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by Alexander Cockburn

Gore on nuclear power and other energy sources

The nuclear industry decorously restrained itself from raising a public cheer when Norway's Nobel committee gave Al Gore half of this year's peace prize, but the industry's private emotions of gratitude have surely been fervent. In practical terms, it has been the chief beneficiary of the uproar about man's supposed contribution to global warming.

Twenty years ago, as an answer to America's energy needs, nuclear power stood at a nadir in public esteem, particularly among environmentalists and precisely that segment of the population most concerned today about global warming.

The objections are as valid today as they ever were. Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of lethal toxic waste, trundled often by rail around the country, often through urban areas where fire or kindred accident could swiftly produce catastrophe. The storage sites have been prone to leaks and poisoning of aquifers. The plants themselves are prone to boiler explosions, and also to terrorist assault -- again with potentially catastrophic human consequences.

Nuclear energy requires uranium, mined at grave human cost. It sustains the military production of nuclear weapons. It's an energy source using the centralized grid systems that environmentalists have been assailing for decades. Since they frequently break down, they have to be backed by coal-fired plants. Unless the U.S. government assumes liability, the energy produced is extremely expensive. Finally, to those crediting the jeremiads of Gore and others about the baneful role of humanly produced greenhouse gases, the nuclear plants do badly in this regard.

Yet, the immense irony is that many influential greenhouse alarmists have always been privately well aware that unless the nation shifted to energy sources and conservation measures that would be anathema to the most powerful corporate interests in the United States, the prime exit from the crisis they have been sponsoring is through a door marked "nuclear power." Gore himself has been a friend to the nuclear industry from the first day he stepped into Congress entrusted with the sacred duty to protect the budgetary and regulatory interests of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Oakridge National Laboratory, both of them enormously powerful institutions in Gore's home state.

Already the fixation on anthropogenic global warming stoked by Gore has done great damage to vital environmental clean-up work, sidetracking attention and money from work on sewers, toxic waste sites and filthy smoke stacks, not to mention the vast disaster of agricultural pollution. Biofuels will steal the meals of the Third World poor and put them in First World gas tanks.

But nuclear power is the hysteria's prime beneficiary. As Peter Montague, a thorn in the nuclear industry's side for many years, recently announced in his newsletter Rachel's Democracy and Health News, "The long-awaited and much-advertised 'nuclear renaissance' actually got under way this fall." NRG Energy, a New Jersey company applied for a license to build two nuclear power plants in Bay City, Texas -- the first formal application for such a license in 30 years.

NRG can confidently expect a swift OK from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission -- for a couple of reasons. Two years ago, using the tumult over the supposed effects of manmade greenhouse gasses from fossil fuels, the nuclear industry successfully lobbied Congress to pass the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which provides four different kinds of subsidies for atomic power plants.

Energy corporations are lining up for the handouts. According to Montague, the NRC is expecting to receive applications for an additional 29 nuclear power reactors at 20 sites. The NRC has already hired more than 400 new staff to deal with the expected flood of applications.

This last April, the other shoe dropped with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's sweeping revision of its procedures, drastically attenuating the approval process for new plants. By defining "construction" of a nuclear plant to mean only the building of the reactor itself, the NRC has excluded from initial regulatory scrutiny about 90 percent of the actual environmental impacts of construction.

As new nuclear plants start to sprout like toadstools across the landscape, it is certainly appropriate to lay a large measure of the responsibility for this on Al Gore. For a Man of Peace, his CV has plenty of blood on it. In the course of his political career, Gore voted for the neutron bomb, the B-2 bomber, the Trident II missile, the MX missile and the Midgetman. He also backed the mini-Star Wars plan. The defense contractors always loved Al, the same way the nuclear plant manufacturers do today.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor   October 18, 2007   (

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