By Harvey Wasserman
Vermont has elected a governor pledged to make the state truly green by shutting its decrepit, leaking nuclear plant. And the town closest to that reactor has voted to take it by eminent domain if necessary, a step unprecedented in world history.
In reaction, the nuke's owner (Entergy) has turned tail and put the plant up for sale. (So far, no bidders).
In direct opposition, this post-election week has been marked by radioactive crowing from a dark age industry demanding massive government loan guarantees from "free market" Congressional Republicans. Armed with oceans of unaccountable corporate/billionaire cash, Karl Rove's new nuclear GOP wants to dump Adam Smith and pump public billions into a failed industry that cannot compete. They industry continually points to France's industry as a model. But it's mute to the fact that France's leaky, error-prone nukes are owned, operated and regulated (sort of) by the French government. A national socialist prototype, the EDF/Areva edifice---like its counterpart in Japan---would melt and die in an open market.
The US industry's route to taxpayer billions is set to run through subsidized loan guarantees. In 2005, George W. Bush set aside $18.5 billion in loan giveaways for new construction. Barack Obama delivered $8.33 for two new reactors in Georgia, where ratepayers are being forced to foot the bill IN ADVANCE, even if the plants never open. They've already been forced to eat an additional $100 million in rate hikes. Having barely begun construction, the builders already want $1 billion more.
In Maryland, a French-American consortium has fallen apart allegedly because Constellation Energy did not want to pay fees on its prospective loans. In fact, Constellation ducked because it knows that no new reactor can compete in a deregulated state, where ratepayers are not stuck with buying nuke-generated electricity no matter what the price.
Nonetheless, the national industry is now whining that the Department of Energy's loan guarantee program must be "reformed." The official projected failure rate for these loans is 50%. The history of reactor construction is defined by gargantuan cost overruns, perpetual delays and endemic design and performance failure.
But Obama wants more money for the guarantee fund. The industry's Congressionals (from both parties) want to kill even the most minimal fees, requiring little or no liability from the billionaire builders.
But in Vermont, the election day story was different. Democrat Peter Shumlin was elected governor. As speaker of the Vermont House, Shumlin led the charge to deny the state's sole reactor, Vermont Yankee, an extended operating license.
Thanks to complex, unique arrangements made during an earlier ownership transfer, Vermont has the power to deny Entergy a new permit. On February 24, the state senate voted to do just that.
No American state has successfully forced shut a nuclear plant. Yankee's owners---whoever they might be---are certain to go to court when the current license expires in March, 2012.
The nuclear industry did pour huge chunks of cash into the Vermont election to defeat Shumlin and strip the legislature of its pro-green majority. But it failed. Shumlin will now be governor, and Vermont's lawmakers are firmly committed to shut-down.
Furthermore, the voters of Brattleboro, the largest town in Yankee's near vicinity, voted 2,387 to 1,826 in favor of forcing the state to investigate taking Vermont Yankee by eminent domain to guarantee its shut-down.
The fate of America's aging reactor fleet has become a major national issue. Owners are now talking of running them 80 years and more.
Every operating US nuke was ordered before 1973. With one exception, all have run more than twenty years. Heavy doses of heat and radiation have embrittled metals and weakened concrete throughout. At Yankee, New York's Indian Point, North Anna in Virginia and quite possibly all the rest, underground pipes continually leak radioactive tritium and other lethal isotopes.
In December a confab of industry-owned Congressionals---along with Obama---will meet in Washington to choreograph the assault on taxpayer handouts for new reactors. They will want to highlight the alleged benefits on more nukes. Their efforts will ultimately be futile, says Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service. "But short of simply giving utilities billions of dollars to build new reactors, and then subsidizing the cost of their extraordinarily expensive electricity, it's hard to see what Congress could do to resurrect this deservedly dying industry. And the one thing that might actually help nuclear power—putting a stiff price on carbon—is the one thing that the newly elected climate deniers decidedly will not do. Meanwhile, the growing anti-nuclear movement will fight every effort to provide any taxpayer subsidies" for new reactors.
In Vermont, the focus will be on shutting an old one. "In holding a fire sale for its systemically mismanaged nuke, Entergy is trying to undermine the Vermont senate's overwhelming vote to close Vermont Yankee's in 2012," says Deb Katz of the Citizens Awareness Network. "Governor Shumlin was elected because of his courageous stand to close Vermont Yankee and replace it with a sane and sustainable energy policy. Exit polls found that over 14% of the electorate voted for Shumlin because of his stand on Vermont Yankee. Without those votes he would not be governor today."
With the Green Mountain State's newly elected pro-green governor and legislature, Yankee may be the first domino to fall in a chain of leaky, rickety, increasingly dangerous elder nukes. With them would go a serious premise of a nuclear future.
Harvey Wasserman edits the NukeFree.org website. His SOLARTOPIA! is at solartopia.org, along with Pete Seeger singing "The Song for Solartopia."
© 2010 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/148755/
Sunday, November 14, 2010