More Radioactive Leaks Before the Sixth Seal (Revelation 6:12)

Left to right, John Sullivan, Marilyn Elie, Margot Frances, Manna Jo Greene and Jeanne Shaw, members of the Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition, in front of an inflatable, life-size nuclear waste cask last week. Abby Luby Photo

October 8, 2019 By Abby Luby

The closure and dismantling of Indian Point plants 2 and 3 in 2020 and 2021, respectively, have raised red flags about the storage and handling of more than 1,700 tons of dangerous radioactive waste.

At a public meeting last Wednesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) answered questions about the decommissioning process. About 90 people crowded into the Morabito Community Center in Cortlandt to ask Bruce Watson, NRC chief of the reactor decommissioning branch, about the regulatory agency’s oversight role during the plant closures.

For three hours, many were frustrated with the unreliable audio system that made it difficult to hear the speakers. A major concern was about Holtec International, a family-owned corporation based in Camden, N.J., slated to purchase, dismantle Indian Point and manage the irradiated nuclear fuel. Although Holtec has more than 30 years’ experience handling radioactive waste, it has come under scrutiny for fast-tracking decommissioning of nuclear plants.

Holtec proposes to dispose of the waste in as little as eight years; the NRC allows 60 years for the process.

Holtec is a company with a record of bribery, lies and risk-taking. We know the NRC allowed the company into plants in New Jersey and Massachusetts even before objections by citizens’ groups were heard,” charged Richard Webster, legal director for Riverkeeper.

“Can you describe the NRC’s role in approving and selecting companies like Holtec for decommissioning?” asked Peekskill City Councilman Colin Smith during the meeting.

Watson replied that the agency is not privy to contractual details or sale agreements.

“Our sole responsibility is to ensure the applicant is licensed and has the technical and financial ability to own a particular plant,” he said.

When Smith asked for an estimated timeline for transporting the spent fuel rods, Watson said, “Congress promised to take care of high-level waste when they encouraged all these plants to be built. It’s in their ballpark to facilitate the disposal of the spent fuel. It’s way below my pay grade to make that kind of policy. I wish I had an answer for you.”

NRC’s oversight role with Holtec directly ties into the formation of Community Advisory Boards (CABs) as stipulated in a federal law under the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act. Watson indicated that the NRC would be checking in regularly with the progress of the decommissioning, but acknowledged that a heavier oversight role would be put on the Community Advisory Boards.

Many have questioned the authority of the newly formed local CAB, chaired by Buchanan Mayor Theresa Knickerbocker with Cortlandt Supervisor Linda Puglisi serving as vice chair.

“We are all in this together,” said Puglisi in defense of the CAB. “We created a task force two years ago when we learned of the decommissioning and have been meeting monthly. We have a large membership including business people, environmentalists, school officials, chamber of commerce, county executives from Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange, along with state representatives.” Puglisi told the NRC to officially recognize the group as a Community Advisory Panel rather than a board.

Knickerbocker said the Community Advisory Panel was a diverse group with Indian Point supporters and critics.

“We are the eyes and ears and the voice for our community,” she said. “Our agenda is the safe decommissioning of Indian Point. This panel will drive the bus for decommissioning.”

The watchdog group Indian Point Safe Energy Coalition (IPSEC) has supported a funded Citizens Oversight Board comprised of impartial members, independent scientists, experts, first responders, plant workers, environmentalists and other informed stakeholders.

“The board should have a budget to hire experts and have appointed environmentalists and volunteers who hold monthly, open meetings,” said IPSEC member Marilyn Elie.

IPSEC maintains a CAB made up of local politicians who might have financial or economic agendas is problematic. IPSEC has drafted citizens’ oversight board legislation that is expected to be introduced to state, county and local lawmakers in January.

Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D-Ossining) told Watson the NRC should fund the CAB.

“The NRC allowed the nuclear plants to be here, and now that they are being decommissioned, you should be sponsoring and funding the CABs using money in the federal government budget,” Galef said.

Although Indian Point units 2 and 3 generate about 2,000 megawatts of electricity, Con Ed no longer gets electricity from Indian Point. In 2017, the contract between Con Ed and Entergy expired and was not renewed, according to the utility. Up to that point, Indian Point supplied only 560 megawatts to Con Ed.

With competing solar and wind markets offering cheaper energy, Entergy’s high price for electricity has priced the company out of the market. Today, Entergy is closing its aging plants across the country.

An upcoming forum on decommissioning Northeast nuclear plants is scheduled for this Thursday, Oct. 10 from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at Hendrick Hudson Free Library in Montrose.

Doomsday is Closer than Ever (Revelation 16)

 

bulletin of atomic scientists 2020 doomsday clock 100 seconds to midnight

It is 100 seconds to midnight

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.

To: Leaders and citizens of the world
Re: Closer than ever: It is 100 seconds to midnight
Date: January 23, 2020

Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society’s ability to respond. The international security situation is dire, not just because these threats exist, but because world leaders have allowed the international political infrastructure for managing them to erode.

In the nuclear realm, national leaders have ended or undermined several major arms control treaties and negotiations during the last year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race, to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and to lowered barriers to nuclear war. Political conflicts regarding nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea remain unresolved and are, if anything, worsening. US-Russia cooperation on arms control and disarmament is all but nonexistent.

