Nuclear Power: Follow the Money

Nuclear Power: Follow the Money

Bob Sheak
July 2007

The Bush administration’s energy policies from 2001 to the present have
supported fossil fuels above all other energy sources, emphasizing the need
to find new sources of petroleum, support new technologies for liquefied
natural gas, and move forward with “clean” coal technologies. Over the
course of Bush’s presidency, there is some mixed, but clearly secondary,
support for renewable forms of energy and conservation/efficiency.

In a speech on his energy proposals in January, 2007, President Bush seemed
to break new ground. But his calls for reduced U.S. gasoline usage and
raising fuel-economy standards are far less than is needed to reduce our
growing dependence on oil or stem the rise in greenhouse gases from fossil
fuels. One of his featured proposals calls for an increase in the
production of corn-based ethanol, but his estimates of the impact seem
unrealistic. Steven Mufson, Washington Post correspondent, notes that
industry experts say that it would take more than all of last year’s U.S.
corn harvest to make enough ethanol to meet Bush’s target of replacing 15
percent of the projected annual gasoline consumption in 2017 (1-24-07).

Amidst it all, the administration sees a significant role for the long
stagnant nuclear power industry, and wants to see a doubling of the number
of nuclear power plants over the next couple of decades. There are
currently 103 nuclear plants across the country. Nuclear power is now
responsible for 20% of electricity generation and 7% of the total energy
produced in the U.S. If there is going to be a renaissance of nuclear
power, it will require massive government subsidies and guarantees.
Russell D. Hoffman puts it this way: “government contracts, government
subsidies, government insurance, and tax breaks (Russell D. Hoffman, “16
Dirty Secrets About Nuclear Power,” Counter Punch, June 27, 2007).

The documentation for Hoffman’s statements are readily available. According
to Public Citizen’s website (2-5-07), the Bush administration 2008 budget
proposes: $4 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear and coal plants, $802
million for nuclear power research and development, $114 million for the
Nuclear Power 2010 program, which pays the nuclear industry for half the
cost of applying for new reactors and licensing designs (more than $251
million has been appropriated for this program since FY 2001), $36.1
million for developing designs for the “next generation” of nuclear
reactors (more than $200 million has been spent on this program since FY
2001), $405 million for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to promote
reprocessing of spent fuel rods, and $494.5 million for the proposed
high-level waste repository at Yucca Mountain.

Helen Caldicott, physician and perhaps the world’s leading spokesperson for
the antinuclear movement, identifies the problems of the government’s
attempts to resurrect the nuclear industry in her book Nuclear Power is Not
the Answer (publ. 2006). She documents her contention that nuclear power is
not “clean and green.” She writes: “large amounts of traditional fossil
fuels [and the carbon they emit] are required to mine and refine the
uranium needed to run nuclear power reactors, to construct the massive
concrete reactor buildings, and to transport and store the toxic
radioactive waste created by the nuclear process” (viii). During the
enrichment of uranium – the principal fuel for generating electricity from
nuclear plants – “the now banned chlorofloro-carbon gas” emits both a
greenhouse gas and “a potent destroyer of the ozone layer” (viii). Further,
as the availability of uranium ore declines, “more fossil fuels will be
required to extract the ore from less-concentrated veins.” Reprocessing
spent radioactive fuel rods releases large amounts of radioactive material
in the air and water. Government regulations allow nuclear plants to
“routinely…emit hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive gases and
other radioactive elements into the environment every year.”

Caldicott also draws our attention to other problematic aspects of nuclear
power. It produces an enormous amount of nuclear waste. There are already
thousands of tons of “solid radioactive waste” accumulating in the cooling
pools beside the 103 operating nuclear plants in the U.S. (ix). Nuclear
power, she notes, is “exorbitantly expensive and notoriously unreliable.
Nuclear plants, with minimal security arrangements, are “obvious targets
for terrorists, inviting assault by plane, truck bombs, armed attack, or
covert intrusion into the reactor’s control room.” These plants are
“essentially atomic bomb factors,” in that, for example, just one “1,000
megawatt nuclear reactor manufactures 500 pounds of plutonium a year;
normally ten pounds of plutonium is fuel for an atomic bomb” that could
devastate a city. And, as more tax dollars are channeled to nuclear power,
renewable energy is short changed (x).

