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Dr. Chu’s Energy Bait and Switch

They’re short on renewables but they have a new generation of ‘improved’ and safer nuclear power plants and the costs can be charged

Written by Atheo | Aletho News | June 13, 2009

The goal claimed by both Obama, during his campaign, and promoters of climate change legislation, was that 25% of America’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. An alternate rationale given for this goal has been “energy independence”.

While competing bills currently before Congress appear to call for 15 to 20 percent of energy to be produced for renewable energy sources, they actually don’t require utilities to achieve anything near these figures. The legislation is filled with exemptions and allowances which reduce as much as 40 percent of the requirement if ‘efficiency improvements’ are adopted. For example, both bills scale back mandates for renewable sources if utilities build new nuclear plants or increase power generation at an existing nuclear plant.

The congressional mandates “are very weak and really will not require any additional renewables beyond what states already are doing,” says Mark Sinclair of Clean Energy States Alliance. “It will be meaningless. It’s just a gesture.”

Marchant Wentworth of the Union of Concerned Scientists came to a similar conclusion, seeing that absolute requirements for renewables, after allowances, would be as low as 8 percent of total electric power generation for each utility. This is hardly a challenge for most utilities in a nation that in 2006 generated almost 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, including hydro power.

In other words, the proposed renewable sources requirements amount to little more than shallow symbolism. The current public subsidies and underwriting for nuclear power already make the nuclear choice more economically viable for utilities to maximise return on utility investment. The legislation is, in fact, a thinly vieled mandate for building new nuclear power plants, or to increase output from existing ones. Republicans are offering a different plan that simply calls for building 100 new nuclear plants within the next twenty years.

These plans mirror similar policies across the Atlantic where the government in Britain is rushing a new generation of nuclear power plants, with a goal to begin construction within four years. Both ‘energy independence’ and climate change were cited as rationales by policy makers there as well.

Obama’s Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is a staunch advocate of nuclear power, citing it as “essential” due to global warming while at the same time ignoring the carbon emissions of the “nuclear cycle” that are produced from the mining, milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication and disposal of spent fuel. The new appointee described nuclear power as “carbon free” at his confirmation in January.

Professor Karl Grossman views Chu as a product of a “military-industrial-scientific complex”. Incidentally, the Lawrence Berkeley National Labortary from which Chu hails was the original laboratory of the Manhattan Project. After WWII, the Manhattan project was turned into the Atomic Energy Commission which was tasked to promote both military and civilian applications of nuclear technology. David E. Lilienthal, the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, wrote a book in 1963 titled “Change, Hope, and the Bomb“, which pushed for food irradiation, nuclear powered airplanes, atomic excavation and other potential commercial uses for nuclear technology under the rubric of “the peaceful atom”, an imperative being that there have always been symbiotic connections between military and civilian sectors of the nuclear industry.

Chu is of the notion that nuclear energy is far less dangerous to our health than coal, stating that “The fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into this…” This idyllic notion contradicts several studies which indicate otherwise.

The Radiation and Public Health Project recently published the results of a study which show:

“a uniform pattern of increase in childhood leukemia [standard mortality ratio] from the earlier period to the most recent 20 years for the plants that remain in operation…

…the study, which uses data collected between 1985 and 2004, found a 13.9 percent increase in leukemia death rates of children living near nuclear plants that were built between 1957 and 1970 and a 9.4 percent increase in death rates of children living near nuclear plants built after 1970, compared to the national childhood leukemia death rate…”

The promoters of nuclear energy often assert with authority that nuclear energy has caused fewer deaths than other fuels.

The reality, however, is far less certain because we do not know if we are getting the full story in regards to incidents such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. The World Health Organization (WHO) has subordinated its role in protecting health in an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA). The WHO and the IAEA agreed to “inform” and “to consult with each other on the most efficient use of information, resources, and technical personnel in the field of statistics and in regard to all statistical projects dealing with matters of common interest”. The IAEA’s mission is to “accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world”.

Professor Chris Busby, Science Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) states:

“The subordination of the WHO to IAEA is a key part of the systematic falsification of nuclear risk which has been under way ever since Hiroshima, the agreement creates an unacceptable conflict of interest in which the UN organisation concerned with promoting our health has been made subservient to those whose main interest is the expansion of nuclear power. Dissolving the WHO-IAEA agreement is a necessary first step to restoring the WHO’s independence to research the true health impacts of ionising radiation and publish its findings.”

Others claim that newer technology is safer, but Chernobyl was state of the art at one time as was Three Mile Island which was only three months old when it melted. Harvey Wasserman writes that:

As news of the accident poured into the global media, the public was assured there were no radiation releases. That quickly proved to be false.

The public was then told the releases were controlled and done purposely to alleviate pressure on the core.

Both those assertions were false.The public was told the releases were “insignificant.”But stack monitors were saturated and unusable, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission later told Congress it did not know— and STILL does not know—how much radiation was released at Three Mile Island, or where it went…

Mr. Wasserman goes on to detail that while the public was assured by the government that there would be follow up stories and health care provided to victims if needed, in reality, the state of Pennsylvania deleted the incidence of radiation induced cancers from the public record, abolished the states tumor registry, and misrepresented information it could not hide altogether, such as a tripling of the infant death rate in nearby locales. The federal government, meanwhile, did nothing to track the health histories of the residents. Independent surveys, in the meantime, showed substantial rises in the rates of cancers, birth defects, rashes, hair loss, and more. However, these studies are not allowed much play in the media, and even worse, class action lawsuits on the behalf of citizens are denied access to the federal court systems with the claim that there was not enough radiation to do such harm. On the side, Three Mile Island owners settled with some residents under-the- table, with the caveat being that there could be no more public claims made asserting the dangers and the results of the failed nuclear power plant.

All of this occurs while the Obama administration “is starting the process of finding a new strategy for nuclear waste” according to Stephanie Mueller, press agent for the U.S. Department of Energy. After more than half a century seeking a waste disposal solution, and having abandoned Yucca Mountain as a waste repository, the government does not even have an operational plan for the mounting nuclear waste that is being generated, an output that will only increase as more plants are put into production.

Amid continuing reports of the safety risks of nuclear power plants and without any fixed plan for managing waste, Chu and the Obama administration still continue to promote the nuclear option as a safe alternative fuel. Their lack of interest in renewable energy is made clear by their recent slashing of the already miniscule funding for wave and tidal energy research. While they claim on one hand to be working to turn the energy industry into one that relies on safe, renewable sources such as wind and solar power, they are in reality using this as a foil to push the nuclear agenda of the military industrial complex.

December 1, 2009 Posted by | Aletho News, Author: Atheo, Economics, Environmentalism, Science and Pseudo-Science | Comments Off on Dr. Chu’s Energy Bait and Switch