Saturday, September 23, 2017

Le Monde, August 2017, Radioactive waste: CIGEO or the chronicle of a failure foretold

Radioactive waste: CIGEO or the chronicle of a failure foretold
translated by Dennis Riches

Translator's note: Yesterday I posted news of the massive police response to those who have been protesting France's nuclear waste burial project. Readers who are unfamiliar with the issue may wonder if these protesters are being unreasonable. After all, don't we need to get moving on a solution to our nuclear waste problem? Burial seems so intuitively logical, right? This report by three eminent scientists explains why the CIGEO project needs to be halted. This is not just a matter of protesters habitually objecting to all things technological. The plan just is not feasible. The report by these scientists makes it clear that the police have struck the wrong target.

In a special MONDE report three scientists plead for the abandonment of the nuclear waste burial project and for research on its management.

LE MONDE August 7, 2017

by Benjamin Dessus (engineer, economist), Bernard Laponche (polytechnicien, scientist) and Bertrand Thuillier (engineer, scientist)

In a special MONDE report three scientists plead for the abandonment of the nuclear waste burial project and for research on its management.

As scientists, it seems useful for us to come back to the topic of CIGEO (Centre Industriel de stockage GEologique) in Bure and to the many questions raised in the report by the IRSN (l’Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire) released at the end of June, as well as to the advisory report by the ASN (l’Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) published in early August regarding the security of the installation.
These questions do not concern only major risks when the facility comes into use (fire, explosion). They also cover questions about the effective capacity of the site: 104,000 cubic meters of wastes said to be “in reserve,” 68,500 cubic meters of used fuel not counted, wastes not acceptable in their present form (bituminous materials and wastes labelled “indeterminate” make up 38% of the wastes of medium-level radioactivity). These issues lead to doubts about certain aspects of the way the facility was conceived (the ability to monitor, maintain, recover and seal, etc.). Let’s remember that the application for authorization initially expected in 2015 had already been delayed to 2018 before being put off again to 2019.

Under time constraints and with no oversight

It is be shocking that such questions about such an important project still linger just months before this application is to be made. In fact, for certain scientists and the groups expressing their opposition to the project who have been following this situation, these questions are just the consequences of a project that went ahead, influenced by the nuclear industry, without considering any alternative to burial in Bure. They did so under time constraints and without developmental control by the National Commission of Evaluation.
These questions are also what was anticipated by findings that found the project was unrealizable because of a questionable choice to bury the wastes in clay, and from a design conception made too hastily (based on a surface-storage facility).
Let’s return thus to the genesis of this impasse. In 1991, the Bataille Law was the beginning of an intelligent consideration of the fate of long-active high-level and medium-level nuclear wastes. The law envisaged three research paths for managing them: geological storage, surface storage and separation or transmutation of radioactive elements.
But by 1999, there was already no alternative considered. The important support and subsidies went almost entirely to burial, to the detriment of research on the other alternatives. Only one research laboratory was created in Bure, even though the law specified the development of several research sites.

Unstable rocks and the presence of water

In 2005, the time constraint became apparent. The report Argile 2005, produced by research at Bure, mentioned the ability of clay to retain radioelements, but it also characterized the rocks as unstable (which would necessitate the use of thousands of tons of steel). It also mentioned the presence of water (7% to 8%) which would generate thousands of cubic meters of hydrogen due to radiolysis and corrosion.
Only the first finding [about clay being good for containing radioelements] was retained, and so the project was developed too rapidly, and consequently it made inappropriate conclusions from solutions that already existed: surface storage facilities that have natural ventilation and no volume constraints.
In 2006, going along with the momentum and under the influence of the nuclear industry, a law was enacted hastily in order to begin work. But this law took no account of the conclusions of the public debate that was held in 2005-2006. This conclusion proposed a medium-term solution—involving long-duration storage—which would require approval and consent after a long period of observation and research.
In June 2007, the absence of control was verified by the first reports of the National Commission of Evaluation which described operations done with no critical review and no discussion of problems to yet to come.

