The House is set to vote Tuesday on the $500 billion 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Hidden in the bill is a major energy package that would boost government financing for the nuclear industry. It would provide loan guarantees of up to $25 billion for new nuclear reactors. We speak with Harvey Wasserman, editor of nukefree.org. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The House is set to vote tomorrow on the $500 billion 2008 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Unveiled on Sunday, the measure covers budgets for all cabinet departments except the Pentagon. It’s expected to pass both houses of Congress this week.
Hidden in the bill is a major energy package that would boost government financing for the nuclear industry. It would provide loan guarantees of up to $25 billion for new nuclear reactors. A massive grassroots campaign forced these taxpayer-financed loans out of the national energy bill earlier this month, but last week Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico slipped them back into the budget vote.
Harvey Wasserman has been at the forefront of raising awareness about the dangers of nuclear power. He helped found the grassroots anti-nuke movement in the early 1970s, advises the Nuclear Information and Resource Service. He’s senior editor of the Ohio-based freepress.org and editor of nukefree.org. Harvey Wasserman has also co-authored two books on the 2004 election. They are How the GOP Stole America’s 2004 Election and Is Rigging 2008 and What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election.
Harvey Wasserman is here in New York with me at the firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Great to be with you, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this energy bill.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, we beat Pete Domenici. With Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Keb’ Mo’, Ben Harper, we put out a music video on nukefree.org. We raised 120,000 signatures and presented them to Congress in October. And Domenici was forced to pull these nuke loan guarantees out of the energy bill, but then slipped them back into the appropriations bill.
And the nuclear power industry is a fifty-year proven failure, and they can’t get independent financing to build their own new reactors, which they want to do now. And so, they’ve gone to the government. This is one issue where we’re in agreement with Forbes magazine and the Cato Institute, which is backing the opposition to these loan guarantees, because if nuclear power, after fifty years of huge government subsidies, can’t make it in the marketplace, why should the taxpayers fund another $25 billion worth of reactor construction?
We’re on the brink of a tremendous energy revolution in solar, wind, tidal, geothermal. You know, we’re looking almost at a solartopia of a renewable-based economy, which will be much more controllable at the grassroots, much more democratically oriented. And that’s why the nuclear power industry is desperately holding on here.
AMY GOODMAN: So who are its backers, aside from Pete Domenici?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Well, we have Westinghouse, General Electric — the usual suspects — Ariva, a large French company, all wanting to go into the — to revive the so-called nuclear renaissance. You know, we’ve been trying for fifty years to drive the stake through the heart of an industry that doesn’t seem to have one.
And there’s absolutely no demand for new nuclear plants. There’s no reason to build them. They don’t work. Even with optimum conditions of licensing and so on, they couldn’t get a reactor online for another ten years. They’ve been saying the nuclear power plants are a solution to the global warming problem; we know they make global warming worse. You know, it’s a total scam. And they are continuing to take of taxpayer money, public money, to build reactors where we don’t need that kind of financing for wind, for solar, for tidal, geothermal, the other forms of green energy, which can be community-controlled.
And so, these subsidies, these loan guarantees in the appropriations bill, we are asking people, through the nukefree.org website, to call Congress, call the congressional leadership, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi — David Obey is very key as the congressional chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Mitch McConnell on the Republican side — and tell them: get these loan guarantees out of the appropriations bill.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about how it worked over this last month — went in, went out, went in.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yes. Well, under tremendous pressure with the signatures that we brought in from nukefree.org to the Congress — we had Ed Markey, John Hall, Shelly Berkeley at our press conference, support from John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, other key green energy backers — Domenici was forced to pull these subsidies out of the energy bill. It was a very big victory for us.
Actually, there were much worse subsidies. There was a loan guarantee for the DOE that was essentially without any congressional appropriations oversight. Now we’ve got it down to a one-year $25 billion — down to a one-year $25 billion subsidy. Even that’s too much, way too much.
The nuclear power industry is a terror target just waiting to be hit. We don’t need these reactors. They’re devastatingly dangerous to the environment. They’re destructive of public health. It was shown forty years ago that regular so-called normal emissions from nuclear plants kill thousands of Americans every year. This was by head of the Atomic Energy Commission’s own medical research division. So, you know, this is something that is being prolonged at the expense of the public health and the public treasury.
The appropriations, as you say, they were pulled out of the energy bill due to public pressure, but Pete Domenici is the senator for nuclear power, and he’s very clever at congressional manipulation.
AMY GOODMAN: Why is he so wed to nuclear power?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: He’s the guy — he’s been their point guy for decades. You know, he is the senator from New Mexico, and he’s been the man that the nuclear power industry has gone to to further their interests in Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: And he’ll be leaving next [inaudible] in 2009.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: He will be leaving, not soon enough, as far as we’re concerned, but he’s been forcing these appropriations in — you know, he tried the farm bill. Now, we beat him on the energy bill. He tried to put them in the farm bill. Then he tried to slip them into the global warming bill, and then Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, pulled them out. We’ve gotten good support from Senator Pelosi — Senator Reid and Speaker Pelosi, but we need more from Congressman Obey and from the Republican side. You know, these Republicans, who are supposedly conservatives, shouldn’t be for subsidizing industries like the nuclear power industry. It’s an obsolete proven failure.
