Nuclear Power Still Blocks Clean Energy Development

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Susan Corbett wants Americans to remember how serious the post-tsunami Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan was...and still is.

"To say Fukushima cannot happen here is naive and foolish," says Susan, the chair of the South Carolina Sierra Club.

"(The U.S. has) 23 of the same, identical GE Mark I reactors still in operation and several others in dangerous locations, including two on fault lines in California. In most cases, back-up generators are the only thing standing between the public and similar spent nuclear fuel pool fires and releases of massive amounts of radiation. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission barely took a breath before they declared we have nothing to worry about here, and continued to license new and re-license old reactors."

And in the meantime, the full extent of the consequences of the huge release of nuclear radiation at Fukushima may not be known for generations. "In Japan, whole areas that could have recovered from the tsunami and the earthquake are now dead zones that are contaminated with radiation, and uninhabitable."

Susan has worked on nuclear energy issues since the mid -1970s, when the local utility built a nuclear power plant 10 miles from her South Carolina home. In 1978 she helped start Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE), which was soon promoted heavily by Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Graham Nash and other nationally-known musicians.

Since then, she's been at the forefront of the fight against nuclear energy in South Carolina and beyond - submitting comments on plans for nuclear power plants in South Carolina, speaking before national commissions on nuclear waste, and more.

In 1993, I worked to stop the storage of additional nuclear waste at Xcel Energy's Prairie Island facility in Red Wing, Minnesota, at a time when the state could choose to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable energy and efficiency. Like Susan, I believe the issues haven't changed much since the fights of the 70s, 80s and 90s, unfortunately.

I commend her focus on the ever-present issue of what to do with nuclear waste. Last week she took part in the process of commenting on long-term nuclear waste storage - specifically the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility.

"After 50 years, there is still no way to deal with the high level waste generated by these reactors. Yucca Mountain is a failed geologic site. It never met the criteria for long term geologic disposal. The waste does need to go to a permanent repository, but it must be a truly scientifically sound and geologically stable location, not made by a political decision."

Corbett and the Sierra Club's Nuclear Issues Activist Team recommend leaving nuclear waste in hardened on-site storage at the reactors where it was generated. She disagrees with the President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission plan to consolidate nuclear waste in one or two locations.

"We need to get busy having a real dialogue about where these permanent repositories will go, how they will be sited, community input, and more.

"Keeping the waste in multiple Congressional districts keeps the issue alive and in the minds of elected officials. No more sweeping it under the rug. Our hope is that once everyone realizes how hard it is to deal with the waste, the technology will go away in favor of cleaner ones."

Corbett said right now the South is pushing strongly for increased nuclear energy - which is the wrong choice.

"Here in South Carolina, we have seven operating reactors, four more in the process of being licensed, a low level nuclear waste dump at Barnwell, the Westinghouse Fuel Fabrication plant, and of course the sprawling 312-square-mile Savannah River Site, owned by the Department of Energy and site of millions of curies of radioactive waste left over from the cold war production of nuclear bombs."

Having grown up in the South, I know the risk is especially acute in this region. "Every new nuclear plant licensed and built is a stake thru the heart of energy efficiency, offshore wind, solar, and other clean energy sources," said Susan.

"South Carolina alone has four gigawatts of potential offshore wind and 300 days of sunshine, but there is virtually no commitment by our state leaders or utilities invest in these renewable energy options."

For Corbett, the Sierra Club, and many others, nuclear power remains a major enemy in the push for clean energy. Join our Nuclear Issues Activist Team to take action and make a difference.

Tags: Activism | Nuclear Power