Dems need to consider nuclear energy

Will Marshall


KAI RYSSDAL: Hillary Clinton is going to be the headliner tonight at the Democratic National Convention. She and the other speakers taking the podium can be expected to hammer the Republicans on the economy. While the convention's on we've asked Democratic policy junkies to tell us about an issue they think the party's neglecting. Today, commentator Will Marshall says Democrats are short one plank in their energy platform.

Will Marshall: Party platforms aren't exactly beach reading. But they do tee-up the critical choices voters will face in this fall's presidential election.

The Democrats, for instance, devote big chunks of their platform to energy security and climate change. They rightly blast the Bush-Cheney policies that have turned a blind eye to science and made our country more dependent than ever on fossil fuels. And they spell out a smart, clean energy alternative.

But there's a missing element in the party's platform, and that's any discussion of the future of nuclear energy. In fact, nuclear power doesn't rate a single mention in 57 pages.

That doesn't make a lot of sense, especially in a document that calls man-made climate change the greatest threat to our planet. If that's true -- and most scientists believe it is -- shouldn't we be expanding nuclear energy, instead of ignoring it?

Nuclear energy has a huge advantage over coal. It's climate friendly. It doesn't pump any carbon dioxide into the earth's atmosphere. And it generates loads of power -- almost 20 percent of America's electricity needs.

Nuclear energy is no panacea. It's expensive and generates a lot of waste we haven't figured out how to get rid of yet. And Democrats are absolutely right that our country needs to invest big-time in clean and renewable fuels. But in the near term, there just isn't going to be enough solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power to keep the lights on in our offices and factories and heat our homes in the winter.

If we don't expand nuclear energy, we'll have to turn to coal and gas to meet America's growing appetite for electricity. That's an inconvenient truth for environmentalists whose hostility to nuclear power hasn't changed since the Three Mile Island incident back in 1979.

Other countries aren't so superstitious. China has plans to build dozens of new nuclear plants. And France already gets 80 percent of its electricity from atomic energy.

It's time for U.S. progressives and Democrats to break the taboo on nuclear energy. What better way to show we're serious about protecting our planet?

RYSSDAL: Will Marshall is president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute. That's a think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council.

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I find it interesting that so many people who are pro-nuclear power point to France and how much of their energy comes from nuclear power plants. That is fine. Almost no one points to Germany which has scheduled to take ALL of its reactors off-line by 2021. They will be going green, but not radioactive.

Will -- some simple math:
Pickens wants a fast energy transition (anyone awake does too) -- he is putting billions into wind -- Amory Lovins says you get 2 -- 4 times more GHG reduction from a dollar into new wind than into new nukes...

Energy efficiency -- or smart use of power? Not only cost effective -- profitable! A dollar in EE = 7 -- 10 times more GHG reduction than a dollar into new nukes... don't forget the waste, security issues, and oh yeah, like another commenter said -- who is it that gets these in THEIR back yards? If you go look, it is primarily rural, low -income, and minority Southern communities...

Smart use of renewable energy = PROGRESSIVE

Please pass it on.
Mary Olson

To: Will Marshall and Kai Risdal

I've been an energy/environmental activist since the first Earth Day in 1970 and served for 30 years as a Principal Research Scientist at the University of Central Florida's Florida Solar Energy Center.

I do not support construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power. Huge investments in new nuclear power simply diverts funds needed more for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." --Albert Einstein

Dr. Ross McCluney
Chattanooga, TN

(Your state list above does not include D.C. so I put the state a mile from my house.)

To Mr. Will Marshall:

You overlooked the main reason we should not build any more nuclear plants -- nuclear waste. And don't say "the French know the answer: reprocessing." That's not accurate.

Study the subject and you will see. The French program only gets rid of about l/3 of the plutonium. Meanwhile it makes that plutonium accessible to terrorists and countries that want a nuclear weapon. As you must know, stealing a flask of plutonium is easier than stealing huge fuel rods from which you'd get a lethal dose in half an hour. Plus you'd need a giant truck to steal them, as well as your own re-processing plant to take out the plutonium.

Okay, let's put the BILLIONs, TRILLIONS probably, that it takes to develop and build enough sodium reactors necessary to reprocess -- and reprocess, and reprocess -- the irradiated rods THAT ALREADY EXIST and get the plutonium down to zero. (Assuming we get rid of the world's nuclear weapons at the same time-- enough of a project for you in itself.)

Meantime, let's don't irradiate a single fuel rod more any where on the planet.

I hope you will rethink advocating new nuclear plants and ask NPR if you may broadcast a followup retraction of your unfortunate pronuclear remarks.

Nuclear energy is a dead horse. Yes, we can (and should) glean what we can from existing facilities, but further development is commercially non-viable. Wall street knows better than to back such projects, and the Government should stay out of it. If a solution cannot make it on the free market, why should we tax payers be expected to fund it? Get real. Forget Nukes.

