Monday, 24 February 2014

Newly declassified files expose decades of lies of French nuclear tests

Following revelations last July by the French newspaper Le Parisien that declassified official French Government  papers showing  the extent of plutonium fall-out from atmospheric atomic weapons tests in Moruroa Atoll in French Polynesia in the South Pacific tests in the 1960s and 70s (, new revelations have exposed the hidden truth that the atmospheric spread of radioactive fallout  from earlier French nuclear tests conducted in in Algeria in the 1960s was much larger that the French army admitted at the time.(
Reports by the France 24 TV station on 15 February now suggest that the fallout from the tests at Reggane stretched  across all of West Africa, across the Mediterranean and up to southern Europe.

AFP reports that the documents were released in 2013 following appeals from military veterans who say their current ill health is linked to exposure to dangerous levels of radiation.
One map shows that 13 days after France detonated its first nuclear device,   "Gerboise Bleue" (Blue Jerboa), in February 1960, radioactive particles ranged from the Central African Republic to Sicily and southern Spain. Gerboise Bleue was “more than three times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.” At the time, the French military authorities said the fallout from the explosion was limited to the desert and that radiation levels were “generally low”.

But associations representing military veterans of France’s nuclear tests in the 1960s and 1970s are demanding that the government admits it knew that the fallout from Saharan tests was dangerous.“ In the 1960s the norms governing acceptable levels of radiation were much less strict than they are now,” said Bruno Barillot, an expert in nuclear tests who is representing veterans’ groups.
“And the medical evidence we have now shows clearly that exposure to this radiation can set off serious illnesses more than three decades later,” he told Le Parisien (    

Barillot added that the declassified documents showed that the army at the time was aware that even the 1960s safety levels were largely surpassed and that significant quantities of airborne radioactive particles, particularly iodine 131 and caesium 137, could have been inhaled by large numbers of people in north Africa.
But he also complained that the government had been extremely selective in terms of what documents to release.

The Parisen article points out that  “if it can be demonstrated that the fallout of the bomb tests spread dangerous levels radiation over large parts of North Africa, many more demands for compensation from individuals and from national governments could be in the pipeline.


Le 13 février 1960, Gerboise bleue, la première bombe atomique française, explose dans le Sahara. Ce document détaille les retombées nucléaires radioactives dans les jours suivants.  


I found this suggestion interesting, as I had been involved in research on this issue over twenty years, when I did research for the now retired Labour MP, Llew Smith. In October 1993, he asked in a written question to the Secretary of State for Defence whether he would “ask his French counterpart for information provided by the French nuclear authorities under article 34 of the Euratom treaty since 1963 in connection with French atmospheric nuclear tests in Reganne, Algeria?”

In reply the junior defence minister Jonathan Aitken answered “ No. Article 34 of the Euratom treaty does not apply to military activities.” (Hansard, Tuesday 26 October 1993, Column 519)

Yet  just over two years late, when Labour MEP Alex Smith – for whom I also did  research-asked the European Commission “What technical information, as provided by the French Government, was in the possession of the Commission on the environmental and safety implications of nuclear tests on, respectively: 12 February 1960, being the eve of France's first test in Algeria — 1 July 1966, being the eve of France's first test in Mururoa — 4 September 1995, being the eve of France's first test in Mururoa of its current testing programme; and which independent external individuals or institutions have been consulted by the Commission to assist in the evaluation of the documentation provided by France on its nuclear tests?” he was told by was told by EC Environment Commissioner Bjerregaard  on 14 February  1996:

France notified to the Commission on 23 July 1959 its intention to carry out a nuclear explosion in the Sahara desert and the additional safety measures envisaged. The Commission replied on 11 August 1959 and gave a favaourable opinion while proposing some modifications. These concerned the timing of the explosion with regard to meteorological conditions, the volume of radioactive dust generated in relation to the characteristics of the soil, and the need to comply with the dose limits in the basic safety standards that were laid down by the Council on 2 February 1959.

France carried out the first explosion on 13 February 1960. Subsequent tests were carried out taking similar safety measures. No further notifications to the Commission in terms of Article 34 of the Euratom Treaty were received, neither at the start of nuclear testing at Mururoa in 1966 nor before underground testing was resumed on 5 September 1995. The Commission has throughout this period continued to assess the impact of nuclear testing on levels of environmental radioactivity on the basis of the monitoring data transmitted by France and by other potentially affected Member States in terms of Article 36 of the Euratom Treaty.

Such data were available for French Polynesia at the time France announced in June 1995 that it would resume nuclear testing. Additional data were requested by the Commission and received in the course of subsequent months, including some data pertaining to levels of radioactivity at and around the test sites. Moreover information relevant to the potential radiological consequences of underground nuclear testing was provided as part of the documentation which the Commission received on 17 October 1995.” (P-0116/1996).
So clearly Euratom's remit did apply to military nuclear activities, despite the MOD denial. 
From 1960 to 1996, France carried out 210 nuclear tests, 17 in the Algerian Sahara and 193 in French Polynesia in the South Pacific.

