Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Helen Caldicott, MD: China Nuclear Policy and Fukushima

Dr. Helen Caldicott
Dr. Helen Caldicott is one of the world's leading voices in opposition to the civilian and military use of nuclear material. The founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility (in 1985, PSR shared the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to IPPNW for building public awareness and pressure to end the nuclear arms race) and a mentor of mine, she gave a speech that prompted me to start Project Laundry List in 1995. She lives and gardens in Australia, but still travels extensively to speak to large audiences about the threat of nuclear power and weapons. She had the longest private meeting with Ronald Reagan during his time in office and reports that he frequently became anxious as she corrected him during the 75-minute conversation.

I sent her a list of questions and what is notable is the large number of times that she had to say, "I don't know." It is a reflection on the opacity of the Chinese government and the whole industry.

Since writing to Dr. Caldicott with these questions, there have been a couple major developments.

In today's New York Times, the International Energy Agency's executive director Maria van der Hoeven says, “Let’s be honest. If governments want to phase out nuclear power, they have to replace it with something else. If they’re going to replace it with renewables, that’s fine. If they are replacing it with coal, that’s not fine.”

China's top propaganda chief and a member of the 9-person Politburo, Li Changchun, has made a visit to the State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation in an effort to force the media here to "to assist the spread of common knowledge on nuclear power to foster an amiable environment for its development."

Also, the Wall Street Journal reported last Thursday, "China National Nuclear Power Co. said it is planning a Shanghai initial public offering that will go toward financing part of five power projects worth 173.5 billion yuan ($27.2 billion), in a multibillion-dollar deal that signals that the country's ramp-up of nuclear power is moving forward."

It also appears that Japan is moving too quickly towards reactor re-starts at Fukushima in a 'feudal' manner. The Boston Globe and The Guardian, as well as numerous other international newspapers of some repute have run articles about the strident plea of Prime Minister Noda to maintain Japan's standard of living by restarting nuclear power plants.

Anyway, let's get to the interesting part. Here are my questions and Helen's answers:

Visitors walk past China's second nuclear missile on display
as they visit the Military Museum in Beijing
    Photo: GETTY
1. A. Where does the chain of command end in China?

Have no idea. Why don’t you find out?

B. Is Hu Jintao the only person who can order a nuclear strike? Is it technically possible in China (or any of the other nuclear powers) for somebody lower in the command chain to give the okay for a nuclear attack?

Don’t know any of this.

2. The Wikipedia article, People's Republic of China and weapons of mass destruction, offers a quite thorough assessment about what is known about China's nuclear arsenal. Is there anything you would like to add?

No, I know nothing more except at one point not too long ago they only had 20 missiles that could hit the US.
3. China is the only nuclear weapons state to give a security assurance to non-nuclear-weapon states, "China undertakes not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones at any time or under any circumstances." What efforts have been made to see the other four nuclear powers agree to something like this?

I don’t know, but they all reserve the right to use them and most are on hair trigger alert.

4. This article [Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris (November/December 2011 vol. 67 no. 6). "Chinese nuclear forces, 2011". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. pp. 81–87.] also declares that, "Today, China is the only one of five original nuclear weapon states that is increasing its nuclear arsenal." Do you find this alarming?

Yes I do, but they are all in the process of “modernizing” their nuclear weapons. Why, I don’t know.

5. "The US government has complained for years that China is too opaque regarding its military forces and budgets and that it needs to be more open. It was therefore surprising and paradoxical that in its 2011 report on China’s military—one of the most widely used public sources for following Chinese nuclear developments—the Pentagon decided not to provide a detailed breakdown of the Chinese missile arsenal, as it had done in previous volumes. The Pentagon’s omission inadvertently assists Chinese nuclear secrecy." [Ibid.] Why do you think the Pentagon failed to include this and do you think it aids China with secrecy?

I would think that they do not want people to know so they can kind of demonise and invent stuff re the Chinese
6.  Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of the People’s Liberation Army General Staff, reportedly acknowledged to American officials in 2009 that there were “areas of China’s nuclear program that are not very transparent” and declared, “It is impossible for [China] to change its decades-old way of doing business to become transparent using the US model” (Dorling, 2011). Do you agree with General Ma?

I really don’t know enough to comment, Alex.

7. This article explains the current reality here pretty well, China Doubles Down on Nuclear Power. Mainland China has 14 nuclear power reactors in operation, more than 25 under construction, and more about to start construction soon. China is rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, as well as other aspects of the fuel cycle. Do you think that the Chinese leadership can be convinced to abandon these plans and embark on a safer course for their energy needs? Which leaders do you think are likely to guide the nation in a nuclear-free direction?

Don’t know any of the leaders, but I do know that China has developed deep reservations about nuclear power since Fukushima.

8. I arrived here a couple weeks before the tsunami in Japan and iodized salt was gone from the grocery stores in a matter of hours. What are the risks to Changchun, PRC, and the continuing world from the Fukishima Nuclear Reactors?

Well, if Building 4 collapses, god [sic] help everyone because the whole site will have to be evacuated, and it will be a radioactive catastrophe such that the world has never before see.

9. A. Will you be attending

God almighty, no.

B. Is there any conference or event planned that can serve as an answer to this delegate rich symposium?

I think not.

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