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U: Speaking from the Edge of the End

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

[I sent the following to a collection of friends this morning, folks I admire, but not so much that I refrain from "spamming" them every week or two with my latest news-related scribbling. As I finished it, I realized it is a suitable concluding post for the now-titled "Nukes of Hazard" series.]

CPS’ board vote yesterday to pursue a 20-25 percent share in the South Texas Project nuclear expansion with current 50-50 partner NRG Energy is fraught with risk. Our city leaders, utility honchos, popular media, and most local activists have kept that debate almost exclusively on the field of finance. While I made the financial case for efficiency a couple years ago in “CPS Must Die,” as the votes approached, I felt we needed a fuller discussion.

I've made some mistakes. In the first story, I swapped milli-Rems for micro-Rems in relation to one old South Texas uranium mine site. In today’s offering on waste, I misidentify Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as “House Speaker,” painful errors both. However, facts gleaned and repurposed from hundreds of documents, reports, and correspondence, as well as observations from my personal travels and interviews on our evolving relationship with atomic power pose not an insignificant gauntlet. It’s one I feel anyone seeking to dose South Texas with another round of nuclear should be forced to run.

Our City Council still has to vote up or down another $400 million investment in the expansion of the South Texas Project on October 29. After that vote, our dollars may truly be buried too deeply (at least from a political perspective) for us every to withdraw from this course. I don't in any way, shape, or form believe my series will push a single council member away from a “yes” vote or make any hardcore nuclear-power adherent see matters differently. The STP decision will boil down to dollars and the faith the Council has in its utility. That faith has been shaking lately, as the utility moves toward 9.5-percent rate hikes that appear to violate its earliest promises not to exceed 5-percent hikes every two years.

The little faith those of us in the environmental community have in CPS is being whittled down a bit more as the projects necessary to transform San Antonio into a pollution-free, decentralized energy economy are put on ice to make way for the costs of the nuclear expansion. We cannot, as CPS Board Chair Aurora Geis continues to insist, pursue both paths equally. We cannot afford to bleed billions for nuclear and make the rapid, thorough shift in our energy infrastructure the times require of us.

Given all of this, why didn’t I follow the pack and focus on the balance sheet? For starters, I believe the moral message matters. Those making this decision and those supporting it must be forced to face the human and environmental toll of uranium mining. Whatever tool of justification, contextualization, or rationalization they use is their choice. But the community cannot allow silence on this point.

Likewise, the community should not forget nuclear plants in the United States have been the target of terrorists, and that the scientific community has quantified such an attack, concluding tens of thousands potentially dead. Yes, it’s unlikely. But it is not impossible. No other power source has the potential to do so much damage.

This week, I offer my third and final installment in the “Nukes of Hazard” series. This time the subject is nuclear waste. I do not know what a growing dump in West Texas will ultimately cost the state of Texas. I do know that one day, most likely after a couple license extensions, it will belong to each one of us. Likewise, I also know that tens of millions are being spent around the country on such dumps that have long since sprung leaks.

Perhaps a technical solution will be found. Perhaps further future economic contractions will further pillage our R&D departments, putting a workable fusion solution off decades more. Perhaps we never get there. Local leaders have to be forced to voice their opinion on the issue. Either creating wastes we can’t control is okay, or it isn’t. But any debate of nuclear power is not complete without an examination of the waste stream. Despite a considerable investment in time, staff, and column inches, this hasn’t happened at the Express-News. It is not complete without studying mining. Likewise, glossed over. It is not complete until the real, quantifiable risks to human lives are presented to the public. We’ve been lacking on this point, as well.

While I will always feel I could have done more with this series, and though I will always regret the stupid, rushed errors I made, at least it is done. And to the best of my ability — thanks to the San Antonio Current, Editor Elaine Wolff, and whatever Spirit this is that props me up here on Earth — I have left our leaders without ignorance as an excuse.

Those of you with a few hours to kill, a tolerance for heart-felt if unspectacular prose, I offer you the last two months of my life, all in bite-sized titles with cute little clickable links.

In Love & with Hope,
Greg Harman


Posted by gharman on 10/14/2009 1:22:36 PM
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