Post-Fukushima, Obama gives Nuclear Industry an $8.3b loan guarantee bailout, as residents die of cancer
In a little noticed story from a few weeks ago, Obama’s NRC just approved two brand spanking new plants near two other nuclear plants owned by Southern Company, outside Augusta, Georgia.
First, background from CNN:
President Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees Tuesday for two nuclear reactors to be built in Burke County, Georgia.
A new nuclear power plant has not been built in the United States in three decades.
The new reactors are to be part of an expansion of an existing nuclear facility near Augusta, Georgia, operated by Atlanta-based Southern Co.
The loan guarantees will help create 3,500 on-site construction jobs and 850 permanent operations jobs, administration officials claimed.
“This is only the beginning,” Obama said during a visit to an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Lanham, Maryland. “We’ll continue to provide financing for clean energy projects … across America.”
I’m sorry Mr. Obama, but when has nuclear power ever been considered clean energy?
The waste, part of 2,490 metric tons of the material statewide, has been accumulating in concrete-lined pools since Vogtle’s first two reactors went online in 1987 and 1989. Those pools will be full in 2014, and the cancellation of the government’s Yucca Mountain waste repository in Nevada has left the fate of spent fuel from all 104 U.S. reactors in limbo.
Under the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, the Department of Energy became responsible for disposal solutions, and Congress approved Yucca Mountain in 2002. Under an Obama administration edict, however, the project was canceled and a Blue Ribbon Commission was appointed to seek alternatives.
Southern Co. executives who testified before that panel last year urged the government to honor its commitment to finish Yucca Mountain and noted that its customers have paid about $1 billion into a nuclear waste fund that was to finance a permanent repository for spent fuel. [note: So Southern Co. creates the waste, declares it’s the government’s problem to deal with, and the customers are forced to pay $1b for it. Your free market at work, ladies & gents.]
But it gets better:
According to Southern Company (which is building the reactors), the creation of the nation’s first new nuclear reactors in 30 years will result in an emissions-free, jobs-creating bonanza for the poor and mostly black communities around Shell Bluff and other Burke County cities.
But some residents are asking, if nuclear reactors are really economic shots in the arm, why is Burke County still one of the poorest corners of the state a quarter century after Southern Company brought its first pair of local reactors online in 1987?
They also want to know: If the old and new reactors will be safe, why won’t Southern Company or the federal government pay to monitor radiation levels in Burke County? And most of all, why are cancer rates more than 50 percent higher in communities near existing reactors, according to the Centers for Disease Control?
Trading clean energy and jobs for the health of poor black citizens without investigating the long-term effects fits the definition of environmental racism precisely.
“Some people did get jobs,” former Shell Bluff resident Annie Laura Stephens told theGrio, “but a lot of us got something else. We got cancer. I lost sisters, brothers and cousins to cancer, and every family I know has lost somebody to cancer.” Ms. Stephens’ complaint is echoed by many local residents.
Since the early 1980s, Burke County residents have experienced a veritable cancer epidemic. Located along what is already the fourth most toxic waterway in the nation, Shell Bluff is across the Savannah River from a former nuclear weapons manufacturing plant.
“Clean energy,” indeed.
Following the CNN report, the DoE was pressured into monitoring radiation levels in the area. True to our nation’s Kafka-esque form:
At the end of 2003, when federal funding for radiation monitoring was slated to end in the area, Georgia WAND (Womens Action for New Directions) and local residents began pushing for the Department of Energy to resume radiation monitoring around the two existing nuclear plants at Shell Bluff. They met with state officials and members of Congress over several years, but got no results.
Then in 2010, WAND discovered that the DOE had falsely reported to Congress that funds has been provided to Georgia for radiation monitoring since 2004. In fact the state had received no money for this purpose since 2003.
After CNN investigated these circumstances at Shell Bluff and aired an April 2010 report on the cancer epidemic, federal officials pledged to reinstate funds for radiation monitoring in the area. But by August of that year, DOE was refusing to fund any proposal for this work.
Since then, according to WAND director Bobbie Paul, federal officials and their contractors have stalled and made empty promises about restoring the funds. In the meantime, Southern Company has implemented plans for the two new nuclear reactors.
“Georgia Power is (the source of) a lot of the few jobs in this area, and people don’t want to jeopardize the little they have,” Tomlin continued. “If you speak out, you can lose your job, or your relatives can lose theirs. It happens.” Southern Company is the parent company of Georgia Power.
“Many people really are resigned to the cancer as the price they have to pay to keep living here,” Paul confirmed.
Empty public meetings. Many broken promises. Bribing black communities with jobs in exchange for sickness and death. Is this what environmental racism looks like in the 21st century?
TheGrio asked Ms. Stephens why the election of a black president hasn’t protected the mostly black residents of Shell Bluff Georgia from such circumstances. Stephens answered: “We all vote. We have meetings and more meetings in between the elections. People are still getting sick and dying of cancer. This has been going on a long time. Right now, they [,Southern Company,] have the power.”
And the kicker from theGrio’s expose?
Atlanta Progressive News reports that the energy generated by the new reactors will not benefit Georgia residents, because it will be sold to Florida.
And this is not “financing” at all, this is a “heads-I-win/tails-you-lose” loan guarantee for the Southern Co., one of the nation’s biggest utility corporations. Green Party leaders have called this Obama’s “worst idea yet”:
“The twin nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia, would be financed with $5.4 billion in loans from the Federal Financing Bank with money of the US Treasury. According to the GAO, this investment has a 50/50 percent or worse chance of failing. President Obama wants taxpayers to assume 80% of the financial risk to turn the southeast Atlantic states into a big open-pit radioactive barbeque. This investment is a terrible idea — President Obama’s worst yet,” said Lisa Green, Green candidate for California Assembly Candidate, 53rd Assembly District.
“We are already seeing tritium in the wells in Girard Georgia, and the cooling ponds at Plant Hatch are filled to overflowing,” said Patricia Crayton, co-chair of the Georgia Green Party (http://web.greens.org/georgia). “The fuel cycle which feeds the power plants in Hazlehurst and Waynesboro is intricately linked to the one which feeds the bomb plant across the Savannah River near Aiken. $5 billion could better serve setting Georgia on a sustainable energy path worthy of our children.”
“In addition to a cornucopia of biochemically and radiologically hazardous waste materials, the proposed powerplants will also manufacture plutonium-239, raising the question of whether the Obama administration’s underlying intent is to provide electricity to Georgia citizens or to further escalate the nuclear weapons race,” said Douglas Campbell, Green Party activist and a former nuclear engineer in Ferndale, Michigan.
“If Republicans and Democrats really believed in the free market, they would strenuously oppose nuclear power, which is enormously expensive and carries astronomically high liabilities. But they don’t believe in the market. They believe in targeted, special interest handouts and guaranteed profits for favored corporations, despite flawed corporate agendas. That’s why they want nuclear plants built with taxpayer dollars, with utility ratepayers in states like Georgia and Florida assuming the financial risk and local residents assuming the health risk,” said Nicholas Ruiz III, Green Party candidate for Congress in Florida.
“The energy companies know that nuclear energy is extremely expensive and a high risk for security, public health, and the environment. They saw what happened in Fukushima, as well as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Rather than gamble with their own money, energy companies have convinced President Obama to pass the cost and liability on to US taxpayers,” said Denice Traina, Coordinating Council member and former co-chair of the Georgia Green Party (http://www.greens.org/georgia).
The new units will cost more than $14 billion. The Obama Administration has pledged $8.3 billion in federal loan guarantees for the construction. Southern Co. has not yet invested any of its own money for the units, while Georgia ratepayers are being asked to pre-fund construction payments in their current bills. US taxpayers currently subsidize insurance coverage for the private firms that own and operate all US nuclear plants.
Georgia has suffered multiple threats and radioactive releases from the Southern Co. and Dept. of Energy nuclear complex. DOE operates its Savannah River site bomb-making facility across the river from Shell Bluff, which hosts Plant Vogtle’s two reactors and is now targeted for two more reactors, despite the cancer cluster that health officials have failed to study.
Tritium has been found in cows’ milk in Girard, Georgia. A tritium spill at the bomb plant led the Dixie Crystal sugar refinery to idle its Savannah workforce while the Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources closed the oyster beds at the mouth of the Savannah River, with significant adverse economic repercussions. Vogtle faced an emergency when a truck backed into a utility pole, cutting off the cooling system, and backup generators failed to start. Meanwhile, another Georgia-based Southern Co. facility, Plant Hatch, which is now approaching the end of its license, has operated since its inception without a containment dome.
“Despite these outrages, Georgia residents subsidize nuclear industry profits with risks to our health and safety,” said Bruce Dixon, press secretary of the Georgia Green Party and managing editor for Black Agenda Report (http://www.blackagendareport.com). “The policies which fund new nuclear capacity, while forgoing needed investments in renewables, would not be possible without discounting the lives of those who live in these sacrifice zones. Having a black president offering the taxpayer guaranteed loans, with his appointees granting the license, does not diminish the racism inherent in these policies.”
NRC chair Gregory Jaczko, appointed by President Bush, cast the lone dissenting vote on the new licenses. The commissioners who voted for approval included Democrats appointed by President Obama.
Heckuva job, Barry. Well done.
(Thanks to Bruce Dixon for his great reporting on this)