Thursday, November 25, 2010

More Nukes and Drill Baby Drill

The following article was written soon after President Obama’s March 31st announcement of his energy policy.   Six weeks later, the BP Deepwater Horizon accident spilled millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico continuously for three months until being capped.  The accident killed eleven workers and had devastating effects on Gulf tourism, its fishing industry, marine life and habitat.

                                     MORE NUKES AND DRILL BABY DRILL
            During his 2009 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama announced it was time for a ‘new generation of clean energy” initiatives.   The President’s call for construction of ‘safe, clean’ nuclear power plants and opening “new areas” for off shore petroleum drilling were each greeted with standing Congressional ovations amidst loud ‘huzzahs’ and cheers. 

            The lack of new nuclear plant applications and a Congressional off shore drilling moratorium were hard-fought victories that environmentalists won more than twenty years ago - but apparently the President and members of Congress have either short memories or this country is moving backwards on environmental protection.  

            With his usual soaring rhetorical promise, Obama accomplished a long sought goal of the nuclear industry in the early-1980’s by skillfully repackaging nuclear power as ‘clean’ and ‘safe’.   Neither is true as Three Mile Island taught us.

            In the 1970’s, the anti-nuclear (energy) movement began when a handful of ‘intervenors’ across the country challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing proceedings.  Those interventions grew into citizen protest groups like the Clamshell Alliance in New Hampshire and the Abalone Alliance in southern California which committed acts of civil disobedience.   Both efforts alerted the public to significant health and safety issues like the cumulative impact of routine radioactive emissions and ground water contamination on the surrounding population.  

            In 1982, Congress adopted the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which promised ‘proof’ that a ‘solution’ for high level radioactive waste, which was then being stored at-reactor sites, existed.     Almost thirty years later, that radioactive waste is still being stored at-reactor sites and Yucca Mountain’s designation as a long term repository remains problematic.

            The $8 billion Obama promised in 2009 for sun farms and renewable energy projects is dwarfed when compared to the President’s $54 billion request for nuclear industry loan guarantees together with $18 billion loan money already approved by Congress in 2009.

            On the heels of his commitment to add to the nation’s 104 operating nukes which provide 20% of the nation’s electricity, the President said it is time to make ‘tough decisions’ and open ‘new areas’ for off shore drilling along the country’s seacoasts.   

            The state of Florida with 1200 miles of coastline has perhaps the most to lose as the Gulf of Mexico is being considered as one of those ‘new areas’.  Since Congress allowed the off shore moratorium to lapse, the Florida legislature is expected to disregard its $65 Billion tourist industry when it votes to repeal its state ban which would allow drilling platforms as close as three miles from the state’s ecologically fragile coasts. 

             The South Atlantic Planning Area, which runs 85,000 miles from Florida to South Carolina, would be subject to a series of seismic surveys to determine if sufficient liquid gold oil reserves exist.  One such exploration would include underwater airguns shooting compressed air bubbles up to 260 decibels with blasts of 60 or more impulses per mile powerful enough to penetrate several thousand feet into the Ocean floor.   Mother of all life, such invasive Ocean  testing would be devastating to all marine creatures especially the endangered right whale, prehistoric sea turtles and dolphins.  Recent independent geologists assert that sufficient geologic structures do not exist along Florida’s Atlantic coast to create enough oil to justify such speculative damaging tests.

            Given the 10 – 15 year licensing timeline for both nukes and off shore platforms to be operational and up and running, a determined Obama commitment could bring alternative energy sources on-line sooner rather than later.  If retooling the auto industry and punching out tanks for WW II took six months, a little political will could make all the difference - and make green energy a reality.

            If the President’s support for more nukes and off shore drilling is a ploy to obtain Republican votes in exchange for their support on global warming legislation, who is naïve enough to believe that they won’t take it and run – after meaningful climate change has been successfully emasculated. 

            Since it has been at least three decades since the adoption of any significant environmental legislation, Obama’s endorsement of new nuclear plants and off shore drilling appears to be a tacit admission that the President’s green energy lingo is little more than business as usual and that hefty Democratic majorities in Congress are unable to deliver on an environmental agenda.    

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