Challenge a Nuclear Nation

The nuclear debate in the United States is heating up, and there is real danger that US officialdom will make choices that put at risk any present hope for a nuclear-free future. The Snake River Alliance joined fellow activists from across the country and met with Washington, DC, decision-makers to try to stop bailouts for nuclear power and an expanded US capacity to develop new or more nuclear weapons, which undermines the goals of arms treaties. We also met with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a “regulator” that seems committed to greasing the skids for all things nuclear.

We reported last month that the Obama administration has asked Congress to triple the nuclear reactor loan guarantee program to $54.5 billion. The Energy Department has already announced its intention to hand over $8.3 billion for two reactors in Georgia. Even though Moody’s calls nuclear investments “bet the farm” risks, activists at DC Days found many in Congress broadly supportive of nuclear bailouts. One reason might be that the nuclear industry has spent $600 million on lobbying and nearly $63 million on campaign contributions over the past decade. Even so, the expanded nuclear reactor bailout program might face significant opposition from members of the House Energy and Water Appropriations subcommittee.

You can do two things right now from your computer to help stop the bailout program. 1. Contact Rep. Mike Simpson at, who is a member of that subcommittee. 2. Oppose the bailouts by signing a petition to congress at The Obama administration’s determination to expand the bailout pot for uranium enrichment plants has made it more difficult to stop the $2 billion loan guarantee Areva wants for its plant in Idaho. That’s probably part of the point of the expansion: The political optics of 2 billion US taxpayer dollars going to a French state-owned company are not good, so the administration is likely increasing the pot to keep open the possibility of a similar gimme going to a US company.

On the nuclear weapons front, the Department of Energy wants to build a new plutonium plant at Los Alamos, a highly enriched uranium plant at Oak Ridge, and a new factory for electronic components for nuclear bombs at Kansas City. DC Days activists argued against the new plants based on the billions of dollars they would cost and the fact that highly regarded experts assured the government as recently as November 2009 that the US stockpile is already safe, secure, and reliable. We also tried to convince senators, who must ratify new arms control agreements, that new bomb plants undermine our own nonproliferation efforts. After all, the US stockpile of “life extended” warheads will soon exceed the ceiling set by the previous START Treaty. At the same time, the government intends to further slash funding for the weapons dismantlement program, which already has a 10 to 15 year backlog.

DC Days meetings at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) veered between discouraging and alarming. The NRC is starting to develop regulations for depleted uranium (DU) disposal. Despite a fairly substantial body of expert opinion that large quantities of DU should not go into low-level nuclear waste dumps at all, that’s clearly what NRC is aiming for. Fine-tuning rules for inadequate nuclear waste disposal is a little like deciding what shade of lipstick to put on a nuclear waste pig. At the request of nuclear corporations, NRC is also beginning the process of writing the rules of the road for irradiated fuel reprocessing, a road that should never be taken again.