More about Nuclear Astroturf

The above diagram of nuclear fusion is from Energy Quest, the California Commission on Energy's educational website.


May 17-19, 2006, the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) holds its annual conference, The Nuclear Energy Assembly in San Francisco. It’s theme? Buzz2Build: Turning Promise into Power. The promotional information on the website says, “The outlook for nuclear energy in the United States has never been brighter. Nine consortia or companies are preparing licenses for as many as 20 reactors. The number of reactors with renewed licenses continues to rise, and existing nuclear plants are sustaining record levels of safety and performance.

At one time, in its background paper, "Nuclear Energy: No Solution to Climate Change,” Greenpeace was predicting the demise of nuclear energy.

The nuclear industry is in near-terminal decline world-wide, following its failure to establish itself as a clean, cheap, safe or reliable energy source. The on-going crisis in nuclear waste management, in safety and in economic costs have severely undermined the industry’s credibility.

The paper is undated, but the sources cited date back to the late 1990’s. So, what happened in less than ten year’s time? Could it be the nuclear energy industry's persuation of the federal government to establish Nuclear Power 2010 (NP 2010), unveiled in 2002 as a private industry-government “cost-shared effort," mentioned in my May 10 entry, Nuclear Energy Is Now Clean and Safe?


The NEI's Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, which I wrote about that date, is headed by former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), director Christine Todd Whitman and Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. Not only are these two ex-environmental leaders. Some have argued that they are ex-environmentalists trading their credentials for money to improve the images of known polluters.

After Whitman left the EPA on May 21, 2003, she founded a public relations firm, Whitman Strategy Group. On December 16, 2004, the Washington Post reported,

Whitman actually found herself last month lobbying her former Cabinet colleague Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton on behalf of Citgo Petroleum Corp., which wants federal protection to preserve Petty's Island, N.J., which it owns.

But, according to Sourcewatch.org's article on the Whitman Strategy group

the firm's first ongoing client was FMC Corporation, ‘a chemical company negotiating with the EPA over the cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil at a factory near Buffalo, N.Y.’ In a May 2005 interview, Whitman said she had not worked directly with FMC, but would likely advise them on ‘how to improve their image’ and gain ‘access to the people they need to speak to.’ FMC ‘"is responsible for 136 Superfund sites across the country ... and has been subject to 47 EPA enforcement actions.’

But Whitman had always been a market forces sort of “environmentalist.” Perhaps that is why his former colleagues are more dismayed with Patrick Moore. After leaving Greenpeace in 1986, Moore founded the public relations firm, Greenspirit Strategies, Ltd.. According to its website, Moore has spoken out in favor of pesticides, salmon farming, poly-vinyl chloride (PVC) and genetic egineering. Oh and of course, nuclear energy.

Usually he trots out his role with Greenpeace without mentioning his current status as a paid spokeman for the industries involved. For some of the details, look at his website and at Eco-Traitor, Drake Bennett’s March 2004 article in Wired. . Also take a look Sourcewatch.org's article.

Even those who support nuclear power argue that Moore has done the industry no favor by overstating the case. On April 16, in his work for the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, I'd assume, Moore wrote a piece published by the Washington Post, "Going Nuclear: A Green Makes the Case."

In an op-ed, "Wasted Energy," published in the April 18, 2006 New Republic Online, Michael A. Levi responded that Moore had undercut his arguments

with a series of false assertions and slippery arguments. These credibility-damaging tendencies hurt the real case for nuclear power.

A fellow for science and technology at the Council on Foreign Relations, his bio there state that Levi's

interests center on the intersection of science, technology, and foreign policy; he is an expert on arms control and nonproliferation, nuclear and radiological weapons, and science and technology in the Islamic world.

Before joining the Council, Dr. Levi was a nonresident science fellow (2004-2006) and a science and technology fellow (2003-2004) in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Prior to that, he was director (2002-2003) and deputy director (2001) of the Federation of American Scientists’ flagship Strategic Security Project.

In other words, Levi knows a whole lot more about nuclear energy than I do and he's not necessarily against it. I think that makes a look at his critique especially instructive with regard to the claims made by the coaltion and the Nuclear Energy Institute. For instance, Moore claims that nuclear power is inexpensive. Levi responds,

While literally true, that’s a specious claim. The marginal cost of producing an additional kilowatt-hour of nuclear power using existing plants is indeed less than two pennies. But that ignores the capital costs involved in building nuclear power plants, which exceed the costs of building coal-fired facilities. Including those expenses, an MIT report (which made an honest argument for nuclear power) prices nuclear at 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, in contrast with only 4.2 cents for coal, nearly 40 percent lower. To be logically consistent, Moore would also have to believe that buying a house is always cheaper than renting (because property taxes and maintenance cost less than rent) and that owning a car is always cheaper than riding a bus (because gas costs less than bus fare).