Public awareness of the climate crisis grew over the course of 2019, largely because of mass protests by young people around the world. Just the same, governmental action on climate change still falls far short of meeting the challenge at hand. At UN climate meetings last year, national delegates made fine speeches but put forward few concrete plans to further limit the carbon dioxide emissions that are disrupting Earth’s climate. This limited political response came during a year when the effects of manmade climate change were manifested by one of the warmest years on record, extensive wildfires, and quicker-than-expected melting of glacial ice.

Continued corruption of the information ecosphere on which democracy and public decision making depend has heightened the nuclear and climate threats. In the last year, many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet.

This situation—two major threats to human civilization, amplified by sophisticated, technology-propelled propaganda—would be serious enough if leaders around the world were focused on managing the danger and reducing the risk of catastrophe. Instead, over the last two years, we have seen influential leaders denigrate and discard the most effective methods for addressing complex threats—international agreements with strong verification regimes—in favor of their own narrow interests and domestic political gain. By undermining cooperative, science- and law-based approaches to managing the most urgent threats to humanity, these leaders have helped to create a situation that will, if unaddressed, lead to catastrophe, sooner rather than later.

Faced with this daunting threat landscape and a new willingness of political leaders to reject the negotiations and institutions that can protect civilization over the long term, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board today moves the Doomsday Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight—closer to apocalypse than ever. In so doing, board members are explicitly warning leaders and citizens around the world that the international security situation is now more dangerous than it has ever been, even at the height of the Cold War.

Civilization-ending nuclear war—whether started by design, blunder, or simple miscommunication—is a genuine possibility. Climate change that could devastate the planet is undeniably happening. And for a variety of reasons that include a corrupted and manipulated media environment, democratic governments and other institutions that should be working to address these threats have failed to rise to the challenge.

The Bulletin believes that human beings can manage the dangers posed by the technology that humans create. Indeed, in the 1990s leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union took bold actions that made nuclear war markedly less likely—and as a result the Bulletin moved the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock the farthest it has been from midnight.

But given the inaction—and in too many cases counterproductive actions—of international leaders, the members of the Science and Security Board are compelled to declare a state of emergency that requires the immediate, focused, and unrelenting attention of the entire world. It is 100 seconds to midnight. The Clock continues to tick. Immediate action is required.

A retreat from arms control creates a dangerous nuclear reality

The world is sleepwalking its way through a newly unstable nuclear landscape. The arms control boundaries that have helped prevent nuclear catastrophe for the last half century are being steadily dismantled.

In several areas, a bad situation continues to worsen. Throughout 2019, Iran increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, increased its uranium enrichment levels, and added new and improved centrifuges—all to express its frustration that the United States had withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), re-imposed economic sanctions on Iran, and pressured other parties to the Iran nuclear agreement to stop their compliance with the agreement. Early this year, amid high US-Iranian tensions, the US military conducted a drone air strike that killed a prominent Iranian general in Iraq. Iranian leaders vowed to exact “severe revenge” on US military forces, and the Iranian government announced it would no longer observe limits, imposed by the JCPOA, on the number of centrifuges that it uses to enrich uranium.

Although Iran has not formally exited the nuclear deal, its actions appear likely to reduce the “breakout time” it would need to build a nuclear weapon, to less than the 12 monthsenvisioned by parties to the JCPOA. At that point, other parties to the nuclear agreement—including the European Union and possibly Russia and China—may be compelled to acknowledge that Iran is not complying. What little is left of the agreement could crumble, reducing constraints on the Iranian nuclear program and increasing the likelihood of military conflict with the United States.

The demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty became official in 2019, and, as predicted, the United States and Russia have begun a new competition to develop and deploy weapons the treaty had long banned. Meanwhile, the United States continues to suggest that it will not extend New START, the agreement that limits US and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems, and that it may withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, which provides aerial overflights to build confidence and transparency around the world. Russia, meanwhile, continues to support an extension of New START.

The assault on arms control is exacerbated by the decay of great power relations. Despite declaring its intent to bring China into an arms control agreement, the United States has adopted a bullying and derisive tone toward its Chinese and Russian competitors. The three countries disagree on whether to pursue negotiations on outer space, missile defenses, and cyberwarfare. One of the few issues they do agree on: They all oppose the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which opened for signature in 2017. As an alternative, the United States has promoted, within the context of the review conference process of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), an initiative called “Creating the Environment for Nuclear Disarmament.” The success of this initiative may depend on its reception at the 2020 NPT Review Conference—a landmark 50th anniversary of the treaty.

US efforts to reach agreement with North Korea made little progress in 2019, despite an early summit in Hanoi and subsequent working-level meetings. After a North Korean deadline for end-of-year progress passed, Kim Jong Un announced he would demonstrate a new “strategic weapon” and indicated that North Korea would forge ahead without sanctions relief. Until now, the willingness of both sides to continue a dialogue was positive, but Chairman Kim seems to have lost faith in President Trump’s willingness to come to an agreement.