Le Parisien revealed that the documents "lifted the lid on one of the biggest secrets of the French army". It said papers showed that on 17 July 1974, a test exposed Tahiti to 500 times the maximum allowed level of plutonium fallout.
Richard Oldham, a member of the Polynesia nuclear workers' association Mururoa e Tatou, told Radio New Zealand International: "It's the right for our future generations to
About 150,000 veterans and civilians worked on, or were present during, nuclear tests, including 127,000 in Polynesia. But of 800 dossiers, only 11 people have received compensation, the Guardian has reported..

During the Mururoa tests in French Polynesia in the late 1960s, one veteran described how he was stationed in shorts and a T-shirt on a boat only about 15 miles from the explosion before having to sail immediately to the area of the vast mushroom cloud to examine the damage, the Guardian records.
Others on different tests wore shorts and had no sunglasses; they were told simply to shield their eyes and turn their backs at the time of the explosion.

In an oral Parliamentary answer earlier this month at defence questions, junior defence minister  Anna Soubry told Labour ‘s Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields: “It is important for me to make clear that the Government continue to recognise, and be grateful to, all the servicemen who participated in the British nuclear testing programme. Like all veterans, they are entitled to a comprehensive range of support from the veterans welfare service at the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, which can also put them in contact with other organisations that can help with specific issues…” and she added “…I am aware of the argument that is being advanced by the survivors, but there is no evidence to support their claims, and I do not think that it would be right to set up a £25 million benevolent fund when no proper basis for it has been provided. I am always available to listen to arguments, but so far I have heard no good argument to support that case.” (Hansard, 3 February 2014: Column 16)
I wonder when we will learn the whole truth of British nuclear tests.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Chancellor is green in knowledge of nuclear power‏

Chancellor George Osborne, en route to a G20 finance ministers' meeting in Australia, was outside his 'knowledge comfort zone' in advocating atomic energy as green, as he did in a speech in Hong Kong on 20 February.
Indeed he is scientifically illiterate in suggesting nuclear can “generate energy, ”as he asserted: energy cannot be generated, only converted from one source to another. Electricity (and radioactive waste) is generated from nuclear power plants.
Nuclear energy is not green under any measure. To make its fuel, uranium - which does not exist in economically recoverable reserves in the UK - has to be mined, milled and enriched abroad, which is a highly energy-intensive  industrial process, involving significant carbon emissions. (see: “Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power: A critical survey,” Energy Policy, 36, 2008, by Professor Benjamin K. Sovacool, now Director of the Danish Centre for Energy Technology at Aarhus University, and Visiting Associate Professor at Vermont Law School, USA)
Once the fuel has been irradiated in a reactor, it will have to be cooled, treated, conditioned, packaged and either long-term stored, or possibly emplaced in a deep repository. Each of these processes will involve not insignificant greenhouse gas emissions, not least the construction of giant underground vaults for any repository
You cannot simply look at the generation process for power generation; you have to look at the full  environmental footprint and lifecycle.
Were the first new UK reactor to go ahead it would be at the Hinkley Point coastal site, next to the Somerset levels. This site is now virtually surrounded by water on all sides. It is also very close to where an earthquake was reported in the Bristol Channel on 20 February; and at a location which was inundated by the biggest tsunami to hit the UK, in 1607.
Mr Cameron said earlier in the week he would be visiting each of the areas hit by flooding to assess the lessons forth future.
One clear lesson is Hinkley Point is a totally unsuitable site for a new reactor. How would people be evacuated were a serious accident involving radiation release, were it to coincide with a future flood?
Mr Cameron could start with trying to answer that.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Obama needs action not warm words on nuclear disarmament‏



Several British newspapers, including the Guardian, the Herald (Glasgow) and the Morning Star have reported from the United States that three anti-nuclear WMD activists, including an 84 year old nun, have just been jailed for breaking into a major military nuclear production plant.  This raises major questions over what is legitimate for concerned citizens to do about nuclear weapons of mass destruction

The nun, Sister Megan Rice, who actually received a 35 month sentence and two other defendants Michael Walli (64) and Greg Boertje-Obed (58) - the latter two being jailed for 62 months each -  were also fined a massive $53,000 for entering the Y-12 nuclear explosives (fissile materials)  production facility at the giant Oak Ridge uranium enrichment plant in Tennessee, and daubing it with Biblical messages

Despite a 14,000-signature petition pleading for leniency in the case, the US government lawyers argued the three are "recidivists and habitual offenders".

Yet at his celebrated speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on 19 June last year, President Obama said” “We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe…”and added “.And so, as President, I've strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons. Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons -- no matter how distant that dream may be.”

