Search results for robert alvarez

The fallout never ended

As efforts to compensate victims of US nuclear weapons tests continue, a former Senate staffer and expert on the US nuclear program looks back at their harmful effects, and how the government addressed them—or didn't.

The test ban treaty at 60: How citizen action made the world safer

Sixty years ago, the United States, Soviet Union, and United Kingdom—which had conducted over 500 above-ground nuclear tests—agreed to end testing in the atmosphere, under water, and in outer space. The Limited Test Ban Treaty became the first international environmental treaty curtailing the poisoning of Earth.
The Braidwood nuclear power plant rises above nearby homes. The state of Illinois and Will County officials sued the owners and operators of the facility in 2006, claiming they failed to report leaks of radioactive tritium from the facility. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

‘Exploring Tritium’s Danger’: a book review

In his book 'Exploring Tritium's Danger," nuclear expert Arjun Makhijani explains why US regulation is grossly insufficient to current and future risks from tritium, a radioactive contaminant that has been released widely to the air and water from nuclear power and spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plants.
historic photo of participants in Baby Tooth Survey

Bombs, science, and baby teeth

How many nuclear weapons can be detonated in support of weapons development or during a war before imperiling humans from radioactive fallout? That’s the question the Atomic Energy Commission asked in the 1950s. To find the answer, scientists, citizens, and later the St. Louis Committee for Nuclear Information looked at baby teeth where strontium 90—a radioactive isotope—is absorbed as if were calcium. The work combined scientific research with a political movement aimed at ending the nuclear arms race. It also played a role in the ratification of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty. The wisdom and extraordinary effort of preserving these baby teeth for some 60 years later opened doors for cutting-edge research involving an array of pollutants.

The long-term problem of “peaceful” plutonium

By the mid-21st century, the amount of plutonium in spent power reactor fuel could grow to more than 1,400 metric tons. The 300-year clock measuring off the time until the radiation barrier diminishes to the point that this vast amount of weapons-usable plutonium can be readily obtained is still ticking.
Waste Isolation Pilot Plant receives 12,500th shipment of transuranic waste

Can the Energy Department store 50 tons of weapons-grade plutonium for 10,000 years?

The Energy Department faces the daunting task of geologically disposing of tens of tons of weapons-grade plutonium, so it can never be used again, while ensuring that its does not threaten the environment over a time period longer than human civilization has existed. Achieving safe plutonium disposal will be a multifaceted challenge requiring both long-term commitments and large financial investments. But arms control and disarmament will not progress as they should unless the excess plutonium problem is solved.
Robert Alvarez with Li Gun in North Korea.

2003: North Korea: No bygones at Yongbyon

An American visits North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor in 1994, before it became a crucial piece of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
An undated aerial shot of the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, where US nuclear weapons are assembled and taken apart. Credit: US Government.

Under siege: Safety in the nuclear weapons complex

The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board faces difficulties that include the actions of some if its own members, who either don’t want or can’t seem to execute its mission. Last year, Sean Sullivan, the acting chairman, tried to secretly convince the Trump White House to get rid of the board entirely, claiming it was “a relic of the Cold-War era defense-establishment.” Sullivan failed and was compelled to resign, but the board has adopted a backup plan that imposes large budget and staffing cuts on the safety agency.

Yesterday is tomorrow: estimating the full cost of a nuclear buildup

A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate puts the bill for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and arsenal at $1.2 trillion over 30 years. This new estimate—a significant increase over previous suggestions of the cost for rebuilding the US triad of land, submarine, and bomber-based nuclear forces—has drawn much comment. But the CBO estimate avoids including funds for environmental restoration and waste management of the Energy Department’s nuclear weapons complex—funding that is also in the Congressional Atomic Defense Activities Account that supports the department’s nuclear weapons activities. If these legacy costs are included, then the total price tag goes to $1.74 trillion over three decades.

End the 67-year war

In the end, a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear situation will involve direct negotiations and gestures of good faith by both sides, such as a reduction or a halt of military exercises by the United States, South Korea, and Japan, and a reciprocal moratorium on nuclear weapon and ballistic missile testing by the DPRK. Such steps will generate a great deal of opposition from US defense officials who believe that military might and sanctions are the only forms of leverage that will work against the North Korean regime. But the Agreed Framework and its collapse provide an important lesson about the pitfalls of the pursuit of regime change.

Pushing the storage horse with a nuclear waste cart: the spent fuel pool problem

Key steps need to be taken to reduce the dangers posed by spent nuclear fuel stored in cooling pools. The most important: a reduction of the density of spent fuel assemblies now stored in these pools, and an expansion of on-site storage of used fuel in hardened “dry casks.”

Native American uranium miners and the Trump budget

America’s Indian miners were never warned of the hazards of radioactivity in the mines, where they inhaled, ingested, and drank uranium dust.

An Energy Department tale: Captain Perry and the great white whale

It appears that the Trump transition team has no clue about how all the elements of the Energy Department fit together.

Nuclear power plant? Or storage dump for hot radioactive waste?

Evidence is mounting that spent high-burnup fuel poses little-studied challenges to the temporary used-fuel storage plans now in place and to any eventual arrangement for a long-term storage repository.

West Lake story: An underground fire, radioactive waste, and governmental failure

The US government needs to remove radioactive waste from a St. Louis area landfill that's on fire, before contamination spreads further than it already has
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The Marshall Islands and the NPT

The Marshalls lawsuits and the humanitarian initiative both seek to make the nuclear states comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty and seriously negotiate toward nuclear disarmament

More bucks for the bang

The cost of the nuclear weapons complex keeps going up, even as the size of the nuclear arsenal falls

Rebranding the nuclear weapons complex won’t reform it

The nuclear weapons production and laboratory system created during the Cold War is simply far too large for the current military situation and needs drastic consolidation that includes the closing of labs and other facilities

Y-12: Poster child for a dysfunctional nuclear weapons complex

The Y-12 National Security Complex has not produced weapons for some 25 years, but its annual budgets have increased by nearly 50 percent since 1997. The dysfunction must end, sometime.