Thursday, June 19, 2008

McCain Pushes New Nuclear Power Plants

by Norman Markowitz

John McCain has called for forty-five new nuclear power plants by 2030 (when he will be ninety four years old) and made a strong pitch for the safety of such plants, while using the argument that they are being built in Europe, Russia, China, everywhere else and (to use the language of Dr. Strangelove, "we cannot afford a nuclear power plant gap").

Now, let me say that I am not ready to dismiss nuclear power out of hand. A case can be made for it as part of an overall energy policy, assuming that the kinds of safeguards that exist, from my readings, in France and some other countries (which corporations never really established here) are put in place. But given our declining infrastructure, it is very unlikely that companies given carte blanche by a McCain administration would establish such safeguards. Also, as environmentalists contend, nuclear power is both too expensive and potentially too dangerous. It is not only environmentalist opposition and memories of Three Mile Island (which unfortunately have long faded) which explain why no new nuclear power plants have been built in the U.S. in decades. As Daniel Weiss, of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a progressive policy group noted, "Wall Street won't invest in these plants because they are expensive and unreliable so Senator McCain wants to shower the nuclear industry with billions of dollars of taxpayer handouts."

Longterm nuclear power plant construction will , at least at the present time, do nothing to limit gas prices that are the result of both demand and the manipulation of supply by transnational oil companies and oil producing nations. And, we, if not McCain, should remember that nuclear power has always been very expensive for consumers. Power companies raise prices on the level of their investment and nuclear power for electricity has meant higher costs for both consumers who use directly the energy produced by such plants and often by consumers whose rates go up because of the investments of their service providers in nuclear power and the costs of maintaining nuclear installations (which companies pass on to consumers).

Instead of digging for more oil regardless of its environmental effects and building new nuclear power plants, which Bush and his new ideological soul mate McCain call for, both through huge subsidies to big private business, we have got to begin to think of a national energy policy with a large public sector and regulation of private companies in the public interest, meaning the interests of consumers and the environment. Both nationally and globally, we have got to remember and revive the S word, Socialism, if we are to seriously address an energy crisis which "free market" capitalist and anti-environmental corporate subsidies have made substantially worse over the last 35 years.


Anonymous said...

So does Obama-- they are both cat's paws for the nuclear power industry.

Joel said...

Re: "Anonymous"

Obama's position is that nuclear power can only be a viable alternative if it is safe. Same with coal. He has also opposed new offshore drilling, and has proposed investments in an array of alternatives from solar, to wind, to et al. There are enormous differences between him and McCain on this issue. Obama stands out well on getting us beyond an oil economy, which is absolutely crucial to human survival.

Anonymous said...

Get real-- they have the same position on nuclear energy and coal. McCain doesn't say he is for unsafe nuclear energy. There is no such thing as "safe" nuclear energy and there is no solution to radioactive waste pollution. The nuclear industry is giving them both money-- same with coal. There is no such thing as "safe"-- i.e., "clean" coal-- it can only increase global warming. Obama is better than McCain on the other energy issues. But he is no saint and after he is elected the struggle for a better world begins in Jan 2009-- against him!

Joel said...

Exactly. If I say I will only drop a brick on your head if it's safe, then either we make a helmet that protects your head or I won't do it. McCain just wants to drop the brick now – a ton of bricks.

Anonymous said...

to anons and in solidarity with myPA colleague Joel, who have responded to my post.
First, they ain't the same and it is going a long long way to call Obama a catspaw of the nuclear power industry. McCain has committed himself to a longterm strategy of nuclear power plant building through public subsidies. Obama has done nothing of the kind. McCain's "energy programs" emaphasize the energy that large corporations and agribusiness love, oil, ethanol, nuclear, and on their terms. Obama has spoken of a longterm alternative energy program and regulation and taxation on windfall profits.
Finally, while I have never been a supporter of nuclear power, and still am not, my point was that this is really a question of science and technology, that there are different systems to protect installations and dispose of radioactive waste, and that any serious planning process would not dismiss nuclear power(which currently produces about 29% of U.S. electricity) out of hand, regardless of the systems in place, the ownership and control of installations, etc.
Frankly, jumping on Obama every time I or anybody else jumps on McCain may make an individual feel good, but it only objectively helps McCain.
Norman Markowitz

Anonymous said...

Good Czar, Bad Czar. I expected more from Communists.

