Nukes Will Never Be Sustainable Business
Duna Norton, who always glanced my way as if he were watching a loose cannon on the deck of a ship that he was guiding through a storm, had a memorable quip to sum up a key point about life, which applies ferociously to any pretense of sustainable business. "If your income don't exceed your outgo, your upkeep is gonna be your downfall." Arguably, this is particularly apt wisdom for the human, and especially the American, context just now.
For the most part, when people think about their own affairs, the ability to 'budget' accurately is fairly straightforward, but among the 20,000,000 'independent contractors' out there in this great land, as well as among the likely equally numerous unemployed and marginally employed, even such simple prognostication can prove thorny. Thus, that vastly more perplexing combinations of factors beset larger and even more intricate affairs, as in the budget for a nation, or the projected expenditures required to build a nuclear reactor, should come as no surprise.
This should clarify why the probing of quandaries about price and value must sometimes be essential, if we are to be responsible about maintaining a semblance of balance in our business, both personal and collective. Yet, as oodles of observers attest, we shudder at the prospect of such delving, despite the fact that a decent outcome in the intersecting lives of seven billion cousins may depend on new knowledge and enthusiastic learning.
As one clever essayist stated this point, "'Innovative learning is a necessary means of preparing individuals and societies to act in concert in situations, especially those that have been, and continue to be, created by humanity itself,'" such as the present pass in relation to energy, for example. Of course, without the sort of 'learning curve' implicit here, sustainability is out of the question, except by random good luck.
Following up this call to comprehensive self-instruction, we might aver that the 'devil is in the details.' JustMeans readers, and any citizen who embraces responsible and progressive behavior, ought to elevate that statement from cliche to aphorism. In no other area of existence does the wisdom of this notion ring truer than in the nuclear sphere.
Unfortunately, just at this critical juncture--where the necessity for knowledge meets a copious queue of puzzling facts, we may encounter a combination of question avoidance, on the part of citizens either befuddled or intimidated, and question evasion on the part of those whose stake in a 'Standard Operating Procedure' is largest. Of course, the former may stem in part from the latter.
As Michael Kinsley wrote in a Slate Magazine entry a few years back, essentially labeling evasive behavior 'avoidance,'
|"Avoiding questions (from reporters, from opponents, from citizens) is the basic activity of the American politician. Or rather, avoiding the supply of answers. Skill and ingenuity in question-avoidance techniques are a big factor in political success. Usually, avoiding the question involves pretending to answer it, or at least supplying some words to fill the dead space after the question has been asked."|
Coming to such a conclusion, pretty obviously, suggests one simple way of improving our understanding: we need merely address the tendency to defer to entropy in our own actions, in other words just to 'let things slide' without inquiry, and we must assure honesty in accounting by those in command. This is the 'I'll be better tomorrow' and 'I'll choose better management tomorrow' approach to social improvement, or as my mom would say, "Let's just get rid of the bad actors and stop being bad actors ourselves."
In general, such thinking does not persuade me. At the same time, one simple method for empowering our own agency is to vow to improve and then honor our promises with a process that addresses our failings. Wendell Berry is one of the authorities on whom I have called who agrees with such a point of view, at least as a place to start.
|"The energy crisis is not scarcity: it is moral ignorance and weakness of character. We don’t know how to use energy or what to use it for. And we cannot restrain ourselves. Our time is characterized as much by the abuse and waste of human energy as it is by the abuse and waste of fossil fuel energy."|
Thus, despite my 'moral certainty' that the political issues underlying the economic concerns, and the social deficits underpinning the technical questions, are vastly more central than matters of cost and technique per se, the main point of this essay is to present a combination of evidence and analysis about the nuclear fuel cycle and the equipment attendant on extracting electricity from that cycle. Together with the historical background about utilities from a fortnight ago, this piece forms part of the puzzle of participatory democracy regarding nuclear decisions.
For the record, three upcoming posts also contribute to this capacity. The first deals with radiation and health risks associated with nuclear power plants; the second presents a detailed account of the history of nuclear technology in the United States; the third compares what we can discern, starting from the material presented today, about atomic energy's present costs in relation to other choices. Altogether, today's article and those four other items, one 'in the can,' as it were, the other three forthcoming, lay the basis for readers to start acting like informed citizens.
Of course, that would assume that we have a democratic policy making process. And, outside of Vermont, which has booted its nuclear reactor from further operation after Vermont Yankee's current license ends, no State in the Union really comes close to such an ideal.
That, as the saying goes, is a horse of a different color, however. For today, epistemological considerations, as nerdy and offputting as they may seem to many folks, lie at the heart of becoming responsible citizens. Therefore, we now will grapple with how we can know, or how certainly we can say, what costs of nuclear power we can specify and what debits do not presently appear on the balance sheet. Again, our inception of this process starts with the belief that informed stewardship over nuclear technology must originate with such a learning process.
I have been struggling for years with how to contextualize nuclear matters. I have more than a score of books that deal primarily with nuclear energy; I've clipped hundreds and hundreds of articles; I have read or at least partially digested tens of thousands of sources from the virtual world; I have spoken with 'experts' and citizens who take both sides of this contentious debate.
In the end, in most situations, almost everything comes down to a 'he said/she said' sort of juxtaposition. Leading one team, sporting real-life experience with either the nuclear weapons or nuclear power industries, or both, the onlooker will see hard-scientists, engineers, business people, and government and private bureaucrats and policy-makers; the 'troops' of this end of the polarity are diffuse, but may primarily consist of technophiles and contractors, construction-trades workers, and former military--especially navy--personnel with some sort or another of hands-on background in regard to nukes.
Leading the other team, one will find, occasionally, 'defectors' from the pro-nuke 'Priesthood,' joined by community organizers, grassroots activists, physicians, public health professionals, and other biological and social scientists either who also began with a firm grounding in nuclear science or who have taught themselves as they have contributed to the ongoing disputation; the troops at this pole of the process are also multifarious, but may primarily enlist from the ranks of techno-critics, communities that have experienced what they have viewed as environmental injustice, and any number of hip, artistic, and culturally radical individuals.
Both camps make credible presentations, especially to those who don't have much grounding in the field, about the issues that comprise the controversy: wastes, costs, radiation risks, weapons proliferation, terrorists targets, and, as I have viewed as critical, opportunity costs. Without necessary comprehension and assessment of the central components of nuclear technology, deciding between these two positions often comes down to a mix of gut instinct and 'whatever ma and pa did.'
I've acknowledged that I have firmly planted myself among those who loathe and abhor any proposition for even one more nuclear reactor. I have, in my previous articles on JustMeans and elsewhere, provided the reasons for my position, which has come to include quite a few factors, of which I list seven.
*An inclination that precaution is wise when the plausible risks of a choice are huge--the so called 'precautionary principle;'
*In line with that, an insistence that nuclear reactors, like any other enterprise, need to pay their own insurance premiums before they can operate;
*A recognition that nuclear weapons have always been a concomitant result of atomic power;
*A compilation of data, from innumerable sources, that suggests that proponents of nuclear power significantly understate the dangers accompanying low level radiation;
*A spate of cases in which governmental and stakeholder agents have lied, misrepresented, and even defrauded citizens and aliens whom their commitment to radioactive technologies has harmed;
*A close consideration of costs and benefits, from a citizen's perspective, that has indicated that far more efficient, safe, and beneficent means exist to obtain electricity and otherwise surpass our baseload energy requirements;
*A strong suspicion that a few more furlongs down the nuclear highway will leave humanity no choice other than to proceed in this direction, no matter what catastrophes will likely result.