Without conscious efforts to reinvigorate arms control, the world is headed into an unregulated nuclear environment. Such an outcome could reproduce the intense arms race that was the hallmark of the early decades of the nuclear age. Both the United States and Russia have massive stockpiles of warheads and fissile material in reserve from which to draw, if they choose. Should China decide to build up to US and Russian arsenal levels—a development previously dismissed as unlikely but now being debated—deterrence calculations could become more complicated, making the situation more dangerous. An unconstrained North Korea, coupled with a more assertive China, could further destabilize Northeast Asian security.

As we wrote last year and re-emphasize now, any belief that the threat of nuclear war has been vanquished is a mirage.

An insufficient response to an increasingly threatened climate

In the past year, some countries have taken action to combat climate change, but others—including the United States, which formalized its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and Brazil, which dismantled policies that had protected the Amazon rainforest—have taken major steps backward. The highly anticipated UN Climate Action Summit in September fell far short of Secretary General António Guterres’ request that countries come not with “beautiful speeches, but with concrete plans.” The 60 or so countries that have committed (in more or less vague terms) to net zero emissions of carbon dioxide account for just 11 percent of global emissions. The UN climate conference in Madrid similarly disappointed. The countries involved in negotiations there barely reached an agreement, and the result was little more than a weak nudge, asking countries to consider further curbing their emissions. The agreement made no advances in providing further support to poorer countries to cut emissions and deal with increasingly damaging climate impacts.

Lip service continued, with some governments now echoing many scientists’ use of the term “climate emergency.” But the policies and actions that governments proposed were hardly commensurate to an emergency. Exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels continues to grow. A recent UN report finds that global governmental support and private sector investment have put fossil fuels on course to be over-produced at more than twice the level needed to meet the emissions-reduction goals set out in Paris.

Unsurprisingly, these continuing trends are reflected in our atmosphere and environment: Greenhouse gas emissions rose again over the past year, taking both annual emissions and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to record highs. The world is heading in the opposite direction from the clear demands of climate science and plain arithmetic: Net carbon dioxide emissions need to go down to zero if the world is to stop the continuing buildup of greenhouse gases. World emissions are going in the wrong direction.

The consequences of climate change in the lives of people around the world have been striking and tragic. India was ravaged in 2019 both by record-breaking heat waves and record-breaking floods, each taking a heavy toll on human lives. Wildfires from the Arctic to Australia, and many regions in between, have erupted with a frequency, intensity, extent, and duration that further degrade ecosystems and endanger people. It is not good news when wildfires spring up simultaneously in both the northern and southern hemispheres, making the notion of a limited “fire season” increasingly a thing of the past.

The dramatic effects of a changing climate, alongside the glacial progress of government responses, have unsurprisingly led to rising concern and anger among growing numbers of people. Climate change has catalyzed a wave of youth engagement, activism, and protest that seems akin to the mobilization triggered by nuclear disaster and nuclear weapons fears in the 1970s and 1980s. Politicians are taking notice, and, in some cases, starting to propose policies scaled to the urgency and magnitude of the climate problem. We hope that public support for strong climate policies will continue to spread, corporations will accelerate their investments in low-carbon technologies, the price of renewable energy will continue to decline, and politicians will take action. We also hope that these developments will happen rapidly enough to lead to the major transformation that is needed to check climate change.

But the actions of many world leaders continue to increase global risk, at a time when the opposite is urgently needed.

The increased threat of information warfare and other disruptive technologies

Nuclear war and climate change are major threats to the physical world. But information is an essential aspect of human interaction, and threats to the information ecosphere—especially when coupled with the emergence of new destabilizing technologies in artificial intelligence, space, hypersonics, and biology—portend a dangerous and multifaceted global instability.

In recent years, national leaders have increasingly dismissed information with which they do not agree as fake news, promulgating their own untruths, exaggerations, and misrepresentations in response. Unfortunately, this trend accelerated in 2019. Leaders claimed their lies to be truth, calling into question the integrity of, and creating public distrust in, national institutions that have historically provided societal stability and cohesion.

In the United States, there is active political antagonism toward science and a growing sense of government-sanctioned disdain for expert opinion, creating fear and doubt regarding well-established science about climate change and other urgent challenges. Countries have long attempted to employ propaganda in service of their political agendas. Now, however, the internet provides widespread, inexpensive access to worldwide audiences, facilitating the broadcast of false and manipulative messages to large populations and enabling millions of individuals to indulge in their prejudices, biases, and ideological differences.

The recent emergence of so-called “deepfakes”—audio and video recordings that are essentially undetectable as false—threatens to further undermine the ability of citizens and decision makers to separate truth from fiction. The resulting falsehoods hold the potential to create economic, social, and military chaos, increasing the possibility of misunderstandings or provocations that could lead to war, and fomenting public confusion that leads to inaction on serious issues facing the planet. Agreement on facts is essential to democracy and effective collective action.

Other new technologies, including developments in biological engineering, high-speed (hypersonic) weapons, and space weapons, present further opportunities for disruption.

Genetic engineering and synthetic biology technologies are now increasingly affordable, readily available, and spreading rapidly. Globally, governments and companies are collecting vast amounts of health-related data, including genomic data, ostensibly for the purpose of improving healthcare and increasing profits. But the same data could also be useful in developing highly effective biological weapons, and disagreements regarding verification of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention continue to place the world at risk.

