STRAY THOUGHTS: Atoms Beyond Today

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By Ramesh Jaura

Coming as it did in a year that marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident has caused panic among a large section of the population - and in the media on the whole – particularly in Germany. While such reactions are understandable to an extent, the fact is that some of the fundamental issues continue to be left out of public debate. # Have necessary investments been made in research and development (R & D) to ensure the safety and security of nuclear power plants and to avoid devastating consequences that may result from natural disasters? After all, nuclear energy provides a critical contribution to industrial development.

Where do R & D investments aimed at ensuring the safety of nuclear power plants stand in relation to R & D expenditure on the military use of the atom or on military technologies on the whole?

Are the nuclear power plant operators aware of their responsibility that they must refrain from anything that endangers the security of the peaceful use of nuclear energy? Are they held accountable?

Have nuclear power plants been really erected, taking into account not only the geological situation of the places where they stand today, but also considering the situation as it would develop during and after the lifetime of a nuclear power plant?

Are nuclear power plants really operated only to produce energy for civilian purposes or are they secretly employed as laboratories for research and development of increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons? # This is of vital importance in view of the fact that, according to some nuclear physicists, nuclear meltdown would not occur if a nuclear power plant is used only for civilian and not military purposes.

It is regrettable that there is an utter lack of transparency in such vital issues and that some uncomfortable questions as mentioned above are not being asked by democratically elected parliamentarians or the media, which otherwise claim to champion the cause of freedom of expression.

At the same time, there is no gainsaying the fact that everywhere in the world we need an energy mix of all kinds of clean energies, including nuclear energy, and perhaps even a fusion of nuclear and renewable energies because renewable energies per se should not be expected to be sustainable and harmless as is often presumed.

I believe that if the same amount of research and development had been done to ensure safety and security of nuclear power plants as has been invested in developing nuclear weapons, we would have been spared disasters such as Fukushima and their like. # These stray thoughts may appear naive, if not considered unworthy of any consideration. Of critical importance is that even in times of anxiety and panic against the backdrop of Chernobyl 25 and the Fukushima disaster, we must continue to focus our attention on the complete abolition of nuclear weapons, while ensuring the safety and security of the path to peaceful uses of nuclear energy. # How about radioactive weapons?

Amidst growing apprehension that the U.S. and its allies might use radioactive weapons in Libya, as they are reported to have done in several local and limited wars beginning with the 1991 Iraq War, the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) has called for a global treaty to prohibit such arsenal.

While denying reports that the U.S. has been dropping toxic depleted uranium (DU) shells in Libya, it has refused to rule out the use of such weapons in the future, reinforcing mounting concern about the 'collateral damage' to civilians in the North African country, whom the UN Security Council resolution 1973, seeks to protect.

"I don't want to speculate on what may or may not be used in the future," the U.S. air force spokeswoman, Paula Kurtz, told Herald Scotland on April 2, 2011. She admitted that the U.S. was using A-10 tank buster aircraft designed to destroy armoured cars and tanks, which are capable of firing 3,900 armour-piercing DU-tipped shells per minute.

Kurtz insisted that the A-10s had not been loaded with DU ammunition. "Weapons with depleted uranium have not been used in Libya," she said.

But critics say that the U.S. has sometimes been "economical" with the truth about the use of DU weapons. "We continue to seek a cast-iron guarantee that depleted uranium has not been used and will not be used in Libya," said Kate Hudson, the general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. "The U.S. has a long history of only admitting to deploying this radioactive material months or years after it has been used," Hudson added.
DU is a radioactive and chemically toxic heavy metal. When DU weapons burn, they release a toxic and radioactive dust. "Hard targets hit by DU penetrators are surrounded by this dust and surveys suggest that it can travel many kilometres when re-suspended, as is likely in arid climates. The dust can then be inhaled or ingested by civilians and the military alike," ICBUW says.

DU is considered to be the cause of a sharp increase in the incidence rates of some cancers, such as breast cancer and lymphoma, in areas of Iraq following 1991 and 2003. It has also been implicated in a rise in birth defects from areas adjacent to the main Gulf War battlefields.

According to ICBWU, DU been used by the British and U.S. military forces in armour-piercing shells fired in the 1991 Gulf War, in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo during a series of wars, fought throughout the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995, and in the war in Iraq by the U.S. and Britain in 2003, ICBUW informs. In addition, it is considered to be in use by around 18 other countries.

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