- a copy of a letter I sent to Mr. Marshall today -

August 27, 2008

Dear Mr. Marshall,
I wish to take issue with your recent editorial commentary on NPR regarding nuclear power.
As someone who spent 3 1/2 years living downriver from Chernobyl in Kyiv, a city of roughly 4 million people only 60 miles away from the plant, I strongly wish to challenge your views on this terrible energy 'solution'.
No study has ever been done on the environmental costs of the cleanup that Chernobyl required in terms of carbon emissions, but I would argue it was and is immense. Millions relocated, at least 4 thousand deaths from cancer, and an ongoing reconstruction and mitigation effort. Do you really think that this is what we need in the future? Is this something you want in your back yard? Where are you going to build these plants? On Indian reservations? On the 'poor' side of town? One more thing that I think you said that was erroneous related to carbon emissions and global warming, and I believe you were quite disingenuous to suggest it, was that nuclear power does not create carbon emissions. How does it come out of the ground? How is it processed? How is it transported to and from the plants after it is refined and used? One more reason that nuclear power is bad - we are wasting valuable time and energy debating its usefulness and 'cleanliness.' I suggest you reverse your position and get on board with the push for REAL clean technology, and the most important thing that anyone can do - cut consumption!
Dan Nordstrom, MSSW

Everyone should be for nuclear energy, solar energy, wind energy and every means by which we can balance our consumption of energy to minimize our dependence on fossil fuel and to control greenhouse gases. Nuclear energy usage that balances the waste against the GHG benefits almost certainly needs to be explored...and precise pronunciation shows a desire to communicate effectively and be understood. What a horrible distraction!

It is sad that there is little news coverage on the fact that solar and wind are being allowed to disappear while huge subsidies are being given to no-such-thing-as-clean coal and hazardous nukes!

For a better way, see www.ieer.org, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free, A Roadmap for US Energy Policy. This is a practical guide with all the details. Its author was recruited as a young engineer by the Carter Administration. It details such currently available technologies like solar phontovoltaic panels covering the existing parking lot of a US Naval Base. While providing 750 kW to the Base since 2002, employees can park underneath out of the weather. I'd love that at my local shopping mall. And, when folks get plug-in hybrids, they can power up while they work/shop. !Not a tree to be chopped down!

There are many other good reasons to stick to truly renewables - nukes waste millions of water per day, no one knows what to do with the waste and France was forced to cut 80% of its power last year because of overly warm water. Where's the sense of that

Progressive to me means impeach, no coal, no nukes, no lobbyists, no more of the same old, same old. Thank you.

Soon we will have a president who can speak english, I propose Mr. Marshal was trying to get his point in, while everyone argued about the pronunciation of a word, instead of the issues surrounding his old failed proposal.

There is no safe way to dispose of spent fission materials except for solar disposal. Unfortunately the energy per ton to get it there is prohibitive. Unless you expect to live for more then a couple times the half life of the material you are planning to store and keep safe from contaminating the environment, you can not guarantee that safety. You might say well a nation lives longer then a person does, and you might be right. But if you live in Georgia right now you might think otherwise.

My point is this joker is not a Democrat. He might work for a think tank with democrat in the name of it, but he's trying to bolster someones personal interest, period. So don't be fooled there is not a nuclear plank in the Democratic platform for a good reason. Mr. Marshall should keep his day job until his night job pays.

No other energy source has led to world wide nuclear weapons proliferation and the stockpiling of Plutonium and other weapons grade materials; or the contamination of land, air and water either from catastrophic accidents, (Chernobyl) major releases (Three Mile Island) or the daily releases of radioactive emissions and leaks from operating facilities - and yes, they do have emissions, and they leak. No other energy source is threatening to be so expensive (now up to .15/kwh as opposed to wind at .9/kwh or solar at .12/kwh), or leave behind hundreds of thousands of tons of deadly radioactive waste for which there is no good disposal solution. Even John McCain, a vocal pro-nuclear candidate, has said he does not want nuclear waste to be dumped in Arizona. And the persistent questions about cancer rates around nuclear facilities go unanswered, despite nationwide attempts by brave medical groups such as Physicians for Social Responsibility to publicize concerns. Two MUSC researchers recently published a paper investigating increased childhood cancers near nuclear sites, and there seems to be a clear link. No public discussion of new nuclear power plants will go unnoticed or unattended by the citizens and rate payers, especially now that energy rates are rising dramatically, and the rate payers are being forced to pay up front for plants that may never come on line, or from which they may never receive any benefit. And if you think utility rates are high now, wait until this new generation of nuclear plants, estimated at anywhere from $8-10 billion each, comes on line. U.S. taxpayers are being told to shell out billions in direct subsidies and also co-sign on potentially unlimited Federal loan guarantees to get the industry up and running because private investors won't take the risk . This lets utilities, their CEO's and their stockholders off the hook, and leaves taxpayers and rate payers holding all the liability. Private investors are nervous about investing in nuclear power, because it will only take one major accident to turn a $10 billion investment into a trillion dollar industry-wide disaster. The French can afford to take this gamble because the whole industry is socialized and paid for by the French taxpayers They too, are having difficulty locating a permanent repository for their waste, and don't have to be competitive or make economic sense in their energy production because of the socialized nature of their economy. True free market capitalism and competition will move America in the right direction for our energy future, not the propping up of a technology that was artificially developed in a sad attempt to rationalize the creation of the most deadly weapon humankind has ever known. Pro nuclear legislators like Sen. Graham are the recipients of large contributions from the nuclear industry. Their bias is easy to understand; less understandable is their unwillingness to look critically at an industry that reeks of coverups, bad economics, lax oversight and massive Federal subsidies.The pro nuclear crowd doesn't want dialogue because they know there are too many unanswered and unanswerable questions. In a one sided conversation its easy to convince every one that your views are right. With so many roadmaps and models out there about how to attain our energy independence without nuclear, it makes no sense to get more addicted to this radioactive technology. It's time to usher in a new age of truly green, renewable and unlimited energy sources. Let's have a national discussion about this issue, put all the cards on the table, and see whether putting all, or any, of our energy eggs in this risky basket makes any sense.


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