Artificial intelligence is progressing at a frenzied pace. In addition to the concern about marginally controlled AI development and its incorporation into weaponry that would make kill decisions without human supervision, AI is now being used in military command and control systems. Research and experience have demonstrated the vulnerability of these systems to hacking and manipulation. Given AI’s known shortcomings, it is crucial that the nuclear command and control system remain firmly in the hands of human decision makers.

There is increasing investment in and deployment of hypersonic weapons that will severely limit response times available to targeted nations and create a dangerous degree of ambiguity and uncertainty, at least in part because of their likely ability to carry either nuclear or conventional warheads. This uncertainty could lead to rapid escalation of military conflicts. At a minimum, these weapons are highly destabilizing and presage a new arms race.

Meanwhile, space has become a new arena for weapons development, with multiple countries testing and deploying kinetic, laser, and radiofrequency anti-satellite capabilities, and the United States creating a new military service, the Space Force.

The overall global trend is toward complex, high-tech, highly automated, high-speed warfare. The computerized and increasingly AI-assisted nature of militaries, the sophistication of their weapons, and the new, more aggressive military doctrines asserted by the most heavily armed countries could result in global catastrophe.

How the world should respond

To say the world is nearer to doomsday today than during the Cold War—when the United States and Soviet Union had tens of thousands more nuclear weapons than they now possess—is to make a profound assertion that demands serious explanation. After much deliberation, the members of the Science and Security Board have concluded that the complex technological threats the world faces are at least as dangerous today as they were last year and the year before, when we set the Clock at two minutes to midnight (as close as it had ever been, and the same setting that was announced in 1953, after the United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons).

But this year, we move the Clock 20 seconds closer to midnight not just because trends in our major areas of concern—nuclear weapons and climate change—have failed to improve significantly over the last two years. We move the Clock toward midnight because the means by which political leaders had previously managed these potentially civilization-ending dangers are themselves being dismantled or undermined, without a realistic effort to replace them with new or better management regimes. In effect, the international political infrastructure for controlling existential risk is degrading, leaving the world in a situation of high and rising threat. Global leaders are not responding appropriately to reduce this threat level and counteract the hollowing-out of international political institutions, negotiations, and agreements that aim to contain it. The result is a heightened and growing risk of disaster.

To be sure, some of these negative trends have been long in development. That they could be seen coming miles in the distance but still were allowed to occur is not just disheartening but also a sign of fundamental dysfunction in the world’s efforts to manage and reduce existential risk.

Last year, we called the extremely troubling state of world security an untenable “new abnormal.”

“In this extraordinarily dangerous state of affairs, nuclear war and climate change pose severe threats to humanity, yet go largely unaddressed,” we wrote. “Meanwhile, the use of cyber-enabled information warfare by countries, leaders, and subnational groups of many stripes around the world exacerbates these enormous threats and endangers the information ecosystem that underpins democracy and civilization as we know it. At the same time, other disruptive technologies complicate and further darken the world security situation.”

This dangerous situation remains—and continues to deteriorate. Compounding the nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats, the world’s institutional and political capacity for dealing with these threats and reducing the possibility of civilization-scale catastrophe has been diminished. Because of the worldwide governmental trend toward dysfunction in dealing with global threats, we feel compelled to move the Doomsday Clock forward. The need for emergency action is urgent.

There are many practical, concrete steps that leaders could take—and citizens should demand—to improve the current, absolutely unacceptable state of world security affairs. Among them:

  • US and Russian leaders can return to the negotiating table to: reinstate the INF Treaty or take other action to restrain an unnecessary arms race in medium-range missiles; extend the limits of New START beyond 2021; seek further reductions in nuclear arms; discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and start talks on cyber warfare, missile defenses, the militarization of space, hypersonic technology, and the elimination of battlefield nuclear weapons.
  • The countries of the world should publicly rededicate themselves to the temperature goal of the Paris climate agreement, which is restricting warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius higher than the preindustrial level. That goal is consistent with consensus views on climate science, and, notwithstanding the inadequate climate action to date, it may well remain within reach if major changes in the worldwide energy system and land use are undertaken promptly. If that goal is to be attained, industrialized countries will need to curb emissions rapidly, going beyond their initial, inadequate pledges and supporting developing countries so they can leapfrog the entrenched, fossil fuel-intensive patterns previously pursued by industrialized countries.
  • US citizens should demand climate action from their government. Climate change is a serious and worsening threat to humanity. Citizens should insist that their government acknowledge it and act accordingly. President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change agreement was a dire mistake. Whoever wins the 2020 US presidential election should reverse that decision.
  • The United States and other signatories of the Iran nuclear deal can work together to restrain nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Iran is poised to violate key thresholds of the deal. Whoever wins the United States’ 2020 presidential election must prioritize dealing with this problem, whether through a return to the original nuclear agreement or via negotiation of a new and broader accord.
  • The international community should begin multilateral discussions aimed at establishing norms of behavior, both domestic and international, that discourage and penalize the misuse of science. Science provides the world’s searchlight in times of fog and confusion. Furthermore, focused attention is needed to prevent information technology from undermining public trust in political institutions, in the media, and in the existence of objective reality itself. Cyber-enabled information warfare is a threat to the common good. Deception campaigns—and leaders intent on blurring the line between fact and politically motivated fantasy—are a profound threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other existential dangers.

