Weekly Mulch: Saying No to the Nuclear Option

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Faced with the nuclear crisis in Japan, governments around the world are confronting the vulnerabilities of their nuclear energy programs. Some European countries, such as Germany and France, are considering more stringent safety measures or backing off of nuclear development altogether, but in the United States, the Obama administration is pushing forward with plans for increased nuclear energy production.

Ultimately, these questions are the same that the country faced after last summer’s Gulf Coast oil spill. As we search for more and more clever ways to fill our energy needs, can we write off the risk of disaster? Or are these large-scale catastrophes so inevitable that the only option is to stop pursuing the policies that lead to them?

The risks of nuclear

As Inter Press Service’s Andrea Lund reports, anti-nuclear groups are using the Japanese disaster as just one example of the disadvantages of nuclear power. Linda Gunter, of the group Beyond Nuclear, told Lund:

Even if you get away from the safety issue, which is obviously front and centre right now because of what’s happening in Japan, and you look at solutions to climate change, then nuclear energy takes way too long to build, reactors take years to come online, they’re wildly expensive. Most of the burden of the cost will fall on the U.S. taxpayer in this country, so why go there?…The possibility of it going radically wrong, the outcome is so awful that morally you can’t justify it. The reliability of nuclear power is practically zero in an emergency when you have this confluence of natural disasters.

And, as Maureen Nandini Mitra writes at Earth Island Journal, there are plenty of nuclear plants that are at risk. “More than 100 of the world’s reactors are already sited in areas of high seismic activity,” she reports. “And what’s happening in Japan makes one thing clear – we have absolutely no idea if any of these plants are actually capable of withstanding unprecedented natural disasters.”

Build up

The irony of nuclear energy is that the world started relying on it in part to mitigate the perceived threat of nuclear weapons. Jonathan Schell writes in The Nation about nuclear power’s transition from warheads to reactors:

A key turning point was President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal in 1953, which required nuclear-armed nations to sell nuclear power technology to other nations in exchange for following certain nonproliferation rules. This bargain is now enshrined in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which promotes nuclear power even as it discourages nuclear weapons….

Eisenhower needed some proposal to temper his growing reputation as a reckless nuclear hawk. Atoms for Peace met this need. The solution to nuclear danger, he said, was “to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers” and put it “into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace”—chiefly, those who would use it to build nuclear power plants.

While the threat of nuclear war still looms, since World War II, the nuclear materials that have caused the most damage have been those in the energy industry. And, as Schell reminds us, soldiers still have nuclear weapons in hand, as well.

The nuclear era

The Obama administration has always been gung-ho about nuclear energy: The president is from Illinois, after all, where Exelon Corp., one of the countries’ biggest nuclear providers, is based. Even in the face of Japan’s disaster, the administration is not backing off of its push for nuclear, as Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones:

Nuclear power is part of the “clean energy standard” that Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech in January. And in the 2011 budget, the administration called for a three-fold increase in federal loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants, from the $18.5 billion that Congress has already approved to $54.5 billion. “We are aggressively pursuing nuclear energy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in February 2010 as he unveiled the budget….In Monday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said that nuclear energy “remains a part of the president’s overall energy plan.”

The state of safety in the U.S. nuclear industry isn’t particularly reassuring, though. As Arnie Gunderson told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, almost a quarter of American nuclear plants rely on the same design as the one currently faltering in Japan. Even worse, experts have known for decades that the design of this reactor is not safe. Gunderson explained:

This reactor design, this containment design, has been questioned since 1972. The NRC in 1972 said we never should have licensed this containment. And in 1985, the NRC said they thought it was about a 90 percent chance that in a severe accident this containment would fail. So, that we’re seeing it at Fukushima is an indication that this is a weak link. It’s this Mark I, General Electric Mark I, containment. And we have—essentially one-quarter of all of the nuclear reactors in the United States, 23 out of 104, are of this identical design.

It’d be reassuring if the U.S. government could promise that our superior safety standards would overcome these dangers. But, as Mother Jones‘ Sheppard writes, the day before the earthquake in Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission extended the life a Vermont plant using this very design, over the objections of the state’s legislature.

Stumbling with stellar fire

Whatever the attractions of nuclear energy, it’s a dangerous business. The Nation’s Schell puts it best when he argues that the fallibility of humankind is the biggest risk factor. He writes:

The problem is not that another backup generator is needed, or that the safety rules aren’t tight enough, or that the pit for the nuclear waste is in the wrong geological location, or that controls on proliferation are lax. It is that a stumbling, imperfect, probably imperfectable creature like ourselves is unfit to wield the stellar fire released by the split or fused atom.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Better Business

The stance taken by the US Chamber of Commerce on climate change is damaging the confidence Americans have in business' ability to respond to current challenges. The Chamber has been fighting climate change legislation tooth and nail on behalf of the US coal industry that makes up a very small segment of their membership. Other business have taken notice, as the list of companies leaving the Chamber is growing. The Chamber chose to entrench its stance on the lead up to the Copenhagen climate conference and this resulted in the departure of Exelon Corp, Pacific Gas & Electric, PNM Resources, Mohawk Fine Papers, and Apple.

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Weekly Mulch: Companies Ditch Chamber for Climate Bill

By Raquel Brown, Media Consortium Blogger

Major utility corporations, like Exelon, California's Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E)  and New Mexico's PNM have announced that they are leaving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of the organization's controversial stance toward climate change and opposition to a clean energy bill. The Chamber represents business interests, and according to a New York Times editorial, "no organization has done more to undermine [climate change] legislation."

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Is Sen Obama a friend or foe to Lobbyists??

We have seen through out this primary campaign Sen. Obama talk tough against special interests and lobbyists. He has accused Hillary Clinton campaign and more recently McCain campaign rightly so of lobbyist connections.

What we have not been aware of is his hypocrisy in dealing with this issue. An investigative report called "A memo to Senator Obama" by News Week's Michael Isikoff is an eye opener. Before any of you jump up and down and fake the same outrage that you have shown the past two days, take note that the same Isikoff is the author of "Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War".

Sen. Obama seems to believe in a very narrow definition of who a lobbyist is. He seems to have no problem with "Trojan Horse" organizations that pretend as if devoted to public interest but actually crated by corporations that push their agenda.


When Illinois utility Commonwealth Edison wanted state lawmakers to back a hefty rate hike two years ago, it took a creative lobbying approach, concocting a new outfit that seemed devoted to the public interest: Consumers Organized for Reliable Electricity, or CORE. CORE ran TV ads warning of a "California-style energy crisis" if the rate increase wasn't approved--but without disclosing the commercials were funded by Commonwealth Edison. The ad campaign provoked a brief uproar when its ties to the utility, which is owned by Exelon Corp., became known. "It's corporate money trying to hoodwink the public," the state's Democratic Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. What got scant notice then--but may soon get more scrutiny--is that CORE was the brainchild of ASK Public Strategies, a consulting firm whose senior partner is David Axelrod, now chief strategist for Barack Obama.


Obama's aides say their candidate, as a foe of "special interests," has refused to take money from lobbyists or employ them. Neither Axelrod nor his partners at ASK ever registered as lobbyists for Commonwealth Edison--and under Illinois's loose disclosure laws, they were not required to. "I've never lobbied anybody in my life," Axelrod tells NEWSWEEK. "I've never talked to any public official on behalf of a corporate client." (He also says "no one ever denied" that Edison was the "principal funder" of his firm's ad campaign.)

But the activities of ASK (located in the same office as Axelrod's political firm) illustrate the difficulties in defining exactly who a lobbyist is.


Exelon, lobbied Obama two years ago on a nuclear bill; the firm's executives and employees have also been a top source of cash for Obama's campaign, contributing $236,211. Axelrod says he's never talked to Obama about Exelon matters. "I'm not going to public officials with bundles of money on behalf of a corporate client," Axelrod says.

Should I be outraged?? I say NO!!!  Unlike many of Sen. Obama's supporters I am not going to fake any outrage. Sen. Obama is a master politician and a wordsmith par excellence. He knows how to use words and how to twist them. More power to him. I say "YESS HE CAN!"

Here is the link:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/138519

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Just Say No to Nuclear

There is some discussion on this and other political blogs about the wisdom of Obama's embrace of nuclear power, at least in principle.  For instance, enviro posted a diary earlier today highlighting Senator Obama's close ties to the nuclear power industry (http://www.mydd.com/story/2008/2/4/10574 6/1916).

If accurate, those ties greatly trouble me, at least if they demonstrate President Obama would increase nuclear power, but that is not the point of this diary.  Instead, this diary is an appeal to progressives to avoid being suckered by nuclear power.

Some folks argue nuclear power deserves another look by progressives and environmentalists because of the undeniable risks of climate catastrophe.  My strong view is that we must not let very legitimate concerns about warming provide cover for revitalizing a corrupt and dangerous industry.  Turning to nuclear power is the energy equivalent of shooting heroin to solve marijuana addiction.

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Diaries

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