While the entire world has been distracted for the past year by the pandemic and the collapse of the American Empire, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture—at the ultimate causes of these catastrophes and the serious work that needs to be done to manage the consequences of them.

One thing that became obvious early on in the pandemic was that people fortunate enough to have an intact immune system and good healthcare were in no danger from the novel corona virus. But we live in a capitalist military-industrial civilization that has destroyed the health of millions, forcing them to wear masks, confine themselves to their homes (if they have a home) and live in fear.

In this civilization, people must live under constant stress, and stressed adults pass their stress to their children. When that stress on children is high or they experience traumatic events, they don’t develop well-functioning endocrine and immune systems. On top of this, there is exposure to chemical and radiological pollution, and even the only food supply many people have access to is a low-nutrient mix of salt, sugar, fat and additives. And now the vulnerable and traumatized population must find a way to deal with the ruins of the industrial infrastructure that harmed them.

One example of the urgent need to face this legacy is found in the remnants of the nuclear age, now transitioning into the age of nuclear waste management. The nuclearists were not prepared for the giant tsunami that hit Eastern Japan in 2011, and nine years later they were again unprepared for the damage that a cold virus (with an infectious fatality rate of about 0.3%) could do to their operations. It became clear very quickly that routine maintenance could not be done while keeping social distance, and that the work could not be done remotely through a Zoom meeting. Nor could it be done if a large segment of the workforce was dying, sick, or refusing to come to work. Many of the workers are sub-contracted labor who don’t have a deep commitment to their employers or to the cult of nuclear greatness that the career engineers and managers adhere to. What would happen to critical nuclear plant operations if a real pandemic ever occurred—one with, for example, a 5% infectious fatality rate?

We are safe from a continental nuclear catastrophe only if the still-hot nuclear fuel rods stored above ground in various locations can be cooled and contained. The belief in safety depends on believing that a functioning civilization and energy supply for this cooling and storage will always exist. But now, in addition to all the other disruptive events that we could imagine, we have to wonder if an unexpected pandemic could shatter this belief.

An interview on Nuclear Hotseat with Arnie Gundersen (April 2020) discussed these problems in detail. The article below is a more recent report out of France that reveals the impact the pandemic has had on France’s aging fleet of nuclear reactors. The English translation is below the image or the original article.

Finally, a great futuristic laboratory 

Le Canard Enchaîné, 2020/12/23

Rare are the days when the brilliant minds of nuclear energy enthusiasts fail to explain to the ignorant masses, laughing derisively, that wind turbines are at a standstill when there is no wind and that solar panels serve no purpose when the sky is overcast, while nuclear, don’t ya know, never stops, and that’s why it’s great. And these geniuses were right.

But not these days since EDF (Électricité de France), in spite of having planned for everything, had not imagined that a simple virus would hit the entire nuclear industry so badly that its technicians would be so far behind on maintenance operations. Due to the aging of reactors, last Sunday no less than eleven of them (out of fifty-six) were at a standstill, and it will not get any better this winter. Soon, France, the most nuclearized country in the world, will be the only one threatened with power cuts.

But whatever, because nuclear power really does never stop. The uranium rods that are too depleted to run a power plant, and therefore removed from reactors, continue to emit their becquerels, and there is nothing that can stop them. And this goes on for at least a hundred thousand years, during which they must be carefully kept away from all living matter. It was therefore decided to bury them at a depth of 500 meters, near the rural village of Bure, in a nuclear garbage can which for the moment is called a simple “laboratory”.

As our cited authors describe the situation (1), this region has already become a real social laboratory. On the surface, agricultural land that is desertifying is bought by EDF, then their friends buy them in turn to undertake various research projects on atomic leftovers. To calm the natives not necessarily delighted about this, subsidies are dispersed everywhere. To subdue their dreaded opponents, a squadron of mobile gendarmes has been set up and will remain (in addition to the local gendarmerie and police), using methods previously reserved for fighting terrorism (“Imsi-catcher” suitcases to spy on communications, “AnaCrim” software, etc.). The project is expected to last a hundred and thirty years. What great local atmosphere!