The global security situation is unsustainable and extremely dangerous, but that situation can be improved, if leaders seek change and citizens demand it. There is no reason the Doomsday Clock cannot move away from midnight. It has done so in the past when wise leaders acted, under pressure from informed and engaged citizens around the world. We believe that mass civic engagement will be necessary to compel the change the world needs.

Citizens around the world have the power to unmask social media disinformation and improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren. They can insist on facts, and discount nonsense. They can demand—through public protest, at the ballot box, and in many other creative ways—that their leaders take immediate steps to reduce the existential threats of nuclear war and climate change. It is now 100 seconds to midnight, the most dangerous situation that humanity has ever faced. Now is the time to unite—and act.

Statement from the President and CEO

Inside the two-minute warning

In the year 2020, several important anniversaries should cause us all to assess progress, or lack thereof, toward a safer and more secure planet. April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, established to advocate for a healthy and sustainable environment. On the first Earth Day—April 22, 1970—20 million Americans, almost 10 percent of the US population, took to the streets to advocate for more sustainable practices. May 2020 also marks the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), a landmark agreement that became the bedrock for global efforts at nuclear arms control. July and August 2020 will also mark the 75th anniversary of the testing and then the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the first and only time such weapons have been brandished as an instrument of war. Efforts to curb their use have been on-going ever since.

The past 75 years have seen the risks of nuclear war reach startling heights that have included the United States and Soviet Union testing hydrogen bombs; multiple moments when by either accident or design a nuclear exchange between the great powers seemed possible if not probable; an increasing number of states obtaining nuclear weapons; and most recently North Korean and American leaders exchanging childish name calling and not-so-childish nuclear threats. On the climate side, the past 50 years have resulted in a growing consensus that humans are dangerously disrupting their environment. As early as 1978, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asked the question “Is mankind warming the earth?” with a cover story that answered “Yes.”

But just as humanity has come perilously close to obliterating itself, it has also experienced moments of exquisite forethought, well-planned efforts to protect the planet accomplished by determined people. Political leaders were able to cut the number of total nuclear warheads significantly, and undertake a series of confidence-building measures that reduced the likelihood of nuclear war. In 2016, another optimistic moment appeared: Countries from around the world began charting paths toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in bridges to a cleaner future by adopting the Paris agreement, which builds on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process.

The Bulletin’s Science and Security Board convened in Chicago in November 2019 with a keen recognition of this year’s historic anniversaries. What follows is an acknowledgment that we live in troubling times, with the risk of nuclear accident seemingly growing by the day as the time available to responsibly stem the climate crisis shrinks just as quickly. For these reasons, and others spelled out in the pages that follow, the time on the Doomsday Clock continues to tick ever closer to midnight.

As seasoned watchers know, the Doomsday Clock did not move in 2019.  But the Clock’s minute hand was set forward in January 2018 by 30 seconds, to two minutes before midnight, the closest it had been to midnight since 1953 in the early years of the Cold War. Previously, the Clock was moved from three minutes to midnight to two and a half minutes to midnight in January 2017. This year, the Science and Security Board moved the time from two minutes to 100 seconds to midnight, a decision taken in full recognition of its historic nature. You will see in the following statement the articulation of why board members reset the clock, and what they suggest leaders and citizens around the world do to eventually begin moving it away from midnight.

US sports terminology provides an analogy for the current moment. As fans who watch it know, American football incorporates a two-minute warning, a break at the end of each half that differentiates the last two minutes from all that came before. Decisions are made with different strategic reference points, and expectations are raised for decisive action. The last two minutes bring newfound vigilance and focus to participants and viewers alike.  Every second matters.

As far as the Bulletin and the Doomsday Clock are concerned, the world has entered into the realm of the two-minute warning, a period when danger is high and the margin for error low. The moment demands attention and new, creative responses. If decision makers continue to fail to act—pretending that being inside two minutes is no more urgent than the preceding period—citizens around the world should rightfully echo the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg and ask: “How dare you?”

Public engagement and civic action are needed and needed urgently. Science and technology can bring enormous benefits, but without constant vigilance, they bring enormous risks as well. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is grateful to our supporters, who allow us to carry on our important work and share it with our growing global audience. More people came to the Bulletin’s website in 2019 than any year prior, and our magazine continues to be read and downloaded by followers around the world. The resurgent interest in issues of nuclear risk, climate change, and other disruptive technologies, especially among those 35 years and younger, shows that young people are hardly apathetic to the deteriorating environment in which we now operate. Rather, it shows that tomorrow’s leaders are seeking new images, messages, policies, and approaches and no longer assume that today’s leaders will keep them safe and secure.

I thank the members of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board for once again taking seriously their responsibility for setting the Doomsday Clock and producing this statement to explain their decision. John Mecklin, the Bulletin’s editor-in-chief and the writer of this report, ensured that it offers the strongest possible articulation of the ideas and approaches that were discussed among the Board’s expert membership. None of this would have been possible without the support of foundations, corporations and individuals who contribute to the Bulletin year in and year out. For a full listing of our financial supporters, please see our annual report on our website at the thebulletin.org.

