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2012—The Year We Finally Bury Nuclear Power

Energy

Harvey Wasserman

The year 2012 has opened with news that Fukushima's radioactive cloud may already have killed some 14,000 Americans, according to a major study just published in the International Journal of Health Services

Some 100 million tons of tsunami trash—much of it radiated by Fukushima fallout—has begun contaminating the beaches of our Pacific coast. 

Germany and Japan, the world's third and fourth largest economies, along with numerous others countries, have definitively turned away from the "Peaceful Atom." 

But it hasn't yet been buried. That's up to us. And 2012 is the year to do it. 

We are already very close. The mythical "Nuclear Renaissance" has been gutted by Fukushima, low gas prices and the escalating Solartopian revolution in green energy. Solar panels, wind turbines, sustainable bio-fuels, geo-thermal, ocean thermal, increased efficiency and much more have simply priced atomic energy out of the market. 

There is virtually no private money to build new reactors—except where there are huge government subsidies and guarantees. In 2012 we must make those all go away. 

Likewise, there are increasingly powerful grassroots movements focused on shutting reactors that still operate. Germany has shut seven, and the rest will be gone by 2022, if not earlier. In Japan, just 11 of more than 50 reactors now operate. Because local governments can prevent reactors from re-opening once they go down for refueling, Japan could emerge from 2012 without a single nuke on line. 

The biggest U.S. battle is at Vermont Yankee. March 21 is D-Day for forcing a nuclear corporation to honor a solemn contract it signed with a sovereign state, agreeing to shut down if the state doesn't approve continued operations. The legislature wants the reactor shut, which Entergy now refuses to do. 

But with some 430 reactors still operating worldwide, and with several score ostensibly on order, here are some of 2012's keys to finally ridding the planet of this radioactive curse:

• The switch to green power has become definitive and is clearly unstoppable. Last year renewables generated more U.S. electricity than nukes. Far more private capital is now being invested in renewables than in nuclear or fossil fuels. General Electric says its photovoltaic solar cells will generate electricity cheaper than coal within five years. Well-funded opponents are making it more difficult to spread green technologies, but they can be beaten.

• The breakdowns in the solar business are far fewer and further between than in the fossil/nuke world. The lead in this technology has shifted to Asia. The much hyped Solyndra failure came not from technological issues, but because the Chinese are underselling its American competitors—and its own costs—by 30-40 percent. Returning at least some of the business to the U.S. is essential to our economic survival.

• A dollar invested in increased efficiency—powered by accelerating breakthroughs such as LED lighting—has long since produced more jobs and saved more energy than one invested in nuclear power.

• In-depth studies from the Union of Concerned ScientistsRocky Mountain Institute, and a host of others make it clear that investments in solar and wind energy yield better returns than nuclear.

• It takes at very least and optimistic five years to bring a nuclear plant on line assuming all permits are in order, but large-scale wind and solar facilities regularly come on line in half that or less.

• The decisions by Japan and Germany to abandon nuclear power have come from countries long at the core of the industry. Japan manufactures many key reactor components, and maintains ownership stakes in General Electric and Westinghouse, which have designed and/or built most of the world's commercial reactors. Germany's corporate giant Siemens, an industry mainstay, has abandoned the technology to focus on renewables. As other major countries and corporations follow suit, the nuke industry will waste away.

• Those who "support nuclear power" cannot guarantee the reactors they want built will be properly regulated or monitored. The world at large may not hear about the next Fukushimas until long after the radioactive fallout spreads around the planet. Given the dismal state of regulation even in "advanced" countries like Japan and the U.S., will those who support the "Renaissance" be there to monitor the Korean nukes sold to the United Arab Emirates et. al.?

• The U.S. Department of Energy still has some $10 billion in designated loan guarantees for new reactors. Two reactors are technically under construction in South Carolina, and two more at Georgia's Vogtle. Despite $8.33 billion in loan guarantees, Georgia's rates are already soaring. Attempts to get Congress to kick in more money have been blocked by the grassroots No Nukes movement.

• Local resistance to reactor projects has raged wherever reactors operate or are proposed, and has been extremely effective. Richard Nixon promised 1,000 U.S. reactors by the year 2000, but the operable number was 104. Those nearly 900 reactors that went missing were mostly stopped by local grassroots movements. Every proposed or operating reactor not killed financially can be ultimately stopped by local opposition movements geared toward a long, hard struggle against "impossible" odds that ultimately prove beatable.

• As it has been from the start, nuclear power is a ward of the state. Nowhere on Earth are the builders held fully responsible for their mess. The Japanese government has just coughed up a tip-of-the-iceberg $13 billion bailout for Fukushima's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Hundreds of billions are yet to come. Either the company goes bankrupt, or the government takes it over beforehand. Either way, the public pays financially, and with its health and that of its children. So it will be everywhere nukes are built, including the U.S., where the 1957 Price-Anderson Act still limits owner liability in the wake of a catastrophe.