So saying, even if a thus-far 'neutral' reader really likes my style, my ways of thinking, and the evidence that I provide, he or she simply cannot feel comfortable deciding as I've decided when confronted by equally, and frequently more, compelling advocates for this pathway that is anathema to me.
The situation is analogous to a court case. I've shown that the witness has lied; I've shown that the witness has a bias based on economic interest; I've shown that the witness has caused certain sorts of harms in the past; I've demonstrated that the witness doesn't pay his own insurance, but instead wants us to pay; I've shown these facts to be true.
But nuclear energy could still be the best bet. 'That was all in the past,' propounds the judge, rapping her gavel and asking the jury to focus on 'just the testimony before the jurors now.' To make an informed decision requires information, and that is what follows below.
INITIAL ASPECTS OF UNDERSTANDING NUKENOMICS
The first point to note about pricing and other projections of costs in regard to nuclear is how frequently partial, and occasionally false, the present 'establishment' systems are in articulating such issues. If one wants to refresh the memory of what this means in down-to-earth terms, one might refer to my article about "Informed Dissent," from a few weeks back.
In regard to this notion of distortion today, a couple instances will serve for the moment. No one can fault the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for seeking to bury away generally accurate depictions of nuclear energy. In fact, for those who understand how nuclear systems function--if not in the same way as an engineer does, then as an informed citizen can--DOE sites are marvelous. But this praise comes with a stern caveat.
This warning mirrors the 'note' above, of course. The language is occasionally so cavalier about reality as to represent an outright lie. More frequently, the wording is, at best, disingenuous and partial enough to represent a discomfiting twisting of the facts. In one critical respect, the sin is one of omission instead of commission.
*Thus, for example, in relation to the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) lovely little chart about the nuclear fuel cycle in its "Introduction to Nuclear Power," the "Final Disposition" component, dealing with wastes, is a false assertion in two ways. No such 'elimination' is possible; nothing close has ever been demonstrated.
*In relation to its representation of "Reprocessing," it notes that "this step is omitted...in most countries" but says nothing about why--nuclear weapons and gross environmental risks.
*in relation to the absolute necessity to do something about reactors that are no longer 'safely' operable, some kind of decommissioning process must happen--whether a hideously misnamed 'mothballing,' or a complete disarticulation and subsequent long-term sequestration, of all of the plant's equipment is to occur; while the so-called 'marginal costs' of this process--which will become increasingly frequent as America's 104 current reactors, many of them in equally advanced states of decline as the recently rejected Vermont Yankee, have to be 'put out to pasture' in some eternally noxious repository--may end up being relatively small, the history of nukes ought to give us pause about any such merry presumption.
Nonetheless, despite such inadequacies, the present article relies, for most of its portal access to the questions present today, exclusively on DOE documentation. However, any citizen or group of citizens who wanted to repeat the process would also want to create a parallel set of materials, with no 'stakeholder' bias in favor of nukes, to supplement the government's stream of information. Such materials are also widely available, and, at the least equally plausible, or plausibly persuasive. In addition, my previous bibliographic essay, "Informed Dissent," has many more such linkages.
So saying, the present paper provides a basic method for examining the four stages of the nuclear process. It first looks at the five steps at the front end of the fuel cycle and suggests ways of thinking about attendant liabilities there. Second, it looks at the construction phase and produces a framework for contemplating price there. Third, it investigates the expenses associated with actual operation and power production. Finally, it peers into the waste/decommissioning/'recycling' disbursals concomitant with the 'back-end' of the vaunted nuclear fuel cycle.
At least three important process points are critical to address if anyone, expert or citizen, is going to comprehend these four interconnected phases of atomic energy. The first is that, at every single step of the cycle, on every single day of operation, not one ledger entry reflects certain results of nuclear energy's elaboration--for example, cancers that the radiation from the various processes
cause. That these radionuclides cause cancer is not in question; the only issue is how many. Whether that number is a handful or thousands, none of them becomes a line item in estimating "nuclear energy cost" as currently accounted.
The purposeful 'externalizing' of what are inevitably effects of nuclear energy's routines is not unique to either capitalism or the atomic energy industry. But we are idiots, looked at in the most favorable light, if we accept such calculated dismissal of human suffering--our suffering, in order to 'get along' with nuclear neighbors.
Second, all projections of nuclear costs come from models, which in turn mirror sets of assumptions. Given the demonstrable record of nuclear proponents in making their estimates, all of those who will end up paying for this power source need to know that the likely price-tag will end up being much steeper.
Third, many--and I would assert without being able to prove it (ah, the fate of being on the wrong side of the grant-giving paradigm), almost all--common calculations of the per-kilowatt-hour price of nuclear electricity are at best gross distortions. They do not include capital costs, any externalized harms--no matter how expensive, nor do they account for any verifiable disbursements that clean-up will require, although, in reality of course, 'clean-up' of the millennia of toxicity resultant from nukes is a chimera to begin with.
Before we proceed to the breakdown of how a citizen can consider nuclear power's price-tag validly and rationally, I'll emphasize again that the U.S. government does a monumental service in creating the trove of material available about nukes. Vast archives are accessible; moreover various international nuclear energy associations and industry groups expand and extol the government's unreservedly sunny estimates about this technology.
From Mining to Fuel-Assembly: the Fuel-Cycle's Front End
Five Elements characterize the mandatory steps that must transpire before radioactive steam turns the turbines of an atomic plant for the first time. Each step involves arcane and amazing technology, some of the labor involved necessitates additional sub-routines, and all of the work involves 'externalities' that do not show up on the bottom-line payment due for the electricity that we get from nukes.
The first of these is Exploration & Mining, which involves two functions, each of which is worthy of attention in its own right. To begin, as the EIA 'Intro' site implies, looking for 'promising' areas that might have Uranium riches is a governmental function.
One of many State geological agencies that state this more explicitly says "The Geological Survey publishes maps and reports on the mineralogical, paleontological, and geochemical resources of North Dakota, including oil and gas, coal, uranium, clay, sand and gravel, volcanic ash, potash and other salts, etc." This, along with the satellite images and such mentioned by EIA, never appear on a utility bill; the funds for this nuclear-support-infrastructure emanate from our taxes.
While physically carrying out the drilling and other work that reveals Uranium deposits--which tend to "clump" and can therefore be more expensive to locate, according to EIA--is 'on the company dime,' as the idiom would put it, very often, another sop to the present paradigm takes place because the mines themselves end up on public lands--one of the articles that I will do, given time and tide don't wash me astray, is a historical political economy of the Forest Service (USFS) and the Geological Survey (USGS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and such, the first of these in particular essentially a creation of the hyper rich both to avoid taxes and to guarantee cheap access to 'natural resources.'