In addition to the anniversaries listed above, December 2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of the first edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, initially a six-page, black-and-white bulletin and later a magazine, created in anticipation that “the atom bomb would be on the first of many dangerous presents from Pandora’s box of modern science.” Over the years, we’ve published debates and recommendations that have laid the foundation for turning the hands of the Doomsday Clock away from midnight. We have done it before, which means we can certainly do it again. In 2020, however, world leaders have less time before midnight in which to make their decisions, and the need to take urgent action to reduce the risk of nuclear war and climate change is great. Please continue to petition your leaders to act now, and as if their lives depend upon it. Because theirs—and ours—most certainly do.

Rachel Bronson, PhD
President & CEO

January 23, 2020

Chicago, IL

Science and Security Board bio

Why South Korea Will Go Nuclear (Daniel 7)

 

Republic of Korea Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets. Photo credit: ROK Air Force

Republic of Korea Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets. Photo credit: ROK Air Force

How to keep South Korea from going nuclear

By Duyeon Kim, March 9, 2020

 

The South Korean public debate on the country’s future nuclear options has recently extended beyond the usual pro-nuclear, conservative fringe voices of the past. The threat from North Korea’s nuclear weapons capability has grown substantially, and more questions have been raised among South Koreans about the reliability of US security assurances to its key Asian ally, driven largely by what they see as US President Donald Trump’s leadership style. Still, South Korea’s opposition to nuclear weapons remains strong. But Seoul’s nuclear abstinence must not be taken for granted. American administrations can prevent Seoul from crossing the nuclear thresholdby keeping North Korea at the top of their foreign policy priorities and taking steps to assure South Koreans that the United States will always come to its defense.

The Nuclear Risk at Indian Point (Revelation 6:12)

Aerial view of the Indian Point nuclear power plant along th
UNITED STATES – FEBRUARY 19: Aerial view of the Indian Point nuclear power plant along the banks of the Hudson River in Westchester County. (Photo by Susan Watts/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

New York AG: Indian Point deal ‘very risky,’ asks feds to let state intervene

New York Attorney General Letitia James wants the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to listen to thestate’s concerns with the pending deal to sell Indian Point to Holtec International in New Jersey.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday called the deal to sell the Indian Point nuclear power plant “very risky” and urged federal safety regulators to consider the state’s concerns before moving ahead.

James filed a petition to intervene in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s hearings on Entergy’s plan to transfer ownership of the 60-year-old power plant to a subsidiary of Holtec International when Indian Point shuts down next year.

“Putting the decommissioning of Indian Point in the hands of a company with no experience and uncertain financial resources is very risky,” James said Wednesday. “I am committed to ensuring that New York is granted full participation in this application proceeding and all other decision-making related to Indian Point’s decommissioning.”

STAFFING: New York says Entergy plan to reduce staffing levels at Indian Point is too risky

STATE AG: ‘Grave concerns’ over Indian Point nuclear plant decommissioning

HUDSON: Barges to take Indian Point’s radioactive waste down the Hudson? Company considers it

Among James’ concerns is a $200 million shortfall in trust fund money that will be used to decommission or dismantle the plant’s three reactors.

The funds currently hold $2.1 billion, but Holtec says the decommissioning effort, estimated to take 12 to 15 years, will cost $2.3 billion.

“Because the license transfer application does not show that adequate decommissioning funding will be available at the time of permanent shutdown,it does not comply with applicable NRC rules and may not be approvedas submitted,” the petition states.

In a statement, Holtec spokesman Joe Delmar said the company welcomed input from the state and others in the approval process.

“We look forward to an opportunity to further discuss with local officials and others Holtec’s plan for the safe, efficient and prompt decommissioning of Indian Point, which can be completed decades sooner than if Entergy performed the work,” Delmar said.

Holtec, based in Camden, New Jersey, has been a presence in the nuclear power industry for decades, mostly in the manufacture of the steel and cement canisters used to store spent fuel.

In recent years Holtec joined a handful of companies created to decommission the growing number of nuclear power plants that have announced plans to shut down. The company promises to cut decades off a job Entergy said would likely take decades.

“Holtec and its team have decades of experience safely decommissioning nuclear power plants and managing high level radioactive material at locations in the U.S. and other countries,” Delmar added. “The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has previously determined that Holtec has the financial and technical qualifications to perform decommissioning safely, and has approved license transactions at other U.S. nuclear power plants.”

Skeptics have voiced their concern that decommissioning companies could jeopardize safety in the haste to get the job done, siphoning away trust fund money while sticking ratepayers with the tab for cost overruns.

Holtec’s plan calls for removing spent fuel assemblies from reactors and storing them in canisters on the Buchanan site until the federal government designates a permanent repository for storing the nation’s nuclear waste.

Holtec has asked the NRC to allow it an exemption that will allow the company to use approximately $632 million of the trust fund to manage spent fuel on the site.

Its decommissioning proposal said most of the plant’s large parts will be removed by truck and rail and delivered to sites that take in low-level radioactive waste. But, it says it is considering moving some of the parts by barge down the Hudson River — a plan opposed by environmental groups.