Regarding Moore's implications that nuclear waste becomes safe, Levi writes,

even that reduced radioactivity still makes waste disposal difficult and costly.

Levi maintains that Moore's claim that recycling nuclear waste will reduce the amount that needs treatment and disposal is "misleading."

First, it is cheaper to simply mine and use new uranium than to extract the remaining “95 percent of the potential energy” Moore refers to. More importantly, recycling used fuel does little to cut down the volume of nuclear waste. When the remaining “potential energy”—locked up in uranium and plutonium—is extracted from used nuclear fuel, the bulk of the radioactivity in that nuclear fuel remains. As a result, that material must still be protected in large, radiation-shielding casks—and disposed of, meaning that the waste problem does not disappear.

Levi also responds to Moore's minimizing the threats of nuclear terrorism. Moore

weakens his case by completely ignoring the main claim made by serious skeptics: The pools containing spent nuclear fuel, which sit outside the concrete containment domes, may be vulnerable to attack.

Levi argues that Moore fails to treat seriously the question of whether nuclear power can be diverted to make weapons. Moore

notes that “If we banned everything that can be used to kill people, we would never have harnessed fire.” That’s true, but the question here isn’t whether nuclear power is dangerous; it’s whether the dangers associated with it outweigh the benefits it entails. Simply because fire had greater potential for good than harm does not mean that the same is true for nuclear power.

Levi concludes,

the greatest political barrier to nuclear energy is public skepticism. And so, as the pro-nuclear crowd attempts to build credibility, exaggeration is the last thing it needs.


Greenpeace goes further that Levi. In that background paper I linked to at the top of this entry, the group says that in

even the most perfunctory examination of the issue shows that nuclear power has no role whatever in tackling global climate change. In fact quite the opposite is true; any resources expended on attempting to advance nuclear power as a viable solution would inevitably detract from genuine measures to reduce the threat of global warming.


Special thanks to a Radford friend, Barry, who kindly sent me the citation I'd used to Michael A. Levi's op-ed. Barry had downloaded my blog entry on the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition before the original version of this post got eaten by Yahoo when I tried to incorporate a link to the Sourcewatch.org article on Patrick Moore.


Nuclear Energy Is Now Clean and Safe?

Illustration of Pinocchio by John Walker (email, website) at Picture-Book.com

May 9, the Nuclear Energy Insitute agreed to voluntarily monitor radiation leaks into groundwater. David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists and leaders of 32 other environmental groups had on January 25, 2006 filed a petition accepted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to require nuclear reactor operators to provide information on their programs to detect the potential release of water contaminated with radioactive materials. The NRC had formed a task force which resulted in the NEI's reaction.

NEI is the same organization behind the Clean and Safe Energy Coaltion launched April 24. In the April 25 New York Times article, "Ex-Environmentalists Tout Nuclear Power," Matthew L. Wald had wrote that while the Clean and Safe Energy Coaltion depicted itself as a grass-roots advocacy group, a spokesman for

the Nuclear Energy Institute, the trade association of reactor operators, acknowledged that it was providing all of the financing, but would not say what the budget was.

I discovered the new astroturf group when I was in Charlottesville last weekend and read John Borgmeyer's article "The greening of nuclear power" in the May 2-9 C'ville.

The naming of the coalition mirrors language used in 1989 by the International Solar Energy Society, as well as that in Bush's 2006 State of the Union message in announcing the Advanced Energy Initiative

a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research -- at the Department of Energy, to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants, revolutionary solar and wind technologies, and clean, safe nuclear energy.

Actually, according to an preliminary analysis by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nuclear research portion of that initiative would reflect a 40% increase.

The Department of Energy's section in the 2007 budget includes $54 million in 2007 for the Nuclear Power 2010 (NP 2010) unveiled in 2002 as a private industry-government

cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, develop and bring to market advanced nuclear plant technologies, evaluate the business case for building new nuclear power plants, and demonstrate untested regulatory processes leading to an industry decision in the next few years to seek Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval to build and operate at least one new advanced nuclear power plant in the United States.

In February 2004, the Department of Energy teamed up with the electric power industry to issue its Strategic Plan for Light Water Reactor Research and Development .

