Leave it to John McCain to pick the site of a horrific
atomic meltdown to symbolize his push for nuke power.
McCain says he wants at least 45 more US reactors as part of
his �do everything� campaign for American energy independence. Apparently that
strategy does not include inflating car tires, long known as one of the
easiest, cheapest and most reliable ways to significantly improve auto gas
mileage. McCain had only ridicule for Barack Obama�s ideas to fight waste in
our energy economy.
Indeed, the term �efficiency� has no apparent place in the
McBush lexicon. The �drill drill drill� mantra speaks only of production, a �supply
side� Reaganomic approach to a problem whose fastest solution is to cut back on
demand. As if turning off lights in empty rooms or making cars run cleaner is
somehow an affront to American manhood, more production is the one and only
idea in McCain�s energy plan.
Thus, it was fitting he chose Monroe, Michigan, for a
nuke-powered energy push. The town�s central square hosts a statue honoring
General George Armstrong Custer, wiped out by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse at
the Little Big Horn in the summer of 1876.
More important was the melt-down at Monroe�s Fermi Unit I on
October 5, 90 years later.
Fermi I was a sodium-cooled fast-breeder. Its promise was
not only electricity �too cheap to meter,� but a fuel system that would
magically generate more than it used. This astonishing fantasy was part of a
government sponsored �Peaceful Atom� push to paste a happy face on the nuclear
Fermi I was key in a number of ways. Detroit Edison�s
legendary boss, Walker Sisler, told the feds he would be a prime nuke booster.
But like the rest of the nation�s utility execs, he demanded protection against
the monstrous liability that could come with a major melt-down.
So in 1957, before the �inherently safe� Fermi I was built,
Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act, shielding reactor owners from the
billions in lawsuits that would follow a catastrophe. Since they believed it
would be a short time before private insurers stepped in, the bill was only
good for 15 years. Since then, it has been constantly renewed. Today the
prospective builders of new reactors demand this same federal insurance
protection. So the �temporary� acknowledgement that private insurers won�t
touch atomic reactors is now a permanent shield for this �safe� technology.
Fermi I was subjected to the first major legal challenge to
reactor construction by the United Auto Workers� legendary lawyer, Leo Goodman.
The UAW took Edison all the way to the Supreme Court, where it lost 7-2. In a
benchmark minority decision, Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black warned
that nuclear power involved �a lighthearted approach to the most awesome, the
most deadly, the most dangerous process that man has ever conceived.�
In 1966, a blockage occurred in the $100 million plant�s
cooling system. Because it carried highly volatile liquid sodium, which can
explode when exposed to air, all of southeastern Michigan stood at the brink of
an unthinkable catastrophe. Police officials seriously debated evacuating Detroit,
just 40 miles north.
But an explosion at Fermi would have permanently irradiated
the Great Lakes and a gigantic area of land stretching hundreds of miles in all
directions. Countless thousands of people would have died from both short-term
and long-term radiation sickness. One actual victim from the releases that did
occur may have been then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who spoke in Monroe
the day after the accident and later died of cancer.
The public was kept totally in the dark. That day I served
as editorial director of the University of Michigan Daily, where we were tapped
in to the core of the nation�s major news sources. Though I was the Time
Magazine and United Press International correspondent for Ann Arbor, just 40
miles west, I never heard a word about this accident until I stumbled upon John
G. Fuller�s legendary WE ALMOST LOST
DETROIT in 1974. Writing for the Readers Digest Press, Fuller�s astonishing
tale still sends chills down the spines of a whole generation that lived in the
neighborhood and never suspected the danger we were in.
So Monroe is indeed a fitting global symbol for nuclear
power. In mere moments, a $100 million asset became a multi-billion-dollar
liability, and millions of people and square miles were put at unconscionable
-- and uninsured -- risk.
But for John McCain, none of this seems to matter. His
fellow nuke backers argue that the Fermi-style fast breeder is no longer on the
In response, we suggest that the next time he�s overseas
pumping his global creds, he can lead a �more nukes� rally at Chernobyl. And
when he comes home, MCain can complete the trifecta at Three Mile Island.
Harvey Wasserman�s SOLARTOPIA! Our Green-Powered
Earth is at harveywasserman.com, along with his HISTORY OF THE UNITED
STATES. In 1989 he was given the Leo Goodman Award for safe energy activism by
the Citizens Energy Council�s Larry Bogart. This article was originally
published by The Free Press.