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King: Nuclear plants not worth cost, risk
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Mount Vernon Elementary School principal Wayne Colston reflects on retiring at the end of this school year.

When I agreed to write for The Times on a regular basis, the paper had only one stipulation: Write about something besides the nuclear industry.

Over the years, however, I have written columns about nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, but I keep them to a minimum. Apparently the topic isn’t of great interest to readers in North Georgia.

It should be, and The Times knows it. The paper won an award for its exposé on the Dawson Forest where, back in the 1950s and ’60s, Lockheed tried to build a nuclear airplane. The operation was shut down and their nuclear reactor decommissioned in 1971, but the area remained radioactive and has required regular monitoring ever since.

There’s a lot the public doesn’t know about nuclear technology, and what you don’t know CAN hurt you. Actually, it is hurting you — costing you money — right now. There’s a push, right now, to build new nuclear reactors in Georgia, and it is being financed with your dollars.

The Public Service Commission has promised the Southern Co. it could recoup $50 million from ratepayers just for studying the project. There are bills in Congress, right now, calling for government subsidies, guarantees for the loans needed to finance these reactors. The figures change depending on whose energy bill is being considered, but it has run as high as $50 billion.

Wall Street won’t touch the project, which should tell you how risky it is. The excuse Congress gives for promoting new reactors is the need for electrical generation that doesn’t produce CO2 gas. True, nuclear reactors don’t produce CO2, but the nuclear fuel cycle does — lots of it. More important in a time when the world is getting warmer, nuclear reactors generate heat — lots of it. You can’t operate a nuclear reactor without a reliable cooling system.

Most nuclear reactors are built on rivers or lakes. Water is diverted to the reactor for cooling and returned to its source carrying the heat with it. On occasion — this has happened in both France and the U.S. — the water has become so warm it can no longer do the job, and the reactors have to be shut down. What do you suppose happens in a drought if the lake or river level drops?

So why would anybody promote nuclear power as a solution to global warming? Because there is money to be made. Where does the money come from? From the government, which means it comes from the taxpayer.

Let’s get this straight. The Southern Co., like any other company, has a right to make a profit, and it’s to the public’s advantage to see that it does; but it’s the public’s job to see that it does it responsibly.

If the government gives the Southern Co. money to research a nuclear option for energy production, the Southern Co. will take the money. If Congress guarantees the loans to finance new nuclear power plants, the Southern Co. will build the plants.

And why is Congress promoting the nuclear industry?

Because the industry has spent millions telling them it was a good idea, and since the public isn’t very interested in nuclear matters, our congressional representatives haven’t heard from their constituents telling them otherwise.

I for one do not trust Congress in this matter.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal once told me I need not worry about any new nuclear power plants since the industry was essentially dead in the United States. He also said opposition to the nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain was political, not scientific. Even then there was ample evidence that water was leaking into the repository and would eventually corrode the storage tanks.

Granted, the whole nuclear picture is highly political.

That’s why the public needs all the information it can get. There is little chance that Yucca Mountain will ever open despite the billions that have been poured into it. There is no foreseeable solution to nuclear waste, and the cost of storing the nation’s spent fuel rods keeps growing.

The U.S. has not had a really scary nuclear accident since Three Mile Island, but there have been a number of close calls. It cost more than $4.5 million to clean up a very small radioactive spill in Decatur a number of years ago. Imagine what it would cost today if terrorists attacked one of the many U.S. reactors where radioactive waste is being stored on site, above ground, and outside containment.

New nukes? Let the buyer beware.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville