A year has passed since the disaster at the Soviet’s Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine. Outside the Soviet Union, governments have impounded and destroyed radioactive cheese and milk; they have conceded that silage and hay for farm animals are contaminated in Western Europe. Turkish tea and hazelnuts have been contaminated. For the same reason, reindeer were destroyed in northern Scandinavia. Third world nations from Brazil to Egypt have protested to European countries who were bent on dumping some “hot” milk and cheese into their markets.
In the United States, the Reagan regime’s reaction to Chernobyl has been to weaken further the regulatory efforts of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). While 135,000 people were evacuated from a wide arc around Chernobyl, the NRC is considering reducing the evacuation zone plans around nuclear plants from ten miles to one mile (Scientists at Princeton and MIT believe the distance should be nearer to 40 miles.). The Congress is balking at repealing the Price-Anderson Act which limits the liability of a nuclear power utility to a fraction of the megabillions in damage and loss of life from any atomic power plant meltdown.
Yet in the midst of this bureaucratic and Congressional kowtowing to the nuclear lobby, the terrible economics of nuclear power become more evident each month. The utilities themselves recognize these staggering costs ( a plant costs at least four times to build now than in 1977); they have not produced a firm order for a nuclear plant since 1975. What’s more, utilities like Southern California Edison are investing on the principle that it is cheaper to save electricity than to make it — both for the utility and for the consumers.
There are presently 108 nuclear plants licenses to operate in the U.S. Some, at any time, are closed down. The Tennessee Valley Authority closed down five of its nuclear plants over a year ago. And, after discovering nighttime plant operators sleeping or watching videos on the job at the Pennsylvania Peach Bottom plant, even the NRC decided to act and close it down.
About 15 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from atomic power. This amounts to about 5.5 percent of the total energy used in the country. Wood gives us more energy. Cogeneration — using industrial steam to produce electricity — is coming on line faster than nuclear power.
Physicist, Amory B. Lovins, in early 1986, reported that “more new generating capacity has been ordered in the U.S. since 1979 from small hydro plants and windpower than from coal or nuclear plants or both, not even counting the latter’s cancellations.” He adds: “Since 1979, the U.S. has gotten more than a hundred times as much new energy from savings as from all net expansions of energy supply combined.”
Lovins presents his facts and figures directly before meetings of utility industry specialists. They have trouble refuting him, which may be why more utilities are changing their ways away from giant central power station construction to selling conservation and using small scale energy systems. To show how far we have come in efficiency improvements, Lovins calculates that we are saving about $150 billion a year as compared to what we would be spending if the country was as inefficient today as it was in 1973.
All these positive developments are not fostered by Reagan’s government. Just the opposite is occurring. He is giving in to demands by GM and Ford to reduce the fuel efficiency standards for cars. He has almost mothballed the government’s energy conservation and solar energy development programs while continuing to pour huge amounts of taxpayer dollars into the nuclear power sinkhole.
How ironic or hypocritical that Ronald Reagan is not boosting what is going on in the country. Smaller, cheaper, faster, safer alternatives are booming from New Hampshire to Texas, says Lovins, supplanting new coal and nuclear plants wherever competition is allowed. Yet the obstinate Reaganites — corporatists to the last — siding with leaking atomic power technologies that burden future generations with radioactive waste and pose the peril of a Chernobyl or worse to wide areas of our country.
With all these alternatives and with 35% excess electric generating power available, either we close nuclear power plants now before a catastrophe occurs or we will have to close them down after such a calamity. That is the choice before America.