Nukes Are Back and So Are We
Time after time the atomic energy industry has gone to the government to demand massive amounts of money. The most recent public gouging came during the great deregulation scam of 1999-2001. As Enron and its cronies contrived phony energy shortages and nearly bankrupted California, the atomic pushers went before state legislatures and asked for a massive bailout. They complained that with the coming age of deregulation (about two dozen states deregulated their electricity businesses), nuclear power plants were too expensive, inefficient, and obsolete to compete in the coming green age.
So they demanded—and got— more than $100 billion in “stranded cost” payouts. These were the ultimate admission that atomic power could not make it in the marketplace. As deregulation failed throughout the U.S., what Forbes magazine labeled “the largest managerial disaster in business history,” the atomic industry stayed alive as America’s ultimate welfare cheat.
After complaining about its old reactors’ lousy economic performance, the nuke industry now argues that the new ones will be magically transformed and that billions more should be spent building them. The first of those is already under construction in Finland. Ground was broken two years ago, but the project is two years behind schedule and $2 billion over budget. So a whole new cover story has been invented: nuke power will solve global warming.
The assertion is absurd. All reactors emit radioactive carbon, along with numerous other “hot” isotopes. Massive quantities of greenhouse gasses are spewed into the atmosphere during the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium fuel. The reactors themselves emit huge plumes of heat directly into the air and water. Nukes perform poorly in hot weather, which is precisely when they’re supposed to help with global warming. Reactors in both France and the U.S. have been forced to shut because the rivers into which they dump their waste heat have exceeded 90 degrees Farenheit.
Still more greenhouse gasses have been created with the partial construction of the proposed Yucca Mountain waste dump in Nevada, which has already cost the public $11 billion. If it ever opens—it’s not yet licensed, and many say it never will be—Yucca could cost $60 to $100 billion. Even then it couldn’t handle the waste from the new reactors the industry wants to build—or even all the spent fuel from the old ones now in existence. Yet the industry wants Congress to give the industry essentially a blank check for loan guarantees to the tune of $25 billion in 2008 and $25 billion more in 2009, with countless billions more still to come down the road.
Why? Because Wall Street isn’t buying. After 50 years, nuke power is the most expensive technological failure in U.S. history. It can’t get investors, liability insurance, or a solution to its waste problem. It can’t compete with new conservation, efficiency, or renewables like wind power. Since 9/11, it’s obvious that atomic reactors cannot be defended from terror attack. They are pre-deployed weapons of radioactive mass destruction. It’s no accident that the push for new nukes with federal loan guarantees comes with a demand for extended federal liability insurance.
Despite all that, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) slipped these loan guarantees into the 2007 Energy Bill that could become one of the most expensive and lethal rip-offs in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the renewable energy industry is soaring to new heights of power and profitability. Wind farming has boomed to a $10-15 billion per year industry, with worldwide growth rates surpassing 25 percent. Breakthroughs in silicon solar cells are taking rooftop photovoltaics (PV) to vastly increased levels of efficiency and profitability. Bio-fuels, tidal, geo- and ocean thermal wave energy, and many more rapidly developing forms of green power are also booming ahead.
In 1979 Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Graham Nash, through Musicians United for Safe Energy, helped organize five nights of No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden. The accompanying rally at Battery Park City drew 200,000 people. All of it was part of a successful grass-roots campaign to stop the nuke industry.
Browne, Nash, and Raitt are once again working to help stop this latest bailout. In singing Stephen Stills’s classic “For What It’s Worth,” they joined Ben Harper and Keb Mo for a video that’s linked through www. nukefree.org where a petition is being circulated and signed. On October 23 they presented the first round of petitions to Congress. In demanding the nuke subsidies be removed from an Energy Bill that contains many positive green features, they were joined by their fellow musician John Hall (D-NY) who is committed to shutting Indian Point.
They’ll also be working with one of the most successful non-violent grass-roots campaigns in U.S. history. Should they stop this latest atomic assault on the public treasury, the door could finally open for a truly green-powered future.
Harvey Wasserman is co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy and edits the nukefree.org website. His SOLAR- TOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, AD 2030 is at www.solartopia.org.