The Granite State horse race between John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could turn on an issue that's topped the primary agenda here ever since the bicentennial--atomic energy.
Two reactors sit in this tiny seacoast town just north of the Massachusetts border. One is licensed to operate. The other is a rotting shell, stopped before it could be completed by America's first wave of mass anti-reactor civil disobedience arrests, which began in August 1976.
Republican candidates Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Fred Thompson and Rudolph Giuliani all support a "nuclear renaissance," the massively funded push by the nuclear industry to build a fleet of new reactors. Thompson lobbied for a proposed Westinghouse nuclear plant that was killed in 1984. Giuliani has been employed by Entergy, which owns the Indian Point nuke, thirty-five miles north of Manhattan. Huckabee says anti-nuke arguments are "unfounded."
Over the years in the struggles at Seabrook, more than 2,000 people have been arrested, many of whom still live in New Hampshire. According to Arnie Alpert of the state's American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), "very few" of them are likely to be voting on the GOP side of the primaries, where the issue invariably arises every four years. The Democrats' longtime anti-nuke stalwart is Dennis Kucinich.
As mayor of Cleveland in the 1970s, Kucinich saved the city's Municipal Light System and fought construction of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants on Lake Erie, both of which have proven extremely expensive and problematic. Kucinich also helped Ohioans defeat a planned regional radioactive waste dump, and has long advocated a thorough conversion to renewable energy and increased efficiency.
This year he's been joined by John Edwards. Along with Kucinich, Edwards says there is "no place" for nuclear power in his plans for America's energy future. In 2002 Edwards voted in favor of a national waste repository proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, but has since strongly opposed that project and all federal funding for the expansion of atomic power.
Edwards' anti-nuclear stance helped him win the endorsement of one of atomic energy's seminal opponents, Ralph Nader, along with Friends of the Earth and musicians Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne. According to one Edwards aide working in Iowa, his anti-nuke position may have been crucial in helping him tip the balance over Hillary Clinton. This past weekend, according to Erin Placey of the New Hampshire AFSC, Edwards has reconfirmed his opposition in his public speeches and to her personally.
In her signature statement during a You Tube debate on June 23, Hillary Clinton said she was "agnostic" on nuclear power. "Until we figure out what we're going to do about waste and the cost, it's very hard to see nuclear as part of our future," she said. "But that's where American technology comes in. Let's figure out what we're going to do about the waste and the cost." At a rally in South Carolina, Clinton added that "I think nuclear power has to be part of our energy solution.... I don't have any preconceived opposition. I just want to be sure that we do it right, as carefully as we can." The Washington-based Nuclear Information Resource Service has reported that Clinton has taken substantial campaign contributions from Entergy, whose Indian Point nukes are not far from her home in upstate New York.
In that same YouTube debate, Obama said, "I actually think we should explore nuclear power as part of the energy mix." As a US Senator from Illinois, Obama maintains deep ties with the giant Exelon utility company, which operates eleven reactors around Chicago. According to NIRS, he has taken substantial campaign contributions from Exelon. "I don't think we can take nuclear power off the table," says Obama. "If we can resolve the waste and safety issues, then we should pursue it, and if we can't, we should not."
Alpert says the nuclear power issue may resonate more strongly in southwestern New Hampshire this year than in the rest of the state, because of a tough grassroots campaign to shut the Vermont Yankee reactor, just across the Connecticut River, where a cooling tower recently collapsed.
But an intense Congressional battle over federal loan guarantees for new reactor construction is certain to rage all through 2008, as will nationwide struggles over re-licensing of old plants like Indian Point and Vermont Yankee. So all indicators are that the issue of nuclear power will continue to be a factor long after tomorrow's New Hampshire vote and, indeed, all the way through the one nationwide in November.