Sunday, April 27, 2008

Making YOU pay for the next advance!!

Making YOU pay for the next Chernobyls ... in advance!!
April 26, 2008

Are you ready to pay for the next Chernobyls---in advance? Are you willing to have nuclear power PREVENT a solution to the climate crisis?

Twenty-two years ago today, an apocalyptic cloud rose up from Unit Four, in the heart of the Ukraine. For the next few hundred generations, you and your progeny will breathe its radioactive fallout, which was thousands of times worse than that released at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Conservative estimates of Chernobyl's financial costs are in the $500 billion range. In downwind regions festering with cancer and birth-defected children, the ultimate death toll is impossible to estimate.

Another Chernobyl could be happening as you read this. And you are already on line to pay for it.

The so-called "reactor renaissance" is built on high-priced lies and public liability.

Not one of the 104 US reactors now licensed to operate, and not one of the new ones being hyped, can get insurance from private sources against another Chernobyl.

For a half-century---since passage of the 1957 Price-Anderson Act---your tax dollars have protected the reactor owners. Now they want you on the hook for another century or so.

Check out your homeowners' insurance policy for its specific exclusions against liability for reactor-related radiation.

With an old reactor or new, a Chernobyl here will bankrupt the government…and YOU.

The first 9/11/2001 jet that flew into the World Trade Center passed, a minute prior, directly over the Indian Point nuke site. Had the terrorists targeted those one dormant and two active reactors, plus the three pools full of spent high-level fuel rods, the loss of life and property would have been beyond comprehension.

Billions of dollars in private money now pour into renewable technologies like wind and solar, which are the real solution to the climate crisis. Every dollar invested in increased efficiency saves seven times the energy a dollar invested in nukes can produce.

Last fall a grassroots movement stopped an attempt to grab $50 billion in federal loan guarantees (see

Now nuke pushers want to load the Lieberman-Warner "Global Warming" Bill with still more taxpayer subsidies.

But from the start of the fuel cycle to plant decommissioning and waste management, reactor technology is a serious greenhouse gas emitter. The final "bootprint" is unclear because there's no actual solution to the waste problem, and no firm price for final reactor decommissioning.

A French "new generation" project in Finland is already two years and $2 billion over budget. French nukes are gargantuan tax pits, Europe's most notorious radioactive polluter, and an ecological and public health nightmare.

In Florida, ratepayers may be gouged for up to $24 billion for two new reactors that would destroy the Everglades, and still more billions for two more north of Tampa. The utilities involved don't know what kind of reactors they want to build, can't guarantee when they would come on line, or what they'll ultimately cost.

All that money should be going to renewables, which can solve global warming NOW, rather than at some alleged, inscrutable, incalculable distance in the future. Wind, solar, tidal, wave, geothermal and a host of green "Solartopian" technologies are attracting huge quantities of private capital. Based on the natural bounty of our Mother Earth, they promise tangible, immediate economic and employment opportunity, not radioactive catastrophe.

Chernobyl proved that atomic energy's most significant ability---by terror or error---is to spread radiation over large chunks of the Earth. While blocking the real solutions to climate chaos, nukes can bankrupt entire nations in a single moment. They can inflict birth defects and cancer on millions of humans with a single cloud.

Twenty-two years after, it's time to ask the ultimate question about the last reactor catastrophe: In money, body and soul, do you really want to pay for the next ones?

Will Al Gore help shut the nuke power loophole?

Will Al Gore help shut the nuke power loophole?
April 2, 2008

Today Al Gore is unveiling a massive campaign to fight climate chaos.

But the hugely funded atomic power industry has jumped on global warming with the Big Lie that its failed reactors can somehow help. It's a sorry replay of the 1950s promise that atomic power would be "too cheap to meter."

Just before the 2000 election, as senior advisor to the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, I wrote then-Vice President Gore asking that he help delete from the Kyoto Accords any reference to nukes as a possible solution to global warming. On November 3, 2000 (the letter is posted at the web site) Gore wrote back:

"Thank you for your recent inquiry regarding nuclear energy and the Kyoto Protocol. Let me restate for you my long held policy with regard to nuclear energy. I do not support any increased reliance on nuclear energy. Moreover, I have disagreed with those who would classify nuclear energy as clean or renewable. In fact, you will note that the electricity restructuring legislation proposed by the [Clinton] Administration specifically excluded both nuclear and large scale hydro-energy, and instead promoted increased investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. It is my view that climate change policies should do the same."

