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More Atomic Bomb Balm From The New York Times

More Atomic Bomb Balm From The New York Times

by Harvey Wasserman
July 16, 2006

The New York Times Sunday Magazine has chimed in for the "bring back nukes" crowd with an ill-conceived screed that completely ignores the reality that the world's power must ultimately come from clean, safe renewable energy and increased efficiency.

Entitled "Atomic Balm," the lengthy Sunday magazine piece tries to portray a nuke industry on its way back. But hidden throughout the article are trap after trap that will doom atomic power, and that show the Bush Administration's attempt to revive it to be ever more futile and corrupt.

To begin with, this very long article fails to mention that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has issued a draft report showing that between 99% and 124% of the nation's electricity can be supplied by renewable means by the year 2020. Since nuclear power supplies only electricity, this simple fact makes complete mincemeat of any pretext for bringing it back. If we can get the juice cheaper, safer, cleaner and more quickly from nature, why build sitting ducks for terrorists that have only 50 years of failure to show for a trillion dollars invested?

The industry rap against renewables, repeated briefly in this piece, is that they are too diffuse, expensive and futuristic to deploy. But none of that is true. Today's wind turbines could supply 100% of the nation's electricity from available wind just in North Dakota, Kansas and Texas, and 300% from all the states between the Mississippi and the Rockies. It is a sophisticated, advanced industry worth $10 billion/year or more. It is growing worldwide at 25-35% per year, with far more new installed capacity than nukes. There are political and environmental challenges to be faced with wind power. But they pale in the face of nuclear waste, radioactive emissions and the likely melt-downs from error and terror.

Photovoltaic cells (PV), which convert sunlight directly to electricity, are plummeting in price. Their deployment on homes and buildings avoids transmission costs. While fossil/nuke backers dismissively charge that PV needs huge desert areas to supply our nation's needs, in fact the deployment of solar cells on our building stock will happen, it will be hugely profitable and it will fill an enormous chunk of our coming needs for electric supply.

Bio-fuels such as ethanol and diesel will also play a huge role. In the future they will not come from annual food crops like corn and soy, but rather from inedible perennials like switchgrass, poplar trees, Jerusalem artichoke and hemp.

Grounding the mix will be vastly increased efficiency, the cheapest way to increase our available supply. The Times piece gives short shift to the pioneering "negawatt" work of Amory Lovins, who has shown that immense amounts of energy are being wasted, and could be regained cheaply and cleanly with basic efficiency measures.

Like so much else in this piece, the obvious green path to increased efficiency is presented in straw man fashion and then dismissed.

Conveniently overlooked is the vast failure of atomic power to pay for itself, or to prove out an engineering regimen for the future. The first commercial reactor went on line in Shippingport, Pennsylvania in 1957. Now, a half-century later, the industry is selling a totally new set of unproven designs, essentially telling us that the trillion dollars invested in the first set left us with a technology that can't cut it.

The Times also makes the obligatory genuflection toward increased security, ignoring the fact that no reactor can be defended from the air, or from inside infiltrators who could make a nuke the ultimate suicide bomb. In fact, nuclear power plants are pre- deployed weapons of mass radioactive destruction for terrorists, capable of doing us damage on an apocalyptic scale.

The article admits, but does not emphasize, that the entire push for new nukes is a massive welfare program for rich Bush backers. Without gargantuan government subsidies, there would be no talk whatsoever of another generation of reactors. Without federal liability limits on the obvious consequences of a major melt-down, all the plants now in operation would shut today.

The article also glosses over the immense problems with nuclear waste, with regular radioactive emissions and with environmental damage done with huge emissions of heat into the air and water. While reactor operations themselves avoid large CO2 emissions, they do spew out heat directly into the biosphere, avoiding the middle man. They also create substantial greenhouse gases throughout the course of construction, fuel enrichment, and decommissioning.

Overall the attempt to revive atomic energy is far more the product of a corrupt, pay-to-play Bush cash machine than a real need to get at our crisis in energy and the environment. All the means of meeting our future energy needs are available in technologies that are clean, green and don't double as pre-deployed nuclear weapons for terrorists.

This latest screed from the Times Magazine will be played out again and again in major media that grovel for corporate monsters with direct interests in reviving this failed, obsolete technology.

But nothing will change the reality that Solartopia is upon us. In the real world, wind, solar, biofuels and increased efficiency are streaking ahead of atomic power, which is headed in the opposite direction.

Sooner or later, the federal handouts and liability limits that keep this failed experiment on life-support must stop.

By then, maybe even the New York Times will understand that if we are to survive ecologically and economically, it will be with clean, safe, efficient and abundant green power and efficiency.


Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030 is available at

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