The Obama administration has delayed release of its new Nuclear Posture Review to at least the end of March, but anonymous officials widely quoted in the media say it will call for “dramatic reductions” in the US nuclear arsenal. Release of the NPR was originally slated for December, and the repeated postponements have sparked much speculation on possible meaningful steps towards the nuclear-free world that Obama set forth as a goal in his Prague speech last April. However, anonymous officials (almost certainly being authorized by the White House to float trial balloons to the press) also say the administration has ruled out pledging that the US will never initiate a nuclear first strike. (BBC News, AlJazeera, March 2; Global Security Newswire, March 1; NYT, Feb. 28)
If axing a “no-first use” pledge (which the US alone has never issued, although Russia ironically reneged on the USSR’s such pledge after the end of the Cold War) is Obama’s sop to the pro-nuke right in order to get his cuts to the arsenal, then another appears to be following through on his campaign pledge to promote the dangerous oxymoron of “safe nuclear power.” We had hoped this was just lip service, but it is starting to look all too real.
Obama announced last month that he has promised funding in the FY 2011 budget for new nuclear power reactors in the US, with some $54.5 billion in federal loan guarantees. The Atlanta-based Southern Company has been conditionally approved for $8.3 billion in loan these for two new nuclear reactors to be built at Plant Vogtle in Burke County, Ga. The Vogtle expansion would be the first new nuclear plants in the US in 30 years.
Thank goodness, the remnants of the anti-nuclear movement are protesting this—and pointing out how it flies in the face of the free-market principles that are supposedly untouchable in the US. “What you may not know about the Vogtle deal is that we taxpayers are not just providing loan guarantees, we’re providing the actual loans, through the Federal Financing Bank,” the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) said in a press release. “And you also may not know the Southern Company has not yet accepted the conditions of the loan—and for various reasons, it may not. In other words, it’s not a done deal.”
Ironically, the move comes at a time when the intractable problem of what to do with nuclear waste has just become all the more vexing. Obama’s recent decision to close the proposed Yucca Mountain waste facility in Nevada means radioactive waste will continue to be stored on site at each nuclear power plant. Rather an irony given all the recent paranoia about nuclear plants being targeted by terrorists.
In response to the closing of Yucca Mountain, South Carolina’s Aiken County has brought suit in the federal courts against the Energy Department and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, calling the action “in direct violation of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and is an arbitrary and capricious action under the Administrative Procedures Act.” (Atlanta Progressive News, Feb. 22)
States that are actually burdened with lots of nuclear waste—like South Carolina, home to the Energy Department’s Savannah River complex—aren’t so sanguine about the dilemma, and have long been at odds with federal government and its eternal shunting the question off for future generations to work out. The Energy Department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP)—for the supposedly lower-level “trans-uranic” wastes—has been opened in Carlsbad, NM, over years of local protests. (The Consortium, Fall 1997)
On the other hand, William Tucker, author of the Orwellian-entitled Terrestrial Energy: How Nuclear Power Will Lead the Green Revolution and End America’s Energy Odyssey, enthuses for the loan guarantees in the Wall Street Journal Feb. 26—the paper conveniently abandoning its ideological antipathy to government intervention in the economy. The Winnipeg Free Press—in Manitoba, which has no nuclear plants, but hopes to become North America’s Saudi Arabia of uranium—also editorializes for the subsidies Feb. 25, glibly dismissing “exaggerated fears of meltdowns, waste disposal controversies and financial concerns.” Once again, where you stand depends on where you sit.
The Georgia reactors are among a few ordered by power utilities in the US over the past three years—the first since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. Obama may think it is his job to wheel and deal to achieve an overall reduction of the nuclear threat. But it is assuredly our job to not go along with dangerous compromises—to demand a “no first-use” pledge, and a “zero option” for both nuclear weapons and power.
See our last post on the nuclear threat.