The problem is, like the real costs and burdens of Plant Vogtle’s expansion, documentation of the overall government subsidy of nuclear power is lacking, surely covert by design. As a result, the public doesn’t know the real costs of nukes and who’s paying them.
And many ‘free enterprise’ enthusiasts also stridently support nuclear power as if it is a product of open markets – not knowing (or admitting) the deep-running hypocrisy of such a position.
Since the ‘peaceful use of the atom’ program began in the late 40’s, undoubtedly hundreds of billions in taxpayer money have been spent on:
- basic research and development;
- liability costs (no private-sector insurance company will touch them);
- radioactive material mining and processing;
- storage and 'reprocessing' of ‘spent’ but still very toxic waste from nuke plants – which remains lethal for many thousands of years.
That last item is profoundly disturbing because it's still politically volatile and conspicuously unresolved after decades of seeking a ‘safe’ and secure method for containing such a long-lasting public health risk – as if any nation can convincingly resolve such threats that will persist for 100 centuries.
Currently, NRC has approved on-site storage of such toxic radioactive waste in ‘casks’ that are purportedly leak-proof. (A major earthquake, accident/meltdown, tsunami, or act of terrorism may prove otherwise.)
And a little recognized fact: Although power produced by nukes emits no carbon, all supporting activities do - the mining and processing of fuels, the construction, maintenance and closure of plants, and the ever-troubling and VERY prolonged storage of spent fuel - cumulatively an enormous carbon footprint. Some veteran analysts say the life-cycle carbon burden of nukes is second only to coal.
Debate over Senate Bill 31, which would subsidize Georgia Powers multi-billion dollar expansion of Plant Vogtle with a customer rate hike paid years in advance, has missed an important reason for opposing it.
By approving SB31, Georgia legislators would be locking in Georgia energy customers to an unwise decision that cannot be justified in light of proven alternatives that are cleaner, cheaper, and more readily implemented.
Contrary to much misinformation spread during this debate, in a free market nuclear power could not survive. Enormous public subsidies shore up the nuclear industry and always have. Without the federal government assuming liability risks and the lions share of costs for research, processing, storing, and transporting radioactive materials, there would be no nuclear industry.
At the same time, publicity about Georgias significant offshore wind potential has been curiously subdued. A 2007 Georgia Tech study found that there is 10,000 megawatts of continuous offshore wind power available for conversion to electricity using existing technology.
Thats the equivalent of 10 large power plants worth of electricity from clean and free fuel. And that power could be put online in a fraction of the time it would take to build the nukes at Vogtle.
Offshore wind is used throughout northern Europe, where it now provides some 20% of power needs. And at least three states on the eastern seaboard are actively developing offshore wind programs.
If SB31 is passed, the energy market in Georgia will be unwisely forced into supporting nuclear power, delaying the far more prudent use of wind power here for decades. During that time, other states will gain a competitive edge by capturing renewable energy, which will attract business and jobs that turn away from states with high-priced nuclear power.
SB31 underwrites a foolish commitment to obsolete technology that simply cannot compete in a free market when wind and other renewable sources are readily available. Georgia Power will be the only beneficiary at the expense of Georgia consumers.
David Kyler, Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
Saint Simons Island, Georgia
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