Nukes were soon deleted from the Kyoto Accords as a "solution" to global warming.

The reactor industry claims, probably correctly, that it releases fewer greenhouse gases/kwh than fossil fuels. But it also says nukes compare with renewables in avoiding CO2 emissions. Here Gore's words ring especially true.

It's well-known that mining, milling, ore transport, enrichment and deployment of radioactive fuel for atomic reactors comprise a major source of CO2 emissions. Radon gas emissions also have significant environmental and public health impacts.

When it's "spent," used reactor fuel must cool in energy-intensive cooling ponds, then sit in dubious "dry casks," which are essentially large boxes with ventilating holes. If the rods are eventually moved to a central repository, tens of thousands of shipments on trucks and trains will be required.

Meanwhile, the mere construction of a nuclear plant consumes huge quantities of fossil fuels. Manufactured materials used to build reactors demand years of efficient operation just to break even in terms of net energy. The reactors also emit heated---often chemically treated---steam into the atmosphere, and hot water into lakes, streams and the oceans. Reactors in France, Alabama and elsewhere have been forced shut because global-warmed streams have become to hot to cool the reactors, and emissions would raise waters downstream beyond acceptable levels (in some cases, over 90 degrees Farenheit).

Meanwhile, nukes are enormously expensive. Some first-generation US reactors came in as much as 25 times over their original budget. Small wonder Wall Street "won't be burned again."

There has been much hype about a "standardized design," but the US industry has not settled on one, and continues to fiddle with essential structural changes even as the licensing process draws near.

As for France, its atomic industry is a form of national socialism. The reactors are primarily state-funded and immune to the kinds of cost-accounting that would force a normal industry to actually pay for itself. France's 60-odd reactors are loss-leaders for a nation hoping to export large numbers of them. But a "new generation" French-designed reactor under construction in Finland is already two years behind schedule and $2 billion over budget.

Even if reactors could help solve the climate crisis, the mere act of licensing and building them requires a decade or more. The two reactors projected for Turkey Point, Florida, are dubiously targeted to open in 2018 and 2020.

They are slated to cost a total of $24 billion. But that price tag is likely to soar, and that money invested NOW in efficiency and renewables could meanwhile be solving the climate crisis. The Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that every dollar invested in increased efficiency can save some 7 times as much energy as can be produced by a dollar invested in nuke power.

Throw in "ancillary" problems like apocalyptic catastrophe by terror and error, or atomic weapons proliferation, or human health and environmental impacts from "normal" emissions, and much more, and it's easy to see why not a single major national environmental organization now advocates building new nukes to solve the climate crisis.

The reactor pushers admit that they can't proceed without massive taxpayer handouts. Last fall, led by US Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) the industry slipped a $50 billion loan guarantee package into the Energy Bill. Thanks to a national and grassroots campaign (see and strong leadership from Congressional Democrats, those guarantees were defeated.

But $18.5 billion did sleaze into descriptive language for last year's Appropriations Bill. The upcoming Lieberman-Warner Global Warming Bill will be laden with radioactive pork. And the industry is now working on state utility commissions to grant Construction Work in Progress, a boondoggle forcing ratepayers to fund new reactors as they are being built. They've already succeeded in Florida.

Without stopping all that, Gore's much-welcomed initiative cannot succeed. Nuke power is the Achilles Heel that can doom all attempts to save this planet.

Thirty years ago, as thousands of demonstrators marched onto reactor construction sites at Seabrook (NH), Diablo Canyon (CA), and elsewhere, we shared the Solartopian vision of a green-powered earth, a planet entirely free of nuke and fossil fuels.

That vision has now become a tangible possibility, technologically and economically. If this new push to stop global warming supports grassroots citizen action, and helps stop taxpayer funding for new reactors, we just might succeed.

Did Turkey Point again take Florida to the radioactive brink?

Did Turkey Point again take Florida to the radioactive brink?
February 27, 2008

As many as two million Floridians were blacked out yesterday by a series of grid malfunctions that forced shut two old atomic reactors south of Miami and renewed nightmares of a radioactive catastrophe. The chain of events should serve as yet another serious warning to those who would build still more atomic reactors in Florida and elsewhere.

