Does Nuclear Power Have A Future In America?
I'm supposed to go have dinner with friends in La Jolla in a few months. Roland is already complaining that the only way to get there is to pass by Southern California Edison's San Onofre nuclear plant (actually it is jointly owned-- San Diego Gas & Electric owns 20%). It's south of where I live. North of where I leave is the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo Co., owned by Pacific Gas & Electric. It was designed to withstand a 6.75 megnitide earthquake-- although it has since been upgraded to be able to withstand a 7.5 magnitude quake. San Onofre was built to withstand a 7.0 magnitude quake and a 25 foot tsunami wave. People are nervous because Japan's recent quake was 9.0 and the tsunami wave was 30 feet. Both Diabo Canyon and San Onofre have applied for licensing to extend the lives of the plants by 20 years. In light of the catastrophes, Germany and China have ceased all such re-licensing of their nuclear plants. Vermont's independent Senator Bernie Sanders wants our country to do the same thing. He sent President Obama a letter asking for a moratorium on license renewals by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He serves on the committee that regulates the Commission.
One day before the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, the NRC authorized a 20-year extension for the Vermont Yankee reactor in Vernon, Vt., after its 40-year operating license runs out next year. Days later, at a committee briefing on the Japan crisis, Sanders urged NRC Chairman Gregory B. Jaczko to reconsider that decision. Sanders points out that 23 reactors in the United States, including Vermont Yankee, are virtually identical in design to the crippled reactors at the Fukushima. Federal safety officials have criticized the General Electric design and warned as long ago as 1972 that if the cooling systems ever failed and fuel rods overheated then the containment vessel surrounding the reactor probably would burst, spewing dangerous radiation into the environment. Sanders’ letter to Obama called for:
· An independent review by a special presidential commission with broad authority and a mandate to independently review the safety of every existing nuclear reactor and waste site in the United States, in light of the lessons that may be learned from the situation in Japan.
· A moratorium on all licensing and re-licensing decisions by the NRC. China already is conducting a full review of safety at its nuclear plants and halted new construction. Germany closed seven reactors to review safety. In this country, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to shut down the Indian Point nuclear plant, which is operated by Entergy, the same company that runs Vermont Yankee.
· Repealing a federal law that indemnifies the nuclear industry. “In the event of a nuclear tragedy in the United States, should the taxpayers of this country be asked to provide billions of dollars in compensation to the victims of such a tragedy or, in a free-enterprise society such as ours, should the nuclear industry itself take full responsibility to secure insurance in the private market for all consequences of such an unthinkable tragedy?” he asked.
· Withdrawal of an Obama administration request for $36 billion in new lending authority to build more nuclear power plants. Instead, Sanders said existing nuclear loan guarantee funds should be redirected to enhance energy efficiency and to develop safer, more cost-effective energy sources such as solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal.
· Giving states a say on the safety of nuclear plants. “It will be people who live in the vicinity of nuclear power plants who will have to bear the burden of any tragedy that might occur, and for this reason alone they should play a meaningful role in deciding whether or not the safety risk is acceptable,” Sanders wrote.
Bernie Sanders is a national treasure. Whether you'd like to make sure he remains the one independent voice in the Senate-- working day after day for working families-- or if you'd like to send him a message that you'd support a run by him for president, you can help his campaign here.