47 TONS

While the Little Rocket Man and North Korea capture the world’s attention, our president is in Tokyo to deal with a threat that dwarfs anything we have faced since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago.

The surprise attack against our Navy on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, started a cascade of retaliation against the Japanese that three-and-a-half years later resulted in 67 Japanese cities burnt to ashes during a few months of sustained “fire-jelly” attacks by hundreds of Boeing-29 Superfortress bombers and other aircraft. After napalming the cities to dust, the United States followed the horror with a “preemptive” nuclear strike against the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Nine million Japanese civilians were left homeless. The death toll has never been definitively calculated, but two million souls is a reasonable guess.

The distance from Pyongyang, North Korea to Tokyo, Japan is 800 miles; to Hawaii, 4,400 miles; to Los Angeles, 6,000 miles; to Seattle, 5,150 miles; to Alaska, 3,200 miles. The border of North Korea meanders 25 to 50 miles from downtown Seoul, South Korea.

A few years after the stalemate of the Korean War, General Curtis LeMay—head of Strategic Air Command—claimed that his pilots had killed a similar number of Koreans by aerial bombardment—20% of the population.

The United States killed an estimated million Iraqi civilians in the more recent wars in the Middle East, which included the Gulf War and the Iraq War.

It killed two million Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam genocide of the 1960s and 70s.

In August 1945, USA bombers killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Millions were burned alive in fire-jelly (napalm) bombings, which decimated 67 cities over several months. Evacuation of cities helped to reduce casualties. 

Why am I bringing up a bunch of disturbing statistics? What’s the point? Why not leave unpleasant memories forgotten in a distant past where they can’t impact the happy lives we live now, not then?

What possible benefit can remembering the past confer upon our contented present? Why bother puking up a sour history that only the old-timers among us experienced? 

May I ask one more question? Maybe thinking about the answer will help some to make sense of current events that seem to have no rhyme or reason.

Of the fifty countries against which we have directed our military wrath since World War II, which among them has a right to the biggest grievance? Who did we hurt the most? 

Which country has been forced to endure the shame of a military occupation that never ends? Ok, maybe it sounds like more than one question. Deal with it. 

America fights secret and not so secret wars against communist, Islamic, western hemispheric, and, it turns out, African countries all the time. We have conducted strategic operations against friend and foe alike since World War II.

We have meddled in the internal politics of super powers like Russia and China. The Dalai Lama of Tibet wrote in his book Freedom in Exile that the United States gave him millions of dollars to incite violence against China, for example.

The USA has attacked militarily one in four of the 190 countries on the earth during the modern era. Which country is the one most likely to harbor a secret ambition for revenge?

America keeps itself in a state of perpetual war to feed the appetites of voracious weapons manufacturers whose stockholders are among the world’s most affluent. The AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force against terrorists) passed Congress, and President Bush signed the bill in August 2001 for a reason—to fuel the demands of arms dealers to free them from the inconvenience of securing approval by Congress to declare wars—which the Constitution demands. Only Barbara Lee (no relation to Billy Lee) of California voted against it.

Since 1991 Congress has passed and the president signed four AUMFs, mostly to cut down on the amount of work and resulting delays that are inevitable when large elected groups of representatives are compelled to go on record for or against any particular conflict. 

We in America live under a lot of illusions. We tell ourselves a lot of lies about how wonderful we are and how everyone wants to be like us. Our enemies who fear us the most insist—some of them anyway—that they love us; they want to live with us and be like us, and we tend to believe them.

No one tells a command officer who is carrying an automatic assault rifle that he is a pig; the term “butt-wipe” is never used. No one wants to die for a no good reason like name calling, for example. Our subjugates place flowers in the barrels of our guns and tell us they love us.

Everyone who has been shamed and humiliated prays for their day of liberation; the day of their revenge; the day the world is finally set right. It’s human nature. The desire to settle scores crosses cultural, religious, and geographical boundaries.

Few countries that have suffered cremation by fire of millions of their citizens forget. They don’t forgive. Think long and hard. It’s true.

For almost a year Billy Lee lived where he could view Mount Fuji from his bedroom window during his two-year stay in Japan. The Editorial Board

The situation in Japan is dire; it really is. The United States for some insane and goofy reason permitted the Japanese over the past thirty years to build the most sophisticated nuclear power grid the world has ever seen.

The USA sold the Japanese uranium-impregnated fuel rods. A by-product of their use (to produce the intense heat required to generate electricity) is plutonium. Instead of collecting and disposing the spent fuel rods, the Japanese built facilities to extract the plutonium. They promised to use the plutonium for fuel in advanced power generators called “fast reactors.” Fast reactors are, in theory, cheaper and less complicated; they are also more volatile; more dangerous to operate. 