Ironically, the launch came as an international conference, Chernobyl + 20 convened April 22-25 in Kyiv, Ukraine. The April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster reminded people of the dangers of nuclear power, as had the Three Mile Island melt down about 100 miles west of Philadelphia on March 28, 1979. And there have been lesser known problems which led to the aforementioned petition.

In his C'ville article, Borgmeyer writes,

The public relations blitz comes as the Bush Administration plans to jump-start America’s nuclear industry. In August 2005, Bush signed an energy bill that kicks the nuclear power industry a reported $12 million to add to the 103 nuclear plants currently operating in the United States. Around the same time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed its rules to streamline the approval process for new nuclear plants.

Richmond-based Dominion Energy, Inc. is the first company to take advantage of these recent federal incentives. As Dominion seeks approval for two new nuclear reactors on Lake Anna in Louisa County—just 30 miles east of Char-lottesville—the company is trying to recast nukes as the healthy choice for an eco-conscious America.

Ironically, to place it in its best light, the federal government's official information site reports that while the Bush administration has supported nuclear expansion, as of

October 31, 2005, however, no U.S. nuclear company has yet applied for a new construction permit.

To the contrary, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, in its February 27, 2004 fact sheet, "New Nuclear Power Plants in Virginia? Dominioin Power Plans Expansion at North Anna," reports that Dominion filed an early site permit to construct two or more new nuclear reactors on its site on September 25, 2003.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's licensing review confirms the September 25, 2003 by Dominion Nuclear North Anna, LLC' and adds

Subsequently, Dominion decided to change the cooling system for postulated Unit 3 and increase the power level for both postulated Units 3 and 4. Revision 6 of the application was submitted on April 13, 2006 to address the change to the cooling system and the increase in power level.

Meanwhile the twentieth anniversary of Chernobyl has returned attention to the disaster. The BBC has posted a haunting remembrance, Chernobyl: 20 Years On. The UK's Observer Magazine published an article of the same name by Adam Higginbotham on March 26, recounting eye witness accounts. The National Geographic posted "Photo Gallery: Chernobyl 20 Years After the Disaster. The International Atomic Energy Agency has posted a feature, "In Focus: Chernobyl." On April 26, Democracy Now aired "Chernobyl 20 Years Later: New Report Finds Death Toll From Nuclear Disaster Close to 100,000."

Clearly, the nuclear power industry has to come up with some strategy to convince the public of the need for new reactors. In an interview with Borgmeyer, David Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists, posits that the coalition is
a reflection of the fact that global warming and climate change is a top message of most environmental groups.This is an attempt to co-opt that message.

Take Action

The Union of Concerned Scientists has launched a campaign to write Congress in opposition of a

controversial new program...[to] “reprocess,” or separate, weapons-usable plutonium from the spent nuclear fuel generated by U.S. power reactors.
This proposal would make it easier for terrorists to acquire the material for making a nuclear bomb. It would require the construction and operation of an array of nuclear facilities that would handle enough plutonium annually to make thousands of nuclear weapons. It would also make disposing of nuclear waste more difficult, encourage other countries to reprocess, and cost a tremendous amount of money.


Of Contras and Killer (Ginger) Cookies

Photo from the website of Beeswax Sheepskin, the hot band playing at the Charlottesville Contra Dance tonight at MAC, which I'll get to attend thanks to Sue arranging for a place to stay with Will Morrison and Mary Prendergast of Catharthis.

Sue and Rob volunteered their front porch to be the drop-off point for the community-assisted agriculture producer from Scottsville, The Best of What's Around. Today was the first delivery--all kinds of greens including spinach, kale and mustard, plus asparagus, camomille flowers, pea tops and I don't know what all else.

To welcome those coming to get their shares, I baked Sue's favorite cookie. Here's the recipe:

Joanie's Triple Ginger Snaps

Mix together and set aside:

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

Cream together:

1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

Add in:

1/2 cup molasses

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 TBS grated fresh ginger

1/2 cup coarsly chopped candied ginger

Gradually add dry ingredients, stirring until well blended. Cover and set in refrigerator to chill for an hour or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Form dough into 3/4 inch balls. Pour 1/4 cup sugar into bowl and roll cookies to lightly coat. Place on greased cookie sheets . spaced two inches apart.

Bake in center of oven for 12 to 14 minutes until cookies are just beginning to color and tops are crinkled.

Cool on racks or board. Store in tighly covered container.