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Review of an article in The New Scientist
Dr. Jay M. Gould
Director Radiation and Public Health Project

The biggest energy news story of 2001, completely ignored by US mainstream media, is perhaps an article appearing in The New Scientist on Dec. 15 2001.


"NUCLEAR power may have had its day. The best way to cut carbon pollution and tackle global warming is to replace oil and coal-fired power stations with renewable energy sources," says a draft British government review leaked to The New Scientist. "Nuclear power is simply too dangerous and expensive.''

The article goes on to say that while the report had been expected to call for building 15 new reactors, the British nuclear industry was shocked to find that the plan calls for its complete replacement by solar power in the form of 18 gigantic offshore wind farms. The official Blair Cabinet Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) stated that nuclear "technology has an uncertain role since concerns about radioactive waste, accidents, terrorism and proliferation may limit or preclude its use." And when the British report cites "public concern about radioactive waste, accidents and proliferation," they are also alluding to concern over very high illness rates for children and young adults in an area the size of Pennsylvania with 19 aging reactors.

On the other hand the PIU regards renewable energy as a flexible means of performing with far less expense the reduction of carbon emissions enabling England to meet the Kyoto standards.

The report goes far beyond the similar declarations by other European nations like Germany and Sweden to phase out nuclear reactors in the next two decades. Another facet of the report of interest to Americans who now confront renewal of the Price Anderson Act, is the dismissal of the future role played by the government owned British Nuclear Fuels. The cost of cleaning up the pollution resulting from the BNF Sellafield plant reprocessing of used fuel assemblies from Germany and Japan is expected to saddle British taxpayers with back-breaking insurance costs for decades to come.

The bankrupt BNF is also the force behind the current drive to buy aging US reactors like Millstone, Indian Point and Oyster Creek in order to get at the decommissioning funds established by the Price Anderson Act.

The leaked report is an account of a reversal of a 50 year-old British policy based on total reliance on oil and nuclear energy, which was carried on the front page of every British newspaper on December 13, 2001, with maps showing the proposed locations of 18 gigantic offshore wind farms.

The first question Americans must ask is why such a truly sensational story would be totally ignored by US mainstream media. Here is a heroically abbreviated attempt at an explanation.

Ever since the Industrial Revolution of the past two centuries demonstrated that extremely profitable economies of scale could be realized by the exploitation of fossil fuels like coal and oil, "free market" economies (a euphemism for capitalism) need do nothing to cover the social costs of the associated environmental pollution.

Fifty years ago a similar situation occurred when US policy makers saw in nuclear technology the illusory promise of unlimited control over the rest of the world, only to discover that all nuclear facilities today are highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. A single such attack could reduce even the US to a nuclear basket case, as had happened in the former Soviet Union when social order collapsed in the wake of a Chernobyl meltdown in April of 1986.

Moreover, the inevitable realities now facing western energy policy makers include first and foremost the same possible loss of political legitimacy faced by Gorbachev in 1986. And now they must finally deal with such issues as global warming and the public health crisis produced by 200 years of environmental pollution.

It thus should come as no surpise that this story would not appeal to establishment media in the United States.

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