The wide-ranging blackout apparently started with an accidental trip at a substation. That sabotage has been ruled out may not be all that reassuring. Countless homes and businesses were affected from the Florida Keys to as far away as Tampa, Gainesville and Daytona Beach. Frightened Floridians were trapped in elevators or abandoned offices by making their way down dark, sweltering stairwells. In Miami-Dade alone, at least forty traffic accidents piled up as signals went dark.

This blackout’s reach was limited by steps taken since a 2003 reactor-related grid failure in Ohio led to a massive blackout that left 50 million people without power.

But the two large reactors at Turkey Point did trip from the loss of off-site power. (For safety reasons, vital cooling systems and other critical components rely on electricity coming from sources other than the reactors.)

A far more tense shut-down came when off-site power was lost during 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, whose eye passed directly over Turkey Point. At the height of the storm, communication from the control room was also dangerously lost. Tools and equipment valued at around $100 million were destroyed or simply blown away.

Andrew’s epic devastation made it clear that south Florida could never be evacuated in the wake of a melt-down amidst a hurricane. After the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, the NRC adopted specifications for evacuation procedures that were simply shredded by Andrew.

But Turkey Point re-opened three weeks later. To this day, no procedures are in place that could reliably evacuate south Florida’s burgeoning human population if radiation releases occurred even under optimum weather conditions, let alone amidst a major weather event.

Nonetheless, Florida Power & Light now wants to build two more reactors at Turkey Point, at a cost of some $20 billion. The generators could not come on line until sometime between 2020 and 2025.

A request for “Construction Work in Progress” (CWIP) is now before the Public Utilities Commission. CWIP would force state ratepayers to cover the cost of the reactors as they are being built. The PUC could make a decision within a month.

FPL may also seek federal loan guarantees, $18.5 billion of which were noticed in the federal Appropriations Bill passed in December, 2007. The Lieberman-Warner Global Warming bill, soon to be debated in the US Senate, may also come with hefty subsidies for projects like this one. Two more reactors have been proposed by Progress Energy for a site near one reactor already operating at Crystal River, near Tampa.

Little if any private financing is likely forthcoming for the proposed Florida reactors. But if CWIP or federal loans come through, they may be hard to stop.

New reactor construction at Turkey Point would have substantial environmental impacts on the nearby Everglades National Park. Serious questions remain about pressure put on water supplies, damage to nearby wildlife habitat, and much more. A wide range of local and national environmental groups have begun to intervene against the project.

This blackout and reactor shut-down happened on a clear, calm Florida day. It may be only a matter of time these reactors finally do take the sunshine state into the radioactive abyss.

None of this could have happened had Florida's power come from decentralized solar panels installed on buildings. Those billions slated for more nukes would be far better spent doing just that.

How swing state Ohio got nuked

How swing state Ohio got nuked
February 25, 2008

Ohio is poised to do its thing as the ultimate swing state. On March 4 it may, along with Texas, choose the Democratic presidential nominee.

Tragically, the candidates will campaign in a state whose economic future has been nuked.

Once a great industrial heartland, Ohio’s rust belt status has been solidified by billions in excess electric rates driven by four nuclear reactors, and by the state government's inability to make way for a green-powered future.

On Friday, February 22, a powerful group of international steel investors announced they were pulling Ohio out of the running for a new high-tech production plant. Some 500 jobs will now go elsewhere. The investors blamed unstable power prices. "If you had to rank from clarity on the utility situation, Ohio would not rank very high," said one.

The state suffers some of the nation's highest and most unpredictable electric costs for four simple reasons: the Davis-Besse, Perry, Zimmer and Beaver Valley 2 nuclear plants.

Davis-Besse, near Toledo, is world-famous for a leak of boric acid that ate through a six-inch stainless steel reactor pressure vessel, bringing northern Ohio to the brink of a Chernobyl-scale catastrophe. Perry, east of Cleveland, suffered billions in construction cost over-runs, and is the only US nuke to have been damaged by an earthquake. Zimmer, on the Ohio River, was allegedly more than 95% complete when massive design and construction flaws forced its hugely expensive 1980s conversion to coal. Beaver Valley 2, near Pittsburgh, has run up even more in overages.

