When I was in college in the early 1970s, I did research on nuclear-related carcinogenic medical statistics for the people who ultimately stopped the proliferation of plants in Washington state. Later in that decade it was revealed that two of the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) plants, halted after construction, had life-threatening structural deficiencies due to fraudulent x-rays submitted by the contractor in order to omit the required steel reinforcement for the massive concrete structures and thence pocket substantial profits on the bid.
Later yet, watching the movie China Syndrome, I was reminded of this simple fact about nuclear energy: it’s a boondoggle for heavy industry at taxpayers’ expense–always has been–and with that amount of public funds on the table, it will always attract crooks. So when I heard our President Enron and Vice President Halliburton recently touting a resurgence of nuclear plant construction, let’s say I was more than a little sceptical about it’s viability, even under the best of circumstances–circumstances that gave us the (pre-Chernobyl) most-contaminated-site-on-earth Hanford Nuclear Reservation across the Columbia River from where I grew up, as well as the meltdown at Three Mile Island.
This morning on NPR, I listened to a nuclear sceptic debate a nuclear apologist, and learned about both improved technology and the still-unsolved waste storage dilemma, as well as nuclear power’s unavoidable vulnerability to sabotage. I also learned that each plant in the US requires a billion dollars annual government subsidy just to operate, waste disposal and management issues aside.
And I almost learned about a recent failure of the most modern of designs built in France before NPR’s host scrambled to commercial and then went to the phone-in calls immediately afterward. Seems like the WPPSS fiasco all over again; let’s hope it doesn’t get as far along toward criminal catastrophe as it did last time.
*This piece originally ran on February 24, 2006 at Skookum.