Despite Fukushima Disaster, Nuclear Industry Says, "Full Steam Ahead"

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Common Dreams

Despite Fukushima Disaster, Nuclear Industry Says, "Full Steam Ahead"

Amy Goodman: "President Obama is fulfilling his promise to push nuclear power."

by
Common Dreams staff

Though global resistance to nuclear power has been growing, the nuclear industry and its supporters are dismissing fears and moving ahead with plans for nuclear plants worldwide.

Der Spiegel reports:

Nuclear Lobby Pushes Ahead with New Reactors

One year after the reactor accident in Fukushima, resistance to nuclear energy is growing around the world. But the atomic industry continues to push for the construction of new reactors, primarily in emerging economies. The German government even wants to support that expansion -- despite the fact it has abandoned nuclear power back home.

Der Spiegel reports than nuclear power-supporters were quick to dismiss the Fukushima disaster as a call to end nuclear power:

For example, John Ritch, the director-general of the World Nuclear Association, asserted that the disaster hadn't cost anyone their life. "Nuclear power will be even safer after Fukushima," Ritch told the BBC in November, "and will continue to mature as the world's premier non-carbon technology."

Ritch's views are shared by Roland Schenkel, a German physicist who used to be the director-general of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. Fukushima, he says, did not prove that nuclear energy is risky elsewhere in the world. "Clearly, these plants were not appropriately protected against well-known specific risks, such as earthquakes and tsunamis."

Germany, which has been phasing out nuclear plants, still has nuclear plans, though it has shifted the burden of an accident on Brazil, Der Spiegel notes:

...Germany, the country so openly set on phasing out its own nuclear energy, intends to provide government support to the construction of a new nuclear power plant in far-away Brazil. Sitting on Economics Minister Philipp Rösler's desk is an application for a so-called Hermes export credit guarantee from the German government valued at €1.3 billion. In the Brazilian municipality of Angra dos Reis, located in the southern part of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the French nuclear giant Areva wants to build a nuclear power plant that German engineers had planned to build in the 1980s.

A report compiled by a Brazilian nuclear expert on behalf of the German environmental organization Urgewald finds that the proposed Angra location is dangerous. Wedged between the sea and steep slopes, the reactor would be practically defenseless against a tsunami or one of the region's frequent earthquakes. Worse yet, there is only a single coastal road on which the population could be evacuated. "We have the potential for a catastrophe that could even surpass Fukushima," the report says.

Likewise, the report notes that the Angra location doesn't meet the criteria that Eletronuclear, the Brazilian regulatory agency, "currently uses to identify suitable locations for future nuclear power plants." This month, Germany's Economics Ministry plans to decide whether it will make the construction of Angra 3 possible by extending a loan guarantee.

In the wake of the Fukushima accident, the German government raised the prospect of also no longer granting Hermes loan guarantees for the export of nuclear technology should the country decide to phase out its own nuclear energy facilities. Since then, however, the issue has not been discussed. Klaus-Peter Willsch, a prominent member of Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats and a member of the parliament's Budget Committee, even disputes the claim that safety considerations played a role in the government's decision to phase out nuclear energy. "We only did it on account of people's sensitivities," he says.

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Russia also continues its nuclear push. Der Spiegel reports that Rosatom is a state-owned Russian company responsible for a third of the nuclear power plants currently under construction globally, and:

The German and Russian opinions about the future of nuclear energy couldn't be more different. While Germany has decided to abandon atomic energy, Russia is unflagging in its commitment to the power of nuclear fission.

Indeed, during a celebration marking the opening of a new reactor, Russian leader Vladimir Putin called on those in his country's atomic industry to build nuclear power plants "until your noses bleed." Likewise, he has plenty of derisive things to say about Germany's nuclear anxieties. "I don't know where they intend to get their heat from," he says. "They don't want nuclear energy; they don't want natural gas. Do they want to go back to heating with wood?"

In the U.S. the Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted in February to extend licenses to build two nuclear reactors at the Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia, the first such licenses granted in over thirty years. Energy Secretary Steven Chu praised this decision:

"The Vogtle project will help America to recapture the lead in nuclear technology," he said.

And as Amy Goodman writes today, the nuclear industry has a close relationship to the Obama administration:

While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama promised that nuclear power would remain part of the US's "energy mix". His chief adviser, David Axelrod, had consulted in the past for Illinois energy company ComEd, a subsidiary of Exelon, a major nuclear-energy producer. Obama's former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel played a key role in the formation of Exelon. In the past four years, Exelon employees have contributed more than $244,000 to the Obama campaign – and that is not counting any soft-money contributions to PACs, or direct, corporate contributions to the new Super Pacs. Lamented by many for breaking key campaign promises (like closing Guantánamo, or accepting Super Pac money), President Obama is fulfilling his promise to push nuclear power.

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Though German physicist Schenkel said that the problem in Fukushima was just that the "plants were not appropriately protected against well-known specific risks, such as earthquakes and tsunamis," the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted earlier this week that the nuclear power plants in the U.S. are at risk for getting hit with a natural disaster and have had no safety upgrade since the Fukushima disaster.

“There are clear lessons learned from the Fukushima disaster, yet our government allows the risks to remain,” said NRDC Scientist Jordan Weaver, PhD. “It doesn’t have to take an earthquake and a tsunami to trigger a severe nuclear meltdown. In addition to human error and hostile acts, more common occurrences like hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding – all of which took place around the country last year – could cause the same type of power failure in U.S. plants.”

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