To recoup their radioactive losses, Ohio utilities rammed a 1999 "deregulation" bill through the legislature that has thus far cost ratepayers at least $10 billion, and counting. The vast bulk of the money has gone to repay "stranded costs," corporate code for sunk debt reactor owners don't want to eat. Had that money gone to increased efficiency and renewable technologies, Ohio’s economy would be on a very different footing.

The bill was largely guided by the Akron-based FirstEnergy, whose Anthony Alexander has been a major Bush-Cheney donor. FirstEnergy makes very large campaign donations, mostly to Republican legislators in Ohio and nationwide. Forbes Magazine estimated Alexander's 2005 salary at more than $6 million.

As part of the dereg scam, the utilities promised an "open market" for electricity once the nukes were paid off. But instead of competition, Ohio is getting unregulated monopolies that are neither clean nor reliable. It was FirstEnergy's shaky grid that helped black out 50 million people in the northeastern US and Canada in 2003. Small wonder investors are skittish.

A much-touted energy bill passed by the state Senate in October mandates that Ohio utilities generate 25% of their electricity with "advanced energy" by 2020.

About two dozen other states have similar provisions. But Ohio's has become a national joke by including "clean coal" and nuke power in the mix. The Senate bill says half of that quota---12.5%--- must come from renewables such as wind, solar and bio-fuels. But the other 12.5% can come from still more nuke and fossil fuels.

Because of this and disputes over regulation, the bill has languished in the Ohio House. Republican Speaker Jon Husted is reportedly considering removing the coal/nuke concession. But Democratic Governor Ted Strickland has long-standing ties to the coal and uranium enrichment industries, which are deeply rooted in his native southern Ohio.

In the meantime, electric prices and green energy are in deep in limbo, and have dragged down any hope of an economic revival. Except for municipal utilities like Cleveland and Bowling Green, northern Ohio endures some of the nation's highest electric rates.

The region does not lack green visionaries---or resources. Bowling Green owns four extremely successful wind turbines, and may build more. The Cleveland Foundation and others are pushing hard for a renewable energy infrastructure along the lakefront to manufacture wind turbines, solar panels and fuel cells. The Museum of Science hosts the only utility-scale windmill in a US downtown.

The Great Lakes region boasts some of the world's most powerful wind resources. But a sustainable green harvest must somehow blow by Ohio's continued corporate commitment to nuke power.

The Senators campaigning here for the presidency had best look closely at the $18.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for new reactor construction that were written into the Congressional Appropriations Bill passed in 2007. They might also do something about the Lieberman-Warner Global Warming Bill, soon to be debated on the Senate floor, which may contain significant handouts to build still more atomic reactors.

Above all, as the campaign rolls through swing state Ohio, those who would be president should make note of what a mess nuke power has made of this state's economy.

Will Ohio be left behind by the green energy revolution?

Will Ohio be left behind by the green energy revolution?
January 31, 2008

Testimony to the Public Utilities Commission of the Ohio House, January 30, 2008

Thank you for allowing me to testify today.

I am a resident of central Ohio and author, or co-author, of a dozen books, including four on energy. My most recent is SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, which is graced by an introduction by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and has been captured in song by Pete Seeger.

My message today is simple: any state that allows the construction of new nuclear power plants in the face of today’s global industrial competition and financial turmoil will be committing economic suicide.

Any energy legislation that allows any kind of incentive to build such reactors dooms itself to the failures of the last century, not the successes of the new one. Thus the 12.5% of future electric production that is left open to nuclear power and coal in this new energy bill should be transformed and devoted entirely to renewables and efficiency.

There is nothing “advanced” about atomic energy.

Aside from all its other problems, nuclear power is 50 years of proven financial failure. The industry at birth promised electricity “too cheap to meter.” What it delivers is too expensive to afford. Any attempt to revive atomic energy is akin to refloating the Titanic and re-selling the Edsel.

The first commercial reactor opened at Shippingport, Pennsylvania in 1957. It has since been dismantled, at huge expense.

Ohio’s poster children for atomic energy’s failure are Perry and Davis-Besse. Perry is the only US reactor to have suffered actual physical damage from an earthquake. In 1987, then-Governor Richard Celeste’s Blue Ribbon report showed that the area could not be evacuated in the face of a major accident. It thus failed a primary test for federal licensing. With massive increases in nearby population, that’s even more true today. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine any site in Ohio where a new nuke could meet basic evacuation requirements.

