President Obama: Nuclear Power Is Neither "Safe" nor "Clean

04/30/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

During President Obama's recent State of the Union speech, Congress applauded as the President announced his intention to expand "safe and clean" nuclear power. The following week the president proposed an additional $54 billion in loan guarantees to the already heavily subsidized nuclear industry.

It seems that the Obama Administration and Congress have miraculously discovered the cure for radiation-induced cancer, the solution for long term safe storage of nuclear waste and the secure containment of nuclear materials from theft or terrorist attack at nuclear power plants. It's more likely that the president and Congress are poised to dangerously repeat the same costly mistakes of the past at the expense of public health and safety and national security.

Nuclear fission is a by-product of the Manhattan Project which developed enriched uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons. After the dubious distinction of becoming the only country in the world to use atomic weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan, whether through guilt, blind faith or both, President Eisenhower proposed commercial nuclear power and the "Peaceful Atom" program.

Because nuclear energy is anything but "clean and safe," utilities refused to accept the risks without legal indemnification and almost total government underwriting.

In 1957 Congress enacted the Price Anderson Act, limiting utility liability in the event of a major nuclear accident. Hence the "Nuclear Exclusion Clause" on every insurance policy you've purchased. If that's not disconcerting enough, Congress also gave utilities huge economic "protections" including a generous guaranteed rate of return on investment. Further, in 1982 Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act obligating the taxpayer to underwrite all costs associated with managing, storing and safeguarding nuclear waste. Today there are 104 commercial nuclear reactors in the US with several of the oldest and "dirtiest" plants located in New England. The Associated Press recently reported that 27 of the 104 reactors are leaking potentially dangerous levels of carcinogenic radioactive tritium into local groundwater supplies. Pilgrim Nuclear Plant in Plymouth, MA and Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant in Vernon, VT are among the nuclear plants with leaking reactors.

Incredibly President Obama and even some "environmentalists" are promoting "safe and clean" nuclear energy as a solution to everything from climate change to Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. There are legitimate reasons why Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton all refused to proliferate new nuclear plants. Only Bush II, considered nuclear energy expansion, that is, until Sept 11, 2001 when al Qaeda terrorists flew past 12 nuclear plants from Boston to New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The use of airplanes as missiles brought home the reality that al Qaeda could have caused a nuclear nightmare had they targeted nuclear plants instead of the devastating but largely symbolic attack on our financial, military and government institutions. According to national security experts who interrogated al Qaeda terrorists after the 2001 attacks, when asked why they didn't attack nuclear facilities, they simply said "not this time." Al Qaeda has also said that they want to kill millions of Americans. Given the close proximity of several nuclear plants to urban areas including the Indian Point Nuclear Plant near New York City, that goal could be easily achieved with well placed conventional explosives or an airplane.

Nuclear technology has not substantially improved since the late 1970's when the last reactors were proposed. All that has changed are the unsolved problems have grown worse. Existing nuclear plants are more contaminated, more dangerous, less efficient and much more susceptible to nuclear terrorism and environmental catastrophe.

There is also the critical nagging issue of nuclear waste. Recently the Department of Energy canceled funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, the only potential long term storage facility identified to date in the US. After 50 years of research and hundreds of billions in direct subsidies, the nuclear industry can still find no viable long term solution to nuclear waste storage. Highly radioactive nuclear waste including plutonium laced spent fuel rods are being stored in cooling ponds designed for short term use at nuclear plant sites. Plutonium has a half life of 24,000 years, a millionth of a gram causes cancer in laboratory animals, and just 10 pounds is enough to make a powerful nuclear weapon.

The risks from nuclear power begin with uranium mining where tailings can contaminate groundwater, air and soils. Then follows the increased cancer risk to uranium miners, nuclear plant workers and neighbors living near nuclear facilities. Finally we must consider the inevitable devastating impacts of a major nuclear accident like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, or countless other nuclear "incidents" in the US and around the world over the past 50 years. The proliferation of "dangerous and dirty" nuclear power is simply not worth the devastating costs to public health and the environment or the extraordinary endless costs to the American taxpayer.