By William A. Collins
Nuclear power may be bad for your health, but it could be great for investors’ portfolios. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) isn’t about to blow the whistle on the industry’s shortcomings and neither is the media. The agency is stacked with members who know better than to rock the corporate boat, and the media values those big-spending advertisers in the energy business.
Still, as one who lived my formative years during World War II, it’s striking to see our old enemies, Germany, Italy, and Japan, now taking an enlightened shift away from nukes while America trails far behind.
After the traumatic disaster in Fukushima, Japan set a 40-year timetable to go nuke-free. Germany, just being smarter than everyone else, is on track to be out of the business entirely by 2022. Italy took this pledge back in 1987. Austria, Sweden, and Belgium are all weaning themselves off nuclear power too.
The United States prefers to await its own catastrophe before changing course. We’ve been assured that a Fukushima could never happen here, despite our 23 nuclear facilities of that same design. After our disaster finally occurs, we’ll be assured that it can never happen again.
To speed up this dour scenario, the NRC and the media dutifully carry out their assigned job of whitewashing. Hence, you’ll rarely see an exposé of safety failures at our nuclear sites, or thoughtful discussions of whether nukes are too big a hazard to let them continue. There’s too much money riding on the current system to allow such divisive discourse.
The Department of Energy has long backed nukes for electricity. Using global warming as convenient cover, President Barack Obama has included big federal loan guarantees in his budget to insure banks who lend to this enormously risky business. Additionally, it’s the feds’ job to prosecute any whistleblowers who reveal classified information when exposing dangers at nuclear reactors.
No new reactors have been inaugurated in our nation in a generation, but don’t think that corporations aren’t poised to jump back into the business with both feet. Duke Energy and Progress Energy, both based in North Carolina, are attempting to merge “to be in a stronger position to build the new nuclear generating facilities” likely to be required in the future, when utilities are forced to reduce their climate-altering carbon emissions. With coal bearing the brunt of environmental scorn these days, and generous federal help for the nuclear industry, it seems like an obvious tactic.
Meanwhile the radiation lobby is doing its best to ignore what’s going on in Japan. Tens of thousands of refugees who used to live within 12 miles of the Dai-Ichi reactors in Fukushima Prefecture may never be able to return. The radioactive material eating its way through the floor of damaged nuclear fuel tanks has still not been contained (please watch the 1979 movie The China Syndrome again). Radiation has been found in fish, rice, baby formula, and breast milk, all outside the contamination zone. We’re talking another Chernobyl here. And all the while the Japanese government continues to play down the extent of damage.
Washington is good at that too. When requested, the NRC almost always extends the expired licenses of decaying plants because so much money is riding on those renewals. And on Fox News, pundit Ann Coulter has explained that excess radiation is actually good for us.
When it comes to nuclear peril, the inhabitants of New York City and its suburbs are probably the most jittery in the nation. They live near the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is now seeking to renew its operating licenses for two more decades. Even Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants it shut down for good.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.
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