Dissecting Dr. Chu

Greg Harman

As my workaday gears begin transitioning over to state public health and sustainability planning issues, I find myself constantly pulled back to snag a few must-read items from the national (and international) energy front.

Though the country sent McCain and his promises of 45 new nuke plants packing last month, the debate over uranium-fueled futures is sure to continue.

Here at home, the McCain defeat demanded CPS Energy delay a decision on doubling the South Texas Nuclear Plant until next fall, as Mr. Swartz pointed out last week. Word is, they're still going to try to finagle another infusion of capital from the city, say $200 million, for more nuke "study" in the interim. Time will tell.

So all eyes shift to Obama where murkier statements on nuclear's roll in the national energy mix began to clarify with Dr. Chu now in ascendancy.

Consider Karl Grossman's dissection of the incoming energy secretary in Counterpunch.

The reaction from safe-energy advocates is mixed to the proposed appointment of Steven Chu as U.S. energy secretary by President-Elect Barak Obama. Mixed is a charitable response to the prospects of Chu being in charge of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Although he has a keen interest in energy efficiency and solar power and other clean forms of renewable energy, Chu is a staunch advocate of nuclear power.

“Nuclear has to be a necessary part of the portfolio,” declared Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, at an economic gathering last March in Palo Alto, California organized by Stanford University.” http://news.cnet.com/8301-10787_3-9888608-60.html

“The fear of radiation shouldn't even enter into this,” he said in comparing nuclear and coal. “Coal is very, very bad.” Chu, a physicist, repeated a claim of nuclear proponents that coal plants produce more radioactivity than nuclear plantsâ??a contention based on coal containing trace amounts of uranium and thorium.But the claimâ??and Chuâ??ignore the huge amount of radioactive products created by fission or atom-splitting in nuclear plants, the gaseous ones routinely released, and the many tons that are left, classified as nuclear waste and needing to be isolated, some virtually forever.

Next, NASA's James Hansen (who some were fretting was about to boost nukes himself as a climate salve) is lobbying Obama to implement a carbon tax rather than the more politically salable cap-and-trade that has been bandied about these past couple years.

A straight-up tax would allow energy prices to settle out, proponents say, while pointing to cap-and-trade failed performance under Kyoto-participating nations. CO2 emissions are rising faster than ever.From Worldwatch Institute:

Eminent climatologist James Hansen will urge U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to support a carbon tax, in a letter to be sent this week, Hansen said.Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, is one of the leading voices for a carbon tax to address climate change, rather than backing the more widely used cap-and-trade approach.

In his plan, Hansen recommends levying a rising tax on fossil fuels and redistributing 100 percent of the proceeds to taxpayers - a "tax and dividend" approach `PDF`.

Obama has preferred a cap-and-trade policy - an economy-wide limit on greenhouse gas emissions that will be lowered over time and that allows polluters to trade emission permits on a carbon market. His most recent climate change speech, delivered last month at a summit hosted by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, further emphasized his support for cap-and-trade.

It was also interesting to read the climate debate distilled and refracted through a Christian perspective, that of the rich nation's obligation to the poor, in a portrait of a founding IPCC scientist in NRDC's OnEarth. `Check: We're Doing God's Science.`

Finally, those of you with a hunger for global and indigenous justice: Check out BeyondNuclear's new campaign (PDF) fighting for the Touareg in Niger.

Have we fought so hard against the tyranny of Big Oil to turn our back on genocide perpetuated by the uranium interests?

From the campaign flier:

Areva's 40 years of uranium mining in Niger has left miners and their families exposed to the often fatal health effects of radioactive dust and radon gas that have dispersed everywhere. Contaminated metals have been abandoned by the roadside and used in household goods. The water is poisoned with radioactivity and other toxins or simply depleted, starving the people, their livestock and their crops.

Despite the known health risks of uranium mining, doctors paid by Areva at the two company-owned hospitals insist that mining activities have had no impact on public health. In reality, patients are not told if they have cancers or diseases of the lung because it might reflect badly on Areva and involve long and costly treatments.

If this kind of discrimination sounds familiar, that's because indigenous and underprivileged people around the world have all suffered similar fates. Uranium mines are invariably on native lands and the workers are often indigenous people starved of resources and opportunities and eager for any job. As a result, they have most often become the unwitting victims of pre-meditated atomic poisoning and have received little or no compensation or medical support.

Okay. With that radioactive reading list knocked down, we recommend some honest, old-fashioned ice fishing. The weather in South Texas is just perfect.


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