New Nukes: The Southern Strategy




L

ast July the U.S. Congress
passed the Bush Energy bill. According to corporate watchdog Public
Citizen (which dubbed the legislation “The Best Energy Bill
Corporations Could Buy”), it contains 15 provisions that will
provide the nuclear power industry with $12 billion in subsidies
to build new nuclear power plants. The industry plans to build almost
all these nukes in the southeastern U.S. 


When President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on August
8, he was doing his Southern buddies who run nukes a big favor.
Bush’s buddies didn’t waste any time getting down to business.
A matter of weeks after a top executive of New Orleans-based Entergy
Corporation rode out Hurricane Katrina, along with the city’s
mayor, the company announced plans to build a nuclear reactor at
its Grand Gulf power station in Mississippi and another at its River
Bend nuke station in Louisiana. Both are on the Mississippi River,
upstream of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. 








Entergy’s
high-rise corporate headquarters is one of the Crescent City’s
dominating structures in the city’s surviving central business
district. But as New Orleans struggles to recover from the hurricane
and devastating floods, Entergy’s response to its troubles
was to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for its New Orleans subsidiary
on November 23. Even though its New Orleans electric company was
going belly up, Entergy could still afford to pursue its goal of
building nukes, thanks to the largesse of the Bush administration.
Not only is the company due to share in the billion dollar subsidies,
but the Department of Energy (DOE) has pledged to pay for half of
the multimillion dollar cost of the combined construction and operating
new nuke licenses Entergy has applied for with the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (NRC). 


Entergy announced its intention to build a nuke at Grand Gulf under
the auspices of NuStart Energy, a consortium of nuclear utilities
and reactor manufacturers. The member companies are almost exclusively
located in the South. Baltimore’s Constellation Energy wants
a nuke at its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power station on Chesapeake
Bay or at its Nine Mile Point nuke in upstate New York. Duke Energy,
headquartered in Houston, with its nuclear operations based in Charlotte,
North Carolina, is interested in firing up new reactors at one or
more of its sites in the Carolinas. So is Raleigh, North Carolina-
based Progress Energy. So are NuStart members Florida Power &
Light and Georgia’s Southern Company. 


Also on September 22, another NuStart partner, the Tennessee Valley
Authority (TVA), announced its intention to build a reactor at its
Bellafonte site in Alabama. The TVA started to build a nuclear plant
there before, but never completed the project. Even the NuStart
reactor manufacturer General Electric is based in Atlanta. In fact,
Pennsylvania-based Exelon and reactor-maker Westinghouse are the
only domestic NuStart members not located below the Mason-Dixon
line. 


The final member of the consortium, EDF International America, headquartered
in Washington, DC, is the U.S. subsidiary of a French global nuclear
energy company. It has interests not only in the south of France,
but in the Southern Hemisphere. 


The nuclear utility Dominion Resources of Richmond heads up another
new nukes group. Dominion is applying to the NRC to build a new
reactor or two at its North Anna nuclear power station near Charlottesville,
Virginia. 


With 45 of the nation’s 103 operating commercial nuclear power
reactors located in the southeastern U.S., it’s not surprising
that nuclear utilities in the region are taking the lead in pursuing
the construction of nukes. In addition, Constellation, Entergy,
and Dominion have bought up and operate eight northeastern nuclear
plants in recent years. Entergy is now the largest owner of nukes
in the Northeast, but Southern companies now control the majority
of the nation’s nuclear reactors. 


George W. Bush and his family’s connections with Southern energy
companies, most notoriously with Enron, have assured these companies
instant access and influence in the Oval Office. Though earlier
versions of the energy bill that passed last year failed due to
organized opposition inside and outside Congress, the Bush forces
kept coming back until they got what they and their energy corp-
oration cronies wanted. 


The South’s interest in things nuclear originated with the
initially secret city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which mushroomed
during World War II while playing a key role in the development
of the atomic bomb. 








The
role of universities, such as the University of Chicago, in the
making of the bomb has become well know. Less well understood is
the role of Southern universities in continuing to make bigger and
badder bombs and then in promoting nuclear power plants under the
Eisenhower administration’s Atoms For Peace program in the
1950s. 


In 1946 the Oak Ridge Institute For Nuclear Studies partnered the
South’s bomb-making city with regional universities, including
Duke, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Emory, and the Universities of Alabama,
Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, as well
as Louisiana State University. 