In other words, below-market or even, practically speaking, free entry to such resources is again the result of subsidies that, entirely separate from our electricity bills, this writer and other citizens pay. And the common vistas in question can be shocking to consider, as in within a few miles of the Grand Canyon.
|"Spikes in the price of uranium have caused thousands of new uranium claims, dozens of exploratory drilling projects, and movement to open several uranium mines on public lands immediately north and south of Grand Canyon," reported a Sierra Club press release, before quoting the Arizona Daily Star about the history and present state of the political economy of mining. "Our view: Antiquated 1872 law puts our state treasure and other parks at risk. There is no place more sacred to Arizonans than the Grand Canyon. However, it is at risk."|
For a fast glimpse of the facade that covers such efforts, inaugurated by the General Mining Law of 1872 and subsequently devolved to the overwhelming benefit of corporate interests, one might examine many sources such as this: "Ed Abbey called (BLM) the 'Bureau of Livestock and Mines. Less creative writers call it the 'Bureau of Land Mismanagement.' It sometimes calls itself 'the nation's leading conservation agency.' Whatever you call it, the Bureau of Land Management manages more land than any other entity in the United States. ...nearly one-third more land (including all mining claims) than the Forest Service, (yet) the agency remains largely unknown to the general public."
Just as the first step toward nuclear electricity dangles one perquisite after another to the plutocracy, so too this pattern continues in mining, where a primary vehicle of such beneficence is tax write-offs. As Marcus Taylor made clear, of course, in one of my early posts on Appalachian State's Renewable Energy Initiative(INTERLINK), "all energy is subsidized." But citizens need to pay attention to these details, or any hope of efficient, optimal policy is out of the question, and social and environmental justice won't even have a spot on the agenda.
Lung cancer and other fatal and disabling disorders are a few of the direct offshoots of mining for Uranium, inherently attendant on the mining process itself, which a recent New Yorker article, despite its condescending dismissiveness repeatedly admitted. None of these show up, at least not in their totality, on our electric bill. Despite how horrendous such results are, however, such externalization and lack of complete accountability show up with particular savagery in the aftermath of the mining itself, at least in terms of the larger ecosystems surrounding any specific mining operation.
That things are much better than once they were is scary.
Still, the Canadian Pembina Institute calls "Uranium Mining Nuclear Power's Dirty Little Secret." This could easily turn into a series of books and films documenting depredation and irresponsibility.
We might suffice for now with an analogy. In order to sustain a technology that may or may not be cost-effective, safe, and salubrious for Homo Sapiens existence, a mining operation creates a carcinogenic pit, which will remain toxic for a billion years or so, in the middle of a neighborhood, or adjacent to it.
The extraction process complete, the company exits by piling up the nasty leavings, called 'tailings' in industry parlance, and says to the locals. 'Don't worry, it's all accounted for; just don't drink the water and stay off this property that once was recreational and part of your heritage.' This is what the nuclear industry wants people to believe is sustainable business practice, one that they are preparing to expand in Virginia, Florida, and plenty of other places as the price of 'Yellowcake' continues on its upward trend.
To bring this analogy, which ought to give a listener pause by itself, right down to the back yard barbecue as it were, we might close this section by quoting the Pembina Institute's empirical articulation of this point. "Supplying a typical Canadian household with nuclear-generated electricity results in the production of 14 kg of toxic and radioactive mine tailings and up to 440 kg of waste rock every year."
Another step along the nuclear freeway involves taking the ore and breaking down the its rocky chunks into pebbles and pieces of more or less uniform size, then using acids to concentrate the Uranium into a bright powder labeled Yellowcake. The World Information Service on Energy has truly tackled this entire area in a way that yields the level of knowledge that citizen activists need. This essay may serve to funnel some of that great effort.
Quite possibly, this 'milling' step is even filthier than mining, since it often takes place closer to communities. In any event, WISE documents multiple instances of violations by Uranium milling companies, both of their agreed -upon period of operation, and of their duty to reclaim the environs in which they have set up shop. In actuality, of course, such reclamation is impossible. Only a simulacrum of restorationis possible.
Native American lands, particularly those of the Navajo have repeatedly suffered at the hands of the nuclear establshment. Moreover, these insidious injuries may often be multigenerational. Claims of birth defects that are redolent of the cries of Iraqi mothers are common on indigenous lands.
Recently, the Community Environmental Health Program at the University of New Mexico has joined with community leaders among the Navajo who are seeking justice, including studies of pregnant women and young children, and the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has given the go-ahead for a long term study of 1,600 local residents, many of whom are demanding compensation as well as treatment.
Both WISE and CEHP attest to the severity and scope of this legacy of lethal toxicity. "Uranium exposures on the Navajo Nation are a concern because of abandoned uranium mines and mills. There are 1,100 abandoned mines, mills and associated waste piles scattered throughout the area, which includes northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico."
The leftovers of the milling process are both chemically more toxic and radiologically more dangerous--partially because of the powdering process, than the remnants of the mining endevors. These tailings thus require even more care in containment. But as WISE has documented, major, even disastrous containment failures have occurred historically, and continuing smaller leakage is a matter of course.
One of the biggest deleterious impacts of the milling process is on groundwater in these arid regions, where all water is a precious gift. In hundreds of documented cases, affecting tens of thousands of square miles and untold extents of sensitive ecosystems, such contamination has taken place however. Moreover, a general spread of toxins into contact with communities has continuously accompanied this process.
The third move toward fission and the electric current that grounds the nuclear industry's promise of 'clean and carbon free power' involves the gasification of Uranium, using Fluorine. This chemical process, creating UF6, permits technicians to employ one of several means to concentrate the lighter isotope of Uranium, U235, which is only about one per cent of the original mass of the element.
As is often the case with such matters of the nuclear past, the Federation of American Scientists presents an excellent historical overview of this technology's evolution. This is particularly useful, perhaps, because this is the key step that easily invites the manifestation of nuclear weapons, as well as of power generation.
The enrichment basically leads to a concentration of U238 that is necessary because the heavier isotope is not naturally fissionable under everyday conditions, and creating reactors that used a lower concentration of U235 and still created heat would be both more expensive and less efficient. Therefore, the magic of science and engineering has created mechanisms to power up the amount of U235 to the necessary plus or minus four per cent level.
The two processes thus far operable on a commercial scale, gaseous diffusion and centrifuges, both require exorbitant expenditures on machinery and massive amounts of electricity. Their costs are, however, largely passed on in what the utility pays for the finished product down the line. Other techniques, using lasers, may reduce the energy inputs necessary but will also require inordinate outlays of cash in order to build.
A German and United Kingdom conglomerate has poised itself to compete with U.S. predominance in this market, which has centered on the gaseous diffusion process. The new company, "URENCO, is an independent international energy and technology group with its head office based in Marlow, UK. It operates plants in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and from a fourth site in New Mexico, US. It operates in a pivotal area of the nuclear fuel supply chain, which enables the sustainable generation of electricity for consumers around the world. ...URENCO is firmly positioned in the enrichment stage, which is the highest added value segment of the supply chain."
It also claims to be more environmentally friendly, though such a contention may be roughly like saying that a blockbuster conventional bomb is less devastating than a tactical nuclear weapon. Both involve the potential for horrendous damage, harm, and loss of life.
Such enrichment centrifuges are the present Iranian regime's technical choice for enriching that nation's Uranium stocks. This points to the fact that all enrichment processes do permit continued packing of U235 into the finished 'product' of these equipment interfaces, until so-called 'bomb-grade' material is available. While most or all of contemporary U.S. nuclear weapons use Plutonium, a city destroying weapon, like the one that leveled Hiroshima, is possible to produce from Uranium alone.
