Our leaders appear mum on the issue, yet the majority of Americans now think climate change is worsening extreme weather events such as the record-breaking heat and hazardous storms this summer, according to a recent survey. Where has climate change been in this election? Will today’s debate between the vice presidential candidates actually address the environment, a topic not even mentioned in the presidential debates? Continue reading
Published on Thursday, June 11, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
By Harvey Wasserman
As the prospective price of new reactors continues to soar, and as the first “new generation” construction projects sink in French and Finish soil, Republicans are introducing a bill to Congress demanding 100 new nuclear reactors in the US within twenty years. It explicitly welcomes “alternatives” such as oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and “clean coal.” Though it endorses some renewables such as solar and wind power, it calls for no cap on carbon emissions.
According to the New York Times, this is the defining GOP alternative to a Democratic energy plan headed for a House vote later this month.
But niggling questions like who will pay for these reactors, who will insure them, where will the fuel come from, where will waste go and who will protect them from terrorists are not on the agenda. Given recent certain-to-prove-optimistic estimates of approximately $10 billion per reactor, the plan envisions a trillion-plus dollar commitment to a newly nuke-centered nation.
With this proposed legislation the GOP makes atomic energy the centerpiece of its strategy to deal with climate change.
Nuclear power requires energy-intensive activities such as uranium mining, milling, fuel enrichment, plus other carbon expenditures for plant construction, waste management and more. Reactors also convert buried uranium ore into huge quantities of heat, much of which becomes hot water and steam emitted into the environment. Reactors in France and elsewhere have been forced to shut because adjacent rivers have been taken to 90 degrees Farenheit by hot water dumped from reactor cooling systems.
None of this troubled GOP hearings this week on the future of atomic energy. There were no answers to how new reactors would be insured. Since 1957 the federal treasury has been the underwriter of last resort for potential reactor disasters. Renewed in the 2005 Bush energy plan, the commitment applies to all new reactors.
So reactors licensed to operate through 2057—as would be virtually certain under the GOP plan—would extend to a full century the atomic industry’s inability to cover its own risks. Neither the Obama Administration nor the GOP has presented detailed plans for dealing with such disasters, or explained how they would be paid for.
Despite the GOP’s endless focus on the terror attacks of 9/11/2001, no significant structural upgrades have been made to protect the currently licensed 104 US reactors from an air attack. The new reactors will be required to demonstrate an ability to resist a jet crash, but testing that requirement remains an open issue.
The ability to fuel this new fleet of reactors remains questionable. Reprocessing used fuel into re-usable Mixed Oxide rods has proven dirty, expensive and dangerous.
The initial experience with building new reactors runs parallel. As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, French-financed construction projects at Flamanville, France, and at Okiluoto in Finland have soared hugely over budget and behind schedule. Much of the economically catastrophic experience endured by utilities and rate payers in building the first generation of reactors in the 1960s-1990s appears to be repeating itself with even bigger deficits. The French government’s front-group Areva, which is building the new plants, has sunk into serious financial and political chaos, with potentially devastating implications for this much-touted “new generation” technology.
Recent radioactive leaks in Vermont and Illinois have underscored bitter disputes over re-licensing the 104 “first generation” US reactors. Some could now operate past the 60-year mark, even though most were originally designed to operate just 30, and all have serious issues ranging from frequent leaks to structural decay, unworkable evacuation plans and much more.
Meanwhile, with the apparent cancellation of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, the industry is no closer to dealing with its radioactive waste than it was 50 years ago.
None of which seems to daunt the industry or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which has yet to turn down a proposed re-licensing. Two states—Florida and Georgia—have now passed rate hikes aimed at funding new reactor construction. And Obama’s Department of Energy may soon dole out $18.5 billion in construction loan guarantees put in place by the Bush 2005 Energy Plan. The DOE has identified four prime candidates for the money.
Nonetheless, since 2007 reactor opponents have three times defeated proposals for $50 billion in loan guarantees for new reactor construction. There is no indication from Wall Street and what’s left of the private banking community that without heavy government guarantees, investments in nuclear power plants are at all attractive.
But while billing itself as the party of free enterprise—especially when it comes to health care—the GOP has made itself the unabashed champion of a technology that can’t raise private capital without taxpayer backing, can’t get private insurance, can’t manage its wastes, and shows no sign of offering a meaningful solution to the problem of carbon emissions.
What the nuclear power industry does seem to have, however, is unlimited funding to push its product in the corporate media and Congress. This latest GOP proposal for 100 new nukes may not fly in this House session.
