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Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 23:54:19 +0000
From: Paul Swann <>
Subject: [strategies] Y2K-Nuclear Issues

Y2K-Nuclear Issues

Paul Swann

free copyright

I've been giving some thought to the Y2K-nuclear issue, one of the most worrying pieces of the whole Y2K jigsaw.

The essential reading on the subject is last November's British American Security Information Council (BASIC) report, "The Bug in the Bomb". The report concluded that "the dangers of Y2K-induced nuclear systems failure are of sufficient probability and magnitude to warrant serious and immediate action... The principle informing such action should be to ensure that safety takes precedence over force readiness."

The report called for the de-alerting of nuclear arsenals and the de-coupling of warheads from missiles during the critical period. (See

The need for such precautions was emphasised by a Channel 4 news item earlier this year. Presenter Jon Snow revealed that a Y2K software patch for a mission critical portion of Britain's Trident strategic weapon system would not be available from the American Department of Defence until December 15th. Science correspondent Andrew Veitch continued:

"Exactly which part of the highly complex missile system will fail when the computer's calendar turns to the year 2000, they won't say. But the Department does admit in its latest quarterly report that it won't be fixed by midnight on December 31st. Instead their experts are working on a computer patch to by-pass the fault - they call it a `work around'. The British Navy is relying on the Americans to tell them what to do. The Americans say the patch won't be ready to go to the crews on the submarines until December 15th."

Y2K expert and UN advisor Martyn Emery has also said (in an article in The Guardian Online on May 27th, and also during a conversation) that "everyone I've spoken to thinks there's going to be some sort of major nuclear accident."

The nuclear issue is hard enough to deal with at the best of times, with most of us resigned to the existence of nuclear weapons (and the fear of nuclear warfare and nuclear terrorism), nuclear power stations (and the fear of another Chernobyl or worse) and nuclear waste (and the worry of how to dispose of it without irrepairable damage to the environment and human DNA for generations to come).

With Y2K throwing a spanner in the nuclear works, can we afford to just "hope for the best"? One thing's for certain, "preparing for the worst" is all but futile in a nuclear worst case scenario.

The risks of a nuclear reactor or weapons accident are difficult to assess. The chances of a Y2K system failure causing the accidental launch of a nuclear missile seem minimal, despite the wholly unacceptable risk being taken with British Trident submarines. With the resumption of communication between the USA and Russia in the wake of the Kosovo war, there are grounds for optimism that the millennium will pass without Y2K-triggered Mutually Assured Destruction. Similarly, the cessation of hostilities in Kashmir brings hope that India and Pakistan will avoid an accidental nuclear war in the next six months. However, the noises coming from Israel hardly inspire confidence in their Y2K-nuclear preparedness, and the state of China's nuclear weapons systems is anyone's guess.

The picture with nuclear reactors is still more unclear. There are 433 reactors worldwide, and one would assume that the international regulatory authorities and those with hands-on responsibility for reactor safety will be doing everything possible to minimise the risk of Y2K-related failures. But there are concerns about some countries being late in starting their remediation projects, including France who rely on nuclear plants for 80% of their power supply. Reports suggest that they've been catching up in recent months, but doubts remain about whether there's sufficient time left for rigourous testing of all of their safety control systems. There are also concerns about whether nuclear plants in Eastern Europe, North Africa, South Africa and elsewhere in the world will be Y2K-ready in time.

Even if we're told that all Y2K problems in nuclear weapon systems and reactors have been sorted out, can we believe it? A disturbing report by Dr. Vladimir Cherounsenko, the scientist responsible for the clean up operation after the Chernobyl disaster, raises suspicion about information provided by the nuclear industry.

Speaking at the 1992 World Uranium Hearing in Salzburg, he commented that "the experience which actually happened in Chernobyl tells us that all it takes is one or two reactors to explode and the whole of Europe will cease to exist."

Referring to those with vested interests in nuclear technology as a "united international atomic Mafia", he concluded:

"It is necessary to establish an independent international institute of call in the best scientists, so that they can give an independent expert estimate, honest, tragic, but correct, so that they will not be rigged as the atomic mafia does it, maintaining that by developing atomic production we move our civilization ahead, but not saying that doing so, we push it to the brink of destruction."