The United States Enrichment Corporation(USEC) is the only supplier currently extant in the U.S., provisioning half of the country's reactor needs and nearly a quarter of the world's market, about the same as URENCO. Though DOE had "expressed concern," the company's application for a $2 billion loan guarantee to undertake an expansion is on track.
This 'American Centrifuge Project' (ACP) will possibly lead to as many as 4,000 jobs near Chillicothe, Ohio and an equal number elsewhere, likely replacing the Paducah Kentucky gaseous diffusion site that has been in existence since the Manhattan Project. Arguably, from a ruling class leader's perspective, this ACP is a critical security operation, since to lose a key international industry in this period of 'Nuclear Renaissance,' would be problematic, even disastrous.
From a citizen's perspective, such competition can be discomfiting, since in an environment of cost-cutting cut-throat interaction with competitors, all manner of short-cuts in regard to safety can become commonplace. In any event, presently, only the gaseous diffusion plant, the older technology, on the Ohio River Southwest of Louisville, continues to operate.
This factory for many years following the Manhattan Project remained a part of the U.S.'s H-bomb production process. Now, DOE leases this and other facilities to USEC. Thus, past tax dollars are the basis for a company's profitability, and contemporary loan guarantees give it the opportunity to increase its income. As recently as 2007, according to the New York Times, it was "fighting for survival."
The local NPR station, implicitly affirming the nuclear risks that accompany this piece of the nuclear puzzle, did a five part series on 'cleaning up Atomic City.' The role of big corporate muscle here, with Martin Marietta and Union Carbide the two owners of the plant before USEC, is an aspect of this issue of noxious toxicity that permeates the nuclear situation. These are not 'mom-and-pop' concerns that just can't afford to do the safest job possible.
The radio series showed the deeply conflicted feelings that some workers had, the turn of some former employees to activism, and the satisfaction that other laborers had from long years of service in the Uranium enriched trenches of this sixty odd year old legacy of the nuclear age. Joe Hudson had become a workers advocate, who now defines his role as making sure that the company follows safety protocols.
"Hudson says the health concern he encounters most with his clients is cancer. He explains a construction worker's dilemma. 'We know there's hazardous chemicals. We know we're in a hazardous environment. But we all have families that we have to support and we need a paycheck. If that's where the work is, that's where we're going to work. We feel that if there's going to be medical problems down the road, then I'll deal with them down the road, but right now I need a job. And that's the way we all look at it.'"
Every JustMeans reader should paste those words on the refrigerator, as should every environmental advocate on earth who has ever said a disparaging thing about job-hunters or working class defense of nasty jobs. This is reality. And every one of us may soon confront similar dilemmas, if we don't 'skill up' and develop the organizational acuity to confront this dilemma with more than pablum and more data-driven assertions about poisons.
Another attribute of enrichment that has massively cost the taxpayer of late, but has not added more than a few cents to the cost of reactor fuel assemblies, is the ongoing decommissioning process for one closed gaseous process enrichment plant, and the coming closing of Paducah. As in all things nuclear, cost overruns are endemic, but approximately zero nuclear proponents talk about this as an aspect of the bottom line of the technology.
USEC, as it was simultaneously asking for billions in loan guarantees, went 'hat in hand' to the DOE, and the DOE turned around and asked "you and me." "This shortfall is comparable to the Initial Fund Assessment completed by the Government Accountability Office in November 1991, which concluded that the $7.2 billion in contributions to the Fund would not cover the estimated $19.1 billion liability, or the $11.9 billion shortfall (in 1992 dollars). The Department recommends that the Fund be reauthorized so the Government can satisfy its original obligation to the Fund. In addition, the Department believes that the Fund’s current structure for both remedial action and D&D has been key to the success to date. Accordingly, the Department recommends that remedial action funding should continue through the Fund to ensure continuity in project schedules and, inherently integrated D&D and remedial action activities.
A different view of the jobs issue emanated from an organized community in Louisiana, which contributed to a community-based research article on the matter,
| "Environmental Racism and Biased Methods of Risk Assessment."
"(E)nvironmental injustice and racism occur not only when policymakers violate minorities' rights to free informed consent or equal treatment in siting decisions but also when risk assessors use biased scientific methods whose policy consequences de facto result in unjustified discrimination against people of color and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. We support our claim by presenting a case study of the recently proposed Claiborne Enrichment Center (CEC), a uranium enrichment facility near Homer, Louisiana. We show that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the CEC is seriously fiawed in its general scientific methodology and logic. In our view, the agency's EIS: provides inadequate arguments both for the plant and for siting the polluting facility in a poor black community; does not sufficiently explore other, less dangerous, energy alternatives; gives no reasonable justification for eliminating potential alternative sites in more affiuent areas; improperly implements its own criteria for selecting an appropriate host community; uses biased accident evaluations that underestimate risks imposed on the black community; minimizes and misrepresents normal operating risks of the CEC; and underestimates costs and overestimates benefits. "
The reasoning presents a brief against nukes, especially when one can delineate the processes that the entire nuclear 'chain of command' entails. A final point in this regard is that, in addition to the continuous, though fairly localized poison that enrichment inevitably spews around as a result of the chemistry and mechanized fury of the work, millions of pounds each year of Depleted Uranium become a liability for the government to oversee.
Not only is this another chunk from the taxpayers' wallets, that makes not even a cameo dance across the stage of our utility bills, but we also have seen that the notion of commoditizing a seriously dangerous byproduct is irresistible to the denizens of capital. Thus, we have, potentially, hundreds of thousands or more soldiers now suffering because the policy of Nuclear Birth went forward; who knows how bad the downstream effects will be of a policy of Nuclear Rebirth. "Let's not find out," is one way to think about this matter, as a way of thinking of both sound economics and sound ethics.
The final two steps of the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle normally take place together. This involves taking the again solidified, enriched Uranium, heating it so that it again becomes a gas, and then converting the fluorine powder-turned gas into an oxide of Uranium, which when cooled again becomes a powder. This powder though, a nascent metal, at moderately high temperatures is possible to sinter into ceramic//metallic pellets.
Adjacent to this creation of nuggets of Uranium, now with enough U235 in them to become continuously fissionable in the right volume and configuration, a delicate and exacting manufacturing process is unfolding. The results of this work are almost perfectly machined tubes, not much wider than a number two pencil, that consist of a very strong, corrosion-resistant steel which allows automated equipment to load the entire tube, anywhere from about eight feet to twelve feet tall, with the 4% U235 pellets.
The assembly process not only creates individual tubes, but it also produces configurations of the tubes, like psycho-long metal straws stuck into styrofoam (only the base and top of the configuration is more super strong ceramics and steel). In fact, each one of these groupings of tubes gathers more or less a couple hundred fuel rods into one place.
In turn, these fuel assemblages, when a hundred or so of them sit next to each other inside of the reactor core, permit a continued chain reaction, known as a 'critical mass' to happen. The fuel cycle is now getting close to completion.
No step in the entire chain of labor and technology and money that yields a radioactive water boiler deserves the label clean. But, arguably, this step comes closest. It involves very little toxic effluent, relative to any other step in the cycle. Only a moderate amount of acids and other chemical magic are, for the most part, necessary.
The Uranium itself is so expensive that every facility that creates these configurations seeks to use every gram. No actual process fissioning occurs, in other words fissioning to do something like boil water, so radioactive waste is not nearly as large an issue either as it is in other stages of the fuel cycle.
