Host: Ryan Doyle (RD)


Dr. Lew Patrie (LP), Physicians for Social Responsibility of Western North Carolina
Mary Olson (MO), Southeast Office of Nuclear Information & Resource Service

(RD) Hello friends, welcome to Southern Community our public affairs program exploring issues in the environment, energy and economics of our region. Today’s program is about nuclear issues in the United States from waste transportation to the new nuclear weapons programs.

(RD) Joining us today are; Doctor Lew Patrie a retired psychiatrist and public health Physician Who has chaired the Western North Carolina Physicians for Social Responsibility for ten years. He lives with his wife Jean in Ashville. Lew, welcome aboard to our Southern Community.

(LP) Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here.

(RD) And welcome to Mary Fox Olson who has been with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service since 1991, first with the national organization in Washington DC lobbying on Capital Hill about nuclear waste issues . In 1999, Mary met her husband while on work trip (assignment) to the South East. She married and move to the Region She is now the regional director of the Office based in Ashville Mary, welcome to our Southern Community.

(MO) Good morning

(RD) Thank you very much for being here. There are not too many issues as important and over-reaching as nuclear power and nuclear weapons today. I would like to start off with Dr Patrie and ask him about the Physicians for Social Responsibility because of the larger scale of the issues that exist and the general issues the group is focused on.

(LP) We have been in operation for about twenty years, twice as long as I’ve been around here. The original focus was on the prevention of nuclear war. It is not winnable. The only strategy is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Over the years our interests have expanded into environmental issues, other weapons of mass destruction and since 9-11 and alternative approach to unilateral militarism for security called “Smart Security.” We are very much appalled by the continuation of thousands of nuclear weapons around the world and evidence increased proliferation both our part as well as on the part of other nations.

(RD) The general public seems to get the sense that what I’ve observed is that the nuclear weapons issue kind of a moot point. Well, there are all of these treaties and we are not building any more weapons and it’s not really any fear anymore.

(LP) The situation is the between the United States and Russia there are still several thousand nuclear weapons on what we call instant alert, that is a single mishap could place the world in a conflagration in which it is hard to imagine how human beings could survive. In 1995, there was an incident in which at that time the Russians were on the verge of launching an attack on the United States because of false information they had received from the launching of a weather satellite. Fortunately, at the lasts minute, it was called off thus we are still here.

(RD) With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we have a difficult situation with a lot of nuclear weapons that are not being monitored and are not being supervised as they should be. Is that a correct assessment?

(LP) That is so true, in addition to the launch on warning possibility of mutually assured destruction, there weapons that are called loose nukes and nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union that are not being monitored as carefully as they should be. This should be a high priority for our country to be doing everything possible to be sure that those materials are not falling into the hands of “Rogue Nations’ or terrorists.

(RD) It is my understanding that these materials have been falling into the black market one of the prime sources for the terrorists and Rogue Nations for getting their supplies.

(LP) We worry that that is true.

(MO) I would like to throw in that that is a major concern but that so far there has been interception as far as we know. We don’t have a confirmed instance of former Soviet materials being in the hands of say Al Queda. It is a major, major concern. But what is happening is that skilled trained scientists that are no longer being paid by countries that they were trained in, are migrating through a network hosted by Pakistan and are spreading the technologies to countries like Iran ……. And Libya …… though Libya has

Supposedly put it aside, but Libya and North Korea can develop their own nuclear weapons programs. So, we are on the verge of nuclear weapons spreading. One of our big concerns is what is this country doing to stop that or are we actually making it worse.

(LP)And one of the things which I fear our country is doing to make things worse is what other countries would look upon as undergoing proliferation of nuclear weapons ourselves.

(RD) I am Ryan Doyle and this is “Our Southern Community”. Well, that would seem to be a contradiction to me , that if the United States is trying to reduce nuclear weapons around the world, that we are trying to control the spread of nuclear weapons, then why we are developing a new generation of smaller, friendlier nuclear weapons. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

(LP) Yes, that doesn’t make sense to many of us that the new nuclear weapons program designing smaller and more useable nuclear weapons are actually weapons which many in our military and policy-making levels think that we could possibly use.

