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Obama’s Atomic Blunder

by Harvey Wasserman

As Vermont seethes with radioactive contamination and the Democratic Party crumbles, Barack Obama has plunged into the atomic abyss. 

In the face of fierce green opposition and withering scorn from both liberal and conservative budget hawks, Obama has done what George W. Bush could not—pledge billions of taxpayer dollars for a relapse of the 20th Century’s most expensive technological failure. 

Obama has announced some $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for two new reactors planned for Georgia. Their Westinghouse AP-1000 designs have been rejected by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as being unable to withstand natural cataclysms like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes. 

The Vogtle site was to originally host four reactors at a total cost of $600 million; it wound up with two at $9 billion. 

The Southern Company which wants to build these two new reactors has cut at least one deal with Japanese financiers set to cash in on American taxpayer largess. The interest rate on the federal guarantees remains bitterly contested. The funding is being debated between at least five government agencies, and may well be tested in the courts. It’s not clear whether union labor will be required and what impact that might have on construction costs. 

The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts warn the likely failure rate for government-back reactor construction loans could be in excess of 50%. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu has admitted he was unaware of the CBO’s report when he signed on to the Georgia guarantees. 

Over the past several years the estimated price tag for proposed new reactors has jumped from $2-3 billion each in some cases to more than $12 billion today. The Chair of the NRC currently estimates it at $10 billion, well before a single construction license has been issued, which will take at least a year. 

Meanwhile, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has reported that at least 27 of America’s 104 licensed reactors are now leaking radioactive tritium. The worst case may be Entergy’s Vermont Yankee, near the state’s southeastern border with New Hampshire and Massachusetts. High levels of contamination have been found in test wells around the reactor, and experts believe the Connecticut River is at serious risk.

Obama has now driven a deep wedge between himself and the core of the environmental movement, which remains fiercely anti-nuclear. While reactor advocates paint the technology green, the opposition has been joined by fiscal conservatives like the National Taxpayer Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

story compliments of  CommonDreams.org

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