All that we had predicted was verified

The result is that CIGEO now harbors conceptual and structural errors which were anticipated. The Argile files produced in 2005 and 2009 by ANDRA already described the immense fragility of the geological storage option. In 2012, we denounced the problem of hydrogen that arose from having chosen the clay medium, the failure to account for used fuel, uncertainty about sealing the wastes, the need for continual ventilation, the vulnerability of the shafts and pits to contamination, and the impossibility of removing the waste in case of accident or fire.
All that we warned about has been officially recognized. The laboratory must be and can only be a laboratory as it was described in 1999 to the residents of la Meuse and la Haute-Marne.
          Nonetheless, we are aware that the wastes will not disappear with the disappearance of CIGEO. It is imperative to find another solution. Let’s go back to the spirit and the letter of the conclusions of the public debate in 2005-2006: sub-surface dry storage in order to be able to conduct research on the nature of the wastes, how to sort and classify them, and on their production, without dogmatism, mobilizing the indispensable skepticism and pragmatism needed in the face of such a complex problem.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sept. 2017: The French state intensifies its crackdown on anti-nuclear groups

Many people have bought the argument that nuclear energy is carbon-free, even though it isn’t, and they have accepted the promise from the nuclear industry that there will be no more nuclear catastrophes because all the “lessons have been learned” and nothing of the kind will ever, ever happen again. They say that after every nuclear mistake big or small. The public also accepts without too much inquiry that nuclear reactors could exist in this world alongside a hypothetical abolition of nuclear weapons. Enough people seem persuaded of these arguments, so a passive acceptance of nuclear energy is the norm in most countries that still depend on it.
The issue that ought to be the real deal-breaker is none of the above-mentioned objections, even though they are each, individually, sufficient to make any nation reject nuclear energy. The most serious problem with nuclear energy is that no one, since the time when nuclear power plants were first switched on, has found a way to dispose of irradiated uranium and plutonium, commonly known as “nuclear waste.”
The public has been told that it can be safely buried as soon as nuclear reactor operators find a suitable geological disposal site and a “willing host community” to take it. So far both of these conditions have not been met. Willing host communities are extremely hard to produce, and reluctant host communities have exposed the fact that no proposed disposal site can be guaranteed to be safely sealed off from the ecosystem for the thousands of years into the future.
Over the last five years I have followed the opposition that has arisen to France’s plan to bury its nuclear waste in an enormous facility in northeastern France near the town of Bure. The articles I translated previously can be found at the links at the end of this article. The translation that follows this introduction describes what is happening to opponents in September 2017 as their movement has grown and their lawsuits and legal challenges have been rejected. The state has finally decided to crack down. When a group of people decide to stand up and protect future generations, this is the thanks they get.
Events in France illustrate the serious flaws in our civilization’s approach to energy policy. Any solution that imposes destruction on a local people cannot be called the product of a democratic process. One can say that this is a majority decision, or the nation requires this sacrifice, but any such abuse of a minority is incompatible with democracy because anyone, and thus everyone, becomes susceptible to such tyranny in different times and circumstances.
Some nations are aware of this dilemma so they are content to delay indefinitely the quest for a final resting place for irradiated fuel rods. They hope to someday find the appropriate host community, but it doesn’t matter if they never succeed. As long as they talk of having this intent and pretend a solution is possible, they can continue operating their reactors. France, on the other hand, seems to have been foolish enough to take the idea of building a permanent disposal site seriously. They proceeded to build it over the objections of citizens and in spite of evidence that it would jeopardize future generations.

In Bure, raids take place after a build-up of unbearable police presence
translated by Dennis Riches
by Lorène Lavocat, September 20, 2017

