As you read this, nuclear power liabilities embraced by the federal government could be making small radioactive potatoes of the mere hundreds of billions George W. Bush wants to hand the pirates of Wall Street.
In fact, they could make all the money spent in Iraq, on the defense budget, on social security and on this bailout seem like nickels and dimes.
Why? Because as of this moment the taxpayers of the United States are on the hook for potential catastrophic melt-downs at 104 licensed atomic reactors. Every one of them can kill hundreds of thousands of American citizens. Every one of them can inflict more financial damage than can be reasonably calculated.
On September 11, 2001, we missed by just one minute learning what costs such a catastrophe can really incur.
And what’s truly astonishing is that the reactor industry wants to build even more of these radioactive machines of mass self-destruction.
So while the national mind is focused on the gargantuan cost of what the Bush Republicans have done to the American economy, let’s note what could be happening right now.
In the 1950s a study by the Sandia Laboratory warned that a reactor disaster could permanently irradiate a land mass the size of Pennsylvania. Based on reactors much smaller than today’s, in a state with far fewer people, Sandia warned the death toll would be in the thousands.
In 1966, a melt-down at Fermi I in Monroe, Michigan, destroyed a $100 million reactor and threatened to force the evacuation of all southeastern Michigan, including Detroit. The Great Lakes would have been permanently irradiated.
In 1979 the melt-down at Three Mile Island turned a $900 million asset into a $2 billion liability. It’s still unknown how much radiation escaped and how many people were harmed by it.
The explosion at Chernobyl Unit 4 on April 26, 1986, has thus far inflicted about a half-trillion dollars in damage. The death toll is bitterly disputed. Cancer and birth defects still proliferate throughout the poisoned, impoverished region.
On September 11, 2001, the first jet that hit the World Trade Center flew directly over the two active and one retired reactors—plus their spent fuel pools—at Indian Point, 45 miles north. A melt-down at any or all of these facilities could have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths—or more—and irradiated all of southern New York, Long Island, the Cape and Islands, much of New Jersey and Massachusetts, and much more.
The financial cost of such a catastrophe is beyond calculation.
But YOU would pay for it. Why?
Because in 1957 the utility industry told the government it would not build atomic reactors without liability insurance. No private companies stepped forward. So Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act, forcing taxpayers to assume virtually all the risk for a major melt-down.
Reactor pushers promised the public that private insurers would soon step forward. But 51 years later, none have. Beyond a token pool, every cent of a disaster at a privately-owned atomic reactor would be assumed by the taxpayers. Those who lose their health and homes would be forced to beg for compensation.
The industry now touts an “inherently safe” new generation of reactors. But it still demands not only that taxpayers fund their construction—but also that they assume liability for melt-downs.
Those who doubt such a thing could happen need only look at the “sound fundamentals” on Wall Street. All atomic reactors are fatally vulnerable to both terror and error. And a catastrophe at any one of them could be happening as you read this.
If you doubt the financial cost, just add a few sets of zeroes to the numbers being used to bail out Wall Street. Throw in more deaths than you can imagine.
Then you’ll have all the reasons you need to demand that no more of these monsters be built. And that the ones that still operate be shut down as fast as possible.
HARVEY WASSERMAN, a co-founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy, is editing the nukefree.org web site. He is the author of SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered Earth, A.D. 2030, is at www.solartopia.org. He can be reached at: Windhw@aol.com