The Nuclear Phoenix.THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS PUSHING AHEAD WITH A FULL-SCALE REVIVAL OF ATOMIC POWER
The last time anyone ordered a new nuclear power plant in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. was in 1978, but if you think that means nukes are dead forever, guess again. The Bush Administration and the nuclear industry are making an intense push to rehabilitate nuclear power in the U.S. "It's like reviving Frankenstein--this is the sequel," says Robert Alvarez, executive director of the Standing for Truth About Radiation (STAR) Foundation and co-author of Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation.
Diane D'Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service The Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) is a nonprofit group founded in 1978 to be the information and networking center for citizens and organizations concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues. (NIRS NIRS Near Infrared Spectroscopy
NIRS Nuclear Information and Resource Service
NIRS Near-Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy
NIRS National Institute of Radiological Science
NIRS National Information and Reporting System
NIRS National Informatics Recognition System ) uses another word when describing the Administration's work. Says D'Arrigo: "It's the push to relapse."
Ever since the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl shattered public trust in atomic power, advocates in government and industry have been laying the groundwork for a nuclear energy comeback. An unbridled drive has started under George W. Bush in what "may be the most ardently pro-nuclear power Presidency in U.S. history," says Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based NIRS. The Bush Administration's stance is aggressive, and it minimizes the dangers of nuclear power. As Bush's Secretary of Treasury, Paul O'Neill Paul O'Neill may refer to:
IN BED WITH THE INDUSTRY
The Bush Administration struck a close working relationship with the nuclear industry well before taking office. The administration's energy "transition" advisors included Joseph Colvin, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI NEI National Eye Institute (NIH)
NEI Nuclear Energy Institute
NEI National Emission Inventory
NEI Not Enough Information
NEI Netherlands East Indies
NEI Nuevos Estados Independientes ), which describes itself as "the policy, organization of the nuclear energy and technologies industry"; J. Bennett Johnston, who as a U.S. Senator was a leading pro-nuclear power figure in Congress and who now runs a consulting firm Noun 1. consulting firm - a firm of experts providing professional advice to an organization for a fee
business firm, firm, house - the members of a business organization that owns or operates one or more establishments; "he worked for a that assists the nuclear industry; Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute The Edison Electric Institute (EEI) is the association of United States shareholder-owned electric power companies. Its members serve 95 percent of the ultimate customers in the shareholder-owned segment of the industry, and represent approximately 70 percent of the U.S. , former head of the American Nuclear Energy Council (forerunner of NEI) and a reported "Bush buddy" going back to their days together at Yale; and representatives of four nuclear utilities. There were no advisors representing renewable energy Renewable energy utilizes natural resources such as sunlight, wind, tides and geothermal heat, which are naturally replenished. Renewable energy technologies range from solar power, wind power, and hydroelectricity to biomass and biofuels for transportation. or environmental organizations.
Two weeks after being sworn in, Bush set up a "National Energy Policy Development Group" and appointed as its chairman Vice President Dick Cheney. Its members included O'Neill and other top administration officials. Ten weeks after it was organized, the group issued a report declaring its support for "the expansion of nuclear energy, in the United States as a major component of our national energy policy." The plan would substantially increase the use of nuclear power both by building new nuclear power plants--many to be constructed on existing nuclear plant sites--and extending the 40-year licenses of currently operating plants each by another 20 years
"Many U.S. nuclear plant sites were designed to host four to six reactors, and most operate only two or three; many sites across the country could host additional plants," says the energy policy group's report. "Building new generators on existing sites avoids many complex issues associated with building plants on new sites." It could also greatly amplify the impacts of an accident, notes Paul Gunter, head of NIRS' Reactor Watchdog Project. If one nuclear plant in a cluster of facilities undergoes a catastrophic accident, there is the potential, says Gunter, for a "cascading loss amplifying the release of radiation."
According to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.
2. In keeping with: according to instructions.
3. the policy report, "the licensing of as many as 90 percent of the currently operating nuclear plants may be renewed." There are 103 nuclear plants now in the U.S. They are, on average, 19 years old. Of the longevity of nuclear plants, "No one foresaw them running for more than 40 years," says Alvarez of STAR, who was also senior policy advisor at the Department of Energy (DOE) from 1993 to 1999. The effects of intense radioactive bombardment, especially on metals, have been seen as limiting the operating life of nuclear plants. And then there's the standard deterioration that occurs when any machine gets old. "These reactors are just like old machines, but they are ultra-hazardous," says Alvarez. By pushing their operating span to 60 years, he says, "disaster is being invited."