(RD) When did this new program for nuclear weapons develop?

(LP) There has always been a kind of a battle between the hawks and the doves in high places as to whether we should disarm or rearm with more. In the last few years, there has been a tendency to say that we need to a different kind of nuclear weapon. One of them is called the “Earth Penetrating Weapon” It is a smaller weapon. However, when you consider the size of it, it is only a fraction less than the size of those used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

(RD) Are these super-sized “Bunker-Buster bombs”? (I’m taking this from the title you gave me).

(LP) They are very small in comparison to the twenty megatons bombs that are currently in our arsenal.

(RD) Is there an effort currently to develop space-based nuclear weapons?

(LP) The missile defense program which was envisioned over twenty year ago had been smoldering along, gathering momentum. Then in the last ten years it has really picked up steam . In fact, as we speak, the missile defense program is going into operation at Fort Greeley Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. These missiles are designed to (as they say) “hit a bullet with a bullet.” But they heave not been adequately tested. They have met with some limited success. Experts are saying that we are putting them into operation and giving us a false sense of security.

(RD) You gave me a number as to how much our government if spending on this program and I couldn’t believe it.

(LP) According to “America’s Defense Monitor,” in 2003 less than a year ago, it was stated that this whole system of missile defense 744 Billion dollars and approaching a Trillion dollar and will probably surpass that if it is allowed to go on. to its final stages.

(LP) I just want to underscore that we are talking about a program that is supposed to take a missile and hit a missile. Actually, it has not been shown to work In addition, they want to put nuclear weapons on satellites so that they can knock out the aggressing nation at the same time as they knock out the missiles that are coming in.

(RD) There has been a lot of controversy about the “Star Wars” Program from day one in the fact that there have been no successful demonstrations of the system.

(LP) Yes, Mary and I were talking before the program about the cost of both the nuclear weapons program over the past almost sixty years and the cost of the “star Wars” program as it is envisioned and they are almost equivalent to the national debt.

(LP) In other words, we spend all this money on nuclear hardware which we hope to never use. If we had never done it, this country would be free and clear and never owe anyone anything. The peace that I would like to offer here is that we have been talking about new nuclear weapons. It is true that we still have an arsenal of over 10,000 nuclear weapons that could destroy every living thing on the planet and that now we are talking about building more but what we haven’t said is that the location for the nuclear weapons complex is moving. It uses to be spread out over the United States with a good piece in Colorado and New Mexico and in the North East with the original processing in New England. Now it is the South East and Texas. Carolina will be the location where they will want to make the new Plutonium Part and Tennessee will be the location where they put all of the parts together at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Y12 Factory.

(RD) What is the status of the fifty nuclear power plants that the Energy Plan proposed by the current administration , Fifty new power plants, It that correct??

(MO) Well, I think that it should be pointed out that there is a great question of judgment as to whether this is a good idea, When you consider that we have 103 active nuclear reactors in the country right now each one of which is a potential terrorist target which could cause vast destruction around the plant, loss of life, long term effects on the health of survivors. There would be a large territory around the plant that would be permanently uninhabitable

(RD) Basically, an American Chernobyl?

(MO) Exactly

(MO) Chernobyl released more radiation than all of the nuclear weapons that have been detonated. There is a huge amount of radioactivity in a nuclear reactor.

(LP) The local issue as well is that of transportation. Mary has coined a term that I think is worth repeating and she can elaborate on it but I would like to repeat it, “Ping-Pong Plutonium” and “Table Tennis Tritium.”

(MO) Materials for nuclear weapons include Tritium which is radioactive hydrogen and Plutonium. Both of them are going to be transported on I40 and I26 headed to Savannah

River site in South Carolina. Now, I thought that Lew was going to come up with another term that I coined which is “Nuclear Heartland,” because the Southeast is the nuclear heartland. The number of facilities that are located here and types of facilities in the nuclear – industrial complex are the Savannah River site. The Savannah River site is a huge federal bomb-making facility in South Carolina . Now shy will it be “Table Tennis and Ping Pong”? Because those same materials will be transported once they are processed in South Carolina back on I26 to I40 up to Y12 Nuclear assembly factory in Oak Ridge Tennessee. Many of our listeners in the Asheville area of North Carolina and are traveling those same roads. So the fact that these shipments will be going back and forth for literally decades if this Bush Administration Program proceeds.

