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Hidden Nuclear Handout Seen in Climate Bill


NEW YORK - Major environmental groups are up in arms against attempts in the U.S. Senate to pass a bill that they believe includes a thinly-veiled attempt to promote the interests of the nuclear industry under the guise of climate protection.0527 02 1

"This is a covert attempt to bolster a failing nuclear power industry in the name of addressing climate change," said Brent Blackwelder, president of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group opposed to the use of nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuel-based energy sources.

The climate change bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. John Warner (R-VA), is likely to be discussed by the Senate in the next few weeks.

In a statement, Blackwelder and leaders of five other environmental organizations and public interest groups described the Lieberman-Warner bill as "the biggest federal handout in the history of the nuclear industry over the past 50 years."

They fear that, if approved, the bill would not only cost billions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers in subsidies for the nuclear industry, but would also slow down efforts to fight climate change and its adverse impacts on the national economy and the environment.

"The bill contains nearly half a trillion dollars that can be accessed by the nuclear energy industry under a vaguely entitled category for 'zero and low carbon energy technologies,'" according to FoE.

Because funding for renewable energy like solar and wind is identified separately in the bill, critics say it the so-called "zero and low carbon energy technologies" category is clearly meant for the construction of nuclear plants.

"It's significant that the authors of the bill tried to conceal the nuclear funding under ambiguous language," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a Washington, DC-based advocacy group. "Why are they hiding? Because the environmental movement in this country is serious about addressing climate change and will not tolerate a reversion to dangerous, dirty, and expensive nuclear energy."

Environmental groups have repeatedly warned against reversion to nuclear energy use because nuclear reactors are considered dangerous and extremely expensive, take many years to build, require massive amounts of government funding, and produce toxic waste that cannot be safely disposed of for hundreds of years.

The George W. Bush administration has continued to assert, however, that increased use of nuclear energy is safe and lessens reliance on fossil fuels.

In their joint statement, environmental groups reiterated their criticism of such views and held that other than enriching the nuclear industry, the Lieberman-Warner bill does not adequately address the rising levels of carbon emissions and the dangers posed by climate changes.

"After 50 years of unresolved safety and waste disposal issues, it perplexes many Americans why Congress would support massive subsidies for the nuclear industry," said John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

To Passacantando, the nuclear industry is "a dirty and dangerous distraction" from real global warming solutions. "When both Wall Street and Warren Buffet think nuclear is a risky investment," he said, "Congress should not waste American tax dollars to further subsidize this 1950s technology."

In criticizing the Lieberman-Warner bill, Sandra Schubert, an activist with the Environmental Working Group, argued there was little support for nuclear energy outside of its own industry because the technology has never been "financially or environmentally viable."

In the coming days and weeks, activists plans to turn the heat up on senators who are supporting or undecided on the provisions of the bill that say would support the nuclear industry.

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