• Cost estimates for new reactors have already soared 200-300 percent and more over original prices just a few years ago, and will continue go ever higher. By contrast, renewable technology prices continue their rapid, steep decline.

• France's nuclear industry has all but given up on the U.S. market. A reactor under construction in Finland is years behind schedule and billions of Euros over budget, as is another at Flamanville, in France itself. French public opinion has turned strongly toward renewables.

• U.S. war hawks now want an attack on Iran for allegedly using commercial technology to build a Bomb. But it's instructive to remember that the west once tried to sell 36 reactors to the Shah, who was overthrown by religious fundamentalists in 1979, leading to the current crisis. Does the "Renaissance" blueprint mean pushing reactors everywhere, then launching preemptive wars following the inevitable regime changes?

• After more than 50 years, the radioactive waste problem has been nowhere solved. Nevada's Yucca Mountain is not revivable, and there are no usable high-level storage sites anywhere else on the planet.

• Nuclear power makes global warming worse. Greenhouse gases pour out of the mining, milling, enrichment and waste management process. Massive quantities of direct heat threaten our rivers, lakes and oceans. Thus more and more reactors must shut during hot summer months, when they are supposedly fighting global warming.

• The calculations on how much climate changing heat and steam have spewed into the atmosphere during the explosions at Chernobyl and Fukushima remain to be done. Likewise the heat impacts of the liquid emissions into the ocean at Fukushima remain unknown.

• By wasting huge amounts of social capital, nuclear construction slows the conversion to renewables, which are at the real core of defeating global warming.

• Fukushima is not over. Three melted cores remain problematic, and the entire complex is vulnerable to aftershocks which could bring spent fuel pools crashing to the ground and cause other disasters impossible to foresee.

• Nuclear power is killing people in ever-greater numbers. The industry continues to mount its usual personal assaults on those who prove that. But the killing power of radiation has been known since "mountain sickness"—lung cancer—began surfacing among Czech uranium miners in the 1500s. The continuum is unbroken through the introduction of x-rays, the work of the Curies, radium watch dial painting, definitive links to childhood leukemia, and more. The Hiroshima-based "science" used to establish a "safe" dose of radiation has been thoroughly debunked. The medical consensus that there is no such thing is quite firm.

• The nuclear industry never accepted the burden of proving this technology to be safe before being deployed amidst a civilian population. For a half-century reactor backers have done a superb job of simply refusing to maintain or study reliable epidemiological data bases around commercial reactors (as well as weapons production facilities). But as early as 1970 the chief medical officer of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. John Gofman, branded commercial atomic power as a form of "premeditated mass murder."

• The largest study so far of the health impacts of Chernobyl, conducted by three Russian scientists, indicates upwards of a million casualties over the past quarter-century. That first study of the U.S. health impacts from Fukushima, indicates that many thousands more deaths are likely to be suffered in the US above what's already apparent.

Does all this add up to the end of nuke power? 

Worldwide, the industry is crumbling. The collapse of its private investment base, and the shutdowns in Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Israel and elsewhere are rapidly shrinking the technology's credible reach. 

In the U.S., we can cut off all subsidies for new reactors, and shut down the old ones in Vermont, New York, Ohio and wherever else they sit. Fierce no nukes campaigns are raging in the UK, India and even China, as massive demonstrations there are starting to erupt. None of these fights will be easy, but all are winnable, especially as the full impacts of Fukushima become known, and as the Solartopian green power revolution renders the nuclear option increasingly uneconomic. 

The movement to shut the old reactors is hitting critical mass. The Vermont Yankee case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which must decide if corporations are above even the contracts they sign with the public. Some two dozen Fukushima clones now operate in the U.S. They are old, rickety, cracked and dangerous. Other designs, like Ohio's Davis-Besse, with a cracked containment and an infamous hole eaten through its head, aren't faring much better. Nebraska's Cooper has been flooded. Indian Point, New York is also under attack from the state. Once the first of these are forced shut, the dam will break and the American fleet of 104 licensed reactors will rapidly shrink, along with others around the world. 

Far more money is being invested in renewables worldwide than in nukes or even fossil fuels. Green energy will soon constitute the world's largest industry, financially and in terms of employment. The conversion to a post-fossil/nuclear Solartopian economy based entirely on renewables and efficiency will mark the most important industrial transition in human history. 

Fukushima has taught us that as long as reactors operate, the apocalyptic clock is ticking. 

With that in mind, and with the flow of green money turning into a financial tsunami, we can make 2012 the year nuke power finally dies. 

It will require a serious push from the grassroots. 

But we are ready to win a green-powered earth.

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