Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Nuclear Fuggups, Biz as Usual...

This is a rant about an outrage I just learned about from an article at the Chicago Tribune I ran across at Buzzflash.

The Tribune article is rather detailed and you have to page through it if you are not a subscriber, which makes it hard to read, so I will try to give a brief rundown.

First, I have long had the misunderstanding was that there was a difference between the grade of enriched uranium used in nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs. Like so many things, this is a truth with modifications.

To put it simply, reactors are like cars -- some can run on low octane fuel and some require high octane. When the fuel used in reactors high octane, that uranium is enriched enough to be used in bombs.

There is a lot of uranium out there in the world, supplied by the US during the Eisenhower administrations "Atoms for Peace" program and later. Both France and Russia have also done so.

There have been efforts to retrieve the uranium for some 25 years and more. The problem is, a lot of reactors, just like old cars, can't just switch from unleaded high octane fuel.

After Terrible Tuesday, there was a lot of flap about terraists getting their hands on material somewhere and using it on us.

And the US gov't swung into action and went into high gear to retrieve the material? Right?

No -- wrong!

An example: a laboratory which had been working for 25 years on a shoestring budget of 5.6 million dollars per annum succeeded in getting Serbia to send old fuel back to Russia. But our gov't wouldn't even foot the bill. Instead, a private organization of Ted Turner's to ante up with five million.

Finally, in 2004, when the gov't in DC finally woke up (a little), their first response was to fire the guy who had been running the laboratory in Chicago.

The bottom line is that the gov't is not and has never had the highly vaunted "homeland security" as a first priority. First priority is to acquire appropriations and second is cover their arse. In the end, it is we, the people who end up either paying through the nose or dead in the mud.

Here are a few money quotes from the Tribune article:

"Jack Edlow, whose company, Edlow International, ships nuclear fuel back to the U.S., was in his Washington office on Sept. 11. He looked out his back window and saw smoke rising from the Pentagon."

"I thought they would get themselves a couple of hundred million dollars, and we would get the whole thing cleaned up in a couple of years," Edlow recalled. "I thought everybody would say, `Let's go get this stuff before it comes back to haunt us.'"

"Eleven months after the terrorist attacks, the U.S. did manage to remove two nuclear bombs' worth of uranium from Serbia and ship it back to Russia. But to pay for the mission, the State Department asked the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a non-profit group founded by Ted Turner and former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, to donate $5 million; that was more money than the government contributed to the mission."

"Even after Sept. 11, America was relying on funding from a non-profit for critical national security work."

"In the summer of 2004, Energy Department officials began taking firmer control of America's effort to retrieve bomb fuel. They wanted it run out of Washington, not Chicago. They wanted the fuel work managed out of a federal lab in Idaho, not Argonne. They wanted new scientists involved, not the same group that had been leading it the last 26 years."

"And three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, they finally asked to double the budget."

"Travelli [head of the Argonne lab] heard about these changes piecemeal. Then one day, an Argonne administrator, Phillip Finck, called him into his office. Finck told the longtime scientist that energy officials wanted him out. He could stay on as a scientific adviser, but an Argonne colleague would replace him."

"Fear of being fired has replaced the pursuit of excellence as a motivator for our work," he wrote in resigning, "and the main concern today is to satisfy every wish of frequently incompetent and unpredictable bureaucrats in Washington."

"Over 26 years, Travelli and his team helped 22 nations stop using bomb-grade fuel in 33 reactors, eliminating the use of 3.3 tons and ridding the world of 120 potential nuclear weapons. But more than 100 reactors still use the dangerous fuel, with an estimated 40 tons out of U.S. control."

No comments: