RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Attaboys Still Push Nukes

So the media rolls out the “attaboys” when the Prez promotes more drilling. Even though the environmental price is disproportionate for every new well and every new refinery, and the polar ice caps are fast disappearing and the Midwest—America’s food belt—is drowning or parched as the rain patterns change, and the Maldives are evacuated as the islands disappear.

And if new oil drilling isn’t insulting enough, the attaboys want nuclear power plants. They argue that nuclear will replace plants fired by imported fossil fuels.

But wait! Access to nuclear fuel is less secure than access to oil. It’s imported. From Australia.

Australia is farther away from the US than Iraq or practically anywhere else. You can prove it with a world globe, a string and a piece of tape. First, tape one end of the string on your American home town. Then pull the string to the closest place in Australia. Hold on to the end that touches Australia, and move it to Iraq. Or Venezuela. Or any place we get oil. See? It takes more string to reach Australia.

In my county, nuclear power means proposals for a new plant about 40 miles away to make electricity for St. Louis. This plant would be built next to one that went up in the 1970s. Last week, the NRC had a big meeting here to gauge citizen reaction.

A few days before the meeting, a note came in the mail. Would we wear a badge to the meeting? One that said we support the plant? Of course we would not, but we couldn’t come to the meeting anyway. We were involved with an international team of rural policy experts visiting the farm. They were working on building relationships in the community, not sending power to a faraway urban area. With community relationships, we’ll use our land to grow food for our neighbors and even for faraway urban areas.

If people can get food from close growing fields, we can cut the amount of energy used to ship, store and process. That’s a real energy saving!

A lot of people showed up at the meeting wearing badges. Missourians are a docile lot when it comes to doing as we’re told. But nobody told the badge wearers that, besides the estimated $6 billion spent on the plant, which the county calls income, there’s a cost for taking the old plant away. Nobody knows who will pay for that.

No plant has ever been successfully dismantled, and costs are estimated at $1 billion. In addition, there is no site to store the radioactive parts of old reactors, including spent fuel.

For farmers, bringing back nuclear power is a land-use issue, and solar and wind power could be growth industries. Not only can farmers hang windmills and photovoltaic cells on the barn to create their own power, but owning the means of production, landowners can sell electricity to the grid, making electrical production a viable income producer.

In contrast, more than 6,000 acres of farm land has already been irrevocably taken out of my county’s production by the building of the first plant. To build another, we’ll need new roads because the equipment needed to build the plant is so much heavier and wider than it was in the 1970s. This at a time when food security is already an issue!

To get nuclear fuel to Callaway County, a secure corridor will be built, making it necessary to condemn an estimated 150 acres per mile of road between a new port in Mexico, where it will arrive from Australia, and my county. Condemnation of farmland has already begun in Mexico and Texas. The plan will take at least 450,000 acres of Missouri farmland.

But here’s an interesting point for those of us that might end up living near another nuclear plant. If there’s a discharge or an accident, our kids will get iodine pills to load up their thyroids against excessive radiation. But your kids won’t. And your kids may be at more risk than we are because the discharge will be wind-carried over us and end up some place else.

Twenty years ago, the country of Belarus received 70% of fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl accident in Russia. The accident made 25% of Belarus unsuitable for farming forever. So, while precautions are made to keep close neighbors safe, farther neighbors are at excessive risk.

This move toward nuclear is a loser’s game, rigged by the present administration. It won’t make our power supply more secure, or cheaper. In fact, solar and wind power could make money for farmers. When you look into your candidates‚ standing on the issues you care about, look at nuclear as an outdated technology better left in the ground.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2008

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