After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the Japanese abandoned “fast reactors”. They discovered during the audits they conducted following the disasters at Fukushima and other facilities that their fast reactors had safety records that bordered on terrifying. They stopped using plutonium for fuel. With no place to “burn” the plutonium they were harvesting, it began to accumulate, bigly.

In the entire universe plutonium is found above trace amounts at one location and one location only: planet Earth. Plutonium went extinct due to radioactive decay billions of years ago. It can be created during rare cosmic events, but the bomb-making kind—Pu 239—is a manufactured element that does not occur in nature. It is a by-product of nuclear fission reactions. It hides itself within the matrix of elements that make up the remnants of spent fuel rods.

Plutonium is among the most poisonous substances known. The speck of plutonium dust that kills you, you will likely never see. Some scientists today have downplayed the lethality of plutonium 239. My advice is to be skeptical whenever vast amounts of money and power fuel a controversy.

Regardless of its lethality as a poison, no one argues that fourteen pounds is enough plutonium to make an atomic bomb of a construction so unsophisticated that a high schooler could fashion the necessary components in shop class. Sophisticated bombs require even less plutonium—a mere nine pounds.

This is what plutonium powder looks like. Japan has 94,000 pounds of it. 14 pounds are required for an unsophisticated bomb; 9 pounds for a sophisticated version.

Japan has harvested 47 tons (94,000 pounds) of high-grade plutonium from its nearly one-hundred or so nuclear power and processing plants, which include power plants, research reactors, fast reactors, reprocessing installations, and recently decommissioned facilities—decommissioned due mostly to safety concerns.

Japan’s production schedule is running at a frenetic pace—adding eight tons of surplus plutonium to its stockpile every year into the foreseeable future unless the United States is able to shut down Japan’s reprocessing installations with an agreement scheduled for negotiation in 2018. Our new president has said the old agreements won’t be changed.

By this time next year the Japanese will have accumulated enough high-grade Pu 239 to make as many as 12,000 atomic bombs. Should it make that choice, Japan will possess the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.

Plutonium is heavy. Nine pounds of Pu 239 is the size of a softball. It is exactly the right size to construct a single atomic bomb. By this time next year Japan will possess enough Pu 239 to make 12,000 bombs.

What follows next in this essay is the scary part. Some readers might want to bail and maybe find a good comic book to occupy their imaginations.

Despite agreements with the United States that followed World War II, Japan has one of the largest military budgets in the world. The country spends 42 billion dollars per year on its military. This expenditure does not include its civilian nuclear power system or its civilian space exploration programs. 

The Japanese consolidated three civilian rocket launching companies into one (named JAXA) in 2003. They are launching rockets into space all the time. JAXA designed, built, launched, and maintains the largest module on the International Space Station. The Japanese have spacecraft in the asteroid belt and spy satellites in earth orbit. These are civilian programs. 

Although the military budget of the United States seems huge, people might want to consider that the USA spends one-third of its military dollars on salaries and pensions. No other military spends as much. It maintains 800 military bases in 70 countries at an expense of $200 billion—an expense that other militaries simply don’t have. Japan spends about the same amount on defense as England, France, and Germany. A controversial argument can be made that the combined military might of Russia, China, Japan, and North Korea exceeds that of the United States. It is an argument that is hard to prove, because countries lie about their military expenditures, war-fighting readiness, and technical capabilities. The chart above is misleading in another important way, because it doesn’t include expenditures on nuclear weapons—their production, maintenance, and modernization—which are state secrets in all the countries that possess them.  

The Japanese don’t have to make bombs from their plutonium stores to wreak havoc on an adversary. They can pulverize the metal into aerosols and release plutonium dust into the air over cities.

They can load plutonium into drone subs like rumors say the Russians have done and set hundreds of them in the coastal waters of our country. The subs can lie in ocean sand and silt for decades before releasing their poisons, should it ever become necessary.

Their advanced missile technology might enable Japan to overwhelm our defenses by launching multiple warhead missiles over our homeland. It might take a few months, but poisoned populations would eventually succumb to the release of toxic dust.

And, should they choose to make bombs, well, any country with the resources of a country as sophisticated as Japan can turn high-grade plutonium into bombs in a few days; they can possess the capability to create hell on earth in the blink of an eye, anytime they choose. With the right (or wrong) leadership they can unleash a nightmare of suffering far worse than the inferno we inflicted on them 72 years ago.

This plant is the place where the Japanese extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel rods. The Japanese have admitted on NHK television that they have 94,000 pounds of plutonium that they have no use for nor any place to safely store.

