Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Drilling and nuclear power are neither safe nor clean

Posted by David Kassel on May 3, 2010

[Cross-posted from Blue Mass. Group]

If there is one overriding lesson we can take from the ongoing oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s that safety claims about energy technologies are likely to be empty.

I’m talking about both drilling for oil off shore and nuclear power.  In recent months, both of these technologies have been characterized by their industry proponents as “safe” and “clean” because of advances in technology.  That safety claim was seized upon by President Obama, who has called for a renewed emphasis on developing both off-shore oil drilling and nuclear power as part of our nation’s energy policy.

Obama has specifically used the words “safe”  and “clean” in describing both nuclear and drilling technologies.

Announcing his off-shore oil drilling expansion plans on March 31,  Obama said:

I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy.

On February 16, in announcing his plan to expand nuclear power, the president said:

My budget proposes tripling the loan guarantees we provide to help finance safe, clean nuclear facilities – and we’ll continue to provide financing for clean-energy projects…across America.

Yet, even as Obama was announcing his plan for the expansion of nuclear power, his own Nuclear Regulatory Commission was warning that the latest technology for housing nuclear reactors is far from safe.  The Westinghouse design for the two reactors in Georgia that received the first loan guarantees announced by the president may not be durable enough to withstand earthquakes, hurricanes, or a direct airplane hit, the NRC stated.

Of course, we are now witnessing the growing natural disaster along the Louisiana coastline caused by the explosion of an oil drilling rig that boasted the latest “safe” technology.

It’s understandable that the president felt he needed to make concessions regarding oil drilling and nuclear power to conservatives in Congress in order to gain their support for his proposed legislation dealing with climate change.  But the disaster in the Gulf shows the price of that GOP support is too high to pay.

The president needs to rethink his plans for expansion of both off-shore drilling and nuclear power.  We can’t afford disasters in either of those realms, and we can no longer fool ourselves into thinking they can’t happen.

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