Despite the major problems associated with nuclear power, the Bush
administration – and the Congress – has decided to spend tens of billions
of taxpayer money on the expansion of nuclear power and to ignore the many
problems associated with it. It is this fact that brings us to Piketon,
Ohio, where since 1953 there are nuclear facilities that in the past
produced components for nuclear bombs and more recently commercial power.
The facilities located on 3,174 acres are extensively contaminated, contain
an enormous quantity of nuclear waste, have polluted the surrounding
environment and residents, and have shortened the lives of many workers
while making additional thousands very sick. The Piketon nuclear facilities
in Portsmouth, Ohio, are, by the way, only about 60 miles to the west – and
up wind - of Athens.

As the Bush administration tries to rejuvenate the nuclear power industry,
economic and political interests in Portsmouth Ohio, the governor, and the
majority of elected officials from the area around Piketon are trying to
take advantage of the anticipated profitable opportunities and “economic
development” that may flow from federal government-funded nuclear power
projects. The problematic aspects of nuclear power are ignored or

You get a sense of what is in store for Piketon and surrounding communities
from the projects that are already underway or well into a planning phase.
Much of the following information comes from an outstanding series of
articles that appeared in the Dayton Daily New.”(Lynn Hulsey and Tob
Beyerlein, “Ohio’s Nuclear Legacy: Troubled past, uncertain future,” Dayton
Daily News, a series published Nov. 12-14, 2006).

First, there is construction to build a plant “to convert 20,000 cylinders
of old enrichment waste…to a more benign chemical form.” The 14-ton
cylinders contain “radioactive ‘depleted uranium hexafluoride so corrosive
it could eventually eat through the metal and release toxic gas.” If the
conversion plant opens in 2008 as planned, it “will take until 2026 to
convert the existing backlog of cylinders.” In the meantime, other plans
for Piketon will generate additional radioactive wastes. And, whether there
are 20,000 cylinders of waste or 40,000, there is no place to which it can
be transported.

Second, the facilities are home to the Uranium Management Center, which
stores 4,500 metric tons of radioactive metals, powders, and fuel pins,
much of it from federal cleanup projects at the Feed Materials Production
Center near Fernald, Ohio, and the Hanford weapons plant in Washington
state. One Ohio EPA official described “shipping dangerous material between
plants” as “a kind of shell game.” Officials connected to the center hope
they can process and sell this stuff. But there are no buyers and, in the
meantime, it is yet another source of radioactive waste at Piketon.

Third, plans by American Centrifuge for a new uranium enrichment plant have
been accepted by the Department of Energy. The plan is to build a structure
or structures that will house “12,000 machines towering 43 feet in the air”
that will “separate uranium isotopes with centrifugal force, creating a
power source that can be used for electricity – or bombs.” But, if the
“engineering problems, delays and spiraling costs” can be managed, the
enrichment plant “will generate tons and tons of radioactive waste – enough
over 30 years to fill 41,000 cylinders weighting about 14 tons apiece,
according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. All of that waste – added
to the 20,000 cylinders already piled up at the plant – would have to be
converted to a more stable form before it can be hauled away” to a yet to
be identified repository.

Fourth, a group called the Southern Ohio Nuclear Integration Cooperative (a
for-profit enterprise) has received $674,000 from the DOE to submit a plan
for building a reprocessing plant at Piketon. This plant would “remove
plutonium from highly radioactive spent fuel rods for reuse in an advanced
burner reactor.”The spent rods would come from across the United States
and perhaps overseas and would be stored at Piketon.” Local citizen groups
in Portsmouth and surrounding communities fear that massive quantities of
this radioactive waste will accumulate at the site, but that the
reprocessing plant will never be built. Even if there is a reprocessing
plant at some future time, reprocessing nuclear materials yields some
nuclear waste as well as useable nuclear fuel for electricity generation or
nuclear bombs.

Two groups in the Piketon/Portsmouth area have been working to support an
accelerated cleanup of the facilities, keep any additional nuclear wastes
from being generated there or brought from outside, and to pressure the
federal government to provide just compensation to workers who have been
made sick by the contaminated conditions of the facilities or to families
of deceased workers. You can contact them at the following addresses or
phone numbers and learn how you can support their efforts.

1 ) Portsmouth/Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security
(PRESS) –P.O. Box 136, Portsmouth, Ohio 45662, or Vina Colley, President,
at, cell phone: 740-357-8916, or Joni Fearing, Vice
President, at, or 740-353-6536.

2) Southern Ohio Neighbors Group (SONG) – P.O. Box 161, Piketon, OH 45661,
or at, or 740-289-2549.

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