Plutonium is an artificially produced killing material that no human being, company, or country should ever be allowed to possess or use. It is a forbidden apple of physics that can only bring anguish to whoever uses or shares it with others. 

Japan has the potential to threaten the world with the same level of terror as the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, and who knows what other countries. Many countries are conducting (in secret) diabolical engineering even now and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.

What could be worse? Believe it or not, our predicament might already be much worse than anyone in the USA is willing to think about or imagine.

What about the possibility that North Korea and China are playing a game of good cop / bad cop with our military planners? What if Japan is toying with the idea of leading an unholy alliance? Behind our backs? Do we really have enough Japanese-speaking spies to keep track of all the secret Samurai cults that might be conspiring at the highest levels of government. Do we?

What if Vladimir Putin thinks: The United States lied to me. I helped to elect an American president who is ineffective—a buffoon who can’t help me the way he promised. Let’s get ’em!

Imagine an alliance of China, North Korea, Russia, and Japan; an alliance led by the one country that has the greatest lust for payback; the strongest ache to settle scores once and for all.

A Hunkpapa Lakota holy man, Sitting Bull, had the vision that led to the defeat of the USA’s 7th Calvary Regiment on June 26, 1876—one week before the USA’s 100th anniversary. Five of seven battalions were decimated—one led by Civil War hero George Armstrong Custer. Sitting Bull became a celebrity who worked in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Later in life he became a leader of the Ghost Dance movement, which terrified whites, because it prophesied the exodus of white people from native American lands. Ten days before Christmas—on December 15, 1890 during an arrest by police on reservation property—Indian Affairs agents shot Sitting Bull in the head and chest in front of his family and friends. Agents removed his body to Fort Yates, where they buried him in a makeshift coffin.  

A surprise attack by such an alliance would be nation ending. It might end like the Battle of the Little Bighorn. We don’t have enough soldiers or missiles or ships to fight a gathering of tribes who possess tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.

The USA has the power to destroy the whole world if we must, but we can’t save ourselves; we can’t save our country; we can’t save the planet.

In the conflagration that took the hyper-alert Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer by surprise, all his ribbons and medals; all his accolades; all his friends in high places couldn’t save him, his men, or even his horses. The battle of the Little Bighorn was a massacre that dwarfed Custer’s reputation for being a really good person; a hero of the Civil War loved by every patriotic American.

To those who say, Billy Lee, you’ve gone paranoid on us… the Japanese would never organize an attack against America unawares… not a nuclear attack… they know how bad it would be… they suffered through one… they know better than anyone… and look at them, how they smile when we tell bad jokes. The last thing on their minds is revenge. The very last thing!

I say, you are so right!  The Japanese would never hurt us. I lived in Japan for two years after the war. The Japanese have their quirks, yes, but most of them are not cruel or insensitive. They don’t enjoy watching torture videos for entertainment, most of them. Tying up women and twisting their bodies to prepare them for rape is not something most Japanese men would have any part in. Am I right? Of course I am.

The Japanese are not monsters. They are a kind and gentle people who don’t farm or ranch or mine, because they are resource impoverished. When I lived there our Japanese house-maids and yard-boys were as sweet as they could be. They meant us no harm. I see that now. 

But how on earth are the Japanese going to get rid of the 47 tons of plutonium poison they have produced? And how will they dispose of the eight tons they plan to produce each year into perpetuity—plutonium which they admit has no longer any peacetime applications whatsoever?

Everybody knows plutonium has a radioactive half-life of 24,000 years. It’s never going to go away. Someday, through inattention or from whatever other cause, plutonium containment structures are going to rot, and the poison will leach into the soils, the oceans, and the atmosphere to kill all living things. It is Earth’s best case scenario—the scenario where nuclear war never happens, the world disarms, and plutonium is tucked away out of reach and out of sight of war makers and other terrorists.

The process that will sterilize the planet of all life is already well underway and cannot be stopped—not over a period of tens of thousands of years. Read the essay, RISK, elsewhere on this site. Humans are likely to be extinct by the time the unnatural poisons of war and opulence first make their advance against the innocent, less intelligent life-forms that we will leave behind—like chipmunks and kittens, for example—who will never be able to understand what is killing them or why.

Our new president is in Tokyo as I’m writing this essay. Anyone who asks him will learn—because he’s not afraid to say it—he is really smart and bigly educated. He understands people and how best to manipulate them to maximize his advantages and get what he wants. You don’t believe it?  Ask him—for the love of God—ask him. 