The Bush Administration's policy also supports "advanced" nuclear power plants--supposedly new-and-improved nukes. "Advanced reactor technology promises to improve nuclear safety," it says. One example the report provides is "the gas-cooled, pebble bed reactor The pebble bed reactor (PBR) is an advanced nuclear reactor type. A number of prototypes have been built, and it is currently under active development in South Africa as the PBMR design, and in China whose HTR-10 is the only prototype currently operating. , which has inherent safety features." In fact, says Gunter, the pebble bed reactor is not new; it's just "old wine in a new bottle." It's a hybrid of the gas-cooled, high-temperature design that "has appeared and been rejected in England, Germany and the U.S." And far from being "inherently safe," a reactor of similar design, a THTR THTR Thorium Hochtemperatur Reaktor (German: Thorium high temperature reactor) 300 in Germany's Ruhr Valley Noun 1. Ruhr Valley - a major industrial and coal mining region in the valley of the Ruhr river in northwestern Germany
Deutschland, FRG, Germany, Federal Republic of Germany - a republic in central Europe; split into East Germany and West Germany after , spewed out substantial amounts of radioactivity in a 1986 accident, leading to its permanent closure.
David Lochbaum, nuclear safety engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a nonprofit advocacy group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States. The UCS membership includes many private citizens in addition to professional scientists. (UCS (Universal Character Set) An ISO/IEC format for coding character sets. ISO/IEC 10646 was synchronized with Unicode; however, Unicode adds additional constraints, and compliance with 10646 does not guarantee compatibility with Unicode. See Unicode. ), says that the pebble bed reactor uses blocks of graphite to slow neutron slow neutron
A neutron in thermal equilibrium with the surrounding medium, especially one produced by fission and slowed by a moderator. Also called thermal neutron. action, although "graphite is a form of carbon, which can ignite in a reactor fire. It was the graphite that kept burning at Chernobyl for 10 days, releasing much of the radiation."
Also, the pebble bed would produce 10 times more high-level waste per amount of electricity generated as compared to existing plants, says Lochbaum, who worked in the nuclear power industry for 17 years and became a whistleblower whis·tle·blow·er or whis·tle-blow·er or whistle blower
One who reveals wrongdoing within an organization to the public or to those in positions of authority: "The Pentagon's most famous whistleblower is . . before coming to UCS. Further, Exelon, the builder of the pebble bed reactor, wants five such units operated from a single control room, which is a dubious proposition, says Lochbaum. He also notes that the pebble bed systems' designers "reduced costs by eliminating a key safety feature--the reactor containment building A containment building, in its most common usage, is a steel or concrete structure enclosing a nuclear reactor. It is designed to, in any emergency, contain the escape of radiation despite pressures in the range of 60 to 200 psi ( 410 to 1400 kPa). ."
The Bush National Energy Policy, with its reliance on more nuclear power and greater fossil fuel fossil fuel: see energy, sources of; fuel.
Any of a class of materials of biologic origin occurring within the Earth's crust that can be used as a source of energy. Fossil fuels include coal, petroleum, and natural gas. generation, comes at a time when safe, clean, renewable energy sources have arrived. The need is for broad-scale implementation. Wind power, solar energy solar energy, any form of energy radiated by the sun, including light, radio waves, and X rays, although the term usually refers to the visible light of the sun. , hydrogen fuel technologies including fuel cells, among other renewable energy sources, are more than ready after years of dramatic advances. Coupled with energy efficiency, they can be tapped and widely used.
A coalition of renewable, safe-energy advocates--including the Safe Energy Communication Council, Greenpeace USA, Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment and NIRS--says of the National Energy Policy: "The Bush/Cheney Administration is recklessly promoting the building of new nuclear plants to address an energy crisis that in large part is being manufactured by the energy corporations that will benefit from building new power plants.... We believe that instead of promoting dangerous and dirty forms of energy, the United States should be a world leader in promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency. Let us not sell our children's future."
But the Bush Administration is not to be turned around. As Cheney, in one speech, said of nuclear power: "If we are serious about environmental protection, then we must seriously question the wisdom of backing away from what is, as a matter of record, a safe, clean and very plentiful energy source."