On Wednesday September 20, police raided several locations in Bure (Meuse region) and surrounding areas inhabited by opponents of the nuclear waste disposal project. For many of them, this operation seems to be “the main focus of police pressure that has become widespread and permanent.” Gatherings of support are being organized throughout France.
La maison de résistance in Bure, the place where opponents of CIGEO meet and organize, was raided for the first time on September 20 at about 06:15.
Bought in 2005 by French and Germn antinuclear activists from belonging to Bure Zone Libre (BZL), this old farm today welcomes activists of many kinds on a regular and permanent basis. “Raiding la maison de resistance is very symbolic. They are getting serious now,” remarks Joel, a resident of Mandres and opponent of the nuclear waste repository. Over almost ten hours, officers went through everything in the building, and seized numerous objects. Joel explained, “They didn’t have enough boxes to seal everything up properly, so they had to have more brought to them. They came with a moving truck, ready to empty the house.”
It was about 6:20 in the morning when officers started their raids at the maison de resistance, in Bure, the grounds of the station at Lumeville, and a residence in Commercy. They also went to an apartment in Mandres-en-Barrois, near Verdun. These places are occupied by people opposed to the burial of nuclear waste in Bure. Managed by ANDRA (l’Agence Nationale pour la gestion des Déchets RAdioactifs), this project was baptized as CIGEO (Centre Industriel de stockage GEologique)
The forces of public order justified their entry into the maison de resistance with a warrant from a commission of inquiry formed to investigate an attack on the hotel-restaurant of the ANDRA laboratory last June.
According to the website MVC.Camp maintained by the activists on the site, “There were forty officers, and they made their entry violently. Equipped with a crowbar, they broke the door and, it seems, some car windows.”
At the train station, about fifteen officers were present, accompanied by a prosecutor and drug-sniffing dogs. They came in with a warrant from the commission allowing a search for drugs. In Commercy, they also arrived about 6:00 and seized a computer, a hard drive and a portable phone. During this time, roadblocks were put up at Ribeaucourt and at Mandres.

“The people here are exhausted and afraid”

According to the prosecutor in Bar-le-Duc, Olivier Glady, interviewed by AFP (Agence France Presse), officers seized helmets, gas masks and fireworks, 140 grams of “packaged” cannabis resin, ten cannabis plants, as well as data and phones. They were pursuing three different investigations:

1. The one ordered by the commission of inquiry mentioned above.
2. Another investigation was launched after confrontations that occurred at a protest on August 15, according to Mr. Glady.
3. Some raids were related to “infractions of drug laws,” he added.

For the organization Sortir du Nuléaire, “this raid comes after many months of permanent police harassment in the villages around Bure, with constant patrols by police cars and helicopters, and roadblocks where both protesters and farmers have to show identification.”
In a press release, the group denounced “these unacceptable methods and the escalation in this strategy of tension. It is shameful that the State chooses targeting of opponents rather than abandoning this dangerous project that imposes a danger on future generations.” The group is calling for protests throughout the country (see list below.)
A resident of Mandres, an opponent of the CIGEO project, told Reporterre, “It’s the first time we’ve seen an operation of this scale in Bure.” For him, it’s the main focus of a police pressure that is now diffuse and permanent. “Officers patrol daily in the streets and villages, filming and harassing, controlling everything in a pervasive manner. They are raising the tension in order to discourage people, making people afraid, and pushing them to the margins, but all they’re doing is motivating people to mobilize more.”
Michel Labat, another resident of Mandres told Reporterre he was revolted. “It’s incredible. So many police everywhere. Today there is no more opposition. As soon as we do something, they call in the police. Then they insult and harass us regularly. They have no respect. People here are exhausted and afraid.”
For Jean-Francois Bodenreider, a physiotherapist, a resident of Bonnet, and president of the group Habitants Vigilants de Gondrecourt said, “These raids are a way of destabilizing the struggle, a way of focusing on other things. While we are pointing out the dangers of CIGEO, they are conducting disciplinary operations, portraying opponents as druggies and criminals. This makes people stop talking about the real problems. They don’t know what to say or do to defend le nucléaire, so they talk about something else.

“They are pushing us to our limits to make us do something irreparable”

On September 17, this physiotherapist who established himself in Gondrecourt twenty-five years ago, experienced another of many provocations by police. He was in his yard when a black 4x4 stopped in front of his house. Mr. Bodenreider said, “I approached and the passenger in the front took out his phone to take some photos. He told me he was looking for houses to buy in the area. I asked him to leave because our house is not for sale, then his tone changed. Suddenly, one of the passengers shouted, ‘Go! He has a hammer!’” Mr. Bodenreider’s son, Leonard, a medical student, was in the garage gathering supplies for a camping trip. “Out of fear for his father, and in anger” he threw a rubber hammer toward the vehicle. Then the family was shocked to see the passengers in the 4x4 identify themselves as police officers. They handcuffed Leonard and took him away. The spouses of father and son went to the police station in Gondrecourt and waited patiently until they were finally listened to as witnesses. Mr. Bodenreider recounted, “The officers were talking about attempted manslaughter charges, but some local officers who knew us were there and they defused the situation, and they finally got our son released that evening.”
Leonard will have to appear in court on charges of destruction of property because the hammer slightly struck the vehicle.
“After the incident, I told myself that if I reacted like that it was because I was irritated,” said the physiotherapist. I don’t live under daily pressure, not like the residents of Mandres who are patrolled eight times a day. But this pressure exerted by police patrols affects all of us.” He describes himself as “moderate” in the struggle, but he is sure of one thing: “They are pushing us so that we’ll do something irreparable.”

