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March 14, 2011

Nuclear Industry: Pay No Attention to the Potential Meltdown Behind the Curtain

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We have plenty of people here at FDL to give you the technical explanations about what is happening at the Japanese nuclear plants right now. I’m here to give you the spin. The nuclear industry’s spin.

The most striking claim made by NEI spokesman Mitchell Singer: Americans should be “reassured” by the crisis unfolding in Japan.

“There hasn’t been any significant release of radiation. So obviously they must be doing something right at this point,” said Singer. While acknowledging that the crisis is still in early stages, Singer argued in our interview, and earlier to the Wall Street Journal, that Americans should be reassured because the industry will learn from the accidents in Japan, where fail-safe systems have themselves failed.

“We share what’s known as ‘lessons learned’ from incidents such as this,” he said.

Well, that’s reassuring.

Today, the nuclear PR industry has updated their statements to include the new spin that the radioactivity from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor has been “minimal and controlled.” Remind me again about the levels of radioactivity emitting from the hydroelectric plants in Japan, another sizable part of their energy mix?

Officials at Fukushima Daiichi concede that they will have to release radioactive steam for as long as a year as a result of the operations failure at the plant, and that the 200,000 evacuated may not be able to return for years to their homes. It’s not that this wasn’t a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. It’s that, when such events strike, the long-lasting effects for nuclear plants that fail are far greater than other energy sources. And the PR machine can’t spin their way out of that.

Privately, the industry and its backers know how terrible this will end up for them.

“I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what’s happened in Japan,” Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut and one of the Senate’s leading voices on energy, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

…even staunch supporters of nuclear power are now advocating a pause in licensing and building new reactors in the United States to make sure that proper safety and evacuation measures are in place. Environmental groups are reassessing their willingness to see nuclear power as a linchpin of any future climate change legislation. Mr. Obama still sees nuclear power as a major element of future American energy policy, but he is injecting a new tone of caution into his endorsement.

And this spin is woeful:

The policy implications for the United States are vexing. “It’s not possible to achieve a climate solution based on existing technology without a significant reliance on nuclear power,” said Jason Grumet, president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington and an energy and climate change adviser to the 2008 Obama campaign. “It’s early to reach many conclusions about what happened in Japan and the relevance of what happened to the United States. But the safety of nuclear power will certainly be high on the list of questions for the next several months.”

“The world is fundamentally a set of relative risks,” Mr. Grumet added, noting the confluence of disasters in coal mining, oil drilling and nuclear plant operations. “The accident certainly has diminished what had been a growing impetus in the environmental community to support nuclear power as part of a broad bargain on energy and climate policy.”

Yes, the dirty energy sources are also fundamentally dangerous. Nobody argues that point. It’s dishonest to compare those to nuclear when the newer energy sources available simply do not share the same risks, especially in the event of unpredictable natural disasters. “Clean energy” can have multiple meanings.

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