By Bud Ryan, Pax Christi New Mexico co-coordinator
We have all seen the devastation caused to the people of northern Japan from the earthquake and tsunami on March 11th. As if that weren’t enough, they then suffered the failure of their nuclear power station at Fukushima. So the question to us is: how do we turn such a horrible tragedy into something good? The answer is that we work to make sure that NO new nuclear power plants are built in our country or around the world; that we work to invest heavily in true “green power” – solar, wind, geothermal, tidal power, etc; and that we begin to take our current nuclear power plants offline as true “clean energy” plants are built to replace them.
I recently traveled to Washington, D.C. with Stuart Overbey – the woman with whom I made the anti-nuclear documentary, The Forgotten Bomb, – as part of a group of anti-nuclear activists from around the country, as well as two Russian physicists (one who worked at Chernobyl), called the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA). (The ANA includes three dozen organizations working to protect public health and the environment by addressing nuclear weapons and waste issues.) After a day of training, we all set out for Capitol Hill to try and educate members of Congress and get them to cut funding, and in some cases cancel projects entirely, that are not needed, too costly, or just plain crazy.
Stuart and I were joined by three other anti-nuclear activists from New Mexico, including Joni Arends from Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety, who was in our film. Since we are from New Mexico, we are especially concerned with the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), where all the nuclear madness started in 1943. Their current building project is the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (CMRR), where they would construct plutonium pits, which are the fissile triggers capable of nuclear criticality that initiate the destruction of modern thermonuclear weapons — in other words, pits are the heart of a nuclear bomb. This is just part of the work that would be done in the proposed CMRR building, which to my mind would violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1970, and is, according to the Constitution, the law of the land.
In 2004 the “Preliminary Full Total Estimated Cost Projection” was $400-$550 million; now in the “Details of Project Cost Estimate” table in the FY2012 budget, CMRR’s current projected cost is $5.86 billion, more than ten times the original forecast. The current completion date is now in the year 2023 when most, if not all, of the reasons for building the CMRR in the first place will have expired!
If that doesn’t have you shaking your head in total disbelief and needing to go out and hit baseballs (my personal non-violent therapy when I hear of something so CRAZY), this will. The site for the CMRR building is two-thirds of a mile from a geologic fault. This fact I relayed to the aides of our two Senators and two of our New Mexico House members. I was chosen to relate this fact because I have a Japanese wife, Tomoko, who still has family living there, and it is always good to try and put a personal story to a fact you are trying to get across. Despite the fact that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was still ongoing, it was Stuart’s story of getting an estimate for some wood flooring being installed and the final bill being three times the estimated cost, to personalize the huge cost overruns at every Department of Energy project, that produced comments from almost anyone who heard the story. Senator Jeff Bingaman, who was only in our half hour meeting for ten minutes said, “We’ve all experienced that.” Telling a story about a building where there lots of plutonium and other radioactive and toxic materials will be housed, constructed two-thirds of a mile from a fault line, did not seem to register anything on the Richter or any other scale. The CMRR is supposedly constructed to withstand an earthquake of 7.0, but as you might’ve heard, Japan has already had a 7.1 aftershock.
And did I mention that the seismic monitors that LANL is supposed to maintain are out of calibration?
Let’s go back to the nuclear power issue again and the Nuclear Reactor Loan Guarantees which were provided to the industry by Congress when it became clear that private investors would not risk their money developing and building new nuclear reactors. If Wall Street won’t invest in building new nuclear power plants, why should “we the people” have to? The original loans were authorized at $18.5 billion in 2005; the current proposed increase is $54.5 billion in 2012. The default probability is very high on these loans and “We the Taxpayers” would have to pay up for any loss.
The head of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon recently visited Chernobyl (the 25th anniversary of that tragedy is April 26th). He said, “The unfortunate truth is we are likely to see more such disasters… To many, nuclear energy looks to be a relatively clean and logical choice in an era of increasing resources scarcity. Yet the record requires us to ask painful questions: have we correctly calculated its risks and costs?”
Those costs seemingly do not include adequate insurance coverage for the world’s 443 nuclear power plants. The Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, operated by Tepco, had no disaster insurance. In financial terms, nuclear accidents would be so devastating that the price of full insurance would be so high as to make nuclear power more costly than fossil fuels. The cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a German plant, for example, has been estimated to total as much as $11 trillion dollars where the mandatory reactor insurance is only $3.65 billion. Torsten Jeworrek, a board member at Munich Re, one of the world’s biggest reinsurance companies said, “Around the globe, nuclear risks, be it damages to power plants or the liability risks resulting from radiation accidents, are covered by the state. The private insurance industry is barely liable.”
In the U.S., the required insurance for nuclear operators is capped at just $375 million per plant by law, so who do you think would pick up the rest of the tab if there were a nuclear catastrophe? Who asked us if they could take OUR money to build a nuclear power plant? Who asked us if there was a nuclear accident and when their insufficient insurance policy ran out of money, would we mind picking up the rest of the bill? It would be like someone you hardly knew inviting you to the most expensive restaurant in town and ordering champagne, a slew of appetizers, the most expensive entrée on the menu, wine with dinner, then dessert, and finally cognac to end the meal, and telling you while ordering that money was no object. Then when the bill came, he put in 10% to cover the tip (and a cheap tipper too) and told you that you had to cover the rest of the bill as he walked out the door.
The white elephant in the room, which nobody who is supporting nuclear power wants to mention, is the waste. What are we going to do with it? Even if we find a suitable place to store the waste, some of which will remain radioactive for millions of years, what state or country’s residents are going to want to have the permanent repository for some of the most toxic, cancer-causing materials on Earth be where they live? Even if you find a safe place for storage and the people in the area agree, how do you transport this horrible stuff safely from Point A to Point B? I’m sure a professor could take the amount of waste and the number of trips necessary to get the waste to the repository and figure out the number of accidents that would happen over say a twenty year period. I can tell you that the number would certainly not be zero.
So what we in Pax Christi should do is educate ourselves by going to sites like the ANA for information, and if I may be self-promoting, go to our site and purchase a copy of our film which will give you a good overview of the devastation caused to many different people around the world and in our own country by nuclear weapons. We also need to support groups like Joni’s Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety or another group close to you that keeps their eye on the nuclear facility nearest to where you live.
Next we should all write letters and call our Members of Congress, as well as the President, and tell them, “Stop the tripling of the federal loan guarantee program to $54.5 billion for new reactors and rescind the remaining $10.2 billion. Support cheaper, faster, cleaner and safer climate solutions: energy efficiency and renewables. Require the Department of Energy to make public the methodology for calculating the subsidy cost fee, as well as the fees charged for projects already granted loan guarantees.”
As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, we need to demand that our elected officials STOP ALL funding for nuclear weapons, which violates the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; that they invest in the total cleanup of ALL nuclear facilities and dumping grounds; and that compensation is provided to those harmed by such activities. We can no longer put future generations at risk because of the mistakes we are making now and the ones we made in the past.
This Easter season let the resurrection of Jesus Christ reenergize us all and let us show our love for Him by protecting God’s creation. Let us no longer put ourselves at risk with nuclear power and nuclear weapons, nor our children, grandchildren and all future generations, who should never have to pay for mistakes that they had nothing to do with in creating.
Bud Ryan is the co-coordinator of Pax Christi New Mexico. If you would like to host a screening of The Forgotten Bomb with Bud or Stuart on hand to speak and answer questions, you can contact them through the website. The DVD is also now available and can be purchased through the website by clicking here.