Next Nuke Nightmare? Paid for with Your Taxes

In 1979, roughly 25,000 people lived within five miles of the giant cooling towers at Three Mile Island that became symbols of the nation’s worst commercial nuclear accident. Photo by Martha Cooper / AP.

We are now paying
For the next Three Mile Island

By Harvey Wasserman / The Rag Blog / March 27, 2010

As radiation poured from Three Mile Island 31 years ago this weekend, utility executives rested easy.

They knew that no matter how many people their errant nuke killed, and no matter how much property it destroyed, they would not be held liable.

Today this same class of executives demands untold taxpayer billions to build still more TMIs. No matter how many meltdowns they cause, and how much havoc they visit down on the public, they still believe they’re above the law.

Fueled with more than $600 million public relations slush money, they demand a risk-free “renaissance” financed by you and yours.

As if!

In 1980 I reported from central Pennsylvania on the dead and dying one year after. Dozens of interviews documented a horrifying range of radiation-related diseases including cancer, leukemia, birth defects, still births, malformations, sterility, heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, skin lesions, hair loss, a metallic taste and much more. As reported by the Baltimore News-American among others, such ailments also ripped through the animal population..

To this day no one knows how much radiation was released at the 1979 TMI accident, where it went, or whom it harmed. The official line that “no one was killed” is arguably the biggest lie ever told in U.S. industrial history. It is to public health what the promise of power “too cheap to meter” was to public finance.

It parallels Soviet lies about the 1986 catastrophe at Chernobyl, whose health effects continue to skyrocket. A devastating summary report issued by the New York Academy of Sciences (Yablokov, Nesterenko & Nesterenko: Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People & the Environment) says at least 980,000 people are likely to die from the fallout.

That would be a small fraction of the casualties had 9/11 terrorists dived into the two reactors at New York’s Indian Point instead of hitting the World Trade Center.

In a time of deep financial stress, it also counts that the TMI accident turned a $900 million asset into a $2 billion liability in a matter of minutes. Chernobyl has cost Belarus and Ukraine at least $500 billion and counting. And the price tag on a major meltdown anywhere in the U.S. is virtually beyond calculation.

Thus those who think a flood of new nukes will flow unimpeded into the American pocketbook haven’t been paying attention:

  1. Four northeastern nukes — in Vermont, New Jersey, and the two at Indian Point — are under intense public pressure to shut within the next two years. Numerous other elderly reactors are likely to go down long before any new nukes could come on line.
  2. French President Sarkozy is demanding that world financial institutions buy a bevy of new French-built reactors. But huge delays and cost-overruns at French projects in Finland and France itself have made the investment community wary to say the least, thus prompting his foot-stomping.
  3. Documents leaked from inside France’s national utility EDF indicate cost-cutting has made the new French reactor design exceedingly prone to explosion, further unsettling potential investors.
  4. The future of new U.S. reactor construction hinges on massive loan guarantees and handouts. The public number is $54 billion, but the Nuclear Information and Resource Service says the real bill could top a trillion.
  5. In the polarized, cost-conscious wake of the health care bill, and the apparent demise of cap and trade as a centerpiece of climate legislation, the idea of such huge sums flowing to a deeply polarizing energy source has become increasingly problematic. Without a clear trade-off for fossil/nuclear giveaways, and with stiffening resistance from the rightist National Taxpayers Union, Cato Institute, and Heritage Foundation, the nuke bonanza is anything but certain. The technology may now, in fact, be “too expensive to matter.”
  6. An attempt by Entergy to shift six reactors into an asset-free corporate shell has been nixed by New York authorities, leaving liability for Vermont Yankee, Indian Point and other northeastern nukes in limbo.
  7. As elderly nukes stumble toward oblivion, various funds allegedly set aside for decommissioning may be significantly under-funded, deeply exacerbating the financial battles that now encircle the industry.
  8. As a lame duck, George W. Bush signed agreements apparently obligating the feds to assume responsibility for enough radioactive waste to fill two of the canceled Yucca Mountain waste dumps. The complete lack of even one such facility means the potential taxpayer bill is beyond meaningful calculation.
  9. Above all the exemption from liability for a major accident — first perpetrated by a pro-nuke Congress in 1957 — remains the largest potential cost to us all. Renewed by Bush in 2005, some believe the statute is clearly unconstitutional.

To this day the families of those harmed by radiation at Three Mile Island have been denied the right to make their case in federal court.

But now the shoe is on the other foot.

Desperate for cash, the nuclear industry wants us all to pay hundreds of billions for the joy of living downwind from still more Three Mile Islands for which they intend to assume NO liability.

They want our money AND our lives.

From central Pennsylvania after 31 years, the message is clear: Just Say NO!

[Harvey Wasserman’s Solartopia! is at, as is The Last Energy War. He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.]

The Rag Blog

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4 Responses to Next Nuke Nightmare? Paid for with Your Taxes

  1. Richard says:

    Harvey, FYI

    The Largest Nuclear Accident in the United States

    Three Mile Island was America’s best-publicized nuclear accident. It was not the largest such accident.

    The biggest expulsion of radioactive material in the United States occurred July 16, 1979, at 5 a.m. on the Navajo Nation.

    On that morning, more than 1,100 tons of uranium mining wastes — tailings — gushed through a packed-mud dam near Church Rock, N.M.

    With the tailings, 100 million gallons of radioactive water gushed through the dam before the crack was repaired.

    By 8 a.m., radioactivity was monitored in Gallup, N.M., nearly 50 miles away. The contaminated river, the Rio Puerco, showed 7,000 times the allowable standard of radioactivity for drinking water below the broken dam shortly after the breach was repaired, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    The few newspaper stories about the spill outside of the immediate area noted that the area was “sparsely populated” and that the spill “poses no immediate health hazard.”

  2. Harvey Wasserman says:

    Good points! We wrote about that 1979 spill in KILLING OUR OWN, which is available free on the internet.

    The largest source of human-made radiation may actually be the billions of tons of uranium tailings piled near milling facilities throughout the west. The radon has been registered as far away as the east coast of the US.

  3. I admit i am a fan of more nukes. But that was when I thought of them as safe cheap reliable energy sources. I have to admit that enough concerns have been raised in this article (admittedly by someone with an axe to grind against the nuclear industry) to warrant my further investigation. I will find some unbiased sources and see what the costs and issues really are. Should be interesting.

  4. Richard says:

    Check out the Seabrook Nuke, was suposed to be online in 7/77 they called it their lucky nuke the cost 777 million. End result came on line 1982 cost over 3 billion, will never be paid for and that doesn’t include the cost of decommissioning and the perputal care of the waste.

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