Representative Ed Markey, D-MA, called on Congress to reject President Obama's request for $36 billion in loan guarentees for the US nuclear industry in an oversight hearing last week.
Markey also said Congress should reject the $36 billion in loan guarantees for more nuclear construction President Obama has asked for in this year's budget, calling them just as "toxic" as the billions in bailouts the government provided banks amid the economic crisis.
If a catastrophic event took place in the U.S. like Japan is experiencing, Markey said, "industry would be okay, but the taxpayer would end up picking up the tab."
Given new information that make a shambles of some of our basic assumptions about the safety and cost of nuclear accidents at the Fukashima, Japan site, I believe we should have more analyses, discussion, and full congressional hearings before we commit our nation to another 50 year cycle of producing nuclear wastes, for which we have no currently acceptable method of containment and storage.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress that federal regulators are watching the events in Japan very closely and will learn from the crisis and boost safety measures at current and proposed U.S. nuclear reactors if warranted.
"You can be sure with the [Nuclear Regulatory Commission] leading this ... we will be looking very carefully and gathering information from any other lessons we've learned."
The events unfolding in Japan, however, are not immediately impacting the President's energy policy and plans to expand U.S. dependence on nuclear or the $36 billion Obama has requested in new loan guarantees for nuclear construction.
Chu told the panel there has been no changes in budget priorities regarding nuclear construction in the wake of the disaster in Japan.
What? Really? "No changes in budget priorities regarding nuclear construction in the wake of the disaster, in Japan?
The knowledge that we have similar spent fuel rod ponds at every reactor site in the United States does not give us cause for pause?
A typical nuclear spent fuel rod pond contains between 20 to 50 million curies of Cesium 137, according to Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar, at the Institute For Policy Studies. For comparsion, the 1987 Chernobyl accident released 6 million curies of Cesium 137, which is 40% of it's reactor core. The cooling ponds have more because they are often the accumulation of 20 to 30 years of old rods. The are less radioactive per rod, but there are many more rods than in a reactor.
A 1997 report for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by Brookhaven National Laboratory also found that a severe pool fire could render about 188 square miles uninhabitable, cause as many as 28,000 cancer fatalities, and cost $59 billion in damage. A single spent fuel pond holds more cesium-137 than was deposited by all atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the Northern Hemisphere combined. Earthquakes and acts of malice are considered to be the primary events that can cause a major loss of pool water.
In 2003, my colleagues and I published a study that indicated if a spent fuel pool were drained in the United States, a major release of cesium-137 from a pool fire could render an area uninhabitable greater than created by the Chernobyl accident.
So am I wrong to presumme that we have this risk at every single US operating reactor? The largest conceivable dirty bombs possible, in place, waiting for a accident, or terrorist attack. Say a Cessna loaded with C4, or fuel. Or a rocket, drone, missle from an foriegn intelligence unit from a boat in the ocean? Lybian, for example?
And, Steven Chu has no idea, or questions that would cause a change in our priorities for our nation's energy strategy, or national security? Dr. Chu was supposed to be one of the better of Obama's cabinet picks?
Well I'm sorry Dr. Chu, many of the rest of us do.
I propose the Democrats offer a new deal to the GOP: that we agree to zero out this massive nuclear industry subsidy until after further study, in exchange for agreements not to cut Social Secuirty, Medicare, and Medicaid in this budget compromise, being worked out behind closed doors.
What happened to both Partys' promise of transparency?
Fortunately, I've heard rumors that the GOP is already demanding that we reduce this $36 billion nuclear give away to $18 billion.
It is not right to try to sneak policy and 50 years commitments of our energy infrastructure, without discussion into the footnotes of the "Grand Budget Compromise," that will be announced in a few weeks. Of course, the agreement is that we will not be able to change anything, and most of us here will be so outraged at the secret cuts to social programs that we will not have time to dig into the footnotes.
So, prudent Democrats should have proactive outrage now. I'm ready to go on the record now, to say that "I am shocked, truly shocked, that our leaders would play politics with budget and public safety decisions of this magnitude!"
As a society, we are being asked to make huge cuts to social programs because of this dire budget "crisis."
Cut Social Security, Medicare, Mediciad, funding for the health bill, close libraries, lay off teacher, firefighters, and even cut the miniscule investments into the research and development of clean, renewable energy alternatives.
This is not right.
Traditional Democrats need to rise up and say, "not without a line-by-line comparision to every major item in the defense budget, and unwise slush subsidies for Exelon, and the nuclear power industry, which has been a very large contributor to President Obama election campaign.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of Japan at this time of suffering, distress, and danger. We need to learn from this tragedy and be more analytic, and disciplined in our own energy, public safety and budget choices.
At the very least, our democratic form of government should allow the public to participate in decisions of this magnitude. Given that our leaders have waited until the very last moment, and still have not even brought it up, except for the outstanding statemen, Representative Ed Markey, we should delay these discussions about nuclear energy safety, and the relative objective pros-and-cons, of the components of our energy production technologies and strategies, until the next budget cycle.
We should be launch Manhatten style projects into accelerating our transition to safer, cleaner, and renewable source of energy, not creating more dangerous and expensive nuclear waste.