Were the prior aspects not necessary, and the following technologies not the purpose, this would be for many capitalist industrial parks a dream come true, the perfect 'catch' for a community seeking high tech jobs. Like the enrichment phase, though for different reasons, the metallurgy and assembly that transpire here require a lot of energy and employ only the most expensive machine tools and equipment. Again, even more so than in the prior stage, most or all of this cost shows up on a consumer electric bill somewhere.
Honeywell Corporation again shows the penetration of the higher levels of the 'Nuclear Fool Cycle' by the largest companies on earth. Its Illinois operation is the main present fabricator of fuel Assemblies. The Honeywell Metropolis conversion plant recently demonstrated that all of the regular sets of conflicts and contradictions afflict these simultaneously seemingly sacrosanct and demonic facilities.
The factory entered a "partial shutdown as a result of a bargaining unit lock-out" of the United States Steelworkers local that represented the skilled staff who were in charge of creating the metallic structures that sit at the very heart of a nuclear reactor. The scientists and lab assistants who oversaw the chemical end of the process, the powder-to-gas, gas-to-gas, and gas-to-powder conversion, now found themselves doing double duty, manning the fabrication process as well.
While this might make an anti-union advocate's heart sing, the rest of us will have to hope that no fuel assembly meltdowns result from this environment of stretch-out in a new sphere of work. The World Information Service on Energy, with its vastly more comprehensive coverage than is possible in this briefing, is able to document multiple and regular violations of EPA and other standards by Honeywell. This does not instill confidence in an overstretched workforce taking on unfamiliar jobs.
We can see again, the possibility is extant, even at this most benign of Nuclear Food Chain operations, much potential for off-the-books risk. And now the downside could be gigantic, as when a fuel assembly could go south near New York City or Los Angeles, or Augusta, Georgia, just down I-20 from this humble correspondent.
The Three Manifestations of a Nuclear Reactor: Assembly, Start-up, Operation
Since the next article in this series, about the history of nuclear weapons and power, will take the reactor phase of the fuel cycle and develop it more fully, today only a precis of the actual nuclear process reactor appears. A gigantic body blow to budgets almost universally takes place at this juncture. Given that multiple intersections of different technologies and science--boilers, turbines, high-pressure steam, radiation-chemistry, nuclear physics, and more--all coalesce in the reactor building and various heat transfer and steam generating and turbine structures that are part of a reactor, this diceyness in relation to price projections makes sense.
Moreover, of course, such facilities frequently encounter litigious activists and worried community members and fidgety regulators who 'intervene,' sue, and otherwise impose themselves on the process. And at millions of dollars per day in costs, every delay is mortifying to the owners. Nevertheless, except for a number of early reactors, and a handful of the last ninety facilities that came online in the U.S., every reactor exceeded budget by a substantial sum.
A recent study by Craig Severance, widely studied and widely disputed, presented the bottom line materials here. He called that the depiction of fiscal disaster more than legend that the original wave of U.S. nuclear power plants ordered in the 1960's and 1970's experienced massive cost overruns compared to original estimates. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) studied the record of this generation of plants (but did not include the worst cases such as Comanche Peak, Seabrook, and Vogtle), breaking up the results into two-year periods. EIA set out to compare original estimates to actual costs (levelized to constant dollars), and the results were dramatic. It was not a few isolated cases, but a clear pattern of an industry that regularly and catastrophically underestimated its costs: The EIA found average actual realized nuclear construction costs were 209% - 380%, i.e. over 2 to almost 4 times, the estimates originally presented at start of construction.
Occasionally, as Dr. Severance mentioned about Plant Vogtle in Georgia, which may lead the way with its two new planned reactors as the first Frankenstinian offspring of the 'Nuclear Renaissance, the cost overruns were practically absurd, in the case of the Southern Company facility, 1,200%, from an initial estimate of a billion dollars (which translates to half a billion for the two plants finally completed) to nearly nine billion dollars.
Labor troubles and all of the other arcane angst and fury of major-league construction can also easily hold up these projects, all of which yields a pressure cooker environment in which every action is under intense scrutiny and every small misstep is likely to lose tens of millions of dollars. For anyone to assert, "We can say with authority that this facility will cost 'X'," given the inevitable appeal of lowballing in trying to win approval is beyond absurd. it would be insane except that it is always a calculated move. After all, loan guarantees and rate increases beckon like crack-laced candy.
However, for all of the trepidation and conflict that goes with this territory, thankfully, other than stripping a chunk of land and preparing to split atoms to boil water, the environmental impact of this stage as such, putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, is relatively small. For sure, no radioactive issues of much consequence are ever likely to appear at this juncture. We may end up serfs for eternity, but if all of the new reactors go broke in the process, at least we wouldn't be leaving a million year toxic and radiological nightmare of cancer and birth defects to the end of humanity's run.
Though often overlooked, and generally not a significant factor in calculating reactor costs generally, the initiation of 'criticality'--the achievement and continuation of a sustained controlled critical reaction in the reactor core, is anything but a standardized procedure that always occurs in the same way. The experience of the Three Mile Island reactor that melted down in 1979 exemplifies this. A feed water pump failed, 'scramming' the reactor even prior to its start. The initial phase took nine months instead of sixty days.
Perhaps trouble during its construction-phase were coming back to haunt the owners, though in any case the 'quirks' during start-up illustrate the nuances that characterize the distinct outcomes of these phases at different reactors. Such outcomes are no more predictable than is any probability, meaning that half or more of reactors will fail to perform as expected and anticipated.
Whether trouble in the start-up process leads to trouble, it always adds to the costs of reactor activity over the life of that unit. Of course, this is meaningless for the utilities, since they have, thus far anyway, compliant PSC's to do their bidding at one end and a handy-dandy Federal government handing out loan guarantees at the other end. And it certainly won't trouble the component manufacturers who have long since deposited their checks and plotted out the next projects in the coming 'rebirth' of atomic energy.
Only for citizens and democrats and communities is this phase the beginning of additional issues. Particularly the economic kick-in-the-teeth is hard to accept, especially as the utilities dig deeper into the checking account and, if folks are reading materials such as this, they realize that more and more tax tabs are inevitable unless we turn this nuclear behemoth around and bring it back to port.
The nuclear-industry's strength, and what nuclear propagandists universally highlight in their descriptions of the power source originally touted as being "too cheap to meter," is the operational phase. And, in relation to cost, for the most part, they are correct.
Getting rid of the huge hidden overhead at both the front end and the back end of the 'Nuclear Fool Cycle,' and not particularly concerned about the primarily rural and often poor and minority folk who suck down the reactor's daily output of effluent, one can easily imagine that we've entered an energy Valhalla.
A few wrinkles, in addition to a much fuller explication of health costs both known and unknown, remain to consider. But if we could limit the 'Fool Cycle' to just the reactor, and we could make sure that the utility CEO and the reactor component manufacturers' Boards of Directors lived downwind of each facility, the technology would be hard to resist. But that's not the case, and the costs as accounted for, at best, are an insane error. And the 'at best' take on the story is almost certainly a fraud.
