Nuclear Energy

Green energy could make nuclear power obsolete

By:  JOHN KINSMAN, president, Family Farm Defenders

Saturday, April 23, 2011 6:15 am   Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Nuclear power is not only unnecessary, it is among the costliest and potentially the most dangerous ways to produce electricity — which is why investors demand loan guarantees and taxpayer-subsidized liability insurance, rather than risking their own dollars building nuclear plants. Nonetheless, just five days after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was testifying before Congress wanting to build more reactors.

In fact, President Obama is proposing $36 billion to entice private industry to build the plants, while cutting billions from renewable energy alternatives. This $36 billion in fresh loans is over and above the $18.5 billion already approved under the Bush administration. Apparently, the nuclear power lobby enjoys bipartisan support.

The World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace International have done authoritative studies that show the U.S. and the world could shed dependency on fossil fuels and nuclear power and shift to real green energy by 2050 if governments chose to do so. But can we, and the governments that supposedly represent us, rise above corporate profit and bureaucratic inertia to stop global climate change and serve the better interest of society as a whole?

Putting corporate interests first meant a 14-hour delay before the managers of the Fukushima plant began pumping seawater into the overheated reactors, and this delay allowed a disaster of horrific consequences to unfold. According to the Wall Street Journal, it took a direct command from the Japanese prime minister to start the pumping. Why? Introducing seawater would ruin the reactors permanently.

Besides the brave Japanese workers who are sacrificing themselves in the battle to stop this meltdown, who is next to suffer from the inevitable nuclear accidents? Why, of course, farmers, fishers, gardeners and consumers who have to dump milk, destroy animals and bury produce that has been contaminated by fallout. The same thing happened after Chernobyl when the Laplanders were forced to kill thousands of their prized reindeer and tons of tainted produce had to be pulled from European farmers’ markets and grocery shelves. We will all be living with Fukushima for generations to come.

Corporate proponents of more nuclear plants in the U.S. claim their safety is assured because they are designed to withstand earthquakes of the highest magnitude. The Fukushima reactors were also built based on this principle, but they did not plan for other unpredictable events that could trigger a meltdown. With global climate change, we are experiencing natural disasters of greater intensity and frequency — floods, hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes — that were previously thought impossible.

Here in Wisconsin there is also a renewed push to expand nuclear power plants, while failing to seriously pursue other greener alternatives. Worse yet, as spent fuel rods pile up at existing reactors on the shores of Lake Michigan and on islands in the Mississippi River, eyes are shifting to Wisconsin as a potential host for a national high-level radioactive waste dump site. One can only imagine the inherent dangers with transporting such waste by truck, ship and train across the continent to our North Woods for burial forever.

In 2008 the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development, sponsored by the World Bank and five U.N. agencies, issued a long-awaited study. The study’s conclusion calls for a transformation of the world’s food and farm system toward small-scale sustainable agriculture. According to the 400 scientists and development experts from more than 80 countries involved in the study, this is the only way to cool the planet and feed the world, and the IAASTD’s finding has already been endorsed by 58 countries. These small family farms work with nature and require far less fossil fuel and electricity — in contrast to industrial agriculture, which is responsible for 25 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Concerned citizens need to contact their elected officials at both the state and federal level to oppose these misguided taxpayer-subsidized proposals to build more nuclear power plants. The U.S. should be following the example of Germany — where 2 percent of all electricity now comes from solar — and impose an immediate moratorium on new reactors pending a comprehensive safety review of existing ones. Better yet, there are the examples of other nations — like Australia, Denmark and Malaysia — that have refused to go down the nuclear road at all. Renewable green energy could easily fulfill all our electricity needs and make dangerous, unsustainable options like nuclear obsolete.

John Kinsman is president of Family Farm Defenders and an organic dairy farmer near Lime Ridge.