Davis-Besse is infamous throughout the world for the boric acid leak that ate through all but a fraction of an inch of its inner containment system. It took us within millimeters of a Chernobyl-scale catastrophe that would have killed countless Ohioans, irradiated the world’s largest body of fresh water and wrecked economic havoc beyond calculation. Whether we escape next time may once again be a matter of sheer luck.

Hidden in the mix is the sorry fiasco of the Zimmer Reactor, which at one point was considered more than 90% complete. Then its massive construction, design and bookkeeping irregularities forced the state to pull the plug, at huge public cost.

Less than a decade ago, in this room, legislation was debated that allowed the state’s utilities to recoup---at ratepayer expense---upwards of $9 billion in costs “stranded” by these failed reactors.

Calculate, for a minute, what Ohio could have done with $9 billion invested in industrial and high-tech infrastructure. Instead, private utility companies were bailed out of bad nuclear decisions that had been fiercely opposed from start to finish.

Today we face another such crossroads. We have before us what amounts to a 12.5% renewable portfolio standard. It is focused on wind, solar, biofuels, efficiency, conservation. These true green technologies work. They are profitable, create jobs and fight global warming. Wall Street loves them.

Each of these technologies has its special challenges. But few if any unbiased observers who study the realities of green energy believe that it has anything but a hugely profitable future ahead of it.

Economics, employment and the environment are all in synch here. Renewables and efficiency are at the cutting edge of what may be the most profound and profitable technological revolution yet, almost certain to transcend even the boom of the late 20th Century. That one had its inevitable stock market burst. But does anybody believe the internet or personal computer will soon disappear?

Unfortunately, as an industrial center, Ohio missed much of that revolution. But if we make the right decisions, we are poised to cash in on the revolution in green power. We already have substantial facilities here in solar photovoltaic cells, and in fuel cells.

But Northern Ohio is also poised for a massive boom in wind power. On-shore, our wind resource may not be comparable to Great Plains states like the Dakotas, Minnesota and Kansas. But we have a readily available transmission network, easily accessible urban centers with very large demand, and (unfortunately) high electric rates, largely due to the financial residues of those nuclear plants.

The city of Bowling Green has already erected four windmills worth $1.8 million each. It’s seriously contemplating more. They work, they’re profitable, well liked, don’t kill birds, and will never bring northern Ohio to the brink of a Chernobyl. If the wind resource in the north coast region is properly harvested, and if we take the lead in building the industrial infrastructure to make that happen, Ohio could reap billions in long-term profits and untold good, safe, high-paying jobs.

Beyond the north coast is one of the world’s greatest untapped energy resources, the winds in the middle of Lake Erie. Cleveland now hosts the first utility-scale windmill in an American downtown. It’s a gateway to a lake that is relatively shallow. Its powerful, steady winds could light the region. Brilliant plans are now in motion to make sure the manufacturing base to do that is in Ohio, not overseas or in other states.

But such a vision demands state policies that make sense. This is not futuristic, pie-in-the sky utopianism. Germany, Spain, Denmark, Holland, India, Japan, Israel…all are booming into a green-powered future they see as inevitable, and as a proven pathway to present prosperity.

In 2002 I attended my first national convention of the American Wind Energy Association. There were 1700 people there. In the summer of 2007, in the Los Angeles Convention Center, there were 7,000. This industry is growing at up to 25% per year, and represents well over $10 billion in annual revenues.

This past summer, Cleveland hosted its first gathering of the American Solar Energy Society. It was a rousing success, accompanied by the installation of a solar array which now helps power the Great Lakes Science Center. You could make this Ohio’s future.

But we will miss this revolution without a renewable portfolio standard that makes sense. And this bill contains a poisoned pill. It is the 12.5% of our energy future that would allow new nuclear and coal construction. Time does not allow me to address the issue of coal, except to say that ultimately, global warming and basic economics rule it out as a long-term player in our clean energy supply.

But the verdict on nuke power is clear: it is a welfare basket case. After 50 years, there is no solution to the radioactive waste problem---that hinges on a highly dubious government program centered on a dump in Nevada that may never open.

There is no private liability insurance against a catastrophe by terror or error--- that depends on a federal limit on how much the owners of a reactor will have to pay.

There is no private investment pool waiting to finance a new generation of reactors---that will only come with federal loan guarantees at the taxpayers expense.

