The Nuclear Juggernaut
Last week’s granting by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission of combined construction and operating licenses for two nuclear plants to be built in Georgia—both Westinghouse AP1000s—is the culmination of a scheme developed by nuclear promoters 20 years ago.
There have been huge changes in energy since. The consequences in death and illness of of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster have become manifest. Wind energy has become cheaper than nuclear—thus is the fastest growing new energy source—and solar is well on its way. The two troubled giants of nuclear power, Westinghouse and General Electric, sold out to the Japanese in 2006: Toshiba took over Westinghouse’s nuclear operations and GE partnered with Hitachi. And then there’s been the catastrophe at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant complex.
Still, as if a runaway train, the nuclear juggernaut has roared on.
The strategy for what happened last week was set with the passage of the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The vote in the House of Representatives was 381-to-37. “As the bill wound its way through the Senate and the House, the nuclear industry won nearly every vote that mattered, proving that Congress remains captive to industry lobbying and political contributions over public opinion,” reported the Nuclear Information & Resource Service then. (The same could be said about Congress now.) The New York Times said, “Nuclear lobbyists called the bill their biggest victory in Congress since the Three Mile Island accident.”
The measure, signed into law by the first President Bush, provided for “one-step” nuclear plant licensing. Previously, there were hearings held in the area where a nuclear plant would be built—one on granting a construction license and, later, a second on whether to issue an operating license.
This presented a big problem for the nuclear industry—not that the Atomic Energy Commission or its successor, the Nuclear Energy Commission, ever turned down an application for a construction or operating license. But at the hearings for a construction license major issues arose—such as, with the proposed Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island, New York, the impossibility of evacuation off the crowded island in the event of a major accident, important in the eventual stoppage of Shoreham. And at operating license hearings, whistle-blowers would emerge, often engineers and others involved in the construction of the plant, going public with testimony about faults, defects and dangers.
(Read more at CounterPunch)