But isn’t the entire French nuclear fleet an open-air laboratory? We have experimented on what happens to nuclear facilities as time goes by, and the results are in: they age badly. There have been no less than ninety-eight serious incidents (level two) in the last ten years, as noted by Bernard Laponche (2). The regulatory authorities say only seventeen because when the same “incident” occurs in five reactors, that counts as only one! These reactors are planned to last forty years, but now EDF wants to patch them up (at a cost of billions) so that they can last for fifty. What a great scientific experiment!

(1) Gaspard d’Allens, Pierre Bonneau et Cécile Guillard, dans « Cent mille ans : Bure ou le scandale enfoui des déchets nucléaires », Seuil, 2019.

(2) Bernard Laponche et Jean-Luc Thierry, « L’accumulation d’incidents graves témoigne de l’état inquiétant du parc électronucléaire », Journal de l’énergie, 2020/12/13.

Enfin un grand labo futuriste !

Jean-Luc Porquet, Le Canard Enchaîné, 2020/12/23

Rares sont les jours ou des esprits forts ne viennent pas expliquer aux masses ignorantes que les éoliennes, ha, sont à l’arrêt quand il n’y a pas de vent et que les panneaux solaires, ho ho, ne servent à rien quand le ciel est couvert, alors que le nucléaire, hé hé, ne s’arrête jamais, et c’est pour ça qu’il est formidable. Et ces esprits forts ont bien raison.

Pas en ce moment, vu que, EDF a bien avoir tout prévu et même plus, il n’avait pas imaginé qu’un simple virus gripperait toute la filière nucléaire, au point que ses techniciens sont tellement en retard sur les opérations de maintenance dues au vieillissement des réacteurs que, dimanche dernier, pas moins de 11 d’entre eux (sur 56) étaient à l’arrêt, et que ça ne va pas s’arranger cet hiver. Bientôt, la France, le pays le plus nucléarisé du monde, sera le seul menacé de coupures de courant, mais qu’importe.

Le nucléaire ne s’arrêtant jamais, même les barres d’uranium trop épuisées pour faire tourner une centrale et donc retirées du circuit continuent d’émettre méchamment des becquerels sans qu’on n’y puisse rien. Et ce pendant au moins cent mille ans. Durant lesquels il faut les tenir prudemment à distance des vivants. Il a donc été décidé de les enfouir a 500 mètres de profondeur, à Bure, dans une poubelle nucléaire et qui se veut pour l’instant un simple « laboratoire ».

Comme le décrivent trois auteurs (1), cette région est déjà devenue un vrai laboratoire social. En surface, des terres agricoles qui se désertifient. EDF et ses amis en rachètent à tour de bras pour y installer des tas d’activités liées aux résidus atomiques. Pour calmer les autochtones pas forcément ravis, des subventions sont déversées partout. Pour mater les affreux opposants apprentis zadistes, un escadron de gendarmes mobiles a été installé et demeure (en plus de la gendarmerie et de la police locales), usant de méthodes jusqu’alors réservées au terrorisme (valises Imsi-catcher pour espionner les communications, logiciel AnaCrim, etc.). Le chantier est prévu pour durer cent trente ans. Ambiance.

Mais le parc nucléaire français tout entier n’est-il pas un laboratoire à ciel ouvert ? On y expérimente 1’usure du temps : il vieillissent mal. Pas moins de 98 incidents graves (de niveau 2) ces dix dernières années, comme le relève Bernard Laponche (2). Les autorités de contrôle n’en dénombrent que 17, mais, quand le même « incident » survient sur 5 réacteurs, elles n’en comptent qu’un seul ! Ces réacteurs prévus pour durer quarante ans, EDF veut les rafistoler (5 coups de milliards) pour qu’ils en tiennent cinquante. Une belle expérience scientifique.

(1) Gaspard d’Allens, Pierre Bonneau et Cécile Guillard, « Cent mille ans : Bure ou le scandale enfoui des déchets nucléaires », Seuil, 2019.

(2) Bernard Laponche et Jean-Luc Thierry, « L’accumulation d’incidents graves témoigne de l’état inquiétant du parc électronucléaire », Journal de l’énergie, 2020/12/13.