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“Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are both leading instances of the irrationalities 
that result from a social world that has been constructed to concentrate power 
in the hands of tiny minorities, and to make it possible for them 
to maintain and defend their power.”
“. . . because a few, by fate’s economy, shall seem to move the world
the way it goes.”

Our planet is deeply burdened. It presently harbours 390,000 tons of high level nuclear waste produced by nuclear reactors and weapons programs over the past 70 years. Spent nuclear fuel is one of the most dangerous materials on earth. Most of it is stored underwater in numerous cooling ponds throughout the world. High level nuclear waste is dangerous to all life for unthinkable periods of time. Plutonium, which is produced in every nuclear fuel rod, has a toxic lifespan of 240,000 years. With each passing year, a further 10,000 tons of spent fuel is added to the world’s accumulated stores of deadly waste. In addition to the spent fuel from nuclear reactors, vast amounts of lower-level radioactive waste lie scattered in mining sites, tailings dams, undersea dumps and soil-borne contamination on every continent.

We have no idea what to do with the stuff. The Americans sank over $13 billion into the construction of a massive underground repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. It was closed down in 2010 without taking in a single gram of nuclear waste. The Soviets didn’t bother with such elaborate schemes and until recently, simply dumped much of their waste – including obsolete submarines complete with nuclear reactors – into the Kara Sea and elsewhere in the Arctic Circle where they slowly corrode, leaching their lethal contents into the cold waters of the Arctic Ocean.

In the meantime, a small cadre of aspirational Promethean technocrats in South Australia have somehow decided that Australia holds the solution to the global problem of nuclear waste. The recently released Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Report recommends that the South Australian government accepts over one third of the world’s high level waste for above-ground storage and eventual burial in yet-to-be-built underground repositories in the South Australian desert. The report proposes that South Australia imports 138,000 tons of high level radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel rods as well as an additional 390,000 cubic metres of intermediate level waste for storage and eventual disposal.

This has all been spruiked as a fail-safe commercial venture that will relieve the South Australian Government of its financial problems ever after and create a rosy economic future for generations that have yet to be born. Such madness blithely ignores the fact that the genetic and biological futures of those generations may thereafter be a different story.

Awakening the Nuclear Beast

The cadaverous face of nuclear energy was revealed right from the start. Marie Curie, who discovered the radioactive elements radium and polonium, was fascinated with the peculiar luminosity emitted by the salts of uranium and radium. Her decades-long work with these elements was, however, invisibly accompanied by a slow and silent destruction of the blood-forming cells in her bone-marrow. This eventually led to her death from aplastic anaemia in 1934. Curie’s notebooks written over a century ago are stored in lead-lined boxes. Present-day researchers who wish to examine them are required to wear protective clothing.

The US military was among the first to realise the possibilities of glow-in-the-dark radium salts. Towards the end of World War I, it commissioned the painting of watch-dials and other instruments with radium. The idea became more widely popular and the United States Radium Factory was set up in New York in 1917. Over the following decade, 70 young women were employed to paint watch-dials with radium salts using fine camel hair brushes. They were instructed by their supervisors to keep the brush tips sharp by rolling them between their lips or on their tongues. Their inevitable fate is recounted in Eleanor Swanson’s powerful but harrowing poem The Radium Girls.

Ernest Rutherford’s work with uranium during the early years of the twentieth century led him to develop the first coherent model of the structure of the atom. Danish physicist Neils Bohr worked in his laboratory for a short time in 1912. Soon after, Bohr had refined Rutherford’s theory and formulated the idea that electrons moved in fixed orbits around a central nucleus and that, by absorbing or emitting energy, they could instantaneously change their orbits. His theory formed the core around which a more complete understanding of quantum mechanics could develop over the next decade.

Hahn and Strassmann. Tabletop Nuclear Fission Apparatus, 1938

Things then began to move very quickly. The development of particle accelerators enabled physicists to routinely transmute one element into another by the 1930s. In December 1938, the German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann observed that bombarding uranium with neutrons resulted in the formation of lighter, rather than the heavier elements that they expected. Hahn was mystified by the results and communicated the findings to his former colleague Lise Meitner who had taken refuge in Sweden because of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies. She was visited soon after by her nephew Otto Frisch, a physicist at Neils Bohr’s laboratory in Copenhagen, and spoke with him about Hahn’s letter. In the discussions that followed, they realised that Hahn had unwittingly described the phenomenon of nuclear fission – the breaking apart of atoms of uranium. Together, they pieced together a plausible account of the process and submitted a short paper outlining their theory to the scientific journal Nature. It was published in February 1939.

The Human Chain Reaction

In the meantime, Otto Frisch had returned to Copenhagen and chanced to meet with his boss Neils Bohr, the early theorist of quantum mechanics. Bohr was just about to board a ship for New York City with a physicist colleague, Leon Rosenfeld. Otto Frisch later recalled:

“When I came back to Copenhagen, I found Bohr just on the point of parting, of leaving for America and I just managed to catch him for five minutes and tell him what we had done. And I hadn’t spoken for half a minute when he struck his head with his fist and said, “Oh, what idiots we have been that we haven’t seen that before. Of course this is exactly as it must be.” 

