RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Rural Counties Take Nuclear Risks

I’ve been depressed since the Ds and Rs rose as one and applauded Obama’s call for a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants.” The statement, during the State of the Union address last January, called nuclear power a creator of “clean energy jobs.”

A few days after the speech, Obama announced that We the People will be guaranteeing loans of $8 billion for nuke plants in Georgia. This initiative is supposed to wean us from foreign energy sources.

I don’t think that nuclear energy will create “clean energy jobs” or that it will wean us from foreign energy sources. In fact, I think that nuclear energy is a giant step backwards in both regards.

The leading builder of nuclear plants, Areva, is French. One French writer calls it “the nuclear arm of the French state, in charge with the building and the supplying of French nuclear plants ... owned by the Commissariat à l’Énergie Atomique, a public agency whose director is appointed by the French President who has occasionally sold nuclear plants on its behalf.” Areva is famous for construction delays and cost overruns. In the US, these would be paid for by the consumer and guaranteed by the US government. And, for Areva, money is made when there are delays and overruns. The longer a project drags on, the longer the company exists. And if consumers are paying the bills, it’s perfect!

Areva is building reactors around the world. Right now, Finland’s reactor is more than three years behind schedule. On March 4, Business Week reported that Areva “now says the project’s final cost and completion date remain uncertain.”

The delays save the industry the trouble of finding fuel. While people argue whether we’ve reached “peak oil,” nobody tracks whether or not we have reached “peak uranium.” And, if more plants come on-line, there will be more demand for nuclear fuel. As sources are harder to find, of course, the fuel will become increasingly costly as the full impact of excavating and processing it becomes apparent.

Not having fuel saves the industry the trouble of closing plants when they’re old. Today, there’s a move to close at least one of the early nuclear plants, and, while we know the environmental risks of the building, we don’t know the risks of closing one. Right now, the waste is stored on site at each plant in operation in the United States. That will probably be the final solution — tubs of waste in pools of water or stored in barrels all over the United States for the next 10,000 years when it can be declared harmless. The storage facilities would each require their own set of guards to prevent theft and their own set of environmental monitors to prevent seepage into the ground water.

You’d think that forward-looking politicians would distance themselves from such a problematic industry. A few months ago, reports that nuclear plant Vermont Yankee, owned by Entergy Corp., was leaking tritium led the The Civil Society Institute (CSI) to begin polling Vermont residents on the popularity of their nuclear plant. They found that 49% call nuclear power a “power source of yesterday.” Asked to identify the “power sources of tomorrow,” 94% named solar, 92% named wind and 78% named hydroelectric.

The poll also found that 68% supported closure of the plant and 89% of the residents said the power company, Entergy, should pay for decomissioning the plant. The breakdown was 83% of Republicans, 94% of Democrats and 90% of Independents.

Look at the qualities that Vermonters associate with Entergy: A majority does not trust Entergy to clean up the mess themselves. Two thirds give Entergy a low rating for “trustworthiness,” 37% saying “very low” and 29% “somewhat low.” 58% give Entergy low marks for “competence” — with 26% saying “very low” and 33% “somewhat low.” And the troubles are likely to spread. CSI says that the leaking tritium is a problem with at least 27 of the nation’s reactors, spanning 31 states.

But I’m staying quiet on the issue.

Because I live in one of the few counties in the United States that would benefit if a nuclear power plant was built here. In fact, I imagine we’re a lot like rural Georgia where folks are thrilled to welcome one.

We have a nuclear power plant in my county. Drive out there and you’ll pass the government-sponsored economic development we already enjoy: On your right, the state Department of Corrections facility for the criminally insane. On your left, the diagnostic center for the same population. And, just down the road, a youth facility, also a locked facility of the Department of Corrections.

A few miles down the road, the prisons are replaced by a landscape of junkyards. Two of these are the final resting places for mobile homes — ever wonder where those go to die? My rural county is one place.

So, if you want to fight the building of nuclear power plants, don’t look to the residents of the rural counties for help. We have our own Eco Devo issues, electricity consumers, and while the plants are a blight, we’ll have a hard time turning them down.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2010

News | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2010 The Progressive Populist
PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652