The group has since changed its name to the Oak Ridge Associated
Universities. According to its website, the group has expanded beyond
the South and now includes “86 doctoral-granting institutions
and 8 associate members.” It “continues to provide an
important link between academia and federal research facilities,
benefiting not only those directly involved but also the nation
as a whole.” 


Some of these benefits, in the amount of $12 million, trickled down
to such universities through the Nuclear Energy Research Institute
(NERI) awards provided by the Department of Energy on December 15,
2005. In announcing the awards the DOE said they were “to engage
students and professors in the Department of Energy’s advanced
nuclear research and development programs [i.e., for new nukes]…that
would enhance the nation’s environment and support an economy
that is less reliant on imported fossil fuels.” 



P

erhaps Southern nuclear utilities
think that by choosing new nuke sites mostly in that region, they
will arouse less public opposition than in other parts of the country.
Entergy of late has been taking a lot of heat in the Northeast from
environmental and community groups concerned about continuing unsafe
practices at its Indian Point nukes in New York as well as its Vermont
Yankee reactor. Dominion is faced by unrelenting criticism of its
Millstone nuclear plants by the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone. 


The legacy of the Clamshell Alliance, which conducted mass civil
disobedience against the construction of the Seabrook nuclear plant
in New Hampshire, lives on in continuing anti-nuke activism and
consciousness throughout the region. Similar efforts helped shut
down the Shoreham nuke on Long Island, New York, and one of Millstone’s
reactors, as well as Yankee Row in western Massachusetts and Maine
Yankee. 


But the South has its own “no nukes” history. Families
near the St. Lucie and Turkey Point reactors in south Florida have
filed lawsuits against the operators of those nukes alleging that
those reactors’ radioactive emissions have caused their kids’
cancers. In the Triangle area of North Carolina, the North Carolina
Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (NC WARN) has been organizing
resistance to Progress Energy’s plan to build nukes at its
Shearon Harris nuclear plant, which is near Raleigh, Durham, and
Chapel Hill. NC WARN is following in the footsteps of the Coalition
Against Shearon Harris, which fought against the startup of that
plant. 


NC WARN has also recently exposed serious safety lapses at the Harris
plant that were brought to its attention by whistleblower security
guards there, including a charge that one of the guards was shot
at last year. 


In the Smoky Mountains, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League
(BREDL) has been active in a coalition of groups fighting Dominion’s
plan to site a nuke at North Anna. In 2004 BREDL released a study
by epidemiologist Joseph Mangano of the New York-based Radiation
and Public Health Project (RPHP), showing that “the infant
death rate near North Anna rose 11 percent in the first 3 years
after the first reactor began operating on the site, compared to
a 9 percent decline nationwide.” Miscarriages in the study
area rose 3 percent, but fell 15 percent in the rest of Virginia. 


The study also found that death rates for children 1-4 rose 99 percent
from the period 1979-82 (the first years of North Anna’s operation)
to 1983-86, but declined 8 percent for the rest of the state. Death
rates for children 5-14 rose 72 percent from 1983-86 to 1987-90,
but fell 3 percent statewide. 








BREDL
also presented evidence from Dr. Jay Gould—one of Mangano’s
collaborators in RPHP —about high mortality rates from breast
cancer in areas around North Anna: “In the ten counties near
North Anna, the breast cancer mortality rate increased 73 percent
after the reactors began operation…. Moreover, the increase
in the counties nearest the plant was triple the statewide increase
in breast cancer mortality during that period.” 


Mangano and Gould’s findings are consistent with those of a
study released last summer by the National Academy of Science’s
Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation. A June
29 Associated Press report about that study stated, “The nuclear
industry, as well as some independent scientists, have argued that
there is a threshold of very low radiation where exposure is not
harmful, or possibly even beneficial. The [NAS] panel, after five
years of study, rejected that claim.” 


The committee’s chair, Richard Monson of the Harvard School
of Public Health, stated, “The scientific research base shows
that there is no threshold below which low levels of ionizing radiation
can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial. The health risks—particularly
the development of solid cancers in organs—rise proportionally
with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid
cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases,
so does the risk.” 


This then is the situation for people living within reach of the
constant radioactive emissions from nuclear reactors. Building new
nukes will only increase this risk, as well as take more lives. 


 





Michael
Steinberg, a veteran activist and writer, is the author of



Millstone
and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut



.
He is a former resident of Durham, North Carolina.