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How Did an Idealistic President Become a Champion of Nuclear Power and By Default, Weapons Proliferation?

by Helen Caldicott

In 1983, Barack Obama, a senior at Columbia University described his visions of a "nuclear free world" in an article titled "Breaking the War Mentality" in the university newsmagazine, Sundial. He described discussions of "first- versus second-strike capabilities'' that "suit the military-industrial interests'' with their "billion-dollar erector sets,'' and called for the abolition of the global arsenals of tens of thousands of deadly warheads.

As a candidate he acknowledged that he was worried for the safety of his children who lived in Illinois because it has the highest concentration of nuclear reactors in the US - and opposed further nuclear subsidies. "I am not a nuclear proponent," he said:

Few people are so clear about their philosophical approach to life in the nuclear age, but President Obama was clearly a man with the correct instincts when it came to radiation, nuclear weapons and health.

However, not only in his State of the Union address did he strongly endorse the false concept of "safe, clean" nuclear power as one of the solutions to global warming - "But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives," he said. "That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country" - but he has just announced that he will spend $7.4 billion dollars in the next five years for the "security and maintenance" of the current enormous stockpile of nuclear weapons. So what has gone wrong?

I must admit that I have been worried since he appointed Steven Chu from Los Alamos Labs as his Secretary of Energy and John Holdren as science advisor because they are both enthusiastic endorsers of nuclear power. I had hoped that this president would be a true leader who would take advice from all sides but make decisions using his own instincts and innate wisdom. Clearly this has not happened either in the case of nuclear power or in his noble vision to seek a nuclear weapons-free world.

The never-ending persistence of the nuclear warriors who inhabit the Pentagon and nuclear weapons labs have prevailed yet again to influence this idealistic young president on whom many of us had placed our hopes for planetary survival. This wonderful vision can only be fulfilled if the great United States of America takes responsibility for initiating and leading the global nuclear arms race by reversing its ceaseless quest for global nuclear security and superiority. The steps are as follows

  1. Take all 5000 US and Russian strategic weapons off hair trigger alert immediately (the use of just 1000 would induce nuclear winter and the end of most earthly life).
  2. Include all nuclear weapons (strategic and tactical) in the new treaty being negotiated with Russia and move rapidly towards bilateral abolition within 5 years.
  3. Cease the sale of nuclear reactors globally by the US, Russia, France and others for they are fundamentally factories for nuclear weapons production because they manufacture plutonium which is the fuel for nuclear weapons.
  4. By example and through the UN enthusiastically encourage nuclear disarmament of all nuclear weapons states.
  5. Rigidly police plutonium and enriched uranium stockpiles in all relevant countries through an empowered and well-funded IAEA.
  6. Ultimately the goal should be the cessation of the production of enriched uranium and plutonium by closing all nuclear power plant operations in the US , Europe, Russia, Israel, Japan, China and worldwide.

There is no way to separate the production of nuclear electricity from the production of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power is the prodigal son of the weapons industry.

What then to do about global warming, an encroaching horror which is about to radically alter our lives and to threaten the existence of many millions of species?

Despite the Obama administration's push for nuclear power it, in fact, will never be the magic bullet which alleviates global warming because:

  1. It adds significantly to global warming gases through its vast industrial infrastructure - uranium mining, remediation of the mines (rarely if ever done), milling and enrichment of uranium, construction of the massive reactor, decommissioning of same, safe transport and storage of hundreds of thousands of tons of thermally, radioactive hot waste for at least 250,000 years.
  2. Nuclear power is exorbitantly expensive if all its modalities and externalities are included in the cost.
  3. To make any significant contribution to alleviate global warming, would mean the construction of some 2,000 to 3,000 one-thousand-megawatt reactors - one per week for 50 years.
  4. The enormous investment in nuclear electricity makes global warming a certainty because it siphons necessary funding away from the real solutions of renewable energy - solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tidal and of course conservation.
  5. Nuclear power, like nuclear weapon production, has been and always will be a socialistic enterprise almost totally supported, insured and funded by taxpayer dollars.
  6. Nuclear power not only induces the spread of nuclear weapons, it is and will be a potent promoter of cancer, genetic disease and congenital abnormalities for this and thousands of future generations.
  7. A meltdown induced by terrorist attack, human or mechanical error could kill hundreds of thousands from acute radiation sickness, leukemia and cancer
  8. 40% of the European land mass and hence food is still contaminated from Chernobyl and will remain so for hundreds of years .
  9. Nuclear power makes war obsolete. The Second World War if fought today would render Europe radioactive and uninhabitable for ever.
  10. Global nuclear meltdowns would exacerbate the catastrophic effects of nuclear war ensuring no survival.

It's little wonder that after his speech, more than 3,000 advocates of safe, clean energy wrote to President Obama in less than 48 hours rejecting his call for more nuclear power. "President Obama needs to remember what Candidate Obama promised: no more taxpayer subsidies for nuclear power," said Michael Mariotte, executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). Mariotte also noted that the nuclear subsidies being promoted by Obama amount to the largest corporate bailout of them all.

For an idealistic student at Columbia who became a visionary, Nobel Prize-winning President, this is not the sort of change we expected, or indeed thought you meant.

Indeed, President Obama is forgetting the true cost of nuclear power to communities and nations, as these experts remind us in this video on nuclear energy's dangerous impact on health:

 

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