Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Op Ed piece for the Richmod Times Dispatch

I was surprised and amused to read the RTD's linking of my reasoning for protesting nuclear power with a source above law: Al Gore (Opinion from Sept 28th, "Power Play"). I was surprised because the RTD rarely covers anti-nuclear protests. I was amused because Gore has flip flopped on nuclear power- in 1992 he dismissed nuclear power as an obsolete technology, yet after he was elected vice president he was the key decision maker in lending of money to the Czech Republic to complete a Russian designed reactor. I worked against that reactor in the Czech Republic for 6 years. When asked why the US was funding this nuclear power plant, said, "If we don't do it, the French or the Germans will." [Angie edited out - I have to wonder if he would say the same thing if they wanted to build concentration camps.] Now Gore does not want reactors built because of his nuclear weapons proliferation fears.

My principal critique of nuclear power is one of fairness. The current generation receives the energy benefit from nuclear power and many future generations have to pay the significant costs. The decommissioning funds set aside for reactors won't cover the costs of cleaning up the messes these devices create. One small reactor in France has cost over $750 million dollars to decommission, over 20 times higher than original estimates and the work is still not complete after 20 years. The British are looking at a 73 billion Pound Sterling decommissioning tab for their reactors, more than they cost to build.

Every "low level" radioactive waste dump operating in the US is leaking, and there is no place to store the "high level" radioactive waste. If the Yucca Mountain facility in Nevada is ever licensed, which I doubt, it is only designed to hold 70,000 metric tons of "high level" waste. By the time the proposed third reactor at North Anna is completed, in 2012 if all goes according to plan, Yucca will be full. Nuclear advocates promise that they can reorganize Yucca fit in more waste. Nuclear boosters originally promised nuclear power would be "too cheap to meter". The respected British conservative newsweekly The Economist said in 2008 that nuclear power was "too costly to matter." Nuclear supporters will say almost anything to get a new reactor built, their jobs depend on it.

The appeal of my 15-day sentence is not an effort to avoid jail time, but to bring the issues of nuclear power into public debate. I have been working against nuclear power in Virginia for a decade. I have gone to every Dominion shareholders meeting for the last 4 years (I own one share) and challenged the president and the board chair on this proposed reactor, met with Virginia's secretary of Natural Resources Preston Bryant on North Anna, spoken at almost every NRC and county supervisors meeting on this reactor over the last 5 years. Still, it was not until I was arrested that the RTD decided to cover any of my anti-nuclear efforts, despite consistent press releases.

I am prepared to go to jail for my actions, and it is quite likely I will. I would like to think that Martin Luther King, who you invoked in your editorial, would approve. I know my 6-year-old son, Willow, does. He and I both want to live in a toxin free greater Richmond area, and his future is the biggest reason why I do this work. I hope the RTD will print my letters from the Louisa County jail.

Paxus Calta is a Louisa County resident and serves on the Steering Committee for the Peoples Alliance for Safe Energy (PACE) and is the Chair of the Board of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) an umbrella group for 300 grassroots organizations in the US.

Below is the Richmond Time Dispatch Opinion piece which sparked this response

Paxus Calta and the other activists who staged a protest against Dominion's plans for a third nuclear reactor at the North Anna power plant may be taking their cue from a higher authority than the law: Al Gore.

Speaking at the recent Global Initiative on climate, Gore proclaimed, "I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants that do not have carbon capture and sequestration."

Sure, Gore was talking about coal, not nukes. But the outer reaches of the environmental movement are not noted for piercing clarity in ontological thought.

Perhaps that is why the activists are appealing their convictions on the grounds that they are not guilty by reason of necessity. But the essence of civil disobedience consists in accepting an unjust punishment in order to highlight the iniquity of a circumstance. King's "Letter From Birmingham Jail" would have lacked some of its resonant power if it had been his "Letter From Room 106 in the Birmingham Howard Johnson's, Where I Await Injunctive Relief From My Arrest for Non-Violent Protest Against Racial Segregation." By filing an appeal, the anti-Dominion protesters undermine the appeal of their cause.


Michael Stuart said...


In all seriousness, I worked at North Anna for 12 years. One of my responsibilities was environmental monitoring, and I think that makes me qualified to ask: Where are all these toxins that you speak of, and who is being exposed to them?

As a person that worked there who was paid to make sure that no one had to be exposed to them, I have to wonder how Dominion hid them from me. Was it faulty instrumentation? Or am I just lying?

Since I was responsible for calibrating and verifying the operability of that very instrumentation, I can't imagine that it is the former. And since I am a person of faith who holds truth in very high regard, I can't imagine that it's the latter.

So what is it then?

memeticist said...

Dearest Mike:

Let's be straight here. The toxins start at mining. Over 100 million tones of them in Canada, which are having quite serious environmental effects, especially water contamination. But closer to home, there are low and high level wastes associated with operating the plant. We have dry casks which are near by - that perhaps you are responsible for monitoring. Then there is waste which was shipped off to Barnwell, which has no home now. On top of this their are routine releases into the lake, radioactive and not. Plus thermal pollution which is worsening drought problems and hurting property values.

Over 90% of the tritium produced goes straight into the atmosphere or the lake, because it is impossible to stop. [i can already hear you telling me tritium is not a problem, yet there is lots of evidence to the contrary]

Surely you know of these, many require very careful handling, some are unhandlable and mistakes get made. Also your responsibilty ends at the plants gates, but the danger goes on much longer. Why are you pretending these problems dont exist? It does not help our discussion at all.

I would request instead you start by sharing what the most difficult toxins at north anna produces are to handle, in your significant experience. Your transparency in this might be the beginning of a useful conversation. Otherwise you sound like Sarah Palin dodging the real issues.