A version of the below blog was originally posted by Southern Energy Network’s Florida Organizer, Jacquie Ayala. Find more of her blogs here. She was joined at the SE Nuclear Summit by Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s High Risk Energy Choices Program Director, Sara Barczak.
At the end of June, in the blistering heat of Chattanooga, Tennessee, over 120 activists converged at the kNOw Nukes Y’all Summit to learn, strategize and build relationships across the South around nuclear issues. The summit was intergenerational – young people as well as activists who have been bravely fighting nuclear power since the first wave of the environmental movement in the 1960s, had a chance to meet, build relationships, and learn together.
As a relatively new anti-nuclear activist, I came into the weekend ready to learn more about how nuclear power works, what the nuclear industry is up to and what activists have done and are doing now to fight risky nuclear reactors in their communities. Luckily the summit participants got to learn a lot of this from allies such as Sara Barczak with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, incredible nuclear activists such as Mary Olson with Nuclear Information and Resource Service, long-time clean energy proponents such as S. David Freeman, a former TVA chairman, and even nuclear experts like David Lochbaum with the Union of Concerned Scientists (who worked within the industry in many capacities and eventually became a whistleblower of the industry).
Here’s some of what I learned:
- Currently, we have 19 proposed new nuclear reactors in the United States, 14 of which are in the Southeast. These are the first new nuclear plants to be proposed since the 1970s.
- Building new nuclear plants is not cost-effective. Nuclear loan guarantees, tax incentives and anti-consumer state legislation are making it easy for nuclear utilities to pursue building new nuclear reactors with huge price tags.
- Uranium is a finite resource. Uranium mining and processing is dangerous and resource-heavy.
- The nuclear industry does not have a plan to deal with radioactive by-products of uranium mining.
- Nuclear power is generally the most water-intensive energy technology, requiring vast volumes of water to operate.
- “Disposal” of radioactive nuclear waste does not exist. In the U.S., low-level radioactive waste is required to be contained for 1,000,000 years.
Out of all the new proposed reactors, Plant Vogtle in Georgia is furthest along. Not only has the estimated $14 billion proposal been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in spite of serious risks to the community and in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster in Japan. It is also already under construction, despite problems in the early stages of construction – the concrete foundation for the reactors sunk and the rebar was flawed (and we’re supposed to trust these folks with a high risk nuclear power plant?!). Stopping Plant Vogtle’s proposed expansion could help thwart the industry’s plans for a new nuclear age in this country – and pave the way for the truly clean energy future we need.
Here’s what I think: as the youth climate movement, we have not addressed the nuclear issue directly. In our eagerness to stop Big Coal, we are letting the nuclear industry sneak its way back to the forefront. If we don’t engage our communities and our campuses for a carbon-free AND nuclear-free future NOW, I fear that we will be fighting the same fight again, just shifting from Big Coal over to Big Nuclear, and never getting anywhere with the renewables and energy efficiency advancements that we know can really create the clean energy economy we so desperately need.
I know we are smart enough and savvy enough to stop the nuclear industry from putting our communities at risk. We just have to work together. At the summit, conversations like this have already started. I was lucky enough to get the chance to participate in a movement-building breakout with about 15 other incredible activists – young and old alike. In the breakout, we discussed how we could work to build the nuclear movement by raising up communities at risk, and building momentum against new nuclear with a big push against Vogtle in Georgia, and coordinated actions across the country around other proposed plants. In Florida, for example, we’ll join in on a coordinated effort to take action against the four new proposed reactors in that state.
So, join the movement today to make our future a carbon-free, nuclear-free one.