ecoglobe [yinyang] news (30 October 1999)

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Y2K AND THE WORLD'S NUCLEAR SYSTEMS: THE DEADLIEST GAMBLE IN HISTORY

The most critical Y2K crisis we face - its potential impact on the world's nuclear weapons and power plants - has been obscured by news media focusing only on the trivial and sensational. There has been a surprising lack of skepticism in reporting official reassurances that "the problem is being addressed" and the public won't be at risk on January 1, 2000. The net effect has been to lull nearly everyone into complacency.

It has also inhibited responsible scientists, politicians, and government officials who have credible and alarming concerns about Y2K. They haven't spoken out more forcefully because they fear ridicule and humiliation in the present media climate. But among their peers, in professional journals, and even in Congressional hearings, they raise grave questions about the profound - and unnecessary - risk we face.


Every historical and environmental disaster in the 20th century might well have been avoided, in retrospect, if people had acted differently at the critical moment when danger became clear. That moment is now.
Probably one out of five days I wake up in a cold sweat thinking [Y2K] is much bigger than we think, and then the other four days I think maybe we really are on top of it. Everything is so interconnected, it's hard to know with any precision whether we have got it fixed."
                  - U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre

Less than three months before Jan. 1, 2000, hundreds of thermonuclear missiles and atomic reactors remain vulnerable to "Y2K bugs." These bugs, the basic glitches that arise because many computers cannot tell the difference between the years 1900 and 2000, lurk among millions of embedded chips and software. When we enter the new millennium, many computer systems all over the world will undoubtedly fail, inducing chaos in some countries and minor dislocations in others.

The one industry that must not be allowed to fail is the nuclear industry. Yet no precautions now being taken in the world's nuclear arsenals and nuclear power plants are enough to prevent the possibility of catastrophe.

Y2K Risks in Nuclear Weapons

4400 nuclear weapons both in Russia and America are on hair trigger alert, ready to be "launched on warning" by a combination of possible inaccurate computer data componded by the likelihood of human error. There is a very real danger that Y2K will multiply the false hostile launch reports which have in the past brought both Russian and U.S. forces within minutes of launching before the mistake is discovered.

Russia has only recently acknowledged that its military systems have Y2K problems, and its deteriorating economic condition woefully limits any meaningful fix. Many of Russia's nuclear weapons computer systems were stolen from the U.S. The Pentagon's efforts to find their own problems are behind schedule. The reassurances we've received to date are unacceptable, because the Pentagon - which has the largest and most complicated interfacing computer systems in the world - has not been open and honest about its Y2K problems.

A recent decision by the U.S. and Russia to establish a joint early warning room does not obviate the potentially dangerous situation inherent in the hardware, software and embedded chips in both countries' early warning systems. It is a palliative measure, but not a cure.

The only sure way to prevent the mistaken launch of nuclear missiles is to de-alert the nuclear warheads, disabling the weapons systems.

Currently, all other nuclear weapons states are in de-alert status, guaranteeing that these weapons cannot be launched by computer or human error.

Y2K Risks in Nuclear Power Plants

We are also gambling with our nuclear power systems. 433 nuclear power plants worldwide are at risk - 103 in the U.S. alone. France, the nation most heavily dependent on nuclear plants, is so uncertain of its nuclear safety that it plans to shut down all its nuclear facilities except the nuclear power plants during the week of January 1, 2000.

While Y2K can pose a danger to routine reactor control systems, the major risk involves a power blackout engulfing the plant, failure of back-up generating systems, loss of cooling, and meltdown - the consequences of which, within the space of one or two hours, could match the Chernobyl disaster.

Compared to Y2K's military risks, it seems relatively straightforward to ensure that reliable reactor emergency cooling systems are ready for Y2K blackouts. Thirty-five U.S. nuclear power plants are not yet in compliance less than three months before Jan. 1, 2000. The Y2K status of hundreds of other power and research reactors around the world are unknown.

There is still time. There are still solutions.

If the computer systems which now restrain nuclear technology cannot be relied on to perform within acceptable parameters during the Y2K period - then people must intervene. Less than three months before Y2K we face a frightening vacuum in political leadership. The rest of us must act. President Clinton and other leaders will take action only if you do.

CALL, FAX AND EMAIL PRESIDENT CLINTON DEMANDING THAT HE:

1. Negotiate an agreement with President Yeltsin that all 2400 U.S. and 2000 Russian nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert be "de-alerted" before January 1, 2000.

2. Mobilize the deployment of the required number of reliable emergency back up electrical generators at every nuclear reactor in the world.

Telephone: (202) 456-1414
Fax: (202) 456-2461
Email: president@whitehouse.gov
This emergency statement, based on the latest reports concerning Y2K and the nuclear sector, is endorsed by the following concerned experts and citizens. Among them are eminent physicists who played key roles in the earliest development of nuclear weapons systems.

Sir Joseph Rotblat, Nobel Peace Laureate
Philip Morrison, Physicist, Institute Professor (Emeritus), MIT
George M. Woodwell, Biologist, Director, The Woods Hole Research Center Ted Taylor, Nuclear Physicist - Los Alamos Labs 1949-1957, Staff Member, Theoretical division responsible for design of new nuclear weapons
Ira Helfand, MD, Co-Founder and Past President - Physicians for Social Responsibility Helen Caldicott, MD, Founding President - Physicians for Social Responsibility, Founder - Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament
Ian Prior, MD, Wellington Medical School, New Zealand, Past Secretary, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
Barry S. Levy, MD, MPH, Adjunct Professor of Community Health, Tufts University School of Medicine
James Riccio, Staff Attorney - Public Citizen's Critical Mass Patch Adams, MD
(Affiliations for identification only)
For further updated information and analysis, go to the following websites:

http://www.y2kwash.org
http://www.basicint.org
http://www.trendmonitor.com/y2kad.htm

For inquiries email hcaldic@ibm.net or write:
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Y2K Nuclear Alert Campaign, 466 Green Street, Suite 300, San Francisco CA 94133.

Feedback to: <welcome@ecoglobe.org.nz>

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People

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People

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People

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People

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People

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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (30 October 1999)

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