(RD) I am Ryan Doyle and this is southern Community with Dr Lew Patrie of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Mary Fox Olson with the Nuclear Information and resource Service. Mary, that brings me around to my personal concern because I’m not living to far off of I26 itself, ten to twelve miles. What is the projection for the total number of shipments in the immediate future.

(MO) It is quite true that there are shipments on these same roads now and that there have been for decades. However, these new programs, the new nuclear weapons and the new reactors when we haven’t talked about yet which is the new dump to take the nuclear waste from producing the power and making the nuclear weapons . These programs are going to make a quantum leap. They’ll go from dozens o shipments a year to literally thousands of shipments in a year in some cases. There’ll be phases of the program but in any case there will be thousands of shipments of plutonium coming from Texas to South Carolina and then some portions of that back to Tennessee and hundreds of shipments annually from Tennessee to South Carolina carrying radioactive hydrogen. Then when the new dump opens, those shipments give me the greatest concern because the concentration fuel from the core of reactors are like Xray machines traveling primarily on rail. That’s the rail line that goes along the French Broad River to Tennessee There will only be hundreds of these but they will be of much greater concern in terms of potential local exposure.

(RD) You mention a dump facility once or twice. Are you talking about Yucca Mountain?

(MO) We are talking about Yucca Mountain on Shoshone land and in Nevada. The Shoshone peoples do not want the Nation’s waste. Nevadans do not want the Nation’s waste. There have been court decisions to stall that program . It was ruled that the radiation protection program was not adequate. However the leadership is turning to Congress to rewrite the laws and lower the standards.

(RD) Well, does the public have any say in this? Have there been any public comment periods? Information has kind of been under the radar. I have heard different facets and gems. Of course I dig for it. Whereas the information is very hard to come across in the public domain.

(MO) Part of it is that and when the public is notified by the federal government, have you ever read it in the federal register. That is where they put it --- in the federal register. It reminds me of the “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” You had to be on another star system in order to make public comment on the destruction of this planet according to that program. And the other piece of it is that a lot of the people that live here in these mountains and don’t want to know about the rest of the world and assume that they are safe here and things like nuclear shipments are far away. Wanting to know is one thing, but people have a right to know. That’s why I’m talking with you this morning. Yes. I think people have a right to know that these programs are going to change, that these programs are happening. In fact the only way that people can impact these shipments now is to impact whether these programs can proceed which are decisions made in Congress.

(MO). To focus for a minute on the energy side, There has not been an order for a nuclear reactor that was built to make electricity in thirty years. Many people thought that the reactors in existence today would run to the end of their license and then be closed. Now it is being advocated that we use tax dollars to prop nuclear power in fact to use tax money to build nuclear reactors. The renewable sources for generating electricity; wind, solar and hydroelectric meanwhile receive minimal support.

(LP) On the point that Mary raised about the wind-generating energy verses nuclear energy, I wish that people could think about wind turbines as beautiful rather than as an eyesore because compared to nuclear reactors and all that they could become, they are beautiful. No terrorist is going to target a wind turbine when they have a choice of targeting a nuclear reactor.

(RD) Which is a good point that I have run across a few times in the last few years. The main argument against wind turbines and wind farms is that people don’t like the way they look. There have been thousands of people that didn’t like that way that nuclear plants or coal fired plants look. I guess what it does is a functional operation. If the only complaint about wind turbines is the way they look, that’s a pretty good sales pitch for moving in that direction.

(MO) Well in the UK in Britain, they are developing off shore wind on platforms like oil rigs in the North Sea. I’m not an expert on wind potential, but certainly this country could consider that in some areas, I’m sure.