Maybe we should help the Japanese store their plutonium in a safe place—a place much safer than their earthquake tormented islands that float within the largest fisheries of the Pacific Ocean. We could store the plutonium perhaps deep in a cave somewhere. Maybe we could store it beneath the volcanic cauldrons of Yosemite—or some other remote location, like a trench astride the San Andreas fault.

Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s do that.

If we talk nicely, will the Japanese listen? Maybe they will, if our new president has the sense to ask. Does anyone have a better idea? For the love of God, tell someone. 

Billy Lee

Nuclear Power and Me

Three MIle Island Nuclear Power Plant suffered a partial meltdown in March, 1979
The Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania suffered a partial meltdown in March 1979. After the meltdown, cancer rates within ten miles of the plant increased 64% according to a study by a Columbia University research team.

Update: Nov. 27, 2014: Popular Mechanics posted this CBS 60 Minutes drone-video of Chernobyl taken in its Zone of Alienation, a safe area. I’ve added it to my article for context. 

Here is an excerpt from my resume about my work in the nuclear power industry in 1975:

Engineering Technician at Ingersoll-Rand Company. Designed and serviced pumps and condensers for nuclear power plants; assisted engineers on service calls; toured and worked inside nuclear power plants; trained in construction and operation of nuclear power plants.

I didn’t last long at Ingersoll-Rand before they fired me for incompetence. But during the six months before my meltdown they sent me inside nuclear power plants to learn how to operate and maintain the pumps and condensers used to move and cool liquids inside the plants. Under the supervision of licensed nuclear engineers I learned how to inspect and fix pumps—some of them the size of little houses.

The plant executives had the habit of inviting visiting engineers and technicians to lunch, where their supervisors would present short overviews of plant operation, describe safety features and speculate about the future of nuclear energy in the United States.

They predicted that a thousand nuclear power plants would be built in the USA by the year 2000. The plants would be “fail-safe” due to their many redundant safety features. As it turned out, their enthusiasm was misguided.

To date only 438 nuclear power plants have been built in the entire world. Sixty-one operate inside the United States. Their safety record is abysmal.

Several plants in Michigan are located on the banks of our great fresh-water lakes. Radioactive waste-products are stored in cooling-ponds on each of these sites just yards away from the purest fresh-water on planet Earth.

Highly radioactive, spent-fuel rods are periodically collected and dry-stored at the Lake Michigan Zion facility, which experts warned in 2015 pose risks not only to the Great Lakes, but to the entire region. This lethal dry-storage facility and the contaminated ponds at the power-plants themselves are growing in size and radioactivity year after year after year. Editors note: On October 25, 2016, EnergySolutions announced that the Zion plant is 88% shut down and that all of its high radiation fuel rods are now contained inside an on-site ISFSI (Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation), where they will remain until someone figures out what to do with them. The entire facility will be closed in 2017. 

We are one earthquake away from catastrophic contamination of up to ten percent of the world’s fresh water supply.  

Inside Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
31 people died at the Russian Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in April 1986. The city was evacuated and remains uninhabited. Click this link for a drone-video of the site.

Anyway, after the lectures—which were accompanied by short films and slide presentations—executives opened the sessions for questions from the audience. I was one of those nerds who believed they were serious, so I did ask a lot of questions. (I was a pontificator, even then).

I asked: What is the half-life of the radioactive waste produced in this plant?  Where is the waste stored? How much waste will this plant produce over the next 30 years? What happens if there is a serious earthquake?  How are meltdowns prevented? What are the consequences of operator errors?  What will happen when the plant ages and comes to the end of its estimated useful life?

Fukushima Nuclear Plant
Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan experienced catastrophic failure during the tsunami in March 2011. Over 300 workers were severely irradiated; six deaths were blamed on the tsunami itself. The site will never recover.

It wasn’t long before my supervisor called me into his office and advised me to keep my questions to myself and do my job better. But it was not to be. I learned a life lesson: when the boss tells you to be quiet and just do your job—hold on to your hat. It’s too late. You will be fired as soon as the permissions and the paperwork are done.

Maybe I was incompetent. I don’t know. After being fired I went into counseling for depression. I re-entered MSU and studied mathematics and electrical engineering. I ended up designing machinery—mostly in the food and beverage industry—until I retired six years ago in 2008.

Everyone is familiar with the tear-spout coffee lids used on foam coffee cups. Folks drink their coffee without removing the lid. Yeah, I designed the first one and all the tooling needed to produce it; it was a team effort, of course. Everyone buys orange juice and milk cartons with tamper-proof safety caps. Yeah. I did those, too. I share the patent, which proves it.  

What am I most proud of?  I didn’t design a damn thing on that Fukushima disaster, which is contaminating the Pacific Ocean and its fish stocks, perhaps to the end of time. 

Billy Lee