Today, the Bush-Cheney administration plans to release its energy strategy. In the weeks leading up to the unveiling of this strategy, the public has been afforded a preview of the administration’s game plan. The repercussions of the Bush-Cheney energy plan, which advocates for greater reliance on nuclear power, will be far reaching.
Vice President Cheney’s cabinet-level Energy Policy
Development Group is studying how to revive the waning nuclear industry. The plan includes recommendations for streamlining the regulatory process for building new reactors, extending the life of existing ones, and proposing renewal of a law that limits liability on industry for nuclear accidents. The plan falsely argues that nuclear power is an “emissions-free” technology that can be deployed to combat global warming and air pollution.
“The Bush-Cheney administration’s promotion of nuclear energy is distressingly short-sighted and potentially dangerous,” said Kyle Rabin, Nuclear Energy Policy Project Director for the Albany-based Environmental Advocates. “It’s all about denial and fantasy: Denying the nuclear meltdowns and near disasters; fantasizing that Yucca Mountain will solve the country’s radioactive waste problems. Nuclear power must be phased out and else!QW! in the nation. The environmental community will fight any attempts to build new nukes and to breathe new life into existing plants. Our state political leaders and policymakers must also have the courage to stand up to the nuclear industry, whose time has come and gone.”
“Nuclear power can neither address our short-term energy problems, nor can it effectively combat global climate change,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “We need to implement cost-effective energy efficiency solutions and to invest in the technologies of the 21st century. The Bush-Cheney administration would return us to the 1960’s and 70’s and the time of behemoth nuclear power and coal plants. Those policies failed then, and they will fail now. We can do better.”
What You Need to Know About the Revival of the U.S. Nuclear Industry:
CHENEY’S CONNECTIONS TO THE INDUSTRY: As it turns out, Cheney’s energy task force has built-in ties to the nuclear industry. A key member of the task force, Energy Department official Joe Kelliher, was a longtime nuclear power lobbyist. Another connection: Roy Coffee, who worked as Governor Bush’s lobbyist in Washington, was recently hired by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s front group. Nuclear executives have enjoyed extraordinary access to the energy task force, meeting repeatedly with top Bush officials, including economic adviser Larry Lindsey and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham who mentioned new nukes in a major “energy crisis” speech in late March. At the meetings, the executives laid out their case for a nuclear comeback.
LIABILITY: President Cheney has stated that the Bush administration would seek renewed legislation exempting nuclear companies from unlimited liability for accidents as part of a push to revive the nuclear industry. The view of nuclear utilities on the safety of nuclear power is best illustrated by the existence of this legislation known as the Price-Anderson Act No utility would build or operate a reactor if it were not shielded from the potential liability that could be accrued from a nuclear accident (upwards of $300 Billion in property damage and thousands of deaths and illnesses). No other hazardous industry enjoys such liability protection-an indication of just how dangerous nuclear power is. A mature industry with a good safety record would not need the Price-Anderson Act. In a response to a Reuters reporter who asked whether Bush would seek a renewal of the Price-Anderson Act, Cheney said if it is not renewed,” nobody’s going to invest in nuclear power plants."
NEW REACTorS: No commercial nuclear power plants have been ordered in the United States in more than 25 years. It is only now, under the guise of an “energy crisis” and the support of the Bush-Cheney administration, that the nuclear industry has seriously explored building new plants. More than two decades after the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident, a consortium of five utility companies are working to re-energize the nuclear power industry. Construction of as many as five new plants is planned for undisclosed sites in the United States. Applications are expected at the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the near future.
SAME OLD INDUSTRY RHETorIC: The nuclear industry’s rhetoric is familiar: “inherently safe,” “too cheap to meter,” and “no environmental impact.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Even without factoring in unknown future costs for radioactive waste management, health impacts, and reactor accidents, some forms of renewable energy, conservation, and efficiency are usually cheaper and always safer and cleaner. Furthermore, new reactor construction does not help us with our current energy woes. Building a new nuclear power reactor any!QW! in the United States would take a minimum of five years. Even with a site approved tomorrow, and zero public opposition, the physical act of getting a new reactor on line could take up to a decade.
NO SOLUTION TO GLOBAL WARMING: In recent speeches, Cheney has promoted nuclear power as a solution to global warming and air pollution. Cheney’s claim echoes a growing misconception about nuclear energy and does not stand up under scrutiny. According to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, for nuclear power to make a substantial reduction in the main global warming gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), commercial reactors would not only have to supply much of the world’s electricity growth but also replace many coal-fired plants as they are retired. This would require the construction of approximately 2,000 nuclear power plants (1,000 megawatts each) around the world over the next several decades. The total cost penalty of using nuclear would amount to several trillion dollars. The truth is that CO2 is emitted at each step of the nuclear fuel chain, from uranium mining, milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication, construction of the reactor, transportation and storage of radioactivewaste, and decommissioning of old reactors. Each of these stages is also a source of radioactive pollution and long-lasting, highly toxic waste. When the entire nuclear fuel chain is taken into account, carbon emissions from nuclear power are significant – at least 4-5 times above emissions from many renewable technology. Effectively addressing climate change requires wise use of our resources. With its resource and capital-intensive nature, nuclear power is a drain on efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Energy efficiency and renewables (and developing technologies like solar, wind, fuel cells,and microturbines) are far more effective-dollar for dollar-at reducing greenhouse emissions than is nuclear power under scrutiny.
RADIOACTIVE WASTE: If nuclear power use expands, a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain could end up with five to 10 times the amount of radioactive waste that has been set by law. Yucca Mountain, the lone site chosen to contain commercial reactor and defense wastes, is under study to determine whether it can contain up to 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste. Relicensing reactors and extending their operation would result in more waste. Five operating reactors have received 20-year license extensions from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. License renewals for another five reactors are pending. Another 32 reactors are expected to apply for license renewal by 2005. If all of those extensions were granted, about 120,000 tons of waste would have to be buried over the next 40 years just from existing reactors. (This figure includes the 40,000 tons that has already been produced.)According to the Department of Energy, if more reactors are built to meet growing energy demands, the waste volume could increase to between 500,000 tons and 700,000 tons. As it is, Yucca Mountain is years behind schedule, and current cost estimates place the program above $50 Billion, if it’s ever completed.
REPROCESSING: The Bush-Cheney energy plan apparently recommends a re-evaluation of the current U.S. ban on reprocessing of nuclear waste, and advocates additional research on “transmutation” of radioactive waste. 20 years and more than $1 Billion later, the U.S. is still cleaning up the contamination caused by the first experiment in reprocessing at West Valley, New York. Reprocessing is economically hopeless, environmentally destructive, and was banned in the 1970s because of the real threat of plutonium proliferation. This would simply be corporate welfare for the nuclear power industry; it offers no useful energy solutions.