To Nuke or Not to Nuke

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Minnesota and seven other states currently outlaw new nuclear energy production: Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Hawaii, and three coal states, West Virginia, Kentucky and Montana (which also lacks sufficient water for nuclear cooling).


The Minnesota legislature passed a moratorium on new nuclear power plants in 1994. A new nuclear power plant would take at least 10 years to bring online and cost $12-billion or more. Within 10 years the price for solar photovoltaics will come down while nuclear power costs will rise. Nuclear will be the most expensive form of electricity to generate, therefore the most profitable for utility investors. At this time nuclear energy is 17-cents per kilowatt hour while efficiency costs two-cents/kw according to Bill Grant from the Isaac Walton League’s Midwest Chapter.


The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) is mapping a practical transition to a carbon-free and nuclear-free Minnesota by 2050. IEER’s forthcoming report, expected in late March this year, will be posted at www.carbonfreenuclearfree.org/state-groups/minnesota.


Selling Greed


Minnesota Utility Investors (MUI) is gearing up for another pro-nuke assault during the 2010 legislative season. Like a Wal-Mart greeter, Alice, elderly, thin, bent, fragile-looking except for the big smile, welcomed 418 stockholders to a nuclear investor-sponsored free luncheon at the Sheridan Ridgedale Hotel in Minnetonka last fall. Both Alice and her husband, sporting flashing red light pins, are “team leaders” in the MUI ongoing nuclear campaign.


The profit opportunity was highlighted in tandem with the threat of a looming power shortage followed by the menace of “the regulatory environment.” What wasn’t mentioned is the full cost accounting of “the peaceful atom” from yellow cake mining through enrichment, use, accidents, retirement, “storage safety” and worker and public health.   


The word cancer was also not mentioned although statistically a third of the 418 utility investors (about 140 people) had, or will have first person experience with cancer. And did I mention the free lunch?


The hotel banquet room was a carpet of gray hairs, many retired Northern States Power-Xcel employees. About the gray hair, the first speaker, quoting her mom and invoking God said, “Gray hair, as the Bible says, is a crown of glory.”


That speaker was former Minnesota Senator Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton), whose second senatorial term was abridged by her appointment (just concluded) to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission by Governor Tim Pawlenty. During her tenure the Public Utilities Commission voted to permit 35 more above ground giant used fuel rod casks at Prairie Island.


Since the federal government has not provided that promised “permanent” storage site, 35 more above ground casks could hold enough waste to take Prairie Island nuclear power plant through their (not yet approved) 20-year relicense period, through 2034. There are already about 25 dry storage casks there on the Mississippi for a grand total of more than 5.5-million plutonium-containing rods.


The Xcel Prairie Island plant is also requesting a 15-percent hike in electrical output. The upgrade would theoretically be accomplished with thicker nuclear fuel rods creating more heat and pressure.


The Monticello nuke has been relicensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for another 20 years, until 2030, with waste storage on site upstream of the Twin Cities water intake pipes. All three reactors are certified for a 40 year lifespan. The graph of accidents at a nuke plant is a U-shape with startup snafus and problems at the end of an embrittled, aging deteriorating plant’s production life.  


Prairie Island is a sandbar island in the middle of the Mississippi River. Eighteen million Americans drink Mississippi River water. Prairie Island in Goodhue County is also the home of a Dakota American Indian community where some of the state Health Department cancer rates have been classified. The Twin Cities are in the nuclear “shadow” of both nuclear reactors at Prairie Island and the single reactor upstream at Monticello.


In Vermont the state senate just voted to shut down its Yankee nuclear plant at the end of the 40-year design life in 2012. Plant operators lied about underground tritium leaks near the Connecticut River. They originally stated there were no underground pipes.


Senator/Commissioner/lobbyist Wergin is one of those “revolving door” examples of an elected public official becoming an appointed public official and then a corporate spokesperson. But hey, power is patriotic and last quarter Xcel profits were $169-million.


President Obama recently announced an $8.3-billion federal loan guarantee for two new nuclear power plants in Burke County, Georgia. In South Carolina, across the Savannah River is the 300-square mile federal nuclear weapons facility currently focusing on environmental cleanup and remediation technology.


When the president was candidate Obama, he said taxpayer subsidies for N-power would end-but without federal insurance guarantees, nuclear power would end. In fact, nuclear power would never have begun without federal development of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power produces bomb grade plutonium.


Don’t be fooled nuclear power is neither safe nor clean. The more nuclear power, the more nuclear weapons which is why the U.S. sees Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan as potential threats.