(RD) Oh certainly, wind power as a supplement for the nuclear power plant is a hands down winner from every standpoint, environmental , national security . It’s been clearly demonstrated that the United States has more than enough wind potential to produce more than enough electricity for all that we are using right now. Keep all of the dollars in al the United States. Avoid 99.9 % of all the environmental impact and increase national security.

(RD). Other studies have been done to show that jobs per dollar spent on renewable energy are more than for nuclear for sure, nearly one hundred times from some of the numbers, if I am not mistaken.

(MO) Unless of course you have an accident at a nuclear plant, if which case you need all of the workers to clean up

(RD) I am Ryan Doyle with Our Southern Community with Dr Lew Patrie with Physicians for Social Responsibility and Mary Fox Olson with the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

(LP) I hope that we will have time to talk about what people can do if they have strong feelings about the issues that we are bringing up today.

(RD) Well, let’s make a little bit of time. What could folks do if they were interested in commenting or getting involved or making their opinions heard about these very important issues.

(LP) Well, I’m sure that people are familiar with the old concept of writing to their Congress person of Senator or the President of the United States. Now these things do matter and do help.. Another point is that we have opportunities for public comment on programs and the missile defense agency is calling for public comment on something called the environmental impact statement. The alternatives are missile defenses without space-based weapons, missile defenses with space-based weapons or no action. People are invited to write or Email the Missile Defense Agency at their Virginia address. Keep in mind that their new Star Wars program as outlined will be destabilizing by moving the arms race into the heavens. This in itself will create more global instability. The testing and deployment of weapons in space will create massive amounts of space debris and thus making it unavailable for future space flights. Experts say that if we have one explosion in space at a certain level that space will be impenetrable and future generations will never be able to leave the earth. So this is also another environmental issue. The new star wars plan will be extraordinarily expensive as we have talked about. It will reduce the amount of money available for health care, education, and environmental cleanup, Medicaid, Medicare and possibly Social Security. The use of nuclear power for space-based weapons would be an environmental disaster and the defensive concept of the missile defense program could actually become an offensive tool which frightens other nations which causes them to build weapons and develop ways to overcome our plans.

(RD) Which I might reasonably suggest is what is occurring today as we see the acceleration of nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran and other areas that are allegedly developing them. You have to admit that if they think you are going to attack

Unilaterally, it is not irrational for them to move forward with their own programs. Mary, are there other options or considerations for the public to make their opinions and positions known regarding the more local issues in the Southeast. The transportation issue just strikes me as a really important one right now.

(MO) Well, our current effort is to help groups of people and individuals to understand the connection between our local community and these national and indeed global impact programs like new nuclear weapons and new nuclear reactors. We have actually come up with a fun way to do this. In addition to the Physicians for Social Responsibility in Asheville, we have Puppets for Social Responsibility we are inviting people to have a speaker come or our puppet show come or a combination to have this part of our local

Dialogue about our future especially with the I26 connector issue still on the table. From my perspective, a wider road means more nuclear shipments. Build it and they will come. We are encouraging people to add these concerns to what we are talking about locally. Quite frankly, North Carolina is in a unique position because Tennessee and South Carolina both get what is called pork-barrel tax dollars to essentially buy off any opposition to nuclear programs in their State. What does North Carolina get? We get nuclear shipments. Frankly these materials are the road, it is the time of highest risk for accidents for attacks or to be caught in a hurricane. So People should think about this and about they can do collectively, We welcome everyone to engage in this debate.

(RD) We are about out of time. We thank Dr Lew Patrie and Mary Fox Olson for taking the time to be here and bringing such important information about nuclear issues which are literally right in our back yard. If our listeners would like to get more information, how about a Web site Mary for N-I- R-S ?

(RD) And Dr Patrie

(LP) It will get to me at

(RD) Well, thank you both very much for being here and taking the time to educate our listeners.

Thank you (Mary)

Thankyou (Lew)

(RD) Our Southern Community is produced in cooperation with WNCW 88.7 FM in Spindale NC and recorded inWNCW’s famous Studio B on the campus of Isothermal Community College Our technical engineer is Dennis Jones and I am your host Ryan Doyle. Send your comments and suggestions to