Here we are almost a year away from the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima that happened as a result of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 11th of last year, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announces that it is approving licenses to begin construction on the first nuclear power plants to be built in 30 years. The two new nuclear reactors will be in Georgia.
Southern Company's bid for the two nuclear plants, a project known as the Vogtle project, was greenlighted, as the Associated Press reports, despite the objections from NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko who considers safety still a big issue, and one that has yet to be resolved. Jaczko says, "We've given them a license. They have not given us any commitment they will make these changes in the future."
And, according to the AP, too, the plants could begin operating as early as 2016, and 2017.
What an odd idea, too, to have a "nuclear renaissance" in the wake of the latest report from Bloomberg that the temperature in a damaged reactor in Fukushima rose to perilous levels even after safety measures were attempted. Yes, that's right, nearly one year after the disaster, one of the now defunct reactors is still dangerously hot.
Why should Southern Co., and Georgia Power concern themselves with safety hazards like prolonged blackouts, or multiple meltdowns at various U.S. sites? There are no earthquakes in the U.S., right?
And, is the NRC abandoning its pledge, in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Japan, to enhance safety at nuclear power plants reactors in this country? Is it responsible governance to build more nuclear plants without unequivocal assurance that they are sound and relatively risk-free?
More importantly, why isn't this story getting more of a mainstream media boost especially given all the hooplah about Ahmadinejad, uranium enrichment, and a nuclear Iran?
President Obama doesn't appear to be concerned about any risks from nuclear meltdown. He's so excited about the new Vogtle project, he's even offered more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees.
Whose brainchild was Vogtle? Arguably, the Nuclear Energy Group, a powerful Washington lobbyist, was fine tuning the details on that eight billion as were aforementioned companies Southern Company, and Georgia Power. Oh, and by the way, as noted by the AP, Westinghouse, will be simulating the same reactor design for other yet to be approved for nuclear plants slated for construction in Florida and the Carolinas.
So, at a time when European countries like Germany have been vocal about rethinking their use of nuclear power as an alternate form of energy in light of Fukushima, it seems nothing short of perverse that the federal government should not only restate its commitment to nuclear energy as an alternative, but even go so far as to allot billions in the process at a time when states like California can use a stimulus package more than the nuclear power industry can. Indeed, if we're going to bailout anyone, it should be institutions of higher learning, and not instruments of potential mass casualty like nuclear reactors and drones.
And, as if to add insult to injury, the U.S. is currently engaged in an economic embargo, and on the verge of war with another country, Iran, that continually argues it wants to use nuclear reactors for the same reasons.
There are 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. many of which would probably not pass a stress test, and a license has just been granted to build another two plants, the greatest increase in the past 30 years. The president has offered billions to help bolster this "nuclear renaissance" at a time when the Republicans are calling for austerity programs, and spending cuts that will impact seniors, workers, students, and those who depend upon government-subsidized health care programs.
This is not the time for a Democratic president to succumb to the wishes of the nuclear energy lobby. This is not the time for a Democratic president to agree to subsidize entitlement programs for big energy companies, but instead this is the time for federal resources to be shared with states that are hurting, so they don't have to turn another college student away, lay off any more firefighters, teachers, and law enforcement.
Time to put the "nuclear renaissance" on hold, and instead look to forge a stronger infrastructure that protects the weakest among us instead of exposing them to more peril.
We don't need a "nuclear renaissance," Mr. President. We need a renaissance in higher education. The many thousands of students who will be unable to go to college because they can't afford tuition, and those children who have to take a bus to go to a school several miles away because their elementary school was closed due to budget cuts, their kind of energy is more important to this country now than nuclear energy. Better to wait another 30 years before building another nuclear reactor, and instead share that $8 billion with those states that have the most egregious budget shortfalls.
Follow Jayne Lyn Stahl on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaynelynstahl