The Return of Nuclear Power 02.10.12 Search

Mr. Duke Assaults the Public and Seeks Bailout

Brian L. Crissey, Ph.D.

Nuclear power, buried 34 years ago, has risen from its grave like a zombie. The NRC has approved two reactors in Vogtle, GA, and seeks two more in Gaffney, SC. Three perceptions have catalyzed this rebirth: that nuclear power does not suffer from the political Achilles heal of oil; that it produces little carbon dioxide that is thought to cause global warming; and that it does not have the massive environmental impact of mountain-top removal for coal mining. The following remarks were entered into the written record of a public hearing Janurary 19, 2012, concerning the two-unit 2.3-GW William States Lee III Nuclear Station, Duke Energy intends to build near Gaffney, SC.

The cavernous sanctuary was well attended, although not filled. The attendees seemed to generally fall into one of three camps—

• well-dressed spokespeople for Duke Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, who focused attention on the safety, efficiency, and positive benefits of the two proposed reactors, provided we assume they are safe,

• suited males from Chambers of Commerce, expressing deep appreciation for the 3,000 construction jobs the plants would bring to this county, whose unemployment rate hovers around 12%, and

• concerned citizens in street clothes, who expressed fears of meltdowns, radiation releases, nuclear waste handling, excessive water consumption, high costs, and missed opportunities to fully explore alternative approaches.

On the surface, it seemed like American democracy in action—citizens being informed and expressing their opinions before a major decision would be made. In truth, the words were without power, the speeches empty. Had the entire assembly unanimously voted to stop the project immediately, it would still proceed. Duke Energy was not conducting a binding referendum. It was allowing people to let off steam in an orderly way so as to deflate public opposition. Nothing more.

Two three-hour hearings were scheduled, and the time for public comment was eroded by enthusiastically talkative officials running over. The first citizen to speak was an elderly woman who has been fighting nuclear power for so long that the babies she was trying to protect decades ago now have babies of their own. She had hours of material to read, but she could not read well, did not speak clearly, and had trouble fitting into the limited time frame she was given, which was generously extended out of deference to her advanced age, perhaps, until it ate up much of the allotted time. Bless her heart and her good intentions, but she may have done more harm than good. As other speakers tried to cram their remarks into four-minute allocations, the coherency of the public concern seemed fractured and ineffective. Speakers were asked to contribute their remarks in written form for inclusion in the record. Who will ever read that record was not revealed.

The issue of nuclear power has been debated ever since President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech before the U.N. in 1953. Countless arguments have been entered into the public records. If I were to document specific errors in Duke's material—a river-volume flow miscalculation here, or an arithmetic error there—my remarks would be dismissed because I am not the expert—they are—so I must be wrong. If I were to make an emotional appeal on behalf of a safer, more energy-efficient approach to balancing energy supply and demand, I would be called unrealistic. If I proposed picketing with signs, I would be called a dangerous radical, out of step with the need for local employment and future electricity needs. If I ran as a candidate opposed to nuclear power, Duke Energy, as a "person" newly empowered by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, would outspend any imaginable campaign and install a pro-nuclear candidate of their choosing. Clearly, corporations now own our political system.

Issues like nuclear power are so complicated, perhaps intentionally so, that the public feels confused and seems to be excluded from the decision-making process in any meaningful way. So what could I say here that might make a difference? Perhaps, by addressing just a few clearly understandable, simple concepts, we can create a reasoned perspective on the issue that may serve to advance the public understanding. These issues are employment, need for power, safety, nuclear wastes, and cost.

The two plants expect to hire some 3,000 construction workers over several years and some 1,000 plant workers on a continuing basis. Jobs are needed in a depressed county, but remember that Hitler created jobs making death camps, too, so it is important to examine whether the jobs contribute to the long-term well being of the greater society. It is well documented that a given investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources creates more sustained employment than the same investment in nuclear energy, with a greater impact on the supply-demand balance. If the issues are jobs and the need for power, then nuclear energy is the wrong objective to pursue.

