Going Nuclear Again

At least partially thanks to the "genius" of Karl Rove, the Bush Administration has always been good at changing the subject and since early 2006 when it became apparent even to its supporters that the unholy war in Iraq was the blackest of holes, Rove’s monster public relations machine has been working triple-time.  But the smoke and mirrors being generated by that machine is concealing a far more threatening development behind its foggy curtain.  

In recent months the Bush Administration’s public hysteria over Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been hogging the media spotlight – some would argue, justifiably. This is happening despite the fact that after more than three years of inspections, the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) found no indication of "undeclared source or special nuclear materials" in Iran. The IAEA further reported finding no indication that any declared source or special nuclear materials had been diverted to military purpose. Yet Bush’s obsessive fear mongering over Iran’s nuke-building begins to make sense when viewed through the prism of its own nuclear weapons activities.  Those activities coupled with this White House’s unprecedented history of secrecy, lies and contempt for those it has sworn to serve, go far toward explaining the president’s fixation on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s nuclear ambitions.

Aided and abetted by Congress and a complicit media, George W. Bush and his henchmen have managed to fire up an entire nation – and the international community – with its "Iranian nuclear threat."  In so doing, they have constructed a dangerously volatile straw man – one that distracts Americans from the real nuclear threat. That threat is being played out not as we are instructed to believe, in the Middle East, but across the US and in the corridors of power in the nation’s capital.


By now the Bush Administration’s fondness for Big Energy is a matter of very public record, if only because of its own arrogance. Even so, it took the mainstream media awhile to process the news that its Chief Executive and VP were literally conspiring with their Oil Industry friends to make National Energy Policy. Apparently the president’s not-so-public pandering to the nuclear industry and its quiet launching of a new era of nuclear proliferation in an age of terrorism and national insecurity fall under the same category – still more of a sleeper than a scoop.  If it were widely understood, the Administration’s efforts to resurrect nuclear power might stand at least a chance of sparking a national debate – or better still, an International Weapons Proliferation Summit.

Yet when Dr. Robert Civiak released his "Analysis of the Department of Energy’s Fiscal Year 2007 Budget Request for Nuclear Weapons Activities," divulging the nuclear nature of the president’s February 6, Budget Request for FY 2007 (which begins October 1, 2006), it didn’t seem to generate any excitement at all, never mind that Weapons Proliferations Summit.  

In his analysis, Dr. Civiak documents the Bush Administration’s $6.4 billion budget request for Nuclear Weapons Activities. The analysis finds that Bush’s request "continues the decade long upsurge in funding for nuclear weapons" and that "the 2007 weapons budget is one-third higher than the average annual spending on nuclear weapons during the Cold War, even after accounting for inflation.

"The Administration’s request supports a vast research and manufacturing enterprise focused on upgrading existing US nuclear weapons and designing new ones," states the report.  "Beyond being an appalling waste of Federal funds, the massive nuclear weapons development effort belies commitments the US has under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to work toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. By placing such importance on upgrading US nuclear weapons capabilities, the Administration frustrates efforts to convince proliferators that they can gain nothing by developing nuclear weapons and it undercuts international cooperation…vital to constraining the proliferators."

The utter failure of the mainstream press to connect the nuclear dots now borders on criminal complicity – especially when viewed in the context of the president’s recent nuclear speaking tour.  Admittedly, George W. Bush’s May, 2006 speech at the Limerick Generating Station wherein he cited nuclear power as the "perfect example of how we can grow our economy and protect our environment at the same time" didn’t make particularly compelling press.  Even the light-handed coverage of his visit to Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Maryland last year touting nuclear energy as a "replacement for fossil fuels" might be understandable were it not for the obvious pattern of behavior emerging from this White House. While it is hardly shocking that Bush’s pro-nuclear audience didn’t challenge the president’s assertion that "there is a growing consensus that more nuclear power will lead to a cleaner, safer nation…[therefore] it is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again…" the lack of media inquisitiveness should be.  Never mind that the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility is a likely site for the first new nuclear energy reactor to be built in the US in 30 years. Never mind either that the overwhelming preponderance of scientific research concludes that nuclear storage, safety and security issues in 2006 remain largely unresolved. 


It is little comfort that when it comes to news censorship, the eerie blackouts that characterize the 21st century are an equal opportunity phenomenon from which no one is exempt. The blackouts are a reaction not to the messenger, but to the message.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who reached near god-like status among the Wall Street crowd during his tenure as Fed Chief, recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the nation’s "worrisome dependence on oil" makes nuclear power key to national security, he didn’t make headlines either. By the next day, even the Information Highway was hard pressed to give up that testimony although a webcast was available on C-SPAN. While the "nineteen new applications [for nuclear power plants]…currently on file with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)" seemed to excite the ex-Fed Chief, his stunning proclamation was apparently not sexy enough for prime time.