Or, as he declared in another speech, "We're now at about 20 percent of our electricity being generated by nuclear. We'd like to increase that.... If you're really concerned about global warming global warming, the gradual increase of the temperature of the earth's lower atmosphere as a result of the increase in greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. and carbon dioxide carbon dioxide, chemical compound, CO2, a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is about one and one-half times as dense as air under ordinary conditions of temperature and pressure. emissions, then we need to ... aggressively pursue the use of nuclear power, which we can do safely and sanely, but for 20 some years [it] has been a big no-no-politically.
Not surprisingly, the nuclear power industry stands solidly alongside President Bush. Says NEI President Colvin, "The administration's support for nuclear power as a proven energy technology that protects our air quality is a tremendously positive development for our nation.... The industry looks forward to working with the White House and Congress to make this long-term vision a reality."
To fast track its vision of our radioactive future, the Bush Administration advocates a "one-step" licensing process for nuclear plants. It was part of an Energy Policy Act bill overwhelmingly approved by Congress in 1992 and signed into law by the former President George Bush. "One-step" licensing allows the NRC NRC
1. National Research Council
2. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Noun 1. NRC - an independent federal agency created in 1974 to license and regulate nuclear power plants to hold a single hearing for a "combined construction and operating license." No longer can nuclear plant projects be slowed down or stopped at a separate operating license proceeding, at which evidence of construction defects can be revealed. As the New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times described the passage of the 1992 Energy Policy Act, "Nuclear power lobbyists called the bill their biggest victory in Congress since the Three Mile Island accident For details on this station, see .
The Three Mile Island accident was the most significant in the history of the American commercial nuclear power generating industry. It resulted, however, in no deaths or injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby community. ."
That Energy Policy Act was approved by a Democratic-controlled Congress. As NIRS reported in its Nuclear Monitor in 1992: "As the bill wound its way through the Senate and House, the nuclear industry won nearly every vote that mattered, proving that Congress remains captive to industry lobbying and political contributions over public opinion."
That remains the situation today. Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program documents how the NEI regularly showers Congress--including members of both major parties--with political contributions. And when the nuclear industry gives, members of Congress act, notes Public Citizen, which charts the record of politicians on key nuclear issues. Likewise, nuclear industry money pours into Presidential campaigns.
The Republican Bush-Cheney posture on nuclear power is hard-line, but that doesn't mean the Democratic alternative was (or is) much different. The NEI's website includes a page of "Endorsements of Nuclear Energy," and among those quoted are Al Gore Noun 1. Al Gore - Vice President of the United States under Bill Clinton (born in 1948)
Albert Gore Jr., Gore : "Nuclear power, designed well, regulated properly, cared for meticulously, has a place in the world's energy supply," he reportedly said in a speech at the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev in 1998. And Gore's former running mate running mate
1. The candidate or nominee for the lesser of two closely associated political offices.
2. A companion.
3. A horse used to set the pace in a race for another horse. , Senator Joseph Lieberman, is quoted as saying at a Senate hearing in 1998: "I am a supporter of nuclear energy. I believe it can be part of the solution to solving the world's energy, environment and global warming problems."
Basically, there is a difference in degrees and rhetoric between the politicians from the major parties, says Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. And "the Clinton Administration Noun 1. Clinton administration - the executive under President Clinton
executive - persons who administer the law is by no means blameless blame·less
Free of blame or guilt; innocent.
blame " in the push to revive the moribund nuclear industry, she says, especially because of its support for development of "advanced" nuclear plants.
The Bush National Energy Policy says that because of "one-step" licensing which it terms the "reformed licensing process," getting new nuclear plants built and operating will now be streamlined. And, to make sure public involvement is minimal in the process, the NRC is now seeking to undo the public's right to formal trial-type hearings on nuclear plant licensing. It plans to "deformalize" the hearings by eliminating due process procedures, Documents would be restricted to what the NRC staff and company deem relevant. Instead of cross-examining witnesses, interested parties will have to submit written questions as suggestions for the NRC's presiding officers to ask at their discretion at a hearing. Says Mariotte, "The administration should learn from Seattle, Prague and Quebec that when people are shut out of public policy processes, the streets are their only alternative."
