What's in the Energy Bill?
Stealth Nuclear Power Plants
by Mina Hamilton
September 6, 2003
Under the guise of protecting the American public from more blackouts, the Republican leadership is promoting a disastrous Energy Bill that promotes nuclear power.
Thought we'd beat back the idea of nukes? Think again. With no fanfare and certainly no media reports, last year the US Congress handed big energy giants like Exelon, Entergy and Dominion $1 million a piece to go out an evaluate sites in Ohio, Virginia and Mississippi for new reactors.
Now as a Senate and House conference committee members tackle the Energy Bill the push to revive this almost dead industry is in high gear. The two bills from the House and Senate that are the subject of negotiation endorse the concept of something called the 2010 program. This antediluvian program would build 50 new nukes by the year 2020.
Let it sink in: Fifty nukes! That's about a 50% increase of the number of nukes currently on line in the US, 103 nukes.
To add insult to injury, the program to build a whole new generation of nukes would depend on the US taxpayer to finance huge amounts of the staggering costs.
As we go to press the exact provisions of the new Energy Bill are unclear. Yet Republican pro-nuke enthusiasts and, in particular, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico are talking of inserting wording that would support massive subsidies with possibly up to 50% of construction costs of new nuclear power plants to be paid for by taxpayers. Also under discussion are substantial taxpayer subsidies to decommissioning costs.
Earlier this year Senator Domenici pushed a bill that advocated $271 million dollars for construction of new nuclear power plants, research and development on "advanced" reactor designs, development of "fast track" licensing procedures (these might ban legal interventions by citizens) and other goodies for the dead-in-the-water nuclear industry. In addition, his bill gave the nod to taxpayers splitting the costs with industry. Although that particular bill bit the dust, now the Senator is threatening to re-insert many of the same provisions in the new bill.
It's hard to believe that these guys are serious. Somehow the history of nuclear power over the last 25 years has escaped their notice.
No matter that the last nuke to come on line in the US, the Tennessee Watts Bar nuclear power plant, cost $8 billion and took 23 years to build.
No matter that in 1986 the burning reactors at Chernobyl in Russia forced the evacuation of 100,000 people within a 30-kilometer radius, permanently contaminated significant areas in the Ukraine and Belarus, and spewed radioactive poisons as far as Sweden, Norway, and the US.
No matter that the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident came within a hair's breadth of suffering a meltdown and making huge sections of Pennsylvania uninhabitable.
No matter that nobody knows what to do with the approximately 45,000 tons of long-lived nuclear waste that is currently sitting in irradiated fuel pools at nuclear reactors.
No matter that safe, benign sources of energy derived from energy efficiency programs, conservation, wind and solar power, and fuel-efficient automobiles would all cost billions less, could be implemented on a much faster schedule, would generate many more jobs and make Americans less dependent upon foreign oil.
No, the Republican leadership, taking advantage of American's sense of vulnerability after the blackout of August 14, is ready to hand the nuclear utilities a giant windfall.
What's being promoted in Washington is so out-of-touch with reality, so 1950's regressive, so dim-witted it's hard to grasp.
This foolish and dangerous nuclear revival is being promoted in 2003 despite the devastating attack on the World Trade Center, despite the clear warning from Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan that nukes might be targets (remember how US intelligence found crude maps of nuclear power plants?), despite the total failure of Homeland Security, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the utilities or anybody else to take concrete steps to protect Americans from the potentially disastrous threat posed by terrorists to existing nuclear power plants.
We still have the shred of a democracy in the US. There is something outraged citizens can do.
If you feel strongly about this matter, go to www.publiccitizen.org. In thirty seconds you can send a fax to your Senator opposing any Energy Bill that supports the construction of new nuclear power plants. In addition, at this crucial time while the Republican Conference Committee is deliberating, letters and faxes to possible swing votes on the committee are needed. These would include Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Bob Graham of Florida. Graham is particularly key since he is a Presidential candidate. For additional information go to www.nirs.org.
Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. For many years she was co-director and then director of the Radioactive Waste Campaign, a program to educate the public on the hazards of nuclear power. She can be reached at email@example.com.