In April of this year when twenty-three Senators signed on to a $27 million appropriations request for Fiscal Year 2007 for Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear programs, clean energy advocates might have been interested to learn that among the signatories were ten leading Democrats – including John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Other Democratic signatories were Senators Bingaman, Obama, Wyden, Reed, Kohl, Jeffords, Bayh and (Bill) Nelson. Yet there was no televised coverage at all and with few notable exceptions, there was little print coverage either. Thirteen Republicans (Voinovich, Craig, Crapo, Lugar, Bond, Talent, Alexander, Chafee, Warner, Burr, Isakson, DeWine and Smith) also signed the letter sent to the Committee on Appropriations.

The request for the FY 2007 DOE budget seeks the restoration of funding for the University Reactor Fuel Assistance and Support Program to FY 2006 levels in the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill – slated to be cut next year. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently testified before the Environment and Public Works Committee that they expect to receive at least eleven applications for new plant construction between 2007 and 2009," the request reads. "Given the anticipated growth of nuclear power in this country…we urge you to restore funding for the University Reactor Fuel Assistance and Support Program…"

The Bush energy plan, which includes a provision for easing the licensing process and more than $1 billion for new construction, got some press at the time it was announced, but that story too faded to black before most Americans had a chance to absorb its potential impact.


In 1945, the US launched a massive nuclear attack on the heavily populated cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That low point in American history marked the US as the only country ever to use nuclear weapons against another.

It has been more than six decades since President Harry S. Truman gave the order to drop "Fat Man" and "Little Boy" on the unsuspecting populous of two of Japan’s major cities. Truman described the massacre as "a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth." That rain of ruin resulted in the instant incineration of at least 140,000 innocents in Hiroshima and well over 74,000 in Nagasaki. Those numbers do not take into account the thousands who died after 1945 of radiation-related illnesses.

Even so, in 2006 nuclear power and the weapons made possible by its generation are universally coveted.  Nuclear proliferation has become a fact of life in the global community.  Countless nuclear catastrophes later, China, France, India and a host of other nations are all moving aggressively to build new nuclear power plants. Even Australia, once known for its no-nukes attitude, has decided it needs a "national conversation" about nuclear power.

The IAEA recently announced that it now expects global nuclear capacity to nearly double by 2030. All of this despite reams of data documenting the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to attack, a relentless series of catastrophic and near-catastrophic accidents, billions of wasted dollars, suspicious diseases and deformities in nuclear-infested neighborhoods and major questions regarding the disposal and storage of waste.  Those same issues that once brought about a shift in public attitudes toward nuclear power – and with that shift a decline in political support – remain today. Yet this time around, the stony wall of silence and secrecy surrounding them seems all but impenetrable.

The stakes are as high as they get, yet it seems the lesson taken from the nuclear experience has been the wrong one. Some 94 percent of the world’s nuclear capacity is still in developed countries but that too is changing thanks in part to the "liberalization" of US trade laws. Of the new plants under construction, 18 are in Asia. India, Pakistan and China all have nuclear power plants and India recently announced that it wants to expand its capacity by a factor of 10 by 2022, and by a factor of 100 by 2052. China wants to expand by a factor of five or six within the next 15 years.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) reports that the US has 104 reactors currently online, and that in France 59 reactors provide 78 percent of all electricity. There are some 55 reactors in Japan, 31 in Russia, 18 in Canada and 17 in Germany. Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and South Africa have two operating reactors each.  Despite Israel’s continued denials of any nuclear culpability, that country is widely believed to possess enormous nuclear capacity.  More than 16 percent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear and the WNA reports 440 nuclear reactors in use around the world with dozens more being considered or under construction.  

It is the 21st century and the window of opportunity for turning back the nuclear clock threatens to slam shut.  The shutting of that window comes at a time when the international community can no longer afford to engage in industry-sponsored "non-debates" like the recent one on global warming that wasted so much valuable time, money and energy. With congressional support, the nuclear genie has been teased out of its bottle by the Bush Administration and its friends in the nuclear industry. In coming months, Americans will again be treated to nuclear "happy talk" about "new, improved versions" of nuclear power, that it is (again) the "safe, clean solution" to world energy shortages and global climate change. But the genie isn’t new or improved. It is just barely contained in its almost-invisible new bottle.

Sandy Leon Vest is a renewable energy activist and journalist and editor of the Stinson Solar Times. Her writing has been published in progressive publications including www.towardfreedom.com , www.zmag.org , www.indybay.org, the Coastal Post ( www.coastalpost.com ) and the Point Reyes Light (www.ptreyeslight.com ) in her home town in Marin County. Her documentary work has been distributed nationally and internationally through the National Radio Project in Oakland. She has produced news and public affairs programming for public and community radio, including KPFA, in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles and KWMR in Marin County.