The first of Indian Point’s two working reactors is slated to be shut down in April.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer praised James’ action.

“Thanks to Attorney General James for having the backs of Westchester residents by making sure Holtec has a viable plan in place and is held accountable,” Latimer said. “All of Westchester County, from Cortlandt to Yonkers, stands to be greatly impacted by the Indian Point decommissioning process and this move by the Attorney General brings the resources and expertise of the State to this high-stakes proceeding.”

State and federal lawmakers who represent communities around Indian Point said the state’s input was needed to make sure the decommissioning is done safely.

“Nuclear energy has been produced on this site for nearly 60 years, so contamination of the environment is a distinct risk if dismantling the reactors is mishandled,” state Sen. Pete Harckham said.

The China Nuclear Horn (Daniel 7)

https://www.reutersconnect.com/all?id=tag%3Areuters.com%2C2019%3Anewsml_RC1672C420C0&share=true

Don’t Sleep on China’s Large Nuclear Weapons Program

It is no joke.

Key point: Beijing has its own nuclear triad and its sea-based deterrent is especially potent. Here is how China ended up getting (and improving) its own bomb.

China’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs, or “boomers”) are soon to become a major worry for the United States.  How does this change the balance of power in the Pacific?

History of Program: 

China completed its first SSBN, the Type 092 “Xia” boat, in 1981.  The sub did not enter service until 1987, however, and has reportedly never conducted a deterrence patrol. The sub (various rumors over the years have asserted that a sister ship was built, and lost) represented a triumph of China’s limited submarine building industry, but did not constitute a meaningful deterrent.

This first appeared in 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

China’s second effort, the Type 094 class, has resulted in a much more effective group of boats.  The Type 094s displace about 11,000 tons submerged, and carry 12 JL-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), capable of launching a nuclear warhead some 7,500 kilometers.

Reports vary on whether the missiles can carry MIRVs, but given Chinese advances in this area it is likely that these and future boats will carry them in the future. Thus far China has constructed around four Type 094 class subs, the minimum necessary for conducting continuous deterrent patrols.

The next step is the Type 096 “Tang” SSBN. Reports vary widely on the design parameters and expected deployment dates, but it will undoubtedly be larger, quieter, and carry more missiles with more warheads. The Type 096 is expected to carry up to 24 JL-3 SLBMs, with a range of 10,000 kilometers.

Deployed appropriately, any of the more modern submarines can strike the United States with nuclear missiles. The Type 096 can strike the U.S. from secure areas near China’s coast.  The Pentagon currently believes that China will build around eight SSBNs in total, giving the PLAN the capacity to maintain multiple boats on continuous patrol.  Much depends, however, on whether China shifts its overall nuclear posture from minimal deterrence to active pursuit of secure second strike capability.

The Type 092 boat is practically undeployable, and has effectively been retired. The PLAN has been conducting extensive exercises with the Type 094 boats, presumably in preparation for their first deterrent patrols. The PLAN has developed an extensive infrastructure for servicing these boats. However, the Type 094 class cannot operate independently in conditions of high intensity conflict. The boats are reputedly noisier than 1970s era Soviet SSBNs, making them easy prey for American attack subs.

In light of this disadvantage, it seems likely that China will adopt the “bastion” concept that guided Soviet SSBN deployment during the Cold War. The Soviets adopted the bastion strategy because of concern about the survivability of its SSBNs, and because of paranoia about a decapitating American first strike.  If anything, China’s boats remain less survivable than the Soviet subs of the late Cold War, and China is considerably more vulnerable to pre-emptive nuclear attack than the Soviet Union.  Consequently, a bastion strategy might make sense.  However, the PLAN needs to accelerate the development of its anti-submarine warfare capabilities in order to pose a genuine threat to American attack submarines.

On the one hand, the noisiness of China’s boomers make them easy for U.S. attack boats to find.  On the other hand, and insecure nuclear deterrent does not bode well for crisis stability.  As Brendan Thomas-Noone and Rory Medcalf have suggested, noisy SSBNs present tempting targets for nuclear attack submarines. In a war, the United States (or Japan, or India) might press this advantage by engaging in a concerted effort to destroy China’s boomers. This was precisely the strategy the U.S. Navy envisioned in the 1970s and 1980s; attacking the “bastions” in which Soviet SSBNs patrolled.

While sinking the SSBNs seems attractive, a concerted campaign might produce a “use it or lose it” mentality in the Chinese Communist Party, and would undoubtedly heighten concerns about U.S. escalatory intentions. In short, the vulnerability of Chinese SSBNs is both an opportunity and a problem for the United States.

In practical terms, the expansion of the Chinese submarine nuclear deterrent doesn’t have much effect on the United States. As was the case with the Soviet Union, and is the case with Russia, China has plenty of good reasons to refrain from launching. The decision to devote resources to the SSBN fleet may well result from concerns over U.S. nuclear primacy; the idea that the United States could decisively destroy China’s nuclear forces on the ground. The deployment of additional submarines undoubtedly makes China’s second strike deterrent somewhat more secure, but the United States would require excessively high confidence to undertake a first strike against under any conditions.