“Once you are identified as an opponent, you are presumed to be guilty”

Joel, an opponent of the CIGEO project, recently relived the experience of his house arrest during the COP21 summit: “At 6 AM, ten officers came to the door of the friend I was staying with in Commercy. They went through everything for the next hour. One of them had a Taser gun. They left with papers, my computer, and my phone. As a bonus question, the forces of public order asked before leaving, “Do you have anything else to declare regarding Bure?”
As in the other locations that were raided, one of which was Joel’s apartment in Mandres, officers indicated that they were investigating the attack on the hotel-restaurant of the ANDRA laboratory. One catch: Joel was on vacation in Greece at the time. He adds indignantly, “Once you are identified as an opponent, in my case since the COP21, you’re a target and presumed guilty.”
For Joel, this is all proof that the operations this Wednesday were not aimed solely at finding who is responsible for the acts committed this summer. He observes, “They are creating permanent tension in order to break people.”

List of protest events around France organized by Sortir du Nuléaire after the raids:

Paris à 18h, appel à rassemblement au marché aux fleurs, métro Cité, à 18h. En solidarité également avec les camarades en procès de la voiture brûlée.
devant la Préfecture de Bar-le-Duc à 17h30
Nantes, rdv 18h à Commerce dans le cadre du Front social.
Grenoble, 17h30, au pied de la tour Perret, parc Paul Mistral, par le comité local de soutien contre les GPII.
Nancy place Stanislas à 18h.
Angers, 18h, devant la Préfecture d’Angers.
Épinal, 18h, devant la Préfecture.
Colmar, 18h, devant la Préfecture, Champ-de-Mars.
Dijon, 18h, devant la Préfecture. Événement ici.
Alsace, on vous tient au courant dès que possible.
Reims, idem.
Une conférence de presse commune du mouvement de résistance se tiendra jeudi 21 septembre à 11h à la Maison de résistance à la poubelle nucléaire, à Bure.

More articles about Bure, CIGEO and French nuclear history:

L'état, c'est MOX

Superphénix (some history of the French anti-nuclear movement)

Another report in English on the recent raids from Nukeresister.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Do North Korean missile tests really violate Japanese airspace?

North Korea’s latest series of unarmed missile tests have been described as flying over Japanese airspace, a fact which has led to much panic and debate over how to respond to this perceived “threat.” A typical headline was this one published by NBC News: “North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Over Japanese Airspace Again.”
These news reports have all implied that these tests are a violation of Japan’s sovereignty and possibly acts of war, but they have all been tolerated without an aggressive response. There certainly is good reason to feel uneasy about the launch of a missile that is capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction. There is no way to know that the missile is unarmed and is just being tested. The Japanese might be thinking, “What kind of country would commit a surprise attack without declaring war first? ... Oh, yeah, right.” A thief worries more than normal people about his belongings being stolen.
In earlier days, North Korea used to inform the appropriate authorities about its plans to carry out tests, but in the present heated context, when adversaries threaten to shoot down their missiles, the North Koreans are disinclined from revealing their plans. The international community is right to be alarmed by the recent missile tests, but it is failing to discuss with the public some essential questions about the laws and normalized practices regarding the testing of long-range missiles.
I tried to find out whether North Korea really has violated Japanese airspace, and whether it is doing anything that hasn’t been done by other countries. Information is not easy to come by. For all the reports that have appeared in the mass media about North Korea’s missiles and nuclear tests, none of them have answered this fundamental question.
All one can conclude from Internet searches is that this is a case of something being allowed only because it is not expressly forbidden by international law. Sovereign airspace only extends up to 100 km, and North Korea’s missiles pass over Japan in a parabolic arc that goes much higher than this into the levels occupied by satellites and the International Space Station. If sovereign airspace extended beyond the atmosphere, it would be spacespace, not airspace, and every orbiting man-made object would be in violation constantly. Furthermore, we have to wonder which other countries have tested missiles, or used armed missiles in war, without asking permission to fly over or through the airspace of other nations. There is very little information available on this topic.