He also revealed “America will host a summit in 2016 to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world…and call on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.  These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice.”

These three brave activists should be released immediately, and thanked by the US Government for taking seriously the President’s pledges on nuclear disarmament.

The UK Government could directly assist, and should publicly lobby President Obama to live up to his promises, prove they are more than warm words, and pardon the activists.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Nuclear Con-fusion goes off Richter scale‏


Last week several British newspapers reported on an apparent “breakthrough” in nuclear fusion research in the US. In response, I wrote the letter below, which has not been published.

After submitting my letter, I received another critique from a senior researcher in the United States which I have pasted below. Between us, we have exposed some shoddy cheerleading journalism.


I read with wry amusement the headline "Lasers shine a light on unlimited, clean nuclear energy"(Independent, 13 February) over the article by your science editor on the apparent break though in experimental fusion energy science by the US National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore  labs in California.
This optimistic report   repeats  for the umpteenth time in the past 60 years by white coated boffins that they have found the Holy Grail of nuclear energy through a fusion breakthrough.
My favorite Panglossian report is one from Argentina in the 1950s:  it involved a top secret fusion research project on an island in a lake near Argentina's border with Chile, run by an Austrian émigré Ronald Richter, who had worked for Hitler's War effort before fleeing post war to South America. In February 1951, Richter showed off his secret thermonuclear fusion device to Argentina's enthusiastic  atomic energy commissioners, much to the  delight of populist President Péron.
Ultimately, once the project became more widely know, it was dismissed as mixing fantasy with reality. The New York Times described it as "replete  with impossibilities."
And so it remains today. Yet the fusion  programme continue to eat up the huge majority of our energy research budget, crowding out  more attainable sustainable renewable energy technologies and innovative electricity service opportunities.
The article rightly points out this facility's primary research is to support  the US' atomic arsenal of nuclear warheads, thus re-inforcing the fact that fusion research is intimate with nuclear weapons, something its lavishly-funded technological cheerleaders never wish to  discuss: just as they always omit it also creates radioactive waste, but different from fission (conventional) nuclear reactors.

However, your article fails to point out the NIF's primary research is to support  the US' atomic arsenal of nuclear warheads, thus re-inforcing the fact that fusion research is intimate with nuclear weapons, something its lavishly-funded technological cheerleaders never wish to  discuss: just as they always omit it also creates radioactive waste, but different from fission (conventional) nuclear reactors.

How many more fantasy "breakthroughs" do we need before we wake up to the  fact these fusion fanatics are far better at convincing scientifically ill-educated politicians and civil servants to provide taxpayers' support than making fusion work?

Confounding Fusion Weapons with Fusion Energy


by Robert Alvarez, February 15, 2014,



U.S. scientists achieve 'turning point' in fusion energy quest

Recently, national media attention was given to the publication of a

paper by scientists at the Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory

(LLNL) announcing that fusion of hydrogen atoms was achieved

involving lasers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). [See article

posted below, entitled 


U.S. scientists achieve 'turning point' in 

fusion energy quest.



Nuclear Weapons Research


NIF is a major project of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex managed

by the National Nuclear Security Administration within the Energy

Department. Based on the concept of inertial confinement fusion

(ICF), the NIF was established with two major goals:


   (1) to preserve and advance the intellectual capability in

        service to the U.S. nuclear arsenal (Stockpile Stewardship); and


   (2) to develop "pure fusion" nuclear weapons that will not

        require plutonium "triggers" to ignite a thermonuclear detonation.


The latter is a "holy grail" for nuclear weaponeers at LLNL.


Having worked in the Energy Department at the time when NIF was

launched, I know – and it was well understood – that this project was

part of the political price for support from LLNL of the Comprehensive

Test Ban Treaty.


To achieve its primary goal, NIF – a football-stadium-sized project –

is meant to generate extreme pressure and heat, comparable to that

created by a nuclear fission weapon, to yield a very small-scale

thermonuclear explosion. This is to be done by focusing 192 powerful

lasers on a target of millimeter dimensions containing a gas mixture of

stable hydrogen and tritium (H-3- a radioactive form of hydrogen).


NIF's entire budget comes from the "Weapons Activities" account of

the DOE budget. DOE/NNSA has been spending several hundreds-ofmillions

of dollars per year for the past 20 years on this project.


Currently, NIF is spending $400 million (in FY2014).


Conversion or Camouflage?


When it started to experience costly and time consuming set-backs,

the NIF “became” a technology to provide "an inexhaustible supply

of energy". The recent news story announcing that nuclear fusion was

achieved for a very brief time is an example of how LLNL has changed

the goal posts of this troubled project from demonstrating the viability

of ICF [for weapons purposes] to pulling off a "credible" experiment [for

peaceful purposes].