The Mysterious and Possibly Monstrous Specter of 'Ridding' Ourselves of Eternal Toxins--The Back-End of the Fuel-Cycle
Leonard Cohen certainly stands of one of the icons of popular musical expression. His ballads shake the psyche and penetrate the soul of the listener. In one tune, "Everybody Knows," he croons,
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows the captain lied.
Everybody's got that sinking feeling
Like their dog or their dad just died.
Everybody's talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolate
Unlike the song, and unlike the vast majority of contemporary experience--such as the sensations of citizens confronting enforced nuclear power generations--that he capsulizes in the lines of the verse, the only ditty apropos to the back end of the nuclear fuel cycle is 'Nobody Knows!' Literally every single projection about what will result from high level waste processes that cannot continue as they are, from low level waste disposal that will inevitably infringe more and more and more and more on widely dispersed communities is under the most rosy assumptions merely intelligent guesswork. It's worse than handing over a credit card with no limit at a strip club.
And the only commercial scale reactors to shut down, such as the one in San Onofre, California that its owners abandoned rather than spend a hundred twenty five million dollars to make more earthquake resistant, still sit in place, lethally radioactive and slowly decaying from the ravages of time, tide, and high level radioactive energy. Leaving it sit, fenced off for thousands of years--what would that price amount to? The entire concept of decommissioning, which some people say might require expenditures of 'only' ten per cent of original costs, is essentially a fantasmagoric roller coaster ride. Nobody knows.
This general set of issues in regard to nukes received some measure of attention in the entry about the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League. Moreover, the second follow-up to this posting, concerning radiation's general effects and one particular community's concerns about a big pair of reactors in the neighborhood, will begin its primary presentation with a look at this portion of the 'Nuclear Fool Cycle.' So I'm going to call it a night and let this monstrosity stand for now.
If readers think imbibing this volume of material is daunting, they might nod their heads at the likelihood that compiling, organizing, and narrating it has been a pretty substantial task as well. Despite this monstrous appearance, however, folks need to know that the product in this document doesn't do anything other than scratch the surface.
The purpose of my stating that, however, is not a nerd's insistence that 'everyone must be nerdy!' Rather, I'm justifying what I've tried to do here, in providing a template for citizens. Folks have to decide whether they want the fleecing, the corruption, the pollution, and the bias against human scale and community support to continue. If not, if folks are truly ready for progress, for 'business better,' and sustainable models, then they had better pay close attention.
If, on every occasion that a Public Service Commission holds a rate-hike meeting; at each Congressional hearing about energy; in all gatherings that talk about energy policy; and on and on and on through all the institutionalization and mediation of the corporate agenda, in the guise of high-flown rhetorical nothingness, that currently rules the talk-talk-talk circuit, these sorts of materials--in other words facts and analysis that deepens the kind of assessment and consideration present here--doesn't show up, then one can infer that robbery, thuggery, and anti-democratic nastiness is afoot.
As noted, if that is not what we want, we better wake up. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: 'The clue phone is calling; folks don't want to act as if they reside on the planet Oblivia.'
PLANT VOGTLE FROM ORIGINATION TO 2017
But wait, there's more! Not only must citizens catch up on how the world works in terms of technologies and fuel cycles, they must also be willing to sift through the record of how specific facilities, organizations, institutions, and so on, have acted over time. Women's Action for New Directions, which has stalwartly insisted that this return to nuclear tea kettles is at best insanity, something that, in its inner workings, will harm the people around it on a daily basis, and thieve small sums from folks all over Georgia every month, has sought to provide guidance against this regeneration of the errors of the past.
According to one WAND article, "Former Governor Roy Barnes" insists that "We Need a People's Lobbyist," in a sense echoing what the people of Vermont have fought and won for themselves. But we might also ask how we came to this juncture.
When folks consider the two new reactors planned for East Georgia's 'Environmental Sacrifice Zone' in Burke County, they often forget to look at the complex, nearly forty years of history that we can examine to improve our current insight. This section, along with the previous article, and in anticipation of the posting about radiation and health, sketches briefly this background knowledge, brought forward to the present.
The usefulness of this ought to be clear, in relation to making choices about a complex technology such as Plant Vogtle, and it also ought to tie into the utility and electric grid policy and history outlined in the previous essay on this general topic. Tim Johnson and Tom Ferguson are long standing witnesses against corporate corruption and a vision of capital as Plutocracy.
Tim, with Tom's help on the early sections, has put together a time line that can orient folks to this tortuous process, which has remained a part of Georgia Power's rate increase requests until relatively recently, as the utility has unabashedly, and repeatedly, sought more money, especially from residential users, to recover its underestimating the cost of the original project by twenty times.
A BRIEFING ON NUCLEAR COMMUNITY DATA FROM THE SOUTH
Once again, making forceful determinations about how a nuclear facility impacts a host community is difficult to impossible. Such data is not a priority for reactor manufacturers, utilities, or politicians, even though such facts should be very interesting to citizens. However, a quick overview of nuclear electricity generation can set the stage for richer investigation in the future. And a few observations about the characteristics of the home counties of Southern reactors can further amplify this general background.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the source for data about releases of radiation and radionuclides and for any untoward or 'unscheduled' incidents in the reactor's routine. A review that utilizes this material is upcoming, when the article about radiation and risk appears, with an emphasis on one particular Southern community.
For purposes of a brief take on the general repercussions of having a nuke in the neighborhood, today's essay merely introduces the topic, looks at a few sources of data, and notes that, so far as a quick literature search determines, few such official examinations have occurred since a 1976 DOE report on Millstone and Pilgrim.
One forensic series lays out various problems that Bechtel has experienced from its reactor construction. Three Mile Island and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania have received almost unlimited attention since the disaster there in 1979. And military nuclear facilities, such as the Savannah River Site, have also garnered significant numbers of studies of one sort or another. Finally, activist organizations maintain files and have rich lodes of data about many reactor-host communities inside their websites and other files and materials.
However, again, making a thorough presentation in this regard is not the purpose of this article now. Rather, I have elected to point out to readers a few easily manageable information caches, first of all, and then to suggest surface correlative patterns from those repositories of evidence, and finally to suggest follow-up, if we truly want to know, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, what the 'costs and benefits' are of using radioactive steam to light our homes and boil our coffee.
To begin, an interesting conjunction appears to exist between matters nuclear and the former Confederate States of America. Readers may recall, from what seems like a 'coon's age' ago, that my original interest in the energy sphere emerged from studies of what I called "the hydrogen bomb bread basket" in the South.
This pattern is observable in the power arena as well, where the eleven members of the C.S.A., around 30% of the U.S. population, and less than 20% of the land mass, serve as the home base for 43 of the 104 reactors currently operational in the USA, or just over 40% of the total. Each state, as in the case of Georgia, and each reactor like Vogtle proffers information through unique portals. Parallel NRC data also exists.
While little or none of this material will by itself be of more than statistical interest, one can begin to see the potential to envision larger patterns when one widens the reach for demographic or epidemiological or statistical sources. While we will consult only a single such collection today, readers may rest assured that the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Labor, and the Census Bureau have unimaginably gigantic cauldrons of undigested, and digested, information about all of the places where nukes hold sway.
One Census publication is the State and County Quick Facts collection. While such central data as employment and unemployment are missing, and the examination of health and well-being is only cursory, these checklists do give the analyst a chance to compare quickly certain rough correlations.
I examined this source for each of the 24 local counties or parishes that housed the reactors, such as Burke County, and then compared selected indicators such as income, poverty, household value, percent rural, percent Black, between the States and their nuclear counties.
This is, at best suggestive, since I did not have the time or resources to conduct a proper study, but these sorts of data might permit a more thoroughgoing presentation about whether nuclear power represents a benefit to localities, which the DOE concluded forty four years ago in Massachussetts, or more reasonably must appear to count as a burden, or worse.
Whereas the region today is significantly urban, plant locations were generally rural or exurban. Only six sites occurred in relatively dense urban locales, three in North Carolina, one in Tennessee, and two in Florida. The population density ratio is the region as a whole is small, so that only slightly more than half of the reactor locations had lower than average state per-square-mile densities.
While the region showed a continued predominance of a White populace, reactors frequently located in preponderantly, or at least disproportionately, Black communities. Here, the ratio was about equal for more-likely-to-be White community hosts versus more-likely-to-be Black community hosts, with about a 12/12 split among the two dozen counties and parishes.
The socio-economic data was even about as close to proportionate. Of the twenty four counties and parishes, ten had slightly to significantly higher county indicators than comparable State numbers, thirteen had slightly or significantly lower standards, and one was almost precisely matched with the state data. This may still be telling, inasmuch as reactor vendors, utilities, and governments all boast about the way that nuclear plants improve socioeconomic expectations in localities that end up giving them a place to stay.
While I did not collect the numbers for numbers of residents having disabilities, or for the increase/decrease in employment since the last publication of the checklist, I did note that in several instances, the disparities in these areas between the nuclear location and the state were large enough to catch my eye.
Obviously, this sketchy overview is not analysis; no conclusive, or even likely significant insight is possible to state from what I present here. However, the data did vary, consistently, toward rural populations, minority populations, and less prosperous populations. That has to evoke some sort of response; it invites further investigation, again, unless our purpose is to pretend that policy is dandy without being willing to back it up.
Given what we have learned about nukenomics from a fuel-cycle examination, such a willful ignorance seems likely to yield disaster at some point. If we care about our offspring, we simply have an unshirkable duty to look at such matters more deeply, to insist on learning, to demand attention to the details that we deem important. We might very well otherwise anticipate, for our future prospects, a destitute glow not in the least bit bright.
The magnificent Physicians for Social Responsibility, co-founded by Helen Caldicott, buffers this sense of urgency. What today's journal gives to readers, to citizens, to those who care about democracy and justice is a mechanism and structure and dynamic for taking the urgings of PSR 'to the ramparts' as it were. An understanding of process and product and past are more critical than ever for those who would participate.
"Nuclear power is uneconomical. Nuclear power is polluting. Nuclear power is a public health threat. The nuclear industry is seeking to capitalize on legitimate concerns about climate change in order to gain access to the federal, state and local subsidies necessary to prop up this mature but uneconomic energy industry. This is an industry plagued by cost overruns, construction problems, loan defaults, bankruptcies, and accidents. As the nuclear industry tries to resuscitate itself and promote a new wave of construction, taxpayers and ratepayers alike should not bear the burdens of this completely unsafe investment."
All this is true, but without the capacity to specify these truths no amount of railing will faze the monstrosity that capital has waiting for all of us. And without a democratic process in which to expend this capacity, all of the soothsaying and passion in the PSR press release, even adding the knowledge in this posting, will likely come to nought. Knowledge and democracy are not enough by themselves, perhaps, but they are sine qua non, nonetheless.
A summary might be nice to start, of what we've covered in a couple of really extensive articles. About a week and a half ago, I posted "Opportunity Costs and Sustainable Business," which revolved around two primary focuses.
The first was a brief overview of how Plant Vogtle's planned expansion was taking place in terms of political and economic inputs to the process of such a decision. Substantial U.S. backing of the project took the form mainly of likely 100% loan guarantees and ongoing insurance coverage. State support took the form of legislative approval of differential treatment of ratepayers, with the State Public Service Commission also signing off on such preferential treatment, allowing for recovery of capital costs in advance for already guaranteed loans.
The second section looked at the historical circumstances of the century or so of electrification in the U.S. The tendency of utilities both to form monopolies and employ racketeering financial schemes was palpable, as was the reforms that followed such periods of boom and bust. Unfortunately, the agencies, such as Georgia's Public Service Commission, that formed in the aftermath of New Deal legislation had not honored the purported purposes of forming such agencies, i.e., to act as ombudsmen for consumers and citizens who needed electricity. in fact, the utilities and the electric power industry became indistinguishable from the regulatory structure meant to oversee them.
Thus, because the present methods for determining electricity policy are demonstrably preordained in favor of nuclear development, no general dialog about costs or any other issue has much hope of making a dent in the prospective 'Nuclear Renaissance.' This collusion between regulated industry and regulating agencies fit perfectly with the historical record and augured a continuation of extant support for more nukes.
The concept of 'opportunity costs' informed this discussion in the following fashion. Inasmuch as no true democratic decision-making process is in play in the present scene, we cannot know if the nuclear pathway is good or bad, for those who would speak against it effectively have no voice. Since the current system thus precludes any but the preselected policy options, we cannot know, as we engage technological expenditures in the tens or hundreds of billions or even more, if we would be better off spending that treasure in other ways. And unfortunately, when we may come to realize that we've erred, altering course will no longer be possible.
Thus, the previous post in this sequence called for a systematic presentation about how to determine the costs of the entire 'nuclear fuel cycle,' which today's post, in a very preliminary but comprehensive way, has done. The upshot in relation to the fuel cycle makes three points. First, many costs remain hidden away, and only their revelation will allow honest assessment of the price of atomic power. Second, nuclear subsidies are rife at every turn in the fuel cycle and also need a forthright comparison with similar backing provided alternate technologies. Third, however massively expensive nukes might seem prospectively, they will probably end up being even costlier.
Plant Vogtle's experience in its years of operation neatly matched this set of observations. Nothing has dispersed onsite waste storage, for example, and local radiation impacts on air and water and people are not in any way a priority to study or redress. Therefore, no honest accounting is possible about the actual overall liabilities of the nuclear electricity choice that Georgia's establishment has made. Furthermore, historically, early promises of manageable expenses and overhead at the facility, as well as ongoing hopes for a cheap source of power, have proved as unreliable as mist.
Finally, the concentration of nuclear power in the South, and interesting congruencies between plant locations and demographic and economic indicators in host communities implies the need for further deepening of our collective nuclear knowledge. And this is the key conclusion to emphasize. We presently have nothing like a democratic energy policy. We may benefit from such a process. We cannot even begin to contemplate such a process unless we address the information disconnect that today's essay reveals.
In addition to this primary mandate, one ancillary contention would be that renewable energy and conservation must gain equivalent access to public support--feed-in tariffs, tax credits, agencies that provide logistical support are just a few items that are currently hit--and-miss, ad hoc, or non-existent in this regard--as the nuclear fuel cycle presently commands from the USGS, USFS, and BLM everywhere, from the tax code as a uniform expression of Federal Law and most State laws (we will see in a follow up on Vermont that this 'little engine that could' is once more an exception), and in terms of the as yet uncertain but likely massive levels of support at the back end of the fuel cycle.