The telltale word in the headlines may be that word “over” in the NBC News headline. The writers chose to say “over” but not “through Japanese airspace.” If the missile had gone through Japanese airspace, that would have been more clearly a threatening act of war, but since it went over Japanese airspace, North Korea is doing nothing technically illegal.
After searching for discussions of this issue, I found a few interesting responses on, but it is impossible to confirm the expertise of these sources. “Affable Geek” wrote, and “Yannis” responded:

When flying over another country’s airspace, the laws of that country apply. Alcohol, for example, can be banned on certain flights due to international recognition of a foreign power’s rights. That said, spy satellites, Voyager, and the International Space Station don’t seem to fall under these rules. This seems to imply an upper limit. So the question is, how high would an aircraft need to fly in order not to be subject to these rules?

Satellites, the (discontinued) shuttle project and ISS are governed by space law, national airspace laws don’t necessarily apply, or are supplemented / amended by international / bilateral agreements, on a case by case basis. That said, the vertical extent of national airspace is a matter of debate. A logical upper limit is the point where outer space begins, as outer space is not subject to national laws. However the boundary is also a matter of debate: FAI [Fédération Aéronautique Internationale] considers the Kármán line (100 Km from sea level) to be the boundary. (2013/06/04)

     In another post, “bobuhito” sums up the legal and moral considerations well by writing:

If they exceed 100 km in height above Japan and land further than 23 km from Guam, it can be argued as legal. Additionally, they need to reasonably clean up after themselves and not just leave a spent missile in the sea.
To be polite, they should also announce the launch time and path in advance. To be nice, they should cancel. There’s too much risk of a mistake killing people, and the best-case outcome still contributes to global warming. (2017/08/12)

See also:

     In the meantime it would be nice if experts, journalists and the leaders of North Korea and of the countries affected by these missile tests could clearly articulate what they believe to be the rules and accepted norms for tests of long-range missiles and rockets, all of which are conceived, according to conceptions preferred in particular circumstances, as deployed for peaceful or defensive purposes, or for acts of aggression. No one wants a war to begin at this time just because of one nation’s, or one leader’s subjective sense of “feeling threatened.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

Explosive inspection at la Hague, the world’s premier nuclear garbage can

Explosive inspection at la Hague, the world’s premier nuclear garbage can
by Jérôme Canard
Le Canard Enchaîné
September 13, 2017

translated from French by Dennis Riches

The operator of the nuclear waste reprocessing center at la Hague has recently been served a shocking message. On July 31, the ASN (Autorité de Sûreté Nucléaire) addressed them a six-page letter of citation.

The reason? “A risk of explosion” in one of the plutonium purification facilities, that’s all. No Chernobyl imminent, but a serious danger of a release of radioactive gas nonetheless.

On March 31st., during a surprise inspection, the ASN visited the facility where plutonium is separated from impurities before it can be mixed into MOX fuel (a highly radioactive fuel). The procedure, which releases large quantities of hydrogen into the facility, requires strict control. A unique charm of this gas is that it becomes explosive when it reaches a level of 4% of the air in a confined space.

Unlikely, right? But the letter from the ASN, which Le Canard has in its possession, states “Periodic monitoring of the hydrogen detectors is done insufficiently.” This is not all. When the ASN had the idea to simulate a breakdown of the system designed to release the gas into the atmosphere, the plant operators took one hour and thirty-six minutes to deploy the necessary emergency compressed air canisters.

This is unfortunate considering that in this time the concentration of hydrogen would reach the limit at which it explodes. The delay raised questions. According to the ASN, the delay was due to security controls at the gate which held up the entry of the contractor delivering the canisters.

Not a radiant future

The visit of the ASN to la Hague was not at all fortuitous. For several months, unions had been sending distress signals, denouncing the “neglect of procedures” and the “particularly alarming” state of equipment as well as “repeated” abdications of responsibility in a tense working environment.

In an extremely rare occurrence, the ASN even received in November a copy of an internal document written by workers squarely accusing the directors of Areva at la Hague of breaking down the “system of defense in depth” during an “unrestrained pursuit of cost reductions.” They add, “Preventive maintenance was reduced to the bare minimum while procedures were simplified to the maximum, and training was done hastily because of a lack of personnel.” In all, a real pressure cooker environment.

In addition to the concerns about safety, there is a long list of items on the agenda. With the announcement made by Nicolas Hulot (Minister of the Environment) on July 10th., the future has darkened. To reduce the amount of nuclear-generated electricity to 50% (as stipulated by the Law on Energy Transition) the government foresees the closure of seventeen reactors by 2025. One union member expressed the concern, “Shutting down 1/3 of the nuclear fleet means targeting the oldest ones first, the 900MW reactors that consume MOX. But the sustainability of la Hague depends on making this superfuel composed of plutonium and depleted uranium.” Decoded, this talk means the recycling of used nuclear fuel produces plutonium, and France, being a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, must not increase its stock of civil plutonium. The only way to meet this requirement is to recycle the surplus by making MOX. Yannick Rousselet, head of Greenpeace’s nuclear campaign, says, “If Hulot follows through, it will mean the disappearance of one half of the reactors capable of ingesting MOX, and the loss of one half of orders by EDF (Eléctricité de France) that consumes 135 tons per year. There’s only one solution: sell the surplus to North Korea.

Final Atoms?

Lacking orders for its plutonium, of which there is a 59-ton surplus today, la Hague will have to decrease the quantity of fuel it recycles. It’s bad enough already because the facility operates at only 3/4 of its capacity. Firstly, since Fukushima, the global nuclear industry has declined. Secondly, Germany, which used to be the main client of la Hague, has been closing one reactor after another. Finally, nations which depend on the atom prefer to no longer recycle their fuel. They keep it on their own territory instead.

The remarkable data provided by the nuclear industry itself: of 1,118 tons of fuel reprocessed in Cotentin last year, 1,100 came from the French reactors owned by EDF. The rest? They were for contracts with Italy and the Netherlands.

What is the future of this giant factory that cost billions, employs 4,000 full-time staff and 1,000 contract staff, and produces radioactive materials? What will become of the 30,000 containers of wastes added to the 9,778 tons of used fuel stored in pools awaiting treatment... without counting the MOX that no one, for the time being, knows what to do with, contrary to what was promised by engineers?

La Hague is the largest radioactive reserve on the planet. It’s not a world record to be proud of, is it?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

If the bomb is wrong now, it was wrong then too

There are still people who come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to honor American relatives who were spared the task of invading mainland Japan. They may come to also honor the victims who died there, but they still see the atomic bombings as justified attacks against an aggressor, as attacks which led to fewer lives being lost on both sides of the conflict. Blame ultimately lies with the aggressor. This belief persists in spite of the large amount of historical research that has been done since 1945 which demolishes the argument that the bombs were necessary to end the war and that they were the essential cause of the Japanese decision to surrender.
It has been well demonstrated that the Japanese were no longer able to wage war and they were starving for food and fuel. A negotiated surrender was possible, especially on terms that required only that the emperor be retained as a symbolic head of the Japanese people. This condition was rejected in favor of pursuing an unconditional surrender, then after the surrender, the American occupying forces decided after all that Japan would be easier to manage if the emperor were kept in place. That fact alone should be enough to put an end to the assertion that the bombs were necessary to end the war, but then there is the additional fact that the Soviet declaration of war on August 9, 1945 made much more of an impression on the decision-makers in Tokyo. Over the next few days until the surrender on August 15, the bombs hardly registered in cabinet discussions as an issue to be worried about. It was just two other cities that had been bombed. Like other ruined cities all over Japan, they were regarded as acceptable sacrifices.

