Take Refresher Course in Nuclear Power

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Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Peter Bergel

Nuclear weapons and nuclear power have been "last year's news" for some time as far as the general public is concerned.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the uncontrolled escalation of nuclear power plant price tags, things nuclear have dropped out of public awareness. After all, we aren't likely to have a nuclear exchange with an "evil empire" that no longer exists, nor to build nuclear power plants that come in at more than $3 billion per, so why pursue the debate?

But - as is sometimes the way of things that have not been repudiated, but have merely fallen out of favor - nuclear is trying to make a comeback.

As we note the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945, it is especially appropriate that we just say no to nuclear - no to nuclear weapons, and no to nuclear power - with finality, with conviction and for the right reasons. What are those reasons?

The fundamental reason to say no to nuclear weapons is that using them in a major way spells the end of a world habitable by human beings, while using them in a "minor" way (as we are doing in Iraq with so-called "depleted uranium" weapons) leads to radioactive contamination of land and radiation-induced illnesses that affect our own troops - hardly a responsible way to support them.

Further, there is no target on which we could use nuclear weapons that makes sense morally, militarily or politically. They are, simply speaking, a nuclear waste.

Nuclear power is a bit more complex, but the bottom line is the same. Oregon's failed Trojan Nuclear Plant was the last "cheap" nuke. Coming in at $300 million to $400 million, it cost less than a third of the next generation of nuclear power stations, and a tenth of plants such as Washington Public Power Supply System 2 that were built just a few years later. Planned to run for 30 to 40 years, Trojan ran into problems at about the 20-year mark that would have then cost more to fix than the plant originally cost to build.

Confronted with that reality, plus Trojan's on-again, off-again record of power production, its owner, PGE, pulled the plug in 1995 just a month after spending more than $1 million to defeat a ballot measure that would have done the same thing.

Now, however, nuclear power is once again being flogged to the public under false pretenses. Remember the nuclear electricity that was going to be "too cheap to meter"? The nuclear plants that would be "cheap, clean and safe"? …