If only The Thing was a piece of fiction. Unfortunately, it's all too real. It is the return of the nuclear power industry.
After the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, nuke power finally seemed to be dead in America. The fission plants were too expensive to build, the multibillion-dollar taxpayer subsidies they devoured were ridiculous, the potential for atomic catastrophe was chilling, and the unresolved question of where to put the tons of radioactive waste was damning.
Yet, like a grotesque phoenix, here it comes again. Why? One word: BushCheney. The big utilities, along with such powerhouse nuclear equipment makers as General Electric, were generous funders of George W's run for the White House and their payback was the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which has resuscitated the beast. How? By pumping it full of new government subsidies.
This bloated bill offers $125 million in tax breaks for each new nuclear plant and provides loan guarantees of 80 percent of a plant's cost (including cost overruns). Utilities also are given exemptions from legal liability in case of such catastrophic incidents as meltdowns. Meanwhile, these profitable corporations are not made responsible for the disposal of the nuclear waste that their reactors generate.
All of the old problems that shut down the industry remain, but government money has revived The Thing. As one candid utility executive says, the new subsidies are "the whole reason we started down this path. If it were not for the nuclear provisions in [the bill], we would not have even started developing this plan."
Instead of subsidizing a future disaster just to fatten the profits of the nuclear industry, our tax dollars should be invested in safe, clean, renewable energy and conservation. Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Let's Stop Beating Around the Bush, on sale now from Viking Press. For more information, visit jimhightower.com.