Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
Will Al Gore Help Shut the Nuke Power Loophole?
Submitted by Donna Dillman, with permission from Harvey Wasserman
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 NIRS 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
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
"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
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 to shut down because
global-warmed streams have become too 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 www.nukefree.org) 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
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
Harvey Wasserman is senior advisor to the Nuclear Information & Resource
Service, and has been fighting the reactor industry since 1973. He is senior
editor of Freepress.org, and author of SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH