Fukushima Is So Yesterday – OpEd

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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OtherWords distributes commentary and cartoons aimed at amplifying progressive analysis in the national conversation. It empowers readers to become more engaged citizens.

4 thoughts on “Fukushima Is So Yesterday – OpEd

  • January 26, 2012 at 6:49 am
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    Interesting assessment. But I don’t think it is valid to judge all coverage in all media by what you see on Fox TV — the PR arm of the GOP. Many members of the Society of Environmental Journalists ( SEJ.org ) regularly delve deeply into the strengths and weaknesses of nuclear power. Much of the opposition to the Indian Point plants grew from revelations of plant vulnerabilities revealed in local newspapers. Publications, like elected officials, vary considerably.

    Reply
  • January 26, 2012 at 2:45 pm
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    CANDU reactors, developed in Canada are thorium fuelled and running successfully in China at the moment. Fact is, these older designs, safer designs, were over-run by America’s quest for plutonium! www,theoildrum.com/node/4971 tells the story. Bill Gates in China with his fortunes, seeks a better reactor design to deal with current Uranium fuelled reactor wastes. As a matter of course, these reactors could be Thorium fuelled. The sickness is in the American Nuclear Establishment. They are so deeply invested they cannot change to safer Thorium fuelled reactors.
    Fuckoshima itself a horrendous assault against all mankind, is only the forerunner of what is to come. Germany knows this sees the engineering difficulties of “decommissioning” older reactors, realises that once the homocidal wastes from Uranium fissioning are created only more fissioning can reduce them and then only to wastes that must be stored three hundred years, but still leak deadly radiation, are hard to handle, expensive to handle. Only short sighted Americans can accept this and live with it?

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  • January 27, 2012 at 1:59 am
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    Thorium is not going to happen in this country. Plutonium is cheaper and established. Period. End of discussion. Forget about it in the US.

    Reprocessing is not the answer. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is not against nuclear power, but wants it to be safe, came out with a report today titled Reprocessing Spent Fuel is Dirty, Dangerous and Expensive. See their release at http://www.ucsusa.org.

    “Not only would reprocessing fail to reduce the volume of nuclear waste requiring permanent disposal, it would increase the risk of nuclear terrorism and proliferation, divert resources from a permanent disposal program and cost more than disposing of the spent fuel directly.”

    That says it all. Hopefully the Blue Ribbon Commission on American’s Nuclear Future will echo this position when their report comes out shortly.

    There is no good answer to the disposal of highly radioactive waste except to stop producing it. We need to move what we have to dry cask storage and keep it where it was used as we work toward an equitable solution for a geological depository.

    this is true especially at Indian Point.That reactor is about a lot more than generating electricity. 20 million people live within a 50 mile radius – far more than the similar radius at Fukushima.

    How much are those lives and that very expensive property worth? Indian Point is old, dangerous and unnecessary. It contributes little to the local grid. Close it down and ISO says we won’t even have a problem until 2020, and that is just with the reserve margin if no replacement is in place by then.

    Actually, the market has already replaced Indian Point. No one even notices when one of the reactors goes down, as just happened. Gov. Cuomo is correct: shut it down, go green jobs and conserve.

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  • January 28, 2012 at 5:05 pm
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    Collins writes — “too much money riding on the current system”, “so much money” — as if the opposition to nuclear energy were not powerfully convenient to much larger monied interests. In fact deaths like those at the Kleen Energy gas-fired plant, and the San Bruno gas pipeline disaster, amount to approximately one body per billion dollars of American government gas royalty income.

    If he’s getting a pension of senior-civil-servant-style generosity, as I think your elected representatives do, he’s arguing in his own baser interest. “Talking another Chernobyl here” — indeed you are, and it is a lie for which you will burn.

    Reply

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