A clause in the landmark energy bill now before Congress could open the door for massive loan guarantees meant to entice investors to build nuclear power plants.
This is an extremely important piece of legislation, and we strongly support its green features, including higher mileage standards for motor vehicles and a renewable electricity standard.
But as longtime anti-nuclear activists, we believe guaranteeing loans to build new reactors is exactly wrong for a nation that needs to solve the global warming crisis while building a sustainable economy.
That these guarantees are being proposed at all is painful testimony to the 50-year failure of the "peaceful atom."
When the first commercial reactor opened at Shippingport, Pa., in 1957, Lewis Strauss, the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, promised a technology that would produce electricity "too cheap to meter."
But a very expensive half-century of time lags and cost overruns has made a mockery of that promise.
Nor does it seem to be getting better: The first "new generation" reactor, being built in Finland, is 18 months behind schedule and $900 million over budget.
When utility executives first balked at building these reactors, Congress passed the 1957 Price-Anderson Act, making the federal government the primary insurer against catastrophic accidents. A study by the Sandia Laboratories around that time said such an accident could irradiate an area "the size of Pennsylvania." The industry promised that with improving technology, private insurers would soon step forward.
But it hasn't happened. And with the increased potential for terror attacks since 9/11, the industry is now demanding such coverage for its proposed new reactors, which could stretch taxpayer liability for decades to come.
Way back when, the industry also assured the public an answer would soon be found for managing high-level radioactive waste. But as of today, the still-unlicensed dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev., cannot open for at least another decade, if at all.
A repository for the waste produced by proposed new reactors remains unsited, undesigned, unfunded and unnamed. Moving radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain or any such central repository would expose tens of millions of Americans on the highways and railroads and in their homes.
The industry has lately made much of the idea that atomic reactors might help solve global warming.
But in fact they can do little, if anything, to help.
Rather, the way to solve the climate crisis, and to guarantee a sustainable economy, is with conservation, increased efficiency and renewable energy, including wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal, ocean thermal and a wide range of other rapidly advancing, safe energy technologies.
Investments in increased efficiency or renewable energy can lead to much greater energy savings and job creation than investments in nuclear power. To solve global warming and guarantee us a safe, reliable energy future, that's where our money needs to go.
Bonnie Raitt and Harvey Wasserman are co-founders of Musicians United for Safe Energy.
Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun