A Return to Nukes

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Brookhaven National Laboratory is returning to a focus on nuclear power.

In the face of outrage by the public and many elected officials, BNL’s two operating reactors were closed a decade ago after they were found to be leaking and releasing radioactive tritium into the Long Island groundwater. Finally, BNL admitted this had been going on for years.

BNL was established by the federal government in 1947 with a key mission of developing civilian uses for nuclear technology. But following the shutdown of its reactors and the related firing by the U.S. Department of the nine-university consortium, Associated Universities, that managed BNL, leadership in nuclear research and development in the U.S. was transferred to a new national laboratory the  DOE set up out west, Idaho National Laboratory.

INL has in recent times been in the fore promoting what it claims to be a “new generation” of nuclear power plants and other things nuclear. BNL, meanwhile, has stressed activities not linked to nuclear power.

But last week BNL issued a statement announcing it has set up a new Department of Nuclear Science and Technology to have an $18 million budget and 50 employees.

The statement quoted Gerald Stokes, a BNL associate director, as saying that formation of the new department is “an important step for Brookhaven…The pressure to decrease emissions of carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere means that nuclear energy has a chance to play a role in future U.S. and global energy generation. BNL’s long involvement and considerable experience in nuclear energy makes it a natural place to create such an organization”

William Horak, head of the new department, was quoted as saying: “It’s becoming clear that we cannot meet our carbon reduction goals without some role for nuclear energy, especially in the near future.”

But Peter Maniscalco, a nuclear power opponent, commented: “It’s back to the future for Brookhaven Lab as they open a new Department of Nuclear Science and Technology and try to revive a failed energy technology. This move clearly shows the lack of understanding by lab administrators and scientists of the nuclear fuel cycle whose front end—mining, milling, and processing uranium ore—is carbon-intensive…Therefore, contrary to lab statements, nuclear energy will not help to resolve climate issues. But what the lab’s action does do is remind Long Islanders why Brookhaven Lab officials cannot be trusted to protect the environment.” Mr. Maniscalco is coordinator of Citizens for a Progressive Energy Policy and former coordinator of environmental programs at Southampton College.

There’s a drive underway by the nuclear industry and atomic advocates in the federal government to “revive” nuclear power predicated on the claim that nuclear plants don’t contribute to global warming. What they don’t say is that the “nuclear cycle”—the mining, milling and fabrication of nuclear fuel that Mr. Maniscalco of Manorville points to—has significant greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

By returning to its nuclear past, BNL is in step with Steven Chu, the current secretary of DOE. He’s an atomic energy enthusiast, originally from Garden City, Long Island, who was plucked by President Barack Obama to head DOE from his position as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, formerly called the Radiation Laboratory.

Two weeks ago, the fund the state’s Long Island Power Authority has used to provide Long Islanders with rebates to encourage them to put solar photovoltaic electricity-generating panels on their roofs ran out.  It is solar energy, not nuclear power, that doesn’t contribute to global warming. In spite of this, the U.S. government would dump millions of our federal tax dollars at BNL and elsewhere into the life-threatening technology of nuclear power.

Meanwhile, an article in the current issue of the American Nuclear Society’s “Radwaste Solutions” states that it will be 65 years before the biggest BNL reactor shut down, the High Flux Beam Reactor, will be “safe to tear down.” In fact, portions of the hulk will still be radioactive in 65 years. And it sits on top of Long Island’s water table.

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