There is no market viability for a radioactive product that cannot compete now with renewables and efficiency, and which continually loses margin against these booming green technologies.

Amidst all the hype, there is a “new generation” reactor under construction in Finland. It is two years and $2 billion over budget. As at Perry, Davis-Besse and Zimmer, the entire history of atomic power is one of cost-overruns, bailouts and high electric rates.

No nuke plant in Ohio is now proposed. Just obtaining a construction license could require five years. Then will come the endless litigation and clearing the protestors off the proposed site. Assuming construction went even reasonably on time, no new reactor could conceivably come on line here in less than fifteen years.

By then, renewables and efficiency will have priced this old technology so far out of the market as to make it laughable. Even today, a dollar invested in efficiency saves seven times as much energy as a dollar invested in nukes can produce.

In short, that 12.5% allowed for nukes and coal needs to go green. There is nothing advanced about atomic power. That loophole will cripple our role in the renewable revolution as surely as we missed the dot-com.

A final reality: In 1994, amidst a huge state-wide political battle, the Minnesota Legislature required Northern States Power to build 400 megawatts of windmills. The state’s PUC has since ruled that windpower is that state’s least cost alternative. Hundreds more windmills are being built there, and component manufacturing is booming. Much of this “cash crop” is owned by individuals, coops and communities. It is saving family farms throughout the state. It is massively profitable and hugely popular.

Provisions for community ownership, added to this bill, are essential to our energy future. Already, rights to our wind resource are being grabbed away by foreign firms like Spain’s Gamesa, and by out-of-state speculators. Grassroots, in-state ownership of our native green power is essential to local job creation and our future prosperity. It is issues like these, rather than the folly of nuclear power, that should be the focus of our attention.

Just this week, Warren Buffett’s Iowa-based utility backed out of a nuke project proposed for Idaho because it was too expensive. And another earthquake has rumbled near Perry.

It’s time for Ohio to choose technology for this century, not the last one. And it’s time we make sure our renewable energy resources are owned by Ohioans.

There is no room in any meaningful portfolio standard for anything but technologies that are profitable, that can compete, that can get financing independent of the government, that can be controlled by the people of Ohio, and that will not threaten the planet with radioactive catastrophe.

This world will be green-powered. The decision is now yours: will Ohio help lead the parade, or be left behind?

Anti-nuclear renaissance: A powerful but partial and tentative victory over atomic energy

Anti-nuclear renaissance: a powerful but partial and tentative victory over atomic energy
January 5, 2008

As the presidential primary season heats up, an “anti-nuclear renaissance” against loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants will escalate, with the future of American energy policy and global warming hanging in the balance.

In the last days of 2007, grassroots activism ran up a stunning and improbably victory. But the triumph is both partial and tentative, and will be fiercely contested throughout 2008, with the basic direction of US energy policy hanging in the balance.

This latest chapter in the half-century saga of atomic energy began last summer, with an industry attempt to grab a blank taxpayer check for underwriting new reactor construction. The charge was been led by six-term Senator Pete Domenici (D-NM), atomic power's prime Congressional pusher.

Domenici inserted into the Senate version of the national Energy Bill a complex provision meant to allow the Department of Energy to underwrite up to 80% of new reactor construction costs. The nuclear industry envisioned $25 billion in loan guarantees for 2008, $25 billion more in 2009, and what would amount to a blank check into the future. The guarantees would be granted at the DOE's discretion, with no on-going Congressional oversight.

Domenici slipped in the provision without open debate in Congress or the public. It took the form of a single obscure sentence referencing the Energy Bill of 2005. The move only became widely noticed thanks to a front page New York Times article on July 31.

The loan guarantees generated intense grassroots and Washington-based opposition. After the Times article appeared, musicians Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash established the website, and joined with the on-going grassroots movement against a “nuclear renaissance” meant to revive an industry whose last successful reactor order was placed in 1973. Raitt, Browne and Nash were joined by Keb Mo and Ben Harper in a music video that spread through the internet, underscoring the costs and dangers of such construction.

The video played into an on-going No Nukes movement. The industry has gone to great lengths to assert that it has widespread “green” support. But no major national ecological organization has endorsed nuclear power, and the core of the movement---including scores of national, grassroots and Internet-based groups---rallied to fight the subsidies.

On October 23, nine national groups joined with at a Washington press conference to submit 120,000 signatures against the guarantees. Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA), Shelley Berkeley (D-NV) and John Hall (D-NY) spoke along with representatives from the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace USA, Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, USPIRG/Association of State PIRGs, the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and Beyond Nuclear. (Speeches from the press conference can be found at, and accessed directly at

The petitions were also circulated by, True Majority and other internet groups, and signed by, among others, Robert Redford, Ozamatli, Patti Smith, System of a Down, Sheryl Crowe, Herbie Hancock, Susan Sarandon, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and the council of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. The Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS) submitted endorsements from several hundred local and regional grassroots organizations.

The Union of Concerned Scientists circulated a parallel petition opposing the guarantees. Free market advocates joined in from Forbes Magazine and the Cato Institute, which objects to billions in taxpayer funds going to support what Forbes has called “the largest managerial disaster in business history.”

Amidst intense public and private pressure, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the loan guarantees out of the Energy Bill. It was an historic victory for grassroots activism.

In the midst of the campaign, Domenici admitted to suffering from frontotemporal lobar degeneration, a form of dementia. First elected to the Senate in 1972, he announced he would retire at the end of his sixth term, in January, 2008.

Domenici then tried to stick the loan guarantees into the Farm Bill, prompting critics to term them “Domenici's radioactive retirement package.” That move failed.

The nuclear industry then attempted to add to a global warming bill, co-authored by Senators Lieberman (D-CT) and McCain (R-AZ), a laundry list of reactor subsidies and regulatory easements. These were removed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Energy and Public Works Committee.

Domenici then moved to attach the guarantees to the Appropriations Bill used to fund the government's operations. By late December, bickering over this $500 billion bill deteriorated into intense partisan warfare. Domenici's back-door move angered House Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI) and the battle intensified, with opposition signatures continuing to pour in.

The Appropriations Bill finally passed both houses of Congress in late December. But the legislative standing and ultimate outcome for the loan guarantees is murky at best, with legal and procedural experts still debating over what exactly has been done.

Ostensibly, the DOE has been authorized to grant $18.5 billion in reactor loan guarantees over the next two years, plus another $2 billion for uranium enrichment. There is also some $10 billion for renewable energy projects (though the definition of exactly what “renewable” means in the eyes of the Bush DOE remains to be seen). And there is apparently money for coal liquification and gasification. The DOE is also required to submit the specific guarantees to Congress for review 45 days before they can be authorized.

But there agreement ends. Based on the 2005 Energy Act, the $18.5 billion can be seen as just a benchmark number, with the DOE technically capable of issuing all the guarantees it wants. Long-standing Congressional procedures may also be used to interpret the submission requirement as merely informational, granting Congress no power to stop the DOE from issuing the guarantees once they're reviewed.

But Robert Alvarez, a former long-time employee of the Energy Department, now Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, says the nature of the provision leaves the legal standing of the guarantees in limbo and could “paralyze (some say strangle) the loan program.”

Among the problems Alvarez cites are unresolved disputes over the previous Energy Policy Act of 2005, “scoring” procedures required by the 1990 Federal Credit Reform Act to determine the true cost of a spending package, the authorization of a two-year guarantee program in a one-year Appropriations Bill, disputes surrounding Congressional approval processes, and more. “Instead of clearing up the growing mess” over the loan guarantees, says Alvarez, this legislation “has magnified the major hurdles.”

Further muddying the waters is the fact that no proposed American reactor project is likely to obtain an actual construction license within at least the next two years. Michael Mariotte of NIRS questions whether loans can “really be obtained for projects with no official approval to proceed.”

Critics also point out that while the industry claims new reactors can be built for $4-5 billion each, independent observers put the likely real costs far higher. A “new generation” reactor in Finland is some $2 billion over budget and two years behind schedule after just two years of construction. The US industry continues to submit a steady stream of significant modifications to its so-call “standard” construction blueprints. Thus what actually constitutes 80% of what it would cost to build a new reactor is very much a moving target.

But nobody doubts that as Congress reconvenes, Pete Domenici will be resuming his efforts to get as much more money as possible for new reactors. His time in office will be limited. And the political, legal, procedural, technical and financial disputes surrounding the actual nature of the guarantee program are certain to stretch through Congress and the courts for years to come.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has made it clear that it will not fund new reactors without these guarantees. This sharp vote of financial no confidence means that fifty years after the 1957 opening of the first commercial reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania, atomic energy still cannot pay for itself. Nor can it compete with the booming revolution in renewable technologies.

