Left Justified: Illinois Green Party looks at nuclear power

By Stanley Campbell

I got invited to talk to the Illinois Green Party this Saturday, July 16, beginning 2 p.m. at the East Side Public Library, 6685 E. State (formerly Barnes & Noble). You are welcome to attend!

David A. Kraft, director of Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Chicago, will join me. He’ll review the latest information and accidents, and share his opinion about the revival of nuclear power. I will reminisce about the Byron Nuclear Power License hearings, and encourage citizen oversight of safety issues.

Global warming was heating up the energy debate, and there was a monster waiting in the wings to save us. But Fukujima put a damper on that demon. Remember the Walt Disney cartoon, Our Friend, the Atom? It really is a genie in a bottle that, once released, causes more harm than good. Anyone who disagrees can probably receive a free flight to Japan to help put the genie (radiation) back into those six bottled reactors.

Utilities were encouraged to bank on the “peaceful atom” (as opposed to the atom that destroyed Hiroshima), and profitability was promised, along with government research and insurance money. But screw-ups in the ’80s and strong public outcry scared Reddy Kilowatt. The government is still willing to give millions to encourage their return.

One of the few anti-nuclear groups left over from the ’80s is Kraft’s NEIS in Chicago. Kraft wrote a great little op-ed piece for the Chicago Tribune, which I again heartily endorse and plagiarize (with his kind permission).

The government should regulate the nuclear industry. That’s why they call it the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which defers to industry and ignores public concerns. The NRC “assumes” rather than “verifies” nuclear safety. The problems have not been for lack of “regulations” (the noun), but of “regulation” (the verb). With nuclear power, the devil exists in the arcane, techno-babble details.

Profit margins or safety margins; what maximizes profits in a deregulated industry? Nuclear power squeezes profit out of aging machines and overworked staff. Preventive maintenance does not bring shareholder profits. The utility can anticipate the unexpected or “let it fail,” but they should expect the unexpected from complex systems.

“Yes, this accident happened, but no one got hurt,” is like the rationalization kids give when taking batteries from the smoke detector for their iPod. We know how to handle the teens, what do we do with trained engineers?

Nothing is inherently safe about a machine storing 1,000 Hiroshimas worth of radiation operating next to unsuspecting communities. Every aspect of nuclear operations results in radioactive pollution and negative health effects. Its handlers tend to muzzle conscientious whistleblowers and minimize, or cover up, nuclear risks.

Society cannot afford this kind of oblivious, recalcitrant behavior. After 50 years of failing to get it right, maybe it’s time to pull the plug on nuclear power.

Germany, Italy and Switzerland have pledged to shift away from nuclear power since the crisis in Japan, but U.S. leadership has failed to grasp the risks of staying the nuclear course.

At a minimum, policymakers should support commonsense legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) to reduce existing risks to our nation’s nuclear reactors. Urge our representatives to sponsor the Nuclear Power Plant Safety Act of 2011.

Remember, industry lobbyists hound our representative. The Nuclear Energy Institute spent $545,000 on lobbying in the first quarter of this year — up 26 percent from the previous quarter. Wish we had that kinda money.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the July 13-19, 2011 issue

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