July marks the month when the "U.S. Committee for Energy Awareness," a public relations group representing (and substantially made up of executives from) utility companies, plans to launch its multimillion-dollar pro-nuclear ad campaign nationwide. As we reported in this column in MOTHER no. 81, consumers will likely pay most of the $40-million-plus tab for the promotion, which is designed to "set the record straight" (according to the slick TV spots) and convince us all that nuclear power is both safe and desirable. If the ads appear on local stations in your area, you're urged to contact the Safe Energy Communication Council for literature explaining the other side of the story. The council will also provide, if you wish, information on how to organize to obtain free broadcast time under the Fairness Doctrine for communicating the energy alternative (via your own or SECC-prepared messages) over your city's airwaves.
Meanwhile, as an example of the kind of advertising you can expect from the "U.S. Committee For Energy Awareness," here's just one audio script from a CEA television spot. During the commercial, Dr. Leonard Sagan, M.D., of the Electric Power Research Institute, is the on-camera spokesperson (an animated sequence of a cylinder being wrapped and buried is also shown). Says Sagan, "In laboratories like these, scientists develop procedures to safely dispose of radioactive nuclear wastes vital to our continued use of nuclear medicine, nuclear energy, the defense of our nation. The method is to permanently seal off the waste from our environment and store it deep in stable geological formations. The concept is endorsed by the prestigious National Academy of Scientists. Most people aren't aware of that. That's why we brought you this message, to set the record straight."
But no proven means of safe disposal has ever been demonstrated! As James J. McKenzie, Ph.D., senior staff scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists puts it, "Through the use of poorly written, ambiguous language, this ad would lead the listener to assume that the waste problem has in fact been solved. To state that 'the method' is to seal wastes away is to do little more than articulate a goal that is presently far from being achieved."
What's more, recent reports from the U.S. Geological Survey concluded that "the difficulties and uncertainties connected with the geological disposal of high-level waste" represent "significant potential stumbling blocks that need critical attention." And a year-long study conducted during the Carter Administration says that the problem is one "whose resolution will clearly require an unprecedented extension of capabilities in rock mechanics, geochemistry, hydrogeology, and long-term predictions of seismicity, volcanism, and climate."
Utilities now have 10,000 metric tons of spent fuel rods in "temporary storage," according to Business Week magazine, and each of the nation's 70 nuclear power plants generates approximately 25 additional tons of the radioactive garbage every year. Although the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (passed late last year) mandates the construction of two "permanent disposal" sites by the year 1998, major obstacles—including the selection of the sites, the technological problems mentioned above, and the issue of precisely who will ultimately pay the $14.8 billion estimated cost of the project (the utilities would like to pass the price on to customers)—threaten to cause substantial delays.
Photovoltaic cells could be producing up to 30% of the world's electricity by the year 2050, according to a report from the Worldwatch Institute. The organization predicts that—by the 1990's—global production of solar cells will have increased fifty-fold, resulting in a multibillion-dollar industry (as compared with an estimated $150 million in sales worldwide in 1982). And who, exactly, will get the lion's share of the business? "Unless U.S. government programs are stepped up soon or private industry dramatically boosts its investments," says Worldwatch Institute, "Japan will probably surpass the U.S. in solar cell sales by the end of the decade." The 64-page report—"Worldwatch Paper No. 52"—is available from the institute.
Putting untapped energy to work—and saving energy, too—is the thrust of an ingenious weatherization program now being proposed in Kansas City, Missouri. Under the plan, unemployed sheet metal and carpentry union members would be put to work (at half the union scale) retrofitting low-income residences to make them more energy-efficient. Some 50,000 homes in a three-county area could qualify for the program. And because commercial donors of building materials and of outright cash contributions could write off half their gift against taxes, the "everybody wins" scheme is expected to cost the city little or nothing!
A 300-kilowatt photovoltaic power plant billed as "Europe's largest" will be completed this summer on the island of Pellworm in the North Sea. Not to be outdone, a one-megawatt photovoltaic power plant in San Bernardino County, California has earned the title of "world's largest" and is producing enough current to supply 400 homes.
Electricity prices increased last year at a rate nearly 2.5 times that of inflation, amounting to a total jump of $7.6 billion.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has recommended the construction of a 250-mph magnetically levitated train system between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and estimates that the mass transit system could carry as many as 3.2 million passengers, and save 20 million gallons of gasoline every year!
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