego
    Output: 852 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Nine Mile Point 1, 6 miles northeast of Oswego
    Output: 621 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 2; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    North Carolina

    Brunswick 1, 40 miles south of Wilmington
    Output: 938 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Brunswick 2, 40 miles south of Wilmington
    Output: 937 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I


    Fermi 2, 25 miles northeast of Toledo
    Output: 1122 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: Wet, Mark I

    Perry 1, 35 miles northeast of Cleveland
    Output: 1261 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 6; Containment: Wet, Mark III


    Peach Bottom 2, 17.9 miles south of Lancaster
    Output: 1112 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: BWR, Mark I

    Peach Bottom 3, 17.9 miles south of Lancaster
    Output: 1112 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment: BWR, Mark I


    Vermont Yankee, 5 miles south of Brattleboro
    Output: 510 MWe; Type: General Electric Type 4; Containment Type: Wet, Mark I

  5. “i’ll give you that” re nuclear waste was honest–because he (and my father) did indeed give us that. and i’ll be giving it to my child, too. nuclear waste keeps on giving! (not a slam on your dad. we’re most of us in the same boat.)

  6. Here is the PBS special on the Fukushima incident one year later. It’s a mainly a diary of the first few days of the event. I think those who were up around the clock trying to surmise any scrap of news or information that week and into late March ’11 will appreciate, at least, that we were concerned about something that was actually happening. This program really is just a statement, where nuclear power is concerned, of how little needs to go wrong in order for everything to go wrong. All you need is for the plant to lose power — that’s it. No quake, no tsunami, just loss of the grid and failure of backup power and the cores turn to lava.


  7. Ooooooh … “admittedly” not knowing — BIG deal in that strata of consciousness, lovey! Big admission. Celebrate!

  8. Perhaps I am being generous with him, giving him credit for having some integrity. I was wondering the same thing earlier – the posture of that statement; I believe it was his way of acknowledging that I have a point; the phrase “I give you that” means, “you have a point there, and I don’t have a response.” It’s not the same as a direct affirmation, and it’s also not “fuck you, we’re right.” So I will revise his score to 2/3 credit for admittedly not knowing.

  9. Geoff, that answer is safe unless one of those ships breaks up in or right above the atmosphere, and whatever was on board is dispersed onto every continent. This is a big concern when there is the launch of a satellite with an RTG aboard, such as Cassiini — or when it made its flyby slingshot move in 1999. Apollo 13 jettisoned its RTG on the way home from the Moon so that it would not be on board for re-entry. This is a known issue and if there is a breakup of the ship, the radiation does indeed spread evenly across every continent, sooner or later.

  10. The disposal of nuclear waste is not an intrinsic problem. The solution was provided by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters in his 1967 lyrics based on the work of Chinese poets from the T’ang dynasty (the period that in the West is called the Dark Ages).
    We load the spent fuel rods into the cargo holds of rockets and “set the controls for the heart of the sun.” It’s expensive, but if we want this form of power, it’s the safest answer.

  11. William McDonough promotes nuclear energy. He points out that we have a reliable nuclear power generator at a safe distance: 93 million miles. He’s all for harnessing that nuclear generator’s power, which lands on earth in excess. Nobody’s listening though. There is so much we can do with technology to reduce our need for energy which will make other resources even more applicable. Of course, it just takes one Fukishima to have our sunbeams fall on a wasteland.
    Time to go listen to the Venus Transit interview again.

  12. Democrats here in the Pea Patch just look at me big-eyed when I go off on this topic. They have no idea what my grievance is and when I carefully explain, it doesn’t seem to register. We need a BIG OL education campaign in this country!

  13. From the article:

    “”We don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste,” I once said.

    “I’ll give you that,” he replied. Turns out that was extremely generous of him.”

    Eric, your father agreeing with your statement “We don’t know what to do with the nuclear waste” by saying “I’ll give you that” is not the the same as answering the direct question “what about the nuclear waste?” by saying “I don’t know”.

    I think your father was being honest in agreeing with you, but do not think his statement was given as the answer to a question. Have you ever heard a nuclear power advocate answer the direct question “what about the nuclear waste?” by stating “I don’t know”?
    I know I haven’t.

  14. Yes, not only the “waste” but also the radioactive contamination that happens through mining uranium, processing and transporting it… It’s convenient for the nuclear industry that the health impact of radiation is hard if not impossible to calculate using the standard epidemiological protocols, since the damage may not show up until the next generation.

    And shameful that the cancer industry should sponsor this propaganda, which reveals that their true intent is not prevention and healing, but perpetuating their own business.

    Almost a century ago, Tesla said, “Electric power is everywhere present in unlimited quantities and can drive the world’s machinery without the need of coal, oil, or any other fuel.” Why aren’t these so-called “environmentalists” using their time and energy and money to promote the work of leading-edge scientists who are developing technologies that take us beyond the false “choice” between destroying the planet by burning oil or splitting atoms?

  15. So, Robert Stone, Stewart Brand, Mark Lynas, Richard Rhodes, and Michael Shellenberger(and any others who “believe” nuclear power is “safe”); I invite you ALL to go to Japan, get as close to Fukashima as possble; drink the water, breathe the air, and eat the food there. OK, now tell me how “safe” it is, you lying motherfuckers! Won’t go there? Hypocrites all.

    What has to happen to your humanity to believe such risks are “worth” it? Ignoring the risks does not make them go away. I have been asking that same “what about the waste?” question for forty some odd years. Not one single nuclear power advocate has ever given a truthful answer to that question.

    C’mon all you nuclear cheerleaders, book a flight to Japan and go help control the “safe” industry you keep proposing expanding. When you get done containing those meltdowns, and cleaning up the mess you already made then we’ll talk, m’kay?

Leave a Comment