‘Sitting ducks: Dangerous & dumb to keep building nuclear power plants’

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with French President Francois Hollande (R) at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington March 31, 2016. © Kevin Lamarque
One doesn’t need nukes to attack a nuclear power plant, says Alice Slater from the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. A simple explosive device might cause a Chernobyl or Fukushima situation in different parts of the world, she added.

The US is holding a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. Nuclear terrorism is topping the list of concerns. More than 50 delegates are attending the event. However, the main nuclear power Russia is not taking part in the summit.

RT: What kind of results can we expect from this meeting if Russia, one of the major nuclear powers, is absent?

Alice Slate: Very little. But this whole Nuclear Security Summit was an arms control measure to block loose nuclear materials that are all over the world, from research reactors, from nuclear reactors, I think some bomb materials. It was never really in line with the Prague speech that the President [Barack Obama] gave about having a nuclear weapons free world. And in order to get a nuclear weapons free world, we have to have a good relationship and willingness on the part of the US and Russia to negotiate, because there are 16,000 nuclear weapons on the planet today, and 15,000 are in the US and Russia. All the other countries: India, Pakistan, Israel, China, England, France, ... North Korea, [etc.] – altogether they have a thousand nuclear weapons. So if we are really going to have nuclear disarmament – it has to be the US and Russia. There are some very serious blocks to moving forward.

The fact that Russia is not at this meeting to maintain some control over loose nuclear facilities is very disturbing. But if we look at what has been going on in the world, we can understand. I mean we have to go back to the time when the wall fell and [Mikhail] Gorbachev and [Ronald] Reagan tried to negotiate the nuclear disarmament. Gorbachev said that he would be willing to get rid of all the nuclear weapons. So did Reagan, but Gorbachev said: “Yes, but you cannot do ‘star wars!’” Reagan wasn’t willing to give that up. So Gorbachev pulled the offer off the table.

Now, Russia and China have been proposing at the UN, at the committee on disarmament in Geneva. They’ve been tabling a treaty to keep weapons out of space since 2008. And the US blocks any discussion on this because we are driven in this country by what President [Dwight] Eisenhower warned against – the military industrial complex. There are people in government; there is a revolving door that the present Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has moved in and out of corporations and governments. They are constantly funding new weapons development. This is what is stopping us, I believe. 

RT: The main talking point for the summit is the threat from nuclear terrorism. Panic over the issue has spread, especially after the Brussels attacks. But do you believe a terror attack on a nuclear plant is likely?

AS: I think it is very real. I live in New York City. We have Indian Point [Energy Center] 25 miles up the Hudson from downtown New York City. When the World Trade Towers were attacked by al-Qaeda, in their documents, they were considering attacking Indian Point, and that is also in the 9/11 commission report.

So we are living under this threat. Nuclear power is like a ridiculous technology today. We have to save the planet, and yet, we are spreading these nuclear reactors. Part of the promise we made on the deal with Iran is to give nuclear power to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan – they never had it before. Everybody wants their bomb in the basement. And there are sitting ducks: you don’t need a nuclear weapon to attack a nuclear power plant; it could be ordinary explosives and you could wind up with Chernobyl or Fukushima in different parts of the world. It’s very dangerous and really dumb to keep building a nuclear power plants. We should stop making any new nuclear materials; there should be a moratorium on it.

RT: Another key concern being voiced is the threat of creating a so-called 'dirty bomb'. But how easy is it for terrorists to create such devices on their own?

AS: Even if you don’t have a ‘dirty bomb’ – the reactor itself is a ‘dirty bomb.’ You can drop a bomb on it from the air. Indian Point is sitting on the Hudson River. They are little inlets we’ve tested with activists going up the river and sailing right up to the power plant, not being stopped. This is happening all over the world at European nuclear power plants. You could have a Fukushima situation or Chernobyl situation without a ‘dirty bomb.’

A ‘dirty bomb’ seems very complicated and it is not the same as a nuclear weapon that can wipe out a city and kill 300,000 -400,000 people with one blow of the weapon. It would make a city radiologically contaminated – that would be very hard and difficult to deal with. But it is not the same thing as a nuclear bomb.

The biggest danger right now that nobody is talking about are the weapons that the US and Russia keep on hair-trigger alert – ready to fire in minutes, and there has been a whole history of near misses. They just made a movie, The Man Who Saved the World, with Russia’s Colonel [Stanislav] Petrov, who decided not to unleash his nuclear missiles on Washington, New York, and Boston, when there was some kind of incoming blip on the Russian computer screens and the silos. He was right – it was a commuter malfunction. Had he followed orders - and he actually got into trouble for a while for not following orders – he could have unleashed a nuclear war for nothing.  And we are sitting with that situation – there were missiles that disappeared from North Dakota and wound up in Louisiana, and nobody even knew they were missing...

The US and Russia have to sit down, shake hands, and get going on. I am sorry that my country [US] is not willing at least to look at the space issue, at the anti-ballistic missile treaty that we walked out of, putting new missiles in Europe. We are fueling a new missile race that could lead to Nuclearism.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.