Nuclear Power Industry -- Dangerous to Taxpayers

National Catholic Reporter, June 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Nuclear Power Industry -- Dangerous to Taxpayers


For the first time in 22 years, on Thursday, May 17, nuclear power industry officials went to bed happy. President Bush -- the energy industry's president -- proposed that the nation again turn to nuclear power.

Twenty-two years ago was when the Three Mile Island nuclear facility accident led to the evacuation of 140,000 people from around Harrisburg, Pa. The accident soured the public's appetite for nuclear power in a period when nuclear energy was already losing its cost-effectiveness as a cheap power source.

But the nuclear industry has never rested on its defeats.

During the past two decades, when no one was looking, the nuclear power industry took over the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by using members of Congress as its string marionettes. Congress was bought and paid for through nuclear industry re-election campaign funding.

Congress controls the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which itself is funded not by taxpayer money but by fees it imposes on the nuclear industry. The nuclear industry treats the commission as its puppy, and for 20 years almost every regulatory change the industry has tossed it, the puppy-like commission has fetched (NCR, May 26, 2000).

The net results have been the nuclear industry's theft of the public's right to know and right to intervene in nuclear reactor-building applications -- a theft carried out with an audacity deserving of admiration if the results weren't so potentially pernicious.

The combination of the industry's public piracy and now presidential pandering is breathtaking. The industry's grasp was made possible by the total disinterest of the national print and electronic media in the 1980s and '90s in the nuclear industry's buccaneering. During that period, let it be noted, two of three of the national television networks were owned by nuclear power generator builders, Westinghouse and General Electric.

And now Bush wants to speed up permission to build new plants, to extend taxpayer coverage to the nuclear industry for nuclear accidents (the public is the industry's major insurance company) that expires in 2002, and to apparently throw public money into research for a controversial nuclear reactor technology (the pebble-bed reactor) that could use the nation's radioactive waste stockpile as fuel.

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