Beating the Blank Check Pre-Bailout for New Nuclear Reactors

By Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash & Harvey Wasserman

One of America's most critical financial and ecological decisions is now before Congress.

The atomic energy industry wants at least $50 billion in loan guarantees for a "new generation" of reactors that have already begun to fail, and that Wall Street won't finance.

If these subsidies pass, scores of new radioactive terror targets, thousands of tons of radioactive waste, and untold billions in bad debt could haunt us and our children for a long time to come.

Yet the sentence allowing all this to happen was slipped into the Senate version of the 2007 Energy Bill without serious public debate. Without strong public opposition, it could become part of the new Energy Bill. And with the millions the nuke lobby is spending, defeating this huge taxpayer rip-off will require a maximum effort from everyone committed to a safe energy future.

The push for new nuclear plants is full of irony. The terror attacks of September 11, 2001 made it clear no reactor can be protected from a jet crash. The first plane that hit the World Trade Center flew directly over the Indian Point reactors, 45 miles north of New York City. Had it hit the nuke complex, the death toll would by now be in the hundreds of thousands, the property damage in the trillions.

Federal inspectors from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently found significant leaks at Indian Point. According to US Representative John Hall (D-NY), a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, when they did, the reactor's owner---Entergy---forced the NRC to stop its tour.

Meanwhile, a major earthquake has hit world's largest reactor facility, at Kashiwazaki, Japan. The quake exceeded the reactors' design safeguards by a factor of three, and caused significant radiation releases. Experts predict much stronger quakes there in the near future. At least one US reactor---at Perry, Ohio---has also been damaged by an earthquake. The nukes at Indian Point, at Seabrook, New Hampshire, and at Diablo Canyon and San Luis Obispo, California, are also on or near major fault lines.

Meanwhile, a cooling tower at the Vermont Yankee reactor has simply collapsed, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of hot water into the Earth. The reactor was recently allowed to upgrade its power level, and the collapse may have been caused by the installation of a heavier fan. Twenty-one other towers there are at similar risk.

Reactors like Vermont Yankee are being sold as an answer to global warming. But atomic plants in France and Alabama have been forced to shut because their waste heat has helped drive nearby rivers to 90 degrees and hotter.

This "new generation" of reactors that wants your tax money is also being touted as safer, cleaner and cheaper. But the first European model, being built in Finland, is already eighteen months behind schedule and $900 million over budget. The official cost estimates for these new reactors are in the $4-5 billion range. But if past history is any indicator, they will come in far far higher. Their construction time is almost certain to exceed the 4-5 year window being advertised.

All this comes as the renewable energy industry is soaring to new heights of power and profitability. Wind farming has boomed to a $10-15 billion per year industry. Worldwide growth rates are exceeding 25%. New forms of amorphous silicon solar cells are taking rooftop photovoltaics (PV) to vastly increased levels of efficiency and profitability. Bio-fuels, tidal, geo and ocean thermal, wave energy and many more rapidly developing forms of green power are soaring ahead, regularly coming in ahead of schedule and under budget.

In 1979, we helped organize five nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden, and an anti-nuke rally that drew 200,000 people. These efforts and the ongoing work of many grassroots and national safe energy groups have helped to hold off the building of any new nuclear reactors ever since.

At the time, many of these green technologies were just beginning to take off. But in the nearly thirty years that have followed, green power has become one of the world's great growth industries. It has brought us to the brink of a technological revolution that could hold the key to stopping global warming while bringing us long-term prosperity based on safe, secure energy supplies.

With renewables, conservation and efficiency, we can end our dependence on polluting fossil and nuclear fuels and create true energy independence.

But these nuclear industry loan guarantees could make that all but impossible. These "new" reactors are same as the old ones, with a few bells and whistles, and a proven 50-year track record of catastrophic failure.

On the brink of winning a green-powered planet, we intend to do all we can to avoid another radioactive dead-end. We hope you will join us.


Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash and Harvey Wasserman are among the co-founders of Musicians United for Safe Energy.