Of course, the same sorts of biases exist in relation to fossil fuels, even though the verbose brouhaha over carbon has reached a crescendo. The same nuclear/fossil fuel preference obviously applies to owning up to externalities; no 'cancer alley' will ever characterize wind farms. No giant volume of detritus that will pollute chunks of the planet for a billion years will ever be a consequence of solar panels.
Nor will grotesquely brutal weapons that afflict victor and vanquished alike with cancer and crippling diseases of a dozen sorts ever result from renewable energies, in order to hide costs that begin to look like they cannot much longer be swept under some rug, or into some warehouse. The entire conception of nukenomics as an honest accounting is a false front, a facade behind which hide seamy and deadly realities.
In order to bring this knowledge to market, however, will require more than facts. It will necessitate more than a 'learning curve.' Many organizations and activists have made evidence such as that presented today available before. Citizens have long stood up at rigged meetings, and during public-hearing processes that were little more than rackets that offered window-dressing in lieu of power. Yet the politicos and plutocrats insist ever more fervently that radioactive energy will brighten the future.
And I make no presumption that a democratic citizen's energy process will choose differently. But I'll take my chances. The question is how to bring that about. It will not happen because Southern Company and the PSC suddenly feel an inclination to be generous.
On the contrary, as Frederick Douglass stated one hundred fifty three years ago, on the verge of a titanic battle,
|"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions ...have been born of earnest struggle. ... Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."|
"Don't mourn," Joe Hill spoke before the State of Utah murdered him. "Organize." This report makes clear, good cousins at JustMeans, we have a lot of organizing to do. As to the particular form, what today's effort has hammered home to me is that, awash in data and streams of diversion, we are bereft of knowledge.
Even the most sacrosanct official gateways and clearinghouses are muddled, partial, and false. Knowledge may never guarantee wise choices, but falsehood and distortion will ever draw out perfidy and nonsense and chaos and insanity. Thus, whatever else our tasks must include, we have little choice but to construct and learn how to use something similar to the Peoples Information Networks for which I have been calling in the pages of these essays.
Everyone appreciates the capacity to make the most insane intricacies transparent and plain. Unfortunately, the art of doing so quickly and smoothly has yet to occur to the humble correspondent in charge of these posts. However, perhaps this has something to do with the innately multilayered and highly technical materials that are present in something like a nuclear reactor project.
In any event, having delved a bit of the inherent complexity, at least a few simple contentions seem reasonable to state, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. In addition to the more technical points raised above, these ideas may assist folks who want to 'skill up' and find the wherewithal to jump on board the S.S. Democracy, which has been waiting to make her maiden voyage for two hundred thirty four years here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Process orientation generally, and of a democratic and community-based sort, must be a 'front-burner' priority for any citizen that doesn't want the future to happen 'to him.' In other words, anyone who wants her agency to play a role in what is coming down the pike better start paying attention to and fighting for democratic local programs and projects and methods.
Otherwise, the racketeers and technocratic priests will definitely win out.
A willingness to acknowledge two kinds of partiality is also important. The first sort, which appears here repeatedly, essentially represents incompleteness. To an extent, that type of partiality is inevitable and should only drive us to seek more, find more, learn more, even as we recognize the right and duty to choose at some point, based on values as well as knowledge.
The second category has less to do with completeness than it does with prejudice, self-righteous self-serving self-interest, and hypocrisy. As much as any other failing in the United States of American today, this two sided fault prohibits both social progress and social justice. On the one hand, we refuse to recognize its potent insidious grip and instead complain and get angry at foolish trivialities. On the other hand, we also cling to our own privileges and utterly dismiss any notion of accounting for such advantages honorably. These vices cannot continue without a fall.
An insistence on openness would go a long way to dealing with the above impediment. Instead, we permit our government to attack the heroes who would tell us of the lies that our leaders pronounce. Instead, we continue to move ever closer to a comprehensive police state that could bring down the doom, sooner rather than later, of something very like a fascist dictatorship here in North America.
An insistence on democratic dialog is one way to deconstruct secrecy. For even though, as Leonard Cohen sings
"Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed,
Everybody knows that the war is over,
Everybody knows that the good guys lost
Everybody know that the fight was fixed,
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.
That's how it goes,
He also intones that "Democracy is coming, to the U.S.A." What makes the former sucking down the drain of decline irresistible is resignation and silence. What makes the latter as close to certain victory as we will ever get is open dialog and honest discourse and courageous insistence that we can be powerful instead of weak.
A willingness to admit the obvious has yet to characterize most citizens whom I've met thus far. Such circumspection would have to contain at least something akin to the following admission: "Outside of the tiny State of Vermont, nothing even remotely kin to an honest conversation has taken place in this country at the policy level about nuclear reactors and energy choices."
While Dick Cheney's secretive machinations with "all the usual suspects" in his 2002, likely illegal, powwow may set the standard for pompous impunity in this regard, recent sessions of the Georgia Legislature, meetings of the Georgia Public Service Commission, and various kowtowing and yea-saying by the Georgia Public Service Commission are similarly representative of the anti-democratic and close-to-clearly-corrupt SOP of our nation's method of determining electricity production.
While democratic means might, of course, choose similarly as the current bevy of good-old-boys making back-room deals, can we at least agree, here at JustMeans and committed to 'business...better' that we'd prefer a transparent majority-rule methodology? If so, then something like the orientation of this essay needs to become more widely available, and more widely read. As Tommy J. was wont to say, the people can't decide what they don't comprehend.
My graduate school printing project nostrum is apt again: "Answers require questions." As much as any other benefit of these attempts of mine to lay out the whole nuclear process for readers to contemplate, the ability to formulate inquiries that make sense, that get at something useful is likely as important as any other potential positive attribute of the process.
And this is important; as one commentator articulated the issue, "The challenge is when to ask what question and why. ...(summing up that) this may respond to the dilemma of social change, succinctly stated as (follows): When and where can which facts be proven; how can this be achieved with any credibility -- by whom, signifying what, and why would they endeavour to do so?"
In addition to this incisive capacity to pose questions, which are in some senses the mitochondria of democratic dialog--Lincoln's art was in the query as demolition charge--a mythic element is possible to envision as immanent in considering the vast complexities and hidden exorbitance of the entire "nuclear fool chain." The Navajos, assaulted in various guises by nuclear weapons production, and, at least in mining communities, decimated by nuclear power's voracious demand for cheap Uranium, has produced powerful testimony to the reality of this pricey and prodigious complexity.
One documentarian noted this.
|"According to the Navajos, a monster is something that gets in the way of a successful life. These monsters were born when an evil act was committed, when people transgressed. In ancient times, Navajos were destroyed by monsters which roamed their traditional lands. ...(The Navajos believe that) one of the best ways to overcome or weaken a monster is to name it. The Navajo name for uranium is leetso, meaning "yellow brown" or "yellow dirt," after the color of the uranium-bearing ore. Tsoodzil is where the world's largest underground uranium mine would be built. Leetso, the yellow monster, was let loose in Dinè'tah, in Navajoland."|
The Navajos have organized as communities to seek redress in these cases. This naming of the 'monster' may have contributed to this process.
Frederick Douglass again offers a rationale for this organizational nexus and advice about the heart and guts necessary to carry it out.
|"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. ...Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must certainly pay for all they get. If we ever get free from the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and if needs be, by our lives and the lives of others."|
Oyster Creek Nuclear Facility
Zero Emissions House
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mbrochh/4381171577/"Construction Worker
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Chart