A coalition of environmental groups are calling on senators to remove a controversial provisions from the $900 billion stimulus bill that could lead to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants. We recently hosted a debate between independent journalist and longtime anti-nuclear activist Harvey Wasserman and Patrick Moore, a Greenpeace co-founder and member of the pro-nuclear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. The transcript follows:
Amy Goodman: As the Senate continues debate on President Obama's $900 billion economic stimulus plan, a coalition of environmental groups are calling on senators to remove a controversial provision that could lead to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants.
The Senate bill includes a proposed $50 billion in federal loan guarantees that would likely go to nuclear power and liquid coal technologies. The amount is just a fraction of what the nuclear power industry is seeking. Last year, the industry asked Congress for $122 billion in loan guarantees in order to build twenty-one new nuclear reactors.
No nuclear plant has been built in the US since the meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. Critics of the proposal question the safety of nuclear energy, doubt the federal loan guarantees would provide much of an immediate stimulus to the economy. But supporters of nuclear energy say nuclear should be considered a clean, safe and emissions-free source of power.
We're joined now by two guests to debate the issue. In the early '70s, they were both prominent members of the anti-nuclear movement. Today, they take opposing views on the future of nuclear energy. Harvey Wasserman is with us, an independent journalist, longtime anti-nuclear activist. In the early '70s, he helped found the grassroots movement against nuclear power in the US and helped coin the phrase "No Nukes." He joins us from Ohio via DN! video stream. Patrick Moore is with us. He's co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace. He now serves as co-chair of the pro-nuclear Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, known as CASE. He's joining us from Boston.
Let's start with you, Patrick Moore. Why do you support this provision in the stimulus plan?
Patrick Moore: Well, first, it's important to set the record straight on when the last nuclear plant was built. There were forty-seven nuclear plants commissioned in the 1980s. Three Mile Island was in 1979. So it's not as if Three Mile Island really marks the end of building nuclear in the States. About nearly half the plants in the United States were built after Three Mile Island or commissioned after Three Mile Island.
I support nuclear power simply because I think we all made a big mistake in the 1970s by confusing nuclear energy with nuclear weapons. Greenpeace started against US hydrogen bomb testing in Alaska. We were all scared as young people back then, myself at the University of B.C. doing a Ph.D. in ecology, that we were going to be wiped out by an all-out nuclear war. And we thought everything nuclear was evil. That would be as foolish as thinking that nuclear medicine was evil.
Nuclear medicine is a very beneficial use of nuclear technology, and the medical isotopes that are dangerous otherwise are used to diagnose and cure many, many millions of people every year. Those medical isotopes are made in nuclear reactors in the same way that we can make electricity in nuclear reactors, and I don't think we should mix the destructive versus the beneficial uses of nuclear technology up in the way we did back then.
AG: Harvey Wasserman, why are you opposed? Why do you want this out of the stimulus plan?
HW: Well, there's no reason for the United States taxpayers to get stuck with another $50 billion tab for building new reactors that Wall Street won't fund. Nuclear power has failed utterly in the marketplace, and it's back at the taxpayer trough trying to get more money.
And this is a time when we actually need stimulus in our economy, and no nuclear plant that's funded now with taxpayer money could come online for at least a decade. It's a complete waste of money. It has no business being in the stimulus package, and people need to call their senators and Congress people to stop this from happening. It's a real perversion of the stimulus package. And the Senate may vote on this as early as this week, possibly next week, and we have a very difficult struggle to get rid of this $50 billion boondoggle going into the stimulus package. It has no business being there.
And what's more, the reactors that would go under construction will be dangerous. They will be terror targets. We have had experience with atomic reactors causing cancer, leukemia, birth defects in the nearby neighborhoods where they've been built. We have fifty years of experience with atomic power, and it's all been bad. So, we have wind and solar and tidal and geothermal technologies that are ready to move ahead, along with the restoration of mass transit and the increasing efficiency in our economy. This is where our energy money needs to go, not to a failed twentieth century technology that cannot get private funding and, by the way, that cannot get private insurance.
The United States government and the taxpayers are still on the hook for the financial impacts of any major catastrophic meltdown. The public was told in 1957 that soon private insurers would come forward and insure nuclear power plants against major disasters. That has not happened. And to this day, the taxpayer is on the hook if we have a catastrophe by terror or error, and it seems to me that that needs to end.
AG: Patrick Moore?
Patrick Moore: Well, actually, Amy, there's 104 nuclear power plants operating clean and safely every day in the United States, more than any other country in the world. Nuclear energy provides 20 percent of US electricity, and that amounts to nearly 75 percent of the clean energy now being produced in the United States.