by Harvey Wasserman
The nuclear power industry is back to where it always goes when it wants to build new reactors—the taxpayer trough.
And those of us who’ve been fighting them for decades are doing it again, now with help from the musicians’ community, and a petition drive (at nukefree.org) aimed at stripping the radioactive subsidies from the national Energy Bill now before Congress.
Time after time over the past half-century, 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 America’s 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 simply could not make it in the marketplace. As deregulation failed throughout the US, what Forbes Magazine labeled “the largest managerial disaster in business history” stayed alive as America’s ultimate welfare cheat.
Now the industry is back for more. After complaining about its old reactors’ lousy economic performance, it 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 just two years ago, but the project is already 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 US 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 will never 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 just isn’t buying. After fifty years, nuke power is the most expensive technological failure in US 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 9/11/2001, it’s also become obvious that atomic reactors cannot be defended from terror attack. They are pre-deployed weapons of radioactive mass destruction.
It’s thus no accident that the push for new nukes with federal loan guarantees also comes with a demand for extended federal liability insurance. Who would invest in a reactor that might irradiate thousands of square miles and kill hundreds of thousands of human beings? The answer is simple: after fifty years, without federal guarantees—nobody!
Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were tragic warnings, as was the fact that the first jet to hit the World Trade Center flew directily over the Indian Point reactor complex, 45 miles north. Had those reactors been hit, the death toll could have been in the tens of thousands by now. The property damage from irradiating southern New York, Long Island, and all of downwind New Jersey and New England would be beyond calculation.
Despite all that, Pete Domenici, the Senator from Nuke Power, slipped these loan guarantees into the 2007 Energy Bill that could become one of the most expensive and lethal rip-offs in US 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%. 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 grassroots campaign to stop the nuke industry. In 1974 Richard Nixon predicted there would be 1000 reactors in the US by the year 2000. But in the year 2000, there were just 103.
That’s still 103 too many. Browne, Nash and Raitt are now 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 the www.nukefree.org web site, where a petition is being circulated and signed.
On October 23 they’ll present 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’ll be joined by their fellow musician John Hall (D-NY), now a US Representative committed to shutting Indian Point.
They’ll also be working with one of the most successful non-violent grassroots campaigns in US history. Should they stop this latest atomic assault on the public treasury, the door could finally open for a truly green-powered future.