What bothers me most about the people who still hold onto this discredited view is the fact that they are often the same people who say very solemnly that atomic weapons must never be used again. We know now, apparently, but we didn’t know then. On the contrary, the nature of the new weapons was pretty well understood in 1945 in terms of the damage they could do with heat, blast and radiation, and everyone involved in the Manhattan Project understood what the effects would be on the nature of war and international relations. It was known that they would launch a horrific arms race. It was known that there would soon be much larger and deadlier hydrogen bombs. It was known that these weapons might put human life back in the Stone Age. Yet still it was decided that the situation was exceptional. America was faced with an implacable aggressor that had to be stopped, but it wanted to achieve its goals at minimal cost of American lives—an attitude that some of the highest officers serving at the time found dishonorable and also an unnecessary concern because, as mentioned above, they knew that Japan would soon have to surrender on terms favorable to America. The atomic bombs were a distraction, a billion-dollar bureaucratic juggernaut that rolled to its conclusion because no one powerful enough to stop it stood in its way.
I don’t intend to thoroughly rehash this argument that has been covered fully in other sources [1], [2], [3], [4], but I just mention what should be an obvious conclusion. If you think atomic bombs should never again be used in war, then you must also accept that they should not have been used in 1945. There is no reason to believe that circumstances similar to those of 1945 could not arise again: an aggressor starts a war–and the perception of who is the aggressor may be very subjective–but those who say it is an aggressor decide it must be stopped. However, as the conflict drags on and takes an unacceptable toll, the side trying to stop the aggressor becomes impatient and decides to just drop a nuke and be done with it. Most people today would say this should never happen, but it is exactly what happened in 1945.
In fact, American attitudes to this scenario were investigated by two researchers, Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino, and they found that little has changed since 1945. Americans still believe that military objectives should be achieved with minimum cost of American lives, no matter how many enemy civilians die. In the scenario they used in their survey they wanted to recreate the dilemma faced by the US in 1945. A report on their research described it thus:

... participants read a mock news article in which the U.S. places severe sanctions on Iran over allegations that Tehran has been caught violating the 2015 nuclear deal. In response, Iran attacks a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, killing 2,403 military personnel (the same number killed by Japan at Pearl Harbor in 1941). Congress then declares war on Iran, and the president demands that Iran’s leadership accept “unconditional surrender.” U.S. generals give the president two options: mount a land invasion to reach Tehran and force the Iranian government to capitulate (at an estimated cost of 20,000 American fatalities), or shock Iran into unconditional surrender by dropping a single nuclear weapon on a major city near Tehran, killing an estimated 100,000 Iranian civilians (similar to the immediate death toll in Hiroshima). The poll’s participants were reminded that Iran doesn’t yet have an atomic weapon of its own. The results were startling: Under our scenario, 59% of respondents backed using a nuclear bomb on an Iranian city... Even when we increased the number of expected Iranian civilian fatalities 20 fold to two million, 59% of respondents—the same percentage supporting the nuclear attack with the lower death toll—still approved of dropping the bomb.[5]
One major difference not covered in this survey is that if this scenario came true, public opinion and military planners would have to consider the possibility that nuclear armed nations might come to Iran’s defense. The unique circumstances of 1945 cannot be recreated. We now know that the world bristles with 15,000 atomic and hydrogen bombs and that an uncontrollable escalation that would destroy the world. In other words, the reasons for restraint are practical and selfish, not moral. Those who still justify Hiroshima and Nagasaki have a different attitude about the present or future use of nuclear weapons because they fear the repercussions on themselves, but disregard the violence that would be inflicted on the first target–that aggressor who had it coming, who had to be stopped.
If a nuclear weapon is ever used deliberately again, it’s a sure thing that the decision will be justified just as it was in 1945. It will be said that there was an implacable aggressor. They had to be stopped. We hoped it would save lives and shorten the war. Our intentions were good.

Hiroshima: Why the Bomb Was Dropped (ABC News, 1995)


[1] Ward Wilson, “The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan–Stalin Did.” Foreign Policy, May 30, 2013.
[2] Gar Alperovitz, “Nuclear Attack on Japan Was Opposed by American Military Leadership,”, January 14, 2014.
[3] Gar Alperovitz, “The Decision to Bomb Hiroshima,” Counterpunch, August 5, 2011.
[4] Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (Belknap, 2006).
[5] Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino, “Would the US drop the bomb again?Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2016.