Nuclear power is said to be safe, but we all remember Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. If it were safe, then the insurance industry would gladly offer sufficient insurance to cover the possible damages, such as the $235 billion (and rising) damages from Fukushima's four melted reactors. Even cutting the damages in half, to reflect just two reactors instead of four, there is $177.5 billion to be covered, but the insurance industry refuses to cover damages that exceed $11.6 billion for all nuclear plants in the U.S., which is less than 10% of the potential damages from just this pair of proposed reactors alone. Who would cover the rest, if something like Fukushima happened here? You and me via another public bailout. Politically, this is no time for any large corporation to be proposing another bailout. The public will not stand for it. Without insurance, nuclear power is unsafe. So, if safety is the issue, these plants should not be built.

Nuclear wastes have been batted around without solution for as long as nuclear power has been around. We can put men on the Moon, but we do no t know how to handle our nuclear wastes safely? It is not that hard. It requires only imagination and money.


Nuclear wastes can be solidified into glass cylinders. The cylinders can be encased in concrete, and the concrete can be enclosed in military depleted Uranium from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and formed into great torpedoes. Fins on the back end would cause the torpedo to rifle, and the front end would be formed as a self-tapping screw.

These heavy objects could be barged to the Mariana Trench in the Pacific, where moving tectonic plates carry anything buried there towards the center of the Earth over millions of years. Released from the barge, the torpedoes would spin 6.8 miles to the bottom and bury themselves safely for the quarter of a million years that they remain dangerous to living things.

Duke should just pay to handle its own wastes and not expect the taxpayers to pay for handling the wastes generated by their profit-seeking activities.The time is long overdue for the nuclear industry to stand on its own. Duke can responsibly bury all its nuclear wastes in the Mariana Trench and just pay for it. Be a leader.

Whatever it costs to do it right is the cost that needs to be included, before anyone alleges that nuclear power is cheaper than energy efficiency or solar. Far from being cheap, nuclear power may well be prohibitively expensive, if one examines the facts honestly.

Mariana Trench

Nuclear power is supposed to be a cheap form of electricity, but the playing field is not level. The public is not interested in bailing out an uninsured nuclear accident, so the cost of sufficient insurance needs to be included, which might be about $4 billion annually, if Duke's rates are similar to my fire insurance. If that makes nuclear power too expensive, then Duke should invest in cheaper sources such as energy efficiency and renewables.

Now that the Supreme Court has made corporations into persons, corporations are now subject to the law of the land as persons, just as we real persons are. Physical assault is the crime by which a person is threatened with bodily harm to the extent that it creates great apprehension in the victim. By planning to build these reactors close to us, "Mr. Duke" is threatening me, my family and loved ones with bodily harm, causing us great apprehension, which is a criminal act. So building these reactors is criminal.

Persons in the U.S. are protected by the U.S. Constitution, which says, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." At Fukushima, 80,000 people were evacuated from a 20-km zone around the stricken reactors. Their properties were seized and taken from them. Such unreasonable seizures are unconstitutional in the U.S. But "Mr. Duke," plans to build two reactors without sufficient insurance and without a political mandate for a bailout. If a Fukushima disaster were to strike this site, many persons would find their properties unreasonably seized. So building these reactors is also unconstitutional.

In summary, nuclear energy fails to make a strong case for itself on every relevant issue. Energy efficiency and renewable energy create more sustainable jobs per dollar of investment than does nuclear. We are told that the proposed reactors are needed for future growth, but the same investment in energy efficiency and renewables will have a greater impact on the energy supply and demand balance. We are told that nuclear power is safe, but without sufficient insurance, it is much more dangerous than alternatives. When insurance and responsible waste management are factored in, nuclear power is most likely to be prohibitively expensive. And now we see that it is also criminal and unconstitutional.

So, "Mr. Duke," don't do the crime. Keep electricity rates low, employ more people, and be safer. Drop the nuclear option and invest in energy efficiency and renewables.

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