Also to help in a nuclear power comeback is the effort to alter the standards for radiation exposure. As more has been learned about radioactivity the realization has come that there is no "safe" level. This is called the "linear no-threshold theory," and it has been adopted by the NRC and other U.S. government agencies.
Now nuclear advocates in government and industry want to alter the standards premised on a contention that low doses of radiation are not so bad after all. They are "engaged in an all-out assault on radiation protection standards," says D'Arrigo. There is even interest in a long-rejected notion called "hormesis," which claims that a little radiation is good for people and helps exercise the immune system immune system
Cells, cell products, organs, and structures of the body involved in the detection and destruction of foreign invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells. Immunity is based on the system's ability to launch a defense against such invaders. . The instrument for this change is a new Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation i·on·i·zing radiation
High-energy radiation capable of producing ionization in substances through which it passes.
Ionizing radiation (BEIR BEIR Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiations ) panel of the National Academy of Sciences, which is to make recommendations to the federal government. "The only way to convince the public that additional radiation is acceptable is to put together a skewed skewed
curve of a usually unimodal distribution with one tail drawn out more than the other and the median will lie above or below the mean.
skewed Epidemiology adjective Referring to an asymmetrical distribution of a population or of data panel," says D'Arrigo. The new BEIR panel, she says, is thus stacked with high-level radiation advocates.
Nuclear waste is another obstacle the nuclear proponents in government and industry are seeking to get around. "If we don't deal with the waste problem," acknowledged Cheney in a speech, "then my guess is we won't get the investment in new facilities in the nuclear arena.... It's within our grasp as a government.... to move forward, to get the issue addressed and get it off the table so that utilities are prepared to invest in nuclear."
How is this being done? For high-level nuclear waste, there are drives to open Yucca Mountain Yucca Mountain, mountain in the SW Nevada desert about 100 mi (161 km) northwest of Las Vegas. It is the proposed site of a Dept. of Energy (DOE) repository for up to 77,000 metric tons of nuclear waste (including commercial and defense spent fuel and high-level in Nevada (100 miles northwest of Las Vegas Las Vegas (läs vā`gəs), city (1990 pop. 258,295), seat of Clark co., S Nev.; inc. 1911. It is the largest city in Nevada and the center of one of the fastest-growing urban areas in the United States. ) as a repository and also to use Utah's Skull Valley Goshute Reservation and possibly other Native American reservations.
The huge problem with Yucca Mountain, which the government began exploring as a repository in the 1980s, is that it is on or near 32 earthquake faults and has a "history and prospects of volcanoes and a likelihood of flooding and leakage," says D'Arrigo. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration is still seeking to "ram through" Yucca Mountain, says Mariotte. Resistance from people in Nevada and their elected representatives is so far blocking the scheme.
In 1997, tribal leaders of the Goshute Reservation "leased land to a private group of electrical utilities for the temporary storage of 40,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel Spent nuclear fuel, occasionally called used nuclear fuel, is nuclear fuel that has been irradiated in a nuclear reactor (usually at a nuclear power plant) to the point where it is no longer useful in sustaining a nuclear reaction. ," according to the Goshute's website. But some members of the tribe are fighting the deal in court, demanding to know who got what for what. Utah government officials are also challenging the arrangement. Governor Mike Leavitt says, "We intend to leave no stone unturned to do everything that can be done; to use all practicable means to effect an object.
to leave nothing untried for accomplishing one's purpose.
See also: Stone Unturned to make sure this waste does not come to Utah. The state's authority and responsibility to protect its citizens and the environment is clear."
But clear to advocates in government and the nuclear industry is that working with ostensibly os·ten·si·ble
Represented or appearing as such; ostensive: His ostensible purpose was charity, but his real goal was popularity. sovereign American Indian American Indian
or Native American or Amerindian or indigenous American
Any member of the various aboriginal peoples of the Western Hemisphere, with the exception of the Eskimos (Inuit) and the Aleuts. reservations is a way to unload atomic garbage. Critics describe it as a new form of environmental racism--"nuclear racism"--seeking to take advantage of the poverty of Native Americans.
The drive to "recycle" low-level nuclear waste has been percolating for years. In 1980, the NRC first proposed that irradiated metal scrap could be converted, stressing that "radioactive waste burial costs could be avoided, [and] the resulting use of smelted scrap could be made into any number of consumer or capital equipment products such as automobiles, appliances, furniture, utensils, personal items and coins." Some thought the push for radioactive quarters and hot Pontiacs was too crazy to be true.
