2009/07/12:Journal Sentinel: Nuclear power: the fool's choice - Jim Draeger (Peace Action-Wisconsin)

An opinion column by Jim Draeger of Peace Action-Wisconsin, from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The dangers of nuclear reactors became impossible to ignore in Wisconsin during the late 1970s and early 1980s. But now, with energy concerns at the top of the domestic policy agenda, promoters of the nuclear industry are hoping taxpayers will subsidize an industry that was discredited long ago.

The public must not be fooled.

Years of education and organizing decades ago stopped the construction of three proposed nuclear reactors, led to the passage of the current sensible law and resulted in Wisconsin voters rejecting, by an 8-to-1 margin, a high-level nuclear waste repository here.

The current attempts to change Wisconsin law on nuclear power downplay the financial and safety concerns associated with building reactors.

This was most apparent in Tom Still's recent op-ed ("Nuclear needs to be part of our energy mix," July 5 Crossroads).

Simply put, we need to protect our families and communities from the dangers of nuclear power. More nuclear reactors create more nuclear waste. There is nowhere to put new radioactive waste, because Yucca Mountain in Nevada will not open before 2020, at the earliest, and after the most recent elections, is unlikely to open at all.

By that time, the nation's current nuclear reactors already will have produced more than 70,000 metric tons of nuclear waste, which is Yucca's legal capacity. With no storage site for the radioactive waste, the chance of contamination increases.

Right now, nuclear waste is stored next to the reactors that produce it, which is why Wisconsin's current law makes sense. The law states that before any new nuclear reactors are built, there has to be a federally licensed waste repository for the waste produced by the reactor. One accident, train derailment or suicide bomber could place millions of lives at risk.

In addition to the increased dangers from nuclear reactors, Wisconsin citizens cannot afford to subsidize the nuclear industry's financial failures. New nuclear reactors cost more than $10 billion and take more than 10 years to build. In some states, such as South Carolina, proposed nuclear reactors increase electric rates by 37%.

Nuclear power projects are also more likely to default on their public loans. The government estimates that more than half of all nuclear projects are likely to go bust and fail to pay back their government loans, leaving the bill for the taxpayer.

Private investors will not risk investing money in new nukes, so the nuclear industry is asking the government to have taxpayers promise to bail out nuclear failures. The government should not subsidize and bail out the nuclear industry when we have cheaper, faster and safer alternatives such as wind and solar power, biomass fuel and solar hydrogen.

Many of the arguments for more nuclear reactors offered by Still hide behind the cloak of authority. He refers to the Obama administration, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group in an attempt to bolster his case. While this reference to authority may make us feel safe, it does nothing to address to the actual financial and safety concerns.

There are better proposals for solving our energy crisis that place primacy on fiscal responsibility and public health, such as Dr. Arjun Makhijani's Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy. When alternatives to financially risky and physically dangerous proposals are available, it is irrational to overturn our sensible moratorium on building new nuclear reactors.

Jim Draeger is the program manager for Peace Action Wisconsin, a nonprofit dedicated to abolishing nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

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