The first actual ignition experiment – now being touted as a

"breakthrough" – is actually ten years behind schedule.


It's no coincidence that publication and announcement of this

experiment was made public around the time that the U.S. Congress

has to approve the budget for NIF, now estimated to have a current

total cost of about $7 billion.


It's also no coincidence that the promise of NIF “to solve our energy

problems” began to be touted around the time its budget came under

closer critical scrutiny. Even pronuclear advocates, such as Rod

Adams, scoff at the idea of NIF serving this purpose.


Not much was said [in the news reports] about the fact that the

experiment took a very much larger amount of energy than it produced.

As pointed out by Arjun Makahijani, who has a PhD in fusion

engineering: "you need an improvement in performance of tens of

thousands of times before a shot can be deemed fit for a power




If this project weren't wrapped around the energy "breakthrough" flag,

behind the protective walls of the nuclear weapons budget, it probably

wouldn't have survived as long as it has.





WASHINGTON, Feb 12, 2014 


(Reuters) - U.S. scientists announced on Wednesday an important milestone in the costly, decades-old quest to develop fusion energy, which, if harnessed successfully, promises a nearly inexhaustible energy source for future generations.

For the first time, experiments have produced more energy from fusion reactions than the amount of energy put into the fusion fuel, scientists at the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California said.

The researchers, led by physicist Omar Hurricane, described the achievement as important but said much more work is needed before fusion can become a viable energy source. They noted that did not produce self-heating nuclear fusion, known as ignition, that would be needed for any fusion power plant.

Researchers have faced daunting scientific and engineering challenges in trying to develop nuclear fusion - the process that powers stars including our sun - for use by humankind.

"Really for the first time anywhere, we've gotten more energy out of this fuel than was put into the fuel. And that's quite unique. And that's kind of a major turning point, in a lot of our minds," Hurricane told reporters.

"I think a lot of people are jazzed."

Unlike fossil fuels or the fission process in nuclear power plants, fusion offers the prospect of abundant energy without pollution, radioactive waste or greenhouse gases.

Unlike the current nuclear fission energy that is derived from splitting atoms, fusion energy is produced by fusing atoms together.

Experts believe it still will be many years or decades before fusion can become a practical energy source.

"I wish I could put a date on it," said Hurricane. "But it really is (just) research. And, you know, although we're doing pretty good, we'd be lying to you if we told you a date."

Of the uncertain path ahead in fusion research, Hurricane compared it to "climbing half way up a mountain, but the top of the mountain is hidden in clouds. You can't see it. You don't have a map".

The research was conducted at the laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF), which was completed in 2009.


The scientists used 192 laser beams to zap a tiny target containing a capsule less than a tenth of an inch (about 2 mm) in diameter filled with fusion fuel, consisting of a plasma of deuterium and tritium, which are two isotopes, or forms, of hydrogen.

The fuel was coated on the inside of the capsule in a frozen layer less than the width of a human hair.

At very high temperatures, the nucleus of the deuterium and the nucleus of the tritium fuse, a neutron and something known as an "alpha particle" emerge, and energy is released.

The experiments, published in the journal Nature, created conditions up to three times the density of the sun.

In two experiments described by the researchers that took place in September and November of last year, more energy came out of the fusion fuel than was deposited into it, but it was still less than the total amount deposited into the target.

The deuterium-tritium implosions were more stable than previously achieved. The researchers did so by doubling the laser power earlier in the laser pulse than in earlier tries.

The fusion-energy yield was increased by about tenfold from past experiments, in a series that started last May. One of the experiments produced more than half of the so-called Lawson criteria needed to reach ignition - but only about one-100th of the energy needed for ignition.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located about 45 miles east of San Francisco, is overseen by the National Nuclear Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Eager to exploit the potential this type of energy offers to reduce dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, the United States and other nations have invested many millions of dollars into fusion research, often with uneven results.

There are two main approaches. This team focuses on what's known as inertial confinement fusion energy - using lasers to compress fuel pellets, which triggers fusion reactions.

Other labs like the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, which is the British national laboratory for fusion research, and the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey focus on magnetic confinement fusion energy - putting plasma in a magnetic container and heating it up until nuclei fuse.

Steve Cowley, director of the Culham Centre, called new findings "truly excellent" but said different measures of success make it hard to compare with his type of research.

"We have waited 60 years to get close to controlled fusion, and we are now close in both magnetic and inertial confinement research. We must keep at it," Cowley said in a statement.

Mark Herrmann, a fusion researcher at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico which is also overseen by the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, called the new findings important, but sees a "very long road to assessing the viability of fusion as a long-term energy source".

"I believe a compact carbon-free energy source is very important for humankind in the long term," he said by email.

"Fusion is one bet. If it pays off, the return will be big."

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sophie Hares)