But now the scheme is coming down the pike full-speed with the DOE, Department of Transportation and the NRC moving to facilitate the "recycling of contaminated contaminated,
v 1. made radioactive by the addition of small quantities of radioactive material.
2. made contaminated by adding infective or radiographic materials.
3. an infective surface or object. metal and other radioactive wastes," as the DOE recently announced. Says D'Arrigo: "Bush wants more nuclear power, and we are being told we'll have to do our part by accepting atomic waste in our daily use items."
Those behind the nuclear push are moving to extend a key piece of U.S. law that facilitated the nuclear power industry in the first place: the Price-Anderson Act. This law drastically limits the amount of money people can collect as a result of a nuclear power plant disaster. It was originally enacted in 1957 after nervous utilities and insurance companies balked balk
v. balked, balk·ing, balks
1. To stop short and refuse to go on: The horse balked at the jump.
2. at building nuclear power plants. "The potential for catastrophe is apparently many times as great as anything previously known in industry," said Herbert W. Yount, vice president of Liberty Mutual Insurance, before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, from which Price-Anderson emerged. The committee was part of the earliest promotion for a nuclear establishment of government and corporations that had grown out of the World War II-era Manhattan Project. With the war over, nuclear scientists, government bureaucrats and corporate contractors involved in the Manhattan Project--like Westinghouse and GE--sought to perpetuate their nuclear activities through electricity generation.
In what was supposed to be a temporary measure to boost the nuclear power industry, the Price-Anderson Act passed, limiting liability in the event of a nuclear plant accident to $560 million, with the federal government paying the first $500 million. It was supposed to last for only 10 years, but Price-Anderson has been repeatedly extended. Now the Bush Administration and the atomic industry are seeking to use it as a financial umbrella for the push to revive nuclear power.
"The renewal of Price-Anderson is only to build new reactors," says Mariotte. "That's the issue. Existing nuclear plants are covered by the present law."
The Bush Administration and nuclear industry are proposing that the current liability limit of $9 billion be extended for another 10 years. The initial $560 million cap rose to, in recent years, $9 billion. Still, notes Alvarez, this is all just a fraction of what the NRC itself has concluded would be the financial consequences of a nuclear plant accident. Those figures are contained in a 1982 report prepared for the NRC by the DOE's Sandia National Laboratories Sandia National Laboratories, which is managed and operated by the Sandia Corporation (a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation), is a major United States Department of Energy research and development national laboratory with two locations, one in Albuquerque, New entitled Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences for U.S. Nuclear Power Plants. It calculates (in 1980s dollars) costs as a result of a nuclear plant disaster as high as $314 billion at the Indian Point 3 nuclear plant north of New York City New York City: see New York, city.
New York City
City (pop., 2000: 8,008,278), southeastern New York, at the mouth of the Hudson River. The largest city in the U.S. and $174 billion for the Millstone millstone
Either of two flat, round stones used for grinding grain to make flour. The stationary bottom stone is carved with shallow grooved channels that radiate from the centre. The upper stone rotates horizontally, and has a central hole through which grain is poured. 3 nuclear plant in Connecticut. The report projects "early fatalities" with figures as high as 100,000 dead for the Salem 1 nuclear plant in New Jersey and 72,000 dead for the Peach Bottom 2 nuclear plant in Pennsylvania.
What are the chances of such a disaster occurring? In 1985, the NRC was asked by a House oversight committee chaired by Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA) to determine the probability of a "severe core melt accident" for reactors now operating and those expected to operate during the next 20 years. The NRC concluded: "The crude cumulative probability of such an accident would be 45 percent."
To that danger now has to be added the possibility of a World Trade Center-style airborne terrorist attack on American nuclear plants. Tom Clements, who heads the Nuclear Control Institute, says existing plants are vulnerable to such an attack, "which would be many times worse than what we've seen in New York because it could result in radiation and fallout over a vast area." And so the nightmare of our affair with nuclear power continues. CONTACT: Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, (202)588-1000, www.citizen.org/cmep; Nuclear Information and Resource Service, (202)328-0002, www.nirs.org; Union of Concerned Scientists, (617) 547-5552, www.ucsusa.org.
KARL GROSSMAN, a George Polk Award-winning journalist, teaches investigative and environmental reporting at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury.