They're gambling, We're losing

Foiling A Nuclear Power Revival

Kyle Rabin

"ANYONE WHO ADVOCATES nuclear power as a solution to our energy problems should be shut up in a padded cell," exclaims longtime anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman in a recent and widely-published Molly Ivins' editorial titled "Our Fake Energy Crisis: What Really Happened in California." Sadly, both the Bush-Cheney and Pataki administrations are taking steps that are enabling a nuclear power revival.

No commercial nuclear power plants have been built in the United States in 25 years. It is only now, with a new Republican White House, and under the guise of an "energy crisis," that the nuclear industry has seriously explored building new plants. More than two decades after the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident, five utility companies are working to re-energize the nuclear power industry. Construction of as many as five new plants is planned for undisclosed sites in the United States. Applications are expected at the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the near future.

Last September, the Washington, D.C. - based Nuclear Energy Institute launched the "Task Force on New Nuclear Deployment." The task force is made up of representatives from Dominion Resources Inc. of Virginia, Entergy Corporation of New Orleans, Exelon Corporation of Chicago, Constellation Energy Group of Maryland, and the Southern Company of Georgia. Subsidiaries of Constellation Energy Group and Entergy Corporation are seeking ownership of five of New York's six nuclear power plants: Nine Mile Point 1 and 2 (situated along Lake Ontario near Oswego); Indian Point 2 and 3 (located along Hudson River, near Peekskill, just 35 miles north of New York City); and J.A. Fitzpatrick (adjacent to the Nine Mile Point Units). It is not clear whether or not these companies have considered building new nuclear power plants on existing sites.

By promoting the sale of nuclear power plants, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) is playing into the revival of New York's nuclear power industry and may be paving the way for the next generation of nuclear power plants. The PSC is currently reviewing the sale of the two Nine Mile Point reactor units and the Indian Point 2 reactor to cash-strapped, limited liability subsidiaries. The PSC is also considering lightened regulation for the Indian Point 3 and Fitzpatrick reactors.

The nuclear industry's rhetoric is familiar: "inherently safe," "too cheap to meter," and "no environmental impact." Nothing could be further from the truth. Even without factoring in unknown future costs for radioactive waste management, health impacts, and reactor accidents, some forms of renewable energy, conservation, and efficiency are usually cheaper and always safer and cleaner. Furthermore, new reactor construction does not help us with our current energy woes. Building a new nuclear power reactor anywhere in the United States would take a minimum of five years. Even with a site approved tomorrow, and zero public opposition, the physical act of getting a new reactor on line could take up to a decade.

The fact that policymakers are even entertaining the notion that nuclear power has a future is troubling. Remember what happened with the Shoreham plant on Long Island. New nuclear power plants will end up costing New York ratepayers billions and billions of dollars. With nuclear power, the federal and state governments have really dug themselves into a hole. Of course, the first thing to do is to stop digging. Unfortunately, it appears that state and federal policymakers are still shoveling away.

As a 19th-century Cleveland mayor once stated "If we don't control the electric utilities, they will control us." Sadly, it appears that the Pataki Administration is in the grasp of electric power companies. Entergy, which is buying three of New York's six reactors, has strong connections to the Pataki Administration. Plunkett and Jaffe - Gov. Pataki's former law firm - has been hired by Entergy. This firm is assisting Entergy in getting legislation passed that would allow a multiyear tax deal on the Indian Point and Fitzpatrick nuclear plants, purchased from the state New York Power Authority. Entergy has also secured the law firm LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene, and MacRae which employs Paul Gioia, commissioner of the NYS Public Service Commissioner from April 1, 1981 through January 29, 1987.

At the federal level, Vice President Cheney's cabinet-level Energy Policy Development Group, which is expected to deliver its findings to the president in May, is seriously studying how to revive the waning industry. "Nuclear has to be part of the equation," says one Bush insider referring to what many are describing as an "energy crisis." As it turns out, Cheney's energy task force has built-in ties to the nuclear industry. A key member of the task force, Energy Department official Joe Kelliher, was a longtime nuclear power lobbyist. Another connection: Roy Coffee, who worked as Governor Bush's lobbyist in Washington, was recently hired by the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's front group. Nuclear executives have enjoyed extraordinary access to the energy task force, meeting repeatedly with top Bush officials, including economic adviser Larry Lindsey and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham who mentioned new nukes in a major "energy crisis" speech in late March. At the meetings, the executives laid out their case for a nuclear comeback.

Indeed, the nuclear industry is warming up nicely to the Bush-Cheney and Pataki Administrations. But, to the environmental movement, it's looking more like a nuclear winter. Today's nuclear reactor industry is a runaway train, headed for a predictable and catastrophic end.

Nuclear power must be phased out in New York State and elsewhere in the nation. The environmental community will fight any attempts to build new nukes and to breathe new life into existing plants. Our political leaders and state policymakers must also have the courage to stand up to this industry, whose time has come and gone. Support from our elected officials and agency policymakers is particularly important now that the New York State Energy Planning Board has begun to draft the next State Energy Plan.

Kyle Rabin is Nuclear Energy Policy Project Director for Environmental Advocates in Albany, NY. He can be reached at 518-462-5526 ext. 240 or via e-mail at krabin@envadvocates.org.

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