Outrage over Obama shift on nukes

Nuclear power opponents on Long Island are outraged at President Barack Obama’s change of position on nuclear power. Long critical of atomic energy, Obama spoke in his State of the Union speech of “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants.” Last week he announced $8.3 billion in federal government loan guarantees, to increase to $54.5 billion, he said, to build new nuclear plants.

“It’s not true that nuclear power is safe and clean — it contaminates the Earth and all living things,” declared Peter Maniscalco of Renew Community Earth last week. “Nuclear power is a zombie energy technology that they’re trying to prop up, something that doesn’t make any sense. No private investors are willing to invest in this technology; they know it’s far too risky.”

Mr. Maniscalco of Manorville said he had wanted to vote for consumer advocate Ralph Nader for president in 2008 but finally balloted for Mr. Obama “thinking he would gain a wider plurality and that would be in the best interests. I wouldn’t vote for him again, obviously.”

Terence O’Daly of Quogue, author of the award-winning website on nuclear technology,, said: “President Obama’s decision means that taxpayers are now going to bail out a failing nuclear industry despite its poor track record and the fact that none of the problems associated with nuclear energy have been solved … It’s a deadly gamble we simply cannot afford,” stated Mr. O’Daly, a Long Island University professor.

Candidate Obama was not only negative about atomic energy — unusual for a politician — but he also indicated a detailed knowledge of its threat to life. As he told the editorial board of the Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire: in 2007 “We dislike the fact” about nuclear power plants that they “might blow up … and irradiate us … and kill us. That’s the problem.”

Yes, that’s the big problem with splitting the atom. Using the perilous process of fission to generate electricity, with its capacity for catastrophic accidents and its production of the highly toxic radioactive poisons called nuclear waste, will always be unsafe. And it is unnecessary, considering the safe energy technologies now available: solar, wind and other clean sources.

Why has Mr. Obama changed his stance? Consider his two top aides.

Rahm Emanuel, now Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, was an investment banker in the middle of the $8.2 billion merger that created Chicago-based Exelon. With 17 nuclear plants, it’s the biggest nuclear utility in the nation. 

David Axelrod, a senior Obama advisor, was an Exelon consultant. Candidate Obama received sizeable contributions from Exelon executives including from John Rowe, Exelon president and chief executive officer. 

Forbes magazine explored the Obama-Exelon relationship in its January 18th issue. An article on Rowe described how he has “focused the company on nuclear,” and displayed a sidebar headlined “The President’s Utility.” It read: “Ties are tight between Exelon and the Obama administration,” noting the contributions and featuring Emanuel and Axelrod.

Consider Steven Chu, Mr. Obama’s secretary of the Department of Energy. He typifies the religious-like zeal for nuclear power emanating for decades from scientists in the U.S. government’s string of national nuclear laboratories. He was director of one of these, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. 

Established as part of World War II’s Manhattan Project to build atomic weapons, the national laboratories began promoting civilian nuclear technology after the war, and have been pushing it unceasingly ever since. The labs have perpetuated their own vested interests.

Dr. Chu, like so many in the national nuclear laboratory system, downplays the dangers of radioactivity. If they didn’t, if they acknowledged how life-threatening the radiation produced by nuclear technology is, their favorite technology would crumble.

Mr. Obama has desperately needed information from those knowledgeable of the dangers of nuclear power — but their access to Obama has been blocked in recent times while the nuclear proponents have done their work in getting him to change position.

Mr. Obama’s change is especially meaningful here, for it was in Suffolk County that LILCO planned to build 7 to 11 nuclear power plants — with the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1 the first. Long Island was to be turned into what the Atomic Energy Commission (succeeded by the DOE) called a “nuclear park.” Long Islanders and their representatives became educated about nuclear power and stopped Shoreham and ended that multi-plant scheme. In the process, LILCO was eliminated. 

Does Mr. Obama have the wisdom and courage to hear from scientists and energy experts who can refute the pro-nuclear arguments that have apparently influenced him?