AMY GOODMAN: What if the nuclear industry doesn’t get these loan guarantees?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: It’s a very big deal. They can’t build new nuclear plants. No — Wall Street will not finance new nuclear construction. We are actually in solidarity with the financial community here. Nobody wants to back nuclear power plants. They are a failure. They cannot compete now with wind energy or with solar or tidal or the other green forms of energy, even of flat-out marketplace. And so, if they don’t get these loan guarantees, they’re not going to be building new nuclear plants, and we will be going to wind and solar and to a solartopian, you know, energy version — vision. So we really — this is a very big deal to stop these appropriations. And, you know, like I say, we’re actually in conjunction with the old-time right wing here who actually believes in a free market.
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about King CONG madness.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s coal, oil, nukes and gas.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Coal, oil, nukes and gas.
AMY GOODMAN: The International Climate Change Summit in Bali ended with no new plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Astonishing. It’s astonishing. Here, they give the Nobel Prize to Al Gore for warning us all about global warming. You know, I’m waiting for Al Gore to get arrested at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant. That’s when he’ll really deserve the Nobel Prize. You know, but the power of the coal, oil, nukes and gas conglomerates — King CONG, as we call them — is astonishing. To have the whole world focused on global warming and then come to this conference and not be able to get even a simple agreement is astounding. And it’s really a terrifying testimony to the power of these corporations.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Al Gore went there and said, I name “the elephant in the room”: the United States.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yes. And, you know, it’s a disgrace. It’s an embarrassment to the world that the United States would stand — here we’re standing on the brink of a technological revolution that would really parallel the information revolution of the ’90s. You know, we had the spread of the internet, the boom in computerization that really brought us prosperity. We could have a repeat of that, if we got away from nuclear power, coal, oil, nukes and gas and went into green power. But, you know, the Bush administration won’t let it happen.
AMY GOODMAN: How would green power look? I mean, you have the oil companies fighting hard against alternative energy, but at the same time — I mean, like BP calling themselves “Beyond Petroleum” —- at the same time, seeing the writing on the wall, trying to get right in there. Now, there is a way to do this in a centralized way, isn’t there? And isn’t that what they’re trying to get in on?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah. They want to centralize and keep control of their energy supplies, of our energy supplies. And nuclear power is the ultimate way to do that, and then coal, oil and gas let them keep control over it, where the model we’re working on -—
AMY GOODMAN: But even alternative.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Even wind and solar.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: They’re not — but I think they’ve realized they can’t do it. Solar and wind cannot be centralized the way nukes, coal and oil can, because they are, of essence, decentralized technologies, and they can be community-owned. We’re working in Minnesota and other states on a model of community-owned wind power, which we now have $100 million worth of community-owned wind in Minnesota.
AMY GOODMAN: Doing what?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Doing — generating cheap electricity, owned by the farmers on whose land it is and by the communities that get the electricity. This is the moment of terror for the coal, oil, nukes and gas industries, because they can’t control this energy. And if we get —- that’s why we need to stop these appropriations, because if they can’t get the loans to build nuclear plants, all the money is going to go where it belongs, which is to green power. You know, with the information revolution, we didn’t have an institutional barrier. With the renewable energy industry and with, you know, getting to solartopia, we do have the institutional barriers of the coal, oil, nukes and gas industry, and the nuke industry is really the vanguard, because it’s the ultimate centralized -—
AMY GOODMAN: And you have some environmentalists who are pushing nukes. They are saying it’s cleaner.
HARVEY WASSERMAN: Very, very few. You know, it’s been a miniscule — you look at all the money the industry have, they have only been able to pick up a few marginal players. We had a press conference in D.C., and all the major environmental groups were right there: Sierra, League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace. You know, they’re with us. No major environmental group has gone to the dark side for nuclear power.
AMY GOODMAN: Where does Bush stand?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: You know, in a very deep radioactive hole, where — exactly where you’d expect. They’re pushing, you know, this industry. Actually, Dick Cheney has very serious interests in pushing nuclear power. And, you know, he’s been right behind the scenes with Domenici there.
AMY GOODMAN: What are his interests?
HARVEY WASSERMAN: His interests are very corporate, and he wants controls. You know, the nuclear power — as long as they’re putting money into nuclear power, we’re not going to get away from coal, oil and nukes and gas. Nuclear power is really the cutting edge for the fossil fuel industry. And if the nuclear barrier breaks, all the money — all the new money is going to go to renewables. And so, they are terrified — the coal, oil, nuke and gas industries — of renewables. And so, nuclear power is really their finger in the dam, because once everything breaks, it’s all going to go to renewables, and we’ll have a transformed world.