Thus what's at stake could not be more critical. With the guarantees, reactor builders will be insulated from all that, and could simply build as many plants as the Congress is willing to underwrite. That the Congressional Budget Office has predicted a 50% default rate on these proposed loans, may be of no consequence to them. They could simply suck as much available capital into new reactors as the DOE will underwrite.

But without those guarantees, the pro-nuclear renaissance will die in a puff of radioactive hype. As fossil fuels diminish in supply, and are curtailed due to global warming, no new reactors will be built here. All available capital for new energy supply must flow instead to renewables and efficiency.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, some $6 billion in new wind farms are currently under construction in this country. Billions more are pouring in solar, bio-fuels, ocean thermal, wave, tidal and other forms of green power.

Indeed, if this tuneful victory over Pete Domenici's single-sentence insertion into the Energy Bill of 2007 holds through the end of 2008, it may someday be remembered as a landmark step toward a green-powered Earth.

Will Congress plunge us (again) into the nuke power abyss?

Will Congress plunge us (again) into the nuke power abyss?
December 14, 2007

Congress stands at the brink of the global-warmed nuclear powered abyss. Again.

In a victory for green power, a massive grassroots/internet campaign forced removal from the national Energy Bill of blank check loan guarantees to build atomic reactors.

But as you read this, House and Senate Democrats and Republicans are negotiating the 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill.

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) has slipped in $25 billion in taxpayer-guaranteed loans for new nukes. The nuke reactor guarantees are bundled with $10 billion for renewable energy, $10 billion to turn coal into liquid vehicle fuel, $2 billion to turn coal into natural gas and another $2 billion to build a uranium enrichment plant.

Safe energy supporters are demanding (see that American taxpayers not be forced to pay for another fifty years of radioactive failure.

At an October press conference (, a coalition of virtually all the nation's major environmental organizations, along with musicians Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash, submitted more than 120,000 signatures to Congress.

Now that effort must be renewed to prevent a replay of radioactive history.

In 1952, President Harry Truman's Blue Ribbon “Paley Commission” Report showed that the future of American energy was with the sun and wind. Predicting 15 million solar-heated American homes by 1975, the administration pointed the way to a green, energy efficient economy. One that would have avoided the current climate crisis, and rendered the nation energy self-sufficient.

But in December, 1953, at the behest of the nuclear weapons industry, President Dwight Eisenhower told the world its energy would come from atomic reactors. The “Peaceful Atom” would provide electricity “too cheap to meter.” When no utilities would invest in it, the Republican administration offered massive subsidies, and federal insurance against liability for accidents and terror attacks. When it became clear the industry had no answer for its radioactive waste problem, the government promised to take care of it. Federal agencies promoted the technology while allegedly regulating it.

In the late 1960s, Dr John Gofman, the Atomic Energy Commission's top medical researcher, showed “normal” emissions from nuclear power plants were killing thousands of Americans yearly. He was fired.

More than a trillion dollars have been poured into a technology that now produces a very expensive 20% of our nation's electricity. No US reactor ordered since 1974 has been completed. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have underscored the dangers of those that have been built. On September 11, 2001, the first jet that hit the World Trade Center flew directly over the Indian Point reactor complex a minute earlier.

Meanwhile a global renewable energy industry has boomed far past the Peaceful Atom. Major advances in wind, solar, bio-fuels, ocean thermal, wave, tidal and other green technologies have helped create a multi-billion-dollar business already taking off.

But for the Peaceful Atom, all this could have happened fifty years ago.

Now a much-hyped “revival” of this failed reactor technology again stands in the way. Wall Street will not finance it. Free market advocates like the Cato Institute and Forbes Magazine oppose it.

Domenici's loan guarantees would again divert our resources into the nuclear abyss, and again postpone the green-powered revolution that can save our economy and environment.

Bitter criticism is mounting against a divided Democratic Congressional leadership unwilling or unable to stand up to the Republican minority. Only a great green wave of public outcry---and calls to Congress---can now save us, within the next few days, from yet another lethal, expensive, global-warmed bout with atomic failure.

Will you help?