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Are We on the Brink of Burying Nuke Power Forever?
This may be the moment history has turned definitively against atomic energy.
To be sure: we are still required to fight hard to bury reactor loan guarantees in the United States. There are parallel struggles in China, Indian, England, France and South Korea.
The great fear is that until every single reactor on this planet is shut, none of us is really safe from another radioactive horror show.
Thus the moment is clearly marked at Fukushima by three reactors and a radioactive fuel pool still untamed after three months, with the horrific potential to do far more apocalyptic damage than we've seen even to date.
That image includes Japanese school children being issued Geiger counters to carry with them 24/7.
And Fukushima's radiation raining down on the United States, with links to reports of a heightened infant death rate in Seattle.
And by countless other on-going disasters and near-misses at reactors everywhere on the planet. Included is Fort Calhoun, in Nebraska, which got zero corporate media coverage as it was nearly flooded and did lose power to its radioactive fuel pool.
From well-reasoned fear, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Israel and other critical players have announced they will build no more reactors. Some will start shutting the ones they have.
Japan and Germany are the third and fourth largest economies on Earth. Japan has long been at the core of the reactor industry. Germany's economy is the largest in Europe. Some European nations are rumbling about an alliance to shut the reactors among their nuclear neighbors.
All this could be happening merely in reaction to yet another Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. The corporate media has attempted to induce a coma over Fukushima by simply refusing the cover the on-going disaster.
But the worsening realities are as utterly relentless as they are terrifying. In the age of the internet, there is simply no way to totally suppress the horror of what is happening to our Earth, especially at its lethal, festering wound at Fukushima.
But what truly sets this moment apart is not just the radioactive nightmare. There have been others. There will certainly be more.
What's unique about now is the Solartopian flip side. It is the irrepressible fact that we have finally reached the green-powered tipping point.
For the first time in history, the financial, industrial and trade journals are filled with pithy, number-laden reports declaring the moment has come---and this can not be overemphasized---that solar power is definitively cheaper than nuclear.
It is an epic moment that future economic and technological historians will note as a true turning point.
In real terms, Solartopian technology----wind, solar, geothermal, ocean thermal, bio-fuels, wave, current, tidal, efficiency, conservation---has always been cheaper than nukes.
The “Peaceful Atom” has always been a creature of subsidies, a happy face painted on the Bomb. Its true health, safety and environmental costs can never be reliably calculated.
What, after all, will be the true price tag on Fukushima? How do we begin to calculate the costs in human agony and ecological destruction?
Already Japan is being torn apart by who will pay: the utility (it doesn't have enough assets), the government (it could go bankrupt) or the victims (who else?). The only thing certain is this once-powerful industrial nation will never recover.
It's no accident the reactor industry cannot get private capital for new reactor construction, or private liability insurance of real consequence, and cannot solve its waste problems without the federal government taking responsibility---which, in truth, even it cannot do.
The true installment cost of the US reactor fleet can't even be calculated, as much of the liability was dishonestly wiped off the books in the deregulation scam of 1999-2002.
What we're left with worldwide is 440 uninsured ticking time bombs, potential Chernobyls and Fukushimas, every one of them. There are 104 in the US. The only real question is when the next one will go off and how long it will take to actually hear about it.
Atomic energy also feeds global warming. Who will account for the enormous heat still rising from Fukushima? How much did Chernobyl spew? Carbon emissions come with the mining, milling, enrichment and ultimate disposal of radioactive fuel, not to mention the building and dismantling of the reactors themselves.
For yet another summer, nukes in France, Alabama and elsewhere must close because the infernal machines that “fight global warming” must shut shy of heating the rivers they use for cooling to 90 degrees Farenheit.
What's peaked now, as Fukushima melts and burns and dumps its radioactive poisons into the air and the oceans and the people of this planet, is one financial reality: even with all its subsidies, nuclear power can no longer stand in the market place.
The first option, of course, has become natural gas, whose price has plummeted. But the gas boom is based in large part on fracking, an unsustainable environmental disaster. Its momentum is huge, but so is its threat to the waters we need to survive.
In the long term, the future is with renewables. They are often subsidized as well. But the scale is not comparable, and does not fully compensate for the hidden realities of atomic power's uninsurability and its inability to solve its basic waste, health and eco-impacts.
Were the nuclear industry forced to fully insure itself, or were it charged the true cost of its invested capital, or what it does to the planet and the humans who live on it, not a single reactor owner could afford to keep a reactor running for a single day.
Small wonder Wall Street has long been more anti-nuclear than Main Street.
The numbers are now easy to find. WorldWatch has just issued the definitive End of Nuclear by Mycle Schneider, laden with charts, graphs, tables and all the financial data anyone needs to confirm the case. The Rocky Mountain Institute has long had similar material on file and at the tip of Amory Lovins's tongue.
In short, the bottom line has now become the bottom line. Reactor costs have doubled and tripled in the past few years even before Fukushima. Green energy costs continue to plummet.
The last barrier is that to understand how a Solartopian economy works, you have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Base-load power is readily available from geo-thermal, bio-fuels and a broad mix. One does need to balance the various intermittent sources---wind, solar, tidal---to keep the glass full.
But Fukushima has shown that nukes are also intermittent in the worst imaginable way.
Any sane for-profit player with the bucks enough to build a new reactor will now put them into renewables. Witness Google, now investing $280 million in a fund for installing solar panels on home rooftops, and millions more for undersea links to offshore wind farms.
The dream of a Solartopian future has become the capitalist present. Germany and Japan would not be committing to a green-powered future if its large corporations---Siemans, Enercon, Mitsubishi, Sharp---whose CEOs have run the numbers and decided nukes are a loser. And that the real profit center for the long-term energy biz is in green power.
What remains for us is to get the government out of the game. The $36 billion in loan guarantees Obama wants in the 2012 budget must come out. We need to call the White House and Congress constantly until this happens.
Then we need to find a way to get the Chinese, Indians, Koreans, Brits and French to join Germany, Japan and the rest of us in a post-nuclear world.
How soon this gets done is up to us. Our fervent hope---and greatest incentive---is knowing this must be done before the next Fukushima strikes.