As the ship steamed across the Atlantic, Bohr and Rosenfeld had ample time to reflect on the revolutionary news that Frisch had delivered. During those six days, they developed a detailed theory of the nature of nuclear fission. Otto Frisch in the meantime had confirmed that uranium atoms in fact were capable of dividing into smaller atoms with the release of large amounts of energy.

The Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who was also among the new cadre of quantum theorists, was waiting on the pier when Bohr and Rosenfeld arrived in New York. Like many of his colleagues, Fermi had fled Europe because of the anti-Jewish policies of both Mussolini and Hitler and had taken up a position at Columbia University. Over the next few days, Bohr and Rosenfeld excitedly passed on this new revelation of the behaviour of uranium atoms to the close-knit group of elite physicists at Columbia and Princeton Universities. The implications were immediately understood by all.

These pivotal events in the early weeks of 1939 sent the world of physics into a fury of activity that culminated six years later in the detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert.

The Nuclear Chain Reaction

In the four months after Niels Bohr arrived in the US, the theoretical foundations for the creation of both a controlled nuclear chain reaction and a uranium-based weapon of unthinkable destructive power had been laid. Bohr and his colleagues were fully aware that after annexing Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Adolph Hitler had immediately seized the uranium mines at Joachimsthal and prohibited the export of uranium ore to any other country. They also knew that German physicists were actively engaged in atomic research.

More than 100 nuclear physicists left central Europe between 1933 and the early 1940s because of Hitler’s policies. Most of them ended up in universities and laboratories in England and America. They, together with their newly-found colleagues, quickly put the dots together. Soon after, a small group of expatriate European physicists persuaded Albert Einstein to sign a letter addressed to Theodore Roosevelt. In it, Einstein called for the immediate acquisition of uranium in large quantities and also for the development of a vigorous research program into both nuclear power and nuclear weapons. The letter, dated August 2nd 1939, stated:

“In the course of the past four months it has been made probable . . . that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which large amounts of power and vast quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future. 

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable – though much less certain – that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may be constructed. . . . In view of this situation, you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America.

Chicago Pile-1, layer 17

Three years later, Enrico Fermi and his group at the University of Chicago succeeded in their efforts to produce a controlled nuclear chain reaction. The world’s first nuclear reactor, named Chicago Pile-1 consisted of 40 tons of uranium oxide and 6 tons of uranium metal fashioned into 22,000 cylindrical slugs embedded in 380 tons of highly-purified graphite. Chicago Pile-1 went critical on the afternoon of December 2nd 1942.

As soon as the sustained nuclear reaction had been confirmed, Arthur Compton, the head of the Chicago laboratory, called his colleague James Conant, fellow physicist and director of the National Defense Research Committee in Washington. He cryptically reported: “The Italian navigator has landed in the new world.” Conant inquired, “How were the natives?” Compton replied “Very friendly.”

In the intervening decades, we have come to learn that the natives are not so friendly after all.

First Fruits

It was soon after confirmed – as Fermi had predicted – that the controlled fission in Chicago Pile-1 produced a new element, plutonium-239 in significant quantities. Plutonium promised to be even more fissionable, and hence more suitable for creating an atomic bomb, than the uranium-235 that physicists in the U.S. and the U.K. were hastily attempting to extract from uranium ores. The separation of uranium-235 tested the ingenuity of physicists on both sides of the Atlantic. But within three years of Fermi’s kindling of the first atomic fire at Chicago, both fissionable uranium and plutonium had been produced in sufficient quantities to construct three nuclear bombs.

The first was successfully detonated in the Trinity test at Alamogordo in the New Mexico desert on the morning of July 16th 1945. The second, a uranium bomb similar to the first, was dropped on the city of Hiroshima three weeks later. Three days after that terrible event, the world’s first plutonium bomb was ruinously “tested” on the people of Nagasaki. In those two atomic lashings visited on the people of Japan, 200,000 lives were vaporised by the unearthly infernos that erupted from the fissioning of less than two kilograms of heavy metal.

So as not to lose the edge that it had thereby gained, the U.S, military set about creating stores of plutonium as a matter of urgency. And nuclear reactors were now a ready means of producing virtually limitless supplies of this new element. The US military was not, however, alone in its aspirations.

                                    First UK Atomic Bomb Test. Montebello Islands, Australia, 1952

The Soviets built their first nuclear reactor in 1946 using confiscated German uranium. In August 1949, they detonated their first atomic bomb. Its core consisted of plutonium. By 1951, the U.K. had built four nuclear reactors. On October 3rd 1952, the U.K.’s first atomic bomb was successfully tested in the Montebello Islands off the West Australian coast. It too was a plutonium device. By that time it was clear to all who coveted such power that nuclear reactors were essential for the creation of new arsenals of atomic weapons.

Thus were the beginnings of the nuclear age.

Catching Butterflies With Sledgehammers

A strategy was needed to redeem these technologies of death and make them more acceptable to the general public. Under the rubric of Atoms For Peace, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the United Nations General Assembly in December 1953. In his carefully-crafted speech, Eisenhower launched the idea of creating an International Atomic Energy Agency that would oversee the development of a global nuclear power industry. He thereby initiated a soft sell that would, by 2016, see the world populated with 444 nuclear power plants in over 30 countries, with a further 63 reactors in the pipeline.