As the world’s most powerful navies have found, SSBNs are a mixed blessing. They suck up cash and resources at every stage of design and development, and return very little in terms of operational value. The United States Navy has grudgingly settled on an Ohio replacement boat, although not without controversy. The ability of the United Kingdom to replace its existing SSBN force is an open political question. Even the Russians have been slow to replace their aging, Cold War era boomers. Moreover, “bastion” strategies are particularly costly, as they force the deployment of support units in the vicinity of the boomer.

The more interesting questions come down the road, as China tries to catch the United States (and Russia) on quieting technology. If future PLAN boomers have sufficient stealth to operate independently, then the Chinese deterrent strategy could come to resemble the American more closely than the Soviet. This would, incidentally, free up surface and subsurface anti-submarine units for other work.

In any case, the presence of additional Chinese boomers adds a wrinkle to the escalation-management problems that will arise if China and the United States ever go to war.  The development of the Indian SSBN force, which has lagged behind the Chinese for some time, could further complicate the nuclear politics of the Indo-Pak. But most likely, Chinese boomers will spend their careers doing what everyone else’s boomers do; hide deep in the ocean, waiting for an order that will probably never come.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as an Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. This first appeared in 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Israeli Forces Fire Live Rounds Outside the Temple Walls (Revelation 11)

Israeli Forces Fire Live Rounds and Flares into Besieged Gaza Strip

Ali Salam

Flares lit up the sky over the eastern border area of Gaza City, on Sunday evening, as the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) intensively fired live rounds at agricultural plots of land, Days of Palestine reported.

According to local sources, the IOF opened fire at cultivated lands east of Gaza City, for no apparent reason, in addition to firing flares that lit up the night sky over the area.

A Palestinian observation point in the east of al-Maghazi refugee camp (central Gaza) also came under gunfire attack, with no reported casualties.

Iraqi Woman Accuses Antichrist of Killing Her Only Son

Iraqi Woman Accuses Moqtada Al-Sadr of Killing Her Only Son

Tuesday, 10 March, 2020 – 10:45 –

One of Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters smokes shisha

Baghdad – Fadhel al-Nashmi

A woman from Iraq’s Najaf accused Sadrist Movement Leader Muqtada al-Sadr of being involved in killing her only son in Sadrayn Square.

Armed groups, believed to be affiliated with the Sadrist movement, attacked the Square early February, killing nine demonstrators, including Muhannad al-Qaisi, the lady’s son, and wounding dozens.

The woman’s statements came on Sunday at the Tahrir Square, central Baghdad, during demonstrations held in support of the protest movement on the occasion of “International Women’s Day”.

She expressed sorrow and grief, urging international and human rights organizations and the government to take action in this regard.

She also affirmed that her family is independent and doesn’t support from any political party, stressing that her son stormed Iraq’s streets in demand for a country that maintains his dignity and that of others his age.

Two weeks ago, the lady recorded a video addressing Sadr and grieving her son’s death, asking what guilt did he commit to be killed. However, back then she didn’t directly accuse Sadr of her son’s murder.

The Movement, for its part, didn’t respond to the accusations.

Sources in Najaf told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Najafi lady wanted to reach the grave of Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr to complain about his son’s actions, but she was not allowed to.”

Activists have launched a criticism campaign against Sadr several weeks ago after his followers were accused of being involved in the killing and wounding of many demonstrators in Najaf and Baghdad.

Sadr is seen today by many as one of the most prominent figures defending the regime after he was represented as an opposing figure against regime corruption and one who seeks to make reforms.

Many protesters believe that his presence in Iran at the beginning of the demonstrations has affected his since.

The protests Sadr called for late January against the US presence in Iraq has led to the division between Sadr and the rest of the anti-Iranian groups in Iraq.

Militants Using Balloon Bombs Outside the Temple Walls

Balloons carrying an incendiary device floats after being released by masked Palestinians near Gaza's Bureij refugee camp, along the Israel-Gaza border fence, on February 10, 2020. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

Militants in Gaza use party balloons to deliver bombs: report

Militant groups in Gaza have been releasing balloons on a daily basis—about one third carrying explosives—into cities like Netivot, prompting military responses, a report Sunday said.

The Washington Post, citing local police, reported that the balloons have been released over the past few months, but usually land in the countryside. But the report said the sightings send these neighborhoods fleeing for cover, and the report cited a police commander who expressed fear that there will eventually be deaths.

Balloons carrying an incendiary device floats after being released by masked Palestinians near Gaza’s Bureij refugee camp, along the Israel-Gaza border fence, on February 10, 2020. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP) (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

Chai Fahima, a police officer who deals with bomb-disposals, told the paper that the intention of these balloons is to terrify residents. Some have been found 50 miles away.

The Gaza Strip is a 140-square-mile piece of land occupied by Palestinians bordering the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Israel. The area has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been on the global radar for decades.

President Trump and his administration have made brokering the peace process between the two sides a top priority, but have yet to find common ground that both sides are willing to agree to.

Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was welcomed by Jews but denounced by Palestinian leaders and other Middle East countries.

The Post interviewed an unidentified Gaza man, 30, who is part of a small cell that sends these balloons. He said the balloons are not intended to kill children.

“Our aim is to break this siege,” he said.

Fox News’ Nick Givas contributed to this report