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Anti-Nuclear Activists Mobilize to Oppose Obama-Funded Construction of Georgia Nuke Plants

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The news in Vermont follows Obama’s announcement last week of $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of the first new nuclear power plants in the United States in close to three decades. The loan guarantees will help the Atlanta-based Southern Company build two more nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia, near the city of Augusta. We speak to Nuclear Watch South coordinator Glenn Carroll, who has been leading efforts against the construction of the new plants. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn from nuclear issues in Vermont to Georgia. The news in Vermont follows Obama’s announcement last week of $8.3 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of the first new nuclear power plants in the United States in close to three decades. The loan guarantees will help the Atlanta-based Southern Company build two more nuclear reactors in Burke County, Georgia, near the city of Augusta. The funds will cover up to 70 percent of the company’s portion of the project’s costs.

Glenn Carroll is the coordinator of the Georgia-based environmental group Nuclear Watch South. She has been leading efforts against the construction of the new plants. She’s joining us from Atlanta.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Glenn Carroll. Where were you when President Obama made his announcement of federal guarantees for Southern Power to build these new nuclear power plants?

GLENN CARROLL: Gosh, that’s hard to remember, because we knew it was coming, and we were prepared. And we woke up in the morning, and there it was.

AMY GOODMAN: And how have you been organizing? And what is your concern about these two new plants?

GLENN CARROLL: Well, we don’t need nuclear power, and it’s ridiculously expensive. It causes birth defects and cancer and leaves radioactive waste. We already have four nuclear reactors. We’re overbuilt. We don’t need it, and we certainly don’t need to spend taxpayer money this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about why you think President Obama chose Georgia and Southern Power.

GLENN CARROLL: Well, if you look at the fact that the CEO, David Ratcliffe, of Southern Company has been chair of the Federal Reserve Board, is on the Federal Reserve Board now, they are masters of making money. And that has been part, I think, of their really acing the game plan that was laid out by Bush, offering enticements to utilities to become interested in nukes, when they had not been for thirty years. And Southern Company recognized the game that they were very talented in, and they just got started and worked the system. Their amount of lobbying is quite notorious. And they’ve been effective at milking the cow, so to speak.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your major concerns about the building of these two plants?

GLENN CARROLL: Well, you know, the concerns about nuclear are pretty basic. It’s a deadly poison power. It causes birth defects, which are irrevocable. We have long-lived radioactive nuclear waste that we haven’t found any way to manage for the long term. And we don’t need it. I brought with me the groundbreaking study, “Carbon-Free, Nuclear-Free,” which has proven that we can be off all the poison power — coal, oil and nuclear — by 2040. We don’t need it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of organizing is going on in Georgia right now? Very little attention paid last week to anyone organizing against these nuclear power plants, when President Obama made his announcement, although it sounds like you’re not alone, and it is very much stretching across the political spectrum, from progressive groups, environmental groups, well, to groups like the Heritage Foundation, deeply concerned about these loan guarantees, these tax-subsidized guarantees for private corporations.

GLENN CARROLL: Politics makes strange bedfellows. Yes. Well —-


GLENN CARROLL: Kind of forgot your basic question, as you were explaining that, but yes, OK, here’s what we’ve got -—

AMY GOODMAN: How are you organizing?

GLENN CARROLL: — is we’ve got — right. We have —- there’s a lawsuit. My group is not involved in that. Five environmental groups have brought a lawsuit against the license. Westinghouse has its own problems. It has not received a license for the type of reactor that we’re supposed to use. And across the country, all of the environmental movement is concerned about this particular situation in Georgia, much as we all worked to stop the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. And I wanted to add that -—

AMY GOODMAN: And you have now President Obama, at the same time, saying that he is going to finally shut down that storage facility, which has been extremely unpopular in Nevada. What happens to the nuclear waste all over the country, Glenn Carroll?

GLENN CARROLL: Well, right now it’s onsite at the reactor sites all over the country. It’s in vulnerable storage, for the most part, which an airplane strike at any of these spent fuel pools would be horrifying to contemplate. We have started to —-

AMY GOODMAN: You mean a terrorist attack?

GLENN CARROLL: That’s right. Or just a fire in the pool or a leak. I mean, they’re vulnerable inherently, but they’re also more vulnerable than a reactor to terrorism. Some of the sites have started to move the fuel out of the vulnerable pools into hardened concrete storage. There’s room for improvement there, but it is a technology that buys us time to get it together on the nuclear repository.

What I wanted to say in response to your noting that there seems to -— you know, their headlines say there isn’t an anti-nuclear movement or whatnot. I’ve been thinking about it. You know, in the last week, I think the debate has become much more wholesome. The news has very much been better at presenting both sides. And I’ve come to conclude that we have been, for years, being bombarded by a $345 million PR campaign by the nuclear industry, and the media has just sucked it up as if it was news. But now we have news. Now we’re looking at $8.3 billion in tax money going, you know, to a big private company who has spent millions in lobbying for this, to build a nuclear plant in Georgia, that doesn’t need one.

AMY GOODMAN: Is it a done deal?

GLENN CARROLL: Nope. Far from it. Like I said, the Westinghouse reactor doesn’t have a license. Southern Company doesn’t have a license. And some of the amazing news that has been coming out, like last year, in 2009, we installed almost 10,000 megawatts of wind power in this country. That’s the equivalent of a reactor and a half. You cannot put a reactor up in a year. I think by the time Southern Company is eligible to apply for this money, we are going to have transformed the landscape in this country, the energy landscape, and everybody will know we don’t have to throw our borrowed tax money to a big private company to build a reactor.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Carroll, I want to thank you for being with us, coordinator of the —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- environmental group Nuclear Watch South, speaking to us from Atlanta, Georgia. And I think her last comments are a perfect segue into our next discussion, and it’s about the news and who is on television.

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