Nuclear reactors do not generate electricity. They generate ferocious amounts of heat, and that heat is used to produce steam that then drives powerful turbines. Nuclear reactors do, however, generate immense quantities of highly radioactive materials that are lethal to all forms of life. These materials must be kept isolated from living ecosystems for geologic periods of time because of their inherent dangers. These dangers were clearly understood long before the first commercial nuclear power plants began to appear in the late 1950s.

Within two years of Eisenhower’s Atoms For Peace speech, a conference on the disposal of radioactive wastes was organised at Princeton University in New York. It was attended by an elite group of physicists, nuclear engineers and representatives of private companies. Its purpose was to both address the growing problem of radioactive wastes from the U.S. nuclear weapons program, and to anticipate the consequences of the future deployment of large numbers of commercial nuclear power plants, each of which would produce dangerous wastes as a result of their operation.

Nuclear Waste Disposal, Hanford, 1950

The gravity of the waste problem was made clear to the group even during its first meetings in 1955, and was acknowledged within the first few paragraphs of the conference report: “The hazard related to radioactive waste is so great that no element of doubt should be allowed to exist regarding safety.” (p. 3) Later, Harry H. Hess, the conference chairman was to state:

“The waste we have on hand is not being disposed of, in any strict sense, and it is something to worry about. . . . For the immediate future, extending to many years, wastes will constitute a serious problem.” (p. 75)

Regardless, the dark horse of nuclear power was deemed ready to be set free and to gallop where it would through the steadily thickening airs of the twentieth century.

The Great Impasse

Participants at the conference agreed that arrangements should be made as a matter of urgency to develop and implement a program for the disposal of nuclear wastes in abandoned salt mines and deep salt beds. Vast deposits of bedded salt were known to exist along the southern edge of the Great Lakes extending from New York state to Michigan. Other potentially suitable sites were nominated in the Gulf states of Texas and Louisiana, and also in Utah, Colorado and Kansas. The conference also recommended that concurrent research be undertaken to find ways of stabilising nuclear wastes in the form of ceramics or insoluble slag.

Yet a curious inertia permeated the U.S. nuclear establishment. It took a further 45 years before the first (and only) functioning underground nuclear waste depository was actually constructed. The safe disposal of radioactive wastes was clearly not as straightforward as many had assumed.

Stacked Drums of Transuranic Wastes. WIPP, New Mexico

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was built in a deep underground salt deposit and eventually opened in 1999 after years of contention between Federal and State regulators. The WIPP does not actually house any wastes from commercial nuclear reactors. It was specifically assigned to store the extremely long-lived transuranic wastes – which include large quantities of plutonium produced by the U.S. military nuclear weapons program between 1944 and 1988.

The WIPP repository has not been without its problems. In February 2014, a deflagration reaction within one of the barrels containing radioactive waste caused an intense fire that consumed the contents of the barrel. This resulted in the release of radioactive contamination throughout the underground tunnel system and into the surrounding environment. Above-ground monitors soon after detected the spread of radiation one kilometre away from the site of the fire. Waste storage operations were shut down immediately after the incident but are slated to resume in December 2016. The clean-up cost is already in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

More recently, doubts have been raised regarding the ultimate suitability of salt mines and salt domes as safe storage sites for radioactive wastes. Water has been found flowing through what were earlier believed to be impermeable salt deposits. This has certainly been the case in Germany’s Asse II underground salt chambers in which over 100,000 barrels of low to medium level nuclear wastes have been stored from the 1960s. The unexpected of water into these chambers has raised fears of longer term radioactive contamination of local groundwater.

In the meantime, most of the 70,000 tons of spent fuel in the U.S. continues to quietly glow in cooling ponds located alongside nuclear power plants. Many of these cooling ponds have reached their storage capacity with some 20% of the spent fuel stockpile having been transferred to above-ground dry storage casks. The situation is similarly fraught in Canada, the U.K., continental Europe, Russia and the Ukraine, China, Japan, Korea and many other countries where nuclear wastes continue to accumulate even as new reactors are commissioned.

Resuscitating a Nightmare

It is a curious thing to observe the confidence with which the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has embraced the promotion of South Australia as the ideal destination for over one third of the world’s accumulated stores of spent nuclear fuel. This spent fuel, together with the 400,000 cubic metres of intermediate-level nuclear waste that the Royal Commission recommends be transported to South Australia, represents a problem that nations with decades-long histories of nuclear energy production have failed to resolve. The entrancement induced by a whiff of billions of dollars of new revenue presently has a closed circle of nuclear advocates and politicians straining to persuade the people of South Australia to obligingly make their way as latter-day lemmings towards a dangerous and uncharted nuclear abyss.

In the short term, the Commission calls for the transportation of vast tonnages of highly radioactive materials from around the planet for decades-long storage in above-ground facilities. In the longer term, it proposes the construction of a deep underground repository for the “permanent” burial of the most dangerous wastes produced by a destructive and senescent civilisation.

