May 2006

The true costs of energy

By Art Goodtimes

CHEAP NUCLEAR POWER? … Maybe in Walt Disney’s dreams, but in the real world, the “peaceful” atom has proven a very expensive genii. Especially when you add in all the hidden subsidies and externalized costs granted the nuclear industry … A recent study by scientists at Yale and Harvard, after analyzing real costs not usually tallied in the bottom lines for the nuclearenergy fuel cycle, or for nuclear-energy plant construction, operation, and decommissioning, estimated that society would end up paying 30 cents per kilowatt hour for all the electricity generated by nuclear power plants during the life of the U.S. nuclear-energy generation program … If one considers only the costs and subsidies associated with the nuclear power plant itself, and externalizes the costs of mining, milling, and enriching uranium fuel, and of waste disposal and isolation measures, then the accepted cost per kilowatt hour for nuclear energy from the study is 10 cents … Of course, if one takes only the cost of fuel, plant maintenance and operation – the standard often used in so-called comparison studies of forms of energy production — the costs in 2001 dollars were: 1.83 cents per kilowatt hour for nuclear, 2.07 cents for coal, 3.52 for natural gas, and 3.8 cents for oil-fired electric power plants. But like so many things in the dismal world of corporate economics, those figures hide the true cumulative costs of industrial energy development, to the people and to the earth itself … So let’s try another analysis … Also in 2001, the Department of Energy's “Near Term Deployment Group” prepared a report on the relative costs of various forms of electrical-energy generation — when all the capital and other costs of the generation facility were taken into account. This was no left-leaning think tank – 77 percent of the Deployment Group's members were employees or consultants for the nuclear-energy industry. They found that the cost to get a kilowatt hour's generating capacity from a nuclear power plant built with 2001 costs was $2,128 in 2001 dollars. The cost of a kilowatthour's capacity from a natural gas-fired power plant, under the most expensive scenario in their study, was $682. These numbers represent the total outlay of money to build a power plant divided by its generating capacity in kilowatt hours. This report on the relatively high capital cost to build nuclear power-generating capacity was used as the rationale for the new construction subsidies to the nuclear power industry contained in the 2005 federal Energy Policy Act. These subsidies were justified in terms of making building nuclear power plants competitive with fossil-fuel-fired plants to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions … Imagine what those same subsidies could do if applied to alternative energies? Already, wind, solar and biomass electric generation are much cheaper per kilowatt-hour capacity to construct than nuclear, have no greenhouse- gas emissions, and have no costs associated with toxic “fuel” cycle byproducts or wastes … So, vote Democrat/ Green/ Libertarian this election, and get the current gang of freespending, nuclear-promoting, war-mongering Republicans out of office … (Thanks to Lance Christie for much of this item)

WEEKLY QUOTA … “Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.” — R. Buckminster Fuller

PAT MENDOZA … He’s billed as a storyteller, and he has all the tricks and gimmicks. A guitar to accompany songs interspersed with his stories. He does Loony Tunes voices for great effect. And his fanciful tales are guaranteed to make you laugh, scare you, haul you off to wonder … But what so impressed me was the fact that Mendoza is a truthteller as well. Pat has spent many hours listening to stories of other cultures. Like the tale of shape-shifting passed down from one of the Tsitsista survivors of the Sand Creek massacre here in Colorado, on a brutally cold November day in 1864. It’s a tale full of the Cheyenne language. Not culturally mis-appropriated by a non- Indian for profit, but received as gift from Pat’s Tsitsistas friends and passed on as oral history … The same can be said for a Fijian tale of Ratu Sir Penaia Ganilau, his home island of Taveuni and the totem sharks that honored this hereditary chief in death … Mendoza has a must-read book on the Sand Creek Massacre, “Song of Sorrow,” that tells the story from the perspective of the oral histories of the Tsitsistas (Willow Wind, Denver, 1993). Highly recommended.

CIVICS LESSON … On March 1, 2006, in Annapolis, Md., at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University, was asked to testify. At the end of his testimony, Republican Sen. Nancy Jacobs said: “Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?” Raskin replied: “Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.” The room erupted in applause.

COMPUTER BUGS … My laptop has become my portable office. I take it everywhere. Once it starts up, it gets pretty warm and gives out significant heat … For most computer bugs I use Symantec AntiVirus. But I was totally unprepared at last month’s Southwestern Water Conservation District meeting for real bugs — tiny ants that began popping out of my IBM ThinkPad and making mobile black spots on the tablecloth at the Doubletree Hotel conference room in Durango … I guess the critters found the warm machine a safe haven on some winter travel escapade, and decided the water meet was the time to come out and play … I couldn’t bring myself to harm my laptop hitchhikers (ahimsa and all) so I scooped them off the table and onto the carpet. I hope they found their way out into the spring sunshine.

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.



before we got into the car to ride with him
down the hill between the grass-grown plaques
to the open grave beside the folding chairs;

before we stood in line to stand again
beside the open casket on the catalfalque
his high school photo framed in silk;

before we rose, and numbly left the church,
the pastor, having said the customary words, added
that AIDS was god’s wrath on faggots.

Laura J. Moore
San Francisco