Joel said...

To most recent "anonymous" who I suspect is anonymous by virtue of refusing to sign his/her name only. I think cynicism is not the best course to winning a defeat of the ultra right. I know it irony and cynicism are the tools of the trade of the "intellectual." But this election is about a huge change from ultra right rule to something new. What are we going to do win this change. Making ironic comments about "czars," with all due respect, is out of touch and obviously stuck in some long ago politics. This is no way to win the working class to any movement. I think what being a communist means is worthy of discussion – and I would say it doesn't mean being oppositional for its own sake.

Anonymous said...

Its not cynicism-- its just that you go nuts if someone doesn't agree with you. You think someone is "anonymous" by virtue of not wanting to sign their name. Duh! Intellectual tension and different points of view and contrary opinions are good for our movement. Ask yourself why people prefer to be "anonymous" People are not "oppositional for its own sake." Its just that you don't respect opposition.

Joel said...

There is absolutely no reason for someone in our movement to be anonymous. If opposition and tension is good, then stand behind it.

The point is not that I am "going crazy" about opposition.

The point is this: what are we doing to end right-wing rule, our movement's agreed upon goal. Is campaigning against Obama helping us succeed in that project? No.

Anonymous said...

Progressives should not be campaigning against Obama as McCain must be defeated. Neither should they mislead the people by giving them a false sense that Obama is going to solve their problems. He is a bourgeois and the ruling class has selected him to solve their problems. If Communists sound just like Democrats about Obama what is the use of having Communists. PS- I live in a backward area of the US of A and I don't want my boss to know everything-- I don't like anonymous per se but its no different from just using a first name or a fake name. So now, instead of harping at each other lets spend the rest of our time trying to get Obama elected-- the better of two evils, but way better.

Joel said...

I agree. But the discussion goes to a larger point that I think is crucial. If the aim is not to campaign against Obama, why call him a "good czar" and imply that there is little difference (no more than a sarcastic adjective) between him and McCain?

I think it is possible to agitate and mobilize people to understand the issue of nuclear power and the need to move away from the fossil fuel economy without campaigning against Obama. I think Political Affairs and its editors and contributors have done that quite well.

Based on Obama's statements and position papers, I also think he agrees with the need to move quickly away from fossil fuels, even if he still supports including safe nuclear power or so-called clean coal in the mix, and he has a broad policy on that. Yes a contradiction, but his statement of policy during this campaign isn't a settled issue, unlike with McCain, as he has tied his candidacy to millions of ordinary voters who aren't corporate lobbyists.

The prospects for a more advanced policy are greater with him than with McCain. This is a crucial distinction between the two as well. This is not, however, a claim that Obama is a candidate of the left or that we ought to relax when he is elected.

I think it may be possible to compromise under an Obama administration on an energy/environmental policy that allows investment in nuclear power and new coal (however bad these aspects might be) in order to win strong cap-and-trade legislation that imposes immediate caps on greenhouse emissions that take us back to safe levels of carbon in the atmosphere, invests in other non-fossil fuel energy like solar, wind, and alternative electricity, and develops new conservation and efficiency standards.

A crucial element of this struggle, additionally, will be to win real investment in scientific research and development to improve safety and technology that could help substitute more dangerous energy alternatives (like nukes). It also requires winning new and stronger environmental protections and federal regulatory oversight over energy sector corporations. Indeed, an anti-monopoly policy may be called for on our part, demanding public ownership of sections of the energy sector.

A compromise package on energy would be a flawed outcome to be sure, but it would also represent a huge advance over Bush and McCain.

Just this week McCain insisted that he wouldn't make caps on greenhouse emissions mandatory, that he wants new offshore drilling, which he used to oppose and even many Republicans oppose, and wants dozens of new nuclear plants. It is essentially a do-nothing on greenhouse emissions combined with deeper ties to oil policy. And McCain took this new position in order to win the backing of big oil that had until now refused to finance him. It is literally dangerous to human survival.

It isn't as simple as "good czar" and "bad czar," which appears to me to be rhetorical tactic that does little to educate anyone on Obama's views or the nature of the struggle for changes in energy/environmental policy. I also think it is not helpful to challenge the legitimacy of someone's communist identity or politics, with comments like "I expected more from Communists," if they disagree with you on this sort of thing. That doesn't count as intellectual tension, I think.

Anonymous said...

Since you put it that way, ok!