Minnesota’s Nuclear Moratorium


On April 30, 2009, the Minnesota House of Representatives upheld a 15-year-old nuclear moratorium by just eight votes. The state Senate voted pro-nuke, including 23-DFL senators and all but three Republicans. Minnesota lawmakers are apparently not educated about the variety of renewable energy and energy efficiency options. The MUI free luncheon ended with a “homework assignment,” a draft letter and phone list of state legislators noting how each politician voted on the moratorium.


Minnesota has been the most lobbied state in the country, per capita, according to the Ecology Democracy Network. In 2004, more than $50-million was spent to influence law makers and regulatory agencies. In 2005, it was $55-million, green activist Ken Pentel noted. In 2008 Xcel Energy spent $936,602 on lobbyists, second only to the Chamber of Commerce.


America’s lobby practice is a system of such obvious corruption that the average citizen has become irrelevant. Indeed the Supreme Court recently rewrote the Constitution giving corporations more than human rights. Corporations, like vampires, don’t die. In the court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision there is no restriction on domestic or foreign corporate spending for or against political candidates. 


“Americans better get informed soon, for a resurgent atomic power lobby wants the taxpayers to pick up the tab for relaunching this industry,” says Ralph Nader. “Unless you get Congress to stop this insanely dirty and complex way to boil water to generate steam for electricity, you’ll be paying for the industry’s research, the industry’s loan guarantees and the estimated trillion dollars (inflation-adjusted) cost of just one meltdown.”  


With the dwindling pot of money the Minnesota moratorium could launch green start-ups and a massive employment/retrofitting energy efficiency program (E-REEP). Imagine properly insulated homes and buildings, getting the building trades back to work along with training their underemployed apprentices. Renewable energy provides more jobs per dollar and a reduction in carbon emissions. 


The immediate benefit of energy efficiency is the elephant in the living room: save money and the environment, increase human comfort and health. Human health is generally not counted in accounting.


What Do We Do With the Waste?


Perhaps the most awkward argument against nuclear proliferation is what are we going to do with the waste? Reprocessing is the new solution mantra for nuclear proponents.


“Reprocessing actually increases the volume of radioactive waste, is enormously costly, worsens proliferation concerns (including terrorist threats), increases pollution going into lakes, streams and rivers, and poses a range of safety risks,” according to 16 Minnesota environment and peace groups including IEER, Clean Water Action, WAMM, WILPF, Northstar Sierra Chapter, White Earth Land Recovery Project and the North American Water Office.


Nuclear power is a by-industry of uranium enrichment for weapons. Nuclear power plants produce plutonium and tritium, the trigger for nuclear weapons. Nuke plants are literally bomb-matériel factories. The peaceful atom is a bomb, especially if you happen to live nearby, downwind or downstream. And now that the U.S. and Russia have finally agreed to reduce their stock of warheads, a new nuclear threat has developed-a dirty bomb delivered by a “non-state actor.”


To separate nuclear power and nuclear weapons is like thinking bailing out the banks is going to get people employed. It’s that same old Republicrat divide & conquer-compartmentalized thinking where consequences are not considered beyond short term profit or the next election.


The nuclear question is not just about providing power for a growing demand.
It’s about the economy, lifestyle and the global environment. The nuclear lobby has a series of fluffy answers to nuclear plant danger and funding facts. “The radioactivity is all contained.” Fact: there are “routine releases.” “Any (nuclear power plant) aging is monitored and managed.” Right, I’m monitoring and managing my personal aging but that doesn’t slow it down.


And because it’s so dangerous, “the federal government is responsible for nuclear waste.” These are the people who “want government out of healthcare.” 


 Efficiency 


Efficiency can address some of the race- and class-based criticisms about future energy production. Because it takes energy to transport energy, local decentralized solar and wind power production should be applicable wherever the sun shines or the wind blows.


The green power race is on and at this point China is moving most quickly. America’s research and development funds are currently diverted to wars and banks. Meanwhile melting glaciers are raising sea levels.


Nuclear power is not the answer. There is no one answer there are two: efficiency and renewables. Efficiently is the easiest, cheapest solution with available and constantly upgraded technology. In fact green industry along with geriatric-care are the two growth areas in the current economy.


Silence equals consent. Contact your Minnesota representative and senator to maintain the moratorium against new nuclear power plants. The better investment is to fund energy efficiency-&-jobs programs and to encourage green industry. After all, this is Minnesota: we’re smart, good looking and above average. 


 




Susu Jeffrey has followed the nuclear debate since her 1977 nonviolent, civil (dis)obedient arrest at Seabrook (New Hampshire) nuclear power site.


 


 


 

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