Onkalo. Nuclear Repository Under Construction

The pursuit of projects such as that envisioned by the South Australian Royal Commission has been plagued by unanticipated complications as has been shown at both the WIPP repository in New Mexico and Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository at Olkiluoto in Finland has been held up as the gold standard in nuclear waste repository design, but at the present time it remains an idea that has yet to be tested. The repository has been under construction since 2004 and is expected to open in the 2020s. It will eventually cost around $5 billion and is designed to store 5,000 tons of spent fuel from Finland’s four nuclear reactors for a period of at least 100,000 years. Meanwhile, Finland’s nuclear program continues to expand with a fifth reactor under construction and another on the drawing board.

Quo Vadis?

The project to bury the world’s nuclear poison in the heart of the Australian desert has not sprung out of a void. It is an idea that has been insidiously festering for two decades in a variety of incarnations. The first stirrings of the hellish project to turn Australia into the world’s nuclear dumping ground emerged in the late 1990s when Pangea Resources, a U.K. based company promoted the construction of a commercially-operated international waste repository in Western Australia. The project was supported by a $40 million budget, 80% of which came from British Nuclear Fuels Limited (wholly owned by the U.K. government), with the remaining 20% from two nuclear waste management companies.

That particular project came to an abrupt halt in 1999 after Friends of the Earth in the U.K. came into possession of a promotional video produced by Pangea Resources and sent it on to its sister organisation in Australia. The project did, however, excite the imagination of a number of prominent Australian politicians including former prime ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard. In 2005, Bob Hawke excitedly proclaimed: “Forget about current account deficits . . . we could revolutionise the economics of Australia if we did this.”

The situation is no different today. Current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten seem to be in lock-step regarding the desirability of importing the world’s high level nuclear waste into South Australia. Neither has listened to the voices of indigenous traditional owners or of the more informed advocates of restraint and sanity.

Olympic Dam Uranium Mine, South Australia

One of the more disturbing elements of the Royal Commission report is its explicit endorsement of the progressive nuclearisation of the planet over the course of the next century. But given the make-up of the Royal Commission, this comes as no surprise.

The fact that the earth presently heaves under the detritus, the violence, and the unquenchable excesses of a terminally destructive civilisation blind to its own approaching convulsions has simply not entered the consciousness of those who would sell the future for a mess of pottage. The projections of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission report are prefaced on the assumption of continuing social, political, economic, climatic and existential stability for the next 120 years – which is the nominated life-span of the project – and continuing geological stability for tens of thousands of years thereafter.

At a time when our collective energies could be given over to creating the conditions that will bring to an end the excess and wastefulness that have brought us all to such a perilous edge, we find ourselves being quietly goaded into a more-of-the-same, business-as-usual entrancement that ignores the realities we presently face and those that await our children and their generations. One can only hope for a general awakening whereby people everywhere will come to recognise the deceits, the distractions and the seductions perpetrated by those who would move the world the way it goes.

It has been said that the beginning of a situation holds the seeds of its future fruition. The will to power and the disregard of consequence that were made manifest by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki has already borne the dreadful fruits of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima and worldwide radioactive contamination. Let us nonetheless continue to strive to find the will to live in ways that honour the delicacy of life, the sublime coherence of nature, and the mystery of the love that brings forth all beings.

The Pangea Story

The video clip below was produced by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1999. It offers a remarkable account of how the shadowy dealings of corporate entities acting in concert with governments can be brought to light and held to account by attentive vigilance and informed commitment.

Vincent Di Stefano is a retired educator and practitioner of natural medicine and author of “Holism and Complementary Medicine. History and Principles” (Allen and Unwin, 2006). He remains committed to exploring the nature of healing at personal, social, spiritual and environmental levels and maintaining a watching brief on the turbulent currents that course through the present times. This article was first published in Satan’s Cauldrons Blog


  1. Asteroid Miner says:

    France already recycles spent nuclear fuel. In the 1960s, we in the US recycled spent nuclear fuel.  We don’t recycle nuclear fuel now for two reasons:

    1. It is valuable and people steal it. The place it went that it wasn’t supposed to go to was Israel. This happened in a small town near Pittsburgh, PA circa 1970. A company called Numec was in the business of reprocessing nuclear fuel. [I almost took a job there in 1968, designing a nuclear battery for a heart pacemaker.]

    2. Virgin uranium is so cheap that it is cheaper than recycling. This will change eventually, which is why we keep the spent fuel where we can reach it. The US possesses a lot of MOX fuel made from the plutonium removed from bombs. MOX is essentially free fuel since it was paid for by the process of un-making bombs.

    Please read this Book: “Plentiful Energy, The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor” by Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, 2011. You can download this book free from: Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, are former directors of the nuclear power research lab at Argonne National Lab near Chicago. Get another free book from:

    Per Till & Chang: The Integral Fast Reactor [IFR] uses “nuclear waste” as fuel and gets many times as much energy out of a pound of uranium as the Generation 2 reactors we are using now. The IFR is safer than the Generation 2 reactors, which are safer by far than coal. The IFR is commercially available from

    The IFR is meltdown-proof. The IFR can be turned up and down quickly and repeatably. The IFR uses metal fuel that is recycled in a system that makes it difficult to get plutonium239 out of the fuel. To make a good plutonium bomb, you must have almost pure plutonium239. 7% plutonium240 and higher isotopes or other actinides will spoil the bomb. IFR Pyro process recycled fuel is useless for bomb making.

    Elements with more protons than uranium are called trans-uranics alias actinides. Actinides are the part of so-called nuclear “waste” that makes it stay radioactive for a long time. The IFR uses up the actinides as fuel. Actinides include plutonium, neptunium, americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium and all of the other “synthetic” elements.

    The IFR is the ideal source of electricity since it does not make CO2. The resultant “waste” is very small, will decay in only 300 years and is useful in medicine. The IFR is commercially available now. See:

    The following countries either already recycle spent fuel or are experimenting with a recycling process or both:
    France, Japan Russia, China, India, South Korea.
    The US recycled spent fuel in the 1960s.

    Purex process: The old one. Separates out plutonium, but does not separate the isotopes of plutonium. Any bomb made with this plutonium from a powerplant reactor would fizzle. You can’t make a plutonium bomb with more than 7% Pu240.

    Pyro process: Leaves plutonium mixed with uranium and trans-uranic elements. [All fissionable elements are kept together with uranium]
    Other processes [wet] are also under development.

    By recycling nuclear fuel, we have a 30,000 [thirty thousand] year supply.

    • Thank you for these thoughts. The essential problem here is one of perspective. You are not alone in your commitment to a nuclearised future or in your vision of endlessly abundant nuclear fuel produced by hot breeder reactors.

      The problem is not a technical one. It is an existential one. Simply put, radioactive elements – particularly in the concentrated forms in which they have been produced over the past 70 years are inimical to all of life. Powerful and fascinating, yes. But by their very nature, rank, deadly and poisonous to all living creatures and their ecosystems. We either recognise that or not, and act accordingly.

      We will have trouble enough navigating the next 30 years, let alone the next 30,000 years. And the available energy that wee have – from whatever sources – continues to be squandered recklessly wealthy and also not-so-wealthy nations.

      Nuclear energy is neither clean nor cheap. The cost is not necessarily measured in dollars, but in the degree of violence it implies and in the degree of destruction it has wrought on landscapes, in aquifers, and within indigenous communities, and in the broader range of communities around Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and further afield.

      Fast neutron reactors may be melt-down proof as you say, but have been a source of unending grief for the cavalier French as experience with their Phenix and Super-Phenix reactors has demonstrated. Though Russia, India and Japan remain committed to pursuing the further development and eventual commercialisation of fast breeder reactors, such technologies remain inherently dangerous by their very nature and will ever remain so.

      We have yet to acquire the wisdom to recognise the deathly nature of nuclear technology and to stop where we are so that we may begin to find other ways of living on the earth. There are many voices that have spoken with clarity about the dangers of nuclearisation. But the first step before any meaningful change of direction can occur is to understand the need for restraint, for frugality, for equitability, and for humility.

      Thank you for your links to Till and Chang’s books. I look forward to the read. In the meantime, you may care to consider the sober and sobering recent thoughts of Robert Snefjella which reflect on the more humanistic dimension of the nuclear reality. You can find them here:

    • Cocoa_Jackson says:

      Interesting comment, AM.

      Asteroid Miner wrote:

      ‘…recycling nuclear fuel, we have a 30,000…year supply [of redundant technological waste]’


      It requires building an experimental thorium / gen IV reactors, a ‘blue sky mining’ energy project. Because these reactors have no ‘proof of concept’, inclusive of economic viability

      All experimental models will need at least 30-60-years of data to prove the minimum metrics required for assessment

      What are the probabilities emerging nuclear fusion beats fission to any proof of concept, inclusive of economic viability?

      As both gen IV fission and fusion have been in experimental development since the early 1950s
      keywords; experimental, gen IV reactors, no proof of concept, inclusive, economic viability

      • Asteroid Miner says:

        The research is complete and ready for commercial use. Other countries [Russia, China] are building several Gen 4 reactors that we did the research on.

        • Your view regarding the readiness of fast neutron reactors such as GE-Hitachi’s PRISM is not shared by all. Even the intensely pro-nuclear South Australia Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission – whose recent report prompted me to write the article to begin with – states in Chapter 4, p. 47 of their report:

          “The recent conclusion of the Generation IV International Forum (GIF), which issued updated projections for fast reactor and innovative systems in January 2014, suggests the most advanced system will start a demonstration phase (which involves completing the detailed design of a prototype system and undertaking its licensing, construction and operation) in about 2021. The demonstration phase is expected to last at least 10 years and each system demonstrated will require funding of several billion US dollars. As a result, the earliest possible date for the commercial operation of fast reactor and other innovative reactor designs is 2031. . . . . This means that such designs could not realistically be ready for commercial deployment in South Australia or elsewhere before the late 2030s and possibly later.” ( Every claim made in that quote is fully referenced in the endnotes of the chapter.

