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Everybody Look What's Going Down

by Katrina Vanden Heuvel

There's somethin' happening here, What it is ain't exactly clear. There's a man with a gun over there, tellin' me I gotta beware. I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down.

--For What It's Worth, Stephen Stills, 1966

It was nearly 30 years ago, in 1979, when Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall founded Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) to fight against the use of nuclear power. They organized five exhilarating nights of No Nukes concerts at Madison Square Garden and led a rally of 200,000 people in New York's downtown Battery Park. Their efforts helped to channel public outrage in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident and strengthen opposition to Big Nuclear Energy.

Now, as Congress considers $50 billion in new loan guarantees to the nuclear industry over the next two years (it has already received nearly $10 billion from the Bush-Cheney Energy Debacle of 2005), as well as extended federal liability insurance, Raitt, Browne, and Nash have reunited to educate the public and a new generation about "what's going down" and advocate for a saner path. Along with Ben Harper and Keb Mo, the original No Nukes crowd cut a new music video based on Stephen Stills' For What It's Worth that links to a petition against the massive nuclear industry handout.

On Monday night, the musicians joined their MUSE co-founder -- now Congressman John Hall-- and performed for lawmakers who will be debating this critical Energy Bill that is intended to set us on a greener course. Tuesday, they were back on Capitol Hill lobbying against a "virtual blank check from taxpayers" to build new nuclear plants. While Big Nuclear is touting a self-proclaimed "nuclear renaissance" and promoting the myth that nuclear energy will solve our climate change crisis, MUSE co-founder and Freepress.org/NukeFree.org editor, Harvey Wasserman, explains the top three reasons to oppose the "Nuclear Bailout" in this video. (A more extensive post by Wasserman on reasons for opposition is here).

In a nutshell, after fifty years since the first reactor was built in 1957, nuclear plants can't pay for themselves. Wall Street doesn't want anything to do with them --exorbitant cost overruns and construction problems continue to plague them -- so the industry is looking to Congress to foot the bill. Secondly, the risk of a terrorist attack -- or human error -- at these facilities is so great that the industry can't even get private insurance so, again, it looks to government to limit liability in case of a major accident. Finally, there is no safe way of dealing with high-level nuclear waste. Despite $11 billion public dollars spent on Yucca Mountain, there are still too many unanswered questions about how to safely contain waste that must be isolated for at least tens of thousands of years, if not longer-- according to Jon Block, nuclear energy and climate change project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Block concludes in a recent op-ed that "any glowing description of nuclear power's benefits ignores serious issues of nuclear plant safety, security against sabotage and terrorist attack and waste disposal."

As to the notion that new nuclear plants are the answer to the climate crisis, Wasserman notes that greenhouse gasses are created in the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium fuel; and that "huge plumes of heat" are emitted directly into the air and water by the reactors.

But, most importantly, one must completely ignore the devastating risks that these monstrosities pose to the environment, as the Natural Resource Defense Council writes, "The accidental release of radioactivity, whether from a reactor accident, terrorist attack, or slow leakage of radioactive waste into the local environment, poses the risk of catastrophic harm to communities and to vital natural resources, such as underground aquifers used for irrigation and drinking water."

Block also sees far better options than the nuclear one: "The most sensible strategy to reduce global warming is to quickly deploy the cleanest, fastest, lowest risk solutions first. Conservation and increased efficiency by energy producers and consumers are the cheapest and quickest measures by far. Likewise, a wide range of renewable energy resources, including wind, solar, geothermal and tidal power, have enormous potential and are inherently safe-and they would encourage economic development."

Thirty years after MUSE raised public-consciousness about the atomic madness of the 70's, it's good to see them back on the job fighting an absurd and illogical nuclear bailout in 2007. Like the song still says, "Stop-- everybody look what's going down." Don't accept the latest giveaway to corporate lobbyists, sign the petition today.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.

© 2007 The Nation

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