Sadly, Democratic-sponsored legislation is not nuke-free. The situation in Congress remains fluid and unpredictable, often changing from day to day. Various aspects of bills supported by various Democrats include hidden subsidies, disguised loan guarantees, counting nuclear power as “green” in proposed renewable portfolio standards, backdoor handouts and more. Sometimes the boosts are buried in obscure corners of sub-clauses that border on the indecipherable.
But surface they do, again and again. Thus far the anti-nuclear movement has done a remarkable job of blocking the worst of them. Continuing to do that will require eternal vigilance, endless grassroots action and the steadfast belief that in the long run, our species has the will and foresight to somehow avoid radioactive self-extinction.
Harvey Wasserman’s SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for www.freepress.org, where this article first appeared.
Greenpeace.org, Nirs.org, BeyondNuclear.org and nukefree.org are among the websites to consult for further action.
Mr Peabody Coal and Mr. Massey Ferguson were walking down a winding country road in the Mountains of Appalachia. The kind of road John Denver sang about in “Country Road, Take Me Home.” They were talking about which of the surrounding mountaintops they would remove next, when one of them kicked at what looked like a can in the tall lush grass of the roadside. It was heavier than he thought it would be and hurt his toe a little bit and scuffed his Gucci boot.
They both bent over and discovered it was an antique lantern with a spout. Mr. Peabody rubbed at the surface to see if there was a logo or anything to identify it when a genie appeared out of it in a puff of smoke. They were astonished to see such a thing in the middle of a forest in the middle of the day, but before they could recover enough to accuse the genie of trespass on their land, which was everything as far as the eye could see and a bird can fly, the genie offered to grant them three wishes.
They could hardly believe their luck. First they asked for CCS technology, the here-to-for holy grail of the industry. The genie promised that all the CO2 from now on would disappear underground. Rubbing their hands with glee, the coaligarchs carefully considered their second wish, after some minutes in animated conference they turned to the genie and asked that the trillions of acres of toxic fly ash accumulating around their coal power plants could disappear removing the threat of devastating flooding from thousands of miles of watersheds.
The genie nodded his head with some gravity and assented to their wish that this threat to water and land vanish immediately and poof, the ponds were gone. The two megabillionaires thumped each other on the back and lit big cigars in celebration. They thought long and hard and threw out ideas about they could ask for next, maybe get the means to turn coal into gasoline, or to burn in streetlights or right in the engines of automobiles, but then they both focused on what was most on their minds, what they had spent so many millions to advertise and together they turned to the genie and asked them with one voice, “make coal clean.”
The genie looked at them intently for many minutes with a look that shook the exuberance off their bravado and slowly he shook his head. As he did so they were effortlessly transported into the future they had planned for this very part of the lush eastern forest. Their eyes stung in the heat and the dust as giant excavators devastated the dense old growth forest and ripped into the ancient stone of the million year old landscape. Around them the cries of millions of creatures obliterated in the waste of the mountainsides and spoil of the mining operation filling the lush dark valley below. After the quick glimpse of the change from life sustaining forest to toxic desert the genie said “alas, you have wasted your last wish, for not even magic can produce such a thing as “clean coal.”
The America’s Power campaign, funded by the coal and electricity industry, promotes coal as our country’s solution to energy independence. They do this through the lens of clean coal, when in reality they are simply a front group for an industry lobby aimed to keep dirty coal plants in existence.
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is a not-for-profit organization (NGO) founded as a result of the merge between Americans for Balanced Energy Choices and Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) . Its stated mission is “to advance the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions.” 
ACCCE’s mission is to convey to consumers and elected officials that coal should play a central role in meeting future American energy needs. As it notes on its website, “America can continue to make great progress in improving environmental quality while at the same time enjoying the benefits of using domestic energy resources like coal to meet our growing demand for affordable, reliable and clean energy. In a word…we believe in technology.”  As part of this effort, ACCCE has sought to re-brand coal as a “clean” energy source. Its messaging reminds viewers that “half of our electricity comes from coal” and that “coal is our most abundant fuel.” 
To do this, ACCCE is spending at least $35 million in 2008 to mount a major public relations campaign designed to promote public awareness of clean coal in the context of the Presidential race. They are doing this by flooding the election season with national and local ad campaigns.
ACCCE’s campaign is built around an “American Energy” theme, arguing that “clean” coal-fired power plants are the only viable path to American energy independence. They have run print ads in key primary states to remind prospective voters of their state’s reliance on coal and tout the benefits of clean coal in terms of both jobs and affordable power. To date, the local ads have run in Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania . In addition to a traditional media campaign, ACCCE utilizes a ground force of 150,000 supporters, who they call the “civilian army” and their “Power Van” as a guerilla force to bird-dog political rallies and events across the country festooned with clean coal slogans and a blue sky backdrop .
