December 7th, 2008
Apparently John Bryson is on Barack Obama's short list for Secretary of Energy. And NASA climatologist James Hansen has endorsed nuclear power as a solution to global warming.
With such support, barring a meltdown, the 104 licensed nuclear power plants in this country will still be operating when Obama leaves office. And maybe a few "mini-nukes" will ALSO have been built by then, either for military, or for rich civilian use. And maybe a few new large ones, too, and a score of military propulsion units. Yucca Mountain will keep moving slowly, inexorably forward, unless there is a large earthquake nearby (there are routinely, lots of small ones).
Obama could leave America at least as vulnerable to terrorism, to human error, to unwatched embrittlement, and to unchecked creeping cracks as it is today.
Tritium and a thousand other radioactive isotopes could be pouring into our air, seas, and soil from every reactor that operates today. No change.
All Obama has to do, is do nothing.
And that's not good enough. The world has to undo this mistake; it can't just assume nuclear plants will go away by themselves, run out of raw materials or be shut down for cost reasons. NO. It won't work that way. They'll keep them going with toilet paper and spit and "recycled" military weapons -- thorium, anything -- until something awful happens.
Nuclear reactors employ a lot of union workers. Each of these workers -- every one of them, or they'd quit -- thinks radiation isn't so dangerous. Government and industry wouldn't lie to them to make a buck off their misery, they think. They don't know any better. They believe what they want to believe, to preserve the cocoon of self-confidence, and there's always someone "qualified" (a Health Physics professional, usually) to tell them it's safe -- to tell them it might even be good for them. To tell them everything is dangerous. Crossing the street is dangerous.
So Obama will have no trouble keeping the nuclear power plants open, if that's what he really wants. And there ARE more operating civilian nuclear power plants in his home state than in any other state in the nation.
Nevertheless, by his near-utter silence on the issue during the campaign, Obama practically single-handedly HAS killed the "Nuclear Renaissance," which is withering on the vine these days (but by no means is it dead). Was this just good politics, or what? We'll see.
It's certainly good to watch one multi-billion dollar nuclear project after another around the world falter, as has been happening, but it's not nearly enough, and perhaps is more due to the financial -- pardon the term -- meltdown than to anything else. We need to close the operating nukes -- all of them. Obama can take office with them already closed. Nuclear power produces an unreliable 1/5th of our (U.S.) electricity, about 7% of our total energy needs -- we can close them all and quickly replace them with wind power, peaking power -- ANYTHING.
But of course, it won't happen.
Unless there's a meltdown.
And that's not all that unlikely, when you think about it. With 104 nuclear power plants, most of them many decades old, with the entire NRC focused on trying to issue as many preliminary site licenses as possible before Bush leaves office, with "self-regulation" rampant throughout the nuclear industry, with constant demand for maximum power, with cost pressures forcing fix-on-fail for everything not called a "critical" part according to some arcane NRC regulation, with deadly dry casks popping up all over the country and then being forgotten about while they multiply -- and multiply their dangers -- with spent fuel pools full, even as some of the fuel is being offloaded into the even-more-deadly dry casks, a meltdown -- or something worse -- is not unlikely. It's not too late to impeach George Bush for not shutting the nukes down, for Dick Cheney's secret pro-nuke energy plan, for torture, for the million dead from the War on Truth, or for complacency in the face of imminent threats to the national security.
Finding the right person for Secretary of Energy is certainly one of the most important tasks Obama faces right now. Bryson doesn't fit the bill, but be warned: In a letter to this author, Harvey Wasserman stated, "the rest of the list I've been seeing isn't all that great."
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