Following the nuclear disaster in Japan, President Obama sought to reassure the public, saying, “I still think that nuclear power is an important part of our overall energy mix.”
Since coming to office, Obama has spearheaded the nuclear industry’s revival in the U.S., championing it as a “safe, clean, and reliable” alternative to foreign oil. But as Normon Solomon pointed out, “There is no more techno-advanced country in the world than Japan. Nuclear power is not safe there, and it is not safe anywhere,” (Commondreams.org, 3/14/11).
The NY Times pointed out that, “most of the nuclear plants in the United States share some or all of the risk factors that played a role at Fukushima Daiichi: locations on tsunami-prone coastlines or near earthquake faults, aging plants and backup electrical systems that rely on diesel generators and batteries that could fail in extreme circumstances,” (3/14/11).
In February, Obama awarded $8.3 billion in federal loans to build the first new reactors in the U.S. since the Three Mile Island disaster more than thirty years ago. Obama claimed this was a necessary concession in order to ensure Republican backing of a new energy bill. However, Obama and a whole slew of Democrats have consistently supported nuclear power.
One of Obama’s largest campaign donors since 2003 has been the Exelon Corporation, a nuclear power company. Obama’s former chief of staff, David Axelrod, previously worked as a consultant for Exelon. As a state Senator in Illinois, Obama skillfully played both sides of the nuclear debate, but ultimately did the industry’s political dirty work after a leak at an Exelon plant was exposed, causing public outrage. Obama put forward a bill requiring leaks to be immediately reported, but then worked hand-in-hand with Exelon to strip the bill of any teeth, (NY Times, 2/3/08).
Nuclear power is not only dangerous. It is expensive, requiring massive taxpayer-funded loans because investors cannot make a profit otherwise. Obama’s loans came from a 2005 Bush administration bill that set aside more than $18 billion for nuclear construction. Furthermore, Obama has called for tripling that amount to more than $54 billion (NY Times, 2/16/11), and some Republicans are proposing to build as many as 200 new reactors in the coming years.
Rather than putting $54 billion toward nuclear power, this money should go toward a massive program to develop solar, wind, and tidal power, providing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. According to an article published in the magazine Scientific American, it is possible to completely transition the world’s energy supply to green sources by 2030, (10/26/09). The key thing standing in the way of this needed plan is our current system of capitalism, where the needs for profit of the few trump the broader needs of the people and the environment, and where corporate interests dominate the two-party system.