          Regarding your later comment that, “The oceans were already so radioactive that Fukushima can’t make any difference”, I would once again refer you to Robert Snefjella’s excellent review ( A massive and unprecedented die-off of marine life has been occurring on the west coast of North America since 2012, the year after the Fukushima melt-downs. This, together with the presence of both cesium-134 and cesium-137 in off-shore Eastern Pacific waters and our understanding of the nature of biomagnification through the food chain, are highly suggestive that sea-life in the Pacific Ocean is likely to be affected in a similar way that bird, insect and amphibian life have been affected by the release of radioactivity at Chernobyl and Fukushima. This has been evidenced and well-documented in the ongoing work of environmental epidemiologist Dr Timothy Mousseau ( and

          Such issues cannot be lightly put aside in any consideration of the longer-term implications of the continued nuclearisation of the planet.

          • Asteroid Miner says:

            Just because you can detect parts per billion is no reason to believe that there could be a die-off on the US coast because of something that happened thousands of miles away. Your comment is paranoid and that is all it is.

            GE-Hitachi’s PRISM: Was operated under another name for a decade, and tested in extreme conditions. Argonne National Lab, near Chicago, did the research. Again read “Plentiful Energy, The Story of the Integral Fast Reactor” by Charles E. Till and Yoon Il Chang, 2011 Download from:
            Or get a free book from:

            Dr. Charles E. Till was one of the researchers who did the Integral Fast Reactor [IFR] research until Bill Clinton shut it down.

  2. Asteroid Miner says:

    Spent nuclear fuel is not a proliferation risk because a power plant makes the wrong isotopes of plutonium for bombs. To make a good bomb, you need pure plutonium239 [Pu239].

    Isotopes: Any chemical element can come in several isotopes.
    To make Pu239, you have to shut down the reactor and do a fuel cycle after one month or less of operation. Since removing and replacing fuel takes a month, a short-cycled reactor operates half the time. A power plant that has a one month on, one month off fuel cycle would stick out a lot more than the proverbial sore thumb.

    A reactor used to make electricity runs for 18 months to 2 years between refuelings. An individual fuel rod will stay in the reactor for 3 cycles since only ⅓ of the fuel rods are exchanged at each fueling, so one fuel rod stays in the reactor 4.5 to 6 years. In that time, many trans-uranic elements are created. In that time, Pu239 absorbs extra neutrons, becoming Pu240, Pu241, Pu242, 95americium243, 96curium247, 97berkelium247, 98californium251, 99einsteinium25, 100fermium257 and so on.

    All of these higher actinides are good reactor fuel but bad for bomb making. Bombs made of spent fuel have been made and tested once or twice [US and North Korea]. They pre-detonate and fizzle so badly that a very large conventional bomb can equal the yield. They are so radioactive that a poor country can’t build one without killing the scientists. They are militarily worse than useless [Till & Chang book “Plentiful Energy”]. There is no country that has a spent fuel bomb, nor will anybody build one in the future. An insane person trying to build one would die a few seconds to minutes after having acquired the spent fuel.

    7% Pu240 is enough to spoil a bomb and you get a lot more than 7% Pu240 from a reactor that has been running for 18 months. Separating Pu239 from those higher actinides is a technology that has not been developed. Nobody would try to do that separation because the easy way to make Pu239 is with a short cycle reactor. Governments that have plutonium bombs, have government owned government operated [GOGO] reactors that do nothing but make Pu239.

    • Thank you for this informed reflection on the nature of actinides and the relative unsuitability of spent nuclear fuel as a source of bomb-making materials.

      There is more than enough highly purified Plutonium-239 around to keep us on our toes indefinitely.

  3. Thank you for this terrific article!

    • Thank you Noel, and thank you for the extraordinary work you have yourself been doing to keep the broader Australian community aware of the subtle prevarication, selective information and misinformation that are being used to quietly persuade South Australians to follow the direction desired by those who have steered the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission inquiry. Your report on the first so-called Citizens Jury hearings (,9200) has been very helpful.

      • Asteroid Miner says:

        Nuclear power is the only way to stop making CO2 that actually works. To stop Global Warming, we must replace all large fossil fueled power plants with nuclear.

        Renewable Energy mandates cause more CO2 to be produced, not less, and renewable energy doubles or quadruples your electric bill. The reasons are as follows:

        Since solar “works” 15% of the time and wind “works” 20% of the time, we need either energy storage technology we don’t have or ambient temperature superconductors and we don’t have them either. Wind and solar are so intermittent that electric companies are forced to build new generator capacity that can load-follow very fast, and that means natural gas fired gas turbines. The gas turbines have to be kept spinning at full speed all the time to ramp up quickly enough. The result is that wind and solar not only double your electric bill, wind and solar also cause MORE CO2 to be produced.

        We do not have battery or energy storage technology that could smooth out wind and solar at a price that would be possible to do. The energy storage would “cost” in the neighborhood of a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That is an imaginary price because we could not get the materials to do it if we had that much money.

        The only real way to reduce CO2 production from electricity generation is to replace all fossil fueled power plants with the newest available generation of nuclear. Nuclear can load-follow fast enough as long as wind and solar power are not connected to the grid.  Generation 4 nuclear can ramp fast enough to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar, but there is no reason to waste time and money on wind and solar.

  4. Despite warnings of scientists and sacrifice of great discoverers of the perils of atomic waste, like Marie Curie, the Australian government alongwith UK corporates is prepared to dump sonic waste in the seas causing environmental pollution and human hazards. This is reflective of scant respect for the people as well as scientists supporting people and the dangers they might face.

