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The Progressive

Calamity Reveals Folly of Nuclear Power

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima—names that will forever remind us of the folly of nuclear power.

Akira Kurosawa, Japan’s greatest filmmaker ever, made a movie called “Dreams” twenty years ago that dealt with a post-nuclear-power apocalypse in Japan. His country is now uncomfortably close to the scenario he depicted in his film.

The unfolding nuclear calamity shows us how misguided the domestic and global push for nuclear power has been.

Among the culprits is none other than President Obama.

“President Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget outlines a plan for reviving the country’s nuclear power industry, calling for $36 billion in government-backed loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors and setting aside more than $800 million for nuclear energy research,” The Hill reported last month. “Obama has said that nuclear power is a key component of the country’s energy future.”

He must be regretting his Pollyannaish view of nuclear power, though there seems to be a reluctance to officially admit a fundamental rethink on the issue.

“The president believes that meeting our energy needs means relying on a diverse set of energy sources that includes renewables like wind and solar, natural gas, clean coal and nuclear power,” said Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman. “Information is still coming in about the events unfolding in Japan, but the Administration is committed to learning from them and ensuring that nuclear energy is produced safely and responsibly here in the U.S.”

The nuclear energy lobby has been in full p.r. mode the past few years, capitalizing on concerns about climate change to push its agenda.

“The nuclear power industry is seeing its fortunes rise,” Diane Farsetta reported in The Progressive in 2008. “… Thanks to its persistence, a growing number of commentators and policymakers see nuclear power as the solution to global warming.”


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And its propaganda has succeeded in pulling the wool over the American people’s eyes. A 2010 Gallup poll revealed that almost two-thirds of respondents endorsed nuclear energy.

“Support edged up during the past two years, passing 60 percent this year for the first time,” UPI reported. “The 28 percent of Americans who now say they ‘strongly favor’ nuclear power also is the highest measured since 1994.”

As if this domestic blitz is not enough, the U.S. nuclear industry is peddling its wares abroad, too. A dubious nuclear deal that India and the United States signed a few years ago had as a major motivation a huge moneymaking opportunity for American multinationals. The agreement legitimized Indian nuclear weapons and, in return, gave U.S. firms access to the Indian market.

“When India completed a nuclear power cooperation deal with the United States in October 2008, it threw open a $ 270 billion market for nuclear reactors,” reports the Inter Press Service.

Among the companies salivating at the prospects has been General Electric. But there’s a potential hitch now.

“The nuclear disaster in Japan’s quake-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant could not have come at a worse time for the U.S.-based General Electric Co., which is holding its corporate executive council meeting in the capital as part of its plans to seek a major share in the $150 billion expansion of India’s nuclear industry over the next decade,” reports The Hindu, a major Indian daily. “The Fukushima plant, which has seen two explosions in the last four days after being hit by a massive earthquake and Tsunami, has a reactor installed by GE.”

The Japanese nuclear mishap has laid bare the perils of nuclear power. Indian activists are vowing to redouble their efforts in opposition to a nuclear plant being built with French help in an earthquake-prone region. And here at home, legislators like Congressman Ed Markey and Senator Joe Lieberman are calling for a slowdown.

It’s too bad that it takes a disaster of this magnitude to teach us the risks associated with nuclear energy. Those risks are way too high. We have no future with nuclear power.

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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