Activists Criticize Obama's Nuclear Power Loan Guarantees

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The Atlanta Progressive News (Georgia)

Activists Criticize Obama's Nuclear Power Loan Guarantees

by
Gloria Tatum

ATLANTA -- President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he has promised funding in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget for new nuclear power reactors in the US, with some 54.5 billion dollars in federal loan guarantees, has ignited a firestorm of local and national resistance.

Obama also announced that Atlanta-based Southern Company has been conditionally approved for 8.3 billion dollars in loan guarantees for two new nuclear reactors to be built at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Georgia. The Obama Administration is considering at least a half-dozen additional loan applications for nuclear projects. The Vogtle expansion would be the first new nuclear plants in the US in 30 years.

"What you may not know about the Vogtle deal is that we taxpayers are not just providing loan guarantees, we're providing the actual loans, through the Federal Financing Bank," the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) said in a press release. "And you also may not know the Southern Company has not yet accepted the conditions of the loan--and for various reasons, it may not. In other words, it's not a done deal."

"I am very disappointed the Obama Administration plans to squander billions of our tax dollars and years of delay to pursue risky and radioactive nuclear reactors. This is a direct theft from the future promise of renewable [energy]," Glenn Carroll, Coordinator of Nuclear Watch South, told Atlanta Progressive News.

"I believe the Administration is wrong to promote such a dangerous and antiquated 1970s technology. It requires massive amounts of taxpayer money over a course of decades to complete a reactor. Then what you've got is a radioactive boiler which sucks up as much water as Atlanta, Savannah and Augusta use every single day and then returns it as water vapor, a greenhouse gas. The process produces radioactive waste, which causes cancer and birth defects," Glenn explained.

"Obama needs to find the political guts to lead us into a clean, green renewal energy future. The I-Pod/FaceBook generation deserves some modern technology: a smart new grid tying together community-sized wind and solar plants to give us relief from the poisonous heavy industrial energy from 19th century thinking," Glenn said.

"Renewables have proved their readiness, close to 10,000 megawatts of new wind energy joined the grid in 2009! In the total energy picture, which includes transportation, renewables contributed more to the US energy mix last year than nuclear. If we can develop the political will, we can be off coal, nuclear, and oil by 2040," Glenn said.

As previously reported by APN, however, Obama has long included nuclear power as part of his energy platform. He campaigned for President on "safe nuclear power."

Obama's recent decision to close Yucca Mountain in rural Nevada, the country's proposed location to store nuclear waste, means the radioactive waste will continue to be stored on site at each nuclear power plant. This makes nuclear power plants a potential target for terrorists and makes the nation less safe.

In response to the closing of Yucca Mountain, Aiken County, South Carolina, brought a suit in the US Federal District Court in Columbia, South Carolina, against the US Department of Energy and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, seeking an injunction against the Secretary of Energy and NRC from withdrawing the Yucca Mountain License Application.

Aiken County claims the action to withdraw the license is in direct violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and is an arbitrary and capricious action under the Administrative Procedures Act, according to a press release from Alliance for Nuclear Accountability.

The reason no new nuclear plants have been built in the past 30 years is because Wall Street and the financial community have refused to finance nuclear power plants which they consider financially too risky. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates the average risk of default for these loans, made out of the US Treasury, is 50 percent.

Obama's federal guaranteed loan program will socialize the economic risks of nuclear power and pass them onto ratepayers and taxpayers, who historically have been stuck with bailing out costly nuclear reactor projects with a history of cost overruns and loan defaults. The privatized profits will guarantee Southern Company, Florida Power & light, Duke Energy, and other energy corporations huge profits.

The last time taxpayers and ratepayers bailed out the nuclear power industry it was called in Forbes magazine 1985 cover story, "the largest managerial disaster in business history."

Bobbie Paul, Executive Director of Georgia Women's Action for a New Direction (WAND) told APN that Georgia will be the "sacrificial lamb" because Southern Company is one of the most powerful corporations in the world with lots of lobbyists and influence in Washington, DC.

Burke County already has two reactors and the economy is dependent on Plant Vogtle even though Burke is still one of the poorest counties in Georgia.

WAND has also raised concerns about the Savannah River Site (SRS), which among other things, stores Vogtle's waste. "I am concerned about the 36 million gallons of high level radioactive waste sitting at SRS in leaking tanks. Everyone agrees this is a terrorist threat: you fly a plane into those tanks and you will take out that part of the country. We have more nuclear radioactive waste at the SRS than any other military-industrial site in the country."

"Radiation is a known carcinogenic that causes cancer," Paul said. "We have a huge problem with waste storage and in fifty-plus years since we developed nuclear weapons and power, we have never had an answer to the question of how to safely store the radioactive waste. Plutonium, one of the by-products, has a half life of 24,000 years. I am sick and tired of developing things and not taking responsibility for the outcome. Not thinking of the back end of the cycle is totally irresponsible," Paul said.

"Southern Company is pursuing the Westinghouse AP 100 reactor design which is flawed and has been forced to redesign the building which covers the reactor containment. The NRC has stopped its review of the design and there is now no schedule for licensing approval, meaning that delays are building up and there is no certainty that the design will be certified or licensed," Tom Clements, Southeastern Nuclear Campaign Coordinator with Friends of the Earth, said.

"That President Obama declared this reactor design safe, when approving a taxpayer loan guarantee bailout for the Vogtle project, constitutes meddling in the NRC review process and he must immediately halt his attempts to short circuit the regulatory process," Clements said.

As previously reported by APN, a study--authored by epidemiologist Joseph Mangano MPH MBA, Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and toxicologist Janette Sherman MD of the Environmental Institute at Western Michigan--shows a correlation between nuclear power plants and cancer in surrounding areas.

They analyzed leukemia deaths in children age 0-19 in the 67 counties near 51 nuclear power plants starting 1957-1981. About 25 million people live in these 67 counties, and the 51 plants represent nearly half of the US total.

Using mortality statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mangano and Sherman found that in 1985-2004, the change in local child leukemia mortality (compared to the same rate for the total US) after to the earliest years of reactor operations were: an increase of 13.9 percent near nuclear plants started 1957-1970 (oldest plants); an increase of 9.4 percent near nuclear plants started 1971-1981; and a decrease of 5.5 percent near nuclear plants started 1957-1981 and later shut down.

Claude Howard was born in Burke County and lives about 10 miles from Plant Vogtle. He is concerned about the health of the people living in the area.

"My brother died of cancer and cancer is much more prevalent now than before the nuclear power plants were built. We used to eat the fish in the river but today they have sores on them and we are afraid to eat them. The oak trees are also dying faster than they used to," Howard said.

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