Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The No Solutions Gang

Over the years, the nuclear energy industry has weathered some pretty scurrilous attacks at the hands of radical environmentalists -- attacks that play on people's fear, and rely on hype and hysteria instead of facts. Take this passage I came across from Ecoshock:

The American taxpayer has paid billions in secret subsidies for U.S. reactor fuel, by buying up weapons grade materials in the former Soviet Union, and shipping it back home for commercial power stations, on the cheap. There is no accounting for all the money spent on this anti-terrorism program that just happens to benefit the largest welfare industry in America.
This is a pretty typical online attack in that it offers absolutely no concrete information to make up your mind on your own. Heck, they don't even have the guts to tell you what the program is called.

Which is where we come in. The program Ecoshock is attacking is called "Megatons to Megawatts" and it has decommissioned the equivalent of 10,000 U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads, rendering them as useless as atomic weapons and fit for use as fuel in American nuclear reactors. Uranium from "Megatons to Megawatts" is used in about 10% of the U.S. reactor fleet.

By 2013, the program will have downblended 500 metric tons of weapons grade uranium -- the equivalent of 20,000 warheads. The program is administered by a private corporation, USEC.

And, despite what Ecoshock might say, the program is completely financed by private industry, not the American taxpayer. The following is from the USEC FAQ on the program:
Why was a commercial implementing contract chosen?

Both governments agreed that they wanted the program to be sustained through commercial purchases and sales of the LEU fuel. This meant that a government appropriations process was not necessary.

Has the U.S. government paid or subsidized USEC for implementing any part of this national security agreement?

No. USEC derives its compensation solely from profits of selling the Russian material to its customers.
Which begs a question that the folks at Ecoshock don't have an answer to: If "Megatons to Megawatts" isn't a wothwhile program, just what would they have done with over 500 tons of weapons grade uranium? Should we perhaps have left some of it in Russia, where it may very well have fallen into the wrong hands (as it turns out, there's still plenty of surplus weapons grade material to keep us busy for a long time)?

I won't be holding my breath for an answer.

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