    • Thank you K Sheshu Babu. There is much that the Australian government does – in company with most other governments in the world – that shows scant regard for both environment and the will of native indigenous peoples.

    • Asteroid Miner says:

      “Sonic” ?

      uranium from sea water:

      “Abstract; Uranium cost in the annual collection of 1,200t-U from seawater was evaluated”

      There was always so much uranium dissolved in ocean water that the Atomic Energy Society of Japan designed a system to get 1200 tons of uranium from the ocean every year. They could continue getting all the uranium we need out of the ocean for a very long time.

      The oceans were already so radioactive that Fukushima can’t make any difference. If there is uranium in the ocean, all of the decay products of uranium are also in the ocean.

      An ocean contains a billion tons of uranium.

  5. Robert Snefjella says:

    Asteroid Miner, among your outpouring of incorrect and glib and silly assertions, your finale is especially noteworthy as a comic achievement: “The oceans were already so radioactive that Fukushima can’t make any difference.” Actually, Fukushima can and did make a difference. Of many examples, it took me mere seconds to find

    But more to the point, implicit in your remark is an addled, outdated, superficial view of the real-world toxicity of various types and combinations of radionuclides and radiation exposures, and also synthetic radioactive materials in synergy with other elements: By their real results shall ye know them.

    When in 1971 Sternglass reported on dramatic harm done to ocean fish by nuclear weapons testing ( or when Dr. Alice Stewart found that a single xray during the first trimester of pregnancy doubled chances of leukemia in the offspring (, these were honest researchers who long ago recorded cautionary tales about what was happening in the real world. They were of course duly attacked by nuclear cretins.

    • Asteroid Miner says:
      Novel Material Shows Promise for Extracting Uranium from Seawater

      A so-called metal-organic framework could offer a better way to get at the vast uranium resource dissolved in the ocean.

      by Mike Orcutt May 16, 2013
      Nuclear power could be a way to deliver low-carbon energy to billions of people.
      A new material could potentially be used to extract uranium from seawater more efficiently, new research suggests.

      The world’s oceans contain nearly a thousand times as much uranium as conventional reserves

      Uranium Extraction from Seawater

      Ken Ferguson
      March 21, 2012
      Uranium in Seawater

      Many people do not realize that seawater has a natural concentration of uranium. The percentage of uranium in seawater is quite low, as one may expect. It has been shown that the uranium concentration of seawater is only about 3 parts per billion, which is about 3 milligrams of uranium per cubic meter. [1] The total volume of the oceans is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, so there is a total of about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater.

      Google only gives me About 601,000 results. Too few to convince Robert Snefjella. For everybody else, the oceans are saturated with minerals, including uranium. “Saturated” means that water can’t dissolve any more of that substance. The extra must precipitate onto the ocean floor. Since The total volume of the oceans is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, anything you add must become too dilute for rational people to care about.

      There was no dieoff caused by cesium.
      “Despite serious safety concerns, non-radioactive cesium is taken by mouth for treating cancer. This is sometimes called “high pH therapy.” According to people who promote high pH therapy, taking cesium chloride by mouth reduces the acidity of tumor cells (raises their pH), which are described as very acidic. But these claims are not supported by science. There is no scientific research that indicates tumor cells differ in pH from normal cells or that cesium affects the pH of tumor or normal cells.

      Non-radioactive cesium is also used to treat depression.

      Healthcare providers sometimes treat cancer patients with radioactive cesium (cesium-137).”

      Parts per billion cesium didn’t kill anything.

  6. Wow! An interesting and disturbing article. Even more interesting is the comments debate that follows. I am no scientist and therefore much of the language used I simply do not understand.

    It seems to me that you guys are holding firmly held beliefs on the one hand, which I cannot challenge, I don’t know whether they are based on fact or not. They are reasonable arguments, but I cannot separate fact from opinion, therefore who is hypothesising?

    Would it help if you began your comments on what you agree upon, and present it in a way that mere mortals like me can understand?

    Is it possible to put your collective heads together to discuss what you can do with what you have agreed upon?

    Who can you find to challenge your disagreements?

    I know this is a lot of work, but this is why it becomes easy to make poor decisions, because after a while we become lazy and revert to our hypothesis. We gratify ourselves, by solving the issues with monetary rewards, which we justify by claiming that this money will solve other problems.

    Vincent, Asteroid & Robert keep trying to find solutions, thank you for presenting an opportunity for me to comment – it’s only an opinion!

    • Asteroid Miner says:

      John Tattersall: You have to become a scientist and go make measurements for yourself. I know that becoming a scientist is a lot of work, but how else are you going to be able to detect bullshit and propaganda?
      Do you have an aquarium? If you dilute cesium chloride a million times and put a drop in your aquarium would everything die? Well, you need to know a little chemistry to do that, right? You should be able to get enough knowledge from your high school chemistry teacher. Or you could use a homeopathic dose of cesium from a health food store. How many doses did it take to kill your fish?

      Can you measure cesium in the ocean? Are people allowed to swim there? Does it look dead to you? Or do you still see kelp forests and other creatures?

      Did you know that zero people died from radiation at Fukushima?