Along with their print ad campaign, ACCCE paid CNN $5 million to be one of the main co-sponsors of six presidential debates, providing saturation advertising both on television and online. Some blogs have noted the irony that during these debates, no questions have been asked about climate and specifically about coal.
In 2007 alone, 59 proposed coal plants were cancelled or put on hold and in January DOE pulled the plug on the FutureGen project planned for Illinois that would be the first “near-zero emissions” facility utilizing cap and storage technology because the project was resulting in higher than expected costs. And to top things off, in October 2007, Kansas became the first state to reject issuing a permit for a new coal-fired plan solely because of its potential to contribute to global warming. But the coal industry isn’t giving up, in fact ACCCE has increased its budget from approximately $8 million to $35 million for 2008 . Other industry partners such as the National Mining Association have also increased their lobbying significantly in 2008 . The intention is clear, the coal industry is determined to maintain America’s over reliance on coal as a domestic energy source in spite of the need to diversify energy production to address global warming and minimize any impacts to the coal industry within the energy debate.
ACCCE is a wholly owned (albeit non-profit) subsidiary of the U.S. coal industry. Its list of 43 supporters reads like a who’s who of the coal, rail, and electricity industries: ALCOA, American Electric Power, CSX, Detroit Edison, Duke Energy, Peabody Energy, Southern Company and Union Pacific Railroad. Its real purpose, contrary to its claims, is not to promote coal as a source for clean or green energy, but merely to ensure that the United States continues to be highly dependent on coal for its energy needs.
It’s the Law, Stupid
Not surprisingly, ACCCE’s promotion of clean coal plays with the facts. Although ACCCE claims that its “coal-based generating fleet is 70 percent cleaner than before,” these numbers refer only to reductions in sulfur oxide (SOX) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions . The coal industry has yet to implement technology to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the main cause of global warming. ACCCE also fails to state anywhere in its campaign or on its website that coal plants are cleaner today not because of the industry’s voluntary efforts, but rather as a result of legislative mandates or court decisions .
Perhaps the most misleading component of ACCCE’s campaign is its implication that new and better CCS technologies capable of creating “near-zero emissions” are right around the corner. In reality, some scientists feel that the earliest CCS technology could be implemented is 2030 and would cost billions . This is illustrated by the DOE’s decision to pull out of FutureGen when the project began to exceed projected costs.
While the public mission of the group is to promote clean coal, a closer look at the group reveals otherwise. Newly formed in 2008, ACCCE is the latest version of the long lineage of coal front groups. If you look at the federal tax records for ACCCE’s parent organization, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), you will find the true nature of their work. In their 2006 tax records, ABEC claims that they promote “an increased awareness of improvements in U.S. air quality and the coal-based electricity sector’s role in America’s ongoing environmental progress as well as the mobilization of a citizen army on issues involving various state regulatory and legislative actions including decisions on implementation of EPA’s Clean Air Mercury rule and actions to regulate utility greenhouse gas emissions.” 
At the same time that ACCCE was telling the public that it was dedicated to clean technology, it was spending over $2.6 million lobbying Congress. According to lobbying records, it “opposed the national renewal portfolio” in the Comprehensive Energy Bill (HR 6) and contested the America’s Climate Security Act (better known as the Lieberman-Warner bill) when it came before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee .
While, ACCCE promotes the benefits of coal to local communities, they neglect to speak to the reality of the environmental damage caused by its extraction and use. They fail to mention the impacts of air pollutants and mercury contamination produced in the burning of coal, which are known to cause cancer, impair reproduction, inhibit child development, damage the nervous and immune systems, and worsen respiratory ailments like asthma. They never mention the environmental impact of coal mining, which includes erosion, groundwater contamination, habitat destruction, and toxic waste. Environmental and economic costs incurred in waste disposal and land reclamation and transportation are also omitted from the dialog .
Perhaps most relevant to its current campaign, ACCCE proudly admits that 50 percent of our electricity comes from coal, yet they neglect to admit its contribution to climate change. The EPA documented that in 2006 electricity generation “is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, representing 33 percent of total US emissions . In reality, there is nothing “clean” about the coal electicity it promotes.
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 2006 IRS form 990, Americans For Balanced Energy Choices Greenpeace Investigations
 The Washington Post
 America’s Power
 Keating, Martha. Cradle to Grave: The Environmental Impacts from Coal. June 2001 Clean Air Task Force
 New Scientist, “Can coal live up to its clean promise?” March 27, 2008
 2006 IRS form 990, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices Greenpeace Investigations
 Lobbying Report, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, 2007, Greenpeace Investigations website
 Keating, passim.
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Inventory of U.S Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006″ EPA