Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The President is Wrong

Gerald R. Lotierzo
Co-Chair Peace Action of CNY

Once again the President has given away the store with giant guarantees to the nuclear power plant industry. First the banks, who are to big to fail, were given whatever money they wanted and now the President announced on February 16, 2010 more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for the construction of the first nuclear power plant in the United States (Georgia) in nearly three decades. This is the first part of a planned $54.5 billion program to kickstart a nuclear revival using government-backed loans. Why are we subsidizing an industry Wall Street won’t finance? This industry has a notorious track record for cost overruns yet the Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, said he was unaware of a Congressional Budget Office study showing that the chances of default on these loans are "very high--well above 50 percent." As Citigroup Global Markets Inc. of the United Kingdom stated in a report issued in 2009, “ We see little if any prospect that new nuclear stations will be built in the UK by the private sector unless developers can lay off substantial elements of the three major risks. Financing guarantees, minimum power prices, and / or government-backed power off-take agreements may all be needed if stations are to be built.” In other words, the financial risk is so great that the government has to bail out the nuclear power industry. This is what we call cooperate welfare and the President is making a catastrophic mistake with this announcement. More nuclear reactors are not the answer to our energy needs. They are expensive, dangerous and dirty.

“Nuclear reactors release radioactive waste into the environment at every stage of the fuel cycle—starting first at mines, then at mills where enormous piles of tailings are left behind, and finally during chemical conversion, enrichment, and fuel fabrication. Radioactive radon gas that escapes in the West can float across the U.S. over the Atlantic, and beyond. We have so much nuclear waste throughout the US and we have no place to store it. The storage—permanent and temporary--and transport of radioactive waste is perhaps the most controversial aspect of the nuclear power issue. No nation has yet solved the problem of what to do with this material, which must be shielded from the environment for millennia.” In the U.S. the only identified and flawed high-level radioactive waste repository site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada where the US wanted to build a maze of tunnels inside Yucca Mountain to store 77,000 tons of highly radioactive spent reactor fuel and defense waste is no longer being considered.

Essentially, the vast majority of waste at the Oswego reactors is stored in pools of water about six stories above ground. The pools are also located outside of the containment structures built to reduce the amount of radioactive releases resulting from reactor accidents. While fuel storage pools are universally located outside of containment at US reactors, the far-above ground pool location is unique to the reactor design used at the Oswego reactors (and about 31 others nationwide). It is an especially dangerous design. Since 2003, waste at FitzPatrick has also been stored outside on a concrete pad in concrete and steel canisters (called dry casks). When fuel pools fill up, the operators start to move the oldest waste into dry casks to make room for new waste. This is going to start at Nine Mile 1 and 2 and Ginna soon, since their pools are finally reaching maximum capacity.

During routine operation, nuclear plants release pollutants into the atmosphere and into the rivers, lakes, and oceans that provide reactor-cooling water. Just because the government has signed off on the release of this waste does not mean it is safe. No one knows how much is released by these plants and how can we trust the information when they do their own self-reporting. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported that at least 27 of America’s 104 licensed reactors are now leaking radioactive tritium. The worst case may be Entergy’s Vermont Yankee, near the state’s southeastern border with New Hampshire and Massachusetts. High levels of contamination have been found in test wells around the reactor, and experts believe the Connecticut River is at serious risk.

“All nuclear-power-plant systems, structures, components, procedures, and personnel are potential sources of failures and malfunctions. Problems can arise from defects in design, manufacturing, installation, and construction; from testing, operational, and maintenance errors; from explosions and fires; from excessive corrosion, vibration, stress, heating, cooling, radiation damage, and other physical phenomena; from deterioration due to component aging, and from externally initiated events such as floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, and sabotage.” (Daniel F. Ford: Three Mile Island, 1982, p.29)

What we really need to solve our energy crisis is investment in renewable energy such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat. America has vast, largely untapped renewable energy sources. The five states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Montana, and Texas alone have enormous wind energy potential to meet significant electricity needs, according to recent findings. Nevada could meet enormous energy needs all by itself if just 9 percent of the state’s land was covered in solar thermal plants. Offshore wind resources could be tapped to produce as much energy as all of our current electricity generators combined. If every rooftop in America installed solar panels, we could meet more than 70 percent of our electricity needs. Energy [R]evolution: A Sustainable USA Energy Outlook, Greenpeace

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