      The coal industry is trying to get you freaked out. You did know that, didn’t you?

  7. Robert Snefjella says:

    No one knows how many people have died from radiation at Fukushima. There is a far reaching government gag order on reporting about the actual situation, and TEPCO is notorious for deceptions.

    Here is Arne Gundersen in 2014: “We have firsthand knowledge from at least a half dozen Japanese doctors… who have said they have been threatened… if they speak frankly to their patients about the health effects that they’re experiencing; or if they frankly speak in public about their fears — and, in fact, measurements — of how bad radioactive illnesses really are.”
    A Japanese doctor recommending evacuation of Tokyo:
    The Human Consequences of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant Accidents.:
    Dana Durnford’s work documenting via tens of thousands of photographs and 15000 plus miles of travel the demise of most flora and fauna along Canada’s west coast, after Fukushima. The “kelp forests and other creatures” are largely gone:

    • Asteroid Miner says:

      Japanese laws and bureaucrats murdered 2000 people by unnecessary evacuation.

      Zero people have died from Fukushima radiation.
      “Fear of Radiation (unnecessarily hasty evacuation and other measures) has killed 761 and radiation has killed none from Fukushima” as of August 07, 2012

      573 certified deaths were due to evacuation-related stress at Fukushima. Zero due to radiation. As of February 4, 2012

      If anybody had died from radiation at Fukushima, the media would have told you his name over and over again. They didn’t.

      Zero people have died from 3 mile island radiation.
      Fewer than 100 died from Chernobyl radiation. The Chernobyl reactor was a primitive Generation One machine without a containment building. American reactors have containment buildings that can contain any accident.

      We get 99.9% of our radiation from natural sources, called Natural Background Radiation. The total radiation in Fukushima is less than our Natural Background here in Illinois, USA.

      Get yourself a geiger counter and carry it on the next time you fly. The cosmic ray count is much higher at cruising altitude.

  8. As has been said many times, there are none so blind as those who will not see. You may claim to have a handle, however dubious, on aspects of the technical dimension of the nuclear project AM, but your knowledge of the human dimension needs serious attention.

    The nonsense you present regarding the safety of nuclearisation and the relative benignity of such monstrosities as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima is simply untrue. There are many ethical and committed investigators including the late Rosalie Bertell (, U.K. radiation scientists Ian Fairlie and David Sumner (, and medical practitioners throughout the world ( whose experience and judgement can be trusted. We will not be mining the asteroids this turn of the wheel but struggling to keep things from flying apart.

  9. Asteroid Miner says:

    Where Did Natural Background Radiation Come From?

    The sum of the natural background radiation at Fukushima plus the radiation leak from the reactor is less than the natural background radiation where I live in Illinois. There was no reason for Japan to shut down their reactors. If the reactors at Fukushima had not been shut down, would they have continued to operate normally?

    Where did natural background radiation come from? The universe started out with only 3 elements: hydrogen, helium and lithium. All other elements were made in stars or by supernova explosions. Our star is a seventh generation star. The previous 6 generations were necessary for the elements heavier than lithium to be built up. Since heavier elements were built by radiation processes, they were very radioactive when first made.

    Our planet was made of the debris of a supernova explosion that happened about 5 billion years ago. The Earth has been decreasing in radioactivity ever since. All elements heavier than iron were necessarily made by accretion of mostly neutrons but sometimes protons onto lighter nuclei. Radioactive decays were necessary to bring these new nuclei into the realm of nuclear stability. That is why all rocks are still radioactive.

    Radiation also comes from outer space in the form of cosmic rays. Cosmic rays come from supernovas that are very far away. There will always be cosmic rays.

    The problem is that the Japanese people did not measure the natural background radiation before 1940, so they don’t know that they are trying to get rid of the natural background. It is not possible to get rid of the natural background.

  10. Asteroid Miner says:

    Stayin’ alive in the gene pool – Part I

    Stayin’ alive in the gene pool – Part II

    Stayin’ alive in the gene pool – Part III

    Stayin’ alive in the gene pool – Part I
    This is the first of a comprehensive new 3-part series on radiation, which will be published on BNC in weekly instalments. If you really want to distinguish science fact from science fiction on the many vexed issues surrounding radiation, including cancer risks, genetic and physical mutations, and the biological legacy of exposure to acute or chronic ionising radiation, then read on. You may be surprised.


    Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff is a computer programmer, vegan, environmentalist, and more generally, a ‘by-the-numbers’ polymath. For a list of all of his posts on BNC, click here. He also has collections here and here.

    The cartoon below comes from 1953. This was the year the molecular structure of DNA was finally nailed. Over the next few decades it became clear that the cartoon was rather more fi than sci. Not knowing this in 1953 was forgiveable. In the following year a 16 year old Helen Caldicott, who went on to become one of the world’s great anti-nuclear zealots may well have been mesmerised by Hollywood’s highest grossing film of 1954, Them!. Perhaps she cowered before the celluloid images of 18 foot mutant monster ants, supposedly generated by nuclear radiation from the Trinity nuclear bomb blast in New Mexico. Now almost six decades on, scientists understand that such stories are neither sci-fi nor fi, but simply pure fantasy.