by Greg Palast
I’m guessing it was excessive exposure to either radiation or George Bush, but Senator John McCain’s comments from inside a nuclear power plant in Michigan are so cracked-brained that I fear some loose gamma rays are doing to McCain’s gray matter what they did to Homer Simpson’s.
On Tuesday, the presumptive Republican candidate descended into the colon of a nuke to declare we need to build 45 new nuclear plants – that this is the way out of our energy crisis. Nuclear power, declared the senator, is a “safe, efficient [and] inexpensive” alternative to oil.
Really? We can argue all day about whether nuclear plants are safe (they aren’t –period). But there can be no argument whatsoever that these giant radioactive tea-kettles are breathtakingly expensive.
Nuclear plants are cheap until you actually try to build one. Not one of the last 49 nuclear plants cost less than $2 billion apiece. I’m looking down the road at the remainders of the Shoreham nuclear plant which took nearly 20 years to build at a cost of $8 billion – or close to $7,000 per customer it was supposed to supply. When I say “supposed to,” it was closed for safety reasons after operating just one single day.
We’re told that the new generation of plants will be different. Just like an alcoholic child-beater, the nuclear plant builders promise us that, “This time it will be different.” Sure. And McCain believes them.
I don’t. Maybe that’s because I headed the government racketeering investigation of the Shoreham nuclear plant’s builders. Stone & Webster Engineering and its partner paid hundreds of millions of dollars to settle the civil racketeering claim over the evidence we found of fraud and perjury. Now Stone & Webster (a division of Shaw Group Inc.) will cash in big-time under Plan McCain.
The other big builder which will hit the jackpot under the McCain scheme is KBR, the one-time subsidiary of Halliburton, whose best known project is the rebuilding of Iraq. (Halliburton dumped KBR last year. Can’t blame them.) KBR has built many nukes –not one within a mile of its promised cost.
But that doesn’t bother McCain. So who is McCain getting his energy advice from? I’m looking at a photo of the perplexed senator inside the control room, looking like Homer without a donut, getting a lecture on the wonders of nuclear energy from a power company CEO, one Tony Early. Early is the former President of LILCO, the very corporation the Feds and State of New York charged with civil racketeering. (We did not name Early as a co-conspirator. When the government got him on the witness stand, it was clear the guy was too clueless to recognize he was in the midst of a billion-dollar swindle. McCain’s got quite some team.)
Now, you Obamaniacs might not want to read this next paragraph:
While McCain is pushing nuclear power, a Senator from Illinois who shall remain nameless (skinny, just gave up smokes), was already embracing radiation as the solution to pollution. This Senator voted for George Bush’s energy bill, a law which contained massive giveaways to nuclear energy, legislation which diss’es and dismisses conservation. Indeed, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate has been derided as the “Senator from Commonwealth Edison,” the Chicago division of Exelon Corp., the nation’s largest operator of nuclear plants – and whose executives were the money backbone to his early presidential campaign.
So, we’ve got both candidates hawking the nuclear snake oil. But there is one difference between them. A big big BIG difference.
McCain’s ready to spend a hundred billion dollars on nuclear power, no questions asked. But Barack Obama puts a crucial condition on his approval for building new nukes: an affordable method of disposing the new plants’ radioactive waste.
That’s not small stuff. While The New York Times reporters following McCain repeated his line about “inexpensive” nuclear power without question, a buried wire story on the same day noted that the Energy Department is putting the unfunded bill for disposing nuclear plant waste at $96.2 billion – nearly a billion dollars per plant operating today. And no one even knows exactly how to do it, or where. Obama has the audacity to ask about the nuclear waste’s cost. “Can we deal with the expense?” he said on Meet the Press.
McCain’s plan to spend endless billions on nuclear plants without a waste disposal system in place is like building a massive hotel without toilets. D’oh! I suppose you can always tell the guests to poop in buckets until someone comes up with a plan for plumbing. But the stuff piles up. And unlike the fecal droppings of tourists, nuclear waste will stay hot and dangerous for a thousand generations.
So there you have our election in a nutshell. We have two candidates who rise above their parties – only to agree on a ludicrous pro-nukes energy plan.
But at least Senator Obama, when confronted with an economic question, doesn’t have to take off his shoes to add up the facts.
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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits , The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and Vultures’ Picnic  , a BBC Television Book of the Year.