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Governor O'Malley and the "Moral Imperative" of Nuclear Power

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Message Linda Pentz Gunter
On May 1st, Maryland governor, Martin O’Malley stood outside the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant and pronounced nuclear expansion there a “moral imperative.” Governor O’Malley needs to consult his dictionary for a closer understanding of morality.

Has Governor O’Malley stopped to ponder where the fuel for his “moral imperative” comes from? Nuclear reactors are fueled by enriched uranium which must first be mined and milled. This activity is invariably carried out by minorities or the poor – in this country largely by Navajo Indians who, because of the detrimental health effects they have suffered as a result, recently voted to ban new uranium mines on their land.  High rates of leukemia and lung cancer have been recorded in these communities.

Areva, the French nuclear giant that will supply the new reactor at Calvert Cliffs, has numerous uranium mining holdings via its subsidiaries, including in the Niger. There, an independent French lab that conducted testing for radiation exposures in the community, found not only unacceptably high levels of radiation but a corporate disregard by Areva for the wellbeing of its workforce. Workers had not been informed of the health risks, and radioactively contaminated metals from mining operations had been dispersed into the community. One child was sitting on a highly radioactive piece of scrap metal used as a chair.

Uranium enrichment is also a dirty and dangerous process that has resulted in the contamination of workers. Enrichment facilities can of course be used to transition to weapons production, as the furor over Iran has illustrated.

Nuclear expansion in the U.S. encourages other countries to follow suit. This in turn increases the risks of nuclear proliferation. The latest desire by 13 Middle Eastern countries for nuclear power programs is largely a masquerade for something more sinister and dangerous – nuclear weapons. Whether these countries produce nuclear weapons or only threaten to do so, the effect impedes peace and security efforts in the already volatile region. It also opens up opportunity for theft or diversion of nuclear weapons-usable materials.

Nuclear reactors are sitting duck terrorist targets proven to be poorly guarded. They are not required to withstand an attack using an aircraft despite the experience of 9/11. A successful attack on the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant could release massive amounts of radiation causing tens of thousands of cancer deaths and the contamination of the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.

The potential for an accident is ever-present with similar consequences. Neither of these outcomes qualifies as a risk worth taking when safer alternatives like wind and solar energy – along with energy efficiency – are available. All are cheaper, safer and faster sources of electricity generation than nuclear energy.

At the end of the nuclear chain looms the hitherto insurmountable problem of highly radioactive waste. Is it a moral imperative to inflict upon the citizens of Maryland a lethal detritus that is radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years? The waste has no other destination currently than the reactor sites themselves, where it too is vulnerable to attack. Even if the scientifically flawed high-level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain, NV were to open, it would be full before a cupful of waste was ever generated by a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs.

New reactors will be paid for by taxpayers, not by the nuclear industry that has failed to stand on its own two feet economically since its inception. A bill to be introduced by Senators Lieberman and Warner stands poised to steal upwards of $500 billion of taxpayer money to pay for new nuclear power plants. Such a handout hardly appeals as a moral imperative to the average American citizen.

As Governor, Mr. O’Malley has a “moral imperative” to act in the best interests of Maryland’s citizens. The extreme risks to health and safety brought about by the addition of a third reactor at Calvert Cliffs should be imposed neither on Marylanders nor on the thousands of individuals required to conduct the harmful activities that support nuclear expansion.  O’Malley should consider the famous Seven Blunders of the World crafted by Mahatma Gandhi, that include: “commerce without morality.” Nothing could more aptly describe the nuclear power industry whose by-product – radiation – can be deadly at any dose.

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Linda Gunter is a former journalist who continues to write columns for newspapers and on-line sites. As a reporter she wrote for Reuters, the Times (UK), the New York Times and numerous newspapers and magazines and was a broadcaster with the USA and (more...)
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