This alarming view of the nuclear industry is supported by Claus Biegert, Initiator of the Hearing. In his foreword to the remarkable Poison Fire, Sacred Earth: Testimonies, Lectures Conclusions, he writes:

"A well functioning international system to suppress disturbing information has enabled the nuclear industry to promote itself as safe and environmentally sound. But this label is a lie." (

Can this "atomic Mafia" be trusted to ensure that no risks are taken with safety-critical computer systems in any of the world's nuclear power plants during the critical Y2K rollover?

However well-advanced the nuclear industry's Y2K efforts might be, the risk of system failures combined with the domino effect and other unknown quantities in the global scenario through the early months of next year give serious cause for concern. Under the circumstances, the extreme danger that nuclear technology failures pose to human and environmental health demands preventative, safety first action from our political leaders. Sensible, short term precautions along the lines of those proposed by BASIC and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (see below) are essential if we're to enter the new millennium without fear of a Y2K-related nuclear accident

There is too much at stake to just keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.

In terms of practical action, the weekend of August 6th-9th, marking the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will be a focus for mobilising public support for a Y2K WASH - World Atomic Safety Hoilday. Although parliament will be in recess at this time, MP's constituency surgeries usually continue through the summer. Please lobby for government, G8 and UN approval of the Y2K WASH demands, and organise petitions and a letter writing campaign aimed at winning the Prime Minister/President's support.

For further information please visit the NIRS Y2K and Nuclear Power webpage:

Paul Swann
Y2K Community Action Network

------Begin forward message-------------------------
Date: Fri, 09 Jul 1999 15:38:03 -0400
From: Mary Olson <>
Organization: NIRS
To: "" <>
Subject: Y2K WASH Press release etc

We are calling for all NGO's, governments, corporations -- all people to join the Y2K WASH Campaign. For more information, reply to Yumi Kikuchi, Mary Olson or Hayato Kitaoka

Press Release
For Immediate Release July 5, 1999, Tokyo

Citizens Nuclear Summit launches Y2K WASH Campaign
World Atomic Safety Holiday

No one knows what will happen on January 1, 2000 because of the Y2K computer bug. Because of this uncertainty, we can not afford to take risks that could prove to have irreversible and catastrophic consequences. Potential Y2K failures are not equal: the prevention of nuclear hazards must be our top priority worldwide. We are calling for a temporary moratorium on all nuclear activities including nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel processing and atomic weapons alert status. We name this World Atomic Safety Holiday.

We, concerned citizens of Japan, many from nuclear host communities, take this action after attending Y2K Citizens Forum on July 3 at Bunkyo Kumin Center in Tokyo. Mary Olson, NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Washington D.C.) representative on Y2K and nuclear power, outlined the multiple dangers from nuclear power reactors that we face at New Year. Y2K will challenge all 433 reactors of the world on the same day. Since no one knows what will happen, we launch this campaign to insure that safe guards are in place on that day.

This campaign aims to include all 34 nuclear powered countries and all peoples since large nuclear accidents and accidental nuclear war would affect everyone on earth. De-alerting of nuclear warheads would ensure that Y2K would not start an accidental nuclear war. USA and Russian nuclear weapons are on hair-trigger alert even though the Cold War is over. De-alerting means to disable the weapons delivery systems in such a way that human action is required in order for launch to succeed. Currently, all other nuclear weapons states are in de-alert status.

We call upon the international nuclear industry and all governments to support this Atomic Safety Holiday. Investment in accident prevention is vital to all life on earth and also economic prosperity. Highly radioactive assets are useless.

Much of the risk of nuclear catastrophe is linked to uncertainty about electric power delivery. If electric transmission fails due to Y2K computer bugs, then nuclear sites are in jeopardy. Back-up power provided by diesel generators is not reliable and also depends on fuel supplies and delivery. Some diesel generators are also Y2K vulnerable. Atomic fuel in reactors generates so much heat that it will melt in hours if not actively cooled. Used fuel storage pools must also be cooled. A key action needed to insure a happy Atomic Safety Holiday is additional, reliable back-up power at all nuclear sites.

The three campaign points are:

  1. Reactor and nuclear processing facilities Holiday from December 1, 1999 until after New Year. Each facility must show it meets Y2K compliance criteria with testing and verification before restart.

  2. Installation of additional reliable back-up power systems, (turbines, fuel cells or renewable sources as appropriate for the site) and also certification that diesel generators are in good working order and 3 months fuel supply, minimum.

  3. De-alerting of all nuclear weapons no later than Dec 1, 1999.

Yumi Kikuchi
Mary Olson
Hayato Kitaoka a

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